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The Two Penguins

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Axel snapped his suspenders in place, brushed hands down his torso and gave the waistcoat a firm tug to smooth out any wrinkles. He pulled an errant strand of hair off his white dress-shirt and made sure his sleeves were securely rolled up to the elbows.

He winked at himself in the bathroom mirror, clicked his tongue, and with that left to start his shift.

“ ‘Sup Morrise! Wasn’t expecting to see you behind the stick today,” Axel greeted as he let himself behind the solid oak bar which stood like an island, in the middle of the large room.

A stout man in his late fifties, dressed in much the same garb as Axel, gave him an acknowledging nod. “I wasn’t expecting to be called in today either. Nancy’s come down with shingles, poor girl. Me n’ Drew will be swapping on and off for a while.”

“Poor Nance. She was complaining about being sore the last couple of days.” Axel busied himself with inspecting the back bar, making sure everything he would need was in stock.

“Girl’s had it tough. Too much stress if ya ask me.” Morrise finished polishing glasses and gave the countertop a once over before the bar opened for the afternoon.

“Can’t be this job. It’s pretty chill,” Axel observed.

Morrise made a sound of disagreement. “Not everyone’s as laid back as you.”

Axel shrugged. “I’m gonna open up. Bar’s stocked and ready.”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

Axel left the bar and headed for the large double doors, with ‘Organization  fancifully etched into the glass facing out onto the street. The bar looked a lot more posh than it actually was. The owner, Marluxia, had a hair-brained idea that if a place looked top end it would keep the riff-raff out.

Axel had been working at the bar for eight months so far and hadn’t witnessed any real trouble, so he supposed there might be some method to Marluxia’s madness.

He unbarred the doors, opening them wide to the mid-afternoon spring air. He did his normal duty of putting out the daily chalkboard sign, listing the night’s events, and any specials they had on, and went back inside to await the steady flow of patrons.

Axel had his regulars. Mostly grizzly old men who had been in the blue-collar workforce for too many years and looked forward to only two things in life: having a cold drink after work and retiring.

During the day, Organization 13 was fairly slow, but there were a few retirees who enjoyed the quietude the bar had to offer during the waning daylight hours. The clinking of glasses accented the quiet murmurs of the patrons. The odd chuckle might erupt from someone as their guard eroded with the consumption of alcohol.

All in all it always felt like a nice slide into Axel’s shift, because as the sun slipped below the horizon and the lights came on in the bar - no matter how dim - the day crowd dissipated and the nightlife flocked in to seek fun and excitement.

The place came alive as the hours ticked away. Regulars and passers-by came in. Drinks were ordered by the tray-full. Some over-exuberant patron would order a round on the house to celebrate a special occasion, and Axel always came up with the goods.

On quieter nights he performed special tricks he had picked up and spent hours on refining. He could toss shakers in front, behind, and make them land perfectly after a flight through the air.

When he wasn’t displaying his showmanship he was busy tending to his side of the bar. He kept it meticulously clean, sweeping up all spills and saving his patrons from the horror of landing elbows and hands in sticky liquid. He discarded all rubbish which accumulated over the course of the evening, maintained a steady supply of clean glasses in all their varied forms, and made sure the alcohol was always at the ready.

He watched a hen’s night come and go, as well as a promotion celebration. Everything went perfectly. The dance floor was electric, the live band was pulling out crowd pleasers, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

It wasn’t late yet by anyone’s standards, but Axel definitely felt like he had been at it for long enough to warrant himself a little break.

“Morrise, I’m taking five,” he let the other man know, before discarding his apron and ducking out from behind the bar.

He went to the staff washroom to quickly freshen up. As much as he loved his job he did find it exhausting work, especially on nights when parties were booked.

Heading back out into the ocean of noise, he took the opportunity to view the lively atmosphere around himself. He got so focused on work that he zoned out what was happening beyond his island for the most part.

Axel let the music seep into his bones for a moment and danced his way back to the bar. He could spot some familiar faces on the dancefloor. Organization 13 was renowned in the neighborhood for its great live band selection, which drew a lot of avid fans of whatever band was playing – in addition to lovers of good dance music – to come out and play.

As Axel shimmied his way back towards the bar, the sea of people on the dancefloor parted enough for Axel’s eye to be caught on something white in the corner of the room, dancing with wild abandon.

The lights hit and illuminated the dancing figure, reflecting and completely dazzling Axel into a standstill.

Most people Axel witnessed dancing in public had self-restraint due to social expectations and being too shockingly self-conscious. But not this guy, judging by the flailing arms and the wide berth fellow dancers were giving him.

It brought a smile to Axel’s face to see such uninhibited joy. He was struck by a sudden urge to dance his way over there and join in, but that impulse was thwarted as he glanced over to the bar and saw Morrise inundated by a large crowd.

Axel sighed and quickly made his way to his post, while keeping one eye on the figure on the dancefloor. But he soon lost sight as the path he’d made through the sea of people disappeared, swallowing the dancer up completely.

Not that it mattered. As soon as Axel got behind the bar again, his mind switched off all extraneous noise and he became fully focused on serving customers.

The flood of drink orders kept him occupied for a solid ten minutes. He stirred, shook, mixed and poured. He refilled, made suggestions, and tidied up. Once the influx had been dealt with he relaxed again.

“How’s things on your end?” Axel said as he met his co-worker in the space between their respective sides.

“Good, but looks like I’m running low on garnishes. I’m gonna go grab some from the kitchen. You need anything?”

“Nah.”

Morrise nodded and let himself out of the bar to go fetch the ingredients.

Axel looked over his patrons. Everyone looked content and the bar seemed clean on both sides, so Axel gave himself permission to switch off for a moment. Eyes and thoughts returned to the dancefloor, where he hoped to find the attractive dancer.

The crowd had thinned out, the music had mellowed somewhat, in keeping with the neighborhood’s noise pollution restrictions. Axel couldn’t find who he was looking for. He pouted, slightly disappointed. It didn’t really matter. The guy was probably straight as hell, with a super duper cute girlfriend whom he’d never leave. Not that Axel was out for a relationship. Work came first, but he did like impressing guys and taking them home at the end of his shift. Axel figured with moves like what he saw the guy pull, he would have been fun in bed too.

Axel sighed and mindlessly wiped down the already clean benchtops. He’d just have to dream about it in the shower when he got home. But then something white caught in his periphery. Head snapped to attention. He gave a fleeting smirk as the guy slowly meandered over to the bar.

Well - he was probably walking at a normal pace but it felt way too slow to Axel. He was dying for a closer look and a chat. Axel tried his best to stare in the most inconspicuous way possible, but it became increasingly difficult. The closer his target got the more Axel liked what he saw -

Wildly spiked hair, which probably would have looked ridiculous on anyone else. But as it stood, it gave the guy a rather cool appearance, accentuated by the wholly unique clothes he was sporting. Axel had never seen anything like it, and he had been privy to some very weird and unique outfits, especially whenever there was a retro night at the bar.

But this look was neither dated nor futuristic. It felt completely on trend, but was something he’d never seen before. Baggy pants, belts for accent, with matching vest - all white, and just a splash of red at the lapels, and some black trims for contrast. Matching bracers, wristbands and some superfluous chains were attached.

The closer he got the more certain Axel grew that someone like that couldn’t possibly be straight. Smirk turned to a big, friendly smile as the guy got close enough to make Axel certain that he was going to the bar for a drink.

“Good evening. What can I interest you in?” He gestured to the back bar with one hand and ran the other down the side of his body. Subtle enough with years of practice, so as not to freak out straight guys, but obvious enough to clue in those who were looking for that kind of thing.

“Ah -.” Gorgeous blue eyes scanned the back bar. “Just water, thanks.”

Damn. That was rather disappointing - on multiple fronts. “Thirsty work - all that dancing.” He grabbed a glass, gave it a twirl and filled it at the filtered tap. He produced a coaster and planted it, plus the glass, down in front of his extremely sexy patron.

“Yeah, it is,” came a chuckle, followed by a light rosing of cheeks.

Axel could feel himself getting hard. That voice, that face. Sexy and cute, all at once. He really wanted him. Maybe he had been too subtle? This guy seemed to radiate innocence, so Axel leaned forward a little as he spoke, “Could I interest you in anything else?”

Between gulps of water he said, “I don’t really drink - or have money to spend on drinks. So I’ll just finish this and I won’t waste any of your time.” Axel received an angelic smile.

An internal groan reverberated around Axel’s head. He was about to break one of his personal rules.

“Would you be interested in letting me introduce you to some drinks and unique flavors?” Axel quirked his eyebrows in a highly suggestible manner. “It’s all on me,” he clarified.

“Oh no. I couldn’t.”

“You’d be helping me out. I’ve been working on some new drinks I’d like to trial run on someone who’s a bit adventurous. You seem like the kind of guy who’d be up for something interesting.” Axel hoped he wasn’t delivering that in an overtly sleazy way. The more he looked at the guy before him the more his brain switched off and his sex drive was taking over. He really needed to keep it in check, but damn those eyes, that smile, and gorgeous innocence. Axel wanted to introduce him to a world of sinful delights. Alcohol being just one of them.

He was proud of himself for not saying that out loud.

“Well - I don’t mind, I guess. If it’ll help.”

Axel cheered on the inside. “Yeah, it would. Name’s Axel, by the way,” he extended his hand over the bar.

“Roxas. Nice to meet you,” he said shaking Axel’s hand firmly.

This guy even had a sexy name. Axel tried it out, “Roxas.” It brought a smile to his face. He liked saying it. “That’s a nice name. Is it from anywhere?”

Another chuckle, “No, just my parent’s crazy imagination.” He finished his glass of water.

“Another?”

“Yes, please. What about your name?”

Axel refilled and handed the glass back. “My parents are massive heavy metal fans.”

“Oh, so you’re named after Axl from -”

“Yeah, lame, I know,” Axel cut off and gave a small scoff. He liked his name, but wasn’t the biggest fan of the association.

“No, I think that’s awesome. Way better than being called William.” Roxas went to chug away at his drink.

Axel laughed. “Never thought of it like that.”

It seemed to please Roxas as his smile grew wider. “Do you like heavy metal?”

“I grew up listening to a lot of it. My parents dragged me along to all kinds of tours. Kind of sick of it, to be honest.”

Yet another chuckle. Axel could get used to that sound.

“A real shame when parents ruin shit for their kids.”

Axel nodded. “Man, tell me about it. I’m just lucky they didn’t totally kill it for me. I still like rock - but more punk and glam.”

“Oh yeah? Me too!” Roxas’ face lit up with excitement. “It’s why I’m here. I’ve been dying to see Unsaid Velvet but could never get to any of their gigs.”

“Congrats for making it.”

That big grin almost slew Axel. Eager blue eyes looked back towards the small stage in awe, before swinging back around. “I’m shocked they’re even playing in a small bar like this.”

“Ah, well Marly, the owner - he used to go to school with the drummer. So he pulled the ‘I was your friend when no one thought you were cool’ card.”

That really got Roxas laughing with delight. “Epic! Still waiting to see if any of my old school mates will get famous. So far it’s been pretty disappointing.”

“It ever occur to you that maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to get famous?” Axel winked.

Roxas seemed to seriously consider it for a moment. “Hmm. Maybe you have a point.”

“What’s your get-famous plan? Everyone’s got one.” Axel leaned on elbows. He was thoroughly enjoying their banter.

“Well -” shifty eyes darted hither and thither before Roxas stretched over and breathed against Axel’s ear, “you tell me yours first.” He pulled away again.

Axel returned the shifty look and leaned in, closing the distance. The guy smelled good. Axel whispered back, “Why? You wanna steal it?”

They leaned back from one another, but only slightly, remaining almost nose to nose. Roxas squinted, and Axel also narrowed his eyes, looking back dangerously. Anyone else and Axel would have thought this would quickly devolve into a bar fight. But squint grew more pronounced as a brilliant smile exploded.

“No. I just need to make sure yours is different from mine,” Roxas laughed, throwing himself back and sitting upright.

Axel grinned back, “Well my plan is to own a punk-themed bar. It’s gonna be so good and amazing that everyone will have heard of it. All the most famous bands will beg me to come play there. I’ll have VIP rooms and waiting lists to get in, which will be booked out five months in advance. That’s how good it’ll be.”

Roxas was like sunshine personified as he said, “That’s great.”

“Now tell me yours,” Axel pressed.

Roxas leaned in again, starting the whole shifty-eye dance once more. He motioned for Axel to lean closer. Axel obliged, quite happy to keep smelling Roxas.

Voice was low, vibrating against Axel’s ear, “My plan is to own a punk bar.”

They pulled apart. Axel’s eyes and mouth went wide. Roxas began laughing so hard he clutched at his stomach.

“You thief!” Axel played at mock-indignation before he broke into a grin. “But c’mon. Tell me. For real.”

Roxas managed to stop laughing, and wiped a tear from his eye. “Okay, okay. My plan’s to make really cool outfits, and to get so famous that celebrities will be clamouring to wear my stuff.”

“Oh, you - did you make what you’re wearing? ‘Cause it’s real cool.”

Roxas looked a little bit proud, but Axel could also see a blush creeping across cheeks. “Yeah, I did.”

“Can I help you get famous by getting you to make something for me?”

“Yeah, sure. For a cost, of course.”

“Of course,” Axel nodded solemnly.

“I’ve got a website for custom orders.” Roxas stood up and fished around one of his multitude of pockets. He produced a business card and handed it over.

Axel looked it over. It didn’t contain much aside from a web address. “Cool, I’ll check it out.” Axel pocketed it. So far things were going really well. “So what about some drinks, Roxas. I’m gonna help you get famous by sporting your clothes. But you gotta help me out by letting me make you drinks. My bar’s gonna have awesome drinks, and awesome music. And maybe even awesome fashion. You can sell your clothes from my venue. I’ll even be generous with the lease I’ll charge you.”

Roxas laughed. “Thanks for the offer. I don’t really have a favorite drink. I don’t really do alcohol that much. All I’ve had is wine, and I know I don’t like that.”

“The world is so much larger than wine, Roxas. But I bet I could find a wine you might enjoy, if you let me figure out what tastes appeal to you. I can build you your own unique flavor map.”

“Flavor map?” Roxas seemed intrigued.

“Yeah, I’ll make you a bunch of different things and you tell me what you like and don’t like about them. And then I’ll be able to nail the perfect drink for you.”

Roxas looked amused. “All right. Sounds fun. I’m game.”

“Excellent! Let’s find out what excites you.” He winked for good measure and turned to the backbar, grabbing the things he’d need.

Whilst looking after his other patrons, Axel worked through different flavor profiles whenever he came over to Roxas. The bitter drink made Roxas’ face scrunch up. Axel got a gag at the coffee drink, and no response at all to a palate cleanser.

After some time Roxas began looking a bit woozy, swaying on his bar stool.

“How’re you holding up there, champ?”

“ ‘m good. Was that last one anything? Tasted like nothing. Not even water.” Roxas squinted at his glass of water which Axel had been refilling every time. He grabbed it and downed the glass, which made him hiccup. Slurring, he said, “Now that’s a drink. You’re really good at making ‘em, Ax.”

Axel found Roxas’ drunken state adorable. “That’s the first praise you’ve given me. And it doesn’t feel right. Even a moron can turn on a tap.”

“Well, you’re a very good moron,” Roxas stated, while studying his empty glass.

Axel chuckled, “Right, no more for you, Roxas.”

Mouth flapped open, as if to protest, but then Roxas started giggling instead. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right.” He began laughing harder and swayed precariously.

Axel, being no stranger to what he was about to do, quickly leapt over the bar and caught Roxas as he slid off his seat. “Woah there. Lemme find you a chair with a backrest.”

“You dun have to. Dun wanna be a bother,” Roxas muttered into Axel’s chest and fingers found perch on suspenders.

“No bother. I got you into this mess. Least I can do is look after you.” Axel pried fingers off his clothes, turned Roxas around and kept a firm grip around the man’s waist. “Let’s get you over to the lounge area. You think you can manage stairs?”

“I’m matter of stairs. Lemme at ‘em!” Roxas lurched forward, dragging Axel along with him.

Axel didn’t bother to correct Roxas. He could be a ‘matter of stairs’ if he so wished. He instead focused on getting back in control of his charge, and steered them towards the stairs, which led up to the loft.

“I know you said you didn’t drink, but I didn’t expect you to be such a lightweight.”

“Who’re you callin’ light, ya - meatloaf.” Roxas craned his neck and gave Axel a pouting glare.

Axel chuckled. “I take full responsibility. I should have filled you up on bar snacks in between the drinks.”

“Ya should have. I haven’t eaten in like all day.” Roxas woefully clutched his stomach as they started ascending the staircase.

“What? You haven’t? Why not?” Axel felt alarmed. He couldn’t live without eating something every few hours.

“Too busy movin’. Dun know where anything good to eat is.”

“You new in town?”

“Mhmm,” Roxas nodded as he took one shaky step after another.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Organization 13’s famous for its gorgonzola fries. I’ll order you some when we get up there.”

“Food?”

“Yeah, food.”

Roxas picked up his pace, much to Axel’s amusement and they were at the top landing moments later. It was a fairly spacious area, more well lit than downstairs. There were several lounges, small round coffee tables and a few pool tables as well, where patrons could chill out when they had enough of all the dancing. Axel guided Roxas down onto one of the lounges. Small body slumped down with a sigh of relief.

Axel waved down Camilla, a wait staffer who was currently collecting glasses off the various lounge area tables. “Hey Axel. You still here? You’re normally out by now.”

“I’ve made a friend who I’ve gotta look after.” He pointed at Roxas, whose head was lolling about woefully.

“Aww, sweetie. Did the bad man do this to you?” She asked in a pitying voice.

Head snapped up to look at her, and he shook it rapidly, but then moaned in agony and stopped the motion. Hands went to head. “No, I did this to myself,” he said while squishing his cheeks together.

Axel thought he’d die if Roxas got any cuter. He looked away. “Can you get us some fries, a bowl of nachos, and some chicken wings?”

“Sure. Want me to charge it to your account?”

Axel nodded, picked up some glasses which had been stashed on the floor, and stacked them on Camilla’s tray.

“Thanks,” she smiled, and Axel returned it.

Camilla went down the stairs and Axel eased down beside Roxas. “I’ll get some food into you in a bit, and you’ll feel better.”

“Thanks,” Roxas mumbled. He slumped against Axel’s shoulder and seconds later was sound asleep.

Axel laughed quietly to himself. This guy was too much. He looked down at Roxas’ slumbering form and brushed at hair. Roxas didn’t so much as flinch. Axel looked closer at Roxas’ face. Light eyelashes, golden skin, a few freckles. He was gorgeous. If Roxas’ sparkling blue eyes had been looking at him Axel thought he would have gotten completely lost.

His eyes wandered down towards a golden chain that hung around neck and disappeared underneath clothes. Axel looked at the clothes in more detail, and there was a lot of detail. It made Axel smile. Clearly, Roxas was very good at what he did, and enjoyed it as well. Axel leaned his head back and let his eyes slide shut. He lightly dozed until Camilla returned with bowls and plates.

“Wake up, you two,” she sang.

Axel roused Roxas from his sleep. Bleary eyes looked at him and Roxas scowled in confusion. “What’s going on?”

“Hey. I’m Axel, remember? I got you drunk but I said I’d look after you, and - ta-da!” He waved his hand towards the food.

All mistrust faded from sight. “Awesome!” Roxas sat up and got stuck into the dishes.

Axel followed suit and they ate in relative silence, with the exception of Roxas singing praise of the food, Axel concurring from time to time.

“Ah man, that’s so much better,” Roxas patted his stomach and leaned back against the cushioned surface when everything had been demolished.

“Everything’s better on a full stomach.” Axel wiped his hands clean on some moist towelettes and smiled at Roxas.

“You can say that again. But shit, I need to take a leak.”

Axel pointed towards the washroom doors to their left, and Roxas was off like a shot, leaving Axel to his thoughts. He wasn’t sure if tonight would eventuate in him getting laid, but he accepted that even if he wasn’t, he still had a very amusing evening.

Roxas returned after a short time. He grabbed Axel’s hand, pulling him to his feet and led the way downstairs.

“What’s happening?”

“I feel like dancing,” Roxas shot back with a grand smile.

Axel chuckled, “I re-energized your batteries?”

“Yup. You don’t mind, right? You’ll dance with me, yeah?”

“Yeah. I just gotta get out of my work uniform first, okay?”

Roxas nodded. “I’ll be on the dancefloor, warming up. Come find me.”

“Definitely,” Axel grinned. He wouldn’t miss the chance to grind up against that sweet stuff. He left for the staff area and quickly undressed. He pulled on his leather pants and red satin button-down shirt, leaving the top three buttons undone. Then he hung up his work uniform with one hand, and with the other wiped his face clean with a wet wipe. He checked himself out in the mirror briefly, making sure he was looking as irresistible as possible, and headed back out to see if he could score tonight.

Axel found Roxas without any trouble. His clothes and moves were like a beacon and Axel was positively drawn to it. He came up from behind and slid arms around Roxas’ mid section, causing the other man to turn around to look at him. “I’m back. Miss me?”

Big smile fell slightly with surprise. “Your face,” hand went up to cup Axel’s cheek, where he thumbed over one of the tattoos.

Axel couldn’t stop the grin. It worked every time. “I cover up for work - but I’m not on the clock anymore.”

Roxas’ smile returned and hands slid over Axel’s torso, a very welcomed gesture. They swayed together, slow at first, finding their rhythm. Pace picked up and then they started dancing together in earnest. Hips ground together, hands moved, slid and held. Sweat beaded. And if they moved apart for a while to do their solo moves they always came back together after, finding now familiar handle holds.

Axel couldn’t get enough of Roxas. He drank up the sight of him rocking out, but still felt completely parched. His need for the other man was only satisfied once he could hold him. So Axel made the most of it when they came together again. He ran hands under vest, stroking at sides. He imagined taking off Roxas’ clothes, one layer at a time and slowly exploring all that he found beneath.

One thing was for certain - Roxas was definitely not straight. He didn’t shy away from Axel’s roaming touches. Not even when Axel pulled the bold move of cupping Roxas’ backside with both hands. Axel loved the feel of him. Something about Roxas’ clothes made his body feel firm, lean and glorious to the touch.

Axel was having a hard time keeping his erection from grinding up against Roxas’ hip. He had to stop himself from doing just that on purpose, especially as their dancing became more fevered. And just as Axel thought things couldn’t get any hotter between them, Roxas wound arms around his hips, pushing them both tightly together. Axel was certain he could feel a firm heat rub against him through fabric.

One of Roxas’ hands snaked its way up Axel’s back and into his hair, and then face was pushed up against the exposed part of Axel’s chest. God, how Axel wanted to fuck Roxas right then and there. He buried his face in Roxas’ hair, smelling the fruity freshness and a hint of sweetness of whatever hair product Roxas used. Axel thought it suited the man perfectly. He let out a rumble of approval in the back of his throat.

It made Roxas look up, which saw them nose to nose. Their pace had reduced markedly at some point, leaving them swaying to a song all their own, staring into each other’s eyes. Axel smiled down at him in a sultry manner. Roxas was far more wide-eyed, searching for something undefined, but both their eyes trailed over each others parting lips. Roxas’ hand twitched in Axel’s hair and seconds later exerted gentle downward pressure on him. Axel obliged and leaned down a fraction, whilst Roxas leaned up a little. Eyes slid shut and lips came into contact, grazing as heads tilted into more accommodating positions for what was about to go down.

The song they had been dancing to suddenly ended.

“We’ll be taking a quick break and then we’ll be back to bang out some more tunes for you guys,” the lead singer announced.

It broke the magic spell they had both been caught up in. Roxas pulled away completely, clearing his throat and straightened out his clothes from where Axel’s hands had caused materials to bunch up.

The fleeting touch of Roxas’ lips against his own ghosted, and made Axel crave so much more. Axel’s heart hammered away with thrilling excitement. It couldn’t end there.

“Roxas, you wanna-”

“I’ve gotta go home. It’s way late. Thanks for everything tonight, Axel. I really appreciate it,” came the whirlwind of words. Roxas gave a grand smile, waved enthusiastically, and pushed past Axel, uttering a, “Bye,” as he went.

Axel was left reeling, and by the time his wits returned enough to think about chasing after Roxas - so he could finish asking him over to his place - the crowd had closed in around him, making pursuit impossible.

Axel was left catching a glimpse of white racing through the doors to the outside world.

Fuck!

He left for his own home, all alone. His dance with Roxas was playing on a continual loop and wouldn’t go away. Axel found himself under the spray of his hot shower, tending to his need. He brought himself to his knees as he stimulated his sad backside. How he wished it was Roxas doing this to him instead.

Chapter Text

Axel couldn’t get the other man out of his mind the next day. He had dreamed about them grinding together, and had awoken with a painful erection, which he had to deal with.

Axel hadn’t been this obsessed with someone since his teenage years when Matthew Rosenthal had been a willing participant in helping Axel explore his sexuality.

He still remembered the guy’s name. That’s how important he had been to Axel.

In comparison, most guys he slept with nowadays would be unrecognizable to him if he passed them in the street. And their names? All mysterious blanks.

This was punctuated by the fact that he could remember the countless names and faces of his regular patrons. So, since he couldn’t recall the names of guys he had been intimate with, he supposed he had some underlying psychological issue which he never cared enough about to try to name. Maybe it was simply liking to fuck and forget. But Roxas? Axel was certain that even if it had been the most disappointing screw in his life he would still have remembered Roxas’ name. So, given that this guy had somehow weaseled his way into Axel’s brain, it annoyed him that he didn’t even know Roxas’ full name.

Axel had half a mind to email Roxas through his website. Tell him how amazing last night had been, and how he wanted to see him again. He had even sat down and booted up his much-neglected laptop but then cursed as he realized he had left the business card in his work clothes.

That had been a real low point of Axel’s day, and he moped around for a large part of the early afternoon, wishing he had memorized the web address, so when his workday finally started he was relieved.

He pulled clothes out of his locker at work and proceeded getting dressed in a fresh shirt, applied makeup, and put on everything else. He pulled out the business card and studied it hard, determined to commit it to memory this time.

Punk n’ sundries. Punk n’ sundries. Punk n’ god fucking sundries, he chanted in his head as he did all his normal pre-opening checks.

“Hey Axel!”

“’Sup Morrise!”

“Did you have a good night last night? I heard Camilla talking about how you got one of your patrons drunk.”

Axel could see the verging-on-disgust judgment on the man’s face. They tolerated one another – could even be downright civil – but Morrise was always a bit of a homophobe. As long as he never said anything outright, Axel let it slide.

“Wasn’t my intention. He apparently hadn’t eaten in ages. I fixed him right up and we had a great night dancing after my shift,” he brushed aside coolly.

“All right. Just as long as everything was consensual and above board. Wouldn’t want there to be any trouble for Marluxia to have to come down and sort out.”

That was one sentiment Axel could definitely get behind. “Everything’s fine. I don’t take advantage of people, especially ones I’m serving,” Axel dismissed with a shake of the head and roll of his eyes. He knew Morrise thought of him as a dirty gay deviant who lured innocent men into his gay clutches, to do terrible gay things to them. Straight men of Morrise’s age all thought like that. Nothing to be done about it though, so Axel relaxed and went to open the doors for the day.

He wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew what he hoped for – Roxas eagerly waiting outside to fling himself at Axel.

Instead he was greeted by ugly-assed Clarence who had a bit of a drinking problem. He always showed up right on time for opening time on a Sunday.

“Afternoon,” Axel greeted and stepped aside to let the man barrel through without so much as a nod of acknowledgment.

Axel huffed with amusement and put out the sign. He looked up and down the street wistfully before returning to his post. Whatever. The night hadn’t even started yet. There was still plenty of time for his wet-dream-personified to show up.

As afternoon progressed into evening, Axel watched the changing of the crowd. The wizened old men slowly filtered out or faded into the background as sound-checks for the band went underway.

Axel cast eyes to the front door whenever he remembered but saw no familiar sex-on-legs walk in. It made him wonder, and not for the first time that day, what had happened. He didn’t doubt himself one bit. There had been nothing wrong with the way he had acted. No. But there was something wrong with Roxas. Or maybe ‘wrong’ wasn’t the right word. But whatever it was, it hadn’t been Axel’s doing, he was sure of that.

When there came a lull in the workload, Axel got out his phone and, using as much discretion as possible, looked up the website from the business card.

It was the first one to come up in the search. The site looked very professional and clean - almost sterile in a way. It said nothing of Roxas’ personality, which threw Axel a little. He had expected something fun.

He scrolled through the site, checking out the photographs of outfits Roxas had been commissioned to make in the past. They all looked fantastic.

Axel then navigated to the contacts page and found an inquiry box he could fill out.

He began sliding his thumb across the keyboard, composing his plea for another meeting. He was so engrossed in this activity that he failed to hear repeated requests for his attention.

Finally, a sharp shout of his name saw him fumble with the phone and his head snapped up in surprise. “Huh? What, who?” he frantically searched for the source of the irritated bark. It wasn’t too difficult to find. There, standing before him on the other side of the bar, stood the golden man of the hour.

Axel’s eyes wandered over the weird asymmetrical jacket and pants of white and gold fabrics. It all perfectly wrapped around, “Roxas!” He did nothing to hide the relief over seeing him.

Roxas seemed taken aback by the enthusiasm, but uncertainty faded, and he brought up a smile instead. “Hi, Axel. I’ve been trying to get your attention for like a whole minute.”

Axel felt so dumb. He rubbed his head in embarrassment. “Sorry ‘bout that. I was busy writing you a message on your website.”

“Writing me?”

“Yeah. I really wanted to see you again. I don’t have your number,” he let drop, “so I figured I’d reach you through your website.”

Roxas looked stricken and pale all of a sudden. “You didn’t send it, did you?” he tripped over hasty words.

“No. And I guess I don’t have to, now that you’re here,” Axel beamed.

After a small sigh, Roxas urged, “Yeah, please don’t send anything but legit work order requests.” Roxas looked really worried, which in turn worried Axel.

“Yeah, okay, I won’t. Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yeah.” Roxas’ face and stance relaxed. “Of course it is. I just really like to keep my hobby and personal life separate,” Roxas smiled, seemingly trying to be reassuring, but his shoulders still seemed rigid and tense.

It didn’t sit right with Axel, but he let it go. Roxas had come back. It was reason to celebrate.

“Got it. I won’t email you unless it’s to make something for me. You want a drink or anything? A snack before we get started?” he chuckled lightly.

Roxas laughed a little. “I did eat something before I left home today, so I’m all good, thanks. But I… I came back to talk to you. I… ” head dropped and he looked at his feet. “I feel really bad for how I left yesterday.” Eyes returned to look at Axel. “I want to explain myself to you.”

Axel liked the sound of that. He was kind of dying for an explanation as well. “Don’t sweat it. Just take a seat and tell me over a few drinks, okay? I know you didn’t like any of the ones I made you yesterday. I’m gonna try something different.”

Roxas frowned. “No. I really need to talk to you first, Axel,” he said forcefully, and then tacked on an apologetic and soft, “Please.”

It all seemed a bit strange. “Okay. Just gimme a few minutes. My break’s coming up soon.”

“Okay, I’ll wait.”

“Have a seat. Let me make you something while you’re here.”

Roxas looked uncertain. “Maybe I’ll just go dance for a bit.”

“It’s all right. You’ve eaten. Let me just make you one drink. I swear it won’t be as bad as the others,” he enthused. Axel didn’t want to seem pushy. He had no intention of getting Roxas drunk, he just really wanted to see if he could give Roxas something he might enjoy. Especially if this was the last time they were to hang out. Something about the ‘we need to talk’ line freaked him out.

Roxas cast eyes between the dancefloor and bar. “Well, all right. But just one. And it better be good.” Dead serious look was broken by a smile, after a few seconds.

It eased Axel’s mind to see some fun return to the other man. “You got it!” Axel quickly whipped up something fruitilicious and a little bit tart.

“Here ya go. I’ll be back to hear your verdict when my break starts.” He was painfully aware that he was beginning to neglect the other side of the bar. So, after a chirpy, “All right,” from Roxas, Axel got back to business.

He stayed as focused as possible on all the new and old patrons. He checked in if anyone needed a refill, he gave out suggestions to those who looked undecided, for things to try, and he did all this while continuously keeping his bar area neat and tidy.

Axel couldn’t help the fleeting glances he threw towards Roxas. He saw the man sipping away at his drink. He looked deep in thought. Axel had to wonder if he was thinking about him.

At last his relief staffer waltzed over.

“Evening, Ax! Everything going good?”

“Hey, Jonah. Yeah, everything’s as it should be. Keep the stick sharp. I’ll be back in fifteen.”

Axel left his apron behind and came around the patron side of the bar. “So how was it?” he inquired, sitting down beside Roxas.

“Mm, better. I finished the whole thing.”

“But not great.”

“Yeah, not great.” Roxas tapped the glass thoughtfully.

“What did you like about it?”

“The… was it orange and apple?”

“Yeah. Guess grapefruit is out of the next drink I make you,” he smiled.

“Mm… about that… can we – is there somewhere private we can talk now?”

The mood sank like a stone being dropped down a well. Axel didn’t like the serious tone of this at all. “Yeah. I know a place, c’mon.”

Axel led Roxas through the staff area and out the back of the bar. He pulled down a metal ladder which connected to the buildings fire escape. Axel gave Roxas a few glances as they clunked up the metal stairs. He still seemed deeply lost in his apparently very serious thoughts, if that frown meant anything.

Axel did not appreciate the amount of time it took to get up to the roof. He wasn’t sure what was wrong to warrant a serious talk. They had just met yesterday. It wasn’t like they had done anything. They were hardly even friends, for crying out loud.

After an agonizing dragging minute, they finally reached the roof. Roxas sat down on the floor, with his back to the waist-high wall, which encircled the rooftop area. Axel sat down atop the wall, needing to keep his uniform as clean as possible.

The sound of cars motoring by, the occasional beeping horn, and the faint chatter of pedestrians below drifted along the breeze.

Axel looked down at Roxas’ mop of spiked hair. He remembered the way it had smelled and felt the urge to sniff him some more begin to rise. “So?” he prompted.

Blue eyes turned up towards him. “I ah–” The commanding courage he had displayed previously seemed to have left Roxas. He looked back down at his shoes.

Axel grumbled internally. “I don’t have all day, Roxas. I gotta be back down there in ten minutes.” He wasn’t trying to be an ass. It was just the reality of the matter.

“Right, right. I um… wanna talk to you about last night.”

Axel waited, not knowing where this would lead. Best case scenario they’d see each other exclusively for a little while. Worst case, Roxas was leaving the country.

Roxas breathed deep. “There’s no easy way to say it.” Head lifted and he looked at Axel. “I have a boyfriend.”

Of course he bloody did. Axel had called it… sort of. He sometimes felt like he had the worst luck. “Oh,” was all he got out.

“I’m sorry. We shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have – I had too much to drink. I completely led you on, and I feel awful about it.” Roxas stood up and fished around his back pocket. He pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and held it out, with a, “Here,” waiting for Axel to take it.

“What’s this for?” He didn’t make a move to accept it, instead looking at Roxas rather confused.

“For all the stuff yesterday. I don’t like owing people. And I… well I think maybe you were nice to me ‘cause you thought we’d end up… well you know,” he shrugged one shoulder. “But we can’t because I have a boyfriend who I love a lot. And so, please just take the money.” He waved the note towards Axel a little.

Something about this felt offensive. He pushed Roxas’ hand away. “I don’t want your money. Yeah okay, I was flirting with you yesterday, but just ‘cause we didn’t get together doesn’t mean you gotta repay me for anything. I had lots of fun with you. That’s like, repayment enough.” Axel couldn’t stop frowning.

“You… had fun? With me? Even though we didn’t…” Roxas pulled his hand and money back to his chest. There was disbelief in his eyes.

It was kind of weird for Axel. He felt inexplicably sad for Roxas all of a sudden. “Yeah. Of course I had fun with you. I can’t say I’m not disappointed that you’re taken, but – well what were you hoping to achieve here? Pay me and then leave?” Axel didn’t want Roxas to be out of his life.

Roxas had initiated that almost kiss. If he was truly happy in his relationship, that would never have happened, no matter how highly Axel thought of himself in the looks and charm department. Plus, where had said boyfriend been? As if anyone would not want to go out for a dance and some drinks with your hot-piece-of-ass boyfriend named Roxas.

No, something felt off, and Axel needed to be there to snag Roxas if things fell apart. Was that a pretty shitty thought to have? No matter.

Roxas looked at his money sheepishly. “Yeah. Kinda?”

“Can’t we be friends? Didn’t you say you just moved here? Do you know anyone in the city? If not, I could show ya around.” Was he trying too hard? Probably.

“Ah.” Brows furrowed in thought.

Axel’s watch started beeping. “I’ve gotta go back, Roxas. You don’t have to tell me now. Think it over. You know where I work. I’m here all weekend and every day except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So, you can let me know what you wanna do whenever you’re ready.” Axel got up, dusted himself off and headed for the stairs.

Roxas made to follow, silently.

They climbed down the fire escape. Axel tried not to think about how depressing this situation was. There was something about Roxas he thought he could really like. Something which was beyond his looks, good taste in clothing, and his impressive skills in making said clothing. Axel didn’t like using such words, but he decided to make an exception for Roxas. It felt like they had chemistry.

He couldn’t shake the disappointment. The closer he got to the ground the more it weighed on him; as if Earth’s gravitational pull was making the whole situation even worse. Axel tried to ignore it. He led the way back into the building and to the public space.

Once there he finally turned to Roxas. “Think about it, will you? I wanna be your friend. You know where to find me.” He raised his hands in a small wave and turned towards the bar.

Axel didn’t get far before his name was called out. He turned around, with a, “Yeah?”

“When do you finish work?”

Could it be? Axel’s heart pounded a little stronger. “Ten-thirty.”

Roxas hesitated before he said, “I’ll meet you here.”

Some of the disappointed weight slid off and Axel smiled. “Awesome. Catch ya then.”


Even on a Sunday night the place was pretty crowded. Full of college and university students who didn’t know what it meant to have Monday be the start of the week. It kept Axel on his toes pretty much until the end of his shift.

He hadn’t caught sight of Roxas yet, so Axel wasn’t sure if he had stayed or if he was actually going to show up at all. But after he had gotten changed into his clothes – jeans, fleece shirt, and his old trusty leather jacket – he went and stood pretty much at the spot Roxas had declared the meeting area.

Roxas wasn’t there, but Axel waited and looked around, trying to spot him. The dance floor wasn’t as crowded as the night before, so Axel could easily ascertain that Roxas wasn’t there. If Axel was still alone in a few minutes he’d check the lounge area and the small function room where the Sunday night karaoke was going off, by the sounds of all the whooping and cheering coming out of there.

Axel didn’t have to wait much longer though. The sounds of hurried footsteps made him turn around.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“I’m just happy to see you. You wanna dance?” Axel was hoping for something akin to last night.

“Ah–” Roxas hesitantly looked towards the dancefloor and then at Axel, eyes quickly taking him in from head to toe.

Axel enjoyed being checked out, even on the days he wasn’t at his most sexy, like tonight.

“Maybe we can do something else?”

Axel got it. Dancing was too sexy when they were trying to work on being just friends. “Pool?”

Roxas nodded eagerly and they headed upstairs where they found an unoccupied table pretty quickly. Axel began setting up the table, while Roxas grabbed two pool cues. “We playing for anything?”

“Well…” Axel had many ideas. Loser has to kiss the winner wherever he wants. Loser can’t say no to a date. Loser has to give head. Loser has to let the winner fuck him any way the winner wants. It probably wouldn’t fly. “Honor and glory in the knowledge that I’m more skilled than that loser named Roxas.”

Roxas’ mouth flew open and eyes went wide before he simultaneously pouted and glared dangerously. “It’s on like Donkey Kong!”

Axel chuckled and took the cue that Roxas held out to him. “Knowing what’s at stake, you wanna break?”

“It’s all right. I’ll let you have the advantage. You’ll need it.”

Axel scoffed. “Okay. But when I make you cry, don’t say I didn’t give you a choice.”

“I’ve got tissues in my pocket, but they’ve all got your name written on them.”

“Won’t be needing them, thanks. But I appreciate the thoughtfulness.” Axel leaned over the table, lined up his sight and played the break.

The billiards scattered.

“So, where’d you move from?” Axel started the small talk as he circled the table, trying to figure out whether to go for bigs or smalls.

Roxas was quiet for a moment. Axel looked up from where he was testing a shot. Their eyes locked. Roxas looked away and busied himself with chalking his cue tip. “The West Coast,” was the generic reply.

Axel gave a low whistle. “That’s clear across the country. Any particular reason you moved?”

“Work opportunities,” he said flatly.

Axel didn’t like these short answers. He gave Roxas another glance before he returned his attention to the game and his options on the table. “What kind of work?”

“You ever going to take a shot, or are we going to be here ‘til morning?” Roxas asked, testily.

Axel frowned. “What’s eating you all of a sudden?”

“Nothing.”

Axel cocked an eyebrow.

“Just take the shot already.”

“You’re scared, aren’t ya,” Axel teased.

“Terrified,” Roxas deadpanned.

“Good of you to admit that.” He finally took his shot. Both men watched the ball roll and knock a big one into a corner pocket.

“Nice. So you can actually aim,” came the tease.

“Of course,” Axel smiled with self-satisfaction. He walked around the table once more, contemplating his next move. He got the distinct feeling that eyeing Roxas was making the man uncomfortable. “So, c’mon. What kind of job opportunities brought you over here?” he tried again, with the aim to sound as playful about it as possible.

There was some silence before Roxas spoke up, “It’s not really work for me. I don’t really have a job.” Roxas sounded awkward, and then continued with a slight laugh, “It would get in the way of my getting famous plan.”

“So you do have a job. You’re establishing your own business.”

“I… guess?”

Axel had to look up. “Why’re you sounding so wishy-washy about it?”

“Because… it’s not really work. It’s more a hobby.”

“A hobby you get paid for though.”

“When I sell anything.”

“I saw the photos on your site. I’d pay like a thousand for the stuff you make, so even if you aren’t churning things out on a mass market scale you must still be making some decent money from it.”

Roxas stopped chalking his stick and gave Axel a dumb look. “You’d pay that much?” Roxas sounded completely baffled.

Axel scoffed. “Yeah. Why? How much you charging?”

“Ah… a hundred or two,” came the meek reply.

“Roxas! At those prices… you’re ripping yourself off. C’mon man. Your stuff’s incredible.”

“You really think so?” Roxas sounded amazingly skeptical.

“Hell-fucking-yeah. You should have more confidence in yourself. How’re you gonna become famous if you keep selling yourself short?”

Mouth opened but no sound came out. Jaw clamped shut again and Roxas shrugged, “Yeah, well I am short. I can’t really do anything about genetics,” he gave Axel a lopsided smile.

It made Axel chuckle. “Be serious. Your height’s got nothing to do with it. And besides, you’re not that short.”

“Well compared to you I am,” he mumbled.

“I am a God amongst men. Both in height and in mad pool skills. Don’t compare us. You’ll just hurt yourself.” Axel winked.

“Oh please. I have yet to see any mad skills from you, so get on with the game already.”

“Fine. I’m about to make you weep.” Axel returned his attention to the table and proceeded to sink three balls in a row.

Roxas was giggling when the miss happened. “Clearly not the God of Pool, huh?”

“Oh, forgive me, your grace. I don’t see anyone calling you that either though.” Axel quirked an eyebrow and smirked.

“Mm, I’m not up myself enough to even attempt calling myself a God, unlike some people I know. I would settle for Pool Master though.”

Axel snorted. “All hot air, I bet.”

“Let’s see.” Roxas hoisted his stick, walked around the table a few times.

“Quit stalling, oh glorious Pool Master,” Axel goaded.

“Shhh, don’t rush genius,” Roxas waved off and continued walking.

“Genius? Who’s full of themselves now?” Axel laughed but stopped by the time Roxas had sunk the seventh ball in a row.

Axel was beyond worried by this stage. “Feel free to miss. Any time now.”

Roxas did. “There, that one’s just for you. Don’t say I’m not generous.”

“Thanks. I appreciate the fighting chance,” and he actually meant it.

They exchanged devious smiles and Axel got back into it. Clearly, Roxas was packing some skill, so Axel had to slow down and really think about his game. He spent more time sussing out his options, bending over and testing different positions.

“I’ve got you completely terrified, haven’t I,” Roxas gloated.

Axel ignored him and kept stalking around the table.

After some time Roxas piped up again, “Take all the time in the world. It won’t stop the inevitable.”

“Shh, Roxas. I’m doing you a favor.”

“Favor?”

“I know you’re checking out my butt. I see you looking.” He flicked eyes onto Roxas, who started stammering and going red. Busted, Axel thought with satisfaction. The jeans he wore were his favorite for a reason after all. “Now be quiet and let a God do his miracle work.”

Roxas did stay quiet.

Axel eventually took his shot and sunk one, two, three balls. He had caught up to Roxas. There was only one left before he’d win the game. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a God works his magic. I will sign autographs at the end of the game,” he boasted as he jogged a quick victory lap, holding his cue stick aloft.

“Wow. I’m gonna laugh so hard when you miss,” Roxas drawled.

Axel scoffed and returned to his position where he lined up his shot. “The crowd will go wild when Axel Rutherford sinks this last ball.”

If he sinks it,” Roxas corrected.

“I can smell your fear,” Axel winked. He did a few more practice draws of his stick, mentally mapping out the trajectory the ball would take. “Kiss my ass, Roxas,” he said as he wound up to take the shot.

“Okay.”

Axel slipped, hitting the ball at an awkward angle and missed his target. He stood up, “Hey!”

Roxas shrugged with one shoulder and gave a smug smile before taking up his cue stick once more. “You’re about to lose, Mister Rutherford. God no more, you shall be.”

Axel was a bit stressed. He had missed his chance. He hoped Roxas wouldn’t make it. And as he watched he began feeling confident again. Roxas was taking his time finding a good spot to hit the cue ball from. It helped that the ball was smack bang in the middle of the table. “Having some issues there, Pool Master?”

“No. I got this.” Roxas tried reaching a good position on tiptoes first and then resorted to hopping on the table and sitting on the edge of the cushion. When that still wasn’t working right he bent down and more or less lay on the table.

“A Pool Master like yourself surely knows that one foot has to be on the floor at all times to not make the shot a foul, right?”

“Of course,” Roxas grumbled and slid back down, dangling one leg.

Axel moved around the table to Roxas’ side so he could make sure the rules were upheld. As he watched Roxas struggling to keep contact with the floor whilst getting in a good position to make his shot, Axel started laughing.

“This game is rigged towards tall people,” Roxas exclaimed.

“Aww. Poor Pool Master.”

Roxas continued to struggle. Eventually he slid off the table completely and reassessed what he was doing. He walked around some more, tried to stretch awkwardly and attempted holding himself, and the cue stick, in different positions.

In the end he came back to where he had first attempted to lay across the table. He sighed. “Can we make an exception and move the cue ball?”

Axel shook his head and Roxas contorted his face in thoughtful annoyance.

It made Axel chuckle. He stepped up to Roxas. “There is one thing we could do.”

“We?”

Axel nodded. “I can give you a boost.”

Roxas looked skeptically confused. “Whaddya mean?”

“Can I show you?”

He looked at Axel, then the table, then Axel again. “Yeah, okay,” he nodded.

“Turn around.”

He squinted at Axel and then slowly did as he had been asked to do. Axel stepped up behind him, wound arms around Roxas’ waist and hoisted him up.

“Woah, what’s happening?” Roxas’ hands splayed out across the table surface as he braced and stabilized himself.

“My feet are on the ground, and by extension so are yours. So just take your shot.”

Roxas threw Axel a look over his shoulder. “You’re not gonna drop me or something cheap just as I’m about to shoot, are you?”

Axel squeezed Roxas’ sides. “You’re in safe hands, babe,” he winked.

Roxas reddened slightly and turned around, “Okay then.”

He moved a bit and wiggled against Axel’s hold until he found a good position and alignment between the ball and his stick.

Axel thoroughly enjoyed holding Roxas’ backside against himself and let his mind wander to having a naked Roxas pressed up against him like this. His mind cleared however as he watched Roxas finally take the shot. “Corner left pocket,” Roxas said.

The cue ball launched straight at its intended target and sunk.

Roxas cheered and Axel helped him get off the table. He let his arms linger against Roxas’ body and kept himself pressed to his back.

“Very nice shot, Roxas. You’re the true Pool Master.”

Roxas turned around and grinned up at Axel. “The honor and glory is all mine?”

“It’s all yours,” he rumbled with a soft smile. There was something so gorgeous about seeing Roxas happy.

They stayed pressed together, looking and smiling at each other until it seemed to register to Roxas what they were doing. He couldn’t really step away as he was wedged between the table and Axel. He found some reprieve by looking away briefly, but moments later returned with an adorably shy smile on his face. “So, what do you want to do now?” The smile turned cheeky, “Losers pick.”

Axel cocked an eyebrow and huffed in amusement. He wanted to dance but figured it might not go down so well. “Karaoke.”

Roxas nodded and Axel grabbed his hand, leading the way down the stairs.


The karaoke room was dark and filled with groups of people. Once their eyes adjusted they found somewhere to sit. Axel produced a book full of songs which they could choose from. They perused through the extensive list and eventually had a solid ensemble of five classic glam rock ballads and one special song that Axel had picked out without Roxas' knowing.

The paper slip was submitted to Jonah, who hosted the karaoke night, and then Axel and Roxas waited for them to be called up to sing. When they were, they sang with whim and vigor. They played their air-guitar solos when the instrumental interludes happened and cracked each other up with laughter as they one-upped each other with the ridiculousness of their moves. After their last duet, they retreated back to their seats, giggling as they finished eating their snacks.

When Axel's name was called out again Roxas looked at him with surprise. "I thought we were done."

"We are, but I'm not. I've got a special song, just for you." Axel winked and left for the front of the room, big smirk on his face. When he reached the microphone he bowed his head, cleared his throat, and began his final song.

You should take it as a compliment
That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk
You should think about the consequence
Of your magnetic field being a little too strong
And I got a boyfriend, he's older than us
He's in the club doing, I don't know what
You're so cool, it makes me hate you so much

Whisky on ice, Sunset and Vine
You've ruined my life, by not being mine - Axel winked and watched Roxas sink down in his chair, hand covering his face.

You're so gorgeous
I can't say anything to your face
Cause look at your face
And I'm so furious
At you for making me feel this way
But, what can I say?
You're gorgeous

You should take it as a compliment
That I'm talking to everyone here but you
And you should think about the consequence
Of you touching my hand in the darkened room
If you've got a girlfriend, I'm jealous of her
But if you're single that's honestly worse
'Cause you're so gorgeous it actually hurt

Ocean blue eyes looking in mine
I feel like I might sink and drown and die - Axel crooned.

You're so gorgeous
I can't say anything to your face
Cause look at your face
And I'm so furious
At you for making me feel this way
But what can I say?
You're gorgeous

You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah
There's nothing I hate more than what I can't have
You are so gorgeous it makes me so mad
You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah
There's nothing I hate more than what I can't have
Guess I'll just stumble on home to my cats
Alone, unless you wanna come along, oh

Axel grinned and winked again. Roxas was peering at him through the gaps in his fingers.

You're so gorgeous
I can't say anything to your face
'Cause look at your face
And I'm so furious
At you for making me feel this way
But what can I say?
You're gorgeous

You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah
There's nothing I hate more than what I can't have
You are so gorgeous it makes me so mad
You're gorgeous
You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah
There's nothing I hate more than what I can't have
You are so gorgeous it makes me so mad
You're gorgeous (1)

Axel took a bow after his performance and sauntered over to Roxas. “Hey, gorgeous,” he sang as he flopped into the chair next to Roxas.

“How’re you not dead with embarrassment?” Roxas squeaked, hand slowly dropping away, exposing the look of mortification on his face.

“I’ve sung worse. Want me to demonstrate?”

“No!” Roxas yelped. He grabbed Axel’s arm and dragged him out of the room, towards the dance floor.

They stood together, letting the music wash over them. The dancing wasn’t grindy or sexy. No. It was fun. Very fun. They got into a dance-off. Roxas started it with a half box step and a challenging look. Axel accepted, following suit and completed a full box step. And then it was on. They kept adding to, and one-upping each other.

There were moonwalks, heel spins, split leaps, floor flips, arabesques, robots, pirouettes, and many more.

By the end of it all, Axel and Roxas found their way back up to the roof for some fresh and cool spring air, as they were both dripping with sweat. They lay on a small blanket which Axel had produced from a box and were looking up at the light-polluted sky, shoulder to shoulder. Empty water bottles surrounded them and for a while there was nothing but heavy breathing until their heart rates calmed.

“It was a good fight, Roxas,” Axel said up to the sky.

Roxas gave a glance, “You only won because of your damn legs.”

“Don’t be a sore loser. Yes, it was my legs, but if you could do the splits you could’ve impressed everyone too.”

Roxas laughed. “How did you even manage that in your jeans?”

Axel turned his head and winked. “Well, they’re pretty elastic, which comes in handy when impromptu dance battles happen.”

“Is that why you bought them? As battle armor for the hundreds of battles you fight each year?” Roxas giggled.

“I fight thousands. People come from all over the world to fight and also witness the infamous Axel, King of Dance, sway his hips.”

Roxas snorted at that, which made Axel grin. “Plus, they have the added benefit of being very form fitting, which makes my arse look amazing in them.”

Roxas smiled softly, “Yeah, they do.”

Axel smirked, purred with delight and waggled his eyebrows at Roxas suggestively.

Roxas’ smile faded, and he turned his head back up at the sky. The city ambience filled the air. The night was peaceful, and Axel felt content being up there with Roxas at his side.

“What are we doing?” Roxas muttered quietly.

Axel turned his head. “Huh? Hanging out after a night of mad fun. Chillaxing, yeah?”

Roxas raised his arm at the elbow, pulling Axel’s along with it. “Then what’s this?”

Axel looked at their interlaced fingers. They had been holding hands since they lay down together and he wasn’t entirely sure who had initiated it. “Look, if we were two straight girls no one would bat an eyelid. It would be cute, and we’d be talking about how and when our periods would sync up.”

“But we’re not.” Roxas sounded tired.

“So? If we were two straight guys you could assume we were sensitive BFF’s. People would applaud us for being cool bros.”

“But we’re not straight.”

“Yeah, okay we’re not straight, or girls. We’re two gay guys holding hands. So what? Our periods could still sync up though.”

Roxas gave a breathy laugh. “So, you’re saying this is nothing.”

Axel didn’t like the sound of that. “I think we both know it’s not nothing.”

“Then can you stop brushing me off and give me a straight answer?” Roxas said softly and wiggled their clasped hands around a little, which were still held aloft as evidence.

“Shouldn’t I be giving you a gay answer?” Axel chuckled.

“Axel,” Roxas reprimanded with no ferocity behind it.

Sadly, his attempts at a good-natured blow-off were failing. He gave a sighing hum. “Fine. There’s no denying that we like each other. We’re already such good friends and it’s only been two days. That’s why we’re holding hands. I don’t see a problem with it. And I don’t think you do either… I mean… not like you’re letting go or anything.” Axel gave a squeeze and hoped it would be well received.

It was. Roxas returned it after a few seconds and lowered their hands.

“I don’t want you to worry. I know this won’t go anywhere. You have a boyfriend after all.” Axel felt sad having to admit that.

Roxas nodded with a slight smile, seeming relieved that Axel acknowledged it.

“I don’t intend to get between you and him. But I still like hanging out with you like this… which I know probably sounds like an oxymoron.”

Roxas sighed. “It… does seem complicated. I don’t know anyone here. I don’t really want to give this up.”

“I don’t want you to, either. You know, people have all kinds of different relationships. Maybe this is just how it’ll be for us. Holding hands, being all touchy-feely. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than us being really good friends. Or if it’s a problem for you, tell me and I’ll be less… all over you. I’ll admit that I am making an effort to find excuses to get my hands on you.” Axel kept his eyes on Roxas, looking for any signs of discomfort.

There was a tiny smile, and then the cutest darting of eyes. “You really like me?”

“Yeah, I do. Why’s that so hard to believe?” He rubbed small circles against Roxas’ hand.

“Maybe because it’s been two days.” He smiled, lifted their hands again and looked at their interlaced fingers.

“You’re okay with this, aren’t you?” Axel squeezed again.

There was a long pause.

Axel began to worry. He didn’t want Roxas to call it quits between them. It was so frustrating how much he liked this guy. Frustrating to be caught up in wanting someone who was taken. Axel truly didn’t want to cause problems for Roxas though. But he was also selfish and wanted to see how far he could push things.

“Yeah,” Roxas breathed out eventually.

Axel’s shoulders relaxed. He hadn’t realized how tense he had been. “Awesome. Tell me if I’m coming on too strong and making you uncomfortable though. I’ll dial it back. And don’t let my friend Lucy catch us doing this,” Axel squeezed Roxas’ hand again. “She’ll ship us in two seconds flat and have a fanfiction written about us by the end of the day,” he laughed.

“Really? That would happen?”

“Yeah. She’ll ship anything with a pulse. She loves finding the romantic angle and running with it. Blames her job as a sports journalist. All that bromancing on sports teams gets her all hot and bothered,” he chuckled.

“No, I mean meeting your friends.”

“Oh. Of course. Why wouldn’t you? You’re a part of the larger fabric that makes up my social network now. And since you don’t have a job,” Axel did air quotation marks, while still holding on to Roxas, “you’ll have plenty of time to come hang out with me before I go to work. And we can do things on my days off. A bunch of my friends go to university, so they don’t really have anything to do all day anyway,” he laughed. “That sound good? You’ll come and meet my friends?”

“Ah… yeah. That does sound like fun. I can probably do this week. Not so sure about next.”

“Why’s that?”

Roxas worried at his lower lip for a moment before speaking, “Going to spend time with Vanitas.”

“Oh, that’s your boyfriend, right?” Axel already didn’t like the guy. What a pompous name.

“Yeah.”

“Why isn’t he hanging out with you right now, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Again, Roxas took his time answering, and when he spoke, it was slow and measured, “He’s still back at our old home. He’s a business consultant manager, so he has a lot of portfolios and people to overlook. Makes it a bit hard for him to just up and leave. So he sent me ahead to get everything ready and to get Cheshire settled in.”

“Cheshire?”

“She’s our cat.” Some energy returned to Roxas, “We adopted her from a shelter. She was abused as a kitten, so she is really sensitive when it comes to change, and she’s super slow to warm up to new people and places.”

Damn, they had a cat together. That was like the gay equivalent of having a child together, Axel grumbled in his head. “Poor thing. How’s she doing with the move?”

“Really well, actually. The first two days she was meowing like crazy all day and night, and she wouldn’t come out of her carrier. But she’s super relaxed now. You wanna see photos?”

“Yeah, sure.” But he kind of regretted it because Roxas finally pulled his hand out of Axel’s and went fishing for his phone.

Roxas pulled out a really old model – one Axel hadn’t seen in years. He was formulating some joke to make about it but got completely distracted by Roxas suddenly pressing himself against Axel’s body as he scooched close and rested his head on Axel’s shoulder. Roxas held the phone aloft and began scrolling through photos.

God damn, Axel liked the feel of him there. He pulled his arm out from beneath Roxas and wound it around the other man. Roxas sunk down a little and nestled more comfortably against Axel’s side.

“This is when we first got her. See how manky she was? Full of mange. But it cleared up and was completely gone after a month.” Roxas quickly zoomed through a bunch more photos to ones of a much happier looking cat.

“Man, is that the same cat? She looks completely different.”

Roxas tilted his head to grin up at Axel. “Yeah. I gave her heaps of baths. She smelled so fruity,” he beamed with pride.

“You bathed a cat? Multiple times? Roxas! How’re you still alive to tell the tale?”

Roxas gave a giddy laugh. “It wasn’t easy. My arms and legs looked like a slashers victim. But she learned to appreciate it after a while. Or at least stop trying to use me as an escape ladder.”

Axel laughed with amusement and lazily traced his finger back and forth along Roxas’ stomach, just above where his pants sat. It was automatic and natural and when Axel noticed himself doing it he didn’t stop. He decided to let Roxas tell him when to quit. And as it stood, Roxas was clearly not bothered by it. He continued talking and flicking through images.

“She will actually come and sit at the edge of the bathtub whenever I have a bath, and swat at the water.”

“You think she’s trying to murder it?”

Roxas chuckled. “Never occurred to me. Maybe she is. Plotting her revenge on the nasty water.”

“As long as she doesn’t get revenge on you. I’d hate to see you get hurt.”

Roxas’ happy smile dipped and quavered for a moment. “Oh look, this is us taking a siesta,” Roxas enthused with great passion.

Axel looked at the selfie Roxas had taken with his cat. Both wore sombreros. “Where’d you get a mini sombrero from?” he laughed.

“Dollar stores are amazing places.”

“Did you cut little holes in it to fit her ears?”

“Yeah,” Roxas grinned.

Axel laughed in sheer delight. It was so dorky and so cute.

Roxas showed Axel more photos. Some silly, some not so. There was one of him and his cat, wearing glasses and matching Halloween outfits. Roxas also skimmed over other photos pertaining to his hobby, happy food snaps, and other seemingly random stuff.

Axel was acutely aware of seeing no photos of Roxas and his boyfriend together. He decided to hold his tongue.

“Hold up, can you go back a few?”

“Huh? Why?” Roxas scrolled back.

“Why’d you take a photo of that?” He vaguely pointed at a photo of what seemed to be a close-up of a sidewalk.

“Reference. I like the texturing. I might be able to replicate something like that on leather. Who knows.”

Axel whistled. “I dig how passionate you are, Roxas.”

“Thanks,” Roxas gave a small nervous laugh and continued scrolling, until, “And this is the last one I took just yesterday.”

It was of Roxas in his sexy clothes from the previous day, and little Cheshire wearing a matching vest.

“Very cute, Roxas. Looks like she puts up with a lot.”

“Yeah. She’s the best cat ever.” Roxas slipped his phone in a front pocket and continued lying snuggled against Axel. “Do you have any pets?”

“No.” Axel moved his arm up and started playing with Roxas’ hair, stroking strands and twirling tufts around his fingers.

Roxas seemed unfazed. In fact, he tilted his head a tiny bit towards Axel’s hand. “Oh, why not? You don’t like animals?”

“No, I do. But the idea of looking after something that’s dependent on me is kinda scary.”

“Oh. It’s not that bad. You’d be surprised how dependent you get on your pet. It’s like a symbiotic relationship. I don’t know what I’d do without Chesh some days. It’s nice to feel wanted and needed. Van always says I’m crazy – that she doesn’t see me as anything but a food source, but I swear she’s happy to see me every day.”

Roxas’ words struck Axel quite hard. It was inexplicable. Why would he say such a thing? Did Roxas not feel loved in his relationship? That thought actually caused a twinge in the corner of Axel’s eye.

“Well, I believe you,” he said, and internally yelled, take that, Vanitas. “My Aunt Amanda has this cat Gertrude – yeah, don’t even ask about the name,” Axel laughed as Roxas gave an infinitely baffled but amused look, “anyway, this cat always sits by her bed whenever Aunty feels unwell. And my Uncle Ben died a few years ago. Gertrude wouldn’t leave my Aunt’s side. Not even to go eat.”

“Yeah?” Roxas said quietly.

“Yeah. Animals are amazing like that.”

Roxas nodded and then his face turned all sad. Eyes shimmered, reflecting the dim ambient light around them. He sniffled and quickly sat up.

Axel followed suit. “Everything okay?” He rubbed at the man’s back.

Roxas nodded but kept his back turned. “Yeah. Yeah. It’s just a really nice story.”

“Okay. But if something’s upsetting you, you can tell me,” he kept rubbing.

“Everything’s fine, but thanks, Axel.”

Axel saw hands go up to face. It looked like Roxas was wiping at possible tears.

“I… can give you a hug if you want. I know I’m skinny, but friends say I give pretty amazing hugs. And I’m not even making that up. You can ask ‘em.” Axel stilled his soothing motion and rested hand on Roxas’ shoulder, giving a light squeeze.

Roxas chuckled a little. “Nah, it’s all right,” he turned his head a bit. “I think the only thing I need is to go back to my cat, who loves me and get some sleep.” Roxas raised himself, wiped elbow against his face and turned around again.

Axel also rose alongside Roxas. Words were swimming in his head about the cat not being the only one who could love him, but he left it well alone.

“Thanks for today, Axel. I had a lot of fun.”

“Same. Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Ah,” Roxas sniffled and looked around himself. “I think I’ll stay home tomorrow, but… did you say you have Tuesdays and Wednesdays off?”

“Yup.”

“Maybe we can hang out with some of your other friends then?”

“Yeah, sure. That’d be awesome. We meet up at The Kingdom for lunch at twelve-thirty on Tuesdays. Want me to text you the details?”

“No, it’s fine. Can you just tell me the address? I’ll remember it.”

“Ah, one-fifty-five Earl Street… it’s off Fourth. Can’t really miss it. It’s got a ginormous crown sitting on top of the building. You gonna be okay finding that?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Cool. Well, I’ll see you on Tuesday then.”

“Yeah.” Roxas bent over and started picking up the water bottles.

“Nah, man. Leave that. I’ll sort it out,” Axel took the empty plastic bottle Roxas had fetched out of the man’s hand, brushing at fingers as he went. Axel just couldn’t help himself.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. You look really tired. Go home and cuddle Miss Cheshire.”

Roxas gave a weary smile. “Thanks, Axel.” He got up on his tiptoes and kissed Axel on the cheek. “Good-night.”

“Night, gorgeous. I’ll miss seeing you tomorrow.”

Roxas huffed in amusement, shook his head a little, and gave the cutest smile Axel had ever seen. Nothing else was said between them and he watched Roxas make his way off the roof.

Axel listened to feet clanking down metal stair after metal stair and then breathed in deep. The cool night air soothed his racing heart. He wondered what it must be like to date Roxas. If he was already feeling this amazing just being friends… friends. Would it kill him if they never became anything more than friends? Could Axel be happy for Roxas if he ever chose to do something like marry Vanitas?

Axel shook his head and began tidying up. Those were such stupid thoughts to have. They had literally only known each other for two days. Axel would surely get bored soon enough, as the novelty of having the hots for forbidden fruit wore off.

Chapter Text

Axel woke up with a start as his alarm blared. He grabbed for his phone, squinting at the lock-screen, trying to comprehend what was going on. It was 10:30 am. Who the hell got up at such an ungodly hour? He stuck his finger on the snooze icon and slid it into the middle. But before he let go to slumber on, a message he had seemingly set last night scrolled across the screen, ‘Don’t go back to sleep moron. Meet Kairi, duh.’ Axel tried to grasp what the message was about, not entirely understanding at first… then suddenly it clicked. Eyes shot open and he opted for turning the alarm off instead and attempted to get up.

Axel wasn’t a morning person. In part, because he worked late, and also because he wasn’t crazy. So it physically hurt to get himself up and ready, but he did.

He took a dump, showered, shaved, and got dressed. He pulled on skinny jeans — belt already pre-looped — slipped on an old band shirt, and his favorite worn, studded leather jacket, with a few chains dangling from the pockets. Everything was there, laid out for him at the foot of his bed. He thought he could kiss his past self for looking after sleepy-Axel in such a nice way. If this had been up to himself now, he’d probably walk out in his pajama bottoms and the Booty Call novelty joke shirt he had slept in.

Not a good look, especially if he was finally going to see Roxas again. Axel really looked forward to his reunion with the other man, so it spurred him on.

He pulled on socks and wandered back into his rather tiny bathroom, applying a thin layer of mascara, gelling his hair slightly to make some pronounced spikes, and lastly splashed on some cologne. He also fastened a choker and clapped on two studded bracelets that he kept in the bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity. He quickly gave himself a once over, deemed it good enough, and headed out after strapping on boots, which added a couple extra inches.

The café he was headed for was only three stops away on the bus line. Axel made it through the doors of The Kingdom by a whisker past twelve.

“You’re late,” a familiar voice reprimanded as he approached a booth in the back of the café.

“Only by a bit,” he slid in, opposite of the woman dressed in a rose-colored denim dress.

She cocked an eyebrow, pulled out her phone and after some fiddling read, “Hey Kai-Kai, could you please meet me a bit earlier tomorrow? Eleven-thirty? Swear I’ll be there.” She put her phone away again. “So what’s this, Ax?”

“I’m here. I never said I’d be on time.”

“The punctuality was implied when you set a time.” She stirred the drink which was before her, pulled out the spoon, and licked it. “So anyway, you’re here now. What’s up?”

“Right, yeah. So, over the weekend I met a really cute guy — ”

“Seriously? Boy troubles? I thought you were old enough to sort out your love life by now.”

Man, she was grumpy today. “C’mon, hear me out.”

She gestured with her hand, indicating that Axel had the floor.

“We hit it off. We talked, and joked and danced. God, did we dance.” That memory was his favorite to replay whilst he’d jacked off. “We could have dropped and had sex right there on the dance floor.”

An eye-roll. “I hope you waited ‘til you got home.”

“Well, that’s the thing… we were about to start kissing — but then he left when things were just about to get good. He came back the next night wanting to talk. And then he told me he’s got a boyfriend.”

“Oh no. Axel, no. You guys didn’t end up doing anything, right?”

“No, we didn’t.”

Kairi sighed with relief.

“Would it be so bad if we did though?” It’s not what he wanted to talk to Kairi about, but he figured he might as well ask about this too. He had been scrutinizing his morality all of yesterday… which had been very annoying.

“Axel!”

“I know what it sounds like —”

“You sure? Because right now it sounds like you’re looking for excuses to actually pursue this guy. You’re talking about infidelity here. You’re gonna be one of those people we all hate, just to get a cheap thrill for a night?” she waggled her finger at him.

That was the difficult thing he grappled with. It was his rule when he got with anyone — they were to have no partner. He wasn’t sure why he let Roxas be an exception. Well… he kind of did know. “But that’s the thing — I really like him. I want more than just one night.”

“That makes it even worse! You’re gonna sabotage this guy’s relationship?”

“Well, that’s where I need your help.”

Mouth flew open and arms crossed chest. “Excuse me? I’m not helping you ruin other peoples’ lives.”

“Will you just shut up and listen for two minutes?” he groaned.

Kairi scowled with disgust but said no more.

“Thanks. So… I’m not actually sure if I am ruining their relationship. There’s something off and I don’t know what it is exactly. I’m really into him, Kai. I want him all to myself, so maybe I am imagining things. Hoping their relationship is on the rocks and I’m looking for unhappiness and dissatisfaction to justify why I’m not keeping my hands off him. I dunno. You’re pretty level-headed, so I wanna run this by you.” He gave his best pitying pout.

Kairi sighed. “Fine. I’ll hold off my judgment of you being a complete sleaze-bag until you tell me what evidence you have.”

“Cool, so Roxas — that’s his name by the way — he’s super fun, friendly and open, but when we talk about his relationship he gets all tense and snappy. Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking — ’it’s because he knows what we’re doing is wrong.’

Kairi nodded.

“But… Roxas is really sweet and he was upfront about the boyfriend. He doesn’t seem like the kinda guy who’d cheat on anyone, so I don’t think he’d have let us almost kiss if he was actually happy with what he’s got.”

Kairi narrowed her eyes, “Well, you didn’t seem like someone who’d ever cheat either… until five minutes ago. Goes to show you can never really know someone,” she muttered.

Axel sighed. He felt like he was losing what little justification for his actions he had talked himself into. But maybe he could still change her mind and make himself feel better. “But anyway, from his actions I’m left thinking that things aren’t all good at home. He showed me a bunch of photos on his phone on Sunday — we were on the roof at work by the way, totally snuggling and holding hands.” Axel saw the way Kairi fidgeted. He appreciated her holding her tongue at this very moment. “So again, why would we do that if he was happy? But the point is, I didn’t see a single photo of him with his guy. Not even a solo photo of the guy. That’s not normal, right?”

“Can I speak now?”

“You may.”

A massive eye roll was followed by, “There could be a million reasons for that. Maybe he uses a real camera for those kinds of photos, or maybe he only showed you a certain folder. Maybe he feels so bad about the cheating that he’s trying to keep his boyfriend out of sight, out of mind,” she raised a pointed eyebrow at Axel.

They sat and stared at each other. Kairi’s spoon clanked as she stirred her drink again.

“Well, that’s why I need your help. See, I didn’t even consider those other things.”

“Guess your dick is doing all the thinking nowadays. Such a shame. You used to be a real nice guy.”

Axel groaned. “I know I’m being a douchey scumbag right now, but good-guy-Axel still lives inside. You know I have considered that Roxas’ boyfriend could be the sweetest guy. But… if he was, then…” Axel chewed on his lip. “I don’t see any other possibility than their relationship somehow being no good. And don’t tell anyone but… I know I’m not that great either. Not enough to leave a perfectly happy relationship behind for. I’m selfish and egotistical. But still, he’s happy to spend time with me. I’m seriously not forcing myself on him. At least, I don’t think I am,” he muttered as an aside. “And yet, you know, there I was with Roxas all weekend, letting him take the lead. And he took it. I’m not pushing for anything more than hanging out together. My only crime is that I’m being a bit over-friendly with him. So, if he’s serious about his current relationship, he knows he can say no to me. I made sure he knew that.” He stared expectantly at her.

“You done now?

“I guess, yeah?”

“You two are still fucking cheating. You’re ingratiating yourself and emotionally sabotaging an already existing relationship.”

“Can you maybe focus on the part where I need your help?”

“What do you want me to do? I can’t tell if you’re imagining things since you’re telling me this stuff from your already biased and imagining imagination.”

“Ah, well that’s where I’m a genius. I invited him to hang out with us today.”

Spoon dropped. “You did what? Why?”

“So you can meet him and talk to him yourself.”

“About both of your poor life choices?”

“Kairi! Be serious!”

“I am,” she glowered.

“I want you to talk to him about his boyfriend and see how he behaves. And then you can tell me if I’m crazy and imagining things.”

“Why’s it have to be me?”

“Because you can read people.”

“What makes you think that?”

“You’re studying psychology.”

She scoffed. “Yeah, it’s psychology, Axel, not mind reading.”

“Aren’t those two the same thing, just under a different name?” he said whimsically.

“They’re not. I could probably tell you all about your dysfunctions though, but that would take forever and we don’t have much time before everyone else gets here,” she glanced at her watch.

“Even more reason for you to agree to this.”

“Why can’t you ask Flik, or Ruth, or even Lucy?”

“They’re into sciences and engineering. They don’t understand people like we do. And Lucy… well, you know how she gets.”

Kairi laughed a little. “You have a point there.” She turned serious again though, “But if you understood people like you claim you do, then this… what was his name?”

“Roxas.”

“If you understood Roxas so well you wouldn’t be asking me.”

“I think I get him. Which is why the cheating seems confusing. And which is also why I need a second opinion.”

“My opinion is you leave him alone to be with his boyfriend.”

“Just talk to him today, and if you think I’m crazy I’ll totally friend-zone myself with him. No touching or flirting. So whaddya say, Kai-Kai? Be my independent observer?”

Wearing a scowl, she brought her drink to lips and mulled things over while she drank. Axel observed, his leg nervously shaking under the table while he waited.

After a while, Kairi put the drink down and groaned. “Fine.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“You owe me.”

“I’ll pay for lunch and anything else we get up to today that might cost money.”

“You better,” her seemingly perpetual frown finally lifted. “Hey, Ruth! Hey, Shiki!”

Axel turned his attention to his friends who were slowly arriving. “Hey, guys!”

“Woah! What’s Axel doing here already?” Shiki pointed, mouth agape.

Within a further five minutes, Flik, Dee, Lucy, and Paul arrived as well.

“Sam said he can’t make it today,” Paul announced as he climbed over Dee and Shiki, to sit next to Ruth.

“So we’re all here then. Might as well order food,” Dee enthused. “I really want to try their special deer burger,” he said, smacking lips.

“There’s deer?” Flik snatched the specials menu from him.

“Dude, next time ask instead of being Mister Grabby Hands,” he scowled at Flik, who sat across the booth from him.

“I’m still waiting on someone.” Axel had kept a close eye on the door, waiting for Roxas to make an entrance.

“Oh, who?” Shiki waggled her eyebrows.

Axel caught Kairi’s nose-wiggle of unhappiness.

“A guy I met over the weekend.”

Nearly everyone at the table went, “Oooooo!”

Axel wished he could, ‘oooo,’ along with them. Instead, he begrudgingly said, “It’s not like that. He’s got a boyfriend. But he’s new in town and doesn’t know anyone, so I thought it might be nice for him to meet some people. We can show him around the city, if you guys don’t have much else to do the rest of the day.”

“No can do. Major project due in two days,” Flik said, nose still deep in the menu.

“I’m out too,” Lucy announced, while she busily watched the television mounted on the wall above the register, all the while scribbled something in her notebook.

“Shiki and I can’t stay either. We have a group thing we need to go do today,” Dee said, giving Shiki a look to confirm.

She nodded in agreement. “But if we finish it we can come out tomorrow to do some sightseeing if that’s still happening.”

“Cool. I’m gonna go outside, see if I can spot him. You guys order without me.” He got up, but before he had gone two steps he whirled around. “Be nice when we come in. No dumb ‘ooo-ing’ and don’t ask questions.”

He walked away to the sound of giggles and sniggers.

Axel really wished he had gotten Roxas’ number. He worried that the man had gotten lost, or changed his mind. When he got outside, however, his fears were allayed.

There, to his left, past the shop front window, was Roxas, leaning against the brick wall of the building. Axel thought he looked mighty fine, dressed in monochrome. Something about it reminded him of Saturday’s outfit, but it looked more casual and a bit more everyday-wear appropriate. He seemed to be staring intensely at his phone, with a deep frown.

“Roxas!” Axel called and walked towards him.

Roxas jumped a little at hearing his name. Head turned towards Axel and phone slipped away into a pocket somewhere.

“Hey,” he said, looking less enthusiastic than Axel had hoped.

The tongue-in-cheek greeting Axel had wanted to give, died on his tongue. Instead, he said, “Hey, man! What’re you doing out here? Everyone’s inside. C’mon, let’s eat,” Axel nodded towards the door with a big smile.

“I was just taking a call.”

“You’re done now though, so let’s go.” Axel tried to bring his arm around Roxas’ back to usher him towards the entrance of the café, but Roxas side-stepped, evading the contact.

Baffled, Axel asked, “Is everything okay?”

There was no answer, only a worrying of lips and gaze directed at the ground.

“Roxas,” he said softly, stepping a little closer but keeping hands to himself.

“I… don’t know if I should. Maybe it’s best if I just go home.”

“No, why? What’s wrong? What happened? Was it the phone call?” Was it your boyfriend? Axel thought to himself with more venom.

Eyes shot up, wide and a little wild.

Bingo, Axel told himself with annoyance.

“No, no. Nothing like that. I just —” Roxas looked towards the café. “There’s so many people. I’m not really good in big social settings.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine. I told them all to behave themselves, and they’ll be too busy eating in a bit to talk. And after, it’ll only be five of us walking around. The rest have places to be.”

Roxas stared at the ground again, silently.

Axel waited a moment. Still nothing. “I’ll look after you, promise.” He gave his sweetest smile.

Roxas looked up and then eyed Axel carefully, “No one will mess with you dressed like that.”

“You like it?” he spun on heels.

Roxas continued eyeing him, a smile curling one corner of his mouth, and he gave a small nod.

Axel beamed. “I like what you’ve got on too.” Urge to touch was strong. He tucked hands into his jacket pockets instead.

“Thanks.”

“So you hungry or what, gorgeous?” Axel winked. He was rewarded by Roxas huffing with the tiniest laugh, which lit Axel right up.

Roxas’ eyes darted between Axel and the entrance of The Kingdom before he finally said, “Yeah, I am.”

“Awesome. You okay with money today? I don’t mind paying if you’re not. I get hella good tips.” Axel walked back towards the café doors and Roxas followed.

“No, I’ve still got the hundred you didn’t take.”

“Awesome, but if you need me to spot you, just let me know.”

They entered the building and Axel stopped off at the counter to get their orders in before he led the way to the booth his friends occupied.

“So, this is Roxas,” he introduced.

There were enthusiastic and polite greetings uttered, and Axel ushered Roxas in to sit between Lucy and himself.

Introductions of all Axel’s friends were made, food was ordered, and then everyone creepily stared at Roxas with big grins.

Roxas looked around. Axel could see the discomfort.

“Knock it off guys. I told you to leave him alone.”

“You told us to not ask questions, so we aren’t,” Ruth declared, as the current spokesperson for everyone present.

“Instead you’re all just being creepy?”

The gang nodded.

Axel leaned over to Roxas, “I’m sorry about them.”

“You shouldn’t have told them something dumb like that. I can answer questions. Lay them on me.”

“Sweet!” Flik squeaked. “Roxas, would you rather have one giant hundred-pound puppy, or one hundred one-pound puppies?”

Roxas’ baffled look turned to one of amusement. “Counter question – can I change the puppies to kittens?”

Flik stroked his goatee thoughtfully for a moment. “Yeah okay. I’ll allow the concession.”

“One hundred one-pound kittens then, and Axel has to clean the litter boxes.”

The table laughed while Axel made sounds of indignation.

“You love cats too?” Ruth leaned forward a little.

“Yeah. I grew up down the street from a cat shelter. I helped clean out the litter boxes and was allowed to go around and give all the boarding cats their dinners over school holidays,” Roxas grinned.

“Oh wow. That must have been fun, but also kind of gross,” Ruth added as an afterthought.

“Oh it was. But because I helped the ladies who ran the place, they let me play with the cats too.”

Ruth cooed. “Now that sounds like something I could have gotten behind. Paul, we should move in next door to a cat shelter. Stuff becoming an engineer. I’m going to become a crazy cat lady instead.”

“You know I’ll support you to the ends of the Earth, but I draw the line at anything more than four cats.”

“Five.” She squinted at him.

“Four.”

“Five!”

“Three.”

“What? No, you aren’t supposed to go down in number.”

Arms crossed before himself. “It’s going to turn into two —”

“No, no! Four is fine. We’ll get a dog and make it five that way.”

That appeased Paul. “Okay, deal.” He leaned in and Ruth gave him a giggling peck on the lips which ended in them rubbing their noses together.

“Ignore them. They’ve only been dating for three weeks, so they’re all mushy together,” Axel informed.

“It’s cute,” Roxas smiled.

“Aww, Roxas supports our love! It’s decided, you can be a part of our group,” Ruth condoned graciously and buried her face in Paul’s shoulder.

Axel was relieved that things were going well. Roxas seemed to be relaxed and happy, and Axel’s friends were warm and inviting. Not that he ever doubted that they would have been. Even Kairi was smiling.

“Hey, Rox, Shiki here fancies herself a future fashion designer. Maybe you can give her some tips,” Axel nudged Roxas playfully, wanting to make him as comfortable as possible. What better way to do that than to know you had something in common with someone?

Shiki’s eyes lit up. “Really? You like making clothes?”

The smile on Roxas’ face grew, and he leaned in, starting up a fevered discussion about which things Axel had no clue. The banter continued until all their meals had been delivered. Axel’s friends kept asking dumb, inconsequential questions of Roxas, to which the man was able to give amusing answers.

It made Axel like him even more.


 

After lunch, the party reduced to just Kairi, Paul, Ruth, Roxas, and Axel. They stood around outside of the café, phones pulled out, busy searching for things to do after Roxas had shrugged his shoulders when asked what he wanted to see or do.

“There’s the Natural History Museum, and the Science and Technology Museum,” said Ruth.

“Sounds good,” Roxas nodded.

“We’ll have to pick one. There’s only three hours left before they close, and we’ll never get through both in that time,” Kairi pointed out.

“Whichever.”

“Science it is,” Ruth cheered, grabbed Paul’s hand, and led the procession down the road.

Axel gave Kairi a pointed look as they ambled down the sidewalk.

“So, Roxas,” she began.

“Mm?”

“Axel told me you have a cat. I love cats. Can I see?”

“Oh. Uh, sure.”

Axel slowed down a little and hung back a few steps, pretending to attend to urgent business on his phone, leaving Kairi to schmooze with Roxas.

They seemed to hit it off, talking quite animatedly as they went. It alleviated some of Axel’s worry. If they got on well, then it would be easier for Kairi to sneak in conversations about the boyfriend. Axel looked forward to finding out Kairi’s opinion at the end of the day.

He made sure to give them ample space as they walked towards the museum. He also gave them loads of alone time once they had reached their destination, finding opportunities to abandon them by excitedly rushing off to the next exhibit. He always waited for them to catch up though, since he didn’t want to deprive himself of spending time with Roxas.

This way, a fair few hours were whiled away exploring everything.

When closing time neared, they headed out, somehow managing to avoid getting heavily sucked into the vortex that was the gift shop.

They stood outside in the plaza area, amongst other gathered groups of people. Some were there to admire and play in the fun water features which burst forth from pipes in the ground, while others just used this as a good meeting spot. After all, that was the space’s primary purpose. The plaza was lined with benches set under the shade of trees, where one could rest and enjoy the lengthening of days as they moved through spring and eventually into summer.

“How was that, Roxas?” Axel asked, resisting the urge to gently bump into his side as they stood next to each other.

Eager blue eyes looked up, wide with enthusiasm. “It was so much fun. Where I grew up we didn’t have anything like this.”

“Yeah, the museums here are pretty cool,” was all Axel was able to say, mind drawing a blank, completely enraptured by Roxas’ striking expression and the way their hands brushed together.

“They are pretty cool. I don’t remember the Science Tech being this much fun back when I came here for school excursions,” Paul said, looking back at the exterior of the building.

“There’s been a lot of renovations and a lot more interactive exhibits added over the years. But you’d know that if you had been more of a dedicated science nerd and come here other than when you were dragged to it for field trips,” Ruth teased as she rifled through her gift shop bag.

“Hey! I’m dedicated! Just… didn’t get out much because — I was so dedicated to building bottle rockets and making clouds in jars,” Paul recovered his dignity.

Ruth laughed. “Aren’t you cute.”

Paul winked in response.

“Hmm… I might’ve gotten into science if there had been cool stuff like this around when I grew up,” Axel pondered aloud.

“I’ll blame your teachers for not making it fun,” Paul said, ripping off a tag from a hat he had bought before placing it on Ruth’s head.

“Oh no, Paul. Our teachers had nothing to do with it,” Kairi corrected. “Axel was just way more into graffitiing the back of the sports shed than he ever was into science,” she giggled.

“You two went to school together?” Roxas spoke up as they walked without purpose down the sidewalk.

“Yup, I’ll tell you all about his misdemeanors over dinner if you want.”

Roxas laughed. “Yeah, okay.”

“That’ll be the shortest conversation in history. I was an angel,” Axel dismissed.

Kairi’s eyes went wide in disbelief. She shook her head and wordlessly mouthed, ‘Noooooo,’ at Roxas.

It made him laugh even more, which in turn made Axel smile in happiness.

“What should we do for dinner anyways?” Ruth gave voice to the obvious question.

“Isn’t your work around here somewhere, Ax?” Paul asked.

“Yeah, but it’s my day off. Not setting foot in that place. Nah-ah.”

“Ooo! Ooo! Let’s go to the Sky Lounge! I’ve always wanted to eat there!” Ruth bounced.

“Isn’t that a bit expensive?” Axel scratched at his cheek, trying to remember where exactly the tower even was.

“It is if you go to the top-tier restaurant. They do have a lower level where it’s just a three-course meal instead of the seven,” Ruth stated.

“Look at you girl, all informed,” Kairi laughed.

“I’ve always wanted to eat there,” Ruth said wistfully.

“You have?” Paul gasped with surprise.

“Uh-huh.”

“Right. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m taking my Ruthy up there.”

“You will?”

“Yeah,” he smiled at her, netting him a big hug and a shower of kisses.

“Well, I believe Axel’s paying for me, so I don’t even care if we go to the top level,” Kairi gave him a smug smirk.

“He is?” The lovebirds said in unison.

“Yup.”

“Yeah, I kinda promised. But what do you wanna do, Roxas?”

“Ah… ,” he frowned, thinking about it.

“It’s such a great view of the whole city from up there,” Ruth encouraged.

“It’s okay. You guys go. I should get home. My cat will be getting hungry.”

“But… didn’t you tell me she has one of those automatic feeding station things?” Kairi said gently.

“Ah… Yeah.” Roxas looked uncomfortable.

“Hey guys, talk amongst yourselves. I’ve gotta have a word with Roxas.” Axel grabbed the man’s arm and tugged at him to follow.

They stepped away slightly, standing close enough for Axel to smell Roxas’ shampooed hair. Axel deemed it to be his new favorite scent. He refocused, “I can pay for you. It’s no problem.”

“I couldn’t. You’re already going to pay for Kairi.”

“It’s no problem, really. C’mon,” he smiled encouragingly, whilst savoring the closeness between them. He regretted willfully denying himself this pleasure all afternoon.

“No, it’s fine.”

“Roxas–”

“Vanitas wants to take me up there for dinner when he finally moves over here,” eyes pierced, rather sharply.

It was a cold dumping of iced water on Axel’s head. “Oh.”

“Sorry,” he murmured, head drooping.

“Uh… it’s okay. Um… can we still go up to the observation deck at least? With the sun going down it’ll look really cool. You can go home after that if you want.” The day had gone by too fast. Axel wanted more time with him.

Roxas looked at Axel for a bit before eyes fell down. Axel followed to where their hands were lightly clasped. Shit. He had only meant to brush against fingers but was somehow now holding on.

But Roxas gave the smallest of smiles and swung their hands the tiniest bit. He gave an almost silent, “Okay,” and slipped from Axel’s grasp.

Axel wanted so much more. He ached to chase after that hand and hold on tight forever, but he managed to restrain himself. He turned to the three other members of their party and announced, “We’re cool to go to the Sky Lounge. We’ll go to the observation deck, watch the sunset, and then Roxas will leave us.”

“Ah, romantic!” Ruth threw arms around Paul and squeezed him with excitement.

Was it? No. It wouldn’t be. Axel brushed it off. “C’mon, let’s get going.”

They all marched on, with Axel taking the lead. He needed to keep his distance from Kairi and her disapproving glower, as she had most likely spotted their too-personal-for-a-platonic-friendship touch.

It wasn’t too long before he heard Roxas asking, “Is that the Colitan and Mursor building?”

They all stopped to peer up at the towering behemoth comprised of concrete and glass.

“Yeah. They have an observation deck. Do you wanna check it out?” Paul offered.

“No. It’s all good. I just wanted to know if that building was what I thought it was.”

“Why’s that? It’s pretty uninteresting.” Paul craned his neck to look to the very top.

The others followed suit.

“It’s pretty ugly. Screams totalitarian bureaucracy, if you ask me,” Axel remarked.

His friends laughed.

“My boyfriend’s gonna work here,” Roxas let out coolly, still looking up at the gray building with all its tinted glass windows.

“Oh.” Axel wished Roxas’ boyfriend would stop creeping into all his conversations with Roxas. “Well, this was a nice stop, but we gotta get moving,” he said, trying to distract himself from the uncomfortable truth that the object of his desires should be out of bounds.

They all shuffled along, but before his long legs took him too far into the lead, he heard Kairi remark, “Hey Roxas, what’s your boyfriend do?”

‘Good girl,’ he thought. Axel would buy her an extra helping of dessert.


 

They reached the Sky Lounge with plenty of time left before sunset. The city lay sprawled out before them, extending to the horizon every which way they looked.

They wandered around the small selection of memorabilia encased behind glass, telling the story of how the surrounding flat planes had slowly been devoured by the sprawling metropolis over the decades. And then they wandered some more, checking out the overpriced postcards and keychains.

“Hey Kairi, let’s see if we can see our homes from up here,” Ruth said once they had been around the whole place twice.

“Yeah!” Kairi cheered excitedly, and with that, they were off. Paul followed his girlfriend close behind.

Axel and Roxas stared after them.

“Such children,” Axel chuckled. He met Roxas’ gaze as blond head turned to face him, and smiled. Roxas returned it and actually scooched closer towards Axel. They stood slightly bent over, resting elbows against a metal guard railing, and almost touching.

“Did you have fun today, gorgeous?” he asked gently. He felt his smile softening by the second. It was lame, but looking at, and being with Roxas made him happy. He reached up and raked his hand through Roxas’ hair, rubbing at scalp slightly; it was an impulsive thing to do, but that didn’t stop Axel.

Roxas froze a little, but then tilted his head into the touch, giving the smallest of contented sighs. “Yeah. Thanks for inviting me out. Your friends are really nice.”

“See, you had nothing to be nervous about earlier today,” Axel said warmly and rubbed his hand down towards the nape of Roxas’ neck. “They like you.”

“They do?”

“If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have gone through the day without letting you know to your face,” he assured.

Roxas chuckled. “Good to know.”

Axel stopped touching Roxas, deeming it most likely inappropriate by now, and returned his arm to the railing. “Do you wanna hang out again tomorrow?”

Roxas’ eyes lingered on Axel’s hand, but then he looked up, “What have you got in mind?”

Axel shrugged. “You like animals? We could go to the zoo. See some big cats.”

“Really?” Eyes went wide.

Those gorgeous blues slayed him. “Mhmm. I’ll send a group message. See who else wants to tag along.”

Roxas nodded eagerly and Axel swore he saw slight disappointment… but he was probably imagining things. He pulled out his phone and got to typing. “What time suits you best? The zoo’s really big, so I think I’ve gotta suck it up and get up early.”

“Oh no, don’t do that just for me. We don’t have to go.”

“Nope, it’s already been decreed. Hope ten o’clock is okay, ‘cause that’s when we’re meeting up at the zoo. It’s sent, that’s it, can’t take it back.” Axel watched for his message to turn green, indicating it had sent to all recipients. He gave Roxas a big grin.

Roxas looked really happy. The wide smile said it all. “Thanks, Axel.”

“Anything for you.” Why was it so easy to say mushy disgusting things to Roxas? Must be the way his eyes sparkled and his cheeks turned a slight shade of pink that did it.

He followed Roxas’ gaze as it turned towards the windows looking out upon the city. Dusk was descending fast, bathing the concrete jungle below in hues of blues, and streaking clouds and sky in pinks and purples.

Axel noticed it this time, fingers stroking against the back of his hand, begging to be held. Axel obliged and interlaced his fingers with Roxas’. Wordlessly, they watched night descend. Roxas shuffled a little closer and rested his head against Axel’s shoulder. Axel tilted his head and pillowed his cheek against Roxas’ hair.

It was nice and peaceful. Axel shut Kairi’s words of infidelity and emotional sabotage away behind the wall of warm affection which was bolstering him right now. Axel could feel sleep tugging at his eyes and let them slide shut. “You’re really comfy, Rox. Could just fall asleep on you,” he mumbled. But then grumpily added, “Well, I can’t do it if you’re gonna cause an earthquake for me,” as Roxas shook with laughter.

“Sorry,” he giggled.

“It’s okay. You’re probably doing me a favor anyway.” Axel lifted his head and Roxas also moved, but they still held hands.

The sky darkened, turning shallow day into deep night.

“You know, I really miss it,” Roxas breathed wistfully.

“What?”

“The stars. I still remember them when I was a lot younger. They were everywhere in Forrester. Nights were pitch black. The sky would shine like crazy. But I’ve been living in big cities for more than half my life now, and when I moved back to Forrester — it had all changed too. — I’ve been with Vanitas for so long… I barely remember what it’s supposed to feel like,” Roxas muttered, clasping his other hand over the top of Axel’s.

Was he still talking about the stars? Roxas looked very sad.

“I’ll take you camping one day. Promise.” At the doubtful look Roxas threw his way, Axel continued, “You don’t believe me?”

Roxas’ face turned even more sullen. “Oh, I believe that you mean it. But I don’t think it will ever actually happen.”

“Why?” Axel could almost hear the answer before he asked the question.

“My boyfriend.”

Of course. “He can come too. We’ll make it a big outing with a bunch of people.”

“Okay,” Roxas said with no enthusiasm and his hand fell away.

Axel’s phone buzzed and Roxas’ other hand also slipped away.

“I should go,” Roxas muttered, dully and pushed off the railing, standing up straight.

Axel’s head followed Roxas. “You sure you don’t want to stay for dinner?”

“I can’t.”

Axel chewed his lip. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said gently and straightened himself up, facing Roxas, fully.

“Thanks for not pushing,” Roxas said, barely looking at Axel.

Axel gave him a smile and received a weary one in return.

“Do you need the address for the zoo?” Axel asked before Roxas moved too far away. He still hoped to hear the magic words, ‘text me.

“I’ll find it. See you tomorrow,” Roxas waved and headed to the elevator.

“Yeah, see you.” Axel’s stomach knotted. He hated seeing Roxas go, especially so morose, but a sharp jolt dislodged the knot as Axel was suddenly attacked by his friends ramming into him from behind.

“Heeeey, Axel! So you and Roxas, huh.” Ruth elbowed him in the ribs.

He peeled and pushed limbs off himself. “It’s nothing,” he tried his best to deny.

“That’s what I thought about me and Ruth,” Paul nudged. “C’mon, let’s eat!” He and Ruth raced off.

Axel watched them dash towards the restaurant. There was a crater of longing in his chest to be able to do the same goofy shit with Roxas.

“Am I crazy, Kai?” he said as he caught sight of her in his periphery.

“You two are cute together, I’ll give you that much. As for the crazy part —” Axel held out his elbow and she took it. They wandered arm in arm to the restaurant. “–Verdict’s still out on that one. I’ll tell you after tomorrow.”

He looked down at her in hopeful surprise. The fact that she was willing to keep spending time with them, despite finding what they were doing so abhorrent seemed encouraging.

“You’ll come to the zoo?”

“Of course! Animals? I’m totally in,” she looked up with a chirpy smile.

Chapter Text

Wednesday dawned. All his friends were gathered at the Zoo’s entrance by the time Axel arrived. He was very happy to see Roxas among them, chatting and laughing; the nervousness of yesterday seemingly evaporated.

“Here he is, our sleepyhead,” Lucy’s voice sang out of the crowd, causing everyone’s heads to turn.

They all teased and jeered at Axel as he approached, which was completely normal behavior. He walked past them all and pointed at the gate, “I may be the last one here, but I’ll be the first through the gate.” And then the race to get inside was off.

Entry fees were paid, maps collected, and a plan of action was arrived at. They headed off down the path to find the meerkats.

Axel had minimal contact with Roxas throughout the course of the day, which sucked, but it had been a conscious choice on Axel’s behalf. He figured it was better this way because he should at least attempt at a genuine friendship with Roxas—one without any ulterior motives. Part of that was to be able to be in the man’s vicinity without needing to get all touchy-feely, or even talk to him constantly.

Axel certainly enjoyed Roxas’ company from afar. They shared smiles, group jokes, and Axel found it actually nice to just amble along and view the different animal enclosures while keeping Roxas in his periphery.

The group saw all the popular animals, as well as the less popular ones. They attended the educational keeper talks, which were always fun. From Lucy nearly getting her hand bitten off by a llama, Flik, Ruth, and Kairi getting soaked through when they got too close to the seals splashing around, all the way to the whole gang getting doused in elephant goop when the zookeeper encouraged the cheeky giant to spray the crowd.

By the time they settled down for lunch, everyone was exhausted. But it wasn’t anything some food, drink, and a bit of a sit down couldn’t fix; though Axel, not being used to getting up so early, dozed off, while lounging in the corner of a booth seat, they had been lucky enough to nab, at the cafeteria.

Once he’d woken up, he’d found that everyone—bar Paul and Ruth—had up and left to explore more of the zoo, so Axel wandered around with the couple for a bit before leaving them to do their gooey coupley things.

He headed back towards the seal and penguin enclosures, and hung out there for a while, enjoying watching the animals swimming and waddling about. Before too long, Axel noticed that the day was coming towards its natural conclusion and gathered himself up, heading towards the rendezvous spot, which they had all apparently agreed upon while Axel had slept. He kept an eye out for any familiar faces in the crowd as he went. It didn’t take too long before he got very lucky—he spotted Roxas, all alone, peering through the glass of an enclosure.

Axel jumped at the opportunity to finally have some alone time with him. As he drew closer, he took a peek at the sign he walked past. Apparently, it was the cheetah enclosure. His stomach dropped a bit, the irony not lost on him. ‘That’d be right,’ he thought, and sang out, "Hey, gorgeous.”

Head snapped around. That smile! It made Axel weak at the knees and his stomach tingled.

“Sleepyhead!” Roxas looked past Axel briefly. “Just you?”

“Yup. I can’t believe you all abandoned me. I’m really hurt.”

“You weren’t abandoned. You had Ruth and Paul.”

“They’re in a love bubble. That’s as good as stranding me on an island of isolation.”

Roxas chortled. “I did try to wake you, but you slept like a log.”

“I’m like sleeping beauty,” he winked, but then realized what he was implying. “Ah, I don’t mean it like that. You by yourself?”

Roxas smiled softly and accepted the change of conversation. “Yeah, I told Flik and Dee to go ahead without me. I didn’t want to leave without seeing all the big cats.”

Axel wondered if the enclosure felt as mocking to Roxas as it did to him. Though Axel still didn’t want to completely believe that he was cheating with Roxas, or indeed breaking up a completely happy couple. He looked through the glass at the trees and shrubs. “Well, I can’t see anything.”

“Look down there,” Roxas pointed.

Axel followed the gesture but only saw the moat filled with water, which surrounded the enclosure. There was just nature and his reflection in the glass staring back at him. Was Roxas making some kind of a comment? Axel didn’t find it funny. “I’m not seeing anything except for myself, Roxas.”

“Look harder,” Roxas breathed out and pointed slowly.

Axel frowned at Roxas. There was a niggling feeling of familiarity. “Something about this…” a light bulb went off in Axel’s head. He tentatively said, “He lives in me?”

Roxas’ solemn expression cracked, and a giant grin followed, which was a precursor to a grand belly-laugh. “Oh, your face,” he squeaked through his rolling mirth.

“Have you been dying to do this all day?” Axel also began laughing, finding it amusing and feeling relieved.

“Maybe.” The light lilt in Roxas’ voice spoke volumes of his continued amusement.

“Would have been better at the lion enclosure.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t really drag you all the way over there to do it, right?”

“I guess. So, for reals, where is this big pussy?”

“Over there in the tree.” Roxas pointed.

Axel looked up and saw it, lounging around, having a nice afternoon snooze. “Ah, I should have known. Big lazy kitty. All I ever see is the cats sleeping—lucky bastards.”

“They’ve got life all figured out, I guess. You a bit jealous?”

“Yeah, I am. Lounging in the sun, doing their own thing, and hoarding food.” He sighed wistfully. “They’re living my dream. Wish I could get paid to do those things.”

“Sounds like you found your spirit animal,” Roxas giggled.

“Guess I have,” Axel grinned.

“What is your favorite animal? It’s not big cats, right?”

“Yeah, it’s not. Though maybe it should be,” Axel laughed. “But my favorite animal…” pausing, he gave Roxas a dead-serious stare. “Don’t tell anyone—it could destroy my hard-ass reputation, okay?”

“Lips,” Roxas moved fingers across his mouth in a zipping motion.

“Okay. Brace yourself.” Axel leaned down next to Roxas’ ear. Damn, he smelt fine. ‘Focus, Axel,’ he told himself. “I love penguins,” he whispered and fought the urge to nip Roxas’ earlobe. He stood back up and watched how the amused smile lit Roxas’ face.

“Yeah?”

“Mhmm. The way they waddle—gah, so cute,” he squeaked with enthusiasm and then cleared his throat. “I mean… they’re okay, ‘n’ stuff,” Axel rumbled in as low and manly a voice as he could muster.

Roxas chuckled. “There’s nothing manlier than a couple of gay penguins.”

“They come in gay?”

“Yeah. And because they mate for life, they are gay for life. They find themselves a nice egg-shaped rock and take turns sitting on it.”

Axel put hands on hips. “Wow! Another adorable fact. Love ‘em even more.”

“They are pretty cute. And you know, anything that’s gay gets my seal of approval,” Roxas said with an amused lilt in his voice.

“Oh my God… was that… an Arctic animal pun?” Axel laughed and ruffled Roxas’ hair.

Roxas leaned in before Axel pulled his hand away and his sneaky smirk grew into a wide grin. “Maybe.”

Axel chuckled and pointed at himself, “Hey, do I get your seal of approval?”

Roxas thought about that, umming and ahhing to himself.

“I’d dress up in a penguin onesie for you if that helps.”

Roxas cocked an eyebrow at him and huffed with amusement. But it still didn’t seem to sway him. “Well—,” he drew out.

“I’ll be your very own gay penguin, to mate with for life.” Axel groaned as soon as those words left his mouth. “Sorry, that was awful.”

“It was,” Roxas chuckled. “But it also just landed you my seal of approval.” Roxas shifted towards Axel, quickly raising up on toes, and left a kiss on his cheek.

The peck was warm and left Axel’s insides in a flutter. He turned towards the touch, out of second nature, but Roxas had already dropped down again, somewhat hurried.

“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. Guess it’s a good thing that you’re staying away from me,” Roxas mumbled and stared out into the enclosure.

Axel felt a pang in his chest. He had purposefully kept his distance today. The fact that Roxas had picked up on his absence throughout the day took a lot of the sting out of his statement; clearly, Axel meant something to him. “I just thought it might be better for our friendship. We… seem to get all handsy when we’re together. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“I wouldn’t do things I’m not comfortable with,” Roxas insisted, glancing at Axel.

Elation stirred. “Well, if it makes you feel better, I may be keeping my distance, but that doesn’t mean I’m not watching you…” A beat of silence passed between them before he continued, “That sounded a lot less creepy in my head.”

Roxas giggled. “That’s fine, as long as you mean it in a protective way.”

“Totally. Think of me as a mommy tiger protecting her cubs.”

“Gee thanks,” Roxas laughed louder.

“Man, I’m off my A-game today,” Axel scratched with ferocity at his scalp. Why was he saying such dumb shit?

“Probably best you stay away from me then. With lame lines like that, well… I might start falling for you,” he said with a shy smile and quickly turned back to look at the enclosure.

What were they even doing? Why couldn’t they just be together already? This wrapping-things-in-a-thin-veneer-of-jokes-and-good-natured-banter-to-deflect-from-having-to-address-the-boyfriend-shaped-sore-spot-in-their-backsides thing was truly frustrating. Axel sighed and scratched at his head. “Let’s move away from the cheetah enclosure. I swear it’s staring us down—giving me a guilty feeling.”

Roxas’ face fell. “Yeah, you got it.”

They walked on along the busy pathway falling into step.

“Where are we supposed to meet up with everyone again?” Roxas said.

“Ah—good thing I found you. Or else you’d be lost—looking for us forever until you died.”

“My spirit would remain, and haunt the penguin enclosure forever, looking for my gay Axel in a penguin onesie.”

“I’ll come by every so often to pay my respects,” Axel said solemnly.

“Will you do the waddle? This spirit will only be appeased by the waddle.”

“I’ll do the waddle,” and he did a demonstration.

Roxas joined in and they waddled down the path for a way, until they were laughing so hard that they had to stop, for fear of falling over, and resumed walking normally.

“You’re so silly.” Roxas wiped a tear from his eye.

“You’re even sillier for joining me,” Axel nudged Roxas with his arm and they grinned broadly at one another. “Oh,” Axel nodded towards a sign, “we’re meeting over that way, at the interactive-learning visitor’s center. It’s past the elephants. Maybe we’ll get sprayed again.”

Roxas shuddered. “That was so gross.”

“You have nothing to complain about. Nobody was using you as a human shield. Pretty sure I still have elephant mucus in my hair.” Hand swept through. Yep… definitely still had gunk in there. Axel made a face and wiped his hand on his shirt.

“Perks of being short,” Roxas winked. “And just a heads up: if there is any more spraying, I will use you as a shield.”

“Pah! Your little short-assed legs will have to catch me first!” Axel leapt away.

“Hey!” Roxas shouted after him.

They ran down the path, dodging people, prams, and benches. Axel ran alongside a building, rounded the corner and stopped, waiting to hear Roxas’ footfalls. He heard them fast approaching and caught Roxas around the waist as he came hurtling around the corner.

Axel underestimated the force by which Roxas had turned and they nearly toppled over, but Axel pivoted and let the force slam him into the wall instead. All the air was pushed out of his lungs, and the back of his head hurt, but it was worth it to have Roxas in his arms.

“Oh my God! Are you okay?” Concerned hands went all over, making Axel feel ten times better.

“Yeah,” he huffed in winded amusement. “My own fault.” He looked down at Roxas who was still pressed against him. How he wanted to lean down and kiss him. It was agonizing, especially since they just stayed like that; holding and looking at each other with smiles on their faces.

Roxas eventually stepped back. “Looks like I caught you.”

“Excuse me? I’m the one who caught you.”

Roxas started walking again. “Didn’t look like that to me. I’m the one who had you pinned against a wall,” he said with an air of cockiness.

Axel gasped. He reached out and yanked Roxas back, pushing and pinning him against the wall with his body. “There, is that better?” Axel breathed out in a low rumble.

Roxas gazed up at him with shallow breath, parted lips, and reddening cheeks.

Axel wet his lips and found himself leaning in. Roxas was so magnetic. He could feel warm breath against his skin. As their eyes flickered over each other’s lips, the noise of the world around them fell away. All Axel heard was Roxas’ breathing. All he felt was the warmth pressed against his torso, and the way fingers twitched and tugged at his clothes.

Roxas’ head tilted up, slowly. So slowly. Axel swore it was Roxas leaning in and not him.

Lips sealed shut, bottom lip suddenly tucked in and was chewed on. In the blink of an eye Roxas ducked out under Axel’s arm and continued walking.

Fuck! Axel’s head slumped down in defeat, and his body went limp with disappointment.

“C’mon, we’ll be late if we don’t hurry. I don’t want to be tainted by your tardiness,” Roxas called over his shoulder with energy.

It baffled Axel how quickly the sexual tension between them peaked and ebbed all the time. He breathed in deep, calming himself and pushed off the wall, trotting after Roxas. They fell into step once more and walked in silence for a while.

The day was almost over. It was a sad fact to reflect upon. Axel wondered if he could slow their pace somehow. He loved hanging out with Roxas and hadn’t done nearly enough of it today. “You had fun today, didn’t you? You looked like you were having fun,” he said and dropped their pace.

Roxas matched it. “Yeah, how couldn’t I, under the ever-watchful eye of my mommy tiger,” he snorted. “I feel completely protected and safe to go out and explore the world around me,” he teased with a cheeky tongue poke.

“Sure, I deserve that,” Axel laughed along.

“But yeah, I’m having a lot of fun these last few days. I don’t get out much normally.”

“Why’s that?”

Roxas turned thoughtful again. Axel thought he was getting good at spotting the brooding-and-calculating-his-answers-Roxas, even after just a few short days together.

“Have you ever been in a long-term relationship?” Roxas asked tentatively after a while.

“Not really. I haven’t been in many relationships actually. Longest was maybe a year and a bit?” The details of it were hazy. It felt like forever ago.

“Oh, when was that?”

Axel shrugged. “Not sure. Sometime in sophomore year? I remember trying to convince myself that I wasn’t gay.”

“What? You dated a girl?” Roxas said, with teasing disgust.

“Yeah. And not just any girl—”

“Kairi?” Roxas snapped, blue eyes went big as saucers.

That expression was priceless. Axel laughed. “Bingo.” Roxas was very astute.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, because I’m gay, duh.”

“Dude, that’s not what I meant.”

“She told me to stop kidding myself. We’ve been great friends ever since. But get back to what you were saying about not getting out much.”

“Oh… well, I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me and Van anyway—we got to a point where we’ve done everything already, so city life gets dull and we just focus on the day to day living.”

“City life, boring? How can that be? Sounds like you guys aren’t doing it right.”

“Maybe,” he said quietly.

Axel chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. “Well, I’m sorry to hear you don’t have more excitement in your life. If you were with me—shit,” he interrupted himself. “Sorry, forget it.” Why couldn’t he stop with the sales pitches? If their natural chemistry wasn’t going to win him over, then talking sure wasn’t going to change Roxas’ mind either.

“No, go on. Finish your sentence.”

Axel wished Roxas would just reprimand him. Tell him firmly to cut it out, so he knew where his boundaries were. But shit like this… giving Axel a platform to promote himself on… it just confused him even more about where they stood and what their prospects were. “You sure?” he asked, hoping for a shutdown.

Instead he got a nod.

Axel suddenly felt nervous, like he was going for a job interview. “Well, I’d make sure to keep things fresh and fun. The city getting boring? We’d go away on holidays. See the sights—natural and man-made. Bottom line, I’d make an effort to make things entertaining. —Okay, that was a bit more than a sentence.” If Roxas was giving him opportunities to present an alternative lifestyle if he chose Axel, then Axel had to run with it.

“It was many good sentences,” was all Roxas said, and they went on in silence, though Axel’s head was buzzing with questions around whether or not he had won himself any brownie points.

Axel tried not to dwell on those concerned too much.

They soon found everyone gathered up, playing around some of the interactive stations in the education center. Roxas left Axel’s side to go spend time with Kairi, and Axel went to be with whichever friends were heading in the opposite direction.

Half-an-hour was whiled away before they headed out of the Zoo. Shiki stopped to look at gift shop souvenirs and then one-by-one everyone got sucked into doing the same thing. Axel looked at all the kitschy stuff but found nothing of interest. He did, however, find Roxas, trying on some comical animal beanies. Axel thought he looked adorable in the Fennec fox hat.

“Don’t move, Roxas. I wanna take a photo.”

Roxas left the hat on and gave a big, heart-melting smile. Axel took the photo and showed it to Roxas. They both laughed.

“So adorable. You want me to send it to you?” He was still fishing for Roxas’ number. Was he being too subtle?

“It’s all right. I don’t like photos of myself. But you go on and keep it.”

Maybe he was way too subtle. “Okay, but if you want me to delete it just say so,” he said, still looking at that gorgeous smile, frozen and captured forever in a photograph.

Roxas nodded and took the hat off.

“You want it? I’ll buy it for you. To commemorate the trip to the zoo,” Axel offered.

“Nah. I just wanted to try these on for fun, not to keep.” Roxas ran hand through hair, perking it back up after its hat-wearing ordeal.

“Is there anything you might want to keep? I kind of want to get you something.”

Roxas smiled. “You don’t have to.”

“I wanna. Go pick something out. And don’t worry about the cost.”

Roxas squinted at him. “What if it’s like a thousand?”

“Okay, anything under a hundred and it’s yours.”

Roxas gave a satisfied and smug, “Okay.” He wandered off, leaving Axel to try on the goofy hats.

While Axel waited for Roxas to finish perusing the shelves and racks, he managed to convince Flik and Kairi to try on some hats as well.

Several dumb photos later, Roxas returned with a small black box. It had nothing but a barcode on the bottom, and security tape around the lip, sealing it shut.

“What is it? It’s not just a box, right?”

“It’s… kind of dumb. Can I show you once you’ve bought it?”

That sounded a bit mysterious. Axel liked mysterious. “Yeah, can’t wait to see what it is.”

They headed to the check-out with it, where Axel bought the mystery gift. It was only fifty bucks. Axel asked if Roxas wanted anything else but got nothing but a shake of the head out of the other man. So they wandered outside and stood around under the shade of some eaves, waiting for everyone else to be released from the gift shop trap.

“So, what is it? Show me, show me, show me,” Axel whined at Roxas as he worked on unwrapping and opening the box.

He was being very slow about it.

“Before the next ice age, Roxas,” Axel groaned.

Roxas laughed and slowed down even further as he cracked open the lid. “I’m gonna teach you about patience being a virtue.”

Axel glared at Roxas, who smiled back, and at a snail’s pace revealed the contents of the box. Sitting atop a deep indigo satin inlay were two pewter penguins, about the size of a thumb each. Their heads were bowed together, looking down at an egg-shaped marble with blue and green swirls inside. It came with a little ring for a base, to stop the marble from rolling around.

“Oh,” seeped out of Axel.

Roxas picked up one of the penguins and held it out to Axel. “I know it’s dumb but… I want you to have this. I’ll keep the other half of the pair.”

Axel’s stomach clenched at the gesture. Roxas was so sweet. He took the surprisingly weighty penguin. “No. It’s not dumb.”

“It’s not?”

“No. It’s… you’re gonna give me cavities.”

Roxas gave a small, shy smile. “You like it?”

“Yeah. But… isn’t it a bit cruel to split them up?”

“They won’t really be apart. Not in spirit. Plus, this one will always have the little marble egg to remind him of his gay penguin-other-half.” Roxas smiled, though somewhat melancholic. He looked down at his box, “And, maybe… one day—they might find their way back to each other,” he finished in a small voice and closed the box.

It was too much. Axel couldn’t take it anymore. Still clutching the penguin, he rested that hand on his hip and the other went to massage his temples. With bowed head, he grumbled, “Urgh, Roxas! This is so cute. I’m gonna walk away now before I do something we’ll both later regret.” He took a deep breath, turned around and got some distance between himself and the guy who was definitely stealing his heart away.

He sought out Kairi and found her at the coffee shop attached to the gift shop, buying some ice cream.

“Kairi, I need your verdict, right now,” he yelled when he was close, drawing her attention with a start.

Surprise on her face vanished and a suspicious glare followed. “Why? Something happen?”

Axel stuck the little penguin right in her face. “This!”

She leaned back a bit, trying to focus on it. “What is it? A penguin? Those are your favorite, right?” she said with great disinterest, followed by a, “Thank you,” to the staff member who handed her a cone heaped with three different flavors.

“Roxas gave it to me—Look, it doesn’t matter—I don’t want to explain the context to you. Just know it was incredibly sweet and I wanna kiss his face off.”

Kairi choked mid-lick from laughter. “Man, you’ve got it bad.”

“I do, so c’mon, tell me.”

“Well… I don’t want you to get excited or anything…”

Axel’s eyes went wide. He thought he’d kiss Kairi if she was going to vindicate him. “But? C’mon, what’s the but!”

She remained silent and walked away from the coffee shop and over to a bench, where she proceeded to eat her ice cream for a while. Axel followed, sat down on the opposite end and kept sliding closer until he was almost on top of her.

“C’mon, Kairi. Quit leavin’ me hanging.”

She dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. “Well, I spoke to him today and yesterday, about all kinds of things. He’s a really nice and personable guy.” She went back to her ice cream.

Axel groaned. She knew how to play him like a fiddle. He waited, but stared at her, hoping to unnerve her. It didn’t work. In her own good time, she continued, “It kind of hurts to say, but you might have a point. Something seems a bit strange when it comes to talking about his boyfriend.”

Axel clapped his hands together, “Ha! I knew it!” He gripped his little penguin even tighter.

“It mightn’t be that there’s anything wrong with their relationship. They’ve been together for a long time, so I don’t see why he’d still be with him if something was wrong. Maybe they’re just really private. Or—mm, never mind.” She ate the last bits of her ice cream cone.

“Or what?”

“Nah, it’s really stupid, don’t worry.”

“You might as well tell me,” he pressed.

They looked at each other. Axel could see Kairi sizing up his seriousness in wanting to know.

“Well… you don’t suppose his boyfriend’s a drug lord or something shady like that?”

Axel blinked, then laughed, before abruptly stopping. “Oh, seriously?”

“Mhmm.”

“I doubt it.”

“If he is, you gotta drop him, Ax. I don’t care how sweet you are on him and he is on you. Don’t get involved with the seedy underbelly of the crime world.”

“Oh, gimme a break. You’re definitely over-reacting.”

“I hope I am.”

Axel inhaled a deep breath, feeling it inflate him with happiness. The sensation spread to his face and grew the smile. “The main thing is that I’m not crazy. I’ll get to the bottom of it somehow.”

“Okay, just be careful, and for crying out loud keep your dick in check.”

“Yes, mom,” he drawled.

He then grabbed the side of her head, pushed Kairi towards himself and kissed her temple. Kairi huffed with laughter and Axel left her but bought two ice cream cones before he went back to Roxas’ side.

He cheerfully sang in his head that he wasn’t crazy or imagining things. There was something genuinely off about Roxas’ relationship. Now he just had to try to get to the bottom of it, or at the very least be there for Roxas when it all fell apart. Axel was definitely banking on it happening. He didn’t even feel bad about it right now. After all, he had a penguin in his pocket which said that Roxas would gladly be with him if it wasn’t for his current predicament.

He found Roxas a little way from where he had left him, talking on his phone.

Axel decided that he was going to eavesdrop. Over the course of today and yesterday, Roxas had excused himself several times to take calls. He only ever said, “Sorry about that,” and left it there. It was a perfectly acceptable thing to do in polite society. But what intrigued Axel about it was how quiet and reserved Roxas got after the calls, choosing to hang back from everyone, before he rejoined the group with a smile.

It made Axel imagine all sorts of things regarding the person calling and the content of the conversations. And since Kairi had now confirmed that he wasn’t completely out of touch with reality, Axel wanted to hear the conversation even more. So, he carefully meandered towards Roxas, staying out of his field of vision as much as possible. It was made easier thanks to Roxas having his back turned, as he was seemingly looking out onto the lake behind the gift shop.

Axel innocently ate his ice cream once he got close enough to listen, which sadly was a lot closer than he would have liked to be. Roxas was talking very quietly.

“Yes. No. I’m still—No, I haven’t.” He sounded frustrated. “It’s just really big—Yes, I should have. I’m sorry. But I told you yesterday—Yes, I will.” Roxas was shifting from side to side uncomfortably, and his voice was getting lower and lower with time. But then the tone shifted to a happier one, “She’s doing fine. Yes. —No. —Okay. —Yup. Bye,” he hung up after having gotten in a small chuckle.

Axel walked backwards as quickly and quietly as he could, attempting to get some distance between himself and Roxas before he turned around. Axel didn’t need to worry so much though. Roxas looked at his phone for a while before he turned around.

It gave Axel plenty of opportunity to finish his ice cream before he made his way back towards Roxas, where he was greeted with, “It’s not nice to listen in to other people’s conversations,” without so much as a head-raise.

Crap. He had been busted. “Huh? What? Me? No. Never! I just wanted to give you this,” he held out the cone which was starting to drip.

The sight of the ice cream made Roxas smile. Phone was slipped into pocket and ice cream was taken with a, “Thanks,” followed by a curious, “why’s it blue?”

“Oh, it’s sea salt. A specialty you can only find in Pensacola. Or so I’ve been told by Kairi. She likes to travel and is a fiend when it comes to sea salt ice creams. Try it.”

Roxas did, wearing a skeptical look. It quickly melted away, h,owever. “Mm, this is… really good. Sweet yet salty. Thanks, Axel.”

“You’re welcome. You really like?”

Roxas nodded, too busy eating his ice cream to use words.

“There’s—Oh. God, I’m dumb. I should have probably just asked you what kind of ice cream you liked to figure out what drinks you might prefer.” He slapped his head. “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll make you something that tastes like this next time you come around to the bar.”

“Yeah?”

“Mhmm.”

“You’re back at work tomorrow, right?”

“Yup.”

“Cool.”

Silence descended. Roxas was busy licking and eating his ice cream. Axel looked away before a fantasy could develop, instead thinking about the overheard conversation. He couldn’t really make anything out of it, other than it having been abrupt. He couldn’t really bring it up. What would he even say? So he dropped the thought and looked at Roxas, who seemed to be mulling something over in his head.

“What’s on your mind?”

“About tomorrow… what time do you start?”

That question excited Axel. “Three. We open at three-thirty though. —What’s up?” He prompted when Roxas wasn’t forthcoming.

“I… would like—can we hang out together before you start work? Just the two of us?”

A thrill ran through Axel’s body and his cheeks instantly lifted with the smile. “Yeah, sure. As long as it’s not before twelve. Need my beauty sleep.”

“Yeah, of course. Doesn’t have to be for long. I just want to hang out. I… kind of miss it being just us two. Is that dumb?”

Axel felt like he could run a victory lap. “Why Roxas, that’s the complete opposite of dumb. That’s super sweet.”

“Smart is the complete opposite of dumb,” Roxas winked.

“I knew that.”

“Smart’s not how very many people describe you, huh,” he chuckled while Axel gave a massive gasp.

“The impertinence! See, I can use big words.”

“Very impressive, Mister Rutherford.” Roxas stepped closer.

Axel stepped closer as well. “Now that’s something I do hear quite frequently, Mister, uh…” he trailed off.

“Shaw,” Roxas supplied at last.

“Mister Shaw,” Axel finished.

There wasn’t much space separating them anymore.

“So, where do you want to meet up?” Please say ‘your place,’ please say ‘your place,’ Axel chanted in his head.

“The Kingdom? I can buy you breakfast. I noticed that they do it twenty-four seven.”

Damn. But Axel couldn’t be too disappointed with something like that. “Sounds good. I love breakfast food.”

“Any favorites?”

“I don’t discriminate. Axel loves all breakfast food equally.”

“What time would be good for you? So you actually wake up and get there without running late.”

“Ha-ha,” Axel said dryly, but without taking any offence over it. His friends always joked that he would be late to his own funeral. “I can turn up on time if I so choose,” he defended. “I’ll prove it to you. Let’s meet at one.”

“All right. Not one-ten, or one-oh-one. One o’clock, on the dot.”

“Deal.” Axel wasn’t worried… well, maybe he was a little. He held out his hand to shake on it.

“Deal.” Roxas swapped his cone to the other hand to complete the handshake. “Oh, crap.” He withdrew slightly, looking for something to wipe the massive ice cream drip on, which had coated his index finger.

“Let me,” Axel offered, gently catching Roxas’ wrist. This was either going to be an incredible idea, or an incredibly bad idea. If Kairi saw, she would definitely have said that Axel was thinking with his dick, and she wouldn’t have been wrong.

Axel guided Roxas’ hand to his mouth. Roxas didn’t yank away. He didn’t even ask what Axel was doing, so Axel continued and slowly pushed Roxas’ finger past his lips and sucked gently. He looked at Roxas for any sign of disapproval but found none. Blue eyes just stared back, slightly wide, atop cheeks lightly dusted with red.

Axel kept sucking and felt Roxas’ finger eventually curl and stroke the inside of Axel’s mouth. Roxas slowly rubbed lips together, looking like he was enjoying himself, but also struggling with that enjoyment as brow dipped into a slight frown.

Axel began sliding the finger from his mouth, but then found Roxas pressing his middle finger to Axel’s lips before his index finger was all the way out. They had well and truly moved into the next phase of whatever it was they had. Axel accepted the second finger, deriving great pleasure from Roxas pushing into him. He sucked and rolled his tongue over both digits and let his mind wander to the thought of lubing Roxas up like this and having said fingers go into his rear for a good stretch and fondle.

God, how Axel wanted it so bad. He hadn’t had sex in almost two weeks with another person; masturbation didn’t count. So that amount of time was really long by Axel-standards.

What they were doing right now was a massive turn on. It was even more exciting because Roxas wasn’t being passive as he fondled the inside of Axel’s mouth. It made Axel even harder. He wanted to know what Roxas was like in the sack.

Roxas’ eyes drifted shut. The way he bit his lower lip was so enticing. Axel wanted to nibble at him. He let his eyes shut as well and imagined Roxas wearing that exact expression, as he day-dreamed about them having sex together.

“Hey, Axel, Roxas, c’mon!” came a shout from across the way.

Axel’s eyes flung open as Roxas yanked his fingers out and took a step back.

“Shit!” Roxas cursed, and then said it again when he noticed what a mess the ice cream was leaving on his other hand. He quickly ate what was left of it.

Axel still had one napkin in his pocket and produced it. “Here, lemme help.”

Roxas snatched it. “You’ve done enough,” came the sharp words. He stalked off in the direction of Axel’s friends.

It left Axel a little dazed. His erection still throbbed. The image and feel of Roxas still lingered. He collected himself and rushed after. “Hey, man, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have,” he apologized, hoping to sweep how ridiculously hot that had been under the carpet. “Let me make it up to you tomorrow.”

“Forget it, I’m calling tomorrow off. I still have boxes of stuff to unpack.”

Disappointment stabbed at Axel. “No, c’mon, don’t be like that. We can still hang out. Please?” he begged.

“I’m sorry, Axel. Thank you for the ice cream and all of today, but I’ve changed my mind,” he said with more gentleness, finally giving Axel some much-craved eye-contact.

“Okay, you got it,” Axel sullenly replied. He let it go. He had fucked up and pushed too far and now he had to live with the consequences. He asked, “Will I still see you at the bar tomorrow? I wanna make you some more drinks.” He was slightly hopeful.

“I don’t know. I’ll see how I go with unpacking.”

They left it at that as they rejoined the group.

“What happened there, Roxas? Got yourself into a sticky situation,” Flik laughed.

“Oh, let me help! I’ve got wet wipes,” Shiki came to Roxas’ aid.

Roxas stayed well away from Axel for the remainder of the time they all hung out together, though lingering looks were exchanged between them. Axel didn’t know what to make of it, but the penguin in his pocket soothed him a little bit.

Chapter Text

Axel sat on his sunken couch, in his small apartment, gazing out the window. He was idly waiting for the clock to tick down and his alarm to scream at him to get going to work. He had done all his morning tasks to get himself ready, and was now dressed casually with nothing to do but wait; his boss disapproved of Axel rocking up to work dressed in anything other than ‘normal’ clothes, so comfortable jeans and a plain t-shirt is what it was today. He saved all his nicer clothes for the weekend.

Despite the bar always having something on to draw patrons in, Axel usually always preferred the weekend crowd. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was exactly. Maybe it was something to do with weekend people usually not having jobs the next morning, which allowed for a more fun time. But who could say. Today was Thursday though, so the crowd would most likely be businessmen wanting to get drunk and sing badly. Axel wondered whether or not he would have enough going on at work tonight to keep him busy and his thoughts preoccupied and away from Roxas, because – sitting at home right now—idling— was so not helping him. Roxas had been going around his head all night long, and sadly it hadn’t been for the reason he would have liked.

Axel hadn’t been able to get himself off, so he had spent the previous evening trying to social-media-stalk Roxas Shaw. He, however, had no luck at all. It was like Roxas had no online presence besides his website. That had completely weirded Axel out and had him obsessively check all social media platforms that he knew of. He had even gone so far as to make profiles for things he had no personal interest in, just to see if he could find Roxas anywhere.

But yeah, he had come up empty and had nothing but shit sleep to show for his efforts.

One o’clock was soon approaching. He was tossing up whether or not to go to The Kingdom. Roxas had called it off and had seemed mighty irritated even. Axel had pushed way too far, and as turned on as he had been, he felt terrible in the aftermath. He wanted to see Roxas again. But by the sounds of things, he wasn’t even certain if Roxas would ever visit him, even at work.

Axel looked down at where he had been turning the little penguin over in his hands a million times that early afternoon. They liked each other. Axel finally had physical proof of that. He wasn’t imagining it, and Kairi had backed him in not being crazy. So…

He stood up, deposited the penguin on his bookshelf and walked over to the bench next to the front door to put on shoes, grab his old faithful jacket off the wall-mounted hook, and headed out. Roxas might still show up. And if he did, Axel needed to be there.

With that thought driving him, Axel arrived at the café ahead of schedule. He found a table with two chairs near the shop front window and sat. He doodled on a napkin while he waited for the clock to hit one and lamented the fact that no one he knew was there to witness him not just being punctual for once, but early.

As the clock ticked closer to the designated meet time, Axel watched it and the people passing outside the window. He nearly jumped out of his seat when Roxas walked along. Their eyes met. Axel waved like a maniac – just to be on the safe side – and waited as Roxas disappeared from view. The entrance area was made from solid material. Axel cursed not having x-ray vision as he anticipated Roxas’ arrival with bated breath.

Seconds ticked past excruciatingly slowly. Had Roxas walked on? Had he popped around just wanting to see if Axel would actually show up? Should Axel get up and run out in hopes of catching him? He still felt like more of an apology was needed. He couldn’t lose Roxas over something as stupid as some finger sucking.

Axel made to get up, but the door jingled open and Roxas finally entered, looking tense. As he approached, Axel pulled out the chair adjacent to himself, and Roxas slumped down.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Axel greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.

“Hi,” Roxas returned in a small, sullen tone.

Axel didn’t like the way Roxas was avoiding eye contact with him. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Roxas still didn’t look up. He stared at the wooden table and sucked on his bottom lip a little.

It was awkward. Axel decided to just come right out with it—

“I’m really sorry for yesterday, Roxas.”
“I’m sorry for how I acted yesterday.”

Surprised, Roxas finally looked up, as they had both talked over each other.

“I don’t know what you’re sorry about. I’m the one who started it.”

“But I’m letting you do it. I’m leading you on. The penguin, the… fingers—” Roxas was turning red. He looked down and began picking at a coaster.

Axel’s insides knotted. He feared what the answer would be, but he had to ask, “Do you want to take it back?”

Eyes raised, questioningly.

“The penguin, I mean.”

Eyes sunk down again. Roxas chewed his lip. “I should, but…” he sighed. “I don’t want to.”

There was a flutter inside of Axel. “Then I’ll keep it until you ask for it back.”

Blue eyes raised again to look cautiously at Axel, but then darted away to look at the staff member who had just come over and was saying, “Looks like your friend is finally here. Do you want to order anything?”

“You still happy to buy me breakfast? It’s okay if you don’t,” Axel said before he placed his order.

“Oh, yeah, totally,” Roxas finally smiled a little.

“Cool. I won’t go overboard.” He turned to the girl taking the order. “Could I get the Mighty Knight Scramble, please.” Axel looked at Roxas. “Do you want anything?”

Roxas shook his head.

“I’ll also have the Kingdom Sundae. Oh – with two spoons.”

“Mighty Knight Scramble and Kingdom Sundae with two spoons. Won’t be too long.”

The two men were left alone again. Roxas still avoided looking at Axel.

“What do you wanna do, Roxas?”

“I don’t know. I want us to stay friends, but it’s getting a bit… like more than friends.” Roxas squirmed in his seat. “Common sense says we should cut out all the touchy-feely stuff. It was a bad idea.”

Axel knew, but he felt himself have a negative reaction to the thought of that. “Yeah, that’s the sensible thing to do. Question is, do you wanna be sensible?”

Roxas sighed like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “I need to try. Like, really, actually try. I like you. I don’t want to give up seeing you, but I’ll have to if we keep doing what we’re doing.”

Man, this sucked, but Axel had finally gotten the boundary setting he had wanted. “Yeah, I want to keep seeing you too.”

Roxas gave him a sad little smile.

Axel wanted to clutch at his heart because it hurt. It was painful to know that they could be so much more, if only— “Roxas, I need to ask you: what’s with you and your boyfriend? Are you happy?”

“I love him,” Roxas said abruptly.

It sounded like a stock-standard response with no thought or feeling behind it. “Are you happy?” Axel asked again.

A look of annoyance crossed Roxas’ face. “Don’t ask me that. I love him.”

“Okay, geez. So, what’s with us then?”

Roxas huffed. “I don’t know. I look at you and forget everything else.”

“Same,” Axel muttered. It’s not like Axel was going out of his way to sabotage things. Not that he was sabotaging. It was the wrong word to use.

“So, both of us have to make more of an effort to not forget.” Roxas said, with determination lighting his words.

Axel nodded. “I’ll behave if you behave.”

“Okay,” Roxas nodded sternly.

And then there was more silence, which was thankfully defused by the food arriving.

A big glass, filled with chocolate, ice cream, waffles, strawberries, and sprinkles was set down before them, as well as a decent sized plate filled with several sausages, a generous serving of scrambled eggs, some fresh tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, spinach, and delicious sizzling bacon.

Axel held out one of the long spoons to Roxas and pushed the sundae towards him. “Bon appétit.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna die if I have to eat all this, and drink that.”

“Then why’d you order it?”

“Because,” he grinned, waggling the spoon before Roxas.

“Oh… well, okay.” Roxas took the spoon reluctantly, and slowly began digging away at the mountainous sundae, while Axel practically inhaled his breakfast meal.

They ate in silence, but Roxas watched Axel closely.

After some time, Axel had to ask, past mouth full of food, “What?”

“It’s amazing watching you eat that.”

Axel grinned and popped a sausage into his mouth, hoping it didn’t look as sexual as it just occurred to him that it might. Roxas’ smile seemed to hold more joy behind it now, and that roll of his eyes was bemused, rather than annoyed.

The atmosphere was definitely far more pleasant now.

After some time Roxas pointed at the napkin Axel had doodled on, out of his previous nervousness. “Hey, what’s this?”

Axel pushed his now-finished plate of food away and looked at it. “Oh, that’s a floor plan for my bar. That’s the bar – here’s the dance floor – there’s a separate section for bar games, dedicated trivia and karaoke hall – and this section can be for you to sell your clothes and things from,” Axel said as he pointed at everything in turn.

“Huh? You got a space for me?”

“Sure. Your famous clothes, my famous bar. Perfect match. People will be lining up for miles. We’ll have exclusive nights to unveil your newest creations. Actually,” Axel found his pen again and scribbled on the napkin. “There. A runway to show off your clothing line. You got a name for it yet? I know your website’s called Punk ‘n’ Sundries, but I reckon you need something catchier and edgy as a brand name.”

Roxas just looked at the drawn-on napkin, kept spooning ice cream and waffle chunks into his mouth and eventually said, “Got any ideas?”

Axel thought for a bit. “No. Got nothing. Maybe just use your last name. That’s what prestigious brands do. Shaw,” Axel spoke, sweeping his open hand through the air. “This old thing?” he tugged at his jacket in a pretentious manner, and spoke in matching tone, “Oh, it’s a Shaw original. Yes, I know. It’s worth millions but I would never sell it, oh no.”

Roxas was hiding the laugh and smile behind his hand.

“It’ll work out great. My bar’s gonna be punk-themed, so your clothes will fit right in. Those uninitiated can buy your clothes to be granted entry into the Coolest Place on Earth. I’m thinking of calling my bar that.”

“That name kind of seems… well, you might be shooting yourself in the foot with that, is all I’m gonna say.”

“It’s a work in progress. Coming up with names is tough.”

Roxas nodded and just kept smiling.

“Your newly named clothes brand aside, how’d you decide on your business name?” Axel enquired.

Roxas shifted. “It just… came to me. Are you gonna help me with this or what?” Roxas tapped the glass.

“Sure, I’ll come to your rescue.” Axel grabbed the other spoon and dug into the sundae, all the while continuing to paint his grim picture of Roxas’ life.

They went through the dessert and mulled over the floor plan. Roxas pointed out suggestions and Axel happily made amendments. Roxas helped Axel space things out a little better, and they fancifully penned in a wine cellar for special wine and cheese tasting events, and talked about the logistics of an open-air rooftop bar, for very special events – like meteorite showers and full lunar eclipses.

“Between the two of us we’ll design the best bar in the universe,” Axel boasted.

Roxas grinned at him.

“Awww, you two look really cute together. Can I take a photo for our Kingdom’s Citizen Wall?” a voice said out of the blue.

Axel and Roxas looked over to see a woman dressed in the green and white uniform of the place, holding a camera.

“I don’t mind. It’s up to you though,” he said to Roxas.

Roxas looked between Axel and the woman for a moment. “Ahhh, yeah, I guess. Sure.”

“Super. Could I just ask you two to squish up a bit more?”

Roxas leaned in and Axel draped an arm over the back of Roxas’ chair, leaning in a little as well. He made sure not to touch, but there was no law against smell.

“Say, ‘All Hail the King!’”

They did.

“You guys look great on camera.” She showed them the photo, and Axel thought she was definitely right.

“We’re too handsome and photogenic,” he praised.

“It’s still okay to put it up on the wall?”

Both men nodded.

“That was random,” Roxas started as she disappeared into the back.

“A little. They do it from time to time, usually to advertise their meals and to show what a family-friendly atmosphere it is.”

“So, you didn’t set this up?” Roxas asked, quietly.

“Huh, what? No. If I wanted a photo of us together I’d just ask.”

“Do you?”

“A photo? I don’t need a photo if I get to see you regularly.”

A heavy sigh fell. “Well, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to make it out to spend time with you once Van’s all moved in.”

“Oh. So… you’re saying I should take a photo just in case I don’t see you again after next week?” It was bleak and depressing to think about.

“You’ll see me… just, I don’t know how much.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

The mood had deteriorated, and they finished the sundae in pensive silence.

“Do you wanna walk me to work?” Axel asked, once Roxas came back from paying the bill.

“I can’t. Things to do.”

“More unpacking?”

Roxas nodded but didn’t look at him.

“I could come around and help you tomorrow if you want. I’ll get up early and everything. I got here early today, y’know,” Axel boasted. He felt very proud of himself.

Roxas’ veneer cracked from a smile. “That won’t be necessary. I’m sure I’ll get it done today.”

“Okay, cool. You think you’ll get it done by evening, so you can pop around and see me at work? I’ve still gotta perfect a drink for you.”

“We’ll see,” Roxas gave a tight-lipped smile.

“Sure. Well, I hope to see you, especially if I won’t be able to in the very near future.” He gathered up his things, which were strewn across the table, and stuffed them deep into pockets before making a move to head out.

“You’re not keeping that?” Roxas pointed at the doodled-on napkin Axel had left behind.

“It’s okay. I’ve got it all memorized up here,” he pointed at his head.

“Ah – can I keep it then?”

Eyebrows raised in surprise. “Yeah, sure. It’s now as much yours as it is mine.” The smile Roxas gave him eased Axel’s soul a little.

“Thank you.” Roxas pocketed the napkin and headed out the door with Axel.

They stood outside, a little way away from the door, facing each other.

“All right. Thanks for breakfast.” Axel tried to play at being cool and relaxed. All this talk of not seeing each other very often – all this doubt about whether Roxas would be able to make it out tonight… it all served to unsettle Axel and make him agitated. But he needed to be a friend first.

“It’s the least I could do. You’ve been more than generous. I probably shouldn’t have accepted half the things you paid for.”

Axel dismissed that with a hand wave and a sharp exhale of air. “Don’t worry about it. You’re not in my debt for anything. I like seeing you happy and I’ve been having lots of fun with you, so it’s all good.”

Another thin smile and an outstretched hand in farewell.

Axel took it, and cracked. He couldn’t play it cool, after all, and so he pleaded, “Please come tonight. Complete friend-zone, I swear. You told me that’s what you want and that’s what I’ll deliver.”

“I’ll see how I go.”

And with that, they went their separate ways.


 

Axel went about his work serving patrons with one eye on the front door but caught no sight of Roxas. He wasn’t at the bar, nor on the dance floor, and as Axel’s shift came to an end, he gave up hope.

Maybe it was the best for all involved. But he hated that idea. Axel shut his locker, after having stared vacantly into it for goodness knows how long. He went back out into the dark clamor of the bar, heading for the door.

Hand landed on his shoulder. “Axel, someone’s looking for you.”

He sighed. “Oh, man, I’m just on my way out. What do they want?”

Jonah shrugged. “Ask him yourself. He’s over by the bar.”

Axel followed the point of a finger, and eyes landed on— “Roxas!” He didn’t need the small wave and slight smile to encourage him. He headed straight over, heart pounding with excitement and elation.

‘Stay cool, stay cool. And don’t touch!’ he told himself firmly.

“Hi.” Roxas got up off the bar stool.

“Hey, gorgeous!”

Roxas’ smile grew a fraction brighter. “I’m so glad you’re still here.”

Axel was too. “You finished all your unpacking?”

“Huh? —Oh, yeah.”

“Cool. So, ah… what do you wanna do?”

“Um… is it too late to get a drink?”

“Never,” Axel beamed. “Hey, Karina!” He waved down the woman who had replaced him.

“Axel, I thought you were leaving,” she said as she came over.

“Well, I was, until my friend here showed up.”

“Hi, nice to meet you,” she greeted.

“Same,” Roxas nodded at her.

“So, what can I get you two?”

Roxas looked at Axel expectantly.

“Well, I’m gonna have a Black Russian, and could you make Roxas a tea-tini? You know how to make that, right?”

“Ahhh, yeah. I’m sure it’ll come back to me when I get started.”

“Cool. Use the fruity tea though, please,” he pointed.

“All right. Quit pestering me,” she pushed his hand away and got to work.

“I’m not keeping you from anything, am I?” Roxas sat back down and Axel joined him.

“Nah. I’ve been waiting for you all night, so, you know,” he shrugged. “Quite happy to keep hanging out.” Axel could see the way Roxas smiled, despite the man turning away to look at the bar top.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come earlier.”

“You’re here now. That’s what matters.”

Roxas faced Axel again, smiling more openly. “You had a busy night?”

“Not more than usual. Dragged on forever though.” Axel rested his elbow on the bar, and chin in his hand.

“Oh, why’s that?”

‘Because you weren’t here, duh.’ He refrained from saying that out loud. “Just nothing exciting happened. Oh, hey, I’ve had another great idea for our bar!” Axel pulled out a pen from his pocket and leaned over the bar top, knowing exactly where to fish around to get his hands on some coasters. He then began drawing on the back.

Our bar? I thought I was only gonna occupy a small space.”

“You’ve been upgraded to co-owner. We’re gonna dream big or go home, Roxas.”

Roxas laughed at that. “Okay, how big are you thinking exactly?”

That started them off on a fanciful journey of designing their dream place. Swimming pool and sauna on the roof, next to the open-air bar. A bowling alley and squash courts. An extra deep cellar, with labyrinthine-like passageways, which somehow turned into a haunted house, by the time their drinks had been received and consumed.

Roxas had, for once, enjoyed his drink – so much so that he had asked Axel for a second suggestion, which he had happily provided now that he had a better idea of Roxas’ taste buds.

Four drinks later, and Roxas was on the high end of the definitely-wasted scale.

Roxas slammed his empty drink down on the bar top and wiped at his mouth, with the back of his hand a few times. “Axy, won’t you come shake the bus-the buds-the bun-the bum! Shake the bum with me. Let’s dance,” he declared while sliding off his chair for the fifth time in as many minutes.

Axel, being able to hold his drink a lot better, felt quite buzzed, but was still sharp enough to catch Roxas and sit him back up on his stool. “Dude, I wanna dance with you, but like – you can’t even sit straight.”

“Sitting’s for bruisers – no, no – losers. You’re a loser, Axy,” his finger missed the accusatory mark and instead pointed at the backbar to Axel’s left.

It made Axel laugh. “C’mon, my drunk little cinnamon roll—”

“Who ya callin’ drink.”

“You’re calling yourself a drink.”

“No, Axy. No more drinks. I can’t.” Roxas began wobbling again and his hands waved all over the place, swatting at invisible flies.

Axel chuckled, caught Roxas by the arm, and dragged him to his feet.

“Where we goin’?”

“Out.”

“I wanna dance with you!” Roxas complained and dragged his feet.

“Yeah, c’mon, let’s dance this way.” Axel wound an arm around Roxas’ waist, but that caused Roxas to turn towards him and wrap both his arms around Axel’s shoulders.

“Hold me.”

“Trying. C’mon, let’s dance this way,” he breathed into Roxas’ ear while savoring the closeness.

“You all right, Axel?” he heard Karina ask from behind.

“Yeah.” He gave her a hand signal, which all staff at Organization 13 understood, and began dancing and waltzing with Roxas in a specific direction.

Roxas seemed willing to be moved as long as they were pressed together. It made Axel’s job enjoyable, but also difficult. Hands kept wandering and Axel had the hardest time not giving in and letting them go wherever drunken Roxas pleased. Despite the miniature wrestling match, he managed to maneuver them both outside, where a cab had pulled up.

Axel made it to the door and even got it open. “Watch your head.” He leaned down and half slid, half shoved Roxas into the cab.

“What’s happening? Is the dancing over?”

“It’s over. You’re going home. You know where home is, right?”

Roxas moved jerkily, righting himself in the cab seat and blew a raspberry. “Of course I know where home is.”

“Okay. Well, tell the nice lady so she can take you home.”

“Huh?” Eyes sluggishly moved and head lagged behind as Roxas looked between the cab driver and Axel. “Aren’t you coming with me? Come with me, Axy.” Fumbling hands weakly gripped at Axel’s shirt, pulling him towards the bowels of the cab.

Axel resisted. “Why, what’re we gonna do?”

“Each other. C’mon,” Roxas whined in a drawl.

Excitement jolted through Axel and he folded up, entering the cab. “You sure?” he checked as he pushed Roxas further along the backseat, towards the other door, so he could get all of himself into the cramped space.

Hands were clumsily placed and attempted to slide under Axel’s shirt, but he couldn’t seem to manipulate the thin fabric properly. “Yeah. Of course. You’re such a good friend, Axy, I wanna do things to ya,” Roxas mumbled as he face-planted against Axel’s chest.

A cold uncomfortable breeze blew through Axel, causing the burning desire to flicker and fizzle. There was a promise he had to keep, though Roxas wasn’t doing a good job of upholding his end of the bargain. He wrapped arms around Roxas, who moaned a, “Yeah, baby,” in between depositing sloppy kisses on Axel’s neck.

Axel lost focus for a second but managed to get Roxas’ seatbelt fastened before the drunken man could figure out what was actually happening. Axel then, with a heavy heart, and a begrudging tightness in his pants, slid back towards the cab door and dangled feet out.

Hands reached out, “Axy, where’re you— ow, why’m I stuck?”

“You’re right, Rox. I am your friend. You’re gonna thank me for this later. Now tell the nice lady where you live.” Axel turned away, stood up and slammed the door shut. “You better leave now, before he figures out how a belt buckle works. And please make sure he gets to his front door all right. Just invoice the fare to Organization 13.” He received a nod and the cab drove off, taking with it Axel’s best chance at finally getting with Roxas.

He cursed himself for respecting sober Roxas’ wishes. He half-wished he had been drunk himself, so his pesky conscience could have been drowned out. Axel could still hear Roxas’ words in his head, causing him to groan. Oh, how he wished that he had been a shitty friend.


 

Roxas watched Axel diminish into the background as the cab drove away.

“Where’re we going, sweetheart?”

Roxas’ head snapped around to the front, searching for the disembodied voice. “Huh?”

“Your address.”

Mind was still on Axel. Roxas had been so close. Axel had been so warm. “Where’m I? Where’s Axy?”

“You’re in my cab. I’m driving you home. But I need your address.”

Roxas finally saw. The strange shapes before him turned into the back of car seats. The owner of the voice sat in the driver’s seat. Roxas made out dark hair and slender fingers on steering wheel. Their eyes met through the rearview mirror.

“Oh, ninety-seven Ocara Avenue.”

“Thank you.” Eyes stopped looking at Roxas.

Roxas watched the woman enter the address into a GPS, and once that finished, there was nothing but the sound of tires on road. He kept staring mindlessly at how the warm glow of passing streetlights and car headlights illuminated the inside of the vehicle. He was missing something and looked around. “Why isn’t Axy here? You need to go back ‘n’ get him,” Roxas pointed behind himself.

“I will, after I drive you home.”

Excitement filled his chest. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, thank you!” Roxas leaned forward but got stopped by something across his upper body. He struggled against it to no avail, so leaned back in defeat. “Thank you so much, miss…” Why didn’t he know her name?

“Amber.”

“Thank you, Miss Amber! That’s such a nice name.”

“Aren’t you sweet.”

Roxas smiled, scrunching his nose up and forcing eyes closed. Having his eyes closed felt nice, so he kept them like that. But something was missing. He opened his eyes again and looked around, casting a long look behind himself, where headlights from the cars following, blinded him. Roxas closed his eyes against the brightness – and then noticed it; there was something on the air. It smelled like - Axel.

“Why isn’t he here? He wants to have sex. I know he does. I was gonna let him.” Roxas wanted those warm hands, and lips, and long legs around him. “Why isn’t he here?” he whined.

“Because he’s a nice man. I’m sure he’ll happily do what you want him to do once you’re sober.”

Sober? This lady was making no sense. “But I wanna sex him now! I can’t sex him when I’m sober.”

“Drunk courage?”

“Huh?” He turned around to face the front and looked for eyes in the mirror. “Is that another drink?”

“No, sweetie. Why do you need to drink to have sex?”

Sex. Roxas missed having sex. The last time was – Oh. “Makes me forget,” he muttered.

“Forget what?”

“That I have a boyfriend.” An image of Vanitas flashed in his head. He pushed it away.

“That is a bit of a problem.”

“Mmm. He’ll be back soon, you know. Then I can’t sex Axy at all. I wanna sex him.” He rubbed hands against his face, imagining Axel’s warm touch.

“What’s wrong with your boyfriend?”

Roxas groaned. “Everything.” Sudden guilt swept over him. “No, nothing… No, everything. Urgh.” It hurt too much to think about. He was having so much fun with Axel. Roxas couldn’t remember the last time he had a nice time with Vanitas. “I want Axy to be my boyfriend. He’s nice to me. Thinks I’m funny and smart. Listens to me and likes what I wear and what I do. Let’s me do things. Doesn’t ask ‘where are you,’ – ‘why do you do that and this,’” Roxas said in a mocking tone, folding arms. “He doesn’t order me to ‘Come out, wear this, do that, do exactly like I tell you to.’ No.” He shook his head and felt extra hot and grumpy. “Axy isn’t like that. He’s so nice. I want to sex him. I want to boyfriend him.” Roxas smiled to himself, imagining what it would be like. Lots of kisses and holding and laughing. All the laughing and feeling nice.

“Maybe tell him in the morning.”

Sounded easy enough. Roxas nodded, “Okay.” He basked in the cozy thought of Axel until the peace was intruded upon by the cab stopping.

“We’re here, ninety-seven Ocara Avenue. Let me help you out.”

What followed was a whirlwind of hands on him. Suddenly he was out of the cocooned cab and amongst cool night air, being walked to the building he now called home.

“Keys?”

“Keys?” It did register and Roxas dove into pockets to fetch them. The main entrance door was opened, and they passed through into a well-lit foyer. Roxas was led to an elevator where they stood for some reason unclear to him.

“Which floor, sweetie?”

“Four.”

A button was pushed, and the metal doors slid open.

“Will you find your way to your apartment or do you need me to come up with you?”

“No, I can do it.”

“Okay. Good night.”

“Night.” Roxas was gently pushed into the elevator, a floor number was selected for him and he waved at the nice woman as doors closed.

Roxas leaned against the wooden rail inside the elevator. It had been such a nice night with Axel. Axel knew the best drinks. Axel had the best hands. The best hair. The best smile. The best voice. The best smell. He continued to rattle off all the wonderful qualities which Axel possessed, as he stumbled out of the opened doors and towards his apartment.

Key finally slid into lock, and the door opened. “Cheshy, I’m home.” He closed the door behind himself, kicked off shoes and picked up his tabby as she circled his legs.

“Did you have fun without me, Chesh? I see you ate your food,” he noted as he wandered into the open plan of his kitchen and living room area.

Cheshire purred and rubbed her head against the underside of his chin. “I had a good night out with Axy. He’s so wonderful. You’ll meet him one day. He’ll treat you nice. Lots of pats and cuddles.” The bedroom was too far away, so Roxas sunk down onto the sofa in the living room and rolled onto his side. Cheshire sprang up and cozied into his ribcage. The warm purring helped lull Roxas to sleep.


 

The music was pumping, bodies were gyrating on the dance floor, and it was atrociously stuffy. Axel had to keep dabbing at his forehead to stop sweat from dripping and landing in someone’s drink.

The air conditioner was having issues, and the bar was unusually full for a Friday night. Two stag nights and one work party had shown up, on top of the usual crowd. At least stag nights brought the predictable and straightforward drink orders, which Axel could churn out blindfolded, so that was a blessing.

He had just finished filling a tray with shots to send up to the lounge when his eyes found Roxas sliding up onto a bar stool. Axel let out a hefty sigh of relief. He had been worried about him since he had watched the cab drive off the night before.

Wiping hands on apron he approached. “Roxas, how’re you feeling?”

“Better.”

“I’m sorry for last night.”

“Why?”

“I should have told Karina to ease up on the alcohol portion of your drinks.”

“Oh. It’s okay. Ignoring how shit I felt when I woke up, it was kinda fun to be drunk for once.”

Axel returned the smile he received. “Good to hear. Doesn’t sound like you got scarred for life.”

“Nope.”

“You up for a drink? I’ll be making them, so we’ll avoid a repeat of last night, even if you have four or more.”

“Sounds good,” Roxas beamed.

With the all-clear, Axel made Roxas several sweet drinks as the night progressed. He was too busy to exchange more than a few words. So, they came up with a five-point rating scale, by which Axel could gauge how well the drinks were being received. Axel was a bit sad that he only got to see Roxas every time he handed him a fresh beverage or cleaned up the empty glasses. But some interaction was better than none.

Ten-thirty was finally approaching and Roxas was beginning to look a bit too relaxed, so Axel cut him off.

“Go dance a bit.”

“Nah. I wanna stay and watch you work.”

It was sweet. Everything about Roxas was sweet, just like the man’s taste buds. “I won’t be serving you any more drinks, so you might as well go dance a bit.”

That pout! Axel’s heart. “I’ll be finished soon and then we can hang out all you like, okay?” he reassured.

Roxas mulled it over, looking out into the sea of people. “Promise you’ll come and find me?”

“Promise.”

“Okay.” Roxas slid off his stool, gave Axel an over-the-shoulder glance and penguin walked for a bit before returning to a normal gait as he joined the dance floor.

Axel chuckled. Roxas was too cute.

Despite the fifteen minutes left on his shift, time dragged its heels. Axel occasionally caught sight of Roxas through the crowd, and when Roxas was aware of Axel, he’d tease him from afar. Hands ran down body, sometimes a becoming finger pointed and curled, calling Axel.

So as soon as Jonah showed up, Axel was out. He pried his soaked, clinging clothes off himself, wiped sweat and makeup off with a towel, and sprayed himself in half a gallon of antiperspirant.

Axel wished he could walk out naked. The thought of having to put on jeans and his long-sleeved shirt and leather jacket made him break out in sweat all over again. But there was nothing to be done about it. He rolled up his sleeves as far as they would go, and only did the middle two buttons up, to keep his shirt together. With boots laced up all the way to his mid-calves, and jacket slung over shoulder, he headed out, eager to be with Roxas.

He pushed into the crowd and used his height to periscope around. It was even hotter in the throng. Axel felt himself get irritated as he was jostled about, looking for his target.

Someone began stroking his arm. Axel whirled around, but the ferocity he was about to unleash was quickly quashed. He ran his hands over Roxas’ and their fingers intertwined. They held on for mere moments before parting again, but there were only inches between them. The people all around pushed them together, which was divine. But both danced without the fervent grinding of nearly a week ago, instead opting for playful jostling.

Axel had begun sweating again before he ever started dancing. Roxas’ hair was limp, and his white shirt clung to him in the most suggestive way possible. Axel tried not to look, focusing instead on the beat of the music, and trying his best to maintain a physical distance between himself and Roxas. They got through two songs, but as the third started, Axel had to admit defeat. “You wanna go do something else?” he yelled into Roxas’ ear.

The response was a nod, so Axel led the way out of the crush, through the staff area, and out the back door.

“Oh man, that feels so much better already!” Axel fanned himself and shook his shirt, to get some of the cooler night air between skin and fabric.

“Yeah. It’s super stuffy in there.” Roxas also tried to cool off and pulled at his shirt.

“Is that why you were off your dancing A-game tonight?” Axel teased and put his jacket on.

“Oh, you noticed?”

“Of course I noticed. Mama tiger, remember?” Axel pulled down the ladder while he listened to Roxas’ laugh. Then they started their ascent. “Your body roll was sloppy and there was absolutely no heart in your moonwalk.”

There came another golden laugh behind Axel. “You weren’t your usual self either. Only four turns instead of the usual eight. It was disappointing to see.”

“I don’t cope well with heat. Seriously hope Marluxia doesn’t cheap out like last time. He should just fork out money for a professional to fix the AC, instead of calling in his sister’s best friend’s cousin’s uncle, or however that acquaintance chain works.”

They clanked up the metal stairs, the air feeling fresher the higher they went.

“You’ll never see me cheaping out on getting things fixed at our bar. This kind of thing ruins reputations,” Axel grumbled.

“You know, my second-cousin’s friend’s dog groomer’s auntie’s grandfather fixes things. Maybe we could have him on as a retainer. I hear he charges a lot, so you wouldn’t have to worry about coming off as cheap.”

Axel belly-laughed. “I’ll take that under advisement.” But then he was left rather breathless from alighting the stairs. Why were there so many stairs?

“Hey, Axel.”

“Yeah?” he huffed, and shot a quick look back to Roxas, a few steps behind him.

“Do you know that you’ve got a massive hole in your jacket elbow, and the leather’s thinning from wear and tear?”

“I do know that, thanks.”

“Is that part of your look?”

A laugh rumbled out. “Old and tired’s never part of my look. But this is my fave jacket so,” Axel shrugged and thankfully – finally – reached the top. Hands went to hips and he breathed in deeply, leveling out his pulse.

Roxas was right at his side. “Looks ancient. How long have you had it for?” he gently poked at Axel’s elbow.

Axel gasped and playfully swatted the hand away. “Take that back! It’s only,” he did some loose finger counting, “two, five, nine, ten… almost eleven years old. Got it for my sixteenth birthday, from my favorite uncle. It only looks like this ‘cause I hardly ever went anywhere without it. Especially when I was younger. I know it’s falling apart and makes me look tatty but hey, it’s comfortable and has seen me through a lot of adolescent angst.” He ran hands along the well-worn leather.

Roxas huffed with quiet laughter. “How sentimental of you.”

“I’m a super sentimental and sensitive guy. This thing’s like my prized possession.” He pulled the jacket off and flung it carelessly onto the ground.

“I’m surprised it’s not in worse shape if you treat your prized possession like that,” Roxas returned with amused snark.

“I only put it through what I know it can handle.” Axel walked towards where he had thrown his article of clothing and spun around. “So, what do you wanna do? Sit on the wall or—”

“Can we do what we did last time? But… you know. Minus the hand holding, probably,” Roxas shrugged with one shoulder and refused to look at Axel.

“Probably?” Axel cocked an eyebrow and gave an amused half-smile as he went to fetch the blanket he kept stored in the box, at the base of the water tank to the side.

“I mean definitely,” Roxas corrected, rubbing at his arms.

Axel rummaged through the box and shortly after came back, spread out the blanket, and they lay down next to each other.

“What did you think of the drinks today?” Axel felt like he needed a better review than just the five-point scale system they had implemented.

“I liked the tea one a lot better than yesterday’s.”

“That’s ‘cause it was my own creation. I call it short-n-sweet, after a certain someone I know,” he dug his elbow into Roxas’ side.

“You’re awful.” Roxas chuckled a little and then fell silent.

“That’s me. You feeling better today after all those drinks? I didn’t push you too far, did I?”

Roxas shook his head and made a sound in the back of his throat to indicate a ‘no.’

“Oh good,” Axel breathed out and stared at the overcast sky for a while.

The city’s ambient noise filled the air, as did the chirping of unseen crickets.

“Hey Roxas, what’s wrong? This feels awkward, right?” He was sure he wasn’t imagining it.

Heads turned, and they looked at each other.

Roxas looked away first. “I’m really sorry about yesterday,” he said quietly.

“Don’t be. I had fun.”

“But I think I put you in a really awkward situation, and I shouldn’t have.”

“You were drink[1], and not responsible for anything you said or might have claimed you wanted to do,” he said, unable to pass up reciting his favorite Roxas-blunder of last night.

Roxas groaned and covered his head with his arms. “Why’d you have to bring that up? I can’t believe some of the shit I said.”

“I live to embarrass you,” he sniggered.

“Thanks,” came the sarcastic retort.

“You’re welcome. You really don’t have to worry though. We’ve got each other’s backs, remember? It’s each other’s jobs to stop the other from doing silly things.”

“Yeah.” Arms left face. “Thank you for being trustworthy.”

Axel was super glad he hadn’t acted on his instinct last night. “We’re friends. You don’t have to thank me for doing my duty.”

Roxas sat up. “Maybe I don’t have to, but I was thinking about it all day. I—ah… made this for you.” He leaned to the side a bit and pulled out a small cylinder from one of the pockets of his baggy pants, and then held it out to Axel.

Axel also sat up. “Oh, what’s this?” He took the cylinder. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“I wanted to. I’ve been thinking about it since our afternoon breakfast, yesterday.”

That intrigued Axel and he popped open the tube, pulling out a thick piece of rolled-up paper. He unfurled and examined it. “Is that… oh my god, Roxas.” He kept looking between Roxas’ face and the gift. “This is amazing. The detail! What the hell! You even have the dimensions in there?” Axel carefully dropped the floor plan of their bar that Roxas had drawn up, and threw his arms around Roxas, giving him a tremendous hug, but then Axel pulled away abruptly. “Sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t have—”

Roxas balled fists into Axel’s shirt and pulled them back together, laughing lightly. “No, it’s fine. You really do give awesome hugs,” he muffled into Axel’s shoulder.

Axel wrapped arms around Roxas and squeezed him tightly. “I can’t believe you made me something like that. Thank you. It means so much!” he breathed into Roxas’ hair.

“It was nothing, really. I needed to do something to get through the hangover.”

Axel pulled away first. Hands still held Roxas at shoulders though, “Woah, woah, woah! Hang on a minute. You did this – while you were hungover?” He felt his jaw drop.

“Ah… yeah? Is that bad?”

“Are you shitting me? I can’t even tie my boots up when I’m properly wasted. How’d you manage this?” Axel let go and returned his attention to the floor plan of their bar. It was meticulously drawn out.

“It’s nothing, really.”

Axel let out a sharp dismissive tone from his throat. “Bullshit. Stop saying it’s nothing. Take the compliment, Roxas.”

“Uh, okay. Thank you, Axel.”

“Good. So how do you even know how to make something like this? You know, I’ve tried to map this out in the past on actual paper. It never turned out right. Always had some sides too long or some weird void. And even when all the bits met up, it never looked as nice or professional as this.”

“I just know how to plan better?”

Axel gave Roxas a stern look. “Maybe. But seriously, it’s more than that.”

“Yeah. I, ah – studied architecture.”

“Woah. See, I knew you were a professional,” he grinned broadly.

“Stop it,” Roxas giggled and nudged his shoulder.

“Are you a professor in architecture now?”

“No. I only studied it for one semester.”

“Oh. Why’s that? Discovered you’re so naturally gifted that you don’t need anyone to teach you? Or it wasn’t your thing?”

“No, neither of those things. I loved it, but – I, ah… other things came up, so I had to defer, but never got back into it,” he shrugged and looked a little uncomfortable.

“Shame. Sounds like it was something you really enjoyed. You should totally take it back up. Since you work from home you could easily fit in studying along with running your business,” Axel encouraged.

Roxas smiled at him, but it looked sad. He lay back down and eyes turned back up to the sky. “I’ll think about it.”

Axel joined Roxas back on the ground and also drew his eyes skyward. Apparently, some wind had picked up in the upper stratosphere, as the sky was beginning to clear. He could see some spotlights, off in the distance, beaming into the sky and reflecting off some clouds that still hung around. There was probably some sort of a premier going down clear across the city. The foot and car traffic down below was still going on, and the crickets had changed their tune but continued singing to one another.

“Still no stars. Not even one really bright one,” Roxas lamented.

“Huh? Can’t be. I think I see one.”

“Where?”

Axel pointed.

Roxas searched for a bit before he said, “Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s a satellite.”

“No way.”

“Yeah way. Look, it’s moving super-fast.”

“Oh.” Axel searched for something else to declare as a star. “What about that?”

“Plane. I thought the blinking white and red lights gave that one away.”

“Damn. Thought it might have been going supernova or something.”

Roxas snorted with amusement. It made Axel want to keep playing the game. “Ooo, what about that?”

Roxas laughed. “That’s the moon, Axel.”

“Isn’t that just a glorified star?” he said dreamily, tilting his head towards Roxas.

“No, it’s really not,” he said with laughter in his voice and a content smile on his face.

“Spoilsport.” Axel sat up, searching for something else equally ridiculous to point to. He found something. “Okay then. Surely that’s a star.”

Roxas sat up too, looked, and laughed louder. “Neon sign for a strip joint. You’re moving further and further in the wrong direction.”

He was, but Roxas was having fun, so it was all good. Axel wondered if he should use his next line or leave it. Ah fuck it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. “This then. This is definitely a star, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.” He pointed at Roxas and waited.

Roxas smiled and then laughed gently, before looking away, abashed. “I’m really not,” came the small voice.

Roxas was so damn cute. “Mm, you are. You’re a fashion designer and an architect. What else don’t I know about you? Huh?”

A shy glance back at Axel and a denial followed, “It’s nothing special.”

Axel didn’t get why Roxas was being so modest, verging on the insecure almost. “It is. It’s super special.” Axel looked back down at the floor plan Roxas had drawn up. “This is so amazing. If I had your talent and patience, I’d probably be rolling in money.”

“Thanks,” thin voice quavered.

Axel couldn’t help himself. He reached over, sliding hand around the side of Roxas’ head, and stroked cheek with his thumb. Wide blue eyes looked back at him. Light from the neon sign reflected and danced as tears gathered. Axel’s chest tightened, and it became hard to swallow. Brows knit. He didn’t understand. “What’s wrong?”

Roxas cupped Axel’s hand with his own and pushed into Axel’s touch. Eyes squeezed shut, releasing the gathering tears. “Nothing,” he breathed, before turning his head towards the hand and leaving a kiss on Axel’s palm.

Roxas stayed like that for a while. Axel felt warm air against his hand and the continuing damp caused by tears. He gently moved his fingers, stroking the soft skin of Roxas’ cheek.

A big exhale followed after some time and Roxas pulled Axel’s hand off his face, but he didn’t let go. “Axel…” eyes looked up at him. “I’m gonna kiss you now.”

Stomach tightened. What was happening? Axel didn’t want to, but he needed to stop this. He pointed with his free hand, “Is that a star?”

Roxas ignored him. He moved and straddled Axel’s lap, taking up Axel’s other hand and sliding them both around his waist. He slung his own arms around Axel’s shoulders and pulled himself close.

Oh, how Axel wanted this. Roxas already felt so good against him, making his lap warm, and all hot and firm under his fingers. Axel’s digits twitched, but he fought the urge to run hands up and down Roxas’ sides, to discover a way under clothes. Instead, he pulled a hand off and placed it on Roxas’ chest. “Rox, what are you doing?” he asked quietly.

Eyes darted all over Axel’s face and upper body, before settling back on his eyes. “I need you. I need this so bad.” Roxas’ head tilted, eyes began sliding shut as he neared.

Axel automatically leaned in as well and parted his lips as he looked at the deliciousness that was Roxas. But he caught himself, and with one final muster of self-control, he pushed against chest, halting Roxas’ slow advance. “Roxas—”

Roxas stopped, eased up a little and gave Axel his full attention.

He didn’t want to say it. In fact, he would have loved for future Axel to come time-traveling back right now to kick him in the balls; but since that wasn’t happening he went on, “If you do this, I’m not gonna stop you again. So as your friend I’m gonna say it–” Don’t fucking say it! Don’t you dare say it! But he did, “You have a boyfriend, and it’s not me.”

Neither of them moved. Chests rose and fell, eyes looked at one another, time froze.

Blue eyes fell on lips. Roxas’ breathy whisper pierced ears, “Please don’t judge me.”

“Never,” Axel replied, almost inaudible. He no longer resisted. Hand slid down and settled on hip as Roxas pushed forward, once more tilting head.

He descended on Axel, unhindered. Dry, warm lips pushed against Axel’s and stayed there for what felt like an eternal but fleeting moment. Warm breath tickled Axel’s skin. He found he was holding his own breath. Too scared to let it out, in case Roxas suddenly up and left.

Roxas pushed his chin towards Axel and with it brought more pressure against lips.

Axel finally exhaled. Roxas apparently really wanted this, despite Axel’s warning and reminder. Axel could go ahead with a clear conscience, right? He had tried. So, he let his desire for Roxas take over.

Gripping Roxas tightly around his middle, Axel finally kissed back; slowly sucking on lips and running his tongue around delicate flesh. Roxas did the same, landing them in a nice rhythm of push and pull, and soft sighs and hums of pleasure.

Axel wound arms around Roxas, and slowly rubbed the small of his back with his hand. Roxas pulled himself even closer to Axel’s chest. He ran a hand up into the red mane, where fingers scraped against scalp and slightly pulled on the hair, making Axel purr. Roxas held fast, with his other arm wound around shoulders, as Axel leaned backward, bringing them both down to the ground.

Roxas used the firm resistance of the ground to push against Axel. His tongue slid into Axel’s open and wanting mouth, and their kissing intensified.

Hips started rolling against Axel’s own, causing Axel’s arousal to harden even further. Finding an opening, Axel slid a hand underneath shirt and up Roxas’ back, while the other hand pushed under waistband and slid down, cupping a bare cheek. He squeezed and kneaded.

Roxas ground harder against Axel, and their kissing became rougher with desire for each other. Their soft sounds grew into moans and gasping whimpers.

While one hand was still entwined in red hair, the other hand traveled over exposed chest and pulled open the remaining two buttons on Axel’s shirt. Fingers meandered down his abdomen, following red happy trail and slowly worked underneath the jeans waistband.

Axel was going to lose his mind if they didn’t have sex this very moment. Fuck condoms, fuck lube. He needed Roxas in him, right now.

He got his mouth free to speak, rather gruffly, “Fuck me, Roxas. Here, now.” But he regretted the words instantaneously as Roxas pulled off him and got up. Axel sat up, licking lips and really missing the heat. “Is everything all right?” Admittedly it was a dumb question.

Roxas paced frantically, holding his head, “No. No! Why did I do that? Why did you let me do that?” Wild, accusatory eyes flung onto Axel.

Axel gasped. “What? Hey, I tried to stop you. Don’t pin this on me,” he finished with slight anger in his voice. Axel was getting frustrated with all the stop-and-starts and endless teasing. He wanted all of Roxas already. It was getting ridiculous.

Wearing an agonizing frown, Roxas turned away and continued pacing, no less frantic. He touched lips for a moment before running hands down his body, smoothing out clothes, and maybe even trying to recall the path Axel’s hands had taken.

Axel watched the to-and-fro. He couldn’t make out what Roxas was muttering to himself, and hoped he was wrong when he thought he caught, ‘he’s gonna kill me.’

“Hey man, just calm down. It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

Roxas stopped abruptly, facing away from Axel. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have – why did I? I don’t know what came over me. I’m not – I don’t – I don’t want to cheat on anyone. What the fuck is wrong with me? What’m I doing to you? To Van? To myself?” Roxas gave a frustrated groan and sank down into a squat, clutching his head.

Those were all good questions. As aggravating as the whole situation of being left high-and-dry was, it also hurt to see Roxas so tormented. “It’s okay, I’m not judging,” he tried to reassure. But if he were, he’d give Roxas a ten-out-of-ten for making out.

Roxas’ head swiveled around, and he gave Axel a completely forlorn look. “I…” Roxas suddenly looked like he was in physical pain. “I can’t be around you. I can’t trust myself around you. You’re – like some crazy drug. You touch me–no. You don’t even have to touch me. You just look at me with your gorgeous smile and your fuck-me eyes and tattoos – God your body –” He groaned again. “I can’t be here. We’ll never be just friends,” he spoke almost to himself and got up. “I’m so sorry, Axel.” He made for the fire escape.

Axel’s heart began racing in an unpleasant way. He had to stop him from following through on that. Standing up he called out, “Rox, don’t leave.” But Roxas wasn’t showing any signs of obeying. Axel had to come up with something quick, or he definitely felt he would lose Roxas forever. He searched his brain for any tangible excuse. “Look, I have a theory,” he tried as a stall technique.

It seemed to work. Roxas slowed, and stopped, looking back at Axel. “A theory?”

“Yeah, for why you tell me one thing, but do the opposite.”

“Yeah?” Eyes were practically pleading to be given a valid excuse.

“Yeah. Ah—You’re in a new place, right? You don’t know anyone, and your man’s far away…” Axel began relaxing as he formulated the rest of his case. “It’s pretty lonely. And as nice as having a cat is, they just can’t beat having another person there. So, I figure… you’re just super lonely, and that kinda stuff can make people do all sortsa things.” Had he nailed it? Was it believable enough?

“Really?” There was a desperation and longing in that simple word. Roxas turned towards Axel, looking less like he was about to flee.

“Yeah, really.” Admittedly it wasn’t the best excuse. Axel would have preferred to say that clearly, they were destined to be together, and screw the boyfriend, but he was sure that wouldn’t have netted him the same response. So, he ran with it, whilst button his shirt back up a little. “Loneliness can make people do all kinds of weird stuff. Coupled with my handsomeness – well, it’s amazing we haven’t slept together yet. So… you’re doing a great job. And–” The knowledge of what he was about to say made him feel sick, “I’m sure once you’re back with your boyfriend your feelings will…” Axel didn’t know the right word. Even saying this much killed him. Implying Roxas’ feelings for himself would vanish completely was like death. “Well, everything should settle down. And, we’ll be able to stay friends.” Urgh! Where was a sick bag when he needed one?

Roxas looked visibly relieved as he mulled Axel’s words over in his head. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m just really lonely. And you’ve been so nice to me and everything. My head’s just all messed up.” It was slow, but by the time he finished, Roxas was nodding eagerly. He sighed, and shoulders slumped. “It’s not weird, is it? I don’t want this ruining our friendship.”

“It’s not,” Axel tried to reassure. But it was weird. He was friend-zoning himself. He didn’t understand why he was doing it. Could he live with himself knowing Roxas was with someone else? Was he still hoping to get Roxas if the relationship fell apart? And if he was, then why was he trying to hold Roxas and his boyfriend together at this point in time?

He did actually know the answer. It was because he didn’t want to lose Roxas. Yes, he would figure out a way to make it work, even if he was going to be a friend forever. And that in itself was a shocking thought and realization. But it was what it was because Axel wanted to open up his bar with Roxas at his side. He wanted to keep dancing, singing, and playing games with him. Axel knew in that moment that he had it really bad for Roxas. Bad enough to lock himself into a forever-friendship with the guy, to his own detriment.

Roxas sighed again and sank down once more on his haunches, into a squat. “Thank goodness. I don’t want to lead you on. I love Van, I’m just lonely,” he faded out into a mutter, sounding like he wanted to reassure himself of those facts.

Axel felt like a bucket of icewater had been dumped on him. “When did you say he’s supposed to fly in? I assume he’s catching a plane.” Axel didn’t want to talk about his self-proclaimed rival, but he decided to be a good friend to Roxas, first and foremost.

“Yeah. He’s due in next weekend.” Roxas looked up as Axel slowly approached.

“If you want, I’ll still keep you company. We can keep doing what we’ve been doing this week. It’ll make the time pass quicker. There’s still lots to see and do.” Axel wanted to make sure they were still cool to be together. He’d figure something out about their blatantly obvious attraction for one another and how to deal with it, later.

“We won’t be able to – you know… do this again,” Roxas said, reddening.

“Yeah, I know. I didn’t mean this part. I meant the other parts. Going places, hanging out, seeing shit.”

“You’re cool with us just being friends?” Disbelief tinted his words.

He couldn’t say it, so he just nodded through a forced smile.

“Yeah? Wow. Thanks, Axel. You really don’t mind hanging out with me?” Roxas sounded so incredulous.

Axel found his voice again and tried to sound as serious as possible, “Dude, I’m not having fake-fun with you just to get with you, if that’s what you think is going on.”

Roxas sighed and looked at his knees. “I… honestly, I was kind of worried that if we couldn’t be more than friends, you wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”

“That’ll never happen. I like you for you,” he said sternly and stood before Roxas, holding out his hand. “Come out with me and my friends tomorrow. We’re going down to the amusement park by the beach. It’s on the corner of Fifty-first street and Sandy Bay Drive. There’s buses that go there. We’re meeting at ten AM.”

“Yeah?” Roxas reached up and took Axel’s hand.

“Yeah.” Axel pulled him up.

Roxas took a small step back so they weren’t chest to chest. “Don’t you have work tomorrow?”

“No. I’m taking leave that day. It’s my birthday.”

Eyes almost bugged out. “Your birthday? Why didn’t you lead with that?”

Axel shrugged. “Not that important.”

“Are you insane? Of course it’s important! And of course I’ll come. I need to get you something though. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Roxas smacked Axel on the arm.

He chuckled. “I don’t make a big deal out of it. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, but my friends insisted. And don’t worry about getting me anything. You’ve already given me an incredible gift,” he pointed back towards the blanket where the floor plan lay, curled up in a roll, and where they had recently made out.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, just be there tomorrow. That’ll be enough.”

Roxas’ face grew stern, and he gave a super serious nod. “I’ll be there. And I’ll win you some stupid prize at one of the not-so-rigged fairground games.”

Axel laughed. “Okay, deal.” He reached out and raked fingers through Roxas’ hair. He loved the way Roxas always leaned into it, awash with contentment.

Roxas smiled up at Axel. But the look fell away. “Gah, I should get home. Need to be up early for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a point. Let’s pack up and go.”


 

The next day arrived, and Axel made an effort to be on time. He stood outside the amusement park entrance five minutes before his friends started arriving in dribs and drabs. The satisfaction of seeing their reactions, and the way his friends shouted, ‘guess who’s here before you!’ as others arrived, was priceless.

By a quarter-past everyone was there. Everyone except for Roxas.

“Can’t you call him to check where he’s at?” Flik asked, a bit testily.

“Don’t have his number,” was Axel’s simple reply as he continued to look out into the crowd, searching for adorable spikes atop an undoubtedly cool outfit.

Half an hour passed. Axel’s friends were not amused.

“C’mon, let’s go,” Ruth whined.

“He probably forgot. No point waiting around,” Lucy insisted.

Axel wore a scowl and refused to budge. “He’ll be here.” There was no way Roxas was not coming.

But after an hour of waiting around, his friends left him. Kairi gave him a sympathetic look as she followed everyone else.

Axel remained behind, getting increasingly upset, worried, and then angry as hours passed. By midday, he was too pissed off to admit defeat and too pissed off to join his friends. He stayed out the front – sitting, leaning, slouching and in the end laying down next to the bollard he had declared his watch-post.

Axel ignored his friends’ texts and calls. He refused to see them when they came to check on him. When the sun set, Axel left for home, completely numb inside.

Chapter Text

Axel saw no trace of Roxas for days upon days. He teetered between worry and anger. If Roxas had shown up at random, Axel thought he would have yelled at him, so it was probably for the best that he caught no sight of the man.

He didn’t feel like doing much of anything, so he slept in before work, and on his days off that week, decided to stay in. He went through his extensive pile of video games, giving some old classics another go until he found his stride with Mario Kart, finding enjoyment in trying to beat his old personal bests for laps.

Tuesday came and went, and Wednesday was much the same. He only had a brief interruption when his phone rang for the umpteenth time. Since he wasn’t in the middle of a race just yet, he picked up and wedged the phone between shoulder and ear.

“Yo, ‘sup!”

“Oh, look who finally picked up! I’m calling to ask you what you’re doing,” came the testy voice.

“Huh? Nothing much.”

“Then why didn’t you come out for lunch yesterday or today?”

“Oh, yesterday I was busy, and today the weather is too shit to go outside.” Axel flicked through the different race tracks and checked his high scores, to see which one he wanted to tackle next.

“Well, I’ll give you that. Today is pretty dismal. But what about yesterday? Why didn’t you come out? What did you get up to?” came the nag.

“A new personal best in Mario Kart. I used to be really good at this game. Just trying to get my groove back.”

“Is that what you’re doing right now, instead of being out and hanging with your friends?”

“Ah, yeah,” he drawled. “This is important to me, Kairi.”

“It’s never been in the past, no matter how much it rained.”

“Humans change all the time. I’m deep and multifaceted,” he threw out, resting controller in lap and gripping the phone properly, as he was getting a crick in his neck.

“There’s nothing deep about you sulking at home,” came the pin-point accurate assessment.

“I’m not sulking.”

“You are. Ever since Roxas stood you up last week you’ve stopped being fun and sociable. And your friends — your ‘real,’ long-standing friends, have noticed.”

He was insulted. Axel threw down his controller, switched the television off, and leaned forward, giving Kairi his full attention. “I don’t care for your tone of voice right now. What do you mean, real friends? Roxas is a real friend.”

“Well, I don’t care for you getting all angry and snappy at me. I’m calling to check up on you, so drop the attitude.”

“I never asked you to check up on me. I’m a grown-assed man, I can look after myself.”

“Then why’re you sulking, like a little child?”

“Because I —” Axel clapped his mouth shut. He had nearly fallen for it. “I’m not sulking.”

“Axel.” It was sharp, commanding, while also being caring.

Axel could hear Kairi’s concern. He sighed. “I really care about him. You weren’t there when we talked about going to the amusement park together. He was going to be there, one-hundred percent.”

“But he wasn’t, hence the sulking.”

“I’m worried about him, Kai-Kai.”

Her hardline questioning softened slightly. “Worried that something bad happened to him, or worried that he’s finally put this boyfriend first?”

Hearing her voice his fears stung. “Those are the same thing.”

“A boyfriend isn’t a bad thing, Axel.”

“It is if it’s Roxas and that boyfriend isn’t me.” He knew he was sounding whiny, but he couldn’t stop his emotions from rising to the surface.

“Stop being so selfish. You should be happy that he’s chosen his drug lord boyfriend over you. Now you can move on.”

It was said in jest, but Axel couldn’t find the laugh inside himself. “I don’t want to move on, Kai.”

“You sound like a cliché romance movie, Ax. You barely knew the guy for a week. How can you be in so deep?”

How, indeed. “I don’t know, but I am.”

Kairi sighed. “At least come out and be with your friends. You don’t have to pretend to be happy. Sulk if you have to, but at least do it in good company.”

He had to admit that even this uncomfortable talk had made him feel a bit better. A twinge of regret fluttered through him at having missed the chance to be amongst his friends. “Just let me have this week. If I’m still moping next week, I give you permission to knock my door down and drag me out.”

Some static silence filtered through the earpiece, and then a gentle, “Okay,” followed. “We care about you, don’t forget that.”

“I won’t. Bye, Kai.”

“Bye, Ax,” she hung up.

Axel couldn’t forget that Roxas also cared for him. What had happened? He threw himself down on the couch and stared up at the ceiling fan. An image of Roxas — cooped up in a hospital bed somewhere because he had gotten into a major accident while on his way to being with Axel — filled his mind.

Maybe he had suffered a severe head injury and was now comatose, or worse — suffered from amnesia and had forgotten all about him. That seemed far more plausible than Roxas suddenly choosing his boyfriend over Axel. He had basically promised that he would be at the amusement park.

Axel growled as he sat up, picking the controller off the couch cushion, and turned the television back on. He hated thinking about it, so he returned to his game.


 

Axel was glad when his work week started again. It gave him something to do and focus on. A week passed without Roxas appearing. Axel stared at Roxas’ website many times, filling in that inquiry box, but erasing it every time because he wanted to adhere to Roxas’ wishes. But he told himself that if Roxas didn’t show himself before the month ended, Axel would take drastic actions. Until then, he just tried to get through the days as best he could.

It was Friday and smack-bang in the middle of the changing of the guard; the afternoon crowd slowly phasing out and being replaced with the more rambunctious evening folks, who wanted to let off some steam after work. Axel enjoyed witnessing the change and what it did for the atmosphere of the place. It got progressively rowdier and more fun as the hour slipped into early evening.

It was just after happy hour ended that Axel got quite a severe shock. He walked over to an unremarkable looking gentleman standing by the bar. Hair slicked back with way too much gel, giving him a greasy appearance. The dull grey overcoat looked dated and overly large for the guy. He looked so mediocre that Axel couldn’t fathom why he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off him ever since he approached the bar.

But he knew as soon as his greeting of, “What can I get you?” was answered in a meek but familiar voice—

“I’m so sorry about last weekend, Axel.”

Eyes went wide. “Roxas? Is that you?”

Arms folded across his body as if he were cold. Eyes darted slightly before he gave the tiniest of nods. A wave of relief swept over Axel. He leaned over the bar slightly, so they could hear each other better. “I was so worried. What happened?”

Roxas chewed at his lip and stepped closer as well. “Vanitas came home Saturday morning without telling me that he would. Said it was supposed to be a surprise.”

Ice ran down Axel’s back, but a heat welled in his chest and a tension coursed through his body. The relief he had felt moments before evaporated. “I waited for you. I waited all fucking day.”

Roxas leaned back a bit, startled. “I’m so sorry,” he mewled.

“Not good enough, Roxas. I waited all day. It was the fucking worst waste of a birthday, ever,” he snapped as quietly as his growing outrage would let him.

Roxas’ mouth fell open. He stammered, trying at another apology, but Axel didn’t want to hear it. “You could have — no, you should have come out. Should have brought your boyfriend along—” he practically spat out. “Instead of leaving me worrying about you for the last seven days.” Axel shot a glance to his left and right, making sure he wasn’t causing a scene. But sadly, patrons were beginning to look.

“I couldn’t. I wanted to be there. I’m so sorry.” Roxas looked increasingly distressed, and almost like he was about to cry.

That hit Axel in the chest, dislodging some of the broiling anger. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Can you give me fifteen minutes? I’ll get someone to fill in for me, so we can go talk somewhere in private.”

The change in tone seemed to relax Roxas somewhat. His arms eased off his sides a little, but he still spoke in a terribly small voice. “I really want to, but… I’m sorry. I can’t. I have to go. Vanitas is expecting me at five-thirty on the dot. I can’t stay. I only made this quick stop to tell you how sorry I am.”

That was it for Axel. He was pissed. “Get out, and don’t come back here,” he snarled quietly.

Blue eyes went wide. “Axel, please don’t — I miss you,” tears rolled.

“You should have thought of that before you put your boyfriend before our friendship. Now get out, or I’m gonna get the bouncers over here.”

“I — Axel. Don’t be mad,” came the tear-filled plea.

Axel pointed at the door. “Go. Your boyfriend needs you at his side. Tick tock. Time’s wasting away,” he ended in a derisive tone.

Roxas followed the finger, bit his lip, and then slowly turned away. He kept throwing glances at Axel as he went. But after about three sad and longing stares from Roxas, Axel turned away and went back to work.

He couldn’t concentrate much on his work for the remainder of his shift. Pouring drinks was hard with trembling hands. He was so mad at Roxas for putting their friendship last. If Axel getting shafted was going to be the norm — now that the asshole had moved in with Roxas — well, Axel figured it would be best to end things on his own terms.

Those thoughts consumed him all the way home, and his attempts at getting sleep were filled with thoughts of Roxas. By the time early morning rolled around, Axel’s anger had lost its heat and he was left feeling like shit. The image of Roxas crying sat in the very forefront of his mind. The fun they had shared over the past week grew the welling upset inside himself. He wished he hadn’t been such an asshole.

Mind you, he felt justified in his upset, but wished he hadn’t made such a brash decision in the heat of the moment to tell Roxas to never come back. He didn’t want things to end between them after all. He decided he had been a shit friend. Just as shit as Roxas had been to him.

That was his biggest regret, and he worried how he would find Roxas again to apologize.


 

Saturday rolled on in. The bar was positively going off that evening. Everyone was in good cheer and Axel was kept fairly busy tending to drink orders. At some point, not too late into the evening, Axel cast a wary eye out into the bopping crowd. Something caught his eye, and he tried to track as it darted hither and thither.

Was that…? No. It couldn’t be. This guy was all gothed up, except for his golden hair. Everything else was black on black on black, in Victorian-esque clothes. And he was grinding up against an equally goth looking dark haired guy.

Axel kept catching glimpses of the pair through the crowd. Those moves… the longer he watched the more certain he grew. Roxas. Dancing with… the boyfriend rumbled through Axel’s mind with venom, and he menacingly squinted at them from afar. It hurt seeing them dance together. And then it began to burn. What was Roxas playing at? Why was he here? Axel had told him not to come back, only yesterday. Sure, Axel had regretted it, but considering what he was seeing — well, it pissed him off again. Did Roxas possess a goldfish-sized memory? Was this payback of some kind? Was Roxas rubbing their intense feelings into the dirt and giving Axel a massive middle finger?

Longing and upset melded together. Axel couldn’t look away. He wanted the other man to be himself so badly. The way Roxas had felt against his own body was burned into his memory. He hated the idea of anyone else being with Roxas and felt torn between an urgent need to apologize for his previous day’s angry words, and the deep need to have the couple evicted from the bar.

The only saving grace came when his attention was pulled away by patrons ordering drinks. But he kept watching and stewing in silent anger and frustration.

After a while, the music changed, which saw the goth couple stop dancing. Axel monitored their movements closely, while he served up bottles of Coronas with limes shoved down the necks to some patrons.

The couple stole away to the side of the dance floor, talking a bit. Glances were cast towards the bar, and Roxas’ and Axel’s eyes connected across the bustling room. Axel glared. Roxas hastily looked away and started pointing at something else. But the subject of Axel’s hatred made towards the bar, and Roxas trailed behind, head sunken.

This was Axel’s chance to do… something. He kept playing with the idea of getting them evicted — evicting the boyfriend. Could he start a fight with the man? The bouncers would take Axel’s side if he claimed he had been assaulted first. He just wanted to be left alone with Roxas. His heart yearned for him, but it was also pounding with heated outrage. Why had Roxas come in with that thing attached to him?

Axel regrettably noted how the boyfriend wasn’t horribly disfigured or hideous to look at. He was trim, fashionable – even for a goth – and somewhat taller than Roxas. If Axel wasn’t feeling such intense hatred for the other man, he’d probably admit that he would happily do the guy if Axel had randomly seen him around the place. But since it wasn’t like that, Axel begrudgingly rated him as a six out of ten for fuckability, and thus, clearly not worth his time.

The two approached Axel’s side of the bar. Whether that was a good or bad thing was yet to be seen. The jerk slid onto a chair, and a few moments later Roxas joined him, slowly, carefully, and completely avoiding looking in Axel’s direction. He was visibly deeply uncomfortable.

Axel could be an asshole about it. He half wanted to be. But the other half wanted – and needed – to gauge whether or not Roxas had ever told his dearly beloved anything about him. So, he purposely walked over, delving into the friendly introduction, “Good evening. Name’s Axel, and I’ll be pleased to take your orders tonight. What can I get you?”

He wasn’t greeted with a smile and an offer of names. He instead received a staredown. That could very well mean that Roxas had told the boyfriend about him, but there wasn’t any way to be certain.

“What wines you got?”

“Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc—”

“Reds. We don’t do whites,” Vanitas snapped, with not so much as a further look in Axel’s direction. He was firmly scrutinizing the backbar.

Axel kept the growl in check. He’d served ruder patrons than this. He cast an eye onto Roxas, who was sinking down in some kind of agony. “Is there any special occasion? I could make recommendations if I know what kind of taste you were after. Perhaps an ice wine might be nice, or—”

“Are you kidding me? None of that fruity sweet crap. And I said red,” Vanitas finally acknowledged Axel’s presence with a glare.

“We have Merlot, Pinot Noir—”

“A full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, you got that?”

Axel nodded because if he said anything, his distaste for the man might show through. He turned to Roxas, his annoyance and hurt with him forgotten in light of the unpleasantness he had just been exposed to. “And what about you, sir?” He was going to play the ‘I don’t know you at all’ game. “What can I get you?”

Roxas looked at him with big blue eyes. The dark mascara only made them pop and shine all the brighter against light skin. Axel felt conflicted as he drank in the sight. Roxas didn’t make a half bad goth. But then Axel suspected that Roxas looked good in absolutely anything, and even in nothing at all. He tried to shut that thought down. Axel wasn’t finished being mad at the guy just yet. Though he really missed having Roxas around. Delicious painted lips parted, giving Axel all kinds of flashbacks before everything came crashing down as a harsh bark extinguished any pleasantness that might have arisen.

“He’ll have the same. Now get to it.”

Both Axel and Roxas’ head snapped towards him. “Van, please,” Roxas squeaked in a tiny, pleading voice.

Vanitas rolled his eyes. “Please,” he added dryly without giving Axel the courtesy of an accompanying look.

“Coming right up,” he said stiffly. He moved away to fetch the wine and glasses.

Axel didn’t understand what was going on precisely. He knew Roxas would hate this drink, so why would his boyfriend order it for him? Clearly, the guy was a complete asshole and Roxas could do so much better, i.e. Axel.

He stole glances over at the two men as he pulled down the glasses from their hanging rack. Roxas still seemed tiny and miserable, and the boyfriend seemed like he hadn’t ever been taught how to smile.

Axel walked back over with the bottle and two glasses, placing them down on coasters before the two men and poured. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

Vanitas waved him off without a word, sliding money onto the bar, and grabbed his glass, then waited for Roxas to pick up his own.

Axel stood there blankly, really thrown off by the jerk-face’s inability to be decent.

The clink of wine glasses tapping together snapped him out of it.

“To us,” Vanitas said, eyes for no one but Roxas.

“To us,” Roxas repeated, softness in his voice.

Axel scooped up the money, turned, and walked away so he didn’t have to see the way Roxas’ eyes and smile shone for someone else. But he didn’t avert his gaze for too long. While he served others, he continued to chance glances over at the couple.

Vanitas seemed to be doing most of the talking while getting through his glass of wine. Roxas was barely touching his, giving Axel immense satisfaction for knowing Roxas better than the so-called boyfriend. And honestly, Axel was relieved at seeing something familiar about Roxas. The way Roxas dressed yesterday and today; hair all neat, and weird outfits – the way he spoke, meek and unsure of himself — and now the wine… well, it all kind of confused Axel. He had begun wondering who Roxas really was.

It had crossed his mind that maybe Roxas had lied about a whole bunch of things. But it didn’t sit right with him. Roxas had seemed sincere in all his dealings with Axel. Besides, Axel had made the first move on Roxas, so his fears of being used held no ground.

He opted to just keep watching Roxas from afar and wait and see whether an opportunity would present itself to talk with him. The bizarre nature of what was going on right now had chased away his annoyance and anger – with Roxas anyway. Those things had found a new home with the boyfriend.

The dislike he felt only intensified as he waited and watched. He didn’t like what he saw. For one, Roxas didn’t look happy. Sure, he smiled, but they weren’t the big ones Axel had seen when they had spent time together. He neither saw nor heard any laughs. Axel swore that Roxas had done little else besides smile and laugh when they had spent time together.

Yes, he was comparing himself and graded himself as coming out on top in this battle. He continued painting a miserable picture of their relationship. He knew he shouldn’t be, but couldn’t, and – truthfully – didn’t want to stop. Particularly when Vanitas started seemingly picking on Roxas’ outfit and appearance, straightening, tucking, and pointing.

Despite all these red flags that not all was rosy in paradise, he still witnessed horrifying kisses and less criticizing touches. He looked away every time that happened.

Axel figured he had been watching them for a little over half an hour before he found a chance to get to Roxas. Vanitas got up and left in the direction of the restrooms, so Axel, casually wiping the bar clean, meandered towards his intended target.

Roxas shrunk back from the bar a little as Axel approached, as if scared of Axel’s temper flying off the handle again. It wasn’t unfounded, but it did hurt a little.

Axel stopped before Roxas and was ready to lay out his apology when Roxas got there first, “I’m really sorry that I’m here, please don’t kick me out.” Roxas couldn’t look up. He just frowned at his fingers, which gripped the edge of the bar top with nervous anticipation.

It upset Axel and any residual annoyance with Roxas evaporated. “I didn’t mean the shit I said yesterday, Roxas. Look — I… completely overreacted.” He bowed his head and rubbed at his skull. He felt so foolish. “I was worried sick about you, which made me angry. I say and do things I don’t mean when I get properly mad.” Was it so wrong for him to want to be put first in Roxas’ life? It had been his birthday after all. Just one day of the year, that’s all Axel asked for. “I’m sorry,” he finished, looking up and seeing Roxas meet his gaze.

A sigh of relief. “So, you’re not gonna kick me out?”

“No,” he shook his head.

Roxas slumped forward. “Oh, thank God.”

“Here, lemme make it up to you.” Axel quickly got a small glass of Moscato filled up and pushed it under Roxas’ nose. “You can wash the Cabernet Sauvignon outta your mouth with this.”

Roxas looked at it in skepticism but took a cautious sip. Eyes widened, and he smiled, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know that wine actually came in yum,” and proceeded to down the contents of the glass.

It was like seeing the sun come out after days of rain. Damnit. Axel cursed himself for getting swept up in Roxas’ joy so easily. He kind of wanted to stay mad at the guy… even a little bit, but he was way too cute. He laughed, “They do come in yum.” He turned serious again, “You’ve never had anything other than dry reds?”

“I don’t really know what that means, but if you mean anything else that didn’t taste like what we had before, then no,” Roxas shook his head.

Axel scoffed. “Why not? Doesn’t your boyfriend know what kind of drinks you like?” Urgh. Axel needed something strong to wash the bad taste of the B-word out of his mouth.

“Ah — well, I never knew what drinks I liked either before I met you, so…” Roxas shrugged and looked down at the bar top.

“Yeah, true but shouldn’t—” Axel frowned. He didn’t want to talk about the awful B-word anymore. “Can I just ask why you came in here? If you were so worried, it would have been easier to avoid the bar.” He admitted it; he was fishing for some kind of compliment to himself.

Roxas hummed for a moment in thought. “It was Van who decided to come in here.”

Ah fuck. What a disappointing response. And why did all roads lead back to that jerk? “Have you told him about us?” he asked tentatively. If Roxas had, that might go some way to explaining the guy’s crabby attitude towards Axel.

“No,” Roxas said quietly without looking up.

“Oh.” Well, there went that explanation. Axel felt relieved at having their intense fondness for one another remain a secret, but he was also baffled and annoyed at the asshole Roxas was dating. “So, he didn’t come in here to tell me off, he’s just a jerk in general?”

Roxas frowned and glanced up at Axel. “I’m sorry he’s a bit rude. But he’s only like that to people he doesn’t know very well. He’s — really nice when you get to know him.”

Axel hoped that would never be the case. “And it’s just a coincidence that you guys came in here?” He still wanted to hear that Roxas wanted to see him again, despite all that had transpired the day before.

“Van knows I came here to see a couple of bands play, so he wanted to check it out too. Please don’t tell him we know each other,” blue eyes sparkled with concern.

Again, not what he had wanted to hear. “Lips are sealed.”

“Thank you.”

Their conversation ended. The weight of… whatever it was they had been doing together — hung between them. Axel mindlessly wiped down the bar top and took away the empty glasses lining it. Roxas kept peering in the direction that Vanitas had gone.

It dug into Axel’s soul. “Well, if you need anything else, just wave me down.” He went to go clean the other side of his bar station but didn’t even get one step in before pleading words halted him.

“It’s okay if I come back here to see you, isn’t it?”

Finally, something to cheer about. “Yeah, of course.” He gave Roxas a warm smile. Axel, however, didn’t linger to appreciate the beauty of Roxas’ face lighting up, as he caught sight of the bane of his existence approaching, rather hastily.

“See ya, Roxas.” He turned away and got on with his job a bit further down the bar but stayed within earshot.

“Huh? Ax—”

“That guy bothering you, Roxas?”

“What? No.”

“You sure?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Okay then. C’mon, we’re leaving this dump.”

“But… you said one more dance—”

“We’re leaving.”

Axel cast a glance behind himself to watch Roxas be dragged off. He huffed out in irritation. Axel truly didn’t care for the boyfriend and an uncomfortable thought started taking shape, which he desperately tried to ignore.

Chapter Text

The week dragged on uneventfully. Axel caught no sight of Roxas, which was rather depressing and disquieting. He was restless, focusing his all into work and detesting when it was all over, because it meant being left with his thoughts. Axel wished for distraction but had no interest in hanging out at the bar after work to hook up with strange men. He just wanted one particular man. He tried to ignore his listlessness by playing video games, reading up about how to start a viable business, and practicing his mixing techniques. But all too often, eyes landed on the floor plan he had foolishly stuck onto his living room wall, right above the television.

He put it there as a reminder to keep him focused on his dream. It was the perfect encapsulation of it; owning his bar and having Roxas be a part of his life. And when the second part of that dream seemed too dim and forlorn, he looked towards his bookshelf on the left. The little pewter penguin was there, a silent custodian of a hope and prayer.

Despite these things weighing on his heart and mind, it wasn’t all sadness and misery. Axel did get himself out of the house and spent time with his friends; as per Kairi’s threatening suggestion. It went some way towards making him feel better. The real thing which got Axel’s fire going, however, occurred on Friday night —

No, Roxas was nowhere to be seen, which was precisely why it was surprising to see the boyfriend come in.

Axel hardly recognized the fellow, dressed in buttoned-down dress shirt, slacks and a fitted jacket. He looked somewhere between formal and casual, and nowhere near as pissy as the last time Axel had seen him. In fact, Axel even caught a friendly smile, which made him look behind himself, just to check that it was actually aimed at him. Apparently, it had been, so he returned one full of detached courtesy.

Axel returned to work, completely perplexed.

At a later time, he caught sight of Vanitas, grinding up against someone. For a fraction of a second Axel’s heart raced, thinking Roxas was around, but on closer inspection he didn’t recognize the dancing partner.

Things went from strange to downright wrong.

Some time passed. Axel was just coming back from a quick bathroom break when he saw the man pressing someone up against a wall. Axel wouldn’t have thought anything of it if the man was shaking someone down angrily, but no! He was making out quite passionately with a person who looked like his previous dancing partner.

That left Axel reeling for the rest of the night. Was Vanitas cheating on Roxas? It made Axel so angry. The thought of anyone cheating on Roxas – when the asshole was so lucky to even have him in the first place. Truthfully, the irony of it all wasn’t lost on Axel. But he didn’t care about the double standard.

He wondered if things had truly gotten so bad between them that it had ended up like this. It actually suddenly excited Axel, and then he grew even more excited when he thought about the amazing idea that perhaps they had already broken up. Vanitas wasn’t cheating at all – because they were no longer together!

That’s definitely what it was – and even if it were the other thing, it just meant that Roxas would be free to pursue whomever he wished in due time.

Axel lost track of Vanitas, but he didn’t care. He was on cloud nine as he left work that evening.


 

Irritatingly enough, the weekend came and went without any sign of Roxas. Axel often found himself staring at Roxas’ business card and tapping it nervously against whatever surface was closest. He revisited the decision of emailing the man and decided that he would do so if he hadn’t seen Roxas in a week’s time. He’d send an email requesting a jacket with, ‘Will you go out with me?’ embroidered on the back and hope Roxas would be amused and get back to him.

Axel was definitely delighted with that plan so happily slid into the work week.

On Monday Axel nearly dropped a whole bottle of Absinthe when Roxas walked in at five.

Big smiles were exchanged. Axel felt completely giddy with joy. “Hey, gorgeous! Long time!”

Roxas chuckled. “Were you counting the days?” He came to a stop before Axel.

“Absolutely. Today makes it day ten.” He leaned in close on elbows, wishing there wasn’t a barrier between them. His fingers ached to touch Roxas’ hand. It was just there, idling on the bar surface.

Roxas seemed to notice Axel’s stare. Hand inched closer and one finger extended, hooking against Axel’s twitching digits.

That quiet blushing smile made Axel’s body pulsate. He reacted by squeezing Roxas’ finger into his palm. “You wanna come home with me tonight after work? I’ll cook you something good,” he said in a low and seductive tone.

The pleasant smile fell away from Roxas’ face and he leaned back a little, looking surprised.

“What?” Axel laughed lightly.

After a pause, Roxas said, “You can cook?” There was so much cheek in that question.

“Of course I can cook. Why would ya think I can’t?” The smile wouldn’t leave Axel’s face.

“Well, you’re really skinny, and I’ve seen you eat. I assumed you were starving at home half the time,” he smiled in a tight-lipped sort of a way, keeping a laugh at bay.

Axel scoffed in offense. “My looks are all genetic. I love eating and do it as well as I cook.” He leaned in closer to Roxas, voice low, smirking, “Lemme show you.”

All fun slipped from now fiercely-blushing face, as did the finger Axel was grasping. “I can’t. You know I can’t.”

Axel’s brow furrowed, creating a deep recess. “But… you’re broken up – aren’t you?” he questioned, all of a sudden not so sure of himself anymore.

Roxas returned the confused stare. “No. What gives you that idea?”

Axel straightened himself a little. “Vanitas was here last Friday, grinding and making out with some guy who definitely wasn’t you.”

Roxas’ frown deepened as he let that sink in. A hoarse, “What?” followed.

“Yeah. I thought you guys had broken up.”

“No – We haven’t.” Roxas took a step back from the bar.

This had turned awkward. “Well then.”

Roxas pulled arms around himself, hugging the oversized jacket against his body, and glared at Axel, and then at the floor. Eyes tentatively returned to look at Axel. “You sure it was him?”

“Yeah. One-hundred percent. I walked right past him.”

Frown did not leave Roxas’ face. Eyes narrowed. “I – don’t believe you.”

That was worse than a slap in the face. “Why would I lie?” Axel spat, perhaps a little too fiercely.

“We both know exactly why,” Roxas took a small step back, and hugged himself tighter, looking mortally wounded.

“Roxas, I’m not lying to you. It’s what I saw.”

“No.” He shook his head. “It’s not true. Van was… at a business dinner.” The doubt in his voice was loud and clear as defiance gave way to worry.

“I’m sorry, but it’s what I saw.” Axel was being sincere. All self-interest aside, he felt bad for Roxas.

There were no words, only a bitterly upset frown. Roxas took another step back, and then another — and another.

Axel didn’t hear it so much as see lips mouthing, ‘It’s not true.’

Roxas turned and hurriedly walked out of the bar, leaving Axel’s previously soaring heart in broken tatters on the ground.


 

It was an incredibly weird time for Axel. He was lost as to what his next course of action should be. Sleep was definitely not on the cards that night.

Video games weren’t helping. Staring at the wall wasn’t helping. It was nearly midnight, but he tried his luck.

Axel

Today 23:47 hey Kai, u (Upwards Black Arrow ≊ Up Arrow)?

23:48 Kai-Kai
Yeah. Working on a study, but I can give you maybe like five minutes. Need a break anyway. Going cross-eyed.

can I (Telephone Receiver ) u?

23:49 Kai-Kai
Is this about Roxas? (-__- )

if it is will u say no 2 me (Telephone Receiver ) u?

Kai-Kai
I think you know the answer to that. But I also suspect you’ll call anyway.

23:50 haha!

Still lazing on his couch, he dialed her number and waited a few rings before she picked up. “Kairi, my sweetest sunshine, how are you?”

A deep sigh greeted him. “Don’t try to butter me up. What new trouble have you gotten into this time?”

“What? No trouble at all actually. I just need to talk to you about Roxas.”

“Please tell me you two are legitimate now.”

“That’s what I want to talk about—”

“Hallelujah!”

“Eh, ease up on the excitement there, princess.”

“Oh, no.”

Kairi’s tone of voice made him laugh. “Well, see, I thought we could finally get on the morally righteous high ground. Last week I saw his boyfriend at work. He was making out with some guy and Roxas was nowhere to be seen.”

“You know what his boyfriend looks like? I thought you said Roxas had no photos—”

“He doesn’t. They came in together like two weeks ago. Guy’s a total asshole but let me get back to the important thing.”

“Important thing away.”

“So, he’s making out with this guy he was grinding on all evening, and I’m left thinking that I’m finally in with a Kairi-approving shot. Roxas swung by the bar tonight and I asked him over to my place to get down and freaky with me, but in a totally smooth and cool way.”

Kairi’s laugh rang through the line.

“Shut it. It’s a true story.”

“Mhmm, go on.”

“Well, here’s the depressing part – Roxas was all like, ‘no, we haven’t broken up,’ which makes me the biggest dick – bringing him the bad news like that.”

“How’d he take it?”

“He completely denied it. Thinks I’m making shit up, and that… well, it fucking hurts. I wouldn’t stoop to something like that. Can’t believe he thinks that of me.” Axel glared up at his ceiling.

“Can you really blame him though? Easier to believe a stranger would make up lies because he wanted to sleep with you, rather than think the guy you’ve been with for seven years is cheating on you.”

Axel sat up abruptly, feet hitting his floor, hard. A million things went through his head. He stumbled over his own words before he got a coherent sentence out, “Seven years? And what do you mean stranger? We’re friends and I want an actual relationship with the guy, not just sex.”

“Maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words, but you get what I mean, don’t you?”

“I… guess? Look, either way I think it’s legit now. Their relationship’s in shambles. Guy’s totally cheating on Roxas.”

“That’s real awful to hear. You don’t suppose he caught wind of you two and then—”

“I’m not responsible for them being in a messy relationship,” he snapped.

“You’re not exactly making things easier though.”

Chastened he admitted, “Yeah. That’s true.” He had avoided talking about this with Kairi for a while now, which had made it easier on his conscience. That one kiss aside, they weren’t cheating. They were… boyfriends-in-the-making – perfect for one another – destined to be together. Axel got lost in the quagmire of his own mind.

“Axel!”

The sharpness of her voice caught his attention. “Huh, what?”

“What do you think Roxas will do?”

“Huh? Man wish I knew. I know what I want him to do, and what I don’t want him to do. I can’t believe the guy was making out with someone. Seven years you said?”

“Yeah. It’s a long time.”

“It is. I can’t even imagine – besides you, I’ve never been with anyone longer than a year and a half.”

“I thought you were with Demyx – for two years, or something like that, no?”

“Ah – I don’t really count that. We were on again, off again for a long while there and it was never serious. More like hanging out and making out when we got bored of hanging out.” Axel never thought about it much anymore.

Kairi huffed with a light laugh. “How’s Demyx doing now, anyway?”

“He’s fine. Dating some bookworm. He sounds very happy. Happier than he ever was with me.”

“You think Roxas is a good fit for you?”

“Better fit than Dem was. I think I was into him ‘cause he’s a musician. But with Roxas…” Axel frowned at the floor and threw himself back against the couch. “I’m into him because of his sense of humor, and his amazing talents, and how cute he is.”

“Listen to yourself.”

Axel could hear the smile in her voice. “I really think this is different. I can see myself getting old and senile with him. I want that with him.” He sighed, feeling weird and dumb for saying these thoughts out loud and for feeling such intense longing for someone else.

“I hope this stuff gets sorted out soon. This seems to be getting messier by the day,” Kairi said, caution in her voice.

Axel exhaled, and eyes traveled around his room, taking in the traces of Roxas in his life. “I really want this sorted out too.” He was almost afraid to ask, but did so anyway, “Whaddaya think I should do?”

“Besides the obvious of getting yourself an actual, non-taken boyfriend?”

“Yeah, besides that.”

“Do nothing. Don’t intervene. Stay out of this and let them sort out their relationship.”

“I guess that’s an easy enough thing to do. Even I can’t fuck that up, right?”

“Oh, I dunno,” she teased.

“Thanks for the chat.”

“Didn’t really have a choice, did I?”

“You didn’t.”

So, Axel tried not to think about it. He waited to see what would happen next in the ever-developing-saga that was his infatuation with Roxas.

The answer appeared to be, nothing. Axel didn’t see Roxas. A week passed and there was nothing. Nothing, bar Axel’s increasing anxiety that Roxas was mad at him. He kept looking at the business card and tapping it. He kept searching for signs of Roxas at the bar.

It was a Thursday evening when Axel saw, not Roxas, but the boyfriend. He was, once again, dressed pretty casually. They made eye contact and the weird friendly demeanor was still on display. Instead of heading deeper into the bowels of the bar the embodiment-of-scum moved in Axel’s direction.

“Hi, Axel.” The man leaned against the bar.

The night was getting freakishly weird. “Hello,” he returned politely. “What can I get you?”

“Campari on the rocks, thanks.”

Eyebrow cocked involuntarily. “No wine today?” He made for a glass.

“Branching out.” Vanitas turned to face the room while resting elbow on the bar.

Axel contemplated spitting in the man’s glass as he poured the liquid over ice. Sadly, he was too professional for something like that. He placed the glass on a coaster before the man, took the cash and wanted nothing more than to leave and tend to other patrons, but Axel couldn’t get away because Vanitas, with glass swirling in hand, and a casual glance towards him, uttered, “You wanna get a drink after you’re done here?”

Axel threw a disbelieving look at the man. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” he said pointedly, hoping to evoke some kind of a shame response in the other man.

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” He winked and leaned over the bar towards Axel. “So how ‘bout it?”

Axel wanted to hurt him so bad. Open mouth was clenched shut and rage swallowed down. “No, sorry,” he almost growled.

“Shame.” The guy had the audacity to look Axel up and down before he pushed off the bar and headed out into the crowd with a, “See ya.”

Axel was so pissed off. He was almost boiling over with an immense desire to shake the two-timing worm and throttle him. He huffed and kept a watchful eye on the snake of a man, desperate to catch signs of impropriety so he could capture some proof of infidelity.

Roxas needed to know. He deserved to know. Even if it made him mad at Axel – even if it meant Roxas calling off their friendship; Axel needed to prove that he wasn’t a liar. The thought of Roxas thinking so poorly of him was too much to bear.

He didn’t have to wait too long for the scumbag to do his dastardly deed. Axel took note of how the guy flirted with several people, if the touches and whispers-in-ears was anything to go by. Then the dancing and grinding started again. Axel felt furious, thinking of Roxas sitting at home, waiting for this beast to come back to him. Axel would never do that to Roxas.

Driven by rage, he launched into action. Finding someone to briefly take over for him, he went out onto the floor, clutching his phone.

Maybe Axel wasn’t so good at doing nothing at all, after all. He wandered upstairs, to get a better vantage point for his evidence gathering.

His phone wasn’t that great, but he hoped it would be good enough to convince Roxas. And if those wide, aerial shots weren’t going to work out, then Axel had one lucky - or not so lucky, in Roxas’ case - closeup he managed to snap on his way back to his post, while Vanitas was preoccupied sucking-face in the middle of the dance floor.

Now all Axel needed was for Roxas to miraculously show up. And if Roxas didn’t, then Axel might need to send an email with a few attachments, stating he would like those printed onto some fabric. But that would truly be a last resort maneuver.


 

Days and days passed and there was still no sign of Roxas. When he had a moment alone with Kairi on his days off, he showed her the photographs, as if it would vindicate him.

She hadn’t given him the response he had half-hoped for. Instead of deep shock — an apology for ever doubting him — or a declaration that he should stop wasting her time and be with Roxas already, Axel had been met with a rather mediocre, “Well, that sucks,” and nothing more helpful or supportive than that.

Hurting, Axel told her that this was exactly why they were no longer dating. Never mind the being gay bit. It was definitely her unsupportiveness at fault.

He stewed a few more days, glaring deathly daggers at the photos in his phone, and somehow hoping to discover voodoo-like properties within this action, so he could inflict pain on the snake.

Axel didn’t suppose he had any such luck really.

Luck did return, however, come Saturday, when two goths entered the bar.

Axel ached for a chance to get to Roxas in private. He tried to use his latent mind-powers to get Roxas’ attention, but for whatever reason Roxas was firmly refusing to look Axel’s way.

Opportunity finally seemed to strike when Roxas moved away from his despicable keeper and towards the restrooms. Axel begged Morrise to watch his half of the bar for a few minutes and waited in the narrow corridor which led to, and housed, the restrooms.

He felt nervous waiting for Roxas to come out. He had missed him so much and was worried that he might fling himself at the other man. But the biggest concern was that Roxas would hate him and refuse to acknowledge him.

He rehearsed what he would say in his head. He rehearsed many different options. Phone was in his hand, photo gallery open and waiting. Hand twitched and toes tapped the ground in anxious anticipation.

The door swung open for the third time, causing Axel’s heart-rate to spike. It wasn’t a false alarm this time.

“Roxas.”

Axel received a startled look, an agape mouth and then a stern frown. But that was all he got before Roxas withdrew his eyes and walked towards him – but not to embrace him, if his body language was anything to go by. No – Roxas was headed towards the dance floor, which was to Axel’s back.

Every smooth and suave rehearsed line of dialogue fell out of Axel’s head. “Rox, c’mon. I need to show you something.” He stretched his arm out, blocking the hallway and Roxas’ path.

Roxas glared and Axel thrust the phone in his face with his other hand. “Proof that I’m not lying to you.”

Squinting, Roxas took the phone and examined the photos. Axel swiped left to show the rest of them, and with each photograph Roxas’ furrowed brow eased up and his mouth slowly fell open. Axel gently pulled Roxas against the wall next to himself, to allow people to pass. Roxas didn’t protest, too focused on examining and re-examining the photos.

The music, though somewhat quieter in the corridor, was still thumping and Axel almost missed the quiet question of, “When was this?”

“Oh, about a week ago, Thursday, I think.” Though Axel could have given the exact date and time but didn’t want to come across as fanatic.

Roxas returned the phone and stared at the floor, drawing arms in around himself.

Axel by now knew what Roxas looked like when he was feeling uncomfortable and withdrawn. “I’m sorry, but you believe me now, don’t you?”

Roxas looked up, bottom lip drawn in, eyes shimmering. “Why would you show me this?”

“I can’t stand having you be angry at me,” he muttered.

“So, you think it’s okay to make me angry at my boyfriend instead?” Roxas asked, voice slightly hoarse.

“Eh, yeah. I think you have more of a reason to be mad at him than me.”

Face hardened into an angry frown. “You’re such an idiot, Axel. None of this,” he pointed at the phone, “would be happening if this had never happened,” open hand waved between the two of them.

Axel felt outrage boiling inside. He also waved his hand in the space between them, “This would never have happened if you were in paradise with your boyfriend.”

“Bullshit. You—” Angry glare dropped, and Roxas looked lost for words.

“I what, Roxas?” Axel asked, the grumpiness he felt on full show.

“You…” Again, silence fell.

“I never forced myself on you. I was nothing but nice to you.”

Roxas looked away again, hugging himself tighter.

Niggling suspicion made him question, “Is that the issue? I’m nice to you?”

Roxas found his voice again, “You’re not being very nice right now,” he squeaked and looked upset.

The realization hit Axel square in the chest. “Is that really it?”

Roxas fell silent again, and it made Axel uncomfortable. “If Vanitas… if you’re unhappy in your relationship you should leave him, Roxas,” he said softly.

“I am happy.” It sounded more like a plea and desperate wish.

Axel sucked on his lips a little before finding words. “I’m sorry but I don’t know how I’m supposed to believe that. Given our history together… well. I never pushed you to do anything with me, and you don’t strike me as someone who’d throw away a perfectly happy seven-year relationship.”

That seemed to shake Roxas. He looked away and quietly spoke, “You don’t know me. You don’t know how awful I am. I wreck things. I’m no good.”

“What?” Had he heard right? “No, you’re not any of those things. Where’re you getting this from? I do know you. You’re a good guy, Rox. I’d stake my life on it.” Axel put his hand on Roxas’ shoulder. The other man flinched at the contact.

“Then why did I do the things I did with you? Why’m I cheating on Vanitas with you?”

Axel’s mind drew a blank. “Because… I’m nice?” Axel hated the implications of that statement. He hated to think what Roxas’ relationship must be like to force him into such a position to begin with. And he hated how much Roxas winced when he said that. He wanted to make things better. “You know we’re not really… we’re just friends. We already talked about this.”

“I can’t believe that friends line anymore.” Roxas looked back at Axel, forlorn and heartbroken.

“Why are you putting this all on us? We’re not the ones blatantly making out with random strangers to get our kicks.”

“Then what’re we doing?”

That was easily answered – for himself at least. “With us… it’s different. We care about each other… don’t we?”

“Do we?” It was said with cold derision.

Axel swallowed the lump in his throat. He couldn’t help himself. He reached out and cupped Roxas’ face with a hand. “I do.”

They stared into each other’s eyes. Roxas looked fragile and let out a shaking sigh, before he leaned into Axel’s touch. “I do too,” he breathed out softly as eyes slid shut.

Axel wanted to kiss him, hold him, put him back together. “Roxas—”

Axel’s gentle intonation was drowned out by a harsh cry of anger, “Roxas! What the fuck is going on here?”

Eyes flew open, a giant step was taken back. “I… I—”

Elbow dug into Axel’s chest as Vanitas pushed him away from Roxas. “You what, Roxas?”

“I—” blue eyes were filled with panic as he kept backing up.

“Hey, give the guy some space!” Axel stepped around Vanitas, who was corralling Roxas into a corner. He managed to get between them; Roxas right at his back, and Vanitas only a few steps in front of himself.

“That’s my boyfriend you’re feeling up there.”

Axel would have loved to throw some choice words out about Vanitas feeling up all kinds of other men who weren’t his boyfriend, but he didn’t. He had done enough conflict resolutions in this job to know better than to inflame a situation. He really hoped Roxas would play along as he said, “My duty as a staff member is to look after our patrons. I was informed that someone wasn’t feeling too well in the restrooms, so I came checking to make sure he was all right.”

“Why wouldn’t you be all right?” Vanitas barked, head craned to the side so he could throw daggered glares at Roxas.

Not missing a beat, Roxas gave a meek squeak, “I don’t know. I’m just not feeling too good, Van.”

A distraught look came over Vanitas’ face. It was the only thing that made Axel let himself be pushed aside as Vanitas came closer to be at Roxas’ side. “If you’re not feeling well you come to me, Roxas. No one else.” His hand went to Roxas’ forehead where he was feeling his temperature, while the other rested on wrist, feeling for a pulse.

Roxas really didn’t look too well right now, Axel thought.

“You’re all clammy. I’m taking you home,” Vanitas said, somewhere between care and gruff command. He yanked Roxas as he pushed past Axel without another word.

Axel watched Roxas disappear down the corridor, with only the briefest of hopeless looks exchanged between the two of them.


 

Axel had called Kairi as soon as he left work that evening, vision of Roxas being dragged out burned into his retinas.

He probably sounded a bit manic as he recounted the events that had unfolded hours earlier, but he didn’t care. He needed to get it out, or he knew he’d never get to sleep. But after he finished he still felt rage bottled up inside.

“I’m gonna murder the guy, Kairi. I’m gonna kill him and cut him into pieces and pickle him in grape juice and make wine out of him. It’s gonna be the most foul-tasting wine in existence, and no one’ll want to drink it, or sniff it, or even let it touch their tongue, that’s how bad it’ll be, because a guy like that has no good inside and everyone in the world will know it,” he fumed as he entered his apartment, tossing keys in bowl on dining table and kicking off shoes.

“Calm down. Yeah, it kind f sounds bad but it can’t really be all that bad, right? We both know Roxas. I can’t imagine him falling for a complete asshole - I mean, he is cheating on the guy with you, so we know he goes for at least partial assholes, but,” she giggled.

Axel sent a gruff growl down the line. “Not funny, Kairi.”

“Ugh, someone’s left their funny bone at the door.”

“It’s not funny. It’s entering the realm of life-and-death seriousness.” He paced around his living room furiously.

“Wow, you’re being a drama queen. How about you take a chill pill. Yeah, he sounds a bit overbearing but—”

“Have you been listening to me? He’s completely controlling. I bet he’s also the reason why Roxas doesn’t believe in himself. He’s so amazing but doesn’t even see it.” Axel roared out his frustration a little but making sure to not pierce Kairi’s ear. “I swear if that human-trash-heap lays a finger on Roxas—”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ll cut him up into little pieces. You already let your distaste for the guy be known. Maybe you caught him on a bad day. There’s no need to be all paranoid.”

He stopped dead in his tracks. “Paranoid? Paranoid?” Axel almost screeched. “You know who I’ve heard that from before? Do you? Xion. She used to tell me that it was nothing to worry about. Ben was ‘just having a bad day – he wasn’t usually like that – Axel, you’re making stuff up – you’re just seeing the worst in people – you’re being paranoid’,” he spat, tears stinging eyes. “No, Kairi. I’m not. I fucking wish I had been.”

She was quiet on the other side of the line.

Axel’s breath was labored. He looked at his wall – at his bookcase – tears blurred his vision. “You weren’t there to see it, to experience it. It destroyed her so slowly that she didn’t even notice. So, excuse me for caring about someone else. I fucking pray that I’m being paranoid. Do you think I want to be right? Of course not. I’m not a sicko.”

“I’m sorry,” Kairi’s small voice crackled down the line.

He gave one final grunt of frustration and then sighed, calming down. “I’m sorry for yelling at you. I just… want you to take me seriously.”

“Yeah, I understand. Sorry for being so flippant about it. What happened to Xion was a tragedy. I know she was important to you.”

“She was my best friend.” Axel sank down on his couch and vigorously rubbed his free hand through his hair. “If Roxas is even going through a fraction of what she went through – I don’t know what I’d do.”

Kairi hummed. “I hope he’s okay.”

“Me too, Kai-Kai.” His heart felt so heavy.

“You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah. I’m not the one we should be worried about.”

Kairi hummed through the line. “They’ve been together for so long and nothing’s ever happened—”

“That we know of.” Axel groaned. “It doesn’t matter. People like Vanitas – like Ben – ticking time bombs.”

Both sighed.

“Well, there’s nothing you can do.”

“Yeah.”

“Get some sleep. You might be worrying about nothing.”

“Yeah, I hope so. Thanks. Night Kai.”

“Night, Ax.”

Axel dropped back on his couch and felt spent. The thought that had been niggling away at him for weeks now was no longer suppressible. He really hoped he was wrong. He would love nothing more in the world than to be proven wrong. He needed to be wrong. He needed to see Roxas.

“God, please let Roxas be all right,” he breathed out.


 

The way home was uncomfortable and silent. As sweet as the hand-holding and thumb-rubbing-reassuringly-against-his-skin was, it did nothing to ease the dread welling up inside. Roxas knew what was going to happen once they got home; Vanitas’ promise of hot tea and warm blankets were good as gold, but so was the unspoken promise of a massive earlashing – if not worse, because they had been here before; a million times.

As much as he wasn’t in any rush to get home, Roxas couldn’t drag his feet. Tardiness and an inability to keep up would only add more fuel to the fire, so he kept pace as they hurried off the bus, down the fairly busy main road, then along a quieter side street, into their building and up the flight of stairs – as Vanitas didn’t believe in taking the elevator up to their apartment.

Door opened and shut.

“What the fuck was that, Roxas?” Vanitas blasted once they were safe inside their two-bedroom apartment.

“He was just—”

“Why the fuck was he touching you? You’re only mine to touch.” Vanitas grabbed Roxas’ wrist as proof of concept.

Roxas moved away, jerking his wrist out of Vanitas’ hold. Cheshire was meowing and running figure eights between Roxas’ legs. He picked her up and moved from the entrance hallway into their spacious open-plan apartment beyond. He popped Cheshire down into the number two bedroom, which served as Roxas’ workspace, and closed the door behind her to keep her safe.

“Do we have to do this? You already know I’m not feeling too well.” Roxas was so tired of this – exhausted really. The last two weeks had been a relatively peaceful period and Roxas wished it could have lasted for longer. He tried to think of some way to defuse the anger-bomb that was Vanitas as he turned back towards the room, and towards glowering, hands-on-hips Vanitas.

Vanitas ignored Roxas as he started off on his angry accusations, “Do you know who that ginger freak was?”

Roxas felt even more unwell. He couldn’t lie to Vanitas, but telling the truth was equally as painful. “Ah—”

“Don’t play at being as dumb as you look, Roxas.”

He hung his head and mumbled, “Axel.”

“Yeah. Dear, sweet, bartender Axel. What makes it his business to be checking up on you away from the bar?” Vanitas’ heightened tone always made Roxas’ hairs stand on end.

“A—”

“You know he’s gay?” came the accusation.

“I—”

“Of course you know he’s gay. Dear, sweet, gay, bartender Axel, checking up on my supposedly sick, sweet, devoted, gay boyfriend. What were you really doing there, Roxas? Did you let him get his mouth on you?” Vanitas’ voice kept rising.

Guts knotted. “No, I don’t know him—”

“Don’t lie. I know you two are chummy,” he snapped.

Heart hammered with growing panic. Vanitas always knew things. Roxas didn’t know how. “What? No. We—”

“What did you two talk about?” Vanitas pressed, taking menacing steps closer towards Roxas with each accusatory question.

The photos flashed before Roxas’ mind. Why was this his fault? Why was him being cared for by another human being an issue when Vanitas was being just as bad as Roxas? Upset outrage took hold. “He was telling me about you going there to make out with guys.”

“And you believe him?” Well-groomed eyebrow cocked.

“I—there were photos.”

Vanitas looked at him for a moment unfazed and almost bored. His chest rose sharply and then, “So my secret’s out.”

Cold dread dumped on Roxas, causing everything to tense. Despite the proof, he wanted Vanitas to deny it all. He needed Vanitas to deny it all.

That first time Axel had confronted him with the idea of Vanitas cheating had made him feel so bad. He hadn’t wanted to believe Axel, because the truth of Vanitas being with someone else put his own actions in such stark relief. He had felt like a hypocrite and it made him re-examine his own poor choices. It had been the catalyst for Roxas to try and actually change. He knew their relationship wasn’t great. It had been deteriorating over the years but the thought of Vanitas stooping down to Roxas’ level had made him want to change and be better – for the both of them. So, he had worked on staying as far away from the bar as possible. Had tried to be nothing but the loving, affectionate, and devoted boyfriend that he knew Vanitas wanted and deserved. So why, after all the effort, had Vanitas — It hurt so bad. “Why did you—”

“Why did I what, Roxas? Say it.” Head cocked menacingly to the side.

“Why did you make out with—”

“Call it for what it is, for fuck's sake,” Vanitas raged in frustration, hands on hips.

“Why did you cheat on me?” Roxas rasped. The word felt thick in his throat and heavy on his heart.

Head tilted the other way. Anger continued to contort an otherwise beautiful face. “It doesn’t feel nice, does it, Roxas. To know that the man you are head-over-heels in love with could throw you aside so easily, huh.”

The accusation was there. The guilt trip was blatant. The angry hurt evident. The pressure of tears sat behind Roxas’ eyes. “Why—”

“It felt good, Roxas. That’s why. You’ve been distant and cold. I think moving us here was a big mistake. Letting you do your own thing for two weeks was a mistake. I can’t trust you to keep me close to your heart if I’m not constantly in your face.”

Roxas knew it was all his fault. He was never good enough for Vanitas. He’d have to try harder – be even more thorough – more in-tune, be better at anticipating Vanitas’ needs. He could do it, he knew he could try harder. “No, I love you, you know that.”

“Do I? When was the last time you’ve proven your love to me?” Hands fell to his side, and he began tugging at his belt buckle, closing the distance between them.

Roxas swallowed the thick lump in his throat and sunk to his knees. “I love you, Van. Please, let me show you how much,” he pleaded. He could make this better, he knew he could. It always worked before, so why would it be different now?

His boyfriend’s crotch was pushed into his face and Roxas undid pants the rest of the way. He pushed fabric down, exposing Vanitas’ dark hairs and flaccid penis. Roxas remembered the days when sex had been erotic, sensual, and intensely satisfying. They both used to have raging erections for one another, but seven years into the future and this was what sex had become. Could Roxas blame Vanitas for looking elsewhere to get some excitement? No.

He cupped Vanitas’ sac, running fingers between the two halves, gently massaging in an attempt to bring the soft flesh to life, even a little.

“Lick me,” was the flat demand from above.

Roxas smiled up at his partner but saw nothing but a bored expression on his face. Smile dropped, and he pushed tongue to the tip of Vanitas’ penis, and licked over the top of the shaft and to the base, leaving small kisses in hair and on skin. He continued licking and kissing until the penis was imbued with some life. Vanitas let Roxas do all the work. Whenever Roxas hazarded a cautious look up, he was met with scrutinizing cold eyes. It made him shiver. He wanted Vanitas to forgive him, to love him, to be warm towards him, like on the bus.

Roxas lapped at Vanitas’ now-beading-with-pre-come head. He worked his hands over taut abdomen and down towards thighs, pushing clothes down as he moved. Vanitas made no sound, but that was nothing unusual. He began pushing the head of his ever-engorging erection into Roxas’ mouth, whenever Roxas opened up wide enough to let it happen.

The thrusts were shallow and playful, coaxing Roxas to open up wider. Roxas resisted for a while, letting his teeth scrape against flesh. Hands felt around Vanitas’ lower body, traveling around to the smooth flesh of his backside, where he rubbed a little at cheeks.

Roxas always had a fantasy of pushing inside of Vanitas. With his fingers, tongue, penis. But that was to be forever relegated to the realm of fanciful daydreams since Vanitas loathed the idea of having anything enter him. Sadly, that was also extended to anything other than food, drink, or tongue entering his mouth. So Roxas knew he’d be left high and dry after he showed his love for Vanitas tonight. But it was fine, and he deserved it for being so neglectful of the man he loved.

Roxas opened his mouth wide, letting the now much-thicker, hotter, and firmer flesh inside. Vanitas buried himself deeply in Roxas’ mouth, a sigh escaping stoic lips. A slight flutter tickled Roxas’ stomach lining. He ventured a look up in hopes of catching some joy on his boyfriend’s face. But all he could see was head raised up to the ceiling.

Fingers stroked, rubbed, and caressed at flesh. He sucked, and when Vanitas was deep down he hummed, letting the vibrations bring more ecstasy to his love. Roxas kept up a good, steady pace, not rushing his partner and also giving himself a break. Giving head was nothing to complain about. Roxas found it nice to be in charge for once. It was a pleasant change from being relentlessly ridden by Vanitas, who just jackhammered into him for what sometimes seemed like hours on end. Especially recently.

After Axel had brought up the idea of Vanitas cheating on him, Roxas had felt overcome with guilt and grief. He had stayed home dutifully so he could dote on Vanitas’ every whim, without the distracting thought of red hair and green eyes occupying a good portion of his mind.

A warmth spread through Roxas suddenly. A smile played on lips as he moved on and off his boyfriend’s erection. Roxas let his eyes drift shut as his thoughts and memories lingered on the warm tingle which Axel left inside his body. It was so easily brought on with only a friendly smile and soft eyes. He wondered what Axel must taste like – sound like – feel like.

Roxas hummed and sucked harder. Axel’s hand in his hair was always so loving. He could swear his heart skipped a beat every time fingers curled around his bangs and gently tugged. His mind slipped to the treasured memory of their kiss up on the roof. His body remembered the feeling. He wished he had gone down on Axel; undoing that leaving-nothing-to-your-imagination shirt, licking his gorgeous skin, all the way down to that hot, pressing erection, which was full of need and desire for nobody else but Roxas.

He imagined popping button open, undoing fly – slowly, so slowly. Teasing Axel. Listening to him whine and pant impatiently. Yes, Roxas would teach him about patience by running fingertips through coarse hair, and slowly around his sac, before pressing at skin around the base of his probably ludicrously long penis. And then he’d breathe moist air against Axel’s tip, making the man buck and mewl, before finally being gracious enough to slip Axel’s penis into his mouth, one slow inch after painfully slow inch.

Roxas moaned at the thought of sucking Axel off. In the end, he would get Axel begging to finally release him. Roxas would pick up the pace – like this. He’d hold his tongue more rigid to give better friction, suck harder, harder, harder, because fuck, Axel would taste so good. Firm but gentle hands would be curled into Roxas’ hair, holding on for dear life, and then—

Hot liquid filled his mouth. Roxas’ eyes sprang open in surprise and he struggled to keep up as he swallowed down the thick, salty fluid.

He was pulled back to reality. Cold hardwood flooring was causing an ache in his knees. Strange, strangled panting filled Roxas’ ears. He looked up, disoriented. It was Vanitas, finally looking down at him, bliss on his face. There was the man Roxas loved. Soft, happy, and a little bit shy.

He kept swallowing and holding his lover for support as the aftershocks ravaged him. Roxas let the flaccid penis slide from his mouth, smiling up at his beloved. But as soon as the contact ceased, the man he recognized vanished, leaving only a husk behind.

Vanitas cleared his throat, and straightened up, tucking himself back in. “I don’t want you going back to that bar without my knowledge or consent, Roxas.”

Heart sank, stomach knotted. He sat back on his haunches, taking the pressure off knees, and wiped at corners of his mouth with fingers. He was so tired of all these commands. He missed his old Vanitas. “What makes you think I have any interest in going there without you?”

The clap rang through the air. Roxas’ cheek stung with heat and he looked up at Vanitas, frozen with shock. Despite the ringing in his ear, Roxas still heard it, “Don’t go back there, Roxas. Don’t break my heart again.”

Tears spilled from Vanitas and as they landed and spattered on Roxas’ face, he felt his heart break for his boyfriend. Of course he would abide. He couldn’t bear to see the waterworks and fragility show through.

“I’m sorry, Van. Please don’t cry. I’ll do anything for you.” He pawed at Vanitas’ shirt.

“You’re such a good boy, Roxas. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” The last of the tears fell and Vanitas looked completely untouched by sadness once more, other than the glistening trail of moisture left on cheeks.

Roxas breathed a sigh of relief.

Hand went under his chin, raising his head.

“Up you get. Let’s get you over to the sofa. Go make yourself a nice bed over there while I make you some tea.”

“Huh? I don’t get to sleep in the bed?” He gave a discouraged look over to the little sofa.

“After you make me so upset by talking back to me I don’t think you deserve to sleep in the bed, do you?”

What had Roxas been thinking? He had been too caught up in lost memories, feelings and thoughts. He had forgotten his place in the present. “No, yeah, you’re right. Of course I don’t. I’ll be back in the bedroom tomorrow night though, right?”

“Depends. Give me another blow job like that last one and I might let you back in,” he winked.

Roxas blushed and nodded. He felt ashamed for where his mind had wandered while he had done that. “Okay.” He rose to his feet and went to fetch spare sheets and blankets for the sofa.

Chapter Text

It was driving Axel crazy. Days passed. Weeks passed. There was no sign of Roxas after he had been dragged out of the bar by that despicable thing that Roxas had referred to as the boyfriend.

Axel’s worry only grew and grew. The longing and pain in his chest expanded. He found himself staring like a lovelorn loser at the photo of Roxas wearing the silly hat. The more he looked at it, the more regret he accumulated around not having a photograph of them together – until it dawned on him that such a thing did, in fact, exist. So, he went and relieved The Kingdom of what was rightfully his and Roxas’ property. It gave him something positive to do on his day off, instead of obsessively watching the news like never before, terrified of seeing that gorgeous face flash up in some horrid story.

But then he just obsessively stared at the photograph before he went to bed at night, which did nothing to ease his tossing and turning, of which he did a lot. He also didn’t get any reprieve from his concerns whilst at work. His heart raced every time he caught sight of blond hair at the bar.

To help keep himself marginally saner, Axel moved the photograph of them together to his work locker. The logic behind it was that he only stared at it pathetically for short amounts of time, instead of losing sleep over it at home.

Another lame thing he did was write half a dozen emails to Roxas, almost daily, but deleted every one of them. It was therapeutic in a way – getting his anxieties, worries, and hopes out of his head. He never dared to send a single one though, no matter how tempting it was. He couldn’t afford to get Roxas into trouble, and judging by Roxas’ past behavior, there was a high possibility his jailor read and monitored all emails and probably even phone calls.

On good days, that thought made Axel so angry. On bad days, it consumed him.

Axel tried to be as professional as possible and not let his personal worries impact his job performance. Each day was the same. Wake up, fret, go to work, pour, clean, fret, pour, chat, clean, pour, fret, go home, fret some more.

Axel was somewhere in between fretting and pouring when he caught sight of a new patron sitting down on a stool at the far corner of the bar. He cleaned things that needed cleaning as he wandered over but dropped his cloth when he was close enough to see big blue eyes staring at him from underneath a baseball cap, and only a few blond strands sticking out here and there.

Could it be? This guy looked rather unremarkable. No cool, custom clothes, not even goth, or excessively bland clothes. Just a long-sleeved, plain green t-shirt, with a black-and-white checkered breast pocket sewn on, and thick matching checkered bracelets on both wrists. If it was him, he was hardly recognizable, bar that chain around his neck, those beautiful eyes, and lips and… who was Axel even kidding? Of course it was him! The relief was unbelievable. The knot in his gut finally untangled.

“Roxas!” He rushed over the rest of the way, hands slamming against the bar top. He looked his friend up and down, making sure all limbs were still intact. Everything seemed to be there that needed to be there.

The tight-lipped smile gave way to a brittle, “Hi, Axel.” Eyes shimmered, body slightly trembled.

It really was Roxas! That voice! Axel wanted to hear nothing but that voice in his ear, feel those hands on his body, Roxas’ breath on his neck, feel soft lips on his own. But most of all, he wanted to talk to him. “Roxas.” He couldn’t bring himself to stop smiling. “Where have you been? I’ve missed you! Is everything all right? Can you stay long? I want to talk to you,” he fired in rapid succession.

Roxas at first looked stunned, but then laughed softly. Face scrunched up slightly with what looked like a pained smile. “Yeah, I’ve got time.” The small smile broadened and turned a bit happier.

There was something amiss. To Axel, Roxas didn’t look or feel quite like himself. He could hardly blame the guy though. Something had definitely happened to turn Roxas’ fun and carefree attitude so mellow. “Lemme just – I’ve still got an hour left of work but lemme—”

“Oh, no. It’s okay. I’ll wait until you finish.”

“No. No, we’re gonna hang out right now… well, maybe give me five minutes. Don’t go anywhere, just hang on.” Axel wanted to drown in that soft chuckle which followed.

“Okay, I’ll be here,” Roxas gave a sharp nod, smile dancing on his lips, but his eyes still looked rather wet.

Axel hurried, looking for someone to take over for him. He saw Karina, chatting to some of her friends, and waved at her until he was noticed.

“Karina, Karry, gorgeous lady!” he shouted as she approached.

A slight frown extinguished the smile. “What do you need, Axel?”

“I need to go; can you take over for me?”

Her eyebrow cocked. “I’m not rostered on for today.”

He clapped his hands together above his bowed head. “Please, please, please.”

“I dun wanna.” She folded arms across her chest in defiance.

Axel pressed his lips together. He cast a look back at Roxas who sat with head bowed, fingering the bar top. Axel couldn’t waste any time. “I’ll give you half my pay. C’mon. I’ve only got an hour left on the clock. Easy money.”

Karina looked back at her friends. “Well, okay. I’m all up for easy money.”

“Ahh! Thank you!” Axel reached over the bar, pulling Karina close, leaving a sloppy kiss on her forehead. “Thank you, thank you!”

“Gross,” she laughed and rubbed her forearm against the spot of the offensive contact.

Axel got out from behind the bar, zipped past Roxas, letting him know he was getting changed – and then went and did precisely that. He was in such a rush that he put his jeans on backwards, wasting precious time taking them back off and putting them on the right way around. He pulled on his trusty jacket as he headed back out into the bar, heart pounding – and not just from the exertion of hurrying.

Roxas was still there. Good, it hadn’t all been a hallucination brought on by excessive worry. His hand pressed against Roxas’ back as he made to sit down next to him. “Hey, I’m all done now. We can spend as much time together as you want. I’m all yours.”

Roxas’ expression spoke of a fragile eagerness as he nodded. He definitely looked happy, but his eyes were still glassy, shimmering as the light around them shifted with the hustle and bustle of people moving about.

“You all right?” Axel still kept his hand pressed to Roxas’ back, fearing that losing contact would also mean losing Roxas.

“Yeah, totally,” Roxas reassured with a brittle smile.

Axel didn’t want to go snooping into Roxas’ personal life… just yet. He wanted to enjoy being with Roxas, for at least a little while before he went digging for answers. He tried at casual banter… and, well, maybe a little bit of prying, “I haven’t seen you in three weeks, been busy?”

“Mm. Working on things.”

“Clothes?”

“Yeah,” Roxas nodded, not giving Axel the long eye contact he craved.

Axel didn’t appreciate the stilted banter. He decided to talk about something he hated. “How’s Vanitas? He here tonight?” Axel looked around, wondering if the man would spring up out of nowhere and take Roxas away once more.

“No.” Roxas’ voice scratched as he spoke, “He’s on a business trip. He’ll be back by the weekend.” Hands were wrung slightly in his lap, and his smile lacked energy.

Axel stopped rubbing Roxas’ back and gently placed his hand atop of Roxas’, squeezing reassuringly. “Are you sure everything’s all right? I’ve been worried sick about you – after what happened last time I saw you. Vanitas seemed really mad.”

Roxas looked up from Axel’s supportive hand-holding. There was a pang-inducing redness to his face, and deep quiet in his voice, “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Please stop asking.”

Axel worried at his lips. He probably needed to stop pushing but— “Okay. You just don’t seem yourself tonight, that’s all. Or maybe I’m just imagining things ‘cause I haven’t seen you in a while?”

“No, everything’s okay. I’ve just got things on my mind.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Roxas opened his mouth slowly, inhaling as if to say something – but abruptly shut down. Roxas seemingly deflated and his eyes glazed over into a far-away stare. Before too long, Roxas clenched his jaw, like he was struggling to hold something in. “No.”

“You sure?” Axel got out barely above a soft exhale.

Roxas huffed, punctuating his irritation with the line of questioning. “Yeah, I’m sure. Can we go play some pool? I’m aching to beat you again.” He gave a tiny smile.

Axel gave a brash laugh. “Oh, it’s on!” But on the inside, he was beginning to knot up again with worry. He was going to give Roxas this one, until he relaxed enough to seem open to talking.

He led the way to the stairs and they ascended in silence. At the top they surveyed the area, looking for an unoccupied table. There was one game which looked to be finishing up shortly, so they hung around and waited. In that time, Axel kept a watch over Roxas. The man looked nervous, pulling his cap down, wrapping his arms around himself, and glancing about as if fearing a monster would jump out at him. Axel resisted asking if everything was okay. It wouldn’t net him a different response.

“Done anything fun lately?” he ventured to fill the space between them.

Roxas shook his head.

“Yeah, me neither. Though I did eat this almost face-melting pot of ramen last week. My sinuses have never been clearer.” He glanced down at Roxas, who looked back and smiled a little. “You like ramen?” he asked, wanting to get something of substance out of the other man.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe I’ll take you there one day. You gotta experience it. It’s wild.”

Axel received an incredibly pained smile and a quiet, “Yeah, maybe.”

He wanted to embrace Roxas and never let go, so he thought it was better to not do that. Instead, he left Roxas’ side to set the table which just freed up, and when he was done with that, returned to Roxas and took the cue stick held out to him. “What’re the stakes this time, oh glorious Pool Master?” he asked of the other man but go no response. “Oh pool master,” he tried again. All he saw was that same faraway stare. Axel moved closer until he was right next to him. “Roxas,” he said quietly.

“Huh?”

“The stakes?” He gave him a small, encouraging smile.

Suddenly, animated energy coursed through Roxas’ body and voice, “Oh, um, we’re gonna battle for honor, glory, and bragging rights that I’ve bested you twice.” He gave a broad grin, flashing his teeth briefly.

Axel threw out an indignant laugh. “Fighting words, buddy. I’ll let you go first. It will make my comeback all the more glorious.”

Roxas laughed gently and walked up to the table, where he did the deed after some strategizing.

Overall, it was a strikingly different experience from the first time they had done this. Axel watched Roxas carefully, observing his mannerisms and letting his mind race around trying to figure out how to get him to talk, while Roxas was seemingly lost in concentration, sinking ball after careful ball at a very slow pace.

Axel didn’t mind the speed though. He didn’t goad Roxas into hurrying up. It was just nice to be in his presence again, and to know Roxas was safe and in one piece. He did contemplate the idea that perhaps he had overreacted. Perhaps Roxas really had just been very busy. Well, okay, given the tension in Roxas right now, Axel couldn’t believe that notion. But he was at least willing to entertain it for a little bit anyway.

When Roxas missed and they swapped, Axel continued his vigil over Roxas. He positioned himself so he could spy and observe Roxas’ twitches and quirks, unnoticed. He seemed to have a lot of those today. Roxas kept adjusting his shirt and bracelets, as well as fidgeting and rubbing his wrists. And it wasn’t just once, or twice. It was all the time.

Axel purposely missed a fair few shots so he could drag the game out and go back to watching Roxas play.

“Having a bad night?” Roxas remarked once, as they swapped over.

“Yeah. The Pool Gods ain’t smiling down on me.”

“I thought you were the Pool God.”

Roxas’ joke filled Axel up with all sorts of nice feelings. “I’m taking a mini vacation from the gig. Looks like I’ll have to kick my stand-in up the ass when I see them again.”

Roxas laughed quietly and turned his attention back to the game. He was lining up a trickier shot, continuously adjusting and re-adjusting himself when Axel tried again, “You sure you’re all right?”

“Yeah, stop asking me that,” he grumbled and hit the ball way too hard in irritation. The cue ball went flying and bounced over the side cushion, thumping loudly on the wooden floorboards and rolled onward, hitting the wall with a thunk, where it came to a stop. Roxas’ head and shoulders sunk, and he sighed loudly.

Normally, Axel would have ribbed him so hard, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. “Bad luck.”

Roxas just made a face and fetched the ball. “Where should I put it?”

“Starting position,” he nodded at the table.

Roxas stretched over and plopped it down. The movement caused long sleeve to ride up, and bracelet to shift down. It was so slight, but Axel was on high alert due to everything he had been witnessing tonight, that he noticed instantaneously. He launched into a walk before the words left his mouth, “Roxas, you okay?”

“Yes, quit asking me that,” Roxas snapped and withdrew his limbs and tucked everything back in place.

Axel couldn’t be silent about this anymore. He caught Roxas by a wrist, as gentle as possible, but Roxas still flinched. Axel leaned down and said, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Roxas gave a half-hearted tug of his arm, but it wasn’t enough to dislodge himself from the light hold.

“Do your wrists hurt?” Axel eased up even more and was merely acting as a support for the upheld body part at this point.

“No,” came the dismal heart-wrenching squeak.

Whilst still holding Roxas, Axel used his other hand to gingerly push the green sleeve up a fraction, exposing a deeply bruised band of skin.

“Quit it,” Roxas finally yanked his arm away, and covered himself again.

Axel’s heart shattered and his stomach churned. “What happened?” he got out past the thick lump in his throat.

“These damn bracelets are just too tight,” Roxas muttered, but the way his voice hitched was very pronounced. Roxas turned away and brought his hand up to his face, rubbing.

Axel became painfully aware of their surroundings. It felt like eyes were boring into them. He slid a hand onto Roxas’ shoulder, wanting to be comforting. Leaning in, he spoke softly against Roxas’ ear, “Roof?”

Roxas read between the lines and understood the unspoken message. To Axel’s relief, Roxas nodded, shoulders shook, and the sound of a sniffle accompanied it.

Sliding his hand down to the small of Roxas’ back, Axel gave a small push as he placed their pool cues down. They made their way out of the bar and up the ladder and the metal staircase. Axel focused on the way their feet clanked, causing the whole fire escape to rattle and echo around the alley. It was preferable to getting hopelessly worked up and outraged about Vanitas abusing Roxas.

Upon reaching the roof, Axel went to fetch the blanket. When he returned, shaking it and spreading it onto the concrete floor, he watched Roxas from behind, unmistakably rubbing at his wrists again. Heat was rising in Axel’s chest. The rage was growing. His heart was breaking. “What did he do, Roxas?”

No response.

Axel walked over towards him. “Why did he do it, Roxas?”

No response.

Axel came to a standstill right behind the other man. “Are you okay?”

Breath rasped, and shoulders heaved. Words slowly trickled out, “I really do want to do as he says but,” Roxas sniffled, pulling his arms to his face, rubbing at himself, and then dropping them back down to his sides. Roxas slowly turned around and looked up at Axel. The light reflected off the tear tracks streaking his cheeks. “I think I need one of those awesome hugs.” His lip quivered, and his words sounded like they were almost choking him.

Pain wracked Axel’s chest. He engulfed Roxas with his arms, wrapping him up and connecting them both. Axel pressed his cheek against the cap Roxas wore and Roxas’ arms pushed underneath Axel’s open jacket and wound around his waist. Fingers gripped and clung onto Axel’s shirt. Sobs rattled out of Roxas and slowly soaked into the fabric. It didn’t bother Axel in the least. He held onto the trembling form firmly, trying to absorb as much of Roxas’ pain and sadness as he could by pulling him as close as possible. “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault,” he spoke against Roxas’ ear, like a broken record.

Axel carefully maneuvered them both over to the blanket where they sunk to the ground in one smooth folding-motion. Axel continued holding Roxas until the severity of the sobs died down. And then he pulled them apart, so he could look upon Roxas’ splotchy, red face.

“What happened, Rox? Why did he do that to you?” he spoke just above a whisper.

Tear-stuttered voice spoke, “He’s not a bad guy. Don’t think he’s a bad guy, please. I love him, I love him, I love him.” The sobs started again.

Axel hugged Roxas tight and rocked them gently. He had to – it was the only way to stop himself from crying. “Okay, okay, shh, shh, he’s not a bad guy. It’s okay, I get it. But he did the wrong thing, Roxas. He hurt you— no one should ever hurt you.”

Roxas’ breath leveled out. “He has every right to hurt me. I’m a bad person, the worst of the worst, he doesn’t deserve what I’m doing to him,” he criticized into Axel’s chest.

Axel stopped the rocking motion, pried Roxas away from this chest and stroked a wet cheek, coaxing Roxas to look up at him. “What’re you doing to him?”

“I’m here. I’m cheating on him, I’m leaving him alone, again, again,” Roxas broke into fresh hysterics, pushing his face back against Axel’s chest.

The sound of Roxas’ upset, coupled with the self-blame, was tearing Axel apart. He held on, his own tears silently falling and soaking into the fabric of Roxas’ hat. “No, Roxas, no. It’s not true. It’s not. Don’t believe that about yourself, please,” he begged.

“It is, it is. You don’t know what a monster I am. You don’t know what I’ve put him through,” Roxas pulled away and looked up at Axel. But seeing Axel’s face and the wetness of his eyes upset Roxas further. “No, no, no!” Hands left Axel’s back and began stroking Axel’s face. “Now I’m hurting you too.” Red-rimmed, watery eyes squeezed out more tears. “I’m the absolute worst.”

“Shh, shh, you’re no such thing. You’re not hurting me, Roxas. You’re not. You just… remind me of someone, and that makes me sad.”

“Remind you?”

Axel forced his emotions back down. This was no time for himself. He needed to be there for Roxas. “Yeah, but why do you think you’re the worst?”

Roxas gulped down his sobs. “I know I am—I made him this way, you know. It was me. And I’m here. He hurt me because I’m here. Because he knew I’d betray him. I deserve this, I deserve this.” Roxas rubbed his wrists and his chin sunk down to his chest.

It made no sense. “You don’t. Nothing you could have done makes him hurting you right.”

“No, I do. I abandoned him once.” Wide blue eyes looked up. “He needed me, and I abandoned him. For years he was hurting. Years, Axel. I did that to him. I made him hurt. This –,” he held up his wrists “– is nothing compared to that. This is him trying to show me how much it hurt. So I can understand. So I can stop.” Arms dropped to his sides and watery eyes looked at the ground.

Axel was having a hard time digesting what he was hearing through all the noise in his head and the rage building in his chest. Why did this have to happen to Roxas? What could Axel ever do to make him see sense? He had tried before and failed. This was awful. Axel pulled Roxas close to himself, trying to comfort both of them.

Sobs shook out. Roxas clasped Axel’s shirt once more, but then let go and pushed himself away slightly. “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have come.”

“Why did you?” Axel needed to understand. Perhaps he could find a way out of this for Roxas if he understood.

Eyes looked up, and then away as pain-filled words tumbled out, “I… really miss you. Van said not to come, before he left yesterday. He was so upset. He grabbed me—it was an accident. He didn’t mean to. He apologized for hurting me, but it’s my fault for making him angry – for making him doubt me. He’s right though. He should doubt me, because I’m here instead of home. I shouldn’t have come. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I keep wanting to be with you. I keep cheating on Van – even when I’m with him in my heart—”

Axel watched the tears drop and be soaked up by the blanket. He was torn up inside between conflicting feelings; euphoria that Roxas seemed to really want him, and a deep, horrifying aching at the thought that this was putting Roxas in physical danger. He wanted to make it better somehow – without leaving Roxas to that monster of a man.

“We’re not cheating, Roxas. Don’t feel bad about wanting to hang out with your friends. You should be allowed to be with whoever you want, and do whatever you like.”

“No. It is cheating. I like you, a lot. I think about you all the time, even when I’m not supposed to be. I’m selfish. He takes such good care of me and this is how I repay him.” Nose wrinkled in disgust. “I can’t stop.”

A thrill tingled down Axel’s core over Roxas’ revealing words. But excitement gave way to anger at what else he was also hearing. He was about to make some sweeping assumptions but was sure he’d be spot on. “By ‘taking care of you’ do you mean you’re almost completely reliant on him financially?”

Roxas gave an uncomfortable look and a slight nod.

“Has he ever stopped you from getting a job, a career? Ever stopped you from studying so you could get a job?”

Roxas drew limbs in against his body. That was all Axel needed for confirmation. “He’s manipulating you, Roxas. He’s making you reliant on him, and making you feel bad just so he can keep you where he wants you.”

“No! He wouldn’t do that. He loves me and wants the best for me,” Roxas pushed back with ferocity.

Axel could feel the irritation inside himself. He took a deep inhale of breath and said, “I don’t doubt that he loves you, but I bet he’s doing things that are in his own best interests, rather than yours.”

Roxas sprang up and he glared down at Axel. “No. That’s you who you’re thinking of. You’re trying to make me doubt myself – doubt Van.”

Axel craned his up neck to look at Roxas, “No, that’s not—”

“It is. You just want me all to yourself.” The anger was rife in Roxas’ voice, his hands shook a little, there, clenched at his sides.

Axel could hardly deny that accusation but he had to grit his teeth. “Yeah, I want you. I’d treat you better than he’s treating you.”

“You’re being selfish. You’re the one who’s manipulating me – by making me get drunk so I couldn’t think straight, so we would end up all over each other.”

“No,” Axel snapped and sprang up to his feet. He wasn’t going to take this. He huffed, trying to calm himself a little. “Were you drunk at the zoo? Were you drunk the night we lay up here making out?”

Roxas took a step back, mouth flapping a little, “I… we—”

“No, you weren’t. In fact, I tried to stop you from making out with me, but you went ahead and did it anyway. And you know in your heart why that happened. You’re not dumb, Roxas. I doubt anyone could easily manipulate you. What Vanitas is doing to you is terrible and has probably been going on for such a long time that you most likely can’t even pinpoint where it all started.” Axel checked himself, dropping his tone and forcing his shoulders to relax. “I’m not here to make you feel bad, or to hurt you. You came out to see me, because your boyfriend’s hurting you, and you have no one else to turn to for comfort. So, if that’s cheating then that’s okay in my books. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be treated with respect and going out to be with the people who give that to you.”

Roxas hugged himself tight, looking disgruntled and close to tears once more.

Axel softened as he spoke, “I want to make you feel better, Roxas. I want to be there for you like the way your boyfriend isn’t. I want to support you, protect you – love you,” he said tentatively, “like Vanitas doesn’t.”

The softness in Roxas’ face tensed when Axel finished that sentence. And then a mix of emotions flicked over his face. Elation, longing, doubt, angst, and lastly defiance. “He does all those things.”

“Your body says otherwise,” Axel vaguely pointed towards Roxas’ arms. The ferocity his heart had been hammering with mellowed.

“It was an accident,” Roxas’ voice strained, and his arms wound tighter around himself.

“Accident or not, it’s not right and you don’t deserve that kinda treatment.”

“Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying? I do deserve it. I’m terrible,” came Roxas’ shrill declaration.

“You’re not.” Axel frowned with sadness.

“I am.”

Axel was tired of fighting him. This was a losing battle, which would only cause a rift between them, so Axel had to really pull back. “Okay. Let’s say that you are.”

Watery eyes suddenly focused on him. Roxas looked dismal and shocked.

“You think you’re awful and selfish and you hurt everyone you meet. But even if that were true, it still doesn’t mean you deserve to be hurt.”

Roxas looked glum. “I do.”

Axel groaned softly. “You don’t. And if you were with me you’d never be hurt.”

Roxas huffed out some air. “It always comes back down to you, doesn’t it,” he grumbled.

“Believe it or not, I care about you a whole lot. I want the best for you.” He put his hands on his hips, to help support himself through what he feared was going to be a very long and circular argument.

“And the best would be for me to be at your side?” Roxas spat a little.

He hadn’t set out wanting to talk like this, because he was sure Roxas wasn’t ready to hear it, but now that the cat was out of the bag… “It sure would be better than what you’ve got going right now, yeah.”

“How do you know?” Roxas half-screamed, half-whined, his fists clenched and body slightly trembled.

Roxas was really pushing him. Axel relaxed his own clenched fists and breathed. “I can see it on your face. Feel it in your touch. If things were great between you two, you wouldn’t be coming to me. I’m not so awesome to deserve someone like you in my life.”

Angry hostility vanished in a flash. Roxas looked small and forlorn, one arm wrapping around himself and he hunched little. “I’m not—”

“Oh, stop it. You are. To me, you are,” he smiled softly, but it came out rather sad looking. The yearning in his heart was too strong.

Roxas’ mouth closed, and he looked infinitely miserable. The other arm also drew around himself and Roxas looked to be holding on tight to everything that was inside. “No,” he whispered. He shook his head and took a step away from Axel. “Forget it. I shouldn’t have come.”

Axel’s heart began to race as a sudden surge of panic flooded him. He was terrified— “No, don’t go.” Snap reaction caused Axel’s arm to fling out and grab Roxas’ bicep, pulling him towards himself and into an embrace.

“Let me go!” Roxas cried out, pushing against Axel. The more Axel held on, the stronger Roxas shook with sobs. Fists hammered – not enough to hurt, but enough to protest. “Let me go…” Roxas kept trying to push away.

Axel kept holding on. He couldn’t let go. It was going to kill him if he did. “I’ve missed you so much, Roxas,” he said, struggling not to let his emotions completely swallow him up.

“Lemme go,” Roxas whimpered with decreasing volume, and lighter thumps of his fists pummeled Axel’s chest.

Axel’s heart was breaking all over again. He had been trying to be calm and understanding, but he was also incredibly scared for Roxas. He couldn’t let him go – he just couldn’t. Not like this. He continued his desperate plea, “I’ve been really worried about you. Please don’t go – not without me knowing you’ll be safe,” Axel muttered and eased his firm hold on Roxas as the fight left the other man.

Eventually, Roxas’ arms went from pushing, to stilling, to holding, and then gripping Axel. “Let me go, Ax. I’m safe. It was an accident,” Roxas continued to tow the party line, whilst making no moves to leave.

“No, I can’t. —I don’t wanna be pushy, but I have to be – I need to know you’re safe. I can’t let you go without that.”

A tremendous, shuddering exhale left Roxas. “You’re just gonna keep me hostage?” He looked up at Axel with knit brows but the smallest of smiles on his lips as well.

Axel gave him a small smile back and it hurt his heart. “Yeah, but I’ll take real good care of you. I’ll feed you all the desserts you could want, take you out for walks; I’ll even bathe you and groom you.”

Roxas’ head sunk down again and the quality of Roxas’ shaking changed to the type that indicated laughter. “Wow, creepy,” came the muffle against Axel’s chest.

Axel’s smile grew a little stronger, and some of the broiling tension eased away. He nuzzled against Roxas, wishing there wasn’t a hat in the way, because he loved smelling Roxas’ hair. But he sobered a little. “Yeah, I know. So, if you don’t want that to happen you need to give me something to go by.”

Roxas stayed quiet for a while. His fingers flexed and massaged the fabric of Axel’s shirt. But eventually, he said, “I’ve got nothing to give you.”

Axel released Roxas, pushing the other man away from himself a little, but still holding Roxas by both shoulders. “Yeah, you do. Your number. Gimme your number so I can check on you. Better yet, let me give you my number as well, so we can talk. It’s been driving me mad not knowing whether you were okay or not. I can’t let you go again without some way of getting in touch with you.”

Roxas looked pained as he stared up at Axel’s face. “I – I can’t…”

“Why not? You don’t have to call me, and I promise I won’t call you – much. I just want to make sure you’re okay. And I need to know that if anything happens, you have a way of getting in touch with me. Day or night. I’ll come get you. As a friend. And as someone who really cares for you. I’ll be there, in person, or if you just need an ear. Let me be there for you, please,” he begged, not sure if he could let Roxas go if he didn’t accept Axel’s help in this matter.

There came a sharp inhale. Eyes fell away and Roxas wound arms tight around himself again.

Axel hated that gesture. He was almost afraid to ask, but he did anyway, “What is it?”

Roxas only seemed to curl in tighter around himself. “You’re—I can’t.”

Axel’s hands gripped Roxas’ shoulders a little tighter. His insides clenched, making him feel ill. “What is it, Roxas? You’re freaking me out.”

Eyes dragged off the ground and back onto Axel. “I can’t – I don’t want to tell you because… it’s gonna – you’re gonna rub it in my face.”

“I won’t. Whatever it is, I won’t. I swear.”

Roxas looked at him for a long while, sizing him up, and mulling things over. Axel could see the words being hauled up like heavy stones, “My phone… I can only call one number from it.”

There is was. Of course. It didn’t surprise him one bit, but Axel felt Roxas’ deep shame over having to admit that to another human being. “Did Vanitas give you your phone?” he asked as delicately as possible.

Roxas gave a small nod.

“Oh, Roxas.” It broke Axel’s heart to be right. One of his hands left Roxas’ shoulders and stroked at damp cheek. Roxas leaned in to the touch and turned his face towards Axel’s palm. Axel thumbed over Roxas bottom lip, reflexively.

“Please don’t,” Roxas whispered and turned his head away again.

“I’m sorry.” Axel stopped. He wanted to be so much more than a friend to Roxas. A part of Axel was convinced that if he could just make Roxas want him more – if he could make Roxas love him – then Axel could make Roxas leave and be with him instead – where he would be safe and cared for.

Axel tried to move his hand to give Roxas some space but he was met with a sudden clasp of Roxas’ hand on his own.

“No, don’t,” Roxas said, sounding pained whilst keeping Axel’s hand on his face. “I don’t want you to stop.” Axel’s palm was kissed and nuzzled into. Roxas winced as he muffled into Axel’s hand, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know why I keep doing this with you. I need to let you go but… I don’t want to.”

It was agonizing having Roxas be so affectionate but completely tormented over it. “I think you do know. I get it. It’s hard. It’ll be one of the hardest things you will probably ever do, if you decide to move on from your past.”

“I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough,” Roxas sniffled.

“You are. You’re incredibly strong. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of help. Let me help you, Roxas. Let me be there for you if you need me.” Axel gently pulled his hand free and fished around in his pockets for a moment. He produced a scrap piece of paper and a pen, which he used to scribble his number down with. “Do you have access to a landline? Or is there a payphone anywhere near your place?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a landline,” Roxas said in a small voice.

“Good. Call me, anytime, day or night. Don’t worry whether I’m sleeping or at work. Just call me if you need me. I’ll be there for you.” He held the scrap piece of paper out to Roxas, who looked at it with uncertainty for some time.

“Axel—”

“Please, just take it. If you leave here without me knowing that you can reach me if you need to, it’s gonna kill me. So please take it. It’ll make me feel better.”

A great long pause followed. Eyes fell on Axel, examining him in seeming minute detail. An “Okay” followed, eventually. Roxas took the piece of paper reluctantly and looked at it.

A tremendous weight rolled off Axel’s heart, releasing a relieved sigh. “Thank you. Please memorize it, and then throw it out. Don’t let him know. And if you have to call me, can we agree on some kind of a code word? So I know that you’re safe and free to talk?”

Eyebrow cocked, and wet stare landed on Axel. “Code word? Seriously? Is all this really necessary?”

“I’d rather play it safe. I don’t want you to get into trouble with Vanitas.”

Roxas sighed in resignation. “What kind of a code word?”

Axel thought for a bit. “Maybe… your name? We’ll use your name. If you’re free to talk don’t tell me your name if you call. I’ll know it’s you by your voice, so don’t tell me it’s you. And if you can’t really talk – because Vanitas is there, use your name. That clear enough?”

“Yeah, I guess. But what if I accidentally say my name out of habit?”

“Hmm. Oh, well if that happens then tell me about your cat. If you slip up, you just tell me what Cheshire’s been up to lately.”

That brought a smile to Roxas’ less weepy face.

“Sound good? You think you’ll be able to do that?”

“Talk about Cheshy…? Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good. Remember to not tell me your name, that’s the important bit.”

Roxas nodded and finally pocketed the paper.

They stood around, and for once there was actual awkward silence, in the aftermath of their conversation.

Axel felt completely miserable. He thought he might drown in the wretchedness of it all if he thought about it too hard. So instead, he focused on knowing he had extended a lifeline to Roxas. If Roxas ever needed him, he would be there. He had to be happy about that. But he wasn’t. Not really. How could he let Roxas walk back to a life and relationship like he had? Could he kidnap Roxas? He really wanted to. But he also wanted Roxas to still like him.

He sank back down onto the blanket, and sat, staring at the neon sign streaming out pink and yellow light from the opposite building. Axel caught sight of Roxas moving about in his periphery until he vanished even from there. Footfalls rang behind Axel and stopped. And then there was a firm warmness pressed against his back. Axel cast a glance behind himself to see the back of Roxas’ head. They sat back to back for a while.

Axel wondered what Roxas was thinking about, and Axel himself lamented that this was the furthest he had ever felt from Roxas. They were marooned on separate islands in a vast ocean. Roxas had a boat but refused to use it to get to him and ultimately to safety. It made him feel extremely lonely and sad in that moment. He hated feeling so powerless to help and protect someone he cared so much for.

“Thank you, Axel,” Roxas murmured.

“For what?”

“Mm… being here. Listening to me. Trying to protect me.” Roxas sighed. “But also, thank you for leaving me to make my own choices. I’ve always liked that about you. You don’t tell me what to do.”

Axel smiled sadly. “You gonna be okay? Vanitas won’t find out you came here, right?” He just had to believe that Roxas knew best – that he knew if he was still safe or not.

“I… don’t know. I think… the guys you saw him making out with – I think maybe he was asking them about me. Because he knew about you and me – hanging out, y’know.”

Uncomfortable dread gripped Axel and his head snapped to the side, to look at the back of Roxas’ head. “So, you coming here – it’s not safe.”

Roxas’ head was bowed. “Probably not.”

Fear suddenly seized him. Axel turned at the waist to face Roxas, panic rising. “Roxas!”

“Please, just leave it alone, Axel. I’m fine.”

“But you just said—”

“Vanitas will probably find out… but nothing will happen. That’s what I mean.”

“You sure?” Axel didn’t believe it. These things always escalated. A push here, a grab and slap there… Axel couldn’t take that thought further or it would make him ill. “What do you think his reaction will be?”

Roxas still sat with his back to Axel. His shoulders shrugged. “He’s gonna yell. I know that. He’s gonna tell me all the reasons and ways in which I always disappoint him and about how untrustworthy I am. I’m sure everything will be fine though. I’ll tell him I came to say goodbye to you.”

The blood drained from Axel’s extremities. “Is that why you came? To say goodbye?” He almost choked on the word.

“I… it wasn’t. But now… I think maybe it’s for the best?”

Axel quickly turned away. He hadn’t expected the night to ever go this way. He hadn’t expected to be hurting this much. Axel clung to the uncertainty in Roxas’ voice. There was still hope. Hope for himself to be with Roxas, and hope that he didn’t have to leave Roxas friendless to deal with an abusive relationship.

Thinking about leaving Roxas to such a beastly man made him angry. He didn’t want to do it. The thought of kidnapping resurfaced. Surely Roxas would realize that things would be better living with Axel if he just had an opportunity to escape the boyfriend’s fiendish grip. Words started formulating in his head. If he could get Roxas to spend the night with him… maybe…

“He’s really not a bad guy. I know you think he is, but… he isn’t,” Roxas said. “This was an accident. Please don’t worry about me. Vanitas isn’t like that. He’s really not.”

Axel wondered what it would take for Roxas to stop defending that bastard. “You sure? If he’s not, then why can’t we keep seeing each other?”

“It’s…” a heavy sigh fell out of Roxas. “These feelings I have for you… I think they’re getting in the way of me making Vanitas happy.”

Axel wanted to scream. “You could make me really happy though. You could be happy with me, Roxas. Why’re you clinging to him? What’s he ever done for you?”

“He’s done everything for me,” Roxas snapped.

The sharp response made Axel cool it a little. He was being pushy — he had been down this path with Xion to some extent and it hadn’t worked. He needed to change tactics. He swallowed down the thick lump in his throat, hating where he was about to take this. “Can I ask you something?”

“Depends what it is,” Roxas grumbled.

His stomach was heavy and as uncomfortable as if it was filled with lead. “How did it end up like this? How did you guys meet? When did it turn bad? That kinda stuff.”

“Oh, yeah, of course I can tell you how we met.” The excitement was undeniable. The whole mood of the moment shifted. “We lived down the street from each other as kids. I was like maybe five, playing in the front yard with my cat, Lucifer—”

Despite himself, Axel chuckled.

“What?” came the playful complaint from behind.

“Hectic name.”

“He was the ugliest cat I’ve ever laid eyes on. But I saw him at the animal shelter and fell in love. I had to beg mom for a full week for her to say yes to me taking him home.”

“You mean nag to death?”

Roxas gave a light laugh. “I stand by what I said.”

“Okay, okay, go on with your story,” Axel laughed some more. Hearing Roxas happy inflated him.

“Right, yeah, so I was playing with him when this dog showed up and stared us down. It was big and mean and had been terrorizing the neighborhood for a while. But Lucifer was new and didn’t know to be scared so – being a bit of a troublemaker – he decided he was gonna take on the dog. It was like five times the size of him. Anyway, I couldn’t stop him, I was too scared. So the fight started. There was a lot of growling and angry hissing and yelping and screeching and me crying,” Roxas stated rather matter-of-factly.

“The sound of those two going at it was terrifying and I thought Lucifer would definitely be a goner and I’d be next. But Van came screaming down the road with a big stick and scared the dog away before it could do too much damage to Lucifer—Van was kind of like Lucifer that way. He had also just moved to the neighborhood and didn’t know any better. But I’m so glad he wasn’t scared, because he saved us. You know, there was blood and fur everywhere. I don’t remember much after Van picked me up off the ground, but we ended up at the vet – dad drove us all. And I was so worried sick, and Van was there by my side, holding my hand.”

Roxas’ tone of voice had fallen and sounded melancholic. But he picked right back up, “Lucifer was okay after that incident, and Van was always around. We had so much fun. I showed him everything there was to see in our neighborhood and we started school together and just shared so many memories growing up together. He was my best friend – is. He is my best friend.” But Roxas sounded tired, and like it took effort convincing himself of that statement.

Axel looked down at his fingers, picking at his nails as he listened to Roxas’ happy memories. If Roxas could be happy again Axel would leave it alone. He was sure of it. But… “What changed?”

A heavy sigh escaped. “My mom got a job opportunity in Atlantica, so we moved…”

‘How strange,’ Axel thought. “You lived in Atlantica?”

“Yeah, you know where it is?” Roxas said, sounding as if he had turned a bit to look at Axel.

“Yeah, I do. That’s my hometown.”

“Oh, wow, really?”

Axel turned to look at Roxas over his shoulder. Eyes sparkled back at him with interest. “Yeah. I lived in the thirteenth district. You?”

“Third.”

“Geez, your folks must have been raking in the dough.”

“Well, we weren’t poor, that’s true.” Roxas turned away again. “I liked living there. All the parks in the city and the nature reserves outside of it were my favorite things. I liked going camping with dad.”

“You ever go up to Dover’s Pass?”

“Oh, yeah. There was that natural pool, right? I used to go there with my friends in the summer.”

“I think most of us did that,” Axel smiled at the memories he also shared of that place.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw each other there?” Roxas spoke, excitement shaking his words.

“Would have been cool for me. You though… not so much.” He quirked his lip up in a half-smile.

“Why?” Roxas looked at Axel with eagerness and curiosity.

“I was a bit of an asshole teenager. You would have gotten dunked, and I’d have farted on ya head,” Axel grinned broadly.

That made Roxas laugh. “You know, actually—”

Axel’s eyes went wide. “Really?”

Roxas laughed harder. “No, that never happened to me. Though my best friend Hayner – he did say something like that happened to him once.”

“Ah shit, tell him I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. He probably would have deserved it.”

They grinned at each other and turned back around.

“Funny how small the world is sometimes,” was all Axel said whilst he felt a giant hole growing in his heart.

Roxas hummed. “Yeah.”

They sat in silence. Axel thought back on his adolescence, trying to remember if he might have ever run into Roxas. Their lives could have been different. Their lives should have been about nostalgic trips down shared memory lanes. Axel hated that their paths never crossed until now. He loathed that maybe their paths had crossed but he had been too dumb to take notice.

“I wish Vanitas could have come with me to Atlantica. Things might have turned out different.”

Axel heard and felt the sniffle against his back.

“It would have been better. He wouldn’t have felt like I abandoned him. It was really hard on him, y’know. Me leaving. He didn’t have it easy. His parents… well, he spent most of his time over at my place. When I moved I tried calling him so many times, but his parents—Van doesn’t have the nicest parents. I don’t know what their problem was with our friendship, but they never liked me. So, I could never get a hold of him on the phone. And then I tried writing letters, but he never got those either, he said. I wrote him daily, y’know. And then weekly, and then monthly and then…”

Axel turned around and gently said, “That wasn’t your fault. There’s nothing you could have done. You were just a kid.”

“I could have come and visited. I could have tried to get letters to him through other people. I—most of all though I shouldn’t have forgotten him. Because I did. Life happened, and I completely forgot him.”

Axel put his hand on Roxas’ shoulder, squeezing. “That’s not your fault.” He didn’t care if he sounded like a broken record. Roxas needed to hear it until he believed it.

Red-rimmed eyes glanced over shoulder and he put his hand atop of Axel’s, rubbing at fingers before he dropped his hand back down. “It is my fault.”

“It’s not,” he tried in vain.

Roxas stayed non-responsive. Axel looked at Roxas’ sad face, staring at the ground. He gave one final squeeze to the man’s shoulder before turning back around. “How did you guys reconnect?” he attempted to be supportive.

“I finished my senior year and then decided to go to university, but everyone knows—Atlantica University couldn’t even teach a fish how to swim,” they both finished in unison and chuckled.

“You know that one, huh?” Roxas said, sounding tired but excited.

“Yeah. It’s why I left and moved here with Kairi.” Axel wanted a time machine so badly, so he could have found Roxas and convinced him to be his roommate instead. Nothing against his friend, of course, but this was Roxas. Axel figured she’d understand.

“I didn’t know you lived together… or that you went to uni.”

“I’m offended. You spent so much time talking to Kairi and she never mentioned me?” Axel teased.

“She did talk about you… but not about that stuff,” came the quiet utterance.

Axel gasped. “Okay, let me fill you in then – we moved in together, to save on cost, being poor students and all. I was undertaking business management studies, so I could avoid running my bar into the ground. I did that for a year but lectures and reading books to learn isn’t my thing. I’m a doer, not an academic. So, I figured I’d just get myself a job at a bar and get real-life, hands-on experience. I was able to move out on my own after half a year. Truthfully, I could have moved earlier, but I didn’t want to leave Kairi hanging to pay the full rent by herself. So that’s me. You?” he threw back to Roxas.

“Ah… well, I moved back to my hometown to enrol in architecture.”

“Oh! So that’s why you’re so amazing at drawing floor plans.” An image of their drawn-up nightclub hanging on his wall filled Axel’s mind and made him smile.

Roxas laughed a little and hummed. “I met Vanitas at the freshman orientation day and… it was like we had never been apart. We moved in together shortly after that and… well, it was amazing,” he breathed out with longing.

“But you didn’t finish your degree,” Axel tried to clarify, thinking back on what he knew of Roxas already.

“Uh, yeah. Vanitas wanted us to study the same thing and go into business together,” Roxas mumbled.

There was the answer Axel had been looking for earlier. He really hated himself for being so right. “What was he studying?”

“Same as you, business management.”

“Oh, cool. I guess that explains your business.”

Roxas made an uncomfortable murmuring sound in his throat, and Axel could feel his shoulders tense up. “Not… exactly. I, uh, never finished that degree either.”

Axel’s diaphragm tightened, making him feel ill. “Why not?”

A small sigh escaped and then, “Vanitas, he, uh… well, he said that he thought one year was enough to teach me the basics. He said he’d handle everything else and that I was going to learn more from doing something more practical than studying… kinda like you, I guess.”

Axel was getting sickeningly mad again. He tried to keep it in check. “And did you?”

“I, uh – well, yeah. I have learned a lot. And I do like making clothes.”

“But would you have liked to finish your degree and be involved in all aspects of your business?”

“It’s a joint thing. Van set everything up. I just make the clothes.”

Axel turned around slowly, staring into the back of Roxas’ head. Disbelief clouded his thoughts, “Was this type of business even your idea? Or did he just decide that you’d like to make clothes and you followed suit?” Yeah, it came out a bit too aggressive.

Roxas suddenly turned and glared back at him, but it was on the sad side. “I like what I do.”

Axel cooled it, and smiled, but it hurt internally. “All good then.” He turned back around and breathed in the cool night air, trying to extinguish the fire in his gut.

“I know what it sounds like. But – it really wasn’t like what it sounds like.” Roxas pushed his back against Axel’s.

Axel felt an overwhelming sadness. “I get it.”

“You must think me so stupid,” came the tiny murmur.

Axel swiveled on the spot, so he was next to Roxas. He wrapped an arm around the man’s shoulders, squeezing. “No, never Roxas. Misguided, maybe, but never stupid. You guys have history, and love and that… well, it can complicate things.”

Sullen blue eyes fell on Axel, and a dumbfounded look crossed Roxas’ face. “Why’re you being so nice to me? Other people say really nasty things about Van and me, but you… you don’t. Not really. Not to my face anyway.”

It stung Axel to hear that word again. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to live with Vanitas. “I had a friend like you. Stuck in a bad relationship. While she was going through it I kept fighting her to get out. I said some not-so-very-nice things to her. I didn’t get why she stayed with an asshole who abused her. I got very angry at her and stopped talking to her – stopped trying to help her – stopped being there for her when she needed someone.” Axel bit his lip, trying to keep the torrential sadness at bay. It still felt so raw.

“What happened? Did things ever get better for her?”

Axel dragged his eyes back onto Roxas’ hopeful face. “I —” he couldn’t do it – he couldn’t tell him, “lost contact with her. But I did learn a lot from what she was going through. I get that this is really hard for you. So, that’s why I gave you my number. I know it’s better for us to not see each other while you’re with Vanitas, but I still want to be here for you. Even if it takes a whole lifetime. I’ll always be here for you. As a friend—as… well, anything else you might ever want me as.”

Roxas’ eyes began shimmering. He whispered something Axel couldn’t catch and then smiled with great sadness. Axel wiped away the tear that dislodged and trickled down Roxas’ cheek. “Don’t be sad.”

“I’m not. I’m grateful,” and with that, Roxas’ head tilted, and his cheek pushed into the palm of Axel’s hand again.

Axel stroked soft skin and yearned to kiss him – to take him away from the bad man – to shower him with love and kindness. But it wasn’t his right to decide that. He didn’t want to guilt Roxas, or make him feel bad, or make him feel obliged to do anything for Axel. Axel didn’t want to be like the boyfriend. So, hand dropped away from cheek, and slid from shoulder. With a smile he refocused on being a friend. “Do you wanna go do something? Nights still young. Sort of,” he chuckled.

Roxas groaned. “I can’t. I left my phone at home by accident. If Van calls – well, I can only be in the bathroom for so long.”

Again, all the implications there – it would send Axel mad if he dwelled on it. With the heaviest of hearts, he said, “All right. Let’s call it a night.”

They both got up and Roxas waited for Axel at the stairs while he packed away the blanket. Rejoining him, Axel’s stomach buzzed as Roxas’ fingers fluttered against his hand. He reached out tentatively as they went down the stairs side by side. Axel’s heart wanted to sing and cry as Roxas took hold, and their fingers linked together.

Three weeks had been too long to go without Roxas. The rest of his life would be… well, almost unimaginable. Axel slowed their pace because he didn’t want to face what reaching the ground might entail.

He tried to memorize everything about this moment. The feel, the smell, the sight. Hands were warm against the cool air. Their steps clinked on the stairs and shook the railing, while soft breaths echoed in ears. But it came to an end all too soon.

Hands unclasped, and they descended the ladder one at a time.

Axel waited patiently for Roxas to touch the ground, all the while wondering what would happen. Traditionally, Roxas gave him a wave and smile, so when Roxas stepped close and held both of Axel’s hands in his own, Axel’s heart just about wanted to implode.

“Thank you for tonight, Axel.”

He returned the smile that was given to him. “Did you get what you came for?”

A small thoughtful hum left Roxas, and then the warm smile turned sad, “Not completely. Can I get another one of your famous hugs?”

“If you’d let me, I’d hug you and never let go.” Axel squeezed Roxas’ hands before he wrapped his arms around Roxas and held him firm. Roxas’ hands reached up, wrapping and gripping behind Axel’s neck. They breathed each other in, and held onto one another, with the passage of time possessing little to no meaning.

“I wish we had known each other back in Atlantica,” Axel said.

“Me too,” Roxas whispered.

Their warm embrace continued. Axel refused to be the first one to let go. He wanted to keep Roxas with him forever. He tightened his grip, pulling Roxas closer somehow, wanting to absorb him.

Roxas reciprocated, squeezing and rubbing his face against Axel’s chest. But after a while, Roxas started shaking lightly. Axel, alarmed, pulled away ever so minutely to look at Roxas with worry. But he needn’t have been concerned. Roxas craned his neck and looked up at him with a bright face, chuckling. “You were serious about the not letting go bit, huh?”

“Dead serious,” he returned with a stern expression.

“How’re we gonna live?”

“There are conjoined twins who do just fine. We’ll be like that.”

Roxas laughed harder, pushing his face back against Axel to resume the tight embrace, and Axel sniggered, savoring the contact.

But eventually it did end, and Axel reluctantly let Roxas go when he began pulling away.

This was it. Their last moment together, possibly forever. Axel couldn’t let go of Roxas’ hand.

“Well, I gotta go,” Roxas started, staring at their hands, and giving Axel a squeeze.

“Are we gonna see each other again?” Axel could hardly breathe while he waited for an answer.

Roxas played with Axel’s fingers and swung their hands a tiny bit. Eyes eventually lifted. “You still got your penguin?”

Axel nodded.

“Then, yeah. We’ll see each other again.”

He wasn’t completely sure how to feel about that. But hopeful did spring to mind. With the dread out of his system and the mention of the keepsake, his memory jolted to life, “Oh, Rox, can I… I want you to have this—” with his free hand he dug around his jacket pocket and pulled out the photograph he had previously kept in his locker. Seeing Roxas so anxious that evening had given him bad vibes, and he had pocketed the photograph just in case. Well, now was the case.

Roxas took the photo and looked at it for a long while. A range of emotions from happy to sad passed over his face. Shimmering eyes looked up at Axel, “Did you steal it?”

“Me? Never. I asked politely first.”

Roxas gave a laugh but looked even sadder. He dove in for another hug, squeezing Axel’s rib cage tight, before pushing up and pressing a small kiss to Axel’s cheek. He dropped back down and stepped out of the hug. Voice was brittle and quivered, “Thank you, for everything.”

Axel brushed a hand through blond hair, savoring the way Roxas leaned into his touch. He rubbed and gently scratched at Roxas’ scalp and then pushed errant tufts of blond away from eyes. “You’re welcome.”

They looked at each other. The urge to kiss was only rising; Axel fought it. “Since you’ve got that one, can I take another one of us?”

Roxas looked at the photo he was still holding, before quickly pocketing it, and nodding. “Yeah, sure.”

Despite the promise of this not being goodbye, Axel felt overwhelmingly sad. He wasn’t sure how he would muster up a smile for the photograph, but he was going to try. Axel swung around to stand next to Roxas, pulled out his phone and swiped around until he got to his camera. He leaned down, arm around Roxas. “Say Kingdom,” Axel sang out the cheesy line.

Suddenly, lips were on his as he snapped the photo. Arm dropped, and Axel went with it, letting Roxas push inside his mouth. Desire swelled in his chest and pricked his skin.

They kissed deeply. Roxas’ fingers dug into Axel and held him with great intensity. They moaned and whimpered into each other’s mouths, and then, as quick as it had begun it was over. Roxas wiped at his mouth, picked up his hat, which had fallen off his head at some point, and gave a far too energetic, “I’ll see you around, Axel.”

“Catch ya later, buddy,” he waved while his heart broke, watching Roxas don the cap and slip out of the back alley, to heaven knows what kind of a home life.

Axel stood, all alone, his heart pounding, and his hand still clutching his phone. He lifted it to see what kind of a photo he had taken. It was blurry. The back of Roxas’ head filled most of the image and Axel’s surprised eyes peeked just over the top of the tilted head.

Objectively it was a terrible photo, but to Axel, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Chapter Text

The ache in his belly and tightness in his chest didn’t leave him. It only became worse the further he hurried away from the alley and the man he was too attached to. Roxas had come for comfort, for a compelling need to see, and be with, and feel Axel. He had achieved all of that, but instead of filling him up, he felt hollower. It seemed so obvious what he should do. And yet, despite what his body and mind were telling him, he couldn’t let go of Vanitas.

Vanitas was his only real choice. He had only known Axel for three short months, and out of that time, only spent a few fleeting days with him at best. He couldn’t risk tossing aside all he knew, had, and loved, for a short-lived crush. Because that’s what this was – just a crush. Nothing more. But it still hurt so damn much.

Roxas got home in record time, spurred on by the dread of what state he would find his phone in. Sofa pillows were tossed aside before he scrounged around his work desk, looking for his phone because that’s surely where he had misplaced it, under mountains of soft inlay and leather. At last, he found it, in the top drawer of his desk. Cheshire leapt onto his lap and made herself comfortable as Roxas’ heart sank at the three missed calls displayed on the screen.

There were no messages. Brilliant. That meant Vanitas was pissed. Roxas yanked his hat off, discarding it onto the floor and rubbed hands through his hair, before resting his elbows on the desk and holding his head, woefully. He should call Vanitas… but he wanted to have a relatively peaceful evening.

Mind lost focus. The scent of Axel was still clinging to his clothes. He’d have to wash everything in the morning, but for now, he inhaled deeply. There was a calm which ran through him, and a smile which appeared effortlessly when Axel came to mind. It was no different, even now, despite the awful circumstances which had taken him to the bar tonight.

He had shown and told Axel far more than he had ever planned to. He had feared the response, but in those moments of being so close to him, of feeling so cared for, he had let it out. And Axel had seemed to understand at the very end. The thought of Axel acknowledging how hard this was for him brought tears back to Roxas’ eyes. Axel’s very existence put before him an impossible choice. Not for the first time that night, or even for the first time since he had met Axel, he wished he could choose the impossible.

Roxas was torn, and the tears he shed did nothing to mend him. He felt sorry for himself, but the steady purr on his lap went a considerable way in soothing him. Roxas reached for his breast pocket, pulling out the photograph Axel had stolen for him. He sputtered with tears and laughter, and ran a finger over the image, wishing to feel Axel’s warm skin, to no avail.

He was glued to that photograph – for how long he couldn’t say. He thought about what had led up to them being at the café and the discomfort of that meeting. Roxas had gone in with one intention but had come out with something completely different. Somehow things seemed to always be made right again when he and Axel talked and listened to one another.

It was so different from being with Vanitas. Axel was so different.

Fingers went to lips. He couldn’t believe he had kissed Axel like that – yet again. He couldn’t believe he had stopped. Axel’s gesture with the photograph had meant so much. Roxas didn’t want to forget. Even if this period in his life was to be relegated to the history books, Roxas wanted to keep it as a living history and a warm memory, and the photograph would go some way in doing that.

He pulled opened the bottom drawer of his sewing desk and picked up a small wooden box. He fiddled with the chain around his neck, fishing out the key it held and slotted it into the lock of the box, smoothly. Latch flicked open with a satisfying click and Roxas carefully, lovingly, opened the lid. This was the one item he had which was all his. He shared everything with Vanitas, but the box was special. It housed his most precious memories.

There were photographs of his parents, and the friends he had left behind in Atlantica. He had Lucifer’s old bell and collar in there and it would also house Cheshire’s, once she was gone. The very first photograph he ever took of Vanitas and himself, as little kids, was in there too. And the first photo of them as boyfriends. He liked to pull them out and look at them when things got really bad between the two of them, so he could remind himself of how things used to be – of how they would be again one day.

But the most recent things in there now were a little lonely penguin, watching over its marble egg, the plastic stirring stick from the first ever drink that Axel had made him, the napkin floor plan of their bar, and it would now also house this photograph.

He went to place it face-down into the box, so as to protect the image, but stopped. There was something scribbled on the back, in what seemed to be Axel’s poor handwriting.


Fall in love with someone who wants you, who waits for you. Who understands you even in the madness, someone who helps you, guides you, someone who is your support, your hope. Fall in love with someone who talks to you after a fight. Fall in love with someone who misses you and wants to be with you. Do not fall in love with a body or with a face, or with the idea of being in love. [1]


Roxas read it over and over again. By the fourth pass, his vision had become too blurry to read it anymore. He put it in his box and locked it away.


 

Roxas awoke with a dehydration headache the next day. It hadn’t been the best night’s rest, what with him worrying about having been caught out, and having to face the music today.

He hated lying to Vanitas. He did it as little as possible, choosing to avoid topics and deflecting to other subjects wherever warranted. But as he reached for his phone and pulled it away from its charging cable, he knew he’d have to full-out lie today. It was for both their sakes. He was so sick of hurting Vanitas with his impulsive, selfish decisions. Vanitas didn’t deserve to worry and stress. He only wanted Roxas safe after all – and for Roxas to be faithful – which he was… he definitely was. From now on he would be.

Roxas sighed and hit the speed dial key to call the only number he had in his phone. It was ridiculous – all the restrictions on his phone. At the time of Vanitas proposing it, it had seemed sensible. But now…

“Oh, so you do know how to use your phone,” Vanitas drawled.

“I’m sorry, I–”

“Were you having a hissy fit? Because of your wrists? I already apologized for that. What more do you want?”

“I’m sorry. It’s not that.”

“Then what?”

“I just had my phone on silent.”

“Why didn’t you pick up the landline then?”

“I–” Oh crap. “–didn’t hear it.”

“Didn’t hear it? It’s pretty fucking loud, last time I checked.”

‘Of course, Vanitas would have checked,’ Roxas thought, begrudgingly. “I was in the shower.” That explanation never failed, right?

“For three hours?”

“Then I fell asleep with my earbuds in. I’m sorry, Van. I called as soon as I woke up and saw.”

There was silence as Vanitas deliberated. “You shouldn’t sleep with those in. You’ll get an ear infection,” he said, far gentler.

Roxas hummed, a smile tugging at lips and a flutter in his chest.

“How are you anyway? I was calling to ask about your wrists.”

“Oh. I’m fine. They’re a bit bruised but otherwise all good.” He looked at the dark blue bands around his wrists. He felt tender when he twisted his hands and flexed his fingers.

“I am sorry about that.”

At least he sounded sincere. “I know, you said.”

“You shouldn’t make me so angry, Roxas.”

Stomach dropped. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.

Vanitas sighed. “You can make it up to me when I get home tomorrow.”

Roxas rolled his eyes and hummed in acknowledgment.

“I gotta get ready for work.”

“Okay. I miss–”

Vanitas hung up.

“You.” Roxas threw his phone down onto the mattress. He felt exhausted. Having to be a certain way around Vanitas – making sure he said the right things and acted the right way – was tiring. He groaned, feeling frustrated and irritated. He hated feeling this way. He hated thinking this way. Being around Axel did that to him – it confused him. It complicated how he felt about himself – about Vanitas – about what he was doing. It had never been this way before Axel came along.

Being with Axel was like floating in a bubble of happiness and bliss. Roxas forgot himself and his life when he was with Axel. He did what felt right and felt good in that moment. And then, when he was forced back to reality he was greeted by a deep hole, and what he found down there… if he looked too closely it frightened him. Difficult thoughts surfaced. Feelings of injustice and annoyance bubbled. Life felt unfair – how Vanitas treated him was unfair. But he deserved it. He told himself as much – Vanitas told him as much – Axel didn’t think so, though.

Another long growl of frustration left Roxas. He got up and on with his day. He served up breakfast for himself and Cheshire, then did some exercise. It was gentle yoga today, which was always Roxas’ favorite, as Cheshire intruded upon him every chance she could. And after that some much needed alone time in the shower.

Hot water trickling down his body and the prattle, as it hit the walls and ground was soothing. Roxas used a generous amount of body wash to lather himself up, especially around his penis.

He didn’t make masturbation a daily habit but did find himself wanting to do it more frequently the days following meetings with Axel. Roxas always tried not to think about his friend but managed to fail at it miserably most days. His orgasm was always better and more satisfying when his mind was on the other man. It was another very good indicator to himself that he needed to put an end to it.

Afterward, he was left with a clearer mind and went to his workroom to get on with sewing. He could literally spend hours in there by himself, making patterns and working with test fabrics to see what worked best. And part of the appeal was the fact that Vanitas respected Roxas’ privacy, for the most part, when he was in there with his door closed, and earbuds in.

Roxas pulled out his A2 sized sketchbook filled with drawings and reference materials and flipped through it. He did it mostly out of habit, for he knew what he wanted to work on and wasn’t in need of inspiration. He flipped to the leather section, pushed the book aside and got out the photograph from yesterday out of his box.

His favorite project at the moment was the leather jacket he had been planning on making for Axel, to replace his old tatty one. Roxas knew he shouldn’t be because the very process of working on this item got him thinking about the other man. But he wanted to repay Axel’s kindness. The reaction Roxas had gotten over the nightclub floor plan had been completely overwhelming, and Roxas wanted to create one more moment of happiness for the both of them before calling it quits – because he would have to end it… eventually. And he thought this item would go some way to getting much-needed closure to this brief chapter of his life.

Roxas had been slowly working on this project for weeks now and hadn’t been getting anywhere with it. He also wasn’t getting anywhere with it right now, because he was stuck looking at the photograph of them sitting together. He forced himself to stop staring and fantasizing about Axel’s warmth, and voice, and smile, and smell, and touch, and instead looked at the jacket Axel wore.

He wanted to replicate it, but also add his own touches to it, so he needed to inspect the detail of it. But once more he just looked at Axel’s face and their body contact and tried to remember what it had felt like.

Cheshire pounced onto his lap, curious to see what had Roxas so transfixed.

“It’s Axel and me at the café I told you about. It was the day after the zoo when I… got stupid and upset.” That outing to the zoo had been amazing. His stomach still fluttered imagining Axel sucking on him. Roxas groaned. He probably should never have accepted the drinks Axel had offered to make him, that long-ago Friday night… but man, how glad he was that he had done just that.

Cheshire headbutted the photograph and then tried to get it between her paws.

“No, don’t do that. I’ll play with you later, promise. I’ve got work to do now.” He gently dropped her back to the ground, grabbed a pencil with the intention of doing a few sketches, but inadvertently got lost in memories of warm embraces, supportive encouragement, and genuinely fun experiences. His soul ached. And then he turned the photograph over, needing a break. He had forgotten that there was writing on the back – which he then read – and it got his head right off topic once more.

A part of himself wanted to give in to reckless abandon. A part of him wished he had let Axel finish his sentence the first night they had danced together – wished he had been more affectionate the second night on the roof. Dreamed about the alternative if he hadn’t panicked when they had made out. He wanted to be with Axel so bad but… Vanitas.

Axel wouldn’t want him. Not for long. No way. Roxas was so much trouble. He did everything wrong – couldn’t stick to his principles and goals – couldn’t finish the degree he had set his heart on. Roxas couldn’t look after himself – couldn’t hold down a job – couldn’t keep Vanitas happy.

Keeping Vanitas happy was a full-time job.

He squashed down that thought and sighed heavily, scratching Cheshire behind her ears. “Why can’t I forget him, Cheshy?” She looked up and meowed, demanding more affection, which he freely gave.

“He’s no good for me. I can’t risk everything to be with a guy I don’t really know, can I?”

He looked at yellow eyes, which gave away no answers. “Van looks after me – after you. He knows how I get. He can tolerate me. He sets me straight. But Axel…” his stomach knotted. “It would be so exciting,” he whispered.

And this was the part where he felt he should break into song, to expel his inner turmoil about being stuck between two very difficult choices. But he wasn’t a Disney Princess, so Roxas had to put a stop to his stupid thoughts. He was just lonely and starved for affection. That’s clearly all it was. If he could just figure out how to make Vanitas forgive him for all the bad he had done in the past, then they would go back to being how they had once been. Those happy snaps in his box could be recreated and added to.

But then, that in itself wasn’t a nice thought to have. Yes, things had changed, but Vanitas still was affectionate… in his own way… when it suited him. Vanitas cared for him. Vanitas looked after him… Vanitas had made Roxas reliant on him – kept Roxas from expanding his horizons. No, Vanitas just cared too much. That’s all it was. He loved Roxas so much that he just wanted to keep him close. Very close. And that was fine, because they were destined to be together. For what were the chances of them meeting again after so many years? And having an instant connection and chemistry. But what were the chances of meeting a sexy redhead, completely out of his league? And hitting it off, and finding out they had lived in almost a stone’s throw from each other in the past?

He pushed Axel out of his head. Instead, he focused on Vanitas, recalling the first two years of their relationship. Those years had been electric. Roxas’ body buzzed at the faint memory. Surely what they once had could be rekindled, if Roxas stopped messing up – if he could be enough – do what was expected of him – and most of all, stop disappointing Vanitas.

He sighed and covered the photograph with his hand. Ever since they had moved to this city, the sense of failure and disappointment that Roxas was to Vanitas had grown – the sense of failure he was to everyone and everything, really. Roxas had never been great at things. He had let his parents, himself, and Vanitas down numerous times. He supposed he had hoped the move to a new city might have meant things changed. He had hoped that the bad memories which seemed to plague Vanitas and himself could be erased and new, happy memories could be planted in their stead.

It had felt so promising – Vanitas letting Roxas move a full three weeks before Vanitas was going to come and join him – though Vanitas did come over a week earlier than had been expected in the end. But still, Vanitas had said he was okay with Roxas going out to see Unsaid Velvet, and he had been okay with Roxas going out to see other things too. Though that thought made Roxas uncomfortable again, because of all the half-truths he had told Vanitas when the barrage of questions had been flung his way.

‘Why’re you going there all by yourself?’
‘Why would you want to do that?’
‘You’ve never been interested in museums before’
‘Wouldn’t you rather wait for me to go to the zoo with you?’

Roxas had not been able to explain that he had made friends, because friends that weren’t Vanitas’ friends weren’t friends that Roxas was allowed to see. And thinking about this in that instance made Roxas irritated. He had hoped that things would change with the move. But they hadn’t. And he had known from the very moment he had slid onto that bar stool and accepted Axel’s invitation to have drinks, that he had doomed himself.

Roxas didn’t think himself oblivious. Dumb maybe, but certainly not oblivious. He had seen Axel looking at him all evening and, feeling a bit reckless and energized at the freedom he had been granted, had decided to walk over… just to have a glass of water and maybe get a closer look at his admirer. Because it had been such a long time, and such a thrilling idea to have someone so attractive show a possible interest in tired, ugly, short-ass Roxas, with all his massive flaws, causing him to never amount to anything and having to mooch off his boyfriend in order to live. It still baffled Roxas that anyone besides his childhood friend should look at him once, let alone twice.

Some days Roxas felt sorry for Vanitas for having gotten stuck with him. Maybe that’s what had prompted Vanitas to find some attention elsewhere? Roxas was terrible after all, so he couldn’t blame his boyfriend for it. He always made Vanitas worry – even when there had been nothing to worry about. Clearly, Roxas wasn’t to be trusted. All the past nothings seemed to have all led up to the present something.

But how? Roxas felt bewildered over Axel being into him. And yet… Roxas was glad for it, because he, in turn, was so, so deeply into Axel. The man was like a flame, and Roxas a moth. He had done horrendously stupid think-with-your-dick things. Because the only consequence had been a shattering of his morality. Normally, that was something Roxas did hold onto quite highly, but when Axel was around Roxas wanted to throw everything out the window – and his naked self at an equally naked Axel.

Roxas pushed the photograph away and groaned into the palm of his hand as he rubbed at his face. His thoughts were visiting the gutter again. Roxas didn’t know how to cure himself of his Axel affliction. He hoped he could find a way to say goodbye to the man. All he needed to do was finish the jacket and then… and then Roxas would have only one man in his heart and mind. The name of whom was hard to come by. So, he got up and fetched a cold glass of water, after which he returned to his workspace to focus on drawing, planning, and experimenting with the various fabrics at his disposal.


 

Several hours passed in which Roxas got nothing done at all. His mind wandered for a good portion of it and some hefty procrastination had taken place. He had ended up browsing the internet to see what was on at Organization 13 that night, so he could play out in his mind what Axel might get up to. When he saw that another cool band was playing, the urge to go out rose. But he dismissed it from his mind and got back to fiddling around with things.

At some point, Roxas’ phone chimed. He picked it up and wedged it between his ear and shoulder.

“Hi Van.”

“Hey, what’re you doing?”

“Re-threading the machine. You?”

“About to walk into a meeting. Just called to say sorry for being grumpy this morning.”

It made him smile. “It’s okay. I called pretty early. I know you don’t work well before your coffee.”

Vanitas chuckled. “Yeah. You had lunch yet?”

“No.”

“Go eat something, you workaholic.”

Roxas laughed. “Bit rich coming from you.”

“Well, you’re supposed to be better than me, so I can live up to the shining example you represent.”

“Whoops. I’ll fix the situation just as soon as I finish getting the bobbin in.”

“She being a finicky bitch again?”

“Yeah. But I’ll get it sorted.” Roxas kept pushing the bobbin, waiting to hear the much sought-after click.

“I’ll buy you a new model for your birthday.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Nah, I will. You’ve had this one for years now.”

“Well, if you insist, I won’t say no.”

“Good. Don’t forget to eat.”

“Okay. I’ll get on it as soon as I finish this.”

“All right. But don’t forget.”

“I won’t. Oh, hey, uh – can I ask you a quick something?” Since Vanitas was feeling generous Roxas didn’t see the harm in asking.

“I guess. Make it a very quick-quick.”

“Can I…” he swallowed. Maybe this would be a bad idea after all. “Go to Organization 13 tonight?”

“What. Why?”

Roxas’ hope evaporated at that tone of voice. “Flight of the Cats is playing.”

“No.”

“Please,” Roxas tried.

“No. We talked about this. Have you forgotten already?”

Roxas looked at the bruises which were darker than they had been that morning and still ached. At least Vanitas couldn’t do anything to him over the phone, so he pushed, “No, but I really wanna—”

“I said no. I’ll take you tomorrow.”

“They’re only there tonight.”

“I’ll take you next time they’re around.”

“But Van—”

“It’s a no, Roxas. I gotta go.” The dial tone sounded.

Roxas dropped his phone, not caring about where it landed. It was this sort of authoritarian dictatorship which got under Roxas’ skin the most. He didn’t see why it was a problem to go out for a good time. He didn’t understand Vanitas’ objections to things and was having a harder time seeing the sense in Vanitas’ actions and reasoning. Maybe Roxas was even experiencing a slight rebellious streak of late. It’s why he had gone to see Axel yesterday… well, that, and after what had happened, Roxas had really needed some comfort in his life.

He smacked the bobbin, which finally clicked in place, and caused a sharp pain to shoot up his arm. Screw Vanitas. Screw saying goodbye. Roxas was going to see Axel tonight, and dance with him to awesome music. He didn’t even care if any of Vanitas’ spies saw him. He just wanted the ache in his chest to go away.


 

By the time 5pm rolled around, Roxas was in a state of undress, deciding what look to go for tonight. He loved it when Vanitas was out of town, because he could wear whatever he chose. Most of his go-to items were things he had made himself. Even the plainer clothes were things he had created. It was easier than spending hours trying to find things to fit his frame at shopping malls.

He was debating whether or not to throw on a black mesh top he had laying around – because he would love to see Axel’s reaction to it. That thought went nowhere as his ringtone went off, somewhere beneath the pile of discarded clothes.

Roxas dropped everything and went diving for the offending piece of technology. He should have kept it close on hand because Vanitas calling three times in a day was far from unheard of. In fact, the man must have been rather busy at work to not have called or texted Roxas more.

“Hi, Van. How’d the meeting go? Did you have a good day?”

“Yeah, meetings are meetings. We got everything sorted, so the day went as well as could be expected. I’m getting ready to fly out. I’ll be at the airport by ten-thirty.”

His insides clamped together. “What, tonight?”

“Yeah. I don’t like this stinking hotel room. Come meet me at terminal four.”

Well, there went all of Roxas’ plans. “I’m really tired.”

“So am I, but I’m coming back for you. The least you could do is meet me.”

“I don’t have money for a cab,” he said, fishing for excuses as he wondered if he could still quickly sneak out and get back before Vanitas arrived home.

“What happened to the hundred you had from your last job?”

He hated conflict with Vanitas. “I used it when I went out touring the city that first week,” he mumbled down the phone.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been so reckless with your spending.”

They had argued about money in the past. It never ended well for Roxas, so he let it drop. “Well, I can’t really change that now, can I?”

The sigh rolled through the phone line. “I just need you to think about the future before you do dumb things.”

Roxas frowned at the pile of clothes and stared longingly at the black top he wanted to wear for Axel. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Just take the bus. You’ve got the travel card I gave you, don’t you?”

Roxas cursed that Vanitas seemed to have an answer to everything. “Yeah, but the airport’s two hours away by public transport. And it’s gonna be late. There are all kinds of weirdos in the city at night.”

All concern was disregarded as Vanitas said, “Public transport’s super safe. You’re gonna be safer on a bus with strangers than with one guy alone in a cab anyway.”

The longer this went on for, the more distaste Roxas had for the idea. He wanted to go out… and not out in this sort of a way. “But it’s a bus and a train and then another bus.”

“Roxas. I didn’t ‘have’ to come home tonight, but I changed my plans just for ‘you’. You could ‘at least’ show some appreciation.” The guilt was rife. It was always the guilt.

Had Roxas asked for Vanitas to come home early though? No. Would Vanitas get angry and upset if Roxas pointed this out to him? Yes. “Of course. I’m sorry. I know you worked hard all day and that all you wanna do is rest. Traveling is a lot of effort.”

“It is. I gotta go. I’ll see you at ten-thirty.”

Roxas slumped down on their bed, feeling defeated. He had built the evening up in his mind so much so that any deviation from the plan was crushing. He did the math in his head – an hour to tidy up and find something to stuff in his mouth for dinner, as well as feed Cheshire something other than dried kibble. Fifteen minutes to the bus stop, to catch the six-thirty bus. Then he’d arrive, after many stops and changes, at the airport sometime between eight-thirty and nine. Roxas would have an hour and a half to kill before Vanitas’ flight arrived. That was an hour and a half he could spend with Axel instead. Roxas shut down the surge of excitement. He knew better. Vanitas could be early. It had happened before. It was probably better to get there before the designated time. Roxas didn’t trust himself to keep to only spending an hour with Axel anyway. The man was much too fun, and time would surely get away from him.

So, with a burdened sigh, he resigned himself to his duty and began packing up all his things, bar for the very plainest clothes, which he would get dressed in to collect Vanitas. His boyfriend only liked the both of them getting dressed up if it was for something special, like a night out, which it wasn’t to be tonight.

Begrudgingly, he got on with getting ready.


 

Two hours was a long time to travel. Two hours was a long time to think, and sadly, the thoughts contained nothing good for too long. He day-dreamed what the outing with Axel would have been like, which left him feeling dissatisfied. And then he worked himself into a heated state thinking about Vanitas coming home early on purpose – but not because he missed Roxas. No, he was on his way home, so he could stop Roxas from going out and having a good night without him. The idea that Roxas might not need Vanitas was probably too horrendous for the man to bear. Having Roxas be free to choose was too horrible to bear because… because some days Roxas was so damn close to not choosing Vanitas – so close to forgetting and letting go of the past.

Some days, Roxas was so tired of holding on to all the baggage. Some days, it felt like that was all that Vanitas was; a past guilt which Roxas had entombed himself with. He didn’t want to live out his days dying and decaying. He wanted to live, be free, have fun, be loved, and to love in return.

Thinking these things irritated him further. He felt annoyed with himself for throwing away all the good memories he had with Vanitas. He hated himself for letting Axel get under his skin, especially all the stuff the man had said to him yesterday. He cursed himself for not having listened to Vanitas. He should never have gone out yesterday. He deserved his boyfriend’s wrath. It hadn’t been unwarranted, because despite the physical reminder to not go out, Roxas had still disobeyed. Maybe he deserved stronger punishment. Maybe he’d learn his lesson then. Maybe he should tell Vanitas he disobeyed him. Maybe the consequence would then stop Roxas from craving Axel’s company.

Or it would have the complete opposite effect.

These thoughts carried him all the way to his final destination.

Roxas sat around at Terminal 4 and waited. Ten o’clock came and went. Ten-thirty also flitted past. No Vanitas. Roxas paced around the waiting area, watching people come out in droves, as various airplanes landed.

Pacing eventually ended and he sat, fuming internally. It didn’t even cross his mind that maybe Vanitas’ flight got delayed, or that something bad had happened to him. Picking a later flight – but telling Roxas to be there early – was such a Vanitas thing to do.

He could have been having fun with Axel. Axel would never stand him up and lie to him like this to stop him from having a good time. Axel would let him do what he wanted. Axel would – Roxas stomped his foot against the ground. He had to stop his maddening thoughts because they were leading him down a path he couldn’t go. He closed his eyes and worked on visualizing what he needed to work on to get the jacket made.

Some time passed before a touch on the shoulder made his eyes open. Head swiveled slightly until he found Vanitas smiling down at him.

“I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Wasn’t asleep.” Bitterness wavered at the sight of his boyfriend. Roxas rose and instinctively wrapped arms around Vanitas’ waist. Arms wound around his shoulders and they exchanged a warm hug. The physical contact did wonders to melt the indignation.

“Sorry I’m so late, Roxas. The flight was overbooked so I gave up my seat.”

They pulled apart and looked at each other.

“That’s very nice of you,” he smiled sweetly and for the briefest nano-second, Roxas actually allowed himself to believe Vanitas. “What time is it?” He looked around, searching for a clock.

“Eleven-thirty. C’mon, let’s get a cab home.”

His wrist was grabbed. Roxas winced and flinched against the pain but managed to keep the cry inside.

“Oh sorry. It doesn’t still hurt, does it?” Vanitas released Roxas and interlaced their fingers instead.

“No. It’s fine,” Roxas tried to get out as evenly as he could because he didn’t need Vanita to lecture him on how this was all his fault

They walked to the taxi ranks, while Roxas teetered between blind acceptance of Vanitas’ excuse for the delay, and infuriated mental accusations of what a liar he was and how he was hurting Roxas on purpose. They got a cab instantly and headed off. Roxas was tired, hungry, sore, and pissed off, so he sulked, leaning head against the window, staring out at a glowing nightscape and car headlights streaking past. Roxas turned to take a look at Vanitas, sitting by the other window seat. The cold blue light of his phone illuminated Vanitas’ face. He looked deep in concentration – probably still sending work emails and preparing for next week’s work.

Roxas exhaled somewhat noisily. Eyes, such a light hazel they almost looked yellow, flickered over to him before returning back to the screen. Roxas had loved Vanitas’ eyes once upon a time. Now they just left him feeling cold inside. He looked back out the window, yearning for green.

They trudged up the stairs of their apartment building. Exhaustion made Roxas’ heels drag so much so that he collapsed onto the sofa when they got inside. Cheshire was on him in an instant, pawing into his back and making herself comfortable.

Vanitas shuffled around their apartment before he spoke, “We can go see that band now if you want.”

Roxas dragged his head up to look at the LCD display on their TV cabinet unit. 01:08 am glowed in blue. “No point. They wrapped up half an hour ago.” Head slammed back into the soft upholstery.

“Shame.”

‘Yeah right,’ he thought bitterly. “Doesn’t matter. I’m tired anyway. Good night, Van.” Roxas resigned himself to sleeping on the sofa. He was too spent to move.

“But you promised to make it up to me,” the voice drew closer.

Exhaustion sat heavily on him. “Can’t it wait until morning?”

“You know I’m not a morning person. C’mere Roxas.” Purring warmth pounced off Roxas as firm touch ran up his back, to shoulders, and down one arm. A finger went under his sleeve and rubbed across the bruise before his hand was grasped. Roxas grumbled as he was pulled to his feet.

“I don’t know what you’re so tired for. Not like you did anything today anyway.”

Roxas said nothing, he just looking away with tilted head, sighing in exasperation. Arms wound around Roxas’ waist, pulling them together, whereupon kisses were trailed up his pale neck, to his jaw, and then onto slightly chapped lips. “I’m so hungry for you, babe,” Vanitas rumbled as he pulled away and walked towards their bedroom, tugging Roxas along.

Once they passed the threshold, Vanitas closed the door before Cheshire could come in. He stood before Roxas, kissing his neck, and thumbs hooked into the waistband of Roxas’ jeans.

Roxas breathed Vanitas in. He smelt of mint and licorice, a wholly familiar but ultimately unappealing smell to Roxas. Axel always smelt warm and sweet. Roxas shook the thought from his head and got to unbuttoning Vanitas’ vest and business shirt, while kisses continued to accost and prickle his skin.

Roxas lost his shirt to it being pulled up and off, just before Vanitas shrugged out of his now unbuttoned garment. Vanitas kissed Roxas’ chest, pushing him backward until the backs of his legs bumped the bed. Roxas was pushed down and unbuttoned his pants, as Vanitas did the same to his business slacks. Pants and underwear were pushed down, and then Vanitas yanked off Roxas’, throwing them to the floor somewhere behind himself.

Vanitas then climbed on top of Roxas, planting another kiss on his lips and with it, pushing Roxas’ head down against the mattress. Tongue intruded, diving in deep. Roxas hooked his legs around Vanitas’ backside, pulling him gently against himself. At least his body was hot, and a semi-hard erection pressed against Roxas’ thigh. Roxas’ own penis was slowly coming to life. Not because he was turned on, but merely because the idea of sex had that effect on that part of his anatomy.

Roxas would actually prefer to not get an erection because he knew he’d have to tend to it himself… which he was perfectly capable of doing in the shower, so he didn’t see the point of having sex. He mentally kicked his pessimistic self. Why couldn’t he just be in the moment and enjoy?

He tried to focus on the warm body against him, and on Vanitas’ mouth working over his body. He tried to ignore the sting when Vanitas grabbed his wrists roughly, bringing them to his mouth and leaving gentle kisses. What was the point? Vanitas was just negating the gentle caring effect with the rough handling of Roxas’ body.

“You’re so beautiful,” Vanitas murmured between kisses.

Roxas was really too tired for this. “Push into me, Van. I want you,” he stated, hoping it would get the ball rolling.

A few kisses later and hands were dropped. Vanitas dismounted Roxas, reaching over to the bedside stand where they kept the lubricant and condoms. He flicked Roxas a wrapper and they both spent a few moments putting them on.

Vanitas returned, with slickened fingers. Roxas, well versed in their lovemaking, rolled himself over and stuck his rear up in the air a little. Vanitas slapped his backside with his clean hand and rubbed a lubricated digit against Roxas’ sphincter.

It felt nice. Roxas pushed into it and Vanitas’ finger entered, which pressed around a little before the second finger entered abruptly, and then a third. Vanitas was far too impatient for foreplay. Always had been. Roxas had appreciated his no-nonsense attitude to sex when they had first started to date because Roxas had wanted all the sex right then and there. But now, as things got less exciting with familiarity, he wished for a slow buildup of anticipation before the payoff.

It’s not like he had never asked Vanitas to do certain things or told him what felt nice. But Vanitas had his own way of doing things, which included Roxas. And after so many years of instructing, asking, and begging with no change in sight, Roxas had given up, and now it was too awkward to try and change anything.

His anus was stretched. Roxas breathed deep to relax. The fingers left his body, and his cavity was almost instantly filled again with slippery, hot, firm flesh. Even with the minimal stretching, it still stung and took Roxas’ breath away a fraction. A few thrusts and everything was right again.

Vanitas grabbed Roxas’ hands, threading his fingers in between the knuckles and pushed their hands firmly into the mattress at either side of Roxas’ head. Hands squeezed. Bed shook. Vanitas thumped into Roxas’ backside, letting the odd grunt escape.

Sometimes, Roxas felt like a sex doll. That feeling was only interrupted occasionally when a fortuitously ill-placed thrust brushed against his prostate. A shudder would breeze through his abdomen, and playfully tingle up his spine and shaft. It reminded him that sex was supposed to feel good. But at least it didn’t feel bad. It just was, most days.

When Vanitas fucked him like this it was easy not to think of Axel. Roxas liked to imagine Axel touching him all over, experimenting with what felt nice and not so nice for Roxas. Like how he had made Roxas the drinks. He smiled into the mattress. Okay, so Roxas did think of Axel when he was being fucked like this. He tried to shake the image. A part of him told himself that sex was just unexciting because Roxas’ head wasn’t in it. That if he were faithful to Vanitas, the both of them might enjoy it more, and it wouldn’t take his boyfriend forever to come. Never mind that this had been the status quo of their lovemaking for many years now.

He missed the days they came in under five minutes – they had timed each other. He missed it because they had been ready to go again ten minutes later, and they had been able to keep that up for several rounds. Roxas was often amazed they had managed to hand in assessments and projects on time when he was still enrolled in his courses.

A wistful sigh escaped while he was being rocked against the mattress.

“What’s the matter?” Vanitas inquired, continuing to thrust.

“Just thinking about how we got any assessments handed in on time back when we were studying.”

Vanitas chuckled and thrust harder. “I wish we had as much time now as we did back then, mmm.” Vanitas leaned down and bit the back of Roxas’ neck, pulling at skin a little as he lifted his head back up.

The hairs on Roxas’ arms prickled a little and his groin stirred. He tilted his head and made a kissing gesture at Vanitas with his lips. Vanitas leaned back down and kissed him with a growling moan.

Hands tightened and pushed. Skin slapped against skin as their pace picked up even more. Vanitas sunk teeth into Roxas’ shoulder, sucking, and biting. Breath came hard and fast. The bed creaked and groaned.

Roxas felt turned on by Vanitas for a change.

“Van, remember when we gave each other handjobs during that lecture on leadership theory?”

“Mmm, yeah,” Vanitas huffed with amusement. “Good thing fat Pete sat in front of us, blocking the view.”

“Wonder if our come’s still splattered on the underside of those desks,” Roxas laughed.

“We made such a mess.”

Roxas felt the smile on Vanitas’ face as a kiss was planted in between his shoulder blades.

Hands left Roxas’, traveling up his arms and to Roxas’ sides. Vanitas suddenly pulled out, hands coaxed Roxas to roll onto his back, and then they were looking at each other. Vanitas dove in for another deep kiss and pushed his erection back into Roxas, taking his breath away.

The rhythm was picked up again, but to Roxas’ great surprise, warmth surrounded his erection and moved in time to Vanitas’ thrusting. He couldn’t recall the last time this had happened, so understandably, a long, low moan seeped out of him.

Vanitas’ hand on him was electric, sparking the internal flames. Roxas gave himself over to his lover. He let Vanitas’ tongue do whatever it wished in his mouth. Vanitas’ free hand gripped his wrist tightly, but Roxas didn’t protest. He just stroked Vanitas’ flank with his other hand and gave himself over to the building tension in his core and shaft.

The tempo grew faster, Vanitas’ thrusts shallower. Roxas focused all his attention onto his penis, pushing up into Vanitas’ hand, trying to increase the friction before his boyfriend came and brought the night to a close.

Roxas wanted to come. He was desperate to come with Vanitas, but he could feel himself missing that extra bit of stimulation. His mind shamefully turned to red and green. To long fingers wrapped around him, and the pants and moans of, “Babe, fuck, baby,” being delivered in a far sultrier tone.

That, coupled with the suddenly tightening grip on his shaft as Vanitas came, did the trick. Roxas’ erection pulsated, and the building pressure was released with a groaning sigh. Roxas wrapped both arms around Vanitas’ damp back and held him close as they breathed harshly against one another.

It was some of the best sex Roxas had experienced in a long time. He only felt a little bit guilty for having let his mind wander elsewhere.

“And you said you were too tired,” came the exhausted chuckle as Vanitas rolled off.

They looked at each other with soft smiles. Chests rose and fell sharply.

“Nothing quite like sex to wake you up.”

Vanitas hummed and licked his lips. “I’m ready for sleep now, though.”

Roxas yawned, “Yeah, me too.”

Condoms were carefully discarded, and the bed was returned to. Vanitas had his back to Roxas and patted his side. Roxas scooched in against his boyfriend and wrapped arms and legs around, nuzzling into dark hair.

“Love you, Rox.”

“Love you too, Van,” he murmured against skin and left a small kiss. At that moment, he was content. At that moment, things felt like they had so long ago. Roxas savored it before the light of day stripped the warm afterglow of sex away.

Chapter Text

The next morning wasn’t so bad. Sex and sleep had improved Roxas’ mood considerably, and almost erased the crushing disappointment from having been forced to miss out on the night before. In fact, in the light of a new day, Roxas was actually grateful that Vanitas had come home early. It had more than likely saved him from doing something really dumb. Because it would have happened. It always seemed to happen. He knew he must be hurting Axel terribly – a thought which caused a sting behind his eyes – but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from going out and meeting with the other man when the opportunity presented itself.

It always amazed him how easily he got sucked into Axel’s vortex of niceness. That’s what he called it in his head. The man was a black hole, a siren song, a delicious red velvet cake, in desperate need to be eaten. As he lay in bed, Roxas felt the warm pleasantness of those thoughts flutter around in his body. A stirring next to him – a warm hand on his stomach – forced the door to slam shut in Roxas’ head. He rolled over and wrapped arms and legs around Vanitas, who yawned.

“Morning.” Vanitas’ voice scratched with sleep.

“Morning,” Roxas greeted and pressed a kiss to Vanitas’ collarbone.

What followed was their usual weekend routine; a predictable pattern of events. Weekends meant sleep-ins, and leisurely sit-down breakfasts by their kitchen bar counter. After which, it was time to do the commencing week’s grocery shopping. Even the way they shopped was very set in stone. Vanitas pushed the cart while Roxas went through aisle by aisle, collecting the ingredients Vanitas had listed.

By now, they were familiar enough with the supermarket that Vanitas was able to write all ingredients down in order of the aisle arrangements, which cut out pointless time spent meandering and backtracking.

Another very distinct thing was the contents of their shopping cart. They ate very healthily. Vanitas detested junk food, fast food, and sickly-sweet treats. His family’s fridge had been filled with nothing but highly processed foodstuffs when he was younger, and take-out had been an almost nightly occurrence. Roxas understood why his boyfriend was scarred for life. He also understood why Vanitas had tried to stay over at Roxas’ place for dinner as much as possible during their younger years; Roxas’ parents had always made home-cooked meals. Even now, he still remembered Vanitas’ shocked face on discovering that chicken came in other forms than just fried and that potatoes had actual shapes besides crinkle-cut and shoestring. So, they always ate and shopped for whole foods. It was fine, but Roxas always wistfully looked down the junk food and frozen dessert aisles as he passed them by.

Other than shopping, they did other thrilling things like tidy up their apartment. Vanitas was a bit of a neat freak. His parents had drilled it into him to always be tidy, so his neuroses didn’t allow them to go a weekend without dusting the top of the refrigerator, washing all the linen, descaling the kettle, and scrubbing the bathtub – even if it hadn’t been used.

Those were all chores that needed to be accomplished before the fun began. Weekend fun usually revolved around chilling out. They would talk about what had been happening at work for Vanitas, play some games with Cheshire, veg out on their sofa to watch stuff, and generally, the weekend just disappeared before Roxas was even fully aware of it, and that was all fine.

But this weekend was different. The days after he had spent any amount of time with Axel always felt different. The blissful life he had with Vanitas didn’t feel as rosy after he had been caught up in Axel’s orbit. Roxas hated himself for it. Hated that he couldn’t spend time with Axel and then just be at home afterward – happy.

The contented life he had seemed to unravel. Vanitas’ normally perfectly acceptable actions were tainted by ugly words not of Roxas’ own making. He had heard it all before, and not just from Axel. But it had never made any serious sense until Axel had come into his life, and until these specific bruises on his body, which were beginning to lighten around the edges.

This hadn’t been the first time that Vanitas had hurt him. This, in fact, was a pretty tame thing to have happen, but Roxas felt like this incident was the first where maybe, just maybe, it had been intentional. He kept telling himself that it was a once off. An accident. It would never happen again. Roxas tried to tell himself he wouldn’t let it happen again. That he would leave. He needed some standards after all. But a voice whispered to him, ‘Where would you go? What would you do?’

A bubbling disquiet made his stomach churn at those thoughts and he ignored them. Everything was fine. He would never have to leave. They would work things out eventually. Roxas just needed to try harder.

But the voice also whispered, ‘How much harder can you try?’ How responsible could Roxas really be for all that had happened in the past? It… wasn’t his fault. Those words said in that voice – so distinctly Axel’s – were like a salve, administered to his raw wounds. No one had ever said that to him before, because no one knew what had been happening in Roxas’ life, though given the feedback he had gotten from the times he did speak to family and friends, he figured they must all suspect.

That kind of thinking was just the tip of the iceberg. He was bothered by many other disquieting thoughts as well that weekend. By Sunday evening, he still had things floating around his head whilst he was snuggled up with Vanitas on their sofa. He wasn’t paying attention to what was happening on the television – not that it mattered because they were watching a movie he had no interest in. It only served to heighten all the unpleasant thoughts he had been having the last few days.

Roxas liked action-adventure movies. He liked dumb, mindless blockbusters with loud explosions - not these think-piece dramas Vanitas was into. And whilst on the subject, Roxas also liked sweets, and hated being unreasonably tidy. He enjoyed long baths, reading books, dancing the night away, and not caring what people thought of him. Though he did care about what Vanitas thought of him. He cared about what he thought of himself, and maybe even a little about what Axel thought of him. But only a little.

He pawed at Vanitas’ stomach until Vanitas took notice and placed his hand on Roxas’ own. Roxas laced their fingers together and stared at their hands. He loved holding hands. Vanitas wasn’t too crash-hot on public displays of affection unless they were out partying - which was rare these last few years. When Roxas looked at their hands, all his mind wanted to do was replay quiet nights on a not-too-distant rooftop. A brush of fingertips, magnetically drawn to each other, and linking slender digits with his own.

His heart beat faster thinking back on the seductive tranquility that numbed his conscience every time he was alone with Axel. Roxas tried to tell himself time and time again that this attraction was only temporary. That he felt drawn to gorgeous eyes, sexy body, and ridiculously stunning hair because he was new, shiny, and not tainted with years of familiarity.

Logically, Roxas knew that to be the truth. But his heart did not want to listen on bad days, and sadly more commonly now, even on the good days. And that’s why he needed to change something. But it was difficult when his heart wasn’t in it.

He cuddled into the body next to himself. It all felt so different from how it had once been. The man he knew and loved had changed. Somewhere along the years, their interests and priorities seemed to have diverged. Vanitas had become far more preoccupied with status and outwardly appearances, which was something Roxas needed to conform with.

The current goth clubbing attire was a phase. Before that, they had gone out dressed like hipsters, buns and fake glasses included. Then before that had been a preppy look. Polos and sandals. Vanitas’ tastes seemed to change from season to season.

At first, it had been fun. They had always pretended to be other people, acting out roles, to see what would fit best. But somewhere along the way, Roxas had decided he had enough of pretending and just wanted to explore his own style. It had coincided with him finally really finding a passion for the business he had been shoehorned into pursuing.

That thought brought Axel to mind again, and his line of questioning on the roof. It had hit way too close to home. But he didn’t want to admit it to other people when he already had a hard enough time admitting it to himself.

As the movie ended and Vanitas began getting all handsy, Roxas wondered, not for the first or the last time, where it had all gone wrong for them. Was it that they didn’t communicate enough? Roxas didn’t think so. He had on many occasions told Vanitas what he wanted or how he liked things, particularly in the bedroom. But Saturday’s late-night sex session aside, Vanitas always did his own thing. He would no doubt be doing his own thing again tonight, leaving Roxas completely dissatisfied and needing a shower the next morning with his mind completely filled with green and red.

Roxas looked forward to Vanitas going back to work tomorrow.


 

The work week returned and with it, the opportunity for Roxas to get back to his hobby. Or just as soon as he completed any outstanding household chores. Despite all the cleaning that happened over the weekend there was still stuff to accomplish each day during the week, or Vanitas would be most unhappy when he got home.

He made the bed, aired out the rooms, swept, and did any prep work that was needed for the nightly dinner. When he was done he bummed around on Vanitas’ laptop, which they shared. There was always something fun, insightful, or inspiring to watch on streaming services. Roxas had taught himself everything he needed to know regarding sewing by watching videos online. He was rather proud of being able to pick things up relatively quickly, even if he sucked at mastering things.

Time escaped him when he watched videos. But eventually, he grew tired of it so went onto the social media account they both shared, to see what his friends and family had been getting up to back home.

As Roxas flicked through his cousin Sora’s birthday party photos, he tried to tell himself that living like this was normal. Sharing one account between two people was normal. They had agreed early on in their relationship to never be apart again and to give their all to each other. There had been times when Roxas had complained and even gotten fired up about wanting his own things, particularly when they were free to sign up to. But it had never ended up working in Roxas’ favor. Vanitas had always gotten upset – always lain on the guilt-trip, always shut Roxas out with nowhere to go. So, he had always chosen to let things be as they were, saving both of them a headache and heartache.

Roxas sent his cousin a joint birthday greeting from himself and Vanitas, logged off and went to sit at his sewing desk, staring blankly into space. He wasn’t feeling it today. No amount of looking through his scrapbook helped. His mind kept on wanting to wander to his heart’s addiction. He cast a glance down to his two-year-old phone laying before him. The afternoon was wearing on, so he wanted to be able to see his phone the instance it came alive with a call or message from Vanitas – he was very bored.

Some days he’d receive a text message asking to come meet Vanitas at work, so they could go home together, or sometimes go out for a work dinner, or just a meal for the two of them. Roxas was hoping for something like that to happen now. He liked the work dinners and meetings since he could be amongst other people. He never had anything to say to them, mind you, because he wasn’t terribly interesting, nor did he have any idea about all the work-related conversations that went on. But he enjoyed the atmosphere nonetheless.

And some of Vanitas’ work colleagues were quite nice too. Kadaj Voligny, for instance – he always talked to Roxas – when he wasn’t speaking with Vanitas about stuff that sounded important. There was also Penny Holm, who had the best laugh Roxas thought he had ever heard – aside from Axel’s, of course.

Roxas sighed and missed Axel’s presence. His phone was silent for the time being, so Roxas picked through the pile of fabrics on his sewing desk. Inspiration was still not striking. Lack of motivation and boredom were getting to a point of such discomfort that he was considering calling his mother. He did that sometimes when things got extremely quiet.

She had gone into early retirement, since she had been able to afford it, and was now living the easy life. She would always fill up the time beautifully with mindless chatter about what luncheons she had been hosting, telling stories about the latest scandals and rumors that were circulating about their extended family members, and finding ten different ways of trying to rope Roxas into coming over for a visit. She was doing it less these days, but it was still something he supposed he should do. He hadn’t seen his parents or extended family… or friends really, in about five years now. Vanitas’ affairs seemed to take precedence over a lot of the yearly events Roxas was invited to.

He heard it then – Axel’s voice, telling him things he didn’t want to hear because it was all bullshit lies on good days, and painful truths on bad days. Vanitas was… loving, devoted, caring, hurt, deserving better, driven to things because Roxas wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t manipulative, he wasn’t forcing his will on Roxas. Roxas just agreed with and saw the sense in Vanitas’ words most of the time. And besides, sometimes things didn’t look that great on the outside, but on the inside, everything was fine. Vanitas had often told him to not listen to other people. That they knew the truth of how they felt about one another.

He let those thoughts slide. He needed to stop procrastinating and get on with it. He turned and rolled away to his bigger desk space by the wall behind him, where he had the ability to spread out and properly plan his fabrics. But his phone buzzed and Roxas instantly whirled back.

Roxas

Today16:24 Vanitas
Come meet me at work. We’re going for an after-work coffee.

Roxas rejoiced as the tension in his body eased with the knowledge that the boredom would be alleviated.

Roxas

Today16:24 Vanitas
Come meet me at work. We’re going for an after-work coffee.

16:24 I’ll be there!

It wouldn’t take an hour to get there, but Roxas appreciated the leeway. He marched to the bedroom and got changed into acceptable attire – beige tailored jacket, plain white t-shirt underneath, and matching beige trousers. It was by far the most boring outfit Roxas possessed but it allowed him to blend into the wallpaper. He then ran into the bathroom to slick his hair back to look respectable. Roxas didn’t care for it. He liked his hair au naturel, with just a spritz of hairspray to keep its shape. But Roxas didn’t want to start a war. And besides, Vanitas had a point about leaving one’s personality at the door when one went to work-related things.

He checked himself in the full-length mirror by the entryway, gave Cheshire a head rub, grabbed his keys, and headed out.

On days he was running late because he had been in the middle of making something, he caught the bus. But usually he was on time, so he could afford to take a leisurely stroll down the boulevard and be there within half an hour.

It wasn’t just the fresh air Roxas liked. If he detoured ever so slightly down a side street to the next main road and crossed to the other sidewalk he would eventually walk straight past Organization 13. The first time he had been here it had looked so posh and intimidating, with its heavy doors and pristine veneer, that he had almost not gone in, having felt severely underdressed. But he had approached, lured by the music of the band he had been dying to see for several years, and had ventured inside.

It had been life-changing for him. Really. Or at the very least, it gave him a taste of something that could be life changing if he ever decided to take the chance.

Roxas continued down the boulevard. His feet were steadily heading down the road, towards the city’s business and culture center, whilst his heart was tugging at him to go down the side street, which was soon coming up.

Roxas would have to make a decision. Some days he went that way but chose to walk past the outside with a longing look and an up-tempo beat to his pulse. He was trying to be faithful to Vanitas, but he wondered if he was doing enough. He couldn’t shut his heart up, but at least he was trying not to give in to its every whim. Because if he had done that, he would have let himself be held forever in those long arms.

Roxas had hoped that not seeing Axel for a while would have made the burning desire simmer down somewhat. When Vanitas had joined him in Pensacola, Roxas had kept his distance from Axel. Physically and mentally. There had been many reasons for this. One was that Vanitas monopolized Roxas’ time with sight-seeing in a new city. The other had been that Roxas had wanted to try and be the best he could be for Vanitas. But he had felt too awful about breaking his promise of going to the amusement park with Axel, that he had gone in to see the man, which hadn’t ended too well.

That reaction from Axel had hurt and had made him really think about what he was doing to a perfectly nice guy. Roxas was forever hurting people and he was getting sick of it. He told himself that he had wanted to accept Axel’s wish for Roxas to not come back to the bar… but then Vanitas had insisted on them going out and no amount of trying to dissuade or distract him had worked. Vanitas had chosen Organization 13 as their destination.

His determination to stay away had withered because of speaking with Axel again at that point in time. Even now, a few months later, Roxas noticed that he was still doing the same thing – staying with Vanitas when his heart was somewhere else. He still hoped that his feelings would die down somehow – but they only kept intensifying every time Roxas visited Axel. Despite the longing in his heart, Roxas found himself still staying with Vanitas because… because – he didn’t want to keep doing whatever he was doing to Axel. As he walked on, he wondered if maybe he should give it one more proper go to forget his affections for the man who wasn’t his boyfriend. Give it one more shot when his conscience was clear of guilt, and when he had nothing left to tie himself to the other man. Because surely, he hadn’t been able to let go because he had felt so dreadful about missing Axel’s birthday celebration. And now Axel was on his mind so much because of the jacket. If he could get it finished – and finished fast – then everything would be well again with Roxas and he could go back to trying to fix things with Vanitas.

Perhaps that would be best for everyone involved. Axel deserved better than Roxas. Vanitas also deserve much better. He would have to let go… eventually. He walked on, past the side street, determined to be as faithful and loyal a boyfriend as possible. For today anyway.


 

Several days passed before Roxas actually made headway on the jacket. He knew why he had been putting it off and finding it such a struggle to get going. It actually mattered to him what Axel would think of it, whereas with paying customers he had never been concerned. He just did his best and if people liked it, all the better. But this article of clothing was important to him.

He had well and truly spent weeks, and even months now mulling the project over in his head. Making imagination into a reality was daunting. Especially since he had nothing but a photograph to go off of. But he bravely pushed through his stage-fright and cut out the various patterns, hoping they would be a good fit. He used his memory of limbs around himself as a guide for how long and wide everything had to be. As he put the individual pieces together he felt more and more anxious. He wanted this to be perfect but given how he had no factual measurements to go by, the chance for error was very high.

Roxas considered calling Axel to get his measurements, and for some friendly, of-no-consequence banter, on the side. At like three in the morning… just to be a prick, and test how grumpy Axel got when woken from sleep, considering how hard it was for him to wake in the mornings. Roxas liked to imagine Axel being super grouchy. Oftentimes, a visual would play in his mind of Axel’s morning hair probably looking like a raging bird’s nest of a mess. He’d probably have trouble prying his eyes open, and Roxas bet Axel drooled in his sleep. The mental image always brought a smile to his face and a burbling laugh out of his chest. Yes, Roxas even thought about calling Axel to accuse him of all these imagined things just to see what the man’s response would be.

The scissors he had been holding clattered onto the desk surface, snapping him out of his fantasy. That seemed to happen quite regularly nowadays. He’d be eating something, watching something, and be reminded of Axel, which sent his head off into space. While very nice, it was also worrying, because Vanitas noticed and had commented on what an airhead Roxas had become of late.

But worst of all were the questions regarding what he was doing in the sewing room at all kinds of hours of the day and night.

“Who’s that jacket for anyway? You haven’t gotten any job requests in a while,” Vanitas had asked yesterday when he had come home to find Roxas staring at the blank space above his sewing machine, with his sketchbook wide open.

“Oh, hi, Van! Didn’t hear you come in. How was work?” he had tried to deflect casually, whilst closing his book.

“Same old, same old. Who’s the jacket for?”

“Huh? No one. Just practicing some new stitching techniques, and I’m going to use it for trialing some other stuff on it too.” It hadn’t even been a big lie. Half of it was true.

Vanitas had left it alone since then, but he still looked at him with grave suspicion when Roxas’ faraway stare came to life.

He just needed to remember to not space out in Vanitas’ company. But while it was just him and Cheshire, Roxas didn’t see the harm in letting his mind wander. It particularly liked to wander during the early afternoons, thinking about when Axel would be waking up and whether Roxas should call him. The urge was significantly strong. He wished Axel hadn’t given him such a tempting gold nugget.

He rolled his chair over to his sewing desk and pulled out his keepsake box. He kept the paper with the phone number there, with all the other precious things in his life. He found the number and looked at it. He wasn’t going to memorize it. Doing so was to admit that there might be a need for it one day. There would never be a need. Axel had been silly and paranoid. It was really sweet. Roxas really appreciated the care and concern Axel showed towards him, but it was still completely unnecessary.

The paper was placed back in the box and Roxas surveyed his treasures. He fondled Lucifer’s collar, really missing all the trouble and strife he got Roxas into, due to being recklessly fierce, and constantly looking for prey in dangerous places. Eyes trailed and landed on the long white scar running down his forearm. The years had faded it right out, but Roxas could still see it. It had hurt like hell at the time but was now a fond memory etched onto his body. It hadn’t been the smartest idea to go crawling after Lucifer through hedgerows and down burrows, but boy, had it been fun.

Roxas went to close the box, but as he looked at the penguin and its egg he had to stop to pick it up. Axel had bought him this. Axel had let him choose something. Axel hadn’t thought it dumb. Was it wrong for Roxas to think that he would have loved to see Axel follow through on the ‘something stupid’ he said he might do if he didn’t walk away when he had? Yeah. It was probably very wrong. But Roxas couldn’t stop wishing for it.

His head went back to that time at the zoo. He had said really regrettable things. Regrettable because he shouldn’t have been feeling the way he did about Axel. Regrettable because he didn’t follow through on his feelings. But maybe the biggest regret of that day had been the conversation with Kairi at the education center.

“Hey, Kairi!”

“Hey, Roxas, haven’t seen you in a while. Been having fun?”

“Yeah. I was with Dee and Flik until I got distracted by the snow leopards and the cheetahs and then Axel found me and – well, we had a lot of fun on the way down here,” he had smiled.

But Kairi had looked concerned with knit brows and pursed lips. She hadn’t said anything but Roxas could have guessed what she had been thinking. So, he had naturally avoided the subject by distracting the both of them with an animal trivia game at one of the interactive stations.

With their combined knowledge they had been able to ace it, which had put Roxas in a good enough mood to ask what, in hindsight, he probably should never have asked. But he had wanted to indulge his fantasy.

“What was it like dating Axel?”

“He told you about that?”

“Yeah.”

“Uh, well, we were young and inexperienced. We, for the most part, hung out every day. It wasn’t up until a year of doing that, that one of my girlfriends asked me if we had done anything. Never really occurred to me that that’s what was supposed to be going on,” she had shrugged, while they had wandered around to some other areas in the center. “And Axel never pushed us being close. So, when I tried – you know, kissing and some heavy petting – it didn’t go far. I caught onto Axel’s sexual preference eventually and told him to stop using me to hide behind. So, I don’t really feel like I can give you an answer as to what it’s like dating him.”

“Oh. But he’s nice, right? You’ve seen him with other guys?”

“He hasn’t had too many boyfriends. He seemed to get on all right with the ones who stick around for a while, I guess.”

That had been a great point of interest to Roxas. “Why’d his relationships end?”

Kairi had given him a funny look and reluctantly spoke, “His go-to line is that he gets bored. I always assumed it meant the sex got stale, or he had his eye on someone else he wanted to have sex with.”

Roxas still got an uncomfortable feeling in his gut remembering that response. “Oh,” is all he had said.

Kairi had rounded on him, after that, and had spoken with gentleness but also a very distinct firmness, “Why’re you asking me these things? You shouldn’t be – I know it’s not really my place – I don’t know you that well, but… I do know Axel – if you’re happy and in a stable relationship then you shouldn’t be thinking about him. I love him, but I wouldn’t trade in any current relationship to be with him. He’s selfish and unreliable and does whatever feels good at the time.”

“I wasn’t going to—” he had said.

“C’mon, Roxas. It’s obvious as day that you guys like each other. I don’t know what’s going on in your life but don’t lead him on, and don’t destroy your current relationship to be with him. It won’t be worth it.” The pointed stare she had given him had decimated his good mood and shattered his insides. He had been forced into complete silence.

“Oh God, don’t tell him I said that. He’ll be so mad,” she had begged several moments later, looking genuinely concerned.

His brain had restarted at that remark. “What happens when he gets mad?”

“He yells and has a fit and you won’t hear the end of it for a whole month. He’s got a bit of a short fuse.”

And Roxas could now attest to that short fuse after the treatment he had received at the bar after having missed Axel’s birthday. So, he was way more inclined to believe all the other things Kairi had said about Axel too. She was a close personal friend, after all. So surely, if anyone knew Axel well, it would be her.

Roxas wanted to discount Kairi’s words so badly though – the ones that said Axel was only doing things for his own gratification and the hint that he would leave Roxas as soon as he got bored. He felt torn between what he had seen for himself and what he had heard of Axel. In the end, it seemed to always come back to the fact that he just couldn’t throw away what he had with Vanitas.

Roxas just didn’t know what to do.

The more he replayed it in his head, the more he thought that maybe it hadn’t been such a regrettable conversation. After all, it had made him think twice sometimes and played in his head the most when he was feeling excessively enamored with Axel. Not that it actually seemed to matter. He had still gone ahead and given the man the silly penguin. He had still kissed Axel, still yearned to see him, still spent a lot of energy and time thinking about him even now.

He had done all these things because for some reason he had decided he wanted to leave the door open. He wanted to believe that Axel wouldn’t discard him like a used tissue if they somehow ever ended up being together.

Therein lay the whole problem. Roxas was letting Axel have an in with him when he knew he should have the door bolted shut. It was too cruel on the both of them. Roxas would never leave Vanitas. Yes, they had their ups and downs, but he was pretty sure every relationship was like that.

He told himself that the fantasy of being with Axel was so much better than the reality would ever be. It would go the same way all relationships went. He could admit that his own relationship had gotten very stale. Seven years did that quite easily. It would just be the same with Axel. In fact, the staleness would hit even sooner because Axel dreamed big and was interesting and fun and outgoing, and Roxas was none of those things. Their sparkling romance would end all too soon and Roxas would be alone, and financially worse off. At least Vanitas loved to keep Roxas close and take care of his needs. He couldn’t expect that of Axel. He didn’t want that of Axel.

But if he could… well. The dream was too nice to throw away. The wish too precious and beautiful to never entertain again. Roxas didn’t want to go back to his mundane reality. He wanted to feel wanted and desired by someone as exciting as Axel.

Roxas sighed and dropped the penguin back into the box, shutting and packing it away. Living this dual existence – this dual love – didn’t seem to be working out for anyone involved. He was neglecting Vanitas, he was putting undue strain on Axel, and Roxas was just hurting all three of them simultaneously.

The dream would end… eventually. By force or by choice. Roxas opted to let fate decide instead of having the onus be on himself, so he rolled his chair back over to his larger workspace and got on with the jacket assembly.


 

Putting the jacket together took far longer than expected. Roxas was met with several website requests in quick succession, so those were his priority. Getting more money would be good. It meant he could afford to go shopping for more materials. He wanted a larger choice of studs and chains, and to see what patches were available.

He got the smaller accessory jobs out of the way first before tackling the more elaborate vest and trousers. With the items shipped and the money transferred to Vanitas, who then took it out and handed the cash to Roxas, he was able to go on a shopping spree of sorts.

Vanitas couldn’t give him a valid excuse not to go out shopping, so Roxas reveled in spending a whole guilt-free day going to arts and crafts stores. So, with more materials in stock Roxas worked on Axel’s jacket in his available spare time, of which there still wasn’t much.

Vanitas would come into his room, despite the door being shut and the earbuds in and ask, “Why’re you still working on that? Come watch the news with me. I haven’t seen you all day.”

Roxas couldn’t refuse.

The longer it took to complete the jacket, the more Roxas yearned to take a right down that side-alley every time Vanitas told him to come to his work.

And some days Roxas actually did. But he told himself it was all right because those were always the days Axel didn’t work.

Sometimes, he’d stand wistfully on the other side of the road for a few moments and look up to the rooftop, spying the water tower peeking over the wall. He’d think of the box hiding a scratchy fleece blanket, which in turn unleashed a torrent of memories and feelings for him. As much as Roxas wanted to, he never set foot in the place. Not that it mattered much. Without Axel, the bar was a hollow shell anyway.

Roxas really needed to finish the jacket. It was a constant reminder. He couldn’t work on it for more than five minutes before his mind wandered to its intended recipient. That was detrimental to the whole, ‘you have a boyfriend and shouldn’t be thinking of anyone else,’ thing.

He tried to tell himself that it had been long enough now that Axel shouldn’t care about him anymore. That the man’s fleeting affections had run its course. But it did nothing to quell his own thoughts and desires. In fact, it just made him feel lonelier.

So Roxas was determined to get the jacket done ASAP, so he could truly try to move on. But it was proving tough because more work came in and Vanitas demanded more of Roxas’ attention. They went out to multiple work functions a week, and when they stayed home Vanitas wanted a lot of quality time, making Roxas’ rectum quite sore.

Vanitas was getting testy, asking, “Finished the jacket?” every couple of days. Roxas ignored him whenever possible. It turned into a more pointed question one weekday when Vanitas said, “Why’re you working so hard on this ugly old thing?” He picked at the sleeves, while Roxas was busy sewing patches on and adding other small embellishments.

“I told you, it’s for practice. Just a pet project to keep my skills sharp while I wait for more work to come through,” had been his annoyed response.

Vanitas gave him such a deeply uncomfortable, critical look, forcing Roxas to abandon his work and go after Vanitas as he quietly stormed out.

If Roxas was paranoid – which he wasn’t – he would have thought Vanitas was doing this stuff on purpose, because he might suspect who the jacket was for, and absolutely hate it. So Roxas absolutely needed this to be done as soon as he could.

When Roxas did get some quiet time – and could shut his mind up – he was blissfully consumed in the creative process. Eventually, he got all 138 studs of varying sizes and shapes in over several weeks, hooked chains up, and lastly, embroidered Axel’s initials and attached some choice patches, one of which was a little penguin he had found.

The thing felt quite weighty by the end of it, which worried Roxas. He kept examining, and re-examining it, adding things, taking things off, and generally just fiddling with it until his brain would scream at him that it was perfect and that he should stop. And maybe a small part of himself didn’t want this to ever be finished because it would mean that he should really try and put an end to his affections.

Sadly, the month apart hadn’t moved him closer to that end goal of having his feelings diminish. So maybe he had to give up on fate choosing for him. Maybe he had to make a deliberate choice. But there was no rush. There would be plenty of time to decide after he had given the jacket to Axel. Maybe not working on something that constantly reminded him of Axel would help clear his head of the man. Was he kidding himself? Probably.

He took a long, hard look at himself and with a decision made, he managed to get some sleep at night.


 

About a week later, Roxas got a message saying to meet Vanitas at work. It was a Wednesday, Axel wouldn’t be working, which meant it was the perfect opportunity to go hand over the jacket. Roxas was sure he could leave it with one of the other staff members and that they would get it to Axel. Roxas couldn’t do it himself. He didn’t want to see Axel’s face if he hated the gift. He couldn’t see Axel’s face if he absolutely loved it either. No matter what, it would break his heart.

So, he packed up and wrapped the jacket in ornate tissue paper. He looked at the package for a few moments. He couldn’t take it back. He couldn’t undo it. Taking a deep breath, he popped it in a bag and headed out.

As he walked down the sidewalk, his legs felt heavy and his heart thumped nervously in his chest. It would be all right, he wouldn’t be seeing Axel. Yet his resolve kept wavering, even though he had no choice now. He couldn’t meet with Vanitas holding the bag. He couldn’t go back to dump it at home. There was no time, even if he caught a cab. He had also put in too much effort to leave it somewhere. No, he bit the bullet and turned down the side street, picking up his pace. He wanted it over and done with and to put an end to his anxieties.

He was at Organization  no time at all. Walking through the entryway had always filled him with joy, even when he had come with Vanitas. Yes, there had been terror, but also excited joy. But today he had nothing but a lump in his throat and a sting behind his eyes.

The place was less busy than he had seen it at night, but there was still a sizeable amount of people around, hanging by several of the bar tables strewn about, while others grazed around the bar, like a watering hole in a vast desert. He couldn’t see anyone behind the bar on the side facing him. He walked towards it, so he could make his way around the other side. But as he drew closer the sight of red hair – rounding the corner – brought him to a standstill and punched him in the chest. Roxas wanted to run away and hide. But he was in the middle of the room and the exit was too far away now. Plus, he was just stuck in the spot – staring.

Axel was a complete knockout in his work uniform. Axel was ridiculously sexy in his punk clothes as well, and Roxas didn’t even want to get started thinking about how positively hot he was in his more casual wear. There was nothing Axel didn’t look good in, Roxas was sure of it. So, by that logic, Axel had to be ludicrously attractive even in the nude. Roxas groaned internally at that thought. And then everything just stopped as green eyes caught sight of him and went wide.

Open-mouthed smile, too beautiful to look away from, greeted Roxas. Axel advanced and leaned over the bar, eagerly awaiting Roxas’ legs to carry him over. Despite himself, Roxas was already smiling. His chest swelled with such desire and his legs brought him to a standstill before the handsome vision. Why did it feel to Roxas like he had come home?

“Roxas,” Axel breathed.

A shiver ran up his spine. Axel always said his name with such fondness. It often jolted his heart alive. “Hey,” he forced out, past smiling lips. It didn’t feel like his throat wanted to work right now. The lump was still sitting there.

“What can I get you?” Axel leaned in closer, and his hand crept across the surface of the bar towards Roxas.

The warm, spicy scent that was purely Axel, hit Roxas’ nose, making him lean forward a little. He wanted to be the recipient of the comfort and reassurance that Axel’s slender fingers always provided. He longed for the feeling of the overly familiar and loving hand in his hair. He shook his head. “Nothing. I can’t stay long. I just stopped by to give you something.”

Eyebrows raised, “Oh? Is that what the bag’s for?”

Roxas hummed in the affirmative while he sucked on his lips and hoisted the bag onto the bar top. He couldn’t take it back. That’s why he had done it like this – so he couldn’t take it back – couldn’t change his mind. He was committed, and it was killing him. “I wasn’t expecting to see you today. I was going to leave it with someone to give to you.” His heart was going to fail if it didn’t stop racing so hard.

“Drew and Nancy both called in sick today, so I had to come to the rescue. Good thing too. If I had missed you I would have been so annoyed.” Axel pulled the bag closer to himself and peeked inside. “So, what is it?” He reached in and picked up the wrapped gift. “Heavy.”

Oh God, Roxas knew it. He should have taken off a quarter of the ornate crap he had attached. Axel would hate it. Completely hate it. But instead, he said, “Just something I thought you might like. You don’t have to open—”

The sound of paper ripping could be heard over the soft background music and clinking of glasses.

“Whoops. Guess I might as well keep going,” Axel gave a cheeky smile.

Roxas’ insides knotted with adoration for the other man and he laughed a little from nervousness. “Guess so.” His heart was in his throat. He watched Axel continue to rip into it like a like a child opening gifts on Christmas morning.

Once a sizeable hole had been created, exposing the center, Axel pulled the fabric out, which unfolded and hung loosely as he did so. Axel looked at it, maneuvering it until he found the top and held it aloft by both shoulder straps. The jacket obscured Axel’s face. Roxas couldn’t take it. The reaction was going to kill him, no matter what it would be. He looked at the bar top, intensively studying the grain of the wood. In his periphery, he caught sight of Axel turning the jacket over, front to back and back to front, several times.

There was complete silence from Axel. Roxas swallowed the nauseous lump of anxiety. He jumped a little. Jacket and Axel’s hands slapped down on the bar’s hard surface. The shock of the action made Roxas breathe again and he looked up. But then his breath got stuck in his chest once more. He had never seen Axel look like that before. Mouth hung open, eyes excessively wide and shimmering. Something between shock and awful disgust.

“Oh no. You hate it. I’m so sorry.” Roxas squeezed his eyes shut and went to pull the offending article of clothing off the bar top. The jacket didn’t budge though. Peeking, Roxas saw Axel holding on tight to it.

“Are you shitting me?” Axel said softly, his voice catching in an unusually high pitch.

Roxas’ eyes were drawn up again. “I’m so—”

Words were swallowed up by Axel’s lips on Roxas’ own. A hand cupped Roxas’ cheek, pulling them closer together over the divide of the bar.

Roxas became completely lost in Axel’s touch. Lips pressed, Axel’s tongue brushed, and Roxas opened up, tilting his head back so Axel could take him as far as he wanted and needed. Everything about the way Axel kissed him was divine – their tongues rubbing together – the gentle sucking – the warm caress of his cheek. Their fleeting entanglements had always been this way. Axel had always been what Roxas had wanted, right down to the gorgeous hair. But this time it somehow felt softer, more affectionate, and completely tender.

Roxas reached his hand out for Axel, catching and resting in the crook of the other man’s elbow. Slender fingers continued to brush at Roxas’ cheek but stopped as one of the tears Roxas couldn’t hold at bay anymore, came in contact with Axel’s touch. His tongue and heat left Roxas’ body, though fingers resumed their soothing stroking motion.

“What’s wrong?” Green eyes darted a little, looking Roxas over.

Why was Axel so caring? So receptive? It made his chest hurt. “You like it?” he sniffled and wiped tears from his eyes, trying to smile up at the man he adored too much.

“I—” Axel’s mouth fell open again. He let go of Roxas and picked up the garment.

Roxas watched with trepidation as Axel slid it on. The whole movement seemed to be in slow-motion to Roxas. One arm went through a sleeve. The hand slowly wormed its way through the semi-stiff material, to finally emerge out the other side. The sleeve wasn’t sitting too high or too low. The other arm went through the other side. Chains jingled lightly, fabric rustled. His arm was through, fingers fumbled with the zip, and pulled the fastener up. It was snug, hugging Axel’s waist and torso.

Somehow Axel’s smile got bigger. He spun around once on heels, slamming hands down on the bar top to stop himself. “I fucking love it, Roxas. I—” Hands ran over the breast panels which had most of the studs embedded. He thumbed over his initials, trailed his fingers down arms looking at each patch, particularly the penguin one, causing eyes to squint with how big his smile had gotten. When he was done he looked back at Roxas, brow wrinkled, and lips sealed tight.

Roxas clenched his jaw with nervous anticipation.

Axel’s Adam’s apple bobbed, and he blinked rapidly. He took a deep breath and reached for Roxas’ hand with both of his. Roxas let him and felt the warm touch which melted his soul. The next words out of Axel’s mouth made Roxas’ insides seize up. He choked on his own spit, coughing a little. Hands squeezed his own with affectionate concern.

It had been said so quietly, he wasn’t sure if he had been dreaming. “You… love me?”

“I love you,” Axel reiterated, with more strength behind it this time.

Roxas took a deep inhale but it did nothing to stop his head from spinning. The pit of his stomach had lead in it. The sting behind his eyes grew stronger and stronger. He wanted to say something, but words failed him.

One hand let go and swept bangs out of Roxas’ face, before knuckles slid down his cheekbone and came to rest under Roxas’ chin, pushing his face up a little. “Everything all right?” Axel said with the softest smile on his face.

Roxas couldn’t say it. He couldn’t say it back. He felt it, with every fiber of his body, but to say it would break him. He nodded, “Yeah. I’m happy you like your jacket.”

Axel’s smile fell a little and concern danced on his face. Thumb stroked and traced Roxas’ jawline, and intense, smoldering eyes peered into Roxas’ soul, “I love it.”

Roxas bit his lip. The words were unmistakably directed at himself. He couldn’t say it. “I’ve got to go, Axel.” His voice was hoarse and rasped with held back emotion.

Axel’s face softened as he smiled. Green eyes sparkled with moisture. “All right. Thank you so much for this,” he rumbled low in his throat, one hand vaguely touching the lapel, and the back of his other hand rubbed against Roxas’ cheek.

Roxas grasped the hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a kiss to knuckles and breathed into it for a few seconds before letting go of Axel. “Bye,” he said, his voice once more hitching.

“Bye,” Axel repeated after him, holding his hand like Roxas had left a physical gift there.

As he turned away, the sob worked free and he shook with the force of it. Roxas rushed for the door, telling himself this was the last time. He hoped he could get his tears under control before he reached Vanitas.


 

A loud clearing of a throat to his left caused Axel to startle out of the cloud he was engulfed in. He finished staring in the direction Roxas left in and returned to the world of the bar and his job.

It didn’t matter that Roxas hadn’t said it back. Axel was clad in Roxas’ love letter to him. Because that’s what this had been; a declaration of love, a testament to deep feelings, a reaffirmation of a promise that one day things would be as they should be between the two of them.

He reluctantly shrugged out of the garment and lovingly bundled the jacket back up, placing it in the paper bag it had arrived in. He stowed it with great care in a nook under the bar, where it could stay safe and dry through the course of Axel’s shift.

He was on a deeply satisfying high. All annoyance over having been called in to work, forgotten. This was the best day of his life, so far, and nothing would rob him of it. Not the grumpy faces of some of the patrons, or even the thought of being complained about to Marluxia.

The consequences didn’t matter now, because kissing Roxas had ultimately been so worth it. Axel loved Roxas. He was well and truly, utterly, deeply in love. And he had to share that with the man because he would have burst had he had to hold that in for even one more day. So what if some patrons had been weirded out by it?

Axel carried on tending the bar on both sides with renewed vigor until he was finally relieved of duty.

He grabbed his prized possession and headed to the lockers, so he could get changed and go home. Uniform was discarded, casual attire slipped on, and as Axel looked at his old leather jacket, he smiled. It would always be special to him, but it was time to stop holding on to the past and embrace the shiny and super cool future.

He pulled the jacket out of the bag. Axel gave it another, now-more-detailed looking over. There were so many small details to observe that he felt he could spend all day looking and still be left amazed at a newly discovered nuance somewhere later on down the track. From the shimmering satin red and green thread used to embroider his initials, the placement and pattern of the studs, and the interconnectedness of chains, to the meticulously arranged patches. Axel loved everything about it. It would have taken such a long time to make, and Roxas had done it all for him.

Axel hugged the jacket in Roxas’ absence. He pleasantly discovered that under the nice smell of new leather there was also the delicious scent of Roxas clinging to it. Axel buried his nose in it, taking a deep whiff. Man, he missed Roxas so much.

He slipped the jacket on. It was snug and weighty. Axel closed his eyes as he zipped himself up, imagining he was receiving a glorious hug from Roxas. He had it so bad for the other man and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Eyes opened again, and he looked at himself in the mirror, glued to the inside of his locker’s door.

Damn, he looked fine. He kissed his fingers and pressed them to the photo of Roxas kissing him, which he had printed out and stuck inside the locker. He ignored the way longing knotted his insides and gave himself another hug, smiling from ear to ear.

Axel then pulled out his old jacket and proceeded to transfer everything from the old into the new. Roxas had made sure that there were plenty of pockets for Axel to store his crap. Keys, mints, tissues, wallet, phone, earbuds, comb, pens, chapstick, eyeliner, scrap bits of paper, and several loyalty cards were all transferred over. There seemed to be a spot for everything, from a hoop with an elastic attachment for his keys, to little elastic loops for his pens.

He couldn’t stop smiling. One day he’d make it up to Roxas and show him his deep appreciation. Axel slammed his locker shut and gave himself a pat down, making sure he had everything. In the process of doing so, he came in contact with something lumpy on his side. On closer inspection, he found another pocket. He pulled the velcro fastener apart and stuck his fingers into the slit. Tips touched something cold and hard. He pulled it out and examined it.

His smile broadened at the sight of the small object as he turned it around between his fingers. But then a sharp sense of familiarity cut him through to the bone. All warmth and light left his soul and deep darkness engulfed him. His mouth went dry and throat scratched.

“No.” Legs shook. He sunk to the ground, his back sliding against the locker.

“No.” Fingers and toes turned cold. Limbs stiffened, and everything began to hurt deep inside.

No’, he mouthed, voice lost, swallowed by the tears that ran and blurred the terrifying vision of the little bowing penguin. His chest quaked with shattering upset and hurt.

He had gotten it all wrong. The jacket had been a final farewell, a breaking of a promise, a full stop where their song should have continued to play.

The penguin clattered to the ground as trembling fingers could no longer hold on. He slid fingers into his hair, holding his head. It wasn’t the best day after all. It had turned into a nightmare. Somewhere in the heartache, something broke. He had been so stupid holding on to a faint hope for months on end. Roxas wasn’t going to come around. Roxas was never going to put him first. Roxas wasn’t worth his time.

He gave a big sniffle and stripped the jacket off like it was electrified. It was still an amazing gift, but Axel couldn’t – and refused to wear it. He took everything back out, put on his old trusty jacket, picked the penguin off the floor, ripped the photo from his locker, and shoved the memories of Roxas deep into the dark depths of the void before him, where he wouldn’t be able to see them.

Axel was done waiting and caring. He was going to get laid tonight.

Chapter Text

Roxas was completely empty. Joy, hope, fun, energy – all were gone. It evaporated into thin air as he moved further away from Axel. His heart was heavy, and he didn’t hear much of what went on outside of his own head. Axel’s voice reverberated around and around. “I love you.” Roxas nearly choked on his sobs.

He made some sort of an excuse about why his eyes were red when he met up with Vanitas. He didn’t even care enough to check if it had been believable. He didn’t register what sort of a disappointed put-down Vanitas had in store for him. He just followed his keeper to wherever it was they were off to that evening.

When bedtime finally came, Roxas embraced the emptiness of sleep, hoping for a clean, fresh start in the morning. He had, after all, said goodbye to Axel, so things should be improving. But he wasn’t granted a reprieve. The warmth of daylight couldn’t touch the ice in his chest, nor warm his limbs. He felt like he was riding a wave of sadness; precariously sat atop a flimsy life raft, forever in danger of falling in at any moment and having the emotions completely swallow him up.

He stayed in bed long after the morning faded, trying to hide in sleep. Cheshire’s purring on top of him went some way to soothing the burn of feeling completely alone in the world. He did get up at some point – zombie legs carrying him around the apartment – lifeless limbs moving to some vague recollection of familiar motions. A shower, some toast in his mouth, which he couldn’t swallow down so it went into the trash.

Roxas sat in his workspace – cat in his lap – as he stared out the window with a, thankfully, blank mind. There wasn’t much to see out the window besides the buildings across the road and glimpses of the sky. The only way Roxas noticed the passage of time was by the shift in the quality of light.

The familiar tone of his phone brought him back to his surroundings. The text to come meet Vanitas served as a true awakening. This was what he had chosen. Mistake or not, this had been his decision. A surge of irritation – directed at himself – roused him and chased away the melancholia. He needed to make the most of it. He needed to fix things between himself and Vanitas. Truly fix things, without the distraction of another flame in his life.

Today was going to be the start of their new, improved relationship.


 

Roxas greeted Vanitas with as much warmth as he could muster. He made an effort to be interested in what Vanitas had to say and convinced him to stay out for dinner, in an attempt to save himself, since Roxas hadn’t made any moves to prepare their evening meal earlier that day.

They went to a nice restaurant with five-course meals as the very basic starting menu. Meals were ordered, food consumed. Roxas tried his hardest to pay attention to Vanitas talking about department mergers and whatever else he oversaw. Roxas zoned out at times but forced himself to refocus whenever he caught himself drifting. It’s not like he was thinking about… well, him. Roxas’ mind was just numb and divided.

“-sary,” Vanitas’ voice intruded.

“Huh?” Roxas looked up from his fruit salad dessert.

A soft huff left Vanitas’ amused looking face. “I said I’m surprised you wanted to stay out tonight. We usually don’t do anything besides a nice dinner at home for our anniversary.”

That word pulled Roxas’ wavering attention into full focus. Sudden panic turned his insides to stone. Was it really their anniversary? Was there anything fancy he had been supposed to make for dinner? He didn’t remember it being anything special. He searched his mind for today’s date. He couldn’t recall. He didn’t even know what month it was. He tried to quell the dread as he spoke, “Well, eight years is a long time. I didn’t want to wait for the ten to do something a little bit special.” He forced a smile onto his face.

“How sweet of you. Was that why you were so out of it yesterday? Thinking of something to do?”

Roxas nodded, scrambling to think how he could dig himself out of the hole he was spectacularly getting himself into. At the very least, Roxas had been lucky that he had convinced Vanitas to stay out today, of all days.

Vanitas pushed his hardly-touched frozen yogurt aside and leaned across the table a little. “So, what have you got planned for us?” Amusement lit his face.

“You have to wait and see.” Roxas tried to get out with some allure but his voice felt heavy and constrained, and his palms began sweating. He hoped he could buy himself some time to come up with something.

They walked home, on Roxas’ insistence. He remembered having walked down some seemingly nice paths when Axel had invited him out for sight-seeing with his friends. Roxas tried not to think about any details of that time, bar where they had gone; a nice canal with trees at either side of the banks. It was even nicer at night, with the street lamps reflecting off the mildly rippling water, and fairy lights strung up through the trees giving a romantic feel to the area.

Hand-in-hand, they strolled, the cooler air going some way in drying Roxas’ panic sweat.

“You remember that laneway through the uni’s courtyard?” Vanitas asked.

“Yeah.” Roxas smiled with the fond memory being stirred up. “It was always so pretty with the lights. The stalls during spring festival were great too.”

“They were. The live music was awesome too. So many talented musicians.”

“You remember Tony and his trombone?” Roxas started giggling.

Vanitas laughed. “Yeah. I wonder if he ever lived that down.”

“Probably not.” They walked on in silence for a bit. Roxas thought back on the two years of his university life, studying, changing what he was studying, and then dropping out. Before he dropped out they had a lot of fun. “I miss it, you know.”

“What?”

“Uni. I wish I had finished something. We could have spent more time together too.”

“Do you regret your decision?” Vanitas gave him the most fleeting of glances and squeezed their hands a little.

The niceness of memory lane turned a little darker for Roxas. “You wanted me to quit.”

“You made a choice about it. I just thought you were getting bored and were suited to other ways of learning.”

Roxas’ mind sang out, ‘Bullshit.’ The sliver of cheer he was starting to feel snuffed out, but he tried to keep his sunken mood in check. Today was not the day to start a fight. “Yeah, you’ve always looked out for me.” Roxas pulled up a smile from somewhere.

“I have. Remember how I got you all those contacts so you could start making things for people?”

Roxas remembered being thrown in the deep end and having to make a bunch of things for Vanitas’ friends and being so busy that he couldn’t see his architecture classmates anymore, who he had hung out with quite a lot, even after changing courses. “It was a really valuable learning experience,” he said with a lot of spin.

Vanitas hummed pleasantly and wrapped his arm around Roxas’ shoulders, continuing their walk. That much physical contact was unheard of for just walking in public. Roxas couldn’t help but stare at the hand on him as Vanitas started listing all the ‘good’ things he had done for Roxas. Roxas agreed with everything as his mind wavered in and out of focus. He got stuck on the bad points to all of the perceived positives that Vanitas brought up. Roxas chalked it up to him just being upset about Axel, so he tried not to read too much into it. There was nothing wrong with their relationship.

They made it back to their apartment building eventually and nervous agitation built up in Roxas once more. Had the walk been enough? Surely Vanitas wouldn’t accept that. He received the confirmation when Vanitas leaned into him as he opened their front door. Hot breath brushed against his ear, “Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for me, babe.”

All pleasantness slipped away. ‘Think, Roxas. Think!’ he urged himself. He had nothing to give Vanitas. All his attention had been on making the jacket. Maybe that was the reason he had forgotten their anniversary. And if that was the case, then all the greater the shame Roxas should be feeling.

All he could do was try to make the evening as romantic as possible. He pushed Vanitas against the now-closed front door and pressed kisses to his neck. Hands worked under clothing and undid buttons. “I thought we could enjoy each other. A nice long bath and then, whatever else you want.” Roxas tried to say it as seductively as possible and rubbed himself against Vanitas, nuzzling his cheek.

They kissed, pressing pecks to each other’s lips and Vanitas hooked fingers into Roxas’ waistband. “Whatever I want?” his voice scratched with the low rumbling tone.

Roxas hummed against tingling kisses behind his ear.

“Let’s forget the bath then. I want you right now.” Teeth pulled on his earlobe.

Roxas felt his body stir and he kneaded Vanitas’ waist, after having flung the undone shirt flaps aside. “You want me to get changed into anything special? Want me to do anything special for you? We’ve got toys we haven’t used in a while.” Roxas couldn’t quite recall the last time they had acted on any kinks. He couldn’t think too hard about that either though because Vanitas began nipping around the underside of his chin.

“Nah, no time. Just gonna fuck you.” Vanitas pushed off the door and pressed Roxas into the wall adjacent to them.

Red and green flashed blazed through Roxas’ mind as the sensation of being pinned reminded him of fun times in the past. Roxas pushed the thought out. “Right here?”

“Here is where you get naked. We’re not doing it with Cheshire rubbing herself all over us.”

Roxas looked down at where their cat was pressing herself against their legs. He chuckled. “Yeah, okay. But tell me if you want me to do anything special for you since it’s our anniversary and stuff.”

Vanitas’ well-trimmed eyebrow cocked and then lips were connected again. Vanitas kissed Roxas with great force, almost biting Roxas’ lip. He peeled away at clothes and slid out of his own. He then lifted Roxas up around his waist. Roxas flung his arms around Vanitas’ shoulders and wrapped his legs around Vanitas’ hips to support himself as he was carried to their bedroom. He licked and nipped at sensitive skin around Vanitas’ neck and rocked his hips to put pressure on their penises. Vanitas gave a low chuckle and Roxas hummed. Maybe tonight wouldn’t be like every other night.

The door was shut and Roxas was dumped on the bed. He looked up at Vanitas, who was surveying him. Roxas spread his legs and arched his back a little, hoping it would look sexy, and not ridiculous.

Vanitas licked his lips. “You know what, babe, there is something I want to do with you.”

“Yeah?”

Vanitas hummed. He leaned down, pressing his hands into the mattress at either side of Roxas’ splayed legs. “Let’s roleplay,” he said, voice husky.

A strong pulse ran through Roxas’ shaft and a tingle buzzed around his stomach. They hadn’t done that in years. It was definitely exciting. He licked his lips and rubbed them together as he eyed his boyfriend. “Okay. What have you got in mind?”

Vanitas leaned in closer, scraping his teeth across Roxas’ chest and carefully pulling on a nipple. A pleasant groan was elicited from Roxas. If things were going to go this way Roxas was definitely going to have a good night tonight. That was, until Vanitas said, “You’re going to call me Axel.” He smirked, dangerously.

The wind was knocked from Roxas and he felt himself go rigid. “What?” he croaked.

The smirk didn’t leave Vanitas’ lips. “Axel.” He gave a sharp quirk of eyebrows. “And I’m going to call you Vanitas.”

Roxas’ mouth just hung open. Arousal pulsed in his chest but was also mingling – and getting replaced – with shock. He slouched forward. “What? Why?”

“You said anything I want. And I want this. The guy’s hot. I can see why you cheated on me with him.”

Those words struck him in the chest. “It wasn’t – no, forget it.” Roxas shut his mouth. He didn’t want to fight.

“You’re still denying it?” Vanitas was dangerously close to Roxas’ face. His eyes peered straight into Roxas’ soul with mischief, but also an undercurrent of anger.

“Nothing happened.” Roxas forced himself to not shy away from that stare, holding his ground.

“I know you like him.”

“I used to like him. I only love you though.”

Vanitas’ eyes wavered a second and he seemed to take a moment to digest that. But eyes locked onto Roxas again a moment later. “So you’re telling me you never made out with the guy? Not even once?”

Roxas pursed his lips. “I—we—you made out with loads of guys too!” It was such a lame diversion, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit to his mistakes.

“Because you started it. Now called me Axel.”

“Van, this isn’t funny,” he scowled.

Vanitas’ face drew in and a grave expression settled. “I know it’s not. I’m being dead serious. Axel is going to fuck Vanitas, as recompense for messing with his boyfriend.”

Roxas didn’t know what he was feeling. This was so wrong and deeply uncomfortable on so many levels. He scooched back a little, getting out from directly underneath Vanitas. “No.”

“Why not? Because you feel guilty?” Vanitas closed the distance between them again, his hands on the mattress at either side of Roxas’ hips. “You should. This will be a good punishment for you.”

Roxas drew his lips into a thin line. “I’m already beating myself up enough about it as is. You don’t have to do this.”

“I want this. You had your fun with him, so now let me have mine.”

“I didn’t—”

“Stop lying to me,” Vanitas snapped.

“I’m not lying. Please, Van. Please believe me. I didn’t – nothing happened between me and—” Roxas couldn’t say Axel’s name. It made him feel sick. He leaned back a fraction, needing more space. The room was getting stuffy. “Nothing ever happened,” Roxas tried again, keeping his voice even and low. “So please… I don’t want to do this. We can do whatever else, but not this, please. It’s our anniversary. We should both have a good time. I’ll get us some toys. I’ll dress up for you. C’mon, let’s do something else.” He reached out to touch Vanitas’ forearm tentatively and his fingertips ran down the bare flesh.

Vanitas glared at Roxas for endless moments. Roxas could see the clenching of his jaw and felt the muscle in Vanitas’ arm flex a little. Something was broiling, and it made Roxas’ heart race with fear.

“No. You refusing to roleplay just says to me that there’s something to protect between you two – that it’s still going on.” Vanitas’ voice dropped as he said, with the frown on his brow deepening, “Is it?”

“No. You’re all I want,” Roxas moused, feeling amazingly pathetic.

“Then prove it. Call me Axel.”

Roxas frowned at Vanitas. The sour expression wasn’t leaving him. He felt confused by the request, but also grateful that Vanitas was giving him an out – a way to prove himself. He had to oblige. He had to play along. If he didn’t, things would get worse. But it didn’t make Roxas feel any better. It was so fucking bizarre. But he had to play along. He didn’t want Vanitas to think that anything was going on. Because it wasn’t. He had broken his own heart – had rid himself of all thoughts and temptations – to make sure it wasn’t. But now Vanitas was asking him to play right into his own deep, locked-away desires? Roxas swallowed the viscous saliva gathering in his mouth. It was all so messed up.

“Axel,” he muttered, with his gaze cast aside. The name felt heavy on his tongue and burned in his soul.

“All right. Let’s play,” Vanitas said with a devilish, satisfied smile on his lips. He pushed off the mattress and gathered lubricant and condoms.

All the while Roxas sat, watching, his heart racing, and a great sense of unease tightening his chest. He didn’t want to think of Axel. He didn’t want to say his name. His desires were supposed to stay a secret. His desires were supposed to have been extinguished.

Vanitas returned, pushing Roxas flat against the bed with his outstretched hand, whilst he straddled his sides. Items were dropped beside Roxas.

“You know, I’m sorry I fucked your boyfriend,” Vanitas began, pulling at himself to get his arousal back.

Roxas’ insides tensed as he stared up at yellow-hazel eyes that didn’t even look back at him. He didn’t want to pretend to be Vanitas. He didn’t want to play this game. Thighs around him squeezed and Vanitas gave him a pointed look when Roxas remained silent. Roxas decided he didn’t want Vanitas’ eyes on him if they were going to do this. He flung his gaze to the right, staring at their pillows. “Apology accepted,” he muttered unenthusiastically.

“What happened to you? Half an hour ago you were yelling at me, demanding I make it up to you by fucking you like I fucked Roxas, and now I’m already forgiven without even needing to work for it?” Vanitas cocked an eyebrow.

Roxas sighed. He didn’t know how he’d ever get hard like this. It was painfully uncomfortable. “I’m just…” Roxas tried to put himself into Vanitas’ shoes for a moment, as revolting as that was in this circumstance, “nervous. I’ve never had a man take me before.” It was a valid excuse. Maybe he could get out of this terrible roleplay by pretending to be Vanitas really well.

“Oh? Is that so? Roxas never wanted to stick it in ya?” Vanitas pushed a rough hand into Roxas’ hair, brushing bangs from his eyes, while his other hand was still tugging at himself.

Roxas felt personally attacked. They had talked about this years ago. “I just like what I like. Roxas is fine with me taking him. He – loves it,” Roxas tacked on whilst his stomach knotted.

“Yeah, I know how much he loves cock. He couldn’t stop screaming how much he loved mine. You’ll get first-hand experience of that shortly.” Vanitas undid his condom wrapper and worked on putting it on himself.

Roxas swore his non-existent erection was wilting even further. He had never had sex with Axel, something he bitterly regretted. The fact that Vanitas thought otherwise – the fact that he didn’t believe Roxas, truly hurt.

“What’s he been saying about me?” Vanitas asked while coating himself in a generous helping of lubricant and totally not caring that Roxas was so not into what they were doing.

“Nothing. He keeps insisting that you two never had sex.”

“What a little liar. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll show you what we’ve been up to.” Vanitas slipped between Roxas’ legs, spreading him open and pushing a slippery finger against the tight ring of muscle, entering Roxas. “What’s it feel like to have my finger inside of you?”

“Uncomfortable,” Roxas said, truthfully, and ignored the leer he was getting from Vanitas.

“It’ll feel nice in a bit.” Vanitas pushed another finger inside and stretched Roxas gently. At least Vanitas was taking some care with Roxas. He could appreciate that, and it even took some of the discomfort away.

“What’s the matter, Vanitas? This not turning you on?” Vanitas rolled Roxas’ soft penis in the cradle of his free thumb and index finger while he worked a third finger into Roxas’ rectum.

“This is very weird for me,” he said quietly.

“It’s okay. Just roll over so I can look at your gorgeous ass.” Vanitas shifted a bit so Roxas could get his leg around him.

Roxas happily obliged that request, relieved to not have to look at his boyfriend. Fingers re-entered his backside and worked on massaging his bundle of nerves, which surprised Roxas. Usually, Vanitas didn’t put so much effort into making it feel good for him. A soft moan escaped his throat and he pushed against Vanitas’ fingers a little.

“That’s the way. Let me hear you say my name,” was breathed into the back of Roxas’ head.

Roxas rocked back against the pleasant friction with more purpose and let his eyes fall closed for a bit. “Mmm, Van.”

“Don’t say your own name,” rumbled the voice behind Roxas.

It woke him out of the beginnings of a heady pleasantness. “Axel,” he said stiffly.

“That’s me. Let me make it up to you. All the hurt your supposed boyfriend put you through – let me make all of that go away. I’ll make you wish you had cheated on him with me, instead.”

Roxas’ lips curled up with disgusted irritation. At least he didn’t have to hide it anymore. Not even the firm rubbing which sent tingles through his body made him feel better. The sensation only lasted a little while longer. Vanitas pulled his fingers out of him and then his erection butted up against Roxas. There came some playful drags of Vanitas’ head up and down Roxas’ backside before Vanitas pushed in a little bit and teased, rocking in and out of Roxas a little more with each push.

Roxas was not okay with this. He wasn’t okay with pretending he was with Axel. He wanted to be with him in person. He wanted to feel what it would be like to be cared for and wanted, instead of punished for something he never did. Roxas wished he had slept with Axel, so he could compare, and know with certainty that Axel was better and rub it in Vanitas’ stupid face. But despite the building anger inside, Roxas’ body still responded. The sensation of being stretched and filled felt nice, after all. He moaned as Vanitas’ base finally pushed against his cheeks.

“You like this, Van? You like me being the first guy in you?”

“Yeah,” Roxas panted as Vanitas rocked into him at a steady pace, with his hands clutching Roxas’ hips for guidance. Roxas wanted Axel. He was beginning to feel pissed off that this was happening to him. Why should he let Vanitas win? If this was going to happen, he decided he might as well enjoy himself… and maybe give Vanitas back some shit too. That thought elicited a response from Roxas. “Axel,” he moaned quietly, hating himself for it but wishing it were true all the same.

Vanitas picked up his pace. “Tell me how good it feels.”

Roxas begrudgingly opened his imagination up to the things he had been trying to suppress. “Mmm, your cock. So – big. No wonder Roxas came to you.” He felt the pause in the thrusting. It made him smirk into the mattress.

Hands roamed over his back. Kisses were deposited. Roxas imagined Axel’s soft, caring hands on him, gently rubbing and fondling. He remembered the last kiss they shared, the first kiss, and all the nice things in between. He tilted his head to the side and as far up as he could. “Kiss me, Axel. Roxas says you’re an amazing kisser.” It was the one bit of truth he could admit to.

Lips pressed hard against his own. Vanitas’ tongue pushed in roughly, and Roxas sucked on him with heat and passion, using his memory as a guide to enhance the subpar kiss he was receiving right now.

Vanitas’ mouth drew off, a string of saliva still connecting them. “Axel,” Roxas reached after Vanitas. “Let me fuck myself on your cock. I need to slam myself on you.”

Vanitas’ eyes darkened, his jaw clenched. It was satisfying for Roxas to see the annoyance that flickered across his face.

Vanitas pulled out. “Anything for you, Vanitas. Your ass is so much hotter than Roxas’. I want my cock completely swallowed up by you.”

Roxas climbed on top of Vanitas as he rolled off. He pushed their erections together and rocked his hips to help him get a little bit harder. He trailed fingers idly over Vanitas’ body, wishing it were Axel’s he was touching. “Hey Axel, before I bury you in me… did Roxas ever tell you how much I love head? Because he told me how much you love sucking guys off. So how ‘bout it? We sound like a match made in heaven.” Roxas waggled his eyebrows at Vanitas and mentally apologized to Axel for making such assumptions about him. He scooched onto Vanitas’ chest and pushed his erection towards his boyfriend’s mouth.

Vanitas did not look amused. He moved his head to the side before Roxas’ slit came in contact with his lips. “Sorry babe, I got ulcers. Kissing you’s fine, but no dick in my mouth until I’m all healed up,” came the lame excuse.

Roxas resigned himself to that answer with an annoyed, “Fine.” He slid his backside down and pushed his mouth to Vanitas’. They kissed greedily, tongues wrestling. Roxas definitely felt more turned on now. Having some power over Vanitas, even in this limited sense, was exciting.

He tweaked at a rosy nipple before running his hand down to Vanitas’ erection, which he angled towards his anus. As he pulled away from Vanitas’ mouth he pushed onto the waiting erection, sighing. Roxas wondered what Axel would feel like, as he rocked himself on the firm flesh.

Eyes opened as he felt something cool tap against his forearm. Vanitas was holding out a condom to him.

Roxas rejected it. “It’s all right. You won’t make me come like this.”

Eyes narrowed. “How do you know?”

Roxas needed to have his penis touched to come, that’s why it was always such a chore with Vanitas. He sadly didn’t know if Vanitas liked anal, so he just went with what he knew. “There’s a reason I only give and don’t receive. As long as you don’t touch me you’ll stay clean. Hasn’t Roxas told you anything about the guy he loves?”

“He never mentioned anything about love.” There was a wary heaviness in Vanitas’ voice.

The words cut Roxas, and a wave of sadness washed over him. He had loved Vanitas… still loved Vanitas, he corrected himself. What they were doing right now seemed counterintuitive to that sentiment, but Roxas had to hold onto the idea that they still loved each other. “He probably just felt too guilty to ever bring me up in conversation,” Roxas uttered quietly.

Eyes shyly looked at each other. At that moment they shared and acknowledged something for a fleeting moment.

Vanitas rocked up into Roxas and dropped the condom. “C’mon, babe. I’m not here for deep and meaningful’s. I wanna make you feel better for having a cunt of a boyfriend.”

Roxas let the guilt drop away. Instead, he rolled his hips and began wondering if Axel would be a clean-freak like Vanitas was. Roxas imagined that he wasn’t. He imagined coming all over Axel, licking it all off, and then having Axel kiss him until they couldn’t breathe anymore. Those thoughts made him moan. He rocked himself harder, angling to get the maximum friction on his prostate. Fuck, that felt good. Axel’s name fell out of Roxas’ throat. He body-rolled to get more thrust as he slammed himself onto Axel’s cock.

Their bed creaked, they breathed heavily, Vanitas with desire, Roxas from exertion and want. Vanitas’ warm hand ran up and down Roxas’ arm, which was firmly planted on the man’s abdomen for anchorage.

The touch made Roxas break out in goosebumps. He imagined long fingers curling around his erection while he stimulated himself like this. Sweat was beginning to gather and roll down his brow. He kept uttering Axel’s name, softly. Pressure began to build in his backside, radiating outward. Pre-come was delightfully oozing and sliding down his shaft, which felt cool against the air and made him tingle as he moved faster and faster.

Heat and pleasure left him. Roxas was pushed and fell to the right, bouncing on the mattress. Vanitas was on top of him moments later, pushing Roxas’ legs to one side and running a hand along his flank.

“Hey, it was just getting good,” Roxas complained.

“Exactly. Can’t let it end just yet. I’m not done compensating you yet.” Vanitas found their tube of lubricant and reapplied some to himself, as well as to Roxas’ insides.

Still laying on his side, Roxas pushed back against the slippery intrusion whilst he fondled his head a little. But Vanitas saw and caught his wrist. He maneuvered their hands to Roxas’ mouth.

“Lick yourself clean.”

Roxas did, sucking on both their fingers and having a flashback of being with Axel at the zoo. He smiled at the memory, and then murmured in delight at being stretched, as Vanitas re-entered him. Roxas shifted his hips until the angle was giving him maximum pleasure.

Tilting his head up, he looked at Vanitas. He greatly regretted that the man didn’t wear a red wig, nor had beautiful green contacts in. But he supposed he had no right to whine since he didn’t possess dark hair or hazel eyes. Roxas didn’t dwell too much on the weirdness of Vanitas wanting to fuck himself. He closed his eyes and buried the side of his head into the mattress, imagining what Axel’s pants and gasps would sound like.

Vanitas, pretending to be Axel, was sighing about how much tighter and better Vanitas’ ass was than Roxas’. Roxas laughed it off internally. He wanted to get back on top. He wanted to feel that insane pleasure in his ass again. So, he reached over himself and pushed at Vanitas’ chest, just as the man was pulling out, which caused him to tumble backward. Roxas lunged after him, holding his body over Vanitas and descending onto the man’s lap.

“Hey, what gives?”

“I’ve decided I like being on top, even when I’m not doing the fucking.”

Vanitas sat up abruptly and slammed his forearm against Roxas’ shoulder, rolling them both over. He pinned Roxas’ hands at either side of his head and pushed his weight down onto Roxas’ hips. But Roxas got his legs around Vanitas sufficiently to roll them over so Roxas was on top once again.

They began wrestling for dominance in earnest. Vanitas was bigger, but Roxas was more flexible, so he managed to get himself out of various holds as their hands grabbed and slipped off one another.

It ended up with them facing each other in the middle of their bed. Roxas was half sitting, half kneeling over Vanitas, who was trying to stay as upright as possible on his own knees. Arms were wrapped around each other for support, and Vanitas moaned his own name into Roxas’ neck while he thrust upwards into Roxas’ ass. Roxas hugged Vanitas’ head, trying to shift his hips just enough to get a brush against his prostate. His penis twitched every time firm heat touched him there.

He moaned and muttered Axel’s name over and over again, half hoping to annoy Vanitas, and half wishing to somehow conjure up the redhead. Roxas continued calling out Axel’s name as Vanitas came with a deep grunt. Vanitas’ grip softened as his body relaxed, so Roxas leaned Vanitas back against the mattress and pushed, rocked, and fucked himself as hard as he could against the wilting erection before it completely disappeared. His penis throbbed, his backside tingled, and a strong pulsating need and urge spread through his whole body, radiating from that central spot.

It was such a good feeling. Roxas wanted it buzzing through his whole body. He threw his head back, eyes shut tight as he imagined Axel under him, in full gorgeous post-orgasm glory, with parted lips, flushed cheeks, and hair a red mess. Roxas had done that to him. He had made him come with his perfectly fine ass and adequate looks. Axel wanted no one but Roxas. He loved Roxas, and Roxas loved him right back.

The tension inside himself clamped up and after a split second snapped, releasing a pulsating wave of pleasure through every part of his body. His penis throbbed and fizzed, his limbs went limp, and he slowly collapsed onto the hot body beneath himself as pleasure rolled through and out of him.

Roxas’ body trembled and shuddered. He pushed his face into the crook of Vanitas’ neck and breathed out heavily. Vanitas’ arms went around his waist, holding him close.

“That was so good, Axel. Fuck, that was so good.” Roxas huffed with delight and a light chuckle.

Vanitas’ fingers dug into Roxas’ skin sharply and pushed Roxas aside. It was followed by a loud and low groan of disgust. “You should have put a fucking condom on. Ugh, it’s fucking everywhere! Yuck! Even on our sheets.” Vanitas looked at his hand in dismay as Roxas’ come slid off. He shook it off frantically but then yelped as some of it splashed his face.

“Whoops.” Roxas chuckled. It was satisfying to see Vanitas completely grossed out. Still feeling amazing and limp, he lifted the heavy weight that was his arm and brought their blanket up to dab at Vanitas’ face.

“Don’t ruin our sheets any more than they’ve already been wrecked.” Vanitas knocked Roxas hand aside easily enough.

“God, Axel. You need to learn to chill out. And I completely forgive you for fucking my Roxas. I can totally see why he let his morals slip,” Roxas drawled, high from sex.

“Game’s over, Roxas,” Vanitas scowled down.

Roxas still wore a dopey grin. He felt so satisfied for once in his life. Knowing it wouldn’t fly, he still offered, “I can lick you clean if you want,” and roused himself sufficiently to go for Vanitas’ hand, so he could start on fingers.

Vanitas gave him a horrified look. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” He went to get up but on seeing come on his abdomen, halted.

Roxas sighed and went for the tissue box, throwing it at Vanitas’ head, who caught it and went to town ripping out the contents and scooping up the pooling mess on his body.

“Not like it’s any different than giving you a blowjob,” Roxas shrugged.

Vanitas threw the soiled tissues down on the bed. “I’m having a shower. Change the sheets and clean yourself up as well.” He strode off, but before he went through the door he had pulled open, said, “And for the record, it’s not even August yet.” He threw a glare back at Roxas and slammed the door shut behind himself.

The pleasant afterglow of sex extinguished in the blink of an eye. Not August? Roxas’ brain snagged on something and remembered that it had just been May. Their anniversary… Roxas was left with a deeply unsettled feeling in his gut and a sick cold clinging to his extremities.

He stirred and made to strip and remake their bed.


 

The day after their weird little sex act, Roxas had trouble looking Vanitas in the eyes. He felt exposed and ashamed. He wished he hadn’t gotten so deeply hooked into his fantasy, especially since it had obviously been a test that Vanitas had set up for him. A trap even, if Roxas was going to be cynical. And he had failed and fallen for it completely.

Worst of all, it was like their little roleplay undid everything that Roxas had been trying to hold together. He felt unhappier with each passing day, despite not much being all that different than before, aside from Axel’s absence in Roxas’ life.

To Roxas, it almost felt like all the crap he had been putting up with had only been bearable because he had Axel to distract himself from it. It wasn’t like things had been rosy before they moved here. In fact, Vanitas and Roxas had moved precisely because things had become so shit between them. There had come a period of well over a year where they had been excessively silent towards each other because Roxas had decided that he would never be right – that he could never please Vanitas – so he had just shut down and accepted the anger being directed at himself. But that had resulted in massive blow-ups. In Roxas being kicked out for several hours, or a whole night, with nowhere to go…. Well, the neighbors had started noticing, and because Roxas had been quite chummy with a few of the people on his floor there had been concerns raised.

The police coming around once had been the final straw which saw Vanitas push for a transfer to another city. They had both believed that the change in scenery might do them both good. It hadn’t been too farfetched of an idea. Things had improved almost as soon as the decision to move had been made. A mutual agreement to no longer yell at each other had been agreed upon. But being nicer had somehow turned into being very passive aggressive on Vanitas’ behalf. Roxas had just withdrawn further into himself.

Perhaps Vanitas had noticed. Perhaps he had felt a little bit bad. Maybe that’s why he had sent Roxas away to Pensacola to get Cheshire settled in and to give them both a break from each other several weeks before they had planned to move. That thought had made Roxas feel warmer towards Vanitas and had made a hope flutter that they could fix things as long as they tried to care for one another.

So, with that reflection, Roxas had renewed his efforts to be there for Vanitas. But then he had met Axel… but Roxas had chosen Vanitas because there was history and memories of good times, and those memories were what Roxas clung on to.

Roxas redoubled his efforts.

Over the next days and weeks, he was the best boyfriend he could be. He did everything Vanitas asked of him, and even the things Vanitas didn’t ask of Roxas but expected of him. He tried to be thoughtful and make Vanitas as comfortable as possible when he came home from work. Yet it seemed that the more Roxas tried to be the best he could be for Vanitas, the more Vanitas turned away from him.

It was just work. Roxas told himself it was just work. Vanitas was getting busier with work. He would cancel their dinner plans and tell Roxas he wouldn’t be home until well past ten o’clock at night, if he would call or message at all. Roxas continued to make dinners and waited for Vanitas to come home. Even when that was at midnight or two in the morning. Roxas decided he would be there, waiting, with a smile. He would prove Vanitas’ assertions that he didn’t love him, wrong. He would push his thoughts of Axel aside and actually managed it all right.

But for whatever reason, Vanitas was not making it easy on Roxas. A disgruntled annoyance and irritation grew with time. Roxas tried not to care, not to show it. He tried to be a good, loyal boyfriend. Even when Vanitas came home smelling of foreign cologne.

There was some reprieve from feeling awful in that weekends were different. Where Vanitas didn’t seem to care about Roxas’ existence during the week, he certainly noticed Roxas on weekends. They went out and did stuff together. Neither of them talked about what was happening, instead focusing on whatever was right in front of them, which were things like art exhibits, festivals, sporting events, trying out various coffee shops, and attending concerts.

Roxas thought it was nice enough to spend all that time together, but it did not erase the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that Vanitas was always out seeing other men… or the same man. Whichever it was it didn’t matter. Roxas supposed this was some sort of revenge for Roxas’ past behavior. Roxas figured it was a fair enough call. He should have tried harder before now. He should have been more caring and made more of an effort back in Forrester. So, he decided to give it some time. If he could prove himself loyal and devoted, then maybe Vanitas would return to him.


 

It had been a month of consistently waiting for Vanitas to come home well past work hours that caused Roxas to have a moment of weakness. He wandered out to Organization 13 one evening. It was a Monday night, which meant only one thing to Roxas. But it was precisely this one thing which also stopped him from setting foot inside the bar.

He stood outside, watching revelers coming and going. He angled himself at the door in such a way that he could only just see one section of the bar, and he craned his head every time the bar doors swung open, hoping to catch a small glimpse of where his biggest regret and uncertainty worked.

He was out there for perhaps half an hour before he spied Axel. His chest swelled, and tears welled in his eyes. It had been a stupid idea, and so he went back home to stream the fifth season of a TV show he was mindlessly binging while he waited for Vanitas to crawl back from whichever hole he was burying himself in each night.

To Roxas’ surprise, Vanitas actually came home earlier that night than had been the norm. He was quite irritable if the door slam was anything to go by.

“Hi, Van! You’re home early. Everything all right? Bad day at work?”

Vanitas glared, pulling off his business jacket and casting it down onto the bench near the front door. “No. I was having a really good day, actually.” Vanitas thumped towards the kitchen and loudly made himself a drink.

Roxas paused his program and sat up, draping himself over the back of the sofa to look towards Vanitas. “So, what’s with the attitude?” he asked.

“What attitude?” Vanitas snapped, looking up from pouring a red liquid into his glass.

Roxas sighed. “Whatever. It’s nice to have you home before midnight for once. Want me to start cooking? It’s gonna be your favorite. Pumpkin soup with freshly made croutons,” he sang with an upbeat lilt.

“You sure it’s nice to have me home?”

Roxas lost his smile. “Yeah, of course! I miss seeing you. I miss having you around.” It was true. Roxas had been feeling rather lonely during the week.

Vanitas scoffed and downed his drink.

“What?”

“Did you go out tonight?”

A lump lodged in Roxas’ throat. He had betrayed Vanitas by going to the bar tonight. Even though he hadn’t done anything, he had still fucked up. How did Vanitas know? Maybe one of Vanitas’ spies saw him there and let Vanitas know? That made Roxas very uncomfortable… and irritated. Roxas had really tried, but Vanitas was the one letting him down. He decided he would be honest about it. “I did go out. I’m lonely, Van. I miss you. It sucks being stuck here five days a week. So why are we doing this?”

Vanitas looked angry over Roxas’ admission, but he also looked a bit perplexed. “Doing what?” he said and took a big gulp of his drink.

Roxas sighed heavily. Having to address this issue was going to cause him a headache, but not dealing with it was giving him an even bigger migraine. It had to be dealt with. Roxas was sick of how things were going so he dug deep for strength and spoke up, “I know you’re seeing someone. You always come home smelling like someone else. And you want me to know, or you’d have washed the stink off you. I haven’t said anything about it, because I thought if I tried to be the best I can be for you, that you’d stop and come back to me. But you haven’t. I don’t think it’s fair that you get upset if I go out one night, especially after you’ve left me alone for like a month. So why are we hurting each other and doing this?”

Vanitas seemed to ponder Roxas’ words for a while. He swirled whatever liquid was left in his glass and set it back down before he said, “By this you mean our relationship?”

Roxas nodded.

“Do you want it to end?”

Roxas looked at his fingers for a while, pretending to search for an answer. The response had formed almost instantaneously in his head, but he figured he should keep up a pretense of this being a harder thing to admit to than it actually was, “I sometimes think it might be for the best. I don’t feel like you like me much,” he looked up tentatively.

Vanitas scowled. “Do you like me?”

Roxas had to genuinely think about that. “Yeah. But not how I used to like you.”

“That’s why I’m seeing other men.”

Of course, he knew, but the admission of guilt still stung. Roxas swallowed. “So, it’s my fault for not loving you enough?”

“Yep.” Vanitas downed the rest of his drink.

That abrupt, nonchalant response really riled Roxas up, and he groaned with frustration. “Then why are we still together?”

“I like having you around.” Vanitas pushed off the counter and started walking towards Roxas.

“You don’t act like it,” Roxas said, sullenness in his voice. He slumped down a little, arms still draped over the back of the sofa, but he was now sitting on his legs instead of kneeling.

“Well, I do.” Vanitas stood before Roxas, looking down at him. “And anyway, if I didn’t where would you go? What would you do? You can’t really support yourself,” he said, hands on hips.

Vanitas’ attitude was pissing Roxas off. He made it sound like Roxas was a charity case instead of being the man he was supposed to love. “Yeah, you made sure of that, didn’t you,” he muttered under his breath.

“Excuse me?” Eyes narrowed, dangerously.

Roxas glared back, mustering his inner strength. “You’ve been controlling all aspects of my life. No wonder I can’t get away from you.”

A dark eyebrow cocked. “So now you want to get away from me? Again, where would you go?”

Roxas broke their eye contact. He had thought of his options over the last month of being more or less all alone. His heart had kept wandering to one source, while his mind had kept him on track with staying loyal to Vanitas.

Vanitas started laughing. “Oh, you think… —You think Axel would take you in like a stray cat?” Vanitas laughed harder. “You think he loves you? Well, think again. I went and saw that slimy son of a bitch—”

“When?” Roxas interrupted with great haste and lifted himself back up on his knees. His stomach flipped with immense discomfort.

“The day after our roleplay. You know what he said?”

Embarrassment nauseated Roxas. “What?” He leaned into the back of the sofa a little more with anticipation.

“That he wants nothing to do with you.” Vanitas smirked in self-satisfaction.

Roxas tensed at those words. He leaned back a little. “No. I don’t believe you.”

Vanitas scoffed and walked away.

“Van?” Roxas followed him with eyes as Vanitas silently walked toward – and disappeared into – their bedroom.

“Don’t walk away from me. You can’t just tell me bullshit and walk away,” Roxas yelled after the man and turned to face their bedroom, sitting back down on the plush furnishing.

Vanitas came back out after a few moments. His smirk had grown bigger. “Bullshit you say? Then what’s this?” He stood before Roxas again, his hand extended.

Roxas reflexively reached out, palm up. Vanitas opened his hand and two small metal objects plopped onto Roxas’ hand. He stared, forgetting how to breathe. His hand felt unbearably heavy. Two little penguins lay there. Roxas’ hand began trembling. He made a fist, trying to stop it from showing, and pulled his hand back to his chest.

“Clearly, those weird penguins mean something to you.”

They meant everything to Roxas. Yes, he had let go of Axel, but he had thought it to have been the kind thing to do. Axel returning them… it felt like an outright rejection of Roxas.

“So, looks like you’re stuck with me. Unless you wanna call your mom.”

Roxas looked to the ground and squeezed his hands tightly together. The penguin’s little beaks dug into his palm. The discomfort caused by them was nothing compared to the way his heart was hurting. He swallowed down his upset and focused on what Vanitas had just said. His mom was an option, though he hated the idea of depending on… well, anyone, ever again. In the past, he had entertained a fanciful thought about maybe making small accessories and selling them at various weekend markets he had visited with Vanitas. All he needed was time to accumulate money, and then he would be able to move out on his own merits.

“What is Axel to you anyway? Give me a straight answer.”

Vanitas’ demand snapped Roxas out of running calculations in his head around how much money he would need. “He’s… was… he’s just a friend.” Roxas couldn’t accept that Axel went from loving him to outright rejecting him.

“Just a friend? Really? A friend you go behind my back with to kiss and fuck?”

Roxas was getting tired of the accusation. He stood up, not liking Vanitas towering over him, and slid the penguins into his trouser pocket. “We never—”

“Where’s that fugly jacket you made, Roxas?”

His heart raced at the mention of the jacket. Why was he bringing it up now? “I threw it out.”

“Bullshit! I asked dear Axel about it.”

“So? What would he know about it?” Roxas tried to brush aside, but he was scared where this would go.

“He said you made it for him. He said he – Threw – It – Out,” Vanitas said slowly, intoning every word, and a snake of a smile crept onto his face.

The words were precisely placed daggers into Roxas’ heart. “He… he threw it—?” Tears were threatening to choke him.

Vanitas huffed out sharply. “Out,” he finished. Hurting Roxas again. “Yeah. Why the fuck did you make him something like that?”

Axel threw out the jacket he made? Roxas had put in so much effort. Axel said he loved it – that he loved him. Axel had really gotten rid of it? Why would he do that? Roxas still loved him. He would always still love him… he just couldn’t physically do it. Every stitch, every patch, every link, every hour spent on it was filled with his love for that man. And Axel… threw it out?

“Roxas,” Vanitas barked.

“Huh?” Startled, he looked up. His vision was darker around the edges than before.

“Did you charge him for it?”

“What?”

“The fucking jacket,” Vanitas said in an extremely derisive tone and stepped towards Roxas.

Why did that matter? “No. Was free,” Roxas mumbled, head still spinning. He took a step back from Vanita and stumbled against the sofa. He moved to the side to get clear of it and Vanitas, who was still approaching.

“You’re making shit for free? For a dick on a stick like that?”

“I… he’s a friend.” Roxas’ mind was chasing the idea of Axel throwing out the jacket. It didn’t make sense. Roxas didn’t want to – couldn’t – accept it.

“I’m your boyfriend. You’ve never made me anything in your fucking life.”

Guilt smacked him. Roxas’ mouth fell open, his breaths came out short and shallow. “You never asked,” he barely got out above a hoarse whisper.

“Did he ask?”

Roxas couldn’t say anything. He knew he was royally fucked. No matter what, Vanitas would lose his shit. He chose what he thought would be the safer of the two options and gave the tiniest of nods.

“You’re a fucking whore! You know that? You think about everyone else but me! Me! The one guy you should be thinking about above everyone else! I’m so sick of your shit, Roxas!” Vanitas roared and cornered Roxas against the wall with his angry approach. “I’m so sick of all your damn lies.”

His heart hammered away with fear and anger. Roxas ground his teeth. He was getting fed up of Vanitas’ shit and this was exactly what had happened the last time. Roxas didn’t even care. “You’re sick? I’ve had it fucking up to here,” hand flew to the top of his head, “with all your presumptuous shit! Even when I tell you the truth you don’t believe me. Everything I ever say to you, you outright deny, or claim it to be a lie. Have you ever trusted me? At all? Ever? I can’t have my own friends because you don’t trust me. I can’t have my own business or choose my own career or do anything without your supervision or consent because you don’t fucking trust me! What did I ever do to deserve any of that?”

“You’ve never proven yourself trustworthy. Not with that dish-soap dispenser of a guy, not with—”

“You’re still on about that? You still can’t let it go? Nothing happened! Nothing!” Roxas yelled, as if that would somehow make Vanitas hear him for once. “All I ever said was that he was nice and then you got all paranoid! You started seeing shit that wasn’t there.”

“You’re still denying that you liked him? Own up to your shit.” Vanitas’ fingers twitched, and his face was going bright red.

“You’re the one who fucking kicked me out! Where else was I supposed to go? So who cares if I liked him or not? I was with you! I’ve only ever been with you, and that’s the bit you can’t get through your fucking arrogant head!”

Vanitas’ jaw jutted. “I want your heart, not just your body. You haven’t given that to me since we first met.”

Guilt, panic, sadness – it all hit Roxas simultaneously and doused his anger. “That’s not true,” he said quietly.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not true. I’ve tried. I’ve tried and tried and tried so fucking hard to give you my heart, but you… you squish it.” Tears started gathering in his eyes. Upset welled. “You say it’s not good enough. You find some tiny flaw. If you had just let me—”

“Let you? Every time I let you do anything you’ve disappointed me. You’re a fucking joke and I don’t know how I ever put up with you. I should have known better. You said you’d fucking stay in touch! That we’d be friends forever! That you’d always have my back! But you didn’t! You left!” Vanitas screamed into Roxas’ face.

Too many things went through Roxas’ head. The truth, the lies – Vanitas was throwing everything at him and twisting – always twisting. He was livid inside. The tears dried up. “I was a kid, Van! You know how sorry I am about that. Stop holding it against me. Your attitude is ruining our relationship,” he screamed right back.

“Your constant lying is what’s ruining our relationship!” Vanitas bellowed.

Roxas gave a guttural, frustrated, loud groan. Here they went again, around and around in circles. “What am I lying about?” he snapped.

“You lie to me all the time about where you’ve been.”

His stomach clenched a little bit. Roxas was guilty of that but… “What makes you so omniscient all of a sudden to make you think you know everything?” He knew that response wasn’t what Vanitas was after but… fuck it. This fight was going to be massive. Even bigger than the one that had caused them to leave Forrester. Roxas wasn’t about to try and reign it in. He had enough.

“I do know everything. I know you’ve been going to that bar when I’m away. I know you go there on the days I ask you to come meet me. You’ve been going against my wishes ever since we moved here.”

“I have been nowhere but here, waiting for you to stop sticking your dick in guys, and come home.”

“So you’ve been good lately, so fucking what? That doesn’t absolve you of all the other times you’ve been doing shit I told you not to do. Like tonight. I came home because you can’t be trusted to stay home like a good boyfriend.”

Was it the spies? Was it something else? Roxas needed to know or he’d be paranoid forever. He pushed, “How do you even fucking know? You’re being delusional.”

Vanitas stared at Roxas for a hard few seconds. “You think I let you move here alone without getting a tracker on you?”

Roxas’ eyes widened. “A—You did what? No—How? No.” Shock and violation – it all felt the same. This was worse than having some people keeping tabs on him.

“Ah, that’s for me to know,” Vanitas teased, looking smug.

Roxas’ mind raced. What could—? There were only two things he ever carried on his person all the time. His keys and… “My phone?”

“Maybe you’re not quite as dumb as a brick,” Vanitas’ eyebrows raised mockingly.

“You were fucking spying on me? What for?” Roxas shoved the palm of his hand against Vanitas’ shoulder, trying to get himself away from the wall.

“To make sure you stayed safe.” A hand clasped Roxas’ wrist and squeezed painfully.

“Like fuck!” Roxas yanked his hand free and pushed past Vanitas, making for the coffee table where he picked up his phone and threw it back at Vanitas’ feet. It smashed to bits against the wood-looking tiled floor. “This is what I think of you keeping me safe!” he screamed. “Why can’t you let the past just die and trust me?”

Vanitas looked down at the smashed phone and then looked back up, almost in disgust. “You’ve never given me a reason to trust you. You tell me shit that’s not true all the fucking time. Or you avoid telling me shit. But you not telling me shit is just as bad as you lying to me. So that’s why I have to monitor you. Because even when you tell me you’re staying home, you fucking don’t!”

He actually felt terrified at that moment. “You’re insane! Psychotic! You’re a complete control freak!” Roxas yelled, retreating a little bit.

“You knew how I was before we got together. You knew how upset I was with you leaving me behind before we fucked.”

Roxas had a very volatile reaction to that. His stomach twisted. Vanitas had been so vulnerable, opening up to Roxas about all the hurt he had experienced, and Roxas had been so terribly moved that he had ended up comforting the other man with his body. What had once been a beautiful memory now turned rancid. “I wish I had never cared about you. I would have saved myself years of misery if I hadn’t been with you,” he spat with hurt, continuing to back away from Vanitas.

“You’re so naive if you think I’m the problem here.”

Roxas laughed dryly. “Wow. You’ll never let things go, huh.”

“You think finding yourself a new guy to fuck is going to fix anything? You think you might be happier with some dick who only, at best, wants to use you?”

“He doesn’t want to use me. He loves me,” Roxas blurted out. He didn’t want to believe Vanitas. He didn’t want to believe the penguins in his trouser pocket. He didn’t want to believe the story of a thrown-out jacket. Axel loved him. He had told him as much.

Vanitas tilted his head and the snide smirk dropped into a deadpanned expression, “You really think anyone could love you?”

Roxas swallowed. “You… do.” But he wasn’t even sure anymore. Everything that had happened lately said otherwise.

Vanitas blinked. “I don’t even know sometimes.”

The confirmation hurt. “Is that why you’re seeing other guys?”

“What’s it even matter to you? You’ve never cared about me.”

It was always this push and pull inside himself. Vanitas’ words made him feel bad, because he still cared. Despite everything he always still cared. “Van, that’s not true,” he said softly.

“It might as well be true. You don’t love me anymore. And the way you screamed his name when you came says it all, really.”

He was still so embarrassed about that night. He looked away, cheeks heating up. “You made me call you that,” he tried to defend himself.

“You could have not played into it. But you loved it, so you didn’t refuse. I know. Every time we had good sex – I know that you were thinking about him; that fucking flagpole of a freak.” Vanitas was once more encroaching on Roxas’ space, forcing Roxas back, around furniture, towards the void between his workroom and the kitchen.

Cheeks continued to heat with embarrassment and humiliation. “No,” he breathed out.

“Liar,” Vanitas barked. “You love him more than me. You’ve given up on me.”

“No,” he said in a firmer tone of voice, meeting glaring eyes. “I’ve been waiting for you every goddamn night. I’m trying to reach out to you to make things better but you… you hate me or something. You don’t want to be with me at all.”

“I can’t be with you when your heart belongs to someone else.”

Roxas wanted to cry with frustration and anger. He couldn’t break through. Everything was his fault and he was so sick of it. But what else could he do? How could he make Vanitas ever believe him? “It wants to belong to you, Van, but you’re not letting me in.”

“Then say it. Tell me you don’t love him.”

Roxas’ heart fluttered, and throat tightened as he thought about denying what was his burning truth. He hesitated only a second before saying, “I don’t love him.”

It was enough of a pause for Vanitas’s nostrils to flare. “Liar,” he shouted, storming towards Roxas.

Roxas stepped back further, his back hitting the wall. Hands splayed out against it. “No.”

Vanitas closed the distance between them and growled. His hand flew to Roxas’ neck, gripping at the chain. “This is why I had a tracker on you. This is why I had to go to that bar to get information on you for myself. You never – tell me – anything!” With that he ripped his hand away, taking Roxas’ chain along with it.

Roxas’ hand flew to his neck. “Ow, what’re you—”

“Finding out the truth for myself. I’m gonna see what’s in your fucking heart.” Vanitas charged towards Roxas’ workspace.

Roxas followed him close behind, trying to pull him away to no avail. “You’re being paranoid for stupid reasons,” he yelled.

Vanitas ignored him, entering Roxas’ room. He beelined for the sewing desk, ripping drawer off its rollers and pulling Roxas’ keepsake box out. Roxas tried to pull Vanitas away again, grabbing ahold of his arm but Vanitas pulled out of his grasp. Roxas tried to snatch his box out of Vanitas’ hands but was pushed, tripping over the drawer, and fell to the floor.

“That’s mine,” he yelled, scrambling back up.

Vanitas opened the box with Roxas’ key and rummaged through the contents. Rabid movements stilled. A small smile played, as he probably saw the photos of the two of them Roxas kept in there. But then he dug deeper. A grunt left his throat. He took out what he had found and thrust it into Roxas’ face. “What’s this, huh? Exp—”

The photo of Roxas and Axel at the café was staring only a few inches away from Roxas’ nose. Cold sweat broke out over Roxas’ body. Vanitas was reading the message on the back.

“Fall in love with—wants you—waits for you. Understands you even in—Fall in love— talks to you after… a fight.” Eyes snapped off the writing on the back. “Is this some kind of a joke?”

Roxas held his hands up with his palms facing outward. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Have you slept with this fuck?”

“No,” Roxas spat. “Stop accusing me of that already. I’ve never slept with him.”

“But you wished you had!” and with that Vanitas tore the photograph in half and into smaller pieces, before throwing them in Roxas’ face.

Roxas actually stopped himself from saying no. “Yeah,” he admitted with an abrupt bark. And it felt good to do so. “So what? Not like I ever acted on it,” he yelled as the torn pieces fluttered to the ground. “Not like I’m a fucking cheating dickhead like you. You’ve actually been sleeping with guys while your heart should belong to me. I’m the one who should be upset!”

“So why aren’t you?”

“I fucking am. I’m furious!”

“No, you’re not. You want us to fall apart. You’re pushing me away, so you can get away guilt free. You’re a scheming toad.”

“Why is everything always my fault?” Roxas screamed in exasperation.

“I’m all you should want,” Vanitas deflected.

Rage boiled and Roxas huffed. “And I’m all you should want, but you’re out sleeping around.”

“At least I’m upfront about it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m the big bad. You’re the damn saint. I don’t get why you even bother with me. Why do you insist on keeping me around?”

Something in Vanitas softened. A gentle, “I told you, I like having you around,” followed.

“So you can abuse me? Is that it? That’s what it feels like to me. So don’t blame me for being drawn to guys who treat me nice.”

A glare sprang back up on Vanitas’ face. “Clearly, he doesn’t know you well enough, or he wouldn’t be doing things that make you want to stick with him.”

Roxas’ mouth hung open. He shook his head. “Wow, just wow. I’m done with this. I don’t have to put up with your shitty mood.” Roxas turned, making for the door.

“Rox, don’t leave it like this. I’m sorry. Yeah, you’re right, I should listen to you— believe you.”

Roxas stopped. His heartstrings pulled at the vulnerability in Vanitas’ voice. He cast a glance over his shoulder and saw the worry on Vanitas’ face. Roxas wanted to walk away, but… he turned around instead. “Thank you.”

Vanitas took a small step towards Roxas. “You promise that there’s nothing going on with you and that homewrecker?”

“His name’s Axel, and there’s nothing going on. I chose you, Van. The last time I saw Axel was to say goodbye to him, because I chose you.”

That seemed to take the remaining steam out of Vanitas. Eyes fell down, almost chastened.

Roxas felt exhausted. He was physically and mentally wrecked.

Vanitas’ attention returned to the box, sitting on Roxas’ desk. He picked up the old photos of them together and smiled. “You kept these.”

“Yeah. You’re important to me.”

“You’ve given him up completely?” Vanitas asked, casting eyes onto Roxas briefly.

That thought still triggered something inside of Roxas, but he said, “Yeah. I’m desperate to try to make it work with you.” He meant it. He really did, though he truly didn’t understand why, considering the yelling match they had just gone through. There was an ember of a hope that maybe this fight was different. Maybe this time they could work through their issues and work on building the trust back up.

Vanitas gave Roxas the smallest smile. He looked frail and tired at that moment. His eyes fell back to the box, fingers rummaged and dug around some more, and then suddenly brows narrowed and a glare formed on Vanitas’ face. “What’s this number doing in here?”

His stomach plummeted. The thought of telling Vanitas the truth – it froze Roxas to his core. “It’s just a number of one of the first places I ate at here,” he tried to pass off as confidently as possible. “You know I like to collect memories.” Technically it wasn’t a lie… he remembered something about chicken wings and falling asleep on Axel.

“Is that all I am to you? A memory?”

“Huh? What, no. Why’re you—”

“What food was it?” Vanitas snapped.

“What?”

The paper with the number was held aloft and waved. “The restaurant you went to. What food was it?”

Roxas’ heart raced. He should have told Vanitas the truth but now… “Mediterranean.” Roxas shrunk back and narrowly avoided getting his keepsake box smashed into his face. It hit the wall instead, breaking apart. Contents spilled everywhere, and photographs fluttered across the room.

“It’s his, isn’t it!” Vanitas shrieked.

“No, I told you it’s a—”

“Stop. Lying!” Vanitas roared. “Nothing you ever say is true. It’s your fuckbuddy’s number. You invited him over, didn’t you? While I’m away, I bet. You two screwed on my bed while I’m gone!”

“Van, you’re being completely mental. You see the phone bills. You know I never call anyone but mom,” he tried to stay calm and reasonable, despite his chest hurting from the way his heart hammered against it.

Vanitas glared, huffing through grit teeth. “Call it!”

“What?”

“Call the damn number!”

Vanitas grabbed Roxas by the arm, nails digging in, causing Roxas to flinch. He was dragged out to the living room, and over to the kitchen counter where their cordless landline sat.

“Dial the number, Roxas!” Vanitas waved the scrap bit of paper in Roxas’ face and then slammed it down on the counter.

“No. I’ve got nothing to hide. You call it. It’s just a restaurant.” Roxas wished he had discussed this scenario with Axel, instead of just agreeing on a dumb codeword.

“You will speak to him.” Still gripping Roxas tightly around the upper arm, Vanitas dialed the number and enabled the loudspeaker function.

Roxas didn’t know where this was heading. He had never seen Vanitas in a state like this before. The man’s face was a deep shade of red and nostrils flared with huffs of rage.

Roxas couldn’t stop his arms from trembling. Vanitas’ nails dug in harder, pulling Roxas closer to him. “Tell him your name. Tell him you love him, and that you want him to come over. And you better make it convincing.”

He was genuinely terrified now. Why did Vanitas want Axel to come over? Roxas couldn’t let anything happen to him.

Dial tone eventually gave way to a, “Hello, how can I help you?”

Axel’s voice would have been music to Roxas’ ears if it didn’t make him want to die with panic at that moment. There was the faint sound of people in the background. Taking a brief look at the time displayed on their microwave, Roxas surmised that Axel was just finishing off his shift and was probably leaving the bar. Roxas felt his pulse in his stomach.

Swallowing down the lump he began, warily, “Hey, it’s Roxas.” God, how he hoped this codeword business was going to work out for him, even if he had shot himself in the foot with the restaurant stuff.

Vanitas squeezed his arm with cruelty.

Roxas barely kept the wince inside. “I, ah, just wanted to…” Roxas closed his eyes and imagined Axel standing before him, looking at him the way he had when he told Roxas that he loved him. A sob was threatening to bubble up, but he held it in, “tell you that I love you.”

“Say his name,” Vanitas growled into Roxas’ ear.

“Axel. I love you with all my heart. I want you to come over, please.” Roxas had failed to hide the tremble in his voice. He wanted to throw up.

There was static on the other end. Roxas still hadn’t dared to open his eyes. He was listening intently for any non-verbal signs from Axel that he understood that, despite this being under duress, Roxas still meant it. Despite Axel having given back the penguins and… thrown out the jacket? He hoped that whatever had happened didn’t diminish the love he had shown to hold for Roxas.

“Ah,” Axel’s voice crackled through the line. He began laughing. “Is that you, Simon? Quit playin’ pranks. We’re an established business, not ya personal comedy club.”

Roxas opened his eyes. Vanitas looked pissed off. He yanked Roxas’ arm in some sort of attempt at communicating goodness knew what. But Roxas knew he needed to keep talking. “No, it’s not Simon. It’s Roxas. Quit playing around, Axel.” He tried to sound as stern as possible, without meaning anything behind it.

“Sorry, buddy, no Axel’s here. We got a Chloe, a Matthew, a Zidane. Oh, Susanna’s fun. If you wanna play games, I’ll get her on and she’ll give you an earful.”

“No, I’m not playing—”

“Then order a pizza or get off the line. We’re a busy establishment here.”

Pizza. Why hadn’t Roxas thought of pizza? He swallowed the knot of dread. “Ah, yeah, sorry. Of course.” Roxas looked at Vanitas to see how much further he insisted Roxas go.

Cold eyes stared, clearly not amused.

“Um, I’d like a garden salad, and a small Hawaiian, with extra pineapple, please.” Roxas ordered what they’d normally get, if for some inexplicable reason they ever got take-out, and hoped that somehow their food would magically appear within half an hour if this went further.

“Sure, a small Hawaiian, with extra pineapple, and garden salad. Will that be all? Any drinks?”

“No, thanks.” It was a really bizarre exchange. They hadn’t talked in over a month, there were penguins in Roxas’ pocket to say Axel was done with him, and now Roxas was ordering a fake pizza. Was it weird that Roxas felt warm affection bubbling up just from hearing Axel talking about pizza?

“That’ll be twenty-one, fifty-nine, to be paid on delivery. Can I get an address?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. Apartment num—”

Vanitas pushed the call decline button. “Enough. Mediterranean? Pizza? You two couldn’t even get your fucking stories straight.” Vanitas gave Roxas a sharp yank on the arm.

“It’s been a while since I ate there. I think I had a Mediterranean pi—”

“Stop playing me for some kind of a moron.”

“I’m not.”

“You make a terrible liar. After all I’ve given you, you treat me like this. I’ve had enough of you, Roxas. You ungrateful, dishonest, adultering cocksucker. Clearly, everything I’ve given you has gone uncherished.” His hand gripped even tighter on Roxas’ arm.

It became unbearable so Roxas yanked free and moved away from Vanitas and his wrath. “You’re overreacting. Let’s just get some sleep and—”

“No. I refuse to sleep in the same bed as you.” Vanitas roared and walked with great speed towards Roxas’ workroom.

Roxas followed. “Just calm down, all right?”

Vanitas stormed to the window, unlocking and pushing it open. He turned back, glared at Roxas, and headed towards Roxas’ sewing desk. “Fuck you! I’m going to teach you a lesson about how not to treat someone you’re in a relationship with.” He leaned down behind the sewing desk, fiddling with something and upon standing again, picked up the sewing machine.

“Van?” His eyes went wide.

“You’re completely ungrateful. If you don’t think you need me then you won’t need this either,” Vanitas spoke with anger as he walked towards the open window. He quickly looked out of it and then hoisted the machine over the sill and let go.

“Are you insane?” Roxas screamed, running towards Vanitas and looking out the window to see the machine hit the concrete pavement below, with a tremendous crashing sound. It smashed into tiny pieces. Some people who had been walking nearby stopped and stared.

“Are you okay?” Roxas yelled down into the street.

“Are you fucking insane? There’s people walking here!” came the shout from the street.

“Sorry!” he yelled back before turning back towards Vanitas in anger. “What’re you thinking! You could have killed someone!”

“Maybe I should,” he deadpanned.

Roxas froze, and the two men stared at each other; Roxas with shock and Vanitas with utmost hate. Vanitas then turned away and walked out of the room. Roxas didn’t follow. He looked towards the window, at the empty space on his desk, at the broken bits of his keepsake box, and its contents scattered around.

A piercing clatter snapped Roxas’ head around. He ran to the doorway. Vanitas was rifling through the kitchen cupboards, and by the looks of things pulling out all of Roxas’ favorite cups and novelty mugs, smashing them on the ground.

Roxas flinched with every smash. “Stop that!” he ordered.

Novelty Tetris mug came flying towards him. Roxas flung himself back into the other room. The loud smash right behind him made Roxas’ ears ring. His heart was in his throat, and his breath ran ragged. He carefully looked back around the doorframe into the open area. He watched Vanitas stalk into their bedroom.

Roxas stayed put. He needed to wait this out and hoped it wouldn’t take too long. As he kept watch, he saw his clothes flying through the open doorway, landing in a pile. The stream of clothes stopped and there was a quiet in the apartment. A second later there came a loud screech and a wail which Roxas recognized and filled him with abject terror.

Vanitas came out of their bedroom holding Cheshire under his arm while he cruelly squeezed and held her paws together so she couldn’t scratch him and she frantically writhed in his grip. Vanitas nodded to the pile of clothes while he struggled to hold the cat. “I want all of these out of my home. I don’t care what you do with them, but if they—Ow! You mangy fucking cunt,” Vanitas snapped at Cheshire who was biting his arm. He gave a squeeze, and she howled and hissed. “If they aren’t gone by tomorrow night I’m burning it all,” he finished and then stomped towards Roxas, his eyes filled with disgust.

Roxas ducked back behind the doorframe, backing away as Vanitas entered. Cheshire was crying and hissing, struggling against Vanitas’ hold. Roxas’ heart raced but he felt paralyzed and powerless from bewilderment to do anything. He watched Vanitas head towards the window. Terror’s icy grip was almost suffocating Roxas. As Vanitas reached the still-open window Roxas watched, as arms, filled with squirming cat, were outstretched. Everything slowed down. Roxas felt his heart painfully race and shake his whole body with horror. He forced his legs into motion, running at Vanitas with a wild roar accompanying his charge, and rammed his shoulder into the man’s side, knocking him off balance and away from the window.

Cheshire screeched, leapt from the loosened grip and bounded away towards the living room. Meanwhile, the two men landed on the floor. Roxas was atop Vanitas, huffing, watching his cat flee. He was pushed to the side and his head smashed into the floor. White noise filled his ears and he saw the ceiling, as well as Vanitas’ rage-filled face coming into view and staring down at him.

Roxas winced in pain as punches fell against his stomach and ribs. He screamed and struggled against Vanitas’ pummeling, managing to free himself by landing a knee in Vanitas’ side, and rolled away. “You’re fucking crazy, Vanitas!” he screamed. “What’s Chesh ever done to you? How dare you touch her! Your beef is with me, not her!” he yelled and thumped the ground with an open palm for emphasis.

Vanitas sat, legs akimbo and clutching his side. “If we didn’t have her I’d never have had to let you come here alone! I could have been with you and that fucking ginger freak would never have been able to get to you, and things would be as they have always been,” he yelled back.

Roxas ground his teeth. “Fuck you! It’s not her fault, it’s not Axel’s fault. Us falling apart was always going to happen, because I’m unhappy, Van. You’ve been paranoid and distrusting of me for our whole relationship. There’s always been a wedge between us, and… the thing you’re so worried about is only happening because you’ve been so worried about it happening.”

Vanitas didn’t say anything. He glared and breathed heavily for a while before he got up.

“Where’re you going?” Roxas asked, following the man with his eyes.

“Out. Clean up the mess you made me make.” Vanitas turned off the lights as he went to the front door, leaving Roxas to sit in the dark.

The sound of the door slamming shut rung in his ears. Roxas lay down, staring up at the ceiling. Street noise and a soft, shifting breeze came in from the window. Roxas put his hands on his chest. His heart was still hammering away. He breathed quietly, but it turned more ragged as the shock and adrenaline vanished from his body leaving him aware of the ache that Vanitas’ rough handling and punches had inflicted on him. The sting behind his eyes grew stronger, and tears finally unleashed as Cheshire came scurrying towards him, burying her head in his armpit. He snuggled his cat, checking to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Roxas would never forgive Vanitas for this terrorizing Cheshire.

He stayed on the floor for a while until the sobs no longer held any meaning to him. He had enough. He didn’t want to be doing this with Vanitas anymore, but he had no way out. His plans of selling small items had literally flown out the window and lay shattered in a million pieces on the street below. But he had to get out. He had to disappear. He would find a way.


 

Roxas did not, in fact, clean up Vanitas’ mess. The most he did was gather up his clothes, move them into his workspace, and build himself a nest to sleep on. Not that sleep was easily come by. Roxas needed out. He needed it as soon as possible before the worst-case scenario happened. His brain scrambled for a feasible way out but came up blank. Getting a job would take too long. He only had a few dollars to his name. He had no friends to turn to. Of course, Axel popped into his head. Axel had promised he’d be there for Roxas. But the penguins in his pocket said something else. Vanitas’ news that Axel had thrown out the jacket was a clear, ‘it’s over’ sign. That thought pinched the bridge of his nose with sadness.

He was reluctant to believe it. It wasn’t the first time, after all, that Vanitas had told him something untrue to get a reaction out of him. But he also didn’t want to risk it being true and making Axel even madder at him by showing up out of the blue at his work.

He chewed his lips for a while, wondering what he should do. He wanted the safety of Axel. He wanted out of this apartment. But he couldn’t leave Cheshire behind. Roxas contemplated calling Axel again. He had played along when Roxas had been made to call him, and not gotten upset with him. That gave Roxas some hope. He got off the floor and carefully picked his way through the minefield littered with ceramic shards, to make for the landline, where he hit the redial feature when he reached it. His grip was like a vice on the phone as he listened to the dial tone. It started robotically reading out the number it was dialing. Roxas hung up as soon as he recognized the number to be Vanitas’. He cursed himself for not having listened to Axel about memorizing the number.

Roxas then reconsidered visiting Axel at work. Maybe it would be okay. But he’d have to wait until Thursday to see him. That was too far away. He did have the option of going over there and getting Axel’s number from one of his work colleagues, but he didn’t want to impose himself on the other man in such a way. No. He’d somehow manage without Axel. He’d have to swallow his pride and call his mother. She wouldn’t have a problem giving him money to come visit her. But there would be a problem getting money to him. He didn’t possess a bank account.

An irritated groan filled the room. Roxas had been a complete moron for getting himself into such a vulnerable position with Vanitas. He decided he would go to a bank tomorrow, then call his mom, and hopefully be out of there by next week, if not sooner.

With that shameful decision made, he tiptoed back into his room and went to sleep on his mattress made of clothes.


 

Morning light shone on Roxas’ face, stirring him awake. He groaned and rolled over, facing the door. He ached – and it wasn’t just because of his makeshift bed of clothing he had slept on. He could feel the bruises forming on his sides, and his upper arm – where Vanitas had held him in a vice-like grip – was tender. There was also a slight headache stabbing at him if he moved too quickly. He stared out into the nothingness, his head a little fuzzy regarding the night before and how it had all unfolded, but his body definitely held the story of the aftermath. Roxas also remembered what he had told himself he would do in the morning, and he was determined to do it.

Roxas felt something move behind himself. It took effort, but he rolled back over to see something lumpy moving under one of his vests. Pointed ears appeared and then a paw stuck up into the air. Roxas pulled the garment off Cheshire’s head and made a little sound of surprise at his cat and laughed at the way she blinked at him.

She didn’t look worse for wear given the trauma she had experienced the night before. The way she batted at Roxas as he went to playfully attack her gladdened his heart. The good mood turned sour though. Cheshire writhed around, righting herself, and hissed at the space behind Roxas. He followed her glare to see Vanitas standing in the doorway.

“Morning,” the man said flatly.

Roxas grimaced and hoisted himself up into a slouched sitting position. It made everything hurt worse. He gave a sharp hum in pain, and of recognition of the other man.

Vanitas made to approach and Roxas shrunk back, causing Vanitas to stop. “I’m – sorry. For last night. For breaking your things. I’ve – been cleaning up,” Vanitas vaguely pointed behind himself.

Roxas brought his knees to his chest and wound his arms around his legs, resting his chin on his knees. He stared at the ground.

“I overreacted. I’ve been really stressed at work. I’m sorry.” Vanitas knelt before Roxas and ran a hand down his arm.

Roxas pulled away.

“I didn’t mean it. Please don’t be mad. Let me make it up to you.”

Roxas didn’t want to get sucked back into a life with Vanitas. He was determined to stick to his plan, but also didn’t want to make Vanitas angry again. “You’re not mad about me not cleaning up?” he asked, genuinely curious about the lack of wrath Vanitas was displaying.

“No. I was wrong. I don’t want you out of my life, but I’m so scared of you leaving. I realize I’m driving you away. Let me try to be better – to do better. Please.” Vanitas had folded his arms around Roxas’ head, holding him. “Let me make it up to you.”

Roxas reluctantly wrapped his arms around Vanitas’ sides and spoke into his chest, “What do you have in mind?”

Vanitas pulled away and looked down at Roxas. “I’ll give you a blowjob.”

“What?”

“I’ll suck your cock until you come.”

Roxas just stared up at him blankly.

Vanitas pulled away a little more, moving towards Roxas’ pants. That woke Roxas up and he scrambled back a bit, swatting hands away from his zipper. “No, I don’t want that from you.”

A hint of irritation flashed. “Why not?”

“I know you don’t like doing that.” And frankly, Roxas didn’t want Vanitas anywhere near him right now.

“I need to do something though—I’ll take you out tonight.” Vanitas sat back and looked him over. “Anywhere you want to go.”

“Take me home. Take me to my mom’s place,” Roxas tried, with a bit more ferocity than he had intended.

Vanitas’ face hardened. Roxas knew that face. Something terrible was about to fly out of that mouth. But just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished again. “Okay, I’ll take you. But… can it wait until the weekend at least? I’ve still gotta go to work.”

“You promise? You swear?”

“Yeah. But first, let me take you somewhere nice. Let me make it up to you these next few days, and then we can visit your mom and dad.”

Roxas looked at Vanitas. His insides were still screaming at him, ‘No Roxas. Don’t fall for it. Not again!’

“All right,” he mumbled.

A sigh of relief left Vanitas. “Thank you, babe. Are you gonna be okay today? I’ll be home on time.”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Look, I have to go to work. I didn’t get around to cleaning everything up. You don’t mind tidying up what I didn’t get around to doing, do you?”

Roxas gave a weak eye-roll. “Yeah, it’s fine. I’ll sort it out.”

“Thanks. You’re the best, baby.” Vanitas kissed Roxas on his forehead and then got up to go, straightening his pale gray suit and mustard yellow tie. “I’ll be back before six.”

Roxas waved weakly and waited for Vanitas to leave, after which he wiped at his forehead. Roxas frowned. Vanitas had stunk of that cologne again. He rose with a grunt and walked out into the main living area to see that most of the mess was still exactly where it had been left last night. The only exception was that a dustpan and broom, with one piece of broken ceramic placed on it, stood in the middle of the space.

Roxas laughed with derision. They were doing their dance again. The one where Vanitas pretended to be nice to suck Roxas into believing that they could work things out. But they would inevitably end up fighting again. Things never changed. Roxas wasn’t going to let this happen again. No way. He was definitely going to the bank today. But maybe he could hold off calling his mom. At least until the weekend passed.


 

Roxas had slowly tidied everything up. All the shards of ceramics, all the knocked-over, and moved furniture. He picked up the pieces of his wooden box and lamented its destruction. His grandmother had given the box to him. He was mad at Vanitas for having destroyed it. He was even more angry over Vanitas having ripped up the photograph Axel had given him, and for throwing all of Roxas’ important things all over the place.

He crawled around on the floor, gathering up his little trinkets before Cheshire could find and gnaw on them. He collected the torn pieces of the photograph and he even picked up the photographs of himself and Vanitas, though he wrinkled his nose at them. Then he put everything in a clear plastic bag and stowed it away in one of the pockets of his clothes until he could find a safe place for these things.

Time was ticking away and Roxas still had a lot to do, so he went into the bathroom to shower and shave. He undressed in the bathroom and when he caught sight of himself in the mirror, it made him halt and wince. He looked at the forming bruises which wrapped around himself. He tried to commit them to memory. These weren’t the first bruises Vanitas had left on him – but they would be the last. Roxas had to remember this. He had to remember the endless violent fights, the hurtful words, and the complete distrust. To forget was to doom himself.

He showered and groomed himself carefully, got dressed, and went outside, to clean up the pieces of his broken sewing machine – but it was all gone. The lack of evidence of what had happened last night only made him feel furious, but he was also relieved that no one had gotten hurt by Vanitas’ ridiculous stunt. He grit his teeth and headed off into town, armed with the travel card and other forms of ID, and got himself signed up with a bank account.

After this, he wandered the city, not caring to go home to a bunch of bad memories. Roxas felt light being outside on his own without his phone and apparent tracking device. What was he? A dog? It pissed him off. Vanitas’ treatment of him pissed him off. He couldn’t believe Vanitas had done that. He couldn’t believe he had let Vanitas do that. It sort of felt sickeningly inevitable though, and certainly made Vanitas’ behavior – the early arrivals, strange looks, and irritation – make more sense now.

That alone was enough reason to leave Vanitas.

Eventually, Roxas stopped his aimless angry-stomping through the city. Not having any money to do anything with saw Roxas return home. He thought about hopping online and making himself some social media profiles, because fuck Vanitas. But when he searched, he couldn’t find the laptop anywhere because fuck Vanitas. Of course, Roxas should have expected this. Vanitas never trusted him, and especially not now. So Roxas spent time packing away most of his things in his suitcase, in anticipation of going home. He hated the thought of leaving Axel behind but was determined to find him again over the internet or call the bar once he had gotten himself figured out, and then try and make things right between the two of them.

Where the thought of leaving Axel made him ache in the pit of his stomach, the idea of leaving Vanitas rejuvenated him. He already felt like he had options opening up to himself and felt eager anticipation for being alone and doing whatever he damn well pleased without being accountable to anyone else. He was pretty sold on the idea and was certain that Vanitas wouldn’t be able to change his mind, because that was what Vanitas was planning to do. But not this time.

Roxas got dressed in his favorite outfit; baggy white pants with a bunch of belts looped around the waist and sliding down his hips, black tank top, a white vest with asymmetrical sleeves – long enough to cover the bruising – and black-and-white checker accents embroidered on the garment. He even had low-rise heel boots which he had redressed with black-and-white denim. Clamping matching colored bracelets on, and a choker he had made, he waited for Vanitas to come home.

Vanitas arrived before six, as he had promised. Roxas watched in delight how Vanitas’ face fell when he saw what Roxas was wearing.

“Are you ready to go out?” Vanitas asked.

“Yup,” Roxas said, swinging legs while he sat on the bar stool by the kitchen counter.

“Okay, let me get changed,” and with that, he disappeared into the bedroom.

Roxas was actually happy that Vanitas made no remark about his clothes. He could look as unhappy as he wanted, just as long as he shut up about it. Roxas turned back to the kitchen counter where he was working on a Sudoku puzzle.

Vanitas didn’t take long getting his goth on. They left their apartment, looking like a weirdly mismatched couple. Roxas felt it reflected them beautifully. He really didn’t feel like they suited each other any longer.

Once they got out onto the street they walked side by side, with none of the usual hand holding. They headed towards the main street where all the buses ran and Roxas’ thoughts were on where he would like to go eat. They hadn’t gotten far when a familiar scent wafted along the breeze, pulling Roxas’ head up and around. A tall man in a suit and wearing a hat had just passed them by. The strong scent attached to him smelled like Axel’s cologne. Roxas turned back around, feeling sadness wash over him at that memory and thought.

They went out to a place which served greasy Asian noodles in a box. It was one of the furthest things from healthy that Roxas could find, and he was in gastronomic heaven. Roxas appreciated that Vanitas was putting on a brave face for him. Their talk was stilted and mostly they sat in silence, but Roxas appreciated that as well in a way. It was nice to be able to sit with his boyfriend without having to worry about being asked questions regarding where he had been and what he had done. It was also nice to not have to listen to self-absorbed chatter about the work Vanitas did.

After dinner, they went to a chocolate bar. Vanitas even agreed to share a fondue with him. Roxas left most of the fruit for Vanitas, while he mopped up the chocolate with the banana bread pieces.

“Thanks for splitting this with me. I know you probably hated doing all this stuff today,” Roxas acknowledged Vanitas’ sacrifice.

“You know it’s not my cup of tea, but – well, I could loosen up a little, I guess.”

That had been a sweet sentiment and they had gone home holding hands. But despite being asked to share a bed with Vanitas, Roxas opted for the sofa. After a nice evening out he needed some space, so he could stay strong.


 

The next morning Vanitas left a kiss on Roxas’ cheek before he left for work, and reassured Roxas that he would be back before six, whereupon they could do whatever Roxas wanted to do.

It made affection swell for his boyfriend. “Van. Can I use your laptop today? I want to let mom know that we’re coming over for the weekend.”

“Ah, sorry babe. I accidentally broke it the other day. But call her and let her know we’ll be coming – if you’re still really keen on going.”

“Yeah, I am. I’ll call her then.”

They said their goodbyes and Roxas was left with disgruntled thoughts as he sat with his cat on his lap.

Some time passed. Roxas had just finished eating eggs on toast when he dropped everything in the sink and gave a sharp scream from fright. A strange, loud, buzzing sound was emanating from somewhere behind Roxas. He looked around, like a wild animal caught in a trap, but then his eyes landed on the intercom system in the hallway and the blinking light caused Roxas to breathe out in relief.

He had never heard it go off, or ever used it. He walked over to the front door and warily picked up the receiver, “Hello?”

“Roxas?”

Roxas’ heart stopped. He forgot how to breathe.

“Hello? Anyone there? Roxas?”

The breath he had been holding was let out. “A-Axel?”

Chapter Text

The line went dead, and Axel kicked the wall with his heel. “Fuck!” he yelled sharply and slumped against the building wall he had stopped next to when his phone had rung. Axel stared at his darkened phone screen trying to process what had just happened. Normally, he didn’t accept private numbers, but something had made him pick up, and then when he had heard Roxas’ voice, his mind had gone completely blank. A million things had run through his head and heart – outrage, adoration, panic. Axel had almost completely forgotten that he had given Roxas his number. He had almost forgotten about the rule he had explained to Roxas, but he was relieved that he had actually remembered, and just in the nick of time too. He had been able to come up with a plan to try and fish for an address but felt grave disappointment over it not having worked and now… now he would fret over what sort of trouble Roxas was in, because the boyfriend had surely been right there, and stopped Roxas from telling Axel where he lived.

A string of expletives ran through his head, some making their way onto his tongue. He hated feeling so powerless. He hated not being able to do anything to shut his worries down. He pushed off the wall and continued walking towards his bus stop, so he could get home… and stay up all night worrying. It wasn’t an appealing prospect. He pulled his phone back out and went through his contact list, seeing if there was anyone he could try and talk to.

Kairi was his first go-to.

A tired yawn sounded through the line when the ringing finally ceased. “What is it?”

“Kai-Kai! I need to talk to you.”

“‘M tired. It’s sleep o’clock, Ax,” she whined, sounding far more sleepy than angry at this very moment.

“It’s about Roxas.”

She groaned loudly through the line.

“I think he’s in trouble and I don’t know what to do,” he pressed on

“What?” She sounded more alert now.

“I just got off the phone to him. He said some stuff about wanting me to come over but then hung up before he could give me his address.”

“Oh shit. Did he… what did he sound like? Was he scared? Was he panicking?”

“No. He… well, maybe he sounded a little upset, but he was mostly calm. He didn’t sound like he was in any immediate danger. But I’m so worried. I’m sure his boyfriend was there, listening in. And now he hung up and I can’t call him back ‘cause it was from a private number and I don’t know what to do. Should I go to the police? I don’t know Roxas’ boyfriend’s last name and when I looked for Roxas online I found nothing.” Axel pulled at his hair with frustration.

Kairi was quiet for a while.

Axel kept walking with purpose to his bus stop. “Kai, have you fallen asleep on me?”

“No. I’m sorry. I don’t know what you can do. I guess you could try and go to the police and see if they might somehow be able to find him, but…”

They both sighed. It was a futile activity.

“I should have made him tell me where he lives. I fuckin’ can’t believe it. That fucking worm!” Just thinking about the boyfriend enraged Axel.

“Well, since you say Roxas sounded all right, maybe he’ll be okay? There’s nothing you can do. You should just try and get some sleep.”

“I can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “You want me to come over? Keep you company?”

“No. It’s all right. You get some sleep. I’ll… figure something out to keep me busy with.”

“Okay. If you hear anything more let me know, okay?”

“Yeah. Def. Night Kai. Sorry to wake you.”

“It’s fine. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”

“It’s okay.”

“Night.”

He hung up and huffed with agitation. Axel needed to do something. He scrolled through his contacts again, eyes catching on a particular name. Yeah, that could work. Axel dialed the number.

The person on the other end of the phone picked up after a few rings. “Evening. Finished work?”

“Yeah. Can I come over?”

There was silence for a moment. “Okay, but I’ve got an early morning so don’t keep me up all night.

Axel nodded. “Yeah, no problem. You dictate the tempo.”

See you soon.

“Yup.” Axel hung up and headed to a different bus stop.

Over the last month, Axel had slept around a lot and kept the phone numbers of certain guys he had a really good time with. He figured tonight called for some mindless sex to numb his anxious mind.

The place he was heading to was a ten-minute bus ride from work, towards the center of the city. It didn’t take too long, but it was long enough for Axel to stare at his call history and obsess over why having a private number was something that was allowed in today’s society.

He got off the bus, walked a short while to a small apartment complex, and pushed the intercom system.

“‘Sup,” he declared and was buzzed straight up without a further word. A flight of stairs later and Axel was before the door he had been aiming for. He knocked on the door, which opened shortly after, and a friendly smile and nod of acknowledgment greeted Axel.

Axel brushed past the man, who was wearing a white singlet and flannel pajama bottoms. Axel made straight for the bedroom – with which he was very familiar; the first door on the left, once you got to the living room.

The man’s apartment had minimalistic furnishings. It’s like he didn’t even live in his own home. There were clean, white chairs and a lounge. Some blue cushions were thrown around, and there was a rug. It looked like a showroom, and Axel always joked about the giant painting of a sailing ship and why that was the only piece of art in the bedroom. And yet, despite the very generic sterility, the place still managed to feel comfortable and somewhat warm, if you spent enough time in there. Kind of like the guy himself. He was slow to warm up to you, but once he did it was a friend-for-life type of deal with him.

Not that Axel knew if they were friends or not. He suspected that they weren’t, and that was fine.

“I’m not keeping you up, am I?” Axel asked as he reached the bedroom.

“You are now, but I don’t mind,” Riku said, somewhere behind Axel.

“Okay, good.” He cast off his jacket and buried it underneath his shirt, jeans, and briefs, as he pulled those off, wanting to get straight down to business.

Riku’s hands slipped onto Axel’s hips from behind and traced the area where his hip flexors met his abdomen. Hair was pushed aside and Riku left kisses on the nape of Axel’s neck.

Axel breathed out, instantly relaxing into the touch and tilting his head to give Riku more access. This was definitely better than stressing all night.

“Are you going to need cuddles tonight?” Riku breathed against Axel’s skin, in between kisses.

Axel turned around, pulling the other man’s arms onto his shoulders, and looked down at him slightly. “If you don’t want me to stay you better not give me cuddles.”

Riku chuckled. “I’ll play it by ear.” His hand went into Axel’s hair, pulling him down slightly and then Riku ran his tongue along the outer shell of Axel’s ear and nibbled a little.

Axel’s spine shivered. Hands went to Riku’s chin, pulling him towards his lips for a slow-building kiss. Plump skin was explored. At first with lips, then tongue, then teeth.

Axel pushed down Riku’s flannel pants, feeling hips and smooth buttock. He gave a firm squeeze before abandoning his backside and making for the hem of Riku’s singlet. He pulled it up and over Riku’s head, revealing well-toned muscles underneath. He pushed the palms of his hands against pecs and massaged a little before he ran them up and down the peaks and valleys of Riku’s body. He loved feeling up that sexy body. With clothes, without clothes, it was all good.

Riku’s hands stroked Axel’s upper arms as Axel’s hands did their wandering. He pushed himself against Axel’s body once hands had enough of exploring and thumbs were left to circle around hip bones. Riku kissed and nipped at Axel’s clavicle and the two men slowly pushed and rubbed their growing erections against each other.

Kisses trailed all over each other’s cheeks, lips, necks, and shoulders. Axel could just focus on being in the moment with another warm body. Stress and worry left him as he paid attention to the pressure and excitement growing inside himself.

“Do you want to do anything specific?” Riku asked, beginning to knead Axel’s backside, and dipping low enough with fingers to tickle the back of Axel’s sac.

He shook his head. “No toys tonight. I just want your glorious cock in my butt.” He gave Riku’s erection a small tug and was met with a smile.

“All right. Make yourself comfortable whichever way you want me to take you.” Riku vaguely gestured to his king single bed and Axel went over, falling onto his back, limbs splayed out.

He stared at the white ceiling and lazily touched his penis, as to retain his arousal. It had been about forty minutes since Roxas had called. He wondered if the man was all right. He hoped he wasn’t in any danger and that the ridiculous pizza cover had worked, though he suspected that it more than likely hadn’t.

Stroking himself wasn’t working. “Riku, hurry up. I need your hot bod.”

Riku came over and dropped lubricant and two condoms on the bed. “Have you been drinking?”

“Huh? No.”

“Then why’re you having trouble keeping it up?” Riku descended on Axel, sitting on his thighs. He rubbed his hands up and down Axel’s body, sweeping past the base of his penis.

Axel sighed, with pleasure and upset, all at once. “Just one of those days.” He rolled his head to the side, looking away from the intense aqua stare.

“Okay, okay.” Riku scooched down a little, pulling one of Axel’s legs out from under him and pushed the long limb up in a resting position. Riku reached for the lubricant and condom, unwrapping it and slicking himself up. Axel watched Riku place and pinch the condom over his penis, and slowly roll the thin barrier down. The thought of being penetrated knotted his guts in excited anticipation.

Axel moved his leg to the side, giving Riku an open invitation whenever he was ready. And while he waited, he found the second condom packet and got on with the job of putting it on.

Riku watched Axel closely and licked his lips. He squeezed out some lubricant and spread it between his fingers. Cool to the touch, Axel flinched as Riku lightly circled fingers around his anus. Riku kept switching between firm pressure and light touches as he went around. Axel’s body tensed, relaxed, and tensed with each passing sweep. His heart was picking up the pace and his erection twitched.

He gasped silently when a finger finally pushed inside with tenderness. Riku’s name left his lips and then he sighed. He rocked his hips up and down with the motion of penetrating fingers, enjoying the way his muscles stretched. Axel felt a welcomed throb in his erection as he imagined the full feeling that would be his very soon.

Axel slid his hands up Riku’s thighs, towards the man’s groin, and rubbed his thumbs through tightly packed hairs towards Riku’s shaft. Lubricant dripped and slid down the wrapped penis, gathering in the wiry hair. Axel grasped the base of Riku's erection tightly, and pumped him several times, forcing murmurs out of the otherwise rather stoic man.

“Stop that,” Riku said quietly and then leaned down, trailing kisses up from Axel’s belly button to his neck. When he got there, Axel could feel Riku’s tip pushing against his sphincter.

Axel bucked his hips, but Riku pulled away, knowing Axel’s antics by now. Riku liked to just have his head sitting and pushing against Axel, without actually entering until he was ready. Depending how much of an asshole Riku felt like being on any given day, Axel sometimes had to beg for it. Axel hoped he wouldn’t be a massive ass tonight.

He waited, enjoying kisses falling on him. He squeezed one ass cheek with his hand and ran fingers through soft silver hair with the other. He loved nothing better than to stroke and pull when they both really got into the sex. But for now, he just twirled his finger around liquid mercury. Axel let his mind rest while his body enjoyed itself.

Riku tugged at him, erection, nipples, ears, hair. Axel rolled them both onto their sides, wrapping one leg around Riku’s waist, locking them together. Riku gave shallow hip thrusts to rub his penis along the underside of Axel’s sac and between his cheeks. Axel grabbed Riku’s hand and made him take ahold of his shaft. He kept his hand on Riku’s while Riku stroked him leisurely. They kissed lazily, smacking lips and rubbing tongues together with no hunger in their actions.

Eventually, Riku rolled them back so he was on top. Sloppy kisses traveled down Axel’s neck. Axel pulled at hair, forcing Riku’s kisses to come with more impact. Riku shoved his thighs up against the back of Axel’s legs and pushed into him at last.

Axel groaned with sheer desperate pleasure as he was filled up. His hand tightened around silver hair and he gripped on like it was a rope. Riku’s hands went to Axel’s hips, squeezing tightly and thrusting into him, whilst breathing sharply against Axel’s neck.

Axel raked his free hand up and down Riku’s back, digging a little harder every time Riku brushed his prostate. Momentum built. The tingling sensation in his backside increased and his erection pulsated. His erection enjoyed being sandwiched between their abdomens. Axel moaned loudly and with abandon until Riku shut him up with a long kiss and a deep delving tongue.

Riku’s thrusting changed. Instead of pulling out almost entirely he stayed inside Axel, only pulling out a little and picking up speed. Axel squirmed under Riku, losing his mind with the tension building in his body. Riku’s hand shifted from one hip to Axel’s erection, where he squeezed the base of his penis.

“You good to come?” Riku spoke into Axel’s neck.

Axel hummed and breathed out a, “Yeah.” He was so ready to be engulfed in nice feelings.

Riku kept up the glorious tempo and worked his hand over Axel’s erection with more purpose. Axel moaned long and low. He tugged at Riku’s hair and found a sharp pull against his own skull, which made him groan louder. He bucked into Riku’s hand. He was so close to exploding.

One more thrust from Riku, one more squeeze of that hand on his head, and Axel saw stars as his orgasm shuddered through his whole body and come pumped out of him. It felt so good in his backside, in his abdomen, in his shaft. Axel wished he could come forever.

Alas, he didn’t. His body relaxed, and he was a gooey puddle of bliss. Riku, having reached his climax as well, rolled off him at some point not too long after, and they both stared up at the ceiling, breathing heavily. Once strength returned to them, condoms were removed, and they flopped back down on the bed.

Axel tried to return his focus on the pleasant way his body parts had, and still were, pulsating. He tried to remain in that pleasant moment for as long as possible. And when that no longer served as an adequate distraction he waggled his fingers, brushing at Riku’s hand until Riku made to hold his own.

“Hmm?” Riku sounded like he was still on a high.

Axel tugged at the limp hand, and with a groaning sigh Riku rolled over, his free hand thumping against Axel’s chest. Riku nuzzled into the bow of Axel’s neck and left faint kisses, while he seemed to doze in nirvana.

Axel tried not to think about it, but he couldn’t keep his mind away from Roxas for too long. A month ago, he had decided to shut his heart off from the guy who refused to put – not Axel – but himself, first. Axel wanted Roxas to care enough about himself to not let shit like Vanitas happen to himself. And then, of course, Axel wanted to be a very close second in the caring-for department.

Over the last month, Axel had decided to get himself some action, to avoid feeling angry and upset every time he caught sight of a blond guy on the dance floor who was a little bit shorter than all the rest. So that had sort of paved the way for Axel to meet Riku – on a dating app – though neither of them had been after dates. Riku had been signed up by a friend as a joke and Axel had just been really horny after everything that had gone down with Roxas.

After the initial meeting, they had hooked up a minimum of once a week over the past month. The sex was always good, and the pleasant post-orgasm shiver that ran through him at that moment was testament to this fact. Axel liked taking whatever Riku gave. The fact that Riku gave was amazing enough. Axel was so used to guys always wanting to have Axel doing them. It got a bit stale. So, sex with Riku was always special. It left him feeling completely mellowed out and happy. Sometimes too happy. Riku didn’t talk too much, which for some reason meant that Axel always ended up filling the space between them with words. And so, he had told Riku a lot about what had been stressing him out – and of course, it was mostly to do with Roxas. Axel had a sneaking suspicion that tonight would go the same way.

“You going to stay the night?” Riku asked.

It was an appealing offer. Lying next to someone would make his thoughts a little more bearable. “Maybe,” he muttered. “Don’t be surprised if I’m not here when you wake up though.”

“If you do end up staying, don’t be surprised if I’m not here by the time you wake up. I’ve got an early start at the shop.”

“What’s happening there? Fire sale?” Axel chuckled, amusing himself with the idea of all the books burning down.

“Book signing.”

“Oh, anyone interesting?”

“You know Giants of Utopia?”

“No.”

“Then it’s no one you’d be interested in. If you’re still here, you can help yourself to what’s in the fridge. But don’t eat the chicken.”

“Is it poisoned?”

“I’m having friends over for dinner tomorrow, so it better not be.”

Axel shook with a little laughter. “Clearly we’re not friends since I didn’t get an invite.”

Riku hummed thoughtfully before saying, “Do you want to be?”

“What? Invited, or your friend?”

Riku leaned back a little to look at Axel directly. “Both.”

Axel squeezed Riku’s hand, which he was still holding. In that moment his heart yearned for Roxas. He wanted to hold his hand, on the roof, on the dance floor, while they walked around the city. He inhaled deeply. “Dinner might be nice.”

“Come over then. You’ve got the day off, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“We start at seven.”

Axel nodded, mind wandering to Roxas and what state he might be in by the next day.

“What’s on your mind?” Riku asked. “You seem off.”

Axel hummed. “I had a phone call before I called you. It was Roxas.”

“Oh. Was it nice to hear from him?”

Riku knew most of what there was to know about Roxas. Their attraction, Axel’s intense feelings, the controlling boyfriend. Axel had left out the abuse though. “It was. But at the same time… now I’m really worried about him. I think his boyfriend might actually hurt him,” Axel confided his worst fears.

Silver eyebrows raised. “Is there anything you can do about it?”

“No, which kills me. I don’t know where they live. I got nowhere to send the police to. I just… feel awful.” The warm afterglow of sex left him.

Riku squeezed Axel’s hand. “So you came here to forget.” There was no accusation in his voice. Only drowsy matter-of-factness.

“Yeah.”

“Not working, is it?”

“It was for a bit, but now….” He sighed.

Riku lifted himself a little, and pulled Axel against his chest, keeping him pinned there. “Just focus on my heartbeat and go to sleep,” he murmured against the top of Axel’s hair.

Axel ran his hand down Riku’s bare side and using his legs to kick the blanket into his hand’s reach, grabbed it and pulled it over the both of them.


 

When Axel awoke, it was still dark. Riku was half hanging off the bed, breathing steadily. Axel decided to leave, getting dressed quietly in the living room so as not to wake Riku. He checked his phone, just in case there were any more calls. He was happy to note that there were none. If he had missed any, he would have been upset with himself.

Axel wandered around the city, watching life breathe back into the place as dawn broke. He thought about what he could do to help Roxas. He wished he knew where he lived, but he didn’t have a clue where that might be. Hell, he didn’t even know how to begin to go about searching for the residence. Axel wished he had grilled Roxas hard about all his contact details. He should have demanded to know where they lived. He should have shaken Vanitas’ last name out of Roxas because a guy like Vanitas surely had some felonies against his name that the police would be able to find.

As his thoughts dwelled on Vanitas he took his eyes off the gray walkway and looked up at the city buildings around him. Something scratched at his brain regarding… Roxas… Vanitas. He stopped and tapped his head.

Work. Roxas had said something about Vanitas’ work a long time ago. Axel couldn’t quite remember so he walked around the places he had been with Roxas and his other friends. He finally came across the eye-sore that was the Colitan and Mursor building, which jogged his memory at last.

This was the only lead he had. He didn’t know which company the guy worked for, and there must be at least a hundred different businesses operating out of that place, so Axel didn’t have much of an option other than to sit somewhere inconspicuous and wait. Axel hoped Vanitas started his day early in the morning. He wanted to get a peek at the man, so he knew what to look for when he came back that afternoon – because he was going to stalk him back to his home, and then come back the following day to check up on Roxas.

He really hoped this would work.

To pass the time, Axel walked circles around the large concrete courtyard that led up to the building. He counted the water features, memorizing their patterns and scampered through them with impressive timing – after having gotten a wet ass twice already.

As the sun came up, coffee shops started to open, so Axel hid inside one of the ones offering a good view of the large courtyard. He found today’s newspaper and held it up before himself as a shield and disguise in case any prying eyes looked too closely. Axel cursed his good looks. He wasn’t the most inconspicuous fellow, after all. It certainly would thwart his chances of becoming a super spy. But he did the best he could and ordered a massive breakfast and coffee to devour while he waited.

It was around eight-thirty when someone who looked like Vanitas, but decidedly less goth and more pretentious, walked towards the shop Axel was hiding in. For a moment Axel panicked, thinking he was busted. He buried his head behind the newspaper, suddenly becoming very interested in the real estate market while watching Vanitas out of his periphery.

Axel was almost 100% sure it was Vanitas. He watched him purchase a large coffee and glazed donut and with that, he walked back out, whilst chowing down on his purchases.

Pale gray suit with white business shirt and mustard yellow tie. Axel should be able to remember that. He got up and purchased one of the same donuts that Vanitas had bought because it looked delicious and he had finished his breakfast half an hour ago. After the purchase he went home to sleep, but not without first setting five alarms. Axel needed to be here before five-thirty.


 

Axel managed to get himself up by the time the fourth alarm went off. He had managed to get some sleep, all thanks to feeling better because he had a plan on how to get to Roxas now.

He got dressed up in his disguise, like a true spy. Having to attend weddings had been a blessing in disguise as his muted red and dark turquoise pinstripe-print double-breasted suit came in handy for this occasion. Axel was glad he hadn’t thrown it out. He was also stoked that it still fit, maybe even better than before since he had gotten slightly fatter. He poked at where the suit sat snug against his waist, cinching him in nicely. Maybe he’d get a hold of Riku’s workout routine one day.

To finish off his disguise, and ensure he’d blend into the office crowd, Axel mainly had to hide his hair from the world. An unimaginable shame. He gathered up as much as he could into a bun and looked to see what sort of hats he had available to cover himself up with. Top hat, snapback, or fedora were the only real choices available to him. It would have to be the dark gray fedora. He tucked any random strands of hair up into the hat, slid on some sunglasses, and headed out in shiny black dress shoes, that didn’t see the light of day more than once a year at best.

Axel felt like he looked pretty damn good for someone pretending to have a dull office job. He hastily made his way onto a bus and towards the city center, hoping he wouldn’t sweat through his disguise since the summer heat was rather stifling.

Once he arrived at his destination he got himself another coffee, because that’s what one did at a stake-out. He found himself a nice wall to lean against, looking towards the entrance to the C and M and once again waited.

A bit before five-thirty Axel spotted Vanitas. He was walking with a silver-haired guy for a while. They chatted, laughed, and then waved at each other and headed in opposite directions. Axel glared at Vanitas through his sunglasses. How dare he seem so jovial. How dare he wear that eye-sore of a tie. He wondered how Roxas let him walk out dressed like that. Terrible thought of Roxas being incapacitated – which led to the poor choice of clothing – accosted his mind. He pushed off the wall, picked up a paper to hide behind if he needed it, and tossed the now-empty cup into the trash.

Axel followed as discreetly as he could. He had to close the distance between them when Vanitas got onto a bus. He nervously pushed sunglasses up the bridge of his nose as he passed the other man, to sit somewhere behind him.

Vanitas didn’t look up from his phone.

The bus went in the opposite direction of where Axel lived, towards the upper west side of the city. He felt relieved over that. The idea that they could possibly be living a block over from each other would truly have upset him.

Axel got off when Vanitas did and kept his distance as much as possible. He followed the man down the main road and slowed down to get even more distance between them as Vanitas turned down a far quieter side-street.

The street was lined with modern-looking apartment blocks made of white-painted concrete, with sandstone ornate features. It looked nice. Better than the old and cheaper part of the city Axel lived in.

Vanitas finally turned into one of the moderately-sized apartment buildings and vanished.

Axel swung around the corner of another street, hanging out there for a while. He needed to get closer to inspect the number of the building and to see what challenge he’d face trying to get in. But he didn’t want to risk running into Vanitas if he came out again.

He waited for a while and deemed it long enough, so he hauled his ass back out and across the street towards the doors that Vanitas had vanished through.

He was almost halfway there when he could have dropped dead from panic. Goth Vanitas and… sexy, radiant Roxas just came out, looking as different from each other as night and day. They were heading straight for him. His mind went through a million things at once, which caused him to stop moving.

For one, he felt immense relief over seeing Roxas. He looked okay. He was going out in public. It must mean that things were all right. Another thing his mind did was race and search for what to do. Run for it. Grab Roxas and run for it. Knock Vanitas out, grab Roxas, and run for it.

Axel sucked at running most days.

He forced his body back into gear. He had only dawdled for a few seconds and hoped it hadn’t been noticeable. Moving quelled the panic but didn’t stop it completely from rising as both men were getting closer and closer to Axel. He kept walking towards them, heart smashing against his chest. He had to believe he was as unrecognizable as possible.

With his mirrored sunglasses on he could look Roxas over as he passed without drawing attention to himself. So, he inspected the man as closely as he could. His heart yearned for Roxas to recognize him. His body ached to touch him. Axel kept it together as he passed them by. His eyes remained on Roxas though, forcing his head to turn and crane. He had been so close. He could have brushed against his fingertips.

Axel bit his lip and turned back to watch where he was going. His pace slowed though. He couldn’t help himself, he looked back again, catching what looked like Roxas turning his head back from… having looked at him? Axel stopped in his tracks. He wanted to call out to Roxas but instead watched the two men disappear around the corner to the main street.

Should he give up? Roxas was okay. He was alive. He was going out with Vanitas. Should Axel leave him be? He shook his head. No. He needed to speak with Roxas, get his side of what had happened, and then make a decision. So he went to the apartment block they had come out of and took a look.

There seemed to be twenty-one apartments in this complex and no names attached to any of the numbers on the intercom. Axel looked down the street again, feeling paranoid and exposed.

He turned back to the intercom and started pushing each button, waiting for a response. When he got one he asked if they knew Roxas. No one did, and some buzzed him in without ever saying a word. Axel spent about ten minutes there, trying to eliminate his choices so that when he came back in the morning, he could hopefully get to Roxas faster.

By the time he reached apartment twenty-one, he had eliminated a dozen apartments. The others he had gotten no response from, so Roxas had to be in one of those since he was currently out.

Stepping away from the set-in doorway, he made an extra careful note of the apartment complex number, and then when he was back on the main road, made a careful note of the street name as well.

He felt immense relief over having seen Roxas today. It had made all his darkest terrors disappear. Now he was just left with deep fears. So he went to Riku’s dinner, since he was dressed up and everything already anyway. It served as a nice distraction, and surely Riku would forgive him for being a tiny bit late.


 

The next morning and only two alarms in, Axel rose. He needed to get to 97 Ocara Avenue before Vanitas left for work because he had to make sure Vanitas did leave for work.

He dressed casually, jeans and a gray t-shirt, foregoing the ridiculous disguise for comfort. He figured he’d hide down that other street in one of the other set-in doorways when Vanitas passed by. Feeling thrilled and anxious, Axel hopped on a bus and tapped his foot for the full thirty minutes it took to get to the area he had disembarked at yesterday. Then it was another five-minute walk to the street.

It was only seven-thirty when he arrived at his destination. A lot of people were already streaming out of the surrounding buildings, leaving for work. Axel figured Vanitas would be one of these, within the next half-hour, judging by what time he had arrived at the café the morning before.

Axel found himself a bit of wall to lean against and ignored any looks he got. He just focused on his target’s apartment door whilst he munched on a dry-as-dust granola bar. He had found it in a box at the back of his pantry and had no recollection of ever buying it. He figured that the ‘best before’ date on it was a misguided guesstimate. Axel was certain this granola bar had never been good in its entire existence. He tossed it to the side as soon as he saw Vanitas leave the apartment, and flung himself into a doorway, making sure not to bowl anyone over, and peeked around the edge waiting for Vanitas to pass.

Once that happened, Axel waited another agonizing ten minutes, just to make sure Vanitas didn’t forget something, like his pitchforks, or vials containing goat’s blood, before he ducked out of his hole and headed to the building.

Axel started his search for Roxas all over again, whilst keeping a nervous glance down the road. He was pretty confident that number nine would buzz him in again without a word if he needed quick entry and escape.

He pushed a button— “Hi, is that Roxas?”
… … …
Another button— “Is Roxas there?”
… … …
Another— “Hello?” came the answer.

The quality was terrible but… Axel’s breath hitched, and relief was about to spill over and through his entire being. “Roxas?”

There was no answer, only static. Had he imagined it? “Hello? Anyone there? Roxas?”

A-Axel?” Came the crackling response.

Axel inhaled sharply, the dam broke and tears of relief gathered and trickled while his knees buckled for a moment. “Yeah, Rox, it’s me. Can you let me in?” He sniffled and wiped at his face.

Uh, yeah. Hang on. —I’m on floor four.” The door buzzed and Axel pushed one of the double doors open, entering the charming foyer. It was bright, mirrored, and the plants were real and not half-dead like the one sad pot plant at Axel’s main lobby. Walking in, he noticed the plush carpet and clean smell. ‘Damn the other side lives nicely,’ he thought. He spotted an elevator and a trembling hand pushed the button to call it down. He waited for a bit, flexing fingers. Why was he so nervous? Was it excitement? He leapt at the door when it opened but stepped aside to let people off.

Once inside, he hit the big button for the fourth floor and bounced on the balls of his feet. He wondered what he should say. He wondered what Roxas would say. Axel dug his hands deep into jacket pockets. He regretted ever having gotten mad at Roxas. He regretted giving the penguins back. He was so fucking over the moon to be seeing Roxas again!

Elevator chimed, anticipation swelled. Doors slid open, but Axel was frozen in place. Roxas, wide-eyed, and mouth agape, was revealed standing on the other side. Instant smile attacked Axel’s face and he moved, wanting to embrace Roxas that very second. He somehow managed to trip over his own feet but he didn’t fall; instead, he bumped into Roxas who had stepped into the elevator, throwing his arms around Axel and pressing his face against his chest.

Axel embraced him right back and buried his nose in storm-blown hair. The other man’s scent energized him – fresh and crisp like an ocean breeze. All their times together, like this, flashed before his minds-eye and filled his chest with overwhelming bliss. He squeezed tighter. Roxas reciprocated.

They held each other until the elevator chimed and people got on. Roxas stirred, but Axel didn’t let him pull away. He shuffled backward, taking Roxas with him. They continued holding each other while the doors closed, and the elevator atmosphere turned slightly awkward. The muzak playing did not change this one bit.

The two men breathed gently against each other. Axel didn’t think he’d mind if they got stuck in the elevator for a few hours together. Though if that happened, he hoped they would be stuck inside alone. The elevator went back down to the foyer, people got out, and the doors shut again. Roxas pushed and snuggled into Axel. It was an amazing feeling.

“Should we get out of the elevator?” Axel said and felt Roxas shudder against him.

“I guess.” Roxas shuffled them over to the elevator panel and pushed the button for his floor. Roxas then pushed his head against Axel’s chest once more and they traveled up in silence.

It was heaven to Axel. Having Roxas in his arms again was perfection. Having all the uncertainty and worry wash away was a tremendous relief.

The doors opened, Roxas sought out Axel’s hand and led him to apartment thirteen. The door was open. Axel smiled, thinking of Roxas being so excited to have rushed out to greet him. His heart ached with the cuteness of it all.

The door shut once Axel was pulled inside. It felt strange to be in the place where Roxas and Vanitas… he shook his head.

“What’re you doing here?” Roxas started, stepping up to Axel and brushing fingers against hands.

Axel took up both of Roxas’ hands, holding gently and rubbing his thumbs against his skin. “I was worried about you.”

“You were?” Large, blue, disbelieving eyes looked up.

Axel hummed and nodded, giving a small smile.

“I thought… I thought you didn’t care anymore,” Roxas said, looking down at where Axel was holding his hands.

“Why wou—”

“Vanitas gave me the penguins,” came the dejected mutter.

Axel bit his lip and squeezed Roxas’ hands. At that moment he had almost forgotten. “I’m sorry. You want me to explain?”

Roxas nodded, still looking down.

Axel cast his mind back to that day. Vanitas, appearing livid, had waltzed into the bar one late afternoon a few days after Axel had received the jacket. They had yelled at each other and caused a scene. Axel’s threats of calling security had seen them taking it outside of the establishment. He had been angry and sick of having to deal with Roxas’ shit, which included the boyfriend. He had given the penguins to Vanitas – having moved his half out of his apartment and into his locker so he’d never have to look at it again – and told Vanitas to return them to Roxas, because he no longer wanted anything to do with the man, and also had wanted to wound Vanitas with the knowledge that they had, in fact, had something going on. He wasn’t proud of it and in the light of the next day had regretted it and some of the anger towards Roxas had subsequently diminished.

Axel sighed and looked at their hands. “I was really upset with you. The penguins were supposed to be our promise to each other. No matter what, we always had our promise. And even if the promise wasn’t real, I wanted it to be. I wanted to keep holding on to hope, y’know? But… you giving your half of the promise back to me… it hurt. It made me angry.”

“I gave it back because I wanted you – and me… to move on. I shouldn’t have ever made that promise to you. I’m hopeless and don’t – I don’t deserve you in my life. I wanted to let you go so you could be happy. I had to try. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I made you angry. Everything I’ve been doing with you has been so unfair on you, and me, and Vanitas,” Roxas explained quietly, all the while his grip on Axel’s hands increased.

“The stuff that’s happened… it hasn’t been great… but I don’t want you to think that I don’t want to be with you. Yeah, I got angry but… well, only because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Not after you gave me the jacket.” Axel kept rubbing Roxas’ hands with his own. The other man looked so downtrodden. “That jacket…y’know, I thought it meant—” A lump formed every time Axel thought about how much it had meant to him to receive it. “I thought it meant that we were getting closer. It made me so happy. It was the happiest I’ve ever felt. But then when I found the penguin inside it just – I didn’t appreciate you making that choice for me without warning me. It was a huge shock, and – well, that’s why I got really pissed off with you. But it’s not like I’m still mad at you now.”

Roxas looked Axel over for a while, eyes trailing over his whole being. The smile on Roxas’ face waxed and waned, growing sadder by the second until lips were drawn together tight and eyes shimmered. “If the jacket meant so much why did you—” his voice squeaked with the suppression of his tears.

“Why did I what?”

“Throw it out.” Roxas’ face scrunched up and he sobbed.

“Throw it…” Axel was shocked by that assertion and at Roxas’ pained reaction. “I didn’t. What makes you think that?”

Leaking eyes raised. Confusion sat on Roxas’ face. “You… didn’t?”

“No.” He shook his head. “It’s at home. I needed to be a bit inconspicuous today, so I didn’t wear it.”

“Really?”

Axel laughed a little with how strong Roxas’ disbelief was. “Yeah, really. I love that thing, Roxas. It’s the best present in the entire galaxy.”

Roxas stared at Axel, mouth just hanging open, but then closed as another sob shook through him. “Really?” he asked again.

Axel huffed with soft laughter. “Yeah. Look… to be honest, I did think about it. I was that mad. But – well, I couldn’t do it. It’s too awesome, and I knew I’d eventually stop being pissed at you and then I’d hate myself for having tossed such an awesome gift. And… you know,” he shrugged. “You gave me back the penguin, but the jacket means more… doesn’t it?” he asked, hopeful to have his hunch confirmed.

Lips tucked in, cheeks reddened slightly, and Roxas gave him many small nods.

It sent a tingle down Axel’s spine and his chest swelled with ardor. He felt vindicated. “Yeah, see, I thought so. And that… that’s just too precious, Roxas. You’re too precious.” Axel held on to Roxas with one hand while his other went up to rub at Roxas’ cheek. Blond head tilted into the touch. Axel wanted to scoop him up and cuddle all the sadness out of him. “You really thought I’d thrown it out?” He just couldn’t believe that Roxas would have such an impression of him.

An almost soundless, “Yeah,” was given.

It just about choked Axel. “Why would you think that?” he asked gently, squeezing Roxas’ hands with fondness and loving how soft his cheek felt.

Roxas gave a dejected laugh and suddenly said, “Vanitas said you did.”

“And you believed him?” Axel’s words made Roxas wince a little. Axel tacked on a much softer, “Sorry.”

“He showed me the penguins and said you did so I thought…” he shrugged. “I didn’t want to believe him. A part of me didn’t, but – I’m just dumb, I guess.”

But a part of Roxas also had believed Vanitas’ lie. It caused Axel pain to think he had ever done anything to sow doubt in Roxas’ mind about his love for the man before him. And to think that Roxas had believed that for probably the entire month now – Axel felt uncomfortable and angry at himself. “No, you’re not. I… I shouldn’t ever have given Vanitas the penguins. If I hadn’t you wouldn’t have—I’m sorry that I put you through that. If I had known I would have tried to make it better somehow. I would have tried to find you sooner.”

They looked at each other, each with worry and fondness etched onto their brows. A soft smile was shared after a moment longer.

“How did you find me?” Roxas looked relieved.

“Oh, ah. You’ll be super impressed. I remembered you saying where Vanitas worked so I did a total stake-out at the place and waited to catch sight of him. I was in a café, hiding behind a newspaper when he came in to get a coffee and a donut—”

“He got a donut?” Roxas’ brow wrinkled with disbelief.

“Yeah. Was a really delicious one too. Chocolate fudge on the inside and chocolate glazing on the outside. I got one on the way out.” The delicious memory of it made Axel smile.

“And he ate it?” Roxas cocked an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Why’s that important?”

“It’s… not. Get on with your story.” Roxas got one of his hands out of Axel’s grip and led them both deeper into the apartment.

Axel cast his eyes around the place. It was fresh and modern looking. Everything was very tidy, bar for the sofa, which was where Roxas was leading them to. Pillow and blankets were dumped on it. Roxas flung the blanket back and sat down, pulling Axel down along with him.

Was Roxas sleeping here? By choice? “I came back – oh, hi, Cheshire.” The cat he had seen many photos of had come out of seemingly nowhere and was suddenly rubbing her head against Axel’s leg. He leaned down and scratched between her shoulder blades. When she seemed to enjoy that, Axel went to pick her up. He deposited her in his lap and stroked silky fur. Cheshire purred loudly and snuggled down into Axel’s lap, closing her eyes in contentment.

“Didn’t you say she doesn’t like strangers or something?” He felt proud of himself for remembering a fact like that.

Roxas’ face was full of amazed joy as he looked at both of them. He gently rubbed the cat’s head and between her ears. “Yeah. But you’re not really a stranger to her, I guess. I’ve told her lots about you, and—” Roxas glanced up at Axel before returning his eyes onto Cheshire. “I’m pretty sure she knows your smell by now.” A smile tugged at Roxas’ lips and his cheeks were turning rosy.

It gave Axel all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings.

“Plus, I showed her that photo of us – the one you gave me.” A shy smile was given and Roxas stopped petting his cat to take ahold of Axel’s hand.

Axel squeezed gently and twisted his wrist so their fingers linked together. He smiled back at Roxas, feeling the deep swell of love he had been keeping down for the last few weeks, rising up again, unencumbered.

In the tiniest voice possible, Roxas asked, “Why did you write that stuff on the back?”

The heat of embarrassment hit Axel. “I, ah – You’re not upset about that, are you? I… it was a quote I found somewhere, and I thought it was really good – for myself, you know. To try and keep me from falling for you, but it kind of had the opposite effect. And then when I gave it to you, well, it wasn’t the writing part I wanted for you. I hope you didn’t take it like me lecturing you or something.”

Roxas shook his head. “It was really nice.” Clasped hands were looked at again. “It made me think about a bunch of stuff. I—” His lips tucked in and his face scrunched up. Roxas sobbed.

Axel’s heart was stabbed. He quickly, but as gently as possible, put Cheshire down onto the ground and scooched closer to Roxas, folding arms around him. Roxas pressed his face against Axel’s shoulder and balled his hands up, gripping onto the back of Axel’s shirt.

“I’ve had such a bad month. I’ve missed you more than I ever imagined I could,” he squeaked out through tears.

Axel held on firmly, pressing kisses into blond hair and onto Roxas’ forehead. “I’m here now. Whatever you need to make it better, you can count on me to give it to you.”

Roxas pulled away from Axel to look at him. “What I need… I need – I love you,” he sniffled. “I need you to hear that from me – in person. I love you so, so much, and I’m sorry for all the shit I’ve put you through,” he said, sounding pained.

“I love you too,” Axel said back, voice catching on overwhelming emotion. He had wanted Roxas to tell him that for so long now. It meant the world to him. Axel brushed at tear-streaked cheeks. “You’ve been okay, right? After the phone call – Vanitas didn’t – he didn’t do anything to you, right?”

Roxas’ eyes fell. He spoke in monotone, “He was so mad. He broke my – the things he had bought me. He found that photo of us – read the message—”

“Fuck. I’m so sorry!” Axel said with shock, and a sick feeling washed through him.

“It’s not your fault. I was dumb. I should have kept those things in a safer place. I should have memorized your number like you asked me to. But I was so sure that nothing would ever happen – that I’d never need it. I didn’t memorize it or throw it out. He found it. It tipped him over the edge and he went crazy.”

Axel’s heart beat wildly. “Crazy? You’re okay, aren’t you?” Axel ran hands over Roxas and stared intently at him trying to examine him, with his latent x-ray vision powers.

Roxas nodded, smiling a little. Axel pulled the other man against himself once more. He breathed in his scent and swallowed down the thick lump of hurt in the back of his throat. He felt terrible for having left Roxas to deal with a guy like Vanitas all on his own. “Let’s go. Pack your things and let’s go,” he prompted. No way was he leaving Roxas with Vanitas again.

“Go where?” Roxas pushed back from Axel’s embrace.

“My place. You can stay there. I don’t have much space, but I’ll make it work for us. You don’t have to stay here.”

Uncertainty and confusion painted Roxas’ face. “No. I… I can’t leave. Vanitas… he’s my boyfriend. I—” Roxas frowned.

Axel stared for a stunned moment. “You love him—” Axel questioned with disbelief “—after all that’s happened… you’re still holding on to him?” He could feel it; the anger.

“I – we have history,” Roxas mumbled.

“Maybe that’s best left in the past then,” Axel said flatly.

Roxas raised his hands to his head, cradling himself. “Yeah, of course. I’m so dumb. Of course, I’m gonna leave Van. It’s just – when you say it… I feel bad. But I was going to leave him. I was – am – going to get him to take me to my mom’s this weekend, and I was going to stay there.”

“Oh.” That left a pang in Axel’s chest and he felt unbelievably grateful that he had caught Roxas in time. But the way he had said all of that… well, it begged the question, “Was, or are?”

Roxas looked up, but eyes fell away to where Cheshire was headbutting his leg. He reached down and rubbed at her. “I don’t think he’s going to take me. I’m pretty sure he’ll find an excuse why we can’t fly out on Friday. I want to give him a chance though, you know – to prove me wrong. I think he deserves that.”

“Does he really?” Axel had a lot of distaste for the man.

Roxas frowned, but the very quiet and shaky response didn’t come as quickly as it might have not so long ago, “...Yeah…”

Axel sighed. “So, you’re going to wait for the weekend?”

Roxas nodded.

“If he takes you, will that change how you feel about him?” Axel wanted to know if it would mean Roxas would stay with the jerk.

Roxas shook his head. “I don’t want to be with him anymore. But I want to believe that he can keep the promise he made to me about taking me. I need to hold on to his redeeming qualities… just a little.”

That quelled Axel’s fears somewhat. “What happens if he doesn’t take you? What’re you going to do?”

“I—” Roxas swallowed and his eyes searched around his immediate vicinity before they rested on Axel. Lips rubbed together, “don’t really know.”

Roxas had something in mind, Axel could sense it. But he seemed very skittish and nervous about it. “You can say it,” he urged. He wanted to hear Roxas say it.

An uncertain hum came out of Roxas. “Maybe…” a deep breath followed, “if he doesn’t take me… maybe then I could stay with you? Just for a little bit? Just until I get back on my feet? If that’s okay with you?”

The corners of Axel’s mouth lifted into a smile. He nodded. “See, was that so hard to say? I did demand you come live with me only a moment ago, so you don’t have to sound so worried,” he laughed gently.

Roxas laughed as well, but it was thin and quiet.

Axel turned serious. He tenderly put a hand on Roxas’ knee and squeezed. “I want you to be with me, Rox. I want us to live together. I’ll be here on Monday to come and collect you if that’s okay with you.” There was no shadow of a doubt in Axel’s mind that Vanitas would be a douchebag and disregard Roxas’ wishes of taking him to see his mom.

Roxas smiled, shoulders slumping a little as he seemed to relax. “Yeah, that would be nice.” He put his hand on Axel’s, which was still on his knee.

Axel felt disappointed. He wanted to take Roxas with him this very minute, but at least they had an agreement. And Axel knew where Roxas lived so he could call the police if he suspected anything. But a niggling thought crept in. “Hey, Rox?”

“Hmm?”

“What happens if Vanitas does take you? Will I see you again?”

Roxas nodded. “Yeah. I’ll be in touch. I’ll find you online, Axel Rutherford,” he smiled.

That made Axel feel better. “Cool. If I don’t see you on Monday and I don’t hear anything from you by next week, I’ll try looking for you too, Roxas Shaw. And you better make it super easy for me to find you because if I don’t—” Axel swallowed down the discomfort of where his mind was going. He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“I’ll be in touch,” Roxas said softly and cupped Axel’s cheek.

Axel pushed into the touch and held Roxas’ hand there with his own. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too.” Roxas rubbed his thumb against Axel’s cheek.

“I want to kiss you.” Axel leaned in, but Roxas pulled back, maintaining their already established distance.

“I can’t, Axel,” he breathed out, sounding pained.

“Why not? You make it sound like your relationship’s as good as over already anyway. One little kiss won’t hurt. He won’t know about it.”

Roxas’ brow creased. He looked troubled and his lowered eyes darted around a little.

“What is it?” Axel extended an arm to stroke Roxas’ brow and sweep bangs aside.

The touch drew Roxas’ eyes back up. “I can’t. I’m still with him.”

“But—”

“Despite everything I’m still with him. I’ve tried to make it work with him, despite him sleeping around—”

“He did what?”

“Yeah, he’s been seeing other people – or maybe just one person. I don’t know.”

“Fucking hypocrite,” Axel practically seethed.

“And that’s why I can’t do anything with you right now. I can’t and don’t want to be like him. I want to be better, I need to be better.”

“Yeah, no, I get that,” Axel muttered. “But I also really wanna kiss you.”

Roxas huffed with laughter and scooched closer, laying his head on Axel’s shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Axel slung his arm around Roxas’ back and hugged him to himself. All the past hurt and irritation melted away. “Will you really be okay? Have you been okay? I’ve been worried sick about Vanitas hurting you since Monday. And – well, to be honest, I kind of panicked after I gave him the penguins as well.”

Roxas took a few deeper breaths before he said, “I’ve been okay. Vanitas did get really upset on Monday but it’s good, it’s made me decide that I’ve really had enough.”

“Oh.” Axel didn’t have much else to say to that. He was happy to hear it but wondered how bad things must have gotten for Roxas to actually have made the difficult decision to leave.

They sat together for some time in the quiet apartment watching Cheshire wandering about the place and stopping by multiple times to sniff at Axel. Roxas eventually shook with some laughter when she started nibbling on Axel’s shoes.

“Don’t do that, baby.” Roxas moved off Axel and picked up his cat, standing up with her. “Thanks for coming,” he said, directed at Axel.

Axel got up as well. “Aww, you kicking me out already?”

“Not kicking. Politely asking.” Roxas smiled up at him with a tinge of sadness.

“How come?”

Roxas’ face scrunched up a little with discomfort. “I don’t want Van to find out about this. He’s been kind of unpredictable lately and—”

“Oh, yeah, sure. I get it. Can I maybe just get a little kiss before I go though?”

Roxas laughed a little. “Persistent, huh.”

“Can’t hurt to ask. Just a peck on the cheek.” Axel pointed at his face. “Or, you know, a bit of a fondle.”

Roxas huffed with more enthusiastic laughter. “Okay, you really need to go now. You’re, like, escalating this.”

“I don’t want to leave without something.”

“I already gave you a hug. And I felt you feeling me up a bit.” Roxas gave a playful glare.

Axel looked up at the ceiling with an innocent smile and shrugged his shoulders. “What can I say. I’ve missed you.”

Roxas stepped closer to Axel. “Same.”

Axel closed the distance between them and gave Roxas a careful hug, as he was still holding his cat. Roxas pressed himself against Axel, making him smile and wish that he could just stay with Roxas for a lot longer. Axel pressed a kiss to the top of Roxas’ head and gave that cute backside a tiny squeeze.

Roxas yelped and pulled away, giving Axel a very weak glower, which seemed an attempt to hide the smile. “I’m going to kick you out now.”

“No, c’mon, don’t do that.”

“It’s happening. I’ve loved seeing you again. I’ll see you again very soon, or we’ll be in touch. But I need you to leave now.”

Axel shook his head. “No way. I’m camping out until we at least fondle each other senseless.” He crossed his arms and gave a snooty pout.

Roxas laughed a little. “Hang on.” He dropped his cat gently and walked away through a door close to the kitchen.

“Oh?” Was Axel in luck? Was that all it had taken? Excellent. He watched and waited for Roxas’ return.

Roxas didn’t take long. He came back into the living room space to stand before Axel, with his arm outstretched, and hand clenched into a fist.

Axel put his hand out underneath Roxas’ and watched as it lowered and released a set of tiny objects into his palm. Roxas then picked up one of the familiar pewter items.

“The promise is reinstated. We will see each other again. We will be together again. But right now, I need you to leave.”

The gesture felt right to Axel. It was nice to have the deceptively heavy object back in his hand and the promise between them restored. He threw his arms around Roxas’ shoulders and kissed his temple, while the penguin pressed into Axel’s closed palm. “It’s a promise,” he muttered against Roxas’ ear.

Roxas reciprocated the hug and then led Axel out by the hand to the elevator. They stood there, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, waiting for the hunk of metal to arrive.

“You’ll be okay?” Axel asked, not being able to alleviate the lingering worry.

Roxas nodded. “Yeah. Things are all right and will only get better. Thank you for being here, Axel.”

“Glad to be of service.”

They smiled at each other. Sadness still lingered on Roxas’ face and Axel could totally relate. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of leaving Roxas and hated it when the door chimed, announcing the arrival of the elevator. Axel moved forward and stepped over the threshold.

Roxas looked at the elevator door and Axel inside of it. “You never finished telling me how you found me.”

“If you want to hear that then you know what you have to do. Just invite me back inside and I’ll tell you my amazing tale. There was a disguise and everything,” Axel grinned, still feeling proud of himself for his genius.

“A disguise?”

“Yeah. I’ll show you one day.” Axel pushed the button for the ground floor.

“Like a dark suit and fedora and sunglasses?” came Roxas’ frantic words.

Axel winked, and the doors began sliding shut.

Roxas’ eyes widened, filled with tears, and he launched himself through the closing gap and at Axel, who caught him in his arms. The force of the launch caused Axel to stumble backward and made him smack into the back of the elevator. Arms wound around each other, with one of Roxas’ hands winding into Axel’s hair. Roxas pushed the back of Axel’s head down, forcing Axel to lean in as Roxas reached up and pressed his lips to Axel’s.

Axel lifted Roxas slightly off the floor and pushed his tongue into him. Roxas clung on and sucked hard, making Axel moan in the back of his throat. He stooped down a little further, worked his arms under Roxas’ thighs, and giving the other man a better perch. Roxas’ arms tightened around Axel’s neck and he pushed fiercely against him. They continued to kiss fiercely with need and greed.

The only thing that made Roxas back off was the chime of the elevator doors as they reached the ground level. Roxas tried to pull away but Axel chased after him with his mouth, and they started kissing again.

“We’ve got to stop,” Roxas muffled against Axel’s mouth.

Axel tried to keep kissing as he walked out of the elevator, still carrying Roxas. “I’m taking you with me,” he mumbled against Roxas and pressed soft kisses to cheeks, chin, and parted lips, and then they started their deep kissing again, there in the foyer.

Roxas giggled after a moment, and as they just about reached the doors leading out, pushed himself away and slid down and out of Axel’s hold.

“Aww,” Axel whined.

“I’ll see you so soon. You won’t even have a chance to miss me.”

“I’ve been missing you ever since our first dance.”

Roxas tensed up. He rubbed at his face and then got up on tiptoes, holding Axel’s face between his hands and gave him a chaste kiss. As he dropped back down Axel chased after, getting in one more kiss and nip at lips.

“You’re so sexy, Rox. I love you.”

“I love you too. We’ll see each other soon.” With that Roxas turned and headed for the door but stopped as he pushed it open. “Hang on – I live here. You get out,” he pointed at Axel and grinned.

Axel laughed. “We’re both so used to you leaving.”

Both men chuckled. Axel made for the door but stood still when he reached Roxas. He let a heavy sigh seep out of his chest and moistened his lips. “Thanks for the kisses. I know you didn’t want to.”

Roxas’ face tightened a little with discomfort. “It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s not that I don’t want to take it further with you. I – just didn’t want to hurt Vanitas any more than I already had. But I can’t even do that right.”

“I’m sorry.” Axel knew he hadn’t started it, but he felt responsible nonetheless.

“I’m not.” A pained smile sat on Roxas’ face.

Axel brushed his fingertips against Roxas’ cheek. He stooped down a little and they shared one more kiss before Axel left, and he mouthed, ‘I love you,’ through the glass of the doors and saw Roxas return it.


 

Roxas stood in the lobby, dazed and high on endorphins. The grin on his face was stretched broadly. This was what happiness felt like. This was what it felt like to see one’s freedom. It was light, airy, but powerful. Roxas took the stairs up, being in no hurry to return to his apartment. He thought of how amazing it was to have Axel find him. It had been Axel he had walked past. Axel cared enough to make such an effort for him. Axel was going to come and find him on Monday when the weekend plan fell through.

Thoughts of Vanitas returned like a harsh arctic breeze. He had tried to be loyal to Vanitas but failed. He was no better than Vanitas. That thought irked him, but it didn’t erase the joy that Axel had brought to him. Roxas would see Axel very soon. It was another thing to smile about because Vanitas surely wouldn’t take Roxas to see his family. Surely the weekend would be filled with awkward silences and pretending to be happy together. Roxas had been pretending for so long now that he was sure he could pretend for a few more days. But it would be hard because this was it… Roxas would finally leave Vanitas. For good.

His footfalls slowed, and each step felt heavier than the last. Roxas was going to leave Vanitas. Actually, truly, leave Vanitas. He stopped mid-stride, like an invisible chain on his leg had finally been pulled taut. A feeling of sick overwhelmed him, and he lowered himself, kneeling on the steps. His ears rang, and his vision speckled with darkness. Roxas breathed through the anxiety and felt the cold, worn-to-a-smooth-sheen concrete steps under his fingertips. Ringing in his ears eased and ceased. A few deep breaths more and the panic cleared. He raised himself, keeping his weight off his shaky legs as much as possible by holding on to the banister.

The thought of himself getting away was clearly too much for his brain to handle. He had never actually thought he would get away. He had never truly thought about what it would look like and feel like to actually leave the life that he and Vanitas… the life that Vanitas had built for them, he corrected himself. It wasn’t the life he wanted. It hadn’t been the life he had ever dreamed about. But it was the life he knew. It offered comfort and reassurance. He knew what to expect with Vanitas – he didn’t with Axel. Axel was fun, kind, interesting, respectful, exciting. But Vanitas had been… well, a majority of those things too, once upon a time.

A slow, low exhale of air got Roxas moving again at a steady pace. Axel was light, warmth, and safety. Axel was fire. Vanitas was cold, manipulative, and bitter. He was ice cutting through to Roxas’ bones.

Strides up the stairs grew more powerful. Roxas focused on how he would be free again. He could start his life with Axel in a few days, whether Vanitas took him to Atlantica or not, all roads led to breaking free from the oppression. That was something to look forward to.

Chapter Text

Each day was an eternal drag and Monday couldn’t come fast enough. Axel itched for things to keep him occupied over the next four days. He hungered for work, begged for sleep – whatever it took to lessen the pounding of his worries and – to be honest – his excitement over having Roxas with him soon.

He had managed all right, but when he finished work on Sunday he got absolutely no sleep. He was far too excited, terrified, and nervous to switch off enough for unconsciousness to take him. So, Axel cleaned. Not that his crummy apartment was a pigsty or anything, but it hadn’t been deep-cleaned since before Axel moved in around five years ago.

He didn’t own a vacuum cleaner, or any cleaning products, or cloths – or whatever people used to wipe things down with – but he had a pile of old clothes to use as rags. He did contemplate asking his neighbor, Isabelle, for cleaning things, but it was very late, and she would stop bringing him cookies if he pissed her off too much. So, he went about scrubbing benchtops, cupboards, tiles, and grout with the rags and soapy hot water.

It passed the time, made his place smell like… well, soap, and gave him a mean stiff back. But it had passed the time. Daybreak had arrived, and Axel made himself an omelet. As he blearily worked on devouring his meal he noted that he was in a very chipper mood, despite the no-sleep thing and increasingly sore body.

Roxas would be with him soon. Axel would be able to make Roxas breakfast and prove that he could cook. He’d be able to prove to him an array of other things too. Like how Roxas had been wasting precious months not being with Axel.

He left his apartment early, grabbing his trusty jacket off the hanger as he exited, and got to Roxas’ soon-to-be-former residence at roughly the same time as last week. He still needed to see Vanitas leave, because it would spell disaster if he went over there and ran into the man.

Axel waited for a while and watched with immense relief as Vanitas exited the building. That sight was exciting but didn’t guarantee that Roxas was there. He waited a little bit before crossing the road and making his way to the apartment.

He buzzed the intercom once, twice, three times, in quick succession – he was that excited.

The intercom came to life and Axel was greeted with a laugh and, “Relax, would you?”

“I can’t. Let me at you already.” He finished off with a purr.

The door buzzed open and Axel raced in, caught the elevator up, and headed for Roxas’ apartment. He knocked on the door until Roxas opened it, after what felt like fifteen knocks too many. Considering the greeting he had received the last time he had been here, this felt like a light rejection.

The door opened with a, “Hey, Axel,” and revealed Roxas struggling to wear a smile. His eyes and nose were red, and he sniffled a bit.

Axel felt his face drop along with his stomach. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course.” Roxas rubbed his face in the crook of his elbow and then his eyes lingered on Axel’s torso, which was clad in the black leather of the jacket Roxas had made for him. The sight of it seemed to make Roxas’ smile grow, and he got out, with a bit more energy, “Come in.” He swung the door wide and stepped aside.

Axel entered, and the door closed behind him. A weepy smile met Axel when he turned to look at Roxas. He opened his arms towards the other man and a sob shook out of Roxas, who almost fell against Axel’s chest. They embraced. Roxas clung, almost with desperation.

“You didn’t throw it out,” came Roxas’ muffled voice.

“Of course not.” Axel squeezed Roxas for reassurance.

A little tremble shook Roxas and his fingers flexed against the fabric of Axel’s jacket. “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe this is goodbye,” he squeaked against Axel’s chest.

Axel kept holding Roxas, rubbing and patting his back in a soothing fashion. “You still wanna go?”

Roxas sniffled and looked up at Axel. “I have to. Seeing how I’m still here… I have to.”

Axel nodded. “Call me selfish, but I’m really glad you’re still here.” He gave an extra big squeeze after which they pulled away from one another.

Roxas sighed. He seemed less weepy now but frowned. “You are selfish. I really wanted Vanitas to not screw me over this time around.”

“So, what happened? Or didn’t happen… I guess.” Axel followed Roxas into the apartment and stood where the small hallway opened into the larger space. Roxas went to the kitchen counter and tapped his fingers lightly on the bench.

“Where do I even begin? I found flights for us, told mom we were flying in on Friday at eleven at night, and that she didn’t need to greet us – we’d just see ourselves in. I gave Vanitas all the details and let him book everything because – well, you know,” Roxas looked tense and shrugged.

Axel nodded and assumed Roxas meant his financial situation.

“You want something to drink?” came Roxas’ offer.

“Uh, what’ve you got?”

“Green, herbal, or black tea. Apple juice. Water. Or, you know, a gallon of that gross red wine,” Roxas’ lip quirked up and he huffed in derision.

“Juice, thanks.” Axel moved towards the kitchen counter while Roxas went around the island to the fridge.

“He booked the flights and then tells me the night before we’re supposed to fly out that he couldn’t get Chesh on the flight, or any other flight.”

“Really?”

“Mhmm.” Roxas got a glass out of a cupboard and the juice out of the fridge while he continued on, “He said the flight was all full, even though I told him to specify that we had a pet with us. But whatever. So, he said we could just leave her with the neighbors—we don’t even know our neighbors. Van wanted us to keep to ourselves in this new place, so not wanting to start any more fights, I didn’t talk to anyone. I told him we couldn’t just leave her with strangers.” Roxas placed the glass before Axel. “So, we stayed. He promised to make it up to me – that we could go see my parents next month – that he’d apply for leave and we could go for a whole month,” Roxas grumbled and frowned.

Axel put his hand on Roxas’, which was still clutching the glass of apple juice. Roxas’ other hand went and rested atop of Axel’s. He huffed. “He did it on purpose. I know he did. It’s all just a big excuse. He’s trying to keep me around for as long as possible. But I’m done. I’m so fucking done.”

Axel lifted Roxas’ hands off the glass and kissed at them.

The scowl softened considerably. “Sorry, I’m bitching. It didn’t come as a surprise, but it’s just really annoying.”

Axel hummed and took up the glass, drinking from it before doling out his sympathies. “I know you didn’t want him to disappoint you.”

Roxas sighed heavily and slumped with elbows against the countertop, still standing opposite of Axel.

“But that’s why you’ve got me as a plan B.” Axel smiled sweetly.

Roxas laid eyes on him, and a smile slowly bloomed, growing stronger with the passing moments. “Yeah. Thank you so much, Axel. I did have another way out of this, but having you around is way better than having to call my mom to bail me out.”

“Does she know how bad your relationship is?”

“Mm. She probably has a feeling about it, but I’m too stubborn to listen to any advice she has ever tried to give me.”

“I know how she feels,” Axel muttered.

“Hey!” Roxas pushed at Axel’s shoulder, slightly in jest.

Axel chuckled in response. “So, are you good for the move today? Is this going to happen?”

A deep inhale of breath was followed by a pregnant pause— “Yeah. Let’s do this.” Roxas pushed off the kitchen bench and walked towards the door closest to the kitchen.

Axel polished off his drink while his heart cheered.

The packing and tidying up didn’t take more than an hour and a half. Axel asked what he could do to be helpful, to which Roxas simply told him to sit and look pretty. So he did. Axel batted his eyelashes every time Roxas looked over at him, which netted him a huff, or roll of eyes, and once, even a peck on the cheek when Roxas had been walking around the sofa.

Roxas had a neat way of piling all his things together. It made it very obvious that he didn’t own very many things. There was one large suitcase, a thick portfolio binder – which he said housed all his references, sketches, and designs – and the other large portion that comprised Roxas’ worldly possessions were all cat related. A cat carrier, grooming and feeding equipment, toys, and scratching poles. They were all bulky. Axel tried to imagine how they would transport all this stuff… and where he could stow it in his apartment.

As Axel looked on, he began wondering about Roxas’ sewing stuff. He saw bags of fabric but no sewing machine. When Axel asked about it Roxas went very quiet, saying he didn’t have it anymore.

Time and time again, Vanitas’ assholishness was reaffirmed.

Since Roxas required no help, Axel spent his time bonding with Cheshire – when he wasn’t busy making eyes at Roxas. He petted her, played with her, and when she had enough, let her go her merry way. He also made a few phone calls to his friends who had access to cars, as it was becoming apparent that public transport would not cut it.

Turned out that Lucy had access to a van and could bring it around in the next hour. That gave Roxas and Axel an hour to sit and make out in. Though, as Axel watched Roxas move about his apartment, he could tell that it wasn’t going to happen. Roxas went from room to room. Double and triple checking he had packed everything, and probably also saying mental goodbyes. Axel understood that this must be tough on the other man, but he was also very glad that Roxas possessed the fortitude to go through with it.

“Lucy will be here soon,” he said after some time, having just received a text saying she was on her way.

Roxas sat at the kitchen counter, his head buried in his hands. Axel got up off the sofa and walked over, sliding a hand along Roxas’ back up to his shoulder, and squeezed a little. “You’re very brave, you know that?” Axel praised.

Roxas didn’t respond. Axel sat down on the bar stool next to Roxas and leaned against him a little. They sat together in silence. The apartment was quiet, bar for the tick of a clock somewhere, and the hum of the refrigerator.

“I’m not. I’m a coward. I’m running away. I can’t even stand up to him,” Roxas muttered after some time.

“You’ve tried. I’m sure you’ve tried many times. There’s nothing wrong with calling it quits. It’s called self-respect.”

Silence descended upon them again, but then Roxas suddenly turned to face Axel. “What happened to your friend?”

Axel gave him a quizzical look.

“The one you said was in a similar situation to me. The one you said you left alone and lost contact with.”

Pain welled and stung in Axel’s chest. “Xion,” he uttered. Was it okay to tell Roxas? Surely it was. The man was all packed up and leaving. Axel could hardly guilt him into something. His hands wrung together lightly on the countertop. He held Roxas’ gaze as much as he could, but choked on the words as he said, “She died.”

Blue eyes went wide. “Died?”

“Yeah,” he breathed. “She didn’t leave her boyfriend in time.”

“Oh my God.” Roxas’ eyes wandered away from Axel, and he looked a little paler than before.

“The guy’s in jail now. He got twelve years for manslaughter. That was three years ago now,” he said bitterly. Ben had been the absolute worst piece of shit Axel had ever met. He would never stop hating that pig.

“I’m so sorry.” Roxas’ hand slid up Axel’s arm and squeezed.

Axel gave Roxas a smile. “It’s all right. But it’s why I was really worried about you. I didn’t want to tell you that at the time, in case you thought I was trying to push you into leaving.”

Roxas looked at Axel with an undecipherable expression on his face. “You’re always thinking of me,” he said quietly.

“Of course. I love you.”

A pained look instantly engulfed Roxas.

“Are you okay?” Axel said gently.

“I don’t—No. I’m not. He said that to me before he left for work today, y’know. I won’t be here when he comes home.” Roxas’ face tightened woefully, and Axel could see the onset of tears forming. Not knowing what to do, Axel just rubbed Roxas’ back. He hoped Roxas wasn’t regretting his choice and willed Lucy to get here already.

“I’m such an awful person.” Roxas winced.

“You’re not.” Axel leaned over and pushed their foreheads together.

Roxas seemed apprehensive at first, pushing back against Axel’s hand, but then leaned into the movement and after another moment, even rubbed his cheek against Axel’s. “Thanks,” he murmured.

“You can still change your mind about leaving.” Axel hated himself for trying to comfort Roxas in such a way. But he loved the way that Roxas’ smile pushed against the apples of his cheeks.

“No. I, ah… I’ll be okay.” Roxas pulled away from Axel and sat up straight. “It’s just hard right now. I couldn’t leave him without saying goodbye, so I wrote him a letter.” Roxas pointed to an envelope Axel hadn’t noticed before, at the far end of the kitchen bench closest to the wall. The chain that Roxas had always worn in the past was laying on top of it, though it looked broken now.

“I was up all night writing it… while Van was in our bedroom, sleeping… it just…” a pained sigh left Roxas.

Axel gave Roxas a sympathetic frown and rubbed his back. “You think you got it all down? Everything you want to tell him?” Axel was more than a little curious to know what it said, but it really wasn’t his business.

Roxas nodded. “I think so.”

A loud buzzing sounded, causing both men to jump.

“Fuck, what’s that?” Axel yelped, hand on his heart, and frantically looking around.

“The intercom. Now you know why I told you to cut it out,” Roxas laughed gently.

Roxas answered the intercom, and Lucy came up. She helped Axel move things into the van while Roxas corralled and coaxed Cheshire into the carrier.

Whilst waiting for the elevator to take them down, Lucy was all grins and elbowed Axel repeatedly.

“What?”

“So, you and Roxas, huh. Huh. Huh!” She wiggled her eyebrows.

Axel smirked. “We’re not official.”

“But you achieved a full-court press!”

“A what now?” He truly didn’t get her sports references at times. He assumed it was one, because when she didn’t make sense it was usually sports related.

She looked irritated for a moment. “All that pressure finally paid off.”

“I wasn’t pressuring… was I?”

“Well, he’s moving in with you. He’s leaving his boyfriend for you. You did something to land that cutie.”

“I don’t think I did anything. He’s leaving his boyfriend for himself, not me,” Axel corrected. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in his mind. He had tried to make Roxas leave that ass for Axel’s ass, after all, and it hadn’t worked. Axel was just lucky to be picking up the very sexy pieces. “I’ll agree to the last bit though. He sure is cute.” He hummed to himself, pleased.

Lucy giggled and they both moved into the elevator as it arrived. She then sighed wistfully. “You’ll have to tell me all the goss one day. It sounds romantic. You’re here for Roxas to bring him to safety. A hail Mary after what was probably a really rough game. He’s really lucky to have you in his corner.”

That was something that Axel did understand. “Thanks. I want to make sure he’s all right. And thank you for coming at such short notice.”

“No worries, pal. You can make it up to me by making me your best man at your wedding.” She winked, elbowed him, and laughed to herself.

The remaining trips up and down were filled with Lucy gushing over Axel and Roxas and making up flight-of-fancy scenarios of how they ended up together. Axel was pretty sure there was going to be fanfiction. And he was even more sure she’d read out her favorite bits at their wedding, if they ever had one.

That brought a smile to his face.


 

The three of them arrived at Axel’s place, and once the two men were left alone, Axel became aware of his nerves. His neighborhood wasn’t as nice as what Roxas was probably used to. His place was small and rather cramped if two occupants had to live in it.

He sighed. They would have to make do.

All of Roxas’ things were piled together in the very back corner of the open living-dining area that his place opened up to upon entry. Axel felt very conscious of his sagging fabric couch, the drink stains on the carpet, and the lack of curtains on the north-facing window.

“So now that all your stuff is in, let me give you a tour of home-sweet-home. The kitchen’s just through there, as you can see.” He pointed to the right. It was narrow and deep, with cupboards and the fridge lining all one side and the opposite being a long bench for prep-work, with inbuilt stove, microwave, and oven. The sink was at the very back.

“I did stock up the fridge with all kinds of things, so just help yourself to whatever, whenever. The bathroom is through the door next to the kitchen, and then my bedroom’s through the door next to that.” This led to the obvious question and made Axel the most nervous of all. But he figured he’d get Roxas settled in first before broaching the subject of their sleeping arrangements.

Roxas was quiet. He had been ever since they had left his apartment. He was now looking around himself and ultimately looking at his pile of stuff. “I’m sorry, Axel.”

“Huh? What for?”

“Being a bother.”

Axel waved his hand, dismissing him. “I want you here. I’ve wanted you here ever since I knew you were unhappy and stuck.” He gave a big, encouraging smile.

Roxas wrapped his arms around himself. It set Axel’s alarm bells off.

“C’mon, let’s get Miss Cheshire out and set up her play area.”

Roxas seemed to relax and nodded eagerly.

Both of them got to unpacking the cat-related things, setting them up near the window, as Roxas said she enjoyed looking outside.

By about midday, both of them sat on the couch, watching to see if Cheshire would emerge from her cat carrier. Roxas had been trying to coax her out and cheer her on but was left defeated and slumped on the couch next to Axel. “She’ll come out when she’s ready. Or hungry, I guess,” Roxas conceded.

“You made a good effort. And speaking of food, you want anything?”

Roxas shook his head. “I’m really tired.”

That word caused Axel to yawn. “Me too. I gotta be at work in three hours.”

“Oh shit, that’s right. I’m so sorry.” Blue eyes were wide with concern.

Axel chuckled. “Don’t sweat it. You feel up for a nap?”

Roxas nodded and they sat, staring at each other for microseconds before eyes fell away, looking for distractions. The implication was there. Axel wasn’t sure why it felt so weird.

“C’mon, let me show you—”

“I can’t sleep with you,” Roxas blurted, a desperation to his voice. “N-not like that. Not yet. I’m sorry.” His head sunk.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” though Axel had hoped for it. “I’m talking about actual sleep.”

“Oh—Oh, God, I’m sorry for assuming you meant—” Roxas made a pained sound in the back of his throat. “I’m so dumb,” he said with bitterness tinting his words.

“You’re not. Don’t say that about yourself.”

Roxas gave Axel an unhappy sneer, not believing a word Axel was saying.

“Don’t look like that either. If I’m being honest, yeah, I am actually hoping to have sex with you now that the boyfriend situation isn’t there to stop us anymore. So, see, you’re not dumb. You know me really well.” Axel tried at a playful smile and pushed Roxas’ shoulder. But it didn’t ease the sullen cloud which had sunk onto Roxas like a heavy fog over a valley.

“I… I really can’t. Not yet.”

“And that’s fine but… I guess I kinda do want to know why not.”

Roxas took a deep breath. “Van doesn’t know. He’s at work right now, thinking I’m still at home waiting for him. If I do anything with you now I’d—” Roxas bit his lip.

“Oh. I… get it. So once evening comes—”

“Yeah, I’m all yours.” Roxas looked at Axel, bright and eager.

A shiver ran through Axel. His voice dropped with desire, “What’re we gonna do when I come home?”

Roxas visibly swallowed. “Whatever you want. But right now… I can’t sleep with you.”

Axel’s chest heaved with equal parts desire and resignation. “Okay then. Until then, we should still get some sleep. You can take my bed. I’ll stay on the couch.”

Cheeks turned red. Roxas still looked stricken. “You can’t do that. You have work. I’m a guest. You getting a decent sleep is more important. You take the bed.”

A flash of irritation welled in Axel. He didn’t like being told what he could and couldn’t do in his own home, but then it melted again. Roxas was being too sweet to take umbrage with. “You saying my couch isn’t comfortable?” he cocked an eyebrow and smirked a little. But the jest seemed lost on Roxas.

“No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” his open palmed hands flailed about, “but just, generally beds are better than couches for sleeping on and you need your rest. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just—”

“Roxas, relax,” he laughed gently, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry.” Eyes sunk to the floor.

“Would you feel better if I had a sofa bed instead of just a crummy couch?”

“Yeah. No! I mean your couch isn’t crummy. It’s a nice couch. But… yeah… an actual fold out bed,” he mumbled.

Seeing Roxas like this was strange. Well, not completely strange. He had acted like this whenever Vanitas had somehow been involved. Axel just supposed he wouldn’t see this side of Roxas again after the move. But perhaps it was still early days and the boyfriend – no – ex-boyfriend – would be a distant memory in due time. Axel liked how that sounded. “Take my bed, Rox. Just for now. I have tomorrow off, and we can go shopping for a sofa bed to save us any future problems if we can’t sleep together for whatever reason.”

“Whatever reason?”

“Yeah. Who knows. You might be a snorer,” he winked.

“And you might be a bed-pusher-outterer for all I know,” Roxas teased back, looking a bit lighter than before.

Axel smiled. “We’re going to have fun finding out. Even if it isn’t straight away.”

The fun extinguished with Roxas’ groan. “I’m sorry that I’m being so stupid. You shouldn’t have to buy a sofa bed. We should just… let’s just go sleep on the damn bed. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” But it seemed to still be bothering him a lot. His body seemed tense and the grimace didn’t appear to be fading any time soon.

“Let’s just take it slow for now. There’s no rush. I want you to be comfortable, so take the bed –ah –ah –ah!” Axel cut Roxas off before he could start. “It’s my home and non-negotiable. If we keep arguing, we’ll never get sleep. So just take the bed.”

Roxas seemed to resign himself to that fact. “I’m sorry for putting you in this situation.”

“What situation? Having you around? It’s what I’ve wanted. So, you should stop apologizing.”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, sounding defeated. Then, suddenly realizing what he did, gasped. “Sorry.” He stared and then groaned. “S—”

Axel leaned in and pressed his lips to Roxas’, shutting him up. He touched his knee and slid his hand up Roxas’ thigh, squeezing and rubbing with reassurance. He then pulled away, but their noses still touched. “Relax.”

Roxas opened his mouth but shut it again and just nodded.

It made Axel chuckle. “You’re really cute.”

Redness on cheeks intensified. Roxas placed his hand on Axel’s, which still rested on his thigh. “Thanks for putting up with me.”

Axel picked at blond hairs, pushing them out of Roxas’ eyes. “We’re both tired. Let’s get some sleep.”

Roxas nodded and they stood up. Axel led the way into his bedroom. He had been dreaming about this moment for a while now, but in those, they were already naked by the time they set foot in this room.

“You can put your things in the wardrobe.” Axel pointed to the built-in with mirrored sliding doors. He grabbed a pillow off his bed, as well as the soft throw-rug he kept to warm his feet and headed back towards the living room. He turned back around to see Roxas sitting down on his bed. It made him smile in contentment. “Get some sleep.”

“Thanks, Axel.”

He nodded. “Oh hey, could you do me a favor?”

“Yeah. What do you need?”

‘You snuggling next to me. A blowjob. Us naked and sweaty.’ He just said, “If you hear my alarm go off but you don’t hear me moving, can you wake me?”

“Oh, yeah. Sure.”

“And I mean really try your best to wake me, and make sure I actually get up.” He had relied on his friends in the past, much to his disappointment.

“Sleeping beauty?”

Axel smiled broadly. “Be my Prince Charming.”

“Charming’s actually a generic term. Aurora’s prince was Prince Phillip.”

Axel stared at Roxas, wondering where that had just come from. “You’re such a fucking Disney nerd,” he laughed.

Roxas gave him a sheepish smile and his eyes fell to the floor.

“Just wake me, okay?”

“Yeah, you can count on me. I’ll get you up.” Roxas nodded eagerly.

That response made Axel smirk. “I know – you already have,” he winked and smiled wider when Roxas looked shocked and a burning blush tinted his face.

Roxas moved quickly, kicking one of his shoes off, pulling the sock off, and throwing it at Axel, hitting him in the face.

“Oh, gross!” Axel yelped and then laughed. He saw Roxas going for his other shoe and still laughing, left the bedroom, closing the door behind himself. Axel felt amazing. Seeing a semblance of his Roxas returning to him was precious.


 

“Wakey wakey, sleepyhead.”

Axel’s eyes flung open to see blue eyes framed by blond hair and a big grin. Pressure fell away from his nose and mouth and Axel could breathe again. He groaned and closed his eyes. It was too early.

Soft breath brushed against his cheek and then there was pressure against his lips, but not like before. Axel smiled and kissed Roxas right back. Fingers raked Axel’s hair and rubbed his skin. It was bliss. But then the warmth was gone. Axel opened his eyes again and sat up, following Roxas’ retreating form. He reached out and caught Roxas by the wrist, stopping him from getting completely off the couch.

“Awake now?” Roxas smiled.

“Yeah. You’re way better than any Prince Phillip, oh gallant Prince Roxas.”

Roxas giggled and then gave a pleasant hum. “Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah. I’ve fallen asleep on this thing plenty of times. Don’t worry.”

“Okay.”

Axel let go of Roxas’ wrist but sought out his hand instead. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Some. I packed my stuff away and Cheshire came out, so I gave her a tour.”

“Oh, where’s she now?” He looked around the living area.

“Sleeping on a pile of my clothes I couldn’t fit anywhere.” Roxas pointed towards the bedroom.

“You need me to make more space?”

“No. It’s fine. They’re clothes I barely wear anymore. Is it okay if she sleeps in your bedroom? Or do you want that a cat-free zone?”

“Ah… maybe keep it cat free if that’s okay.”

Roxas nodded. “I’ll move her when she’s awake.”

“Thanks.” Axel sat up more and pulled himself towards Roxas. “Can I get another kiss?”

The nap seemed to have worked because a shy smile was given and Roxas leaned in, connecting their lips. Axel breathed in deeply, cupping Roxas’ face and pushing against him. The motion tilted Roxas’ head back and Axel took full advantage of parting lips, deepening their kiss. He tasted Roxas and felt his body truly awaken with rousing desire.

Axel pulled at Roxas’ torso, getting the other man almost onto his lap. Roxas pulled away, gasping a little. “You need to go to work.”

“Let me call in sick. I want you so bad.” Axel leaned in again, needing more kisses. But Roxas pushed against his chest.

“It’s not fair on your coworkers.”

Axel scoffed. “I’ve bailed them out so many times. They owe me.” He tried for another kiss but was stopped once more.

“I don’t want you to go out of your way.”

“I’m not.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t be causing any problems?”

He gave up, letting his hands drop away. “What’s this really about? I’m not asking you to sleep with me. Just – make out.” Axel said with exasperation.

“We both know it’s not going to stop at making out.” Roxas wore a slight frown but then softened as he said, “I think it would just be better if you went.” Eyes flicked to the digital clock by the TV. “It’s not six yet. Vanitas doesn’t know.”

“Okay, it doesn’t have to be making out. I’ll cool off. We can just hang out, get you settled in more, watch a movie, order take-out—”

“Take out?” Eyes went wide.

“Yeah, anything you want.” Axel nodded. “What’s that look for?” Axel asked through a breathy laugh as Roxas gave him a despairing expression.

“I… I’m not used to ordering take-out.”

“Oh, want me to cook? I can cook too.”

“No. No, no, you go to work. We can have dinner later.” Roxas started pushing Axel a little.

“So, I’m not allowed to stay in my own home?” he joked.

“No. You have to make the big bucks. You have a hungry cat you need to feed.”

“And a hungry Roxas.”

“I live on air and sunshine.”

“Lies. I’ve seen you polish away a whole pizza all by yourself,” Axel laughed, heartily.

Roxas giggled in a chesty and contained way. “I guess. But you should go, or you’ll be late.”

“All right, all right. There is food in the fridge. Make yourself at home. Eat whatever you want if you get hungry. I can’t wait for work to be over, so we can spend time together.” Axel ran a finger up Roxas’ neck and lifted his chin up. He leaned in and placed a soft kiss on lips.

“I’ll see you in a few hours,” Roxas smiled in a content sort of a way, clasped the hand that was under his chin and pulled it to his mouth, where he deposited a kiss on a knuckle.

They stared into each other’s eyes longingly. Axel didn’t know how he was still restraining himself, but he was. A loud blare snapped the two men out of the tender gaze and Axel tended to the alarm on his phone and got ready in under a minute – it was a skill he had developed out of necessity. He headed to work with a blow of kisses and to the sound of Roxas’ soft laugh.


 

Work was as it always was; loud, fun, and busy. It was early into the evening when Nancy approached the bar, carrying a tray laden with empty glasses. She gave Axel a pointed look, so after he finished taking money for a drink he had just poured, wandered over to speak with her.

“What’s wrong?”

Nancy looked decisively uneasy. “You know that guy who came in here like a month ago yelling at you?”

Axel tensed. “Yeah?”

“Well, he’s here now.”

“Where?” He looked around, trying to spot the despicable blight of a man.

“Out the front. Drew heard some of the patrons talking about some guy pacing around outside. I had a quick look. Should I call Rude over?”

“Tell him that the guy is back. Marly wants to be told about it too. But let me go talk to him first.” Axel had to give him a piece of his mind before he was dispatched. He asked Jonah to mind his side of the bar while he was out and handed over his apron.

He quickly made his way outside into the stuffy summer evening air. It didn’t take long to spot Vanitas, pacing off to the left and kicking the building wall every few steps. He looked really mad, which was fine with Axel. The guy had made his own bed, and now he had to lie in it.

Their eyes locked on to each other, but instead of heading straight for Axel, Vanitas turned and headed down the alley leading around the back of the building. Axel could appreciate the smart move. It would allow them to cause less of a scene.

Vanitas kicked a rubbish can as Axel came around and into the alley. A rat scurried away. They looked at each other – it felt like a Mexican standoff. Axel went further into the alley and stopped a few feet away from Vanitas, who was still dressed in his work clothes, though no tie was present, and he looked rather disheveled, with undone suit and business shirt buttons not done all the way up.

“Why are you here? I told you never to come back.” Axel explicitly remembered that being his parting remark the last time they met.

“If you could be trusted I wouldn’t have to be here,” Vanitas spat with gruff anger and took a few steps closer towards Axel.

Axel didn’t want to listen to the man. He just wanted to be rid of him – while also maybe leaving some biting and boastful words with him; Axel was petty that way. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Bull-fucking-shit! You said Roxas was all mine. That you had no interest! So why – when I come home – is he gone? Why are all his things gone? Why does he leave me a sappy letter saying goodbye? Huh?” Vanitas shoved Axel’s shoulder.

Axel shrugged off the touch. “Maybe he’s finally had enough of your shit,” he said sharply and glared.

“And where would he go? He’s got no one. Nothing.” Vanitas’ voice raised by an octave.

“You made sure of that, didn’t you?” It boiled Axel. Those words illuminated what a conniving snake this man truly was.

“He’s mine. He shouldn’t need to have options open because I’m his only option. The only one he should ever want to choose and need.” Vanitas thumped his fist to his chest, passion and fury melding into one.

“Hate to break it to ya, but it looks like he’s chosen self-respect over you.”

Vanitas scoffed as if Axel had told a ridiculously bad joke. “You mean he’s chosen your lanky-fucking-self over me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Axel crossed his arms over his chest.

“Bull-fucking-shit! You stole him! You’ve filled his head with crap. You fucking liar! You said you were done with him!” Vanitas shoved Axel again.

“Stole?” Axel leaned in and over Vanitas slightly. “He’s not some fucking property. He’s a person capable of making his own decisions.”

Vanitas gave a dry-coughing laugh. “That shortsighted moron hasn’t made a decent decision in his life. ‘Oh Van, what should I do? Oh Van, where should we go? Oh Van, why—’

“You made him that way. You stole every chance he had of making a decision for himself,” Axel snapped.

Vanitas’ sulfur eyes narrowed, and his tone dropped, “Is that what he told you? That I made him give up his dreams? That I ruined his life? That I’m a bad person?”

Axel wished that Roxas had been sensible enough to use strong words like that. “He’s never called you a bad person. He thinks the world of you. But you let him down. You abused his trust and love, and you don’t deserve him.”

Vanitas snorted. “And you do?”

“More than you.” He felt confident about that.

Vanitas laughed, and his smile dropped to a scowl. “You’re right. I don’t deserve him. I deserve so much better. He’s weak and pathetic. Can’t stand up for himself, gets swayed by anyone making pretty eyes at him.” Vanitas glared up at Axel. “He doesn’t give a shit about you, you know. He’s just into you because he got bored of me. And frankly, I’m getting so sick of his shit too. But you know what? I’m the only one who can stand him. And you’ll see it too. Because he’ll use you too. He’ll cheat on you as he did with me. So, if you want him you must be really desperate to put your dick somewhere. And you know what? He’s not even that good, so you’re just wasting your time.” Vanitas turned away a little, looking bored and disgusted.

Axel’s outrage blazed high into the sky. “How dare you! How fucking dare you talk like that about the guy you’ve been with for seven years. You’ve got no respect.”

“Oh, I’m the one with no respect? What about you? Where is your shame over breaking up such a long-standing relationship? Don’t you have any shame?”

Axel gave a mocking laugh and then stopped suddenly, throwing daggers with his eyes. “No. You’re not pinning this on me. Listen to yourself. You’ve got such contempt for him. It’s you who’s destroyed your relationship. You’re the orchestrator of your own downfall, not me.”

“We were fine before you came into our life. Before you put your dick where it doesn’t belong.”

“I’ve never put my cock anywhere near him.”

“As if you haven’t. His ass is so tight – his mouth so fuckable. That’s all he’s good for, y’know. Putting my dick into his mouth. At least that muffles the constant bitching and whining.” Vanitas rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Axel’s mouth hung open. What was this guy’s deal? One moment he talked like he deeply cared about Roxas and the next— “You’re a fucking psycho. I’m glad he’s finally left you. He’s better off without you, better off away from your hate, and the bullshit you fill his head with. When he’s away from you he’s awesome, fun, really confident. It’s you who’s the problem. You’re the one who’s made him constantly doubt himself and his abilities.”

“I never did anything to him. He’s just weak. If he was stronger he’d have put me in my place a long time ago. And y’know, that’s why he needs me. To look out for him, to make him strong.”

“Belittling is not how you make someone strong.” Axel didn’t even know why he was attempting to reason with Vanitas. The guy was clearly insane. “Just leave Roxas alone. He’s had enough of you. He doesn’t need your shit anymore. He’s become a lot stronger and made his decision. And it’s a final decision. So just leave us alone. Don’t try to find us and don’t come back here either.” Axel turned around and made for the main street.

“So he is with you. You’ve stolen my Roxas and you’re gonna…” Vanitas huffed, and then a sudden bellow of, “You fucking son of a bitch!” came from behind.

Axel was grabbed by his collar and flung backward. He fell over, backside making painful contact with the ground, and the back of his head smashing into the concrete. Ringing in his ears and a stinging pain blocked everything else out for seconds that felt like minutes. Sense returned but not quick enough. A heavy weight descended on Axel’s stomach, knocking the air out of him. Venomous, yellow eyes, framed by wild black hair, appeared before Axel’s eyes and pierced into him.

“Fuck you!” Vanitas bellowed.

Axel saw the fist flying at him but was unable to dodge. His eyes closed reflexively as the fist made contact with his face. Axel’s head slammed back into the solid ground with a sickening crack. The sound of the world around him buzzed with static. A sharp pain dug into his ribcage, forcing breath out of his body, and a wince out of his throat. Another raging scream pierced the air, which Axel could hear through the loud static ringing in his ears. More pain ignited Axel’s face as another agonizing fist smashed into him.

Axel roused. Limbs struggled and grabbed ahold of anything they could. Fabric – something soft and warm. Axel’s fist poised to strike, blind. The heavy weight on top of him lifted, and his fist hit nothing but air. The force of his intended punch rolled him over to his stomach.

Axel gasped for air. His heart raced and pounded against his ribcage. He lay on the ground, unable to move. Something rolled him over. Axel stared up into the black void above, marveling at the sparkles in the sky, and wondering why Roxas missed the stars when they were all right there.

The dark partially lifted. Axel began making out patches of bright red, pink and cream, which filled his vision after a few more blinks. He tried to focus on it. A sound was breaking through the buzzing.

“A—”

“Ah—”

“Ax—”

“Axel!” came the shout as the static dropped away.

The colorful blob in front of him finally made sense. “Hey, Marly,” he half-coughed.

His boss emitted a sigh of relief, and Axel felt gentle pressure being exerted on his body.

“Are you okay? Can you stand up?” his boss’s voice was filled with calm concern.

Axel tried. He groaned and strained. Hands, arms, and shoulders were there to help, and he finally stood upright.

“Let go of me!”

Axel looked towards the source of the yelling. Sick glee surged through him at the sight of Vanitas being restrained with his hands behind his back, and Rude, Organization 13’s imposing bouncer, standing behind him, making the man look very weedy in comparison. Vanitas was struggling, but Rude was like an unmovable statue. Axel hoped Rude was exerting his firm and painful pressure on that piece of shit.

“What happened here?” Marluxia tugged at his arm and walked an unsteady Axel over to the two other men, who were at the mouth of the alley. “Why did you attack my employee?”

“Self-defense,” Vanitas spat.

“Bullshit!” Axel barked and then winced, holding his head.

“Quiet,” Marluxia roared at both of them. Vanitas quit struggling and stood still.

“I have cameras in this alley, so choose your accusations carefully.”

Vanitas glared. “We were having an argument.”

“An argument by which you attacked my employee. I’m fairly certain you’ve been given a verbal warning to not harass my staff, or return to my venue, but here you are – escalating the situation.”

Axel was filled with righteous pleasure and he couldn’t hold the small smirk at bay. Vanitas was in such deep shit. Getting punched was totally worth it to be able to see the worm squirm.

“He started it.” Vanitas made a motion to move towards Axel, but Rude continued to restrain him.

“I will review the tapes and reprimand my staff member. I will also report this to the police and have you charged with assault.”

Vanitas’ eyes burned with hatred, directed at Axel. “You’re loving this, aren’t you,” he snapped, quietly.

He knew if he said anything, Marluxia’s wrath would increase tenfold. So in response, Axel’s smirk just grew wider, though he also winced at the throb and sting which emanated from the left side of his face.

Vanitas huffed with sick joy at seeing Axel’s pain.

“You are hereby permanently banned from my venue. You will not set foot inside. You will not loiter outside, or around my building. Is that clear?”

“I want nothing to do with your shitty bar. It’s got shit music, shit drinks, shit staff.” Vanitas glared at Axel again.

Marluxia waved at Vanitas dismissively, signaling Rude to take him away.

While Vanitas was being dragged into the back of the alley, he craned his neck back, shouting at Axel, “Tell him! You tell that fucking coward that it’s not over! He’s still my boyfriend. I’m not letting go of him until he tells me to my face that it’s over!”

Axel shook his head and exhaled heavily. Marluxia’s hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently, drew Axel’s attention back to his boss.

Marluxia did not look amused. “I’m going to dock your pay.”

What? Why? What did I do?”

“You brought your domestics to my place of business. You didn’t call Rude to deal with the situation. And I will have to pay worker’s compensation to you, so losing some money now won’t mean anything in the long run.” Marluxia, with his hand on the small of Axel’s back, pushed him in the direction Rude had dragged Vanitas off to. “Nothing to see here, move along,” he directed at the small crowd of people who had started gathering and more quietly said to Axel, “Come on. We have to file an incident report, call the police, and get your eye looked at. It’s a disgraceful mess.”

“Is it really?” Axel only noticed now that he couldn’t see anything that was on the left of him. He went to touch it and winced in pain and disgust at how puffy it all felt. Blood was on his fingertips.

“It is. We’re going around the back.”

Axel sighed. It would be a long night.


 

It was well past midnight before Axel found himself catching the elevator up to his apartment. He was beyond exhausted but felt energy return to him when he thought of what awaited him at home.

He opened his front door, wondering if Roxas would be asleep. The light was on in the back of the dining-living area. The pile of Roxas’ things had diminished and what was left appeared even more neatly stacked. Axel thought he could spot movement in the cat carrier but other than that, he saw no further signs of life.

Upon closing his door, Roxas’ voice drifted from somewhere, “Axel! You’re finally back?”

Axel saw the strip of light underneath the bathroom door. “Yeah. Sorry I’m so late. I wanted to call you, but I have no clue what my landline is.” He slipped out of his jacket and shoes, leaving them by the door, and deposited his keys in a bowl on the not-used-for-purpose dining table.

He headed into the kitchen to grab a drink. “I didn’t worry you too much, did I?” he called out loud enough so Roxas would still hear him. He then filled his glass at the tap and downed the contents in one go.

The sound of a door opening drifted through the space, and then Roxas’ voice came, much clearer, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. I’ve been—where are you?”

“Kitchen.”

Footsteps sounded. Axel kept his back turned. He wasn’t sure how this would go down with Roxas. He filled his glass back up and drank more.

“I’ve been trying to keep busy. Cleaned your bathroom. Hope that’s okay.”

Axel looked over his right shoulder. “I don’t mind, but why clean? My place that disgusting? Or are you just a neat freak?” He chuckled, not wanting to make Roxas think he was offended or trying to be mean.

“No. Your place is fine. I actually hate cleaning, but…” Roxas shrugged and hugged himself a little. “I’ve been feeling nervous all evening, so I thought it would be a good distraction.”

“Well, thank you, Roxas. I did try and tidy up before you got in, but… well, I don’t have any cleaning products. Hope it didn’t make your life too hard.”

Roxas shook his head. “I found some baking soda and vinegar and lemon juice. That’s all you really need.”

Axel let out an impressed, “Oh,” and sniffed the air. “I thought I could smell something citrusy.” He turned back to the sink and rinsed his glass. He wouldn’t be able to keep this charade up for very long. Eventually, he had to face Roxas.

“Why did you come home so late? Is everything all right at work?” Roxas’ voice sounded closer.

Axel gripped the sink and leaned against it heavily. He inhaled deeply. “I don’t want you to freak out about this, but… well, funny story, actually – I think Vanitas definitely knows you’ve broken up with him.” He laughed quietly and turned around.

Roxas’ eyes and mouth went wide. A wordless, ‘Oh my god,’ graced Roxas’ lips before his hands flew up to cover his mouth. A moment more of staring and, “He did this to you? Axel!” Roxas reached up but stopped just short of touching Axel’s face. “No! I’m so sorry! I’m so fucking sorry. Are you all right? Does it… hurt? Do you… do you need an ambulance? A… a cold compress? Let me get you something—” Roxas moved around erratically, before seeing the fridge and heading to it.

Axel caught him by the arm and pulled him towards himself. “I’m fine. Relax.” He pushed Roxas’ face against his chest and held him.

Roxas struggled a bit. “No, I need to—I should—you need help.”

“I need a hug.”

Roxas stopped and turned his head up to look at Axel. A quiet moment passed. Axel gently smiled down at the frazzled man. A deep sadness crossed Roxas’ face and he buried his head against Axel’s chest and squeezed him.

“I’ve already had paramedics look me over. I’ve got some pain meds, and they cleared me. I’m all good. Really,” Axel tried to soothe.

“I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault,” Roxas muffled against Axel’s chest.

Axel kept the wince inside. His sides still hurt but the hug was so nice. “No, it’s not.”

Both men looked at one another.

“How isn’t it? He’s done this to you because I left.” Roxas’ hand reached up and fingers ghosted over and lightly grazed Axel’s swollen cheek and eye socket. “I shouldn’t have left,” he uttered.

Axel frowned a bit, feeling mild anger rising. “Don’t say that. Him doing this to me is exactly why it’s good that you left. He seems unhinged, and the longer you stayed, the more risk there was to you.”

“But you don’t deserve this. Oh God, he didn’t hurt you more than this, did he?” Roxas pushed Axel away so he could look him over.

“I might have a bruised rib, but that’s about it.”

Roxas looked pained. His eyes shimmered in the harsh light of the kitchen’s fluorescent tubing. “I’m so sorry.” He went in for another hug but then eyes widened with realization. “I’m so sorry!” he said once more with urgency, as his palm hovered inches from Axel’s sides.

Axel huffed out in dry amusement and patted his side. “It’s fine. And don’t apologize for what he did. You’re not responsible.”

“But my actions have consequences. I… I should have let you stay home instead of insisting you go to work. I… fuck! I’m so sorry that you’re in the firing line.” Roxas rubbed at his face with force and agitation. Wet eyes returned to Axel. “Van gets… very angry, very easily. I should have stayed,” Roxas berated himself and his eyes fell back to the floor.

“No. Stop saying that. I’m so glad I’ve got you away from him. It’s worth the few bruises.” Axel rubbed Roxas’ cheek.

Roxas’ head snapped up and a sharp glare was given to Axel. “You’re crazy. It’s not worth it. I’m not worth it.”

“You are,” Axel said with softness.

“No.” Roxas’ frown grew deeper.

“You are,” Axel said with more force.

Roxas looked defiant. The brief annoyance that washed over Axel fell away and he smiled at Roxas with the good side of his face, so as not to hurt himself.

“I’m not going to win, am I?” Roxas practically glowered.

“Nope.”

He sighed, took Axel by the hand, and pulled him along.

Axel looked back towards the kitchen and then at Roxas. “What’s happening?”

“I’m gonna take care of you.”

Axel liked the sound of that. Roxas sat him down on the couch, with pillows all around. He put on Sleeping Beauty for Axel to watch while he reheated the dinner he had made. They sat right next to each other, shoulders rubbing together and elbows occasionally digging into each other’s sides as they ate and laughed at how creepy the movie was. Afterward, they sat across from each other on the couch whilst Axel recounted what had happened… minus all the unpleasant things Vanitas had said. He spoke about the police coming, the lengthy reports needing to be filled, and how he hadn’t actually laid charges against Vanitas.

“You didn’t?”

The astonishment and relief in Roxas’ voice made Axel feel like he had made the right call. “Yeah. I didn’t. If he’s found guilty he would have to go to jail.”

Roxas gasped.

“I didn’t want you to get upset. I know you still care about him.” Axel could tell by the lip quiver that Roxas was holding back the tears.

“You did that for me?” Roxas said.

Axel nodded.

Roxas grimaced with seeming pain. “You had every right to charge him though.”

“Your happiness is more important to me. I’d happily take more black eyes as long as he keeps away from you, so you can live your life.”

“Why’re you being such a martyr?” Roxas asked softly with a reluctant glance up at Axel.

“Because I’m stupidly in love with you,” he gave another lopsided grin. “Don’t look so worried.”

“If anything happens to you… if anything like this,” he leaned across the couch and caressed Axel’s face, “happens to you again… I couldn’t live with myself. You should have gotten him charged. You need to stay safe.”

Axel’s heart swelled with adoration over the concern Roxas showed for him. “Admit it, you’d be upset though – knowing he’s in jail. But I guess also knowing he might come back if he’s not in jail. It’s kind of like… there’s no happy solution.”

Roxas frowned but stayed silent on the matter. “Let me do the dishes,” he said quietly before putting the TV back on for Axel and walking the plates and cutlery to the kitchen.

Axel listened to the sound of water running in the kitchen and only paid limited attention to the infomercial that was playing on the TV. His mind went over the exchange of words he had with Vanitas in the alley. It bothered him, and he didn’t know what to do. Somehow the threat Vanitas had made about them not being broken up seemed like something Roxas should know about. But at the same time… it was a crazy message. Vanitas couldn’t force Roxas to be with him if Roxas didn’t want to be. But Vanitas was still important to Roxas. His crazy words might matter. That made Axel angry. He didn’t want to have Roxas be all hung up about a manipulative moron. He was actually afraid that Roxas might take Vanitas’ message seriously.

Axel didn’t want to be that guy who kept secrets, but he also really didn’t want to waste time and energy to pass that message along. It was too hard to think about right now. His head was too heavy for any of this, so he let his mind quieten down and watched the screen before himself.

Roxas returned after a while and sat back down as Axel moved his legs to make room for Roxas. “Did he… seem like, super angry? Did he…” Roxas groaned in pain. “This will sound so bad but… did he seem happier after he did that to you?”

Axel turned off the television and sat up slowly. He shook his head. “He was pretty angry throughout the whole thing.”

“He has a hard time letting things go. I – should go talk to him. I shouldn’t have left him a letter.”

Cold panic gripped Axel and twisted his guts. Considering what he had seen Vanitas do to himself, a letter had probably been the correct response. He tried to sound as measured as possible, “I really think you shouldn’t see him.

“But—”

“No. Seriously… I need you to stay safe. Me getting beat up is fine, but you… he wouldn’t have stopped at a few punches.”

Roxas wore a thoughtful frown. “I… he wouldn’t do that to me.”

“Are you one hundred percent certain?”

Roxas was about to blurt something out without thinking, but he shut his mouth and looked at his hands for a moment. He rubbed at his fingers and then brushed over the wrist where Axel had seen the bruise on, such a long time ago now – but still not nearly long enough to ever forgive it or forget it.

“No,” Roxas muttered eventually. “But, I don’t feel good about how I left things with him. I… I think I need to talk to him.”

Axel sighed. “I guess if you really have your heart set on it you could maybe call him?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“Oh, what happened to yours?”

Roxas’ face scrunched up and his eyes looked at the coffee table, instead of at Axel. “I broke it.”

“Oh. I guess you could use mine?”

Eyes snapped to look at Axel. “Thank you – but then he’d have your number. I can’t let him harass you.”

Axel nodded. “Thanks for thinking of me.”

Roxas reached out and held Axel’s hand. “I should have been thinking about you a lot more. I shouldn’t have let you go out.”

“Nothing we can do about it now.”

Roxas gave a disgruntled nod, and then asked, with worry lacing his words, “You don’t have to go back to work any time soon, do you?”

Axel shook his head. “Marluxia doesn’t want me to be seen looking like this. He’s given me two weeks off and then I’ll be off for a bit more depending on how my face goes.”

Roxas sighed with relief and rubbed at Axel’s knuckles.

“You worried that Vanitas will be back?”

“Yeah,” Roxas breathed out.

“He’s barred from the bar. He knows Marluxia will press charges against him, no matter what – no excuses.”

“But what if Van follows you back home from the bar? Or he somehow finds out where you live? Finds us? Finds you, all alone?” Eyes were wide and wild.

“We’ll be fine. I promise you. And anyway, if he ever does come at me again I’ll be prepared. He just caught me off guard, that’s all.” Axel tried to give Roxas his most reassuring smile – but the state of his face probably didn’t convey the message he hoped for.

Roxas leaned towards Axel a little more. Their hands clasped together, and they held onto each other firmly. “I don’t want you to ever have to see him again. I don’t ever want you to be in danger again. You’re important to me.”

It warmed Axel to hear Roxas talking about him like that, and to show such concern. “Thanks for worrying about me.”

“I can’t let anything happen to my penguin. We only just got together. And I – ah,” Roxas threw a glance behind himself at the bookshelf next to the curtainless window, and Axel followed the gaze, “reunited them.”

The two penguins were standing together on one of the shelves, bowed heads touching, looking at their little marble egg. It made Axel smile – wince – and then smile again, more carefully this time. It felt so right. Having Roxas with him felt perfect. He pulled Roxas towards himself, and Roxas obliged by scrambling atop of Axel, straddling his lap. Concerned hands went all over the bruised, and not-bruised parts of Axel’s face. Roxas pressed gentle kisses to Axel’s forehead, brow, nose, cheeks, and then mouth. Axel loved Roxas’ weight on his lap, and the slow, gentle caress of warm fingertips against his skin. Tentative little pecks turned to short sucks, soft nibbles, and then more assured grazes.

Axel leaned back and tilted his head against his couch’s armrest and lounged, with Roxas on top of him. Roxas leaned down as well, and his hands began to roam off Axel’s face and wandered down his body, while soft kisses tickled Axel’s skin. The attention melted all the stress of the day away. This was just what Axel needed after all that had happened – and not just regarding today either.

Axel lazily caressed Roxas’ sides, slipping down to his buttock and back up, to start the journey all over again. Roxas’ hands, meanwhile, reached Axel’s stomach. The shirt was lifted and warm fingers, and then palm, pressed against Axel’s skin. Axel hummed and brushed his tongue against Roxas’ lips. Roxas’ mouth opened, and Axel’s stomach buzzed with a thrill.

He started holding Roxas’ hips firmly and slid his fingers under Roxas’ shirt to touch smooth, taut skin. Roxas leaned into the touch with his body and pushed his tongue into Axel’s mouth. Axel tilted his head back further, letting Roxas take charge of their kiss. It was wonderfully desperate. Roxas’ hands roamed and explored, as did Axel’s. He had been fantasizing about touching Roxas for so long – it was almost surreal that it was finally happening.

They pushed against each other with more need. Roxas’ hands left Axel’s body and suddenly Axel’s shirt was up around his armpits. Axel raised himself and his arms, allowing Roxas to pull off the garment.

Roxas discarded Axel’s shirt, tossing it in a random direction. Wide blue eyes lidded heavily with lust at the sight of Axel’s torso. Axel enjoyed watching Roxas drink up the sight of him. A tingling shiver went up his spine and a throb pulsed down his shaft. Roxas’ hands were back on Axel, roaming, rubbing, sweeping across his skin. Roxas gently caressed the bruise on Axel’s ribcage. He leaned in, kissing the site of violence and then began kissing his way up Axel’s body. Pectorals, clavicle, jugular, jaw, and lips.

Axel ran his hands up Roxas’ sides, lifting his shirt with the motion until Roxas got that Axel was also eager to undress him. Their kiss broke, Axel removed Roxas’ shirt in much the same manner as Roxas had done for him, and then Axel pulled Roxas flush against himself once more. Both men moaned into each other’s mouths with how nice the skin-on-skin contact felt. Axel’s fingers stroked and kneaded Roxas’ back. He loved the strength he found in Roxas’ body and couldn’t wait to feel those muscles when they started going at it in earnest.

Roxas drew out of the kiss and nuzzled his face into the crook of Axel’s neck, where he started leaving kisses and small bites. That really made Axel want Roxas. He hummed, shifted his body weight, and rolled them over. He hovered above Roxas and quickly reconnected them with a hungry, intense kiss.

He sucked ardently and had the passion be returned in equal measure from Roxas. Axel pulled off Roxas though, wanting to see the man below him, as much as feel him. His eye and hands trailed down Roxas’ chest and stomach, gorging themselves on exquisite features. But fingers halted when they came in contact with a yellow-green discoloration. There were a few more areas like this of varying sizes, wrapping around the middle of Roxas’ body, as well as his upper arm. The sight quenched the fire in his eyes and chilled Axel’s lust.

Roxas reached out for one of Axel’s hands. Their fingers found one another and held tight.

“When did this happen?”

Roxas sighed and avoided eye contact. “A week ago.”

Axel thought back— “The phone call?”

Roxas shook his head. “It wasn’t that. Van was mad and on the warpath. He wanted an excuse to break my things, so please don’t think it was anything you did.”

“Break? What did he break?” Axel looked on, mild panic gripping him, and he prayed that he wouldn’t discover a broken bone if he looked further down Roxas’ body.

A stern look and slight frown from Roxas landed on Axel. “He threw my sewing machine out the window and was gonna do the same to Cheshire. So, I stopped him and… well, yeah. This happened.” His hand waved at himself, vaguely.

Axel inhaled sharply past his teeth. “Shit.” He rubbed at the marks with his free hand and lifted Roxas’ hand, kissing his knuckles.

“It’s okay. I’m glad it’s finally over,” Roxas mumbled.

Axel was too, but Vanitas’ dumb words came back to mind, forcing Axel to think about all that shit again. Vanitas declaring that they were still dating was such an absurd thing that Roxas would never fall for that shit. So, Axel thought that he should just tell Roxas about it. Vanitas didn’t have a capital on their relationship. He couldn’t dictate whether it was still on. But what if Roxas took it to heart?

Axel was still holding Roxas’ hand to his mouth. Roxas’ thumb caressing the underside of his chin brought him back to the planet.

“You all right?” Roxas asked.

“Yeah. Just… thinking.” Axel kissed Roxas’ hand again before letting it go and returning his hand onto the marred abdomen.

“About what?”

Was he going to say something? Apparently yes, “You’re completely fine with us doing this, yeah? You’re not worried about cheating anymore?”

Roxas took up Axel’s other hand and rubbed. “It’s over between me and Van. I told him everything – I wrote him everything I needed to say. So no, I’m not worried anymore. I’m done.” But he sounded tense.

Axel ran his eyes all over Roxas. Over bruises, light hair, nipples, neck, onto tongue, which flicked and wet slightly chapped lips. Roxas was sublime. Axel was done talking. Done worrying. They were free to do whatever they wanted with each other. Vanitas had just been trying to stir up trouble. So, Axel made peace with himself and asked, “Roxas, can I kiss you wherever I want?”

Lips rubbed together gently, eyes worked over Axel’s body. “Where do you want to start?” Roxas asked with bated breath.

“Right here.” Axel pressed a finger to Roxas’ lips. Said lips parted, tongue protruded and licked. It didn’t stop there though; Roxas leaned up a little, taking Axel’s finger into his mouth and sucked. The butterflies kicked up a storm and Axel’s body blazed with hunger. The tingle of desire in his chest seeped into his groin while memories of reversed roles came to mind.

Roxas released Axel. “Where do you want to finish?” His voice possessed an alluring gravel.

Axel bit his bottom lip quite hard. His eyes fell down Roxas’ body and his finger followed, skidding down the planes of warm flesh, and following the happy trail. He came to a stop at Roxas’ waistband. Both men looked at each other. Roxas appeared flushed and his eyes darted between Axel’s finger and eyes.

Axel resumed his finger’s journey, over pants, and onto the top of the bulge that was forming down there. Axel stroked the soft tip of Roxas’ head through the fabric of his pants, with great tenderness.

Roxas’ chest heaved, and he rubbed his lips together.

“Here,” Axel breathed out, already imagining kneeling before Roxas, with the man’s thighs pillowing the sides of his head while he swallowed Roxas down as far as he could.

Roxas released a shaky breath and nodded. “Okay,” came the consent Axel had longed to hear for months now. It wasn’t Axel who made the first move though; Roxas’ hands were on Axel’s chest, pushing him back and down towards the other end of the couch. His head landed against the armrest and Roxas descended on him. The warm tongue pushed into his mouth with no resistance from Axel. He sucked on Roxas and wrapped his arms around him. Lust and heat filled Axel’s body and soul.

He felt the strong back muscles rippling with Roxas’ every move. He ran his hands down Roxas’ sides while Roxas undid Axel’s pants. A few moments later there came a tug and Roxas’ mouth left Axel’s. Kisses fell down his neck and chest. Axel arched his back and gasped with delight. Hands were working on pulling his boxer-briefs down along with jeans. Axel reveled in the steady feel of fingers over his hips and he shivered when Roxas’ fingers slid around towards his backside.

Roxas’ lips reached Axel’s navel before it registered to Axel what was happening. He had wanted to be the first to do the honors, so he roused himself out of heady pleasure.

“Rox, stop.”

Head snapped up. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Roxas stammered and looked startled, but damn if those rosy cheeks didn’t speak volumes as well.

Axel chuckled, “No, don’t be sorry.”

“Then… what?” Roxas’ brow furrowed in confusion.

“I call dibs. It should be me doing this to you. I want you in my mouth.” Axel sat up, pulled at Roxas’ backside so their hips were flush against each other and then he leaned forward. He pulled his legs out from under Roxas and pushed the smaller man back down against the couch and began kissing him.

First was the edge of lips, where he nibbled and sucked his way to the middle. He sucked on Roxas’ bottom lip and enjoyed how Roxas’ hands were running up and down his back, all the way to his pants and underwear, which were already slipping down. Roxas’ hands continued to slowly push the material off with each passing sweep and squeezed at Axel’s sides and backside with desire.

Axel pushed into Roxas’ mouth. He loved listening to all of the little sounds which spilled out of the man’s throat. He loved how Roxas pushed his hips up towards Axel, making him think of the way they had ground together on the dance floor. Axel’s erection kept building. His heartbeat grew in speed as excitement rose. He had wanted to do this with Roxas for so long. Since day one, really. And now it was finally here. He kept the giddy laugh inside.

Axel left Roxas’ mouth and pressed firm kisses down his neck, on collarbone, pecs, and then took a scenic detour to Roxas’ nipples where he licked, nipped, and sucked; curious to see what reaction he could get from him.

Roxas writhed and kneaded Axel’s sides as Axel’s backside was now too far down for Roxas to reach.

Axel kept maneuvering downward, leaving kisses and humming in delight. He pulled at pants, popping button undone, and pulling the zip down while his tongue meandered down Roxas’ abdomen. Roxas’ stomach was heaving. Axel flashed eyes up to see what state Roxas was in – emotionally. Roxas seemed under a cloud of pleasure. It made Axel smile. He passed his palm over Roxas’ groin – his erection bulging a lot more now. Axel’s stomach fluttered as he felt Roxas’ satisfying length and girth. He hoped Roxas would want to do him one day. He fucking hungered to get fucked by him. Axel licked his lips. “You’re so sexy, Roxas. I’m gonna suck you off like you’ve never been sucked off before.”

Blue eyes went a little wide and Roxas withdrew his arms from Axel to prop himself up on his elbows. He stayed wordless but stared.

It made Axel smirk. He returned his hungry eyes onto Roxas’ body and pushed the flaps of pants aside. He teased Roxas by running tips of his fingers over the elastic of his briefs while continuing to press kisses down Roxas’ abdomen.

Axel hooked fingers under the band and pulled them down, revealing the head of Roxas’ penis. Axel made a show of licking his lips, casting a sultry glance up at Roxas and then descended on him, first exhaling against sensitive skin and then licking at beading liquid and pressing his tongue against Roxas’ slit.

Roxas shivered, gave a shaky exhale, and the cutest mewl Axel had ever heard. That mewl had been so cute, in fact, it made Axel stop and look up at the other man in hopes of catching a gorgeous expression to go along with that sound. Axel wasn’t disappointed; Roxas’ lips were parted, his eyes were glazed over, and his head lolled to the side a little. He nudged his hips up against Axel like he was begging for more.

It was such a tease. Axel chuckled and revealed more of Roxas. A deep and low moan worked its way out of Axel’s chest as the sight of Roxas’ desire for him knotted his insides. He went down on Roxas again, taking his throbbing erection into his mouth as he freed more of the hot flesh from pesky clothes. Axel rubbed his tongue against the underside of Roxas’ shaft.

Roxas was panting. His hand grabbed clumps of Axel’s hair and that just about drove Axel wild. He sucked harder on Roxas, massaging the salty liquid out of his slit and moaned with pleasure at how perfect it all was right now.

Axel pulled garments down a little further, he opened his mouth a little wider, swallowing Roxas down a bit deeper.

Gulps, and then a soft sniffling sound interrupted Axel from taking Roxas in all the way down to his base. The strange sounds made Axel look up, and what he saw froze him place. Roxas was still propped up on his elbows, but he was staring woefully up at the ceiling while tears rolled down his cheeks.

Axel slid himself off Roxas’ erection. “What’s wrong, babe? Is it me?” He scrambled back up, pushing his hand into blond hair and rubbing, lovingly.

“No. No, God, no. It’s never you.” Roxas gave a squeaky, disgruntled laugh. He pulled Axel’s hand out of his hair and kissed the palm. “It’s always me.”

“What can I do to make it better? Am I coming on too strong?” His heart was thumping in his gut from excitement and worry.

“No.” Roxas sniffled. “Please don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I’m really happy, Axel. Really fucking happy.”

“Then why the tears?” he asked gently.

“I – I feel really bad,” Roxas said, unable to get it out without sobs hitching his voice. “I’m so sorry. I just don’t think I can tonight,” he cried.

“Hey, don’t be sorry. Don’t apologize to me. It’s all fine.”

Roxas shook his head, and more tears fell out of his squeezed-shut eyes. Fingertips ghosted over the left side of Axel’s face. “I shouldn’t have insisted you go to work. If you had stayed this—if you had stayed we could have—” Roxas scrunched his face up, even more, to try and stop the tears. “And now we can’t because I’m a fucking mess.”

Axel sighed. “Stop thinking about it. You’re not responsible for what happened.”

“I am,” Roxas squeaked woefully through tears. “I’m such a fuck up. Such a mess.”

“I think we’re both a mess,” Axel said in resignation. His head started throbbing, or maybe he was just becoming aware of it again.

Roxas sniffled and his voice broke, “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m okay, but I think I’ll be way better after a good night’s rest. Let’s go sleep it off, Rox. We’re both exhausted.” He squeezed Roxas’ shoulder and got off the other man, hoisting his pants up so he wouldn’t trip over himself.

Roxas sat up a little. “In bed, together?” Blue eyes shimmered with tears and uncertainty.

“Yeah, is that okay?” Axel felt even more exhausted as lust drained from his body, leaving him sluggish and heavy.

Roxas thought for a moment and then nodded eagerly. He pulled his briefs and jeans back up as he stood. Axel held out his hand, and Roxas took it. Reassuring squeezes came from both of them and they walked into Axel’s bedroom. The door was shut, jeans were discarded without fanfare, underwear kept on, and Axel pulled Roxas into bed with him. Warm limbs wrapped around each other, blanket was pulled on top of mostly naked bodies, and they snuggled together. Roxas’ arms were around Axel, and his hands stroked where they rested against his skin. Axel buried his face in Roxas’ hair, smelling it and loving how it tickled his nose. Sex would have been epic, but this was divine and felt amazing too.

“I’m so glad you’re here with me, Roxas. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve been lying awake here worrying about you,” Axel mumbled into Roxas’ hair. His hands were around Roxas’ hips and he lazily stroked the skin he found under his fingertips.

“I’m so sorry that I ever made you worry. I’m so sorry about everything.”

Axel hushed Roxas with gentle shushing and loving strokes of his fingers. “It’s all good. We’ve got each other now. Go to sleep.”

“Night, Ax. Thank you so much for everything.” Roxas pressed a kiss to Axel’s collarbone and nestled into the fleshy part of Axel’s chest.

A mellow smile spread across Axel’s face – it didn’t even make him wince. “Goodnight, my beautiful penguin.”

Roxas chuckled and pressed more kisses to Axel’s skin. “Good night, Axel. I love you so much.”

“Love you too.”

They fell into a peaceful slumber.

Chapter Text

Axel awoke to kisses being pressed to his face. He stretched and then threw his arms around Roxas, pulling him down to the mattress and nuzzling into the man’s neck.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Roxas giggled.

The sound of mirth made Axel’s heart swell. He nuzzled harder, eliciting more laughter from Roxas. He planted a kiss on Roxas’ cheek, hummed with joy, and said, “Morning, sweetness. I see that yesterday wasn’t a dream.”

Roxas slowly shook his head. “It wasn’t, but, I kind of wish it had been,” he said softly while fingertips carefully brushed against Axel’s face.

“Why?”

“Your face – how’s it feel?” Roxas asked gingerly.

“Does it look really bad?”

Roxas nodded.

Axel touched the site of injury, surprising himself with how he had completely forgotten about it. His skin felt hot and squishy. “Doesn’t really hurt.” He flinched. “Okay, doesn’t hurt if I don’t poke it too hard.” He gave a goofy grin to take the worry out of Roxas’ stare.

Roxas gave a sad smile but then his expression shifted, “It’s not nearly as bad as your hair though,” he sniggered.

Axel ran a hand through his locks. “Geez, what’s wrong with it?”

“It’s everywhere.” Roxas wore a soft smile and pulled at some of the tufts of hair.

“Is that bad?” Axel started brushing at himself with more vigor, feeling oddly self-conscious.

“No, it’s… cute.” Roxas’ smile somehow got softer, which made Axel’s own smile grow. “It’s how I always imagined it would be after you wake up. You’re… how I imagined you to be,” Roxas said very quietly, struggling to hold Axel’s gaze.

Axel took up one of Roxas’ hands and kissed the back of it. His heart was thumping with vigor and he felt warm all over. Knowing that Roxas had thought of him meant a great deal.

They looked at each other for a while and Roxas was definitely turning red. He cleared his throat a little. “Oh, hey, I made us breakfast. But Cheshire might eat your portion if you don’t get up fast enough.”

Axel’s sleepy state fell away. He flung the blanket aside and pulled himself and Roxas to their feet. Axel made for the door, picking up a shirt on the way which he wrestled over the top of his head. Roxas accompanied him close behind.

“You’re not going to put pants on?” Roxas observed.

“Days I’m not working make this a pants-free zone.” Axel cast a look back at a sadly much-too-dressed Roxas. “You’re defying the humanitarian law of this land.” He gave a pointed stare down to the khaki pants.

Roxas scoffed. “So what if I am?”

“I will have to strip you.” Axel turned around and caught Roxas before he could run. He lifted him off the ground. Pantsed-legs kicked in the air and Roxas shrieked with laughter. Axel managed to get back to the bed and dropped Roxas like a sack of potatoes on top of it, and then quickly undid the button, pulled down the zipper and worked his fingers under the waistband of the pants and pulled them down and off.

Roxas was still laughing, but quieter as Axel surveyed him. Roxas gave Axel a look which said, ‘you’re so pathetic.’ “Done now? Is the law pleased?”

“The law is very pleased.” Axel ran his hands up and down Roxas’ bare thighs.

Roxas sucked on his lip a little and seemed to savor the contact before saying, “C’mon. Tell me more about your crazy laws over breakfast.” Roxas got up and pulled Axel out of the bedroom, and to the dining table, which had been cleared of most of the rubbish which had sat on top of it.

“Woah. Never knew there was a table under that mess,” Axel joked and took a seat.

“I cleared all the empty food wrappers, and everything else that looked important is over there,” Roxas nodded towards the bench by the entrance. “I hope that was all right.”

“And you said you didn’t like cleaning,” Axel teased.

“I don’t… but,” Roxas shrugged, “Vanitas expected things to be a certain way and,” he shrugged again, “I guess now it’s kind of become my habit as well.”

There was that name again. Axel wondered if they would ever be free of it. He decided to change the subject. “Breakfast looks amazing.” Axel’s left eye was swollen shut but he could still appreciate the table set out before him. There were fluffy looking pancakes, scrambled eggs, crunchy bacon, grilled tomatoes, succulent mushrooms, fresh toast, brightly colored fruits, and various condiments in squeezable bottles.

“Thanks.” A lovely smile lit Roxas’ face and he went to take his seat opposite of Axel.

Axel kept looking around the table. He turned his head so he could see everything and decide where he wanted to start his breakfast journey. “First dinner, and now breakfast? If you keep spoiling me, I’ll never get to show off my own amazing cooking skills.” Axel decided he’d just have everything, so he dug into each presented dish, gathering an assortment of all food choices onto his plate.

Roxas smiled and also heaped food onto his plate. “Dinner tonight’s all yours.”

“Good. What would impress you?” Axel said around bacon dangling out of his mouth.

“Seeing you cook something really oily and splashy while the ‘no pants’ law is in full force,” Roxas looked at his plate and chuckled before he shoveled food into his mouth.

“No problem. I can do that without pants or a shirt on.”

“Completely naked?” Roxas cocked his eyebrow and his gaze fell back to his meal.

Axel smirked. “I can be your naked chef. You can even eat off my body if you want.”

It made Roxas roll his eyes, but he was also laughing. “Your plates are perfectly fine.”

“Suit yourself. But I make amazing dinnerware. Ooh, but speaking of going naked, that’s another law of my apartment.”

Eyebrow cocked again.

“Anyone under five eight has to be completely naked, at all times.” Axel leered and mentally undressed Roxas. He was met with a blank stare.

“What about Cheshire? Does the same go for her too?”

Axel shrugged. “I suppose.”

Roxas looked down to the left where Axel assumed Cheshire was sleeping since he hadn’t seen her all morning. “Never thought you’d be into shaved pussy,” Roxas deadpanned.

Axel choked on his breakfast. Roxas looked concerned for a whole second before he started laughing. Axel meanwhile coughed, red-faced, and worked hard on regaining his composure, and once he did, he joined in with the laughing.

“Well, maybe the law can be amended to only apply to you.” Axel corrected after Roxas had finished cackling.

Roxas shook his head. “I’m not doing that.”

“Fine. Suit yourself. But punishment will be severe.”

“What’s the punishment?”

“You have to listen to me butcher your favorite songs.” Axel popped a fork full of pancake into his mouth and then waggled the empty utensil at Roxas.

Eyes went wide and Roxas’ mouth hung open. “Like at karaoke?”

“Much worse,” Axel gave a pleased-with-himself smirk.

“You monster,” Roxas exclaimed in shock and then pouted. “Can the law be bargained with?”

Axel put his fork down, steepling his fingers in front of himself and said, “I’m listening.”

“I, uh – I’ll be naked for you… but only at bedtime.”

Axel hummed. He liked the sound of that. “Do I get to strip you?”

“If I have clothes on, sure.” Roxas looked down at his plate, stabbing mushrooms with his fork.

That response confused Axel. “Why would you already be naked when you get to bed?”

“I like to have a shower before bed,” he shrugged.

Axel imagined Roxas in the shower and then coming to Axel all warm and squeaky clean. He hummed in satisfaction and felt his penis stir. “Yeah, okay. The law has been changed. Always naked in bed, or the singing starts.”

Roxas squinted at Axel from across the table. “Are you… drooling?”

Axel wiped at his mouth. “No, and so what if I was. You’re delicious,” he tried to deflect and resumed eating.

Roxas huffed with laughter. Cheeks were dusting over, and eyes looked away in embarrassment. Axel thought it beautiful. “How’d you sleep?” he asked, wanting to know that Roxas was settling in all right.

“Okay.”

“Just okay?” Axel wondered if he needed to buy a more comfortable bed.

“I never thought you were so needy for validation,” Roxas teased.

Axel nodded. “I want to make sure you’re happy here – happy with me.”

Roxas’ expression softened, and his eyes shyly darted between his plate and Axel’s face. “You felt really good. It was really nice,” he said quietly.

Axel’s love for Roxas blazed in his chest. “I’m going to kiss you now, and I hope that’s okay.” He pushed his chair back and walked around the table. He knelt before Roxas, who swiveled in his chair to face Axel on his approach.

Roxas’ legs spread, Axel slid in between them, and Roxas leaned down while Axel rose up a little. Lips touched and explored. Axel opened up a little, trying to encourage Roxas to take him. The invitation was accepted and Roxas’ tongue slipped in. Axel slung his arms around Roxas’ hips and pressed the palms of his hands against Roxas’ back. The other man’s thighs tightened around Axel’s sides and Roxas rested his forearms on Axel’s shoulders, tangling his fingers into the messy red hair.

Axel was enjoying himself. Bacon and Roxas went well together. He was contemplating lifting the other man up and transporting them both to the bedroom, to see if a good night’s sleep hadn’t done wonders for the both of them.

Roxas stopped the kiss before Axel could make up his mind. Their foreheads pressed together, and they quietly smiled at each other.

“I love you,” Roxas breathed out.

The words inflated Axel. He would never get tired of hearing them. “I love you, too.” He would never get tired of saying them either.

The sound of cutlery moving against porcelain drew their attention away from each other and towards the table. Axel shrieked in horror at the sight of Cheshire eating his bacon. “No! My precious!” He leapt up and bounded towards his breakfast plate. Axel carefully scooped up the cat. “You thief,” he scolded gently and dropped her to the ground and took his seat again. He looked at the chewed-on bit of bacon, picked it up, bent down, and fed it to the cat, sighing. “You’re such a naughty pussy. Lucky you’re so cute though.”

When he sat back up and looked at Roxas, he swore he could almost see the cartoon love hearts swirling around the man’s head. “What?” He looked behind himself and upon not seeing anything, turned back around.

“You’re just – the real deal; gentle, and kind, and funny, and sexy and—” Roxas took a deep breath. “Axel, I want you to strip me down and take me to your bed.”

Axel’s one good eye widened, and his heart pounded. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Roxas tittered.

Axel forgot breakfast and went to Roxas’ side, pulling the t-shirt off with ease as Roxas’ arms were already raised above his head. He tossed the shirt aside and leered, unapologetically, as Roxas stood up before him. He didn’t feel like he had seen enough of Roxas last night. He felt so hungry for Roxas’ small, but toned frame. Axel wanted to cut his teeth on those abs. The discolored skin was still there – maybe looking a little lighter than the night before. Seeing Roxas’ beautiful body in such a state made Axel’s anger flare up. But Roxas was safe now. Axel would take such good care of him. It went a long way in calming him down.

He leaned in towards Roxas, kissing his neck and trailing his lips over shoulders as he hooked his fingers into Roxas’ waistband of his underwear and pulled the last tiny bit of clothing off the other man. He only had to push them down past thighs before they fell away.

Axel’s pulse raced. He felt so hot for Roxas and so needy for sex with the man he had been waiting for way too long. He righted himself, picked up Roxas’ arms and maneuvered them onto his shoulders. He then bent a little, picked Roxas up by holding him around his backside and marched towards his – their – bedroom, while his thumbs stroked the skin of Roxas’ derriere. “New law. Any time you ask for sex, you’ll get it.”

“Even in the middle of the night after you’ve just fallen asleep after a long shift?” Roxas mumbled between kisses left against Axel’s neck.

“Yeah. It’s the law and must be upheld.”

Roxas nuzzled into red hair and pressed a smiling kiss behind Axel’s ear.

“I still can’t believe you’re here with me.” Axel kicked the bedroom door shut with his foot as they entered.

Roxas stopped nibbling on Axel’s earlobe. “Me neither. This is like a dream come true.” Roxas pulled himself against Axel and kissed him deeply.

Axel’s insides squeezed with love and desire. He loved Roxas taking kisses from him so freely. He loved the feel of Roxas’ tight butt and the way he could feel Roxas getting hard against him. Axel kissed back with all the need and pent-up sexual frustration that had accumulated over the months. Yes, he had let off steam with others, but it had never quenched his thirst or satiated his hunger for Roxas.

He bent them down, laying, and kissing Roxas into the mattress. His hands traveled all over Roxas’ body. Down arms, where their fingers interlaced for a few moments, before Axel’s hand continued onto the man’s soft waist, where the vestige of the bruises still ghosted, but could soon be forgotten like a bad dream. Axel would protect Roxas from ever being hurt again. Passion and love surged through his body. Roxas was his to take care of now. He would show him what a proper relationship was meant to look like, starting with mind-blowing sex.

Axel stood back up and looked at Roxas in all his naked glory. Toned chest rose and fell sharply. His erection stood proud, crying out for Axel’s touch. Roxas’ hand raised up, reaching for Axel.

Axel scraped his top teeth over his lower lip and hummed his appreciation for what lay before him. He then pulled his shirt up and over his head and slid his underpants off. “Any requests, babe?” he asked in a low rumble.

Roxas looked all over Axel’s body for a few moments. He shook his head. “Anything. I just need you.”

Those words hit Axel in the pit of his stomach. He sunk to the ground on his knees before Roxas and pulled on legs until Roxas’ groin was in very easy reach.

Roxas leaned back on his elbows, the tip of his penis inches closer to Axel’s face. Axel grabbed Roxas’ hips and pulled him even nearer and slightly off the bed. Axel licked his lips as he eyed Roxas’ erection. Pre-come slid down his head and shaft and gathered around trimmed hairs. Axel’s heart raced, and his erection throbbed with need.

Axel looked up at Roxas, who looked gorgeous with how wide his eyes and mouth were, in sheer wonder. “What’re you gonna do?” Roxas said, almost breathless.

Axel smirked just enough to not make him wince with discomfort. He opened wide, giddy with excitement and anticipation.

“Oh,” Roxas panted and almost as an afterthought added a tentative, “Condoms?”

Axel’s mouth closed up again. He had forgotten about that. “Yeah. I’ll grab some.” Axel always had protected sex with guys, he guessed this shouldn’t be any different. He had gotten himself checked out during his sexual adventures, so he felt pretty confident in being okay, but Roxas… Axel didn’t trust the sniveling weasel of a boy—ex-boyfriend, he corrected himself.

Axel scrambled over to his bedside stand and got what he needed out of it, tossing a foil at Roxas and quickly tearing open one of his own, rolling it on.

Roxas was barely done with his when Axel came back to rest between spread open legs, and as he nestled in close he put a tube of lubricant on the bed, a little out of the way.

“Now, where were we?” Axel cocked his good eyebrow and pulled Roxas close to himself once more. He flicked out his tongue and slid over the latex-covered erection. He licked Roxas’ tip a few times before he greedily took Roxas into his mouth, slowly swallowing him down to his base. A strangled moan left Roxas’ throat and his head was thrown back, causing his erection to push a little further into and down Axel’s throat.

Axel began working Roxas with his mouth, all the while enjoying the desperation his own neglected erection was leaving him feeling. He was going to replenish his depleted stock of flavored condoms. He was going to get flavored lubricants. Bacon flavor. Axel groaned with that thought, and a long moan from Roxas drew Axel’s eye open and up.

Roxas was still propped up on elbows, head thrown back, exposing that neck Axel wanted to leave bruised in lovemarks. He wondered what Roxas would like and want. He had said whatever Axel wanted. Axel wanted… to tie Roxas up and ride his cock until they both came. But most guys always wanted Axel to top though. Roxas was probably of the same persuasion.

Axel gave a few hard sucks before he pulled off Roxas. “You want me on top?”

“Can you—” Roxas shook his head. “Do whatever you want with me,” he panted.

“No, what do you want me to do?”

A pained smile crossed Roxas’ face. “Keep… sucking?”

Axel hummed. Not needing to be told twice, he pressed his lips to Roxas’ head and massaged him with kisses, licks, and then sucks. Roxas squirmed and let out a sexy moaning sigh. Axel worked Roxas further into his mouth wanting to hear more sounds, and he did. Moan upon moan upon moan left Roxas’ throat. They became louder each time Axel gave a sharp suck to Roxas’ head after drawing off the stiff and proud erection. Axel didn’t think he would ever get tired of hearing Roxas like this.

Axel was enjoying himself immensely. He loved Roxas’ cock in his mouth and thought how wonderful it would be to have that girthy erection stretching him wide and filling him up. Axel made himself moan with his fantasy. Roxas bucked his hips and his breath caught in his throat. Roxas’ hand went to Axel’s hair, grabbing locks and pushing Axel down. Axel took Roxas into his throat an inch more and grabbed onto Roxas’ backside a little tighter, controlling the pace by which Roxas bucked into, and was fucking himself, in Axel’s mouth.

Axel found a good rhythm to match Roxas with his bobbing, sucking, and licking. Roxas’ head was still thrown back; his free hand clutched the bed sheets tightly and he kept rolling his hips and almost wailing with pleasure. Axel’s own need was growing. He relinquished his hold on Roxas a little and slid one of his hands down to his erection, where he began stimulating himself. Axel shivered and moaned with pleasure around Roxas’ erection.

He froze mid-suck and the moan died in his throat.

There it was again, the loud sharp sound of a sob. Axel pulled off Roxas, bewildered and alarmed. His hand left his erection. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and then grabbed at Roxas, pulling him more upright to hopefully be able to look at his face.

“Babe, Roxas, what’s wrong?”

Roxas kept his head up to the ceiling. The sobs – they were definitely sobs – shook out of him as splotchy features were struggling to look at him.

“Are you okay?” Axel asked again, raising himself onto his knees.

Roxas finally looked down at him a little, revealing his splotchy red face. “I’m sorry,” Roxas blubbered. “I’m so sorry.” He leaned forward and hugged Axel’s head to his chest.

Axel was completely baffled as to what was happening. He wound his arms a little tighter around Roxas and hugged him close. “What’re you sorry for?”

“For everything I’ve put you through. For this.” Roxas mumbled into Axel’s hair and shook with his sadness.

Axel pulled away a little, feeling an odd mix of arousal and concern. He looked up into Roxas’ watery eyes. “Why’re you feeling this right now? We were just enjoying ourselves—weren’t we?”

Roxas nodded and sniffled. Tears kept gathering and running out of his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah. But I look at you,” Roxas shook with more sobs, “I feel so bad. I feel so bad for leaving Vanitas too. I feel sick. I hate myself. This doesn’t feel right, but I love you – I love you,” Roxas finished in a squeak and more tears erupted. He doubled over with the sadness inside himself and rested his forehead on Axel’s shoulder.

“Oh, Roxas.” Axel planted a kiss in his hair and then lifted himself, sitting down next to Roxas on the bed and holding him with one arm, and then two as Roxas pushed into the hug and held firmly onto Axel.

Axel tried to be as soothing as possible, shushing him and rocking slightly while rubbing Roxas’ bare back. “It’s all right. It’s fine. Maybe it’s too early for us.”

“But I love you,” Roxas pulled out of Axel’s hold a little to look him in the eye.

“And I love you, but we don’t have to push it right now. We have time.”

“But it’s important to you.”

“You think I only want you around for sex?” he asked in disbelief.

Roxas’ frown intensified a little.

The incredulity on Axel’s face only grew. “C’mon, man, you’re important to me. You being happy is important to me. If I just wanted sex – well, I have guys to go to for that, but with you, I want things to be different.”

“Like…”

“A relationship.” Axel smiled at Roxas, who had some of his sadness defused and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“Really?”

Axel laughed lightly, “Yeah.” He rubbed Roxas’ hair, which made Roxas’ smile grow a bit bigger. “Is that why you’re feeling sad? Because you didn’t think I’d want that from you?” Axel asked, as gently as possible.

Roxas’ eyes cast down and his brow creased. After a moment he gave a small shake of his head. “No. It’s… you’re just – so nice to me,” Roxas mumbled. “Vanitas – he would never – he doesn’t—” Roxas buried his head back in Axel’s chest, extinguishing the last of Axel’s erection.

“C’mon. Let’s get dressed and decide what we want to do today.” Axel gave Roxas an encouraging pat on the back.

Roxas leaned away from Axel and wiped at his face. “I, ah – I have somewhere I need to go.”

“Yeah? You know how to get there? Need my help?”

Roxas rubbed his lips together. “I would really appreciate it if you came with me.”

Axel smiled. “No problem. Where is it we’re going?”

Roxas’ eyes dropped. He swallowed and looked like he was making a choice. “The police station.”

“The police? What’s wrong?”

Roxas’ attention returned to Axel. He fingered Axel’s cheek. “I need to protect you. Protect me. Protect us. I hate saying it, but… I don’t trust Vanitas anymore. Him coming after me is one thing, but you? I don’t trust that he’ll leave you alone. So, I want you to come to the police with me. I want to get a restraining order on him.”

“Woah.” Those words out of Roxas left Axel a little numb.

“Will you come with me?”

“Of course.”

Roxas smiled softly. “Thanks.”


 

Hand-in-hand, they made it to the district police station without too many stares in Axel’s direction. He had tried to cover up his unsightly face with a baseball cap and spikes of hair strategically placed to cover his eye and cheek, as applying makeup had hurt too much and Roxas said it would probably be better for the police to see what Vanitas had done. Axel had seen the sense in that.

Once they got there, Axel pulled the cap off and brushed his hair back while Roxas went to the reception desk. There were several people sitting around in the waiting area, looking disgruntled. The place smelled musty, and the decor was dated. It looked like this fact was trying to be hidden – rather poorly – by hundreds of posters and information fliers stuck on top of each other plastering the walls.

Axel didn’t know what to expect from coming here. He had always found the police useless when he had made reports about Xion’s situation. It had always come down to there being no evidence and Xion never saying anything when the police did come around to do a welfare check. And when Axel had gotten wind that him calling the police had potentially caused more trouble, he had stopped doing that.

But Roxas was willing to make a statement against Vanitas, so Axel was feeling kind of positive about being here. Doing this had some kind of impending finality about it. The Vanitas situation would finally end here, which was something Axel really liked the idea of. But being here now, being reminded of Xion and how useless everything had been, put a huge dampener on his otherwise chipper mood. He hoped it would brighten Roxas’ outlook though.

“Nice shiner,” came a deep voice to Axel’s left. “Don’t tell me that pipsqueak did that to ya,” the man of ample size said, laughingly.

Axel gave a quiet, “No,” shook his head, and wandered over to Roxas, who was just greeted by a police officer behind safety glass.

Axel heard Roxas say, “My ex assaulted my boyfriend. I want to get a restraining order and civil restraining order put on him.”

It would have put the biggest smile on Axel’s face if the motion didn’t also make him wince. He, at least, enjoyed the buzz that those words left inside himself. They hadn’t discussed it further than dropping the ‘relationship’ word that morning, but it kind of seemed the natural progression of things.

“Boyfriend?” Axel said with a lopsided smile on his face and in his voice when the officer left to fetch some paperwork.

Roxas looked stricken. “I – I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought – the police might take us more seriously if we… shit. Sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. I’m sorry. I’ll go tell them—” Roxas began moving, heading towards where the officer in charge of taking their statements had disappeared to.

Axel grabbed Roxas by the waist and pulled him back against himself. Damn, Roxas was super cute. He melted Axel’s heart and made him smile down at Roxas with tenderness. He brushed fingertips against the palm of Roxas’ hand, and said, “It’s all right. We can talk about this more when we get home, but to be clear, I’m pretty excited.”

Roxas looked relieved before the police officer came back and ushered them into an interview room.

The stuff that happened afterward was somewhat of a blur, because it had been a lot of different things all occurring in quick succession of each other, and it was also quite an emotional rollercoaster. Axel had been on a bit off a cloud at first, but then having to give his statement sobered him rather rapidly.

For Axel, it was pretty straightforward. He gave a reference number the police from last night had left him with, so he was spared going through all the details. Despite this, the whole process still fatigued him quickly – because he wasn’t used to being up at this time of day, but also because his head still wasn’t quite right from the previous night’s knock.

When it was Roxas’ turn it wasn’t as quick. Once the word ‘abuse’ left Roxas’ mouth, Axel had been taken out of the room. It was good timing because he received a call from Kairi.

“Morning, Kai-Kai.”

“It’s midday. Why aren’t you and Roxas at The Kingdom?” she asked. “Lucy said you told her you two would be here.”

“Ah, about that – we’re at the police station right now.”

“Oh my God, what happened? Are you two all right?”

“Yeah. You know Roxas left his abusive-as-fuck ex, right?”

“Yeah, Lucy said she helped him move yesterday.”

“So, the guy came around my work yesterday looking for Roxas.”

“Oh no! What happened?”

“I don’t want you to worry. We’re both fine… but I did end up getting a black eye—”

“You what?” Kairi screamed through the line.

Axel yanked the phone away from his ear and laughed. “It’s all fine. Hurts a bit but looks way worse than it is. I got checked out by paramedics last night and Roxas has been great company.”

A sigh of relief sounded through the phone. “So, what’s going on with the police?”

“Roxas decided he wants to get a restraining order on his ex. And he called me his boyfriend.” Axel couldn’t contain the giggle.

“Really? A restraining order… ‘and’ you’re boyfriends? Wow.”

“Yeah. –Oh, hey, Kai, someone just came out of the interview room. I gotta go. I’ll fill you in later.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Axel hung up and walked over to the officer who was looking at him.

“You can go in again. We just had to do a routine safety check,” the officer informed.

Axel nodded and went back inside the small room which didn’t house much aside from a desk and some chairs around it. There was a mountain of paperwork on the table as well, but other than that the place was pretty bare. Roxas gave him a welcoming smile, which warmed Axel’s heart. Roxas’ hand was outstretched beckoning for Axel to join him, which he did without hesitation. He took Roxas’ hand and slid back into his seat. “You okay?” Axel asked.

“Yeah.”

“You said you wanted Axel here while we went through getting your statement, is that correct?” the police officer verified.

Roxas nodded. “Yeah. For support. Is that all right with you, Axel?” Roxas turned a hopeful smile onto him.

Axel was still holding Roxas’ hand under the table. He could feel how cold Roxas was and the slight tremble when Axel didn’t hold on as firmly. “Yeah, of course,” he said, never even dreaming of refusing a request like that.

Hands were squeezed, a silent, ‘Thank you,’ was mouthed.

“All right then. Let’s begin.” The police officer got stuck into his paperwork, asking questions and taking down Roxas’ statements.


 

Axel sat beside Roxas for the full three hours it took to go through everything. He listened quietly to all the horrific recounts of years of low-level abuse Roxas had endured at the hands of the guy who was supposed to have loved and cared for him. The more Axel listened, the more he looked between the lines. Roxas was being nice about the way he talked about Vanitas. The supportive boyfriend he tried to paint a picture of only came across as manipulative and controlling to Axel.

It made Axel feel ill, angry, and upset. It also made him feel a lot more enamored with Roxas for having taken the difficult step of leaving the abusive relationship. Axel was very proud of Roxas’ bravery, and somewhere in the back of his head, he also mourned for his friend who hadn’t made it.

Axel kept holding and stroking Roxas’ hand, particularly when Roxas stopped in the middle of his recounts to offer up excuses for Vanitas’ multiple threats to end Roxas’ life, for throwing sharp kitchen implements, for the burning and destruction of things, and even for the very non-consensual sex forced onto Roxas. Every time the police officer had to remind Roxas to stay on topic – that they just needed the factual retelling of events to build a case for serving Vanitas with the restraining orders – Axel gave Roxas an extra-supportive squeeze.

From the way Roxas struggled to stay on topic, to the tremble in his voice and body, Axel could tell it was a very difficult ordeal for Roxas to go through. When they left the police station in the afternoon, Axel felt physically and mentally obliterated. He could only imagine what devastating state the whole process had left Roxas in.

They traveled back to Axel’s place in silence. Axel held Roxas’ hand, and when they slumped in seats on the bus, Roxas sagged like a lifeless doll. Axel wrapped his arms around Roxas and tried to give the man some strength via osmosis.

Any attempts to communicate were not received or acknowledged, so Axel kept the chatter to a minimum. He somehow got them back to his apartment. The door closed and locked behind them and Roxas exhaled like he had been holding his breath the entire time they had been out. He sunk to the floor, whether with relief, exhaustion, or both, Axel couldn’t tell. Cheshire was on Roxas in mere moments. Roxas’ body folded around her, and both of them stayed glued together and to the ground. Axel put his hand on Roxas’ back. He stroked his hair, tried to give him a cuddle and asked, “What do you want to do?” all to no avail. There was no response or sign of life from Roxas. His body stayed hunched over his cat, his forehead did not lift off the floor. Roxas was a collapsed heap.

“I’ll get us something to drink,” Axel said, resigning himself to the fact that he would not be useful right now. When he received no reaction, he retreated into the kitchen once more.

Axel stayed away for a while, choosing to gulp down a few glasses of water at the sink. He threw glances at Roxas, who was in line-of-sight from the kitchen and who still hadn’t touched the glass Axel had put down for him. “You want anything to eat?” Axel threw out, hoping for a response. But there was none. He sighed and went to stare into the fridge, hoping a quick meal idea would spring to mind, as they hadn’t eaten since breakfast – over half a decade ago in Axel-stomach terms. A sandwich or five would do nicely.

He busied himself in the kitchen, eating one sandwich while he readied the next. It was a conveyor belt of food directly going into Axel’s gut. He did set a couple of sandwiches aside for Roxas, in case the man returned from the land of the dead.

Once Axel felt satiated, he turned back to— “Roxas?”

He was gone, as was Cheshire, and the glass of water. Axel picked up the plate of food and took it with him, depositing it on the dining table as he went in search of the other man. Lucky for Axel, his place was small. He went straight for the bedroom, which was curtained and much cozier and more intimate than the harshly-lit-from-outside-streetlights living area. Roxas was lying curled up in a ball on the bed. He was still holding Cheshire, who seemed quite happy to be the object of so much affection. The glass of water was on the bedside stand, looking much emptier than when Axel had last seen it. He went in and sat down on the mattress, laying his hand on Roxas’ side, rubbing at him with affection.

“There are some sandwiches on the dining table when you get hungry.”

Roxas’ head actually turned, and eye contact was made. Roxas had been crying by the looks of things, making Axel’s gut twist.

“It was so humiliating,” Roxas breathed out harshly, “having those pictures taken – having to tell them everything.” He turned away again but Axel could see the tears that squeezed out from Roxas.

Axel kept rubbing at Roxas. He still remembered too vividly the look of abject mortification on Roxas’ face when he had to take his shirt off to have his bruises photographed.

“It’s okay now. It’s all over. You don’t have to think about it anymore. You were really brave, Roxas. I’m so proud of you.”

Roxas looked at Axel again. “Why’re you so good to me? Why haven’t you kicked me out? You don’t have to feel bad. I’ll just go back to my mom’s. It’s no big deal.” His voice was monotone with exhaustion and weariness.

Axel was confused. “Why would I kick my boyfriend out?” He loved being able to say that.

Roxas unfurled rather stiffly. He held and cradled Cheshire, who looked like she was willing to let Roxas do whatever he pleased with her, but if Axel so much as touched a whisker, he bet he’d be toast.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have assumed,” came the beginnings of what felt like a much longer apology.

Axel reached over and put a finger to Roxas’ lips, shushing him. “Stop, Rox. Stop apologizing. You’ve done too much of it today. Remember how I said I was excited?”

Roxas stared blankly and then eventually shook his head.

Axel exhaled a little laugh. “Fair enough, a lot did happen today. So – to recap, we already sort of talked about this. I said I was excited about the idea, and I meant it. I want to be your boyfriend. I want us to be a thing. I want you to stay with me.” He smiled and Roxas seemed to soften a little. But eyes lowered again and glazed over. One of Roxas’ arms left Cheshire and wrapped around himself.

“If you’re gonna do that, at least let me in on it.” Axel’s remark drew blue eyes back to the present and onto himself.

Roxas gave a scratchy, “What?”

“Your mind’s wandering. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. Share.” He cupped Roxas’ cheek to emphasize their togetherness.

It took a few moments of Roxas looking tense and avoiding eye contact before he got out, “I feel like such an idiot. So shit. I… feel so guilty. I didn’t think that I—What have I done? To Van? To you? To me? What if the police scare him? What if he thinks I hate him? I don’t. I—” Roxas clamped up and gave a heavy, displeased swallow. “I don’t want anything bad happening to him.” Watery eyes looked up. “I don’t want anything bad happening to you either.” Roxas ghosted over Axel’s bruised side of his face. “I just feel so bad about everything. I feel like I’ve somehow betrayed Van. Or made him into some sort of a criminal. He’s not a bad guy. Things just got out of control. This is all my fault.”

Axel frowned. His heart went out to his boyfriend – and that thought also made his heart swell with love. “Don’t blame yourself.”

Roxas gave Axel a sulking glare.

“Do you regret going?”

Roxas, to Axel’s relief, shook his head. “No. I just wish they would have let me put the good stuff on the record as well. He’s not a monster. They wanted me to focus on all the bad stuff. I… didn’t even know there was so much—the more I thought about it, the more I remembered. But like, some of that stuff was so petty and we both got over it pretty quickly. But the police wanted as much detail as possible and I feel like complete shit for bringing up crap from the past like that.” Roxas’ speech was getting squeakier and more frantic. “Like who cares if he broke my fingers five years ago? It was an accident. We got into arguments all the time back then – before I learned not to get so annoyed about dumb stuff. What couple doesn’t have arguments and little disagreements?”

That’s where Axel felt he needed to step in, as Roxas’ speech turned more fevered, “Little arguments are normal, but you guys had full on violent rows. He held you under a sink full of water.”

“But I threw an empty terrarium at his head,” Roxas fervently defended with sad panic in his eyes. “See, and that’s why I feel like shit. You think the worst of him. So will the police when I’m clearly to blame for him acting the way he did. And I don’t understand why you want me around – why you’re so good to me – so nice, and patient, and kind—” Fresh tears welled.

Axel leaned closer, wanting to mop up all the sadness, but Roxas pulled back a fraction and the expectant tears never fell.

“You’d be so much better off without me. How can you still want me around? I’m so dumb. If today has taught me anything, it’s that I’m a complete idiot. Did you see how many pages of notes that guy wrote? It was like thirty. Thirty pages of how much our relationship sucked and of what a screw up I am, and how awful I am. Thirty pages of how much of an idiot I’ve been for letting things go on for so long. Fuck!” Roxas squeezed his cat, who seemed to take it rather well.

“I think it was more like fifteen pages, and the guy had really messy handwriting and wrote really big,” Axel tried to calm Roxas. “And anyway, seven years is like… a lot of days. Probably over two thousand, easy. I’m surprised you didn’t get the guy to fill in an entire exercise book worth of stuff.” He tried at a cheeky smirk and was rewarded with the smallest of weepy smiles. That was better than looking into the face of misery.

“Thanks for trying to make me feel better.”

“Only trying? It’s not actually working?” Axel scooched closer, so he could get more body contact.

“Maybe a little bit.” Roxas’ smile grew a fraction bigger but dropped again as a sob squeezed out. “Shit. What have I done? I’m such a terrible person. Van doesn’t deserve to have a restraining order on him. He’s good.” Wide blue eyes, rimmed red, looked up at Axel. Roxas’ hand stretched out once more, skirting around the edges of the bruising and swelling on Axel’s face. Roxas seemed to harden a little with a smolder of anger. “He shouldn’t have done that to you. I can’t defend him when he does shit like this.” And then Roxas softened again. “But I want to. I don’t want everyone to think bad things about him. They didn’t let me defend him, Axel. They only wanted to hear the bad stuff. No one knows the good in him. No one sees him like I… saw him.”

The hesitation in Roxas’ voice wasn’t lost on Axel. Even though he had tried to understand what Roxas and Xion had gone through – tried to understand the draw and allure to the men who abused them – it hadn’t really struck Axel how difficult it truly had been until today, when he had listened to Roxas, and witnessed the attempts at defending the honor of the man he had spent a large portion of his life with. Axel still didn’t fully understand it, but it didn’t matter anymore, because Roxas was safe with him. Both of them were safe now. And Roxas insisting on going through with ensuring their safety made Axel feel like Roxas would be able to move on, given time.

He rubbed at Roxas, wanting to bring him as much comfort as possible. “It’s all right,” he hushed the other man as his beautifully tragic face scrunched up with agony. Axel thought he might later regret this, but he was willing to do almost anything to soothe Roxas. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“All the good things. I’m sure you’re not crazy. You’ve got a pretty good taste in men, as you’ve demonstrated by being with me,” he flashed a smile, and got a small huff of amusement for his trouble, “so why don’t you tell me everything you wish you could have told the cops?”

Roxas looked at Axel, a bit like a deer caught in headlights. “Really?”

“Really.” Axel smiled gently and climbed onto the bed. He tugged at Roxas, urging him to cuddle up close. Roxas obliged, and let go of Cheshire, who meowed woefully and scurried away towards the main living area, to most likely eat Roxas’ sandwiches.

A thrilling tingle ran through Axel at the way Roxas nuzzled into him.

“You sure? I know you’re not a fan of him and our relationship.”

Axel found Roxas’ concern for him endearing. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m your biggest fan. And if you need to vent, I’m here for you.”

They looked at each other for some time. A mixture of emotions ran through Roxas as he was weighing everything up. Axel just maintained his gentle smile and soothing hand motions against Roxas’ body.

Eventually, Roxas began talking. He seemed to struggle to find where to start, but once he did there was an upbeat lilt and enthusiastic cadence to his voice as he spoke of the good times he had experienced with the man Axel despised. He told Axel about his childhood memories, of going on adventures with Vanitas, and family outings when Vanitas was able to escape his parents. He told Axel about Vanitas’ poor upbringing, about how Roxas and his home had been a sanctuary from the anger, violence, and tyranny of Vanitas’ father.

Roxas then talked about later years – of how they had reconnected and how amazing that had been. Roxas refrained from any graphic details that might upset Axel. He mostly spoke of fun outings, and tender moments of care the two men had shared, like when Roxas had gotten really ill and had gotten his tonsils removed as a result.

Axel felt himself in a strange position where Roxas was speaking so joyfully about an awful person, all the while pressed to Axel’s chest and tracing idle patterns into his body. All he supposed he could do was find peace in Roxas being with him now. He had, after all, offered himself up to hearing the positive bits… and they were positive, but in no way did they erase Axel’s knowledge of what else had been going on. He tried to stay relaxed about it though, for what was Vanitas now, but a demon relegated to their past? The restraining order would surely pass with all the evidence Roxas, and even Axel, had provided the police with. They just had to wait a week and then they would hopefully be free of that vile man for the rest of their forevers together.

That thought alone made Roxas’ stories more palatable to listen to. And Axel did try to listen, and not just take Roxas’ speaking as background ambiance for his thoughts.

How long Axel listened, he couldn’t be certain. All he knew was that the room seemed to get a lot darker and Roxas seemed a lot better afterward; more lively, animated, and hungry. But as Axel had suspected, Cheshire had nibbled on all the sandwiches, leaving Roxas with a growling stomach.

“It’s fine, I can eat around the chewed-on bits,” Roxas was picking at the slaughter-scene left behind at the dining table.

Axel gave him a horrified look as he gathered up the contents of the plate and headed away to toss the mess into the trash. “We don’t live in a third world. You don’t have to scrounge around for food. I’ll order some take-out.”

Roxas’ head almost snapped to attention at that. “Take-out? But I thought you were gonna wow me with your amazing chef skills,” he teased whilst holding his cat.

Axel put the plate in the sink and turned around. “Another time. I’m really tired, and you look like you’re gonna keel over from hunger and exhaustion. It won’t take as long as me cooking – and there won’t be any washing up to do, so let’s order something if that’s all right with you. Whaddya feel like? I have a whole list of menus.” He waved at his fridge door, which admittedly probably housed a few too many take-out menus.

“With the number of menus you’ve got, I really do wonder if you can actually cook.” Roxas looked at the wall of paper and cardboard, with amusement twitching on his lips.

“Ha-ha. Yeah, I can. Whaddya feel like having?” Axel stuck his tongue out and began looking around the choices.

“Whatever you feel like. I’m so hungry, I’ll eat anything.”

“Pizza then? I’ve been feeling like Hawaiian for like… a week.” He gave a wink and a smile.

Roxas gave him a funny look. “Are you… trying to wink at me?”

“Uh, yeah?”

Roxas snorted but then looked upset. “I’m sorry – I shouldn’t laugh.”

Axel finally understood and began laughing too. “I must look ridiculous. I’ll remember not to wink while one of my eyes is swollen shut.”

Roxas gave him a sympathetic smile and Axel intervened before Roxas could get any more upset, “So, pizza?”

Roxas gave a strained smile.

“No? Not your thing?”

“Oh, it is, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I want to. I love warm pineapple on pizza. People be crazy for hatin’ it.”

Roxas seemed to brighten somewhat at that. “You’re not just saying that?”

“Why would I? I love it. So, I’ll order us that and garlic bread and a drink, okay?” Axel received a nod and with that, it was decided.

They sat on the couch whilst waiting for their food to arrive. The mood was somber as they spoke about the logistics of the next few days. Roxas needed to fill out a lot of paperwork, write his affidavit and testimonial. Reports needed to be gathered from doctors, and witnesses needed to be found to give statements.

The sheer amount of tasks that had to be accomplished all in the space of ten business days seemed big and overwhelming for Roxas, whose head sunk further and further down into his cupped hands with each item added to the list. Axel pulled him close and Roxas ended up drifting off in Axel’s arms, which he had no qualms over.

Once the food arrived he woke Roxas with a few kisses and they had dinner together whilst spread out on the couch, watching old movies about alien invasions. Axel liked it. He liked what they were doing, a lot. Snuggling down in bed together once they were too tired to continue on the couch was the icing on the very-weird-cake of a day.

Chapter Text

Axel woke up and rolled over with a moan. He flinched – the left side of his face hurt, so he rolled the other way, snuggling the right side of his face into his pillow, trying to get more sleep. He couldn’t though. Something smelled delicious. He didn’t know why something smelled delicious, but it made him sit up with a groan and he crawled out of bed.

He padded barefoot towards his living area. He winced and blinked against the blinding brightness; he really needed to get curtains one day.

“Hi, Axel.”

Axel yelped, and his hand went to his heart. He looked around and spotted an angel sitting on his couch. “Roxas?” Axel rubbed at his one good eye. As the sunlight streamed in through the window, it backlit and caused a definite halo effect around the vision on his couch – which was dressed in nothing but underwear and a shirt.

Axel smiled. How could he have forgotten that Roxas was living with him? “Morning, gorgeous.” Axel walked over to the smiling man, bent down, and was met with a kiss. Axel then flopped down beside Roxas, draping his arm over the man’s shoulders, and pulled him against his side. “Whatcha watchin’?” He inquired as he looked at the television which had the volume down and the subtitles on. Axel found it super sweet that Roxas had taken that precaution, so Axel wouldn’t be disturbed.

Roxas rested his head against Axel’s shoulder. “Fabulous Threads. It’s a fashion runway show. Miguel is bitching about Sienna monopolizing all the sequins.”

“Never heard of it, but it looks fun.” Axel hummed and pressed a kiss to Roxas’ head. “What’s for breakfast? Smells delicious.”

“I made waffles – but they’re cold now. I’ll reheat them and we can have breakfast.”

“Aww. Haven’t you eaten already?”

Roxas shook his head a little. “No.”

“Why not? It’s like,” Axel’s eye roved to the LCD clock display by his TV cabinet, “One twenty-five? You’re telling me you’ve been waiting for me all this time?” Axel pulled away a little to look at Roxas, who just shrugged.

“Roxas! When did you wake up?”

“Uh, six fifteen-ish. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“And I appreciate that, but you could have had breakfast on your own. You don’t have to wait for me.”

“I wanted to eat with you,” Roxas said in a rather small voice and avoided looking at Axel.

“Then you should have woken me up.”

“I’m sorry,” Roxas squeaked and stared at the floor.

“It’s okay.” Axel rubbed Roxas’ back and found this situation completely bizarre. Why wouldn’t Roxas—an uncomfortable thought hit him. “I told you to make yourself at home. You don’t have to wait for me to do stuff, y’know.”

Roxas nodded and suddenly seemed very small.

“Roxas,” Axel cupped the side of the man’s face and tried to force their eyes to meet. It wasn’t easy. Roxas kept looking down. “What’s wrong?” Axel asked quietly and as gently as possible.

“N-nothing.”

“Roxas,” his sleep-addled voice rumbled as softly as he could manage.

“Nothing, nothing.” Roxas smiled and said with more energy. He leaned up towards Axel, kissing him… and he didn’t stop kissing him.

Axel hummed, both surprised and pleased, and became doubly so when he felt Roxas move and climb on top of him, pushing him against the back of his couch. Axel grabbed hold of Roxas’ backside, running his fingers over and under the soft fabric of Roxas’ briefs. Roxas’ hands gripped Axel tightly, and their kissing intensified. Roxas’ tongue pushed in deep, and Axel was so turned on by how forceful Roxas was being that he hummed with pleasure and opened up wider, so Roxas could take him deeper.

Roxas’ tongue left Axel and he slid down Axel’s body and between his legs rather quickly. Axel missed touching Roxas’ thighs but made do with brushing at blond hair and softly stroking Roxas’ cheek as he watched the front of his boxer-briefs being pulled down. His throat felt thick with sleep and saliva. Axel croaked out, “What’re you planning on doing?”

“You.” Roxas looked up quickly and the corner of his mouth quirked before he returned his attention to Axel’s groin.

Axel watched Roxas pull him out of his clothes and his hands – which felt amazing – were fondling, rubbing, and tugging at his shaft and head. Roxas’ eyes were wide as if he was amazed at seeing Axel’s length and he licked and rubbed his lips together like he was about to swallow a tasty treat. That made Axel so giddy he actually giggled.

Blue eyes snapped up and Axel smiled down at him with all the love he could muster. Roxas kept looking at him as he opened his mouth and slowly slid Axel’s cock into himself. Axel stared – his own mouth hanging open – and then he shut it as Roxas leisurely sucked on him. The pleasure and heat that engulfed Axel’s cock was divine. It stirred the flutters in his belly, it grew the tightness in his groin, and after just two head bobs from Roxas, Axel was as hard as could be.

Despite what was happening the sleep which clung to Axel didn’t lift entirely. It intensified with the comfort and pleasure he was feeling. His good eye drifted shut while he ran his hands over Roxas’ upper back, shoulders, and up to his head, where Axel’s fingers twitched, caressed, and stroked.

He listened to the small sounds Roxas was making; hums, gasps, slurps, and sucks. Axel’s erection was in nirvana with the attention Roxas showered it. Teeth gently scraped, tongue danced, massaged, and flicked. Axel’s eye flung open and he gasped as Roxas swallowed him down even further into his throat. A long expletive turned into a deep moan as Axel felt tightness clamp all around his shaft. Roxas’ hands, which had been resting on Axel’s hips, pushed down with force, stopping Axel from bucking up into Roxas’ so-fuckable mouth. Why was Roxas so good at this?

Axel chose to ignore the discomfort sitting in the back of his mind. Waves of pleasure lapped at Axel and he was so close to drowning. His fingers tensed and gripped Roxas’ scalp tightly. His pulse raced, his penis throbbed, fizzed and, “Fuck, I needa cum!” Axel grunted, pushed his hips up and his needy, hot erection even deeper into Roxas’ mouth. The intense pleasure of the heat and friction surrounding him overcame Axel. He gave a muted shout in ecstasy as the tension inside himself snapped, and his shaft fizzed and pumped his release into Roxas’ mouth. Axel kept drawling out his sounds of pleasure with each pulse and spurt into that moist, gratifying heat.

Roxas pulled Axel’s penis out a little but kept sucking and swallowing until Axel was spent, which he was – completely – after a few more delightful pulses. Axel slumped further down the couch, feeling drained, boneless, and utterly happy.

Roxas was still gently sucking. His hair tickled Axel’s lower abdomen, his fingers lightly caressed and explored Axel’s skin. It all felt so good.

“Ah, shit – fuck, Roxy – you’re amazing,” Axel huffed with exhaustion and pried his eye open to see lovely, smiling eyes looking up at him. Roxas pulled off Axel and Axel thought it such a privilege to have had Roxas anywhere near his cock, let alone give it such loving, tender, hot-as-fuck care. All the blue-balling over the last few months had been worth it for this.

Roxas pressed kisses to Axel’s stomach and he tucked Axel back into his underwear gently. Axel groaned with want and adoration. Roxas was so cute, and caring, and amazing. He strained to raise himself a little and struggled to get his arms underneath Roxas’ armpits so he could hoist the man onto his lap, but Axel managed it.

Roxas’ legs straddled Axel’s sides and his arms wound around the back of Axel’s neck. Roxas placed kisses on Axel’s still-throbbing jugular and Axel gave Roxas a loving squeeze around the middle.

“I love you, babe,” Axel panted, his voice still airy from the climax.

Roxas’ head raised and as they peered at one another he said, “I love you too.”

Somehow that was even better than the blowjob Axel had gotten. He pulled Roxas close and kissed him. Roxas gave a startled whine but before Axel could pull back to check on him, Roxas delved into Axel’s mouth, making him smile and hum with appreciation. Axel lazily started massaging Roxas’ thighs again. He enjoyed the feel and weight of Roxas on top of him, he loved tasting himself on Roxas’ tongue, and the way Roxas was holding him, and pulling at him, made him feel so happy and wanted.

Before Axel could meander his hands to the inside of Roxas’ thighs and towards the stiff heat he could feel pressing against himself, Roxas dismounted.

“Whaddya doin’?” Axel drawled, perplexed and just managing to catch a hold of Roxas’ hand.

“Breakfast.” Roxas looked towards the kitchen and the rumble of a stomach sounded, almost as a way of making a point. Axel didn’t know if it was his or Roxas’ though.

“But… don’t you want me to—” he yawned, feeling overwhelmingly drowsy and relaxed.

Roxas’ hand slipped away but they were on Axel again in a moment, pushing and laying him down against the couch. “Just stay here. I’ll bring you breakfast.” He smiled down at Axel, who returned the expression. A kiss was deposited on his forehead and Axel closed his eye in bliss and dozed off.


 

Axel woke again to the feel of something heavy vibrating on his chest. He opened his good eye and he saw fur. A small sound drew Axel’s eye over to the right, to see Roxas standing to the side, holding two plates, and wearing a gentle smile.

“You’re done for, you know that?” Roxas said, stepping closer and smiling brighter.

“Why’s that?”

“She’s discovered you’re comfy. Better watch out.” Roxas sniggered, put the plates on the coffee table, and helped free Axel from his cute captor.

Plates were picked back up and they sat side by side. Roxas flicked through the channels while Axel dug straight into delicious waffles laden with whipped cream, thick syrup, plump berries, and crunchy bacon.

“You want to watch anything?” Roxas asked, still channel surfing.

“Nah, I don’t care. Whatever you want,” Axel said, completely enraptured with all the mouth-watering feasts Roxas had been lavishing on him. He felt like the luckiest guy on the planet.

“No, you should pick something. Whatever you like watching,” Roxas insisted, holding out the remote to Axel.

It made Axel resentfully pry his eye off the food. He didn’t get why this was seemingly turning into an issue. “It’s fine, really. I’d brave 2001: The Space Odyssey for you, so whatever you pick will be fine.”

That made Roxas chortle. “Okay,” he said quietly, still wearing a smile. “I’ll go back to watching my show then?”

Axel hummed in agreement and shoveled food into his mouth while Roxas selected his program. Once it was running, Roxas grabbed his own plate, snuggled in against Axel’s side, and ate his meal. Axel became enraptured with Roxas for a few moments, just looking over at him and smiling. Axel was on a complete high. Sex, food, sleep, snuggles, and a happy Roxas. Man, life was perfect.

Roxas raised his head – the cautious look resting on his face disappeared and he smiled softly. “What?” His cheeks dusted over with slight crimson.

Axel’s heart clenched, and a wave of beautiful sickness and overwhelming joy washed over him. “I’m so in-fucking-love with you.”

Roxas’ smile grew bigger, his cheeks brightened, and he huffed out a small laugh before he dropped his head against Axel’s shoulder and nuzzled him gently for a moment. “You’re such a sap.”

“Only for you.” He kissed the top of Roxas’ head and felt like his heart was going to explode with how cute Roxas was. He had to distract himself— “So what’s happening here?” he asked, in regards to the programming.

Roxas sat up straight again, resumed eating and began explaining all the intricacies of everyone’s personal vendettas against every other contestant on the show.


 

The afternoon was whiled away hollering at the screen, which Axel was largely at fault for. He got very passionately invested in Porscha’s design dreams, which sat in direct opposition to Miguel’s objectives… and Roxas was fiercely devoted to the man…. So, needless to say, they had a lot of fun jeering at each other as they took sides.

They ended up in a wrestling match which saw them landing on the floor at some point. The grapple turned into Axel kissing Roxas, who kept laughing until he stopped laughing because of the way Axel palmed over his groin. Axel was of the mind that he needed to return what Roxas had given him earlier in the day and he was just leaving kisses on Roxas’ abdomen when his phone rang, over by the dining table.

Roxas craned his head so he could see over the top of Axel’s body and towards the direction of the sound. “You need to get that?”

“Nah.” Axel resumed dropping kisses and licks onto the warm skin below.

The ringing stopped and Axel flashed a toothy smile up at Roxas and then went back to kissing and palming at the man’s growing erection.

“Maybe… we should go to bed… get some… condoms,” Roxas said, hesitantly.

Axel sang out an, “Oooooh!” He totally loved the sound of that. He sat up on his knees and held out a hand for Roxas to take so Axel could pull him upright, which he did. Roxas’ legs squeezed around Axel’s sides and Roxas licked his lips, leaned forward, and captured Axel in a delightful kiss.

It was broken, however, by a buzzing sound. Axel snapped his head around towards the door and grumbled loudly. “Just a sec,” he said to Roxas in a hushed tone before depositing a quick kiss and standing. He hated leaving his position between Roxas’ legs and resented being away from that soft mouth and deep-delving tongue. He stomped over to the door, grabbing his phone off the table as he went. He took note of several text messages and the missed call from Kairi. He continued to the intercom system which kept buzzing like a persistent fly on shit.

Picking up the receiver he snarled, “What?” without a care for who it was.

“Ax, let us up. We’ve brought dinner,” came a voice that Axel couldn’t pick instantly due to the distortion of the intercom.

We? Who’s we?”

“Ruth, Shiki, Kairi, Sam. All the cool guys,” the man on the other end laughed.

Axel definitely recognized Paul’s laugh. “Why’re you all here?”

“I told them you got beat up and we all had to come around and see—I mean help you get better,” a voice, which belonged to Kairi, sang out.

“I’m busy,” Axel grumbled deeply, casting a look back at Roxas, who was so sexy sitting on the floor, legs spread apart, and practically begging to be fucked right now.

“C’mon, Axel,” came the whining choir.

“It’s okay. Let them come up. I don’t mind,” Roxas said, giving him a soft smile and making to get up.

“But I mind,” Axel whined before he resigned himself with a sigh and turned back to the intercom to say, “Fine. This dinner better be amazing.” He buzzed them up and groaned. “Guess this means it’s pants time.”

They went into the bedroom and Axel watched, with misery, as Roxas slipped into baggy jeans. Axel picked up a random pair of jeans that lay on the floor. He couldn’t believe this was happening – well, maybe he could. He knew that if any of his friends ended up with a black eye he’d be first in line to stare.

“Hey, Rox,” he said over his shoulder while shoving a leg into his pants.

Roxas hummed as he pulled out a clean shirt from the wardrobe.

“Since my friends are coming up to gawk at me… and I gotta tell them something… what don’t you want me to tell them?”

Roxas pulled a black shirt over his head and stopped for a moment, thinking about it, and then pulling the fabric down the rest of the way, “I… don’t want them to know. Not about Vanitas… not that… he did that to you… not that—but it’s probably too late already. Me moving in here – and then you getting that black eye—” Roxas gave a resigned sigh and stared at the ground.

Axel got it. This was embarrassing and invasive. Roxas had always been relatively private and protective of his relationship with Vanitas – much to Axel’s resentment – but it wasn’t his place to expose all the shit that had gone down. “Look, I’ll send them away.” He bounced a bit as he pulled his jeans up and did the zipper and button up as well.

“No. Don’t do that. They’re here because they worry about you.”

“You give them too much credit. They just want to laugh at my poor face.” Axel crossed the floor to stand before Roxas and held his hands.

Roxas looked at their clasped hands and squeezed gently.

The lack of response made Axel continue, “It’s none of their business what happened. If anyone asks, I’ll just tell them that. And if anyone makes you uncomfortable, you tell me, and I’ll deal with them.”

The worried frown on Roxas’ brow vanished, and he nodded and smiled. “Thanks for looking out for me.”

“Always.” Axel lifted their hands and kissed the back of Roxas’. “And look, as soon as you want them gone, you tell me – or wink at me – and I’ll kick ‘em all out, okay?”

Roxas laughed a little. “Okay.”

There suddenly came a loud barrage of knocks from beyond their intimate space. Axel dropped Roxas’ hands, after one final kiss. “Let’s get this over and done with.” Axel resigned himself to a night of getting lovingly mocked.


 

His friends had all stared in shock. Shiki and Sam had even poked Axel’s face a little. Axel had been acutely aware of Roxas, who had stood to the side, shrinking in on himself. Axel had been about to bellow that they should all leave the food here and get out when Kairi clapped her hands and refocused everyone on dinner. Axel appreciated that, and the evening was spent stuffing food in mouths and goofing off. There was no mention or inquiry about what had happened. Axel’s friends just congratulated them on being together and mainly asked how Roxas was managing to put up with Axel’s shit, to which he had just laughed and said that he had his ways. A wave of smooching sounds and lewd ‘Oooohs’ had been let out by the gang followed by raucous laughter.

It was a pleasant evening. From time to time, Cheshire would poke her head out of her crate – she even nibbled a bit of food out of Kairi’s hand, and no one else’s. Roxas asked everyone to give his cat space and most of the remainder of their time together was spent playing Axel’s video games by the television.

Towards the end of the evening, Axel managed to get Kairi alone in the kitchen.

“Thanks for doing the dishes,” he said. “And thanks for… well, whatever you did to not have everyone asking about the eye.”

Kairi was at the sink, yellow washing-up gloves on, and scrubbing away at some plates. “Well, I know you hate cleaning, and since we invited ourselves over it wouldn’t be right to leave you with the mess. And the eye…” she flicked him a look and winced a bit, “I didn’t want Roxas feeling uncomfortable. It’s none of our business to know what was happening in his life. I just really hope this is the last of it for you guys.”

“I hope so too. I’m pretty sure it will be. We have court next week and then we should be scot-free.” Axel picked up some of the clean plates and began drying them off with a tea-towel.

“You hardly got away with it though; look at yourself.”

“Yeah, well… I mean, from here on out we’ll be okay.”

Kairi hummed. “What’s it like living with him? Everything going fine? I know it’s only been a few days but…”

Axel set down the plate he was drying and smiled from ear to ear, which made him wince, but didn’t kill the smile. “It’s amazing, Kai-Kai. I can’t even tell you how amazing it is. I love having him here.” He thought back on the snuggles, and food, and sex. A strong pulse ran through his body.

“How’s he finding it? I know for you it must be awesome having a little housekeeper around—”

“He’s not a housekeeper,” Axel protested sharply, while still keeping his voice down enough to not be heard over the whooping coming from the living area. He picked up another plate and started drying that one.

“I guess I just assumed… your place is super clean. Last time I was over, it was a pigsty,” she observed and grinned a little.

Axel waved one of his hands. “I did some cleaning. Roxas just… tidied up the rest. Anyway, he’s not… I don’t think of him like that.”

Kairi glanced back at him and gave a softer smile. “That’s good to hear. I know you’re a good guy.”

“Then what’s with the character assassination?”

“I just worry about Roxas.”

“Worry? He’s out of the woods now. What’s there to worry about?”

“Well… he’s not had it easy… I’m sure he’s not had it easy. Being with someone who… abused? —you, would leave you with scars. And I kinda worry about him jumping into another relationship too quickly—no matter who it’s with.”

Axel frowned. “What’re you saying? I shouldn’t be in a relationship with him right now?”

Kairi stopped scrubbing a plate and turned towards Axel a little. She wore a worried frown. “I… don’t know. I just think you should be careful and gentle with him and let him make the decisions.”

Axel wrinkled his nose with distaste. “I’m nothing like that piece-of-shit-ex of his.”

“I know that.” She made to reach for Axel but stopped herself as the gloves were still on and dripping with soap suds.

Axel huffed and Kairi changed the subject, “Will you be okay until your court date?”

Axel put down the plate he had been death-gripping. The thought of anyone likening him to that mongrel… he huffed out sharply. “Yeah. There’s a temporary restraining order with Rox and my name on it, so we’re covered until the hearing.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Hey Axel,” came Ruth’s call, “Sam and Roxas made a bet either-way saying that you can’t beat me at Mario Kart with your eye all mangled up.”

“I totally can!” he yelled back and turned to Kairi. “Look, I’ll – keep what you said in mind. I want what’s best for him.”

“I know you do,” she said gently.

They shared a smile.

“Oh, Axel!” Ruth singsonged.

“Coming!” he shouted. “Thanks for today, Kai, and the dishes.” He gave her a kiss on her forehead, put the tea-towel on the bench, and walked towards the challenge.

“Time to prove my worth as Mario Kart champion – mangled eye or not. I’ll teach you to bet against me, Sam.” He took the held-out-controller and wiggled in between Ruth and Shiki on the couch.

“Roxas is the one who said you couldn’t do it,” Shiki giggled.

Axel gasped and glared at Roxas, who was sitting on the floor by the coffee table, grinning up at him.


 

Axel’s place was quiet again. His friends had left half an hour ago and Axel was lying in bed, waiting for Roxas to finish his shower and join him. This quiet in-between time was filled with staring up at his ceiling, thinking about Kairi’s words and wondering if he should be talking about that stuff with Roxas.

Axel heard the shower turn off and waited a few more minutes for doors to open and shut and for Roxas to come padding into their bedroom, which he did – completely naked. He looked a little shy with his arms folded over his chest like he was cold.

Axel sat up and leered. Even in the inky-blue of night, with curtains drawn across the window blocking out the pesky streetlights, Axel could still make out Roxas’ shape, which was small and lean. Axel wanted to kiss every inch of flesh on the other man’s body. “C’mere, babe,” he said greedily, flinging back the blanket, and revealing his own naked state to Roxas.

Roxas stopped in his tracks when he saw, and his eyes darted between Axel’s face and groin. Axel smirked, but as Roxas didn’t make any further motion towards him, worry grew in Axel’s mind. “Come here,” he said far gentler and extended a hand to Roxas.

Roxas began moving again, untucking one arm and reaching for Axel. Their hands clasped, and Axel pulled gently. Roxas slid into bed next to him. Limbs jostled and tangled, the blanket was pulled snug around them, and with heads nestled against pillows, they looked at each other.

“Everything okay?” Axel asked.

“Yeah.” A smile was given, but it looked hesitant.

“No. You can tell me. What’s wrong? Is it the naked thing?”

“No.” Roxas shook his head.

Axel could feel Roxas’ warm hands against his body, purposely running over his stomach and sides in defiance. Axel wasn’t so sure though. It bothered him that Roxas wasn’t completely comfortable. Maybe Axel had been way too eager. “You don’t have to be naked. We’ve only been living together for three days and slept together, like, twice. We can go slow.”

Roxas didn’t say anything to that, making Axel think that this was totally the issue. Roxas’ hands just kept roaming under the blanket. He looked at Axel’s chest and frowned. Axel brushed at Roxas’ slightly damp hair and waited until the man finally said, “It’s really fine. I wouldn’t do things if I didn’t want to do them.”

Axel still wasn’t so sure though. He hummed. “Maybe you want to do them but aren’t completely comfortable? I want you to be comfortable, so I’d rather you don’t do things if they make you uneasy, even if you want to do them.”

Roxas stayed quiet for a few moments longer, his movements against Axel’s body stopping. “I want to. I’m comfortable with you.” There was a slight edge to Roxas’ tone.

“If you’re sure—”

Roxas made eye contact with Axel. It was fierce and hard for a moment. “Yeah. I am. Being here with you is the best thing in my life. Being like this with you is what I want, and it’s fine. Really,” Roxas reassured, his voice far gentler now, and he bumped his hips against Axel a little.

“Okay. Just thought I should check in—speaking of – how’re you holding up? How was today for you?” Axel slid his hand over Roxas’ side and stroked, feeling the other man’s ribs as he did so.

“I had fun.” Roxas giggled.

Axel glared. “You’re still thinking ‘bout that game, aren’t you,” he accused.

Roxas rapidly blinked up at him with pure devilish innocence.

“I can’t believe you bet against me!” Axel dug his fingers into Roxas’ ribs and dove in, attacking Roxas’ neck with his lips, pulling at skin and making Roxas yelp and screech with laughter.

Roxas batted against Axel’s playful assault and gave back as good as he got, mouthing Axel back on arms and shoulders. They both laughed a lot and began wrestling. But after some grappling, Roxas disappeared, slipping underneath the covers.

Axel was surprised and looked at the lump that Roxas had formed under the blanket. Kisses were falling on Axel’s abdomen. Hands ran down and caressed Axel’s hips and thighs and – Axel yelped as his sac was fondled. Was he going to get another blowjob? That thought made his penis stir.

“Roxas, come out from under there. You’re hogging all the fun. I wanna do you, c’mon.” He lightly smacked at where he thought Roxas’ back was.

Blanketed head raised and Roxas muffled from underneath, “No. I’m gonna have my fun with you.” Roxas pawed at Axel and started pressing his tongue along skin in long licks.

Axel ignored the flutters in his stomach. He didn’t want to be using Roxas like this – the cooking and cleaning had been nice, but Axel really wanted to make Roxas feel good too. “No. C’mon. I’ll grab some condoms and we can get freaky.” He stretched, reaching for his bedside stand. Roxas shifted a little and Axel was able to roll over completely and find what he was looking for.

He rolled over again and—the lump under the blanket was gone. “Roxas?” Axel looked around with confusion.

“Wah!” Roxas screamed, making Axel yelp and drop his condoms and lubricant on top of the blanket.

He clutched his chest and turned all the way to his left to glare at Roxas. “What the hell!”

Roxas rolled on the bed, clutching at himself and giggling uncontrollably. He managed to get out past the laughter, “This is why I didn’t bet on you in Mario Kart.”

Axel roared and body-slammed Roxas, albeit gently. More wrestling ensued, and the grapple tackles gave way to kisses and tickles. In the end, Axel’s head was at the foot of the bed and he was gazing up at Roxas, who was straddling Axel’s waist. Both men were still huffing, laughing, and smiling at each other.

The atmosphere felt better. Roxas didn’t seem so self-conscious anymore, so Axel ventured, “You like it here with me, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I haven’t had so much fun in ages.” Roxas rubbed the palms of his hands along Axel’s chest and a deeper, happy smile flourished on Roxas’ face.

Axel captured one of the hands and kissed each fingertip in turn, afterward saying, “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“Oh, um… well, I…” Roxas’ eyes fell away, and he looked down at Axel’s abdomen, “need to get all that court stuff done. Kind of…” Roxas trailed idle patterns on Axel’s chest with his free hand, “should have done stuff today, but… we didn’t get out early enough. Um… maybe tomorrow.” He smiled, but the quality of it was strained and his eyes fell away again in a blink.

Axel released Roxas’ hand and propped himself up on elbows. “Oh—shit… were you waiting on me today?” That idea completely came out of left field.

“Um… I… well, yeah?” Roxas squeaked and rubbed his lips together.

Axel thought back on how his day had started today – Roxas waiting to eat with him – waiting to… go out with him. His heart felt too big and his chest too tight to hold it all in. “Oh, Roxy. No.” He sat up and rubbed his hands along Roxas’ shoulders and down his arms.

Blue eyes were wide with – Surprise? Uncertainty? Worry? Axel didn’t know. Maybe Kairi had been on to something. “You don’t have to wait for me. I said you should make yourself at home and I mean it. You can do whatever you want – you can eat whenever you want – you can go out whenever you want. You don’t need me to… to… give you permission?” Axel felt sick with that thought. He gave Roxas a tight hug and felt it be faintly returned.

“So… I can just… leave and do what I need to do?” Roxas mumbled against Axel’s ear.

“Yeah.” He pulled them apart a little. “And look at me – I can’t really go out looking like this. Anything coming at me from my left and I’m oblivious to it – even really sexy and cute things.” He gave a sheepish smile.

Roxas gave him back a tiny little smile of amusement.

“So, you can take my keys. I’ll just stay home and heal, and you go do what you need to do. And… don’t wait for me. I can make my own breakfast. I managed twenty-six years without you. I can manage to feed myself.” He smiled at Roxas, wanting to be reassuring and gentle because – fuck – Axel hadn’t thought about the consequences of having endured Vanitas’ shit for seven years and the lasting impact that would leave on Roxas. He needed to be… better for Roxas. He needed to get rid of all the shit that Roxas thought a relationship was like.

“Well, maybe I can still make you something and you just heat it up?” Roxas asked and Axel’s heart bled for how beautiful and thoughtful Roxas was.

Axel gave him another big hug. “Yeah. You can if you want to.”

Roxas returned the embrace and nuzzled into Axel’s neck. “Thank you,” he muffled, quietly.

Axel leaned into Roxas and pushed the other man down onto the mattress, and his blond head onto the pillows. “Now, let me give you a token of my appreciation.” He kissed Roxas’ lips, jaw, neck, collarbone, down his chest and along the centerline of his body. He kissed at Roxas’ navel and held his hips, sliding his fingers down and around so he could cup some of Roxas’ backside as well.

He cast a quick glance up at Roxas to see if he was okay. If Roxas cried again Axel would have to do something about it – though he didn’t know what. But for now, Roxas seemed okay. Maybe even a little eager and curious, with how wide his eyes and mouth were as he watched Axel tend to his body.

Axel snuggled down between Roxas’ legs and used one hand to touch and tease Roxas’ sensitive inner thighs, up to his sac, where he tickled him a little. Roxas squirmed but wore a smile.

“You really don’t have to,” Roxas began.

“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.” Axel looked between the face of the man he loved and the growing erection before him.

Roxas took a big inhale of breath. “I want you to.”

Axel’s lungs filled with joy, and hunger scratched at his throat. He licked his lips and used his fingers to maneuver and guide Roxas’ erection to his mouth.

“Condom?” Roxas asked suddenly, as Axel breathed against his slit, freezing his motion.

Axel was left dumbfounded by that request. Why would… they had… Roxas had gone without—Axel sat up. Had he just… should he have? If Roxas wanted it then… “Oh my God, Roxas, yeah, ‘course. I shoulda—” he felt so embarrassed and ashamed of himself. Of course, they should have been using protection – and not just today. Axel fumed at himself as he made to grab the condoms he had dropped before they had gotten all side-tracked with their wrestling match.

He secured the condom on Roxas’ still-hard erection, as well as slipping the other on his own far-more-wilted one. He shook his mind clear of worries and dumb thoughts. “Now, where were we?” He smiled at Roxas and snuggled back down between his legs.

Roxas’ bottom lip was tucked in and he looked down at Axel expectantly. Axel planted a few kisses on Roxas’ inner thigh and onto the man’s sac. He then stuck his tongue out and slowly trailed it up from the base of Roxas’ penis to the tip. Axel really enjoyed the smallest of gasps leaving Roxas’ throat. He wished he could taste Roxas. Latex wasn’t as fun as skin and semen. But this was still better than not having Roxas at all and he was damned if he didn’t show Roxas an amazing time right now.

He took Roxas in, the head of his cock pushing against the roof of Axel’s mouth and slipping down to the back of his throat. Axel sucked on Roxas’ length, he pulled back off and took him back in and sucked harder. Roxas kept gasping, moaning, mewling. It was incredibly hot listening to the other man and to feel him squirming under Axel’s touch. Axel pulled at Roxas’ hips to get him closer and pushed the erection into himself deeper.

“Ah – A – Ax – Ah—” Roxas panted and balled one of his hands into the bedsheets and the other into Axel’s hair.

Axel bobbed, sucked, hummed, and kept his good eye on Roxas and observed, not wanting a repeat of what happened the last time he did this for his boyfriend. So far, things seemed good. Roxas’ eyes were squeezed shut, his lips smacked between gasps and whines, and he seemed to be loving the attention Axel was lavishing on his erection. Axel smiled as he kept pleasuring Roxas. He loved seeing the tormented pleasure Roxas’ face contorted into.

“Ax – Ah – Ha—” Roxas tried again.

Roxas’ hand flapped beside Axel’s head, and Axel pulled off and hummed. “Yeah?” he asked, voice scratching.

“Can we – I wanna – you ‘n’ me,” Roxas huffed and rolled himself over slowly, so Axel could get out of Roxas’ way. Buttock was pushed up into the air and Roxas buried his head into the mattress.

Axel looked at the bare bottom, cheeks spread apart, exposing puckered flesh. He tried to keep the whimper of overwhelming excitement at bay, but it came out anyway. “Oh God, you wanna… already?”

“Please,” Roxas mumbled and wiggled his backside up towards Axel.

Axel felt his insides tighten. He fumbled and blindly grabbed for where he thought he had seen his lubricant drop, while he ran the palm of his other hand over Roxas’ firm, smooth backside.

He found the tube and pumped the liquid out into the palm of his hand and then spread it between his fingers. Axel took a deep breath; he was trembling from excitement. He sidled up close to Roxas’ begging-for-attention backside and pressed his index finger against Roxas’ opening. He heard the sharp inhale of air and Axel needed to take a deep breath to steady himself and not just plunge himself into Roxas that very moment. Axel composed himself and rubbed Roxas’ backside, pushing his finger slowly in, while his lusty feeling pooled in his groin as he listened to the sound of Roxas’ gasps. Axel found it hard to swallow and was frequently forgetting to breathe with how aroused he was feeling. His penis throbbed, ached, yearned to be stimulated. He even felt the strong pulse in his backside and an itch began to develop there.

He grunted with his painful need and worked faster at pushing more fingers into Roxas, sweeping and gently – but urgently – stretching him wide. “You okay?” Axel asked a few times.

Roxas mewled his affirmative responses and nodded each time, but kept his face buried against pillows and sheets. Axel kept going, not needing to stretch too much since Roxas took three of his fingers easily enough. It made Axel a little uncomfortable to think on why that might be, so he tried to ignore it and focused on how sexy he found Roxas right now, especially when Axel rubbed his prostate.

Roxas pitched his backside and arched his back and the intensity of his muffled cries grew shrill. Axel wanted to give Roxas so much pleasure that it made him salivate a little. He stretched Roxas and rubbed him a little more before he said, “You ready for me?”

Roxas whimpered something that sounded like a, “Yeah,” and pushed against Axel’s fingers, making Axel hum with needy delight.

He pulled out, wiped his fingers on his thigh, and applied more lubricant to his erection. He shuffled and butted up to Roxas’ backside, pressing his erection between Roxas’ cheeks. The sight of his cock pushing against Roxas made Axel warm all over.

Roxas whined Axel’s name with desperation in his voice and Axel wanted to throw up with how much he needed Roxas to fuck him. Instead, he maneuvered the head of his penis against Roxas. “Okay, ba—be.” His eyes went wide, and he choked on his words because Roxas pushed himself backward suddenly and onto Axel’s cock. Axel recovered in a second and instinctively pushed his hips forward and himself deeper into Roxas, greedily watching the way his erection disappeared inside.

Roxas moaned, Axel groaned. He penetrated Roxas further and further until he was flush against Roxas’ rear. His fingers dug into Roxas’ hips and he took several deep breaths to try and steady himself. They stayed still for many moments and then Axel felt a tight squeeze around his penis. “Wow,” he moaned and heard and felt the laugh out of Roxas.

“C’mon,” Roxas said, smile residing in his word, and he wiggled his butt a little.

Axel gave a small chuckle and then pulled out of Roxas, and pushed back in, over, and over, and harder. Each time he increased his speed, his thrust, and tried to find the angle he needed to make Roxas weak at the knees before his own knees gave out because of the way Roxas’ ass felt so good around his cock.

Eventually, he found it; a tremble went through Roxas and a sharp cry rang out. Axel smirked and went at it harder, making himself huff and groan, while Roxas mewled and arched his back.

Axel wanted to see Roxas’ face but he also didn’t want to stop. He kept his grip on hips, threw his head back, and kept thumping into incredibly tight, delicious warmth and concentrated on his stomach hardening with desire.

Roxas’ panting increased, his mewling turned into a whine.

Was Roxas close? God almighty, Axel hoped he was. He leaned forward a little, one hand relinquishing its grip on the hip to go to Roxas’ penis. He found a hand there already, furiously pumping.

Axel chased the hand off and took over for Roxas, who moaned so loud it almost sounded like a shout. It continued, but more muffled and Axel pounded harder, pumped faster, and felt himself losing grip with where he was and what he was doing because, fuck, this was amazing! An intense squeeze around his cock and a big throb in his hand brought him back to reality where he realized that he could finally let himself cum because Roxas was surely about to.

Roxas’ strangled cries of delight, his backside pushing and clamping down all around Axel was so welcoming. Axel nudged himself in and out of the-best-fucking-ecstasy, also known as Roxas, and gave in to the pressure in his cock. Release exploded and tingled. Waves of pleasure rolled out of him with every pump of semen and every throb of Roxas’ anus around him.

Axel slumped forward, on top of Roxas, finally collapsing the other man down to the mattress. Axel’s heart was in his throat and his pulse in his gut. His fingers twitched, trapped under Roxas, but not wanting to be anywhere else in the world.

Both men breathed heavily, panting, huffing, moaning, and mewling from the glorious spent-afterglow. It hadn’t been anything like Axel had ever imagined it to be like, but he wasn’t disappointed in the least bit. They stayed pressed together, Axel moving a little so Roxas could tilt his head to the side and breathe easier, and finally, Axel could bear witness to the expression on his boyfriend’s face.

Roxas looked completely spent; the smile he wore was broad and mellow, his hair was plastered to his face, his cheeks so red and flushed that Axel could even see it clearly in the darkness of their bedroom. Parted lips sucked in and expelled harsh gusts of air. To be honest, Axel probably looked the exact same way. He brushed hair out of Roxas’ eyes, pressed his forehead to Roxas’ and hummed and breathed, completely happy.

“I love you,” Roxas strained past gasps.

“I love you too.”

Small kisses were exchanged, Axel felt himself softening and sliding out of Roxas and they both hummed with disappointment when Axel had finally slipped out. They remained pressed together for a while. Axel removed their condoms a little later and then they snuggled together for blissful slumber.

Chapter Text

This felt like the longest week of Roxas’ life and it still wasn’t over. At the start of it, he had been in one place and now, a mere three days later, he was somewhere completely different. It was a place filled with care, love, and trust. Axel was beyond amazing. Axel was everything Roxas had dreamed he would be, which was completely overwhelming, so – after he sat pensively on the edge of the bed at six in the morning – he decided to get his day underway without waiting on Axel to wake up.

He got up and made breakfast for himself, his cat, and Axel. He did a quick yoga routine, and then got changed, grabbed Axel’s keys – smiling at the penguin keychain that was attached – and headed out, walking everywhere because he didn’t have money for any public transportation.

Not being familiar with this part of the city didn’t help him in the slightest and he wished that Axel had come out with him, but the man – his boyfriend – deserved to rest and heal up. Roxas just went the way he remembered going with Axel on the day they had gone to the police station and got his bearings from there.

The first thing on Roxas’ agenda was to try and get some sort of a statement from one of his neighbors, so he made his way to familiar streets and buildings.

When he arrived at the most familiar building of all, he hit an invisible brick wall and something vice-like grabbed hold of and twisted his insides. He wished Axel was next to him because he was scared. What if Vanitas was home?

That got Roxas moving again, right up to the front door and he boldly, and without a second thought, pushed his former home’s intercom button and waited.

He pushed it again and waited some more.

His held breath was released in a heavy sigh. Was it strange that Roxas wasn’t sure if he was relieved or saddened about the silence? Either way, Roxas didn’t want to hang around here for very long, so he buzzed some of the apartment numbers he thought might possibly know of him in a very vague sense, so he could get some sort of a statement from at least one other person.

He tried several apartments, and of those only a couple were occupied, and from those, only one let him in and was willing to have a brief chat through an ajar door.

Roxas wished he had disobeyed Vanitas and made some friends while he had been living here..

In the end, he did get a vague statement from his neighbor in regard to the noise Vanitas and Roxas had created the night of their fight. It was better than nothing.

He then wandered down the hall and stood before his old apartment door. Something inexplicably dark and sad skirted around his heart’s edge. It made him feel full and pained. He didn’t know if he was angry or sad, so he left to head out into the city and aimlessly wandered about for a good portion of the afternoon. He still had things to do – photocopy that statement he had gotten written out for him – make some phone calls to the courthouse. Not that he could do these things. He didn’t have the money or the means, so he kept wandering because he was feeling listless.

To say he felt ashamed of himself was an understatement. He was so fucking useless and pathetic. Vanitas had always looked out for him because Roxas hadn’t been able to accomplish anything and Vanitas had always known that Roxas needed him for protection and care.

His stomach growled, adding insult to injury. He had forgotten to pack lunch and had no money to buy anything. That’s how incapable he was of looking after himself. It seemed like fitting punishment to go hungry right now, amidst the fallout of all he had sown. So, he ignored the rumble and kept walking around until he found himself out in front of Vanitas’ work. It surprised him – he hadn’t meant to end up here, but since he was there, he sat down on a low wall, under the shade of some trees and stared down at his dangling legs.

There was a pounding in his chest. Roxas looked at his hands and his previously broken fingers gave off a dull ache. He didn’t know what he was doing here. If Vanitas saw him – if Vanitas got close to him – the man would get into deep trouble for breaching his restraining order – no matter if it was Roxas who came here or not. That thought gave Roxas a little bit of sick pleasure before he felt terribly ashamed of it.

He was causing so much trouble for all the most important people in his life. Vanitas was probably under so much stress from having to deal with Roxas’ shit. Roxas was stressed from dealing with his own shit. Thinking about it made him feel incredibly sick. His stomach knotted. Court – it was a terrifying idea. Roxas could hardly stand the thought of what it was going to be like seeing Vanitas again after everything Roxas had put him through. He felt so bad about the whole thing. He felt responsible – for everything. For not being enough, for not making Vanitas happy, for breaking his trust, for forcing Vanitas to do the things he had done so Roxas could hopefully realize his own mistakes. But then Roxas thought of his poor, sweet Axel with his black eye, and unable to work, and a whole different sick feeling saddled him.

Roxas buried his head in his hands, digging his fingernails into his hairline. He felt like a walking disaster area. All he wanted was to be happy and to make Axel happy, but he was causing so much more harm than good. He had put Axel in direct danger – he had done that, no one else. Guilt swept over him. Guilt for the past and guilt for being out here right now, instead of at his boyfriend’s side. Axel needed him. Axel wanted him. Roxas knew that – even if Axel said it was okay to be out and do his own thing – Axel would be missing him right now – he would be wondering what Roxas was up to… and if he knew! If he knew that Roxas was out there feeling sorry for his abusive ex who hurt Axel, then Axel would be disgusted and ashamed and mad. He would stop trusting Roxas and begin questioning everything Roxas ever did and everything would start all over again.

Roxas got up and left, scared and anxious to get back home before Axel would worry, or feel any lonelier. He wished he had a watch – he had no idea what the time even was.


 

Roxas had ended up alternating between jogging and sprinting all the way home like a possessed madman. When the apartment building was finally in sight Roxas got a second wind, let himself in, and took three steps up the stairwell at a time, because the elevator would be way too slow. He fumbled with the keys and gave a friendly nod to the woman who was just coming out of the apartment next to Axel’s, before having a mini freak-out because he didn’t know if he was supposed to talk to anyone.

“Everything all right?” she inquired.

Roxas cursed himself. He really shouldn’t have made eye contact. But he also hated being rude, so he nodded some more. “Just been exercising.”

“Ah. I’m Isabelle, by the way. You staying with Axel while he’s not feeling well?” She extended her hand.

Roxas took it. “Roxas. And yeah, I am.” ‘Not feeling well’ seemed like the understatement of the week. The fact that she knew about Axel’s state calmed him a little though.

“Nice to meet you.” She smiled. He smiled. They waved at each other and she walked down the hall to the stairs. Roxas turned back to the door and was about to jam the key into the lock when the door opened.

“Hey.” Axel smiled down at him and pushed the door open wider.

Roxas felt instantly better seeing Axel not mad. “Hey,” he huffed and went inside.

“I heard talking and hoped you were back.”

Roxas took his shoes off and glanced at Axel intermittently. His heart raced with exertion and growing panic. “Yeah, um… I met your neighbor, Isabelle.”

“Ah, Izzy. She’s nice. She brings the trashcan in for me and sometimes gives me her imperfect cookies – she bakes at least once a week. I swear she makes penis-shaped ones on purpose. I don’t buy the ‘accident.’ You want one? They’re really good.”

“Uh, yeah.” God, Roxas was starving and relieved to hear that Axel was on good terms with the neighbor. He hoped it meant that Axel wouldn’t mind if he talked to her.

Axel went to the dining table and Roxas followed, brushing his hair out of his sweaty face. There were about a dozen malformed cookies of variously shaped and sized deformed-looking penises. He picked one up that resembled Axel’s the most and ate it. “Mm, it’s good.”

Axel grabbed one too and munched around it. “I do tell her I love a good cock in me.” Roxas choked on his cookie while Axel continued, “Maybe that’s why she makes them,” he chuckled around his food and patted Roxas’ back. Axel, suddenly seeming to remember something, beckoned Roxas with his finger to follow him into the kitchen.

Had Axel just—Roxas kept coughing.

“You okay?” Axel patted Roxas’ back a little more as they walked to the kitchen.

Roxas cleared his throat. “Yeah. Something smells amazing.”

Axel grinned and waved at the oven with a flourish. “Dinner will be served in an hour.”

“What is it?” Roxas hunched down before the oven, peering into the dimly lit interior. Axel appeared right next to him.

“Duck a l’Orange.”

“Oooh, fancy.” Roxas grinned and wiped at the sweat sticking to his upper lip.

“It is. You’ll be so impressed.”

“I’m sure I will be.”

They both stood up again.

“Thanks for the breakfast,” Axel said. “It’s always so amazing! I feel I gotta really lift my game.”

“You’re welcome, and I look forward to eating your game-lifting meal.” Roxas continued to smile at Axel, hating the way his face looked and the reminder it brought with it, but also loving being with the man and loving the way Axel looked very pleased with Roxas’ remark.

“So, how’d today go? Why’re you so red and huffy?” Axel remarked.

Roxas’ heart still raced. He wiped at his face as if that would somehow make him look less flushed and overheated. “Sorry I’m late. I tried to get back as fast as I could.”

Axel looked confused for a moment. “Late? It’s like only five. How’re you late?”

“I…” Roxas shrugged, “just… assumed, I guess?”

“Well, you’re back before dinner, so you’re definitely not late. Did you… you look like you ran for ages. The bus stop’s not that far away.”

“I, um…” Roxas hugged himself. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable, “didn’t catch a bus.”

Axel looked even more confused. “Why? You walked everywhere?”

Roxas nodded.

“Why?” Axel said again.

Roxas felt so sick. His stomach growled again, which wasn’t helping the awkward situation. He looked at the oven and mumbled, “No money.”

Axel’s good eye went incredibly wide. “No—Of course. Fuck, I’m dumb. Oh my God, Roxas, I’m so sorry.” His hand landed on Roxas’ shoulder and squeezed. “Have you eaten anything?”

“Other than that cookie…” Roxas shook his head a tiny fraction, feeling very pathetic, “no.”

Axel gasped. “Roxas! Quick! Let me put a dick in you!” Axel pulled Roxas to the dining table and began feeding and stuffing the cookies into Roxas’ mouth.

The discomfort faded by the third cookie-penis and Roxas was in serious danger of choking to death from laughing. He waved his hands in the air, trying to communicate for Axel to stop.

Axel did and Roxas coughed and swallowed, clearing his throat. Axel went to fetch some water and when he returned, he pushed Roxas towards the couch, where he eased Roxas onto the cushion, handed him the glass and another penis cookie, before sitting down as well.

“You feeling better? Less starved?”

“Yeah. Thanks for the dicks,” Roxas chuckled.

“You’re welcome. I didn’t fill you up too much though, right? Would hate for you to have no room for the duck.”

“No. Just the right amount, thanks.” He nibbled on the cookie in hand and thought about how adorable Axel was. There was so much room to turn this into a conversation leading to before-dinner sex. Roxas really considered it for a moment but was too exhausted from his big day out so he kept quiet about it until Axel made a move.

Axel bumped against Roxas’ shoulder. “I aim to please. So, tell me what you got up to today. Did you get stuff sorted out?”

Roxas told Axel everything except for hanging out in front of Vanitas’ work and how hard the whole ordeal of going back to his former residency had been. Axel listened attentively and waited for Roxas to be done before he said, “Let me give you money for tomorrow.”

“No. It’s—”

Axel shushed Roxas with an interjection of, “No, don’t be silly. I’m here to help you.” He then got up and walked to his jacket – hanging on a coat rack by the door – and rummaged through the pockets.

Roxas was relieved but simultaneously annoyed. He had sworn to himself to never let himself become financially reliant on someone else again… but he was right back at square one, relying on his man to get him through tough times. Roxas tried to tell himself it would be different this time. He wasn’t going to become reliant. He was going to build his own life… he just… couldn’t right now. Not without a little help. Maybe it would be all right. Axel was different. He was kind, caring, loved him… he wasn’t embittered with him and resentful… and if Roxas could just keep Axel happy the way he never had Vanitas… all would be right.

Axel came back with a $50 note and held it out to him.

“That’s too much.”

“It’s the smallest I’ve got. You don’t have to spend it all in one go, y’know.” Axel did what Roxas thought was possibly a wink.

That gesture made Roxas feel cut up inside. He wished he had never pushed Axel away. He should have kept him safe, at home, by opening himself up to his boyfriend.

His sadness must have shown, because Axel sat down suddenly and pulled Roxas close, murmuring into his ear, “It’s okay, babe. Please just take the money so you can have a nice time out tomorrow.”

Roxas smiled into the curve of Axel’s neck, still wracked with terrible feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. He would repay Axel. He’d repay every cent he ever took from the other man. “Thank you,” he whispered.

They pulled apart. Axel smiled, and Roxas did his best to return the feeling. He didn’t want to seem ungrateful. He leaned in, kissing Axel a little, and then a lot. They made out for quite some time until Axel had mostly undressed Roxas, but he stopped at underwear because the oven chimed.

“How ‘bout you go have a quick shower while I carve the duck and get the side salad made up,” Axel said, licking his lips and eyeing Roxas’ body beneath himself.

Roxas nodded, feeling incredibly hungry, and not just for dinner this time around. He pulled himself out from underneath Axel and received a slap on his butt as he waddled to the bathroom. While hopping into the shower Roxas thought about how he would give Axel back the money, with the sweetest interest he knew of. He looked forward to having Axel in his mouth and backside after dinner and fantasized about Axel taking cock while he washed his hair.


 

Roxas awoke because of years of waking at a certain time. He lay there for a while, enjoying Axel pressed to his back, strong arms slung around his waist, and Axel’s warm breath blowing against his bare shoulders. Last night had started with a quip about being all out of dick cookies and needing more dick in his mouth, and it had ended in the sweet building and release of tension for both of them.

Axel seemed to really enjoy making Roxas squirm with pleasure. Axel was so different from Vanitas. There was love and care in his touches and caresses. There was tenderness and adoration. It made Roxas well up with tears; it made his heart pound harder with affection. He was so glad that he seemed to be making Axel happy and wanted to continue to do so. It was the least he could do, considering everything that had happened.

Roxas eventually extricated himself from the blanket and limbs and sat on the edge of the bed thinking about his day ahead. He needed to clear his head and write a report and statement, and then photocopy everything and still make phone calls. He wished he could undo the past – have avoided all this headache. He hoped Vanitas was okay.

With a grumble, he got up, grabbed a shirt, and headed out into the living area where he cuddled Cheshire before going to the bathroom and then sorting out breakfast.

After that, he sat down with Axel’s laptop, which the man had offered up for writing the aforementioned report and statement on. Axel’s generosity knew no bounds. Roxas was shocked and felt terrible with every nice thing Axel did and said. He felt completely overwhelmed by the man half the time. He felt so inferior and undeserving. He loved Axel so much, so it really frustrated him when he thought of Vanitas in a tender and worrying way. It seemed to happen a lot. His head was filled with Vanitas as he struggled through finding the right words and getting down the events in a sequential order. He just tried to keep focusing on Axel and how Vanitas had hurt him, to harden his heart.

He managed to get everything written up before Axel ever woke up, so he went out again, armed with cash, and a packed lunch because he refused to spend any more than he absolutely needed to.

It was a rather unremarkable day. Roxas did the things he needed to do and then found himself once more loitering in front of Vanitas’ work building. He stayed there for a while, watching people coming and going. He watched the fountains and the random kids that came along and splashed in them to cool off. It was a very hot day after all.

Roxas needed to get Vanitas out of his system. He needed to see him and say goodbye, face-to-face. The more he sat with it, the more displeased he grew with having only written a letter to him. Vanitas had been right. Roxas had never made anything for him. He should have made something for him. He felt like such an ungrateful coward and was sure Vanitas would be thinking of him in those terms too.

Once he felt he had chastised and mentally flagellated himself enough, he went back to be with Axel, which made him feel a million times better.


 

Ever since Axel had Roxas living with him, he had been on cloud nine. Sure, some bad things had happened, but Roxas being with him, safe and well, made absolutely everything nasty worthwhile. Axel wore his bung-eye with pride. If he could have somehow taken a black eye for Xion… well, he thought he would gladly have suffered something far worse than a black eye to save her. That was a depressing thought – but otherwise, he felt mostly upbeat and chipper.

He loved snuggling with Roxas all night long. He was ecstatic to wake up to find something delicious in the kitchen, and then vegging out on his couch, playing video games while having a purring cat on his chest. It was like the best vacation. Axel was living the high life, and this was only the last few days. He looked forward to seeing how amazing life would be once all the legal drama was out of their lives.

But if Axel was going to be honest, despite the joys in his life, it wasn’t all sunshine and happiness either. For one, Axel was not used to sharing his space with someone, especially his small space. Not that Roxas took up much of the space, but having another person’s presence around, where before he had always been alone, was still something for Axel to adjust to.

He had to think of someone else. He had to buy more groceries, toothpaste, toilet paper. He had to remember not to hog all the blanket, and to watch his feet in case the cat was underneath him. He had to remember that he needed to ask Roxas about what he might want to eat or do. It wasn’t like it was hard – Axel loved Roxas – it was just an adjustment.

The other thing that needed adjusting to was the court hearing looming over their heads. Axel had never been to court, so it was daunting. And he thought he noticed it weighing down on Roxas as well. The man seemed upbeat and hardly talked about anything to do with the court and his ex, except in passing, when he gave Axel a rundown on what he had been up to on his days out on the town – not that Axel expected a report, but it certainly was freely given.

Despite the outward appearance, Axel knew that Roxas was feeling the weight of it all. Axel caught sight of it in the quieter moments of their day when Roxas was around. It was often before they fell asleep – and definitely the two times when Axel had awoken in the morning to see Roxas sitting on the edge of their bed with a bowed head in his hands.

Axel had just watched Roxas for a while, not sure if he should say anything, and when Roxas had moved off the bed to get his day underway, Axel had let him go and had gone back to sleep. He was trying to give Roxas space, because as much as Axel needed his, so did Roxas, he thought.

But otherwise, things were great. Admittedly, Axel did worry a little bit about letting Roxas wander the streets, especially on the weekend. He was paranoid that Vanitas was out there, ready to pounce and kidnap Roxas. It wasn’t a serious worry, but the guy was bad enough news for Axel to not rule it completely out of the realm of possibilities. But he didn’t want to say anything. He was mindful of Roxas probably being in a delicate state where he was assessing all of Axel’s actions and comparing them to his former relationship.

Axel would be damned if he lost that competition. Especially such an easy competition. Axel could win with his good eye closed. He just had to keep doing what he had been doing for months on end; treat Roxas like a decent human being.

Easy.


 

On Saturday, Axel whiled away the day by playing video games, seeing if he could do all his trickiest cocktail and bartending tricks with only one eye – the answer to which was, about 50/50 – and he also devoted time to making another amazing dinner. It was a roast this time, with fresh, seasonal vegetables. Axel absolutely loved online grocery shopping and the quick delivery. It meant he didn’t have to plan too far ahead.

But the roast had taken quite some prep work and in between the lazing about and practicing his pouring and mixing techniques, he had been tending to the meal. He hoped Roxas would love it as much as he had enjoyed the last two dinners, whilst he glazed the meat.

Time ticked by without Axel’s knowledge. But by the time 6 pm came around, Axel noticed a distinct lack of Roxas. The last two days, he had come home before dinner. Axel tried not to pay it any mind.

When 7 pm came around and Roxas was still not home, Axel watched the door and then started to pace and worry. Dinner was sitting in the oven, staying warm, and scenarios raced through Axel’s head of Vanitas having abducted Roxas – and then his head was telling him that maybe Roxas had fallen prey to something else – a pyramid scheme, the occult, a used car sales rep who had trapped Roxas in the trunk of his car and was taking Roxas out to the hinterlands to murder him and use his body parts as fertilizer for his meat-eating chickens.

Sick, manic panic was rising in Axel’s chest. It was probably so dumb to worry, but dumb he was being. He was so mad at himself for not having gone out with Roxas. He was furious that he didn’t buy Roxas a phone or give him his own phone to use.

Axel wanted to scream, but opted for angry grunts, so as not to upset Cheshire, who was hiding away because of Axel’s maddening pacing.

Axel almost jumped out of his skin when he heard the click of his lock unlatching.


 

Roxas’ heart was in his throat as he undid the lock. It was so incredibly late, and he was sure Axel would be furious. Roxas was upset with himself for having so completely lost track of the time.

“Sorry,” he said as soon as he opened the door and pushed inside, hanging his hat up on the rack. “I got completely caught uh—” A fiercely tight squeeze surrounded him, robbing him of air. His fingers lost grip of the bags he carried, and he felt himself being hoisted off the ground.

“Where have you been? What were you doing? Don’t you know what time it is?” Axel’s voice was tense and high-strung. Limbs squeezed Roxas a fraction tighter before suddenly releasing and dropping him back to the ground. Axel grabbed at Roxas’ shoulder, spinning him around. The wild look in Axel’s eyes filled Roxas with even more panic. His heart smashed against his chest. Saliva was viscous. His body just seized up. The hands on his shoulders, digging and gripping like vices ripped into Roxas’ soul, and a flood of bad memories unleashed in his head.

Axel’s hands slid down to Roxas’ wrists, tugging sharply, and the tight hold didn’t ease up. “God, Rox! I’ve been worried sick about you! What did you do? Say something!” came the almost scream as the wild green eye darted and fingernails dug.

Roxas squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t see it. He couldn’t let himself hear it. Vanitas taunted him in the back of his mind. The icy hands let go of Roxas and he collapsed to the ground, knees hitting the floor, sending a sharp wince through him.

“Roxas.” Axel’s now gentle voice broke through the fog.

Roxas looked up, he raised himself a little and reached his trembling hands out to hold onto Axel’s hips. “I’m sorry,” he whispered through the shock. He had to make things right. “Please,” his voice quavered. He couldn’t let Axel hate him. “I’m sorry,” he squeaked. He gripped Axel tighter. He couldn’t lose him. “I’m sorry.” He couldn’t let the past repeat itself. “I love you,” he breathed out. He struggled to get his shaky, ice-cold fingers to cooperate. He fumbled and moved them to the front of Axel’s pants, pulling down the zipper and fiddling with the button.

“Roxas, what’re you doing?”

“I need to—I want you, Axel. I’ve missed you so much all day.” He smiled up at Axel, cursing himself for not looking sexier and more confident. In fact, he must have looked as scared as he felt because there was no smile returned. Instead, Axel reached out for Roxas, hands slipping under his armpits and lifting him back to his feet.

“No. I’m sorry. Rox… I completely—I’m so sorry. Please – I won’t hurt you, please come and let’s—” Axel appeared completely flustered. Soft touches caressed Roxas, brushing at his hair, and cheeks, and running down his arms, squeezing fingers gently. “I’m so sorry. Let’s go sit down on the couch.”

Roxas was tugged over to the couch. His body trembled uncontrollably as Axel gently pushed him down. The softness after… that…. Roxas’ heart hurt with the ferocity of its beating. He felt jittery and on edge. Was Axel mad? He was so mad; Roxas was sure of it. Vanitas would have gone absolutely ballistic if Roxas was so much as a minute late. Axel was more in control of himself – Roxas hated that. It only made his heart marathon all the more. How could he make this better? Axel would leave him because he wasn’t sexy enough in his weepy state to have a dick in his mouth.

Axel suddenly knelt down, right between Roxas’ legs, and looked up at him, with concern in his eyes. His hand reached up to Roxas’ face, making him flinch – but instead of a hard slap – a soft caress followed, and fingers swept up into his hair.

“Rox, I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m sorry. Please – what’s going on?” Axel asked, vocal cords straining with something undecipherable to Roxas.

The shock of not being hit calmed Roxas a little. But he didn’t understand what was going on right now. “...” He tried again, clearing his throat, and scratchily said, “Aren’t you mad at me?”

“No.”

“But…” Roxas could still feel Axel’s strong grip on him. The discomfort remained in his body.

“I’m sorry,” Axel murmured. “I was freaking out because I was worried about you. I’m not mad though. I’m really fucking glad you’re safe and back.” Axel wound his arms around Roxas’ middle, pressing his head to Roxas’ chest, and squeezed him tight but gently as if he had really missed Roxas tremendously.

The action stole Roxas’ breath. He stared out across the room, bewildered. His vision turned a little blurry with tears. Axel wasn’t mad? Axel had been worried? “What were you worried about me for?”

The grip around Roxas tightened a little. “I got all paranoid thinking your ex somehow got to you and dragged you away.” Axel’s voice was filled with brittle tension.

“Oh.” Terrible sadness and relief all jumbled up together, collecting in his chest and freeing itself by tumbling out of Roxas in a sob.

Axel eased his hold on Roxas, he pulled away a little to look up at him. Their eyes met, and Roxas squeezed his eyes shut, causing more tears to fall. Axel let go and scurried up, sitting next to Roxas and pulling him against himself. Roxas snuggled in against Axel, still feeling unsure, still ready to drop and suck Axel off to make him forget his worries if he had to.

Axel buried his face in Roxas’ hair, nuzzling, and then said, “I’m sorry for how I just handled myself with you. I have no excuse. It won’t happen again, so, please don’t think I’m mad, okay?” Axel pulled away a little, affording them space to look at each other, which Roxas did tentatively.

Axel wore a fragile smile, dipped in sad worry. “Can we just… start from the top? What have you been up to today?” Axel’s smile turned a little more upbeat, but the underlying panic was still as bright as daylight to Roxas.

Roxas swallowed against nearly-overwhelming nausea which was brought on by uncertainty. “Um…” A bump against his leg – such a familiar gesture – brought ultimate relief to Roxas. He looked down and picked Cheshire up, who had come over to rub herself on his leg. She was just what Roxas needed to get away from the fear, doubt, and Axel’s too-intense stare. He worried at his lip a little before he slowly began retelling all that had happened to him. “Well, early this morning I went to the flea markets by Centenary Park,” he cast a glance towards Axel. Was he really okay with them just talking about this stuff? Would he get mad later? Would he believe him? It was a pretty crazy story. He continued, “and I saw this fabric that I really wanted to get for you.”

A small, adorable sound escaped out of Axel, which caused Roxas to look at him. What he saw was Axel’s features softening into a delicate smile. Butterflies stirred in Roxas’ chest. “But it was like sixty-five bucks and, well,” Roxas shrugged.

Axel tilted his head and the soft smile didn’t falter. He said, “Why didn’t you just come back and get more money or take my card?”

Roxas’ jaw clenched, and he felt himself bristle against that question. He swallowed it down, frowning hard with trying to keep it all inside. His heart was still racing. He still felt on edge. He took, what he hoped, would be a steadying breath and kept petting his cat. “I wanted to get you something that I got from my own hard work.”

“Uh, you’ve given me the jacket,” Axel pointed towards the front door, where the jacket hung on a hook. “You made me that blueprint,” he pointed to above his television. “You got me the penguin,” he nodded behind himself, to the bookcase. “You’ve given me so much and not just that physical stuff – you’ve given me so much more as well.” Axel reached for and held Roxas’ hand, squeezing him a little.

Roxas felt a blush coming on and squeezed Axel back. “You’re right, but… I…” Roxas felt sick. His insides were knotted and hard. He felt like such a fraud. He was such a loser. “None of that stuff is all one-hundred percent from me. The jacket… Van paid for everything I couldn’t cover with the money I did make from previous commissions. The print – made on stuff and with stuff I didn’t earn. The penguins – you paid for that. I just picked it out.” Roxas frowned. He felt so terrible about everything. “I wanted to get you something that I worked hard for, for you.”

Axel groaned a little bit. “You’re so precious,” he huffed a little and then said, “So what did you do?”

Axel seemed so genuine. Maybe he really wasn’t mad? A little bit of bravery flushed through Roxas. If Axel was sincere then maybe it was okay to tell him the rest of the story. “I tried to bargain with the lady running the stall – I asked her what she would want for the whole roll of fabric. She told me how she had this feud with a lady on the other side of the market over a little statue of a Pekingese. She showed me photos of her little dog that she said looked just like that one and she wanted it but because of whatever argument she had had with that other lady, that lady refused to sell it to her. So, she told me that if I could get it for her, she’d give me the fabric and some other stuff she had that I needed. So, I went over there and talked to the other lady and – well, the dog statue was thirty bucks and I still couldn’t afford that, so I asked her what she wanted for it.” Roxas took a breath. He really didn’t understand why those two ladies had been fighting. It seemed so petty.

Roxas shook his head and continued, “She sent me down to the butcher and deli markets to get her some ingredients because she wouldn’t be able to get down there before they closed today, and she had an important dinner to prepare for. So, she gave me twenty dollars and I went down there but the things she wanted ended up costing five dollars more than what I had. It took me ages to get to the butcher and deli, so I didn’t think I had enough time to go back to the market and then back again so, um…” Roxas took a deep breath…. The heat of embarrassment caressed his cheeks and neck. “I started busking—”

“You what?” Axel half-laughed.

Roxas worried about how ridiculous this story must sound. He hoped Axel wouldn’t think he was making up stories… because it was about to get even more ridiculous. “Ah, yeah. I danced. Um…” his cheeks were definitely burning from embarrassment. But at the same time… he tried to bite down the smile and laugh that wanted to come out. “I got quite a big crowd too.” He was a little bit proud of himself.

“Oh, wow. I mean, I’ve seen how you dance, so it doesn’t surprise me, but… wow.” A smile, which Roxas had always found the height of sexiness – when Axel didn’t have Vanitas’ marks of anger all over his face – spread across Axel’s lips.

It didn’t have the same effect on him right now, but it still made Roxas smile. And then he laughed, feeling better. “So, I was dancing for a while – there was some guy beatboxing on the other side of the road, so I just went with whatever tune he came up with. But… at some point, the police came to check my permit and I didn’t have one, so I grabbed my hat with a bunch of coins in it and ran and ran. I lost them but ran into a bunch of guys who had seen me dance and… this is such a weird story. You believe me, don’t you?” Roxas asked suddenly. It was becoming too ridiculous, but he needed Axel to believe him.

“Yeah. Why would you make this up?”

Roxas breathed out a sigh of relief. “I have no reason. It’s what happened but it’s… well… it’s about to get even more bizarre.”

A sweet smile crossed Axel’s face. “So, what happened with the guys?’

“They wanted me to teach them.”

“Seriously?” Axel’s voice hitched with disbelief and amusement.

Roxas nodded. “Yeah. I know. So weird. By that point, it was like late afternoon, but I felt bad. They were so young and were trying to start up a dance group, so I just ran them through some stuff and excused myself after – and, then I ran to do all the other stuff and I had some money left over from the busking, so I bought us dessert.”

Axel sat with that for a few terror-inducing moments but then Roxas’ tension snapped as Axel said, through rolling laughter, “That’s an amazing story.”

“Yeah?” Roxas still asked with disbelief but also feeling very hopeful.

“Yeah! How much did you end up making from dancing?”

Roxas let his hesitant smile grow as pride took hold of him. “Like fifteen bucks. I might have found my calling.”

Axel laughed louder. “I wouldn’t give up my day job for that kinda cash, but it’s definitely a really good haul. I dated a guy who played the guitar and he didn’t pull more than maybe twenty in two hours. How long did you dance before the police came around?”

“Ah… maybe forty-five minutes?”

Axel whistled. “I’m super impressed. You’ll have to show me your dancing.”

Roxas smiled and squeezed Axel’s hand. “You’ve seen it all before – and more.”

“But I wanna see more more. How good are you on a pole?” Axel asked with a seductive rumble and leaned in.

Roxas licked his lips, his eyes trailed over Axel and he said in a low tone, “You want me to give your pole a special show?”

Roxas watched the lust in Axel ignite and then extinguish as fast as it had appeared. Panic seized Roxas’ chest. “Um… everything okay?”

Axel frowned a little. His gaze darted around the floor before rising to meet Roxas. “I want to talk to you about something—But I’m not mad, okay? I don’t want you to think I’m angry, ‘cause I’m not. I just want an honest answer, okay?”

Overwhelming dread dragged his stomach down to his toes. Roxas nodded.

Axel looked nervous, wetting his lips before he slowly said, “What was that before? With the falling-to-the-floor-to-blow-me thing.”

Roxas’ gut clenched, and the instinctive response fell out, “N-nothing.”

“Roxas, please tell me.” Axel’s hand reached out towards Roxas and fingers brushed against Roxas’ thigh.

The touch made Roxas uncomfortable. Did Axel want to or not want to? It didn’t matter. Roxas knew Axel wanted a response. He didn’t know what to tell him. “I… I thought you wouldn’t be so angry if I…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

Axel stared wordlessly for a while before getting out rather hoarsely, “Why?”

“...” Roxas’ mouth shut again. He didn’t know how to respond to Axel, but he had to say something. “It’s just… what I’ve always done.” He shrugged a little and looked at his cat, rubbing her head.

“Oh, babe. Please don’t.” Axel grasped Roxas’ hand, rubbing and squeezing it.

Roxas’ heart was in his throat. “You don’t want me to?”

“No. Please don’t.” Axel frowned, and his eyes dropped to look at Roxas’ hand. “It makes me… feel dirty.” He winced.

In turn, Roxas winced too. “Oh.”

“Have you ever done this with me before?” Axel raised his eyes and tentative worry sat on knit brows.

Roxas gaped like a goldfish for a few moments, his mouth forming shapes of syllables he wanted to start saying but couldn’t. He couldn’t tell Axel. He couldn’t hurt him like that. Roxas shut his mouth and clenched his jaw. He didn’t want to say anything further, because lying to Axel was something he never wanted to do. Axel seemed to know everything already anyway, so there was no point saying it.

“Babe.” Axel’s hand raised to Roxas’ face and Roxas flinched, eyes clenching closed, but he was met with a surprisingly soft touch and stroke of his cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Roxas muttered.

“I don’t want you to do that. Please don’t do that again. It’s not sexy.” Axel kept stroking Roxas’ cheek.

“Okay. I won’t. I’m sorry,” Roxas muttered.

“It’s okay.” Axel sighed and continued to rub at Roxas.

Roxas scooched a fraction closer to Axel. He felt terrible for having been caught out as he had been. He still wanted to make it up to Axel somehow. He leaned in, slow and unsure. He wanted to kiss Axel. He loved Axel. He wanted to make him feel good. He leaned in a little closer.

“What’re you doing?” Axel asked cautiously.

“I love you,” Roxas said and connected with Axel’s lips, pressing against them, licking him a little. Roxas was desperate for some reciprocity. Any kind of sign that Axel didn’t think him completely heinous. He got the reprieve he was after – Axel began kissing him back. Tentatively at first, but then with slower, more intense purpose.

The tension in Roxas’ shoulders slipped away, and he grew more forceful in his kissing of Axel. Axel tasted so good – of savory cinnamon and maybe even some pear. Roxas smiled and stopped their kiss, smacking his lips. “Yum.”

Axel chuckled. “You wanna have dinner? It’s sitting in the oven. I was doing taste-testing from time to time.”

Roxas nodded and smiled. He suddenly felt very hungry. “Yeah. What did you make?”

“A roast. The meat’s really tender. I’ll go plate up.” Axel stood up.

“Oooh, if it tastes anything like you, then I’m in for a treat!” Roxas dropped Cheshire to the ground before he stood up as well and felt relieved over the easy way they had been able to change the subject. If this had been Vanitas Roxas wouldn’t be hearing the end of it until the next day.

Axel gave a rumbling chuckle. “Should be. You wanna show me the labors of your fantasy NPC questing journey?” he asked before he headed into the kitchen to fetch the plates and food.

“Oh yeah!” Roxas walked over to where he had dropped the bags by the door. That moment was still too fresh in his mind and body. Axel had been so strong – he was probably a lot stronger than Vanitas – he pushed that uncomfortable thought away and instead rifled through his acquired stuff. He found the pale blue fabric and pulled it out.

“Are those penguins?” Axel asked, sounding excited. He walked up to Roxas to take a closer look.

“Yeah. You like it?” Roxas asked, feeling nervous. He hoped all this drama and effort had been worth it. If Axel liked it, everything would be worthwhile.

“Yeah! What’re you gonna make with it?” Axel fingered the fabric, looking at the adorable assortment of Emperor, Little, and Macaroni penguins that dotted the cloth all over.

“Oh, yeah, curtains.” Roxas pointed at Axel’s window. “I got some darker material for the backing, so we can have blackout curtains. And I got a curtain rod and some thread and… oh, here’s the milk pudding.” Roxas dug around and handed two cups over to Axel, which he took with thanks.

“You’re gonna make me curtains?” Axel’s eye widened, and he looked quite stunned.

“Y-yeah… is that okay?”

“Oh my God. Of course it is! I’ve been needing curtains for that window for five years now.” Axel caught Roxas up in his arms and gave him a big squeeze around the middle. “I love you,” he breathed into Roxas’ ear and then pulled away. “I’ll go put the puddings in the fridge. Go wash up or help me with setting up the table? Up to you. I’ll cut up the roast.”

Roxas couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. He nodded. They shared a quick kiss and Roxas felt relieved over the positive reception. He really needed to shake his paranoia. He needed to stop feeling like he was still living with Vanitas. Axel was different. Things would be better – if he could just snap out of it.

Chapter Text

Sunday dawned, and it was weird and quiet. Axel wasn’t sure if it was Roxas, himself, or both of them who were acting strangely. He thought he saw an unease and nervousness in Roxas. But maybe he was imagining it. He himself couldn’t shake the thoughts from last night, and that in turn was growing its own unease inside of Axel and clouding everything he saw. He wished he could talk to Kairi about this, but he had no privacy in his small apartment space and it didn’t look like Roxas was heading out, which was both a positive and a negative. Axel had missed Roxas during the week, but now he also felt too awkward to relish their time together.

“You can go out, you know,” Axel had tried because he was worried that Roxas was still waiting for his permission to do things, especially after he had lost it last night. He had made such a spectacular mess of things and felt deeply ashamed and uncomfortable.

But Roxas had just shaken his head. “No, I don’t have anything that needs doing. Besides, I want to get started on the curtain. But… if you want me to—”

“Oh no, no. You can stay in. It’s fine. I like having you around.” Axel tried to soothe the nervous uncertainty he had detected in Roxas’ voice.

Roxas had nodded and hummed.

The stilted discomfort continued, though Axel thought Roxas was masking it quite well over breakfast. They talked about predictable, bland things, and both of them avoiding making mentions of the previous day. After that, Roxas quietly went to work on making the curtains for Axel’s bare window, whilst Axel got back to continuing his video games.

If yesterday had never happened, then this would have been very pleasant for Axel. He cast a glance over at Roxas, who had made space on the dining table to do his measuring and hand sewing. Axel had asked if Roxas needed a sewing machine, but Roxas had been very adamant that he didn’t and that he thoroughly enjoyed working on this by hand. Axel let the subject drop and returned to his game, though still taking time out between deaths to watch Roxas working away peacefully. It made Axel forget the uncomfortable realization that Roxas had been living with someone very repugnant for too many years and that he probably had to adapt to dealing with that person. But his selective amnesia didn’t last for too long.

By the time afternoon settled in, Roxas was on the couch with Axel. They were spooning, Roxas’ back pressed up against Axel’s chest, and Axel with his arms draped over the man before himself. They were watching more of Fabulous Threads because Axel was now hooked on it, but he wasn’t paying too much attention at that moment. Instead, he mulled over his regrettable reaction to Roxas’ homecoming on the day before, for the tenth time now.

He must have sounded too rough, too panicked, and had held onto Roxas a little bit too tightly. Axel’s fingers flexed against Roxas’ stomach, before curling up and rubbing gentle patterns into soft flesh. He had been so scared – so relieved. He let out a small sigh. He truly regretted it. He never got like that. He had just been too worked up about the past and too freaked out about the unknown. It wasn’t an excuse. Axel told himself that. He knew he had to be better and calmer in the future.

He couldn’t undo what he had done, so instead, he focused on the positive that had come from his overreaction, because it had revealed the uncomfortable coping mechanism that Roxas had developed. Axel could see it for what it was. He didn’t even need Kairi to tell him that. Though he still wished he could speak with her. He cursed his small apartment once more.

But on the bright side, it was also cozy. A sense of normalcy crept over Axel. He could smile into the back of Roxas’ head, enjoy the other man’s clean and fresh scent, and find comfort in the warm body flush against his own.

Before too long, Roxas turned around, smiling up at Axel and leaving soft pecks on his collarbone and chest. The normally lust-inducing close contact, however, made Axel tense up. He refocused Roxas back onto the TV program. His own mind, however, lost all focus. He manically dissected every single one of his actions over that morning and early afternoon, assessing and re-assessing whether or not any of that might have made Roxas act like this right now.

He didn’t think so, but doubt remained.


 

They eventually settled down for the night. It was pretty quiet, like the rest of the day had been. The uncomfortable thoughts in Axel’s mind were still there, running amok. Just as he had done all day, Axel tried to pay them no heed.

“How was your day?” Axel asked as he pulled the blanket aside and Roxas snuggled in against him, smelling of the lavender shower gel that was in the bathroom.

“Good, yeah.” Roxas nuzzled his nose into Axel’s shoulder. “Sorry that I got so stuck into the curtain,” Roxas murmured.

Axel squeezed Roxas a little and rubbed his hand along Roxas’ flank, loving the texture of his silky-smooth skin. “Don’t be sorry. It’s gonna look amazing when it’s done, and I’ll finally stop getting blinded by that stupid street light that shines in at just the worst angle when I come out of the bathroom.”

Roxas laughed quietly. “Yeah. I don’t get why that’s so bright.”

“Right?” Axel exhaled with vindication. “I’m not imagining it. That one’s brighter than all the rest.”

“Yeah.” Roxas hummed with a low chuckle.

Axel’s fingers still stroked, feeling starved of intimacy. He aimed to get his fill right now though and kept roaming over the soft, silken skin of Roxas’ sides and abdomen. Roxas shifted, giving Axel better access. Small gasps escaped Roxas’ throat and Axel pressed small kisses to the craned neck, traveling up to Roxas’ jaw and nipping the delicate skin behind his ear. Roxas’ pants and hums grew in strength. Axel loved that sound so close to his ear. He loved the humid breaths puffing against his own neck.

Heated panting grew and reverberated around their dark bedroom as the kissing Axel had been denying the both of them was unleashed. There was a hunger and urgent need to Roxas’ open-mouthed kisses, which sucked and nipped at Axel’s flesh, leaving bruises in their wake.

Roxas’ hands gripped Axel’s hips, which he only realized once Roxas abandoned lavishing hard sucks against his neck for dropping quick pecks down Axel’s body. Axel’s legs were forcibly spread as Roxas snuggled down between them.

Axel’s chest inflated as he watched Roxas down there, fondling, kissing and licking his way up Axel’s shaft. His mind reeled and his body awakened with the desire he had been keeping cool with unsavory thoughts throughout the day. Axel indulged in all of Roxas’ minute movements. Blunted fingernails scraping, knuckles caressing, hairs brushing, exhales tickling, and the heat… that wet heat kissing him—

Axel’s pulse raced, and his eyes rolled back into his head as Roxas swirled his tongue around the ridge of Axel’s head and over his slit. Hot, moist breath against his firming erection made Axel want to buck his hips and push into the delighting pleasure that Roxas’ mouth promised. He let encouraging sounds spill out of his mouth and touched Roxas anywhere he could reach.

Roxas diverted his hands from stroking the base of Axel’s cock to kneading his thighs. Axel grabbed hold of Roxas’ hands, squeezing and thumbing over knuckles to convey his pleasure. Not that he needed to since his loud moans and the hardening of his length would be enough to key Roxas into knowing what effect his magic tongue was having on him. Warmth and pressure surrounded him as Roxas took all of Axel in. An ungraceful sound left Axel’s throat as his gut clenched. Heady delight made him dizzy. He tilted his head back against the pillows to free his throat up so louder and longer moans could escape while Roxas deep-throated him at a quickening pace.

Fuck, Roxas was great with his mouth.

One of Roxas’ hands left Axel’s and traveled up his bare chest, tracing the contours of his body. Axel rested his free hand in Roxas’ hair, enjoying the bobbing motion and scratching at the man’s scalp whenever Roxas slowed down a bit.

“Fuck. Ah – more, babe, more!” Axel urged on, with a low rumble. He wanted to spill into Roxas’ mouth, kiss the man longingly, and taste himself on those lips. The throb in his penis increased. Roxas switched between sucking shallow-but-hard and deep-throating like a goddamn pro. Axel had been treated to this heady pleasure before, but it still amazed him. Why was Roxas so good with his mouth?

An uncomfortable memory of Vanitas saying something about that accosted him. Axel tried to fight it, but it was too late. Vanitas’ words, coupled with the discomfort of the previous night, completely doused his flaming need and sparked a fire full of irritation and silently building fury. “Rox, stop. Stop. Please.” His trembling hands pushed slightly against Roxas’ shoulders.

Pressure, heat, and suction ceased. Roxas looked up, his mouth rimmed red. “It’s not good?” his voice cracked with worry.

Those wide, fearful eyes took Axel instantly back to last night and felt like a shard of ice piercing through his chest. Vanitas had done this – had made Roxas so fearful. Axel’s rage bubbled, but those eyes just kept dousing him. “No. No, I’m so sorry, Rox. It’s not that. It’s really good.” Axel scrambled up to a sitting position and he took big, calming breaths to get his still heavy-with-desire huffing under control and to stop the ferocious heartbeat from slamming so hard against his chest.

“Then what?” Roxas sat up as well, index finger gently scratching at Axel’s thigh.

“I—” He couldn’t tell Roxas the truth… not the complete truth. Axel didn’t know how Roxas felt about the bastard. He never wanted to bring that vile man up ever again. “Your mouth is just so fucking amazing—” Axel leaned in, getting his face right up close to Roxas’ and wrapped his hand around the back of Roxas’ head, pulling him into a kiss. Roxas’ chin lifted, his lips parted, and Axel pushed in. Feeling Roxas suck on his tongue made Axel whimper into his mouth. He wanted his cock enveloped by Roxas’ mouth so badly. He wanted this feeling of sucking, licking, swallowing, up against the most intimate parts of himself. He felt dumb for having ended it before he came, but… the doubts were too vast. Right now, it all felt too wrong. Maybe a few days distance would make things right again? Axel hoped it would. He needed them to be right again because the relentless thoughts that had been accosting him all day weren’t how Axel wanted things to be.

Axel pulled away from the kiss, but adorably enough Roxas chased his lips, getting a suck and nip in before Axel sat upright again.

“Let me make you cum.” Roxas’ hands were back on Axel’s thighs, kneading delicately. Roxas licked his lips and stared up at Axel expectantly.

A thick lump of disgust clogged up the back of Axel’s throat and smothered the needy moan that would have otherwise erupted from him. “No.”

“Why?” Lips pressed together and were sucked on, worriedly.

Axel exhaled and wrinkled his brow with discomfort. “My… head’s full of shit.”

“Full of shit?” Roxas tilted his head to the side.

“Yeah.” He tried for a brief response, hoping he could just leave it at that.

Roxas, however, didn’t let up. “Like?”

“Like—” Axel reached out, anchoring hands under Roxas’ armpits and pulled him onto his lap. He pawed at Roxas’ bare ass and really liked the warm thighs and coarse hair up against his skin. “I’m still thinking of you doing this to repay me. I don’t want you to use your body. You’re not doing that, are you?”

Heartbreakingly enough, Roxas’ eyes sunk down before he quietly said, “I’m horny for you.”

“Oh, babe.” The lack of denial hurt. Axel squeezed Roxas tightly and they shared a long hug. Roxas nuzzled into the bow of Axel’s neck and shoulder. “I’m happy that you’re horny for me, but I need you to not be trying to repay me or make up for stuff with your body. It just makes me feel dirty and like I’m using you.”

“I’m letting you use me. I want you to use me,” Roxas muffled against Axel’s body.

Like a jolt of lightning, those words traveled straight through Axel’s core. He couldn’t fight the arousal, but he felt ashamed over it. He didn’t want to have this conversation tonight. He was tired, he wanted to put this behind him. Axel just sighed. “Don’t tell me that.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t want to hear it. Not unless we’re already in the middle of sex and you’re talking dirty to me.”

Roxas huffed with a tiny laugh and Axel gave a silent laugh in response, which dislodged some of the discomfort inside himself.

“I’m sorry,” Roxas breathed out.

“No, it’s all right. I think we’re both overthinking things too much.” Axel groped around for Roxas’ hand and on finding it, interlaced their fingers. “Let’s go out tomorrow.”

Roxas looked up at Axel from where his gaze had been held by their fond hand holding. “You sure?”

“Yeah, my eye’s getting better. I can see again, and it doesn’t even hurt so I can put makeup on, but – well, maybe we can go somewhere dark, hmm?” Axel smiled at the silhouette of Roxas, but his mellow mirth fell away when he heard the telltale sad, “Oh,” from Roxas. He could just make out the wince. “Don’t be so glum. I’m healing. It’s fine,” Axel tried to reassure.

Roxas’ hand squeezed Axel’s, and his other hand went up to Axel’s face, cupping his right side. “I’m so sorry.”

The quiet words dragged Axel down towards the other man where he pressed his lips over Roxas’. They shared a firm and reassuring kiss. “Don’t be,” he mumbled against Roxas’ lips, depositing another warm kiss before pushing their foreheads together. “Let’s just get some sleep. We’ll have a good day tomorrow and everything will be fine.” Axel pulled back, brushed at the strands of Roxas’ hair, exposing his forehead and kissing him there gently.

Roxas gave a small nod and then they both lay down. Axel kept Roxas on top of himself, pulling the blanket up so it covered them both. Roxas’ ear was pressed to Axel’s chest and Axel kept his arms around Roxas’ back long after they had both drifted off to sleep.


 

Monday came and went. Axel felt hypervigilant where Roxas’ mood was concerned. He observed his boyfriend being full of energy in the morning, and then by the evening, there was nothing left in Roxas’ tank.

Maybe it was that they were out and about. Axel had taken Roxas to small arts and crafts shops and markets where they had looked at all kinds of things. Roxas seemed to really like some of the products – like novelty mugs, some small detailed wooden jewelry boxes, and various fabrics. But when Axel offered to buy him any of the items, he said no. They then went and watched a movie and ate out. Roxas seemed more and more sullen with each activity. It sort of exhausted Axel as well and he was glad to be back home, slumped against his couch with Roxas’ head in his lap, watching banal programming.

They shared a few kisses, but Axel still felt uncomfortable taking things any further, especially with both their moods being so low. Axel hoped that tomorrow would bring more cheer.

But tomorrow arrived and it was more of the same as the previous day.

They went out window shopping. Axel contemplated getting a new couch so he and Roxas flopped around on many different ones, but when Axel asked Roxas which one he should buy, the other man’s mood turned gloomy. After that turning point, it felt like squeezing water from a rock would probably have been easier than getting some fun out of Roxas, so they went home again.

“Do you want me to run you a bath, or get you some dessert?” Axel asked as they cast their shoes off.

Roxas shook his head, picked up his cat and went over to the couch, where he stayed for the better part of what was left of the day. Axel kept asking from time to time if Roxas needed anything more – if there was anything he could do for him. The answer was, “No, nothing, just come here and let me cuddle you,” which was definitely something.

“I’m sorry for being miserable and no fun,” Roxas mumbled while Axel stroked his hair.

“What’s wrong?”

Eyes meandered for an incredibly long time before Roxas said, “I just… feel so sick and nervous about Thursday.”

Axel kept stroking Roxas, sympathetically. “Yeah, I get it. I’m nervous about that too.”

“You are?” Roxas’ attention snapped back to Axel. Big eyes stared up in wonder.

“Yeah. If you’re worried about it, I’m worried too. It’s kind of scary and I don’t know what to expect or how it will go.”

“Yeah,” Roxas said quietly.

“But we’ll get through it together, okay?”

Roxas nodded, but still looked discouraged.

Axel bent down and gave Roxas a small kiss on the lips. “You got everything sorted for the court hearing?”

“Yeah.” Roxas frowned.

Axel stroked Roxas’ cheek fondly. “Good. So, I’m sure there’s nothing to really worry about then.” He tried to sound as enthusiastic as possible. Roxas didn’t look any lighter for it though. “You wanna do anything special tomorrow? I can take you out and we distract ourselves together. Whatever you wanna do, and wherever you might want to go I’ll take you.” Axel continued to try and dish out some cheer.

Roxas’ eyes fell on the left side of Axel’s face in an unspoken comment.

“Don’t worry about this. I can see again, and I’ve been fine being out the last two days.”

Roxas hummed and then laboriously – like he was lugging up heavy rocks – said, “What do you want to do?”

Axel exhaled with some sharpness. He didn’t know and was digging deep to find something. Up until now, Roxas had been very devoid of ideas regarding activities to do, so Axel had taken charge, but he was also running out of activities to do, especially if Roxas was so morose. “Oh – how about we go clubbing? How’s that sound?” It actually sounded like a really good idea to Axel.

Roxas face actually lit up as well. “Ah – I… would actually really love to go clubbing with you.”

Axel grinned. “Yeah? Awesome. So, let’s go out tomorrow, do walking around the parks or something, and then come home, have a nap, eat and then party.”

“Yeah!” Roxas beamed.

With a kiss it was settled, and Roxas seemed far happier for the rest of the evening.


 

The next morning dawned and Axel got up earlier than he normally would have. It was all made right with Roxas’ kiss against his skin, coaxing him up, in more ways than one.

They went out for breakfast. Roxas ordered the cheapest thing on the menu so Axel ordered a double portion of his own meal and looked to Roxas for some help halfway through. Roxas had laughed and rolled his eyes but also helped.

After that, they wandered around, visiting the Natural History Museum, and Axel made sure to leave a wide berth around the place Roxas’ ex worked, because today was about forgetting all that mess.

After the museum, they decided on a picnic at Centenary Park, so Axel bought some sandwiches, cold cuts of meat, and some cookies, to satiate Roxas’ sweet tooth. It was beautiful weather for a picnic. The sun shone and nary a cloud was in the sky. It was hot outside, but a gentle breeze blew, and the tall trees promised sanctuary from the relentless heat of the sun. Centenary Park was massive, well maintained, and hosted an array of activities for young and older kids. A group of young adults played a game of chess using the giant chess board, families stood in line for a chance to use the human-sized hamster wheel, children romped around on the playground, which held a  slide, and fountains spurted high into the sky at a waterpark somewhere in the distance.

The weather lent itself to it, so Axel and Roxas took advantage of the water fun. They pushed each other into the spray of the various fountains and had a dare regarding who could stand under the giant water bucket the longest before it tipped over and got one of them wet. Axel had been the loser in that contest, having tarried too long and thus gotten the whole contents dumped on him. Roxas had laughed until he cried, and Axel had given him the wettest hug and sloppiest kisses.

Afterward, they raced up the massive slide and timed one another to see who could slide down the fastest. They made the hamster wheel spin like crazy, with Axel spreading his limbs and holding himself so he went around with the wheel, much to Roxas’ envious amusement.

The day was a lot of fun. Roxas’ laugh rang through the air and echoed in Axel’s ears, filling him to the brim with happiness. He had never cared for someone else’s happiness the way he cared for Roxas’. It was a weird thing to accept, but a very natural thing all the same.

Because of the wind and heat, Axel dried off relatively quickly, though his hair drooped, and his butt had an uncomfortable wet-patch, so he lay on his stomach once they found a good spot for their picnic. They lay on the grass, with their food spread out, which they consumed over the course of two hours. They laughed, and talked, and nibbled. It was a much more pleasant atmosphere.

Eventually, they were staring up at the sky, watching the cloud formations shift and change whilst holding hands. The dappled light filtering through the trees was lovely too. Axel wondered if he had ever felt so at peace with the world and himself. Roxas next to him like this did something to Axel. He couldn’t put his finger on it. But he thought that this was the kind of shit he wanted to live for.

“What do you think you’ll do once all this is over?” Axel asked, squeezing Roxas’ hand affectionately.

“I’m going to pursue my dream of becoming a street performer.” Roxas sounded so wistful—it made Axel laugh. “Hey! Don’t laugh at my dreams.” Roxas tried at a fierce glare but failed to get it off the ground.

“If that’s really your dream I’ll support you in it.”

“Thanks, babe!” Roxas lifted their hands and brought Axel’s knuckles to his mouth, where he kissed at them. Hands were still propped up between them and they looked at their entangled fingers. A soft smile lit Roxas’ face.

“What’re you thinking about?” Axel asked, loving the gentle light through the trees dancing over Roxas’ face and how it made his gorgeous cerulean eyes sparkle.

“This is so much like before… but so completely different now too.” Roxas squeezed their hands a little.

Axel remembered hesitant embraces, rooftop loungings, and lingering touches. “This is what it should have been like from the beginning—” Axel rolled over onto his side to face Roxas. Roxas’ head turned towards Axel. “You ‘n’ me, together, having a good time, caring for each other.”

Roxas hummed and stared back up at the sky for a while. “I can barely believe how different my life is,” he said slowly.

“That’s good though, right?”

Roxas nodded and looked back at Axel with a soft expression.

“So, for real, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t really know… but I want a job. Earning money felt really good.”

“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? You’ll feel awesome when you start working again.”

“Again?” Roxas suddenly frowned, and it only grew deeper with the passing seconds. “I… do you think anyone would even take me? I… I haven’t worked a day in my life.”

Axel opened his mouth to say something to that, but he didn’t know what. He shut his mouth again and pondered. “I’m sure you’ve done stuff that can be applied to all kinds of jobs. You worked at the animal shelters, right?”

Roxas nodded.

“You’ve been running your own business—” Roxas seemed to want to protest but Axel continued on, “you’ve been making clothes, and getting items out to customers. That’s time management, baby.”

Roxas huffed with a small laugh and gave Axel a wonky smile.

That made Axel feel more energetic. “I’m pretty good at bullshitting so we can sit down and figure out creative ways of matching your skills to any job prerequisites when you find stuff you might want to apply for. So, don’t feel like you can’t apply for things just because you don’t have any actual experience in that particular job. Just dream really big, okay?”

Roxas hummed. Bliss still lighting his face. “Okay.”

Axel could drown in that smile, but he snapped out of it. “Oh, and you should get yourself set up with an email address and… you’re probably gonna need a phone. Prospective employers like to have reachable employees,” Axel winked playfully and leaned over to deposit a cheerful kiss on Roxas’ nose.

Roxas chuckled quietly but otherwise stayed silent on the matter. Axel remained on his side, looking at Roxas’ profile for some time. Blue eyes just continued their upward stare until his smile faltered.

Silence reigned between them while the birds chirped in the trees and the shrill shrieks of children drifted through the air.

“I know you don’t have any money, but I can spot you some, so you can get a decent phone,” Axel said gently.

“No, you don’t have to,” Roxas said in a hushed tone.

“What’re you gonna do then?”

“I’m sure email’s fine.” Roxas kept looking at the clouds as they slowly passed above.

“I don’t think you understand how useful a phone can be. If you had one, I could have messaged you the other day and not been so worried about you. Just let me buy you one.”

“No!” Roxas sat up and his hand left Axel’s.

The motion and tone of voice startled Axel. “Why not?” He sat up as well.

Roxas remained silent and glowered at the ants walking over the rubbish bag by their feet.

“Roxas,” Axel said gently.

Time passed. The park and city were positively alive with sounds of life as distant conversations and the vroom of cars ebbed and flowed.

A sigh seeped out of Roxas eventually. “I can’t do this again. I can’t get myself into the same situation I did with Vanitas. He tracked me through my phone for fuck’s sake.” Roxas buried his face in his hands.

That remark jolted Axel’s memory. Hearing about the surveillance situation at the police station had truly shocked and disgusted him. He could understand Roxas’ aversion to phones. It was still a little hurtful though. He shuffled a little closer to Roxas and tried to keep the offense out of his voice, “You don’t trust me?”

“I’ve known you for less time than I did Vanitas before we started dating,” Roxas muffled into his knees, which he had drawn up to his chin.

Axel’s chest felt too tight and he frowned. “Ouch.”

Roxas’ head lifted, and he suddenly looked at Axel with panic. “That’s – no! —I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I think you did.” Axel tried to dislodge the insult he was feeling. This wasn’t Roxas’ fault and Axel wasn’t going to get mad at him for it.

“No. No.” Roxas leaned towards Axel, putting his hand on his.

Axel laughed a little, which actually made him feel a bit better. He clasped Roxas’ hand and stroked the man’s soft cheek with his other hand. “Relax. I get it.”

A sullen look came over Roxas. He chewed his lip and muttered, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make you feel bad.”

Axel rubbed Roxas’ rigid back. “I know that. It’s okay. I’m not mad. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure once tomorrow is over, you’ll feel a lot better.” Axel hoped for it and let the clearly uncomfortable topic drop. “So, you up for some ice cream?”

That perked Roxas right up. They went and got their cold treats, spending the journey home talking about music related things and playing with each other’s fingers while they held hands. Roxas still seemed off though, and Axel cursed himself for probably having been responsible for the mood dipping.


 

Once they got back to Axel’s apartment building, Axel checked the mail before they headed up. There were letters for both of them, looking to be from the justice department. They tore into their respective letters and as Axel’s eyes skimmed the text, he felt his heart sink. Glancing at Roxas, Axel could see that Roxas had received the news even more poorly. Roxas’ face was downturned, and his jaw clenched. A low grumble emanated from Roxas. It didn’t stop there though. It grew and grew until he gave an explosive shout and slammed his fist into the side of the mail receptacle, sending a metallic thunk around the lobby.

Roxas withdrew his hand, opening and closing his fist repeatedly, looking pained. “Fuck him!” Roxas threw down the letter – which had been sent to announce the deferment of the court hearing for another week – and stomped up the stairs.

Axel gave the row of metal mailboxes a look, clearly able to see where Roxas had indented it. He picked up the discarded letter and followed Roxas up.

“Hey, it’s not so bad, is it? I mean, it would be good to get this out of the way but… not like it’s the end of the world, right?”

“I don’t know how he did it but it’s such a Vanitas thing to do,” Roxas snapped.

“It’ll be okay. At least you’ve got everything ready now, so the next couple of days can be all about relaxation, yeah? We can go somewhere if you want. Like a mini vacay.” Axel smiled enthusiastically at Roxas as they reached the landing and headed towards the apartment. He actually really liked the sound of that plan, since he hadn’t been on a vacation in a long time.

Roxas didn’t reply with words, but the look of distaste said it all.

“All right, all right. We’ll talk about it another day.” Axel backed off and opened the door. Once they passed over the apartment’s threshold, Roxas withdrew to the corner where Cheshire’s belongings were, and stayed there for most of the late afternoon and evening, until Axel served dinner.

He had hoped that food would raise Roxas’ spirits, but it seemed to have no effect. When Axel asked if Roxas still wanted to go clubbing, he was met with such a lifeless stare that he let it drop. This somehow felt like the first few nights of Roxas’ residency with Axel. All the easy going fun had leached out of him again, and all that was left was a sack of misery.

Axel hoped and prayed that Roxas’ mood would improve after a night filled with snuggles. He tried to soothe whatever might be ailing Roxas by placing gentle kisses over bare skin and rubbing at blond locks, but it didn’t help. Roxas wasn’t as snuggly that night. Any continued inquiry into Roxas’ wellbeing was met with an, ‘I’m just tired,’ and, ‘I’m fine.’ Axel was left feeling disgruntled and fell asleep with Roxas in his arms.


 

Roxas woke up from a weary dream filled with Vanitas laughing at him, touching him, smiling at him, kissing him, kicking him to the curb. Cheeks felt caked with dried tears and fresh ones sprang up from the bottomless well of Roxas’ misery. He removed himself from the bedroom to let Axel sleep.

He went and got a glass of water and sat with Cheshire on the couch, rummaging through his old photographs and memorabilia he still kept in the plastic bag, but now hidden amongst the box with Cheshire’s things, instead of the pockets of one of his vests.

Photographs of his life with Vanitas squeezed more tears out of him. Stirring stick, napkin, the photograph of him with Axel – sticky-taped together – brought up hurt and guilt. He was such a bad person. He had ruined Vanitas’ life, and Axel’s too. Roxas was an awful boyfriend. If he couldn’t snap himself out of this funk, he would lose Axel too. All the blowjobs and letting Axel fuck him wouldn’t hold them together if Roxas couldn’t put a lid on his misery. And Axel already felt it too. Their happiness was coming undone right before Roxas’ eyes but he didn’t know what to do about it.

Ever since Axel had caught on to what Roxas had been doing, there was a distance between them. Axel didn’t want him. Roxas was disgusting. Axel was just humoring Roxas by helping him through this court stuff and then… and then…

Only his cat would love him. Only she would stay with him, and as terrible as Roxas was… compared to all the suffering she must have endured as a kitten, Roxas must be a saint of an owner, and that brought some comfort to his soul. As long as he looked after her, she would love him.

He murmured to her, “Do you miss him, baby? Do you miss the way he used to scratch you? The way he called your name and would shake your kibble box? You could always tell the difference between me and him,” he laughed and sobbed all at once. “Do you ever wonder if he’s thinking about you? Do you ever hope—” Roxas squeaked. Fat, hot tears dripped and Roxas bit his lip, hugging Cheshire tighter and curled in on himself and her. “I’m such an idiot,” he howled quietly into her fur and the cushion.


 

Axel awoke for some reason. The room was dark. Exhaustion still clung to him, making his limbs heavy. Instinctively, he rolled over, arm reaching out for the comfort of a warm body next to himself—his palm hit nothing but lukewarm sheets. That roused him better than iced coffee being poured over his head.

He sat bolt upright and got out of bed, padding out into the living area because the bedroom door had been left ajar – where before it had been shut tight. Looking around he caught sight of Roxas pretty easily, curled up on the couch, wearing one of Axel’s discarded plaid long-sleeved shirts. He was facing towards the window, and probably cuddling his cat. The streetlight from the outside – streaming through the bare window – gave Roxas a very forlorn glow.

“What’s wrong?” Axel said quietly and gently, so as not to startle the other man as he drew near.

Roxas, however, did jerk upward, turning towards Axel slightly. “N-nothing,” was the familiar response accompanied by a sniffle and a wipe of his face on a long sleeve.

Axel bit down his worried scowl. He walked over to the other man, catching a glimpse of stuff on the coffee table, but returned his attention to Roxas. “Don’t give me that. You’ve been off all evening. And now you’re out of bed in the middle of the night, using your cat to soak up your tears. What’s wrong, babe? You can tell me,” he said again, still gentle and trying to sound as warm as possible. He sat down, causing Roxas to tilt towards him with the dip of the couch cushion.

A few breaths passed, carrying with it the burbles of heart-wrenching sadness. “Nothing’s wrong. There’s nothing to fix. I just… feel sad.”

“Maybe I can’t fix it, but I want you to talk to me. I want you to be able to cry on my shoulder, instead of getting your poor pussy all wet.” Axel nudged his shoulder against Roxas, who choked out some laughter.

Slowly, Roxas began, “I can’t stand how long this is taking. I had it all planned out in my head. I was going to say my peace to Vanitas and then that chapter of my life was going to be closed and over and I could move on with you, but now—he’s such a fucking asshole. Why drag this out?” Roxas rubbed his face on the sleeve and didn’t give Axel a chance to answer, saying angrily, “I know why. He likes to torture me. This is one last way for him to make me squirm.”

“Are you sure you’re just pissed off with him? Because you can still do all that stuff… it’s just going to take a few more days than we had hoped.”

Roxas’ face scrunched up with pain and he nodded.

Axel frowned into the blue gloom of the room. Regrettably, he didn’t buy that this was the full story. He leaned forward and pulled some of the stuff off the coffee table to take a closer look. Roxas gave a strangled whine and tried to grab at it before Axel could reach it but he was too slow.

“What’re these?” It was rhetorical; they were photographs of two kids, which Axel assumed were Roxas and Vanitas. Little Roxas was very cute – he wore a cheeky grin that Axel had seen before, and Vanitas looked cocky as ever as they stood outside before a suburban house with a lawn and a hedge. The other photo was of Roxas and Vanitas again, but older, out somewhere very nondescript and looking happier than Axel had ever seen Roxas when he had been with or talked about Vanitas.

“Just some photos,” Roxas mumbled and curled in around his cat a little more, who was purring on his lap.

“Why’re you looking at them?”

“Why’re you asking me,” Roxas snapped, snatching the photos from Axel and tucking them away.

“Because looking at photos isn’t what angry people do.” He reached out again, finding another photograph which looked far more tattered. It was the one of Axel and Roxas at The Kingdom. “Ripping up is what angry people do,” he said and felt a pinch in his chest.

“Van did that,” Roxas mumbled, the irritation melting from him.

Axel sighed and slid the photo back onto the coffee table. “What’s going on, Roxas? Why’re you closing yourself off and crying over old photographs?”

“I don’t know,” Roxas breathed out, pain hitching his voice a little.

Axel felt like he was smacking his head against a brick wall. He was sure Roxas knew. He was sure that something was deeply wrong but didn’t know how to force or coax it out of his boyfriend. He tried pleading, “You can tell me. Whatever it is, you can tell me. I won’t be mad. I won’t get upset. And… if you tell me, you might even feel better. You wanna give it a try?” He hated the idea of Roxas being scared of him and that being the reason he was keeping everything close to his chest.

“I…” Roxas’ brow furrowed, his eyes darted and then rested on the floor, “I don’t know,” he pushed out with a forceful sob. “I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve been trying, and trying, and trying so hard to be happy but… it’s been so hard, and I don’t know why,” Roxas’ voice squeaked, and his jaw clenched tight.

A deep discomfort squeezed the top of Axel’s stomach. “What can’t you stop thinking about?”

Wide eyes turned onto Axel. “Please don’t think I’m ungrateful for everything you’ve done for me. I… I’m super grateful even if I haven’t shown it lately. You’ve been so good to me – so nice to me.”

Axel winced at that word and pressed with urgency, “What have you been thinking about?”

“I,” Roxas grimaced and his mouth flapped, wordlessly.

Axel rubbed at Roxas’ arm and squeezed him gently, lovingly. “You can tell me.” He smiled as wet eyes turned up to meet him.

“That’s the thing – I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“Because…” Roxas worried at his lip, “because… everything’s my fault. I hate how I am with you. I hate that I can’t be happy with you all the time. I hate this sick feeling inside.” His hand went to his gut. “Everything feels weird and wrong,” Roxas whimpered and fought against his tears.

Axel could feel his pulse uncomfortably throbbing in his chest and his fingers turned a little cold. “Whaddya mean, wrong?”

Roxas’ head snapped up. “How I am with you. It’s like… a switch flipped. Now that you’re my boyfriend…” his voice caught uncomfortably on that word, “everything’s different,” he finished in a mutter.

“How?” Axel didn’t understand. Things had been so good – until they hadn’t been. Roxas was just talking about the last couple of days… right? He could understand the last couple of days but anything longer…?

Roxas pulled away from Axel a little. A look of apprehension flickered, eyes darted, and he chewed on his lip.

“Tell me. I want you to tell me things,” Axel urged, vocal cords strumming together tightly.

A sharp inhale of breath was followed by Roxas’ eyes shutting tight, as if the look on Axel’s face would kill him. “That’s… I… I don’t feel like I can tell you things, where before I could. It’s… a lot harder now.”

“Why?” Axel breathed out, feeling tense all over.

Roxas’ forehead was still furrowed with the intensity of closing his eyes. “It’s like… before it didn’t matter what you thought of me. But now it does. Now… everything’s different. And I want nothing more than to please you, especially since you’ve been way nicer to me than I ever deserved, and you… you just keep giving and giving and it’s really fucking overwhelming.” Tears started welling again, diminishing the strength of Roxas’ voice. “I don’t want you to buy me things. I don’t want you to spend a single coin on me. I’m already freeloading in your home, stealing your bed space, eating your food, with money you’ve worked hard for. You’ve always given me everything I don’t deserve, and I keep taking and not giving back. And… and I… I’m so fucking ungrateful,” Roxas blubbered.

Axel stared in disbelief. Where was this coming from? “How’re you being ungrateful? Roxas! You have… been amazing. You look after me, you think of me constantly. You’re… making me curtains from material you got by going on a badass NPC quest! You broke the law for me and had cops chasing you.” Axel laughed a little breathlessly. He reached out and held onto Roxas’ upper arm, giving him what hopefully felt like a reassuring squeeze. “Like… you’re so fucking cool and awesome and I completely appreciate everything you do, and I don’t feel like you’re freeloading one bit. You’re like an awesome house guest. You keep things tidy and make awesome breakfasts. If anything, I’m the one sponging off your generosity.” Axel truly felt that. He hated that Roxas wasn’t letting him do more for him.

“You’re just saying that to be nice. I’m not giving you the things you want from me. You’re probably wanting this court thing to be over so you can get rid of me, and I don’t blame you. I really don’t.”

Axel’s mouth was hanging open. “W-what do you think I want from you?”

Roxas gave a pained frown. He tucked his lips in, hugged his cat a little tighter, and his eyes only held Axel’s for the briefest moment. “Sex. But you won’t even let me now, and I don’t fucking know what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do.”

It came like a kick to the gut. “Roxas!” There was so much wrong with that assumption. “I don’t want you for sex – I mean, I don’t just want you for sex. Sex is… so inconsequential here. You’re more than just your body.” The wind was still knocked out of him. Axel felt insulted and incredibly pained that Roxas would think that.

“But you don’t even want me anymore. Ever since I messed up and… you haven’t wanted to with me. You think I’m gross and wrong.”

“I don’t.”

“Then why don’t you want me?”

“I do want you.”

“But?”

“But… I just… I’m not cool with the idea of you doing things with me because you feel you have to. And I just feel like right now things are stressing us both out too much, so I don’t know if you want me or if you do things because you feel obligated to do them. And I figure once the court’s all done, we’ll both feel better about stuff and then we can try at it again.”

“But I’ve been telling you that I want you and you’re still…” Roxas sobbed. “I can’t make you happy. I’m so useless.”

“Roxas, no. Roxy, babe. No – just… no.” He grabbed the sides of Roxas’ face and forced the gaze between them. “You make me so happy, all the time. I’m just… I don’t wanna hurt you. I don’t wanna keep perpetuating this you-having-sex-with-me-because-you-think-I’m-angry thing. How you did stuff in the past… that’s not how I want you to do things with me. If I’m angry with you, you’ll know it and no sex will ever fix it, so don’t even try.”

Roxas looked small and fragile. Axel had probably been way too harsh. He tried to soften himself with a hefty sigh, and said, while stroking Roxas damp cheeks, “I want you here – have wanted you here for so long now,” he swept blond bangs aside, “Nothing will change that, ever. I love you, Rox. You’re a great guy. You just… have been conditioned to do not-so-great things. I don’t blame you for any of it. I love you, okay?”

It’s like Axel’s words opened up a sore wound. Roxas’ face contorted in pain, a slow wail seeped out, growing in strength while Roxas’ fingers clutched and held his sides firmly as he drew himself into a ball.

Panic flooded Axel. What was happening? Why was everything he was saying somehow making things worse right now? “What is it?” he asked, heart racing uncomfortably. He rubbed at Roxas’ back.

Roxas spoke, a strained high-pitch to his voice, “I’m so ungrateful.”

“Why?” Axel also squeaked. He felt the sting of tears in the corners of his eyes. This was so infuriating. How could he make Roxas see and understand that he was an amazing human being?

“I… I…” Roxas shook with sobs and tears and blubbered, “I wish I could love you, like you love me.”

Something dropped in Axel’s stomach. “Y-you don’t?”

Roxas’ head raised a little. He looked broken and frail, splotches on his face evident even in the dim light. “I do, I do. Please don’t think I don’t!”

“But… then what? Why are you saying that?” There totally was a but. “Please tell me.” Axel rubbed Roxas’ back a little firmer. What had happened? Could one stupid letter really have changed everything between them? It made no sense.

Eyes squeezed shut. “Don’t make me say it.”

Those foreboding words wound Axel’s insides tight into a coil, making it a little harder to breathe. “Please tell me. I’m here for you. I want you to share stuff with me. It’s my boyfriend-duty to love and care for you, and to be understanding, no matter what.” Axel tried not to think about what that ‘no matter what’ was, even if it was, ‘I don’t want to do this with you anymore.

Roxas turned a little bit more towards Axel. He had trouble holding eye contact, and his small frame seemed to curl tighter around itself and the cat. “I’m a terrible boyfriend to you. I don’t deserve you. And… I was a terrible boyfriend to Vanitas and don’t deserve him either and—” his lip quivered, “I miss him so damn much,” Roxas squeezed out in a tight, high pitch. His head sunk down, tears renewed. He shook with sobs and Axel really didn’t know what to do or how to feel.

He leaned in and rested his chin on Roxas’ shoulder, pushing his face into soft hair, and continuing to run a hand up and down the man’s back. Axel tried hard not to be offended. He wished Kairi were here to shed some light around how to respond to something like this. “It’s okay,” was the best he could come up with.

A heavier sob shook through Roxas and into Axel. “I’m so sorry! I wish the court stuff had happened like planned. I’m so fucking confused about how I feel about Van. I was hoping to see him and then know. I want to be with you. I want to give my all to you, but I keep thinking about him. I don’t know if it’s stress, or guilt, or worry, or love. I’m scared of seeing him again, but now I know that not seeing him again feels even worse. I feel so bad about how I ended it. I feel like I did the wrong thing. That I shouldn’t be with you, even though I want to be. And the longer this drags out, the more shit I feel.”

Coldness clamped Axel’s gut, making him nauseous, but at the same time, he was so glad that Roxas was finally talking to him about this. “You still love me, don’t you? Even a little?”

Roxas’ head snapped up. “Of course I do! Yeah. I do. Oh God, please don’t think I don’t, Ax. Please don’t. I do.” Roxas begged, tucking arms around Axel’s chest and clinging tightly to him. “I love you. But I – love him as well – maybe, I think. I don’t fucking know. I - I,” Roxas took a deep, shaky breath. His head rested against Axel’s chest for a while before Roxas released his grip and turned away, looking out towards the television unit. He picked Cheshire off his lap, who had been happily dozing through everything and put her on the ground. She sprang away, leaving the two men alone. “I’m being an annoying pest. I’m making you worry and shutting you out. I’m a miserable sack of shit and I’m so sorry. I don’t know how you can—”

“You’re not. Just stop. Please stop. Don’t talk about yourself like that.” Axel had his hands on Roxas’ face again, turning the man’s head so they could look at each other in the illuminated gloom of the room.

Tears streaked, gathered, and pooled in the creases where Axel’s fingers made contact with Roxas’ cheeks. They both silently took each other in, their expressions of upset and hurt mirroring each other. Axel took a shaky breath. His heart ached and he yearned to have things be right between them again. “How long have you been feeling like this?”

“Since… I don’t know. I don’t know when it all started,” he shrugged. “I’ve been feeling messed up for too many years,” he muttered, eyes dropping away.

Axel wound his arms around the small and somewhat trembling frame before himself. “It’s all right,” he said. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly that made Roxas finally open up to him. Maybe it was the darkness – the stillness of the night – the being caught red-handed with no way to explain himself otherwise – but, whatever it was, Axel was glad that he finally heard it, no matter how much it stung.

“I shouldn’t have feelings for Van anymore. I should only love you.” Eyes cracked open but looked down. “I just don’t know. And every time you’re nice to me, I feel like I’m cheating on you. I feel dirty for taking your money and your food and…” Roxas clung tight to Axel.

Axel was still stroking Roxas’ back. He tried to maintain as much physical contact between them as possible, wanting to be reassuring. “You don’t owe me anything. I’m doing what I can to support you, so you can get back on your feet. And stop thinking that you’re freeloading. You’re not. You – I love you and that’s what people in love do – they support each other, yeah? You’re having a really tough time right now, but you’ll get through this. We’ll get through this together. And… I’m not mad about the Vanitas thing.”

Roxas looked up at those words, warily taking Axel in, and assessing his sincerity. “You’re not?”

Axel shook his head and gave a small, loving smile. “No, I’m not. Yeah, it sucks, and, I’ll be honest, it kinda hurts—” Roxas flinched at Axel’s words. Axel held the soft smile and continued, “but I do understand. You guys have been together for so long – even if it wasn’t the best of times all the time, he still means something to you. Might always mean something to you,” those words sat heavily in Axel’s heart, “but you chose to finally leave him. You’re with me, because you want me, right?” There was a tiny bit of desperation for validation in Axel’s heart.

Big, immeasurably sad blue eyes looked up at Axel. Tiny, eager nods were given. “I love you, I know that. I’m not using you, I swear. I feel shit for how things are between us. I’ll try and be better. I’ll try and do better. I know I don’t deserve you, but I’ll try to be someone worthy of you.”

Roxas’ words ruffled Axel. He was glad to hear it, but at the same time it wasn’t the guy he had fallen for. “You gotta stop talking like that about yourself. Do me this one favor, okay? No more thinking you’re a terrible person. We’re in this relationship together. On the same level. We don’t owe each other anything except being honest with each other. Yeah?”

Roxas nodded.

“Good. So, when I ask you how you’re doing, don’t brush me off with some generic bullshit, okay? You tell me if you’re having worries or doubts, or an actual all right day, yes? I can take whatever you’re going through.”

Another nod.

His heart was soothed, and the corners of his mouth lifted into a smile. “Good. So Roxas, after all that… how’re you feeling?”

A smile cracked the stern and sullen facade Roxas wore. “A bit better.”

“Attaboy.” Axel kissed Roxas’ forehead and then pushed their heads together gently. He thumbed the back of Roxas’ neck, brushing up into the hairline. “I love you. And that will never change,” he rumbled with affection and felt it with every fiber of his being.

“I love you, too,” Roxas echoed faintly, but gave Axel a big squeeze around the middle.

They kept hugging for a while. Axel didn’t want to let go. He thought that he should totally get a sofa bed, then they wouldn’t have to move much at all.

Axel’s thought was drawn away from that though because he felt Roxas’ hands roaming around and then his whole body dropped away and down between Axel’s legs.

“Roxas. Are you doing this because you feel bad?” Axel questioned.

Roxas stopped massaging the palm of his hand over Axel’s groin. “Shit,” he muttered almost under his breath.

Axel pulled Roxas back up. “Are you even thinking about this or is it just a reflex?” he asked, completely baffled.

“I… I… must be? I know – oh, God, I know you don’t want me to go down on you like this. I’m such a hopeless, fucki—”

Axel pressed his mouth to Roxas’, to stop the train of negativity coming out. He kissed Roxas, who took a few moments to register what was going on and then kissed back. Axel then ended their kiss. “I’m sorry I had to do that. I just don’t want to hear you say bullshit things about yourself anymore. I love you. I’m not mad. I don’t want you to go down on me unless it’s because you’re one-hundred percent horny for me.”

Roxas let out a hefty huff and nodded. “I understand.”

“Okay.” Axel smiled and kissed Roxas’ forehead.

“Ax…”

“Yeah?”

“I’m one-hundred percent horny for you right now,” Roxas wore a dead-serious expression.

“Y-you are?” Axel gulped.

“Yeah.” Roxas slid down Axel’s body again, and between his legs. Hands resumed their pulling down of Axel’s boxers.

Axel’s heart raced a little. Should he believe Roxas? Would Roxas lie about this, knowing how important it was to Axel? Axel was horny for Roxas too. His body wanted to believe him.

Roxas stroked Axel’s length and pressed kisses to inner thighs. Axel frowned against the pleasure. He decided that he didn’t want it. He was sick of himself taking Roxas for granted. He grasped Roxas’ hands, pulling them off himself and squeezing lovingly. Blue eyes turned up towards him and a little smile danced across Roxas’ lips.

“Roxy.”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want you to do this right now.”

Sunshine fell from Roxas’ face. “B-but… I want you.”

“And I want you too… but… hey, you know what would make me super happy?” Axel tried a different approach.

“What?”

“Get back up here and let’s swap.” Axel began pulling Roxas up, who looked confused.

“Swap?” Roxas’ back hit the couch and Axel kissed milky skin underneath the shirt, as he traveled down and settled between Roxas’ legs.

“Yeah, swap. I like,” he kissed Roxas’ inner thigh, spreading the legs apart a little more so he could get in closer, “sucking you off, but you don’t seem to let me very much.” An uncomfortable thought suddenly hit him, and his head snapped up to look at Roxas. “You like getting blowjobs, don’t you? If you didn’t, you’d tell me, right?”

“Oh, um…” Roxas gave a nervous laugh. “Yeah, I… I do like them… a… a lot… actually.”

“Well then, okay, good. I’m giving you one. It’ll make me very happy, so sit back and enjoy.” Axel returned his attention to soft, sensitive skin. He ran his fingers around hips and thighs and pressed kisses into the well-kempt forest of hairs.

He cast glances up at Roxas who gave him weak smiles that dropped back down into a face of concentration. Axel found it adorable how Roxas was carefully studying and watching him as he kissed and stroked and then gently pumped until Roxas was well into his erection.

Small sounds began leaving Roxas’ mouth as Axel kissed and licked his way up Roxas’ shaft, kneaded the firm flesh of Roxas’ backside with his hands, and pulling Roxas a little close to himself.

When Axel reached the top of Roxas’ shaft and kissed the head and licked at the pre-come starting to build, Roxas gasped louder and hands fell to his sides, gripping the couch for support.

“C-condom?” Roxas’ voice trembled.

Axel looked up from the needy head. He didn’t want to go get one. “You think we need one? I’m happy to just—”

Roxas whimpered.

“Oh. Okay. Just… don’t move, okay? Stay like this.” Axel kissed the head of Roxas’ penis before he scrambled up and headed to the bedroom. He cast a glance back at Roxas before he passed through the doorway. Roxas’ feet were propped up on the couch and his knees spread apart. Axel’s shaft throbbed seeing Roxas with nothing but a shirt on and fully aroused, looking towards Axel longingly.

Axel tore his gaze away and quickly took the three long strides to his bedside stand, plucking condoms and lubricant from the drawer, just in case they got to butt stuff.

He wasn’t even gone for thirty seconds, but when he came back Roxas was facing away, his chest pressed to the back of the couch and his ass pushed out towards Axel, who groaned from the pit of his stomach. Roxas turned his head to look at Axel, while keeping his body propped up against the couch.

“I thought I said you shouldn’t move,” Axel joked.

“Sorry. I just… want you.” Roxas arched his back and pushed his backside towards Axel, which made Axel bite his lip.

“You want to do it like this?”

Roxas nodded.

Axel’s mind fogged over too much to think about why Roxas was so against getting a blow-job especially after what he had told him just before. He crossed the floor and ran a finger down Roxas’ back and between the cleft of his ass cheeks. Roxas whimpered as Axel brushed and pushed his finger into him a little bit.

Axel sighed with desire and tossed the things he was carrying onto the couch. He pushed himself against Roxas, draping over him and pressing kisses to warm skin, as well as wrapping his arms around Roxas, touching his chest, abdomen, and penis, all to the sound of sweet gasps and sighs.

They were both hard in no time. Condoms were put on, lube applied. Axel gently bit into Roxas’ shoulder as he entered him from behind, eliciting a small cry of pleasure from Roxas, who threw his head back and arched his back more.

Axel loved the feeling of Roxas around him and under him. He ached for Roxas inside himself as well, so while he was thrusting, he worked slickened finger into his own backside, groaning as he fondled himself. His other hand trailed down the underside of Roxas’ body, to his erection, which he began pumping.

Roxas rocked into Axel’s hand while getting his ass fucked. “You feel so good. You always make me feel so good,” he groaned and moaned. His arms strained, and fingers gripped the top of the couch.

“Fuck, you’re so hot,” Axel rumbled with desire. He found the right spot to brush against his own prostate, and by the sounds of things, his cock was doing the same for Roxas too. The heady pleasure was building inside, spreading heat down his limbs.

Roxas groaned louder. “... me. Fu-ck me. U-se me,” came the guttural grumble out of Roxas.

Axel whimpered. He pulled his finger out from inside himself so he could hold onto Roxas and ram into him while still pumping him with his other hand. Axel found a good rhythm. He moaned out his pleasure to the ceiling – not even feeling weird that he could see Cheshire on the window sill watching them.

He focused his eyes back on Roxas’ back and the way the poor light from outside gave an ethereal glow to his perfect skin. He grasped Roxas’ hip and buttock, he squeezed Roxas’ erection and pumped him faster as he gave shallow thrusts, making himself mewl because Roxas felt so good around his head.

“Axel,” Roxas whimpered, his head tilting to the side and exposing his slender neck.

Axel shifted, pressing his chest to Roxas’ back and kissed, licked, and nipped at his boyfriend. Axel then slowed right down with his thrusting and pumping as Roxas chased Axel’s lips, catching them and sucking.

Axel wanted more. He slid his hands up to Roxas’ shoulders, pulled out and urged Roxas to turn around with some gentle presses and nudging. Roxas back sunk down against the couch and Axel followed him, restarting the kiss before Roxas’ head hit the armrest.

Roxas gripped onto Axel’s sides, fingers fluttering, stroking, teasing, and making Axel’s insides tingle. He hunched over Roxas, feeling the man’s erection brush against his backside and Axel slid backward, to get off Roxas’ chest and to where he belonged. The caress against his anus stopped Axel in his tracks. He moaned and wanted to push himself onto Roxas – to use him like he had begged. After a deep inhale and exhale, Axel thought better of it and shifted his hips up and back, docking the head of his erection against Roxas’ sphincter.

“Babe,” Axel breathed out as he pushed back into Roxas, the tight feel of him around his cock resuming the burning desire and heat in his loins.

Roxas mewled and gripped Axel’s shoulders, pulling him down into a smoldering kiss. Axel rolled his hips. Roxas arched up against every push. Arms wrapped around each other, and as the fervor of the thrusting increased, the kissing was abandoned for buried heads against necks and cheeks rubbing against hair. Panting and desperate moans filled the room. The couch squeaked. Axel went for Roxas’ erection pressed between them and after a few tugs and a high-pitched squeak, Roxas came, sending Axel over the edge with the astonishing heat and delight that surrounded his cock and milked him for all his pleasure.

They lay collapsed, together. Breaths ran ragged, making it impossible to even force words out. It was bliss and exhaustion and happiness.

“I love you,” Roxas’ husky voice blew against Axel’s ear.

Axel gave but a grunt in response and formed his lips into a pucker, pressing a kiss to the sweaty shoulder under him.

More heavy breathing followed, and arms eventually found the strength to move and meander over sweating and still-heaving body parts. They both sighed, nuzzled, and left tiny kisses against each other.

Eventually, Roxas’ tired and slightly-quavering voice strained out a, “I’m sorry for how terrible everything’s been. I’m sorry for how I’ve been and that I can’t get Van—”

Axel quickly kissed Roxas. He was so sick of hearing that man’s name. “Not your doing. Don’t apologize.”

“But – I want you to be happy, and if I can’t be, then you…”

“I’m happy as long as you’re with me. I know this court stuff won’t last forever. You’ll feel better in no time. And in the meanwhile, I want you to let me try and make you happy.”

“You do.” Roxas gently pulled at a red spike, sweeping it away from Axel’s face.

“But I mean… let me buy you things. Let me make you comfortable.”

“Axel, n—”

“Please. Just let me do things for you. You’ve done so much for me. I can’t make stuff. I suck with my hands so I—”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Blue eyes flickered onto Axel and then shyly fell away again.

Axel huffed with mirth and pressed a kiss to Roxas’ neck and the tip of his nose before he rested his head back against the couch’s backrest. “I just mean that there’s only so much I can do to show you my appreciation—”

“You’ve done so much for me. You let me live here and look after me and—”

Axel pressed a finger to Roxas’ lips, shushing him before his tone of voice could get any huffier and more agitated. “All of that stuff is honestly no effort for me. I could do that in my sleep. I want you to let me treat you right. I want to shower you with things. I know you don’t want me to spend money on you, but… just let me. A little bit. Let me get you things you might enjoy without feeling all… terrible inside for it.”

Roxas’ brow knit, his mouth hung open looking clueless as to what to say or do. “But Ax—”

“But nothing. Please, Rox. Just let me. Know that it gives me joy and don’t feel bad about it. I promise I won’t go overboard. We don’t have to do things that are expensive. I won’t take us on a holiday or anything. Just… let me take you out for a nice meal. Let’s watch a movie without you getting all mopey. I feel like I can’t do anything for you but be here and spend money on you, because I have money, and I worked hard for it to spend however I want. You make me thoughtful things. I can’t make jack-shit besides bar drinks, so let me spoil you in my own way, please.”

“You’re really sweet.” Roxas smiled softly.

“And so are you. Let’s just be together. Just you and me – not you, me, and your ex, okay?”

Roxas huffed, half sad, half happy, and he nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Awesome. Now… come back to bed with me. It’s been a long day. We can figure out fun things to do in the morning, yeah?”

“Bed…? I can come to bed… after— but…”

Axel chuckled. “Of course. Where else would you sleep?”

A dumb sound fell out of Roxas and then he shook his head quickly and smiled. “Yeah, no. I don’t know. I’m too tired. Bed is what I need.”

“And you next to me in bed is what I need.” Axel grinned.

Roxas’ smile softened and widened. He leaned in and kissed Axel with affection, got out from under him and then pulled Axel to his feet. Condoms were disposed of and Roxas discarded his shirt as they went back to bed. They snuggled firmly against each other and hands lazily roamed over flesh, more for reassurance than sexual gratification, and sleep soon took them both.

Chapter Text

When the sun rose, bathing the bedroom in a warm red glow as light filtered through the curtain, Roxas lay awake next to the ever-slumbering form that was his boyfriend. Their legs were tangled together, Axel’s breath hit the space between Roxas’ shoulder blades, and long arms draped over his waist.

A smile lit Roxas’ face and he savored this moment of bliss. Roxas couldn’t remember ever being cuddled so much, being loved with such passion, and having his opinions matter. The night before had been intense, and despite it being difficult to accept… Axel wanted to see him happy. And Roxas wanted to see Axel happy. They were both shooting for the same goal; a loving relationship.

So why was Roxas always messing things up? He gave a sharp, yet quiet exhale.

Roxas hated how miserable he had been. He hated how one little letter had so completely derailed him and everything he had been aiming for. Sure, the sadness he had been holding inside had been overcoming him in the days leading up to yesterday, but he had thought himself to be managing all right. He had been trying to hold it together. He adored Axel, loved Axel. He hadn’t understood why his heart had been so heavy for so long and increasing in weight each passing day. Not until last night. Not until the realization had hit him that he had still been holding on to Vanitas in some small way. The weight of that had overwhelmed him last night. It had filled him with shame, disgust, and bitter hurt. Roxas thought himself exceptionally messed up for still loving someone who had been so cruel.

Having had to admit that to Axel had been… Roxas squeezed his eyes shut against that uncomfortable thought and the resurgence of loathsome feelings. He hadn’t known how to get out from underneath it – how to make it lighter. But Axel had helped. Axel had been understanding and kind and was constantly proving Roxas’ worst fears and expectations wrong. Axel was so wonderful that it hurt to fathom how lucky Roxas had been to ever find someone like this man.

Roxas was so blessed. So why couldn’t he forget?

The thought that Vanitas was still out there hurt him. Even now. Even after everything that Roxas had blubbered out last night. He hated that he hadn’t been able to keep it hidden inside. He had managed for days on end successfully. He had fought against the bitter tears. Had hidden them whilst he showered; muffled the sound behind water and hands to his mouth and had hidden the red-rimmed eyes amidst the darkness of their bedroom. He had tried to be happy… but that letter. It had broken Roxas’ brave face and he hated himself and Vanitas for it.

He regretted Axel having seen him break. He had never wanted Axel to see. Axel worrying about him made him feel sick. Axel was so sweet, and it hurt Roxas to cause him pain or discomfort… and a small, dark, loathsome part of himself told him to never let Axel worry in case – just in case…

Roxas shook his head lightly against that completely stupid and paranoid thought. He hated even the tiniest of inklings related to that sort of feeling. He was disgusted with himself for ever feeling unsure about Axel. He didn’t mean to. It wasn’t on purpose, it was just his stupid, useless head.

Roxas tried to bury those thoughts and not give them any more credence. He refocused on how pleasant Axel’s warmth was, how sweet the man was, and how much Axel meant to him.

Roxas would make it up to Axel. He would be the perfect boyfriend and not do things to make Axel worry or feel… dirty. He would suck up the humiliation of not having anything of his own and let Axel… buy him stuff. A cold lump in his gut washed a wave of nausea over him. His lungs suddenly didn’t feel like they had enough room to expand. Roxas swallowed down the sob… or scream… or whatever it was that was sitting there. Being reliant on someone else wouldn’t be forever. No. Just until the court was over. Then Roxas would focus on himself. Maybe he could even do that right now in some small way? He could look for work. Axel said he would help.

Sudden love welled up, spreading a smile across Roxas’ face. He rolled over, gently, so as not to disturb Axel, but he was met with breathtaking green eyes fluttering open and a smile blooming to match his own.

“Morning, gorgeous,” Axel husked with sleep.

“Morning, sleepyhead.” Roxas kissed Axel’s forehead. And that began their day; a day filled with hanging out and fun.

This continued for several more days. They had very loose plans, largely dictated by the weather and how tired and lazy they both felt.

They stayed inside mostly, and if they did venture out, it was only to do local shopping around the neighborhood. Roxas was allowed to buy and eat whatever his stomach fancied without so much as a snide comment or judging look. And when they stayed out and strayed further from what was essentially Roxas’ home now, it wasn’t too bad either. Roxas concentrated hard on shutting out the stupid voices in his head that kept insisting that he wasn’t good enough, or worth Axel’s while. It was made easier as Roxas watched the smiles Axel gave him. He looked so happy whenever he was able to do something for Roxas – buy him a nice meal, reach for something on a too-high shelf, stick a band-aid on Roxas whenever he happened to stick himself with the needle as he slowly worked on the curtain. Even if a band-aid wasn’t warranted, Roxas still let Axel tend to him because the close proximity, soft kisses, and little titters they shared as they looked down at Roxas’ bandaged fingertips made Roxas fall ever deeper in love with his boyfriend.

Seeing Axel happy made Roxas happy. It made him feel worthwhile and like he wasn’t a burden. Roxas also thought that maybe – just maybe – sex wasn’t his only use to Axel, after all. Because they hadn’t had any to speak of, but Axel was still happy and lovely to him. There wasn’t that weird rejection from before either, where every slight attempt to be affectionate with Axel had been shut down.

They kissed, they caressed, they were happy. Roxas was happy. It was so weird. He found it hard to accept that Axel wanted him – had hung in there a full week-and-bit with him – was ready to do it all over again, but here they were. It definitely made Roxas want to try a whole lot harder to make things as good as possible for the both of them.


 

Sunday came around and Axel had told Roxas the night before that they would be going out for the whole day. It had made Roxas gulp. He was excited, of course he was, but… well, Sunday was here and Roxas wanted to see Axel happy, so he didn’t make a fuss.

They went to free events and places, which made Roxas breathe a sigh of relief. He hated himself for having become so dependent. He thought about it too many times ever since he had left Vanitas. He tried to pinpoint when it had begun happening, to no avail. It had been so insidious. Either that, or Roxas had been incredibly naive. He tried to steer clear of that assumption because Axel would be annoyed, but it was hard because being told he was dumb for at least seven years… well, it became difficult not to believe it. The resentment towards Vanitas was on a steady increase, which made his affections towards the other man even more bizarre.

He literally woke up with Vanitas being the first thing on his mind a lot of the time. Was he all right? Was he thinking of Roxas? Was he cooking his own meals? Or was he just buying take-out, and what the fuck was with that? It made Roxas angry as well. With a shake of the head, he forced himself back into the present, where Axel stood before him, holding out a skewer pierced with meats and vegetables. Axel had picked it up from one of the food vendors, lining the convention hall of the food fair they had found and were making their way through, gorging themselves on freebies.

Roxas loved how thoughtful Axel was. He loved how caring and understanding he was, and how much of Roxas’ shit he could put up with. Roxas hoped that after next week, there wouldn’t be any more shit to put up with. That this would be the last hurdle for them and then they could work on their future together.

The day continued to be filled with free activities. The icing on the cake was the movie they ended up ‘seeing.’ Roxas thought that word was very generous.

Axel had taken them to a drive-in. But neither of them drove or had a car, so Axel’s version of it was to sneak around and position themselves on the grassy hill overlooking the open-air screen from an angle. The movie was some action blockbuster, so it wasn’t too crucial to know the plot in order to enjoy watching it. And even if it had a plot it didn’t matter, since Axel and Roxas spent half the movie doing poor lip-reads and cracking each other up.

The other half of the movie… well, the onscreen kiss between the protagonist and the damsel in distress had started it all—

“Oh Clarence, I know we’re in the middle of a battlefield and shit’s about to go down but,” Axel squeaked in a falsetto, “I’ve had a throbbing lady-boner for you since you slow-motion ripped your shirt in half to make a tourniquet for dear Papa’s gruesomely amputated arm.”

“That shirt was a hindrance. My pecs could hardly exert their masculinity,” Roxas thrummed in a deep tenor.

“Oh,” Axel gushed in a high-strung moan while fanning himself, “please, I long for your masculinity. Exert all over my ample bosom. Please.” He leaned in towards Roxas, batting gorgeous lashes at him.

Roxas’ breath caught, and his laughter froze. Makeup did wonders for making Roxas forget that there was still a sickly yellow-green bruise on that gorgeous face. Roxas had hated seeing Axel broken and hurt. He had forced himself to look at it because he deserved to feel terrible for having caused Axel harm. But right now, he didn’t want to dwell on it. Right now, he wanted to be with just Axel, and shut Vanitas out.

He cupped Axel’s face and smiled. “I love it when you beg, Olympia,” Roxas put his finger on Axel’s lips like the guy was doing to the woman in the movie, “I’ll rock your world and shake you out of your impossibly tight miniskirt and ridiculously high heels.” Roxas grabbed Axel roughly around the back of the neck and pulled him into a debaucherous open-mouthed kiss.

Axel’s giggles stilled and were replaced with pleased-sounding hums and murmurs. Roxas climbed on top of Axel so he could get a better angle. He straddled Axel’s lap and felt strong arms hug around his waist. Axel leaned back, taking Roxas along as he lay down on the dampening grass.

The movie flickered in the distance, all but forgotten as their hands roved and explored each other over and under clothes. Hips rolled and bucked, shirts rode up, flies were undone, and erections were fondled and pumped between their pressed-together bodies. It felt insanely good, and Roxas’ mind cleared completely of anything that wasn’t Axel.

He hungered for more salacious kisses, more bare skin, salty sweat, sinfully arousing moans, and hard fucking of either himself or of Axel’s ass. They kissed ravenously. Hands slid aside, grasping at hips and waist in favor of the friction created by their bodies grinding together. The heat between them lay thick and moist, even in the cooling summer evening air. Roxas felt clammy all over from the exertion of frotting against Axel’s rock-hard cock. He loved it inside himself, against himself; he loved Axel so much. He wasn’t sure how long he would hold out, but there was no way he’d stop until Axel wanted him to stop, so he knuckled down, pressed his face into Axel’s shoulder, and ground harder while harsh breaths and hums left his body.

Axel’s hands kneaded Roxas’ backside and kept Roxas pressed down to himself as they both ground against each other. Kisses pressed against Roxas’ hair until a string of hoarse expletives left Axel’s throat and then, “Rox, stop. I’m gonna come.”

Hearing that almost threw Roxas over the edge. He snapped to a standstill and ragged breaths ripped from his throat and out into the night air. Blood rushed through Roxas’ ears. His pulse throbbed in time to his thumping heart, and he could feel Axel’s heartbeat under the palm of his hand, pounding as if it wanted to jump out of his chest.

“I’m so close too,” Roxas got out alongside his uneven huffs.

Axel gave a whining grunt. “I should have packed condoms and lube. Fuck!” He lifted his head a little. Roxas tilted his head to look at Axel with one eye, while still having his forehead pressed against Axel’s shoulder.

“Can we continue this at home? I know it won’t be the same but, fuck, you’re so hot.” Axel groaned – this time with frustration – and slammed his head back against the grass, staring up at the dark sky. “I’m sure we’ll get the magic back easy.”

Roxas shifted a little, making both of them hiss and groan with how sensitive they were. He lifted himself up a fraction, making to slide off Axel before he stilled again. He looked around himself, the hillside was deserted and dark. He didn’t want to end this. He didn’t want a chance for them to second-guess themselves. He wanted to stay in the moment. “We don’t have to wait until we get home,” he stated quietly and slid down Axel’s length, pulling the man’s jeans and briefs down as he went, and exposing Axel to the night air.

Axel raised himself on his elbows and looked at Roxas, wide-eyed. “We’re in public.”

Excitement and arousal coursed through Roxas. He felt brave and reckless, causing a smirk to spring onto his face. He hadn’t felt this giddy since… He blocked it out and hummed. “Oh, you don’t want to?” Roxas cocked an eyebrow and licked his lips as he looked at Axel’s still-hard cock. He wanted to suck on his boyfriend, and then fondle his head as he fucked himself into oblivion in Axel’s ass. That thought made Roxas groan with desire.

He looked back up at Axel and for a moment, his lust fluttered and dimmed at the sight of the other man completely mute, staring at him with a stunned expression. Had he gone too far? Was Axel going to get mad? He was about to stammer something apologetic out when—

“I do. I fucking… would fuck you anywhere you wanted to, any way you wanted to… but you don’t have to if you’re not comfortable,” Axel panted lightly, reaching out to brush at Roxas’ hair.

Roxas’ pulse raced, and his cock ached for Axel. He leaned in a little, “Let’s do it then. Right here. There’s no one around to see.” He couldn’t believe what he was saying. It was invigorating. He wrapped his hand around Axel’s erection tentatively, pumping him a few times to spread the pre-come down to the base of the shaft and then, giving Axel one last look, bent down slowly, opening his mouth, and swallowed Axel’s heat and sharp taste down. Roxas rubbed the crown of Axel’s penis along the roof of his mouth as he bobbed his head. He gave sharp sucks every time he pulled almost off Axel and stroked the base of the man’s shaft, squeezing and pumping while he fondled Axel’s sac with his other hand.

Axel groaned, long, low, and hard. Little words of, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, so good,” tumbled out. His hips twitched upward. Roxas sucked and sucked, loving the feel of Axel in his mouth, loving making him happy and getting himself hot and hard again as well. He wanted to come so bad while he was getting Axel off. He didn’t want anything to stop them this time around. He didn’t want to feel all the things he had been feeling previously. He loved Axel, Axel loved him. Vanitas was – had to be – a distant memory. He stopped fondling Axel and grabbed at his own need, rubbing and stroking himself. Roxas moaned around Axel’s cock, which had the pleasant effect of making Axel arch his back.

“Oh, God, Roxy! Roxy! You’re so amazing. Your mouth,” Axel groaned and writhed, hands gripped and pulled at grass. “Fuck, Yoshi loves you – loves being in you!” Strangled noises followed, and Axel’s head lolled from one side to the other.

Roxas nearly choked on dick and laughter. He pulled off so he could laugh loudly. “Yoshi?” he squeaked. “Is that what you call your dick?”

“Please, Clarence,” Axel whimpered in his mocking falsetto, reaching for Roxas. “Yoshi needs you.”

Roxas snorted, thumped his forehead against Axel’s lower abdomen as he shrieked with laughter and then let out a cough, composing himself and raising his head to try and regain some composure as he said, “Of course my dear.” Roxas took a deep breath, let a giggle burble out and then took Axel – Yoshi – back into his mouth slowly. He rubbed his tongue against Axel’s slit and took more of his boyfriend into his mouth. He began building up the momentum again and fell into a good rhythm. Axel’s mewls started up again, and he kept blabbering adorable things, but Roxas was prepared for it this time so he kept the laugh at bay while he took Axel deeper after every couple of bobs.

Soon, he was working the whole of Axel’s length deep down his throat. A steady stream of noise continued to trickle out of Axel. Roxas could feel his own need and pleasure hot and heavy in his groin and gut. Roxas moved one of his hands off soft skin and down to his arousal, where he opened his fly a little more, hoping to ejaculate onto the grass rather than in his clothes, or on Axel’s, but it would be tricky.

He didn’t get much time to adjust. A shudder ran through Axel moments before he announced that he was about to come. Hot liquid spilled and filled Roxas’ mouth. He sucked and swallowed the viscous fluid, loving every squirt and shudder out of Axel. Roxas whimpered with his painful desire and went harder at stroking himself, wanting to come before this was all over because the thought of having to wait to get home to release himself was too agonizing.

“Rox. Roxy,” Axel cooed somewhat dreamily, somewhere beyond Roxas’ vision. He continued to suck on Axel softly and clenched his eyes closed, trying to get to his climax by moving over his shaft in a frantic state.

“Fuck that was – incredible. Let me – let me do you, babe.” Axel stirred and pulled himself out of Roxas’ mouth as he slid his hips back and sat up.

Roxas’ hand stilled and he opened his eyes, confused. He sat back up as well, kneeling before Axel, still thumbing over himself, but less desperate and frantic. He looked at Axel, all gorgeous green eyes, red hair, and flushed skin. “I want to come,” he pleaded with Axel, despite not having any condoms or lube. He just wanted to feel good.

Eyes trailed down Roxas’ body, and when they saw what he was doing Axel gave a guttural moan. He launched himself towards Roxas, capturing his lips and delved deep into his mouth with a ravenous hunger. Roxas shivered with pleasure. He never got over Axel kissing him when he had just sucked him off and could still taste Axel on his tongue and down his throat. Axel didn’t care that Roxas’ mouth still tasted of himself – maybe he even liked it, judging by the gusto of Axel’s deep needy sucks and swipes of his tongue. Roxas’ stomach spasmed and he moaned into Axel’s mouth as a warm, broad hand with graceful fingers wrapped around his needy erection.

Almost uncontrollably, Roxas pushed into Axel’s blazing touch, but then he quickly collected himself and pulled out of Axel’s kiss. “Anal,” he wheezed as Axel squeezed his erection. He could take it without lube. He needed to make sure Axel was happy.

Axel shook his head and quickly resumed the kiss, pushing Roxas down against the grassy ground. Hands swept over Roxas’ body with such certainty and determination. Kisses began trickling down his exposed skin and further down, over his clothes.

“Babe, here, let me help you with your uncomfortable situation.” Axel thrummed between dripping kisses on Roxas’ abdomen and then—

Roxas’ eyes rolled back and he inhaled sharply as wet warmth engulfed his penis. He hadn’t expected this – not without a condom. He didn’t feel worthy of it, he didn’t deserve Axel on him… Axel would hate the taste of him, Axel would find something wrong! Axel would abandon him if Roxas kept taking and didn’t give anything in return. They needed to have anal, so Axel could get something out of it too!

Roxas’ heart filled with panic. He tried to roll over, but Axel stopped him with his hands and kept sucking and humming and – Oh God, was Axel enjoying himself? Axel began shaking and sending tremors through Roxas’ shaft—Was… he laughing at Roxas?

“What? Roxas panted, not knowing what to feel.

Cool air hit Roxas’ shaft. “I love your Princess Peach,” Axel rumbled and kissed the head of Roxas’ penis.

Confusion startled Roxas out of the heated moment. “Peach? I’m totally more a Bowser.”

Axel cocked his head to the side, thinking about it for a moment. “But you’ve got such cute little peach fuzz.” He giggled and returned his attention to Roxas’ erection, which he kissed the head of tenderly.

A giggle bubbled out of Roxas, but in the blink of an eye, a sob found its way out too.

Green eyes snapped up. “Rox, what’s wrong?” Axel asked with sharp worry.

“N-nothing. I’m just…” Roxas, for a brief moment, wasn’t sure what this sensation in his chest was that made him feel so full that it threatened to burst. A huff came out, and with it a smile. “Happy.” Roxas truly felt it there, at that moment, on the damp grass, with a throbbing erection being caressed by warm breaths. All of Roxas’ fears and hang-ups washed away and were forgotten.

A soft smile danced on Axel’s face. Kind eyes looked Roxas over before settling back on his erection. “Can I keep going?”

“Yeah,” Roxas husked.

Axel licked his lips and then Roxas watched with building desire that knotted in his gut as Axel swallowed him down again. Suction increased around his erection, sending a tingle through him. Axel kept humming and bobbing with more vigor.

Roxas threw his head back and moaned long and loud. Axel’s tongue and mouth on him felt amazing. His erection being tended to in a loving and non-resentful way was something Roxas had always dreamed about. He writhed under Axel’s touches, sucks, and delightful pressure. Where before he had wanted to come as fast as possible, he now wanted to linger in this moment and glorious sensations. He wanted the tingling and arousal to build and build indefinitely. Axel felt incredible between his legs and Roxas hated that he had ever feared this. He hated that he hadn’t trusted Axel to not find him utterly disgusting. Axel really loved him – all of him – would always love all of him.

Roxas whimpered. He craved to spill into Axel’s mouth. He wanted to taste himself on Axel’s tongue and catch any dribbles of his cum that leaked out of him. Axel’s skilled tongue brought involuntary murmurs and mewls out of Roxas. He wrapped his fingers into Axel’s hair, pulling slightly. It elicited a strained grunt from Axel.

“Sorry,” Roxas managed to get out past the pleasurable sounds he was emanating and pulled his hand away.

The cold air felt almost painful against Roxas’ erection as Axel pulled off to say, “No, do it more. Harder. I like it, babe,” and with that Axel maneuvered Roxas’ hand back to his scalp and began sucking on Roxas with renewed fervor.

Roxas pushed his hips up, wanting to be so deep inside of his boyfriend’s hot mouth. Axel took him in further with a tingle-inducing rumble. Roxas lost his mind, and with it, the will to hold back. A few more swipes and rubs of the tongue, a few more deep sucks and Roxas came, yanking at gorgeous red locks like a lifeline in the deep blue sea and moaned Axel’s beautiful name while ecstasy spasmed through his body.

The climax washed out of Roxas eventually, leaving his body akin to a ragdoll. He lay sprawled on the ground, every inch of him floppy. He couldn’t even raise his pinky or muster the strength to open his eyes. That climax had been what Roxas had needed; days and weeks of anxiety were dispelled and forgotten at last.

Kisses trailed warmth across his exposed abdomen. He felt Axel’s hands tuck and zip him back up carefully like he was precious cargo. The gesture coaxed a smile out of his tired muscles.

“You’re so gorgeous, Rox,” Axel husked somewhere above Roxas, exhaustion coloring his words. “I didn’t think you’d be up for doing it in the open, and without condoms. God, you’re so sexy.”

A tired chuckle shook out of Roxas, and then lips were on his. They shared a fatigued and chaste kiss. Axel hummed in pleasure and nibbled on Roxas’ lips while his fingertips grazed and stroked Roxas’ face, revitalizing him somewhat.

Roxas’ eyes drifted open. “You should have seen me in my younger years. I’ve done it where there were actual crowds.”

Surprise filled Axel’s face. “Damn. You just got sexier.” Axel kissed him again, this time slipping in some tongue, which sent shivers down Roxas’ body and stoked the embers of his just-quenched burning desire.

Roxas savored his taste on Axel’s tongue. He couldn’t fathom them doing this right now. Kissing and being kissed after they had just given each other blowjobs…? It made him utterly happy. Of course, Roxas knew that other guys weren’t going to be as picky as Vanitas, but it was still a strange and new concept to get his head around. He wrapped his arms around Axel and kissed back with as much desire as he received.

“You’re so amazing, Axel,” he said when Axel pulled away.

Axel licked his lips and quietly chuckled before he said, “Right back at ya, my Princess.”

Roxas punched him in the arm. “Damn, Yoshi.”

The movie was still going, but neither of them had any will to keep watching. They got up, tidied their disheveled clothes, and headed home, arm-in-arm, and on a comfortable cloud of bliss achieved by good sex and vanquished discomfort.


 

The high and good vibes of that night were maintained for the next couple of days. Axel continued taking Roxas out to free and not-so-free things. They played sports and various park games with Axel’s friends when they were all available. Trivia night was fun. A stroll through the city’s botanical garden was also a nice distraction from all the things that could bother Roxas. They even visited the planetarium, which had an open day. They stayed until night in hopes of catching a glimpse of some celestial bodies, but the evening grew too overcast, so they went back home because Axel wanted to ‘trace my tongue over the only celestial body I care for.’ Roxas had groaned at how lame that line had been, but then he also groaned with pleasure once they had made it back home and to bed.

Roxas found Axel incredibly sweet. He would say things to make Roxas laugh, shiver, and lose his mind over. He would also always ask what Roxas wanted, which continually dulled his lust and made him uncomfortable. Roxas wasn’t accustomed to being asked that, especially not where sex was concerned. He always said the same thing, ‘Whatever you want,’ because it was the safe answer; it was the comfortable shield to hide behind, because if he told Axel what he actually wanted, and Axel didn’t like what he heard… well, it wouldn’t ever happen. Roxas was going to be for Axel whatever Axel wanted him to be, and that seemed to be the good-bottom-fuck-boy of Axel’s dreams. The way Axel carried on about his ass made Roxas seriously doubt that Axel ever wanted anything else. And it was fine because Roxas was Axel’s boyfriend now. He would do whatever Axel wanted because that’s how relationships worked. At least they didn’t use condoms for blowjobs anymore, so that felt like a massive victory to Roxas.

Generally speaking though, Roxas was fine and happy with the state of their affairs. That was until the court date loomed close at hand again. Nerves started bubbling up. Sex didn’t take the edge off, so Roxas felt himself getting more despondent. He tried to fight it but lacked the energy to do so.

Axel commented on it, Roxas acknowledged that he was starting to freak out again, but when asked what he needed from Axel to make things easier, he didn’t know how to ask to be left alone. He agreed when Axel made suggestions about going out more. He agreed to have sex in the mornings and evenings – that at least did distract him for however long it lasted before both of them came. It turned into Roxas’ favorite way of dealing with his problems. It took the edge off and made him comfortably numb for a few minutes after.

But once that was over, he was left fretting over seeing Vanitas again, agonizing over how the court proceedings would go, and brooding over how he would ever make money to support himself. They were going to run out of free things to do eventually. The bars’ in the city only had so many trivia and karaoke nights, after all.

The answer to his worries seemed to be dumped on him whilst they were heading over to Organization 13 a couple of days before the court date. Apparently, Axel’s boss wanted to see him, and when asked if Roxas wanted to tag along, he didn’t refuse, so they ambled down the street, not hand-in-hand, as Axel was talking rather animatedly about his boss, Marluxia.

“Oh, hey, Rox, I’m gonna stop by in here and buy some stuff to butter Marly up with. You want anything?” He pointed at a bakery they were passing.

“No, I’m all good.”

Roxas waited for Axel, who came back out of the shop with a literal basket of sweet baked goods.

“Woah, that’s some hefty bribery you’re engaging in.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know what Marly’s thinking, so I figured I’d buy two of most things. Whatever Marly won’t eat, I know the girls will love polishing off.” He grinned and dug into the basket, pulling a pastry out, “Here, a cinnamon roll for my sweet, personal cinnamon roll.”

Roxas took it with a roll of his eyes and a smile, “Thanks.” He tentatively began eating it after Axel pulled out a donut and began eating that while they resumed their stroll to the bar.

“Oh, before I forget,” Axel dug around the basket again, producing a card this time, “that bakery’s looking for part-time workers. There was a notice in the store. I talked to the owner and she said no experience is needed. She’d be happy to train you up if you wanted to try it out. I thought that might be good for you after the court stuff’s all done. Get a bit of cash happening until you figure out what you wanna do.”

Roxas’ stomach churned. He took the card and pretended to look at it. “Thanks, Axel,” he murmured.

“No? You don’t sound very keen.”

Roxas was so ungrateful. Axel was just trying to help. It wasn’t like he was trying to shape Roxas’ life trajectory. Why couldn’t he shake the Vanitas comparisons? He plastered on a toothy smile, “Oh no, I’m super excited… well, I would be if I wasn’t thinking about what’s going to happen in two days’ time. Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll give them a call next week.”

“Okay, awesome. I’m feeling excited about you getting a job somewhere. It’ll help you feel like you’re contributing to the relationship. And if that one doesn’t pan out, I’ll help you look for other jobs. Depending on what happens with Marly, I’ll ask him if maybe he’s got a job for you, or if he knows anyone who might need some help.” Axel kept talking, feeling more enthusiastic the longer he went on. Roxas, however, not so much.

They arrived at the bar eventually. Roxas opted for staying outside, saying he’d walk to the park which was two blocks away and asked for Axel to meet him there when he was done with his business. Roxas threw the cinnamon roll away, not having managed more than a few nibbles of it.

He found a bench to sit on, under the shade of a tree. The summer heat was prickling and intense, but a breeze blew, taking some of the edge off. Roxas took out the business card and actually looked at it now. He wanted a job; he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Roxas kept telling himself that there was nothing malicious about this suggestion from Axel. There was no ulterior motive or dastardly plan. But… there would always be a but. There would always be doubt. Roxas didn’t want to and couldn’t afford to get into the same trouble he had been in before. So, it stood to reason that he couldn’t be picky about what he did to make some money. A job where no experience was needed was definitely what Roxas required since he had no experience to speak of.

He turned the card over in his hands. Dammit, if only it hadn’t come from Axel. Roxas hated himself for doubting Axel. He hated being reminded of Vanitas. He hated that he still thought about Vanitas and wondered what he was doing – if he missed Roxas – if he still thought—

A loud noise on the other side of the road drew Roxas’ attention away from his grumbling thoughts. A woman was struggling with getting a pallet of boxes out of a van. Roxas got up and crossed the road to help, desperately needing a distraction from his mind sinking into a torturous quagmire.

“Hey, you need a hand?” he called out as he came into earshot.

The petite woman’s brunette ponytail and curled bangs bounced as she swiveled her head, looking for the source of the voice. Bright viridian eyes widened, and a smile grew as she spotted Roxas approaching, “Yes, actually. I’m just trying to get my stock out of the van.”

“Let me help.”

“Thank you so much, ah—”

“Roxas,” he smiled and held out his hand.

“Aerith,” her voice tinkled with joy over having received some help and she shook his hand with warmth and confidence.

Roxas spent ten or so minutes getting sealed boxes and potted plants out of the van and onto a cart, which Aerith then wheeled into the floral boutique she had bought and was going to open soon. Roxas followed her inside, helping to unpack and unbox.

Aerith was very amicable and expressed polite interest as they exchanged simple biographies regarding what had led them to meet at this point in time. Aerith worked at the city’s botanical garden, which Roxas excitedly enthused to her about, as he had just visited the place two days ago with Axel. Roxas discovered that Aerith grew all her own plants at home. She had a dream to open up a giant greenhouse and nursery one of these days, and that this small shop was hopefully going to lead towards that dream of hers.

When Aerith asked about Roxas’ life he told her… well, a fair amount, for being a complete stranger. He told her about some of the troubles with his ex, and that a court hearing was scheduled. He told her about Axel taking care of him but that he also really wished he could look after himself. Aerith came right out and offered Roxas a job. She offered to train him up in how to make various bouquets. All she needed from him was to be reliable in manning the shop, possibly do some online promotion, manage orders, and possibly do deliveries.

Roxas was incredibly stoked by this turn of events. He took her business card and told her he would be in touch. He regretted not having a phone at that moment. He regretted having nothing personal set up for himself to give to her and decided he was going to remedy this.

By the time he left Aerith’s boutique, the city had grown busier with people commuting from work to home. Panic set in as Roxas suddenly realized how much time had elapsed. It was already an hour-and-a-half since he had left Axel.

His heart began racing, his palms grew sweaty. The memory of gruff hands on him made his skin crawl and his stomach churn. He dodged traffic as he hurried across the street to get back to the park. The sun was starting to get low, but it was nowhere near dusk yet, so visibility was still good. Roxas looked around the park, desperate to see bright red hair. He looked and looked. Finally, he spotted a figure walking out from behind a block of buildings at the center of the park. He ran towards Axel, as fast as his legs could carry him, while his mind screamed at him for being such an idiot. It hollered at how mad Axel would be and he fought against the tears.

His feet pounded over the grass, his breath rasped. He saw Axel looking around and on spotting Roxas, his name was shouted, and Axel began jogging towards him. A few moments later their bodies clashed, and they embraced. Roxas huffed heavily against Axel’s chest while kisses rained down atop his head.

Axel’s arms gave a warm hug. Hands gently rubbed over Roxas’ back. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been like… walking around for forty-five minutes looking for you.” Axel thankfully didn’t sound angry, but he did sound very concerned.

Still huffing, Roxas stepped back a little and looked up at Axel. Their hands linked together, and Axel didn’t feel hard or agitated. Roxas felt the fear and panic drain away. “I’m so sorry. Time got away from me. I was helping a lady unpack her van. She’s opening up a flower shop over there,” Roxas pointed behind himself. “We got to talking and… I just completely lost track of time. I’m so sorry.”

Axel sighed with relief. “Well, I’m glad you’re all right. But this is why you need a phone.” A brief smile flashed under still slightly worried eyes.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll look into getting a job next week and then a phone.”

Axel’s face lit up. “Oh, good. So, you really were warm about the idea of going to the bakery. Awesome. I was a bit worried.”

Roxas felt uncomfortable. “Yeah, ah, so what did Marluxia say?”

“Oh, yeah,” Axel held out his hand, and Roxas took it, starting them off on their walk home. Axel explained that Marluxia wanted to know what had been happening with Axel the past three weeks. They also spent some time discussing Axel picking up a more managerial role at the bar. That news had Roxas as excited as Axel had been about the offer.

Axel spoke about how this was a huge step in the right direction for his dream of having his own place, and when they got home, they pulled down Roxas’ drafted floor plan of their bar and discussed and daydreamed long into the evening.

Roxas wasn’t sure about much these days, but he was certain that he still really liked the sound of having a place all their own in the future.

Chapter Text

The closer the amended court date got the denser this heavy, indescribable feeling grew; like a weed it tangled into every facet of Roxas’ life, touching, strangling, and sucking energy and hope out of him. He wanted it to be over. He was trying to find the same love and happiness in Axel's touch like before. Because before Roxas had been pretty blissed out of his mind… when he didn't think about it… when he didn't allow himself to be quiet.

But now, on the very dawn of the dreaded and sought after day, his world steeped in a deafening quiet, which made him hear – and actually amplified – the doubts and aches he had been holding deep within. Nothing Axel did shook him out of the uncomfortable feelings.

He paced around the small flat all morning. He couldn’t do anything else because sitting still caused an overwhelming sea of sick to rise up, out of his belly, and crush his lungs. He felt Axel’s eyes on him, heard Axel’s voice, but he couldn’t make out what the man was saying. He couldn't work the nerves out of his body. Almost neurotically he checked and rechecked that he had everything. In the end, Axel made Roxas listen by taking ahold of his hands, brushing his hair, kissing his cheeks, whilst whispering that everything would be all right. Axel’s presence gently incinerated some of the cotton wool strangling and clogging up Roxas’ chest and insulating his mind from any positive outside forces. Words which insisted they go for a long walk to the courthouse, instead of taking the bus, registered and Roxas nodded, with a strained exhale.

Axel was full of wonderful ideas. They headed off a full two hours before they needed to be there. The walk was good in putting Roxas’ misplaced energy to some use. It didn't do much to distract himself from his mind though. Thoughts raced, stacked, and jumbled into one another.

Things had moved way too fast. It had been nearly a month since Roxas had come to the conclusion that he had finally suffered enough. It has been three weeks since he had moved in with Axel, and now he was about to get the law on Vanitas’ ass. Almost eight years unraveled in the blink of an eye. He couldn't believe that it had come to this.

His thoughts were consumed with seeing Vanitas again. He yearned to see him. He wanted to be forgiven. He wanted to say sorry. He wanted to know that Vanitas would always love him because he felt that a part of himself would always love Vanitas. But he didn't want to because of the guilt he felt over it. And there was a substantial amount of that. It knotted his gut, it turned his extremities ice cold and heated his insides uncomfortably. It bred deep shame and a self-directed hatred.

None of this had been fair on Axel. He had been caught up in Roxas’ relationship bullshit. Roxas felt so terrible about it all, so he was hell-bent on repaying Axel every opportunity he got, and since he had nothing but his body to repay him with… well, that was what he had done. Not that sex with Axel was all a currency. No. They were boyfriends, in love, devoted. So it didn't make Roxas a whore. They had genuine feelings for each other. That's what Roxas had been hammering home to himself after they had sex the last few days But Roxas couldn’t shut out the uncomfortable thoughts that swore at him and degraded him… mostly in Vanitas’ timbre. God, Roxas missed Vanitas’ voice.

He winced against that awful thought and focused on needing to repay Axel. Actually repay Axel. Because Axel was just wonderful. He had been incredibly generous with his time and begrudgingly enough his money – a fact which Roxas still kept careful track of. He would make things right because Axel deserved the best. Every day that Roxas woke up with Axel against him felt like a blessing. He wanted to give his boyfriend so much, but couldn’t until his plaguing self-doubts and worries could be put to rest. Roxas hoped that today would go a good way towards that goal.

They were ambling at a leisurely pace down concrete footpaths, along busy roads. He held on to Axel’s hand like it was a liferaft as the raging sea of his troubled thoughts battered against him with every step he took towards his past.

Over time his wildly racing heart began to settle and the world around him shifted into some sort of focus. He caught sight of passing foot traffic, his attention was seized by the way a gust of wind blew, and he even started catching the sound of birds happily chirping in the sunlight somewhere. He gave Axel a smile as they walked, and his heart melted at the gentle understanding he was met within the impossibly bright green gaze and the soft joy on Axel's strikingly beautiful face. Discoloration still sat around Axel's eye and cheek but it was nowhere as bad as it had been. In fact, Roxas probably only noticed it because he knew what had happened and what to look for.

Roxas looked forward to the day all trace of Axel's run-in with Vanitas would vanish from Axel's face. Even the tiniest reminder of it made Roxas feel sick to his stomach. His heart ached because of the damage he had caused to both of the men in his life.

Those thoughts slipped away as Roxas walked along and gently bumped into Axel's side as they went. Roxas felt about ten times better knowing Axel was with him. He didn't feel alone anymore. He had always felt something deeply warm and comforting in the way Axel looked at him, even from those early-day-stares at Organization 13. For a brief moment, Roxas forgot to stress and worry and was able to hold a conversation with Axel.

They talked about what they would do to celebrate at the end of the day. The consensus seemed to be a nice home cooked dinner and then, finally, a night of guilt-free sex, because on top of everything else Roxas still felt bad about how he had ended it with Vanitas. He looked forward to closing that chapter of his life and with it ridding himself of his doubts and worries.

Their talk and Axel's presence went a long way in settling Roxas. By the time they reached the courthouse, Roxas felt serene, thanks to Axel’s warmth and the soothing way his vocal cords strummed when he had started humming an indistinct song during their stroll.

But then all of the calm ripped away upon entering the courthouse. It wasn’t the weird smell of presumably justice-induced fear-sweat staining the high ceiling halls. Nor was it the completely perplexing maze-like corridors that had confused them and had forced them to backtrack a handful of times. No. The thing that got Roxas right back to square one was the sight of Vanitas sitting on an uncomfortable looking metal chair by their courtroom door as they finally rounded the corner, and at last located their room.

Roxas stopped in his tracks, and Axel pulled to a halt. An indistinct mixture of feelings exploded inside of Roxas. Fear, regret, agony, and heartache were just some of the things Roxas could identify.

Cool, yet piercing hazel-yellow eyes stared unblinkingly at him. Vanitas wore a light gray suit with that stupid mustard-yellow tie Roxas always thought resembled baby poop. His hair was gelled back and he was clean-shaven and looked like a million bucks, despite the sullen expression on his face. Vanitas’ gaze fell to… Roxas jerked out of Axel’s supportive hand-holding, terrified of being caught out, petrified of bringing any more wrath onto Axel by the mere act of being seen touching him.

Axel looked between the two of them. He glanced at where their hands had separated. “C’mon Rox, let’s go sit back around the corner, by the water fountain.” Axel brushed against Roxas’ arm and made to move back around the way they came.

A surge of anger rose. Roxas felt fed up of living in fear. He grabbed Axel’s wrist and pulled him over to the wooden bench on the other side of the door leading to the courtroom where their hearing would take place. They sat on the bench. Roxas staunchly glared in front of himself at the opposite wall plastered in notices about legal matters and ignored Vanitas and anything he might think about Roxas.

Time passed and the population in the corridor ebbed and flowed, as courtrooms further down the hall emptied and filled. Roxas felt hyper-aware of Vanitas’ presence at the other side of the doorframe. H