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One Year

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Day One

    One year. One measly year, and life would finally start. No more school, no more homework, no more teachers or professors or whatever they wanted to call themselves. He would be free.

    College, fate, the universe at large had done Axel a disservice. Well. To be fair, he’d made a minor mistake that had snowballed into a huge one. But he’d rather pin his misfortune on the universe.

    He was trapped.

    In a tiny ocean-side town.

    Alone.

    Until August.

    Ugh.

    He’d managed to benefit a little from his stupid mistake. The university had had some excellent volunteer research for him to do for the first month, and he’d been thrilled to add another open door to his resume. On top of that he’d snagged a part-time job at a local pizza place making deliveries with his bike and begging his boss to give him the closest ones—thankfully in as small a place as Twilight Town they were all, technically, close. The job helped him pay rent and feed himself, with just enough left over for summer blockbusters.

    “Yo, Ax, you working tonight?”

    Okay, so he wasn’t completely alone. His roommate, Demyx, and Demyx’s friend Zexion were still in town. Axel and Demyx had been roommates since freshman year, finding their living styles compatible enough to get an apartment together sophomore year. They’d been in the same place since.

    “Yeah.” Axel grunted.

    He was scrolling through Instagram memes his best friend back home had sent him. Larxene had a twisted since of humor, so most of them were about Infinity War. It always amazed Axel how quickly people were able to get decent-quality screenshots of movies that were still in theatres.

    “Zexi and I were gonna get drinks. When are you off?” Demyx tried again, trying to rouse Axel from the depths of the internet.

    “Closing.” Axel sighed, giving in and dropping his phone in his lap.

    Demyx was sprawled in the bean bag next to the TV, glaring at Axel over his own chest. Axel shrugged helplessly.

    “You always pick the worst shifts.” Demyx whined.

    “My manager picks them. Take it up with her.”

    “I might.”

    “Do you still want free pizza?” Axel threatened.

    “I won’t!”

    “Damn right.”

    Axel rolled off the couch and headed down the hallway to his bedroom. Demyx would just have to find a different person to be the third wheel tonight. Not that Demyx would ever admit that that was Axel’s role when he was able to go out with them.

    Axel readied himself for work while listening to Demyx’s pathetic excuse for an indoor voice explain to Zexion that it would just be the two of them at the bar that night.

    Just ask him out, coward. Axel thought, wishing Demyx could hear him.

    Though, he reasoned, if people could read each other’s minds life would be easier but weirder. It was certainly for the best that Demyx didn’t know what he was thinking at all times of the day.

    Axel fetched his bike from the garage, then hauled ass to work.

    The pizza shop was cleverly named ‘Hole in the Wall’, since the building had once been in a state of wreckage, with a basketball sized hole in one wall that was now filled with a circular window. The owners, Aqua and Terra, were an adorable hipstery couple a decade or so older than Axel. They’d moved up from a larger city in the southern part of the state and made the place look like it was pulled right out of San Francisco with them. The head cook, Ventus, was a little younger than the owners and had so much energy it threw Axel for a loop. He was a local guy, blonde hair a mess and eyes as blue as the ocean. If Axel were into guys, he figured the blue-eyed blonde would be his type solely based on Ventus. And maybe Chris Evans.

    He would swear on his grave that wasn’t why Cap was his favourite. Chris E. just had...really nice pecs, was all.  Axel could hear Larxene laughing at him three states away, reminding Axel that he’d already had his “ohgodamIgay” crisis. That was what high school was for.

    “Firebaby’s here!” Ventus’ voice hollered as soon as Axel walked through the front door.

    The cook had a vantage point from the kitchen window where he could see the door, and it was custom for him to greet Axel in some form that made fun of his hair. The few customers who were sitting inside waiting for their pizzas all nodded in agreement upon seeing his flaming hair.

    “Nice to see you too, shorty.” Axel called back as his passed the kitchen, throwing Ventus a subtle finger.

    Axel typed his employee number into the computer in the staff room to clock in, unsurprised to see he was a few minutes early. Minutes on the clock meant dimes on the dollar, and he needed every dime he could get. He hurried back out front to collect his first delivery for the night. Six boxes were piled on the delivery counter, with three paper bags of sides all reeking of garlic. It made Axel’s mouth water. Ventus made killer garlic knots.

    “Already have a few orders for you. Selphie’s already taken some and nobody knows where the hell Tidus and Marluxia are.” Ventus said, his voice returned to work mode.

    “They’re both working tonight?”

    “Yeah, were supposed to be here an hour ago. But you know Aqua, she’s got too much faith in the idiots.”

    “Maybe the bus broke down.” Axel wondered.

    “If by ‘bus’ you mean Marly’s car, then you’re probably right.” Terra’s voice floated from the dish room.  

    “Those jerks told me they take the bus.” Axel grumbled.

    Marluxia and Tidus were his least favourite co-workers. They were almost always late, sometimes stank of weed, and were ambitious-less unless you counted Marluxia’s obsession with gardening—Axel did, to give him just a little merit. But, they were local goofballs that Aqua had a sweet spot for, so they kept their jobs even though Terra and Ventus wished otherwise.

    The other employees were Selphie, a high school kid about to start her senior year, Cloud, Ventus’ younger brother who was also starting his senior year of high school, and Pence, a ball-is-life community college kid who’d started working a few weeks after Axel. Those three got along with Axel well whenever they saw each other. A benefit of a delivery job was that Axel didn’t have to hang around his co-workers all that much. He also got to listen to whatever music he wanted, unlike Cloud and Tidus who didn’t have any means for delivery and had cooking shifts with Ventus.

    “Can you get all those on your bike?” Terra asked, eyeing the stack of pizzas that Axel was trying to figure out how to carry.

    “Nope. I’ll take the first three orders then come back for more.” He barely managed to balance the two bags of knots on top of the three boxes he’d picked up.

    “We’ll keep you busy.” Ventus laughed.

    Axel made sure to flip him off one more time before going back to his bike to bungee-cord the pizzas to the rack.

~

    “We should totally do it! Just cause you work there doesn’t mean we shouldn’t—besides, their pizza is great!” Olette insisted, shaking Pence’s arm.

    Roxas laughed at Pence’s embarrassed expression and Olette’s unnecessary doting just to try and get her boyfriend to let them order pizza from his work. It was funny how overdramatic they both were. Maybe that’s why they were dating.

    “I work with a bunch of weirdos! I don’t want one of the stoners to show up.” Pence slumped back against the couch.

    “Not all of them are stoners, what about the girl? Or the hot one?” Olette suggested.

    “Is the hot one a woman?” Hayner piped up from beside Roxas.

    Roxas and Hayner were flopped on the living room floor in front of the coffee table, battling out via 3DS Mario Kart. Roxas didn’t have a Wii in the good year 2018, nor did he want one. PlayStation was still far superior in his mind, so they were stuck with tiny versions of Mario Kart.

    “Nah, he’s this uni guy named Axel. Thinks he’s the shit too, with his stupid fire-hair.” Pence grumbled.

    “His hair’s on fire?” Roxas asked, just to be snarky.

    Not because he had a thing for redheads, nope. It was because Pence also thought he was “the shit” and Roxas preferred to take him down a notch every chance he got. Not because he had a thing for redheads.

    “Could be.” Pence snapped.

    Roxas grinned. Then he got a blue shell.

    “Fuck yes.”

    “I don’t like the sound of that.” Hayner said, then screamed when his kart got hit by the shockwave.

    Roxas slid into first.

    “Look, Sora’s upstairs starving his face off, so if you dorks could just decide on where we’re gonna get food in the next five seconds, that’d be great.” Roxas said, glancing sideways at Olette, hoping she’d catch his drift.

    Sue him if he was curious about this Axel guy.

    “’Kay I’ll call them.” Olette said, and Roxas cackled.

    Totally unrelated—he’d hit somebody with a banana.

    Pence made whining noises while Olette looked up the Hole in the Wall’s phone number. Roxas beat Hayner, taking second while Hayner got seventh.

    “Blue shells should be illegal.” Hayner groaned, tossing his 3DS a foot from his head and digging his face shamefully into the carpet while Roxas kicked his legs in the air victoriously.

    “You just don’t get them enough.” Roxas gloated.

    “Rooooxxxaaaaaaaaas when are we gonna eeeeeaaaaaat?!” Sora’s high-pitched teenage voice screamed from his bedroom.

    “Twenty minutes!” Olette yelled back, and Roxas looked up to see her setting down her phone and sticking her tongue out at Pence.

    Roxas dragged his unwilling body off the carpet and walked around the wall behind the couch that lead into the kitchen. Hayner followed him and together they set the table for the four of them, plus Sora and his best friend, Riku. Said teens bounced down the stairs ten minutes later and dug through the fridge for soda before claiming spots together at the table. They were playing some kind of game on Riku’s phone that made too many weird anime noises for Roxas’ taste.

    Finally, the doorbell rang and Sora sprang for the door like a lion at its prey. Roxas, Hayner, Riku, and Pence dragged by Olette followed the teens. They piled in the entrance hall as Sora swung open the door to reveal a ridiculously tall person with two pizza boxes and a paper bag covering their face.

    “Delivery for Roxas.” A man’s voice spoke from behind the pizzas.

    “I’m Roxas!” Sora yelled, taking the pizzas while Riku snatched the garlic knots.

    The high schoolers beelined for the kitchen while the others stared after them in amusement. Then they turned back to Axel, who was laughing.

    “Someone’s hungry.” He said, adjusting the company hat on his head.

    Roxas nearly swore when he made out the man’s hair color. Red did not do it justice, especially in the light of the setting sun. His all-black outfit led to no distractions from the hair, and—Roxas mentally swooned—Axel was wearing a tank with gold lettering that bared his arm muscles to the world, and oh man was he buff.

    “Oh, shit. Hey Pence.” Axel greeted with a short wave, “Didn’t realize you lived here.”

   “Nah, this is Roxas’ place.” Pence grumbled from beside Olette who was grinning and pointing at Roxas.

   When Axel looked down at Roxas, the blonde had to hold his breath. The guy’s eyes were piercing green. Olette should’ve warned him with more than just hot.

    “I’m Axel.” The man held out his hand, and it took Roxas’ brain a second to click before he shook it.

    “Thanks for the pizza.” He said lamely.

    He couldn’t always be smooth, especially when blindsided by the presence of a downright snack.

    “Here’s the money. Tell Ven thanks.” Pence spoke up from beside Roxas, who started slightly and forced himself to look away from Axel.

    Little did he know Axel had behaved the same way.

    “Sure thing.” Axel said, taking the money from Pence and sticking it into his pocket.

    “See ya.” Pence said, then pushed Olette—who waved goodbye—into the kitchen.

    “Um. You work with my cousins, right?” Roxas asked, having finally come up with a topic—however boring—for conversation.

    He knew Axel would have to get back to deliveries, but something in the back of his mind was screaming for him to get the guy to stay, just another minute.

    “Wait, I do?” Axel asked, staring at Roxas like he had a third eye.

    “Ven. Ventus. He and Cloud are my aunt’s kids.” Roxas clarified.

    Had Ven not mentioned his cousins at work? Jerk.

    “Oh, cool. I mean, that explains some stuff. You guys look…similar.” Axel mused, and Roxas watched his eyes flicker over him.

    “More than me and my brother Sora, which is pretty weird.”     

    “Sora was the one who screamed?” Forest eyes flicked to the kitchen doorway, just visible in the hall.

    “Yeah, he and his boyfriend have been begging us for food for an hour.”

    Axel laughed, and Roxas smiled at the sound. Was there a single thing about this guy that wasn’t attractive?

    “Well, I won’t stop you from enjoying it.” Axel’s eyes flicked over him again, “See ya around, Roxas.”

    A chill rose on Roxas’ skin at the way Axel had said his name—soft and sultry.

    Jeezus.

    “Yeah, see ya.” Roxas replied to Axel’s back, closing the door gently behind the man.

    He stared at the door handle for a solid ten seconds before literally shaking himself, fluffing his hair, and following after his friends.

    Sora had dumped the pizzas on the counter, so Roxas had to grab his plate from the table. As soon as Olette spotted him, she grinned.

    “See! I told you he was hot.”

    “You gotta give a guy more warning, Olette. He was smokin’.” Roxas let himself laugh, enjoying the adrenaline rush of having met a person like Axel.

    He was guaranteed to have good dreams that night.

~

    “Dude. Quit staring at me.” Ventus said, flicking Axel’s forehead as he walked by, spinning dough with the other hand.

    “Sorry. I met your cousin on my last run.” Axel said, leaning up against the wall as he waited for the next set of deliveries to be set up.

    Ventus was running behind with just himself and Cloud working the kitchen—Tidus and Marluxia were still nowhere to be seen, so Terra had stepped in to help Cloud with ingredient prep while Ventus cooked.

    “Say no more. Kid’s like a doppelganger or something.”

    “You’re not kidding. How did that happen?” Axel asked, still unabashedly staring at his co-worker.

    The ocean blue eyes, the messy blonde hair, even their general face shapes…it was beyond ridiculous.

    “Our moms fucked the same guy. It was a twin thing, mom said.” Ventus replied with a shrug, shaping the dough along a pan.

    “LANGUAGE.” Terra shouted from somewhere in the back.

    “SORRY!” Ventus hollered, then grinned and winked mischievously at Axel.

    “So you’re actually half-brothers?”

    “Yeah, but just me and Roxy. Sora and Cloud have different parents.”

    “Small towns are weird.” Axel decided aloud.

    “Yes they are.” Terra agreed from the back.

    Axel heard Cloud laugh. He fidgeted with a pen for a few minutes until Ventus plopped three more orders next to him.

    “Do you want me to take more?” Axel offered, knowing it was physically impossible but wishing he could help with the rush.

    “Nah, I’m piling up on Selphie. You’re doing great, fireman.” Ventus gave him a formal salute then returned to cooking.

    “Mhmm.” Axel laughed, taking the pizzas back to his bike.

    He was going to have trouble forgetting about blue eyes.