The drab grey walls of a call center cubicle were going to be the last thing he ever saw. It was a grim thought, one that Roxas glared down head-on. The final sound he’d hear would be another click of a phone hanging up, followed by the droning whine of a dial tone. They would find him glassy-eyed and hunched over at his desk in a few hours, when they noticed it was time for his shift to end, tragically deceased from boredom.
Maybe they would sigh and put the day’s paltry earnings towards a funeral for him. More likely, they would call in the janitorial staff and, with embarrassment, admit to each other that they didn’t even remember the name of that anti-social kid who only worked part-time. Such was life.
That was fair, anyway, given that every member of the faculty was pretty much a mass of face and a vaguely distinctive voice. While there was no set uniform, the rigid dress code and average age of the workers all meant that there weren’t many distinguishing features on anyone – himself included. In a last ditch effort, once, he’d tried throwing on a checkered tie, but it hadn’t made him feel any more like himself.
This job was crushing his soul.
And the stupid headset they provided was crushing his ears.
Dragging the heel of his palms over his sore eyes, he pushed the headset back to let it dangle on his neck and give his ears a moment to recover. It wouldn’t be that much longer that he was stuck doing this. This was only a temporary thing, and he had to admit that he was accumulating funds quicker than he’d hoped. Every penny of his paycheck was being deposited right into his savings account, sitting on it and waiting to pass it on to whatever school he wound up choosing.
His grades were up to par, and he’d been losing sleep while he looked into his choices. This would be worth it, though, he promised himself. Step one was lasting another day, here. And then another. Steps one through eight were much the same, but after that… He’d get into a university and start living life as a proper adult.
Just one tiny step at a time. Get through the next call, get through the day. And hey, he was allowed to take a fifteen minute break after this one.
The next number on his computer generated list was highlighted, ready to be inputted and presumably (most likely) ignored by the person on the other end of the line. Roxas slid the headset back on, letting his training take over and stifling a yawn while the call connected. He had a book in front of him – thin and laminated – with the spiel and a list of frequently asked questions.
It was a damn good thing he’d basically memorized it, because as his first wind was winding down, the words were starting to look nonsensical.
“You’ve reached Reno’s Redheaded Rent Boys. What’s your address?”
The spiel on the tip of his tongue died, caught off-guard and woken up a little. “Uh…sorry?”
On the other end of the line, Axel paused. The television remote was still in one hand, phone wedged between his shoulder and face.
He’d been expecting his roommate to call, probably talking a mile a minute and still flush with first-date jitters. Or, kind-of sort-of date, in which neither party was entirely sure that’s what they were doing. Hell, Axel had almost been anticipating it, having a less-than-fantastic time as he had a very one-sided internal wrestling match about whether he’d prefer to channel surf or work on the assignment he had due at the end of the week.
Perhaps he should have checked his caller ID.
Slowly, he sat up and raised an eyebrow at the muted TV screen, putting down the remote and observing, “…You’re not Demyx.”
Roxas’s lips parted and closed, a few sounds escaping that could have been interpreted as anything – ‘no shit’ would have been Axel’s initial guess, once the (presumably) telemarketer had gotten past their surprise – but he found sound professionalism within a moment.
“Have I reached…” blue eyes flickered to the screen, “Axel Jenova?”
Yup. Telemarketer. “That’s right,” he responded anyway, bored enough to keep the conversation going. “So, what’s your address? Delivery in thirty minutes, or the first hand job’s free.”
In some other setting, Roxas would not have blushed. He was damn certain of that. If he wasn't in a work setting and altogether too tired for this shit, he wouldn't have missed a beat, no matter how inappropriate some strange man was, with him.
“Is this...not a good time for you to speak?” Roxas found his voice, and used it to dismantle company policy. He wasn't typically supposed to give their potential client an out, but...
He did not want to talk to this guy.
Axel was on an entirely different page. The remote clattered to the floor as he put up his feet on the couch, entirely forgetting that he'd put it there. Screw the TV; the TV had been given plenty of opportunities to prove its worth. It was time to give a different piece of technology a chance.
If only to keep delaying that whole 'homework' thing.
“I've got plenty of time,” he breezed. “Sorry for messin' with you. You alright, there?”
The apology was a surprise. Pranks weren't altogether uncommon, because some people were dicks and decided telemarketing wasn't a cruel enough fate already, but Roxas had only ever experienced that attitude shift going one way, and this guy had just put in reverse. “Fine, thank you,” he blinked at his laminated book until the words made sense again. “May I ask who is your current cable and Internet provider?”
“C'mon, we don't have to talk business. You know my name, so who am I talking to?”
If he could have sighed without making a sound, thus outing himself as an asshole (or human being, with limits to his patience, just like everyone else in the world) instead of corporate non-entity, Roxas would have. “My name is Roxas, sir.”
Company policy dictated he had to give out his name, if they asked. Another check on the mental tally of 'why businesses suck'.
“Rox-as,” Axel Jenova dragged his name out until it was barely recognizable. “You sound cute. You cute, Roxy?”
“If this isn't a good time, sir...” Roxas gritted his teeth.
“C'mon, don't hang up! What are you selling?”
This entire conversation was going to turn into a revolving door of bait-and-switches. Roxas could feel it in his gut. And, more acutely, in the beginnings of a caffeine-withdrawal headache quickly forming behind his eyes. “We can offer you an upgrade with superior speed and security with competitive pricing to all major Internet and phone providers,” he rattled off, tone a little lacking for a salesperson. With lacking here meaning absent of any and all will to go on.
“No offense, but you're not really selling me on this.”
Roxas took this into consideration with a roll of his eyes and no apparent difference to his demeanor. “What are you paying now?”
“Don't recall, off-hand. I have a bill around here somewhere... Stay with me, I'll get it.”
He could hear some rustling on the other end as Axel adjusted his grip on his phone and got to his feet. Roxas glanced at the clock. He'd be taking his break late. He was damn sure of that. Unless he bored this guy into hanging up, this wouldn't be over quickly.
In his apartment, Axel had made his way towards the small kitchen unit, audibly opening and closing drawers and cupboards. He wasn't entirely sure whether they'd left their Internet bill – it hadn't been on the coffee table, which had been his first and only guess – but he had to keep Roxas thinking he was looking around. “So. Roxas, you said? How's the telemarketing business treating you?”
“It's fine, sir.”
So rigid. So formal. “The 'sir' thing makes me uncomfortable.”
“I can stop, if you prefer.” Roxas audibly did not give a shit one way or another.
“Definitely,” Axel moved on from the kitchen, but not without letting the cutlery drawer slam first. “It's just 'Axel'. Got it memorized?”
Oh, hey. A giant, cluttered stack of paper by the front door. That looked promising.
“Alright,” Roxas sounded a little exasperated. Perhaps it was odd to find that refreshing, but Axel liked that. No upbeat tone that made the person on the other end sound more plastic than human; no indulgent attitude that made him feel like he was being patronized, for the sake of a sale.
He crouched down, shuffling through the paper pile and shaking his head. Totally unacceptable - he'd have to work harder than that. “No, come on, I want to hear you say it. Make sure we're on the same page.”
And Roxas had a nice voice, which would likely sound particularly pleasant saying his name. How pleasant that was, remained to be seen.
“Alright, Axel,” Roxas rolled his eyes, double-clicking and double-checking. Audio was off, and Tetris was open. He obviously wasn't going to be needing his sales pitch for a while.
“Hm... Yeah, I could see it happening.”
Roxas barely heard that. The mutter had been an obvious aside, but what he had heard was such a non-sequitur that it begged clarification. “Excuse me, si-?”
“Ah, ah. We just had this discussion.”
Roxas's eyes narrowed, correcting himself testily. “Axel.”
Picking up an unopened envelope off the floor, Axel grinned and slid back upright. “Better. Hey, what do you look like?”
“I don't think that's appropriate.”
“I don't do well with phone calls unless I can envision who I'm talking to,” Axel fibbed, making his way back over to his beckoning couch. The coffee table now looked a lot more like a convenient footrest, in his eyes.
“I'm not required to give out that information,” Roxas responded after a beat. Axel counted himself among the perceptive of the population, and gave himself kudos for reading between the lines. He could almost hear Roxas calling bullshit.
“Shame,” Axel lifted his shoulder, holding the phone still with his face pressed right to it. Free hands began tearing open the envelope. “Are you blonde, though?”
That was creepy. Roxas closed his game of Tetris and glanced behind himself, briefly eclipsed by paranoia. Their computers weren't equipped with webcams, he didn't see anyone nearby (though, that'd explain a lot about this call if it was just somebody fucking with him from the next cubicle over) so either Axel was just very good at guessing, or that was something he always asked.
Whatever. If he answered, maybe they could move on. “Yes.”
“Oh, good. I've got a thing for blondes.”
Roxas reddened again, with no small amount of irritation. “If you can't find your bill, I can just give you a quote.”
“I've nearly got it, probably. Do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?”
“I'm not going to discuss that.” He could probably hang up on the grounds of harassment, Roxas noted.
But he was pretty sure he could sell this guy something, if he just kept him on the line. He hadn't had a single sale all morning, and generally had piss-poor numbers to show head office. It wasn't like they'd threatened to fire him, but...
“I'm single. FYI.”
Roxas just barely managed not to snort.
On his end, Axel was having more trouble than anticipated getting the envelope open. Generally, he considered himself a decent multitasker, but there was something about the awkward position of wedging a phone against one's cheek that made everything seem impossible.
“Do they include a picture, with my number?” Axel was saying, and Roxas's forehead was reacquainting itself with his palm. “Wait – stupid question. I'd get more calls. Especially if I reused my 'rent boy' opener.”
“I guess you were expecting someone else?” Roxas leaned all of his weight against his hand like it was the only thing that could keep him upright. The rest of his energy had been spent upholding this asinine conversation.
“Yeah, but that makes no difference. Would've answered like that, anyway.”
“That could get you into trouble,” he observed.
“Oh, it has,” Axel sounded quite flippant about that.
“You're probably lucky you got me, then,” Roxas drawled, entirely toneless. “At least I have a sense of humour.”
Axel had just about managed to wrestle the letter from a now-destroyed envelope with one hand, when Roxas's complete lack of irony threw him into a tailspin of hilarity. One that he managed to suppress to a quiet laugh.
Roxas's silence just exuded that he was not impressed.
“Sorry-...” Axel cleared his throat, like it magically covered up the sound of ongoing snickers. “Right, you were selling me a thing! I found that bill.”
It was almost over, Roxas told himself. As Axel rattled off numbers, he flipped back to the price listings and package deals, in his laminated book.
“For about thirty dollars less, we can offer you our standard package, which includes everything you're getting now. If you're okay with paying the same amount, though, we can double your upload and download speed, and your GB usage. It'd otherwise be the same package – phone, Internet...”
“What do you use?”
Roxas paused. “Excuse me?”
“Do you use your company's Internet? Could I, like, go over to your place and compare 'net speed?”
Fuck. This guy was brazen enough to throw Roxas off his game more than once, and that was equal parts exasperating and vaguely impressive. “I-... I don't think that would be possible.”
“Why not? If you're worried about me coming over with ulterior motives, rest assured, I don't do that sort of thing on the first date.”
That fucking did it. “Who said anything about a date?” Roxas snapped, last vestiges of professionalism gone, eloping with the last fuck he gave, presumably to never return.
“I did. Just now.”
“Well, your joke's been played,” Roxas began piecing his composure back together. “Very amusing.”
“That wasn't a joke.”
“Regardless,” he sighed. “If you're not interested in the offer, then I should let you go.”
“When did I say I wasn't interested?” Axel protested. “I'm very interested.”
He didn't feel the need to specify whether it was the Internet or Roxas that he was most intrigued by. He'd abandoned the bill, sprawled on the couch more comfortably, and stared up at the ceiling while the TV flickered in his peripheral vision.
It was very distracting. Shame he couldn't find the remote. He was trying to put together an image of Roxas in his mind – blonde, obviously not too old, probably pretty cute, undoubtedly scowling. Everything about him screamed 'attitude'. Axel liked attitude.
If he liked guys, at all... And, at the end of their conversation, hadn't expressed a desire to throttle him... Maybe he'd be down for hanging out. Not necessarily a date, Axel reasoned. Just...something to get to know him.
It'd been a while since he'd made any friends, let alone a potential romantic option. There had been Demyx, before Zexion, but he lacked that bit of fire Axel wanted.
Even now, he was certain Roxas was cursing a blue streak in his own head as he ploughed on with his spiel. “Are you a student?”
“Yeah,” Axel confirmed.
“Right again,” he closed his eyes to block out the television. Much better.
“Then you're eligible for our student plan. That gets you the same services, plus offers on additional channels of your choice and upgraded speed for social media usage.”
He hadn't listened to a word of that. “Cool. Are you student?”
“Hollow Bastion University?” That'd be a convenient coincidence.
“No,” Roxas answered, drumming his fingers against the sales book impatiently. It wasn't any of Axel's business to know that he was intending on applying there.
“...Where else is there to go, in the area? Are you calling from out of state?”
Checking the area code was obviously beyond Axel's mental capacity, Roxas concluded, and indulged that idiocy with, “This call is local, si-... Axel.”
“So, where are you going to school, then?”
“Are you interested in the student package?” Roxas diverted, hoping that made it clear that he wasn't going to tell Axel anything else about himself.
“I'm interested in plenty of student's packages.”
Oh good fucking god. Roxas's finger twitched towards the 'disconnect' button, but stopped when Axel sighed.
“You're really not interested, huh? Is it because I'm a guy? You can give it to me straight. ...Pretend there weren't as many possible innuendos in that statement as my mind just came up with.”
Quietly, Roxas groaned. “That's not the issue. I just don't take pick-ups from strangers. Particularly strangers I met on the phone. At work.”
There was a short silence on the line, and in that time, Roxas picked up on the tempting smell of coffee passing by his cubicle. Longingly, his gaze lifted and he almost turned to stare after the coworker who'd just walked by. Sweet caffeinated elixir... so close, so just beyond his reach. If there was any chance he could just close this one sale, and be done with-
“...So... You are into the guy thing, then?”
This time Roxas groaned loud enough for Axel to hear.
“Sorry, I'll give you a break,” Axel laughed. “I'll sign up for the student-whatever.”
Roxas sat up a little straighter, surprised to hear that his suffering might've lead to an honest-to-god payoff. “Really?”
“Sure, why not? My Internet sucks, anyway. I could use a change.”
Oh, hell yes.
“Good,” Roxas's fingers flew over the keyboard, confirming Axel's purchase before he could take it back. “When will be a convenient date for our technicians to come over?”
“Pretty much whenever. I'm free evenings, but obviously, I won't be home on whatever day you've also got free.”
That one almost made Roxas crack a smile. Thank god there was no way that Axel could tell. “Is there any day you're home between eleven and five?”
“Okay,” Roxas's fingers sped over the keyboard again. “We can have that set up on Friday the twentieth. Does that work?”
“Sure. Hey, can I have your number?”
“I can't give you that,” Roxas finished typing, too encouraged by the sale to sound properly disdainful.
“Aw, come on, you have mine.”
“That could get me fired,” he crossed his arms and kicked against the desk slightly, pushing his chair back. The call was moments away from ending, and that coffee was calling to him like a siren's song.
“Well, wouldn't want you to get fired. Will you call me, later?”
Axel was expecting a 'no'. Maybe accompanied by a 'thank you' and 'goodbye', followed by a click and a dial tone.
So he found himself very pleasantly surprised when, after a moment of thought, Roxas replied, “Look, you bought the stupid Internet, so I'll give you one chance.”
Axel sat up smoothly, legs swinging over the side of the couch. “Really?”
“Yeah. I'm going to some party, next Friday night. You can come if you want, and if I don't hate you, maybe you can save me.”
Pen. He needed a pen. Where in the hottest and most thoroughly-lubed of fucks was a pen?
“Where's the party?” Pen! Fucking finally, a pen. Right there, with his untouched homework. What a place for a pen to be.
He jotted down the address Roxas gave him with a victorious feeling.
“Just show up before midnight,” Roxas instructed.
“Sure,” he grinned, toying with the pen between his fingers in a way that should have been illegal. He'd underlined the address a couple of times, for emphasis, on the unpaid bill. “You know... If we're meeting up, I really should know a bit more about what you look like.”
“I don't think so. Tell me what you look like, and if I like you, I'll find you.”
Couldn't argue that logic. “Tall. Redhead. Tattoos under my eyes.”
Roxas didn't think it'd be difficult to find a university student at this party, anyway – or anyone of legal drinking age – but the description was certainly distinctive. “Face tattoos?” he raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“I make 'em work.”
“Guess I'll find out,” his eyes flickered to the clock again. If this guy was at least attractive, then...maybe. He was clearly a bit of an asshole, but that wasn't always a bad thing. Roxas, himself, was an admitted asshole. “Thanks for padding my quota.”
“You're welcome. Thanks for giving me something more entertaining to do than channel surf.”
Roxas's lips twitched. “See you, then.”
“Lookin' forward to it,” Axel grinned at his phone as he hung up.
He'd need to pointedly look...not-like-a-creep, he reasoned. That was doable. He'd absolutely look like the kind of person no self-respecting mother would ever let near her son, but that horse had been shot in the face when he'd picked up his tattoos and penchant for leather.
It wasn't a date, and that was fine. It was more like...an audition process, before dating.
And he'd accomplished that much in the span of one phone conversation, he praised himself. He was practically at the same relationship stage Demyx had just reached, and that had taken him months.
Speaking of which, his phone had blown up with a number of increasingly-frantic texts from his roommate, which he elected to ignore. He left the TV on and muted, heading to his inspect his closet for something a trustworthy customer would wear.
Two weeks until he met Roxas, but a little preparation couldn't hurt.