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The Unknown

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Roxas had never been one for walking without a secure destination in mind. In what felt like a lifetime ago it was something he avoided like the plague, a treadmill never his first choice for exercise. Yet there he was, walking for what seemed like miles on end and the only thing that was on his mind was that his feet hurt. And the surprising lack of wind only made the heat more apparent. Why was there no wind in a wasteland?

Why was there even a desert this big, anyway?

He half expected a tumbleweed to cross his path. Roxas really wished he’d picked up some new shoes the last time he’d stopped; in a town annoyingly not far from where he was at the moment, maybe half a day at most. Not that he could turn back now, not when he spotted a guard lurking down the streets of the lively area, spying on anyone that shouldn’t be there. Looking for people like him.

He knew how to lay low, of course. For some reason they just wouldn’t give up on him and he’d never been able to pinpoint why. Roxas was sure he must have one of those cliche wanted posters back at wherever the soldiers must have met to gossip about the newest Deviant to track down and subdue.

Each step was a rhythm of the crunch beneath his feet, a melody, the only thing keeping him sane against the stark silence. Behind him was nothing but abandoned houses scorched by fire, blackened by smoke. Behind him was exactly the same. A Deviant most likely the cause.

The only thing guiding him was a very unused dirt track, evident by the lack of moving cars beside him. He missed the forests and foliage that usually surrounded the towns he visited, stepping stones used as nothing more than to quench his thirst and rest his body for a night or two. Roxas definitely missed the camouflage factor. If anyone was to come after him here… well, he’d be easily spotted.

Tiny rocks weren’t good hiding places, he figured. The houses were too burnt out, too broken to find shelter in. Roxas wondered how big the town once was that he was walking though, but there was no way to tell. Most of the trees around him were scorched to a barren crisp, like someone had taken every inch of moisture from the air and sucked it dry. There was no movement at all between what was left of the buildings, no residue smoke. If he had to guess… it had been a few months since any life had touched the area.

Another obvious hint as to the fact he was on the run - he carried nothing but a barren backpack, holding basic necessities he’d need. It had run out of food and water a harrowing few hours ago, leaving it to feel even lighter, a painful reminder he was hungry and thirsty and there was nothing he could do about it.

Good going, Roxas. You reminded yourself you are really, really bad at planning ahead. Even on the run.

The lack of sleep wasn’t helping. Every so often he’d sag a little bit more, his eyes drooping shut before he’d jerk awake. Keep going. He began to count the steps to force himself to stay alert but it was futile when he could barely concentrate, barely focus on his minimal thoughts.

Roxas didn’t know how long it was until he’d reach another town. If that was even habitable. More burnt out buildings could await him for the next few miles and, with only a glimpse in front, it seemed like that was the case. Most of the space was bare rubble, but a few strctures held half strong. He didn’t know what awaited him. No matter what, carry on. He did know why he was running, that motive was set in stone.

“Xion, you better have a good reason for leading me this way.”

He didn’t get a reply in return. Roxas wasn’t sure if he was even expecting one or not.

-

Hours later and he had gotten no further towards anything that looked like a safe haven. The heat above was at its worst, and Roxas’ throat felt like it was being branded with a hot iron. He just wanted to sleep, more than anything. He’d give anything…Yet barren streets only greeted him, what once looked like a park in front now a metal husk of a gate and swings.

Roxas almost tripped as his legs threatened to give out under him, staggering where he stood, the crunch of glass a new sound to his ears. Some lone traveller most likely drinking as he went, a luxury Roxas wished he could afford at that moment. Soon the cover of night would be happily welcomed… maybe he could camp out in one of the more stable houses for a few hours. He hadn’t seen a soul as he walked, so it was unlikely they’d pop out at night… He wouldn’t even think of the option if he wasn’t about to collapse where he stood.

Stood? No, he should be walking. Despite that he couldn’t get his legs to move, almost like he was rooted to the spot. His head felt heavy, so heavy.

“Pull it together.”

The voice barely rippled through the air, more like a whisper than a command. Roxas smiled despite himself.

“Nice of you to grace me with your presence.”

“I’m always here. I just choose not to reply.”

“God, that makes me feel better. What would I do without you?” Roxas scowled. “Could’ve warned me about,” He gestured around him in a wide motion, “ this.”

“Without me you’d be lying in a gutter. Don’t forget who gets you money out of those finicky cash machines.” If she had a form she’d probably be crossing her arms right about now. “And my reach can only extend so far. I just knew there was less of a soldier presence in this area. Less of a… general presence. I’m tied to you, as you know.”

“Oh, I know. You’d never let me forget it.”

Heavy limbs carried on, spurred by what little contact he had in days. Xion wasn’t one to speak often, less so when he was safe. Despite her words, he softened a little when he felt a brush of her presence, reaffirming him to carry on, even if he didn’t feel it was possible with the exhaustion tugging at the corners of his vision. He almost thought he saw glimpses of food, or water, but those rippled away as his vision cleared. With the severity of the attack in front of him it was a surprise anything at all was left, nevermind something as needed as food or water. What he wouldn’t give, though...

He let his mind wander, deeming it safe enough with nothing around him for miles. The hunger only increased as he drifted back to the meal he’d had a few days prior, pancakes, just like Mom used to make, drizzled in maple syrup and stacked too high to possibly finish off. A wave of sadness washed over him but he trampled that down, pushed it as far away as it would go. He… couldn’t, wouldn’t let himself think of his parents. His family. How they’d be at home, wondering where he was, what he was doing, if he was even alive. If they’d disowned him, a disobedient son, cursed with something he never, not in a million years, ever wanted. If… they even knew, or did they think he just left? Did they even miss their only child?

“Roxas.” Warm and loving hugs, nights filled with best friends laughing and hot cocoa. Boring school days, teachers droning on and on with most people barely paying attention. “...Roxas.” She was there too, smiling, calling his name, warm blue eyes filled with nothing but happiness.

Roxas!”

That voice wasn’t hers.

With a jolt he realised it was Xion’s voice, pulling him back to the present, the sun gleaming against the horizon.

“What?” He replied, annoyance edging his tone. If he had to walk endlessly, he’d rather be distracted, even if it was going to dampen his mood… The view was too repetitive, too depressing not to focus on anything else.

“Behind you. I’ve been trying to get your attention for the last five minutes you absolute dimwit.”

Panic ran through his veins like a bolt of lightning. Whatever was behind him it must’ve been bad, because Xion never showed emotion. Damn him and his bad timing.

He spun around, fear making him more alert than he had been for hours, coming face to face with a group of soldiers, faces covered, guns at their sides. In the middle was a man he could barely make out, not beholding the same armour as the others, all of them advancing closer at a quickening pace. Despite being in a town… there was nowhere to hide.

He… He couldn’t escape from this. Every encounter with soldiers he’d had was brief, being able to hide was the one priority he made sure of. The closest he’d ever gotten to actual danger was when he had to outrun two of them at once, but a quick diversion from Xion was enough for him to sprint away under the guise of faulty electrics.

More like a traffic light pinning them to the ground, but Roxas wasn’t one for specifics.

The leader, it seemed, was the only one without anything completely obscuring his face, only a black mask covering the sides, sweeping under his cheeks, leaving eyes and mouth uncovered. Dealing with Deviants and not taking any measures like that was dangerous in itself. He had a sword in one hand, looking like he came right out of a fantasy action movie, fist clenched from where Roxas could see.

Roxas didn’t make an effort to run, knowing already it would be a stupid plan. If he ran, he’d be captured. If he ran, he’d possibly be shot down. Maybe he could catch them off guard, or if worse came to worst, Xion could do something…

“You know I can’t actually attack people, Roxas.”

He could hold out hope, even if Xion quashed it.

“I gather that you won’t come along with us quietly?” The stranger asked, tilting his head upwards slightly. The man in front of him was strangely calm for who he likely had to deal with on a regular basis… did he have any clue as to what powers Roxas possessed? Was he walking in blind?

“Does asking ever work for you guys?” Roxas surprised himself with how cocky he sounded when it was a struggle in itself to stand upright. “Always figured you did things with brute force.”

The man tutted, now standing directly opposite. A safe distance away, though close enough for Roxas’ comfort. “Usually brute force is the only thing that works on your kind. ” The malice in his voice wasn’t surprising, it shouldn’t be, but it nagged on Roxas’ mind. He- He was talking to him like he was an animal. A pest.

“You might want to take your hand off your sword, by the way.” He motioned to the leader. “Unless you want this to get messy.”

Eyes narrowed. “I’ve not let an enemy slip away yet. I’m not about to start now.” Roxas had been so efficient at hiding nobody had physically seen his powers, nor been given any information apart from the bare minimum. He was careful… he had to be.

The man spoke up again. “You don’t know what I’m capable of yet. And you still threaten me? How sickeningly naive.”

His eyes were still trained onto the blonde’s, an intense stare he couldn’t seem to break away from. “A bit hypocritical when you don’t know what I am capable of.”

“Hm.” The soldier… leader, whoever he was, rested his fingers at the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes in an expression Roxas could only describe as mildly annoyed. Inconvenienced. “You really know how to act all high and mighty, don’t you? How about we see how well you can back up your words, shall we?” He opened his eyes, filled with nothing but a deep rage that even made Roxas falter. This guy… wasn’t a normal soldier, that much was clear. Who… was he?

Xion was quiet. That, paired with a tugging familiarity, only made his head ache.

He drew his sword, then, the metal skimming against the dusty floor. Roxas attempted to keep his shaking hands at bay, he wasn’t going to die here, as the soldiers began to ready their guns. What surprised him most was when the male opposite shook his head, ordering them to stand down.

“Are you crazy ?” One of the soldiers behind piped up, echoing against his helmet. Roxas had to agree… the man would be left defenceless against Roxas. He didn’t want to use his abilities, but to keep himself alive he would, even if it went against everything he promised himself.

“You want to live, correct? Then go.”

Roxas crossed his arms where he stood. The leader… what was his deal? Any normal protocol would be to capture and detain. Not… send soldiers running to have a one on one fight.

Said soldiers didn’t stick around for long, some tripping over their feet as they turned and ran off, scrambling to follow the others. It was almost comical, though the leader still remained standing his ground, the point of his blade pressed into the ground, studying Roxas, waiting for his next move.

“You seem angry.” Roxas pointed out. Anything to stall for a bit of time. “Do you really hate Deviants that much?”

“I am just carrying out my orders.” He spoke in reply, though his tone was unconvincing. Roxas could see straight through the facade. Whatever his motivations were… if he could only find that out, he could worm his way out of the situation he’d stuck himself in.

“Let’s cut to the chase. What do you really want with me? Because, let me tell you, I’m not interested in dying, or being used as a weapon.”

“Did I honestly say anything about you being used? No.” The man grimaced. “I don’t know why they have their sights set on you. My orders aren’t to kill you.” What a lie. He smiled, then, a harsh smile Roxas felt would be ingrained in his mind for a while. “Maybe… It’s to repay crimes you’ve committed. Or, just maybe, repent for deaths you’ve caused?”

What?

“Roxas…” Xion’s voice had a tinge of… pity, hidden within? He wasn’t focusing on her voice, though. She knew he wasn’t. Xion knew what happened that night, knew it was a thing he wished he could take back a million times over.

Roxas outright refused to use his abilities after that, solely relying on her and the various things she could do to stay alive. Anything more was of his own wit, not his power. He could feel the brush of her presence, a comforting I’m here, even if she had no choice.

The eyes opposite his own widened at his faltered reaction, then narrowed into slits. “So it really is you .”

“I knew it.” Xion spoke like a brush of wind against his ear.

He frowned. What? Do you know him? Do… we?

Silence met him. Of course she wouldn’t be forthcoming with the details.

“You’re… not with the army, are you?” Roxas knew from the start there was something… off, but… was this guy trying to find him for some reason? Did… Roxas himself know this guy, even with most of his face covered? Maybe if he could just get him to remove that mask…

“On the contrary, I am with the army. I just have my own, separate motivations for wanting to track you down.”

So you admit it…

“Maybe I just wanted to see if it was really you… Roxas.”

Roxas stepped back at the mention of his name on the other mans lips, shaking his head. “How do you know my name?” It wasn’t largely out of the impossible his name would be in his files, since he’d disappeared straight after the accident. They were tracking him because they knew he killed someone, so… he reigned in his surprise. Of course they knew his name.

Every step backwards that Roxas took was mirrored by the other male, though with his larger strides they were almost touching. He didn’t speak, instead hands went to grip the side of his head, pulling the mask off in one swift motion. The sight underneath made Roxas go numb, eyes going round, unable to hide the barrage of emotions that threatened to make him collapse then and there, memories rushing back like a tide of agony.

“Axel?” He managed to whisper. The red hair was hidden by black, ultimately making him look plain underneath, though Roxas should’ve known, how could he have been so stupid? He didn’t notice the lone tear slip off his face until Axel growled, eyes burning with fury. Out of every possibility… he never would have thought of this.

“How do you think I feel? She was my goddamn sister.” Nothing could have prepared him for this. “And you took her away from me.”

“You want to kill me, right?” He didn’t know why those were the first words to spill from his mouth, but those angry eyes giving him righteous hate slipped past his defenses. “Just do it.”

“Giving up because he comes along?” Xion couldn’t hide the worry in her voice. If he died, so did she. That was one thing she knew. “You’re so pathetic.” She didn’t mean that in the slightest. To Roxas it was the truth. He was. He was tired of running.

Axel raised his sword and placed it near Roxas’ neck. He himself couldn’t muster the energy to move, the sharp metal inches from his skin. Axel cocked his head to the side, almost like he wanted a fight. Or some sort of counter. “Do you honestly think your death will suffice for losing my sister?”

The hand holding the sword was still shaking ever so slightly, occasionally touching his neck every so often, cold metal barely noticeable. Words, sentences, paragraphs of emotions he wanted to spill died on his tongue, any attempts to quell the ache useless.

Roxas looked up, into those harsh eyes, wincing as he felt a sharp sting on his neck, only to recoil as a thin, purple shimmer filled his vision. Roxas, at first, chalked it up to his own imagination, right up until Axel’s sword collided with the haze and sent it flying, clattering to the floor mere inches away. The gasp from Roxas was only mirrored by the male opposite, though Axel’s expression turned dark, whatever emotion-filled haze he’d been in wiped clean by… whatever Xion must have done. That didn’t come from him, he knew that much. Axel didn’t know that though. Nobody knew about Xion.

Axel stepped forward, and even without a weapon, Roxas felt his panic escalate. He looked murderous, and somehow Roxas knew that unless he did something, one of them would not be emerging alive.

Before he could react - before he could think, before he could begin to formulate a plan, his surroundings shifted and blurred, merging into multitudes of colours and vague shapes, spinning to the point where his head ached. A sense of sickness washed over him, feeling himself shake as his vision refused to still, closing his eyes to try and will the sensations to just stop.

One. Two. Three. Roxas attempted to count to calm his breathing, eyes still squeezed shut. He’d moved, it seemed, on his knees as he leant forward, hands outstretched on the ground beneath him. It felt strange, less dusty than he would have thought, and that alone was enough to make him open his eyes.

Coming face to face with a perfectly un-burnt brick wall.

Roxas jumped back at the shock, hands skimming rock, eyes wide as his gaze studied his surroundings, noticing nothing but more walls and a few people walking by the entry, animatedly chatting, not noticing him in the slightest. He… wasn’t in the desert anymore. Although the sky above was darkening, the area was bustling.

“The barrier was just a precaution. His sword got too close.” Why had Xion waited so long to speak?

It was… a barrier, that purple shimmer. Right. Xion had never done that before.

“And… I had to tap into your abilities.”

What? “I can’t-” He paused, taking in a breath, “I can’t teleport, Xion.”

“That’s just it. You’ve only used your powers once by accident. You have no idea what you’re capable of.”

Roxas scoffed. “I’m capable of killing someone.”

“It was an accident. I cannot stress that enough.”

“Look, no matter what you say,” Roxas used the wall to climb to his feet, swaying as he went. His head still hurt with a deep ache, drumming into the back of his skull, but he tried to ignore it as he spoke. “Nothing can change the fact that I’m not going to use this, this curse I have. Never.” Not even by accident, if I can help it.

Xion didn’t reply. Not even a distressed huff, nor a harsh brush of her presence. Not even sadness. It was worse when he felt absolutely nothing from her.

The weary steps towards the entrance were painstakingly long. Were there soldiers, out there, waiting for him? Where… was he? If Xion had tapped into his powers, he couldn’t have gone too far. Roxas didn’t have that much power… right?

“You might want to wipe your nose. You appear to have a nosebleed.”

He emerged to a crowded street, no suspicious figures nor armour clad soldiers in sight. It seemed normal, maybe too normal, but he took the momentary assurance and made his way to the nearest cash machine. When he did so he wiped his nose with his sleeve, leaning over further to obscure any view of it, pretending to do the motions as a wad of money slid out. She didn't need any prompting to do so… unusual, but he wouldn’t question it.

“There’s a bed and breakfast a street down from where you are now. Hm…” She paused, her presence weakening for a slight moment, “A young girl seems to work there. If you can manage it, I’d advise making your way there.”

A least that was something. He could… eat, and sleep, and actually clean himself up. His current state wasn’t nearly presentable, as was confirmed by the weird looks he’d get from the random passerby. Torn and dirty clothes didn’t fare well, not when that was usually the sign of a Deviant on the run.

Roxas could worry about replacing his clothes tomorrow, when he didn’t feel like he was going to collapse on the pavement. The cash now stuffed in his pocket was more than enough, something that could probably last him for a week, easy. If… If only he could stay for that long. Past a couple days had him risking too much, especially with… Axel hot on his trail.

The thought made him want to crumple. Once a friend, now someone who wanted him dead. The murderous stare he beheld was something that looked alien on his face, it wasn’t right. He supposed he did deserve it, though it didn’t make it hurt any less. That wasn’t the Axel he knew, not at all. He’d joined the army just to get to him.

Roxas pulled the hood of his jacket over his head, concealing his face as much as he could, head downcast. Trying to drill the words into his head that had repeated around ever since the incident happened. It was an accident. He’d… He’d never hurt Kairi on purpose. Axel would never see it like that though.

“Roxas, here.”

He stopped in his tracks, eyes trailing upwards to a small, cottage like building with a light yellow frame out the front. Radiant Garden Bed and Breakfast. So… he must’ve turned up in Radiant Garden. He’d passed through, once, but never stayed. It was a quiet town, aside from the small area of shops he’d conveniently turned up in.

With a slight push to the door, he stepped inside, noticing how bare the place looked. Despite that, it was clean and open, especially homey. A young girl sat behind the counter, with a sketchpad resting on her legs. She looked up with a smile.

“Hello! Are you wanting to reserve a room for the night?” The woman looked upwards, eyes widening at his appearance. He… really needed new clothes. Roxas was only going to attract unwanted attention at this rate.

“Please.” Roxas looked away as she sat a bit shellshocked. Maybe he should just leave. If she called the division that hunted Deviants, led them right there… he’d be in a lot more trouble than it was worth for a bed.

“Sure!” She seemed to regain a bit of composure, setting her supplies aside and moving away from the counter to stand by his side. “Sorry, you just… caught me off guard. You look like someone I used to know.”

Oh. That was it. He smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. He wished he could say she looked familiar but she didn’t. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“Don’t be silly.” She waved her hand around, whatever somber expression held before gone. “We don’t get visitors very often. You’d be the most excitement here all week.”

“We?”

“I only work here. The older lady who owns this place pops in every so often.” She spoke softly. “She took me in a couple years ago… she’d basically family.” A sad expression passed over her face, though quickly dissipated. “Sorry. Here’s your key,” She rummaged around in a pouch at her side, producing a key, smiling as she passed it over. “You’re in room two. Feel free to stay as long as you like. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. My name’s Namine.”

“Alright, thank you. I’m Ro-” He paused, feeling a flash of alarm from his tether to Xion. Crap, his name. He'd never slipped up like that before, why now? “Roy.” Really? His dad’s name?

“Roy?” She giggled. “Haven’t heard that name since-” She stopped herself as she spoke, an emotion akin to panic flashing through her eyes. “Um, never mind.”

Roxas frowned, though passed it off as nothing. With the exhaustion still lingering on his shoulders it was becoming difficult to think straight. “I’m going to head up to my room. Thanks, Namine.”

“No problem, Roy.”

Just a couple nights. Any more and he’d risk his safety, and most likely his sanity. With what he’d learned today, there was a high chance they’d step up on their search. Axel… Axel would stop at nothing to find him, and he wouldn’t let himself die at the hands of him . Plus, Roxas didn’t want to bring trouble to their doorstep, since Namine seemed rather sweet. Having soldiers smash the place to bits because he overstayed his welcome would only escalate the guilt.

The bed had never looked so comfortable when he entered the room. Despite the hunger that ravaged his body, the thirst making itself known as a heavy burn in his throat, the dirt caked on his body - the minute he let himself rest, head touching the pillow, was he out cold, surroundings falling away into an inky darkness not even Xion could reach.

Chapter Text

Three Years Earlier

 

The ice sunk through his bones to the point that he was afraid they might snap. Whoever came up with having classes in the dead of winter must’ve had a grudge against students, even more so because the school refused to add heaters.

The teacher droned on as usual; some maths equation filling up the space on the board in front. Not that he’d been paying attention, rather preferring to distract himself from the chill by looking out the window. Ice and snow covered the expanse outside, a few younger kids played around in the untouched snow. Oh what he’d give to still be that age, not having to worry about formulas and fractions and adding the whole of the alphabet into maths.

Sadly he needed it. If he decided to switch into arts, for example, he could royally give ninety percent of his subjects the middle finger. Like an idiot he’d always dreamt of joining the army, hunting down Deviants on a daily basis. Ever since they’d begun to have seminars at the school, explaining what they did, protecting the people, Roxas knew… that was what he wanted to do. Something clicked within. He’d began to push himself to be physically fit - something he still had to work on, but he had time, okay ? - and study on a daily basis, the dream set in his mind like stone.

Nothing sounded better than getting justice for the countless people that died at the hands of Deviants. They did what they liked, flaunted their powers like they were a gift, when in reality they were an abomination. They weren’t meant to exist, not when so many of them destroyed themselves when their powers manifested. A certain Deviant, one which was included in all the horror stories, erupted like a bomb seconds after his powers set in. No time to save him, to save his family, to save anyone. It was wrong, to have that kind of power.

Not everyone agreed with him though.

He was rather forcefully yanked from his thoughts by the screech of chairs, clearly signalling the end of class. He’d zoned out for the whole hour. Again. Roxas sighed as he flung his backpack around his shoulder, making his way to the door. He’d have to study a bit more that night. He couldn’t risk falling behind, not when-

“Something on your mind, Roxas?”

The teacher’s voice was clearly directed at him as he was almost out of the door, turning in his spot. “Sorry?”

“You seemed a bit out of it today. Everything alright?”

He let out a chuckle. “I’m fine, Ms. Aerith. Just stayed up too late studying.” Wasn't technically a lie. “Don’t worry about me!”

“If you’re certain.” She didn’t seem to believe him, but let him go anyway. “I expect to see you perked up tomorrow…”

Roxas gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up before leaving the room, a shiver running through his body. The air felt even colder than it had done in the classroom, like he’d been wrapped in ice. Still, he carried on to his locker, shoving his books inside. Thankfully that was his last class, maybe he could get some time in with Kairi after school-

Said girl didn’t take long to barge into him, arms wrapping around his shoulders. “Roxie!”

“Hey Kai.” He spoke, another shiver running through his spine. “Aren’t you cold?”

“A little.” She shrugged, releasing her hold, arms wrapping around herself. “Guess I should’ve brought a jacket.”

“You got any more classes today?”

She grinned. “Nope. And I know you don’t either, so you’re stuck with me!”

“Oh damn, how unfortunate.” Roxas rolled his eyes. “Yours or mine?”

Kairi wrinkled her nose in disgust. “No offence, Roxas, but your room is filled with your studies for the anti Deviant program. You know how I feel about that.”

Roxas stuck his tongue out at her. “Yeah yeah, I know. You said you had a new game you wanted to play?”

“Mhm!” She began to walk, a grin breaking out on her face. “Dad gave it to me as an early birthday present. It came out today-“

With a loud oof she fell to the floor, effectively cutting off her sentence. “Wha-“

Roxas frowned as he noticed that ice coated the floor with a slight sheen. It- It couldn’t be that cold, to cause Kairi to slip? Even in winter.

Didn’t the school have heaters in the halls, at least?

“That’s… odd.” She spoke, slightly out of breath, as Roxas helped her to stand. “It’s unusually quiet, too…” The halls had maybe one or two other students hanging around, looking surprised and uncomfortable at the ice spreading around them. It wasn’t natural.

Wait. It… wasn’t natural.

Roxas sucked in a breath, grabbing onto Kairi’s arm. “I think it’s a Deviant.”

“Shit. Are you sure? Here?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. But it seems strange, don’t you think?”

Kairi bit her lip. “Let’s go see. Can’t hurt, right?”

Can’t hurt. Not like you can die at their hands, right?

His reactions were confirmed when a few students his age flew by from another corridor, feet skidding against the floor, screaming as they disappeared from view behind the two.

“Come on, let’s go.” Roxas stammered, moving to follow after the others. “It’s clearly not safe.”

“What if there’s people trapped, though? For all you know whoever awakened to their powers might be scared. Please, Roxas, I can’t- I can’t leave knowing there might be people in there.”

“And risk you getting hurt? No.”

“Luckily for you,” Kairi wrenched herself from Roxas’ grasp, moving strangely fluidly on the floor which now resembled something akin to an ice rink rather than a school hallway, “You’re not the boss of me.”

Before he could reach for her, to stop her from delving into the unknown, she was gone, feet skimming across the ground, resolve to help burning in her eyes. It must have been just a few seconds, a few, languishing long seconds, before he trailed after her, slamming from wall to wall a few times. How she could get around smoother than him he didn’t know, but it wasn’t long before the ice began getting thicker, the air feeling heavier, cries getting louder. He forced himself to steel his resolve, stay calm. This… This would be commonplace once he became a soldier.

To protect those he cared for. That was his reasoning, his drive behind wanting to hone basic talents to take down the unnatural. Scared, maybe. They were, without a doubt, humans before awakening to their power. It was what they did afterwards that sealed their fate, and none ever did anything but hurt others. Use their powers to kill.

Roxas reached a room, clinging onto the door frame as he slid by, noticing Kairi almost instantly, hands outstretched in front of a group of cowering students. He’d never seen her so assertive, so dominant, as she did at the current moment. She was staring toward the other side of the room, and as Roxas looked, he saw it was to one of the science teachers, one that favoured Kairi so.

Stop!” His voice was cold, hands poised downwards, sparkles of ice floating to the floor in bursts. Roxas noticed, then, a block of ice in the corner, suspiciously shaped like a person, and he felt the air leave his lungs, eyes widening. That was… Kairi was too close, far too close to being turned into a block of ice with no return. No, Deviant’s couldn’t undo what they’d done, no matter how hard they tried. No, that wasn’t possible. Those students were dead.

“Who are you? Not more kids…” The teacher seemed to recognise his presence, shaking his head. “I do not have time for this- this dilly dally. Get out of my way.”

“I’m not letting you hurt them!” That was Kairi’s voice, assuring and confident. She didn’t even shake where she stood, damn it. If she saw things a different way… She’d be a perfect candidate to hunt down soldiers. Fearless, no trace of hesitation, rushing in to save innocent civilians. Yet no, although the glint to protect in her eyes was always evident, she refused to believe that Deviants were all bad. Kairi believed everyone deserved a fair chance, and while that was true in some way, Roxas also knew all they did was kill. It wasn’t natural, and only death followed.

“Everything I do is for the pursuit of knowledge. These powers, too, they’re a clear sign I’m heading on the right path.” Vexen grinned, one eyebrow raised. “You can’t stop me. You’re just a child. I thought you would know better.”

“I don’t care. Do what you want to me, but don’t hurt them.

No!” Roxas could see the grin grow on Vexen’s face, the decision behind his eyes as he clearly chose that he would do exactly that. Roxas’ body moved faster than his mind, slipping and sliding against the ice, though somehow gaining traction, getting to Vexen before he could raise his arms fully towards Kairi. He didn’t think about the possible risks to himself, but rather stopping Vexen before he could harm Kairi even with the danger. He heard two seperate cries, one male and one very much female, as he collided into the heavy frame of the teacher, before they both fell to the ground, a rather stark thud sounding out beneath him. Roxas opened his eyes - when he had shut them he didn’t know - to see Vexen was out cold, knocked out from the corner of the chair his head had fallen on when the two had fallen towards the desks.

A relieved sigh escaped his lips, eyes darting to Kairi aside from him seconds after, noticing she was slumped over, holding her arm with a pained expression on her face. She’d been hit, not fatally, though blood did trickle down her pale, oh so pale arm. Kairi had clearly been running on adrenaline, and now the threat was subdued, at least for the moment, she looked like she was about to collapse.

Roxas caught her before she did, pressing a hand to her wound when she slipped. The blood underneath his hand felt hot and slick, steady like a heartbeat, though it wasn’t anything threatening. Kairi was spent, though, slumped against him though still conscious.

“You’re so… reckless, you know that?” Roxas couldn’t find it in his heart to be angry, not really. “Don’t do that again, please.”

“Can’t.” She supplied a weak smile, head falling onto his shoulder. “Like… you. I want to protect people.”

And this is exactly why I want to become a soldier. Roxas wouldn’t let anyone important to him be hurt. Not like this, not in any way. The kids frozen in the corner, nothing but an ice block with a corpse, that could’ve been Kairi. Could’ve been anyone he knew.

They were both driven to protect, clearly. But Roxas knew it wasn’t as simple and trusting everyone he met, giving the benefit of the doubt to people with the power to murder without a thought.

It wasn’t long before a few soldiers made their way into the school, followed by many more. They had eyes and ears everywhere, usually showing up within the hour of an attack, depending on the scale. Disrupting a school, well, wasn’t lowkey. They seemed stunned that Roxas had taken down the Deviant, though just gave him a pat on the back while Vexen was hoisted away with, strangely, nothing holding him apart from the soldiers grasp. He was knocked out, sure, but only one person amongst the group stood out to him. Donned in a black coat, all he did was watch, hands behind his back, head covered by the hood.

Roxas knew there was people who had to be the higher ups, but that guy creeped him out. He hoped, amongst what would be his future training, he’d never have to meet him.

Kairi gained a few stitches on her upper arm, wincing as they applied them, but more alert and awake than she had been previous. She seemed downcast, though, not looking Roxas in the eyes at all.

“You okay?” Roxas sat beside her at the edge of the ambulance, watching as the paramedics carted the block of ice - he couldn’t look at it too long - into a larger, more plain ambulance. If anything it looked like a van, and he was pretty sure they weren’t headed to a hospital. Apart from those, nobody else was injured, more spooked than anything else.

“I guess so. I just…” Kairi shrugged. “I wonder what’s going to happen to him now.”

“He could’ve killed you and you’re worried about him?” Roxas felt his anger rising, though he swallowed it down, at least to hear what she had to say.

“I’m worried about what they do to Deviants when they take them away. Are they killed? Tested on? Powers taken away? Can they even… do that?” Kairi sighed, looking towards the darkening sky. “Vexen was always a bit of a dick. It wasn’t changing into a Deviant that caused that. He only liked me because I actually like science and listened to his lectures.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I know I can’t change your mind, Roxas. But Vexen didn’t change personalities when he awakened to his powers. You could get someone good, someone selfless, become a Deviant and then what? They deserved to be stoned? We’re not… We’re not in ancient times, here. Yet everyone in charge… Well, we might as well be.”

Kairi was right in her way of thinking, but that was only a part of the problem. Nobody deserved to die, yet if there was a way to take someone's powers away.. then that would be the option he'd defend with his last breath. “Don’t you think it’s unnatural that every single Deviant’s powers cause death in some way? We can’t even go a month without at least hearing some sort of news of a death caused by a Deviant.” But being a pure idealist person didn’t bring people back. “I don’t want to give them a chance to hurt someone close to me.”

“I know. But are you willing to kill someone if it came down to it?”

Without hesitation, he should’ve said yes. Yes, if someone was coming at him or Kairi or his parents he would, definitely.

Roxas should have continued to fight his corner. He still believed what he did, and like Kairi said, nothing would’ve changed that.

Yet instead he lapsed into silence, not wanting to continue the conversation any further. Kairi was okay and that was all that mattered. He had to believe that. It was all okay now.

-

“Happy birthday!”

A large, very chocolatey cake was placed in front of the grinning girl, candles placed all around it glowing with a bright flame. No doubt Axel had done the honours.

Roxas himself was leant up against the doorframe opposite, arms crossed and with a similar smile on his face. She wore a simple armless dress, the now undressed wound just visible on her skin. That day had almost been forgotten about entirely - although her parents had worried up a storm, they were glad the Deviant had been taken away. Nobody had spoken a word about Vexen, since. None of the teachers, none of the students. It was like he’d been completely erased, every recollection of him wiped, replaced with a new, bubbly teacher that always reeked of cinnamon. His life meant nothing.

Axel had clapped him on the back, hard, as a silence thanks for keeping his sister safe. Not that he wouldn’t have done anyway, even with their constantly warring opinions on Deviants. She was still Roxas’ best friend, the timid girl he’d met at only five years old, the one who had ultimately spurred him on to want to become a soldier by her basic want to help others.

Axel was currently grinning by his sister’s side, teasing her about something that made her retaliate with a light smack to the shoulder, though she was laughing all the same. A man with impossibly red hair, he was a couple years older than Kairi and Roxas themselves, not really… set on doing anything study wise at current. Roxas had joked, once, about joining the army and was met with a stern gaze. He knew then that brother and sister were more alike than just their hair.

Their parents, somehow, didn’t have their distinct red in their locks, rather a deep, muted brown. Kairi gushed about how before her Grandma’s hair turned a light grey it was a brilliant red, billowing around her shoulders like waves of fire. Now she wore it in a bun, fitting the whole old lady-esque picture perfectly.

Roxas had the pleasure of meeting her a couple times, full of stories about the Ancient Keyblade War - a fairy tale, though the older woman spoke so passionately, having been told the same tale as a child. About how there was no Deviants before, because everyone had powers of their own, able to wield special weapons and elements to defeat foes. Written off as crazy by even himself, the only one who really took any interest was Kairi. Even before Roxas had met her it was the one quality Kairi would gush about for what seemed like an eternity. It was sweet, though. She’d been brought up with tales filled with Knights and Princesses, an idyllic future she’d treasure. Roxas wondered whether that was why she’d taken to protecting Deviants so.

The older female was currently sat in an armchair beside the table, smiling through the large, brown rimmed glasses sat atop her nose. Said parents stood beside, watching as the candles on Kairi’s cake blew out one by one. Who knew, if without the soldiers, there would even be a family standing where they were?

You can’t change my mind, Kai. A sentence he must’ve repeated hundreds of times.

Axel was by his side, now. Kairi had gone to her bedroom, other family members talking rather loudly in the kitchen, the two forgotten about.

“Eighteen. Won’t be long till you’re far behind, eh?” Axel teased. “It’s only a few months until you’re taking your exams, isn’t it?”

“Sure is. Let me guess, Kairi’s put you up to this? Trying to talk me out of it, since I’ll be leaving once I pass?”

“Not… exactly.” He put an arm behind his head, resting against the wall. “I just… don’t see this going well. You want to protect people, go ahead. I can’t stop you racing off to your untimely death. That’s just it though. People who go into those programs… They don’t come back, Roxas.”

Roxas rolled his eyes. “You really believe that? If it was such a death sentence people wouldn’t do it. I know the risks. I’m not stupid.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You’re talking about going up against people with deadly powers with a gun. Or a sword, if they let you. People you know nothing about. You got lucky with that tackle in the school, I’ll tell you that.” Axel put up a hand the second Roxas opened his mouth, wishing to argue back, speak his side, but he wouldn’t let him. “Let me speak. I love Kairi with all my heart, but she is naive. She sees the good in everyone, whereas you see Deviants for what they can be - deadly. Not all of them are, of course, but I’m not getting into that steaming pile of shit now. What I’m trying to say is, are you sure? What if you go up against someone impossible to beat, and there’s nothing left of you to bury? We’re the ones who will have to deal with the grief that will ravage Kairi. It’s not a career to carry you to old age, you know.”

“Don’t you think I get it? I get that there’s every chance I could die at any day. I decided I wanted to do this a long time ago. Why can’t you at least try to respect that?” Roxas sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I get- I get that you’re just looking out for Kairi, but it’s my life, my decision.”

“Okay.” Axel nodded, just once. “I can respect that. Had to make sure it’s what you wanted, y’know?”

“Do you know what you’re going to do?” Roxas turned the attention around, glad the older male was no longer grilling him on his life choices. He understood why, of course. Roxas had gotten the same from Kairi on an almost weekly basis, and his own parents, though they seemed to have let the issue drop more recently. They definitely weren’t happy when he revealed what he wanted to do, how he wanted to leave as early as he could.

“No clue, shortstack. Not everyone has their life planned out like you.” Axel drawled, Roxas himself deciding to ignore the little pet name. “Figured I’d wait it out a bit. If I’m still not sure…” He shrugged, looking downwards. “Probably move away somewhere. Most likely when Kairi leaves to do whatever she wants to do.”

To do whatever she wants to do. Roxas was so wholly focused on his future… he wasn’t even sure about Kairi’s. Was she the same as Axel? Taking things as they came?

“You don’t really strike me as the type to settle down somewhere.” Roxas grinned. “More one to wreak havoc.”

“So you think I’m prime material to become a Deviant, eh? Maybe that could be my future. Leading you across the worlds, because come on, as if you could ever catch me.”

Roxas scowled. “That’s not funny.”

“We’d be like star crossed lovers, the Deviant and the Soldier, you following me because you really don’t wanna let me go, and I? I just like the thrill of the chase.” Axel smirked, ruffling Roxas’ brunette hair. “You need to lighten up. It’s a joke. Most Deviants awaken to their powers in their teens, and, newsflash, I’m no teenager.” Vexen didn’t. He was in his forties. What if, one day, someone he did know became a Deviant, and he was the one to come across them? Deal with the rampage they left behind, deal with the death in their wake?

“I’m just a regular, plain dude. No powers here. Most unusual thing about me is my hair. ” Axel was clearly trying to reassure him but he just felt irked, and he wasn’t even sure why. Why it bothered him so much with the thought of Axel possibly awakening powers, hunting him down - because it was a possibility, anyone could have them inside, dormant, waiting for the moment to explode in a mess of destruction.

Even Kairi, with her innocent, happy nature could have something lurking. The thought of having to hunt her down made him feel sick. But then - all he had to do was think, think why he wanted to join the resistance, why he wanted to train to take down Deviants. To protect people like Kairi. Ones that couldn’t fight back, having seen the destruction first hand against one of his family members so long ago.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting all embarrassed at the thought of us being lovers, are you?” Axel had that cocky tone in his voice, again, an eyebrow raised. “Are you jealous of Saix, hm?”

“Oh, as if. You’re both idiots, practically perfect for each other.” Roxas couldn’t help but crack a small smile at that. Axel knew that Roxas wasn’t so… favourable towards his boyfriend, mainly because on their first meeting at the school he currently studied at Saix couldn’t wait to berate him. ‘Why did I get stuck with this twerp’ was his lovely first words upon being told he was his mandatory understudy for the first month. Something about minor arson, and punishment - either way, they didn’t speak again until Axel introduced his boyfriend to the family. Idiots.

Luckily, being two years above him, Saix never crossed his path again.

“I’m hurt, Roxas. I thought we were basically family, and here you are, calling me an idiot.”

“You are one. Kairi got all the non-idiot genes, I’m afraid.”

“Does that mean I got all the good looking genes?” Axel waggled his eyebrows, pretending to swoon.

“Hardly.” The change in atmosphere was refreshing, much more than where they were headed before. It was what he wanted to do, yet the aspect of possibly hunting down someone he knew, someone he cared for, wasn’t one he’d thought in too much detail before. Diverting the subject to light banter was something Axel could do well, at least. “Looks like Kairi got those too.”

“Roxas,” Axel pretended to look shocked, “Please don’t tell me you have the hots for my sister.”

Roxas mustered up the most deadpan look he could. “I’m gay, Axel. Full homo. No girls allowed. Do I need to continue?”

Axel snorted, shaking his head. “I get the gist. Thank you for that thorough explanation. I almost didn’t know what you meant, there.”

“Glad to be of service.” Roxas spoke, heading for the doorway. “If you need any more ways to profess your gayness, don’t hesitate to ask me.”

“Ah yes, Mr. Smooth. Do you give dating advice as well?”

“Are you lacking in that area too?”

“Oh, I’m quite confident with that.” Axel spoke with a wink. “Just ask Saix.”

“Ew. Gross.” No thank you. Suddenly retreating to Kairi’s room seemed a lot more pleasing than hearing about their relationship. “This conversation is definitely going into an area I don’t want to know about. I’m out.”

“He’s not that bad.”

“You have your opinions, and I have mine.” Roxas shrugged. “Mine are that he’s an asshole.”

Axel followed Roxas to the stairs, arms crossed. “Sure you’re not jealous?” He was teasing, of course. No way that was legitimate.

“I couldn’t care less that you’re in a relationship. Of course, you could’ve picked someone less… dickish.”

“Ah, dickish. So eloquent.”

“You know it.”

Roxas disappeared up the stairs, joining Kairi in whatever game she must’ve been playing, and thought, if momentarily, was Axel flirting with him?

Chapter Text

Pitch black eyes, born from nightmares. Roxas watches, standing by the sandbox, as a guttural growl sounds out from across him, from the figure, from the thing that was once a man.

He watches as it grows claws, inky blackness extending from its fingertips, and draws them into his Aunt’s chest. A horrifying squelch penetrates the air.

Roxas barely moves as the figure descends towards him, black footprints are left behind with every step, closer and closer until a sound rings out, and it growls, again, whipping to the side only to be forced to the floor—

Roxas freezes, watching the figure enshrouded by something even darker, even more amorphous. The black gunk around it turns into a crowd of people in suits, all looking at the mass of darkness on the ground. The black falls away, tendrils seeping into the ground, revealing nothing but a skinny, shaking frame, staring at a menacing man above who only smiles.

Roxas awoke with a shuddering, gasping exhale echoing around the empty space. He was drenched with sweat, a feverish sheen to his skin.

That was a nightmare he hadn’t had for a long while.

The thoughts lurked on the edges of his vision, memories brought back to the forefront of his consciousness. He had been eight when he had witnessed a Deviant; shrouded in a cloud of menacing, terror-inducing darkness, come after his Aunt. He hadn’t noticed anything was wrong until a scream had sounded out in the air. The image of the blood soaked ground, the look of pain and agony and death as it ripped through her… forever replayed in his worst nightmares. Yet the Deviant, with all its appearances, never had a face. It stole away into the back of his mind, hiding, waiting, lurking to resurface through another bad dream. The blame rested on his shoulders for a while afterwards, blaming himself for not being able to identify the culprit. He had been too young, after all. All distinct features were washed out and the only thing that ever remained was darkness.

Roxas… wasn’t totally sure what happened for a while following her demise. He took some time off school, he knew that much, but it all became somewhat of a blur in his mind. The incident was rather vivid in comparison, but nothing following. His family never spoke a word of it, which he understood due to the circumstances. It was almost… odd, though. His uncle never visited much, probably due to the memories, but it wasn’t just what happened that was forgotten about. It was like she never existed.

It gave him a deeper sense of anger towards Deviants. The fact death was so commonplace at their hands, just a normal thing to the point everyone just… discarded all thoughts of it. She died at the hands of a Deviant, so whatever. It happens.

That was something that always made Kairi hesitate whenever they got into arguments about their beliefs, he could tell. It was an annoyance, if anything. He saw the hesitation in her eyes, the bite of her tongue, the way she’d steel herself when her words went too far, too close. Roxas knew they had different views, and of course he’d wish for them to see eye to eye, yet he didn’t want her to censor herself on behalf of him.  

Same with his parents. They’d tactfully avoid the subject as a whole, now.

Ten more months. All that would be left before he’d leave, eight until his exams. It wasn’t hesitation he felt, more of a mix of determination and excitement. He’d miss Kairi the most, though. She was the one person he wished could go with him, though he’d never put her in danger that way. He even thought, when he was alone at night, after the next eight months were up… would he ever see her again? He wondered if his demise might come from a rogue Deviant; a thought now planted like a seed in his mind thanks to Axel. It was a possibility he always knew of course, but it bugged him all the same.

It was a week or two later, he wasn’t really counting, when spring began to settle. The cold finally released from the air, taking away the memories of that day which the chill had been a constant reminder of. He noticed, every so often, that Kairi would have a sense of alarm about her on the colder days, like she was more on edge, alert. She tried to hide it, painfully so, but Roxas knew the signs. Her hand often shot up to her arm, whether in pain or in memory he didn’t know. Roxas wouldn’t ask but he knew that she suffered, even if it was a little. Throwing herself in front of someone, something that could potentially have killed her didn’t leave her mentally unscathed.

They didn’t speak about it. Roxas didn’t want to bring it up, to make her upset, and Kairi clearly didn’t want to reveal how she felt. They fell into silence around the subject, though Roxas wished he had the guts to actually say something on her quieter days.

“Are you gonna miss all this?” Kairi asked out of the blue one day as they walked to school. Books were clutched against her chest as she seemed to shrink into herself at the question. Dates of his exams looming closer. “Are you gonna miss… us?”

By us he had to assume her and Axel, possibly extending to her family, who accepted him like their own. He had two families, a fact that stung even more with the thought he’d not see this same scenery for a long time once he went away. Possibly ever again.

Despite how the lectures would drone on at school, the thought of leaving it all behind in less than six months was bittersweet. Leaving behind his days of innocence more likely. Long gone would be the days of routine, getting up for school, able to slack off a little. Weekends spent with Kairi, and by extension Axel.

He’d miss them dearly. Roxas couldn’t stay in their quaint little town, oh no. He’d be dispatched somewhere, anywhere where Deviants were suspected. Constantly rotating around the world, and when not hunting down a Deviant, training at one of the command centres…

“I might .”

Roxas couldn’t just leave to see them one day. It was a full-time job, one he knew what he signed up for. He knew, and despite that, felt a sense of unease as the days drew closer. All due to having to leave this all behind. That’s what Roxas would keep telling himself, trying to force it into his head that this would all end one day, very soon.

But what if it didn’t have to come to this? What would he have if he decided not to join the army anymore?

Kairi for one; always a bubbly character, yet possessing a sensitive side she barely revealed to Roxas unless she had a bad day. She wouldn’t speak about how wearing her heart on her sleeve would wear her down to exhaustion. Despite her womaniser ways, a couple of one-night stands and most likely countless numbers in her phone to attest to that, she really did care for anyone she let herself get close to. Kairi was someone he trusted with his life, and that was saying something.

And then there was also Axel. Kairi’s brother wasn’t someone he knew all that well but for some reason he stuck in Roxas’ mind like a sore thumb. Axel gave good advice when he chose to, like when Roxas had been tormenting himself over a very straight dude. He had fond memories of them sitting in the school library - back when Axel used to attend - with Roxas’ face down on a table, groaning in misery.

“There’s nothing wrong with being upfront. Worst he can do is turn you down.” Axel had worn an unusually warm smile which had only grown softer as he had continued, “His loss if he does.”

Axel’s kind remarks were usually littered with lewd comments or ended on a sarcastic note. Maybe that’s why this memory stuck in Roxas’ head so much; there hadn’t been a sign of any of that stuff back then. Whatever the reason, Roxas had and did always appreciate Axel’s comments. They always seemed to come from a place of care.

The one thing about Axel that bugged Roxas was his tendency to keep Saix around. Something about the guy irritated him to no end and he just couldn’t figure out why. ‘ Just because he’s an ass,’ Roxas thought, ‘ Axel deserves better.’

That thought startled Roxas out of his ruminations. Axel was just Kairi’s brother to him, nothing more. Roxas told himself that he wouldn’t miss him any more than he would a distant family member, or one of the people he’d talk to every now and again in class.

He ignored the niggling doubt, not sure why it was even there to begin with.

-

As his exams drew closer so did the sessions of physical training. They had to test his basic responses, reactions to the unknown, start preparing his body for the rigorous strain awaiting him if he passed the written side of things. Fitness tests awaited the end of every week to see his progress, which was steadily rising alongside his determination. Amongst all his doubts, the vague thought of, ‘ Should I really be doing this?’ sent sparks of strange excitement through him as he noticed his physical strength growing as the weeks passed by. His once skinny frame now held a slight amount of definition and with a struggle, he could hold his own weight in a fight, which was mostly achieved by going to the gym, of course, and the odd sparring lessons by the army-supplied tutor.

But doubts returned as he caught sight of the other soon-to-be recruits at the fitness tests; large, beefy guys, tall as they were intimidating. One of those, he could imagine, taking down a Deviant without so much as a look. Those were the ‘poster’ boys, ones born for that sort of job. Roxas? Not so much. But he didn’t let that bother him. Or tried not to.

His spare time began to dwindle by the day. Kairi was relegated to a thought he pushed further back into his mind, and time spent with her was almost naught. This, of course, led her to pull him aside on a Saturday for a divine intervention because, according to her, he shouldn’t be burning himself out as much as he was. Despite his assertions that seriously, he was fine, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Roxas had to admit he did miss her, too.

Kairi’s answer to their lack of interaction and Roxas’ supposed ‘ have no fun time’ was to experience the nightlife of Destiny Islands, which was code for, ‘ I want you to hook up with someone because you haven’t gotten any for a while.’

Roxas would always brush her off but she was annoyingly right. Apart from a certain incident in the showers after a football match at school and an innocent kiss with a girl - back when he was experimenting with his sexuality, and still had a jumbled mess of ‘ who am I even attracted tos’ circling in his brain - he hadn’t really gotten any… ever. Kairi knew that, plainly, yet never outright came out with it.

Roxas knew what she was really saying. ‘You’re too wound up and need some good ass dicking.’

He found himself agreeing with the sentiment as the fateful day loomed closer, brain turning fuzzy from lack of sleep and words from textbooks swimming across the pages, not quite burning into his mind like he’d wanted them to.

-

“Woah, you look hot.” Kairi greeted him with a grin when she opened her front door to him standing there with tight black jeans and a matching sleeveless grey top accentuating his frame. While he wouldn’t go as far as to say hot, he knew he didn’t look bad, but he definitely wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of agreeing with her.

“Thanks, you don’t look too bad yourself. Planning on picking up any girls tonight?” He asked, eyeing the black long-sleeved dress that curved with her hips, an unusually tight item compared to the baggy clothes she’d often adore herself in. Her hair was wavy, sitting on her shoulders softly.

“Oh gods, don’t even start. Ever since I came out to Mom it’s been a mass of ‘so when are you going to get a lovely girlfriend, Kairi? How long until the grandchildren, Kairi? Prime age to meet someone young and sweet’ my ass.” Kairi huffed. “Tonight’s about you, idiot. Stop deflecting.” She frowned a little with what must have been concern as she took a closer look at him.

Though she kept quiet he knew what she saw when she studied him because he’d seen it too; the grimace-inducing heavy bags underneath his eyes, which refused to lessen no matter what he had tried. Roxas had toyed with the possibility of wearing concealer, but he would’ve had to ask Kairi for that, which would have led to admitting she was right that he was burning himself out. He was not ready for that. So he had settled on a bit of eyeliner above the eyes, smudged in slightly and had styled his spikes to help obscure and hide the exhaustion on his face.

As Kairi stepped out of her home, shouting goodbyes to her family inside and shutting the front door, Roxas raised his hands in mock innocence and said, “Deflecting? Me? Never!”

“Yeah right. Either way,” She clicked her tongue, “You’re getting laid tonight, one way or another.”

“That sounds… so ominous, Kai, I’m not gonna sleep with just anyone who’s willing .”

“I’m not suggesting that in the least. All I’m saying is, maybe you meet a cute guy, hit it off well, things get heated up…”

“I get the picture.” Roxas shook his head. “Maybe I meet someone, maybe I don’t. It would be nice to spend time with you too. I know… I’ve been quite busy these past few weeks.”

“It’s okay, Roxas. I’ve tried time and time again to change your mind. All I can do is… support you however I can, I guess.” Kairi’s tone turned somber, though she plastered a smile on her face. Roxas could see the cracks. “I can see you’ve been busy, though! Look at those arms, Rox! You finally filled out a little!”

Kairi’s typical happy-go-lucky attitude usually popped up when she was trying to deflect. He wanted to argue back that she shouldn’t cave like that, ignore her own feelings, but the wrongness of forcing her to deal with them when she clearly wasn’t comfortable held him back. They’d go out for the night, possibly make out with a girl or guy, respectively, enjoy some quality best friend time and not think about his exam in three months.

Roxas only huffed in response. “I’m still underperforming at the physical exams. You should see the looks the other applicants give me. It’s like I don’t belong.”

“Do you? Belong, that is. I don’t doubt your resolve, but… It’s a lot, for anyone.”

Roxas shrugged. “It’s what I wanna do, you know that.”

Kairi hummed, both of them falling silent as they walked their way past darkened houses, and down the dimly lit street. Despite the few attacks they’d had there it still felt safe. Nobody batted an eye at walking through the streets, night or day, even alone. Roxas wondered if that type of behaviour was frowned upon in other places, because news of any actual death always came from surrounding towns, or rather the bigger cities. Destiny Islands wasn’t one for a mass of activity, more a place older people came to settle down in. This place was seen as less of a risk, less hassle.

Unlike other towns, attacks here were rare, but they were also dealt with more swiftly. His mind thought back to Vexen, a name not spoken since the incident. No whispering in the halls, no passing murmurs on the street. Nobody heard of the attacks because apart from the people witnessing them… they never happened. He was sure the parents of the poor girl that froze to death wouldn’t forget, though. She was treated as if she’d just moved away, or never existed in the first place.

Roxas would want to change that, if he had the chance. He didn’t want to treat the Deviants like they disappeared, to forget about the horrible things they’d done apart from the few that were impossible to escape the public eye. Neither would he want to forget the poor victims, the ones never mentioned by name, the ones that became a statistic over an actual valued life.

The thought had him oddly optimistic and put a spring in his step. Who was to say he couldn’t bring about change? If the years brought him any luck, and his training progressed further, and maybe, just maybe , if he proved that he was right for the job, maybe they’d accept his input. An impossible dream. That was what Axel had told him, anyway. According to him it was a fool’s errand. They didn’t care about the soldiers they sent out to be killed, didn’t care about the lives they put at risk.

Roxas would try. That was the whole reason he wanted to join in the first place. To make a change and protect people. He’d prove Axel wrong, someday.

He and Kairi walked along in relative silence and it wasn’t long before short, spiralling roads began to turn into ones bursting with activity People leaned up against the walls, groups gathered, filling the air with chatter and cigarette smoke. The nightlife was a stark comparison to the quiet of the town barely a twenty-minute walk behind them, where even a glimpse of tobacco or, god forbid, drugs were hounded down upon sight by parents and elderly neighbours alike. They joined the queue at their chosen spot - the only one where the bouncers truly believed they were over eighteen - and waited.

“I think Axel’s out tonight, too. He said he was going to bring Saix.” Kairi spoke. “At least my brother won’t hound me if he’s sucking his boyfriend’s face off.”

Roxas groaned inwardly. Not at Axel, of course, but Saix. “Not a welcome image, Kai.”

She laughed in response. “I wish he’d find someone decent as much as you do. Saix isn’t the most secret drug dealer around the Islands. What can you do, though? Axel seems to like him enough.”

“Since when was Saix a drug dealer?”

“Since… forever? Jeez, Roxas, do you live under a Rox?”

“Oh ha-ha. So funny. Not like I’ve never heard that one before.” Nothing like one of Kairi’s bad puns to take his mind off the sullenness which sank into him at the mention of Saix’s name. It wasn’t the fact that Saix would most likely be grinding on Axel all night. That definitely wasn’t it. It was just that Roxas really didn’t like him. Nothing else.

The bouncer, as usual, let them in with a smile. Whether he had the hots for Kairi or himself, Roxas would never know, but he didn’t question it. Not when Kairi was the only one to have a legal ID.

Music blared at all angles upon entry and he felt a hand wrap around his arm, guiding him through the swarm of people already dancing despite the night being young. The smell of alcohol perfumed the air, and was especially pungent on a couple of the usual drunks who were lost in the music. Roxas paid them no attention as Kairi led him to, of course, where the drinks were being served. She was never one to waste time when booze and girls were an opportunity.

“You need to give yourself credit,” Kairi spoke flippantly and loudly to be heard above the din as she leaned against the bar, “people are checking you out . Pity you don’t swing both ways, cuz you’ve got some attention from some cute girls, too.”

“Jealous?”

“Pass all the girls to me instead and I’ll be just fine.” Kairi winked, grinning when the woman working behind the bar turned her attention on them. The music blared, causing her to lean in over the bar - maybe more than was needed, though he admired her confidence and cleavage - as she ordered a couple of drinks he didn’t quite catch the name of. Not that it mattered to him much, he’d drink anything Kairi handed to him; hard liquor and shimmering drinks alike. Roxas did have to admit, her ‘girly’ drinks tasted much better than the beer he’d tried one time and instantly cringed at. Why people would choose to drink it out of their own free will he did not know.

With a wink to the girl she paid, walking off holding some orange-coloured drinks with Roxas at her side. “I remembered last time you weren’t too keen on the sugar overload, so I got you something fruity instead. Nothing shouts, ‘I’m Gay,’ like having one of these. Cuz, you know, most of the straight dudes here wouldn’t be seen dead with anything that tastes nice .”

“Ah, how could I forget the classic gay code?” Roxas feigned a sigh, one likely unheard as the music pounded in their ears. “I failed at my one true purpose. Damn.”

“Shut up and drink. Your purpose right now is to get as drunk as you possibly can and snog some guy’s face off.”

“You really have a way with words, Kai.” Roxas took a sip - a heavy one - and hummed. “As always, you have good taste.”

“You fucking bet I do. Watch, couple of years down the line I’ll be owning my own bar, Coyote Ugly -style. Though, instead of guys perving on all the girls dancing, it’ll be more girls. Perhaps I’ll ban anyone that’s not LGBT. Gotta have you there, of course.”

Roxas laughed at the mental image of Kairi flirting with practically every girl that walked through the door. “Got the next few years planned out, have you?” he said as they sat down at a lone table and Kairi’s eyes wandered back to Roxas from where she had been surveying the crowd.

“Uh, yeah? Get some pretty blonde to sing Can’t Fight the Moonlight to me and I’ll be on my knees in a second. Up to personal interpretation of what that means.” She grinned, finishing off the last of her own drink with ease. “You can be the bouncer. Need to have my best mate acting out his part in my rom-com.”

“Kairi, you’re gonna have me as a background character? I’m ashamed. Truly. If anything we’d be co-owners,” Roxas rolled his eyes as a waitress walked past with a tray of shots, Kairi bought four without a hint of hesitation, “and I’d so be able to out-dance you. Guys would flock to see my moves.”

The shots were gone as quick as they were set down in front of them. “Need to head to the ladies room. Wanna prove that to me after?”

“Bring it, Casanova.”

With a slight touch, she headed off to a door not far from where they sat, leaving Roxas to his own devices. He pulled out his phone, fully content to spend the time on a mindless game when someone slid into the chair opposite to him. Roxas raised his head, about to retort that the seat was taken, thank you, when a halo of red hair greeted him with a smile.

“Hey, handsome. You clean up well, don’t you?”

Roxas felt his cheeks burn. “Can’t say the same for you.” He was lying, of course. Axel was dressed in almost all black, he noticed with a glance underneath the glass table. Roxas didn’t know why he felt so compelled towards the man, at that moment, but shoved it down. Deep, deep down. He couldn’t ignore the way Axel’s eyes lingered, though. “Kairi said you were with Saix?”

That name almost seemed to make Axel’s smile drop an inch. “He’s meeting me here. Don’t worry, I won’t force you two to get along when clearly you won’t.”

Roxas bit his lip. “Not my fault he’s difficult to get along with. Don’t know what you see in him.”

“You saying you know somebody who’s better for me, then?” A lift of the chin, clearly a challenge. Roxas stayed silent. “Thought so.”

“I’m saying you deserve better than someone with the emotional capacity of a gnat. You’re nice, Ax, way better than someone like him that’s only going to bring you down.”

Axel nodded once, sharply. “Good chat.”

“Wait—”

“If I wanted a lecture about my life choices I would’ve gone to my parents, Roxas.”

Idiot. Roxas was an idiot, he only wanted to—he didn’t even know what he wanted to do. Prove to him he deserved better than Saix, maybe, but with the retreating form of Axel showing him clearly how well that went, he just felt it backfire massively.

It was then that Kairi joined his side, noticing his somber expression. “What happened while I was gone?”

“I think I pissed off your brother.”

Kairi’s posture relaxed, reassured it wasn’t anything drastic. “He’s always annoyed about something. Come on, let’s go dance. I wanna grab a cute girl’s number tonight, and you’re no closer to scoring.”

Roxas agreed with a hum and a nod of his head, though he couldn’t shake the annoyance which clung to him like a vice.

With another visit to the bar a few stronger drinks were drunk before they made their way to the main floor of the club where they danced effortlessly along to the music as they weaved their way through the throng of people, hand-in-hand, to eventually settle near a group of girls in the middle of the dancefloor. One of them apparently caught Kairi’s attention if the heart-eyes meant anything. Roxas only rolled his eyes at her, though she playfully swatted him on the arm, using loose, faint touches as they danced to the music. The rhythm of the music and power of the alcohol running through his veins helped him to relax, making him forget about everything that bothered him. They moved through the crowd as they danced, Roxas starting to feel the heat a bit too much. They seperated a little, though he reached through the gap to grab her attention at one point when he felt rather parched.

“Gonna grab another drink. Want one?”

She shook her head in reply, momentarily shifting her attention from a brunette at her side to him. “I’m good.”

Roxas gave her a nod and a wink, and then pushed through the crowd. They had danced to the edge of the dancefloor so it didn’t take long for Roxas to reach the bar, where he ordered a couple more shots for himself along with a glass of water. He was having a really good time, grinning like a fool and tapping his feet to the music as he downed his drinks one after the other, barely even tasting the flavour of what was going down his throat. He was feeling fine, he told himself, thinking that it was perfectly reasonable idea to order more because of that.

After he had polished everything off, and with a delightful buzzing in his head, he went back into the crowd, looking for Kairi. It was then that he felt the alcohol’s full effect as the room spun a little, though he kept himself focused. Kairi. Kairi. He swore he had left her around the entry to the toilets, but saw a halo of red dancing through the crowd at the other side of the dancefloor. He made for her, closing the distance and grabbing her around the waist but it didn't feel quite right; too lean and firm. Her arms too muscular and long as they folded around him for an instance.

"Hey now, you lost?" Came a deep seductive voice in his ear attached to a small chuckle.

Roxas froze and then stepped back in embarrassment, looking up, and up, and up at… "Axel," he gasped. Roxas' reaction seemed to melt the warmth out of Axel, whose smile faltered and he drew himself up to his full height. "What? You really did get lost? Confused me for someone else? Or you just wanted to insult my clothes?”

Breathlessly, Roxas stammered, "N-no. Nothing—" He looked Axel up and down; long legs that went for days, accentuated further by the chunky heeled boots he wore. The hot flush seeped deeper into Roxas' body and the alcohol prickled and heated his skin as he stared.

"What then?" Axel prompted with a raised eyebrow.

Roxas' mind reeled. Axel had smelled really fine and those arms—he cleared his throat. "Ah, nothing. You just looked hot—I mean like you needed a fuck—hug. Fuck, you're tall. It's really sexy. I mean I like sexy men—tall. Tall men." Fuck, Roxas couldn't make his words work. He simply giggled; nervous and shrill while he waved his hand about. He decided to wander off, tripping a little as he went into the crowd before he could register what his brain had just done and said and before he could hear what came out of Axel’s mouth, who looked rather stunned; blinking rapidly and jaw hanging loose.

Roxas weaved through the crowd, bumping into many people and leaving the flustered feelings behind on his search for Kairi. He found her in a different area of the club and bee-lined straight for her. It was somewhat quieter, under a canopy of lights. She gave him a grin when she spotted him, motioning him to lean downwards to her height.

“Come on, Roxas, I’ve already got three numbers tonight. I haven’t seen you talk to anyone apart from my dipshit brother.”

Roxas whined. “It’s not my fault you’re more of a social butterfly.”

Try, she mouthed. Try before you leave and it’s too late, were the unspoken words.

With a huff he let the music carry him again, his limbs looser this time around with the extra booze boosting his confidence. He didn’t care about how much he was moving, nor the increase in heart rate he’d get the few times he noticed Axel dancing across the crowd. Regular Roxas didn’t let himself notice that.

He wasn’t sure how it happened but he found himself separated from Kairi , even just slightly, her hands trailing down a girl’s sides, lips to her neck, and Roxas himself giving his attention to a blond haired guy, one with a vague hint of recollection tugging at his mind. Regardless, he let the music carry him as they danced, restraint forgotten without much of a fuss at all.

“Roxas, right?” The man’s voice was surprisingly alert, like it wasn’t the middle of the night - or early in the morning, he’d lost track of time a long while ago - and the whole club wasn’t drunk off their asses. His eyes, possibly brown, or black, Roxas couldn’t tell in the light, studied him intently, glancing at his torso every so often, like he couldn’t keep his eyes off him. Roxas was too drunk to really complain; the flashing lights and the mix of body heat from the other man and booze clouding his senses. He could feel Kairi brushing up against him every so often, though he took no notice.

How do I know you?” The question was blunt, but he thought he might as well speak what he was thinking. He earned a laugh in response, at least.

“I sit behind you in algebra. The name’s Hayner.”

Oh. Right. He was friends with… Olivia? Ollie? Roxas couldn’t remember, though she seemed pleasant, warm green eyes the one characteristic which stood out to him. He vaguely remembered Hayner asking him if he could borrow his notes a couple of times, having fallen asleep throughout the lecture. The realisation must’ve shown on his face since Hayner smiled, closing the gap between the two of them if only slightly.

“Haven’t seen you in class for a while. Ditching?”

Roxas shook his head. “I wish. Studying for entrance exams into the army. I leave in less than half a year for the base up in Radiant Garden. Provided I get in, of course.”  

Hayner’s eyes widened. “ Army exams? Hats off to you, dude. Don’t think I’d have the courage to do that.” With a pause, he continued. “Though muscle suits you... Not saying you weren’t hot before, though.”

Oh. This was the guy Kairi had spoken about. ‘ I think that dude in your class has a crush on you. Won’t stop staring. Maybe you should ask him out sometime, get some action for once.’

“You’re not so bad yourself, you know. Pity I never noticed you before.” Roxas wanted to smack himself as soon as those words came out of his mouth. How much more self-entitled could he sound?

Oh? What if you had?” Hayner didn’t seem to take offence at that. Rather, the space between them seemed to shrink further, the heat rolling off of the other man adding to the high of the drink loosening his limbs.

The added courage of that was what spurred him on to close the gap, meeting Hayner’s lips, hands gripping his forearms to bring him closer, a slow, tantalizing kiss which only made the pounding of the music go faster, the heat in his veins spurring him on to get lost in the embrace. Hayner himself was just as eager, hands wandering, faint touches on his bare arms. Roxas was glad he decided on a sleeveless top because even just his touch felt like fire on his skin.

The music changed to another upbeat track but it didn’t make either of them stop. They were bumped by other revellers, and quite often pushed closer together, which Roxas didn’t mind one bit. They danced, following each others rhythm rather than the one set by the music. It set them off grinding against each other and staring into each others smiling eyes. And then the kissing started. Soft, exploratory grazes of their lips, chaste pecks. It was when Hayner opened his mouth a little, leaning to the side, and slipped his tongue through the gap that a heat began to build in Roxas’ stomach. Their kisses turned sloppier, hastier, and a furnace of desire coursed through Roxas’ veins as Hayner’s knee wedged between his legs; the intensity almost making Roxas moan into the other man’s mouth. Roxas’ thoughts all went to wanting more and the desire to speed things up grew by the second. His hands settled on Hayner’s hips, with Hayner’s own resting on his biceps, pulling Roxas closer to his groin, his half-hard erection begging to be tended to.

It was like Hayner read his mind, because the kissing halted and Hayner grasped his hand and  pulled him through the crowd. Roxas’ head swam. His dick took over his higher brain functions and didn’t object to being led into the dimly-lit, and abandoned-looking bathroom.

The warmth on his lips returned as they moved backwards into a stall, the door swinging against the wall with a harsh crack . Hands worked more feverishly over skin and clothes but also went to lock the door, hiding them away from any prying eyes that may be watching. The toilet stall and what they were about to do was dirty, cold, and probably so, so wrong, and for a moment a flash of panic ran through Roxas’ veins. This must be illegal, but that thought vanished as Hayner made quick work of his trousers, lips and tongue leaving his mouth only to press against his dick. The thought was soon replaced with, ‘ I couldn’t give a shit,’ and his hands instinctively braced against the graffitied walls of the stall. He suppressed a moan at the pure heat which shuddered through his body. All awareness focused only on the ministrations of pleasure happening below him as Hayner licked and sucked, taking Roxas further into his mouth and down his throat.

At one point Hayner hummed sending shooting vibrations of bliss through Roxas’ shaft and up his spine. He felt like he was going to combust at the sensations battering him, yet all he could do was whimper as he shifted. He needed the extra support from the wall so shuffled and leaned back. Hayner followed on his knees, not losing contact with Roxas at all. Roxas’ legs felt like jelly. Nothing he’d done, not even that horny handjob he’d been given in the school showers, was quite like this. The heat, mixed with the expert movements of Hayner’s tongue, merged into something that could easily leave him wanting it again. And again. Roxas looked down, licking his lips at the rather cute sight below him.

Roxas almost grinned at how eager Hayner seemed. If he’d have known all it would’ve taken to get a blowjob was a few drinks and a guy he had no clue was into him, he would’ve said something earlier. Hayner wasn’t bad to look at. One might even say the guy was quite attractive, his horny brain supplying that he looked even better on his knees.

The heat inside himself suddenly spiked and he groaned deeply before a shaky whisper passed his lips, “ I’m close.”

Hayner, miraculously, began to speed up, licking and sucking until the pressure was too much to bear. Roxas climaxed with a moan loud enough for anyone in the bathroom to be flustered by, at the least. Hayner’s hands were right there to support Roxas even as his cock and veins throbbed with the pleasurable waves of his orgasm. He breathed rapidly, heat and delight left his spent cock and Roxas pried his eyes open to see Hayner licking his lips and looking rather satisfied. The man had apparently swallowed his cum whole; a surprising turn on for Roxas.

Hayner got up. Roxas sorted his trousers out, trying to make himself look a bit presentable, and he leaned in, leaving a chaste kiss on Hayner’s lips. He reached down to undo Hayner’s fly - he felt eager to repay him. Hayner seem like a decent dude at the least - yet he was stopped, hands gripping his wrists tightly.

“Save that for next time?” Hayner sounded breathless, voice slightly hoarse. His eyes, which Roxas could tell were definitely a soft hazel color, even in the light of the dingy bathroom, seemed almost pleading. Hoping. Had he thought Roxas was going to ditch him the minute he sucked him off, never to talk again? He… didn’t like that thought.

“So there’s going to be a next time, is there?” Roxas smiled, an amused look to his face. “Guess you better take my number, then. Unless we resort to note passing in class.”

Hayner laughed, which was such a sweet sound. “Note passing is a bit cliché, don’t you think?” He pulled out his phone, handing it over after a few seconds. He still looked unsure though. Roxas tried to put it to the back of his mind, ’Probably just the booze, and heavy makeout session. Plus, he did just suck me off.’ Had to be that.

It didn’t take long for Roxas to type his number in, handing the phone back with a soft smile. “I’ve gotta go find my friend. See you in algebra?”

Hayner lifted an eyebrow upwards. “I thought you had army stuff taking up your time.”

“I’m probably using the studying excuse way too much. Apart from the physical tests, it’s not… mandatory. Guess I can show up to a class or two.” Roxas shrugged. “Text me?”

A nod. “Will do.”

Walking back into the expanse of the club felt stuffy and too hot all of a sudden. He looked for Kairi; a flash of red caught his eye from across the room at the bar, but it wasn’t Kairi. A dreadful embarrassment ran through him that, at the same time as he locked eyes with Axel, he felt a lingering goodbye touch from Hayner.  

The glance from piercing green eyes was brief and fleeting but it caused Roxas to falter in his step and Axel to pause in lifting his drink to his lips. It looked incriminating; him with a guy, outside of the bathroom, sharing a soft touch. An emotion passed over Axel’s face, his jaw clenching, but then it was gone. Axel took that sip of his drink and then resumed the makeout session. It made Roxas sick that Saix sat on Axel’s lap, straddling him, eagerly lapping up every taste he could get and smelling that sweet scent… Roxas’ cheeks burned. He grimaced and continued walking off to find Kairi, who was all smiles and touches when he finally found her again. The both of them resumed drinking until the sun rose and then headed home.

Before Roxas’ head hit the pillow, exhaustion like weights on his limbs, he pulled out his phone from his pocket and the screen lit up with a lone text.

it’s hay. if you’re up for it, would like to see you again… catch u in class tomorrow😋

With a smile on his face he fell asleep, but not before saving the number to his contacts, drifting off with a memory of red hair and green eyes staring intently.

Chapter Text

His eighteenth arrived a lot sooner than he would’ve liked.

Most people he knew would have awaited the number expectantly, happily cheering for joy. ‘ I can legally drink now!’ wasn’t the main thing on his mind, considering he’d gotten into clubs months beforehand. End of school… wasn’t really the end for him. It was a beginning, the start of his new life, the one he’d been looking forward to ever since he’d decided what he wanted to do. 

Yet it was only when the prospect was hurtling further towards him, the date inching into less than a hundred meagre days to go, that he was beginning to feel regrets. It didn’t feel like an exciting prospect any more.

Maybe regret wasn’t the right word. No… Roxas knew he’d miss the town too much, and everyone in it. It was figuring out how to say goodbye because it might be the last time he’d get the chance to see them which was… tough, to say the least.

“So, how’s the new girlfriend you’ve been hiding from us? It’s clear that someone’s been taking up your time.” 

Roxas groaned inwardly as he sat at the dining table, a spoon of cereal hovering near his mouth. His mother’s head peeked out from the kitchen, a knowing smile on her face. Sure, he’d been forgoing his studies slightly to spend time with Hayner, but… it wasn’t that obvious, surely. “There’s no girl, Mom.” 

If they weren’t hanging around school, or the student-frequented ice cream parlour, it was usually at Hayner’s house, or more specifically, his bedroom. His parents were rather nice, though he’d only spoken to them a couple times. Hayner… was something he still wasn’t sure of yet. Roxas couldn’t deny there was something blooming there, but it was his whole future that left them uncertain. He wasn’t ready to admit yet that maybe Hayner meant more to him than just friends , or even than just friends-with-benefits. The benefits, he smiled slightly as he continued eating, were a surprising outcome to the club escapade. Whether he was ready for anything more was something he was uncertain of. At least Hayner gave him escape to not think about his impending deadline growing ever nearer.

“Boy then. Whatever you kids are up to these days.” She spoke with a wave of the hand, a dismissal that punched him right in the gut. Regardless, he willed his face to show a mask of stone; a casual dismissal. His mother continued, “Someone’s taking up your attention and I know it’s not Kairi.” 

He loved his Mom, he really did. She managed to put on such a brave face after every reminder of his Aunt's death since, struggled through arguments with his Dad, and generally still pushed on. Roxas wondered if he’d ever get to the point of actually coming out , though. He felt like he’d get a response of ‘ it’s just a phase, you’ll grow up to find a nice girl and crank out a dozen kids’ or something along those lines. If she saw them hanging out, then fine, but he wouldn’t out himself without reason. Not when there wasn’t even a relationship there to be the catalyst. 

The harsh reminder of less than three months to go hung over his head. What was the point of messing things up and causing a fuss if he’d be gone soon? 

None, was the answer to that. So he carried on eating, after which he gave his Mom a brief kiss on the cheek, and left for school. Nothing had changed in his eyes; his future was the same, just how he spent his time between that was uncertain.

He’d decide what to do with Hayner when that looming date came.

-

Roxas found himself pulling away from Hayner as the days progressed. Excuses of studying were thrown around, gym sessions doubled. Pushing himself to the limit was a surprisingly good way to clear his mind, even if it was only for a bit. He noticed the looks Hayner gave him, the bite of the lip every time his touch was shrugged away. Roxas noticed it all too well and hated himself for it. But he just couldn’t help it.

Hayner was currently laying on top of him, both of them tangled up in the sheets, the sandy blond tracing patterns on Roxas’ bare chest. “You’re thinking about it again, aren’t you?” 

“No.” Roxas pouted. “Maybe. Yes- I don’t know, I still don’t feel… ready.” 

Ever since that night in the club they’d begun texting back and forth more than he’d like to admit, extending his and Kairi’s pair into a four, with Olette often sneaking off with Kairi to god-knows where. The Hayner situation was nice; feeling the intimacy of another person without the stress. They hadn’t spoken about what they were, not yet, but… they were something. Roxas just didn’t want to define it yet, didn’t want to smack a label on something which was new and blossoming and could be over soon. 

Because no matter how much he liked Hayner, how much he liked being with Hayner, becoming accustomed to the intimacy and sex… he was leaving in less than three months. 

His written exam was next week. 

The basis of everything he wanted to achieve… would be decided in a set of writing tasks taking less than two hours. Once it was done, it was done, and he could potentially be sent away earlier if deemed necessary. 

Roxas was pulling away because he was scared he’d make the wrong decision. Whether that was staying or leaving… he hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

“It’s not too late to quit. You know that, right?” Hayner said, running his hands over Roxas’ sides, making him squirm. Hayner’s parents weren't home, and with Hayner on top of him… they wouldn’t let the time go to waste. Not when it had been almost a week since they had any alone time. “I’d support you in whatever you want to do.”

“I know.” That’s all he answered back, because he could tell Hayner didn’t approve and wasn’t eager to start an argument. Gods, they were in the beginning stages of whatever they were, and if he was leaving… he didn’t want to ruin what they had because of a stupid difference of opinions. Kairi would totally kick his ass if he did, too. The first thing she had told him when he’d met her the day after their night out was ‘ Don’t fuck this up, Roxas. He likes you a lot.’ 

Roxas wouldn’t push because voicing his conflicting feelings out loud would make them real. Nothing about what he was dealing with should be hard because he knew what he wanted to do, and yet his mind kept circling, replaying thoughts; wondering if it was the path he should’ve chosen, whether he was making a mistake. ‘ It’s not too late,’ Hayner had said - even Kairi let it slip every now and again, the worry in her eyes becoming evident. But what if they were both wrong? 

What if it was too late because he was beginning to doubt, doubt something that should never be doubted in the first place. If he nurtured that doubt, then that was no better than just quitting right then and there. He couldn’t become a soldier on doubt. Roxas couldn’t… protect the ones closest to him if he questioned his every choice. 

Hayner’s lips on his own pulled Roxas out of his thoughts and made him melt into the embrace, marvelling at how sweet the kiss felt. The soft and tender brushing of lips and dipping of tongue never failed to leave him speechless and the emotions that seemed to pour out of Hayner felt like hints to something deep beneath, if Roxas just decided to explore it with him. But he never did. He also never complained about wandering hands, and certainly not about the dipping hands which currently touched his stomach and slid further down. Hayner stroked his half-hard erection, making Roxas already feel like he needed more. He’d become spoilt, in the previous few weeks, any patience flying straight out of the window. So he wasted no time, and with a grin shifted the two so he was on top, dipping back down for another, lingering kiss. His own hands roamed, one grabbing the lube conveniently on the bedside table, the other tending to Hayner. Just because Hayner liked it rough, didn’t mean he’d purposely hurt him, and with a sweet smile, began to stretch Hayner which made the man below him writhe with pleasure. 

It didn’t take long for Hayner to eagerly adjust, or for them to begin a rhythm. Roxas lapped up every gasp, every moan that fell out of Hayner’s mouth. Roxas came first, groaning in the crook of Hayner’s neck, finishing him off with a messy handjob.

In hindsight, Roxas really shouldn’t have brushed Hayner off previously. Really. He shouldn’t have encouraged him, shouldn’t have run his emotions high, shouldn’t have pushed back. 

But Roxas didn’t possess a view of the future, and he definitely didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he made his confliction all too clear. 

“Hey, Rox?” Hayner got out in between breaths, head turned to gaze at Roxas, “I wish… Ah. Why don’t you just wait a while? Nobody’s... saying you have to leave straight away.”  His freshly mussed hair glinted in the sunlight which streamed through the window. Roxas ached at the sight, despite his post-orgasm haze. Hayner was always more honest when he climaxed, and this time was clearly no different. 

“I’ve worked hard for this, Hayner. You’re only saying this because once I do my exams, that’s it. I’m gone.” Roxas swallowed. “I enjoy our time together, you know that. I’m gonna miss you. But I want to do this. Need to do this.” 

“...Why though? Why do you need to do it? It’s not like we have Deviants running around on a daily basis. You say it’s to protect the ones you care about, but what’s the chances one of us will get hurt with or without you here?” 

“You know why. It’s not…” Roxas squirmed under Hayner’s gaze. It felt more heated than usual, more intense, and left an uncomfortable feeling in its wake. “It’s not normal to cause so much death.” 

“Not all Deviants have powers made for killing, Rox.” 

“That’s rare . You think they’d be so high risk if only a few were capable? One of the leading causes of unnatural death is through Deviants, alongside cancer. Doesn’t that tell you something?” They’d spoken about this before, but not so much like this. Hayner shifted in his spot, gaze turning away. He bit his lip, shaking his head slightly, almost incredulously.

Roxas really should’ve stopped there. 

“Are you seriously comparing people to cancer?” 

“People?” Roxas narrowed his eyes. “As far as I’m concerned, after they awaken to their powers, they’re no longer people. They’re murderers.” 

“So even if they’ve never killed a soul, never dream to, they’re still practically a villain in your eyes? Harsh, Roxas.” Hayner shook, hands outstretched at either side of Roxas, looking down at him with a bewildered, hurt expression. The sight, for whatever reason, just egged Roxas on. What reason did Hayner have to look hurt? 

“You have your opinions, I have mine. You can’t change my mind. I’m leaving and you can’t stop me, and I hope , one day, you come to your senses and stop defending those things.” 

Roxas moved to push Hayner aside but couldn’t. Hayner was rooted firmly in place, something causing him to lock up. Whether it was anger, or whatever emotion was running through those stormy eyes, Roxas didn’t know. He tried to push past Hayner again, wriggle out from under him. His gaze landed on the blue sky outside the window and—he froze. 

A bird hung in their air, suspended in motion, like it was a puppet on a string. Clearly not though - it wasn’t there five or so minutes ago, and looked perfectly real, as if someone had stuck a lifelike photo on Hayner’s window. 

Roxas frowned, momentarily unfocused on the argument which had just transpired. Was there… a Deviant, somewhere? 

Possibly Roxas was just going insane. That would explain a lot. 

Hayner didn’t shift from over Roxas, though he let his head fall onto Roxas’ chest, heaving gasps rattling from his own torso, hands clutching the sheets like he was struggling with something. It was when Roxas was about to speak again, to ask Hayner if he was okay, did he notice a flicker from the corner of his eye. Nothing prepared him for the sight.

It started with the floor, disappearing in a dark expanse, appearing like it was gone, before spreading up the walls. When it reached furniture, it morphed over it, rather than dissipating into darkness, and if Roxas focused, he could still see the outline of the chair it took hold of. It took the shape of trees, black shadows swaying in a breeze, growing taller by the second, reaching out towards Roxas. The shapes towered over them and he swore he heard a breeze run through rustling leaves which caused him to shudder. It was when one of the branches caught his shoulder, a slice of pain, did he snap out of his fear, eyes darting to the man resting on top of him. He could feel something warm, sticky run down his shoulder but pushed it to the back of his mind. 

“Hayner!” Roxas grabbed Hayner’s shoulders, feeling the tremor running past his skin at the touch. All this… it was him. “What the hell are you doing?” 

No response. He wasn’t sure whether Hayner was even mentally there, or whatever depths of his mind had momentarily taken over had him caught. Or maybe he was lost, lost in the illusions, and as Roxas’ eyes darted beside him, he noticed the clock had frozen too. The hand stuck, awaiting to tick. Roxas half expected it to move, prove to him that he’d imagined this all, imagined the argument, imagined Hayner having powers. 

Hindsight was a bitch.

It didn’t move, not after what must’ve been a lifetime of waiting, hoping, while the shadows loomed closer. No, then he realised this wasn’t a dream, this was happening, and kicked Hayner in the ribs with his knee, hard, rolling the two over so he was on top, pinning him down. 

That seemed to shake Hayner out of his trance. The shadows fell away, dissipating into thin air, the bird outside chirping as it flew off, the extra few minutes nothing but a fraction of time it the creature never experienced. 

Roxas looked down at the shaking figure - now trembling because of sobs flowing out, even as his head lay pressed into a pillow, but that wasn’t what made Roxas draw his hands back, leaning away although still straddling Hayner’s hips. It seemed the illusions on the walls weren’t the only thing that disappeared when the spell broke. 

Hayner’s bare skin was covered in glowing purple branches, just like the black ones surrounding the room minutes prior, though they spread up his arms like trees, bare, barren branches spreading across his chest. Thin - and thick - scars, Roxas noticed as Hayner’s arms lifted to cover his face, dotted all over the tattoos, as if an attempt to carve them out had been made. Or cover them up with wounds, some which looked painstakingly newer than others. Oh Hayner. Roxas felt his heart break into a million pieces, and yet, he was lost for words.

Those people. Every word spat out of his mouth felt like ash. He wanted to take it all back, relive the last hour and continue not knowing what he did. What he said. Wished he didn’t find this out, because the only thing swirling around Roxas’ head was that things would never be the same again. 

Not with Hayner underneath him, sobbing, illusion of perfection falling away with a clear show of Deviant tattoos and inflictions he’d acted upon himself. 

What had he done?

-

Roxas fled.

Fled from Hayner’s house, thankful for the fact his parents weren’t home, front door left wide open in carelessness. He wasn’t thinking straight, not when his surroundings blurred and blended into a mass of colour. Roxas ran, feet carrying him out of pure memory to his house, lungs already burning from the pure panic that spurred him to run further, faster. It wasn’t long before he arrived at his own house, leaning against the doorframe of his front door as he heaved, taking in deep breaths which his lungs hadn’t allowed previously through the tears. When he’d deemed himself presentable enough Roxas slipped through the door quietly, not bothering to say anything to anyone that might have seen him. He didn’t hear anything through the deafening sound thrumming through his ears.

Roxas fled straight to his bathroom, where he sat on the shower floor and sobbed without bothering to undress. He screamed soundlessly, letting the water rush over his back in a steady stream, eventually turning it off when his tears had dried up and his cries died down. His shoulder stung, a wound likely underneath the surface, though he didn’t look in the mirror as he undressed. It would only be another reminder. Disgust boiled in his gut, though he couldn’t tell who it was directed at. Him or Hayner, the emotions mixed into one ball of jumbled emotions. Images of the Deviant attack that killed his Aunt flashed into his mind, rage against all Deviants, hate, anger, betrayal. Distinguishing one from the other felt like trying to swim whilst being held down by rocks. Pointless, really.

The next days flew by quickly. Roxas withdrew from himself and from the world, holing himself up in his room. His phone rang every now and again but he didn’t give it the slightest bit of notice or glance. He simply lay in his bed with his head buried under pillows and blankets. He figured the calls were most likely from Hayner, or Kairi.

Hayner.

He wanted to scream every time his mind thought back to that morning, replaying the illusions, the shock, the utter sense of anger. Because he was angry, how could he not be? A man he’d begun to possibly see a future with, even if it had just been to live out the next few months, to see him off to the next part of his life. Hayner meant a lot to him, but to find out he was a Deviant, after all Roxas had confided in him, told him... left him bitter.

His duvet became his personal haven, blocking out the outside world the best he could. Replying to his parents’ ‘ Are you okay?’ with a murmured excuse of not feeling well. Roxas was half expecting Kairi to appear at his door at any second, a flurry of questions and concerns. 

Roxas didn’t want that. He just wanted to be alone for a while. 

Sometimes he glared at his desk; the work spread out over it. The Deviant Program. What was once his lifelong dream now felt bitter. Nothing but Hayner repeated in his mind, confusing his thoughts, jumbling his mind, making him feel tied to two different emotions and possibly even worlds . Roxas still wanted to join, to protect, to give people a fighting chance against powers out of their control. But then there was Hayner, poor Hayner, an image of scars from trying to get rid of his markings, hurting himself, then hiding it plain from view with nothing but an illusion. 

Roxas could’ve easily exposed him, the other barely putting up a fight. But he didn’t, because Hayner meant a lot to him, a hell of a lot. Seeing him so mentally destroyed like that, after Roxas had strung insults about Deviants… It stung, and Roxas only had himself to blame. Yet ‘He’s a Deviant,’ kept echoing through his head. ‘He could easily murder someone and nobody would know.’

He felt his eyes sting with unshed tears. Of all people, it had to be Hayner messing up his beliefs. The thought had him burrow himself further into his covers, shutting out all light and sound, eventually falling into a restless sleep yet again. Roxas wasn’t sure how much time passed each time he awoke, keeping his curtains tightly shut from the outside world.

-

Hayner wasn’t at school on the day Roxas returned. He partly expected that, though he couldn’t hide the disappointment from his face, which Kairi picked up on within seconds of catching his eye at their first class. Olette wasn’t around, thankfully. He… wasn’t sure if she knew, but it wasn’t Roxas’ secret to tell. He had to talk to someone, though. Roxas didn’t trust anyone like he trusted Kairi, and she must have had questions since he’d skipped the previous few days from school. Including the fact he’d been avoiding any and all texts from everyone… even a concerned message from Olette.

“Roxas? You okay?” Kairi’s head tilted to the side as she surveyed his face, speaking once the class all settled in their seats. “I thought you and Hayner had both ditched the last few days, since ‘Lette hadn’t heard from him. But your face tells a different story.” 

Right. The incident had happened on the Sunday, and it was now… Wednesday? Thursday? He wasn’t sure. Roxas still felt groggy, the aftermath of too much sleep and emotions tumbling from him when he was actually awake. Roxas took a deep breath, hoping to quell his nerves. His eyes kept darting to the door, all too knowing of the empty seat directly in front of him. “Can we go and talk after class?” 

“Sure thing. Are you sure you’re okay?” 

A nod. He couldn’t manage much else. The whole of the lesson was spent side-eyeing the door, half expecting a flustered blond to walk through, muttering apologies, all smiles as his eyes laid upon Roxas.

No Hayners walked through the door that morning, though. 

-

“So, spill. I can tell when something's brewing in that brain of yours.”

They were at the beach, having decided to ditch the rest of the day and hang out near the ocean; Roxas needed to clear his head and get away from the constant reminders that Hayner wasn’t there, and it was all his fault . The route they took was one frequented by the two. Hidden in the sides of the cliff beside the beach was an expanse of rocks and marine pools where tiny fish swam below their feet. An outcrop of rock jutted out over the sea below, and behind, in the rockface, was a narrow cave. Roxas found the flat, open space of the outcrop a perfect for watching the stars when the spot wasn’t stolen by some teenage couple finding a moment to lip-lock before they returned home. Not that the stars were the main interest - he just liked to listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, away from all the traffic and thoughts clouding his head more often than not as of late. 

“If I tell you… you can’t mention it to anyone. Especially Olette .” Roxas pleaded, noticing the confusion spread across her face as he spoke. “Please, Kai, this is serious.”

“Okay. I promise.”

“Hayner’s a Deviant. I found out three days ago, and honestly? I’m freaking the fuck out.” The words fell out of his mouth in a rushed sentence, the widening of Kairi’s eyes almost comical. “There were these… illusions, but they touched me, and I think time stopped, but- Gods, I don’t know about any of this. He’d been hiding his markings from me for months.” And his scars, Roxas wanted to add, but felt that was too personal. “He looked so scared, and that’s- It’s because of everything I’ve drilled into his head for the last few months. He probably thinks I hate him now.”

“Do you?” Kairi’s words were surprisingly gentle with the sudden barrage of information. What she asked was a perfectly simple question, one Roxas didn’t hesitate to answer. He didn’t even think about it, his response completely natural, instinctive—

“No.”

“So how does that change things?” Of course Kairi wasn’t freaking out, she believed all Deviants deserved a chance. If it was reversed, Roxas would’ve flipped , saying she should stay the hell away, but it was Hayner, and it- it changed everything . “You’ve always professed how from awakening, Deviants are all cold-blooded murderers. That their powers can do nothing but kill. Is it the same for Hayner?”

No!” Roxas clamped his lips shut at the increase in volume. The beach wasn’t busy, since most were in school, or work, though a few people dotted the beach, and families with younger kids stood in the shallower parts of the sea. The shout felt too personal, though, too emotional. “No. That’s what freaks me out. Everything I thought…”

“Has been flipped. You’ve had someone close to you awaken… and it’s made you rethink the inhuman part. If Hayner isn’t a cold-blooded murderer like you say Deviants are, what are all the others?”

Kairi was right and it fucking scared him. He’d witnessed the murder of his Aunt, grew up with the news of countless innocent people being murdered because of Deviants, tsunamis, earthquakes, bombs, fires... Any and every disaster plastered across the news channels accompanied by rouge Deviants. He grew up idolising the idea of protecting people from just that, but what could he believe anymore? The cold, hard facts were there, that they caused death. But it wasn’t so black and white anymore. Just a murky, draining grey that he was still unsure of.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore, Kairi.” Roxas shuddered. “That’s the truth.”

“You know I can’t tell you how to feel about all of this. Believe me, I’ve tried to change your standpoint. Fruitless, really.” She tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear which had escaped out of a messy ponytail, “All I know is… you and Hayner make a sweet couple. Whether it lasts or not, he makes you happy, right? He deserves a chance, regardless if he’s a Deviant or not. Nobody else has to find out if you’re careful.” 

Roxas translated this as meaning: You either leave us and rat Hayner out, or stay and give him a chance. It seemed like only two choices were open to him: Leave to do the thing he’d wanted to for years, or give up his lifelong dream and be at a loss. The possibility of having to track down Hayner one day made him feel queasy, but the idea of going back to being an aimless teen felt like an existential crisis he couldn’t bare to stand. His whole world had turned upside down in a day. 

Roxas had known Hayner more intimately for a few months now, and everything still felt hazy. Yet one thing was solid in his mind… He couldn’t hurt him. Couldn’t hand him over for testing, experiments, or… worse.

“I’m going to have to give it up, aren’t I.” Roxas exhaled with a heavy sigh, putting his hands on either side of his head. They sat on a flat patch of rocks, the waves crashing and rolling creating a tranquil harmony. “I can’t join the army now. Not knowing… I could be up against Hayner someday.” He means too much to me.

“I can’t lie and say I’m unhappy about your decision, Rox. I just wish it wasn’t because of the reason it is.” Kairi rested her head on his shoulder, using a free hand to rub his arm affectionately. “Have you talked to him since?” 

“...No. I left not long after I found out. I- I couldn’t deal with it right then and there. Holed myself up in my room until today. Was kinda hoping I’d see him in class, yet…” He shrugged, looking down at nothing in particular. “Clear no show. I don’t blame him.”

Kairi was silent for a bit. “He’s hurt. It’s understandable why he’s trying to stay away.” 

“I shouldn’t have run out like that. I’m a coward.” 

“No, you’re not. Your reaction was natural. I understand why he did it, but… Hayner shouldn’t have kept it from you this long. Especially knowing your stance on it.”

Roxas watched as a child not far away from them began blowing bubbles and splashing about in the water, parents giggling as they held onto the inflatable toy keeping the infant afloat. He always thought, by joining the army, he’d be able to protect lives like the ones living blissfully in front. Eradicate the fear as best he could, add to the growing number fighting to keep innocents safe. 

It was no different to handing a non-Deviant a gun with violent tendencies. Like Kairi said… it wasn’t the powers that made them evil. Vexen wasn’t an asshole because of his powers, but because that was his personality. There was a possibility that Roxas could still join the army and try and change things, only subdue the dangerous ones, but the thought was quickly dismissed as futile. Everywhere he’d look would be negative stances about Deviants, ones he used to agree with wholeheartedly. He never saw it as odd, how there was never another side to it. The nature of things was never taught, just how dangerous they were. Which Roxas did agree with, still. He didn’t know what to think anymore, not when his mind felt so jumbled. 

It was obvious why Hayner had kept it from him, though. He disagreed with Kairi for that. Had Roxas freaked out and told on him, he would’ve been locked up, maybe even pinned for murder, just because he existed. Just because he wasn’t like everyone else, something that was out of his control. Roxas frowned wondered if anyone else knew - and how long Hayner must’ve kept it from everyone, thinking he was wrong, thinking he was abnormal, different, murderous. Words Roxas had repeated and preached. The guilt grew in his lungs, squeezing like a vice, until he felt like he couldn’t breathe. 

“I don’t think he’s going to want to talk to me. Especially not after what I said.” Roxas huffed. “I wouldn’t.” 

“Don’t underestimate how tough Hayner is. It doesn’t help he’s head over heels for you.” 

A silence stretched over the two, neither speaking as they both looked out past the sunny expanse. Roxas didn’t dare pull out his phone, knowing he’d lose any and all resolve to message the man he was mulling over. 

“You know… I’m here for you. Always will be. If you do decide to give up joining the army… we’ll figure something out. Find you another passion. You don’t have to go and have a midlife crisis at the grand old age of eighteen.” 

Roxas looked upwards into calm eyes to a face he’d grown to love; a deep, familial love, like a brother loving a sister despite all the fights they had. He got the sense then that yes, everything would be okay, because he wasn’t alone. Kairi wouldn’t let him deal with it alone, whether it was his future or sorting out how he felt with Hayner. Someone he could see in his future, or he hoped. 

“I’m here for you too. I’m sorry if my drama has been too much lately.” Roxas meant it. Not just about Hayner - with the exams, the ‘ you can’t change my mind,’ arguments that weren’t arguments. Vexen. Roxas hadn’t really stopped to think about Kairi. He barely knew anything about her and Olette, even though they were constantly together. He was too wrapped up in his own life. 

Kairi rolled her eyes. At least Roxas could tell that was genuine. “Rox, you’ve always carried around tons of drama. It’s one of the great things about you. My life is never boring.” 

“Don’t jinx it, you’ll be stuck with me forever.” 

“I better . We’ll be joined at the hip when we’re old and grey. Checking out the singles in the retirement homes.” 

“Wouldn’t want it any other way.” 

The silence returned as Kairi closed her eyes, the summer sun basking them in warmth. Roxas noticed the beach had begun to get busier, more lively, kids running and splashing in the shallower parts of the water. Destiny Islands wasn’t somewhere he was leaving soon anymore, the fact almost a relief. He didn’t have to look at all the things he called home and think, ‘ I won’t have this for much longer.’ 

Getting lost in his thoughts led him to react later than he would usually to an abnormal amount of people running. He didn’t notice the chorus of screams echoing across the beach. No, the thing to make him come to his senses was Kairi shaking his arm roughly, a sharp pang of an alarmed shout falling from her lips. Roxas’ head whipped around wildly, looking for the source of the commotion.

People were running from the beach, ones deeper in the sea struggling to gain momentum from the hasty escape the majority of them were making. Brows furrowed in confusion. It was only when he heard the screams of ‘ a Deviant,’ did he stand up quickly. His mind instantly shot to Hayner, but willed himself to calm down before he panicked for no reason. With how quiet he had been the whole time he must’ve had his powers, there was no reason for a frenzy like this to happen if it was connected to him. Hayner wasn’t that reckless… or so he hoped. 

“Hide in the cave. Come on, Roxas, they won’t come around here.” Kairi’s voice was stern, still holding onto Roxas’ arm. “We can wait until they’ve settled down.” Wait until they subdue the Deviant. Wait until they kill the Deviant. The sounds above weren’t one of a Deviant on a frenzy - they were screams, and gunshots, now, clearly some Deviant having been chased and cornered where they were. It was dumb, leading the Deviant to a beach filled with people. Especially when the shouts led to panic. It was when one gunshot echoed out, almost a lone, deafening sound, and a scream directly after, did Roxas turn around from his place at the mouth of the cave.

He instantly regretted it. 

It was like the sky grew darker from the frenzy around him, He saw a woman - he assumed, or maybe a short man - falling from the top of one of the smaller cliffs. It wasn’t far from them, and Roxas could only watch on in horror as the body slammed into the choppy waters. He expected the body to float upwards after the impact, but instead it was way, way worse.

A crackling sound buzzed through the air, and Roxas felt the hairs on his arms stand up, a similar feeling to the air standing still like the days previous, though this was a stark difference. He could still feel Kairi’s grip on his arm, though it grew tighter as she watched on the same as he did. The screams and the gunshots stopped. The woman hadn’t surfaced yet, but others in the sea did.

Floating, like fish, were the bodies of the ones who were still in the water when the woman collided with it. All floating downwards. Roxas only looked on in horror, eyes wide and mouth open at the sight. They weren’t moving and he knew that they probably never would again. It was when a mix between a scream and a sob spread out through the air did time seem to move again. Shouts of ‘ find her!’ from above, and the telltale sound of sloshing from near them. 

It was the woman who fell, stumbling near the rocks, bare limbs covered in scratches most likely from the chase. It was her side which wasn’t faring well, a stream of blood trickling down, seeping into the wet clothes. She looked upwards at the frozen faces of Roxas and Kairi, eyes similarly wide, a look of pure anguish threatening to close Roxas’ throat out of anger. 

His anger wasn’t with her. Not when he saw the utter dismal look in her features at the dead bodies floating not far from them. It was with the soldiers above, they’d shot her off the cliff, forced her hand, gave her no choice in her panic which set her powers off. She looked scared, afraid that the two before her would rat her out and that was it, her life would be over. It hit Roxas like a freight train, then, how wrong he’d been. If it was clear they’d caused the wreckage before them, then what was to say the soldiers hadn’t done that for almost all Deviants? Was that to be his fate had he decided to go? 

“Go in there before they notice you.” Roxas pointed behind to the cave which was barely more than a patch of black against the darkening sky. “Quick. I’m not becoming an accomplice.” 

Eyes crumpled before she dashed past them and into the space, a stream of blonde, disappearing as quickly as she came. If the bullet wound didn’t kill her, at least Roxas would’ve given her a chance.

Roxas didn’t realise he was shaking until a hand laid on his shoulder, an uncertain expression to Kairi’s face. Her eyes were filled with tears, he noticed. “Roxas?” 

“I’m okay.” Was he? “Let’s just go.” I need some time to think, echoed around in his mind. 

A nod. They both avoided looking at the waters as they made their way back to the sandy part of the beach, the atmosphere feeling heavy. The closer they got, the more Roxas could make out the clunk of heavy boots and shouts, orders. It wasn’t long before they ran into the path of one of them, someone with a large black mask distinguishing their features. They pulled it off - a male, young one at that, and smiled. The sight was unnerving, Roxas feeling a sinister sense creep up on him the longer he looked at that mask in his hands. 

“Have you seen the Deviant that did all this?” All this meaning the dead bodies surrounding them in the water. Liar. He regarded the two, clearly assuming them as safe enough by the emotional shine to Kairi’s eyes. “She fell not far from where you emerged.” 

“I saw someone running off that way,” Roxas pointed to the other side of the beach, past the cave, where sea joined to sand again. “I- I’m not sure if it was her or not.” They’d clearly known enough about the Deviant, long hair or no, to know she was female. Had her cornered long enough, got a chance to survey before the chase. Although spoke with no hesitation, Roxas began to grow worried as silence greeted him. 

“Affirmative. Thank you for your help, kids.” He went to leave, though stopped. “Can I grab your names?” 

Roxas almost felt like flipping him off. What need did a soldier have for two random kids’ names? “Roxas. Roxas Black.”

“Kairi White.” 

A giggle burst from Kairi’s lips, though she quickly raised her hand to quell it. As kids they’d found it highly hilarious how their last names coincided, the majority of adults thinking they were playing a prank. Clearly all humour was lost to the guy in front because he nodded and waved, uttering his thanks before heading in the direction of the ‘Deviant’. 

Roxas scoffed when the small group that led the way were out of earshot. “Kids. Not like I was supposed to be training to join you lot in a few months…” A comment mostly to himself, but he still felt uneasy. How close was he to becoming someone that would kill someone easily who’s innocent? Of course, until he found out about Hayner, they weren’t innocent to him… but now he was thinking more objectively. Seeing . It still twisted him in the wrong way, knowing someone could kill like that with no more effort than a wave of the hand. Roxas still held true to his word that if they found a way to rid Deviants of their powers, then he’d support that wholeheartedly. 

But thinking of Hayner being tortured because of something he couldn’t control was inhumane. At least he saw that now, although it may have been too little too late in his situation. 

It was only when Kairi spoke did Roxas realise she’d stayed silent the whole time. “What… happened, there?” 

“What do you mean?”

“Roxas, I know your opinion has changed since finding out about Hayner, that’s understandable. But… you rant and rave about Deviants murdering people, yet within a day you come to protect someone that’s just murdered a whole beach of innocents. Sorry if I’m struggling to believe you’ve changed that much in a short space of time.” Kairi closed her eyes shut tightly, having been facing the water. “You’re not just saying this to-” 

“It was the look in her eyes.” Roxas interrupted, Kairi’s eyes opening at his words. “She didn’t want to kill those people. She didn’t fall into the sea, she was forced off. They,” Roxas pointed to the cluster of Deviants looking, pointing with their guns, “gave her no other choice. They painted her as the bad guy.” 

“Which is what I’ve always been trying to tell you! And you never listened to me!” Kairi shook her head in annoyance. “All the attacks we had before and you still had yourself in that stupid mindset that no matter who they are they’re the scum of the earth if they have powers. Now I’m supposed to believe that what you thought before, every trace of it, is now gone?” 

Eyes widened at her outburst. “I’m just trying to deal with all this shit I’m starting to notice. So what if it took me this long? Do you want me to admit that I’m disgusting for saying that crap to Hayner, now knowing what he is? How it took something massive like that for me to realise I was an asshole?”

“I-”

“No, Kairi, I’m fully aware of what you and Axel used to tell me. Hayner too. Trying to tell me what I already knew deep down, but was too cowardly to admit.” Roxas pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t be fucked with this.”

“Roxas-”

“Just leave me alone for a bit.” Roxas cut her off, turning away to begin the walk back, noticing the paramedics beginning to arrive on the scene. They paid him no heed, rushing past with wooden poles and black body bags. Trying to contain the scene as quickly as possible, knowing full-well nobody would have survived that. When he got to the top of the hill, he looked back, wondering if Kairi had attempted to follow him. 

She hadn’t. Though for some nagging reason, he didn’t feel as alone as he’d liked to be.

Chapter Text

“Roxas…” 

His consciousness felt incredibly murky, like he was swimming underwater, sounds barely coherent. The voice wavered, barely a whisper against his ear, yet it was the loudest sound in his mind at the same time. The cry was sweet, a feminine tinge adding to his confusion, mixing with his own voice all the same. Whether it was his own spoken words or not, he felt them loud and clear.

“Roxas, can you hear me?” 

Roxas awoke with a start, looking around his room wildly for the source of the voice. Nothing but inky darkness, vague shapes of furniture dotted about the room… It wasn’t long before he deemed the room empty and rubbed his face with the palm of his hand. His head hit the pillow again. He groaned at the faint light in the bedroom, close to his head, on the table beside him. Five in the morning, he read on the display of his phone, blinking blearily. 

What a weird dream. He couldn’t place the voice, nor was there an image of a person to go alongside it. Just a voice, wavering in and out of consciousness. 

He shrugged it off, letting his eyes close again. Maybe he could get in another few hours of sleep… 

A thought that was all too optimistic. After ten or so minutes of trying to drift off again, Roxas accepted his fate, shifting his gaze to look outside his window. The sun hadn’t made it’s attempt to poke out of the horizon yet, the rest of the Island still fast asleep. Maybe a run would help to clear his mind, and hey, it was part of his training-

No, not anymore. That wasn’t his future now. He still wished with all his heart to be able to protect those he cared for, yet even if he was the biggest guy in the army he couldn’t do crap. Not if they were as corrupt as he was beginning to suspect they were. His resignation letter sat atop the desk in his room, a desk no longer filled with his studies regarding the army exams. It seemed painfully empty having housed the better part of his time for months on end.

Roxas, with a yawn, sat up, seeing no point in wallowing in his thoughts. There was one thing he needed to do though; apologise. Kairi didn’t deserve his outburst yesterday, even if his own mind was muddled in such a way that he couldn’t tell what to do anymore. 

 

i’m sorry about yesterday. i shouldn’t have snapped at you like that

forgive me?

He threw his phone onto the bed and got dressed, picking up an old sweatshirt and shrugging it on. He didn’t expect a reply, not so soon. He resigned himself to leaving his phone behind as he quietly went downstairs to put on his shoes and head out for a run. He’d jog while the sun was still rising, hoping to avoid any prying eyes. He… also hoped he’d have a chance of running into Hayner, but didn’t expect it. The man was clearly avoiding him, not having been to school in almost a week. Roxas often debated going to his house and seeing him, but the shame kept him at bay. 

Neither of his parents had stirred yet, which he was glad for. He hadn’t told them he was dropping out yet, although he knew he’d get nothing but ‘ thank goodness ’ and ‘ you can do something better with your life now.’

That was the problem. His life was up in the air; everything he’d worked towards in the previous couple of years had broken apart like nothing. Roxas was glad in some respects, preferring this over finding out about the corruption later, but now he felt aimless. He was completely and utterly left wondering what he was going to do. 

Roxas connected his earbuds into his shitty old mp3 player, which he carried around. It was packed with a bunch of old songs his parents most likely partied to, mixed with some new stuff he’d added. A birthday gift one year, when he was too young to use it, too young to remember who it was from. It had been stashed somewhere until a couple years prior, and on finding it again, Roxas had gravitated towards the idea of disconnecting from the world for a while; the ping! of his phone a constant source of irritation whilst on his runs. 

He didn’t like running. Not at all. Roxas would prefer to avoid walking if he could. But it was a good way to push himself to the limit and let his mind focus on nothing but that. He savoured the feeling of his lungs burning, and his limbs threatening to give up. It cleared his mind of anything unimportant, letting him focus momentarily on simply being . At the very least, maybe he’d get home and crash and finally sleep like he’d wanted to do previously.

It helped that the streets were empty, not a soul walking about, letting him lose himself more in the music pounding in his ears. The soft glow of sunrise filtered through the trees, washing the colour back into the world. Roxas loved this hour of the morning; it felt like most of the town was still peacefully asleep in their own beds. No soul was around to berate his pace, no one to tell him he wasn’t pushing himself like he should, or saying he should be better, or criticising him that he wasn’t good enough for the army. The self-doubt, and flak from others, was definitely one thing he wouldn’t miss from the training sessions.

He pushed his pace at that thought, even though there was no longer any reason to. It was only when he passed by the White’s house that he began to falter, letting himself think too deeply once more. Kairi would probably be asleep, the text unopened on her phone, waiting to be read. Roxas hoped she hadn’t been too harsh on herself since he left her on the beach. It was his fault; she was justifiably sceptical about his sudden change of heart, and he had lashed out because... .

Roxas frowned as he huffed and puffed, beginning to gain speed to his run again. The sudden change of heart still felt jarring even to himself. His thoughts lapsed into it every now and again; his old plans, his old future. Was it really alright to just quit? What if he was wrong about the corruption of the military? But what he had witnesses yesterday… the needless pain and death… all at the hands of the military. He was sure of it. Yet doubt still nibbled at his psyche. 

It was good. Good that he’d chosen to quit. Roxas had to keep telling himself that, reinforcing that he was doing the right thing. He’d no longer have to face killing someone one day, someone that may very well be someone he’d know. Roxas would be able to stay on Destiny Islands and figure something out, but that’s where he seemed to come up short. Nothing about his future stood out to him any more. Nothing seemed like a goal he wanted to do, career wise. Working at a supermarket for the rest of his life didn’t seem appealing. 

Roxas would have to sort out the issue with Hayner, too. He’d have to talk to him eventually and he was sure it wouldn’t be a happy talk. Roxas wasn’t expecting a positive ‘it’s okay, Roxas, let’s get back together’. Roxas wasn’t sure he’d even want that.

He carried on, taking the path near the beach since the streets were still bare. He’d… been avoiding Axel, too, like the plague. 

Those words… The ones he’d spoken, back in the club, felt alien when he thought about them. Thinking back on the look of puzzlement Axel had given him at his compliment was all too much of an answer for Roxas. Axel was creeped out, most likely only ever seeing Roxas as Kairi’s best friend, a brotherly figure perhaps.

And Roxas had been drunk. He’d only said those words because he hadn’t been thinking, not because he thought Axel was hot. And his type. Had he really said that? 

Frankly, he’d put the incident to the back of his mind, right up until a few days afterwards, when he had caught a glimpse of Axel’s annoyingly bright hair while he had been on his way back from school. The sight had made him panic .

The inexplicable nervousness he’d experienced was more because he’d thought about how hot Axel had looked in that moment he spotted him, stood next to Saix, arms behind his head, which had accentuated the curve of his biceps. A grin had flashed across Axel’s face as he’d spoken.

Roxas felt the heat of a blush stirring even now, on just such a simple reflection.

It wasn’t anything more than a slip of the tongue. Leading to embarrassment, nothing more.

“You can’t deny it.”

Roxas stopped in his tracks, trainers sliding against the rocks, almost tripping over as a result. That voice again. The same voice that floated through his mind while he had been barely awake, something he chalked up to his imagination. 

“Hello?” As soon as the words left his mouth he felt embarrassed, although there was clearly nobody around. He’d stopped outside the Yorke’s house, he noticed with a glance to the front door, a faint flush appearing on his cheeks. Nothing like one of the high class families seeing someone muttering to themselves early in the morning. Not wanting to be deemed as crazier than he seemed, he returned to a brisk jog once more, eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. 

What was that? 

-

It was still early in the morning when he returned home, though most of the town had seemed to awaken while he was on his ‘ try not to think but do it anyway’ run. When he returned home, slipping his trainers off slowly, quietly, he was greeted by his mother in an armchair, a mug of tea between her fingers, looking surprised. 

“You’re up early. Going for a run, no less. What happened to the usual Roxas as of late?” She spoke, taking a sip. Most likely coming to the conclusion that he’d been exercising from his breathing, and puffy, bright face. “Not that I’m complaining about you getting some exercise again. Noticed you’ve been slacking on the training lately.” 

Come on Roxas, you can do this. Just rip the band aid off. Admit what you still need to get into your own head. 

“About that,” Roxas spoke with a heavy sigh, leaning up against the doorframe for support as he tried to catch his breath, finding interest in looking at anything but his mom’s gaze. “I-I quit.” 

She didn’t speak for a few seconds, and worst of all, her expression didn’t give anything away. “And is it what you wanted to do?” 

“I… realised it wasn’t what it seemed, I guess.” Roxas couldn’t really tell her what happened, not spill Hayner’s secret even if it was to his own parent. Not when his conflictions were led by how the revelation of Hayner led him to see how wrong he really was. “I don’t want to go and kill people, Mom.” Because I’d have to, eventually.

She set down the mug on the table beside her, got up, walked to him, and wordlessly pulled him into her embrace, a hand smoothing his hair down. Roxas relaxed into her touch, arms wrapping around her frame. “I didn’t think about that part before. I don’t think I could do it .” 

“Oh, baby,” she soothed. “Not many people can. It’s a tough thing, and admitting you’re not able to do that is so, so brave.” 

Was he brave? He didn’t feel like it. “I feel lost.” 

“Nobody’s going to blame you if you don’t choose a long-time career straight away. Take a couple of years to figure yourself out.” Her voice held no hint of disappointment, an emotion he was, for a strange reason, expecting. “Both me and your father will support you how we can. Just try and enjoy the time you have left at school, yeah?” 

Roxas pulled away, looking dubious. “I was… supposed to be leaving in a month. Now I have no clue what I’m gonna do.” 

“Nobody really knows what they want to do in life. I can’t say I was thrilled about you leaving, either, but it was your choice at the end of the day. You came to this decision by yourself, just as you’ll figure out where to go from here.” Her expression had softened, her head cocked to the side as she read him like an open book.

His choice. It was his choice from the start, his choice to quit his application for the army with his written test only a few days away. It was sent, it was done. Maybe he was giving himself more guilt than he deserved, when it was his choice in the first place. 

“Thanks, Mom,” Roxas spoke, giving her another quick hug. “I love you.” 

“Love you too, baby.” She broke away this time, folding her arms. “Always. You know that, right? Your Dad does too.”

He nodded. Despite the mess in his head he was glad he had people around him being supportive. Roxas knew what he needed to do; stop wallowing in his head and see Hayner. Apologise for what he did. He… couldn’t do that over text, though. It felt too personal.

He excused himself and headed upstairs.

Roxas’ phone was exactly where he left it on his bed and, after peeling off his sweatshirt, savouring the rush of cold against his skin, picked it up to see a reply from Kairi. 

 

Already fogiven. I shouldn’t have doubted you like i did

*forgiven lol. Have you spoken to Hayner yet?

no… should i? was going to see him today…

Hayner’s gone to stay with his grandparents for a week or so. Olette told me this morning. Don’t think she knows why, though.

Roxas bit his lip, a wave of disappointment rolling off of him. It was understandable, of course, what with the chance of either of them bumping into each other, or… Hayner thinking Roxas hated him. Roxas definitely did not, but he still felt too cowardly to reach out before now. 

 

oh. are you free today?

Roxas really didn’t feel like being alone.

 

I’m with Olette today. She’s worried about Hayner so wanted some company. He’s been a bit off, though she didn’t mention much more than that.

I’ll let you know when he updates Olette. I hope you two patch things up

damn. so you two serious?

Not serious. Just having fun and enjoying her company. Exclusively.

exclusive? wow. weird to see you sorta settling down. So you busy the rest of the day?

Yeah. Axel tried to bug me into helping me with his bike if you’re free. In case you’re bored.

Axel. Better than no company, but he’d much prefer his best friend than a man he’d come on to way too strongly at a club. It didn’t help that they hadn’t spoken since; Roxas having been busier than usual and whenever he was at Kairi’s, Axel was with Saix. Roxas… may have been staying away on purpose.

It still puzzled Roxas as to why he said those words in such a carefree manner, even with too much alcohol running through his veins. It wasn’t something he usually did. Outspokenly saying he liked tall men, that he wanted a fuck…. Sure, Axel was attractive, one would even say hot, but he wouldn’t think about anything more, right-

Shit. 

Roxas collapsed onto his bed, his head in his hands. He had the hots for his best friend’s brother.

-

In Roxas’ mind, the best way to get answers was to test the hypothesis as it presented itself. So it had to be said, if Roxas did indeed like Axel, the best way to test it would be to spend time with the man. Easy.

Roxas found him in their garage, deep in thought as he bent over the engine of his Dad’s old bike. Since Kairi and Axel’s dad had gotten older, his eyesight had deteriorated to the point he could no longer work on fixing up the old wreckage, so Axel had taken it upon himself to do so whenever he had a day free. Roxas himself had no clue how it worked, or how the hell Axel knew what parts to connect to each other, but he could keep the man company.

Roxas leaned against the frame of the garage, arms crossed, waiting for Axel to notice him. He didn’t, of course. It was quite nice to watch him as he worked, hands covered in grease and oil, a few smudges evident on the half of his face Roxas could see. His eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, stopping every few seconds before he continued, switching between tools as he worked. A hum slipped past his lips; the tune was lost on Roxas, a disarray of notes, but it was clear Axel wasn’t attempting to follow the memory of a song. He moved an arm to tuck a strand of hair behind his ears, the rest tied into a loose ponytail, a few small flyaways poking out from where they refused to stay. Having his hair up only accentuated his pronounced jaw, which he clenched slightly in concentration.

After a minute or two, Roxas snapped out of his daze, thinking he was seconds away from staring a bit too long. He cleared his throat, giggling slightly as Axel practically jumped out of his skin at the sound. “Heard you wanted some help.” 

Axel stared at Roxas in stunned silence. His eyes wandered up and down, making Roxas feel hot, especially on his cheeks with the onset of a burning blush. Was Axel entertaining the thought of Roxas standing there looking at him? Observing him? Did… Axel know the way Roxas had been checking him out? Roxas coughed with discomfort. 

It snapped Axel out of his dead stare, and he cleared his own throat. He gave his attention back to his bike, and with a hum, found his voice again, “Kairi told you, I assume?” 

“Yeah. Made the mistake of telling her I was bored with nothing to do,” Roxas drawled. “Least it’s a distraction.”

“Trouble in paradise with the boyfriend?” Axel pried, most likely having heard something from Kairi. 

Roxas scowled. “He’s not my… boyfriend.” He cleared his throat and grumbled, “Anyway, it’s just some issues, is all.” He shrugged. “He’s gone away for a while before we could resolve anything.” 

“Well that sucks. Is he really worth all that if he’s not willing to sort things out?” Axel cocked an eyebrow, regarding Roxas again for a few seconds. “You don’t have a disagreement then up and leave.”

“It… wasn’t a disagreement,” Roxas muttered and pushed off from where he was leaning on the doorframe, going to sit on the bench alongside Axel instead. “It’s complicated. Can’t really tell you.”

“Riveting conversation, really,” Axel deadpanned. “If you want advice you’ll have to give me more than that.” 

“I didn’t come here for advice.”

“Why did you come here, Roxas? ‘Cuz I really don’t believe you came here to help with my bike. I know for a fact you don’t know a thing about motorcycles.”

“Well, Kairi told me you were asking for help, and I had nothing better to do-”

“So I’m the choice only when nobody else is around, huh?”

Roxas frowned. “Stop trying to bite my ear off, Axel. I didn’t mean it like that, I’m sorry.” 

Axel did something Roxas found all too familiar; a heavy pause, biting of the lip, slight scratch to the inside of his wrist. A telltale I went made it uncomfortable reaction . Roxas only noticed it now, something he’d gotten used to over the years, mannerisms that grew over time. The lip bite was something Roxas found cute when Hayner did it, sexy even, but now that thought just led him back to Axel. Axel, who now didn’t realise Roxas was having an internal crisis over a lip bite.

Goddamn him and his feelings. 

“It’s possible you were using your feelings for Hayner as a block for what you really felt for Axel, since they are similar in their mannerisms.” 

Roxas felt like screaming as that female sounding voice popped into his head again. Not that he’d try and reply to it this time. He must’ve just been having a bad day, got too little sleep…. He’d never hallucinated before, even on barely any sleep, but he had been stressed out to hell…

“If only you could hear me…” 

Ignore it. Ignore it. Roxas repeated like a mantra in his mind, willing the imaginary voice to leave. Clearly it was all in his head, since Axel was still fidgeting next to him, not reacting to the words seemingly only Roxas could hear. Another giveaway towards it being a hallucination or something. Or, he thought with a tinge of panic, an illusion?

With a glance outside of the garage, where nothing seemed amiss as cars drove by and the wind ruffled leaves and gently bent boughs, Roxas, relieved, confirmed his dread as a no. Hayner wasn’t even on Destiny Islands at the moment, and even if he was lying about that… what did he have to prove by putting a voice inside Roxas’ head? Nothing, especially if that voice spoke about feelings for Axel that he didn’t have. The voice was clearly putting thoughts into his head.

It felt like a millennia when the silence broke. Roxas too absorbed in his head, and Axel… most likely feeling awkward with the silence. He couldn’t hear the voice, unlike Roxas. 

“I shouldn’t have spoken like that. I gotta apologise too, I guess.” Axel spoke, exhaling. “Things aren’t great at the moment. I’m not all with it, I didn’t mean to sound rude.”

“Oh?” Roxas questioned, instantly growing concerned. “Is- Are you okay?” 

Kairi hadn’t mentioned anything to him as of late, so unless this was an internal struggle, or something to do with Saix - gods, Roxas hated how that prospect excited him so - then he was at a loss.

“Parents are arguing a lot. Our Gran, she’s not well, and she… well, she’s pretty adamant that she doesn’t want to go in a ‘ stinky old home, or one of those god awful hospital beds,’ yet she needs something. We can’t care for her like she needs, and without medical treatment ...” Axel shook his head, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m indifferent. I get it. She won’t be in pain, she’ll just get weaker until she goes in her sleep. Not the worst way to go, peacefully. Dad wants her to go to the hospital right away. Mom argues that she needs a carer. Kairi… well, Kairi just tells them both to shut the fuck up and respect her wishes. She’s taking it hard.”

Roxas swallowed around the lump in his throat. Sure, she was getting old, but he had no idea. The only memories he had of her were sweet, albeit rare as the years went on. “I’m sorry to hear that.” 

“It was bound to happen someday, right? Just wish my parents would stop going at each other’s throats over it. They can’t force what she wants.” Axel picked up one of his tools as he spoke, twisting it around between his fingers. “She’s too stubborn for that. Reminds me of you, actually.” Axel smiled a little.

Hey. I’m not stubborn,” Roxas pouted and added with a mutter, “Most of the time.”

Axel laughed, a large grin on his face now. Roxas couldn’t help mirroring his own, but it quickly died when he caught himself doing it. Shit. 

You’ve got it bad.”

If he was alone Roxas may have argued back from sheer annoyance. If the voice was him, then it made it more obvious that it was painfully right. When, throughout the years, had he developed the ‘crush’ and why hadn’t he realised it until now?

Roxas hadn’t spent much time around Axel, compared to Kairi. Axel had mostly kept to himself the majority of the time, but Roxas grew up admiring him still. Despite him growing up and learning of Axel’s sexuality, it never occurred to him that he could like Axel like that. He always seemed too out of his league, too unattainable, so the thought never entered his mind

Axel’s first boyfriend - that Roxas met, anyway - was further from Roxas’ league than he admittedly liked. Roxas would always think ‘how the hell did Axel end up with someone like that?’ . After seeing Axel’s subsequent boyfriends, and their impossibly good looks, compared to Roxas’ lack of them, it morphed into ‘Axel was unattainable’. It was only Saix that really took that thought a step back.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more stubborn. Do you remember that time we went to the beach - I think you were ten - and you wouldn’t leave until you’d made a sand castle to rival mine? Not even ice cream could tempt you away.” Axel smiled in reminiscence, “You were so proud when you finished it, even though the sun was setting and the tide was almost in. You didn’t even get to go in the water at all because you had been so busy.” Axel let out a raucous laugh.

“You remember that?” Roxas cocked his head to the side in awe and tried to bite down the fond smile. He’d forgotten all about that… though one memory stuck out to him in that moment. “I remember when you won a couple of those crappy stuffed animals for me and Kairi. You were so proud when you won me that ugly-assed purple bear ,” Roxas teased with a giggle. 

Axel blushed. He returned his attention back to the bike, tinkering with some opened panel on the side that seemed to connect to the lights. “You were so adamant that it was the cutest thing you’d ever seen. You couldn’t stop raving about the fact it had a rainbow for a tail,” Axel giggled like a mad man.

“I was a kid , Axel. Anything sparkly and shiny was instantly a wow factor.” Roxas didn’t add how he still had the teddy bear, with familiar green eyes, sitting atop one of his shelves, currently collecting dust. Admitting that he kept it, that it meant more than a stupid prize at a fair rightfully should… felt too personal. Whatever feelings he may have for the man might have blossomed from a younger age than he realised, whether out of idolising or not, he couldn’t tell.

Axel grinned, bumping Roxas’ shoulder with his own. Roxas disliked how that small gesture sent sparks running through his veins, meaning more to him than Axel would realise. “True. I vaguely remember a fourteen year old Roxas going through a phase of glitter. I think you put it in your hair at one point. Mom had to kindly sit you down and ask if you could tone it down because it would get everywhere. God forbid you sneezed.” 

Shhhh.” Roxas groaned. “No reminder needed of how embarrassing I was.” 

“No, no, it was hilarious. Watching Mom freak out because she found a few specks of glitter in food was the highlight of my day. Yet you just carried on with it, like a big ‘fuck you’ to glitter haters.” 

“Still. I dunno what my fascination was. It wasn’t long after that I started to raid my Mom’s makeup.” Roxas giggled. “There’s a picture somewhere. I went straight for the bright red lipstick.”

“And I missed that? Damn. Red-lipstick-makeup Roxas sounds hot.” Axel tutted. He motioned to the box beside Roxas, pointing. “Pass me that one to your left?” 

“Axel, I was fourteen. That’s just creepy.”

“Fine, eighteen year old, more-mature-makeup Roxas is hot. Better?” 

Roxas barely hid the burning blush as he turned to the box beside him. He rarely wore makeup, with the night out being an exception… where he’d had that mortifying and humiliating exchange with Axel at the club. “Here. A tool for the biggest tool I know,” he said, trying to deflect from the raging embarrassment inside himself.

“Don’t you mean… the tallest?” 

Roxas raised an eyebrow, the blush on his cheeks threatening to deepen from the reference to that night. He hoped he wasn’t obviously embarrassed as he spoke, but passed it off like it was nothing. “Was that... a pun?” A really, really bad one, thought Roxas, wanting nothing but to steer away from the conversation. A fake laugh passed through his lips, but died down soon afterwards.  

Axel only smiled in reply, leaning to a lower part of the bike. A lapse of silence passed before he spoke up. “Hey, Roxas?”

“Yeah?”

“You know the other month, at the club?” 

“Y- Hng.”

Roxas clutched at his head, a splitting pain radiating from his temples, squeezing his eyes shut. A dull ringing began in his ears, quickly escalating to a shrill pitch, drowning any sound that may have been heard. He could barely feel a hand grasping his shoulder, though he couldn’t open his eyes to concentrate on the person. All he could feel was the radiating pain growing larger, spreading down his face, thrumming, beating until he felt like screaming in pain. 

And then as soon as it came, the pain was stripped away, his consciousness failing along with it. 

-

Roxas, can you hear me?”

He opened his eyes to find he was in an unfamiliar room, curtains pulled so the space was almost blacked out. Roxas, with a turn of his head, noticed he was in Kairi’s room, the slightly ajar door sending in a small amount of light. Her room, as always, was neat, aside from the clothes thrown into a basket in the corner. 

He’d been placed on her bed, most likely by Axel. The pain had receded, now just a throbbing ache, though he felt disoriented. 

Of course you can’t. I should never get my hopes up.”

“Ugh, shut up for a minute. My head hurts,” Roxas groaned as he struggled to sit upright, massaging his temples to try and dislodge some of the pressure.. 

“Are you talking to... me?”

“Unless there’s any other strange voices in my head then yes.” Deeming himself as insane, hopefully temporarily, he finally pulled himself upright all the way with a wince. “Maybe if I talk to you, you’ll just go away.” 

“Do you… want me to go away?”

Roxas felt hesitation from somewhere, though shook it off. “Of course I do. You’re just a result of me not getting enough sleep or something. Probably… My mind thinking of Kairi, or somethin’.” 

“I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that. I’ve always been here. You just could never hear me before.” A pause. “Or at least, you never responded. Apart from earlier, but… since you didn’t talk to me again, I assumed it was a fluke.”

“I’m taking everything you say with a grain of salt. Just go away already, will you?”

“As you wish.”

With a brush of air it seemed the voice was gone, and he felt strangely… empty. 

Not that he had time to worry about it; not with the fact that Axel was most likely somewhere worried about him, and that sudden pain, and loss of consciousness… Roxas must have a bug, or… something. There had to be a rational explanation for the bizarre day he’d had. 

True to his thoughts, when he made his way downstairs and into the kitchen, Axel and Kairi were both sat at their kitchen counter, facing each other, engaged in discussion. Axel was the one facing Roxas’ general direction and saw him first, concern flashing through his face but instantly turning to a smile of relief when he saw Roxas was, for the most part, fine. Kairi turned around in her seat, looking remorseful. 

“Are you okay? Do you need anything? You shouldn’t be standing up, here-” 

“Kairi, I’m okay.” Roxas interrupted with a wave of his hand, batting off the now-standing woman. “I went for a run this morning and didn’t eat. Nothing serious.” That had to be it, right?

Kairi stared, slack-jawed. “Nothing serious? You went for a run.” 

“Oh ha ha. You’ve changed your tone quick.” 

Kairi stuck her tongue out in defiance. “When my brother worriedly calls to tell me my best friend’s passed out cold, how do you think I’d react?” 

“I wasn’t that worried.” Axel nursed the cup of coffee in front of him. “Maybe just a tad.” 

“Oh shut up, Axel. With the tone of your voice it was like he was dying.” 

Roxas couldn’t help but giggle. “Sad to say no dying today. Uh. Touch wood?” 

“Not on my watch you ain’t,” Kairi proudly spoke. “Can’t say the same for dipshit over there. Said you would’ve crashed straight onto Dad’s bike if he hadn’t caught you in time.” 

Roxas hoped Axel wouldn’t catch the blush that threatened to show at the mental image of being in Axel’s arms, even if he had been unconscious. 

“But I caught him. That’s all that matters, right?” Axel glanced at Roxas, throwing him a wink. “You didn’t have to fall that hard for me, though.” 

Oh lord. Roxas rolled his eyes. “That’s what you thought it was? Sorry to disappoint.” 

“You wound me so,” Axel clutched his chest dramatically. “Heartbroken, truly.”

“Stop being so dramatic.” Kairi whacked him playfully. “You never take anything seriously.” 

“I do too. Most of the time. Uh, on that note, I… told Roxas about Gran,” Axel winced. “I figured he deserved to know.”

Kairi sighed, turning to Roxas. “I didn’t want to worry you. Especially with-” She cut herself short, eyes widening. “Oh. Nothing!”

Axel looked more than dubious. “Eh?”

“It’s okay,” Roxas said. Axel was trustworthy enough… He always seemed to be on the positive side when it came to Deviants. “You know how I said me and Hayner got into an argument? Well… promise not to tell anyone?” Axel nodded. Roxas took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge, “I found out Hayner’s a Deviant. I. Um. Didn’t take it well.” 

Axel’s eyes widened dramatically. “Oh.”

“And now he’s gone away for a while.” Roxas hugged his sides. “I’ve had time to think about it. I quit the program. Officially, as of today.” The latter part of the sentence was spoken facing Kairi, who gave him a soft smile. He’d posted the letter on his way to their house, mind warring on whether he wanted to do it or not, but the courage was found, and it was done.

With those words it was like Axel perked up, even a little. If Roxas didn’t know any better… it was like he was relieved. With his stance on Deviants, though, it made sense. He might even be relieved because Roxas was staying, but that was wishful thinking on his part. “That’s a big step,” Axel spoke in a low voice.

“I guess so. I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. Not if it eventually meant facing Hayner, and... “ Roxas trailed off. He was speaking too personally, too deep. “I made my decision and that’s that.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the trio watching crappy movies, and Axel fussing over Roxas to an unbearable degree. Each time Roxas would go to get up, Axel would insist he’d go in Roxas’ stead; grab some water, or food? Done. It was sweet, but...

It escalated into deep embarrassment for Roxas when Axel emerged from the kitchen, as they were finishing up on a cheesy drama, holding a mug overfilled with cream, and- was that sprinkles? 

Roxas couldn’t help but be sceptical when Axel appeared beside him and handed it over. “Um?”

“I know you have something of a sweet tooth. Cooked up a Roxas special.” 

Roxas grinned. “A little overboard, Axel. Thank you, but you need to chill out. I’m fine. I swear.” 

Shrugging, Axel joined the two on the couch, sitting beside Roxas, brushing against Roxas’ arm as he pulled the blanket over his lap. “If you say so.”

“Can we start the next movie? I’m dying to see more crap which will turn my brain to mush,” Kairi piped up, winking. “You know I don’t watch it for the dudes like you two.” 

“You make heart eyes at every female to walk across the screen. Poor, poor you for having to see a dude alongside her,” Roxas pouted sarcastically. “You were the one to suggest this.”

“Shush, you. Like we’ve never had a romcom day in the past. Never heard you complain before.”

Roxas took a sip of his drink, noting that Axel made a really good hot chocolate. Axel broke out into a smirk, Roxas frowning as he set it down. “What?”

“You’ve,” Axel motioned to his nose, “got a little something. Right there.” 

“Oh.” Roxas wiped it up, giggling. He couldn’t help but let his eyes linger for a few seconds on the man, his smile, how large and full of emotion it was. Roxas had never noticed how much he liked Axel’s smile before, but now he was taking it in fully. 

They started the next movie not so long after, some blockbuster with a few celebrities locking lips every ten seconds. Roxas caught himself taking sneaky looks at Axel every so often. He felt completely dazed by the feelings that burst to life in his chest every time Axel leaned a little against him, or laughed loudly, or smiled.. 

It was when the happiness hit its peak, though, that disappointment hit him in slow waves, always sending his thoughts back to the movie again. Roxas accepted he had a crush on Axel, felt something more than just friendship which had slowly blossomed years ago. The possibility of that being reciprocated, though… Unlikely. Axel was a tease, a joker. He cared, of course, as evident by the beverage on the table next to him. But anything more? Axel had Saix, and Roxas couldn’t compare to someone like him. He was older, taller, more mature. An idiot, too, but Roxas couldn’t ignore where he lacked.

Roxas left the White’s residence when it started getting dark. He and Axel hadn’t said anything more to each other regarding what they had previously discussed, back in the garage, or were about to discuss before Roxas had passed out. Yes, he knew he felt something for Axel, that much was settled. And then there was Hayner… someone he did care for, but wasn’t sure if it could ever be love. Or whether it was just physical, something to help him deal with the impending doom that had been his army training. 

“He lied, earlier.”

“Huh?” The voice took him off guard, pulling him from his thoughts as he walked.

“That boy, Axel. He said he wasn’t that worried about you. He was. Until Kairi got back he wouldn’t leave your side. Gave you looks. Looks like Hayner gave you, sometimes. Sad looks.” 

Roxas scowled. “What do you know about what sort of looks Hayner gives me?” 

“I told you, Roxas. I’m always here. Always have been, always will.” 

I’m crazy, Roxas thought, that’s gotta be it. 

I can still hear you when you think, Roxas.”

“What? So I’ve been speaking aloud all this time for… what? Your amusement?” 

There it was again, a brush of emotion, though this time it was almost like… enjoyment. Was the voice laughing? “You were the one who chose to speak aloud.” There definitely seemed to be a tinkle of amusement in the voice.

“Wow. Glad to know my insanity has a sense of humour.” 

No reply. Roxas scoffed, already reaching the more familiar houses down his street. The voice, it seemed, liked to choose its moments to speak. It was… unnerving. 

It was getting increasingly harder to call the thing something to do with his imagination. 

“I’m not a thing, thank you very much. My name is Xion.” 

That got Roxas’ attention. “Xion? So you’re not a random voice I’ve created. Oh. That’s exactly what a random voice I created would say.” 

“Sarcasm. Lovely.”

Roxas grabbed his keys from his pocket, noticing all the lights to be  off in his home. Still, he spoke in a lowered voice. “So, Xion. Anything else about you that you wanna divulge?”

“I… that’s all I know. My name. Apart from that... I’ve just been here, watching.”

“Watching? That’s not creepy at all.” Roxas drawled, switching on the lights as he stepped inside. True to what he thought, there was no movement inside the house; nobody was home. His parents were most likely out at dinner. Shuking his shoes off, and throwing them in a corner, he shoved a meal left out on the side for him, into the microwave, deciding to get changed into sweats before lounging about the rest of the night. “Wait, so when I’m… y’know, you’re there?”

“Technically. Though I… go away for a bit. I can be a certain amount of distance away from you before it gets painful. Really painful.” 

Great. I’m getting spied on when I have sex.

“Interesting.” 

“You still think I’m a figment of your imagination, don’t you?” 

“Bingo.” 

Xion groaned. “You’re insufferable.” 

“I’ve been told.” Roxas shrugged his top off, stretching as he did so. His limbs were already starting to feel sore from the early morning run-

“Roxas. Look in the mirror.” 

“Huh?” He paused mid-stretch, narrowing his eyes. “Why?” 

“Just do it.” 

With a shake of the head he lowered his arms, turning to see his bare torso in the mirror-

The center of his chest was adorned with a small, though indistinguishable, sun. It was pale blue in colour, a plain circle with lines poking out from all angles, wisping around to points. It wasn’t the thing in question that caused his initial shock, though. It was the fact it was glowing. 

“Xion…” 

“Roxas, you’re a Deviant.”