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The Mocha Mixup

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CHAPTER 1:  WARNING:  Radioactive Pants Ahead

 

 

                I stared.  I couldn’t control myself.  I mean, the kid was wearing the most obnoxious bright neon green pants, complete with black pinstripes and a few silver chains descending from his waistline here and there.  To make matters worse (as if he didn’t stand out enough!), the pants were tight.  Too tight.  I openly, unabashedly stared as he ordered whatever from the barista.  What possessed him to walk into the neighborhood corner Starbucks, right across the street from the university campus, wearing this latest fashion travesty?  There were senior citizens here!  Had he no shame?!?

              Ok, maybe that was a little uncalled for.  So, yeah, my own jeans were a little tight.  I mean, they don’t call them skinny for nothing!  At least mine weren’t so obnoxiously bright they could be used to guide incoming aircraft.  I was wearing perfectly-fitting, clean-cut black jeans.  And damn did they look good on me.  If I weren’t me, I would be staring at myself instead of that kid in the bright pants.  Hell, why wasn’t I staring at myself?

                As I stole a quick look down at my long legs and ran a hand through my gorgeous, perfectly spiked fire-red hair (I know, I can be a little conceited sometimes), smiling contentedly at how well my pants fit, I heard the barista announce “Venti Mocha Frappuccino, extra shot of expresso!”  I shot to attention, ready to claim my drink (finally!) and get the hell away from the neon freakshow, and reached my hand out with the full intention of grabbing that baby and enjoying every last sip of my five damn dollar gift from God, bliss from a blender, when another hand touched my fucking mocha.

                “Excuse me?”  I spluttered as we simultaneously seized the heavenly portion of chocolatey espresso paradise (my LIFELINE, because let me tell you the only reason I got up in the morning was to drink this little cup of sinful liquid decadence), my fingertips brushing those of the little blonde thief who STOLE – eh?

                I found myself looking down at the culprit.  I couldn’t say another word as the shorter male looked up at me with an emotionless expression on his face.  I could feel his icy blue (and damn were they blue!) eyes burning into my dazzling green ones and I could only glare at him fiercely, hoping I could get the message across with a particularly nasty facial expression as I thought randomly to myself, he should be wearing bright blue pants.

                “Excuse me but there must be some mistake.  This is my drink.” I explained, finally regaining my voice after the shock that he would dare make eye contact with me after infringing upon my personal mocha space, as I nodded towards the blended drink sitting on the pickup counter that we were both still clutching (if his hand warmth melted my frappuccino he would die).

                He looked at me coldly and stated bluntly, “I just ordered a venti mocha frappuccino, no whip, extra shot of espresso.  You told the barista that you wanted extra whipped cream.  This mocha has none.”

                My blood boiled and I just wanted to smack this kid.  Damn him and his so-called observations.  Smart aleck.  Who the hell did he think he was?  Of course I didn’t order whipped…shit.  The kid (well, kid was probably not the right word.  He looked about my age.) was right “Dammit, “ I swore,  “But I ordered first!  Where’s my MOCHA?!?”  I slammed my fist on the counter, looking around wildly.  For the first time since ordering, I actually glanced at the pickup counter and cringed in palpable humiliation.  There was a second, identical (except for the gigantic mound of whipped cream at the top.  I would have to tip the barista extra next time!) drink about a foot away.  Fuck.  How did I miss that?

                "Your drink must be that one over there.  I guess you weren’t… paying attention,” the kid smirked slightly, glanced straight into my eyes, claimed the mocha which I had the good sense to relinquish, turned around and started walking out the door.  I flushed from embarrassment when I realized that he knew I had been staring.  Ugh.  That little-

                “Hey,” I growled and he twirled around abruptly to face me, “Who the-“  I stopped there, knowing that if I continued speaking a stream of choice obscenities would flow from my mouth, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to aggravate this kid.  I mean, he seemed more than a little psychotic (ok so maybe I was stereotyping him there, but good GOD those pants just screamed I am an emotionally insecure who-am-I why–am-I-here darling little bundle of teen angst and I am ready to validate my existence on your ass, bitch) and I really didn’t want him poisoning my mocha next time we happened to run into each other at Starbucks.   Though, I was a bit curious about him.  So, I decided to just be the better person (I am awesome, after all) and let it go.  I mumbled gruffly, “Sorry about that.  Umm, nice pants.”  It killed me to admit that, let me tell you.  I compliment no one (except myself.  Hellooo, if your derriere looked this good in these pants then you would totally compliment yourself, too).  It took IMMENSE effort and self control to speak those words.  

                His striking blue eyes met mine again and we held eye contact for a few seconds as he hesitated.  I saw a shift in his blank expression as he contemplated how to react to my unexpected flattery.  Looking at me with a question I didn’t understand, he simply stated “…Thanks.”  With that comment, he took a sip of his mocha and exited the little coffee shop.

                I felt like he had stomped all over my dignity.  Nobody tells Axel where his mocha’s at.  Axel is intimately connected with his daily mocha and does not need you to clarify its precise location, because Axel has venti mocha Frappuccino, extra shot of espresso and extra whip radar.  So there.

***

                That day would go down in history as the day Axel uttered the phrase ‘nice pants’ to someone other than himself.  Three days later, on the first day of the fall semester, I immensely regretted letting loose those words when I found myself waiting in the immensely long I-NEED-CAFFEINE-BEFORE-MY-NEXT-CLASS-OR-I-WILL-DIE line at the on-campus Starbucks behind Mr. I-Tie-Dyed-My-Pants-In-
A-Vat-Of-Radioactive-Goo.   Yeah, I was behind you-know-who, praying to the dear lord up in heaven that fancypants would not turn around and notice me.

                Why would I have ever thought that I’d be so lucky?

                Today his pants were red and black, checker-board style.  You want to know how I know?  I was totally admiring his ass (not like that.  I had no interest in emotionally challenged males) when I heard an unfortunately familiar voice say, “Oh, you again.”

                I glanced upward quickly, trying to conceal the fact that I was closely investigating his style choice for the day.  Pretty sure he noticed.

                “What’s up, Mr. No-Whip?” I asked him nonchalantly, as if my eyes hadn’t been glued to his backside for the past minute or so.

                “Nothing much,” he stated simply, glancing over to see how close to the front of the line we were.  Fantastic.  He thought I was a total freak who had been checking him out and now he wanted to get as far away from me as fast as possible.  Just great.

                Shifting my position a little to lean on my other leg, I decided that talking to neon pants (well, checkered today) in front of me was better than waiting silently for the fifty people (I mean, seriously, guys, did everybody have to get Starbucks in between classes?) ahead of us in line to order their goddamn drinks and get the hell out of here.  I, Axel, cannot take awkward silence for long, and this lack of dialogue was a severe indication of the hate waves I could feel oozing from the stuck-up blonde.

                “Sooo… you’re a student here at the university, right?  Are you a freshman?  Because I definitely don’t remember you and I’m sure I would’ve recognized you… you’re quite noticeable, you know,” I smirked, knowing I had captured his attention with that last comment.  He looked at me, still no hint of an expression on his face.  God, didn’t this kid care about anything?   What was his problem?  I was just trying to make some fucking friendly conversation.

                “Junior.  You know….,” the blonde turned around briefly and looked at me expressionlessly, cocking his head a bit, “there are 18,000 students at this school.” He turned back around, once again inspecting the menu.  Like he didn’t already know what he was going to order.  This kid was aggravating.  In retaliation, I decided to press further and continue our dying conversation.

                “Cool… I’m a senior… and trust me, I know a lot of people.  I am quite popular.”  I refused to let him one-up me.  ‘There are 18,000 students at this school.’  Pfft.  I would not let that snarky-ass comment go unpunished.  Ok, so maybe he didn’t mean it that way, his tone wasn’t quite snippity, but still.  He had already trampled on my dignity enough.  Let me tell you, I am a very prideful being under the influence of a severe superiority complex.

                I eyed the counter.  About five more people to go before mini-blonde (he must have been at least a full head shorter than me!) ordered his drink.  I wasn’t done playing with him yet.  Oh no, there was more than enough Starbucks time to crack through neon emo-pants’ shell.   I wouldn’t just crumble this kid’s defense, I would burn it to the ground.  I was going to make this kid regret the day he touched my mocha and embarrassed me in front of everyone in Starbucks.

                The younger boy remained silent, but started rummaging through the pockets of his backpack, eventually withdrawing a black and white checkered wallet (where the hell did this kid shop, anyway?).  Three people left before he reached the cashier.

                “I’m Axel… by the way.”  I held out my hand in a gesture of civility.  He looked at me blankly, then down at my outstretched arm.  He shook my hand warily, looking up at me.  Once again, I was stunned by the color of those eyes.  Daaamn.  I had never seen such a gorgeous blue, and it absolutely killed me to even think that.  I wasn’t used to complimenting other people.

                “Roxas…” he said, and turned around to place his order with the waiting cashier.

                “Eh?” I uttered.  Roxas?  What does that mean?

                “It’s my name,” he explained, glancing back at me over his shoulder while the woman behind the counter rang up his order.

                “Oh… that’s badass!” I exclaimed, drawing his attention again, “Names with x’s in them are just freakin’ awesome, if I don’t say so myself!”  I flashed him a dazzling smile as I stepped up to the cashier next to him, which had just freed up.  He looked away quickly, his cheeks a little rosy, and proceeded to dictate his order.  Did he just blush?  I thought, curiously.  Maybe he doesn’t have many friends and doesn’t know how to deal with outgoing people next to him in line at Starbucks?

                “Venti mocha...” I started ordering, then thought for a moment.  Hmmm… I had an idea.  Why not try something new? “One second,” I said to the checkout girl.

                I turned to Roxas.  “What did you order?”  I asked nonchalantly, hoping he would tell me.

                “…green tea Frappuccino, no whip,” Roxas revealed hesitantly, looking at me from the corner of his eyes as he handed the cashier a five dollar bill.

                I turned back to the girl behind the counter in front of me.  “Selphie, I’ll have the same, except with EXTRA whipped cream, please,” I said devilishly, smiling conspiratorially at the younger girl, my favorite barista.  I winked slyly at her, knowing that was enough to get me a mug full of whipped cream, if I so wanted.  Selphie giggled and nodded her head before reading the price of the drink to me.

                Roxas shook his head in disbelief before heading up to the drink pick-up counter.  “Have you ever even tried a green tea frappaccino?” he asked me curiously when I joined him where he was waiting for his drink.

                “No!” I said gleefully, excited at the prospect of irritating this kid.  Well, I’ll admit, I was also curious to taste this drink.  I mean, I loved my mochas, but the same old same old every day couldn’t be good for me, eh?

                My glee quickly turned to shock when the barista announced, “Venti green tea Frappuccino, no whip.”  The drink was… green.  A… ghastly… shade… of green.

                “What the fuck?” I hissed, looking at Roxas curiously, “It’s… green. How the hell can you drink that?!?  I mean… it… is… green!”

                “It’s good,” Roxas shrugged, taking a sip.  He watched me as the barista finished my version, topping it off with a mountain of whipped cream.

                I eyed the drink warily as the barista announced its title.  I was reluctant to claim it, ready to send it back in exchange for my traditional mocha.  But… the kid was watching.  I couldn’t deface myself anymore by appearing cowardly.  I, Axel, afraid of a ghastly green tea blended crème Frappuccino that was vaguely reminiscent of spinach?!  Never!  I took the plunge and bravely seized my beverage.

                Roxas snorted and smiled crookedly.  Wait, had Roxas just smiled?  What?  Did I miss something?  Sure, I had only known him for a total of, like, fifteen minutes, but I’m quite certain that I was correct in my observation that Roxas did not smile, being emotionally uncertain, as his pants indicated.

                “What?!?” I verbally attacked him, showing my exasperation with the whole situation via a particularly paralyzing glare.

                He quickly regained his composure, taking up his characteristic blank expression once again.

                “Your face,” was the only comment he offered as he began heading towards the exit.  I dashed to catch up to him, drink still in hand, as of yet untasted.

                “What do you mean?” I inquired, falling into step beside him, matching his pace as we made our way outside and down the central campus path. “Did I make my disbelief at the existence of such an oddly grotesque, yet sinfully intriguing twenty ounces of a bizarrely colored blended beverage extraordinarily apparent on my gorgeous, flawless, and dazzling visage?”

                “Yeah,” Roxas confirmed, nodding as he sucked away at the drink in his hand, “You did.”  He stared pointedly straight ahead as he continued following the pathway, avoiding a few rushing students as they passed by.

                I maintained my position by his side as I followed him.  Hell, I had nowhere to go, my next class didn’t start for an hour, and I’d be damned if I let this interesting little boy with the badass name and spiky blonde hair escape.

                “Sooo… does it taste green?” I asked Roxas, looking at him from the corner of my eyes while holding the drink up in the sunlight.

                Roxas shrugged, “…I guess it does…” he mused, still sipping the grass-colored concoction in his hand.  He adjusted his backpack and turned down another pathway.  He eyed me warily as I turned with him.  “You know…” Roxas commented, side-eyeing me, “you should drink it before it melts.”  I scowled as he glanced away, turning left towards a row of classrooms.  I followed him – I was going stick to him like glue (at least until Japanese 101) and discover what exactly caused him to become so antisocial.

                I just don’t know how to mind my own damn business, now do I?

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 2:  Ok, so maybe I’m checking you out… just a little.

 

                So I guess you’re probably wondering what exactly happened between me and my little Starbucks surprise – no, not Roxas, I’m talking about that weird green tea Frappuccino.  Jesus, get your mind out of the gutter.  Like I’d ever be interested in that squirt beyond the realm of patient and psychotherapist.

                Anyways.

                “I, Axel, who drinks only venti mocha frappaccinos, extra shot of espresso and extra extra whipped cream, am about to embrace a deviation from my daily routine and take a sip of this, and I stress, green, Starbucks creation,” I declared to the world, which at this point consisted of Roxas, walking next to me, and the squirrels frolicking in the trees overshadowing the path we were following.

                I checked out of the corners of my eyes to make sure that Roxas was watching – he was, with a mildly interested look on his face, might I add – and lifted the straw to my lips.

                Hot damn.

                This drink wasn’t half bad.

                “Well?” Roxas asked, expectantly.

                “It definitely… tastes green.  And I think I like green,” I replied, drinking more fervently, wanting to enjoy the frappuccino while it was still unmelted.  “It could definitely use a shot of espresso, though.  I need my morning jolt”

                “Ew… I doubt that would mix well,” Roxas commented, frowning.

                “Hmm… I suppose you’re right…” I thought aloud.

                We walked in silence for a while longer, both us contemplating our frappuccinos.  I began to pay attention to where Roxas was leading us, wondering where he was heading to on this first day of classes.

                “How long do you intend to follow me?” I was a bit startled by Roxas’ query, as I had become acquainted with our companionable silence.  I looked up and realized that we had stopped in front of one of the university’s libraries.

                Hmm.  What now?  It would seem more than a little weird of me to follow the kid into the library, so I decided to take my leave.  I had a feeling that I would be running into mini-blonde again.  Just an inkling, but for some reason, I knew that I wanted to be Roxas’ friend, whether he liked it or not.

                “Later, Roxas!”  I waved casually, turned around and started traveling in the opposite direction.  After a few steps though, I looked back towards the library doors, taking note that Roxas was still standing there, watching me head out.  “Thanks for the idea!”  I called out, waving the half-empty venti cup in the air.  He waved back at me and shook his head, amusement dancing in his eyes.

                I think we bonded, no?

***

                I continued on my merry way to Japanese 101, something I decided to take for fun.  I discovered it was so much that a drag than I thought it would be.  If Demyx hadn’t taken the course with me I think I would have just died.  He always managed to make even the most boring classes entertaining.

                Demyx was… well, and I don’t mean any offense by this, but… eccentric.  In a good way.  He was a daydreamer, that’s for sure, and a little far out.  Demyx and I had been best friends since the first day of high school.  We met in first period, English, and were instant partners in crime after Demyx’s smart-aleck comment about our teacher’s ridiculously spiky hair.  We spent the next four years pranking teachers and other students - anything to prove our self-labeled ‘badassness’.  Yeah, I know, cringey, but we were young and hey, it was high school, and we needed to let off some steam and have a little fun.

                Now, we were older, more mature (well, maybe not Demyx) college students, having gained acceptance into one of the finest universities in the country (or so the school would have us believe), and very compatible roommates.  I’ll admit, I was afraid that living together would turn us into archenemies – although we got along well, Demyx wasn’t the easiest person to live with (Um, can you say opera?  Yeah, Demyx sang until 3:00 AM every morning.  My first purchase while living as an independent college student was a pair of earplugs).  Fortunately, we made it through our first year together as roomies and decided to continue as such, to this very day. 

                Demyx was a theatre major (musical theatre, to be precise), and let me tell you, it showed.  He had a flair for the dramatic, and could blow any little happenstance completely out of proportion using his exceptional acting ‘talents’ (I still don’t know how he got into the theatre program).  Which, unfortunately, was exactly what he did when I told him about my little chance meetings with a certain Mr. Roxas that morning and three days earlier.

                “Axel, you have to find this kid!  He needs friends!  I want to be his friend,” Demyx insisted, much to my irritation.  We were lounging outside of the food court, sitting at a stone table shaded from the blinding afternoon sun by a large umbrella, chatting amicably across from each other while eating lunch.  I was munching on a chicken avocado wrap while Demyx indulged in veggie sushi.

                “Dem… he’s emotionally unstable,” I explained, “I really don’t think that you and he would mix.   Well, I think together you two would be a living time bomb.  He’s not much for conversation, and face it, ALL you do is talk.  You’d both quickly get on each other’s nerves and I’d have to be the one to break up the fistfight that would ensue.  But seriously, I’ve only known him for about thirty minutes, total.  Just drop it.”

                “And just what evidence do you have that he’s emotionally unstable?” Demyx inquired, raising an eyebrow.

                “His pants,” I stated firmly, with conviction.

                Demyx rolled his eyes and plopped another piece of sushi into his mouth.  “You’re one to talk, Mr. Firetruck-red-hair.”

                I glared at Demyx and grabbed one of his sushi rolls.  “What are you talking about?!”

                “You’re insane, dude,” Demyx commented matter-of-factly and quickly grabbed his roll back from me in my moment of weakness.  “Don’t make me remind you of the foolish things you’ve done.”

                I angrily bit into my wrap, staring Demyx down.  Swallowing, I retorted “You were my partner in crime for most of those.”

                “And I am freely admitting that I am not all that put-together, you ass.”  Demyx poked through the second half of my wrap with his chopstick while making his point.  He sighed and waved my speared wrap in the air, “I’m just saying, dude, don’t be so quick to judge.  If you met me in Starbucks today, would you want to be friends with me?” He quirked an eyebrow and wagged my half-wrap at me.

                I paused, considering.

                “No,” he answered his own question, and set my wrap down with care.  I claimed it before he could begin any new shenanigans.  “But look where we are.”

                I stared at him murderously as I chewed.

                “And really, who’s the stranger one here?”  He paused thoughtfully, putting his chopsticks to his temple, “The pants-wearer… or the pants-starer?” He waggled his brows suggestively at me and then laughed heartily at his own joke.

                I flushed, embarrassed, “Quit waggling your eyebrows at me.  And it wasn’t like that.”

                Demyx regained his composure long enough to whisper, “So… how good did he look in those pants to earn your attention?”  He couldn’t contain his laughter long enough to waggle his eyebrows at me.

                “That’s it, man.” I plucked the last three sushi rolls off his tray with my bare hands and stuffed them in my mouth.

                “Hey!” Demyx shouted, his laughter dying. “That was so not cool, Ax.  I’m hungry!”

                I chewed some more and then spluttered, “And I did not tell you that story for you to blow it out of proportion.

                “Pfft,” Demyx huffed, putting his chopsticks down and crossing his arms, “You need to chill.  I’m just teasing you.  But,” Demyx suddenly lowered his voice and leaned in toward me conspiratorially, “You know, they say that if you meet someone three times, it’s… destiny.”

                “Oh, please,” I groaned, “Can you be any –” I paused when I saw a checkered flash from the corner of my eyes.

                “Well, speak of the devil,” I muttered, putting down my now quarter of a wrap and looking past Dem towards the large automatic doors leading into food court.  They were closing behind a certain young blonde by the name of Roxas.

                “Oh my God, is that him?!?” Demyx asked eagerly, whipping around and not even trying to hide his staring.  I glared stonily at my best friend, neither answering yes nor no.  I knew what would happen if I let Demyx have his way.  I turned my attention back to the boy approaching and tried to maintain my composure.  Roxas was still wearing the same black-and-red checkered pants from this morning.  Thank goodness they weren’t as radioactive as the neon-green ones.  These actually attracted a positive sort of attention.

                Of course, those pants would look better on me.  All pants would look better on me.

                That particular pair did look pretty snazzy on Roxas, though.

                “It is him, isn’t it?  Look at those pants!  That must be him!” Demyx looked at me wide-eyed, glancing towards Roxas and then towards me, furiously turning his head to look back and forth between us. Then, much to my dismay, HORROR of all HORRORS, Demyx raised his hand up and waved.  “ROXAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSS!”  he called, waving fervently.

                Hold on, let me clarify that statement.  Demyx did not just simply yell out Roxas’ name, beckoning him to join us.  Oh no, a simple cry of “Roxas!” wouldn’t suffice when it came to Demyx.  No no no, my dear dramatic friend had to go all out with everything he did, of course.  Oh yes, Demyx positively OPERA-FUCKING-SANG Roxas’s name for the entire courtyard to hear.  The young blonde’s name, according to Demyx, was no longer a simple, two syllable, two second term.  Demyx just couldn’t resist twisting the poor boy’s name into “Roooooooooooooo-ooo-OOO-ooo-OOO-oooo-OOO-ooooo-x-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-aaa-SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS-ssssssssssssssss!!!”. 

                I was ready to die from embarrassment.

                What the hell was wrong with Demyx?  I’d be damned if Roxas even looked at me, let alone spoke to me ever again.  My dream of playing the part of Roxas’ psychotherapist crumbled around me (ok, I know, weird dream.  But I’ll admit, I LOVE to meddle in other people’s lives.  It’s a bad habit).

                “Demyx!” I hissed, putting my hand over my eyes in shame, “I’m going to fucking kill you in your sleep tonight!  What the hell are you thinking?”

                “I’m just inviting him over!  Come on, Axel, you know I hate seeing people eat alone!” Demyx pleaded, looking at me with puppy dog eyes.  “I’m just trying to be friendly!” he pleaded.

                “He hasn’t sat down anywhere yet.  He may have a whole bunch of neon-pants-wearing friends waiting for him,” I retorted, “Plus, that was not friendly.  That was freakish and scary.  Go be friendly when I’m not around to suffer.”  How dare Demyx take my case study into his own hands?!?

                Demyx looked away from me and continued to frantically wave at the blond punk.  Roxas’s eyes widened slightly and then he squinted into the sunlight, confused.  Then, I saw him spot the source of the call (I mean, who could miss the ridiculous, over-the-top waving).  He glanced from my obnoxious friend to me, and a flash of recognition crossed his face.

                “Oh God he’s coming towards us,” I wailed, covering my eyes with my hands and looking downward, shamefaced at my best friend’s antics.  “Dem, this is soo embarrassing.  Can you put your arm down please?  Ok he saw us!  HE’S COMING DEM STOP IT!  SHUT UP!”  Seeing him start to open his mouth in his customary opera position, I stood abruptly, reached across the table and promptly covered Demyx’s mouth with my hand before he could call Roxas again.

                “Hey Roxas,” I greeted him smoothly, trying to act as if I didn’t realize that Demyx had just opera-sung his name, steadfastly gripping my friend’s head to keep him silent all the while pretending this was nothing unusual.  I’m surprised that Roxas didn’t just turn around and run away.  You’d think that Demyx would have scared him off – that embarrassing fiasco combined with Demyx’s blond mohawk fauxhawk WHATEVER he has on his head forms a very foreign and intimidating situation.  I smiled at Roxas, trying to put him at ease.  Aw, hell.  Just then, Demyx wrangled out of my grasp and I fell backward, tumbling over the bench I had been hovering over and rolling onto the ground.

                “PLEASE SIT WI-“

                “SHUT UP DEMYX!” I exclaimed, glaring at my friend and scrambling up, brushing my knees off and wincing at the pain caused by the tumble.  I turned to look at Roxas, still holding a tray of food in one hand about a foot away from our table while covering his mouth with the other to conceal the fact that he was laughing – at me.  At me!  Me, Axel!  His hand failed to cover up the crime as his laughter shook his body and his eyes squinted up.

                “Oh my god,” I groaned and hit my palm to my forehead, “I am so sorry.  And so embarrassed.” I shook my head at the ridiculousness of the situation.  “Roxas, this is my best friend Demyx.  No, he is not a psychopath, as far as I know, just a little… well… eccentric,” I introduced, removing my hand from my forehead and gesturing towards Demyx.  “Demyx, this is Roxas.  We met at Starbucks the other day.”  I glared at Demyx, trying to warn him telepathically that if he let on that I had told him about my meetings with Roxas I would set his blankets on fire later (preferably while he was lying comfortably under them, sleeping peacefully).

                “Nice to meet you!” Demyx exclaimed, holding out his hand, which Roxas shook after recovering from his laughter.  I felt my anger and embarrassment slip away slowly as Roxas chuckled one last time in my direction.

                “Nice to meet you,” Roxas confirmed, withdrawing from the gesture.  “That was… quite the introduction.”

                “Please, be honest.  It was… ridiculous,” I sat back down after pulling a blade of grass out of my hair.  Looking up at Roxas, I hesitated, then asked politely, “Would you… like to sit with us?”

                “Yes, please join us!” Demyx seconded.  He just couldn’t stay quiet for one single moment, now could he?

                Roxas looked around, pausing before he accepted the offer.  “Sure.. why not?”  I’m sure he realized that there was practically nobody else around at this odd time while most people were in classes and he had no other choice.

                “Thanks,” he said, placing his food-laden tray down next to Demyx and diagonally across the table from me.  I shifted my position a little so that I was sitting more equidistant from the two of them, alone as I was on this side of the rectangular table.  I surveyed little Roxas’s lunch choice for the day (hey, what a person eats gives away a lot about them.  Take, for instance, my lean chicken avocado wrap.  What does that food choice say about me?  Not only am I healthy, but I am undeniably tall, lean, and sexy.   What more do you need to know?).  Hmmm.  Roxas was planning to dine upon a chicken Caesar salad and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

                I took the time to interpret the results of the food test.  According to his choice of lunch, Roxas was a pensive soul, with thoughts as deep as his soup bowl.  The fact that he chose chicken noodle implied that he had complex worries, and, like those books that everybody used to read, just needed a little chicken noodle soup to help put his thoughts at rest (see – I told you he suffered from emotional turmoil) (chicken noodle soup just screams emo).  He was mysterious, like his choice of salad (why was it named Caesar?), and intriguing, sparking curiosity in those he met (I’m going to have to google that salad later).  He had a complexion as creamy as the Caesar dressing and amazingly gorgeous blue eyes that were dazzlingly disorienting; they would suck you in and pick apart your mind, as if he knew all your secrets; I just couldn’t, just couldn’t look away, just drowning in that blue

                Um.  What was I saying?

                …That was quite enough of that.

                Comparing Roxas to his food, I mean.

                “So where are you from?!?” Demyx asked Roxas eagerly.  I tuned into their conversation.

                “Twilight City,” came Roxas’s reply.  He stabbed at his salad with his fork, eyes cast downward.

                “Yeah, baby!” Demyx exclaimed, raising his hand up for a high five.  Roxas stared for a moment at Dem’s upraised arm, then awkwardly reached up to meet it.  “Me and Axel are Twilightians, born and raised!” he clarified, “Ain’t that right, Axel my friend?!?”

                “Yes sir!” I joined in Dem’s glee and high fived him, then Roxas (who was not too enthusiastic).

                “Oh come on, Roxas, that was a pathetic high five.  Let’s try it again, except this time with some enthusiasm!  Some emotion!” I challenged .  Roxas looked up at me, and for a moment my vision went blue.  He raised his arm and repeated the gesture, with a little more power the second time around.  Our hands met in the air with a loud clap and I felt a shock of electricity running up my arm from the impact, an odd little unfamiliar spark that made its way up my arm and down my spine, into my stomach where it lingered.

                What the hell?  Did this kid have static electricity or something?

                “Now that’s more like it!” Demyx applauded, and then broke open a container of dumplings he bought to accompany the sushi that I had finished off for him.  “So do you miss the big city?” he asked Roxas.

                “Hmm, kind of…” Roxas nodded, a wistful look in his eyes.  He stared into the distance.  I could tell that this conversation topic would be a path eventually worth pursuing, but I didn’t really want to push it right now.  Demyx had already created enough of a scene, the fool, and I didn’t want to scare Roxas off by prying too deeply into his past.

                “Dem, what’s in those dumplings?” I asked him casually, hoping to change the subject.

                “I don’t know, veggies, dude.” Demyx replied, popping a whole dumpling into his mouth.               “Demyx is a vegetarian,” I explained, looking at Roxas, “Personally I don’t know how he does it.  I would get bored quickly, but Demyx loves it.”

                “Wow,” Roxas stated, directing his gaze towards Demyx, “That’s pretty cool.”

                “Thanks!  I’m actually thinking about going all the way and becoming vegan,” Dem added.

                “If Demyx is going to do something, it’s got to be extreme and over the top,” I commented, chuckling.

                “Hey!  If you knew how they treated those poor animals you’d stop eating meat too!” Demyx cried, and then assumed a theatrical pose, sobbing deeply.  I swear, he never stopped.

                “Please,” I begged, looking pointedly at Roxas, “Ignore him. So what’s your major?” I inquired, completely tuning Demyx out and his obviously fake bawling.

                “Education,” Roxas told me.

                “Oh, wow.  You want to be a teacher?” I inquired, pushing for more details.  “Kids are terrible these days.”

                “That’s the plan,” Roxas nodded grimly.  He seemed to hesitate, about to speak, and bit his lip slightly.  “What about you?  What’s your major?” Roxas asked me.

                Was little Roxas actually willingly participating in the conversation?  We were making progress here, my friends!

                “Well, I’m a double major in math and chemistry.” I flashed another one of my dazzling smiles.

 “And Dem over there, he’s known what he’s wanted to do since elementary school!”

                “Yessir!” Demyx confirmed, nodding fervently, “I am a musical theatre major, loud and proud, baby!”

                “Very loud,” I added, “VERY very loud.”

                “Hey!” Demyx cried, and threw one of his dumplings at me.  The ridiculous little bundle hit me square in the middle of the forehead, falling into my lap.  I recoiled instantly from the light but oily impact.

                “Oh my God that’s IT DEMYX,” I exclaimed, looking down at my pants which now had a very obvious dumpling oil stain.  I picked up the dumpling and threw it back at him carelessly. “MY PANTS, DEMYX, MY PANTS!  I can’t go to class like this!” I wailed, trying futilely to remove the stain with a napkin.

                “This guy is obsessed with his appearance,” Demyx whispered conspiratorially to Roxas, who’s mouth twitched in the beginnings of a smile.

                “Not funny, De-“ I was interrupted by a still unfamiliar laughing.  Dem and I both looked at each other, and then Roxas.

                Who was laughing.

                Laughing.

                At me.  Again!

                Shit.

                I felt my face heat up, and I knew I was turning red.

                “So..rry…” Roxas managed to say, in between chuckles, “You two are great friends…”

                Great friends, my ass.  Why are all my acquaintances such freaks?

                And why the hell was I so eager to be Roxas’s friend?

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 3:  I agree, those pants would look hot on me

 

Lunch passed by without further incident (thank God).  Before separating, Demyx managed to convince Roxas to meet us Friday night for an intense Super Smash Brothers tournament. Heh.  This kid didn’t know what he was getting into.  Demyx was surely going to wipe the floor with his angsty little derriere; even I’d never been able to one-up Dem.

The rest of the day dragged slowly on, with me forcing myself to stay awake during my next two classes.  I really couldn’t focus.  I mean, it was the first day – the professors weren’t actually teaching anything, just covering the syllabus and course requirements.  I was perfectly capable of going back to the dorm and reading all the paperwork myself.

Plus it didn’t help that I couldn’t stop thinking about a certain little blonde.

I’m sure Roxas had a deep, dark, past that caused his emotional trauma (assuming that I was interpreting his fashion and lunch choices correctly), and I just had to know.

I needed to know more about him.

Later that day I returned to the on-campus apartment I shared with Demyx.  It turned out that Roxas also lived in this particular complex, so Roxas conveniently wouldn’t have far to go when he came over Friday night.

I walked down the hall after getting off the elevator (we lived on the thirteenth floor.  Ominous, I know) and pulled out my keys.  I unlocked the door, ran inside, slammed it shut, and collapsed on the couch.

“Well, hello to you too,” Demyx commented from the kitchen table as I lunged onto the cushions.

“Hmmffo,” I greeted him, my face buried in a pillow.  I turned onto my back and repeated, “Hello.”  I stared at the walls of our apartment.  They were covered with different prints of images from my and Demyx’s favorite video games – and one obligatory family photo.  I wondered what Roxas would think of my décor when he came over for Super Smash Brothers night on Friday.

Sigh.  I really needed to stop thinking about Roxas.  I have other friends, you know.   I just hadn’t seen them at all during the three and a half month summer break – none of our good friends from our circle lived in Twilight City like me and Dem.  Senior year had started in a rush, with me and Demyx leaving four days later than originally planned and scrambling to get schedules and books and paper and pens and all those typical school things that Demyx and I had mysteriously run out of at the end of the Spring semester. Oh, and there was the whole issue of neither of us packing our apartment keys….

 “Hey, Ax – Leon texted me like an hour ago.  He wants to know if we’re meeting for dinner as usual?” Demyx swiveled in his desk chair to face me.

“Sure, whatever,” I agreed, pushing my face deeper into the delicious, cool pillow, feeling myself sink cozily into the couch crevices. “Wake me up when it’s time to go.”  I turned onto my side and closed my eyes.

***

I walked through the mall, in a daze, staring at all the colorful items for sale, my senses overwhelmed by the lights, the displays, the people. Never had I seen so many people packed into one shopping plaza.  Through the crowd I spotted the flash of blonde, strutting ahead determinedly, and ran to catch up.  Every so often he would look back, to make sure I was still behind him, unswallowed by the masses, and I would witness a glimmer of blue glowing among the shadowed people.

I could not catch up.

Still, though, I followed.

I dashed.

I darted around corners.

I ran with all my might, finally just resorting to shoving people aside.  I needed to reach him.  To me, at that moment, it was a matter of life and death.

And then, he stopped.  He glanced back at me, and finally, finally, I was close enough to touch him.  So I did.  I reached out and grabbed his shoulders, bent over in exhaustion, panting for breath, and gasped, “Roxas!”

He just looked at me blankly, his blue eyes burning brightly, strangely, in the shadowed atmosphere.  Then, he slowly reached out an arm, pointing to a mannequin in the store’s window.  The lifeless display was wearing only a pair of black skinny jeans, embellished with bright red and orange flames running up the sides.

“Those pants would look hot on you,” Roxas stated simply.

***

I blinked and rubbed at my eyes lazily.

What the hell?

Why would I ever, and I repeat EVER, go shopping with Roxas?    We all know the kid is an absolute fashion disaster.

I sat up on the couch and groaned, wishing I could go back to sleep.  I looked lazily over at Dem, who was still perched in front of his laptop at the kitchen table, and asked him while rubbing my eyes, “Dem, what time is it?”

“6:32, to be exact,” he replied, “Hey… what were you dreaming about?”

“I was… in a mall,” I described, hesitantly, “and shopping… with Roxas.  Not a good idea, my friend.  You should have seen the pair of pants he was trying to get me to buy!”  I stood up, stretching my limbs and smoothing back my long hair, fixing the ponytail that had become disheveled while I slept.

“Oh… so that’s why you moaned Roxas’s name in your sleep…” Demyx chuckled, “I was wondering…”

“Shut up, Demyx,” I growled, throwing my pillow at him.

“Whatever, dude.  Get ready, we’re meeting Leon and the gang at seven for dinner.”

“Fine, fine,” I grumbled.  I stood, stretched, and headed to my room to comb my hair back in place.

***

“LEON, MY MAN!  HOW ARE YOU?!?!?!” Demyx roared, “AND CLOUD!  WHAT’S UP, YOU SPIKY HAIRED BASTARD?!?” proceeding to forcefully hug and clap Leon and Cloud on the back, each in turn.  “I MISSED… YOU… GUYS… SOOO… MUCH!” he sobbed dramatically, turning his theatrics up to full volume.  By then, everybody in the dining hall was staring at us, making Demyx the center of attention (which he absolutely loved, might I add).  What a nutcase.  Why was I friends with Dem again?

“Geez… chill,” Leon muttered.  The auburn-haired beauty next to him giggled.

“As lively as ever, I see, Demy!” she greeted him with a warm hug.

“Aerith!  Looking gorgeous as usual!” Demyx hugged her back fiercely, practically crushing the frail-looking girl.  I glanced at Cloud and caught him glaring at Demyx.  Cloud and Aerith had been dating for about eight months now, I think.  Aerith lived in the next big city over from Twilight, Hollow Bastion, about an hour’s drive away from my hometown.  She and Cloud had managed to maintain their slightly long-distance relationship over the summer, I saw (too bad.  She was a real hottie).

“Axel!” she exclaimed, coming over to greet me, “It’s been such a long time!”

“Sure has,” I agreed, returning the friendly gesture.  “Cloud!  Leon!  How have you guys been?  The summer was tame without you two!” I broke the hug with Aerith and proceeded to high five my two friends.

“Hey Ax!” Cloud and Leon both greeted me.  Cloud’s hair was, I saw, still as ridiculously spiked and blonde as ever.  How the hell did he manage to get it to defy gravity like that?  I don’t even think he used gel.  I mean, even I had to use gel to achieve the perfect spiky look that I sometimes chose to grace my gorgeous, long, deep dark fire red hair (not today though.  My hair was dramatically coiffed into a graceful ponytail fastened at my neck, hanging straight midway down my back).  Leon, on the other hand, had deep brown hair that he gelled into that classic hero look from a cliché Japanese anime.  Strikingly, though, a vicious scar ran over the bridge of his nose – a testament to his manhood, I suppose.  I think he got the scar from a particularly nasty tennis stroke gone wrong – he ended up slashing his own face with the end of his racket.

“So, are you and Demyx archenemies yet?  Does he still sing opera until an ungodly hour?” Leon grinned.

Damn, I missed these guys.  Finally, life back to normal!  No more bored summer days, no more weird conversations with strange juniors wearing neon green pants.  I had my real friends back, so I was done thinking about Roxas – damn.  I spotted a by now very familiar checkerboard garment heading my way.

Why was Roxas here?

Why did I keep running into him?  You know, Demyx’s whisper repeated in my thoughts, they say . . . it’s destiny.

Destiny, my ass.

“ROXAS!” Demyx roared again, proceeding to practically molest Roxas, who had just walked up to our little group.

“Dem, calm down,” I soothed, “You saw Roxas a few hours ago.  Regain your composure.  You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“Oh.  Right.  Sorry.  It’s just, you know, I’m really excited right now to see everyone!  I got just a little carried away, I guess!” he explained, separating himself from a Roxas who was struggling to breathe.  “Oh yeah, guys!  This is Roxas!  Make way for the new friend, make way!”

I rolled my eyes and looked over at Cloud.  He was pointedly gazing in a direction opposite of Dem, trying to ignore him.  Cloud was the strong, silent type, and we had always gotten along.  Except when playing Smash Brothers. 

Demyx began the introductions. “Guys, I hope you don’t mind that I invited him to eat with us.  Roxas, meet Leon, Cloud, and Aerith.”

WHAT.

Demyx invited him?  Since when?

Had I missed something?

“Demyx…” I hissed, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing interfering with my case study?  And when the hell did you invite him?!?” I dragged him towards a buffet line on the opposite end of the dining hall.

“Um, hello, I’m just being friendly, and to answer your second question, I found him on Facebook a couple hours ago,” Demyx retorted.  “Also… what’s the problem here?”

WHAT.

WHAT?!?

Wait. Friendly?  Facebook?

May I repeat, WHAT?

Hold on.  This was too much for me to comprehend at the moment.

“You facebooked him?  And invited him to meet our friends?  Um, hello, Demyx,” I whispered, copying his tone of voice, “our friends probably aren’t his type of people!”

“Well, they seem to be getting along just fine over there,” Demyx commented, gesturing towards the one of the other food lines, where Leon, Aerith, and Roxas were engaged in what seemed to be amiable conversation.  Then he grabbed a plate, turned toward me suddenly, narrowed his eyes and hissed, “And what exactly are ‘his type of people?’”

“I – you – You know!  People who wear all black and listen to punk rock and are anti-social and – I don’t know!  Don’t look at me like that!” I tried fervently to explain while claiming my own plate, but my attempts fell short of eloquent.

Demyx rolled his eyes before turning to place a dinner roll on his plate.  “Just listen to yourself dude.  You’re the one acting crazy.  Your case study? Get out of here.”

"But!” I exclaimed, gesturing wildly with my plate.

Chill, Ax.  Chill.  Eat some veggies.”  He scooped some roasted broccoli and deposited it onto my plate, much to my horror.  I glared fiercely at him.  He continued after seizing a ladle-full of broccoli for himself, “And what do you care anyway?  Roxas is super nice, actually, and I think you should stop judging him.  Actually, you two would probably make really great friends.”

I glanced sideways back at Roxas.  Wow, Dem really knew how to make a guy feel bad.  Now I was starting to regret psychologically assessing Roxas based on his wardrobe choices.

“I… I guess,” I relented, talking at a normal tone now.  I ran my hand through my hair, brushing some strands from my eyes.  “Sorry… you’re right,” I conceded, “I really shouldn’t judge him.  I don’t know what’s up with me today.  I do want to be his friend.”  I sighed.

Demyx eyed me curiously.  I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. “Really,” he commented thoughtfully, and I couldn’t tell how to interpret that one word.

“Yeah.  You know,” I began as I plucked five chicken tenders out of a tray, “Sometimes you just meet someone and you know you want to be their friend?”  My words formed half a question, half a statement.

“Hmm, I kinda do.  Well,” he said, lightening the mood, “Friday night should be fun!”

“Yeah,” I agreed, nodding slowly, then perking up visibly, “We must crush Cloud.”

“YESSIR!” Demyx saluted, “WE WILL MAKE HIM PAY FOR WHAT HE’S DONE.”

***

“So, Roxas, how do you know Axel and Demyx?” Aerith inquired in a friendly tone, once everybody had filled up their plates and gathered at our chosen table.

“We met at Starbucks,” Roxas enlightened.

“They ordered the same drink and Axel totally flipped out about it.  He thought Roxas was trying to steal his precious mocha.” Demyx elaborated. Obviously this story was too entertaining for him not to share.

Crap.  Now Roxas knew that I had shared the circumstances of our meeting with Demyx.  That’s kind of… embarrassing.  Roxas eyed me curiously, and I could tell he was amused.

Leon laughed deeply and sat back in his chair.  “Sounds just like Ax,” he commented, “I’m surprised you’re still alive.  Oh God, last time I even touched his mocha – I was just trying to move it so I could put my papers down – he went all psychotic ninja on me.”

“Oh, I remember that,” Cloud added, spearing a slice of baked chicken, “we were in the library studying for calc and he actually climbed a bookcase and pounced on you.”

“What was the name of that attack again?” Leon wondered out loud, “Oh yeah, I remember now!  Here’s the full story:  I moved his mocha and he glared at me with such ferocity I couldn’t budge.  He must have focused his chi or something into that look because I was scared shitless.”  Everyone chuckled and Roxas’ eyes widened.  “Axel then, astoundingly, scampered to the top of a 7-foot-tall bookcase and launched himself off the top shelf, shouting AERIAL FIRE ANTIDERIVATIVE STRIKE!!!  MEET YOUR DOOM, BITCH.  Let’s just say it was an instant KO when he landed on me.  I’m still surprised I didn’t end up in the hospital.”

“They were banned from the library for the rest of exam week,” Aerith added, leaning towards Roxas, across from whom she was sitting.

Roxas laughed.

I felt my cheeks flushing a bit.  “Ok, so I’m a little overprotective of my daily mocha.  It’s the greatest human invention on the face of the planet.  I swear, it’s the meaning of life.  If you knew of its bliss, you would react in the same way.”

“I don’t know about that, Ax… I don’t think we’re as extreme as you…” Leon joked.

“Hey, what is this – tell embarrassing stories about Axel day?” I grumbled, turning my concentration back to the broccoli left on my plate, poking a particularly green one with my fork.

“Every story about you is embarrassing, Axel,” Cloud added dryly before biting into his cheeseburger.  He covered his head with his hands and swallowed rapidly as I raised my fork with the full intention to fling some oily, salty, peppery roasted broccoli when I felt Demyx’s hand on my wrist, holding me back.

“Ok Ax, please remember that you’re an adult,” he commented, then confiscated my fork and the rest of my broccoli.

To my left, Roxas shook his head, then looked at me and smiled.  Sheepishly, I smiled back.

 

***

After dinner, I rushed back to the apartment, outrunning Demyx, and slid into my room, slammed the door shut, divebombed onto my bed, grabbed my computer and proceeded to frantically open an internet browser.

Why was I so frenzied, you ask?  What was in such a hurry to investigate?  If that little Facebook bell wasn’t lit up with Roxas’ friend request, then I was going to just die.  Ok, so maybe that’s a little over the top, but if Roxas was Demyx’s friend but not mine then I was going to be seriously pissed.

“Damn computer,” I muttered to myself, “Damn slow school wifi.”  Finally, I was able to get online and check my social media.

Sweet!” I exclaimed out loud, clicking “accept” next to Roxas’ friend request.  Ok, lame, I know, but for some reason, I was overjoyed.

Ok, I have a secret confession to make.

I, Axel, am a facebook stalker.

I can’t help it.  I love to creep on my friend’s facebooks and read all about their lives.  I’m nosy, ok?  And curious.  Very curious

That particular characteristic got me into trouble at times.

And guess who’s facebook I would creep on first tonight?

 

***

 

I sat cross-legged on my bed, glaring at the computer. Perplexed, I laid down on my back and stared at the ceiling.  There were certain revelations that I needed to wrap my brain around, to digest.

First of all, Roxas had more facebook friends than I did. This was disturbing because I had vividly described him to Demyx as psychotic, anti-social, lonely, friendless, eccentric, dark, etc. etc.

Secondly, Roxas seemed to be… err… well.  Uh.  .

Well, you know.  You . . . know.  Yeah.

See these 20 pictures from August to December of 2018?  That is Roxas.  And that, there, in the pictures with him – that person… you see what I’m saying now?

That person in all of the 20 photos was a… man.  And they were - you know - very fond of each other.  I think.  I mean, it looked that way.  That was definitely Roxas pecking the other man’s cheek, wasn’t it?

But, then again, Roxas was pictured from September of 2017 through May of 2018 with a very lovely, wisp of a girl.  They also looked very fond of each other.  There was more cheek kissing.

So, I’m not sure, I guess.  Maybe Roxas is just very friendly?

I rolled around, feeling a bit nervous for some reason.  Why did Roxas keep popping up in my life?  Why did he –

Then I shook my head.  Who cares who Roxas liked? It didn’t make him any less of a cool dude.  Obviously he was, since he had 1,057 friends on Facebook.  You don’t earn that many being rude. And it didn’t make me want to be his friend any less.  In fact, it made me even more curious about him.

It also made me very curious about these two past paramours, especially the man.  I rolled back onto my stomach and clicked eagerly on the name tagged in those 20 photos.  As I scrolled through the stranger’s profile I noted his distinct lack of style and all-around boring-ness.  How did this guy manage to snag a catch like Roxas?  Was it because he’s close to Roxas’ height?  Is Roxas into short dudes?  Black-haired dudes?  Dudes who have pet cats named Momo?

Why do I care what type of guys Roxas is into?  Who cares about his ex-boyfriend’s incredibly adorable grey cat named Momo who loves to be scratched behind his left ear?

I’ve gone to deep, I thought, and shook my head, clicking the ‘back’ button to return to Roxas’ profile, perusing through his friends list.

It must be the eyes, I thought, there’s no way Roxas actually has friends, right?

What a silly thought.  Of course he did.  Was I wrong all this time?

Had I really, truly, incorrectly read Roxas? 

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR:  Hello, Gorgeous

 

                The next day a woman entered my life and obliterated all thoughts of Roxas.

                And what a woman.

So here’s the story:  While waiting for our statistics professor to walk into the classroom, Demyx and I were playing tic-tac-toe when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black haired, female figure enter the classroom.  Moments later I heard someone pull out the chair next to me and sit down.

                “Warning, hot chick at nine o’clock,” Demyx whispered in my ear, while continuing to nonchalantly murder me at tic-tac-toe.

                “How do you do that?” I asked Demyx incredulously, while trying to sneak a glance at the girl next to me, “How do you beat me every time?”

                “You shouldn’t have put your X here,” an unfamiliar female voice recommended, and a long, well-manicured black nail tapped at the X I had drawn in the upper right hand corner of the game board on the back of my Japanese homework “You left yourself defenseless against his attack from here.”  The nail traced leisurely along the paper to the opposite side of the game board.

                I looked to my left at the owner of the unknown voice.

                DAMN, BABY.

                Demyx always knew how to spot ‘em, and he hadn’t failed this time.  The girl had long, perfectly straight, gorgeously glossy jet black hair, and large, expressive, slightly almond-shaped brown eyes with some crimson flecks near the center.  Now here was a woman I could appreciate!

                I’m not lying when I say that interest blossomed within me.  Let’s just say that I was definitely attracted to this mystery woman, and I wanted to get to know her better.  I hated to admit that being single for almost a year was, well… lonely.  Does that surprise you?  I mean, the single part.  I know, I know, women fawn all over me, you’d think I’d never be without a companion.  Sure, I’ve asked plenty of girls out for a cup of coffee during my stay here, but let’s face it, time passes quickly, and no one held my interest for long.

                Until now, of course.

                “Thanks for the tip,” I said gratefully, making sure to look directly at her and dazzle her with a smile, “I’ll have to watch out for Demyx’s tricks in the future.” I gestured toward my best friend.

                “No problem,” she whispered (the professor had begun to greet us) and turned her attention to the front of the classroom.

                Not wanting to lose her attention, I introduced myself. “I’m Axel.”  I held out my hand.  She shook it firmly.  That was a good start.  There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who gives you a gross, limp handshake.

                “I’m Tifa,” she explained quietly, lips curling up, “Nice to meet you!”

                It was definitely nice to meet such a fine specimen of womanhood.

 

***

 

                The next time I saw Tifa was Thursday, in my second statistics session of the year.  After talking a little more, I found her even more attractive.  She was a sophomore and a biology major, hoping to do medical research in the future with the aim of curing disease.

                                I decided to make my move.  After the professor dismissed class for the day, I turned to her and asked smoothly, “I’ve got an hour to kill before my next class.  Do you want to grab some coffee?  The Starbucks here makes a mocha so good the gods must come down from Olympus to drink it.”

                She giggled at my lameness and replied, “Sure!  I’m not really a coffee kind of girl though.”

                Uh oh.

                Not into coffee?  I was starting to have second thoughts.  Too bad she wasn’t more like Roxas.  He shared my taste in espresso blended Starbucks loveliness.  I felt myself starting to crave a venti mocha frappuccino, extra shot of espresso, extra whip.  I wondered if Roxas ordered that often.  Well, obviously, without the whip.  Briefly, a specific photo from Roxas’ Facebook profile flittered in my mind’s eye, one where he smiled mid-mocha-sip so blissfully at his companion, so adorably enamored, mouth laughing around his straw.  For a second, just a millisecond, really, it was me in his companion’s spot, and Roxas’ smile was just for me.

                Whoa whoa whoa.  Let’s re-think that.  See?  This was the effect that mocha had on my brain.  Maybe I should stop drinking all that caffeine.  Maybe it was killing off my neurons, one by one.

                Right?

                That must have been the reason.

                Back to Tifa.  You know, the beautiful lady who just agreed to have coffee with me?

                “Fantastic,” I countered smoothly, covering the moment of hesitation that had occurred while my brain froze for a second back there. “And just so you know, mochas are made with espresso, not coffee.”

                “Same thing, loser,” Tifa teased me lightly while rolling her eyes.  She stood and gathered her notes, placing them along with her textbook into her backpack.  “Shall we?”

 

***

 

                Well, I still felt myself drawn to Tifa even after she couldn’t finish her tall mocha light frappuccino, since it was, as she put it, a little too strong in the coffee department.  Jesus.  It’s espresso, woman, get it right.  Needless to say, I finished off her tiny drink.  Hey, it was light, ok?  Axel has a fast metabolism.  Axel has never gained a pound in his life from his chocolatey, espressoy indulgences, and never will.  You can’t blame a guy for his innocent vices.

                We lingered at the coffee shop, discussing trivial matters and making small talk to pass the time.  She told me about her parents and her adorable little brother and sister who had sent her freshly baked cookies in the mail.

                “Wow, you’re lucky!  My little sis has never sent me so much as a postcard!” I shared.

                “Well, it’s not too late!  Send her a sweet little letter and maybe she’ll send you something back!” she exclaimed, “I’ve got some cute stationary that you can borrow!”

                “Hah, me, Axel, send my little sister a letter?   Neeever going to happen,” I countered, “I’m sure she’d burn it and never read it.  Besides, she actually goes to school here too.  She’s a junior now.  That reminds me…”  I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked at the notifications. “I was supposed to call and check up on her…”

                “Oh! You don’t live together?” Tifa inquired, cocking her head.

                “No, no, definitely not.  I lived with my sister for 18 years of my life, and I’m done,” I explained, “Plus her room at home is just bursting with pink.  Not my style.” I shook my head and waved my hands in the air.

                “I guess I understand.  So where do you live?” Tifa asked innocently.

                “Oh, the Bricks,” I answered.  “I share an apartment with my best friend Demyx.  My sister lives on the floor below us with a roommate the school paired her with.  They emailed each other over the summer and met for the first time this weekend when drove down.  They seem to be getting along well! Well,” I hesitated, “at least over the internet.  In real life, who knows.”

                “Axel,” Tifa chided, drawing out my name’s second syllable, “You have to call her.  What if it’s all gone sour and she needs your support?”  She sat back in her chair, crossed her arms and huffed.  “God knows my first roommate and I did not get along.  I was ready to kill her in her sleep by the end of the first month.”

                “What did you do about it?” I asked, interested in the drama (I told you, I am too curious for my own good and love to stick my nose into other peoples’ lives).

                “I punched her and requested a new roommate,” she shrugged nonchalantly, as if that was something that happened every day.

                Now that was a shocker.  I was certainly not expecting this black-haired beauty to resort to physical means to solve her problems.

                “You punched her?” I asked, incredulous, “As in, with your fist?”

                “Yessir.  I am fully trained in various forms of martial arts, as well as a proficient boxer,” she smiled proudly.  “I was quite the tomboy in my younger years.  I still am, a bit.”

                This newfound information quite made up for her aversion to coffee and/or espresso.  I now held the opinion that Tifa was, quite frankly, awesome.

                “Whoa.”

                “Yeah…” Tifa leaned back in and whispered to me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes, “Let’s just say she took some time off from college to have some… cosmetic procedures done.”

                I burst into hearty laughter, causing some of the people in line at Starbucks to look over at us.

                One of those people looking directly at me was Roxas.  As others returned their attention to the menu or their friends or their phones, Roxas kept staring my way, head slightly cocked but otherwise expressionless.

                Just my luck.

                For some reason, and I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why, don’t ask me, I don’t know, I really really really didn’t want Roxas to see me here, now, with Tifa, and before I had finished processing all my recent discoveries about him.  I just wanted to avoid the whole situation.  But I couldn’t, of course.  Roxas had seen me, obviously, and now I couldn’t just ignore him, no matter how desperately I wanted to.

                “I can’t believe you, I’m surprised she didn’t sue you.” I regained my cool, continuing the conversation with Tifa before stating, “Oh look!”  I waved at Roxas, who’s attention was still on me even as he approached the head of the line. He waved back, slowly, glancing away to order today’s dose of caffeine.

                Tifa turned to see the recipient of my wave.  “A friend of yours?” she inquired, looking back at me.

                I thought about that question for a second.  Could I really call Roxas my friend at this point?  I mean, we had shared some embarrassing moments.  Or rather, he witnessed some of my very embarrassing moments.  “Yeah…” I smiled, remembering yesterday’s hijinks, “A new friend.”

                When the barista called out a very familiar description of a certain chocolate-flavored drink, Roxas claimed his frappuccino and walked over to where Tifa and I were sitting.

                “Hey, Roxas!” I exclaimed, and turned towards my companion, “Tifa, this is Roxas.  Now here’s a man who appreciates a good mocha.  Roxas, Tifa.”

                “Hello! Nice to meet you!” Tifa extended her hand in a sign of greeting, which Roxas shook firmly.  Whew, I’m glad he also had a decent handshake.

                “Nice to meet you,” he said, glancing from Tifa to me and back.  Oi.

                “Can you stay and chat?” I asked him genteelly, motioning towards the empty chair next to me.

                “I wish I could, but I… have to get to class… I have to finish up some work… statistics, you know?” he explained, “Sorry.”

                “Oh, no way!  Who’s your professor?  Don’t tell me you have Dr. Shinra?” Tifa burst out, looking up at him intently.  It was then that I took a moment to really look at him – and holy frappuccino. 

                He was wearing normal clothes.

                Well, normal with a hot punk originality.  From the tight fitting stream-lined black skinny jeans to the black dress shirt with the first few buttons undone over a plain white tee, Roxas had a sexy dark look going on.

                I hate that I’m about to tell you this, but I actually liked his style.  And I really liked how that outfit looked on him.  Wow, I thought, he looks h-

                I shook my head and forced myself back into reality, focusing on the conversation between my two new friends.  Roxas had just revealed to Tifa that he was enrolled in the same statistics course as us, just during a different time slot.

                “We should study together,” I suggested, “This professor scares me.  I don’t even want to think about what the exams are going to be like.”

                “Yeah!  We could have a little study group, with Demyx too!” Tifa nodded in agreement.

                “Sure.  That sounds… nice,” Roxas confirmed, a fleeting smile on his lips, “Well, I’ll see you guys later.”  He turned and walked away, mocha in hand.  I stared as he exited Starbucks, watching him weave through people on his way to class, until not a glimmer of his golden hair could be seen through the crowd.

 

***

 

                I collapsed on my bed after I finally made it through my last two classes.  Ugh.  Organic chemistry was such a drag.  I pulled my laptop onto my pillow and proceeded to log on to Facebook, ignoring the fact that Demyx was singing loudly and obnoxiously along to the music blaring from his speakers in his room across the door.  If we ever get reported, he’s taking the blame.  I am not going to be expelled from the Bricks due to his ‘artistic expression’.

                I was expecting a severe headache to encroach within seconds when I saw something that considerably brightened my outlook on life at the moment.

                Roxas was online.  On Facebook.  I could totally Facebook chat with Roxas if I so wanted.

                Oh, I wanted.

                What’s up?, I typed, trying to contain my glee that I was talking with Mr. Antisocial (ok, so I still couldn’t accept the fact that he wasn’t antisocial) himself online.

                Nm, he replied, hbu?

                I’m hungryyy, was my answer, since the only things on my mind were Roxas and my growling stomach (hey, what happened to Tifa?  There was supposed to only be room in my brain for Tifa, damn it!).  Are you going to eat dinner again with us tonight?

                Sure, he answered.  Roxas had joined our regular dinner group and was quickly becoming an accepted member of ‘the gang.’

                Nice.  Ugh, I need to get a snack though. I huffed, rubbed my stomach, and rolled off my bed with my phone in hand.  Trudging to the kitchen, I opened the fridge.  Much to my dismay, there were no snacks in the fridge as Demyx and I had not made it to the grocery store.  Groaning, I shut the door, leaned my forehead against the stainless steel fridge and tap tap tapped out UGH, there’s no FOOD in this APARTMENT! on my phone.  Then, inspired, I opened the fridge again and sent Roxas a quick pic of its emptiness.

                 The response I got from Roxas was merely an emoji rolling its eyes.  I signed and sent him back a huffing face, stating, this is serious!

                Again, a rolling eye emoji.

                Whatever, I wrote, deciding to change the subject.  Ready to throw it down with some spiky-haired bastards on Friday night? I asked, in reference to the upcoming Super Smash Brothers Ultimate tournament tomorrow night.

                Hell yes, he replied.  Ah, how I loved to light a fire in my little Roxas, who I still unreasonably believed to be emotionless, anti-social, and in need of my help in life.  I liked to see the rebel in him (besides his pants).

                I, for one, can’t wait, I typed, I’ve been practicing with Demyx and Riku.  Riku has the power to take Cloud down, I just know it… if he shows up.  Which he better show up or we are going to fucking scale the goddamn building, break in through the window, and burn some popcorn in his microwave so that the fire alarm goes off (hence allowing Riku to take the blame and turning the entire building against him) and then hold a public Riku’s underwear bonfire in the courtyard for all to see and hear.  They’ll be talking about it for decades.  Hell, I bet we’ll even be in the yearbook.

                Haha came Roxas’ reply.  Damn.  I wish I could hear that sound through the computer.  Roxas actually had a very endearing laugh in reality, when you got a chance to experience it, and a hearty chuckle.  Now I hope he doesn’t show up, Roxas messaged.

                I liked this kid more and more each day, I swear.  He had a sarcastic streak in him that could freeze the blood of a vampire, and a spark to his personality that really showed through when we were talking online.  Maybe he found communicating through writing a bit easier than verbal interactions.  Or maybe he just needed time to warm up to me.  Since Monday night, when I had discovered Roxas had a Facebook, we had been having more frequent online conversations.  Anyways, the point is, we were quickly becoming good friends, and we had only known each other for a few days.

                I know, it’s weird, but… I felt like Roxas and I… just kind of… clicked.

                And you’d actually pull it off.  Unfortunately, I know that you’d drag me out the window with you…

                I chuckled to myself.  Roxas knew me well enough by now to understand that when I proposed an idea, I went through with it, no matter how crazy and outrageous.

                “Whatcha doin’, Axel?” Demyx’s familiar voice inquired from nearby.  At that moment, I realized I was still standing in the kitchen, leaning forward with the tip of my forehead pressed to the cool metal of the refrigerator, smiling down at the phone held in my hands below.

                “Just wondering where the food’s at, Dem, and dying of hunger,” I replied, straightening and walking past him.

                “Hmmm… who ya chattin’ with?” he asked teasingly, following and trying to get a look over my shoulder.  “Is it a giiiiirrrlll?”

                “Chill out, Dem,” I told him and plopped onto the couch, continuing to type to Roxas. You betcha, Roxy, I replied.  I have to admit, that nickname just popped into my mind, and I kind of liked it.

                Roxy? he inquired.

                Heh.  It’s my new nickname for you.  Like it? I smirked in real life at my phone, then realized Demyx was crouching beside me and peering up at the device as well when he commented with a little too much chirp in his voice, “Ooooh, it’s Roxas.”

                “Demyx!” I exclaimed and clutched the phone to my chest.  “Have a little respect for my privacy!”
                “Please,” Demyx replied, rolling his eyes and standing up, “It’s college and we’re roommates.  There is no privacy.”

                “Get outta here,” I ordered and pointed fiercely toward the door, “Go buy us some food.”

                “Whatever, man,” he ignored my command, picked up his guitar off the floor by the TV, and went into his room, waving his hand lazily at me.

                After Demyx shut the door, I looked for Roxas’s reply.

                … whatever, came his indifferent response.

                With that, I burst into full blown laughter, so loud and hearty that Demyx popped his head back out of his room and looked at me bemusedly.  That response was so… Roxas-like.

                “Roxy, Roxas” I whispered quietly to myself when Demyx retreated once again and began strumming on the guitar.

                I liked the taste of his name.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 5:  That Spiky-Haired Cumulonimbus of Evil is Going Down

 

Friday night.  The moment of truth had come.  Would good prevail, or would evil, by the name of Cloud, take the victory?

Never.

Demyx cleared his throat.  “Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen!  Welcome to the first Super Smash Brothers Ultimate Tournament of the FALL 2019 SEMESTER!”  We all applauded – me, Roxas, Leon, Aerith, and Cloud (that fucking punk Riku was late).  “May I present this year’s contenders:  First off, we have AXEL, the fierce, fiery, frappuccino – fanatic!”

Everyone applauded thunderously.  I stood up and took a bow while Demy whistled.  Hey, we take these tournaments seriously – we make the most of them.

Was it just me or did Roxas applaud just a little bit louder for me than the others that followed?

…it was probably just my arrogant self imagining things.

“Next up, we have Leon – the tenacious, tough, tennis-teacher!” Again, everyone applauded like mad, myself included.  Leon had retired from the tennis team due the nasty accident that left him with that ghastly scar, and now worked for the on-campus gym teaching the children of professors and older graduate students the basics of tennis during daycare for about an hour each morning, before his classes started.

“Today is a very important occasion!  We have a newcomer to our Smash ritual!  Everyone, please welcome the funky, friendly, fresh ROXAS!”

I made sure I applauded the loudest.  I also screeched like a schoolgirl at a rock concert watching her preferred male singer perform her favorite song on stage.  Needless to say, Roxas flushed slightly and was a bit embarrassed about the attention he was receiving.

“Now, allow me to introduce myself!  I am DEMYX, the dramatic, delirious, and deafening!”

He really hit the nail on head with that description

“Finally, last but certainly not least – yet – I am unfortunately forced to introduce last year’s champion,” his voice lost all theatricality and he began to speak in practically a monotone. “Everyone welcome Cloud, the silent, the strong, the spiky.”

Everyone began to clap, less enthusiastically, I’ll admit, when we were interrupted by opera.

Damn Demyx and his ridiculous ringtone.

Dem flipped open his phone and answered, “Ello? Uh-huh.  Yeah.  Sure.  The usual spot.  Yeah, you’re late.  No, we won’t wait for you.”

I had a sneaking suspicion that Demyx was talking to Riku.  So, I got up, walked to our open window, and whispered to Roxas, “Put on your ninja suit Rox, we gotta go raid a certain someone’s room.”  He looked at me, mildly surprised.

Then, he got up and joined me at the window, smirking.  He grabbed the edge of the wall and looked straight into my eyes.

“Say the word,” he said challengingly, putting one hand on his hip.

I liked this kid more each day.  He always did something unexpected.

“Listen, Riku, I recommend that you hurry the hell up because Axel is about to jump out the freaking window and do something abso-fucking-lutely crazy.  He is seriously about to spaz.  I can see him twitching. Mmmhmm.  Yeah.  You remember that time Leon touched his mocha?” Suddenly, Demy’s voice grew louder and higher pitched, sounding desperate, “I swear, get your goddamn ass over here man, he’s – oh shit, Roxas, STOP HIM, DAMMIT GET OFF THE WINDOWSILL AXEL OR I SWEAR TO GOD I’LL – “

And then came the frantic knocking at the door.

You see, Riku had a history of ditching our little get-togethers in favor of studying.  What the hell?  Could he have been a bigger nerd?  I mean, he was so frickin’ cool – not only did he have the most badass silver hair – don’t ask me how he does it, I couldn’t tell you – but he had the silent, brooding thing going on as well.  He was wanted by all the girls, and respected by all the boys.  I hate to admit it, but if he were single he would probably usurp my position of most eligible bachelor on campus.

Oh yeah, one last important detail:  He was dating my sister, Kairi.  Which gave me the right to torment and punish him at will.

Hey, a guy’s gotta protect his little sis, now doesn’t he?

I had long ago threatened to burn everything he held dear if he even thought about hurting Kairi. - and he knew I meant business.

Hopping off the windowsill, I dashed to the door, rushing past Demyx before he had a chance to speak or even hang up the telephone, leaving him speechless and with his mouth hanging open.  In fact, I think everyone in the room was quite shocked.  Except Roxas.  He had been forewarned.

I flung the door open to find midsentence Riku, cellphone glued to his ear, hair windblown from what I assume was a mad dash from the other end of the floor (yes, even though his room was on the same floor I had still planned to break and enter via window, hopping from balcony to balcony), complete with a crazed look on his face.

I loomed above him, using my height to its full advantage.  “You’re LATE,” I boomed, “WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, YOUNG MAN?!?”

It was then that I noticed the short, brunette, boy standing next to him, looking dumbfounded and with a distinct trace of fear in his eyes.

Glancing the brunette’s way, I directed a question at Riku:  “And who is this?”

Riku looked up at me, clicking on the call and regaining his composure.  “This,” he gestured towards the brown-haired boy, “is my friend Sora.  You can calm down now, Axel, I’m here.”

He brushed past me coolly and stepped into the room.  “Sorry I’m late, guys,” he continued, as if I hadn’t just almost climbed out a window to teach him a lesson for being late.  “This is Sora.  Sora, let me introduce you to Leon, Cloud, Demyx, and Roxas.”  He gestured to each of them in turn.  Riku had met Roxas when he decided to grace us with his presence at dinner on Wednesday night.  “And this is –”

“The infamous Axel,” I interrupted, closing the door, “and I don’t approve of your choice of friends, Sora.  Riku is baaad news, I’m afraid.”

“Axel, shut up for once, would you?” Riku verbally attacked me.

Ouch.  Now that one bruised my ego.

“Excuse me?” I questioned, waking up and towering over Riku menacingly, “Just who the hell do you think you are, punk?”

“Guys, CHILL.  Axel, seriously, shut the hell up.  Riku, don’t provoke him, he’s very sensitive, you know.  Sora, NICE TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEET YOU!”  Of course Demyx sang the last part.

“Hi guys!” Sora smiled and waved, “It’s nice to meet all of you.  Sorry, it’s my fault Riku is late.  He was waiting for me downstairs… I got a little lost… this campus is huge!”

“Oh, so you’re a freshman?” Leon asked.

“No, but I’ve only ever lived in the dorms, so I’ve never been to this end of campus,” Sora explained “Plus I just have a reallyyy bad sense of direction.”

Really, unbelievably bad,” Riku affirmed, nodding his head.

“Hey!” Sora exclaimed, and although he elbowed Riku his soft smile revealed no anger.  Riku chuckled and rubbed the spot where Sora made contact.

“Adorable,” I commented dryly, “Now can we get to the main event please?”  Riku only glared in response.

“Cool,” Demyx broke the tension, “I guess that makes Sora the youngest one here!”

“Ok, cut the small talk, Dem, and give us the line-up.  I’m itching to burn some fluffy golden cumulonimbus ass,” I cut in, gesturing towards the piece of paper lying on Demyx’s desk.  He swiveled around in his chair and picked up a pencil, making some adjustments.

“Did he just call you a cumulonimbus?” Leon questioned Cloud.

“…I think he did,” Cloud agreed.

“Are you going to let him get away with that?”

Hell no.”

“Ahem!” Demyx cleared his throat in an obvious attempt to gain our attention. “I have finalized the brackets for today’s match.  Since Riku let me know an hour ago that he was bringing a friend, the order includes Sora.  Today’s tournament shall consist of three rounds of one-on-one all-out brawling.  For round one, we have the following line-up:  CLOUD VERSUS LEON!  DEMYX VERSUS ROXAS!  AXEL VERSUS RIKU!  Sora will face either Axel or Riku in the second round.  Is that clear?”

Roxas shook his head and laughed a little to himself.  He had long since relinquished his post by the window and settled himself comfortably on the couch.  I plopped myself down next to him.

I was totally going to impress Roxas with my skills.

Or I would have, if he hadn’t wiped the floor with my skinny (yet strangely sexy) ass.

Let me back up a little bit.

Of course I pummeled Riku (punishment for his lateness) in the first round, and then took down Sora (who is terrible at Smash by the way.  Why the hell did Riku invite him?) in the second, with my character, Princess Zelda (hey, she’s kinda hot.  Ok, that was totally kind of weird).

Little Roxas turned out to be more feisty than I gave him credit for.  He beat the crap out of Demyx and then, HOLY FRAPPUCCINO, he murdered Cloud right in front of the Temple of Time.  No shit.

So then it was my turn to face this little god of the Smash world (playing as Link, of course), and I got burned.  Baaaad.  He totally whooped my derriere, and much to my embarrassment, he only needed like a minute to do it.  Isn’t Zelda supposed to be Link’s love interest or something?  Couldn’t Nintendo have worked in a little mercy on Link’s part towards the fragile Zelda?

And why was I the woman in this relationship?

Because if Roxas were my love interest, I would totally be –

And that’s enough of this conversation.

Damn, Roxas, how did you do that?” I asked, awestruck, “You even beat Cloud – you’ve just made Super Smash Brothers History!”

He shrugged sheepishly.  “Years of practice, I guess.”

Damn,” Leon echoed, “It seems a new master has presented himself.”

“All hail the King of Smash!” Demyx trilled, bowing before Roxas with his usual dramatic flair. Roxas just smiled and shook his head as the rest of us chuckled and rolled our eyes at Demyx’s antics.

***

We spent the rest of the night casually gaming and chatting.  Demyx made ten bags of popcorn (hey, we’re big boys and we like our popcorn) without setting the fire alarm off.  Thank God.  Last time he did that the floor didn’t speak to us for a week (that was at the end of last year.  We now live on a different floor, in a different building with different people who don’t know about these and other little… incidents).  I was sprawled out vertically, legs up over the back of the couch, watching my friends’ game upside down.  Halfway into a two-on-two match that involved Roxas and Riku versus Cloud and Sora, my cell phone vibrated on the coffee table in front of me.  I picked it up and lifted it over my head, to discover a text message from the ever so lovable Tifa.

“Well hello there,” I crooned to my phone, gazing seducingly at it, earning a puzzled look from Roxas, who was sitting next to me, before he reimmersed himself in the match.

“I know that look,” Leon commented from a beanbag chair on the floor and curiously trying to get a glimpse of my phone, “Which girl is it this time?  Olette?  Yuna?  Paine?  Selphie?  Etc.?”

Roxas glanced at us briefly as he executed a stellar combo.

I rolled on my side and stuck my legs out over the armrest of the couch and huddled against my phone, its screen now pointing solidly away from Leon  .“Leon, my friend,” I corrected, “Tifa is no girl.  She is a woman.  And a feisty one at that.”

“Oh no,” Leon said, “Just your type.  How long until you break this one’s heart?”

Roxas uncharacteristically let Link take a series of blows on the screen.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I can’t help it if I was born a natural heartbreaker.  But did you ever consider the possibility that this one’s here to stay?  Hmmmm?”  I looked at him accusatorily.

Roxas fell off the platform.

“Watch it Rox!” I warned, turning my attention back to the game.

“What did she say?” Demyx asked, always the gossip monger.  Trust me, he knows everything there is to know about everybody.  When I need blackmail material, I go to him (Don’t ask.  Really.).

“She just wanted to know what time we’re meeting for coffee tomorrow morning,” I elaborated slowly, drawing them into my story.

“And…?” Demxy intoned eagerly.

“I’m going to tell her 11:00.”

“And…?”

“And what?”

“Are you going somewhere after coffee?!?” Demyx just couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.

“Maybe the movies, if I can persuade her,” I smirked.  I was quite confident in my ability to sway a girl any way I wanted.

“Oooh,” came Demyx’s sound effect.

“WE LOST?” the cry resounded throughout the room, halting our conversation, “Roxas!  I thought you were supposed to be the champion!”

“…Oooh, sorry,” Roxas apologized hesitantly, staring the television screen, “Can’t win ‘em all, right?” he tried, ineffectively, to appease his temporary partner Riku (the sore loser).

“Well, you’re still king, Roxas,” I commented, ensuring that Cloud stayed in his place, which was down on the ground, baby.

Roxas was silent and thoughtful for the rest of the night, never losing another match.

“Watcha thinking about?” I asked him when neither of us was playing.

He opened his mouth as if to speak, and then closed it.

“...it’s… nothing.  It’s not important… for now,” he finally settled upon, answering my question.

“Alright,” I replied, deciding not to push any further, “But if you need anything, just ask, ok?”

“Thanks,” he answered, letting a small, wry smile slip.

There was something in that smile I didn’t understand.

Something that intrigued me.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX:  And then… it hit me

 

Our trip to the mall passed without further incident.  Unless, of course, you count my psychotic urge to swing on the low-hanging branches of the fake palm trees in the mall and the fact that I acted upon said urge, traveling Tarzan-style from faux flora to faux flora.  Let’s just say that Kairi was so steamingly mad that she had to buy a $134 purse in order to ‘calm down.’

Eventually we made our way to Macy’s, where Tifa made a beeline for the returns desk. I wandered off to the men’s section, thinking that I could use a new belt.  Perusing the wallets and accessories, I felt a strange psychic connection with Roxas when I saw a black-and-white checkered wristband, in all its studded glory, with a 50% off Clearance sticker.  Welp, I just couldn’t help myself.

I bought it.

“That’s cute,” Tifa chirped after she re-grouped with me, looking over my shoulder as the clerk rang up my purchase.  “Put it on,” she suggested after we exited the store.

“It’s… for Roxas,” I heard myself saying, realizing I had intended just that from the moment I saw the wristband.

“Oh…” she hesitated, “That’s really nice of you, Axel.”  Then she looked at me.  “Is he like, your best friend?”

“Nah,” I replied, “Well - it’s funny.  We just met each other a week ago, but we really click, you know?”

She nodded, “I know.  That’s kind of how I felt when I met you, Axel.  I think we really click!  I really like you, Mr. Axel.”

Oh.

OH.

SHIT.

“Well, thank you, Ms. Tifa, you’ve quite made my day,” I replied smoothly, trying to avoid a potentially disastrous situation.  Don’t get me wrong, it made me happy to hear that, but I wasn’t about to bite just yet.  “Now I think it’s time to go meet the girls outside of… Where again?”

“Forever 21.”

“Ugh.” I groaned at the sky.  “I’m praying to God they’re done.”

During the drive back to campus, I thought deeply about where I wanted to take my relationship with Tifa.  She was a great girl, really, but there was something nagging at me.  I just couldn’t catch the flying thought.

For some reason, I had this disturbing feeling that… there may have been someone else I wanted to hear “I really like you, Axel,” from.  But who could that be?  There was really only one other person on my mind those days.

Ok, I’ll confess.

I’m not stupid.

Just maybe… in denial.

***

A few more weeks passed without incident.  Our Friday gatherings continued without fail, and sometimes Roxas and I crossed paths on our way to and from classes.  And on certain occasions I intentionally walked a certain way knowing it increased my likelihood of running into my little friend.  Don’t tell me you’ve never done that before.  No judging.

“Hey Rox,” I greeted as I walked up beside him on my way to the food court for lunch.  He looked at me startled.

“Oh, hey Ax,” Roxas looked at me and grinned widely, popping one of his earphones out.  “What’s up?”

“Nothin’, just getting lunch.  Oh, I have to tell you,” I paused as I avoided colliding with a girl practically running in the opposite direction, “I laughed for like five minutes straight at that snap you sent me of the cat.  Oh my god.”  I had, indeed, laughed like a fool in front of my phone during a break between classes this morning when Roxas snapchatted a cat accosting some ducklings in front of the education building.

Roxas laughed at the memory.  “That was great.”

We continued to chat as we made our way together to the food court, complaining about tests and homework and essays, and how my experiment in lab just wasn’t turning out right.  Then the conversation changed to video games, and some YouTube videos I had watched to perfect my Smash techniques.

“Huh.  I’ll have to practice that,” Roxas commented thoughtfully, then took a sip from his soda.

“Wanna come over tonight to play?” I suggested, “If you don’t have too much work to do.”

“Sure,” he agreed, then looked at his phone.  “Ugh” he huffed, “My partners for this lesson plan group project are messaging me.  This project is a mess.  One partner doesn’t show up for any meetings, another doesn’t participate in the chat, and the third is a terrible writer.  If he does the report, we’ll fail.”  Roxas swiped the messages away and rubbed his eyes.

I frowned at this news.  I could totally relate to the predicament of unreliable, deadbeat group project partners.  “Is there any way I can help?” I asked, “What’s the lesson about?”

Roxas perked up at that.  “Well, not to bother you, but it is a science lesson… do you think I could bounce some ideas off you?”

“Totally!” I exclaimed, “Science is my forte! Plus I’m the best TA ever, meaning I am more than qualified to help with your project.”

Roxas rolled his eyes while smiling.  “Ok, arrogance aside, thank you.  I really appreciate it.  It’s hard for me to figure out how to teach some of these thing to kids when I’m not totally familiar with the concepts anymore.”

“You could watch me teach one of the labs,” I suggested, “Although it’s not really the same thing as teaching kids, it might give you some ideas.  Also, there are some really basic experiments kids can do to learn foundational concepts, and you don’t even need any fancy equipment.  If you want, I can show you.  I’m TAing a lab tomorrow afternoon, actually.”

“Hmm,” Roxas intoned, thinking, “That could work.  What time?”

“One.”

“Ok,” he nodded vigorously, “Let’s do it.”  He stood with his tray.  “Gotta go now.  Thanks, Ax.  You’re the best.”

“Duh,” I agreed as he began to walk away.  “Hey, you’re still coming tonight, right?” I called after him.

“Duh!” came his reply as he waved at me.

 

***

With Roxas observing me the next day, I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous as I began the afternoon’s lesson with the freshmen. Normally my white labcoat would lend me confidence, but today I struggled to summon my usual charisma.  I began with a brief overview of the experiment, covering the basic concepts the students were supposed to learn from this project, the techniques they would use, and the chemical reactions they would witness.  I showed them some of the math on the whiteboard and then I set them free to begin working with a partner to follow the instructions in the lab book to finish the experiment.

                After I made my first round among the students to make sure everyone knew what they were doing (and that they had their goggles on) and were starting the experiment, I returned to the front of the classroom where Roxas was sitting off to the side in a chair.  Now that I was no longer teaching from the front, he scooted his chair up to the desk and continued writing vigorously in his notebook.

                “So, how are you liking the class so far?” I asked, sitting at the desk next to him, facing the class so I could keep an eye on them.  Also so I could not stare at Roxas wearing regular jeans for once, and not notice how good they looked on him.  He must have decided to tone down his look for my lab today.

“It’s great!” he chirped, and looked up from his notes.  “I got some good ideas and now I really think I know where to start with my lesson plan.”

“Awesome!” I exclaimed, and held out my fist for a fist-bump, which to my delight he reciprocated.

“Um, Axel?” a shy girl with brown hair walked up to the desk, clutching her spiral lab workbook to her chest.  “Can you take a look at our beaker?  Something is wrong because the solution isn’t turning blue…”

“Of course,” I told her and stood, “Are you sure you weighed out the right amount of zinc shavings?”  I excused myself to Roxas and followed the girl to her lab bench, pulling on my safety goggles.  Peering into her beaker, through the bubbling concoction I noticed that Roxas was watching me wistfully, leaning his chin on his hand and his elbow on the table.  Feeling heat distinct from that generated by the Bunsen burner fill my cheeks, I looked away quickly.

“Hand me the thermometer?” I asked the student, and she did as instructed.  My hands shook a little as I took the thermometer from her and placed it in the beaker to read the temperature.  “Hmmm,” I murmured, “It’s not hot enough.  Turn the heat up.”  The girl nodded in reply and moved to follow my instructions.  I explained to her that the reaction wouldn’t occur until the solution reached a high enough temperature, but I kept pausing unnecessarily to gather my thoughts every time I was distracted by Roxas gazing at me.  My thoughts were sluggish and my stomach did a flip flop as I turned to help another student with a question, and I mismeasured something at one point.  Shaking my head and apologizing to the student, I helped him start that part of the process over.  After helping two or three more pupils, I returned to Roxas, who was chewing on the end of his pen while looking absentmindedly off into the distance.

Damn, I thought, he’s cute when he’s thinking.

Roxas looked up at me, startled as I approached.  “Sorry about that,” I apologized, “Had to answer a few more questions.”

“Oh, no problem,” he reassured, shaking his head and holding his hands out, palms out, waving them around.  “This is great, I get to observe a science lesson in action.”  I chuckled and sat next to him, leaning back.  “You know…” he paused mid-thought, played with a spike of his hair, “You seem like a really good teacher.”

“Duh,” I confirmed, putting my hands behind my head.

Roxas rolled his eyes at me again.  That seemed to be his standard reaction these days to many of my antics.

“No, I mean it.  You’re really patient and you explain things well.  Plus you have the look, with the lab coat and everything,” he explained as he made some notes on the pad in front of him, looking down so (I assume) I wouldn’t see the faint blush rising in his cheeks.  “Maybe you should be a teacher,” he declared, finishing a sentence with a flourish and tap of his pen.

“Hmmm,” I mused aloud, flattered but not sure how to react, “Not exactly what I had in mind, but I’ll think about it.”

“What do you have in mind?” Roxas inquired, transferring his attention back to me and putting his pen behind his ear.

“Research in the lab, preferably drug research.” I shrugged.  “I know that’s a vague plan, but I have an independent work study going on this year to help me get into a lab in a graduate program.  I have a couple in mind I’m going to apply for.”

“Huh.  Well, that’s cool too.”  Then Roxas sighed.  “I’m jealous.  I want to wear a lab coat.”

I laughed.  “What’s so special about a lab coat?”

“I just like them!” he asserted defensively, glaring at me.

“Ok, ok!” I held my hands out to placate him.  “Ok, I gotta make a final round and make sure the lab gets cleaned up.  Wait for me?”

“Of course,” Roxas confirmed.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

***

Sigh.

“Damn, Axel, that was a heavy sigh,” Demyx commented from behind me.  We were both working on assignments for class, sitting at our kitchen table, engrossed in our books and notes.

“I’m so confuuuuuuuuuuuuuused,” I moaned, banging my head against the laptop keyboard and typing nonsense into my spreadsheet.  Ouch.  Bad idea.

“Orgo?” he questioned.

“Blaaaaaaaaaaah,” I groaned.  Little did he know I was confused about more than just the results of my latest orgo lab experiment.

I thought about the Macy’s bag that was still sitting on my dresser, hidden behind the TV.  More than a month after that shopping trip, I still couldn’t work up the nerve to give the wristband to Roxas.  My anxiety about it only increased the more I hung out with Roxas, the more I got to know him and the more my feelings for him continued to evolve and evade my control.  Ugh.  Why did I even buy it anyway?  He’s going to think it’s stupid, and that I’m weird for giving it to him, I thought, he’s going to think that I –

That was it.  I needed to get out of this room, away from that lab report, and deal with my damn problems already.  I pulled out my cell phone.

Busy? I messaged Roxas.

No.  Why? came his response a few seconds later.

Starbucks?  I need to take a break from this report.

Now?  I’m at the library, but I can meet you there if you want.

Meet me in ten minutes then? I asked.

Sure.

Upon receiving that final text message, I took a quick glance in the mirror (I looked flawless, as usual), grabbed the Macy’s bag from its semi-hiding place, shoved it into my backpack and told Demyx I was going to Starbucks.

***

“Hey,” I greeted Roxas when I joined him at the end of the Starbucks line.

“Hey,” he said back, looking at me questioningly, “What’s up?”

“Nothing.  I just needed to get out,” I explained, “Thanks for meeting me.”

“I understand,” Roxas said, nodding solemnly, “It was about time for me to take a study break anyways.”

“Calc test?” I questioned, raising an eyebrow.  He nodded, then turned around to order his beverage.

We ordered the same drink.  Roxas even asked for whipped cream.  I think I’ve had a good effect on him, no?

“Whipped cream?” I inquired as we settled into a pair of plush chairs in the far corner of the café, “Feeling daring today, Roxy?”

He scowled at the name.  I smirked.

“I thought I should try it.  I mean, you love it so much…” he trailed off, sipping his drink.

We sat in companionable silence for a few moments, both of us just enjoying the bliss that is Starbucks.  Finally I cleared my throat.

“So I was at the mall the other day…” ok, so, small lie… “andIsawthisonsaleandthoughtwowthislookslikesomethingRoxaswouldlikeandsomethinghewouldtotallywearbecauseit’sjust-so-RoxasanditwasonclearanceandIjustcouldn’thelpmyselfIjustcouldn’tI’manimpulsiveshoppersometimes,it’sreallyaverybadhabitbutsothisiskindofforyou-“ I rushed, troubled to find the right worlds to say.

“Eh?” Roxas said, looking slightly confused, “Could you repeat that?”

I laughed at the look on his face and was instantly at ease.  “This is for you, Roxas.  I saw it and just couldn’t help myself,” I said, pushing the bag towards him, “I thought, this looks like something Roxas would wear.”

“For me?” he questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh my god, just open it dude,” I huffed out and waggled the bag to distract him from the blush creeping across my cheeks.

Roxas slowly opened the bag and pulled out the black and white checkered wrist band.  He looked at it for a moment and then smiled. 

Roxas smiled.    

“Thanks Axel.  I –“ he paused for a second, swallowing, “really like it.  That was… nice of you.”

“No problem… it was on sale, remember?” I reinforced, trying to pass off the gesture and waved my hands around, even as I flushed with pleasure.  He likes it, I thought happily to myself.

“So are you saying you wouldn’t spend full price on me?” he teased (flirtatiously?), smirking at me confidently, almost causing me to lose comprehension of his words.  “Actually, I have a confession to make.”  His smile faded back into the blank, emotionless expression I had encountered that first ominous date.

My heart started to beat a little faster.

I felt a little tickle trail down my spine.

There was a little lightning in my stomach.

“Y-yes?” I stammered, trying to focus on his words and not just on his gorgeous blue eyes and the unfamiliar feelings blossoming in my rib cage.

“You know how I have a tendency to wear… slightly outrageous pants?” he asked.

That snapped me back to reality.

“Yes,” I said, frowning a little and glancing down at the black and yellow pinstriped pants gracing his lower half today.

“Well… I won’t deny that they’re part of my style and I really do love them, but… Axel…” he leaned in a little closer.  My pulse raced and I had to tear my eyes from his lips so I could listen attentively to his syllables.  “…and don’t you tell this to anyone, but…” he came closer and I felt as if my heart were going to spontaneously combust at any second, “…my sister picked them out.”

WHAT?!?” I yelped a little too loudly, my mouth dropping, all thoughts of Roxas’s delicious mocha-caressed lips pushed to the back of my mind, “Get out of here! I cried and banged my hands firmly down on the table.

“No…” Roxas trailed off, avoiding my eyes.

I sat back in my chair, musing for a second.  Then I let out a deep laugh which rumbled through me for a good minute.  Soon my mirth infected Roxas, who couldn’t resist laughing along, his cheeks dimpling adorably as he did so.  “That has got to be the best damn secret anyone has ever told me.” I gasped when I regained control of myself.

“Seriously?” Roxas questioned, chuckling.  God, I loved that sound.  He visibly relaxed, letting his previously tense shoulders fall back to their natural position.  “Isn’t it kind of… embarrassing, though?”

“A bit,” I admitted, laughing gently, “but it’s actually very endearing.  It’s incredibly cute that you wear clothes picked out for you by your sister, Rox.”

He laughed easily, flushing a little.  “Yeah… well, first of all, I hate shopping.  Combine it with Larxene being an extremely protective older sister with exotic tastes, aaaand you have my fashion.  She loves to send me packages…”

“Exotic tastes?  Ooh, sounds like my type,” I joked, grinning “If she’s anything like you, Rox, I’d love to meet her.”

His eyes narrowed and he frowned slightly.  “She’s married and lives in New York,” he grumbled sourly.

“Whoa, Roxy, no worries, I’m just teasing.  I would never hit on a married woman,” I reassured and waved wildly with my hands, while mentally chiding myself Why the fuck did you say that Axel? “She’s safe from my charms.”

But you aren’t, I thought.

Oh.

Shit.

Did I just admit that to myself?

“That’s not…” he murmured, then looked up at me.  His face resumed what I had once assumed was his characteristically emotionless expression. “Well, Axel, I need to study some more for my test tomorrow, so… see you later?”

“Yeah,” I nodded, uneasy, “Hey, are you going back to the Bricks?  I’ll walk with you.”

He hesitated, then smiled apologetically, “Nah.  I can’t get any studying done when my roommate’s home, and I really need to ace this test.  I’m gonna head back to the library.”

“Aw, ok,” I replied in disappointment, my face falling.  “See ya later then, Rox.”

“See ya, Ax.  And thanks again.”  He waved the bag gently.  And then he turned, and we headed off in different directions. 

***

SHIT SHIT SHIT, I thought as I walked home alone.  I was deep in thought, hands in my pockets, occasionally kicking stones I found along the path.

WHAT, AXEL, IS YOUR PROBLEM?  Not only had I just kinda sorta admitted something to myself that I had kinda sorta kept in check, in denial, for quite a while now, but then I just had to joke about how his sister was my type.  Well, for the record, I had said that I was interested if she was like Roxas, but still.

That’s not something you say to your current object of affection.  Not at all.

STUPID ME.

That was no way to seduce Roxas.

WHAT?

Now that was just a little too much.  I wasn’t out to seduce Roxas, just…

Oh, hell.

Now I really don’t want to admit this, and don’t tell anyone, because I’m not quite sure myself yet, and I really will just die if anyone finds out, or rather I will kill anyone who knows, and I don’t know how it happened, or when it happened, or why, but…

“AW, TO HELL WITH IT!” I cried up at the sky, waving my hands in the air, oblivious to any late-night stragglers who might be sharing the pathways with me.

I had, I think… a tiny crush on my little blonde friend.

Tiny.

Really really really small.

Infinitesimal, I swear.

Probably just a brief infatuation because of his wicked style.

And because it’s just so goddamn adorable that he wears clothes picked out for him by his big sister.

And because he’s got the most gorgeous ice blue eyes and the quickest, harshest, snarkiest wit and the most enticing laugh and stunning smile and we really just click, and for heaven’s sake the boy loves venti mocha frappaccinos with extra shots of espresso and he even started to put whipped cream on top because of me and now I hope I’m not flattering myself but I really truly think that he smiles more and laughs more when he’s around me and he has more facebook friends than me and we just have fun together and he’s mysterious and aloof and cool and kind of a loner but not really and… Ugh, this is so cheesy, and I am so done with this train of thoughts.

Oh, but I forgot to mention one thing - he wears the hottest pants.

It’s true.

And Axel can’t help but stare, baby.

***

Later, I rolled around in my bed, distressed.  What was the source of these feelings?  Was it truly a “like”? A “crush”?  More?  Was this merely a paranoid side effect of seeing photos of Roxas’s past relationship with another man online?  Or was this the real deal?

“Well, it must be real if I’m still up thinking about it,” I muttered out loud to no one, then covered my hands with my eyes and jiggled my legs a bit.  “I really am going crazy.  Talking to myself and all.”

Truly, I couldn’t remember ever feeling something like this for another guy.  Although, I guess it could explain why my past relationships failed?  Or those instances could be unrelated to this and more likely attributed to youth, or foolishness, or overconfidence, etc. etc. etc. and all the other things wrong with me.

“Whatever,” I mumbled and flipped onto my stomach, burying my face in my pillow, wishing I could disappear into its warmth and fluff and re-emerge at graduation and never have to deal with this.

“Ugh, what are people going to think when – ” I started grumbling, but then quickly stopped myself.  Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch, Axel.  He might not like you that way.  And then nothing will ever come of this and things will go back to normal.

Right?

***

 

“A package…” Roxas murmured thoughtfully as he pulled a yellow slip from his mailbox a few days later. “From Larxene…”

“From your sister?” I inquired, peering eagerly over his shoulder, “What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know… more clothes, maybe?” he shrugged and waved the slip in the air.

“As in, crazy awesome outrageous obnoxious pants?” I asked him to clarify as we walked together towards the front desk, me to his left.

“Probably,” he nodded, his eyes brightening at the prospect.

“Hey Zex,” I greeted as we reached the counter behind which the bored, slate-gray haired attendant sat, reading a book.

“Hey Ax,” he replied, barely glancing up.

“Working hard I see,” I teased and grinned, crossing my arms on the counter.  Zexion merely rolled his eyes behind his book and flipped a page.

To my right, Roxas cleared his throat. “I, uh, have a package,” he intoned, waving the yellow slip in the air where Zexion could see.

“I see…” Zexion put his book down and squinted at Roxas.  “And you are?”

“Zexion, this is Roxas,” I introduced smoothly, “Roxas, this is grouchy old Zexion.”  I took the slip from Roxas and waved it around over Zexion’s open book, now on the counter.

“I am neither grouchy nor old,” Zexion grumbled and snatched the paper from my hand, heading behind a partition and grumbling darkly to himself.  I chuckled and turned to Roxas, whispering, “Don’t worry, he’s a softie on the inside.”  He just raised an eyebrow at me amusedly.

A few minutes, some shuffling around, and barely stifled chuckles later, Zexion emerged from behind the partition triumphantly holding up a box covered in ridiculous and completely embarrassing shiny foil bright red heart stickers.  (Kairi would murder me if I ever sent her anything like that.  Hmmm, maybe I should…).

“Found it,” he declared, placing it on the counter.  He took a binder out from a cubby and flipped to the last page, where Roxas’ name and room number could be found.  “Just sign here please,” he asked patiently, handing Roxas a pen.

Roxas blushed, signed and grabbed the box as quickly as possible, thanking Zexion and zipping towards the elevator.  Before following, I glanced at Zex and said, “Yo, Zex, you wanna come for Smash on Friday?”

Zex both visibly and audibly sighed deeply.  “I suppose I could grace you with my presence for once.  If I finish this book.”

I scowled at him.  “Please, you have like one chapter left.”  I turned my back to him, headed towards the elevators and waved at Zexion over my shoulder.  “See you Friday.  Be there or be square!”  I called as the elevator dinged and Roxas headed inside.  I grinned amusedly when I heard Zexion grumble something under his breath like “I’d rather be square.”

Entering the elevator, I pressed 5, and saw that Roxas had pressed 3, for his floor.  As we headed up and approached Roxas’s destination, he looked up at me through his bangs. “Hey…” he began.

“Yeah?” I filled in the silence.

“Do you want to come see what’s in the package?”

I grinned devilishly.  “Why, I would love to, Roxy.”

Roxas scowled at me as the doors opened and headed out first.  “Never mind, I take it back.”

“What!” I cried indignantly and bounded after him.

“That nickname is the worst,” he explained.  “Please stop using it.”

“But Roxyyy,” I teased as we approached his door.

“Axel.” He stopped mid-hallway and turned to look at me, blank expression on his face.

“Yes?” I asked, my heartrate elevating just a tad.

“If you call me Roxy one more time, I am going to punch you out.” He declared with gusto, then whirled around and made a beeline for the door to his apartment.

I stared and willed my feet to follow, forcing my lungs to breathe again.  Roxas had been so close when he said that, and the way his face changed from blank to filled with ferocity and fire made something inside me quake quite unlike ever before.

“Geez, ok, ok I get it,” I muttered, trying to sound natural, “Chill out.  I won’t do it again.”

Good.” Roxas confirmed, then threw the door to his apartment open and headed inside.  “Come on in.”

“Is your roommate home?” I asked Roxas.

“Nah, Hayner has rugby practice right now,” Roxas replied, “so it’s safe to open the package.”

I laughed and closed the door behind me, feeling kind of special knowing that Roxas had entrusted me with such a… sensitive secret.  And now, he was going to share with me something he shared with no one.

He would show me, alone.

In his apartment.  Probably in his room.

Me.  Roxas.  Room.

Alone?

WHAT.

Ok, calm down, just act like the smooth, sexy gentleman that you are and remain focused, I mentally lectured myself, nothing will ever come of this brief infatuation, which by the way is probably just a brief hallucination induced by mocha-overindulgence.  I stopped briefly after turning the lock behind me, tugging nervously at some wayward wisps of hair framing my face.  Wait, no, my panicked mind thought, don’t act sexy!!!  What are you doing Axel?!

And if it was real, it was certainly only one-sided.  Right?  Ugh.   I shook my head and turned around to face Roxas.  Don’t think about that.  Chill and remain in CONTROL and do NOT do something crazy and outrageous and spontaneous.

Hah.  I, Axel, chill out?

I, good sir, was f-u-c-k-e-d if I thought I could restrain myself from doing something insane that I would regret later.

I have a fiery spirit, ok?!?

Anyways.

Roxas deposited his keys on a counter and then waved to me from a doorway to the right of the kitchen table.  “Nice place,” I remarked coolly as I crossed the living room, “Oh, I so want to sink into that bean bag chair.”

“Sure thing,” Roxas assented as I crossed through the threshold into his room and sat gingerly on his bed, turning my attention to the bright red box that Roxas put on his desk.

“Open it!” I urged, eager to see what was inside.  Roxas took a pair of scissors and sliced carefully through the packing tape holding the cardboard cube together, finally pulling it open to reveal…

A dark purple pair of skinny jeans, complete with chains and straps hanging from the back pockets.

“Roxas…” I whispered, “In the words of my little sister, ‘omg’.  Try them on.  NOW,” I ordered him, certain that the pants would fit his figure perfectly.

“Alright,” he said, “go out in the living room.”

I flushed a tad walked out the door and closed it behind me, respecting his privacy.

“Ok!” Roxas declared as he threw the door open when he was done changing, “What do you think?  Did Larxene pick a winner?”

Hell mother-effing yes.  I whistled.

Damn, Roxas, where does your sister shop, because those pants are fire,” I told him forcefully as he began to squirm a little.

“Thanks,” he said, keeping his tone indifferent, running a hand through his hair in a nervous gesture, looking at the floor firmly.

“No, seriously, Rox,” I asserted, and he glanced at me, “You look damn sexy in those pants.”

Whoops.  Did I just say that?  Out loud?  To Roxas?

Oh my.

Roxas blushed.

Wait.  What?

Roxas adjusted one of his blonde spikes, keeping his eyes glued to the floor as he mumbled a quick and embarrassed, “Thanks.”

Fondness for Roxas rushed through me, and suddenly I had the urge to see his gorgeous blue eyes looking at me, hypnotized and unblinking as I drew closer, gazing at me, only me -

Ahem.

And you know how I am with my urges.

“Roxas…” I whispered, barely audible yet loud and clear in the silent room.  He slowly looked up to meet my piercing look.  We stared at each other for a second.  I was entranced by the look in his eyes, the distant stirring of emotion.  I could tell as he tugged at his bangs that he struggled to maintain his slowly fading expressionless façade.  “I think… I think there’s something I need to tell you…” I breathed, walking a step towards him, “Listen… I… I think I –”

And then, cliché of all clichés, I heard the faint sound of a key turning in the lock of Roxas’ front door.  Roxas’ eyes darted nervously through the doorway towards the source of the noise.

“Hey Roxas – oh, hey Axel – what’s up guys?” Hayner, Roxas’s fairly normal roommate, greeted us.

“Just hanging out.  Killing some time until my next class,” I said smoothly, turning around to face Hayner, to whom Roxas had previously introduced me at one of our weekly Smash meetups.  Hayner walked over and we exchanged pleasantries.  Shortly thereafter, I put one hand in my pocket and used the other to wave to Roxas and then Hayner.  “Well, I gotta get to lab.  Experiments are calling!  Later!” As I reached for the door, I glanced back at Roxas, “See ya later, Roxas,” I said gently, and smiled at him in what I hoped was proper devastating fashion.  With that, I took my leave, heading back down the hall and into the elevator, cursing myself all the while.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 7:  In which Sora makes a brief but scandalous appearance

 

Damn it,” I hissed as I furiously jammed the button labeled thirteen in the elevator.

What the hell was I thinking?

Axel does not, under any circumstances, romantically involve himself with other males.  Especially not lovable blonde ones. But why not? my mind whispered to me as I struggled with myself.

Roxas was my friend.  One of my boys – a pal, no, more than that – a partner in crime.

I really couldn’t deal with this.  I just couldn’t.  I had to repress this emotion.

God, if Hayner hadn’t walked in…

I really didn’t want to think about it.

Ok, actually, I really really really did want to think about it, but I was trying to repress that naughty part of myself.

Think happy thoughts.

Oh yeah, I forgot – those all involved Roxas.

***

Later I kicked open the door to my apartment and stormed grumpily in.  Demyx glanced at me passingly from where he was cozied into the couch with a mild look of interest.  He was used to my drastic mood swings by now.  I recoiled as a notebook was thrown at me.

“What. The. Fuck. Demyx,” I hissed, rubbing the sensitive spot on my shoulder where the notebook had hit.

“Kairi came by and wants you to take this to Riku when you have a chance.  He left it in her room the other day,” he explained, gesturing toward the notebook and turning back towards his computer.

“Why the hell doesn’t she take it to him herself?  Riku’s her boyfriend,” I questioned testily.

“He wasn’t home,” Demyx explained, “He has tennis practice until seven and she had to go to a study session then.”

“Oh.  Well, ok then,” I agreed wearily, “I guess I’ll go over there.  Maybe it will get her off my case for a while.”  I picked up the notebook and grumbled some more to myself about that bastard Riku (hey, a guy’s got to pick on his little sister’s boyfriend, am I right?).  “And why was he in her room?  They’re too young for that stuff,” I muttered as headed back out into the hall, and I caught Demyx rolling his eyes before I closed and locked the door behind me.

As I leisurely travelled down the hall and drew closer to 1305, the apartment Riku shared with his roommate Pence, I saw that the door was slightly ajar and that light was peeping through.  I decided to just walk in unannounced and hopefully scare the bejeezus out of Riku.  I peered through the crack between the door and the entranceway before making my grand entrance.  Seeing no one in the living room, I quietly headed in and closed the door behind me.               

Continuing onward, I walked stealthily towards Riku’s room, side-stepping along the wall and ever-so-slightly peering into his bedroom through the very tiny crack of open space between the door and the doorframe–

What I saw was poison to my eyes.

GOOD GOD.  WHAT THE MOTHER FUCKING FRAPPACINNO ON ICE?

Holy God up in heaven, forgive me for what I witnessed that day.

Normally nerdy-yet-cool, gaga-for-Kairi Riku was holy-shit all over his new friend Sora.  I stared, transfixed by the scene before me.  Riku was ON TOP of Sora, ON HIS BED, engaged in some heavy duty mouth-to-mouth boy-on-boy action.  Thank heaven they were still fully clothed, or I either would have died right there on the spot or thrown a shuriken through Riku’s heart (no, I don’t know where I would have gotten a shuriken, but Axel always makes it happen).

I felt sick when I noticed that Riku’s glasses had been discarded onto the floor.

And then Riku’s lips trailed s-l-o-w-l-y down onto Sora’s neck, making the younger boy giggle.

I threw the door the rest of the way open furiously, slamming it against the wall, shouting, “MOTHER OF FRAPPACINNO.  HOLY SHIT.  WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?”  I stomped into the room, kicked the door shut behind me, threw the notebook I was carrying onto the floor and pounced, grabbing Riku by the shirt collar (oh my damn the boy’s clothes were disheveled) and shoving him up against the closed closet.  “What the fuck do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Silver-haired-thinks-he’s-badass-scholarly-academic-two-timer?!?  I come here to deliver your science notes and I walk in to find you studying –ahem- chemistry with someone who is not my sister?!?”

Riku paled as I glared at him, my eyes practically popping out of my head as I snarled, “What do you have to say for yourself?!?”

“Listen – Axel – calm down – I’m sorry – I’ll explain – Kairi –” Riku started, and was unexpectedly interrupted by Sora.

“Wait a minute, Riku – Who’s Kairi?  Riku, do you have a girlfriend?!?” Sora exclaimed, hopping off the bed and looking expectantly at Riku, waiting for an answer.

“Holy shit, Riku, he doesn’t know?” I exclaimed, my heart sinking when I saw Riku look shamefaced towards the ground, “Does Kairi know?”

And I thought this day really couldn’t get any worse.  Axel is normally blessed with an excess of good luck.  Axel gets everything he wants and his life goes smoothly because Axel is an arrogant, sexy, slick gentleman.  But now Axel had to discover all in one day that he has an immense fascination that has exceeded mere curiosity and entered the realm of emotional and physical attraction to his new best friend and then had the lovely pleasure of walking in on his sister’s boyfriend (who he will hate forever, by the way), glasses knocked off, clothes disheveled, practically devouring another male of whom I really don’t have a very high opinion.

Riku stood taller and looked me in the eye, grasping at my wrists, “Fuck off, Axel.”

“No, you fuck off, Riku.  Now would you please kindly explain to me why exactly you are committing the severe transgression called adultery?” I asked, my voice loaded with false sweetness.  He just looked at me defiantly and said nothing.  “Ok, let me ask you one more time, Riku, and I’ll say it simpler so even moron over here can understand,” I commented, gesturing toward Sora.  Anger flashed across Riku’s face.  Ok, so maybe calling Sora a moron was a little uncalled for, but my blood was boiling and I really couldn’t think straight.   I was enraged.   “So, Riku, why the hell are you cheating on my little sister with Sora, who, correct me if I’m wrong, is male?  Is there something you forgot to tell us when you started dating Kairi two years ago?”

“Listen, Axel, it’s none of your business.  I understand that you are an overprotective older brother, but you need to leave.  In case you didn’t notice, you’re interrupting us,” Riku stated calmly, attempting to remove my fists which were still clenched around the neck of his shirt.

“Hold on Riku, what makes you think I want to stay?” Sora questioned, speaking up again, “I just learned that you have a girlfriend that I know nothing about, and you expect me to help you cheat on her?  You’re definitely in the wrong here, Riku.”

“Riku, did you forget that the girl you’re cheating on is my sister?  Didn’t I tell you that if you ever hurt a hair on her head I’d kill you?!?” I inquired ferociously, disbelieving that Riku could so calmly refuse my questions “And Sora, you are male, aren’t you?”

“Uhh… yeah,” Sora replied, blushing.

“Sora, you don’t have to answer his idiotic questions, and Axel, let me go and get the hell out of my room,” Riku declared coolly, giving up on trying to dislodge my fists which were currently bunched in his shirt around his shoulders.

“Listen, bastard– ”

“Cool it, Axel,” Sora tried to speak soothingly, “Calm down.  Let’s talk this out like good friends, ok?”

“Um, seems to me like you and Riku are a liiitttle bit more than good friends,” I spat, trying to keep my rage it check and not fling Riku out the window.

“Listen to me.  If anyone should be punishing Riku, it should be – Kairi, was it?,” he put a finger to his chin, trying to remember, “Anyways, don’t worry, because I’m leaving.  I guess – we can just pretend this never happened, alright?” he sighed, then picked up a textbook off of the floor and began to walk out the door.

“Sora – wait!” Riku exclaimed, shoving me away with renewed strength and breaking my grip.  Dashing away from me, he called after Sora, “Don’t go!”  I followed, heading into the living room.

“Riku,” Sora whispered from the entryway, smiling sadly with tears forming in his eyes, “I really love you, but I don’t appreciate being cheated on.  I’m sorry.”  With that final remark, Sora exited the room and dashed out the door and down the hall.  Riku began to chase after him.

He loves him?!?  WHAT is going on here?

“Wait!” he called wildly, and would have probably caught up to Sora if I hadn’t grabbed his arm and held him back before he could so much as touch the doorknob.

“You heard him, Riku.  He’s leaving,” I lectured, “and I really don’t blame him.”

“What the hell do you know, Axel?” Riku shouted, “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU KNOW?  You could have anyone!  You don’t know what it’s like!” he tugged furiously at his hair, then calmed down, “Listen,” he said quietly, “You don’t understand what I feel for Sora.  You really don’t get it.  All you ever do, Axel, is break the heart of girl after girl.  You have no right to talk.  Now leave or I swear – ”

“Jesus, Riku, I get your point,” I backed off, putting my hands in the air.  I figured that I had already gone a little too far and if I stayed any longer I really couldn’t guarantee the boy’s safety.  “Way to be cliché.  You may not believe me, but… I kind of understand your situation.  But, that does not, by any means, justify your actions.  Now think about what you’ve done and be fucking grateful that I refrained from killing you.  You better clear things up with Kairi or I swear I’ll be the one to do it.”  With that threat, I backed out of the apartment, pointing my index finger at him violently.  The door was promptly slammed behind me, the lock clicking immediately in place.

I sighed and scratched my scalp, feeling the beginning of a headache coming on.

How would this end?  If he hurts Kairi I swear to God I’ll make him pay, I thought viciously.  If there was one person I loved furiously in this world (but would never admit), it was my sister.  I had a severe tendency to be overprotective due to my brotherly affections.  Nobody would ever guess that I’d be a family kind of guy, but hey, people exceed expectations sometimes, now don’t they?

***

Riku acted completely normal the next week.  He went out on dates with Kairi and was sweet to her, as usual.  The only thing that changed was that Sora was nowhere to be found and Riku had dark circles under and a sad look to his eyes.

Even more intriguing was the fact that Roxas wore the wristband I gave him every day.

Every day.

I have to admit, I felt pretty special when I noticed.

Ok, I felt really really happy.

But my joy was only brought down by thoughts of Riku’s dirty little secret.  I didn’t know what to do.  I wasn’t sure if I should tell Kairi or wait for her to find out for herself.

So I confided in Roxas one night online.

Hey Roxas… I need some advice, I typed.

Yeah? he replied.

You promise not to breathe a word of this to anyone?  You know what’ll happen if you do, my virtual voice threatened.

No shit, Roxas replied.  I could imagine him rolling his eyes at that comment.

Feisty.  Did I mention that I absolutely loved Roxas when he was feisty?

You know I won’t tell, Ax, he continued.

Ok, well, here goes, I began, Remember that night you showed me those pants Larxene sent you?

…Yeah, came his hesitant reply after a few too many seconds.

Well… to make a long story short, later that day I caught Riku in the act of ADULTERY, I gushed, eager to get to the point.

…eh… WHAT?  As in, cheating on your sister?  You caught Riku with another woman? he exclaimed.

It gets worse, Roxas… I continued with my story, ready to stun him with the next part, Riku was cheating on Kairi with another man.  To be precise, his idiotic friend Sora.

WTF?!?  Riku and moron?   He questioned.  Ok, good to know that I wasn’t the only one who thought Sora was an idiot.  Riku had on occasion brought him to our Friday Smash sessions, and everyone had slowly started accepting him, but… he really couldn’t play Smash if his life depended on it.  Plus he had a tendency to spout off some really cheesy lines about friendship and other such lovely topics.  And he was just a bit of an airhead.  But, I guess he wasn’t that bad of a guy.

Yeah, him.  You’re not going to believe this – he totally told Riku off and walked out, I continued with my story, Which I appreciate and admire.  At least he’s more moral than that BASTARD Riku.

What are you going to do, Ax?  he typed back, This is… serious.

I know.  That’s why I need your advice.  What do you think I should do?  I just can’t let it go on like this – he’s cheating on my little sister.  I warned Riku to tell her ASAP, but he didn’t listen..  I should my head in frustration.  But I don’t know if I should tell her or let her find out, or give Riku more time to break it to her.

No matter what, this is going to end badly, Roxas replied calmly.  He always talked straight with me… I liked that.  He didn’t try to say that it would turn out all right, because we all knew that wasn’t possible.  But you have to tell Kairi.  Riku obviously can’t be trusted to do the right thing.

Kairi, I replied, my mind made up.  I have to tell her… she needs to know.  Thanks, Roxas.  I stopped typing and smiled.  Then, hesitantly, I added, You’re the best.  Really.

No problem, Axel.

I logged off, weary, filled with unease.

***

The next evening, after Demyx left (he had rehearsal every Monday night) I paced in our living room in front of the tv, phone in one hand and the other tugging at my hair.  Sighing deeply, I paused, unlocked the phone and started typing furiously to two certain recipients:

First:  Kairi, we need to talk.

Second:  Sora, get your ass over here.

Kairi’s response?  Hell no.  I cringed and replied:  I’m about to drop Riku’s underwear out my window.  I’ve written Riku loves Kairi all over them in Sharpie.  Be here in fifteen minutes? <3

Asshole, she texted back.

Love you too! I teased.

Sora’s text message, however, was a little less fierce:  I don’t feel very well today… I’m kind of depressed right now.  Sorry.

My response?  I’m about to drop Riku’s underwear out my window.  I’ve written Riku loves Sora all over them in Sharpie.  Be here in fifteen minutes?

He quickly texted back, K HOLD ON

Works every time.

***

“LEAVE RIKU ALONE!” came the screech outside my door ten minutes later, “WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM?”

“Welcome, my beloved and adorable yet extremely foul-mouthed little sister,” I greeted her as I opened the door, “Please have a seat on the couch, wrap yourself in my blanket, and clutch my pillow.  I believe you’ll need something to squeeze after I tell you what I have to say, and it won’t be me.”

“What the hell do you want?  And where is… Riku’s… underwear…” her voice dropped to a whisper at that last part as she walked towards the couch, looking around suspiciously.

“To talk, I told you,” I said seriously, and sat down on the coffee table.  She sat on the couch in front of me, face to face.  Kairi looked at warily and raised an eyebrow.

What?” she asked rudely, picking up my favorite pillow like I told her to.

“Now, forgive me, because I’m going to be very blunt.  I have to tell you some information that I found out.  Kairi, you’re my little sister and you know that I’d kill anyone who dares to endanger you and I love you and I’m sorry but I have to tell you and I - you’re not going to like it but Rikuischeatingonyou.” I rushed, suddenly nervous, questioning myself:  maybe this wasn’t the right choice?

“What?” Kairi asked, her face showing surprise, “What kind of crap are you spewing now Axel?” She stood up, furiously shoving the pillow into me, “I know you don’t like Riku but I do and it’s none of your damn business if I date him or not so just butt out!”

“Kairi,” I said gravely, in a serious tone I don’t ordinarily use.  She looked down at me.  “It’s true.  I would never lie to you.”

Emotion flickered across her features.  I could tell that she was taking my statement into consideration, starting to doubt her own resolve that Riku just couldn’t, just wouldn’t do that to her.

“Really?” she questioned weakly, her determination shattering, “How do you know?”

Knock, knock.  We both turned towards the door.  Right on time.  I stood up and sighed as Kairi took back her position on the couch, this time really clutching my pillow.

“I know,” I said as I opened the door, “because I walked in on Riku and Sora here,” I pointed towards the brunette standing in the hallway, “studying… ahem… chemistry, if you know what I mean.”

“Axel?” Sora questioned, looking up at me strangely from the entryway, “What’s going on?”

“Sora,” I gestured, “Meet Kairi, Riku’s current girlfriend.  Kairi, meet Sora, Riku’s whatever the male equivalent of a mistress is.”

“Holy shit,” Kairi whispered, eyes welling up with tears, “It can’t be true.”

“I’m sorry,” Sora said, staring at the ground ashamedly, “I didn’t know he was in another relationship.”

“Holy shit,” she whispered again, the tears overflowing and falling down her cheeks.  Her grip on the pillow tightened and her hands started shaking a bit.

“It’s true,” I said gently, sitting down next to her and putting an arm around her shoulder protectively.

“Sora didn’t know anything… he’s just a boy who really loves Riku,” I continued, pulling Kairi closer.  Sora gently closed the door so the outside world couldn’t witness this scenario, then walked over and sat next to Kairi.  He pulled a pack of tissues out of his back pocket, handing one to Kairi.  “In fact, Sora left Riku when he found out.  He doesn’t appreciate being cheated on either.”

“I can’t believe it…” Kairi sobbed, “I thought Riku was… Riku was… different!”  She closed her eyes and blew her nose.

I felt rage at Riku fill me – and pity.  He had lost a great girl.  I felt horrible that I had to be the one to deliver this terrible news.  Kairi’d been cheated on once before, by her first love…  Tidus.

I helped her burn every love letter he ever sent her.

I hoped she would never experience that pain again, but Riku… damn.  He better have damn good reason and fucking love Sora, or I’d never forgive him.  What am I saying?  I could never forgive him, no matter what the reason.

A nose was blown loudly.  Kairi and I looked up.  Sora was bawling, clutching a pack of tissues in his hands.  He furiously wiped his tears away as they fell.

“I’m sorry,” he wailed, “I looooove Rikuuuuuuuuu.  I love him so much it hurts.”  He continued to cry, increasing in intensity.  Kairi and I looked at each other.  A wave of pity for Sora struck me.

He really did care for Riku, who had been a backstabbing bastard to both him and my sister.

Kairi angled her body toward Sora and hugged him tightly.  “I understand,” she whispered, “I really do.”  She sniffed and scooched back a little, holding Sora’s shoulders and looking at him.  “Thank you, Sora, for telling me.  And for standing up to Riku.  It was very brave of you to do both things.”  Sora looked up at her and nodded weakly while blowing his nose.  Kairi stood up and wiped at her eyes.  She turned, walked to the door and put her hand on the knob, pausing before leaving.

“Kai… you can stay here, tonight, if you want to…” I started, glancing away from Sora.

Kairi smiled softly over her shoulder at me.  “No, it’s ok.  Thank you, Axel.  I think I need to be alone right now.”

I bit at my lip worriedly.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Kairi affirmed, nodding.

I stood and, taking the few strides I needed to get the door, scooped Kairi in for one last hug.  She gripped me tightly.  “Are you sure you don’t want me to kill him?  Or at least burn his underwear?” I breathed into her hair as she sobbed silently into my shoulder.

“Axel,” she whispered weakly with finality, “Riku’s… just not the boy for me, I guess.  These last few weeks, he’s been distant.  He’s also been… kinder… and happier.  I guess now I know why.  Please… leave him alone.  I’ll be… fine.” With that, she let me go, stood on her tip-toes to peck me on the cheek, and turned and walked out the door.  Quickly, I thrust my head out the door and called after her, “Text me later, ok?” Without turning back, she nodded and waved at me over her shoulder.

I drew a shaky breath as I closed the door behind her, deeply unsettled for the first time in a long time.

Damn.  What a mess.

I went back to my room, finding a distressed and still-weeping Sora.  I patted him on the head.  I suddenly had a very big-brother feeling.  Since when am I so damn empathetic?!?

“How… are you?” I asked awkwardly, unsure what to say.

“Shitty,” Sora said bluntly, blowing his nose and wiping his eyes.

“Y’know…” I punched Sora in the shoulder playfully, “Kairi was right.  You were pretty cool when you walked out on Riku.”  Damn.  Complimenting people other than myself again?  “Kairi may act like a brat sometimes but… she’s kind and considerate.  And trust me, after two years, she knows Riku.  If she said you made him happy, then you must’ve.”  I sighed again and rubbed the back of my head.  “What am I even saying.  Do you want me to beat him up?”

“Thanks, Axel, but that’s ok,” Sora said, standing up and sighing, “I’m going to go talk to Riku.  We need to straighten this whole… situation… out.”

I patted him on the back gently as he, too, headed for my door.

Before he walked out, however, he turned around, saying “Um… Axel?  Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I responded quietly.

He blew his nose one more time and wiped away some stray tears, straightening up and looking at me bravely, “Where’s Riku’s underwear?”

I started laughing, so hard I doubled over and had to lean on the wall for support.  “Don’t worry,” I wheezed in between chuckles, “His underwear are safe in his drawer.”

He cracked a small smile and walked off.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8:  The Mocha Sacrifice

 

The next day I woke, residual anger flowing through me, and proceeded through my day in a resoundingly bad mood.  I decided to skip my fist class and walk to the library and finish up an essay I had due the next day.  Mid-way through my walk, I became undeniably depressed when I peered into Starbucks and discovered, lo and behold, Roxas and Naminé. Talking. Laughing.  Having a generally peachy good time.  Since when do they hang out? I mused darkly, frowning towards them.  Deciding to get to the bottom of this, I went in, ordered a mocha in practically a monotone, grabbed my drink and marched right up to their table greeting them smoothly, “Hey Rox.  Naminé.”  I nodded at each of them in turn.

“Axel?” Roxas looked up at me questioningly, “You know Naminé?”

“His sister Kairi is my roommate,” Naminé enlightened Roxas, then looked at me sternly, “Axel, you need to visit her.  The poor thing is still upset over what happened with Riku.”

“Riku…” I practically snarled, “Please don’t mention his name in my presence.  And I know it was rough, I offered for her to stay over but she didn’t want to.”

“She still cries at night sometimes, you know.  It was a bad breakup,” she explained, looking at Roxas, “Did you know?  Axel caught her boyfriend cheating on her.  The poor girl is traumatized.  This isn’t the first time she’s been cheated on, you know.  She thought… Riku was different.”

Fucking gossiping about my sister, I mused stormily while sipping furiously on my mocha in order to maintain self-control.  I was not going to bitch-slap a sweet, innocent young girl.

“Uh, yeah… I know about it vaguely,” Roxas replied awkwardly, finally becoming aware of the scathing glare I was shooting Naminé right at that moment.

“Do you know who he was cheating on her with?  She won’t tell me,” Naminé inquired of Roxas, pursing her lips slightly.

“I’m sure she has a good reason for keeping that to herself,” I interrupted, putting my mocha down and looking at the two of them solemnly.  “We all thought Riku was decent guy, Naminé… as much as I tormented him, I trusted him.  I thought he was a good match for Kairi.”

Naminé sighed deeply.  “I’m so glad our breakup wasn’t horrible like that, Roxas.  You were so kind and understanding,” she commented wistfully, placing a hand on his.

“No, you were kind and under – ” Roxas began to insist vigorously. . . and that was when I accidentally (ahem – intentionally) knocked over my mocha frapp, spilling half of it all over the table and onto their… entwined… appendages… causing Naminé to yelp and quickly remove her hand from Roxas’s.

Fuck.  Leave it to me to do something juvenile and stupid. But damn it, I hope Roxas appreciated the day I sacrificed my mocha for him.   You know, there’s a reason I never talked to Roxas about Naminé.  I would prefer not to dredge up old memories and… feelings…  To be quite frank, I wanted Roxas all to myself.  As a friend, of course.

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, trying to sound sincere, “I’ll get some napkins!” I stood abruptly and tried not to stomp on my way to the napkins.

Roxas looked at me interestedly, probably seeing through my coverup.  His eyes sparkled amusedly as he shook his hand over the table, splattering more frappucinno on the surface.

I slowly walked over to the counter and grabbed a fistful of napkins, making my way through the evening class crowd and finally reaching the spot where Roxas and Naminé were now engaged in amiable chatter despite their sticky hands.  And then, damn it, I guess Naminé said something funny, because Roxas laughed and smiled at her and goddamn my blood just boiled.

Calm down, Axel, I thought to myself, calm down calm down calm down.

“Here are some napkins, Naminé.”  I handed half the napkins I obtained to her, shooting a particularly dazzling smile at her (that I hoped didn’t look too fake), and then gave the other half to Roxas.

“Well, I have to get to photography soon,” Naminé informed us regretfully, looking at the time on her cell phone.  “It was soo nice to see you!  Don’t forget about the gallery opening night this weekend!”

I tried to hide the fact that I choked a little on what remained of my mocha at that instant.  Have I mentioned – bitch?! 

“Definitely,” Roxas nodded, and stood up with her.  She hugged him tightly (too tightly) and gave him a GOD DAMN PECK ON THE CHEEK.

“Bye!” she waved at me casually after she had left Roxas’s embrace.  I stared darkly at her retreating figure, not even bothering to cover up my particularly hateful expression in front of Roxas.  Swiftly taking the seat she abandoned, I crossed one leg loosely over the others, leaned back in my chair and brought my arms over my chest.

“So…” Roxas began, staring at me inquisitively with those goddamn gorgeous blue eyes.

I got right to the point.

“Nice ex,” I grumbled sarcastically at him, “Do you still have…. Ahem… feelings for her? Ugh, I hate that word.”  I mentally gagged.

“And you care why?” Roxas asked snippily, “Your smile was, by the way, totally fake.  I know you well enough to say that with confidence.  And, by the way, Naminé is actually very nice.”

“She was gossiping about Kairi right in front of me!”  I spluttered, incensed, “Who is she to talk about Kai crying herself to sleep?!”   I dropped my now-completely-empty frappucinno cup on the table.

Roxas deflated a bit and pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’m sorry,” He murmured gently, “You have a point.”

“Damn right I do,” I muttered and scooted in closer to the table, relaxing a bit.  “And how do you know my smile was fake?”

“Because I know you better than anyone, idiot,” he remarked, brushing the hair out of his eyes, “And don’t think I didn’t notice when you… ahem… accidentally knocked over your mocha.”

“Why would I ever intentionally waste a good mocha?” I muttered without any venom, looking away towards a point on the wall to Roxas’ left.

Roxas laughd at that, and I felt the tension seep from my shoulders a bit.  “Why don’t you tell me that?” Roxas teased, “You know, you’re not as smooth as you think you are.” He smailed at me gently.  Thank God he wasn’t permanently PO’ed.  Roxas doesn’t usually say things to me snippily.

“Get out of here,” I chided Roxas, my tone lightening up, “I am so smooth.  In fact, the smoothest, most gentlemanly male to grace this University.  I am the number one bachelor, I’ll have you know,” I commented, a little irritated that he dared to bring down my ego.

Roxas looked straight into my eyes and told me, in a slightly lower, deeper, and huskier tone of voice, “You know, Axel, not everyone is desperately, madly in love with you.”

Oh my god, I freaked out internally.  Was he egging me on?  Inciting a display of my flirtatious nature?  Because, my friends, that sounded just a little sexy.  Just a bit.  And a more than enough like… a challenge.

“Well,” I declared while leaning in towards Roxas. “I’m just going to have to change that, now aren’t I?” I inquired (flirtatiously, of course.  Wait, what am I doing?  Stop flirting, Axel!!). “And you know what?  Axel doesn’t waste a good venti mocha frappacinno, extra shot of espresso, extra whip, for just anyone.”

Roxas chuckled, unfazed.  I grinned devilishly, taking Roxas’s laughter as a good sign.  “We’ll see about that,” Roxas commented before pushing back his chair and standing up.  “See you, Ax.”

“See ya, Rox,” I waved at him, my mood lifted a bit by the few minutes I spent alone with Roxas at the table. But, eventually, as I was left to my brooding ways, a nagging, drifting thought passed through my mind.

Roxas never answered my question…  Does he have feelings for her or not? I thought sadly to myself. 

I wasn’t jealous or slightly hurt or anything like that.

No siree.  Not me.

Ok, maybe a little.

***

The days passed and I became nervous when Roxas posted a way-too-cute photo of him and Naminé making funny faces while “studying” English Lit at Starbucks.

And then it was a Thursday, and I was mad and sad and frustrated thinking about everything that had happened lately. Huffing, I made my way to class, already late because I rolled around in my bed too long, thinking and putting off facing the outside world.  Stressed, I ran my hand repeatedly through my hair (a bad habit I have if you haven’t noticed) and increased my pace a bit.  As I passed the campus Starbucks, I glanced in the window, hoping to casually catch a glimpse of my reflection and check my hair before class.  Instead of seeing myself, my eyes focused on a familiar pair of blondes sitting close together at a square table, one riveted by the other’s sketchbook.  Naminé chewed nervously on her pencil eraser as Roxas flipped through the pages, and glanced down shyly at him as he looked up, smiled, and nodded his head appreciatively.

This just made me more pissed.  I did not need to see that right now, to see their lovely, beautiful expressions as they shared a banana bread and conversation.  Did I mean nothing to Roxas?  Had I misread the signs?  Had Roxas’ signals to me been unconscious, unintentional and innocent?  Or had his interests changed in the time that I failed to recognize my own feelings?

Ugh.  Feelings.  Now I really hated that word.

I wanted to slam my backpack down on the concrete walkway with rage and disappointment and confusion, but instead I shook my head, tugged at my ponytail and moved away from the window, breaking into a sprint.  I knew I needed to go to class, it was important, but how could I focus like this?  How could I listen and absorb information when my mind was whirling over Roxas, Naminé, Sora, Riku, Kairi and –

“Axel!  Axeel!” a familiar voice called breathlessly just as I had solidified my decision to skip class.  “C’mon, we’re late!” Tifa grabbed my arm and pulled me along with her, laughing when my eyes widened in shock.  She put a hand to her mouth and her eyes twinkled.  “The prof’s doing exam review!  We can’t miss it!”

Sighing and begrudgingly smiling back at her, I let her drag me to class, somewhat relieved that certain things were still normal.  Sitting in class and concentrating on something other than Roxas gave me time to cool down, and by the time we were done I could think straight again.

Roxas and Naminé obviously have something going on, I convinced myself, so that’s that.  Let it go.  After class, Tifa and I went for coffee, as per our usual routine.  Ah, Tifa looked gorgeous in a simple black dress, smiling in the sunlight as we sipped our drinks outside.

I cared for Tifa, really I did.  And I’ll admit that when I first met her, I was very attracted to her.  But– I didn’t know anymore.  Really, I didn’t.  She’s –

She’s not Roxas, I thought.  My frown deepened.  Forget him, Axel.  This was all a stupid mistake anyways.

“What’s on your mind, Axel?” she asked, looking up at me worriedly.

I sighed, sipping my coffee.  “Eh, nothing.”

“Axel.” Tifa said my name with conviction, “Something is up.  You’re drinking regular coffee.  Black.  That is completely unlike you.”

“Eh,” I paused and pursed my lips, “The finer things in life, such as mochas, have lost their luster.”

Tifa rolled her eyes.  “Stop being dramatic, Ax.”

I put my coffee down and slumped my shoulders.  I decided to tell her only half of what was on my mind – my sister, discreetly, rather than reveal certain things I didn’t really even like expressing myself.  “Ok.  Don’t tell anyone, but, I discovered that one of my friends is cheating on his girlfriend.”

“Oh!  Does she know?” Tifa inquired, leaning in towards me.

“Yeah… I told her.  I’ve been wondering if I did the right thing,” I confessed and tugged at my ear, trying not to spill too many secrets.

“Of course you did, Axel.  I know that’s what I would have wanted.  Tch,” she shook her head and sipped from her own iced coffee, with a harumph, “What a scumbag.”

“Hmm…” I mused, considering her statement.

“I know!” Tifa perked up visibly, “Let’s go beat ‘im up!”  She put her fists up and mock punched me.  I chuckled and blocked her ‘punch’ with my right hand, placing her fist down on the table.

“Ha, I already offered, but got declined by both the cheated on and the mistress, unfortunately,” I explained, smiling at her and allowing my hand to linger on hers for a moment.

“Well, we have to find another way to put your mind at ease.  Axel!” Tifa pointed at me with her left hand, “You need to have some fun!  Let’s go out!”

“Go… out?” I perked up, waiting to hear her proposal.  Was she asking me… on a date?

What about Roxas? a tiny voice at the back of my mind whispered.  I ignored it.

“There’s this great club my roommate was telling me about!  We should check it out!”

Hmmm, now the thought of a club with Tifa was seriously tempting.  A club?  Some thrumming music and hip waggling sounded like just the thing to get my mind off my problems.  Well, that and a drink or two.  Or three. Plus, even in my confused state, I could see the appeal of dancing with Tifa in little black dress….

Roxas… my little conscious continued chanting.  I decided once again to ignore it.  Look where these kinds of feeling landed Riku, anyway.  No boy, no girl, no trust.  I visibly perked up and chirped, “A club?  Ok.  Let’s do it.”

We made plans for Friday night, after my nightly smash shenanigans.  I would pick her up outside of her apartment at twelve fifteen and we’d make our way to Club 13, for a night filled with dancing and light-hearted fun.  Hopefully I’d forget about Roxas when I had Tifa next to me on the dance floor.

Now, don’t think badly of me.  I just still wasn’t ready to take on this… to admit fully to this…

Crush?

Infatuation?

Love?

Especially not after… what I witnessed between Sora and Riku.  I…

I don’t know.

Was this the right thing to do?  Should I have turned Tifa down, left the coffee shop, run to Roxas and confessed my… my what?  My feelings for him?  Should I have dragged him into a dark corner, a nook in the wall behind the library, or just down onto a bench in the middle of the courtyard in broad daylight and run my fingers through his hair, held his hand (the one wearing my wristband) with one of mine, the other descending to his face, tracing his lips while I whispered, I like you, Roxas.

Oh.  Damn.  Looks my imagination got the best of me, because for the duration of our coffee time, while I was sipping my mocha, half-listening to Tifa and gazing at her to feign attention, scenes kept running through my mind, over and over, in a dozen different locations,  a dozen different situations, showing him my feelings in a dozen different ways.

Each shared one common element.

I like you, Roxas. A lot.

A lot a lot.

***

A few hours later and it was Friday.  I dragged my sorry, pathetic self to lab and tried to make myself feel better by testing some chemical reactions over a Bunsen burner.  After almost spilling some particularly nasty mixture all over myself, I sighed and put down my pipette.  I took the glove off my left hand, sat on a stool and pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket.  I opened snapchat and posed with a silly face in front of the Bunsen burner, made even more ridiculous by the huge safety goggles I was wearing.  I finished off the snap with a “lit” sticker, and snickered softly before I hit ‘send.’

Seconds later, Roxas snapped me back, this time posing with his own silly face in front of a white board filled with algebra equations.  I snorted at the image and shook my head.  Typing, I messaged him, Aren’t you in the class you’re shadowing?!  On Fridays, Roxas shadowed an algebra teacher at the middle school across the street from campus.

Aren’t you in lab? He shot back.

Yeah yeah, but I don’t have to set an example for our youth, I replied, keeping one eye on the beaker placed atop the Bunsen burner.  The contents were starting to bubble.

Roxas replied with snap of him rolling his eyes at me.  I laughed out loud this time and briefly put the phone away to attend to my chemical reaction.

My phone buzzed again, this time with a snap from Zexion.  I glanced curiously across the counter towards where Zexion was engrossed in his own experiment before opening the snap.  There on my screen was a photo of me taking the snap of myself in front of the Bunsen burner with the caption “Get back to work!”  I laughed and screenshotted the image.  “Zexion, please,” I commented, loud enough to get his attention, while snapping Zexion’s snap out to my friends with the text ‘Caught red-handed’ overlaying the photo.

Zexion just looked at up at me from under his bangs, blowing them out of his face as he held a pipette up to the light.  “No fooling around in lab, Axel.”  Although he said it with a straight face, I could tell he was holding back a smile.

“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled, returning my attention to my project.  “So what’s up, my dude?”

“Not much,” Zexion replied, adding a blue compound to his beaker, followed by small particles of metal.

“You comin’ to Smash tonight?” I asked, measuring the temperature of my concoction.  A graph appeared on the computer screen next to me, displaying an uphill line signifying the increasing temperature.

“Perhaps,” Zexion answered vaguely, stirring the liquid in his beaker vigorously.

“Perhaps?” I questioned, knowing in reality that Zexion would surely be there.

“Perhaps.”

               

***

Later that evening, I found myself in the company of my favorite people, plus Sora and, surprisingly, plus Kairi.  Riku was not, thank goodness, there.  Not that I expected him to be there after The Incident.  Zexion was also there, curled up with a book on top of a beanbag chair.

“Wassup, Sora?” I asked as he entered the kitchen area where I was assembling snacks, then dropping my voice a bit lower, “You ok?”  He looked exhausted, paler than usual and with dark circles under his eyes.

“Yeah,” Sora replied, handing me a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, “I’m getting there.  I thought it would be nice to hang out a bit and take my mind off things.  I nodded and reached up to open a cabinet and grab a bowl. Handing it to Sora, I put my other hand on his shoulder.

“Well, you’re always welcome here,” I told him firmly, experiencing that brotherly feeling again.  Sora smiled up at me.

“Thanks, Axel.  I appreciate it,” he replied, and I removed my hand as he poured the chips into the bowl.  Turning around and opening the freezer, I pulled a box of taquitos out.  As I bent down to get a baking pan out from under the oven, I felt a presence to my right.  Looking up, I saw Roxas standing over me.

“Need help?” he asked, reaching down to grab the pan from me.  I smiled up at him appreciatively and stood.

“Sure.  Can you put those on the pan and pop ‘em in the oven?” I asked.

“I’m on it,” Roxas replied, and ripped the box open.

“Don’t forget to pre-heat the oven,” I murmured close to his ear as I passed him to get to the chopping board where I had left a bar of cheddar cheese unopened.  I noticed Roxas stiffen a bit during those few moments, which sent my mind thinking again.  After a beat or two, Roxas unfroze and dumped the taquitos onto the pan, arranging them in a single layer for optimal cooking. Every so often as I chopped my cheese I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye, feeling a bit of happiness creep through me as we prepared snacks in silence together.

After punching the preheat button on the oven and setting the temperature, Roxas sidled over to me.

“Hey,” he whispered, looking sideways at me.  He glanced furtively behind him.

“Hey,” I replied and smiled as I turned my head towards him.  He was so close…

“Is everything ok with Sora?” Roxas asked quietly, looking at me intently, “I saw you guys chatting and it looked serious.  I’m surprised he’s here, honestly.”

I frowned and looked down as I chopped the last of the cheese into cubes.  Reaching for a plate in the cabinet above me, I answered the best I could without violating Sora’s privacy.  “Yeah, me too.  He says he’s ok, but I don’t know.”  I scooped the cheese up with the flat edge of my knife and transferred it onto the plate.

“Dang,” Roxas commented, and rubbed his forehead.  “How crazy is this situation?”

“Insane.” I shook my head fervently at the memories resurfacing slowly.  I grabbed a box of crackers and another plate.

“So, are you and Sora cool?” Roxas inquired, leaning against the counter and absently putting some toothpicks in the cheese cubes.

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “Riku’s the one at fault here, really.  Plus, Sora did the right thing by my sis.  That’s all that matters to me.”

Roxas nodded.  “Makes sense,” he commented, and started playing around with the cheese cubes, stacking them using a toothpick, and toppling the stacks over.  He paused, then looked up inquisitively.  “Are you… cool with him liking dudes?”

I swallowed, staring down into Roxas’ eyes, pausing with crackers mid-pour over the plate.  After seemingly forever, I found my voice and managed to murmur, “Of course.  It doesn’t change anything.”

Roxas sighed and straightened, picking up the plate of cheddar.  “That’s good.  I’m glad to hear that.”

I stared after him as he walked away to place the cheese cubes on the coffee table around which everyone was gathered.  Jiggling the cracker box, I emptied the rest of its contents onto the plate and quickly followed, wondering all the while why Roxas asked that question of me.

Did it mean what I thought (and hoped?) it meant?

 

***

“Aw man, Roxas, these taquitos are delicious,” I complimented from my position between him and Kairi on the couch as I bit into my fourth taquito.

Roxas rolled his eyes and swatted at me with his taquito.  Kairi squealed as I leaned into her in an attempt to avoid the approaching taquito. I held my hands up to block my face crying “Hey, hey, hey!” as the taquito broke in half upon contact with my wrist.  “That was uncalled for,” I commented as I picked up the half taquito from my lap and bit into it.

“Hey!” Roxas cried and punched me in the shoulder.  “That was mine!”

I swallowed and smirked at him.  “Well then you shouldn’t have hit me with it.  Mmm, it’s delicious, too.”  He frowned and glowered at me.

“You guys are ridiculous,” Kairi muttered and shoved me off of her.  Honestly, her meanness towards me was a relief.  It meant she was feeling better after The Incident.

I looked at Kairi bemusedly and handed her a taquito.  “Have a taquito.  Then you’ll understand.”

“Yeah, Kairi, they’re really good!” Sora chirped up from his spot in the armchair to Kairi’s right.  “Here, put some guacamole on top!”

Kairi took the bowl of guacamole from Sora’s outstretched hand and set it down on the coffee table in front of her.  She put the taquito on a napkin and scooped some guac on top, then bit into it.  “Mmmm, you’re right,” she commented, then giggled.  “The guacamole takes it to a whole ‘nother level.”

“Yeah!” Sora beamed at Kairi.

Chewing thoughtfully, I watched the pair of Riku-exes bond and get along perfectly fine.  Wow.

“The power of taquitos,” I commented to myself, but not so quiet that Roxas didn’t notice.  He looked at me with a question in his eyes, and I just laughed and smiled at him, feeling that happiness start to fill my stomach and radiate throughout my body.  “C’mon, Rox, let’s body these fools,” I encouraged, grabbing the controller that Demyx passed to me.  Roxas took one from Leon, and we, the ultimate tag-team, proceeded to whoop the asses of all the other pathetic combatants.  Sora and Kairi even paired up together, which I noted with interest, but failed to prevail against me and good ol’ Rox.

Eleven pm rolled around quickly and my guests straggled out.  Demyx, Roxas, and I were the last ones remaining at about 11:30.  Roxas and I were laughing at a joke Demyx cracked when he suddenly perked up and said, “Oh, Axel, don’t you have to go get Tifa?”

Roxas looked at me sharply while I stuttered out, “Uh, I, y-yeah in a bit.”

“Let me know how Club 13 is!  I’ve wanted to check it out for a while now,” Demyx gushed, wrapping up his controller.  I silently cursed myself for telling Demyx about my plans, knowing what a gossip he is.

“Well, I’m out then.  Sorry to keep you from your date, Axel,” Roxas declared with a bit too much bite, putting down his controller and standing to gather his stuff.  “Had I known, I wouldn’t have stayed so late.”

Fuck, I thought, fuck.

“It’s not really a date, I’m just the designated driver,” I covered up hastily, scrambling for an excuse.  Why I needed an excuse, I don’t know, since I had just the other day finished convincing myself that Roxas was thoroughly off-limits on account of his re-involvement with Naminé.

Roxas raised an eyebrow at me as he opened my front door.  “Sure ya are, Axel.  Have fun.  Goodnight, Demyx.”

And with that, he was gone.

               

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 9: 553% Sure

 

“Damn it,” I grumbled as the door closed behind Roxas’ retreating figure.

“What’s wrong?” Demyx asked me inquisitively, raising an eyebrow as he walked behind the kitchen counter to put away leftover snacks.

“Uh, I don’t have a lot of time to get ready,” I lied, jumping up off the couch to lock the front door.  “Gotta look good for my lady.”

“Go get ‘em,” Demyx said, but not as enthusiastically as I would have expected.  Very strange.

I met her at 12AM on the dot, dressed to impress, and escorted her to the chosen popular club downtown.  We danced, we laughed, knocked back one or two (ok ,three) overpriced drinks and had an all-around good time.  Tifa looked sexy in a short, not-too-tight but certainly not-too-loose black dress that fit her figure perfectly, with some choice cut-outs that I admittedly admired frequently.  I looked none too shabby, either, if I do say so myself.  I was, I promise, the embodiment of hotness:  Black dress shirt, black skinny jeans, sleek ponytail.

Tifa wasn’t the only girl looking at me that night.

But even as Tifa and I swayed together, my hands on her hips, I scanned the crowd, absurdly hoping to see a pair of blue, blue eyes coming for me.  Oh my god, forget him!  I chided myself, squeezing Tifa tightly when she turned so we danced with her back against me.  I let the thumping music wash over me and just went with the flow, occasionally whispering a comment in Tifa’s ear about how much I liked (or hated) a certain song.

We got back to campus at one in the morning.  The Uber stopped in front of Tifa’s apartment complex and, ever the gentlemen, I walked her to the front door as the driver took off for his next destination.

“I had a great time tonight, Axel,” Tifa half-whispered as she fumbled around in her purse for her keys.

“Me too… we really got our groove on,” I stated and smirked at her, watching as her eyes crinkled up in happiness.  She put her hands on my shoulders and then linked them behind my neck, leaning back and smiling up at me expectantly.  A little flutter of nervousness brushed my stomach, as I debated my options.  Tifa was beautiful, and sweet, and kind and… what was I waiting for?  How many times does a man meet a girl like her? And… the thought of any future with Roxas was just too messy and uncertain.  Tifa was here and she liked me.

Still feeling tipsy and consequently quite confident and jolly, I made my decision and leaned in for the kiss.  Chaste at first, her lips met mine, smiling into the kiss, and then she tightened her grip and pulled me right in.  Auto-pilot took over and I deepened the kiss in response, resting my hands on her hips and fitting my body to hers just right.  My fingers brushed against those perfect cutouts along her waist and Tifa pushed ever so-slightly further into my chest.  I walked us back a bit, intending to lean her against the wall, when I realized something.  What I was doing was fucked up.  Why the hell was I here?  I liked Roxas, dammit, I admit it.   I felt no real romantic feelings for Tifa; here I was, lil’ old me, just leading her on and playing with her emotions, because I can't get my own shit together.  Essentially, I was using Tifa to avoid my problems and alleviate my own suffering. This whole shit show was a result of an alcohol-induced buzz, a bit of lust (those damn cutouts), and denial on my part.  When these thoughts blossomed in my awareness, the auto-pilot turned off and my brain turned back on.  A little jolted by the knowledge, I broke the kiss abruptly, and held Tifa at a distance.  She looked up at me, concerned.  I smiled to reassure her and moved my hands from her hips.  I felt extremely lame saying, “Tonight was great, Tifa, really… but I have to go.  I’m really, really, tired after this long week and… well, thank you for taking me out. It helped a lot,” after that truly good kiss, but to go farther under the circumstances would be a new low for me.  I owed her the courtesy of stopping things now.  Tifa smiled sadly and kissed me on the cheek. 

“I understand.  Anytime. I mean… let’s do it again sometime.  Soon.”  Her eyes lingered on mine, asking a wordless question.

“Sure thing.  See you, Tif.”  Smiling ruefully, I turned around and headed down the road.  My apartment building was not far, maybe a ten or fifteen walk across our relatively safe campus.  Turning, I waved to Tifa one last time before taking a left out of sight, towards home, my roiling thoughts the only noise in the silent evening.

“Why did I do that?!” I asked myself out loud, mad.  “And, what’s wrong with me?”

Tifa had fun!

I had fun!  And there was nothing not to like about her!  She was everything I had been looking for in a woman.

But the minute our lips connected, I knew.  For certain now.  I liked her – as a friend.

“And then I up and left!” I covered my eyes and dragged them down my face, shamed.  “How could I do that?!  I disgust myself.”  I shook my head.  I had to set the record straight.  Tifa needed to know that we were friends, great friends, but that the kiss was a mistake and she couldn’t expect that kind of attention from me.  And I had to apologize profusely for leading her on.

I had to do something.  I had to talk to Roxas.  I needed to know… see if he let on any hint that maybe, just maybe, I occupied a tiny place in his heart, that maybe he didn’t just see me as… a friend.  Hell, I needed to figure myself out.  Oh, if he wasn’t already pissed at me for going clubbing with Tifa.  Fuck me, man. What a way to fuck the fuck up.

What the hell happened to tall, arrogant, fearsome Axel, who never doubted himself, and always got the girl (er… guy)?!

And how was I ever going to go to statistics class next week and face Tifa in the seat next to me?

 

***

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday passed without a single message from Roxas.  This certainly meant that he hated my guts, and that he had returned to Naminé’s warm and willing arms.

“Demyx,” I implored direly as I dragged myself to the kitchen on Tuesday morning, “Please take notes for me in Statistics.  I can’t go today.”

“Why can’t you go?” he asked as he pulled an apple out of the fridge and took a big bite.

“Errgh I just can’t,” I grumbled, tugging at my hair.

Demyx narrowed his eyes.  “What happened Ax?”

“Nothing, nothing, just got a case of the Tuesdays, ya know?” I joked and elbowed him in the side.

“There’s no such thing as a case of the Tuesdays, Axel,” Demyx retorted, his eyes following me as I walked over to the toaster, rye bread in hand.  I scowled as I set the toaster to ‘5.’

“It’s fucking novel disease.”

“Mmhmmm,” Demyx intoned, sitting at a barstool and leaning his head on his elbow, staring at me intently.  I glared at him, but Demyx didn’t even blink.  “Guess you’re not getting those notes.  Too bad, the exam is just around – ”

“UGH ok FINE I don’t want to see Tifa,” I admitted sourly as I pressed down on the toaster lever harder than I intended.

“I KNEW it!” Demyx exclaimed and slapped his palm with his fist.  “I knew something up when, one, you came home at 2:30AM Saturday morning, and then you didn’t say a word about your date.  You always talk for hours about your latest lady after a good date.”

“Nothing’s up man,” I shoved past him to get to the fridge to claim my cream cheese.

“Spill, my dude,” Demyx insisted.  “You gotta now.”

I sighed audibly as I rummaged for the cream cheese.  “The date was great Dem.  Tifa is great.  And hot.  But – I just,” I found the bar of cream cheese and whirled around. “I don’t like her like that.”

“You don’t like her,” Demyx echoed, putting a finger to his cheek and tilting his head.

“No.  Buuuuuuut I’m a fool and I kissed her anyways and I lead her on and now I have to face her and tell her that I don’t like her like her.”  I sighed and grabbed a knife, feeling like a teenager again.

“Hmmm,” Demyx mused, “But she is so your type.”

“Ugh, I know,” I replied as the toaster dinged and my toast popped up.

“And extremely attractive.”

“I’m aware,” I commented tersely.

“Well, why don’t you like her?” Demyx was still looking at me with that infuriatingly patient, curious gaze.  Some mischief gleamed in his eyes, I swear.

I hesitated.  Placing my toast in my plate, I gathered up a little courage.  Baby steps.  “I – I think I like someone else,” I admitted, swallowing hard and turning away.

“I knew it!” Demyx exclaimed triumphantly, taking an excited bite of his apple.  “Shall I guess who it is?  Oh, I so know who it is.”

Oh hell no.

You, Demyx, can take yourself to Statistics, while I come up with a plan on how to break Tifa’s heart as gently as possible by Thursday.  Now go.” I commanded, pointing my toast towards the door.

Demyx tsked as he walked past me, grabbing his bag and popping a pen behind his ear. “I’m gonna write in the worst handwriting ever,” he warned.

“You type your notes on a laptop,” I retorted, rolling my eyes.

“Whatever.  Later, lover-boy,” he called over his shoulder as the door shut behind him.

Was it really that obvious?! Did Demyx really know, or was he trying to trick me into ‘fessing up?  I’m doomed, I thought.

***

Want to grab Starbucks?  I messaged Roxas around lunchtime that day, breaking our textual silence.

Sorry, I already went today, came his reply.

This was not acceptable.

With Naminé?  I inquired, trying not to make it too completely obvious that I had been stalking Roxas for the last two days, watching as he met Naminé both mornings.  I was especially PO’ed that he paid for her latté today.

Yep, he answered without remorse.

Are you guys getting back together or somethin’?  I typed into my cell phone, prying into his business.

Axel.  Please.  It’s just coffee.

This was driving me crazy.  Was he playing hard to get or something?  I thought that I’d been making it obvious lately.  But, then again I royally fucked up on Friday, so there’s that.

You didn’t answer my question the other day.

What question?

Do you still have feelings for Naminé?  I’m just, you know, asking as a concerned friend.

Of course… 

Whoa, wait.  Did he just say, of course I still have feelings for Naminé, or was he saying, of course you’re just a concerned friend in a sarcastic way, implying that I’m not just a concerned friend and maybe just maybe perhaps a little bit more than a simple acquaintance, or was that his way of saying, yes, freak, now stay out of my life and just watch me as I whisk Naminé, the absolute love of my life, off into a world of blissful happiness?

Fine, well I’ll just go alone then.  Sad ol’ Axel, drinking a mocha by himself.  With no one to talk to, I tapped out, trying to sound both angry and light at the same time, so as not to offend Roxas.

Lol, Axel, just take Tifa, Roxas replied quickly.

I sent back a wide-eyed emoji followed by an angry emoji.

Uh-oh.  Date didn’t go well I take it?

I huffed at this response.

We just went out for a bit of fun, and to check out a new spot in town.  Me and Tifa are completely, absolutely, 100% just friends, I typed back.

You sure bout dat?  Roxas was understandably skeptical.

Totally, without a doubt, 553% nothing going on there.

Mhmmm.

I swear by the old gods and the new, on a stack of bibles, and on my grandmother’s grave that we are so not a thing.

Ok, I believe you.

Absolutely just statistics classmates.

I GET IT AXEL.

Just want to make sure you know.  It’s very important to me that you know.

I decided to take a risk and follow that up with, Especially since there’s someone else who’s got my attention.

Oh la la, Roxas commented.   Do tell.

Excuse me while I experience a pseudo-earthquake.

I just need a moment.

You know – to scream.

WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO?

Should I just tell him now?  Ugh, over text?  Nah.

I just sent him a ?! emoji.  Truer words were never spoken.

This whole shit show needed to be resolved or I wouldn’t get another good night’s sleep until graduation.  I still didn’t know where Naminé and Roxas stood.  I couldn’t be completely certain that I had a chance in hell with Roxas.  But was determined to try.  Tomorrow!  This fucking conversation was a gift from God that let me clear up this shit about me and Tifa.  Well, at least I think it did.  Right?

***

My confidence wavered the next morning when Kairi came to my door, begging me to return a box of Riku’s belongings to him.

“Please, Axel!” she implored, “I really don’t want to see him.  We already broke up and I don’t think I can handle it!” she wailed, tears forming in her eyes near the end.

“Is it true you broke up with him via text message?” Demyx inquired, curious.  Always the gossip-monger.

“Shut up, Dem!” I scolded, feeling very brotherly.

“No, it’s ok, Axel,” Kairi said bravely, wiping away a tear and turning toward Demyx, “I asked him to meet me for lunch and then I told him that we’re done.  He banged on my door and called me and texted me, but I’ve been ignoring him.  He even sent me letters…   Yesterday night I finally just wrote him a very personal note, thanking him for two wonderful years together, but explaining that, unfortunately, this is the end of the road for us.  I slipped the note under his door.”

Demyx stood up and proceeded to pull Kairi into a large bear hug.  He kissed the top of her head and whispered, “I’m sorry Kairi…”

Aww.  I’ve never seen him act so affectionate and… normal before.

Wait.

Is it just me or was he a little too comforting?  I needed to keep my eye on him…

“It’s ok,” she mumbled, pulling away from Demyx, “Thanks Dem.  You’re a great friend.  I’m glad you and my brother get along so well.”

For now.  If Demyx hits on my little sister while she is in a vulnerable state, I can’t guarantee his safety.

“No problem,” he replied, giving Kairi a little salute.  She giggled quietly.

“I’ll take the box,” I interjected, not sure I wanted to see this scene continue, “But I really can’t guarantee I won’t throw Riku out the window.”

“AXEL,” Kairi scolded sternly (looked like she was back to normal), “Just because we’ve broken up does NOT mean you can harass him.  Just give him the things and continue as normal.”

“But he cheated on you!  With So-”

“AXEL,” she repeated, “Go.  I have to get to class now.  Let me know how it goes.  And –” She looked back at me before stepping out the open door into the hallway, “Tell him I… loved him, but it’s over.  Make sure he knows… and tell him to appreciate what he has.”

Oh.  I forgot that Demyx doesn’t know that Riku cheated on Kairi with Sora.  Well, Riku can break that news to his friends.  It’s not my business.

“Fuck no.  And you think I don’t have to go to class?!” I yelled after her as she hurried out the door.  I heaved a deep sigh, picking up the box that Kairi left on my desk.

“See ya, Demyx,” I told him as I turned to go.

***

I knocked three times briskly on Riku’s door, praying that he wasn’t home.  I really didn’t need him to drag down my day – I had plans to confirm Roxas’s and my mutual love, after all.

I heard a chair moving inside.  A few moments later, Riku opened the door a crack.  “What?” he asked coldly, adjusting his glasses.  Fuck him for always being cool.

I shook the box I was holding.  “I have this box, here.”

“Ok…?” Riku asked, not getting the point.

“Can I come in?” I asked, my curiosity getting the best of me.  Riku, not replying, just opened the door wider to let me in and left to sit on the couch.  I surveyed the area before closing the door behind me.  Lo and behold, my dear friend Sora was sprawled on Riku’s couch, reading a textbook.  Wakka (Riku’s swimmer and too-tan roommate) was nowhere to be found.  “Hey Sora,” I greeted him casually, waving at him nonchalantly.

“Ohh hey Axel!” Sora replied cheerfully, sitting upright and putting his magazine down, “What’s up?”

“Nothing much… just came to give Riku this… box,” I answered honestly, setting the cardboard container down on Riku’s desk.

“What’s in it?” Sora inquired eagerly, standing up and walking over to it, “Riku – can I open it?”

“Well… it has Riku’s stuff in it… it’s from Kairi…” I directed that comment towards Riku.

“Whatever,” Riku replied coolly, not bothering to look up from the textbook in which he was engrossed.

That was it.  That’s all it took for my last nerve to snap.

“Listen, bastard – ” I began, slamming my fist on the table, when Sora interrupted me by placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Axel,” he said calmly, “Riku is really hurting right now.”

“He’s not the only one, Sora.  Doesn’t he care about what he’s putting her through?” I spat out, feeling immediately a bit sorry for taking my frustration out on Sora.  He’s really not a bad guy. “And what are you even doing here? Riku cheated on you, if you don’t remember.”

“Oh we are so not – ” Sora began, but was interrupted when Riku stood up and threw his textbook across the room; it hit the opposite wall with a loud thud.  “Kairi was my best friend, Axel.  You have no idea what she means to me.  Now get the hell away from Sora or I swear I’ll send you to the hospital.”

“A friend, Riku?  Is that what you call someone you’ve been dating for TWO WHOLE FUCKING YEARS?!?” I yelled, losing all self restraint, proceeding to call Riku a stream of choice obscenities.

Suddenly Riku trembled, his body stiffening.  His aura of confidence disappeared.  Is he going to cry?  I thought incredulously.

Shit,” he hissed, wiping at his eyes.

“Listen… just…” I stammered, at a loss for words for the first time in my life, “just… here’s the box.”

I turned and walked out the door.  What else could I do?  I didn’t really… want to get involved.

I have my own problems.

Unfortunately, Sora followed me out. “Hey, Axel,” he whispered, “Wait up.”  He shrugged his backpack on his shoulders and stuck his textbook under his arm.

“What’s up?” I asked him tiredly, pausing in the hallway as he closed the door behind him.

“Riku and I – we’re definitely not a thing anymore.  That wouldn’t be right,” he began, catching up to me.  “I’m just worried about him, and want to stay friends.  I just want to be clear.”

“It’s ok Sora, you don’t have to explain to me,” I reassured him, although internally I was glad that Sora was still standing strong in the face of Riku’s wrongdoing.  “This whole… love shit is complicated.”  I sighed and jammed the down button on the elevator.

Sora sighed too.  “Hey,” he said, turning to face me, “how’re things with you and Roxas?”

“What?” I looked at him, startled, “What do you mean?”

“You knoooow…” he elbowed me in the side.

“No, I don’t know,” I replied bluntly as the elevators opened.

“ ‘Love shit,’” he quoted me.

“Now truly,” I commented, exasperated, “I do not know what you mean.”

Sora just giggled as the elevator doors closed.

Oh God.

Was it that obvious?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN:  Face my fears

                I sat at my desk on Wednesday night, staring out the window and asking myself, What am I waiting for?  Why can’t I face my fears?

                Ugh.  I really needed some advice, here.  Some support, and I couldn’t turn to my friends for this shit right now.  I wasn’t sure how they’d… react.

                I sighed deeply, both appalled by and resigned to what I was about to do.  I grabbed my sweater, popped my phone and wallet into my pants pocket, grabbed my keys from the counter and headed out the door.  Entering the elevator, then waving to Zexion as I made my way through the lobby, I exited the building and began the trek to the Palms… the apartment building that my sister called home.

                The student working at the Palms front desk didn’t bat an eye or greet me as I walked into the lobby, just looked up briefly from a gossip mag.  I tapped the ‘up’ button on the elevator and prayed to the Gods Kairi wasn’t home.  My nerve left me on the walk over here, and now I wasn’t sure this was such a good idea.  The elevator dinged and the doors opened.  I willed myself through, and hit ‘4.’  The elevator whirred softly as it took me up, towards Kairi.  Floor four came too quickly, and within moments I found myself knocking reluctantly on Kairi’s door.

                “Axel!” Kairi exclaimed when she opened the door, then narrowed her eyes, “What are you doing here?  You didn’t do something stupid, did you?”

                I rolled my eyes and brushed past her into the apartment – “Nice to see you too, Kai-“ then stopped abruptly when I noticed Sora sprawled on Kairi’s couch, much as he had been sprawled on Riku’s couch days earlier.  “Oh, Sora.  Didn’t expect to see you here.”

                Sora sat up and pulled his textbook into his lap.  “Oh, just hanging out and studying.  Kairi and I have the same English class.”

                I frowned a little, pausing, unsure how I felt about Sora being here.  Was everyone sweet on my sister these days, or was I imagining things?

                “Is everything ok, Axel?” Kairi inquired worriedly, “You don’t usually stop by… unannounced.”

                “Yeah, but I kinda wanted to talk.  In private,” I smiled sheepishly at Sora.  “Need some advice.”

                “Wow, this is a first,” Kairi responded, a bit taken aback.  She walked toward her room and motioned for me to follow.  “Sora, excuse us for a second?”

                “No problemo.  I’ll just be here, analyzing Hamlet,” Sora agreed amiably, flopping on his back and stretching out, book held up over his head.

                “So what’s up, Ax?” Kairi questioned after we were in her room, behind closed doors, and I had bellyflopped onto her bed.  She leaned forward in her desk chair, leaning an elbow on her knee and her head in her hand.

                “Ugh, nevermind,” I grumbled, my words muffled by the fact that my face was solidly sinking into her pillow.

                “No, I’m your sister and you came all the way here, so it must be important,” she insisted, rolling closer to me.

                “Fine.  Well, there’s too things. One, I fucked up with Tifa,” I held up an index finger in the air, “and two, I’m about to do something stupid and I need you to either approve or stop me.”  I held up two fingers.

                “Oh God, Axel, what did you do,” Kairi chided, looking at me intently.

                “Nothing much.  You know, just went to club, danced, had a good time,” I shrugged, hugging Kairi’s pillow to my chest.

                “And?” Kairi raised an eyebrow.

                “And Tifa definitely likes me.  Likes me likes me.”

                “And?!”  Kairi sounded exasperated.

                “And, well, I don’t like her.  Like that.”

                Kairi’s expression softened, and she hmmed.

                “But because I am the world’s biggest idiot, I kissed her, got a little touchy-feely, and now she probably thinks I like her like her BUT then I left her at her doorstep in the cold dark night and didn’t say anything.  And now I’m avoiding her,” I explained, closing my eyes and waiting for Kairi to rage at me.

                “Axel!” Kairi exclaimed indignantly, and grabbed the pillow from me.  She hit me with it, then snapped, “How could you do that?”

                “I don’t know, I panicked.  I thought it was the right thing to do.”  I frowned at the memory.

                “Why would you think that?”

                “Because she is so my type.  And I was avoiding the real issue.  Avoiding problem #2,” I admitted.

                “What’s problem #2?” Kairi demanded to know, waggling the pillow in the air and threatening to hit me with it again.

                I covered my eyes and willed the words to flow out of me.  Face your fears, I whispered to myself.  “I think I like someone else.”

                “What?!” Kairi shrieked, then gasped.  “Who?  And why didn’t you just tell her that?  And why is that problem #2?”

                “Because Kairi,” I sat up and grabbed the pillow back in her moment of weakness, covering my face with it, and mumbled “I don’t know if I’m supposed to like him.”

                Uh oh.  Did not mean to confess like that.  And so quickly.

                “Oh…” the syllable slipped quietly from Kairi’s lips, then there was silence.  I slipped the pillow down just enough so I could look at her with one eye.  Before I knew it, Kairi was lunging at me, and then I felt her throw her body across mine in a huge sister bear hug.

                “It’s ok, Axel,” she murmured and stroked my hair a bit, “It is so ok.”

                Instinctively, I reached around Kairi and clutched her tightly.  Honestly, I didn’t realize how hard even that small confession, to my sister who I had known and loved forever, would be.  In that moment, relief filled me.  This was the first step, Axel.

                “Will you tell me who it is?” Kairi whispered in my ear, not loosening her grip.

                I sighed and admitted, “Roxas.”

                Kairi snapped back and stared at me, then she squealed.  “Omg, I knew it!”

                Scowling, I pried her off me and pulled my knees up to my chest.  “What are you talking about?”

                “The way you two look at each other… and tease each other… and get mad at each other…”  She looked away wistfully and sighed.

                “You’re fucking crazy,” I accused, shaking my head.

                “Whatever, Axel,” she chided, rolling her eyes.  “Anyways, problem #2 is so not a problem.  And it takes care of problem #1.”

                “Do explain,” I encouraged dryly.

                “Just tell Tifa that you’re sorry, you were kinda drunk and got caught up in the moment but you like someone else. Theeeen,” Kairi stood, going back to her desk chair, “Confess to Roxas.”  Kairi said it so matter-of-factly, like it was the easiest thing in the world.

                I shot her a glare.  “Oh, so simple is it?”

                “Yes, actually,” Kairi returned my glare with equal force, then added, “If you don’t ask, you won’t receive.  You can’t let him go, Axel.  You can’t give this up.”  She shook her head fiercely.  “Nobody that matters to you is going to care if you like a boy.  I don’t care.  And I don’t know if you know, but Roxas isn’t exactly straight.”

                “I know,” I admitted, nodding, “I saw the pics on facebook.”

                “Exactly!  So you have nothing to worry about.”  Kairi gave me a thumbs up.

                “But what if I don’t actually like him?  What if I’m hallucinating because I saw those pictures, and then the Riku incident, and I’m just misinterpreting things and having some weird side effects?”  I asked fervently, banging the pillow against the bed nervously.

                Kairi looked at me with annoyance and confiscated the pillow from me.  “You’re the fucking crazy one.  Are you serious?  You like him.  You sooo like him.  And he totally likes you.”

                I perked up a bit.  “Are you sure?”

                “Trust me, I can tell.  We girls have a sense for these things.”  Kairi nodded.  “But seriously, if you don’t tell him, I’m either going to tell him for you or kick you where it hurts repeatedly.  I’ll decide if it comes down to that.”

                I sighed and curled up on her bed in the fetal position.  “Goodnight.  Wake me up at graduation.”  My mock slumber was interrupted by the bed bouncing fiercely and a body landing next to me.  I opened my eyes just as Kairi shoved me off the bed.

                “Now get your ass out of my room and straighten your shit out,” she commanded, pointing at the door.

                “Jesus, Kai,” I growled, rubbing my elbow where I banged it against the bed on the way down.  “Geez, ok, I get it.  I’m outta here, you crazy bitch.”

                “Get the fuck out,” Kairi reiterated, this time standing and attempting to push me out with her foot, “and don’t come back ‘till you’ve got the guy, y’hear?”

                “Yes ma’am,” I relented as I stood, then ran out of her room and out the door, fearing for my life.

 

***

 

                As I lay on my bed after talking to Kairi, I planned.  Ok.  I had a plan.  Talk to Tifa, set things straight.  Talk to Roxas, set things straight.  Err, well, not straight.  Hah.  Oh God was I nervous.  Thankfully, the chat with Kairi had definitely helped me sort my… feelings out.  Plus, the fact that Kairi truly believed Roxas reciprocated my feelings put me just a bit more at ease.

                Ok, I thought, one, lose the girl.  Two, get the guy.

                I could so do this.  Couldn’t I?

***

                Thursday morning rolled around far too quickly.  I’d been avoiding Tifa’s messages as best my cowardly self could, but Thursday was the day I couldn’t put off facing her.  Demyx simply would not cover for me another day.

                “So,” Demyx whispered eagerly, looking around as we walked to class, “What are you going to say to you-know-who today?”

                I grimaced and considered ignoring him, but thought better of it when I remembered just how unpredictable my roomie was.  “I’m sorry, I was kinda drunk and I got caught up in the moment but I like someone else,” I confided, echoing my sister’s words.

                “Hmmm,” Demyx intoned, “Whatcha gonna say when she asks who it is?”

                I scowled deeply at the question.  “Tifa, I am sure, is considerate and polite enough not to pry into other people’s business.”

                Demyx just chuckled at that.  “Shall I give her some clues?” His words danced with mirth as he looked at me mischievously.

                “Demyx, no offense, but mind your own business,” I commanded grumpily, grateful that the classroom was quickly coming into view.

                “Awww, come on, Axel,” he teased, “I’m just playing with you.”

                I ignored him.

                “You know though…” Demyx began, much more seriously.  He stopped a few paces from the classroom door and put a hand on my shoulder.  “No matter who it is – I support you.  You’ll still be my best friend.”

                Demyx’s words slammed into me.  The corners of my eyes prickled unfamiliarly and my face lost its scowl.  So.  He did know.

                “Thanks Demyx.  I… appreciate it.” I nodded at him quickly and averted my eyes, ducking into the classroom as soon as he loosened his grip on my shoulder.

                Tifa was already in the room, in her usual seat, and I felt my heartrate accelerate just a bit with nervousness.  “Hey, Tif,” I greeted as I slid into my chair next to her, “long time no see.”

                “Axel!” she exclaimed, as if she was surprised to see me there.  Concern crossed her features, and she asked, “Is everything ok?  You weren’t here on Tuesday.”

                “Yes, I’m fine, I had a huge paper due Tuesday by 5pm and I was working ‘till the last minute,” I lied, pulling my notebook and textbook out of my backpack.

                “Oh my god, that’s the worst,” she empathized, opening her own textbook up to chapter 15.  “Did you finish on time?”

                “Yes, thank goodness.” I sighed.  I had to make a move or I would lose my courage.  “Anyways, I was wondering, you want to grab coffee after this?”

                “Yes!” she exclaimed, “There’s a new seasonal flavor I want to try.”

                “Cool.”

                The professor entered then, saving me from any further conversation, and class officially began.  After an hour and a half of lecturing and furiously scribbling notes, we were finally released.  Tifa and I said goodbye to Demyx, who had another class to run to, then headed to the campus Starbucks.  Along the way, we made small talk, chatting about whether we were ready for the exam and which topics were most challenging.

                “Ugh, the stuff he talked about today totally went over my head,” I complained as we walked into Starbucks and joined the line.

                “Me too, I’m going to have to re-read the chapter before the exam,” Tifa agreed.  We continued on this way as we waited.  Finally, we ordered and then picked up our drinks.  “Where do you want to sit?” Tifa asked, looking around.

                “Hmm, the weather’s so nice today, why don’t we sit outside?” I suggested, pointed out the door.  Truthfully, I kind of wanted to sit somewhere a little more private, without a million other students in line and crammed at the tables around us.  There were some tables in the corner of the patio perfectly situated for sensitive… discussions.

                “Sure,” Tifa chirped, and headed toward the door.  I opened it for her, and gestured towards the table I had in mind.  So far, so good.

                “Yep, the weather sure is nice today,” I repeated as we sat down, buying some time to quell my nerves a bit.  Geez, where had cocky, confident Axel gone?  Who was I?

                “Definitely,” she agreed.

                “Soooo…” I dragged out the syllable, “I asked you here to tell you something.”

                “What’s up Axel?” she cocked her head and looked at me, “You can tell me.”

                I sucked in a deep breath and decided to just dive right in.  “It’s about… Friday.  I owe you an apology.”

                Tifa blinked at me, then said slowly, “Why?”

                “I… shouldn’t have…” I averted my eyes, faltering, “Kissed you.  I am so sorry.”  The last words came out in a whisper.

                Tifa’s eyes widened a bit, and she leaned toward me.  “Why not?” she asked in a soft voice.

                “I actually… really, really like someone else.  I am so sorry.” In too deep to stop, I continued.  “I was kinda drunk, and went with the flow.   I know that’s no excuse.  I should have told you this then, but I led you on and left.”

                Tifa hmmed softly, then looked at me sharply.  “Why did you even agree to go out with me then?”

                I ran my hands back through my hair, then put them over my eyes.  “I don’t know.  I was scared, or confused I guess.  I was in denial and avoiding my problems.”  I peeked at her through the spaces between my fingers.  She was looking at me strangely.

                “I really don’t understand,” Tifa said bluntly, crossing her arms.  I could tell that anger was justifiably building in her. “Why were you scared?  What were you confused about?”

                 Oh God.  I was going to have to come clean to Tifa.  I sighed audibly.  “The person that I have… a huge crush on, is a guy.  And I have never liked a guy before in my life.”

                Tifa gasped and clutched my hands.  “Axel,” she whispered, all anger draining out of her.  I stared down at the table, where her hand clasped mine.  We sat there in silence like that, for a few moments.

                “So, now you know,” I said sheepishly, scratching the back of my scalp, “And again, I am really sorry.  I know that won’t make it up to you, and I’m grateful that you haven’t punched me out by now.”

                Tifa giggled and visibly relaxed. “I was seriously considering punching you.  A real good one, right here.”  She mock punched me in the jaw.

                “Hey!” I exclaimed, rubbing at my cheek, and wincing in mock pain, “You’re too strong!”  She laughed, and I began to chuckle.  Getting serious again, I asked, “Hey, Tif.  We can still be friends, right?”

                “Right.” She confirmed, nodding and giving me the thumbs up. “Just give me a little time, ok?”

                I nodded.  “Ok, but not too much time, because I need your help studying for the statistics final, ok?”

                Tifa smiled at me.  “Should be ok.  And Axel, thank you for telling me.  It was brave.  You could have just lied and let me punch you out.  I appreciate your honesty and I support you.”

                “Thank you,” I murmured, looking away again.  Why is everyone so damn sentimental these days?

                “All right, I’m outta here. Woo!” Tifa declared, standing. “Now I can ask that cute guy from economics out.  See ya, Axel.”  She winked before leaving.

                “See ya, Tifa.”  I chuckled and leaned back, turning my head to watch her go.  Damn.  What a great girl.  As she headed out into the throng of people, I thanked my lucky stars that she was, without a doubt, the coolest.  But my happiness dimmed when I noticed a familiar blonde head staring at me from across the way, disappearing and reappearing as people passed him by.

                Oh shit, I thought, looking away quickly, Did he see me and Tifa?  Is he gonna misinterpret this?  I gotta straighten

                And then I looked back, and he was gone.            

***

                Immediately I headed down a path I knew Roxas liked to take on the way to his Thursday afternoon class.  Lo and behold, I saw a familiar blonde head several paces in front of me weaving around slower foot traffic.  I broke into a brisk jog and, catching up to him, put a hand on his shoulder.  “Roxas!” I greeted, “Hey.”  Roxas looked back at me when he felt my hand on him, startled.  I felt a sudden knot of nervousness in my stomach as our eyes met.

                “Hey, Axel,” he returned, his expression carefully blank.  He slowed his pace a bit and I walked alongside him.  Ok, calm down, Axel, pretend he’s one of the pretty girls you asked out so easily before.

                “What’s up?” I asked him.

                “Not much,” he replied nonchalantly, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the path in front of us.

                Oh shit, I thought to myself, this isn’t going wellJust dive in.  Just do it.

                “So, uhh, I was wondering,” I asked him, “Do you wanna see a movie on Saturday night?”

                “Hmmm,” he intoned thoughtfully, then asked, “What movie?”

                “Whatever you want to see?” I intended to reply confidently, but my nerves got the best of me and turned my statement into a question.

                “Hmmm,” he said again, then narrowed his eyes and looked at me, “What does Demyx want to see?”

                I froze, then swallowed.  “Well, I was hoping maybe we could, you know, go, just the two of us?”  Again with the damn questions.

                Roxas stopped when he noticed I was glued to the sidewalk several feet from his destination.  “Why, is Demyx busy?” he prodded again, stepping towards me.

                “No, dude.” By then I was a bit frustrated, and I ran a hand through my hair for the thousandth time that day.  Averting my eyes, I explained “I haven’t asked him.  I’m not going to ask him.  I’m asking you.  Just you.”

                Roxas’ expression softened just the tiniest bit, thank God.  He mulled over this, and raised an eyebrow.  “Any movie I want?”

                “Yes, any movie.”  My stomach churned violently and I felt my heartbeat start to quicken.

                “Ok.” He agreed, and turned to go.

                “Wait wait!” I exclaimed, and grabbed his wrist.  Our eyes locked before he broke the gaze to glance nervously down at my hand holding him back.  “Dinner! Dinner too.  Before or after. Ok?”

                He paused and bit his lip. “Ok.  Now, please Ax, I’m gonna be late.”

                “Oh my god, sorry, ok, bye!” I rushed out, dropping his wrist and awkwardly waving my hands in the air, feeling heat rise to my cheeks.  He chanced one last look at me before joining the rush of other students entering the classroom.  When I was sure he was gone, I shook my head and patted my cheeks, my nerves slowly being replaced by elation.

                Roxas had said yes!  To a movie!  And dinner!  With me!  To a date.  I laughed a bit out loud, and turned around in place once or twice, expending my nervous energy, not caring who saw me.

                Walking back the way I came, I decided to go to the library and work on some assignments that needed to be done for Monday.  I wanted to make sure my Saturday was totally and completely clear of any thought or obligation other than Roxas, so that our date went smoothly.  Whistling to myself, I admired the trees and the birds I passed along my way, feeling pretty jolly.  Then one thought struck me.  Does he realize this is a date? I asked myself worriedly.  What if he doesn’t know?  What if he thinks it’s just two bros hanging out on Saturday night?  Was I clear enough?  I shook my head yet again.  I needed to dispel these thoughts.  Everyone so far had told me not to worry.  Everyone seemed to know what was going on, so if it was that clear there had to be no doubt that Roxas knew what I was asking exactly.   I mean what else could dinner and a movie intentionally alone with one other person mean?  A DATE, that’s what. A date, dammit.

                A date.

                Oh my god.

                A date.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 11:  What are dates for anyways?

 

                My days until Friday were filled with anticipation and then furious schoolwork because I needed to drown myself in something other than my worries and excitement.  Friday night brought a whole new level of anxiety as I wondered if asking Roxas out would make our day-before-the-date Smash gathering awkward.  How would he greet me?  How would I greet him?  Would we talk about our plans for Saturday?  Should I pretend they don’t exist?  Did he even realize I asked him out?  Oh god.

                Why was I so nervous?

                People slowly trickled in starting around 6PM.   First Leon, then Kairi and Sora (why the fuck were they together so often?), then Zexion who plopped himself immediately down in my beanbag chair with whatever manga he was reading that day, then Cloud, then – Oh my god it’s himBe cool, Axel, be cool, be –

                “Heyy, Roxas,” I greeted all too cheerily as I opened the door “Long time no see, long time no see, come on in.”

                He looked at me blankly as I stood awkwardly in doorway, looking down at him, unsure what to do or say next.  Suddenly his face broke into an adorable scowl.  “Ok, but are you gonna move to let me in, ya tall freak? Geeze, you take up the whole doorway.” he grumbled.

                “Eheh, sorry,” I scratched at my head sheepishly and apologized, stepping aside and allowing my blonde friend in.  I closed the door behind him and headed over towards the couch.

                “Can I get you something to drink, Rox?” I asked casually, causing my sister to glare at me.

                “Hey!  You didn’t offer me anything to drink, Axel!” Kairi scowled and exclaimed indignantly.

                “Or me!” Demyx added (un)helpfully.

                “Or me!” Sora chimed in cheerily.

                I scowled.  “Demyx, you live here.  Kairi, I don’t know who even invited you.  And Sora, go get Kairi a drink.”

                “Hey!” they all cried in unison as I waved them off and walked towards the kitchen.  I grabbed two cups out of the cabinet, filling mine with water and then realized that I never –

                “You never took my order,” blue eyes twinkled at me in amusement from across the counter.

                “Yeah, I just realized that,” I replied, laughing softly, “Whaddaya want, Rox?”

                “Just… one thing…” he paused, his voice dropping lower, looking up at me intently.  I gulped and put the glass down in front of me, staring at him.  Then he smirked and finished his thought:  “Sprite.”

                “S-sure,” I stuttered when I could breathe again, turning quickly to the fridge and grabbing a 2 liter of Sprite out of door shelf.  “Ice?” I asked without looking behind me as I filled Roxas’ cup.

                “Hmmm…”  Roxas mused, “Sure.  3 cubes, please.”

                I tsked and risked glance at him, teasing “Picky now, aren’t we?”  He was still pointedly gazing at me, causing my heart rate to increase.  Damn.  Ever since I decided to acknowledge my feelings, being around Roxas was much more difficult – I was becoming a bag of nerves.

                “Very,” he said somberly, and I could feel his eyes burning into my back.

                “Oh God!” I exclaimed, jumping backwards.

                “What?!” Roxas yelped from behind me.  I turned around slowly, and, sliding his glass across the counter at him, said gravely, “I… put four ice cubes in your Sprite.”

                Roxas simply stared at me for a second before bursting into laughter.  “You’re horrible,” he said, grabbing his glass with one hand and mock punching me in the shoulder with the other.  He glowered at me and sipped from his Sprite.  “It’s not as good with four ice cubes,” he lamented, putting the cup back down.

                “Whatever.”  I rolled my eyes at him.  “Next time get your own damn Sprite then.” I smiled widely and sipped from my own glass, leaning on my elbows over the table casually.  It was then I realized that a sense of comfort and ease had replaced my nerves.  Maybe tomorrow wouldn’t be so bad.

                “So,” Roxas said lowly, looking at me innocently, “I saw you and Tifa getting all cozy at Starbucks recently.”  I stiffened and straightened up, my happiness evaporating.

                “Well, Mr. Gossip, I saw you and Naminé looking all cute together this afternoon,” I accused, “You two are very friendly.”

                We stared for a second at each other.  “Tch,” Roxas blew air out of his nose and huffed a bit, “Look who’s the gossip now.”

                “Yeah, yeah,” I rolled my eyes, “Well if you must know, Mr. Nosy, we were just chatting.”

                “Just chatting?” he raised his eyebrows at me.  “I saw some hand holding action.”

                I sighed and bent back over the table to look at Roxas eye level.  “I’m gonna be straight with you.  Tifa likes me. Likes me likes me. But I told her I don’t feel the same way.”

                Roxas was silent for a heartbeat, then let out a deep laugh.  “Likes you likes you?  What are you, in middle school?  Who says that?”

                I rolled my eyes and felt that all-too-familiar heat in my cheeks.  “I do.  Meanie.”

                That just made Roxas laugh harder, and his mirth bubbled its way into me and I joined in.

                “Hey!” I burst out suddenly.  “Don’t change the subject.  Does Naminé like you like you?”

                Roxas groaned.  “Axel, please stop saying that.”

                “No,” I refused, “Now answer me.  You got my gossip, now gimme yours.”

                “I highly doubt it,” Roxas mused, “It would be weird if she did.  We’re just pals.”

                I eyed him warily.  “Well, do you like her like her?”

                “Oh my god, Axel, please.  You’re killing me with that.” Roxas huffed.

                “Answer me!” I insisted, leaning even closer towards him.  Oh. Wrong move.  My heart hammered harder the nearer I drew to his face.

                “No, I don’t, Axel, geez, really?” he spluttered, blushing furiously.  “You’re an ass.”

                “Hey!” I yelped, straightening up, suddenly feeling much lighter. “Get outta my kitchen!! No taquitos for you tonight.”

                “That’s not fai-“ Roxas began to argue, but I cut him off, by rounding the corner, grabbing his shoulders and physically pushing him toward the couch. “W-what are you doing?!”

                “Out out out!” I cried, steering him away from the counter, enjoying Roxas’ blushing and nervous stammering.

                Kairi rolled her eyes at me as we approached the couch, then leaned over and whispered something to Sora. They giggled secretively and continued chatting in hushed tones.  I frowned, very perturbed at that twerp for getting so close to my sister so quickly.  “What’s going on here?” I demanded to know as I pushed Roxas down into his seat as he grumbled something along the lines of “Too damn tall.”

                “Nothing at all,” Kairi giggled sweetly, “Just telling Sora what a wonderful big brother you are.”

                “Now I know something’s up,” I retorted, and scooped Kairi up suddenly, pushing her where I would normally sit next to Roxas, then plopped myself between her and Sora.  “Think I’ll just interrupt this little party here.

                Kairi squealed as I physically moved her, then scowled and swore, “Oh my god, Axel, chill the fuck out.”

                “Trust me, if I weren’t in such a good, generous mood right now, you would be all the way over there next to boring old Zexion, as well as taquitoless.” I pointed over where Zexion was reading at the other end of the couch next to Cloud, oblivious to the conversation.  Roxas glanced at me bemusedly over Kairi’s shoulder.

                “Uh, Axel,” Sora intoned nervously, thrusting his nose in the air and sniffing, “What’s burning?”

                “Oh SHIT!” I yelled, standing up and running to the oven.  “The taquitos!”

                My friends all lamented the loss of the taquitos while Kairi muttered, “Way to fuck everything up, as usual, Axel,” and scooched back over next to Sora.

                I fumbled around in the kitchen with my oven mitts and tried to salvage what I could of the taquitos.  Most of them were burnt on the bottom, and about 10 were completely charred. The rest were, thankfully, mostly edible.  I threw those on a platter, then stacked the 10 inedible ones on a plate and approached Roxas from behind the couch.  Reaching over and around him, I waved the plate of gross, burnt taquitos out in front of his head, and teased, “Here, Rox, I changed my mind.  These’re for you.”  He tilted his head up to look at me (pitter pat went my poor heart) and scowled.  “No thanks.”

                “Are you suuuure?” I bent down and leaned on the edge of the couch, dangerously close to him and still dangling the burnt as fuck taquitos in front of his face.

                “Very sure.”

                “Hmm, well I’ll just leave these here then, in case you change your mind.” I lowered my hand and set the plate down on his lap, then quickly straightened and bolted away before he could throw them at me.

                “I apologize for my brother, Roxas.” Kairi sighed and shook her head.  “He stopped maturing at age 15.”

                “Oh, I noticed,” Roxas said and nodded furiously.  “Don’t worry, I’m used to it by now.”

                “Ok, that’s it, all the taquitos are for me,” I called out from the kitchen, biting into one of the roll-ups.

                “Hey, Cloud and I didn’t do anything.” Leon replied without taking his eyes away from the screen where he was currently battling Sora.

                “Neither did Zex and me,” Demyx chimed in.

                “Did any of you defend my honor?” I inquired, then answered my own question, “Nope.  Not a one.”

                Eventually it was my turn to play and I had to give up on defending the taquitos from my companions.  The night went on smoothly and normally, with maybe a few extra teasing barbs exchanged between me and Roxas, and maybe some more elbow- and hand- brushing than usual.  My spirits were high after the little talk the two of us had, confirming that Roxas did not indeed like like Naminé.  That was a serious relief, and I could now go into my date tomorrow with more confidence.

                The party started to break up around 1AM, when we heard Zexion snoring in the bean bag with his book open on his chest.  Everyone giggled, and I took it upon myself to draw sharpie cat whiskers on his face, again proving what a mature adult I am.  Roxas lingered when everyone was gone, and we 1v1’d each other for a few games until Roxas let out a loud yawn and sank back into my couch.  He looked over at me lazily and stretched, and I felt a little thrill go through me as I watched him.  Everything was quiet, and he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

                “Mmm, I’m tired,” he mumbled, letting his controller drop loosely into his lap.  I stared at him, noting how lovely he looked in that moment, and admired his peaceful face.  My eyes stopped on his lips and I felt an urge to fuck it all, forget tomorrow, and just kiss him now.  He clasped a pillow and buried himself a little deeper into the cushions, and fondness for my friend rushed through me.  My mouth felt dry and I tried to remember if Demyx had said goodnight and gone to bed.  Just as I made up my mind to go for it, Roxas’ voice drifted over to me.

                “Axel,” he said firmly, without opening his eyes. “Come over here.”

                Heat flooded throughout my body and I scooched tentatively over to Roxas’ side of the couch. I pulled my legs up and hugged my knees, turning so we were toe to toe.  I gently brushed his foot with mine to signal that I had indeed come there.  I waited for him to speak again.

                “What time?” he asked eventually, his face remaining carefully still.

                “Uhh.. it’s 1:50AM,” I told him, looking over at my phone on the coffee table.

                “No, tomorrow.  What time tomorrow,” he explained patiently.

                “Oh!  Oh shit, I’m an idiot.  Not even giving you a time,” I shook my head and wiggled my toes nervously.  “I guess let’s leave at 5ish so we can eat after the movie.”

                Roxas just let out a hmmm and continued breathing evenly.  How was he so damn calm in this situation?

                “Axel,” he repeated my name, then sat up straight, pulled his knees up and scooched closer to me so that we were knee-to-knee.  This caused thrilling tingles to run throughout my legs and I quickly converted to sitting cross-legged, still facing Roxas.  His eyes bore into me, blue little drills digging into my heart and causing it to beat furiously.

                “What’s up?” I asked, swallowing hastily and trying to keep my cool.

                “Is tomorrow a date?” he asked, his face expressionless.

                “A- a – a date?!” I stammered out, much too nervous for my own good.  He simply cocked his head at me.

                Ok Axel, be your confident self, I encouraged myself.  Do not say it’s not a date.  Do not ask him what a date is.  After that brief internal lecture, I closed my eyes, breathed in deep, put my hands on Roxas’ knees and corrected myself, “Yes. Tomorrow is a date. Definitely, totally a date.  Unless you don’t want it to be a date.  In which – ”

                I was shocked into silence by the feel of another pair of lips on mine.  Stunned, I opened my eyes, and found I couldn’t see farther than Roxas’ extremely cute nose.  When our eyes met, he looked away, broke the kiss and gasped, “Oh my God, I’m sorry, I – ”

                “Nothing to apologize for,” I whispered, then moved one hand off his knee and onto his cheek.  Gently, I pulled him toward me for another kiss, the first having ignited a want in me for more.  Roxas making the first move was extremely attractive.  I smiled when our lips met, and he let go of his knees and rearranged his legs so he could scoot closer to me.  I wrapped my now-free hand around him and let it rest on the small of his back.  I wasn’t 100% sure, but I got a feeling that kissing boys was not so different than kissing girls, so I let my finely-honed instincts take over and leaned more forcefully into the kiss.  Roxas responded enthusiastically and wrapped both hands around my neck as I deepened the kiss, welcoming my curious tongue.

                I chuckled, breaking the contact.  Roxas looked at me worriedly.  “It really is just like kissing a girl,” I mused, shrugging my shoulders.

                Roxas scowled at me and I could feel the annoyance radiating off of him.  “I’m not sure how to interpret that,” he growled, crossing his arms over his chest.

                I waved my hands in front of me, to placate him. “Nothing bad!  Don’t worry.  Just an observation,” I swallowed, and looked away, “This is my first time doing this – well, anything – with a guy, sorry.  Just wasn’t sure how it worked or what to do.  I was worried I would do something wrong.”

                “Really?” he asked, his tone much lighter now and filled with curiosity rather than irritation.

                “Well, yeah,” I ran a hand through my hair nervously, “Why, does that surprise you?”

                “Yeah, to be honest,” Roxas answered.  “Since you were hitting on me at Starbucks that first day… I just assumed… you know.”

                “What!” I spluttered, totally embarrassed, “I so wasn’t hitting on you.  Is that what you thought?”

                “Yeah!” Roxas exclaimed, “You were checking out my ass, dude.  That’s why I was so annoyed and frosty.  I was completely convinced you grabbed the wrong drink on purpose.”

                “What!”  I repeated, shocked, “I swear to you, I didn’t.  I really thought it was my drink.  Also, I was just outraged and offended by your pants.”  Wow, that really explained a lot – especially why I completely misjudged Roxas’ personality.

                “Whatever.  You’re just an idiot then,” Roxas replied teasingly, rolling his eyes and smiling warmly. “Your drink clearly had a shitton of whipped cream on top.  And you were totally checking me out.”

                “Oh my Gooood,” I wailed, covering my eyes, “I am so embarrassed.  I don’t think I can face you again.”

                “Aw, come on, Ax,” Roxas chided and pulled gently at my arms so I would look at him, “What about our date tomorrow?”

                “There’s no date,” I said dramatically, covering my eyes with my arms once again, “It’s over.”  I leaned against the back of the couch with a flourish.

                “What’s over?” Roxas teased, and I could hear the smirk in his voice.  I lifted my arm slightly and risked a glance at him.  Bad idea.  He looked extremely delectable in that moment.  I quickly covered my eyes again.  “We haven’t even started yet.”

                “I liked you better when you were frosty,” I complained, but not too loudly for fear of waking Demyx, “But I guess flirty, assertive Roxy will do.” Before he could protest at the use of his nickname, I reached over and pulled him in for another kiss.  I couldn’t let Roxas make all the moves, now could I?  I am Axel, after all.

                Many kisses later, Roxas, who was in my lap by then, pulled away and yawned.  Adorable.  “Sorry Ax, but I’m about to fall asleep.”

                “Mmm,” I sighed as I watched Roxas stand up and stretch, “Me too.  Go home and get some sleep, Rox.”

                “Yeah,” he mumbled, and looked at me lazily, “Ok.”  He turned toward the door, then stopped and looked at me.  “See you tomorrow?”

                “For sure,” I promised, walking up and kissing him chastely one last time, “It’s a date.”

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:  THE DATE

 

                The next morning, I walked lazily into the kitchen half-awake, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when Demyx suddenly squealed and threw the two oranges he had just pulled out of the fridge into the air.  Dashing towards me, he let the oranges fall on the floor and he scooped me into a huge bear hug.  “OH MY GOD AXEL, YOU DID IT!!!”  he exclaimed jubilantly, bouncing up and down and trying to drag me with him.

                “What the fuck Demyx,” I grumbled, barely able to comprehend his words, “Lemme go.”

                “I’m just SO HAPPY FOR YOU,” he continued to cheer, then squeezed me tighter and rocked me back and forth.  “IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!!!”

                “What the fuck is happening?!” I fumed, attempting to free myself from Demyx’s grasp.  I was much too tired for this shit.

                “You got the guy!” he shouted, and jumped about ten feet in the air before letting me go and twirling around while holding his hands to his heart.  I froze, turning beet red.  “Uhhh..” was all I could utter before Demyx continued talking.

                “Ok, so, I admit – and I wasn’t going to tell you because I just know you’re going to kill me but I’m too damn excited to hold it in – I kind of sort of witnessed you and Roxas TOTALLY MAKING OUT ON THE COUCH!!!!” Demyx burst out and twirled again, this time holding his arms out wide.

                “Uhhhhhhhhhh…” I truly was speechless, and mortified.

                “It wasn’t intentional!!!” Demyx threw his arms up and waved them wildly, “I just needed some water, and I cracked open my door, and then I saw you and you-know-who doing you-know-what!”

                I raised my index finger up and pointed it at him, intending to say something fearsome, but ended up just waggling it weakly with my mouth hung open, unspeaking.

                “And don’t worry!  I only stared, gaping for about 5 seconds!  Ok, maybe 10!  Maybe 30!  60 seconds max!” Demyx began punching the air excitedly, “And then I quietly closed the door and retreated to my room, singing very softly to myself ‘I KNEWWWW IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT’!!!!!!!!!!!!” Demyx hugged my stunned figure once again, then grabbed his forgotten oranges from the floor.  “Now I’m off to exam review!  I want all the fucking deets when I get home Axel!”

                And with that, Demyx swept out the door after stacking his oranges atop a notebook and textbook, dashing away without a second glance or a goodbye, leaving me speechless where I stood.  When the door slammed shut I groaned audibly and banged the cabinets open and shut while I got myself some brunch.  Thinking over what Demyx had just confessed more clearly, I groaned again and this time banged my own head against the cupboard.  I shook it off and got some coffee going, popped two pieces of bread in the toaster, and buttered up the skillet to make myself some well-deserved eggs.  I made a mental note to avoid Demyx as much as possible over the next few days, and only felt at ease again when I was sitting on the stool at my counter, alone, with my steaming hot breakfast in front of me.

                Sipping at my coffee, I smiled when I thought back over the events of last night.  Roxas kissing me had been a surprise – a welcome one.  That definitely would help to eliminate a lot of the awkwardness we most certainly would have otherwise experienced on our date later today.  Knowing that he felt the same way about me was a h u g e relief.  I sighed and dug into my eggs, dripping the yolk over my toast.  Gazing absentmindedly out at my apartment, I replayed every kiss and word in my mind, remembering how right Roxas felt.  Damn, I really am turning into a sap, I complained to myself, frowning.  Oh well.  Getting old I guess.  I shrugged and began to clean up after myself, thinking ahead already to the evening.

 ***

                At 3:30PM sharp I began getting ready.  Shower, wash hair, towel dry, comb, blow dry, get dressed (wear my best black skinny jeans), style hair, apply cologne, slap my cheeks to get my head in the game.  Grab phone, keys, wallet.  Look in the mirror once last time – I’m ready – then open the door and –

                “Agh!” I exclaimed as I crashed into Demyx on my way out. “Fuck!” I shouted when I realized who I had crashed into, dashing towards the elevator.

                “Where ya’ goin’ Axel?” Demyx called out cheerily, “Wow, you smell good.  And you’re all dressed up.”  Demyx walked up to me as I waited for the elevator and tapped my foot furiously.  He sniffed the air.  “Oh yes, that is definitely cologne.  Where ya goooooooooooin’ Ax?” he sang out.  Blissfully, the elevator opened at that moment and I backed into it, never taking my eyes off my mischievous roommate.

                “Fuck off Demyx!” I huffed as the elevator began to close, which only caused Demyx to burst into laughter and sing opera-style, “Axel’s got a boooooooooooyfriend!!!!!!!!!”  I swear to you, my cheeks could not have gotten any hotter.

                “Axel has a WHAT?” my elevator companion spluttered out from my right.

                “Holy SHIT!” I cried, startled, and whipped around.  I was so distracted by Demyx that I hadn’t even realized I shared the elevator with someone else. “Oh fuck, Riku, you scared me.”  Wait. Riku?  When I realized the full weight of what had just occurred, I scowled and bristled.  “What Axel has is none of your business.  Besides, Demyx is an idiot.  Now leave me alone, I don’t feel like talking to you.”

                Riku looked at me in annoyance, then creeped a little closer to me, anxiety flashing across his face.  “What the fuck, Riku?” I asked, irritated.

                “Is it Sora?” he whispered hoarsely, clearly worried.

                “Oh my God, no,” I denied, a look of horror on my face.  “No way in hell.”

                “Oh,” he said, relief flooding his features, and backed away.  The elevator dinged at the lobby, and I thanked the heavens above that this torture was over.  As I made to leave the elevator, Riku grabbed my wrist, causing me to stall on the line marking the elevator threshold.  “Hey, I know you hate me, but if you ever need to talk just let me know.”  He cast his eyes down sadly, and his words the day I returned that box of belongings to him for Kairi ran through my mind.  I felt a sudden rush of pity for him as his grip loosened and I was able to fully exit the elevator.

                “Thanks,” I said sincerely, “And maybe…” I bit my lip, thinking my words through, “You should come over for Smash on Friday.”

                “Really?!” Riku exclaimed, his head snapping up.

                “Yeah.  But don’t even think this means that I forgive you, or that we’re friends again,” I growled and stalked off, waving over my shoulder.  “See ya, Riku.”

                I didn’t hear a response, and I didn’t bother to look back at him.  I trudged out the door and was struck by a blast of cold air.  Glad I had worn my jacket, I looked around for Roxas.  We had texted earlier and decided to meet outside the building and then head to my car.  Seeing him sitting on a bench off to the side, I made a beeline for him and prayed that Riku was still standing ashamed inside the apartment lobby.

                “Hey Rox,” I greeted cheerfully as I approached his bench, and he looked up and smiled eagerly.  He hopped off and stood up.  He was all bundled up in a windbreaker, below which peeped out a very-familiar looking pair of neon green pants.

                Groaning, I complained, “Not those pants again, Roxas.”

                He laughed at my misery and explained, “Come on, you know you love ‘em.” I shook my head in exasperation, and, putting my hands in my pockets, gave in.  “Ok, ok, I guess we’ve come full circle then.  Come on, my car’s this way.” I gestured with my head in the direction of the parking lot.

                “So, did you decide which movie you wanted to see?” I asked casually as we made our way to my car.  I unlocked the doors with a beep and we jumped in to get out of the cold.

                “Kingdom Hearts 3!” Roxas exclaimed enthusiastically as he shut the passenger seat door.

                I chuckled at that, but then happily agreed.  “Sure thing.  When does it start?”

                “6:00! Now step on it!”

                “Ok, ok, chill out,” I scolded, and then we were on our way.

                ***

                On the way to the movies, and then in line for tickets, waiting for popcorn, and before the previews started we chatted amicably about our mutual interests.  Jokes were made, teasing was done, ribs were prodded and many laughs were, thankfully, had.  I felt the knots in my stomach slowly unwind as Roxas and I got along perfectly fine, with no awkwardness and just as much friendly relaxation as usual. 

                The movie was pretty good, and Roxas was very pleased by the ending.  The best parts were, for me at least, when our elbows brushed, or shoulders nudged, or hands touched briefly.  My absolute favorite part of the movie was when Roxas laughed raucously at a joke, then turned to me with sparkling, mirth-filled eyes and banged his fist on my shoulder, willing me to laugh along with him.  After the film was over, we hung around to see if there were any after-credit scenes, and then disappointedly made our way out of the theater when there were none.

                “Man, that was so good!” Roxas gushed when we exited the theatre, stretching his arms over his head.  “But now I’m hungry.”  He rubbed his stomach pointedly.

                “Well, what would you like to eat?” I asked fondly.  “There’s a burger place, tacos, Italian, sushi, more sushi, thai…?”  I pointed to each place in turn.

                “Hmmm… well, I picked the movie, so why don’t you pick the restaurant?” he suggested, wrapping his arms around himself to break the cold a bit.

                “Well, let’s see… what do I feel like eating?” I asked myself out loud, then decided, “Let’s do sushi!  That place there.  It’s pretty damn good.”

                “Ok.” Roxas nodded his head in agreement, “Let’s go.”

                The first order of business was to order a nice chilled bottle of sake to celebrate our night out.  After cheering each other, our friendly banter continued, and then we talked about some more personal things as our food arrived.

                “So how’s Kairi doing?  After… Riku,” Roxas inquired, picking up a sushi roll with his chopsticks.

                I sighed and ran a hand through my hair.  “She’s doing just fine now, I think.  I still don’t think they’re talking, but everything’s calmed down now. Although…” I hesitated, wondering how much to tell him, “She seems to be getting awfully close to Sora.”  I narrowed my eyes at the thought.

                “Hmm, yeah, I noticed,” Roxas commented, then chucked at my expression.  “You are so overprotective.”

                “Yeah, well, how would you feel if one moment you witness Sora entwined in a most R-rated fashion with your sister’s boyfriend, and then in the next see him making moves on her?  I’m getting heated just thinking about it,” I huffed, irritated.

                “Please,” Roxas quipped, and rolled his eyes, “You know you hate anyone who comes near Kairi.”

                “Hey, I know I don’t come off that way, but I am actually a wonderful older brother,” I retorted, “And my willingness to beat anyone up for Kairi’s sake is part of my charm.”  I smiled at Roxas crookedly.

                “Yeah,” he murmured, nodding.  “It is.”  My heart did a little flip flop while my ears burned.  I pulled some hair loose to cover them, afraid that Roxas would notice them turning a tad bit red.

                The dinner continued on without further event, and I paid the bill in a most gentlemanly fashion.  We exited the restaurant and I proposed a walk around the area’s cute brick-paved, shop-lined streets for a bit before heading home.  We began to stroll slowly along the well-lit sidewalk, pausing once in a while to admire the moon or a cat or a funny looking bush.  I had originally kept my hands in my pockets to protect them from the cold, but my mind was furiously telling me that I needed to reach out for Roxas’.  I felt nerves accumulate and cause my hand to tremble just the slightest.  What the fuck Axel,  I thought to myself, this is not the first time you’ve held someone’s hand.  Just do it, idiot.  Breathing deep and gathering my courage, I slowly withdrew my left hand from my pocket and gradually reached over and grasped Roxas’ right one chastely.  He looked at me without missing a beat, then quickly laced our fingers together tightly.  Oh damn.

                “So,” he began, moving his body closer to mine, “How is it we ended up here, Mr. Axel?”

                “What do you mean?” I asked him, not understanding.

                “On this date,” he explained, then chuckled.  “You know… this.”  He held up our intertwined hands in front of us.

                “Ah.”  Comprehension dawned. “It just, happened,” I divulged.  “One day you’re a weird emo kid in neon green pants.  The next we’re here.  Who knows how these things work.”

                “Hey!” he gasped, then shoved his side into me.  I teetered to the side and laughed.  “A weird emo kid?”

                “Definitely.  The pants, the frostiness… it just screamed emo, my dude,” I described, “and I spent so long trying to psychoanalyze you.”

                “Sounds like you’re the weirdo,” Roxas commented flatly.

                “Yeah, I know, I know, Demyx said the same thing too.”  I sighed. “But really though, it just happened.  Without me even knowing.” I stopped suddenly, knowing there was something I had to tell him, and something I had to hear back before continuing. “And one day, I realized, I like you like you.  You know what I mean?”

                Roxas spluttered and slapped his free hand to his forehead.  “Oh my god, Axel, I am so embarrassed for you.  I thought we talked about using that phrase.”

                “Yeah, and I ignored your requests/suggestions,” I replied and shrugged.  “Take it or leave it.  That was hard enough to tell you as it was.”

                Roxas grew serious and snatched my other hand up.  “I’ll take it.  Axel, I like you like you too.  And that’s the last time I will ever say that.”

                “Whew.”  I exhaled.  “Thank God.  I was worried there for a second.”

                Roxas chuckled and hugged me tightly.

                Putting my arms around him and resting my chin on the top of his head, a question rose to my lips:  “How did you go from hating me for allegedly hitting on you to liking me liking me?”

                Roxas’ groan was muffled by his head against my chest.  “Ax, you’re ruining the moment.  Please stop saying that.”

                “Well?” I pondered again, ignoring his comment.

                “It just happened,” he explained, quoting me, “But I think it started when you fell off the bench at lunch that first day Demyx called me over.  It was just too funny and too damn cute.”

                “Ugh,” I moaned, “Please, I am not cute.  Confident and sexy, yes.  Cute?  No.  And I don’t want to remember that embarrassing moment.”

                “Whatever,” Roxas intoned, then rolled his eyes at me as was his custom.  “Come on, let’s go back to the car.  It’s freezing.”  He squeezed my hand tightly and tugged.

                As we walked, a nagging thought ran through my mind.  “Hey, if you thought I was hitting on you, then why did you ask me that day after the Riku incident if I was ok with the fact that Sora liked other guys?”

                “Ah, well, I started growing less sure,” Roxas replied, and shrugged.  “You were always hanging and texting with Tifa, and Demyx needed more than ten fingers to list off the number of girls you’ve dated.  Plus one day you would give me a sign, and the next day you wouldn’t.  It was all very confusing.”

                I hmmed as we approached the car.   “Interesting,” I commented, unlocking the doors and sliding into the driver’s seat.  “I can see how that looked.  But you were just as bad, getting all lovey-dovey with Naminé.”  I scowled at the memory.

                “I knew you were jealous!” Roxas crowed triumphantly as he got in the passenger seat and buckled his seatbelt.

                “Was not,” I muttered under my breath, then turned the key in the ignition.  Quickly, I fired up the heater and proceeded to back out of my parking space.

                “You so were.” Roxas laughed heartily at my expense.  “Seriously, though, we’re just friends.  That relationship is way over.”

                “Yeah, but does she know that?” I growled as we headed down the road toward home.

                “Definitely.”  I could see Roxas nodding enthusiastically out of the corner of my eye.  “But I can egg her on if it keeps making you jealous like this.”  I chanced a glance over and saw him smirking wickedly at me.

                “I couldn’t care less,” I huffed, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of an admission of guilt.

                “Ok, then let me text her right now,” Roxas said, pulling his phone out.  “Dear Naminé,” he read as he typed, “How are you, sweetie?  I miss y – ”  His words were cut off by the howl he emitted when I snatched the phone out of his hand.

                “I’ll just take that,” I proclaimed calmly, putting the phone in the cupholder on the bottom of the driver’s door, where Roxas couldn’t reach it.

                “Gimme that back, Axel!” Roxas complained unconvincingly while laughing, grabbing my shoulder and shaking me.

                “Not while I’m driving, mister,” I chided gently when the light turned green.

                Roxas blew out some air and sat back with a chuckle.  “You’re an ass.”

                “No, you,” I retorted.  “How dare you type such foul words in my presence?”

                “Tch,” was his only response.

                Finally, we arrived at the Bricks.  The pool of nervousness that had dissipated over the course of the evening slowly began to fill again as I debated with myself Do I kiss him goodnight?  Do I ask him upstairs?  Is Demyx home?  Do I just say goodbye?  Do I ask him out again?

                As we closed the doors to the car and Roxas came around to my side, I dangled the phone in front of him.  “You can have your phone back.  And yes, I will admit, I was jealous, so please don’t send that message,” I confessed, deciding that was the best course of action in this situation.

                “Aha!” Roxas gloated and snatched his phone, “I knew it.”

                He slipped it in his pocket as I shuffled my feet anxiously.  “Hey, so, wanna come up for some Smash?”

                “Sure!” Roxas agreed enthusiastically, then grabbed my hand again as we walked from the parking lot to the building entrance.  On the threshold, he stilled, peering through the window.  “Hey, Ax?” he questioned, “Are you ok going in like this?”  He waved our intertwined hands in the air.  “I see Zexion in there.  I understand if you’re not comfortable yet and need some time to think over how to approach this.”

                I stopped and considered his words.  Was I ok with letting Zexion, and then presumably all our friends, know so soon?  Were Roxas and I even a thing yet?  Was it worth worrying about this?

                “Eh, fuck it man,” I remarked, “Whatever, let ‘em talk.  Not like I haven’t done crazier shit.  Unless you don’t want to.”

                “No, it’s cool.  Let’s go.”  Roxas looked into my eyes reassuringly for a moment, and then pulled me with him through the door.

                Sure enough, Zexion was working the front desk that night.  I was wondering if I should greet him, when the clacking shut of the door behind me got his attention and caused him to look up from his book for once.  “Oh hey, Axe- oh my god.”  He froze, his mouth gaping open, and dropped his book on the floor.

                “Hey Zex,” I greeted casually, like nothing at all was up, and proceeded to the elevator.  Zexion, silent, followed us with his eyes until the elevator closed behind us.  When the doors were completely shut, Roxas and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

                “Did you – see – the look – on his face?” Roxas forced out between gasps, struggling to breathe amidst the laughter.

                “That was priceless,” I proclaimed, doubling over.  “Next week I’m gonna hold hands with Riku in front of him and record it.  Now that’ll really shock ‘im.”

                Roxas scowled at me but couldn’t hold the expression for long as he considered that thought, and decided it was absolutely hilarious.

                “Oh man,” he sighed as the door opened for my floor, “Too funny.”

                We regained our composure as we approached my door.  “Hold on,” I warned, “Demyx was acting insane today.  We may have to go in through the window.”  I pushed my ear against the door to see if I could hear anything.  “No opera,” I whispered, “That’s a good sign.”

                I pulled out my keys and very slowly opened the door.  Peering inside, I flipped the light on.  The living room was blissfully empty.  “Ok, I think it’s safe,” I commented, turning to Roxas.  “Just a warning, Demyx saw us last night, and is giving me hell over it.”

                “What?” Roxas whispered, startled, as I urged him into the apartment.  “What do you mean?”    

                “He’s teasing me incessantly,” I explained.  “He’s so fucking happy I just wanna punch the damn grin off his face.”

                Roxas shook his head and sighed.  “Sounds just like Demyx.  So…” he whispered, sitting close to me after I plopped on the couch, “How much did he see?”

                “Enough,” I commented dryly.  “He was twirling around in circles this morning and giving me bear hugs.  And then later outside the elevator he started singing, opera style for all the world to hear, about how I have a boy – ” I hesitated and swallowed, then finished the word slowly, “-friend.”

                “A boyfriend?” Roxas grinned wickedly, “And who would that be? I don’t remember agreeing to be your boyfriend.”

                I froze, a sense of dread filling me.  What did Roxas mean by that?

                “I’m sorry, Rox, he was just – mmph” Damn.  Roxas was so good at interrupting me with a kiss.

                A moment later, he broke the contact, and looked right at me.  “Axel,” he said firmly, “Will you go out with me?”

                I grabbed his hand gently and cracked a smile.  “I suppose we could give it a try,” I teased.

                “You suppose?” Roxas arched an eyebrow and looked at me sternly.

                “Perhaps.”

                “Perhaps?

                “Maaaaaaaaaybeeeeeee…”

                “MAYBE?!”

                “Ow!” I cried as Roxas punched me in the shoulder with that last one, “Ok, fine.  Yes.  Roxas.  I will.”

                As Roxas looked at me gloatingly, I heard the faint sounds of a key scraping against the lock outside.

                “Shit!” I hissed, “It’s Demyx!  Come on!”  I jumped up and beckoned toward my room, running like crazy.  Roxas quickly followed, laughing quietly as I shut and locked the door in the nick of time.

                “We can’t let him catch us together yet,” I whispered, “He needs time to calm down and get his shit under control.  If he sees us the whole fucking building will know because he will sing it, on the balcony, at the top of his lungs.”

                Roxas just nodded silently at me and grinned.  “Could be funny, though.”

                “No, it wouldn’t be.  Trust me.  I know from experience,” I shared, then flopped down on the bed.  “Make yourself at home.  Let’s just hide out here for a bit until we hear him opera singing.  At that point we have about 1-2 hours before he emerges from his room again.”

                “Ok,” Roxas assented, then lay himself down on the bed next to me, facing the ceiling.  I turned on my side and admired Roxas as he stretched and yawned before he also turned to face me.  Growing aware of how close we were, and how alone we were, I felt heat build in my abdomen and slowly trickle its way through my veins.  I felt the urge to reach out and pull him closer build up inside me, and I realized that I really wanted to kiss him again.

                “Hey, Rox,” I whispered hesitantly.

                “Yeah?” he replied just as quietly.

                “Can I kiss you?” I asked solemnly, playing the gentleman, even though we had kissed for probably 30 minutes last night.  Somehow, it felt a bit different now, with me making the first move, and this being more… official.

                Roxas blushed furiously (and adorably).  “O-of course,” he stammered, “You don’t have to ask.”

                With that, I scooched a little closer, propped my head up and leaned in, blissfully connecting his lips with mine.

The kiss was slow and warm and undeniably delicious.   I realized then that I had never fully comprehended the depth of my desire to be with Roxas.  For the most part, my agonizing over Roxas was due to these new… feelings I was experiencing, and my uncertainties.  Ok, there were some times that I physically wanted him as well, but that aspect of this whole affair had pretty much remained on the backburner for these last few months.  Now, though, new thoughts and sensations ran through me as I comprehended the fact that me and Roxas were a thing and blissfully alone together.  He like liked me and now that ominous, ever-present bar of does he feel the same was gone.

I pulled him close and snuck one arm under him and the other over him, wrapping him in a tight embrace as we continued our mutual enjoyment of each other’s lips.  Tongues were just beginning to creep into each other’s company when I heard the distinct noise of Demyx’s door opening squeakily.  Roxas and I paused, looking at each other mischievously.  I rounded my lips in a silent ‘shhh’ and put a finger to my mouth.  Roxas nodded very slightly, and smirked.  I imagined Demyx looking around at the dark apartment, and wondered if he would figure out that I was home.  Next came the sound of the refrigerator opening, and a muffled, “Damn, no more milk,” in Demyx’s voice.   The refrigerator closed and the tap gushed with water.  “Hey?  Axel?” Demyx called.  “Aaaaaaaaaaxxelllllll.”  I imagined Demyx looking around for me.  Then a knock came at my door.  “Ax, you here?  I see your shoes by the door.  You caaaaaaaaaaan’t hide from me!”  I rolled my eyes and ignored him.  “Wait, who’s shoes are those next to yours?  Oh my God, is Roxas in there with you?!”  Demyx squealed.  “Roxas I’m SO HAPPY for you two.”  I shook my head at Roxas, who was shaking with silent laughter.  “Ok fine, whatever.  I can tell I’m not wanted here.  Have fuuuuuun you two.  But not too much fun,” he finished, sternly.  Then his voice was gone from my door and was replaced by opera singing which got fainter as Demyx headed toward his room, then shut the door behind him.

I groaned and flopped over onto my back, covering my eyes with my hands and wiggling around in embarrassment.  Roxas just laughed and wriggled toward me.

“That’s it,” I declared solemnly, “I’m moving out.  ASAP.”

“I’m sure he’ll get over it soon enough.  Don’t be silly, Ax,” Roxas chided with amusement in his voice.

“Ugh. I hope so,” I muttered, uncovering my eyes and shifting my head to look at Roxas.  “Anyways, he should be occupied for a while.  He needs at least an hour of practice every day.  You wanna go play Smash?”

“Hmmm…” Roxas mused, his eyes sparkling, “Maybe in a bit.”

“Yeah?” I questioned slyly, smirking and raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah.” Roxas affirmed, and in one fluid motion rolled on top of me, legs straddling my abdomen in an extremely seductive manner.  Leaning down, he firmly pressed his lips to mine, and with a little oomph I pulled him down completely, holding him close against me.  As the kiss deepened and I became all too aware of Roxas’ body flat against mine, I wondered in the back of my mind how far we might go that evening.  As Roxas disengaged my lips to nip gently at my ear, I let out a breathly, “Hey, Rox?”

“Mmm, yeah?” he hummed as licked behind my ear.

“Maybe we should take things a little slow?” I suggested even as his nibbling down my neck became very pleasurable.

“Hmm, sure,” he said softly, “Right after this,” and proceeded to ghost his lips down and around my collarbone.  I exhaled as he nipped gently in the crook of my neck and then worked his way back up my lips, the beginning of another sensual, delicious kiss.

Time flew by that evening in Roxas’ welcome company.  Eventually we dragged ourselves out of my bedroom to the couch to end the night with some video games and friendly banter.  I discovered that having Roxas curled into my side as we battled each other fiercely on the tv was extremely comfortable.

“So,” Roxas inquired later from the entryway where he pulled on his shoes, “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Maybe,” I teased with a grin as he opened the door to leave, “I’ll message you.”

“Maybe?” Roxas looked at me indignantly from the doorway as I leaned against it lazily.

“Maybe.”  I smiled and then bent down and gave him a quick peck on the lips.  “Get outta here.”

“K. See ya.”  Roxas waved at me and headed toward the elevators.

I sighed and watched as the metal doors closed behind my boy –

Oh my god.  My boyfriend.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13:  You, Me, and Mochas

 

“Yes, Demyx, we’re dating.  Now will you shut up?” I growled and slammed the refrigerator closed the next morning after I could take no more of Demyx’s antics.

Yes!” he cried out and pumped his fist in the air.  “I knew it.  I so knew it.”

“Yeah right,” I replied sarcastically.  “What did you know.”

“Oh, please, it was so obvious,” Demyx explained, “Laughing together, elbowing each other, goading each other on, insulting each other.  It was so adorable.”

“Oh my god, I’m moving out!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands in the air.

“No, Axel, please don’t!” Demyx cried, distressed.

“Then drop it!”

“Ok!  Ok!” Demyx rushed to the other side of the counter.  “Just let me give you one more hug, then I’m done, ok?!”

“Ugh, fine, whatever!”  I dropped my cream cheese down on the counter in disgust.

“I’m so happy for you!”  Demyx exclaimed one last time as he squeezed me much too tightly.  “Ok, I’m done.”

“Thank God.”  I rolled my eyes.

“So.  Whatchu guys doing today?” he inquired, returning to his barstool where his plate of eggs and toast awaited.

“I don’t know. I gotta do some homework,” I replied, returning to spreading cream cheese on my bagel.

“I see.  So, how did you confess your feelings for him?” Demyx’s eyes sparkled mischievously as he scooped some eggs onto his fork.

“I thought you were done, Demyx,” I scolded, waving my bagel at him.

“I am done. This is different.  I am asking you a simple question, very calmly.” Demyx transported the eggs to his mouth and chewed.

 “I just asked him out, dude.  Very simple.” I bit into my bagel and ruminated a bit.  “Very smoothly.  As usual.”

Demyx laughed and ate some more eggs.  “If you had to tell me that, then I’m positive it was the opposite of smooth.”

“Whatever.  I’m done with this.  I need a mocha.”  I waved dismissively at Demyx and walked over to the coffee table with my bagel, popped my phone in my back pocket along with my wallet and grabbed my keys.  “Later.”

Heading out into the hall, I shrugged on my jacket and locked the door behind me. Pulling a beanie on my head, I entered the elevator and hit the button for Roxas’ floor.  I took a bite out of my bagel as I glanced at my phone and wondered if it was too early to borrow him for some Starbucks.  Hmm.  10:30 AM.  Not too early for a Sunday, right?  With a ding the doors opened and I counted down the numbers until I reached Roxas’ apartment.  I hesitated a moment.  Am I going to seem to clingy?  What if he changed his mind and doesn’t want to see me anymore?  I shook my head at my own thoughts.  No, that’s crazy.  He asked me to be his boyfriend after all.  What if he doesn’t like coffee anymore?!

I blew some air out of my nose at my own ridiuculousness and knocked on Roxas’ door like the confident Axel that I am. A few seconds passed and I wondered if maybe Rox and Hayner were still sleeping.  Just when I was about to turn away, I heard some shuffling inside the apartment and I decided to wait a little longer.  The lock clicked in the door and it slowly opened.

“Oh, hey Axel, what’s up?” Hayner greeted, yawning.  I could smell toast in the background.

“Nothing much.  Is Roxas awake?” I asked, craning my neck to see behind Hayner.

“Oh yeah, I just saw him go in the bathroom.  Roxas!” Hayner yelled, turning away from me.

“Yeah?” I heard Roxas’ muffled voice in the distance.

“Your boyfriend is here!” Hayner called, then chuckled when Roxas howled “Oh my God, Hayner,” from the bathroom.

I blushed and raised an eyebrow.  “So… you know?”

“Dude, Roxas has been crushing on you for months,” Hayner explained, then rolled his eyes.  “He came home squealing like a little girl last night.  Couldn’t hold the news in.” He paused and cocked his head.  “Oh, my bad, come on in.”  He waved at me and opened the door, gesturing at the couch.  “Make yourself at home.”

“Thanks, man.  So… months, you say?” I quirked an eyebrow as I plopped on the couch.

Totally. He talked about you all the time. Axel this, Axel that, Axel’s sooo…” he trailed off and smirked.  “Anyways, I gotta study.  Rox should be out soon.  See ya.”  He grabbed an apple out of a basket on the counter and tossed it in the air once before heading back into his room.

Just as I settled in and began to ruminate on Hayner’s words, smiling all the while to myself, a door slammed to my right and jolted me out of my thoughts.  A blonde-and-checkered blur rushed out of the bathroom and dashed into Roxas’ room.  After some shuffling and grumbles coming from behind the door, said blonde-and-checkered blur came hurtling out of Roxas’ room and stopped abruptly in front of the couch where I had settled comfortably.

“Good morning, sunshine,” I greeted and grinned up at a huffing Roxas, who looked slightly winded with his hair askew and still a bit damp.  He blushed and fretted a little.

“Hey! Axel! What are you doing here?” Roxas replied, looking at me wide-eyed.

I stood lazily and reached for his hand.  “I need a mocha.  Wanna go with me?”  I gave Roxas’ fingers a fond squeeze.

“S-sure.  Let me get my wallet.” Roxas left me momentarily to go into his room and shuffle around a bit, emerging holding his phone, keys, and wallet in the air.  “K, I’m ready.”

“Great.  I’m dying to get out.  Demyx is driving me to an early death.”

“Oh my god, what’s he doing now?” Roxas asked me in disbelief as he locked the door behind us.  I relayed the events of the morning to him as we descended the elevator and headed through the lobby outside and began the trek to Starbucks.

“Anyways,” I paused to grab Roxas’ hand and lace our fingers together as we turned onto the sidewalk, “I see you told Hayner about us.”

“Yeah,” Roxas confirmed and nodded, “He’s one of my best friends.”

I hummed for a moment, then continued.  “He told me something interesting while you were in the bathroom.”

Roxas stopped abruptly and turned to face me, crinkling his eyes in worry.  “What did he tell you?”

I laughed and tugged him along.  “Ohh, only that you’ve been crushing on me… for months.”

“Oh my God,” Roxas moaned and covered his eyes with his free hand.

“And that you talk about me all the time,” I continued to tease as we walked along the path.

Another strangled cry came from his throat.

“And that you said I’m soooooo…. ” I paused, suspecting what exactly Roxas had said.

“Ok! That’s enough!” Roxas cried, “Enough!”

I chuckled and opened the door to Starbucks, letting Roxas in before me.  We got in line as Roxas grumbled “Hayner talks too much.”

“Ah, so you admit it then,” I teased as we approached the cashier.  It was fairly empty at that time of morning, and only two people were in line ahead of us.  Roxas ordered a hot latte, and I got the usual mocha frappucinno with whipped cream.  Extra whipped cream.

“I admit nothing,” Roxas commented as we waited, tapping his foot impatiently against the tile floor.

“But you had crush on me?” I asked innocently as the barista called out Roxas’ order.

“No shit, Axel,” he hissed at me, and gestured widely in my direction with his hand, “How do you think we got here?” He grabbed his drink and took a sip, frowning.

“Heheh,” I chuckled and took my own, now-ready drink from the counter.

“Leave me alone,” he huffed and turned to head outside.  I followed, smiling widely as he grumpily sat at an outdoor table.  Luckily, the sun was shining bright that morning which helped to cut through the cold a bit.  I sipped from my frappucinno and winced.

“I think I’m gonna have to switch to hot mochas,” I complained as my throat froze over with the iced concoction.  Still delicious, though.  “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s too cold for frappucinnos.”

“You’re an idiot,” Roxas complained, still all grumbly about Hayner spilling his dirty secrets to me.

“Oh, get over it,” I teased, poking the hand wrapped around his latte.

Roxas glared at me over the lid of his cup.

“Anyways, so what’re you up to today?” I asked, lifting my straw to my mouth now that my throat had a chance to thaw a bit.

Roxas frowned and sighed.  “I have to finish a lesson plan that’s due tomorrow.”

“Bleh,” I commented, then an idea hit me.  “Wanna hit the library together?  I have some homework I gotta finish too.”

“Sure,” Roxas agreed, “But now we gotta go back, I need my laptop.”

“That’s fine with me, I need my books too.”  I shrugged and took another drink of frappucinno.  “Let’s just sit outside and enjoy the weather for a bit.”

Roxas just nodded and leaned back.  We sat in companionable silence for a bit, drinking our mochas.  Eventually, Roxas got up and came to sit beside me. He leaned his head against my shoulder and I wrapped an arm around him.

“Hey,” Roxas spoke up softly, “Thanks for being so cool about this.”

“About what?” I looked down at him and hugged him a little closer.

“I don’t know.  About us?  About being with… a guy?” he snuggled into my side as he voiced these thoughts.

“Ah,” I said, “It’s cool.  I’ll admit it thought I was going crazy for a while at first, but over the last few months I got used to the idea.”

I felt Roxas shake with laughter against my side.  “Who’s the one with the crush now, huh?”

“Well, duh,” I teased and rocked him side to side gently.  “That’s how we got here, isn’t it?

“Yeah,” Roxas murmured.  “Are you worried about telling our friends?”

“Well, I think we got the worst out of the way with Demyx.  He’s the craziest of them all,” I remarked thoughtfully.  “And my sis knows some of it.  And Sora guessed too.  Zexion saw.  Hayner knows.  So who does that really leave?”

“Hm, just Cloud and Aerith and Leon I guess?  And Naminé?”

“Ugh, Naminé.  Make sure you tell her first,” I scowled and rocked Roxas back and forth again.

“Damn, you’re so jealous,” Roxas teased and followed up with a chuckle.

“Whatever.”  I ran a hand through my hair with my free hands.  “Anyways, I don’t think it will be a big deal.  We’ll just like, hold hands in front everyone and that will be it.  They’ll know.”

“Ok.” After a few minutes of sitting nestled together on the bench, Roxas detached himself, looked up and pecked me on the lips.  “Let’s go get those books.”

* **

The next few days passed rather uneventfully compared to the excitement of the weekend, in a blur of studying, homework, and spending quality time with Roxas.  Exam season was upon us, and nightly dinners with friends were no longer a thing as our schedules diverged and we jammed our noses into books.  Friday rolled around finally for the last Smash night until after exams.

Roxas came over early, as he now had boyfriend privileges to access my apartment (and my video games) at all times of day and night.  I added some finishing touches to an essay while we waited for our friends to arrive.

                “Hey, Rox,” I called from the counter where I was working, “Can you put the pizza rolls in the oven?”

                “Sure,” he said, then hopped up from the couch, putting the controller down.  Walking over to the oven, he set it to preheat then reached to the drawer below to grab a sheet pan.  Roxas opened the freezer and reached on his tip toes to get the bag of pizza rolls.  I chuckled to myself as I watched Roxas struggle to pull the snacks down.

                “Need help?” I teased, smiling fondly at Roxas when he scowled at me.  He gave a yank and the pizza roll bag fell onto his chest and he yelped.  He grunted and slammed the freezer door shut, then turned to pour the rolls onto the tray he had pulled out.

                “Tall bastard,” he muttered under his breath.  “Doesn’t understand.”

                I snorted and turned back to my essay.  I click clacked away as Roxas popped the pizza rolls in the oven and set out some more snacks.  A few more peaceful minutes passed before a knock came at the door. “And so it begins,” I muttered to myself, snapping shut my laptop.  “I got it.”  I hopped off my stool to go open the door.

                “Yoooooo,” Leon greeted when I let him in.  “What’s up?”

                “Not much, come on in.” I closed the door behind him and he plopped himself down on the couch and grabbed a handful of chips. 

“Hey Rox,” Leon said as Roxas sat down too and turned the Switch on.

“Hey,” Roxas replied and handed Leon a controller.  “Wanna play me?”

“Bring it on,” Leon commanded, wiping his hands on a napkin and taking the controller from Roxas.

I walked over with some cheese cubes, set them down on the coffee table and sat next to Roxas.  He shifted himself to lean into my side and I wrapped an arm around him as he selected a character.  I saw Leon sideeye us, then drop his controller.  “Whoa whoa whoa, since when are you two so close?” Leon exclaimed, eyes wide.

“Since, like, last week?” I answered, then shrugged.  “We’re together.  Together together.  You know?”

“What?!” Leon spluttered as Roxas rolled his eyes at my use of the phrase ‘together together.’

“Like, dating.  Dude, pay attention.” I gestured at the screen as the countdown began for Roxas’ and Leon’s match.  Leon shook his head and picked the controller up off the ground.

“Wow, man,” he said as his on-screen character kicked Roxas’.  “I was not expecting that.  Well, congrats.”

“Thanks,” Roxas and I both said.

“Dude, it wasn’t obvious to you?” Demyx asked incredulously as he hopped over the back of the couch to settle in next to Leon, having just emerged from his bedroom.

“Are you serious??” Leon raised an eyebrow without taking his eyes from the screen.   “Never in a million years expected this.”

A few moments later, another knock came at the door.  Demyx and I eyed each other.  “Dude, I got the door last time,” I told him.  “And I’m comfortable.” I squeezed Roxas a little tighter, but he shook his shoulders to loosen my grip.  “Oops,” I said when I realized I had restricted his arm movement at a crucial moment of the match.

“Fine,” Demyx groaned and rolled his eyes. He pushed himself off the couch and hopped towards the door.  I peered over as he opened the door, wondering internally if Riku would show up.  It turned out to be Cloud and Aerith.

“Oh, Aerith!” Demyx exclaimed, giving her a hug as she walked in, “I was wondering when I’d see you next.”

Cloud glanced sharply at Demyx as Aerith inquired “Oh, why? Didn’t I see you a few weeks ago?”

“Yeah, but I have BIG NEWS!” he exclaimed gleefully.  “Axel and Roxas are DATING!!!”

“Oh my god,” I moaned, “Demyx, go to your room and stay there.”

“What?” Cloud exclaimed while Aerith squealed and rushed over.

“Oh my god, finally!” she gushed and grasped my hand, shaking it.  “Congrats! I’m so happy for you two!”

“What the fuck guys,” I muttered, “Can everyone chill?  And why do I keep hearing things like ‘finally!’ and ‘I knew it’?!”

“Because you guys are so cute together,” Aerith explained, completely serious as she sat on the other end of the couch.

“Uh, thanks?” I grumbled as I settled deeper into the couch.

“When the – what the- I just – what?” Cloud stuttered as he sat himself next to his girlfriend.

“You didn’t notice?” Aerith asked him quietly, putting her arm through his elbow.

“Not one bit,” he replied, shaking his head.

Aerith turned toward me and whispered conspiratorially, “Some men are a little dense.” She smiled at me and winked.  Then she frowned, sniffing. “Oh, is something burning?”

“My pizza rolls!” Roxas yelped and jumped up, throwing his controller down.  As he dashed off, I grabbed the controller and finished the match for him, chuckling at how cute he was.  I had discovered a day or two ago that Roxas had a deep love for pizza rolls when I threw some in the oven for a study snack.  That study snack had turned into lunch and dinner for Roxas, consisting of a steady stream of pizza rolls.  Maybe I should cut him off.

Another minute, another knock.  “I’ll – “ Demyx started, but I cut him off.

I’ll get it,” I grumbled, wanting to avoid another fiasco.  To appease Demyx, I shoved the controller into his hands.  Cloud and Aerith each picked up a controller to join the fray.

“It’s about damn time Sora got hee-” I let my words trail off in the middle of opening the door, realizing it was a sheepish-looking Riku standing in the hall.

I frowned down at him.  “Come get the door, Demyx,” I called without looking away.

“You already have the door open,” Riku pointed out in a monotone.

“I suppose you’re right.  I could close it again, though,” I replied, trying my best to also be emotionless.  I had invited him over. “And then Demyx could open it.”

“That would be stupid,” he grumbled, averting his eyes.

“Perhaps.” I sized him up.  He was still looking away, his bangs partially shielding his – dare I say – ashamed-looking face.  Sighing, I deflated a bit and moved aside to let him in. “Come in.  Make sure to partake of the pizza rolls and claim your guest right, and no harm shall come to you.”

He rolled his eyes as Roxas called out, “I’m so sorry, he’s been binge-watching Game of Thrones.”

The room grew quiet as Riku approached, all eyes on our long-absent companion.  “Hi Riku,” Aerith broke the silence gently. “Come sit with us.”

“What the fuck is going on tonight?” Leon muttered as he locked in his character of choice for the next match.

“Hey Rik,” Demyx greeted as Riku sat himself on Zexion’s (who was tardy) customary bean chair, well away from everyone else.

 “Hey,” Riku replied, settling in awkwardly and reaching for some chips.

“Yeah, you better eat those chips,” I muttered under my breath.  Luckily, Riku didn’t hear, but unluckily, Roxas did.  He shot me a glare as he walked by with a plate of slightly-burnt, but still delicious, pizza rolls.

“Hey, Riku, did you hear the news?” Demyx leaned in to whisper conspiratorially with Riku.  Riku shook his head.  “Those two are dating.” Demxy glanced at me.  Well, at least with Demyx here it I don’t have to do the dirty work myself, I thought as I shook my head in disapproval.

“Who?” Riku questioned, quirking an eyebrow.

“Roxas and Axel!”

“Huh.  So it’s true.  What I heard – in the elevator.”  Riku looked up at me as I passed by to reclaim my spot on the couch.

“Yep.”

Riku looked at me as I wrapped my arm around Roxas again, then nodded solemnly. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Roxas and I each said in turn.

“I wonder where Kai- ” I began, then stopped.  Suddenly I remembered – I hadn’t mentioned to Kairi and Sora that Riku might be here tonight.  “I’ll be right back.”  Roxas looked at me questioningly as I got up.  I smiled at him in reassurance as I got up and headed to my room.

Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I hit Kairi’s name and put it to my ear as I closed the door behind me.  It rang and rang and rang – and finally Kairi’s voice came over the line.  “Hello?”

“Hey, Kai – are you coming tonight?” I asked, forgoeing pleasantries for haste.

“Yeah, we’re almost there.  What’s up?”

“We?” I asked, pacing back and forth, “Are you with Sora?”

“Of course.”

“Well, so, I kinda forgot to tell you – I kind of invited Riku to come over tonight and he’s here.”

“WHAT?”

“Yeah, it’s a long story…” I paused, running a hand through my hair nervously. “And I forgot to warn you.”

“WHY?”               

“I felt bad for the guy,” I muttered, “We alienated him from all his friends.  That doesn’t mean I forgive him though.  I’ll kick him out if you tell me to.”

“Ugh, Axel, couldn’t you have told me about this a few days ago so I could mentally prepare myself?” Kairi huffed over the phone.

“What’s going on, Kairi?” I heard Sora ask in the background.

Riku’s at Axel’s place and he forgot to tell us!”

“What!” came Sora’s shriek.

“I know, right?”

“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.  I’m sorry, Kai,” I apologized, “But I was trying to do the right thing.

Her voice over the line softened.  “You did, Ax. You did.  Ok.”  I imagined Kairi straighing her back and squaring her shoulders in determination.  “It’s fine.  Let’s do this.  I’m cool.”

“Ok. If you’re sure.  You can always hide out in my room if you need a breather.”

“Thanks Axel.  We’re in the lobby, be up in a few.”

“K.  Bye.”  I hung up and made my way back out to the party.  “Drink orders, anyone?” I smiled and asked nonchalantly as if I wasn’t worried out the wazoo right now.  Noting the calls of ‘beer,’ ‘sprite,’ and ‘water,’ I headed to the kitchen and played the good host, awaiting the next knock on the door with apprehension.  Shuffling around, I got everyone’s drinks and pulled some more snacks out of the cupoards.

And then, inevitably, there was the knock.  At the door.  I headed over reluctantly to greet my sister, Sora, and Zexion, who had apparently arrived at the same time as the other two.

Without missing a beat, Kairi stepped in cheerily, chirping, “Hey guys!” and waving with both hands.  “What’s up?”

“Ughhh exams,” Demyx groaned and flailed about on the couch.  Kairi and Sora giggled and sat next to him, far away from Riku.  Not even glancing at him, they grabbed snacks and settled in.

“Axellll,” Kairi called out, “Get me something to drink.”

“Me too!” Sora joined in, waving.

Meanwhile, Zexion stood glaring down at Riku.  “That’s my spot.”

“I was here first,” Riku retorted.

“Give him the bean bag, Riku,” Demyx chided.  He changed positions so that he was stomach-down on the couch, legs in the air. He reached down to tickle Riku in the side.  Riku put up a good fight, resisting laughing as Demyx tickled him with fervor, until finally Riku let out a strangled chuckle toppled off the bean bag onto the floor.  Zexion swooped in and took his spot, plopping down heavily and opening his book with precision.  Riku looked up at Zexion grumpily and blew some hair out of his eyes, settling onto the carpet on the floor with resignation.

“Riku’s not the only one stealing people’s seats today.  Kai, you’re in my spot,” I explained, putting my hands on my hips.

“Get outta here, Axel.”  Kairi rolled her eyes.  “You left the spot open.  Finder’s keepers!”

I scowled and walked behind the couch, climbing over it in an attempt to force myself in between Roxas and Kairi from behind.  Kairi started squealing and Roxas looked up at me, scowling.

“Really, Axel?” he cried out as his character fell off the platform as a result of me jostling Roxas’ arm.

“You’re so obnoxious, Axel,” Kairi huffed as Sora scooted up to perch on the couch armrest in order to make room for me.

“That’s me.” I beamed at her and put my arm over Roxas’ shoulders again, where it belonged.

“Oh my GOD!” Kairi exclaimed, bolting up from her seat.  She pointed at me and Roxas and jumped up and down enthusiastically.  “Did it finally happen?!?”

“YES!” Demyx yelled, jumping as well and going to join Kairi’s fawning.  “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?”  Our friends began to collectively groan and grumble as Demyx and Kairi’s antics blocked their view of the TV.

“Sit the fuck down,” Leon commanded as he craned his neck to peer around Demyx.

“Get the fuck over it,” I added and pulled Kairi’s arm, forcing her to reclaim her seat.

“Ow, Axel, you’re such an ass,” Kairi growled, rubbing her arm.  “Can’t a girl be happy for her brother?”

“Not when you make a scene.” I rolled my eyes.

“This is a momentous occasion,” she insisted while reaching to get a pizza roll.

“This is just another Friday night, Kai.  So relax.  Eat some snacks.”  Kairi just glared darkly at me as she chewed on her pizza roll.

“Congrats, Axel,” Sora leaned over Kairi to whisper in my direction.  “And you too, Roxas.”

“Thanks dude,” I said.  “Now please, for the love of God, let’s just play some Smash?”

***

The night continued on as we laughed, argued, played, stomped around in anger after a loss, and jumped up and down in victory.  Sometimes things got a little awkward where Riku was concerned, but by the end of the evening we and he had all visibly relaxed and even somewhat settled back into our old camaraderie.  Although I still couldn’t say I liked Riku very much, I was somewhat relieved to put this saga behind us (and very happy he wasn’t staying far away from Kairi).

Finally, the last guest straggled out of the apartment, and Demyx bumbled tiredly to his room waiving goodnight to me and Roxas with one hand as he covered a deep yawn with the other.

“So,” Roxas said as he snuggled up to me on the couch, “That went well.”

“It did,” I agreed, leaning my head against his.

“Everyone seems cool with us,” Roxas observed.

“They do.”

“And Riku’s re-introduction went pretty well too.”

“It did.  Although I do still have the urge to punch him out sometimes.”

“Thank God you resisted,” Roxas laughed, then looked up at me.  He pulled me in for a light but lingering kiss, then stood.

“I’m gonna go home,” he explained, smiling. “Tonight was exhausting.”

“Agreed,” I remarked, getting up after him.  “My bed is sounding pretty nice right now actually.”

“Hmmm, it does sound nice,” Roxas agreed, smirking at me as he grabbed his jacket off the back of a bar stool.

“Mmm,” I murmured, and put my hands on his waist, connecting our lips in another kiss, this one deeper and longer than the last.  Eventually we parted, and I told Roxas “Get outta here,” turning him around and pushing him toward the door, “Or I won’t let you sleep tonight.”

He laughed as he patted his pockets to make sure he had his keys and phone.  “Fine, fine.  Until next time.”

I smiled at him fondly and opened the door for him.  “Mochas tomorrow?” I asked as he stepped across the threshold and into the hall.

Roxas smiled brilliantly, laughed, and nodded, confirming, “You, me, and mochas.”