Title: Sweet Potato Sky
Authors: aenigmadarai and kawree
Characters: Axel and Roxas, no pairing
Summary: Just a little introspection atop the old clock tower... Post-CoM, Pre-KHII, no spoilers if anyone even warns for those anymore.
Rating: Totally G
Word Count: 3296
The sunsets in Twilight Town really were amazing, all red and gold and pink, streaks of other colors, orange mostly, smeared across the clouds like some giant kid went overboard fingerpainting with mashed potatoes, both sweet and the regular kind. Things were soft there; there wasn't darkness and light, but this soft mix of both of them that made everyone equal somehow, Nobodies and Somebodies, all the same there in the twilight.
His ice cream dripped, and he downturned his eyes to watch the drop fall stories to the ground from where he sat atop the clock tower. It hit the ground and he thought he heard a splatter, but it couldn't have been real--it was too far away; he wouldn't have heard it simultaneously. It would have been one of those delayed sounds, watching something splat and then hearing it splat a moment later. Axel had taught him that.
Another sound arose behind him, one he knew wasn't his imagination. A portal jumped up, whispering its strange song, and Roxas sighed a little, watching his ice cream drip again. "Guess I should find a different hiding place," he jibed, though he didn't really want to be alone. The point wasn't to get away so even Axel couldn't find him. The point was that there, on that clock tower, with the sun setting and the day dimming, the shadows that they were weren't so shadowy in the crimson light.
Axel narrowed his eyes a little and lifted his chin, towering over the diminutive blond where he stood behind him. Roxas was very small--a good head and a half shorter than Axel even when the boy stood at his full height--and when Roxas sat on the edge of that clock tower, something like heavy vertigo always tugged at the back of Axel's mind, like maybe the kid was just going to melt into the slurred sunset that hovered perpetually over Twilight Town. He usually managed to quell the urge to reach out and snatch a fistful of the kid's hood--just in case--but today Roxas looked smaller than usual, and so when Axel moved to sit down next to him, he extended one long arm and playfully tugged at the beaded pull that hung at the collar of Roxas's coat.
"If you didn't want me to come after you," he postulated with a shallow smile, "you'd've found another hiding space a long time ago." He tugged the beads one more time, and the rim of Roxas's hood scrunched a little where it hung between his shoulderblades. "What's eatin' you, kid?" he asked then, taking the boy's somber distraction as an invitation to snap a hand out and help himself to a bite of the ice cream pop melting in Roxas's grip. "You just up and vanished after the job earlier--we missed you at the meeting," he mumbled through a mouthful of sun-softened ice cream before pointedly shoving the stick back between Roxas's fingers. He lifted a gloved hand to his face and thumbed a drip away from the corner of his mouth. "I covered for you," he added helpfully, his grin suddenly catlike and impish; "told Saïx you ate some bad pork."
"Yeah, that damn Land of Dragons and their bad mushu," Roxas murmured, a laugh somewhere in the back of his voice even if he didn't smile. "Thanks. Who knows what I'd do with that duck-butt on my ass." His eyes fell from the horizon to the ice cream now back in his hands, and he took a bite, not to be outdone by the redhead. "Aren't you supposed to not mix pork and dairy or something?" he joked, glancing sidelong at Axel with a snide little smirk and an arched eyebrow.
The redhead snapped a hand out and nabbed the ice cream again. "I had chicken," he replied informatively as he pilfered another defiant bite of ice cream. His smile faded then as the strange sweet and salty flavor slid down his throat, and he leaned back on his hands. "You didn't answer my question."
"Nothing gets by you, huh?" He let Axel keep the ice cream; he wasn't really eating it anyway. "Nothing really," answered Roxas then with a little shrug. "I just didn't want to miss the sunset."
Axel made a face, then gestured with the ice cream at the sun, which was hanging about two-thirds above the horizon like the world's biggest sunny-side-up. "Kid, you're watching the same damn sunset we watched the first day I met you," he pointed out, and then jammed the ice cream in his mouth, leaning back on his hands again, scowling now. "Sunsets in this town are like life," he said, though the debatably profound wisdom of his words was significantly diminished by the fact that they were being burbled around a popsicle; "you only miss out if you keep your eyes closed all the time."
He gripped the popsicle stick again and bit off the end of the treat, hissing through his teeth as they ached at the sudden cold. Then he offered the ice cream back to Roxas, his brows knit together. "Don't lie to me, kid," he chided.
Waving a hand, he signaled for Axel to finish the ice cream himself. "If I were lying, I'd have thought of something better," he told his friend, meeting Axel's bright aqua eye for a moment before turning his head back to the horizon. "...You can also miss out if you're not here, though. Just because the sun's still setting when you get here doesn't mean you didn't miss it earlier." Pausing, he postulated, "Maybe we're the only ones with our eyes open."
Axel looked thoughtful, or at least he would have looked thoughtful if the ice cream bar wasn't hanging precariously out of his mouth again. He made a noncommittal monosyllabic sound that may or may not have been any number of words of affirmation or denial, and then cast a sidelong look at Roxas. "Kid, the only thing you missed earlier was Saïx chewing me out about making excuses for your skinny ass," he complained good-naturedly around the ice cream. "So cut the metaphysical crap and just tell me what's on your mind." He nibbled the rest of the ice cream off the stick and then continued to chew on it, offering Roxas a concerned frown. It was never a good sign when Roxas told him to finish the ice cream.
"You think we have hearts, Axel?" he asked, suddenly, and with no warning.
Axel, to his credit, didn't jump, though he did look visibly startled by his friend's question. The popsicle stick hung from the corner of his mouth, and his slender eyebrows inched together, making a pronounced crinkle in his brow. "I..." he began, and then sat forward, pulling the stick out of his mouth and frowning at it, as if it were somehow at fault for this. Then he glanced back at Roxas. "What's this, all of a sudden?" he asked rather than trying to answer. Roxas had asked a lot of strange philosophical questions before, and Axel was usually pretty good at making up something that sounded feasible...but he'd been really unprepared for this particular pop quiz.
"Oh, didn't Saïx tell you? I'm a spy, sent to make sure you obey Organization dogma," Roxas stated, so seriously it seemed almost ludicrous. "We want to make sure our members are united under a common cause aburr-bur-burr." If there was any question that he was joking, the Serious Business Voice cleared it right up.
Axel was probably less amused than Roxas would have liked, and he jammed the popsicle stick back in his mouth, leaning on his hands again. "Kid, the day you and Saïx team up is the day there really is no hope left in the world," he muttered, waving a hand helplessly.
"Which is why I'm asking you about it, and not duck-butt junior," concluded the boy, smirking for a moment before shaking his head and letting out a sigh. "...I think we do," he confided, glancing from the horizon down to his empty hands, interlacing his fingers as he sat there, forward with his elbows on his knees. "At least sometimes. Maybe not all the time, but...maybe, in places like this..."
Axel's eyes slid half-closed and he puffed something like a chuckle. "Heart ain't a damn accessory, kid," he reminded him; "you can't just wear one in certain worlds or because you think it looks fashionable." He shook his head then, and cast his gaze toward the sunset. "Why's it matter anyhow?" he asked then. "Heart or not, it doesn't really change anything, does it?"
"Guess not," Roxas agreed with a slight shrug, indicating that the topic at hand had no real import. But then, instead of changing the subject, he went right on ahead, "Maybe it's only places like this that make it come out of the dark, then." He snorted. "Like...I don't think Saïx's ever watched a sunset, you know?"
Axel barked a harsh laugh. "Nah, he's too busy howling at the moon."
The redhead didn't like the way Roxas was just willing to shrug about the subject, though. Axel may not have known Roxas for a terribly long time, but he knew the kid well enough to know Roxas never brought up anything serious unless it was really bothering him. The boy was, above most things, meticulously concise and infuriatingly sensible, and Axel knew that perhaps better than anyone. Roxas wasted nothing--not movements or words...not even time. And for Roxas to go to the trouble of bringing a topic to the table meant that it was important, even if he wanted to pretend it wasn't.
Axel pulled the popsicle stick out of his mouth again, extending his hand forward and tracing the wobbly, watery lines of the sunset streaked across the vermilion sky, like maybe he could change the shapes of the clouds if he stared hard enough.
"I don't think Saïx likes this town much," Axel said after a moment of painting the air with the stick. He paused in his artistic efforts and frowned at Roxas. "You know what he'd say if he were here?" he asked then, and that feline grin crawled across his lips. "He'd say that Twilight Town is a stagnant city of fools, trapped in perpetual limbo and unable to choose whether they live in the light or the dark." He shook his head, his crimson hair glinting like fire in the sunset. "But he's stupid," he continued; "I think Twilight Town is really the only place we belong, you know?" He lowered his eyes, scowling at his knees, and waved one hand in the air, making a fist before he let it drop into his lap. "Caught," he said softly, "right in the middle...never one or the other, and somehow both all at once."
Roxas nodded, the faint beginnings of a smile crossing his features. "Yeah," he agreed, and this time it was much more...agreeable. "Less caught, though, and more...suspended. A place between, where light is dim and darkness is bright--they mix here," he murmured, watching gulls fly by the clouds. "Just like us. We don't have to decide. And you need a heart to belong, don't you? I think this place is proof enough."
Axel's scowl faded when Roxas sounded satisfied--he hated it when the kid was upset; it made him feel useless--and he shoved the popsicle stick back in his mouth, gnawing on the end of it as he leaned back on his hands again, peering at Roxas out of the corner of his eye. "This is my favorite place, you know?" he asked relevantly, and Roxas looked at him. Axel smiled toothily around the stick. "It's got everything--night and day, light and shadow, sea, land, and sky all at the same time..." He shook his head. "If there's a place we get to go when we die, I hope it's like this. It wouldn't be so bad to stay here forever; endless sunset's kinda like a neverending memory, huh. It just sorta hangs there, always, and you never really appreciate it 'til you're somewhere you can't see it. But being here, it's like nothing gets forgotten." He grinned and waved a hand at the sweet-potato sky, chuckling. "It's all there...painted in clouds. Everything."
He suddenly wondered if that was what Roxas was afraid of. Axel had been trying to figure it out for a long time--everyone had something they were afraid of. Xigbar was scared of dogs and Xaldin was claustrophobic...Marluxia had been terrified of stinging insects, which had amused Axel to no end, and even Larxene was afraid of water. But he'd never managed to figure out what Roxas was scared of. He'd never asked, because it never felt like the kind of thing that you asked someone, but he often wondered. It was hard to protect someone from what they were afraid of when they never told you what it was, and harder still to feel like you were worth much at all when you never even knew what sorts of things to watch out for...but what the hell was Axel supposed to do if what Roxas feared was...being forgotten?
Distantly, Roxas made some noise of acknowledgement, a strangely unempty sigh dusting out his nose. "...You think if I come here often enough, the things I've forgotten will come back?" The question may have seemed somber, but there was no melancholy in it. If anything, there was...hope.
Axel pulled the popsicle stick out of his mouth and pointed it at Roxas, closing one eye and brandishing the stick at the blond's head. "That's why you haven't found a new hiding spot yet," he said, and then chortled brightly, "ain't it?"
"I'm not hiding," he laughed; the redhead always managed to tease a smile back onto his lips. "You're the only one who bothers to come looking anyway." And then he shook his head, watching the flock of gulls dip and weave. "...It's different, Axel. Every time I watch it. Like it grows with me, builds up memories as I do. They say the sunset's always here, but as far as I know, it's only here when I'm looking at it. Memories too, only there when I think about 'em." He looked at Axel and grinned brazenly, the way he always did when he was about to say something extraordinarily sappy. The overly dramatic expression took the edge off. "Maybe that's why my sunsets are red. You're the person I remember the most."
Axel nodded vaguely, putting the popsicle stick back in his mouth. "Maybe the sunset is only there when you're looking at it," he conceded, something lost and haunted in his turquoise eyes suddenly, "but that's really the only time it matters anyway..." He shook his had then, chuckling, the bleeding ice behind his eyes gone as quickly as it had shown up. He glanced at Roxas, smiling broadly now. "You know why the sunset's red, Rox?" he postulated, and Roxas just quirked an eyebrow.
"Ah...'because of all the colors that make up light, red is the one that reaches the furthest'?" he ventured, and Axel yanked the popsicle stick out of his mouth again, this time jabbing it toward the scarlet sunset that hung above the orange sea.
"And that's why I'll always come looking for you," he said; "no matter how far I have to go." And then reached up to tweak at one of the red spikes of his hair. "Although for all I know, my hair might be blue when I'm not looking at it."
Roxas chuckled, reaching out with a fist to bonk against Axel's. "Yeah, maybe. You don't have a duck-butt going on, though, so at least you know you don't look like a loser when no one's watching."
Axel returned the fistbonk with gusto, chuckling. "Yeah, I only look like a loser when you're watching," he griped, drawing up one knee and draping his arm over it. "So how many more times are you gonna make me lie to the higher-ups and then come looking for you like some lovesick lame-ass, huh?" He shook his head. "S'gettin' old, kid. People are gonna start talking."
With a casual shrug, Roxas just smirked. "How many memories until a heart is full?" he countered, the question rhetorical, not meant to spur more discussion. Just in case Axel felt like a wiseass, he continued, "It's not my fault you reach the farthest--or that you're shoveling bad pork behind my back."
"I reach the farthest because I'm 6'5" and one of my arms is longer than you are tall, squirt," he countered, shaking a finger at Roxas and moving to get to his feet. He extended a hand to pull Roxas standing, and then put a hand on his chin and regarded the boy a moment. "And I think a heart is full when it's ready to be full," he said then, casting his eyes back to the sky a moment before reaching out to yank that beaded cord on Roxas's coat again, making the hood winch up like a scrunchie. Axel grinned slyly then, poking a finger sharply into the boy's chest. "You'll remember when you're ready," he said, and then shoved his hands in his pockets.
A scowl dove across his features and he flailed his arms at Axel, shooing him off while he de-scrunchified his hood. "Hay hay hay," yowled the boy, working the hood back open again and then setting himself to the arduous task of making the two sides of the string the same length again. "You're such a jerk," he griped. But behind that surly face and narrow eyes, somewhere behind that all-seeing blue, there was a smile.
"And you wouldn't want me to be any different," Axel dared him, that feline smirk on his face. He conjured a portal and waved one hand. "C'mon," he said, reaching out to beckon the boy into the whorling ingress of black and silver mist. "I'll take your abandoned ice cream bar as compensation for having to face Saïx without you for now," he added, "but next time, I'll start charging interest."
"Yeah yeah. I'll just start picking up the munny when we kill Heartless," he mused, following Axel into the portal. "And then you'll spend it on ice cream and mushu pork anyhow." As the portal closed and they found themselves in Betwixt and Between, the twisting greens and blues replacing the warm colors of Twilight Town, he heaved a sigh. "...Thanks, Axel."
And Axel just paused where he was walking through the shifting green and teal mists, glanced over his shoulder at Roxas, his eyes almost the same eerie opalescent color as the empty air around them, and he just smiled. "Anytime, kid."
He waited until Roxas caught up to his longer strides, then wordlessly slung one spindly arm around the boy's shoulders, and as he waggled one hand in the air to open a portal that would take them back to the cool, damp world they called home, Axel found himself wondering just how far red light really could travel, and hoping he would never have to find out for himself. Something in Axel just couldn't quite shake the nagging idea that Roxas wasn't going to be around forever--none of them were, for that matter--but he resigned himself to the unvoiced promise that if Roxas ever needed him, he would be there without question. No matter how far his light had to travel, he would never leave Roxas to the darkness locked away inside his own troubled head, and knowing that the kid knew that was enough for him.
and if you fall, I'll pick you up
and if you court this disaster
I'll point you home.
This was just a little something aenigmadarai came up with a while back...we felt like writing some Axel and Roxas and we didn't really have a plan when we started, but I think it turned out all right. ^_^ I really loved the way the little snippets we've seen thus far of 358/2 Days gives canon indication of something I've always put into the way I write Axel--a sense of skewed and sarcastic philosophy, what with the 'why is the sunset red' line... That cracked me up. Dorkiest philosopher ever.
Thanks for reading! Comments are love!