My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 13

The attic is in the upper most sections of the castle. The one of the few sources of light are from the circular windows placed at odd intervals around the vaulted room. The air had a thickness made by dust and old parchment paper. Trunks, old furniture, oil paintings and books are stacked around the room covered by thick tarps to act as barriers from the dust particles.

Once they existed the spiral staircase, Sora led them to a door against the back wall. Tall and narrow, it looked like the lid of a coffin. Roxas' first thought was that it must be a broom closet, but there weren't any other doors around. The door squeaked open, revealing a long, narrow staircase that stretched steeply upward. Square shafts of white sunlight shone down from a window at the top, a million dust motes dancing in and out of the beams. There was no banister leading up, so Roxas and Axel held their arms out at either side and braced their hands along the dark wood-paneled walls. The stairs groaned and creaked underfoot, as though murmuring secrets about them. Sora however walked the steps quick and surefooted.

Roxas walks around the attic, brushing his fingers along the tops of trunks and the spines of old books with a featherlike touch; making sure not to billow up clouds of gray powder. Naturally he calculate the value of the paintings and the goods that could all be stuffed away in trunks. A simple bejeweled mask would seem outdated in a Grand Duchess' eyes, but in the right bargaining hands, could feed the bellies of half the villagers in the kingdom.

When Roxas makes a circle he finds Axel and Sora looking at him. As if waiting for him to notice them. Roxas approaches them and notices a trio of large covered paintings behind Sora. A circular window morphs the moonlight so it focuses into a beam of light that illuminates the tarp.

"So, why'd you bring me up here?" Roxas asks.

Sora fiddles with his hands as he looks at Roxas from head to toe. He wears the cloak of Xemnas' guild, though the shadowmark emblem on the back is faded gleaming in ill light so only members of the faction could recognize him. To everyone else it's just a piece of tattered clothing. It covers him from the neck to ankle, leaving only his feet exposed, and with the hood down, Roxas' blonde golden hair twiddles from small drafts coming from crevices in the wood. Right now, he appears as both his brother, and assassin of Xemnas.

Sora clears his throat. "Um, I honestly don't know how to start." Sora nervously laughs between his words. Roxas glances at Axel who only eyes Roxas with a stern look that Roxas has only seen him use when in combat or on missions. Sora nervously sighs. "You know about what happened to my brother, right?"

Roxas gives him a confused and cautious look. "Yeah. He was kidnapped when you were young. But what -"

"He was kidnapped by Xemnas." Sora blurts. Roxas goes rigid. "And up until, a week ago, I had no idea what he would look like. I thought we'd have the same hair, the same smile, eyes . . . but it seems we're completely different."

Sora's words are shaky and he chokes a couple times as he explains. He backs up so he's standing to the side of the painting behind him, still fiddling with his fingers.

"How do you know? Did you see him?" Roxas asks. He takes two steps to Sora, a spark of excitement for him ignites in Roxas chest only for a second as he continues to be disturbed by the look of nervousness on Sora's face. And with Axel not saying much Roxas has a feeling it's something about him.

Sora nods, but keeps his gaze to his toes. "Yeah I saw him. But first, I want to just point out the obvious." Sora looks up and looks Roxas directly in the eye.

"What obvious? Wait, you saw your brother?! When?!" Roxas' lips curl into an excited smile.

"I'll get to that in a minute, but first, I . . ." Sora takes a deep breath. "I know you're an assassin for Xemnas, Jesse. Axel too." He blurts.

Roxas' smile instantly fades and fear replaces the excitement in his chest. He takes a few steps back, ready to run or strike or something; but Sora quickly adds on. "But please, please let me explain something to you."

Roxas stays in place, but Sora could see his hand move beneath his cloak, possibly resting on his knife. Sora's heart thumps in his chest, and he fears he may begin to tear up, but he takes a deep breath and keeps his back straight. He tries to swallow, but it feels like there's a wad of cotton stuck inside his throat.

"How did you find out?" Roxas demands, his tone changing completely now that his secret's been exposed. The only thing holding him back is Axel. If he's so calm, whatever Sora has to say it must be worth listening to.

"I found out the moment I yanked your hat off a week ago at my father's party." Sora answers.

This stumps Roxas, and he shifts his footing. "How would that let you know?"

"Because . . ." Sora chokes, and he can't stop his eyes from watering. This catches Roxas off guard and his grip on his knife loosens. "Because you're my brother."

At first, the words don't reach him. Roxas stands there dazed, confused. But when he processes them, he almost breaks out into a laugh. But considering Sora's state and the fact that Roxas knows he would never lie about anything, Roxas body goes tight, rigid like a statue. Mouth agape he tries to talk, but a cold breathy laugh escapes his lip.

"What?" he doesn't mean to, but his lips contort into an awkward smile, as if he's expecting it all to be a joke.

Sora keeps a serious face and looks him dead in the eye; tears spilling over his cheeks. "You're my brother, Jesse. You're the lost prince; and your name is really Roxas."

Roxas shakes his head slightly and takes a few steps back. He lets the cold laugh leave his lips and shudder through his shoulders. "I, I don't understand . . . how can -"

"Please just think about it!" Sora suddenly begs.

He takes sudden steps towards Roxas, that Roxas flinches, but Sora's hand grips his arm; gently and shaking. Tears continue to pour from his eyes and he looks like he's ready to collapse. Roxas is torn between comforting him or shoving him off so that he can process what he's trying to say.

"My brother was kidnapped when I was a babe. You were raised by Xemnas since you were a baby!"

"Just a coincidence." Roxas quickly dismisses.

"Roxas please . . .!"

Roxas wrenches his arm away from Sora's grip. "No! No, don't call me that." He rakes his fingers through his hair.

"Look at the facts! My brother, you, were kidnapped when we were babies. You were raised by Xemnas to hate the king, yet you don't even realize the hidden hints that clearly state you're my brother!"

"What would that be, huh?!" Roxas counters.

Axel has shifted to leaning against an old bookshelf with his arm folded, watching the two intently.

"Why do you think you always have to wear a hat when you go into public? Because your blonde hair is a dead giveaway to the villagers and the guard; they'd easily recognize you! And, and you know that pendant you have! It's the exact same one my brother was given when we were born!" Sora says.

He digs his fingers into the collar of his tunic and pulls out a silver chain with a crown pendant attacked to it. Roxas' fingers mirror Sora's and fish out the pointed star pendant. The two charms gleam in unison in the light and twinkle together as they spin and turn.

"How long before . . . what happened did Luxord give you that?" Sora asks.

Roxas hesitates. "It was, just before your party." He answers.

"And what did he say?" Sora interrogates.

Roxas swallows. "He said, to keep it hidden. Make sure no one else saw that I had it."

"What else."

"That . . . that is was given to me by my father when I was . . . a babe." Roxas' voice shakes.

Sora smiles and wipes away the streams of tears with the heel of his hand. "My father told me that Xemnas took the necklace with him when he kidnapped my brother. Here, look at this."

He takes fistfuls of the tarp and pulls is off. It agitates millions of dust particles and they scatter and flail into small clouds. The tarp reveals a tall painting with a golden frame. The corner intricately designed into the wings of a bird, thin grooves gave it a sense of smoothness.

Roxas carefully approaches the painting like it has teeth, and Sora steps more to the side allowing Roxas enough room. He steps in front of a portrait of the royal family. Two baby boys in opposite arms of the King and Queen. The King held a baby brunette, the Queen held a baby blonde.

Something inside Roxas collapses. His chest is so tight, suffocating can't breathe. He sinks to the floor, the wood is rough under his knees. Still can't breathe.

The blonde baby boy holds a four pointed star pendant, and he smiles. Blue eyes glistening and spiky hair swooped in one direction, pink blushing cheeks. He can't deny the similarities. But he does.

"No, no. It . . . doesn't make sense." He pushes to his feet and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I, I think I would remember this." He points an accusing finger to the painting.

"No you wouldn't." Axel suddenly says. Both boys look to him, Roxas a cold hard gaze, Sora of relief. "Because those memories were stolen from you."

"H-how . . .?" Roxas chokes.

"I'm not expert on spells, but I picked up a few little things. I'm not guaranteeing it'll work but, you need to know. You deserve to." Axel says.

"How . . . You . . . You knew?!"

"Yes. But before you argue, think about Luxord. He knew as well. And he was about to expose Xemnas for who he was. And he winds up dead." Axel coldly says. "Now tell me, what makes Luxord's death so different?"

"I was attached to him! As, dysfunctional as it was, he was still family." Roxas' voice lowers. "He was killed right in front of me. I've killed before, I've, but he was, family. He was, was . . ."

Tears swell in his eyes. Roxas couldn't believe it. He wipes them away, the blush in his cheeks fierce. The boys watch Axel as he pulls out a small spellbook from his cloak and opens to a specific page he bookmarked. Sora debates on whether to grip Roxas' shoulder. Rule it out.

Roxas takes a step back as Axel opens his mouth. Axel takes notice. "Jessie. Roxas, trust me."

A tightening pain stabs Roxas' chest at the sound of Axel calling him by the prince's name. He didn't even make the connection that Axel knew about all of this until he pulled out the book. Anger blazes and blooms at the core of Roxas' heart, he fists his hands, but remains calm for some unknown reason. Maybe, perhaps, a part of him does believe them both. It explains the sudden "punishment" Xemnas gave to Roxas when he discovered the pendant. And it only happened moments before Luxord was about to tell Roxas something big.

Trust me, he says. Roxas thinks. Both friends combined and Roxas remains rooted, but his knuckles turn white.

"Trulp two-is worum eared nord-di-cult!" at the end of the last word his voice echoes.

Suddenly, Roxas takes in a quick breath. His body tingles as if he is moving through a screen of static. The electric sensation lingers over his skin like pins and needles. He looks up and sees where the ceiling should be lay only open skies. The low-flying clouds skim past at a frightening speed, the cavernous spaces in between their fold illuminating with brilliant flashes of violet lightning.

Fighting vertigo, Roxas watches as images flash in front of his eyes. The four-pointed star appears all around the room. On the walls at his feet, even in the palms of his hands. Roxas reaches for Sora's hand, but he's not there. Roxas looks all around, avoiding the stars searching for Axel or Sora, but there're not around.

"Axel! Sora!" Roxas cries.

He looks ahead and finds the attic gone, an in its place a long and pale hallway. In a whir of movement and a haze of images, he was closer to it. A glowing apparition of the star pulsates a pale blue light with stardust billowing around it. Throwing his arms out, Roxas finds a narrow set of walls on which to brace himself. Light peeked through the clearing haze of dust. Several feet above, he saw an open doorway.

Squinting, Roxas could detect a curtain of green vines handing over the archway in a spilling cascade. Flowers dotted the vines, their heavy heads lolling sleepily amid waxy green foliage. Parting the vines with one hand, he passed through the archway and into the castle nursery.

Perplexed, Roxas looks all around. The room had a balcony with mahogany French doors. The walls were a calming mauve color with elegantly designed columns and lanterns on tendril corbels. The floor held a mosaic depicting the emblem of the Twilight Kingdom. Two cribs with silk blankets draping over the edges rest at the epicenter. Roxas approaches carefully, his form mimicking the stalking of prey when he hunts.

There's a burst of giggling and blubbering. Roxas peers over and finds the crib on the left occupied by a baby with brown hair that spikes in multiple directions.

Sora.

Roxas kneels down next to the crib. The baby looks up to Roxas and giggles and smiles. His arms flail and he grips his one ankle. Roxas can't help but smile, then there's a tickling down his cheek. Roxas brushes his fingers against his face and catches a tear.

"I know why you're sad." A little voice says. Roxas looks down at the baby Sora. He chews on his feet, but the smile is gone.

"What?" Roxas mumbles.

"I know why your sad." Baby Sora repeats. Roxas' eyes widen, and though he wants to jump back, he stays rooted in place. "You remembered you were good once."

Baby Sora's eyes shift to the right to the other crib. The room suddenly darkens. Roxas leans and tries to peek from where he was, afraid to see what was – or wasn't – inside the crib. He looks to baby Sora whose eyes only tell him to look. Roxas pushes to his feet; the one knee he put most of his weight on shaking a little before he regains footing.

He takes steps towards the crib. His footsteps echo through the room despite him being on plush carpet. He approaches the crib and leans forward, heart thumping against his ribs. To his surprise, or rather relief, the crib is empty. But suddenly a hollow feeling ticks in his chest.

A shrill cry erupts throughout the room. Roxas leaps back and finds the scenery has changed to night. Sora's crib was knocked to the side, but Roxas couldn't see him. There's crying in both directions, behind him and in front. Roxas shifts his gaze forward, his hand on his knife. The French doors are open.

Crouching on the balcony, a dark cloaked figure. The cape dripping along the floor.

"Hey!" Roxas shouts.

Behind him the door to the nursery bursts open and a trio of armed guards file in. Instinctively Roxas draws his knife and readies into a fighting stance. Behind the standing guards, one lays dead on the floor in a pool on his blood, an arrow in his heart. The sight collides with the images of Luxord's death and Roxas moans like a wounded animal. He lets the knife fall form his hand and wraps his arms around his stomach. He wants to sob because I knows it'll make him feel better, but he can't force tears to come.

"Stop him!" one yells.

Roxas stands readies himself with his bare hands. As the guards charge, Roxas was about to punch but his fist swept cleanly through the guard, and Roxas jerks back. He whirls around to the guard's destination, the balcony. The figure was still there, and there is still the crying. Roxas takes carefully steps closer and peers to find the baby in his arms.

His heart drops.

The baby had blonde hair, a silver pendant, and rose red cheeks from his crying he wails in agony as the figure gets ready to jump. He peers his head and Roxas falters back as he sees Xemnas' cold glare under the hood. Strands of silver hair wisp out from the hood of the cloak and he deviously smiles. The baby cries again and Xemnas swoops his cape.

"No!" Roxas screams and throws himself forward.

He grabs whatever his hands can find. An arm. A fistful of cloak. But as he dives, Xemnas is gone and so is the baby. Roxas falls over the balcony and plummets downward. He doesn't try to stop himself, somehow knowing he can't save himself. He doesn't need to.

He feels his back slap into water; snatched with icy fingers he plunges beneath its surface. Roxas opens his eyes and finds the ripple of the moon. Despite being in water, he's still breathing. He fades down deeper and deeper still until his body turns and lands gently on black nothingness.

Roxas looks all around for signs of a presence. A voice. An echo. Nothing.

"You can't change the past." A tiny voice says.

Roxas jerks his head to the right and finds Sora, not as a baby, but a young toddler. His eyes still glow with a sort of, determination. He wears a simple white tunic and grey trousers with shoes. A pale glowing aura surrounds him, like the cur of a dying star.

"But you can alter the future." He says. He then extends out his hand.

Roxas steps towards him and takes his hand. He lets Sora guide him through the blackness and then a swirl of smoke billows up from below and spins and twirls into a gaping hole. Inside the hole, Roxas could see an image of himself. He was dressed in elegant robes, a jeweled crown atop his head. He smiles brightly and laughs even. He walks a red carpet down a long walkway towards a pavilion. But that's where it ends. The portal closes and evaporates.

"Wait, what was -" he turns and Sora is gone. He looks at his hand, empty.

Before he could mouth a single word, he falls back. As he felt his heartbeat slow, it surged again as his back began to feel lighter. The wind whistles its high and lonely song in his ears. He fell away into the oblivion.

He closes his eyes. There's a spinning sensation and he's flung, somewhere. He feels himself breaking the surface and gasp for breath. When he opens his eyes, he stumbles back into a bookshelf, rattling its contents, forcing a few books to fall to the floor. His forehead is smeared with sweat and his hands are shaking.

"Roxas," Axel's voice says.

Roxas jerks his head up and finds himself back in the attic. Sora and Axel surround him with concerned looks on their faces. What happened? Roxas gasps, heaving, and swallows the air in gulps. His empty stomach churns, and he swallows in an effort to repress a wave of nausea.

Axel grasps Roxas by the shoulders, and Roxas collapses into his arms. Roxas presses his face into his neck and releases one long, choking sob.

"What did you see?" Sora quietly asks.

Over Axel's shoulder, Roxas caught sight of Sora hovering close by, his face anxious, etched with delicate lines of worry.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

Roxas forces himself to stand, as shaking as he is. His body reacts before his mind does and Roxas is running out the castle, blaring through the courtyard, into the dark beyond. Moisture from the sodden stone soaks the soles of his boots and he's aware of the different lefts and rights, but he doesn't stop. Where? Where to go?

Anywhere but here.

Sora calls after him and chases him through to the gates. He would've gone further, but Axel grabs his shoulder and doesn't say a word. He only looks to Sora, and Sora can read his features as him telling him to stay here. He's done enough for Roxas.

Axel knows where Roxas would go. Despite that eh ash multiple hiding places around the forest and within the house, there's always one that Axel knows is his favorite.

A tree stand that Roxas converted into a treehouse. It's concealed within a gathering of willow trees and has a perfect vantage point for whenever he uses it to hunt. It's the best place to start.

Roxas is huddled in the corner of the treehouse; arms wrapped about his knees. Faint shafts of moonlight come in through the shafts high above Roxas' head. The splintery wood scrapes against his cheek, but he doesn't care

He is cold and wet and winded, but the escape has done little to subdue the hysteria rising up inside his chest. It will drown him unless it's released. He balls up the sleeve of his jacket, stuffs it in his mouth, and begins to scream. How long he continues, he doesn't know. But by the time he's done, his voice is almost gone. Unaware if it was muffled, Roxas curls deeper into himself and buries his face into his knees.

There's the need to cry, but nothing happens.

Why though? Because it's all true?

Or because he will it not to be?

Axel will find him soon.

Axel. He knew, all along. That means everyone else in the organization knows too. They all did, and have kept it from him all his life. Roxas suddenly thinks back to the lullaby he'd sung to Xion. It's as if the lyrics have been, rephrased to have new meaning, and it practically spells out the entire story of Roxas. That's why Xemnas had acted so crazy. Roxas remembers, Demyx had sung him that song when he was little. Now the words have been branded into Roxas brain without much purpose or meaning, but now, he uses it remind him of who the enemy really is.

Some members have grown tiresome of Xemnas' game, so there's room for forgiveness. Demyx, Axel, Luxord. The others will pay. But not in the way one would think. Xemnas has no feeling. He can find new men. To ruin him, the reputation must suffer. Roxas will kill the members, tarnish Xemnas' reputation, his pride. Then Roxas will flee off to the woods with the remaining survivors.

Then there's Sora.

Roxas saw the memories, added up the facts. It all adds up.

He's telling the truth.

So what could it be that makes Roxas feel like he's lying? Could be his natural instincts that Xemnas has taught him since a young age? His nature to not trust anyone in general? Or is it all just too much to handle? Sora would never lie, and he seemed to be begging Roxas to believe him. And with Axel to affirm his reasoning with magic, what could it be?

Perhaps it's the idea of Roxas straying from the life he's always known for something new, but what he's mean to have. He's grown used to the habit of hunting for food and trading at the market. Despite the nights he would go to bed with an empty stomach, it's given him something to do and taught him how to be independent. It's made him who he is, despite the dark secrets repressed within. And sticking with the shadows has helped him with stalking prey – human or animal – and pickpocketing has granted him more than enough coin. How could he just abandon it? And then there's his criminal past. No doubt Roxas is through with Xemnas and his cruel retributions, but he too has killed enough people to deserve to be executed, and no doubt there's a bounty on his head despite the kingdoms holding all crimes separate. He may be safe in the Twilight Kingdom, but if he were to set foot in Hollow Bastion, they'd cut it off. The king's influence could only go so far in political disputes.

"I thought I'd find you here." Axel's voice speaks.

Roxas jolts up and finds him standing in the doorway of the treehouse. He has one arm resting on the frame, the other in the pocket of his trousers. Roxas almost wants to forbid him from stepping over the threshold, but at the same time, he wants Axel's comfort. He wants someone.

"I think I finally understand what it means to be lost." Roxas says softly.

Axel takes a cautious step through, then treks toward Roxas. "It's a lot to take in, I know." Axel goes to pat Roxas' knee, but he stops himself. "Listen, I want to talk to you. It's okay if you don't want to respond, but I need to know you're listening." Axel says quietly, and waits.

Roxas takes a deep breath and exhales quietly through his mouth. He rests his chin on his knees and looks at Axel in the eye. If Axel was there, and he didn't kill Sora the moment he found out he was an assassin, he must be helping, or wants to help Sora expose the truth. He's earned this. Axel crouches down to Roxas' level.

"I'm sorry. I've known the truth, obviously since the moment you were brought into this family. And I understand and deserve to have you mad at me. After all we've been through and I've kept this from you. But please, I ask that you find it in your heart to forgive me. I've wanted to tell you, since you've hit your teen years. To watch you grow, it was, bittersweet. I mean, you're such a strong and independent man, with the stubbornness of a bull." Axel laughs and Roxas chuckles quietly along. "Yet, for me to know that you're a prince, and you're living like this, under so many lies, and calling that, cutthroat your father -" Axel chokes and Roxas watches him swallow. "Please just know, I'm sorry."

There's a moment of unnerving silence before Roxas licks his lips and speaks. "I do understand why you couldn't tell me. And I won't just throw away, what we have because of that. You wanted to tell me. You're overall intentions were good. And that's what matters."

Axel looks to him and his eyes gleam. Tears. They don't spill over, but Roxas almost smiles at how relieved Axel appears to know that Roxas forgives him. Roxas forces himself to stand and he shakes out his knees, and leans into the corner, arms folded.

"So what do we do now?" Roxas asks.

"I was going to ask you the same thing. Now that you know, you can leave." Axel says.

"It's not that simple." Roxas counters. "Xemnas will find me. Then there's the crimes I've committed, and then Xion. I can't leave her there. We need to get her out-!"

"And we will!" Axel calms. He grabs Roxas' shoulders and forces him to look. "We will get her out, and anyone else whom you feel deserves compensation."

Roxas sniffles and wipes his nose with his sleeve. He felt so stupid so young.

"I'm an embarrassment." He says.

"No," Axel says, tightening his grip on Roxas' shoulders. His whole face seems to lag, a little, as if he has dropped a layer of armor from his flesh. "Listen to me, Roxas." Roxas cringes at his sudden change of name. "Xemnas it trying to raise you to be something terrible. He'll deny you everything, even his love to make you into what he wants. Do you know what that is?"

Roxas almost denies it, but he remembers what Luxord has always said: any question that's asked, Roxas should already know the answer to. And Roxas did know the answer. It terrifies him more than anything.

"A killer." Roxas says, his voice a whisper.

"The perfect killer." Axel gently corrected. "He'll starve you of love, affection, friends, faith . . . everything but the blade and the shadows. He'll force you to bury and numb all emotions until you're made of stone."

Roxas sniffs and rubs his nose against his sleeve.

"One day Xemnas will place you at the edge of a cliff. Stories have spread about you. How you killed when you were but a child. You can jump down that ravine, or you can stand tall and refuse him."

Roxas doesn't want to be the one to walk away, yet he can't bear the thought of one more day in that place.

"I know what happens to people who refuse Xemnas." Roxas says. "They die."

Axel surprisingly smiles. "We all die, Roxas. The question is, who are we when we do?"

Roxas' fingers finds the four-pointed star. His mind flashes back to all the kills he made. How he must've looked, how he must've seemed. Cold. Fierce. Empty. Roxas squeezes his eyes shut and steps closer to Axel, resting his cheek against his chest.

"The world is harsh, Roxas." Axel says, resting his lips on the crown of Roxas' head.

"How cruel a world," Roxas murmurs. Axel feels him tense. "But I won't be its cruelty. Not anymore."

Axel looks to Roxas, seeing his resolve and courage Axel knew without a doubt that he believes him. Axel leans down and touches his lips to Roxas'. Their gentle pressure erases the past few weeks, and Roxas is the boy who sat with Axel in his room, next to the fireplace, with the flames acquiring warmth for his chilling skin, and Axel kissed for the first time. Roxas is the boy who allowed Axel's love in because he wanted to.

Roxas pulls back, his hand on Axel's chest to keep him away. The problem is, he is also the boy who has claimed many lives. And none of it for the right of justice; and who was the one to use Sora's friendship as an opportunity to strike down the King and a thousand other things besides. And Roxas can't erase those things.

"I deserve justice." Roxas doesn't look to Axel. He stares at Axel's shirt between his fingers and Axel's collarbone, but he doesn't look at Axel's face. "Vengeance for all the families of who's loved ones I claimed. I deserve it."

"And what about the King? Sora." Axel states.

"He would be fine. Not at first, but him, and you, would move on. No one would miss me."

"That's a lie. It's not true. I would." Axel says, before he kisses Roxas again.

This is wrong. It's wrong for Roxas to forget who he has become, and to let Axel kiss him when he knows his life's at risk.

But Roxas wants to. Oh, he wants to.

Roxas stands on his tiptoes and wraps his arms around Axel. He presses one hand between Axel's shoulder blades and curls the other one around the back of his neck. Roxas can feel Axel's breaths against his palm, his body expanding and contracting, and Roxas knows he's strong, steady, unstoppable. All things Roxas needs to be, but he is not. He is not.

Axel walks backwards, pulling Roxas with him so Roxas stumbles right out of his shoes. Axel sits on a stool and drags Roxas forward so his legs straddle Axel's lap, and they're finally eye to eye.

Axel touches Roxas' face, covering his cheeks with his hands, sliding his fingertips down Roxas' neck, fitting his fingers to the slight curve of Roxas' hips.

Roxas can't stop.

Roxas fits his mouth to Axel's, and he tastes like faded mint and smells like fresh air. Roxas whimpers as Axel's tongue flicks the tip of his. Roxas drags his hand from Axel's neck to the small of his back, and puts it under his shirt. Axel kisses him harder.

Roxas knew he was strong; he didn't know how strong until he felt it himself, the muscles in Axel's back tightening beneath Roxas' fingers. Suddenly it's as if they're in a hurry, Axel's fingertips brushing Roxas' side under his shirt, Roxas' hands clutching at Axel, struggling closer but there is no closer. Roxas has never longed for someone this way, or this much.

Axel pulls back just enough to look Roxas in the eyes, his own eyelids lowered.

"Promise me," he whispers. "that you'll go. For me. Do this one thing for me."

Could Roxas do that? Could he leave that prison cell of a home, fix things with Sora, and live happily ever after? Looking up at Axel, Roxas believes for a moment that he could. And then he sees Luxord. The icy feeling of his skin. The bubbles of blood in his mouth. The body with blood blossoms blooming on it.

Do this one thing for me. Axel's dark eyes plead with Roxas.

As if chains bound to his heart have just been unlocked, Roxas feels a thump in his chest as he takes a breath. "Okay."

"Promise." Axel says, yearning.

It would be nice to leave everyone behind. Become someone new, and forget about Jesse. Roxas likes the idea of not being, him anymore. Though he can never wash the blood from his hands, Roxas can still push through. The thump becomes a release of weight. Slowly it spreads everywhere until Roxas can feel his shoulders lifting, and his body feeling so light he feels he might drift away. Noting can hold him.

Roxas places his hands on Axel's cheeks. For his whole life, Roxas has learned to numb the pain of emotions; until he's made of stone. To devoid himself of all feelings, and bits of his sanity; but Axel, Axel showed him something else. Something beautiful. Something to fill the void and make up for all of those missing pieces of him. A dream within the nightmare. Whenever he's around, Roxas can't fight it. Axel gets under his skin in a way that Roxas likes. He broke through all of Roxas' confusion. The ups and the downs and he still didn't leave. Even when Roxas doesn't love himself, Axel will. He won't give up on Roxas. He can see something nobody else can, not even Roxas.

He deserves this.

"I promise."

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