It wasn't always easy to find Roxas. The boy could throw a sulk like no one else, and when he was in a bad mood, tended to want to wander off, rather than be bothered.
The first places Axel would check would always be by a beach. Roxas had an affinity for the surf – not so much for the sunshine, or the people, or even the way the ocean sparkled in the sunlight, but the way it rolled with the power of the wind, the noise of waves crashing onto the shore.
Now, of course, it would be impossible. Roxas doesn't exist, Roxas is a collected bundle of memories belonging to other people, something tainted with the existence of happy-go-lucky Sora, a burden to those who knew the brown-haired boy. Axel's heartless body is filled up with idea of Roxas, the taste of him, the sound of his breath, the way he stood when he was so angry with the world and didn't know why.
He stands on the shore, watching the waves crash in, ignoring the cold, ignoring the whip of sand-filled wind against his face, squinting off into the distance like he could just bring Roxas back if he could see beyond the horizon.
Rain begins to fall.
Axel has always been a chronic complainer, running his mouth off when staying silent would have been a better option, but now he is tight-lipped, not even daring to rage at the rain. He feels that if he began to complain, protest, cry, scream, he would never be able to stop. Instead, he lets the wind drown out what little noise he does make, and pretends the tears are rain.
The surf is slate-grey, vicious looking, whirling sand into the crest and throwing it down again, rejecting that which is unnecessary. Axel wonders if Sora ever allows himself to step out onto a beach, to stare at the surf the way Roxas would want to, to enjoy the harshness of the weather against his skin.
He still feels it, at the very edge where his skin becomes air, that touch, that head on his shoulder, that arm around his waist, and it takes every inch of willpower he has no to lean into that caress. It is not real, he reminds himself, it's only muscle memory. It will never be real again, and to many, it never was real. To Sora, to Riku, it is but a memory of a horrible time when they were separated, a time when old memories were suppressed, not when new memories were made.
He is left in pieces whilst they are whole, and he doesn't even know if he could ever go back to being who he was. He doesn't know if his heart could ever feel for Sora's heart, but he knows that he can not. There is no place in his life for a bundle of sunshine, and no place between Sora and Riku that he would ever wish to step into.
He is waist deep before the cold really hits him, surf slapping into skin and bones, a nothing, a nobody, simply a carrier for something which might once have been whole. He tells himself not to feel it, and continues on, chest deep in chilling water, and remembers it cools you five times faster than air. Roxas told him that, skulking at the edge on a sunlit beach, refusing to join in, with a glint in his eye which said he could be persuaded. He always wore that same expression, the same little scowl, snarl, a pup telling the world to back off, because one day, when he was grown, he'd go after each and every one who had hurt him. But underneath it, for those who cared to look, there was a deep affection, this intangible love which forced its way through what would be considered a dead shell. He loved with something akin to the way Sora smiles, and Axel didn't know it was possible for someone else's happiness to hurt that much.
The goosebumps and the shivers which rise are a clear indication that he should not be here, that he should leave whilst he can, to prevent himself freezing to the core. He wonders if it's too late, and if the flame that was his passion is dead, or weakened somehow by the loss of the one it burns for. He supposes flame doesn't know, or care.
When he comes to, he is lying on the beach, and the curve of that face is so welcome, so familiar, that he almost ignores the dark hair, and the way the lips curve slightly upwards, even in their worried state. He almost reaches out, and smiles, and it isn't until his teeth bit into his lip that he remembers.
It is not Roxas.
It will never be Roxas again.
He shies away from the hand offered to him and stares at Sora, no idea how the kid found him, and stares at Riku, standing out of the way.
"You idiot! Were you trying to get yourself killed?" Sora shouts, and that tone is just perfect, so fucking perfect, that Axel has to shut it out, or risk losing it all together. "How do you think I would have felt, if I'd found you dead, washed up on a beach? How do you think –"
His hand moves before he anticipates it, and the ringing slap has Riku between the two of them, hackles up, snarling. There is something terribly inhuman in that, and Axel snarls back, not above getting into a scrap over something he already feels remorse for, but Sora shoulders his friend (lover) aside, and holds out a hand again.
"You don't get to tell me how he would feel." Axel rasps out against the salt-dry burn of his throat.
"I'm the only one who can possibly know."
Axel shakes his head, sand slipping out of his hair, and drags himself to his feet, stalking away from the happy pair, Riku's hand on Sora's shoulder, holding him back.
"You're so fucking selfish!" Sora screams after him, but he doesn't dare turn around.
He doesn't know if he'd go running back to stay, or just to punch the face which is so like his, so alike, and yet so wrong.
He finds another spot, away, cold, wet, shivery, and tucks himself out of the wind, head between his knees, and ragged sobs the only sound above the whispering of the wind. Even the wind sounds like Roxas, and he can still hear Sora fighting with Riku, further down the beach, over what to do with him.
Axel wishes they could make up their minds, because he knows he has no idea what to do with himself, other than step into cold, dark water and hope that, somewhere, Roxas is waiting to give him bruises for being stupid, and look at him with those too-blue eyes and swear he isn't going anywhere. But that's as ridiculous an idea as suggesting Sora remembers Roxas, and remembers what it was like to be him.
The two voices quieten down, and then vanish, and Axel checks briefly. They have gone. Whether they were there at all is debatable, he considers, leaning into the warm pressure on his left side, where Roxas would be, can't be, would be.
It takes a while, but he eventually realises the truth. No one is coming to get him, no one will come and take him away, and no one will care where he has been when he returns. Loss is a fact, not a feeling, and he has wallowed for longer than has been expected. He has a choice, now, although it is not much of one. The wonder of the water, the cold, forbidding blue-grey, the roar of the waves – he puts it behind him, turning to face the shore. He makes his choice.
One foot in the front of the other, he gets up on his own two feet, and walks. He tells himself that it is only for the moment, but when he closes his eyes against the wind, Roxas whispers.
"You could walk forever."
The saddest fact is not that he would.
It is that he will.