Disclaimer: Not mine.

Summary: Before Axel and his band of quirky deviants became MTV and Billboard staples, he was half the equation. Roxas, the other half, left the familiar math of him plus everyone's favorite redhead in the distant past. Oh, the pitfalls of fame and teenage fascination. AkuRoku for Valentine's Day 2013.

Answer Key: 1.) the return of the repressed, 2.) the death of dreamers, 3.) the im/perfection of memory and its inevitable ruin.

Rating: T

Warning: Swear words. Quite tame these days, huh?

A/N: I haven't done the usual agonizing and painstaking edits that typify my work. This was more just writing for writing's sake. For fun, before all the other shit got in the way. There are some quotes from things peppered in here and there; spot them and I will give you a prize. I hope this Valentine's Day finds you and yours in happy, healthy, non-destructive relationships. I miss you guys.

Simple Math

It was 10:37 a.m. when his phone chirped a dubstep drop that he'd set to be ironic, which did nothing to stop Pence from deciding it sounded like Transformers fighting or fucking. Holding the phone to his ear, he mumbled something that approached a standard greeting.

"'Lo," Roxas croaked, throwing an arm across his eyes. The soothing darkness found in the crook of his arm lulled him back into momentary slumber.


Roxas wasn't sure if Pence was shouting or the perceived decibel had something to do with all that SKYY he'd been guzzling last night. The bottle, apparently, matched his eyes.

"Time's it?" Roxas whispered, kicking around in his sheets for something to eat or drink. There were Triscuits somewhere on this goddamned bed, he just knew it.


"Stop shouting," Roxas groaned, abandoning the arm blindfold to scratch experimentally at his sack. Dry, which was a good sign. Sniffing his hand, Roxas felt sure that he hadn't plundered the depths of any strange crevasses during last night's bender.


Indeed, Roxas couldn't believe Q's allowed any washed-up has-beens to grace their spit-soaked stage.

"No," he said. "I don't believe you." Pulling another cigarette from Pence's pack, Roxas surveyed the coffee-sipping squares around him. How did the cushions on these chairs stay so clean when they were outside all the time? And they were never damp. Maybe some moisture repellant. Treated fabric, maybe…

"Earth to Roxas, this is a very peaceful planet." Pence waved his hand agonizingly fast in front of Roxas' face.

"Yes. I'm present in this conversation, fuck, stop doing that."

"You're so touchy this morning. I told you that you should've banged that chick with the plugs. If you'd just taken my word for it and those banana condoms I slipped you, you'd be in fine, ex-sabotaging form this morning."

"First," Roxas said, pulling deeply from his cigarette, "Axel's band isn't playing Q's. They're on 'indefinite hiatus' or whatever. And second," another pull that made his fingers shake, "he's not worth the time, and I don't do petty shit like sabotage."

"Sabotage isn't petty," Pence frowned, affronted. "And, for the tenth time, yes they are. Dude, tickets sold out in like twelve seconds. I'm friends with the promoter." Roxas grumbled about Pence being friends with everyone. "Yeah, well, he said they sold out quicker than free beer. Or sex. It's real. It's happening."

Axel and his band of mischief-makers, A Merry Chase, received marginal acclaim and obnoxious bragging rights after 30 seconds of an instrumental bridge made it into a Vicks commercial a couple years ago. As if anyone would cream their panties over a Vicks commercial. Turns out, MTV execs regularly creamed their panties over topical analgesics and threw A Merry Chase's "Princess Buttercup Is My Dream Girl" into moderate rotation. A couple turns on TRL at varying positions in the countdown, and Axel went from "annoying dude I sorta hooked up with a couple times in my treehouse" to "annoying dude from that band, yeah we sorta hooked up, god, how'd you get my Twitter name?" Band whores, groupies, well-wishers and all sorts of unsavory types came out of the woodwork, bothering Roxas for the barest smidgen of information about Axel, Demyx, Zexion, or anyone in the band. As if somehow knowing that Zexion was a vegetarian would create a form of intimacy between a complete stranger and some random dude Roxas had known for years.

It was mostly, Axel, though. That nervous, stuttering charm worked universally, apparently. New "friends" who never mentioned Axel by name, but who were always curiously obsessed with Roxas' high school and college days (read: days when he'd dated a certain famous musician). Who needed friends when you had friends like his? Errantly mentioning that Axel once took him to this drive-in theatre that, assuming you hid your car well enough in the trees on the hill overlooking the lot, you could watch random films for free. Finding it plastered all over Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr the next day like he'd posted it himself. Waking up to a text from Axel, the first in a year and half, saying, "Loose lips sink ships, you fucking shark."

It's a good thing tickets were sold out. If he came face to face with Axel, he might punch him in his goddamned face.

As it turned out, tickets weren't too hard for Pence to beg and con his way into securing. Despite dropping Roxas' name at will call (the kid in the booth flipping two pages of bolded names while rolling his eyes all over the place before giving Roxas a headshake and a smirk) and telling three scalpers selling tickets for triple the face value to go fuck themselves, Pence manned up and dialed the promoter, begged for tickets and promised a bag of medical grade weed. One shady connection later and they were holed up in the VIP balcony. Very Insipid People. Sure, Roxas might stare daggers at Axel from on high, but at least he felt something; he didn't understand why people this bored showed up places they didn't want to be.

"Are you social networking?" Roxas asked the bored blonde at his right. The seven dollar plastic cup of cranberry and pitiful well vodka with a twist of lime caught all the light in the dim overhang.

"Clever," the girl said, sipping her drink and clicking her nails around her phone.

Before he could think of something actually clever to say, Pence elbowed him excitedly as the stage lights dimmed. A trickle of anticipation dropped off the tip of his uvula, exploding into something searing in his stomach as the band took the stage.

Demyx looked a little skinnier; there was a point when Roxas was sure eating an apple would go straight to the kid's hips. Zexion's hair was shorter. The other guitarist, the one Roxas didn't know and whose name he always forgot, looked like he'd just kicked a heroin addiction. And then there was Axel.


Time had tempered his once violently erect mohawk into a field of subdued liberty spikes. Still vividly red to the roots, still that frenetic craze in his eyes as he spun in circles, shouted his gang vocals and babbled between songs by approaching the mic shyly and putting his lips right against it. Those stuttered, softly kissed words. Roxas couldn't stop thinking about how the bass was a natural phallic extension—his long, veined hands sliding up and down the neck, fingers imploring, coaxing.

"I can see your toner through those jeans," Pence shouted near his ear.

"Don't quote teen chick flicks at me," Roxas said, crossing his arms.

"Just sayin'," Pence shouted, shrugging. A strange juxtaposition, the shouted shrug. A shrug was such a quiet gesture, graceful. Axel was a master shrugger. Shrugging off the failing Stats grade their second year of community college. Shrugging off the $348 red light ticket he got for cutting a corner to get to the 10:25 showing of Lord of the Rings. Shrugging off Roxas' claims that they never had anything to say to each other. And now here he was, shouting on stage, gyrating in front of the salivating masses. Loud hair, loudmouth, loud to the hips, to the teeth.

"I had this significant other a couple years back," Axel kissed into the microphone during a lull between songs where the band toweled off and guzzled water, insistent fans pointing for picks to seal away into scrapbooks or slather thickly over their Facebook walls. A mixture of boos and awws through the crowd at the mention of a relationship. "He's the one that got away. This one's about him."

Pence turned to Roxas with his jaw comically dropped. Roxas felt his cheeks color, fought the urge to bury his face in his hands. Axel didn't sing the words, but it was embarrassingly clear that his name hung on each and every syllable coming from Demyx's mouth. A description of his skin, his once-fat calves, the "sky with an extra y" eyes, the treehouse trysts. It wasn't a good song; the chorus jumbled up against the verses like messy limbs entwined in a backseat, drive-in screen casting flickering shadows over hands shaking with laughter and desire. There were too many words, too much history to force into four minutes. Too many imperfections to make perfect with melody.

"I'm gunna be sick," Roxas whispered to the sweating, screaming room.

"THIS SONG ROCKS!" Pence shouted near his ear. He appeared to be the only person on the entire balcony enjoying the show.

In the end it was Pence who set up their little play date. That's how Axel referred to it, smiling with his mouth and welcoming Roxas to their "play date." They were back at the café with outdoor, damp-resistant seating. Pence mentioned it looked like an exterior scene on The Hills.

"So," Axel began, surveying him over his clasped hands like a big shot director appraising a starlet. "Heard you were at the show." Roxas shrugged. How about a taste of your own indifferent medicine, motherfucker? How 'bout that? "Didn't think you were a fan."

"I'm not," Roxas said, eyeing the table for a pack of cigarettes; it was a nervous habit that he'd once picked up from Axel himself. So many firsts with him, so many memories that the air felt saturated around them, dense with nostalgia and déjà vu.

As if he could track Roxas' eye movements, Axel said, "So I quit smoking." That was a trait all his own, starting about eight out of every ten sentences with the word "so." Conversational interjection, flowing seamlessly from the opening credits to the in media res ironic indie script. It was forever Axel's obsession, Tarantino and Woody Allen films that had entirely too much talking, but Roxas sat through them anyway. Tried to love too much talking, tried to quote them back word for clever word just to make Axel smile. What a goddamn ass kisser he'd been.

"Good job," Roxas said, intent on being difficult.

Axel's mouth quirked. "You're just as prickly as I remember you. My little porky pine."

"Haha," Roxas frowned, unwanted memories crawling up out of the caves he'd banished them to. Fifteen and thumbing through the pages of a book on baby animals while they killed time at Borders before catching a show. "Hey, Ax," he'd said, pointing to the spiky, cute baby animal. "I want a porky pine when I grow up." Axel spent three minutes laughing, staggering around and beating the shelves with his fists. POR-CU-PINE. Roxas had been aghast, turning near purple with embarrassment until Axel quieted and stared at him with level certainty.

"I love you," he'd said then, easy smile tugging up the corners of his lips. We hold these truths to be self-evident. It hadn't been so muddled with implication then, just a simple declaration between friends. It was later, after drinking and their each respective bad break-ups, after falling down a flight of stairs because of too much Bud Light. Later, after laughing weakly with his friend turned best friend turned boyfriend turned frenemy turned hometown hero turned America's sweetheart. For too many years their simple math was the first solvable equation in a life of uncertainties and unknowns. Axel + Roxas = X where X is the sum total of teenage fascination and college exploration. Where X is the one that got away. X is your favorite mistake. X is an old habit you never learned to quit.

"We were good together, weren't we," Axel said, not a question, as he traced the edge of his coffee mug. The real Hills-eque places didn't have disposable coffee cups; they had heavy ceramic mugs with thick handles, the authentic sleeping in the heart of artifice. It was a juxtaposition that was supposed to be quirky, supposed to be the attraction of drinking overpriced caffeine.

"Not really," Roxas said. They'd fought too much, fucked too much, and said too little. Normal couples didn't spend all day in bed smoking and watching movies on their laptops.

"You must remember it differently than I do," Axel said, looking away into the street, watching a hot model-type strut by with shorts wedged so far up the cleft of her ass that Roxas wanted to jog up to her and pick it out.

"I remember when you broke the kitchen table in two because I said I didn't want to go to the movies with you."

To his merit, Axel didn't shrug. "That was the end. We had a beginning and a middle. I didn't break any tables then."

"People change," Roxas shrugged. He contemplated picking up the half-smoked stub on the ground and re-frying it.

"The first time we hung out on a day that ended with us in bed, I took you to Q's for a game of pool and PBRs." Axel fished around in his pocket for a quick minute and pulled out a pack of Benson and Hedges. The pack was unopened, the boombox-embellished Zippo that accompanied it a gift Roxas had given him once upon a time. Once upon a time in a treehouse far, far away. "The day we broke up it was over a pool table at Q's. You tossed your PBR in my face." Packing the cigarettes with a couple quick pats, Axel unwrapped the pack and lit one up with an ease that bordered on artistry, handing it to Roxas. "People don't change so much as they stay the same."

Where had they gone wrong, then? How could they ever begin charting their trajectories, mapping the blueprints of their demise? They talked too much, then not at all. The films did all the talking for them, parroting back lines of dialogue until their origins were lost. (Art imitates life imitates art imitates life. Which came first: the music or the misery?) They grew up, grew apart, got bitter. Though, sitting here now, smoking a cigarette Axel had bought just for him, it didn't feel too bad. It felt familiar in some forgotten way, the lines Axel made against the oncoming traffic of window-shoppers and latte-sippers sailing over his shoulder. Did Roxas hate him? No, not exactly. Hate was too simple a word for the twisted, undulating thing Roxas felt for him. Love and hate, after all, are not even close to being opposites. Roxas didn't think he'd ever stopped loving someone. Not once. Isn't that what love meant? Love meant forever, and those were Axel's words that Demyx crooned last night. You make me believe in forever, you make me believe in forever, boy with eyes like the sky. Maybe it wasn't such a bad song. It was kinda nice. If you liked all that sappy lovey-dovey stuff.

"Yeah," Roxas said. "I remember. I remember I never liked PBR and we always had it in the apartment because it was cheap and you thought it was cool."

Axel smiled wryly. "You want to talk about posers? Alright, how's that dubstep career of yours going?"

"I was trying to be ironic," Roxas said in his best exasperated voice.

"It's not ironic if every hipster from here to Williamsburg is doing it, babe." Roxas was pretty sure Axel paled as soon as the word "babe" left his mouth. Old habits never die so much as they wait for the opportune moment to rise up like vampires in the night and suck your unsuspecting blood. "My bad."

As fate would have it, Roxas' phone chose this exact moment to chirp its set dubstep drop, wob wob wobbling in time with Axel's laughter. "Keep laughing, Chuckles," Roxas rolled his eyes, silencing Pence's call. Probably checking to see if there'd been a murder-suicide yet. "So," he began, Axel smiling at his affected speech, "is A Merry Chase a thing again?"

"A Merry Chase has always been a thing." It's funny how, all these years later, he could still be undone by that easy smile.

"You know what I mean. Are you back in the city now? L.A. not working out for you?" It was Roxas' way of sugarcoating the band's decline and Axel's paparazzi publicized "private" life. And there was a baby somewhere. He must be old now, no longer a baby or toddler, but an actual little human being. An actual human being Axel made with some kohl-eyed songstress turned actress turned has-been just like him. Roxas had always wondered if Axel would invite him to the wedding, should he ever have one. He thought about it in a sterile, hospital-room sort of way, emotions left in the waiting room. Maybe he will invite me to the wedding, that's exactly how he'd thought it when he caught the headline while buying a carton of 2% milk at the market on the corner of South and Main, Axel's hand in a cropped photo clutching some frail thing. Axel's long, veined artist's fingers wound around hot pink cheetah nails. It had been nauseating then, the headline blinding, "AND BABY MAKES THREE!"

"I'm trying to sell the house out there," Axel said cryptically. "Haven't you heard? The big one's coming. California's gunna fall into the sea."

"I guess," Roxas said. Was this his way of dodging the question?

"But for real, things weren't working out. Aren't. I've got… a lot of shit to fix," Axel said, staring at him intently.

"Are you speaking in code?" Roxas nervously pulled another cigarette from the pack.

"Are you?"

"You have a fucking kid, Axel," Roxas blurted.

"Technically, we never proved that he was in fact—" Axel said, raising his hands and shrugging his goddamn shoulders.

"He's got your fucking nose, your fucking mouth, your whole fucking jawline."

"Ok, ok, so I've got a kid. I didn't marry N—"

"Don't say her name," Roxas hissed, as if its utterance would draw the demon into their midst.

"It was a thing, it ended with a kid. We realized that wasn't a life we wanted together, and now I have a sweet little dude who hangs out with me every other weekend." Roxas inhaled deeply, shuddering. "It only seems like a big deal. It's not. I mean, it is, but…" he paused, reaching for the pack of cigarettes as if to pull one before thinking twice, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Please don't judge me. I know I have a lot of nerve coming here to ask you that. He's a good little dude." A glace upward, meeting Roxas' eyes. The vulnerability there, the hope, took Roxas' breath away. "He reminds me of you. He might have my nose, mouth, and jaw, but he has her hair. Her eyes. He reminds me of you every fucking day, dude."

Roxas breathed in. Breathed out. People had no business just waltzing back into your life with a song and a kid. People had no business up and getting famous and departing your life like page turned onto blankness where it's clear the book goes on, but you've been written out of the story. So many blank pages past, an entire empire of silence.

"Please," Axel said. Not a question.

"I don't know what you're asking me." Axel opened his mouth to say something insane, so Roxas cut him off. "Don't. Don't, Axel. Don't tell me you want to be my fucking friend. I have enough friends. I can't be your friend. I haven't been able to be your friend since we were fifteen and I told you I wanted a porky pine. I meant I wanted a porky pine in the house we would have someday, between the beach and some trees, full of lots of guitars and surfboards and records." Some time between when Roxas started and stopped speaking, Axel had lit a cigarette, taking small puffs and blowing them up toward the sky, a silent offering. They were so dramatic on their reality T.V. location with their now cold lattes in real, authentic mugs. What was real anymore? Where did America's sweetheart end and his Axel begin? That skinny, soft denim and distressed V-neck, were those his Axel? Falling liberty spikes, loud and quiet all at once?

Axel leaned forward, the chair creaking with the shift of his weight. He reached a hand out to Roxas' face and the world stilled. Drawing him across the table, Axel kissed him with certainty, tongue parting his lips with a confidence that toed the line between arrogance and humility. Not a question.

"I have missed you for a thousand days. I'll admit, there was a time when bright lights and video cameras and soundstages took the place of everything we had here, but after Trouble came along, it was you. Where you were, who you were with. If you were happy. It's not because he looks like you or because she reminded me of you in the first place. It's not because I didn't want that life and I regretted losing this one. It was just you. I forgot, then I remembered, and I can't believe I ever thought I could settle for second best."

Roxas smiled, fingers aching in Axel's white-knuckled grip. "I'm your first best?"

"No shit. The song I wrote for you is called 'First Best.' Thought it was pretty obvious last night."

Roxas stood up abruptly, stubbing out his cigarette. "I don't want to talk about last night." Axel's face fell like cliffsides giving way, the entire west coast sinking into the Pacific. Roxas shook his head. So easily defeated now, like he expected Roxas to just walk away. Couldn't he do simple math? Axel + Roxas = X where X is the final piece of the puzzle. X is finding new ways to satisfy old habits, which are the fucking best habits. X is the solution to simple math; X is forever. Grabbing Axel's hand and tugging him up from the damp-resistant chair, Roxas licked a wet stripe up Axel's neck. "I want to talk about tonight."