***author’s note: Another long one guys~ Don’t hate me 😇 Also, warning: there’s some language.***
9:33 p.m. | Tower Apartments
After a short walk a few streets down from where they’d run into one another, Axel pauses in front of a building and holds the door open for Aislyn to enter before him. She supposes that if anything, he at least appeared to have been truthful when stating his place was nearby. As they enter, they leave a trail of drops behind them as the rain outside had picked up significantly. Aislyn continues to question her decision to ignore her gut as she trails behind Axel, following him up four flights of stairs.
They come to a stop in front of door 403, and as Axel pulls out a set of keys and pushes one into the lock, Aislyn feels an enormous chill overcome her. She is unable to stop her teeth from chattering and tightens her soaked jacket around her in an attempt to draw warmth. “Are you okay?” Axel asks. Aislyn returns her attention to him to see that he is eyeing her with concern. She finds herself more and more puzzled by Axel’s conflicting words and actions, but nods at him regardless. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She says. The chill in the air disappears as quickly as it had arrived, and Aislyn assumes there’s a ghost that must’ve been wandering in the vicinity.
Axel returns his focus to the door and swings it open, “Welcome to our humble abode.” He says. Aislyn follows him in and is surprised at the coordination and neatness of the interior. Axel peels off his jacket that had clung to his skin due to the outside storm, and drops it into a chair before walking down the hall into a room. Aislyn remains in place unsure of what to do, growing concerned at the pool she was forming on the living room floor.
Axel returns with a sweater in hand. “Here.” He says, holding it out to her. “It’s my roommate’s.” He says in explanation. “She’s out at the moment, but trust me, she won’t mind. You should probably get out of that.” Axel says, eyeing her dripping jacket as he does so. “Right.” Aislyn says. “The bathroom’s over there.” Axel tilts his head towards a door behind him. “Thank you.” Aislyn says. Despite her reservations about Axel, she couldn’t help but give him a genuine smile. To her immense surprise, he breaks the brief eye contact they share, and Aislyn is fairly certain she sees a slight blush form underneath his skin. “It’s nothing.” He says.
Aislyn enters the bathroom and hangs her clothes behind the door. She pulls on the sweater Axel has given her and takes a moment to gaze at her reflection. What are you doing, Aislyn? She thinks. She was miles away from home, late at night, with someone she barely knew and was certain disliked her, and yet, her desire to delve into the kind of person Axel was trumped all of that. She decides that by the night’s end, her goal is to get some kind of explanation for his continuously odd behavior around her, or at the very least, understand him a tad better.
Aislyn steels herself for whatever the progression of the evening shall hold and exits the bathroom. She sees Axel on the couch, flicking aimlessly through TV channels. When he notices her, he directs his attention to the clock embedded in the security system by the door. 8:07 it reads with a navy glow. “Not sure how long it’ll be until this storm passes.” Axel turns back to look at her, and Aislyn notices the hair he normally tied up is hanging loosely on his shoulders. “I’m guessing you won’t make the last bus.” As if on cue, another crack of thunder rings through the air, and the rain pounding on the window outside grows in intensity.
“I can drop you off once the weather clears.” Axel says nonchalantly. “I’d appreciate that.” Aislyn remains rooted in place, unsure of what to say or do next. Thankfully, she’s not left wondering for long. “You hungry?” Axel doesn’t wait for her to answer as he rises from the couch and makes his way towards the kitchen. “I could eat; it’s been a few hours since my last meal.” “Alright then, how do you feel about soup?” “I’m not particularly picky.” Aislyn slips into a seat at the dining table, and stares at Axel’s back as he works. She could make out the faintest hint of a prevalent tattoo, or several, that appeared to be on his torso through his tank top. “Is there anything you can’t eat?” Axel asks over his shoulder. “No.” Aislyn answers.
His casual questions only serve to make Aislyn feel increasingly irritated as opposed to touched at his concern. Surely she wasn’t imagining his behavior for these past few weeks. After a few moments of silence, Aislyn is surprised at her own impatience as her burning questions escape her lips. “Why are you being so nice? Don’t you hate me?” She asks. Within seconds she can feel the heat rising to her face. Axel pauses his rummaging through his kitchen drawer and Aislyn feels her pulse quicken. “I don’t hate you.” He answers.
“Oh, yeah? Then why can you barely stand to look me in the eyes for more than a few seconds at a time? Why do you turn the other way whenever I come near? And why do you look so… tense?” Axel sighs, and Aislyn can’t help but notice he refrains from turning to her. “Remember when we first met, in the library?” “How could I forget? You made quite an impression.” Axel’s shoulders shake as he chuckles. “Right. Well, I thought…” He pauses to take a deep breath. “…I could’ve sworn you were a friend of mine, from a very long time ago.” “Tris?” Aislyn guesses, edging him to continue. “Yeah, it’s kind of a long and odd story.” “I’ve got time.” Aislyn says, she wasn’t planning on letting Axel off the hook when she was this close to getting her answers.
“Okay then.” Axel turns around to lean on the counter, and for the first time he meets her eyes, with no signs of intending to break away. “We’d met when I was a teenager, maybe around 16 or so. I was… ill, as a child, had to have several surgeries, almost didn’t make it once, and so my parents were quite overprotective of me. They rarely let me leave the house, so I didn’t really have many friends. The fact that I was homeschooled also added to that. It sucked, not gonna lie.” Aislyn nods in understanding thinking back to the latter part of her senior year spent at home with her dad. “I know the feeling.” She says. “Do you?” Axel appears to be surprised at this tidbit she shares, but Aislyn has no intention of letting the conversation turn away. “Hey, we’re discussing you right now, not me. Continue.” She says. Axel grins, “Okay then. Anyway, the farthest they’d let me go unsupervised was the park behind our house. And the only reason why, though they’d never admit it, was because they could easily keep an eye on me from one of the upstairs windows in our home. So I wasn’t ever truly alone.”
Aislyn wasn’t sure what she was expecting but Axel’s revelation of his uptight upbringing definitely wasn’t it. She remains silent as he continues, taking in his words; it was the longest she’d heard him speak uninterrupted. “It wasn’t like I was well enough to play, which may come as a shock considering my appearance now.” Axel pauses to wave an arm over his muscular frame, “But I enjoyed being alone with my thoughts over there… it was nice. A change from the suffocating nature of my family. One day, on my way to my usual spot at the park, I’d met a girl who was crying. To skip over the sappy stuff, I’d joined her, we’d talked, and long story short, she became my first real friend.”
“That sounds sweet.” Aislyn says. “So then what-” “What happened to have made me think that she was you?” Axel guesses, finishing Aislyn’s question for her. “After weeks of hanging out, she just disappeared. She hadn’t shown up to my r- our usual spot, and after days turned into weeks, I grew concerned. I told my parents and they accompanied me down to the police station to see if there was a way to get to the bottom of what happened, but I felt like everyone didn’t take it seriously. They thought it was a case of some kind of unrequited love gone wrong. That I’d professed my love or some shit, and scared her off-” “Did you?” Aislyn is once again surprised at her own impulsiveness.
“No.” Axel says icily, and Aislyn can’t help but notice some of that color from earlier return to his cheeks despite his words. “They were dead wrong. I just wanted to know what happened to my friend, nothing more. It’s the main reason I got into this line of work, since getting to the bottom of things and finding closure is something I never got when it came to the person who was most important to me. Working these cases helps me do that, for the sake of others.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” Aislyn says sincerely. “You’re her spitting image… Seeing you, it kind of dug up that old pain, and I know it sounds fucked up, but looking at you kind of… hurt, it still hurts.” Aislyn detects a vulnerable note in Axel’s voice upon sharing that particular revelation. He is unable to maintain their constant eye contact and turns back to his cooking.
Aislyn could tell Axel’s willingness to discuss the topic further was rapidly disappearing, and figures she’ll ask one last question. “Then who’s Amber?” “Amber?” Axel echoes in confusion. “You mumbled that name when you saw me.” “Oh, I wasn’t saying a name…” Axel says, realizing what she was referring to, “I was commenting on the color of your eyes. They’re unique; I’d say amber is the closest shade to describe them. That’s the only thing about you that’s different from Tris.” “Oh.” Aislyn says. “I have to say I’m curious as to how she looks, we must have quite the resemblance.” “Mmhmm.” Aislyn notices Axel’s shoulder tenses as he says so, causing her to feel slightly uneasy. “I’m going to grab my phone, I haven’t told my family I’d be returning late.” “I’m almost done with this, so make yourself at home in the meantime.” Axel says, as he throws some spices into the pot.
As Aislyn makes her way to the bathroom to retrieve her cell from her jacket, a door slightly ajar grabs her attention. It wasn’t the one Axel had retrieved the sweater from, so she assumes it’s his room and not his housemate’s. Aislyn wasn’t sure why she felt compelled to go in; she supposed it was because, despite Axel’s somewhat shocking revelation of his teenage friend that vanished and their eerie resemblance to one another, Aislyn still couldn’t help but feel there was more to the story.
She glances back at Axel to make sure he’s preoccupied with his cooking and quietly steps in, knowing that doing so was an invasion of privacy, and quite uncharacteristic of her. Aislyn looks around and notices, like the rest of the place, the room is impeccably neat, with lots of black that Aislyn feels is quite on brand for Axel. She notices a series of car enthusiast books on his shelf and a keyboard, which comes as an unexpected, but pleasant surprise as she didn’t peg him as the musical type. She scans the decor around and notices a poster between his windows, a mermaid sitting in a cocktail glass, an amusing pairing. Just as Aislyn thinks that, and the longer she stares at the image, the oddest sensation of déjà vu overcomes her. Where had she seen this before? At a furniture store? A garage sale? As Aislyn racks her brain trying to remember, she experiences a splitting headache and stumbles back at the overwhelming sensation. She trips on Axel’s bed, landing on it rather audibly, and clutches her head in an attempt to make the throbbing subside.
“Hey, when I said make yourself at home, I didn’t actually mean- What’s wrong?” Axel asks as he lays eyes on her. Aislyn is startled at the sound of his voice, but doesn’t have it in her to utter a response due to the pain she’s in. Axel comes to her side and from the corner of her eye, Aislyn notices his hesitation to touch her, as he reaches out and quickly retracts his hand. The distraction his movement provides causes her headache to begin to fade, and she lets out a sigh. “I’m sorry…” She mumbles. “You good?” “Yeah, I’m okay now, I just had a terrible headache out of nowhere.” “You probably need to get something in your system.” He says. “Yeah, probably.” Aislyn glances at the poster once again, and all of the sensations that overcame her moments ago are nowhere to be found. Well, that was odd. She thinks. She notices Axel’s eyes on her and directs her attention back to him.
“Thanks for telling me what you did.” She says, “I know firsthand how delving into the past can be painful. I’m not the best at it myself.” Axel shrugs, “To be fair, the way I’ve been treating you has been pretty crap, and I know that. It’s not your fault you happen to be a walking reminder of that dark time. I promise I won’t react like you’re a ghost going forward.” Aislyn can’t help but laugh at his choice of words. “I’d appreciate that.” She says, and Axel returns her smile. It’s the first genuine one of his she sees; she’s able to notice dimples in his cheeks deepening as he does so. It is Aislyn now who is unable to maintain the eye contact between them and she drops her gaze, letting her eyes drift to her hands in her lap as she feels her face redden.
“Listen, I’m sorry for-” Just as Aislyn begins to apologize for her snooping, she pauses upon realizing Axel doesn’t appear to be listening to her. She turns to look at him and notices he’s staring at the poster that she herself had been staring at prior to the onset of her headache with his eyes darting across it, indicating he was deep in thought. “Axel?” She says, pulling him back. “Sorry… Right, the food’s done; we can go eat.” Axel rises and quickly exits, leaving a slightly confused Aislyn behind him.
The soup Axel makes brings some much needed warmth and Aislyn opts to sit beside him to spare any potential awkwardness that would result from being face to face. Aislyn was worried whatever just transpired between them in the bedroom would revert them back to their relationship prior to their chat, but to her surprise, Axel appears to be as warm as ever. Even more so than he had been when he invited her in. They briefly discuss work between bites, and Aislyn can’t help but notice how relaxed Axel has become, all signs of his previous tension gone.
“You know, you should smile more.” She says once they finish discussing their current cases. “Is that so?” Axel asks with a raised eyebrow. “It makes you appear incredibly less frightening… No offense.” She hastily adds the latter. Aislyn turns to look at him, worried his current pleasantness would disappear at any moment, but Axel only laughs. “Do I scare you?” He asks, amused. “No…” Aislyn says as she tucks some of her loose bangs behind her ear. “I’m only saying you have a nice smile.” “Huh.” Axel says with an expression Aislyn can’t place, “Somehow I don’t believe you, but thanks anyway.” He says. “No problem.” Aislyn says returning to her soup, well aware of the color filling her cheeks. “You have a nice smile, too.” Axel says after a moment. “Thanks…” Aislyn mumbles, and the color in her cheeks grows.
The rest of their dinner breezes by comfortably and the heavy rain outside turns into a light drizzle, indicating it’s safe to head back. Aislyn helps Axel clean up before stepping into the bathroom to change. “You could’ve left the sweater on, Desirée honestly wouldn’t have minded.” Axel’s voice rings out from his room as he rummages through his drawer to put on some clothes. “I have no intention of borrowing from someone I haven’t met, but pass on my gratitude to her.” Aislyn says as she tightens her damp jacket around her. “Will do.” Aislyn can hear the smile in Axel’s voice as he replies.
As she waits by the door, Aislyn notices several sketchbooks sprawled on the desk beside her with Axel’s name written on them. Again, unable to keep her curiosity at bay, she reaches for them. As her hand nearly raises a cover, Aislyn sucks in a breath in surprise as she is pulled back by Axel’s grip on her arm; she hadn’t heard him approach. “Those are private.” He says and Aislyn hastily utters an apology. “I can’t leave you alone for five seconds, can I?” Axel’s expression is unreadable, and Aislyn worries she’s ruined the their relationship’s progress with her insatiable curiosity. “Come on, let’s get you home.”
They ride to her place in silence, and Aislyn suspects she’s definitely made things worse. As they pass the beach minutes away from her home, Aislyn figures she might as well do her best to amend things. “I swear I’m not usually like this.” She says as she turns to Axel. “Like what?” He asks, and to Aislyn’s relief, a hint of a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. “I normally couldn’t care less as to what those around me think of me, or what they’re like, but I have to confess that your extreme avoidance of me made me want to know the kind of person you are… And since we work together I’d rather not have you think I’m-” “Incredibly intrusive?” Axel guesses. “I was going to say too inquisitive, but sure, let’s go with that.” Aislyn says with a grin. “Don’t worry about it. You haven’t ruined my impression of you beyond salvation, yet.” “Yet?” Aislyn echoes with a laugh. “Yet.” Axel repeats firmly, but with a wide smile.
“So we’re cool?” Aislyn asks as Axel comes to a stop in front of her new home. “We’re cool.” Axel answers. Aislyn unbuckles her seatbelt and pauses before exiting. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Does this mean I’ll actually be seeing you tomorrow?”
“You know what, you just might.”
“Good.” Aislyn says. She steps out into the slight drizzle, still processing the fact that she was able to talk with Axel for as long as she had, and finally aware of the reasons behind his behavior. She turns by the door to see that he’s waiting for her to go in, and waves at him before stepping inside.
12:29 a.m. | Aislyn’s Room
Aislyn takes a long bath to organize her thoughts. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting Axel to say prior to going to his place, and she wasn’t entirely certain she trusted him completely, but overall, she felt much better about him and that was enough for her to be content for now. She figured he wouldn’t suddenly be her friend overnight, but they’d made progress, significant progress.
As she enters her room, Aislyn sees J.D. waiting on her bed. “Well well well, look who finally showed up.” He says. She glances at her bedside clock, noticing that it’s well past midnight. “If I didn’t overhear your dad talking to Nicole downstairs, explaining where you were, I’d have gone looking for you myself.” “It’s a long story.” Aislyn says as she climbs into bed.
“And then he dropped me off, and that was it.” Aislyn stretches her legs as she finishes recounting her evening for J.D. His presence beside her, intertwined with her limbs, kept her from growing cold after her bath. “I don’t know if I’m buying it.” J.D. says as he rolls onto his side to look at her. “If he just thought you looked like his friend with the vanishing act, why was he going the extra mile to avoid you? There’s definitely more to the story. Unless he was a theatre student at one point in his life, I don’t see the need for all the theatrics.” “Come on, J.” Aislyn says as she pauses to laugh at his commentary. “As long as I personally haven’t done anything to offend him, I’m fine.” “Yeah, but-” J.D’s concerns are interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Coming.” Aislyn says as she rises to get it. “Hey, kiddo.” Her father says as he enters her doorway. “I heard you talking to someone, did I interrupt a phone call or something?” Some heat rises to Aislyn’s face as she answers, “No, you’re fine.” “Great! Mind if I come in?” “Of course not.” Aislyn says as she pulls back the door to let him enter. J.D. rolls out of her bed and strolls away as her father takes a seat. J knew that despite Aislyn telling him nearly everything, she occasionally felt uncomfortable speaking freely when he was there.
“Nicole told me about your chat yesterday.” Her father begins when she joins him. “I wanted to thank you.” “Dad, I didn’t do anything special-” “Oh, but you did!” Her father interrupts. “I don’t know when you blossomed into such a compassionate, intelligent, young woman, but I’m so proud of you, and I wanted to come and tell you that.” He says as he kisses her forehead. Aislyn smiles. “I also wanted to give you a heads up that I’ll be whisking Nicole away for Valentine’s this weekend, I think it’ll help with her stress. Sorry to be leaving you all alone.”
“Actually…” Aislyn begins, a blush beginning to creep into her cheeks in embarrassment, “I was thinking of driving back to Oldmerrow this weekend.” “Oh really?” Her father asks with a raised eyebrow. “Why is that?” “To celebrate Valentine’s, too…” Aislyn supposed she might as well share her relationship with Cailean now as the conversation called for it. She had no way of organically bringing it up sooner. “…with Cailean, we’re dating.” To Aislyn’s surprise, her father doesn’t appear the slightest bit fazed by her revelation. “Well, about time.” He says with a smile. “Huh?” Aislyn says in confusion. Nicole had a sneaking suspicion that something was going on when Cailean had dropped you off at the Merrow Rose when we were heading back here last month, and that suspicion was confirmed shortly afterwards by all of the video chats and phone calls. Honestly, kiddo. Were you trying to keep it a secret?”
Aislyn’s face reddens further. “Hey, cut me some slack, dad. How was I supposed to just bring it up?” Her father takes a moment to laugh, and Aislyn joins him. “Well, it’ll also be around his birthday time as well, so I was thinking of surprising him and jointly celebrating the two.” “I like that boy, he’s got a good head on his shoulders.” Her father says. “He does.” Aislyn chimes in with a smile, feeling that pang of yearning she’d developed whenever her thoughts would drift to Cailean. “He treats me better than I deserve… well, you know better than anyone how I can be.” Aislyn says. “That I do, but – and this could be the biased father in me – despite that, you deserve the world, Aislyn. So, I think he’s right to be treating you as such.” “You’re right; you are biased.” Aislyn says with an eye roll. “Come here.” Her father says pulling her into a bone crushing hug. “Are you happy?” Her father asks. “I am.” Aislyn says honestly. “Then that’s all that matters.”
And we’re back! The second part is out at last, hehe~ How has it been a month? *cries* Thanks for being patient 🙂 This chapter was brought to you by Axel: Do we trust him? Do we not? No one knows :3 Jokes aside, I have to confess I struggled with writing this one. I hope it wasn’t too dense 😅. If you’re wondering why not much happened here, it’s because the chapter got super long and I had to cut it. But at this point are any of you actually surprised? My new tumblr distraction also didn’t help much either. Anywayyyy, you’ll finally find out what Gus got Aislyn for Christmas and what she has planned for Cailean’s birthday + V-day, lol. If I don’t deliver on all of the above, feel free to form an angry mob.