Chapter One: Sea Salt Ice Cream and Struggle Matches
Another day, another beautiful afternoon in Twilight Town. Lea chuckled softly as he walked down the street. It was always afternoon in Twilight Town; Isa objected to this description, citing the way their shadows moved proved there was a day-night cycle and "You've eaten ice-cream and watched the sunset on the clock tower literally hundreds of times." Eh, whatever. Isa may have decided to be a stick-in-the-mud with his recompilation but he was Lea's stick-in-the-mud.
He had a life in Twilight Town, a genuinely fulfilling life. Lea had been born and raised in Radiant Garden. There, he had known relative peace and kinship with Isa, his best friend. But Lea hadn't had purpose. Neither of them had had purpose, but really, what teenager did know what their purpose?
That might have been one of the reasons Lea and Isa had spent so much time trying to sneak into Ansem the Wise's castle. There, they had met a strange girl, one of the subjects of Ansem's experiments, who couldn't remember anything about her past. But Lea and Isa had become her friend and resolved to rescue her. But when they finally had formed a plan to try, she wasn't there. And they were caught by Xaldin and Vexen. And taken to Xemnas and Xigbar. And then Xemnas had summoned his Keyblade…and Lea had his heart ripped from his body.
And then the Garden had fallen. Darkness took the world over, dooming thousands to become Heartless, a few lucky ones cast off to other worlds, and countless others to permanent death. And Lea had been among them. But then he wasn't Lea anymore, he'd become Axel. A Nobody. Number VIII in the Organization. The Flurry of Dancing Flames. A lethal and remorseless assassin.
Rather than continue their operations in the fallen Garden, or Hollow Bastion as it was then called, they had relocated to the World That Never Was, taking residence in the castle. A fitting name if ever there was one—beings that should not exist must live in a world that did not truly exist.
The Castle That Never Was had been lonely for so long, so dark and dreary and evil-y. And not to mention, all the horrible memories—especially watching Roxas and Xion become more and more distant while Xemnas plotted to use them for his own evil schemes.
But Twilight Town with its sleepy streets and quiet hills, the little bistro and open-air theater that Donald's uncle owned, the sandlot and trams. The sunsets and the trees and everything else: Xion with her little job at the ice-cream shop. Roxas skateboarding in the alleys. Isa readjusting to being a person again, even if he had decided to be a stick-in-the-mud. Ice-cream on the clock tower—with those other kids, Hayner, Pence and Olette. This was a world where a life could be built. Lea and Isa and Roxas and Xion could be a family. Lea had his big brother back, and his little brother and his sweet little sister—that was his purpose now.
Lea was home. And if there were a better way to spend an afternoon (or was it morning?) than walking through peaceful streets where people knew him by name and didn't ready themselves to attack him then Lea couldn't think of it. Well, maybe one thing—he could use some lunch. But he wasn't terribly hungry, so maybe he'd just get some ice-cream. And Lea knew the best place in the world to get one.
"Welcome, welcome to Twilight Treats! How can I help you today?" Lea felt he might burst with pride watching Xion wait on customers. She looked so cute in her little apron and hat, dark blue that contrasted with her black blouse and gray skirt. Back and forth Xion darted from the freezer to the counter, making all sorts of deserts. She had turned sundae-making into a science. Watching her do something she loved, something that suited her perfectly, it warmed his heart.
"One…chocolate…ice-cream…bar…please," the next customer asked. Lea recognized the little boy with the big hat, What was his name again? Vince? Xion smiled sweetly at the boy as she handed him his ice-cream.
"Here you go, Vivi." Ah, yes—Vivi. "Here's some napkins too."
Vivi paid for his ice-cream and scampered off. How he could see anything underneath his big hat, Lea had no idea. Whatever, it was his turn now.
"Welcome, welcome to Twilight Treats! How can I—hi!" Xion's grin looked like it might crack her face in two. "It's so great to see you, Ax…er, Lea. I missed you!"
"Xion, it's only been a few hours since breakfast! How can you have missed me that much?"
"Um…" Xion ducked her head, so all Lea could see was her black hair. "I just missed you, I guess. Sorry about almost calling you Axel."
Xion was hardly the first to slip up and call him "Axel," instead of "Lea." Frankly, Lea preferred it when it was her or Roxas or Kairi addressing him. "Axel" just seemed to fit better coming from someone smaller than him. But in public, when there were other people around, who only knew him as "Lea," it was best to err on the side of caution.
"Ooooh, Xion!" The little old grandmotherly woman who actually owed the ice-cream shop shuffled over. "Why didn't you say Axel came to visit? It's been ages! You want sea salt, right? Same as always."
Oh…words that Xion was not allowed to use. This could be trouble—Lea had promised King Mickey and Ansem the Wise they would keep a low profile. If the granny who ran the ice-cream shop could figure things out, then others might too. Lea wasn't sure how big an issue that was, in the grander scheme of things. Twilight Town tended to be pretty quiet as worlds went, but there was still the matter of the Order…
"Er…um…Granny," Xion stammered, her face reddening. "His name is Lea. Axel is his…cousin. See, Lea doesn't have those weirdo teardrop tattoos."
Nice save Xi…hey! My tattoos were not weird!
"Oh, well. It's nice to meet you, Lea."
The ice-cream granny knew. She totally knew, despite Xion's not-half-bad attempt to lie. But she was apparently willing to help keep a secret. Even if she didn't know the ramifications of it.
"Here you go, Lea," Xion mumbled, her hands trembling as she handed Lea his ice-cream. Mmmm…salty, but sweet. The best ice-cream flavor in all the worlds.
"Here's the munny," Lea offered. "And are you allowed to get a tip?"
"No!" Xion blurted. "You're family; I'm not allowed to take tips from family! I'm not even sure I'm allowed to serve you!" Xion turned her attention to the ice-cream granny. "Granny, I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry."
Ooh boy. Xion still wasn't entirely over her tendency to panic. How could he calm her down?
"Xion, dear," 'Granny' patted the small girl on the shoulder. "You've done nothing wrong. If your family wants to give you a tip, I will allow it…how exactly are you related?"
"I'm her step-brother," Lea answered. Maybe it wasn't technically true, but he wasn't old enough to be her dad, and being "step-siblings" allowed for a bit more leeway in how neither Xion nor Roxas looked a darned thing like him.
"Ooooh, how nice. I think it's very sweet came to visit your little sister. It reminds me of how used to visit my brother at his first job. Oh, that was so long ago…"
Lea left the counter while Granny went on and on about her own experiences. Xion seemed to ease back into casual conversation. Good, good—she'd do just fine once she calmed down. Xion had been a little jumpy lately, Ever since Sora had…vanished. Riku will find him. Sora always comes back to his friends.
Lea took a seat in the back of the parlor. Far enough away where he could keep an eye on Xion without actually calling attention to her. After a while, he started to read an old newspaper that'd been left behind from a previous patron. Maybe there would be something good in the job listings. Lea made most of his munny from killing Heartless in the woods surrounding Twilight Town, but sometimes the odd jobs were easier. But those were really for teenagers. Lea was a grown-up…mostly. It'd be nice to find something steady.
Roxas dismissed Oathkeeper and Oblivion and looked around the empty lot. He wasn't sure exactly what the landlord who had hired him was planning to do with it. Or why it had been so full of scrap metal and lumber in the first place. Hayner and Pence were more enthusiastic about it.
"That was amazing, Roxas!"
"Not really," Roxas shrugged.
"I've never seen the lot so spotless!" The landlord, Mister Yanushi, exclaimed, walking up from the street. "Roxas, this is remarkable!"
"It was nothing, sir. Piece of cake."
It really hadn't been that hard—the vacant lot had been filled with enough debris that it would have been difficult to walk through. But smashing the largest pieces of the debris with his Keyblades had made it much easier. Hayner and Pence had collected most of the smaller pieces, and then a few well-placed Water spells, while Pence used a hose, had gotten the last bits of garbage away.
"Son, this would have taken me two full days. You and your friends did all this in only a few hours?"
"We, er," Hayner answered. "We got into a groove and we didn't want to stop. Figured we might do as much as we can."
Roxas turned to Hayner and Pence. Pence wiped sweat from his forehead and Hayner gave him a thumbs up.
"Is there anything else you need our help with, sir?" Roxas asked. Might as well get as much done as possible—there was still quite a bit of day left.
"No, no. You've done plenty. I don't want you getting over-tired. But I may ask you back later this week. I'm getting in some special troughs and soil."
"Oh, I didn't mention?" Mister Yanushi chuckled. "This lot is going to be a garden to grow fresh vegetables. I've made a deal with that Scrooge McDuck character. Odd fellow, but he's got the sharpest mind for business I've ever seen.
"Now, for payment. You've done far more than I expected and did it in much less time than I expected, so let's see…I think a thousand munny each sounds fair."
Roxas tried not to stagger. A thousand munny was a ton of munny. Enough to buy forty ice creams. Or a skateboard—but he had one already. Behind him, he could hear Hayner and Pence gasp with excitement. Roxas could already hear Hayner planning out the next beach trip.
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't spend it all in one place, now."
Mister Yanushi strolled away and Roxas turned to his friends. Excitement bubbled in his stomach.
"We can buy a watermelon at the beach with this!" Hayner exclaimed. "This is gonna be the best trip yet."
"We should celebrate! Hayner, Roxas," Pence said, "Lunch! Ice cream's on me!"
"Yeah," Roxas agreed. "We can go visit Xion."
Hayner and Pence looked at each other and grinned. It was an odd sort of grinning. Roxas wasn't quite sure what it meant. Come to think of it, it looked kind of like the way King Mickey would grin whenever the subject of Riku and Naminé came up. But Roxas wasn't exactly sure what that really had to do with him and Xion. Even if Xion was his best friend.
"Welcome, welcome to Twilight Treats! How can I serve you today? Hi guys!"
"Hey, Xion. Three ice creams!" Pence handed her the munny.
"Shouldn't it be four?" Xion asked. She craned her neck to look behind Roxas. "Wait, where's Olette? I thought she was with you guys."
"I think she said something about having to find that little pouch she made," Hayner scratched his head. "But that was this morning."
"Weird," Xion said. "Okay, take these ice creams, and then call her and check in. My shift ends in thirty minutes, so I can join you then. Oh, and Roxas—say 'hi' to Lea."
Roxas turned and grinned. Axel was sitting at a table in a far corner. He had a half-eaten ice cream in one hand and the classified section of a newspaper in the other. A small plate with a pile of ice cream sticks lay in front of them. Axel waved them over when he saw Roxas.
"Don't you guys usually eat in that little clubhouse?"
"The Usual Spot? Sure," Hayner answered. "But Roxas wanted to visit Xion, so heh, you know."
Roxas wasn't sure he liked the smirk on Axel's face. Lea's face. Darn it, he still wasn't used to calling him 'Lea.' Even after nearly four weeks, 'Axel' just sounded more natural. Axel, for his part, didn't seem to mind too much, at least when they were alone. But Isa was insistent that Axel be called by his birth name in public.
"So what's the plan for dinner tonight, Roxas? I'm thinking maybe fried chicken. I don't think you've had that yet."
"You've never had fried chicken before?" Hayner asked, looking horrified. "But it's delicious!"
"We didn't have a lot of cooking options back…in our old home."
Roxas shuffled his feet and Hayner seemed to realize that it would probably be a good idea to change the subject. Roxas thought the upcoming Struggle matches might be a good divergence but a sharp cry caught his attention.
"Give it back!"
That sounded like trouble. Roxas bolted from his seat and ran out of the ice cream parlor.
Seifer, one of the neighborhood kids, was holding a bar of chocolate ice cream high in the air. His two friends, Rai and Fuu, were holding onto the arms of a flailing Vivi, desperately trying to free himself to get to his ice cream.
"Please Seifer…I want…my ice cream…back!"
"Vivi, I'm the leader of the Twilight Town Disciplinary Committee," Seifer gave an long-suffering sigh. "I need this ice cream so that I can make decisions."
"Seifer!" Roxas snapped. "Give Vivi back his ice cream."
"I need it more," Seifer retorted. "What's it to you anyway?"
"Give it back now!"
Roxas gritted his teeth but Seifer wasn't backing down either. Roxas curled his hands into fists, careful not to summon his Keyblades. Seifer was a real jerk, but he wasn't kill-it-with-a-Keyblade bad.
"I don't think we've met," Seifer sneered, swinging the ice cream bar for emphasis. "This is my town and this is my Disciplinary Committee. Since that weirdo with the strange sword isn't here anymore, I'm the toughest guy here. These are my streets. Now mind your own business."
Roxas was clenching his fists so tightly, he thought he might have cut himself. To dismiss Sora like that…rage bubbled inside him. He hadn't thought it was possible for the Seifer who lived in the Digital Twilight Town to have had better manners. He took a step forward.
"You want the stupid ice cream so bad?" Seifer snapped, flinging the ice cream bar back. "Catch!"
The ice cream sailed through the air but before Roxas could reach out to grab it, Seifer punched him in the side of the head. Roxas shook his head, just in time to see the ice cream splatter on a nearby storm grate.
"Noooooooo…." Vivi blubbered as Rai and Fuu knocked him to the ground. "My ice cream…"
"Now look what you made me do!" Seifer taunted. "You made me spill my ice cream!"
"What are you talking about? You started it!"
"We're warriors, ya' know? We just got back from a trip to get strong, ya' know?" Rai cracked his knuckles menacingly.
"Enough! All of you!"
What the heck? Roxas turned his head and saw Xion, still in her ice cream apron, stomping towards them. Xion stormed over, bypassing Seifer and the others entirely and then knelt next to Vivi. "Vivi, are you alright?"
"My ice cream…"
"C'mon," Xion soothed, helping the smaller boy to his feet. "I'll get you a new one, on the house."
Xion took Vivi's hand and walked him back into the shop. She nodded briefly to Roxas as she passed, her blue eyes glowering with righteous anger.
"What? Another outsider messing things up in my town?"
"Leave her alone," Roxas snapped. "She's off-limits."
After everything they had all been through—the missions for the Organization where they had, unknowingly, nearly doomed the worlds; the horrific abuse Xion had suffered at the hands of Xemnas and Saix; Xion having to be destroyed to help Sora. Nobody was going to hurt her again—least of all a stupid bully and his monosyllabic, moronic bodyguards.
"Is that a challenge?"
Roxas turned around; Hayner and Pence were running towards him. Hayner looked like he was itching for a fight. Memories from his week in the Digital Twilight Town pricked at the back of his head. He'd fought the Digital Seifer a couple of times in Struggle matches…if he had done it digitally, surely he could take Seifer on for real.
"Yeah, I'll take you on. Meet me at the sandlot in an hour."
Seifer smirked and Roxas had to resist the urge to punch him in his stupid mouth and knock out all his stupid teeth. He'd get his chance to do it fairly before the sun set.
Xion walked Vivi back inside the ice cream shop, set him down in one of the chairs, went to the back of the freezer to get him a bigger, better, deluxe chocolate ice bar (the kind that crunched!), filled the cash register with her own munny, and then handed Vivi the ice cream. And a napkin.
"You're welcome, Vivi," Xion answered. After a moment she added, "Seifer doesn't deserve to have as good a friend as you."
"What happened?" Granny asked, walking over and taking Xion's hand. Xion felt the tension in her shoulders ease a bit. She could never be mad at Granny. She was furious with Seifer though.
"A mean boy, Seifer, took Vivi's ice cream and threw it down a storm gutter. I gave him a new one. Don't worry, I paid for it."
"Oh, I never did like that boy," Granny tutted. "Terrible manners and he's a bully to boot. Him and his two ne'er-do-well friends like to call themselves the 'Disciplinary Committee.' Pah, he's the one who needs discipline."
"I guess…" Xion mumbled. "Thank you for not being angry, Granny. I shouldn't have left my post."
"Nonsense—I heard the commotion, I can hardly fault you for wanting to know what's going on. Your shift is over in ten minutes anyway, and the only other person here is 'Lea.' Speaking of which—"
"Ugg.." Axel groaned, rubbing his stomach. "Maybe six ice creams was too many…"
Xion blushed and darted over to help Axel out of his seat. His face was smeared with melted ice cream.
"Uggg…maybe we'll just have salad for dinner instead."
"Poor…Lea," Vivi waddled over, with a napkin in his hand. "Here…you…go."
"You all run along now," Granny smiled. "I'll close up the shop."
Grateful for a chance to leave gracefully, Xion hurried out of the shop, Vivi at her heels. Lea took a minute to finish wiping his mouth and followed, catching up to them with his long legs.
"Roxas…" Vivi said, his little yellow eyes darting across the street. Xion looked left and right, but she saw no sign of him. No Pence or Hayner either (And she hadn't seen Olette all day). No sign of that jerk Seifer either.
"I don't think he's here, Vivi. I heard him yelling at Seifer, but I don't know what they actually said."
"What?" Xion wasn't surprised, really. Roxas—and Hayner for that matter—had mentioned (In Hayner's case, ranted) about Seifer before. And she had Sora's memories too; Sora had fought Seifer a bunch of times in Struggle matches (and won every single match too). But even if Seifer was a bully, he was still a person…who could bleed. And would be no match for a Keybearer.
"Huh," Axel said thoughtfully, "So Roxas is taking on the school bully. That brings back memories."
"I'm worried…" Xion bit her lip. "What if Roxas hurts Seifer?"
"Heh, heh…" Axel's chuckle trailed off. "Roxas is not gonna hurt him…he wouldn't…" Axel grabbed Xion by the arm. She felt Vivi grab her free hand with both of his. "But then again, I've been wrong before!"
Axel broke into a run, yanking Xion and Vivi behind him. Maybe it was because Axel was just so tall, but Xion found her shoes just grazing the tiles beneath them. Vivi dangled freely from her hand.
"Which way did they go?"
As Axel dragged them along, Xion saw a glimpse of the bistro Mister McDuck owned. Then the shop the three little ducklings owned—Huey, Dewey and Louie. Who apparently did not age, if the stories Ventus told were anything to go by.
The sandlot was empty, except for Roxas, Hayner and Pence. No Seifer or his goons. No Olette either—where was she? Roxas waved when he saw them.
"Ax—er, Lea, you're hurting me!"
"Oops, sorry kiddo." Axel let go of Xion and she dropped like a load of bricks. Vivi yelped as he fell backwards, his hat inexplicably staying on. "Roxas, what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm putting Seifer down, Lea. It's time someone showed him who's boss."
"Hmmm, well in that case," Axel raised his hands up. "Don't let me stop you. Sometimes, a bully just needs a good stomping. Got it memorized?"
"Roxas, don't hurt him," Xion whispered. "Please."
"We're not gonna hurt him," Hayner said quickly. "We're just gonna make him see that if he stops picking on smaller kids, he won't have to face us."
Xion thought the best thing to do would be get some ice cream and get up the clock tower to watch the sunset, but she didn't see a point in arguing—Hayner and Roxas clearly had their minds made up. And making sure that Seifer never bullied anyone else didn't seem to be such a bad thing—provided nobody got hurt.
Axel had taken a seat on one of the benches and Vivi was sitting on the ground next to him. Xion eased herself next to Axel when she felt a soft hand squeeze her shoulder. Xion turned her head. Olette was standing there, pale as a ghost. Her green eyes were watery. Where had she been? Had something…bad happened?
"There's…" Olette swallowed hard, and her grip slackened. "I need to tell you something. You and Roxas, both."
"What's wrong?" Xion repeated and she felt a knot form in her stomach. She knew that Olette knew, at minimum, the gist of Sora's adventures. And she also knew that Pence had helped Ienzo and Ansem the Wise recover the data necessary to mold a Replica vessel to be suitable for Roxas. That meant Olette probably knew at least a bit of what happened in the year Roxas and Xion had worked for the Organization. And Hayner, Pence and Olette had all been at Destiny Islands when Sora…
Xion felt the knot in her stomach grow tighter. It had been almost four weeks since Sora had used the Power of Waking to rescue Kairi. But it had apparently cost him his own life. Seeing Sora fade into nothingness had been awful…
"You can tell me when you're ready," Xion whispered. Sometimes bad things were easier to talk about alone, instead of in a group. "It doesn't even have to be both of us at once."
Olette nodded and shuffled so that she could sit next to Xion, breathing deeply as if she were trying not to cry. Hayner was patting Roxas on the shoulder and pumping his fist. Still no sign of Seifer.
"So you decided to show up, loser."
Never mind. Seifer and his two friends were coming from the far side of the sandlot. Each was holding a Struggle bat.
"Thought you weren't gonna show," Roxas's voice seemed almost uncharacteristically harsh. But it didn't sound mean, really. Not like Saix or Xemnas—they had been mean. Roxas sounded more like he wanted to stop Seifer from being able to mean. He actually sounded a little bit like Riku.
"There aren't any of those stupid balls, since this isn't a formal Struggle match," Seifer continued. "So if you think you're so tough, then I say you have to take us all on."
"When I win," Roxas growled, "then your little Committee stops. For good. And you have to buy Vivi ice cream every day for a month."
"Go…Roxas…" Vivi cheered in his little voice, clapping his hands. Xion couldn't help but smile. He was so cute with his little hat.
"What happens if we win, ya' know?" Rai stomped his foot in emphasis. "I wanna know what we get, ya' know?"
"If we win, then you get out of my town, if you can even walk afterward," Seifer smirked. "And If you don't get lost, then that freaky ice cream girl is next."
It was subtle, and if Xion hadn't known Roxas so well, she might have missed it. But he was her best friend and his shoulders tightened and his hands curled into fists. She could feel Olette stiffen and Axel grind his teeth. Pence glowered at Seifer and handed Roxas a Struggle bat.
"Okay," Hayner snapped. "That's enough. So when I count to to three, you can start. One…two…three."
Seifer charged towards Roxas swinging his sword, but…wow, Seifer's technique was terrible. Roxas parried the blow and began attacking, showing no mercy. Again and again, he swung and Seifer's attempts to protect himself became increasingly desperate. Finally, there was a loud crack and Seifer fell to the ground. Rai and Fuu charged in, trying to protect the leader of their gang. Rai tried to hit Roxas in the head but Roxas slipped to the side, and whacked his bat against Rai's so hard, it went flying out of the larger boy's hand. Fuu tried to hit Roxas in the side, but he parried and she was knocked off her feet.
Xion checked her watch. The fight had lasted less than a minute. Wow. He's so strong.
Seifer struggled to his feet. His Struggle bat was broken, the 'blade' hanging on by a thread. He looked furious. Rai's bat was bent in two, and Fuu's was badly chipped.
"A deal's a deal," Roxas said evenly. "You can't pick on anyone smaller than you anymore."
"This…this will be remembered," Seifer shouted, stomping his foot like a toddler. He turned on his heel and ran off, Rai and Fuu at his heels.
"Seifer! Wait for us, ya' know!"
Xion ran up to Roxas and grabbed his hands in joy. He had done so great against Seifer. Pence and Hayner were whooping with joy.
"I've been wanting to do that for years, Roxas!"
"You…did…great," Vivi walked up to Roxas and held out his little hand for Roxas to shake. "Thank…you, Roxas."
"You sure showed him," Axel chuckled. "Nothing like showing a bully who's boss."
Olette was the last to join the little circle. She still looked really upset, but she gave a small, almost shy smile.
Roxas didn't say anything, but he did smile. That made Xion feel even better—if Roxas was happy, then she was happy too. Nothing could stop them, if they stuck together…
Author's Note: This story is a resubmission of an earlier work. I went over what I had and decided to expand the story. Much of what I've already posted will be kept, and revised for later chapters.
Thanks for reading! I appreciate each and every one of you.