There a few things I can tell you that are true in this reality's timeline:
There are no commercial airlines.
The British are in Egypt.
There are Muslim groups who wish to remove the Egyptians and take Egypt for themselves.
Tensions, as always, are high between England and the Isles.
Almost the entirety of the story takes place in Venice, Italy if that helps anyone visualize. If not, Venice is not really one city, but many islands. They're connected by a series of bridges, alleyways, and waterways.
When 'the Horn' is mentioned they are referring to the Horn of Africa.
A beautiful girl had boarded the ship back in Jesolo. She had worn a white sun dress and long auburn her. Her blue eyes had danced with the waves and, as they had set sail, she had looked out over the sea with pure joy. Demyx had licked his lips, even though they had not felt dry; he had caught the taste of salt.
He had made sure to stay nearby her, pretending to go about his duty, while sneaking surreptitious glances at her. She had caught him once, looking up at him and lowering her lashes sheepishly. Her pale lips had still pulled into a smile. Then she had hurriedly turned back towards the wondrous sea.
Demyx had wondered how he could touch her…and as they had drawn close to their harbor at Venice, he had seen his chance. Leaned as she had been over the railing, watching the foam rise up from the boat's path, her hands would have been crushed. Demyx had placed his leathery hands over her delicate wrists and gruffly told her to pull her hands back. She had flushed, barely meeting his eyes. Then he had helped her off and watched after her, until it was then time to set sail once more.
He and Axel had been apprenticed to the same ship when they were young. At age ten they began their duties as cabin boys; cleaning, helping the cook, lighting the lamps, mending sails and nets.
Demyx fell in love with the sea and all her harsh manners. Axel did not. He loathed the work, and what he loathed more was that he could not leave until he was eighteen. The only blessing he counted was that he had a clown like Demyx as his friend and companion.
It was somewhere on the Horn that Demyx acquired his sitar. Even before he had properly learned how to play it, it became their entertainment. They spent their days writing and singing awful, bawdy songs. Sometimes, when a crewmember wandered past, they would acquire another new wonderfully lewd phrase from their suggestions.
However, patience had never been, and never would be, one of Axel's virtues. Eight years on the sea, he hated the water, was too long. At sixteen, he took matters into his own hands, or, rather, matters took him into their hands.
On the sea, with only your crewmen, there were only two ways to keep from going completely mad. Fall in love with the sea, or fall in love with the men. Demyx chose one and Axel chose the other and when a wealthy, handsome merchant came aboard Axel went head over heels.
Fifteen-year-old Axel jumped ship with Luxord Godlear in Malta.
From then on, Demyx did not hear from him often. A letter left in the care of so-and-so in Italy, a parcel left at such-and-such hotel in France.
The one message Demyx remembered most vividly was the one he had received two months after his eighteenth birthday; he had just enlisted full-time on a ketch.
'Dear Demyx. Happy belated birthday. Luxord has left me with all his debts. I have stepped in it deep. I'm moving to Italy and hoping they never find me. Once I get an address I will get it to you somehow. Your friend, Axel.'
Demyx had never been able to decide whether the letter was comical or disheartening.
He was back in Venice again, but, this time, he jumped off the ship, his boots touching the ground for the first time in months. Venice was always where he got off for his furloughs. Venice was where Axel's little inn awaited.
He worked his way quickly through the crowded docks, carrying nothing more on his back than his clothes and his sitar, he paused only to stop a retreating pickpocket and take the money for his own. Once free of the thronging crowd, his feet traced the familiar path on their own; he did not even need to glance at the piazza names.
Axel had made out well in this place, but, then again, he had always done well for himself, being cunning and resourceful as he was. Demyx felt the smile pulling at his face. He loved the sea, but a friend's company was also welcome too, and it had been a very long time.
Axel's small inn, The Flurry of Dancing Flames, was like most of its stock, a common room on the first floor complete with hearth, well-used tables, and a strip of bar against the back wall where the weary could thoroughly drown their sorrows. It was the upper levels that housed the resting and sleeping guests.
When Demyx came to the worn wooden door, he urged it open, letting in a warm draft. He pushed it shut behind him courteously and began to head for the bar. Something, nevertheless, caught his eye and he stopped dead at the center of the room. There was someone occupying the barstool farthest to the left. Axel reserved that seat especially for…
Oh, for the love of God. Demyx thought, panicking. Another one.
That seat, in particular, was saved for whoever Axel's current romantic flame was.
Axel was in possession of a string of bad relationships longer than Italy herself. What is more, Axel seemed to relish it as an accomplishment. He took on each relationship as if it were a challenge. How long could he take a fucked up relationship? He took some kind of thrill away from it when he survived them and they were always very, very unpleasant.
Demyx's last furlough had lasted for three months and he had watched the man go through many, all in a nice neat row.
It had begun with beautiful Larxene. She had been an awful woman from the start: petty, sadistic and then she had betrayed Axel for an abusive former lover, Marluxia, who Axel had promptly begun to court.
That air had only just begun to clear when Axel started something with a local politician. Zexion had been quiet, reserved and somewhat conservative. He had not seemed at all a match for loud, radical Axel. Nonetheless, sometimes opposites attracted? When that coupling had failed, Axel had swiftly begun to put the moves on Zexion's bodyguard, Lexaeus, whom he had come to know. After Zexion's assassination, the relationship had been far too strained to last.
The next man who had appeared was Xigbar, who had seemed far older than any of the other men Axel had been associated with previously. They did not found out until later, when Axel had begun seeing another politician, Zexion's former opponent, Xemnas, that Xigbar had been the one to assassinate Zexion and Xemnas had been the employer.
Then there was the flickering liaison with Axel's half-brother, Reno. Demyx did not like to think about it, especially not since the strings also connected with Reno's best friend and partner, Rude.
Of course, Demyx could not forget the time that Axel had acquired a scientist as his new beau. When Demyx had discovered that Vexen had somehow been acquiring some very cheap meat-products for the inn, Demyx had not been able to eat there again until that particular flame had burned itself out.
Demyx was not sure how long had stood still, staring at the back of the new creature Axel had brought home, but, apparently, it was too long. Naminé poked him with a fork.
"Demyx? Are you all right?"
He turned to regard her with horror, reminded of another of Axel's pathetic, horrible, vile, men. Xaldin, Demyx felt a laugh rising in his throat. He had seemed wonderful, very articulate and romantic to boot. He had swept Axel off his feet, even if his antics had made Demyx want to vomit. Quite wonderful until they had discovered he was a flesh peddler. While fleeing from the law, he had left Naminé in Axel's care.
"Who is that, Naminé?" He pointed vigorously at the new one. "Why haven't you frightened him away yet?"
The experiences he had listed gave one the impression that Axel preferred men, which he did, but there were also many young women in the town who spit on the ground when they heard the name 'Axel'.
Yuffie, Tifa, Esmeralda, they had thought Saïx was a woman but had turned out otherwise, Alice, Rinoa, Rikku, Jane—etc. ad nauseum.
"I tried!" Naminé protested. "But he doesn't mind me at all. He doesn't do much of anything. Axel adores him though, I felt just terrible being rude to him."
Demyx gibbered uselessly, but somehow composed himself. "All right, I'll try."
"No." Her words were unexpected. "Please, Demyx, just talk to him first."
Oh God, Demyx realized forlornly. "He's won you over too."
"No," she insisted. "Just talk to him."
Demyx gave her a hard, scrutinizing look. "He'd best be prince charming, girl."
Naminé laughed faintly. "I'll go fetch Axel, he's in the back scolding Leon again."
Demyx watched her small frame scamper off into the kitchen area, and as he drew nearer to the bar he could hear Axel yelling at the cooks.
In a sudden flurry, the redhead burst from the scullery, hurrying to greet his friend.
"Demyx, you did not tell your old wife you were coming!"
The man perched upon the 'lover's' stool did not so much as look up and Axel continued to yammer.
"Oh, the place is a mess. I am a mess! Just look at me. Oh, how I have missed you! Roxas?"
At the sound of his name, the new boy glanced over. "Yes?"
"This is Demyx," Axel crowed, unable to control his delight. His hands worked furiously behind the bar without his attention. It had been nearly sixteen years since they'd parted from the decks and he knew what drink Demyx liked. "My sailor friend. I'm glad he's in town to meet you."
"Don't expect him to last long?" Demyx considered dryly.
His friend's eyes shot up like poison tipped arrows. "That isn't what I meant."
"I don't expect him to last long," Roxas murmured and Demyx was not sure if he was serious or not, however, Axel did not seem bothered. Demyx turned on his stool to regard the boy.
Roxas seemed a bit younger than Axel's usual man. He was very pale, but when Demyx tried to imagine him sun-browned he came up with a ridiculous picture, so he supposed that was for the best. With silver-gold hair and blue eyes he was obviously not a native Italian, then again, neither was Axel.
When Axel plunked the cold drink down before him, Demyx and Roxas' eyes met. In a short flashing moment, Demyx realized he was being studied in just the same way. The realization made him shift uneasily.
"Well, how did you find this one?" he grumbled, hunching over his drink.
"Water-taxi, love at first sight," Axel grinned.
"He is a hopeless liar," Roxas intervened. "He followed me around like a lost puppy for a week until I took pity on him."
"Well," the redhead began to admit. "I fell in love with him at first sight. It is most certainly not mutual. He still hates me, can you believe Demyx? That is how I know we are meant to be."
"That's idiocy, Axel. Do you still smoke cocaine?" Demyx inquired reprovingly.
Axel loosed a dramatized sigh and Demyx was beginning to believe that, perhaps, he really was in love. Axel had never before acted this way. He had never sighed and he had never talked about love at first sight. All the others had been 'I was drunk and randy, Demyx' or 'he was drunk and randy, Demyx' or 'she was the cheapest walker on the street, Demyx'.
"How long are you on land?" Axel wondered, at last. He wandered a ways down the bar to wash some glasses.
"Three months," Demyx reply was nearly automated. "Then we sail for Cairo, we'll be taking a shipment around the horn after that." He took the luggage from his back and set it to the floor by the legs of his stool.
"You will stay here, I assume?" the redhead continued. He found his dossier and ran his finger down the list. He had always let Demyx for free, now he only searched for an empty room.
"I am going home," Roxas' sudden announcement and movement toward the door made Axel's head shoot up from his work. For some reason, however, the man did not follow after him. He only watched with the expression of something strange and bittersweet painted onto his face.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Rox," he called quietly and when the door was shut, he looked away as if he were in pain. Demyx felt confused and a bit afraid for his friend. Where had the confident, abrasive Axel gone off to? Could he possibly be lost at sea? Drowning in the depths of Roxas' eyes?
"How has Venice been since last?" Demyx wondered around the rim of his drink, he hoped to pull his friend away from whatever was haunting him so.
"Same, same. More and more Americans are making the voyage across the sea. Tourism is increasing, the foreigners are a nuisance." Axel's response was absentminded, at its best.
Naminé brushed by and gave Demyx a worried look, motioning frantically at her employer.
"Tell me truthfully, what is with the boy?" The sailor was not entirely sure he wanted to know, especially not after the smile that spread on Axel's face.
"The taxi is a lie. I was at the dock to pick up a shipment, actually. I saw him leaving a passenger ship, you know how it is, a pickpocket came right up, but he noticed. He really kind of beat the poor kid bloody. He was kind of beautiful with the blood on his knuckles." He shook his head, as if warding off the reverie. "Well, then I really did follow him around like a dog until he finally agreed to have dinner with me." Axel let out a humorless murmur that might have been laughter, once upon a time. "Hells. I don't want this one to end badly. You know me, glutton for punishment, but…not this one."
Demyx raised an eyebrow. "What's so special about this one?"
Axel scratched at his scalp, trying to pull the right words out. "He doesn't…he hasn't got faith in anything. He just lives his life by himself and that's the way he wants it. He doesn't want to let anyone in. He's like one of those fantastic birds we used to see at the markets and he's caged himself. I want to open up the doors so he can fly out and know freedom. He's too pretty to cage himself behind those ugly iron bars."
"It's his looks then?" It wasn't that Roxas wasn't more beautiful than most women Demyx had ever seen, but he'd never had the affinity for men like Axel.
"No," Axel shook his head with rebuke. "It isn't. You have to talk to him, Demyx. Sometimes, when I get him going on something I can coax this…this thing out of him. Sometimes he just sings." When Axel looked away his eyes did a funny wavering thing. It was not the type of funny that one associated with laughter, it was queer, strange.
"You sound entirely love-struck. Who are you and where have you taken Axel?" Demyx said in horror.
"Naminé says the same," Axel scrubbed an anxious hand back through his hair.
Demyx was unsure of what else to say. "You never do these relationship things right."
"I know. Let's…play something on your sitar, or I'll kick you out."
There was the Axel he knew.
Demyx went off to bed with a warm buzzing in his veins from drink. He flopped down gratefully into one of Axel's warm beds and was soon off to sleep, all thoughts of Axel and his new romance far from his mind.
In the morning, however, he was reminded of it quite efficiently. For when he came down the creaking stairs, yawning and rubbing at his bed-tussled hair, he spotted the boy at one of the tables, quietly eating breakfast.
"Thought he went home," Demyx called, his voice still rough with sleep.
The blond child glanced over at him, his cheeks just a little bit rounder from a full mouth. He really was pleasant to look at, even if Demyx had no faith at all in his underlying personality.
Roxas obviously had no intentions of replying to him, and Demyx had not really wanted an answer, but Axel decided to give one all the same.
"Somehow is cupboards have gone bare while he wasn't looking," he said. There was an open note of affection in his nasal voice. "He never does take care of himself. I have to feed him so he doesn't waste away!"
Demyx raised an eyebrow and he and Axel joined Roxas at the table. "Did you actually make it, or did Leon?"
The redhead seemed as if he wanted to be affronted, but he could not pull the expression to his face. "Of course I made the love of my life breakfast."
Demyx caught the exasperated sigh that Roxas emitted at the words 'love of my life'. It was bemusing how the boy did not seem to want Axel's attentions to his person. Demyx could not understand the feeling at all. When he had been a boy he had loved to be in groups with others, giving and receiving all sorts of notice. The ship's crew was much the same, only difference being the tightness of their knit little community. Roxas seemed to want to draw back into a corner and be left well enough alone at all times.
"Be careful, Roxas," Demyx advised, winking broadly, just as he would have to a beautiful girl he was propositioning. "It might be poisoned."
Even that did not earn him a reaction from the boy. He felt that stir in his belly and he pondered it while Axel went to fetch him his own breakfast. Why was the boy so hell bent on stoicism? And why was he so set on seeing him smile?
When the food was before him, his focus shifted to filling his stomach. He knew Axel was a fine cook, but as business had increased for the Flame he'd had less and less time to practice. Then, one day, he had realized he had no time at all and that was how they had acquired Leon.
When that boy had appeared to inquire about the job he had looked more like a wino than a chef, but he had impressed Axel easily enough. They only argued to the day because Leon had eyes for Naminé. The girl was quite open to his courtship, but Axel would not hear of it, and, as both their employer and Naminé's guardian, he well should have been obeyed. Leon was not known for his subservience however.
The swinging doors leading to the kitchen creaked and Naminé herself entered the room. Demyx gave her a dry, knowing stare and she shrugged.
"Good morning, everyone," she greeted cheerfully, coming to join them at the table. On Sunday morning the common was usually just as empty, the other guests having gone down to the church.
Axel and Demyx were as superstitious as they came, but they weren't god-fearing men by any means. They were sailors and that was a religion all its own, in their opinion.
Demyx gave Roxas another once-over, wondering why he was not also at the morning service. He considered questioning it, but he as uncivilized as he was, he still knew that politics and religion were taboo topics for casual mealtime conversation.
"Do you have any plans for today, Demyx?" Naminé inquired of him putting her elbows on the table and propping up her chin, looking the most curious kitten.
"Nay, I might go see how the Turners are doing, but that's all." The sailor shrugged and continued on with his meal. Naminé looked thoughtful for a short moment before shaking her head.
"No, they've gone off with Jack again, just last week the three of them left on a new ketch. I don't know where the Pearl has gone."
Axel gave a little laugh. "That is quite a tale. He tells me it was eaten by the kraken, but I think I'd indulged him in just a bit too much of the vodka I'd gotten in."
Demyx looked to Roxas as the conversation proceeded around him. The blond had long since finished his plate, but still he sat in silence, regarding the rafters as if they were the Mona Lisa. The sailor just did not know what to make of it and he certainly did not understand what it was Axel continued to see in him.
"Well," Demyx said, revising his plans for the day in his head. "I suppose I will be lying around here like a slug, enjoying my time away from the ship."
Naminé noticed that Roxas had finished and attempted to gather his plate. It was a reactionary gesture, as it was her job at the inn, to bring food and clear it away again. However, Roxas stopped her hand, picking up his dishware and carrying back into the scullery of his own accord.
The other three watched him go in confusion.
"Axel," the girl began uncertainly.
Her employer stopped her with a sharp glance. "He doesn't mean anything by it. He just doesn't want you waiting on him."
Demyx was not entirely convinced that was the case but he was not in the mind to argue. Instead he gave the blonde a roguish grin,
"You can, of course, clear away my dishes, Naminé."
She smiled back, willing to let the uncomfortable subject drop. "And if I have no intentions?"
"Then I shall have to put in a complaint to your employer."
"You make a good argument, sir."
Then she swept them up and headed for the kitchen. Roxas had still not returned and Axel kept glancing toward the doors anxiously. When far too much time had passed the man got to his feet and hurried out.
For some reason, Demyx did not expect him back soon, so he went to fetch his sitar. He set himself up comfortably by the window and began to play. As Naminé was present, he chose something suitable for civilized company.
"Sparrows and cats will live in my shoe,
Sooner than I will live with you.
Fish will come walking out of the sea,
Sooner than you will come back to me."
(chp. 1 – pg. 11)
Axel returned to the inn much later than he should have. In his absence, Naminé and Demyx had been the ones to service several customers, checking in, checking out, and sitting down for lunch.
Axel also returned to the inn without Roxas. He looked quite forlorn, so Demyx chose not to berate him on his irresponsibility.
"Where has your boy gone now?" Demyx asked softly as his fingers wandered the taut strings of his instrument.
"He said he had to go to work for the rest of the afternoon," Axel murmured, he did not seem to believe want to accept it.
"What does he do?"
"He works with the jeweler a few streets from Grotto's."
That was all Demyx cared to know and from there he was prepared to sit and play his sitar in the hopes that it would help to settle Axel's stinging emotions.
"I don't know why does it, Demyx." Axel's wishes were not coinciding with his plans. "All he had to say was 'I have to go to work now, Axel. I'll be by after I've locked the store.' Does that really seem so strange?"
His friend considered his answer carefully. "He is strange."
Axel's green eyes lit up like lightning bugs. "He is wonderful though. I could spend the rest of my life just trying to get him to smile at me."
"I have seen no proof to support this wild affection of yours. You may well spend the rest of your life in that futile pursuit," Demyx usually was not used to being the voice of reason, but when dealing with Axel it was a matter of resignation. Someone had to tell him when he was being outrageous.
"I will love every minute of it," Axel vowed. The solemn cadence to his voice was disturbing, as if he truly meant the oath. Demyx was compelled to point one thing out,
"You don't seem to be enjoying it much now, what with him walking out on you."
The redhead returned with a sneer and no comment.
"Yes," Demyx continued on, jibing deeper. "The love you share is boundless like the raging sea."
"You know I hate the sea," Axel sighed. "I hate water. I don't really know why I've stayed in Venice so long. I liked Strasburg so much better, why did I ever leave?"
"Because Luxord left you with all his debts and, were you to return, you would be thrown into jail for evading them."
"That was rhetoric, Demyx. Rhetoric."
"I do not believe you in the slightest."
The version of Peter S. Beagle's 'The Last Unicorn' that I've taken excerpts from is the Special Anniversary Edition published by ROC (with illustrations by Mel Grant). I do not claim to have written any of these aforementioned quotations and all will be noted.