Sleep did not come easily to Demyx that night, he had lain tossing and turning for hours, wanting to find Roxas and ask him what had happened. He wanted to beat the information out of Axel, but neither option was truly viable. So, instead he had lain in his bed, tossing and turning for hours.
In the morning he rushed down the stairs to the common faster than any other morning. He expected Roxas to be there, he was so concentrated on forcing himself to hope that Roxas would be there that he almost could not believe it when Roxas truly was. He was sitting at his usual place, but without any breakfast before him.
"Roxas," Demyx began, uncertain but worried. Roxas did not allow him to flounder long.
"Does the Nocturne take passengers?"
Demyx's brain tripped over itself in its attempts to be useful. "Sometimes."
"Whatever Jecht decides is fair," Demyx answered rapidly.
"When does she dock at Venice?"
"She…she should be here any day. There's cargo to pick up, we give a week for all of it to arrive…"
Roxas' mouth twisted into something that had been a smile once, long, long ago.
The third day after his inquiry, Roxas and Demyx went together down to the dock where the boy got his first glimpse of the Nocturne. She was a sea-worthy vessel with a high, handsome prow.
Jecht stood at the bottom of the gangplank conversing animatedly with some nervous looking merchant. All around him sailors scrambled about like ants, loading crates, scraping the hull, swabbing the deck. High up on the mast there were several cabin boys moving about, searching for rips in the sail.
Demyx rushed to work, casting Roxas one consolatory glance. The boy shrugged and approached the captain with a calm air. He waited silently as the man finished tormenting the sweating trader.
Jecht turned his worn, bearded face toward the pale creature awaiting his graces. "What is it you need from me, be quick, boy."
"Are you in the mind to take a passenger with you to Egypt?" He was a soft-spoken thing with eyes sparkling like treasure. His Italian was…Hmm, interesting.
"For a price," Jecht shrugged his strong shoulders; he was somewhat surprised when Demyx jumped down from the deck to land beside them.
"I'll pay it, sir."
"A friend of yours?" the captain guessed, eyeing his mate and the lithe city boy both alongside him. He made his decision swiftly. "All right, if he's up to a the journey and cramped quarters." But the boy had gotten there, hadn't he?
A brief look of relief lit up Demyx's face before he hurried to assist Tidus in carrying a heavy crate with a Fragile label painted on the side.
Jecht found it all baffling, but he did not care to investigate. He only returned his thoughts to his newest take-on.
"Be prepared to board in five days."
Their departure was not heralded with flowers and crying women. The Nocturne left the Venetian port with only two people bearing witness. Axel and Naminé came and stood watching, half because Roxas was aboard and half because they always came to see Demyx off.
The days, on the ship were…well…Demyx remembered the beautiful girl all those months ago, the thrill in her eyes as she watched the surf.
Demyx looked at Roxas then and his breath caught. His eyes, blue as sea and clear as sky, were the epitome of sadness as they observed the foam leaping and churning at the boat's wake. Every last line of him was a relief of frozen grief, his skin, wintry alabaster, even under the twinkling of the sun.
Demyx jumped down to the deck close by him, looking out over the sea he loved, searching for what Roxas saw, searching for the grief more endless than the very Deep, so that he could do away with it. He had no words to encompass the depth of his feeling. Instead he laid a warm, weathered hand onto Roxas' shoulder and prayed he did not burn him. The blond did not turn to look at him and his voice was a hoarse whisper.
"Have you ever read 'The Last Unicorn'?"
Demyx gave an uncomfortable laugh and Roxas quirked an eyebrow subtly.
"My mother read it my sister and me," he murmured. "It's about a mad king who steals all the unicorns from the world and traps them beneath the sea. They jump in the waves, so close to freedom but too afraid of Haggard's great Red Bull to take the final step onto the sands and escape."
Demyx would not have been surprised if Roxas had begun to cry snow.
"That is me, Demyx, the last comes to save them…but the bull does not battle, he conquers and the only way to escape is to leave yourself behind. I can feel my body dying around me and I am forgetting! …And Axel is like Haggard…he keeps nothing near him that does not make him happy and nothing makes him happy…so he forgets it and what he forgets not only ceases to exist, but never really existed in the first place…"
His words left him like the flood of tears that refused to fall.
"I love you." Demyx did not understand why he thought then was the time, should he have had his way, he never would have said those earnest words.
Roxas made a terrified bleating sound and turned to stare at him, his eyes stormy like the ocean. She was the only mistress Demyx had ever desired to serve. "You're crazy"
"That's nothing that I didn't already know."
Demyx had leaned down, close to his face and Roxas was afraid and his misery ran deeper than the grayish veins he could see through the thin paper of his wrists.
He was going to kiss Roxas, full on the mouth, but the blond turned his head at the last moment to watch the unicorns in their foam prison. Instead, Demyx's lips pressed to his temple. His arms wound around his body like rope; held tight with knots.
"Axel loves you." He intoned apathetically. "You make him happy and he wants nothing but you."
"He is ignorant of what I am, he knows not what he will do once he has me." Roxas' voice had become gravely and bitter. His fist unclenched and he pushed it into his pocket, drawing out the letter he had held tenderly since the moment it had left Zack Allen's care.
"I don't want your secrets," Demyx said and then walked away, his heart in his throat, choking him.
Egypt was days off yet and the crew tried not to notice Roxas sleeping in Demyx's hammock. He was always alone, but in the night…who knew. No one would speak against him though; his sorrows gave him so much beauty; mystery and magnetism. Even if they did not love him, they wanted to help him.
The fact of the matter was that Roxas and Demyx did not sleep together. Demyx barely touched him at all; Roxas was more sacred and more beloved than the vestal virgins of old.
Sometimes, he took himself in hand and sometimes they were both bare and Roxas caressed his sun-kissed skin, but those were secret and snatched moments that they both quickly blocked out.
There was a question burning in a bronze cage, trapped like a Harpy. He was not ready to ask, he was not ready for the answer.
Egypt was drawing near.
The day they landed at Cairo, Jecht did something peculiar and ordered Demyx to make sure Roxas found what he was looking for without trouble. His subordinate stared at him as if he had sprouted a second head, but he was not going to squander his captain's rare moment of insight and good will. He followed Roxas down the gangplank and through the city's dusty streets.
He was surprised when they left the cover of the buildings and began to wander out into the open Southland. Demyx was not sure how long they meandered down the dirt road, but when they arrived at the small town, they were sweating and covered into travel grime.
Roxas did not stop to rest or eat or drink, he marched on resolutely toward one of the large stone buildings. Nothing of the encampment looked to have been built by the Egyptians themselves, Demyx quickly surmised it to be a British settlement. However, he still could not conclude just what business Roxas had. Someone held the final secret, the crumpled letter in his pocket might, or perhaps it was locked away in Roxas himself.
The inside of the building was dark and cold and there were men in British military garb milling back and forth between the main entrance and a room farther inside, which Demyx could not see what for a metal door.
Demyx had half expected to see Zack Allen and his Scottish puppy come ambling along to greet them, but neither officer was in sight. Instead, Roxas approached a clerical woman in a cotton blue dress. She had a bronze plate set upon her desk, which read the name of Belle Séverin.
"How can I help you?" she inquired. She spoke Arabic, but Demyx was finely attuned to the French accent that clung tightly to her well-sculpted words. He did not understand the meaning, only basked in the sounds.
Roxas, full of secrets, as always, responded in the same language. "My name is Sorour."
The young woman bent intently over a long sheet of papyrus, scanning each name. When she looked up, she had something akin to pity in her eyes. "Would you like me to get General Almasy immediately…or…"
She rose for her station without another word, slipping between several men and into the back room. She was gone for quite a long time, but Roxas remained standing before the desk and so did Demyx.
When the woman returned she had a tall blond man in her wake. General Almasy gave Roxas a sharp, unpleasant grin. He spoke in English, a language Demyx could comprehend.
There were people listening to their conversation and that made Seifer growl. He turned, glaring at anyone unlucky enough to catch his eye. Demyx felt his hackles rising, and it was only Roxas' gentle hand on his shoulder that stopped him from attacking like a dog protecting his master.
"Come. We cannot conduct our business out here, can we?"
Through the metal door there was another room lined wall to wall with shelves of books, in the center there was a staircase leading down. It went on, and on and on, taking one deep underground; the passageways lit by flickering torches. Seifer Almasy led them through the twisting earthen maze. He had no idea what the purpose of this place was, but, a strange smell wafted to Demyx's noise and he tried not to gag.
"It was Captain Allen who insisted on this, Roxas," the man whispered, but the sound echoed back and forth between the fetid walls. "I hope you thanked him." His voice carried the sentiments of self-contradiction.
The cavern they entered was…it…the floor was a carpet of corpses. Demyx was not a delicate minded person, but never before had he seen a room carpeted with corpses. His eyes found Roxas' and they shared something, they found anchor in each other. Almasy's voice had lost all amusement.
"Identify who you can, and we will make the funeral arrangements." Seifer said he would be close by and then wandered away, apparently unable to take such a concentrated amount of death.
Demyx's throat felt clogged. There was something to be said, but he couldn't say it, so he fell back onto something simpler. He hugged Roxas round the shoulders and sang slow and quavering,
"What is sea-born dies on land,
Soft is trod upon.
What is given burns the hand—
What is gone is gone."
(chp. 2 – pg. 25)
They left after Roxas had carefully navigated the bodies like a minefield. He found each face he recognized and once he was sure he had identified all he could, he brought Seifer back, pointing to them, one by one.
One would almost wonder why, if the military was aware of who had died, they needed Roxas to give names to faces. Most of the faces were unrecognizable, burned away or blown away or no head at all and Roxas could only discern them from small, intimate details that he knew for some reason.
Demyx's head was awhirl with confusion and longing and, admittedly, terror.
General Almasy called for several subordinates to carry the indicated corpses up to the surface to prepare for burial. There were over ten of them, more than just the few names Roxas had allowed Zack to read.
"Are you staying for the funeral?" Seifer inquired.
"Seifer!" Roxas snapped, his frustration, and his grief, hung heavy on the dank air. "I did not serve under you."
"No," the taller blond agreed thoughtfully. "No, you didn't. You never did understand it was a matter of respect, though. Not for me, but for the others. Relm called me sir."
"You son of a bitch!" The words came rumbling from some secret place in Roxas, as did the tears—which, as Demyx had suspected on the ship, what felt like years ago—they were few and frosty, more like snowflakes than tears really.
"The others respected me," Seifer repeated dangerously, and then he exited, leaving Roxas shaking with an impotent rage.
"Fuck you, Almasy!" the boy screamed after him.
Demyx approached him then, pulling him into his arms fully. "Roxas."
"That bastard…" the blond whispered brokenly.
That night they walked along the Nile because it was there to walk along. It detracted from some of the things Demyx felt he finally had to ask. The funeral was the next day and the Nocturne had four days at Cairo.
"Do you want to say something?" It was ineloquent, but he was not going to try cajoling Roxas.
He did not really expect Roxas to tell him anything.
Relm was sitting in his mother's lap and he was sitting on the floor polishing his father's boots, hoping to surprise him.
Refia was reading to them from a paperback book in her hands, the words washing over them soothing and meaningful. It was a beautiful story with magic and unicorns and monsters and mad kings and love.
Relm liked the unicorn the best and Roxas thought poor, pathetic Schmendrick was funny.
They had just finished the fifth chapter when a knock came to the door. It was just past noon and opening to door let in a blast of hot, dry air. A gaggle of children stood on the step looking sheepish at varying degrees.
"Can Roxas and Relm come play?" Riku asked.
The Jenova triplets were grounded again for sneaking into the excavation sight. Aladdin and a few others had gone up to spend the day in Cairo with Jasmine. Sora and Kairi had snuck off somewhere together.
Which left Riku, Roxas, and Relm; and Relm confessed she did not want to interrupt her work on her latest painting.
So, Riku and Roxas wandered out of the house, full of teenage boredom and some resentment toward their friends for not being around to entertain them.
At least there were the two of them.
"Where do you think Kairi and Sora went?" Roxas inquired dully, kicking at a rock with little to no malice. It was too hot to be really angry.
Riku was quiet at his side for a suspicious amount of time. Roxas glanced up at him expectantly.
"I saw them kissing."
"What?" Roxas felt something unpleasant stir in his stomach. Kairi was like a sister and Sora was like a brother so his brother and sister were kissing? He did not like it.
"When Sephiroth marched through with his caravan and we all came out to see. They weren't there, so I went to find them. They were behind the military depot." Riku had stopped walking and was scuffling his shoe unhappily against the ground. "They don't know I know. Yet. Ever."
"It is kind of disgusting," Roxas agreed.
looked up sharply, but said nothing.
"What do you think?"
Roxas tried not to answer; he tried not to look at Riku at all. "I…" They had all grown up here; they were as Egyptian as the sand, even if many of their parents had immigrated to the area for various jobs. They had adapted and changed and their blood was full of sand, not snow or tulips or shamrocks or whatever they had known before.
Riku's family had come from Russia, Sora's from Holland, Kairi's from Belgium.
"I'm joining Almasy."
"I won't let those Camel-Jackers take anything from me."
Riku's eyebrow shot up. "Do you? I don't think you do, Roxas."
"What do you mean?" Roxas asked uneasily. He hugged his arms to himself and looked away. Riku turned his head back with a hand on his cheek.
"Your name is Sorour. Your family will be one of the first they destroy. Not only is your father Egyptian but he married a Swedish woman and had children; blond, blue-eyed, beautiful children. What's more he works for the Brits." Riku's eyes were intense; not their usual serene aquamarine but something likened to the sickly color of the sky before a storm.
"You think the fighting will come this close to Cairo?" Roxas rejoined, trying to sound incredulous and make Riku feel stupid, but it was hard, what for the way the other boy was touching him.
"It will come." That was Riku's only cryptic warning before he leaned in close, pressing their lips together. It was a dry kiss with sand and confusion pushed up between them.
"Riku?" the blond whispered uncertainly.
The ruskie shook his head, the look on his face was so tender that Roxas kind of began to understand. He realized that he had always understood, he just…
"Riku," he repeated, stunned by himself and by Riku and by the world going on around them and what it had done to them.
Riku kissed him again, softer, moister.
He was not one of Seifer's subordinates to be ordered around. He was a member of the group, he opposed the Muslim attempts to remove the Egyptians and take over as strongly as anyone, but he did not take orders from Seifer Almasy.
bothered him when he saw the adoration shining in Relm's eyes or
when he heard Riku parroting back Seifer's radical ideas.
The day Kairi turned twenty, Sora proposed to her. Relm and Jasmine waited on Kairi for the day, helping her into her dress and assuring her that, no, Kairi, honey, Sora was not going to change his mind.
Their wedding was simple, and unrefined. It bordered on barbaric with its mixing and matching of customs.
Afterwards, when they had all dispersed, friends and family alike— all of them knowing exactly where the newly-weds were and what they were doing—Riku and Roxas walked down the Nile's edge together.
Riku reached out and took his hand, squeezing gently.
felt the first stirrings pangs of panic.
They were worse. They were worse than the Muslims. They were worse than terrorist. They were worse than murderers.
Seifer said that in war there were casualties.
Roxas could only think of what he would say to his father. What would he say? What if his mother found out?
"Roxas." Riku reached out to him, trying to comfort him, but Roxas drew back, staring at him. He was covered in blood, both of them were covered, head to foot in bright red blood.
"Don't," the blond protested, fleeing the scene leaving Seifer and all his cronies.
Why? Why did they listen to him?
"Roxas!" Riku chased after him and Roxas wanted to feel warmed by it, but he couldn't! He just couldn't!
"Don't, Riku, don't. I have to…I have to go."
"Roxas, what are you—"
"I killed people today, Riku."
"I did! I held the gun in my hands and I…"
"It's us or them, Roxas! I won't lose you. I'll kill as many of them as I have to!"
Roxas stared. "No…"
"I won't let them kill Sora and Kairi. I want to see their kids and I want to spoil them! I want to see the look on Relm's face when someone buys one of her paintings!" Riku grabbed him by the shoulders, gripping hard. "I want to be there for Aladdin and Jasmine's wedding! I won't let them come here and take it from me! I won't just stand by!"
Roxas broke free
from his grip, somewhere, trapped, between resolute and scared. He
tried to look Riku in the eyes before he left, but he just couldn't.
"I got on the first ship I found and when it docked I got on another. I…went like that for a long time, just sailing around until I got off at Venice. I was going to get on another ship, but Axel found me first."
Demyx was not looking at Roxas as they continued, their feet leading back toward the encampment. The words were still sinking in, Roxas' secrets. His childhood, his family, and the boy he had been in love with, and the terrorist organization he had been a part of in order to protect it all. The nameless people he had killed. The loyalties he'd left behind. Demyx tried to imagine Roxas a cold-blooded killer and he failed.
"I love you," Demyx said helplessly. The tales had not succeeded in driving him further away. They had intensified the feelings he had begun to develop back in Venice, and had acknowledged on the ship. He wanted to be the one to help Roxas to overcome it. He wanted it to be him and it was selfish and stupid.
"Demyx," Roxas' voice was a tired whine. "I…"
"This is up to you, Roxas," Demyx muttered, stopping while Roxas continued to walk ahead. "It's about what you want."
"I can't just pick between you and Axel and Riku and myself," the blond lamented. Several feet away he stood, his back stiff and his head bowed.
"Axel and I will take care of you and Riku is dead." Demyx had not meant to be so blunt, it felt cruel. "All you have to decide is whether you want to stay with him in Venice, where you can be safe and loved and secure for the rest of forever if you want. Or if you want to stay on the ship with me and be safe and loved and secure and see amazing things until the day you die."
Or, that was what Demyx wanted to say, but, before he could, Roxas pressed up against him, holding him close and kissing him.
Demyx's eyes fluttered shut as he clutched Roxas to him, however when he opened them, hoping to catch Roxas' face at the height of passion, he saw nothing but blue, blue, blue.
There was the love in those eyes but something was happening. Roxas was changing. It was…like the regretless, immortal, unicorn finally coming to rest in its human guise.
"Your first love is to the sea," Roxas mumbled.
Demyx laughed faintly. "It could be you."
Roxas kissed him again, taking away his breath, making him shut up. "It could be. You could love me and we could be happy, but…we would lose the land."
Demyx knew what he meant and he hated himself for it. "The ocean is bigger."
"Harsh and impersonal and unsteady and…"
"I will love you as long as I can,
However long that may be…"
(chp 11 – pg. 156)
"And," Demyx smiled, resigned and hurt and loving it so thoroughly that he was slightly hysterical. "It will be a very long time."
"Right now? Just love me."
To have sex with his lover's dearest friend the eve of his family and friends' funeral…It was best not to think.
Roxas did not stay long after the funeral. As soon as he was satisfied that they were all put to rest, he began the trek back to Cairo. Demyx only had one more day before the Nocturne set sail for many, many months. He wondered if Roxas would stay with him, or if Roxas would find passage back to Venice immediately or…He sighed. This wound would sting for a long time. It was infected as well because he could not be angry with Axel and he could not be angry with Roxas and he could not be angry with himself. He had to swallow all his pride and all his irrational feelings and hurry along his acceptance. It burned on the way down.
The blond boy at his side was at least consoling, was beautiful and courteous and seemingly coming into his own and…Demyx suddenly realized that it felt strange to think of Roxas as a boy suddenly.
Since meeting him three months prior, it had been fitting. Roxas was younger than either he or Axel. He was smaller in height and stature and his face simply radiated with the shyness of a child with an undercurrent of the secrecy of a man.
Now he was Roxas, twenty-six years old and looking every bit a man.
"Are you going?" Demyx felt old and pathetic, he was thirty-four, just now meeting the love of his life and losing him in the same fell swoop.
"Tomorrow," Roxas promised.
In the morning Demyx saw him onto a ship back to Venice.
"I'll bring something back from Morocco for you."
Roxas caressed his cheek, as much of a goodbye and an ending as Demyx could have ever asked for.
He had spotted Axel before he even stepped off the gangplank; that red hair was hard to miss. Roxas ran toward him, shoving through the crowd and, when he at last came to where Axel and Naminé, stood he nearly jumped into Axel's arms and kissed him.
Surprised and pleased, the man did not protest, only held him tightly while Naminé tried not to stare.
"You came back," Axel panted, nuzzling him warmly as if they were not standing at the crowded dock with people staring.
"No, I didn't," Roxas replied and then kissed him again.
He was back in Venice again, and, this time, he jumped off the ship, his boots touching the ground for the first time in months.
It was hard to be back again, but he trudged along nonetheless. He was nearly across the first bridge when someone caught his arm. At first, Demyx thought it was a pickpocket, but, when he turned, his breath caught.
Roxas. (andalsoaxel) Roxas
His heart twisted, but he did nothing to indicate it.
"A little birdy told me you would be coming soon," Roxas said, smiling a smile of true pleasure.
"Jecht ruined the surprise did he?" Demyx laughed. "Who's minding the inn?"
"Naminé and Leon." Axel responded.
"You left them alone together?" Demyx was, quite frankly, shocked.
"Naminé is a big girl," Axel admitted wearily, as if the line had been rehearsed many a time. "Can we hurry back now?"
Roxas let out a delighted sound and grabbed Axel's hand, tugging him along through the crowd. Demyx followed them silently. It really did hurt, but what was he supposed to do? 'Axel, give me Roxas or I may have to kill you out of jealousy and want and need?' No…He supposed he could worship from afar.
That was the kind of person he was. Maybe. Or something. He loved the sea without ever expecting something in return. Roxas could be the same.
Axel was the type to take what he wanted…
He had always been better at taking what he wanted…
"If I danced with
As I dance in my dreaming,
As graceful and gleaming
As Death in disguise—
Oh, that would be sweet,
But then would I hunger
To be ten years younger,
Or wedded, or wise?"
(chp. 10 – pg. 131)
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.