Baker's Dozen
Set pre-CoM. Larxene and Marluxia.

She's the youngest until they get Roxas.

- - - -

The first day after her change is the worst.

There is one thing that she promises herself before she goes to sleep that night: she promises herself it will never be this bad again.

- - - -

Thirteen is an unlucky number, except for bakers. Her father taught her that one early. At the end of each fresh dozen, there is always a misshapen lump of dough; sometimes it is used to taste, for ballast, for waste, but its role is always that of a discard.

Her father taught her the baker's code, and the sailsman's rhyme against foul weather, and the tailor's charm for untangled threads. He taught her the song of the traveler as a reminder against straying down foreign paths: the endless wanderer who became entranced by sights continually just over the horizon, spending years chasing down marvel after marvel. He saw so much that when he returned, he could not recognize his own house, her father lectured patiently, and now he wanders forever, eternally within reach of his home and never realizing.

There are a million cantrips for good fortune, but none for the heart. Larxene's father never told her what to do to keep black imps from stealing her soul. She knows about turning mirrors over to face walls, about leaving the laces of her boots tied together each night to keep them from walking away -- but in all the tiny riddles of her homeland, there is nothing that shows her the way back.

The Organization is a place unlike anything she expected to see. She has seen patriarchies before. Government is government wherever you go, and the idea of segregation isn't foreign to her. Some towns only allow men to fish on their boats. Others take women. Others ban children from handling certain types of foods before they're fully cooked. It's all a baker's dozen: all codes of supersition to rely on when everything else has run out.

The only difference is that living people choose which taboos they follow, but the Heartless take anyone, anyone at all. It should mean something, that the surviving bias has been heavily skewed. It should mean something, and doesn't.

She's the only girl, which means she spends half her time during the first year expecting that everyone else will make something of it, will snigger if she fails and isn't perfect, will blame her gender as if there's an innate weakness in her sex. Except they don't. Not a single person in the Organization even comments about the imbalance in their membership -- as if they don't notice, or don't care -- and Larxene isn't sure if that's worse.

Losing one's heart isn't as tidy as the older Organization members claim. Maybe it was simpler for them; maybe they never felt anything to begin with. They were all scientists (she's heard), they probably attributed all their feelings to chemical reactions, lining up the formulas on blue-grid paper before shelving them in some closet.

Because there's still something there. It's not hate, because it doesn't give her strength in the same way that anger used to; it's not despair because it always stops before she gets too upset. But whatever's inside her, she no longer has the right descriptions for. She doesn't know what to call it because the language has been ripped away. She doesn't know what to do about the fact that it doesn't matter, and the truth is that it doesn't and that's going to drive her mad because she's not used to a world where things hold no true significance.

Larxene spends her first day as a Nobody trying to figure out how she's supposed to act. She throws up after an hour. For the rest of the day, she hides the taste of bile behind a tight smile, and doesn't speak.

She ends up keeping her irritability, though; she won't give any of them the opportunity to look down on her, even by accident.

- - - -

"Are you sure I wasn't a mistake?"

Saix levels a stare at her; he's the oldest Organization member that she's comfortable talking to, because the first six are all crazy. Saix is too, but at least he's nicer about it. "What do you mean?"

"I mean ," and she's not sure how to say it, to appear properly like it's everyone else's big conspiracy and she's finally getting up the courage to confront it, except she knows that'd all be a farce, and Saix probably does too. "Your little boy's club here. Do you have rules against people like me?"

Saix either doesn't have the creativity to understand what she's talking about, or doesn't care. She's betting on the latter. "'People like you'?" he quotes back, properly disinterested. She figures that Xemnas pays him to follow the script. "Maybe, against overly talkative Nobodies. But we haven't thrown out Axel yet."

She drums her fingers on the dining table. "You know what I'm getting at. Don't play dumb."

"I know that you enjoy mimicking emotions unnecessarily." Pushing his chair back, the berserker fetches up his sword and gives his mouth a final wipe with his breakfast napkin. "But everyone needs a hobby."

"Maybe you should try it sometime," she yells at his back. The stray Dusks that are bobbing around the dining hall turn their pointed heads towards her, curious at the outburst. "It could get help you prepare for when you'd have a life again."

- - - -

At first when they get Roxas, she's relieved. Thirteen is an unlucky number, but now there's someone lower than her on the totem pole: someone who's introduced to the Organization proper instead of being stuffed away in a sterile corner like Namine, someone whose name has the artificial X. Roxas even looks the part of a leftover. He's unformed, missing his memories, his expression as soft as bread dough. He's an acceptable discard.

But Roxas is special. Roxas is the Superior's golden boy, the one who can do no wrong even though he shows no indication of wanting to rebel in the first place. Roxas is the one who goes on the most interesting missions, sometimes with a partner, sometimes alone. Even though he's barely been a Nobody for any time at all -- not much better than an incidental Dusk -- the boy has the Superior's attention, and this leaves Larxene at the bottom again.

She finds solace in seeking out her polar opposite. Marluxia is the next up on the chain of authority, and is as unlike her as Xaldin is to humor. Even Demyx has more in common with Larxene's personality, and they're born to be natural enemies from their elements up. Marluxia is calm, and controlled, and doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with sitting in a garden for hours on end, sipping from a single cup of tea. He laughs when he's accused of vulnerabilities. Nothing seems to bother him about the way he's put together, and this would grate on Larxene's nerves if she still have nerves to grate on .

But she doesn't, so instead she shoves aside the vaguely queasy sensation in the pit of her stomach, and marches into the third-floor garden.

Fortune's on her side; he's there and alone. Plants are everywhere on the open-air terrace, sprouting off of walkways, spilling green vines across the ground. The man himself is poised at one of the tables near the middle. His hands are deep in a wide-mouthed vase, arranging several blooms by miniscule degrees. Why he bothers, Larxene never knows. It's not like anyone else in the Castle cares about the state of their local foliage, and usually the stems end up getting thrown away before they turn brown and withered.

"Pink and flowers." Her scorn is her only announcement; she didn't bother to send a Dusk to notify him first. "You're more of a girl than I am."

She doesn't see the attack when it comes. One moment, Marluxia is regarding her with mild surprise on one side of the table; the next, he has uncoiled in a serpent's lash, or a bloodsucker vine. He's faster than she expected. Tiny branches bite at her hand as she's flung backwards through a clump of bushes and then a root flips her heel out from underneath her, and she's down.

Marluxia is on top of her instantly. His scythe is out, and for once, the pink coloration does not seem at all foppish. He's heavier than she expected, all muscle inside the grace, and when she tries to squirm to get her knives into play, she discovers the dull pressure of his fingertips licking against the inside of her wrist, right between the glove and the sleeve.

"If you're going to work with me," he informs her, the flat of the blade a metal bar between his throat and hers, "you're going to have to learn to discard such foolish notions."

"Who says I'm working with you?" she spits back.

He smiles.

- - - -

The problem with Marluxia is that -- once she's made her challenge known -- he won't leave her alone. The other members of the Organization could care less where she is or what she's doing, as long as she's finishing her job assignments. Not XI. Wherever she turns, his eyes are watching; wherever she goes, he's been there first. On worlds she visits, there are neat bouquets waiting at the gate-in points, their leaves still wet with dew. Sometimes there's only a stray flower, delicately placed just out of the corner of her eye, so she only finds it right after she's given up looking.

At first she thinks that he's flirting with her, under some stupid ridiculous kind of chauvinism that assumes she'd giggle and swoon over a pretty weed. That idea makes her even angrier, in that sick, tired way that's plagued her since her transformation. She can't think of a reason why Zexion would let Marluxia see her assignments early; she doesn't want to know if the two of them are in conspiracy, because it means there's more she's being excluded from, and that thought is useless for comfort.

The day she finally gets sick of it is the day she crumples the rose that's laid out for her on a bookshelf in the Land of Dragons. The leather of her glove protects her from the thorns, but she can feel them pressing against her fingers, jabbing into her palm.

She deposits the ruined bloom on his desk. One of the leaves sticks to her glove, and she plucks it off, irritated that it wasted the cold efficiency of her gesture.

Marluxia only lowers the watering can, blinking at her from over a clump of bamboo.

"I don't like these kinds of things," she asserts, planting her hands on her hips, shoulders squared. "You should know better than that, if you want me to like you."

"I don't ask for the impossible," he chides her gently, grinning as he flicks a drop of water off one of the larger bamboo leaves.

The pride of her defiance fades; if he's laughing at her, then she's fallen right into his trap, and made a fool of herself. If he's saying that she's some kind of ice-queen -- but she can like people, just not him. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"No heart," he sings back, unnaturally cheerful, as if he knows what she's thinking and is about to mock her for the vanity. "That's what the Superior always says, mm?"

An old sense of rebellion spurs her to her next reply: "Do you believe everything the Superior says?"

Marluxia's eyebrows make polite curves of disbelief. He lowers the watering can, focusing directly on her, all other motion in his body stilled. "Now, Larxene," he purrs, each word carefully enunciated by his lips as if he were tonguing pearls, "are you suggesting our magnificant leader could be... wrong?"

The last word hits like a fist against her throat. Larxene opens her mouth, and then finds no breath in her lungs to either confirm or deny his charge; she doesn't know what he wants her to say, and which one is less dangerous. Her silence is bad enough.

She leaves the room before she loses even more ground, and spends the rest of the day venting her uncertainty by flinging knives at Roxas's Samurai.

"You're so aggressive about being the only woman in the Organization," Marluxia says later. She's come back to him anyway, like worrying at an open cut on her lip despite how much it bleeds. "Haven't you realized that nobody cares?"

The words reach deep inside her, to where her heart should be. Finding nothing, they only bounce around inside her chest, making the emptiness worse by the fact that they're calling attention to it. "Should that make me feel any better?"

"It wouldn't be an issue if you weren't the one making it so."

She screws up her face in exaggerated distaste. "And? Does this mean you won't keep hanging around me?"

"No," he replies, smiling as if he's just watched an entire continent sink underwater, taking its population with it. "I like trouble."

- - - -

He teaches her a piece of protection she hasn't heard of before: how to take a new leaf off a certain kind of fern and soak it in saltwater as a ward against garden blight. With one plant marked for death, the rest will be saved. "Only one has to die," he emphasizes as he guides her hand into the bowl, submerging the leaf until its tiny fronds curl up. "A gardener always understands the necessity of proper sacrifice."

He doesn't laugh at all the trivia she knows, the hedge-charms and rhymes and rotes of warning. It's never a matter of good luck or bad luck, like licking a coin to get it to flip heads. If so, she'd get along better with Luxord, but there's something in X's cool, untouchable blue eyes that reminds her of the practical hunger of a cobra. Fate is not a kind creature, not in any of the legends, and Larxene always finds herself avoiding its Gambler.

But Graceful Assassins are another matter entirely. Even Marluxia's umbrella is pink; she never thought she'd get used to the color, but it's easier to ignore the longer she's around him, until she finds that she's stopped thinking about the fact that such things should be distinctions -- just like it should make a difference that she's the only girl apart from Namine, and Larxene would rather die a second time than be lumped in with that meek little thing. Marluxia doesn't care, and his indifference is not like the rest of the Organization. His mind simply can't be bothered with superficial bias.

Or at least, that's how Larxene explains it to herself, because Marluxia never feels the need to elaborate.

The one question he does ask her has nothing to do with the practices of her homeland. She's busy fiddling with his umbrella in the fourth-floor garden as he occupies himself pruning a large orange tree; because the silence is discomforting, she uses it to hit her chair. One, two, three whacks of the folded umbrella against the metal, and then suddenly Marluxia is sticking his boot between the umbrella-tip and the chair, catching it. "Why are you spending all this time pretending to be angry?" he offers, waiting for her to redirect her glare from the ground to his face.

She tosses her chin in defiance. "Why are the rest of you spending all this time pretending to be dead?"

He stares at her for a long time, and then moves his foot away. "Touche."

The rain starts up later again that day. Marluxia doesn't stop working; he doesn't bother to fetch his umbrella from her either, continuing to tend to his plants as the storm comes down. The more delicate flowers get netting rigged over them, plastic wrap and weave to keep the younger buds from being damaged by raindrops -- they're that fragile.

Only when he's on the far side of the garden does Larxene finally answer his question.

"If I don't remind myself about emotions, I won't recognize them when they return," she whispers aloud, so faintly that even she can barely hear her own voice over the storm. Her father's warnings are dim memories in her ears. The rain is cold. Humidity presses against her skin and coats her throat, encasing her in a thin layer of dampness. It will kill her if she summons her lightning now, touches the energy that's kept tight inside her muscles and inside her bones. Electricity hates water.

There were rhymes in her village about how to avoid being struck. Most of them involved staying close to trees.

She shivers, fighting back the urge to sneeze, and looks up.

Marluxia is there.

"Come on," he orders her quietly. "Let's go inside where it's warmer."

- - - -

"In the buildings of the last world I went to," he offers one day, flipping through his mission papers as he makes his last-minute preparations for departure, "they skip numbering the thirteenth floor, and call it the fourteenth instead. Isn't that interesting?"

She lowers her teacup. They're in Marluxia's chambers that day, and he insists on his own diningware no matter how often Larxene protests. The delicate porcelain always feels ludicrous in her hands, as if she'll break it the instant she takes her attention away. "Is that what Namine is? A stand-in to avoid bad luck?"

"Maybe. I brought you back something from there," he adds, gathering up his jacket over one arm and his travel satchel. Today he's wearing something that smells like cinnamon, cinnamon and clove, and she finds that she's drawing in a deep breath despite herself. Zexion has him running everywhere; no sooner did Marluxia return than he's already rushing off to another world. It makes conversations hurried, stilted. "Check your room. I'll see you when I return."

He doesn't protest when she presses a single gil into his hand. "So you don't have to pick one up on the way," she explains, not meeting his eyes.

The flicker of his mouth is in the corner of her vision. "All day long," Marluxia finishes for her, tucking the coin into his pocket, "I'll have good luck."

When she goes back to her quarters, there's the smell of fresh bread in the air. Someone's been in her bedroom. Twelve whole loaves are lined up on the sidetable near the door, covered with a thin sheet of gauze to help keep them warm. The thirteenth has been sliced and buttered.

She stares at it for a long time while it cools, wondering if it'll poison her to eat it.

The butter tastes like honey when she swallows it down.