Part of a series read in this order: Cities of the Future, Black Sun Rising, Parvulus Nefas
Irvine has the boy hitched up across his back as he moves through the alleyways. Each building he passes is the same, built of glossy black stone, slim and tall, windows tinted, shutters lacquered, the metal of the doors burned to much the same. Every building the same, no matter where one goes in this city. Irvine hurries, the streets he runs upon are shaded by the balcony of upper alleyways and the jumping shadows of ships oblivious to their plight down here on the concrete earth.
The boy's limbs are hanging limply all around him like spider legs and the boy is quietly bleeding to death on his back and the ugly wound on his face is packed with filth and gravel.
Blood dribbles from the boy's mouth, staining Irvine's prized jacket, the one he'd scrounged out of the dumpsters behind the Turks office.
"Squall! Squall, help me!" Irvine calls, reaching back to clutch his passenger's thighs and heft him higher, to keep him from slipping. Irvine's boot connects solidly with the warped door of their abandoned apartment. "Squall!"
Zell's vision swims violently when he wakes up. His face throbs and rustles stiffly as he jars the gauze haphazardly encasing his bloodied temple.
He groans lowly and nearly swoons again.
A kid, he looks nine, just about the same age as him, appears in the doorway. Several more heads peak in around the stranger's silhouetted frame.
"He's awake!" one of them cheers, darting into the room. He's accompanied by a mirror image of himself: a blond who looks at Zell strangely, eyes shimmering with distrust and rabid curiosity.
"I'm Sora and Roxas!" the brunet twin exclaims.
The taller kid who'd first appeared comes closer. He has pleasant gray eyes, which squint under the strain of obvious maturity and responsibility. He corrects the excited child, telling him, "You're just Sora, Roxas is Roxas."
The blond twin's eyes shift and he gives an inexplicable flush.
"And this is Squall!" Sora proclaims, exemplifying with wild hands.
Squall smiles vaguely for his introduction, his lips failing at the motion midway. "You doing okay?"
Zell faints without being able to answer.
Two weeks later he's fully conscious for the first time since… He scowls down at the counter, pushing the thought away, and digging into his food with greater vigor. Irvine, the boy who'd carried him here, is watching him in a hopeful, fidgeting, silence. His cornflower eyes are begging for Zell to say something to him.
Zell hates that. "Yeth?" he lisps around his bruised mouth.
Irvine's a brunet like all the others, save Roxas, but Irvine's hair is a lot longer than any of theirs. He tosses his ponytail over his shoulder as his face splits into a relieved grin.
"What's your name?"
Zell frowns, the pull of skin over bone causes him a sudden shooting pain. The dried blood on his temple cracks and his wound begins bleeding anew. He puts his fingers into his food and draws his name on the table in watery smears of weak sauce.
"Zell!" Irvine translates. Then he yelps in shock as Squall seemingly materializes behind him to administer a blow and a warning.
"Don't make a mess, Irvine. It'll be your chore to clean the kitchen if you do it again."
Zell smiles sharply and without apology at the boy, the one he should feel indebted to for saving his life. He is surprised when Irvine just winks and then throws his head back to laugh, almost as soon as Squall is out of earshot.
"Why do you guys even live here?" Zell growls. He's snarling and wincing and spitting as the other boys pin him down. Squall crouches on his chest, taking care of the wound on his temple. Blood flows liberally from the deep gash, which simply refuses to heal, which keeps calling amiably for infection… Well, Zell admits angrily, Squall has actually been taking really good care of it, viciously attacking every sign of bacteria with medicines and painful cleansing.
Squall's hands still in response to Zell's words. He looks down at his patient in silent reprimand, then returns to his work.
Zell knows the answer to his own question. Knows because no adults live in this house, knows because he wouldn't have to go through this horrible pain if they could get their hands on a potion. They live in the cities of the future… hurts, infections, they should be outdated by now… but what else can be expected of a group of penniless orphans?
Sora answers in Squall's stead. "We live here cause we don't have no parents."
The boy always refers to himself as 'we' and rarely ever remembers he and Roxas are separable. However, in this case, Zell understands Sora means the entire group.
Squall tells him he can stay.
The remaining veins of tapped blood in his face are still covered in bandages, but the skin is finally growing back, dark and purple and permanent.
Sora smiles and says, "We hope you'll stay."
Irvine says it too, with his big stupid cowboy smile. He'd turned ten last week and is still basking in the radiance of being older than everyone else. That isn't really relevant, except Zell realizes he's a kid, and he hates to admit he's a kid. He remembers what happened to his family; he's all alone without these guys and…
"Don't expect me to hang around forever," he mutters, looking to the only person whose opinion he even takes notice of, so far. Roxas stares back quietly, except his eyes don't seem to care what Zell does at all.
Despite himself, Zell likes the apartment. It's run down and messy and there's mold crawling relentlessly up the wall in the living room. The gray paint is peeling and the puce carpets are worn to the boards. The grout of the once flawlessly white kitchen tile has cracked and split wide open. It takes three of them to light the faulty stove. The faucets only works on Tuesdays, when the sewers are flushed, and no one wants to drink that water in the first place. The five of them bathe at an abandoned and vandalized fountain in sector seven. Even though no one goes there anymore, the five of them still take their baths in the tiny hours of the morning, before the addicts and prostitutes and perverts come to loiter in the shady alleyways nearby.
The darkened glass panes in the windows of their old apartment are cracked like glistening spider webs. The shutters have all broken or fallen off. There's no heating or cooling, there's no furniture but for a few mismatched chairs and stools set around an ancient and unsteady card table. The ceiling leaks in the bedroom. There are rats and bugs and bird's nests.
It's Squall's birthday today though, and Zell sort of likes the house even more than he usually does. The living room is peppered with the remains of the wrapping paper. Everyone had gone to great lengths to filch it for the presents.
Irvine had found a knife weeks ago, a pretty thing with a black hilt; a useful thing for kids too poor for guns. Irvine has drowned the helpless blade within layers and layers of brightly colored papers. Squall murmurs quiet gratification while his other hand accepts what Zell presses upon him. Zell had found a pair of worn leather gloves two days ago and unable to resist wrapping them, stole some striped paper from a card shop.
Squall thanks him for those as well.
Zell expects the twins to give their leader something together, but, instead, Roxas sits down at Squall's feet and slips a brand new lighter into his hand. The blond does so without preamble, without words, and without any sort of trappings.
Sora's parcel is wrapped in polka dots, huge roseate ones.
"Here," he announces brightly. "We got this for you."
Squall is too surprised by everyone's charity to bother correcting Sora about making himself a plural.
The brunet twin's gift is a comic book, a raggedy, dog-eared thing, stained with someone's careless coffee, but none of its pages are missing and most of the colors still come through.
Squall eyes all four of his friends suspiciously, even as he tucks the knife into the back of his pants and tugs on the gloves. He's met with Irvine and Sora's huge, idiotic grins, Zell's begrudging little smile and… Roxas's face pointed towards him, in the semblance of regard; however, the boy's sky-neon eyes are far and away.
"Long ago, the world was united and filled with warm light."
Roxas is reading the comic book to Sora peacefully when Squall comes stumbling in the front door, his face bleeding wickedly.
"People loved the light and eventually began fighting over it."
No one but Roxas notices at the time, because Squall doesn't say a word. He simply works his way blindly back into the bedroom.
"Then, darkness found its way into people's hearts."
Roxas does nothing with his knowledge, only continues to read to Sora, his voice slow and steady and eloquently moderated.
"But a glimmer of light remained in the hearts of children…"
It is later, when Irvine goes to talk to Squall about dinner, that his injury is discovered.
"Children gathered their glimmers of light and recreated the world."
"Hey, Squall? Shit! Squall what… Zell! …shit… Get the antiseptic!"
"The recreated world, however, was no longer united… It was divided into several smaller worlds."
Sora stirs, sitting up in worry as Zell and Irvine's voices rise to fevered pitches.
"Because the true light was still hidden deep within the darkness…"
Roxas sets the comic book down and covers his brother's ears gently.
"The door is still shut," the blond whispers in a voice not his own, the muscles in his shoulder blades spasm against his will.
Squall lets out a sharp, restrained noise.
Both Irvine and Zell curse at him fluently.
Sora squirms in his brother's lap, trying to free his ears.
Roxas does not let go.
Squall refuses to say a word about who injured him, or why he's suddenly lacking both knife and gloves.
It doesn't take long for the perpetrator to come forward of his own free will though. The guy is maybe a year older than they are. He's tall with blond hair gelled close to his head like a helmet. His faded denim eyes glint like knives, like Squall's knife, which he tosses back and forth between his gloved hands.
None of Squall's friends have ever seen him or his little group of lackeys before. However, judging by their clothes, it's obvious they have homes and parents. They wonder what they are doing in this sector to begin with.
"Why did you hurt Squall?" Sora asks, pleadingly. He is considerably less concerned about the stolen presents than the others. When he tries to take a step forward, the older boy flicks the knife and Roxas drags his twin back for safety.
Across the squalid alley they're all in lines like a pathetic old showdown.
"That's his name?" the older boy wonders, his eyes have yet to leave Squall's and he sneers at with every toss of the knife between synthetic-leather clad hands. Each arch is a taunt directed at Squall. "I guess it didn't matter when I jumped you. I'm Seifer, and I had thought the first time would'da be enough to teach you to keep out of this area. I guess you're not so bright."
Zell bares his teeth and Irvine's eyes are transfixed on the knife. His gift to Squall… He wants to… he wants… Squall takes the steps instead and stands defiantly before Seifer. He snatches the knife and—as he repays Seifer the favor of a scar—yells for the others to get home.
He limps back triumphantly that night, bruised, but clutching the knife and the ragged remnants of a glove.
On New Year's Day—the start of their collective fourteenth year—they all resolve to get jobs. They resolve to take the first opportunity to come along. They resolve because they say, jokingly, that Sora looks too thin and this must be remedied. Sora has always been the baby of the family.
It seems strange the same shouldn't apply to Roxas, however, the blond half of the twins is…
Zell despises him, deeply, silently. Though, it isn't the usual sort of hate, the kind that bursts from him. It's simply a caustic feeling in the back of his mind whenever he looks at the boy. Like something is wrong, like he doesn't matter, like he isn't seen as human, let alone as equal. Not in Roxas's world. Zell knows Irvine feels the same way sometimes and has gotten him to admit as much. Zell doesn't know how to broach the subject with Squall, else he might ask.
Ironically, Sora, the baby of their family, is the first one to get a job.
He meets a boy and a girl who work at a Wutainese café in the sixth sector called The Chestnut Tree.
The job as waiter pays well enough, allows him to bring home lots of food for his family and also affords him fast friends with Riku and Kairi, who soon become common fixtures in their dilapidated apartment.
Sora, their baby, has made friends… he stops referring to himself as 'we'.
Roxas seems unaffected. Roxas is the second of them to find a job.
He never speaks of it to Sora, never speaks of it to Zell or Irvine and only mentions it briefly the few times Squall finds it necessary to ask.
Sora has outgrown his clothes again, so has Irvine. Their paychecks go towards food and heat and repairs. So, they do what they've always done: they scrounge. This warrants them a bemusing, mismatched wardrobe, but none of them have ever minded. Sora finds a big red shirt with only one hole in it; he wriggles inside and begins a search for pants. Irvine picks up a new coat, it looks as if one sleeve was burned at one point… he takes it anyway.
Zell closes his eyes tightly against Roxas's eyes shining eerily out of the dark and blows out his birthday candle. Sora, Riku, and Kairi had brought it home for him from the café.
It's his birthday. He's finally caught up to Irvine and Squall and he has the twins beneath him for the few months until their birthday.
It's his birthday and he wishes he were happier about it.
However, his cheek stings and the scar on the side of his face feels tight and uncomfortable. Seifer, after all these years, has had no trouble in figuring out when they celebrate birthdays. He spends most of his waking time tormenting and stalking and bothering and insulting. He has long since noticed their habit of scrounging for wrapping paper whenever someone's special day approaches. Seifer had come to give Zell a present this morning.
They'd fought like dogs, but in the end, it was Zell who was sent sprawling on his ass with a bruised cheekbone.
iScarface. Chickenwuss. Seifer had said, spitting in his eye.
"Zell!" Sora says loudly, shoving the cupcake into his face, smearing icing everywhere. The others laugh, even Squall. Zell has long since stopped expecting Roxas to.
"Shit, what the hell is wrong with you, Sora?" he protests, for the sake of it.
Sora smiles brightly and offers up his gift. They're brass knuckles, because he's always preferred his fists to knives and… Zell feels a feral grin breaking open his features.
Yeah, those'll do.
A pretty lady, who says her name is Argilla, bears witness to his total domination over Seifer. She even pulls a gun when his cronies try ganging up on him too. Afterwards, she takes him back to her apartment and cleans him up while he's still too delirious from the blood and the victory high.
She doesn't invite him to stay, of course; she isn't a perverted hag out looking for young boys. In fact, she asks him to leave again as soon as she's wiped the blood from his face and made sure he isn't hurt.
As he slinks out the door, the thing hissing open automatically before him, she throws something. He snatches it out of the air and a dark ball of materia glows in his palm.
"Use that wisely, kid."
Zell knows power when he feels it.
Irvine is the one who brings them the second materia. He won't admit where he got it from, but Squall knows damn well he stole it from the weapons shop he's been working at.
Squall wants to berate him about it, but since he's the only one left who still hasn't found a job… The apartment has slowly been getting more and more livable every passing week and he hasn't contributed yet... He doesn't feel he has the right to say.
Instead, he throws himself out into the streets and doesn't come back until he can say he's gotten himself some work. That's when he meets Merlin, that's when he picks up his gunblade, and that's when—Zell thinks later—his life really begins.
Seifer's gang has enough money that they can afford all the materia they want. Squall and his family have to pick and choose to get the best they possibly can. The playing field is by no means even, and the weapons of choice have become far more lethal than knives or fists. And yet, Roxas won't lay a hand on the materia, not even when Sora takes up a flame sphere.Roxas cringes away violently from them.
Then again, Roxas's eyes glow brighter every day too. Perhaps it isn't wise to trust him with such destructive power. Not when he's tweaking more often than not.
He's on Bliss.
Bliss he does not bother to hide; Bliss he no longer pretends not to snort; Bliss, that makes his eyes more terrible than before; Bliss, that makes his behavior all the more bizarre. Bliss, which makes Zell hate him all the more, because he looks beautiful and deadly with his eye shimmering like that. He doesn't look like a worthless, emaciated junkie at all.
His eyes are far too luminous, broadcasting his addiction to the skies. Irvine approaches the blond half of the-once-inseparable-twins, playing at a concern he can't quite feel, what for the fear.
"Roxas, this shit if awful for you, come on…"
Roxas looks up, straight into Irvine's eyes, and does not see him.
The seasons don't change much here. Not in the cities of the future, where everything can be controlled by the minds of the machines. Not here, in the cities of the future, where the people can no longer live on the ground and demons roam the suspended alleyways, hidden amongst the human souls—if they can, in fact, still be called human at all.
If the seasons were still in effect, then the twin's birthday would be in the fall.
This year, their birthday is a source of controversy amongst their family.
Every year before, their gifts had been joint things, except for the items that Squall would surreptitiously slip into Roxas's hands while no one else was around to see his rare shows of sentimentality.
This year the twins are no longer a 'we'. This year, the twins are separate entities. Both of them fifteen: very much the same and still wholly different.
Zell's been working as a delivery boy at a bakery since the day he met Argilla. The shop is a few blocks from her apartment, though he has not seen her again and has not had the gall to go knocking at her door. Zell is loath to waste the money he has earned by buying Roxas something. He isn't about to waste his time trying to find a gift in the dumpsters either.
Kairi and Riku are at the party that night; they bring cakes as well as presents.Kairi's bought each bot a necklace. She winks and sticks out her tongue in self-derision, admitting that it's really very girly. Sora slips his on right away and admires the little crown shape. He smiles at his brother gaily, laughing and fastening its mate about his twin's slim neck. Roxas's pendant has no definite shape; it is simply an x and nothing more. No one deems to remark on this, and the next set of presents is swiftly introduced.
Riku offers Sora a brand new switchblade with a circlet-shaped insignia stamped with chemically tempered metals into the hilt. To Roxas he offers a small package, requesting he doesn't open it until he's alone.
Irvine's gifts are a porno-disc for Sora and a package of cigarettes for Roxas.
Squall gives Sora a new pair of shoes, he says they'll be big for a little while yet, but he wants them to last a long time. Someone accuses him of acting like a father, and Squall scoffs in reply.He does not hand anything to Roxas, not right now, but they all know he will later, even if he denies it in the presence of others.
And that leaves Zell.
Sora, his little brother, gets a new comic book and a discount to the bakery. Roxas, the boy he hates most, even above Seifer, is offered a tiny, cracked pipe made of porcelain.
Irvine makes a strangled, furious sound and everyone else falls silent.
Roxas does not react, only says thank you, an automated response made to respond at a certain set of conditions.
Unexpectedly, the crude gift plagues Zell. Irvine gives him angry looks and punches him hard in the shoulder when they have a moment away from everyone else. Zell snarls and the two almost come to blows, but somehow, the festive atmosphere placates them.
Birthdays have always been important and sacred to their makeshift family and Zell now feels disgusted that he has desecrated it so. He wants to take back his actions, knows he can't, and hates himself for it.
Even after the party, the issue plagues him. It follows him into his sleep for several nights and for those nights Roxas's glowing eyes haunt him as well. At first, Zell thinks he's dreaming, and then he realizes that Roxas is just as awake as he is in the night.
He mentions the issue briefly to Squall. His friend and leader gives him a strange look, as if to imply Roxas has never slept and Zell simply has never noticed.
On the night Zell's guilt has finally dulled enough to allow him to sleep once again, movement in the bedroom awakens him. They've always shared this room, spreading out bedrolls upon the length of floor in lieu of beds. From his cot, Zell sees Roxas's gleaming eyes move through the room and then exit into the hall.
The shower resounds moments later; the taps have long since been repaired thanks to their collective flow of money.
The face of his wristwatch says that it is one-o' seven and the sun has not even been mechanically unveiled by the Time Keepers of the city yet.
He reaches over and prods Squall reluctantly. His friend hears the water and is up instantly, as if he had been waiting all along. He moves without sound over the sleeping bodies of Sora and Irvine.
Zell is satisfied with his good deed and intends to return to sleep. However, the water continues to run and there is a peculiar scratching sound. He sits up and stares at the door.
The scratching stops and he hears murmured snatches of Squall's voice, subdued and tense. Then one savage, tremulous cry of pain rends its way through the quiet air of their ramshackle apartment. He hurries towards the bathroom with Irvine and Sora at his heels. The door is locked and when they call for Squall, he tells them to shut up and go back to sleep.How he expects them to sleep—with Roxas screaming like his body is being ripped to pieces—is beyond them.
Something claws at the door with the abandon of a cornered animal and they back away; Irvine goes to retrieve the gun he'd gotten for his own fifteenth birthday.
Sora calls out like a pining dog for his twin.
There is no word from Squall.
Once again, the frantic scrabbling ceases.
The erratic sound of water finally ends and steam flees, what must be carnage, through the crack beneath the door.
Zell imagines he hears someone crying.
The shadows of the hallway shift menacingly, as if they've gained sentience, it is disturbing and ominous. Zell prepares to break down the door, while Irvine sights his gun.
But, when Zell kicks the door in, there is nothing more to the sight than Squall and Roxas. Squall is sitting in the bottom of the bathtub, sopping wet, even his pajamas. Roxas lies limply across his chest, naked legs peeking out from beneath a dry towel, which was obviously thrown over him seconds earlier.
The blonde's eyes are open but sightless, and his breathing is slow. Zell looks curiously into those lustrous indigo eyes, but immediately has to look away from what he sees there.
Squall looks tired. His hands hang from his wrists, which hang like weights from his arms, as if his knuckles against the floor of the bath are what really keep his shoulders from dislocating under all the strain and burden.
He tells them to get out flatly, without even looking up. Not one of them obeys. Squall snaps at them to go back to bed. They cringe away from his tone. Then Zell bristles defiantly and makes to stay, but the other two pull him away.
Roxas has changed.
To Zell, it seems the rest of the world has stopped existing for him.
All that matters is Bliss and Sora.
Occasionally, Squall manages to win his regard for a few moments at a time.
Usually though, Roxas spends his time at The Chestnut Tree , smiling affectionately whenever Sora comes to check on him. These checkups are often as Sora takes a few minutes of break in between serving. He sits down across from Roxas at the table set into the niche of the arched front window.
His brother smiles at him silently. Sora reaches across the table and touches his face, his mouth pinched in anxiety.
"Why is your skin so white…" he breathes out sadly.
"I haven't had any meat in a while," Roxas murmurs, nuzzling against his twin's palm.
"We'll have some tonight. I'll—"
Roxas's smile becomes frightening. "No, that will only tease me."
"I don't understand. Roxas, what's wrong?"
Roxas licks his lips slowly and pushes away Sora's hand with care. "I could use a hit."
"Riku will have some."
"Don't give me that look, Sora," Roxas whispers. "You know how it hurts me. Just go ask him, for me?"
Roxas has changed and so has Squall.
Zell's eyes trace his movements as he paces up and down the house with unaccustomed agitation.
He's been working overtime for Merlin, on gods only know what. Squall is secretive about his work, like Roxas used to be before he stopped caring he trafficked drugs. Stopped caring that he took drugs: just focused on getting more, more, more.
Roxas passes through the living room and when he nears Squall, their friend, their leader, whirls on him and grips his forearms tightly, jerking the blond sharply until Roxas is forced to look at him.
Zell and Irvine watch in stunned fascination.
Sora has been dragged out for a well-deserved night of rest with Riku and Kairi. It is good he isn't here. He hasn't stopped worrying about his twin since that night and this would make him very worried indeed. No one has been able to stop worrying since that night, though some of them cope better than others, but all of them—
Roxas sleeps now.
—their dreams are haunted by the screams of the damned and Roxas sleeps like a babe and…
"What is its name," Squall says.
Roxas smiles at him with a sick brilliance. "Whose?"
Squall shakes him violently and Irvine voices some sort of protest. Zell feels dark satisfaction at the display.
"What is its fucking name, Roxas."
Roxas's mouth looks so terribly sharp and his eyes are so bright. "Rudra." He whispers the name like a prayer. Squall shoves him away in disgust. Irvine thinks that's the end. He turns back to his porn as Squall proceeds to the bedroom while Roxas stands where Squall has left him.
Zell knows better. Can tell from the way Roxas's eyes stalk Squall's retreat.
When the blond twin follows after his companion, Zell goes too. His steps are conspicuous, but unnoticed. He stands outside the door and listens, even though he's always put eavesdropping beneath him.
"Leon." Roxas is speaking, saying a name with soft, painful triumph.
Zell hears Squall take in a deep, shaking breath and say, "Don't call me that."
"Squall Leonhart," Roxas repeats, enunciating each word with meticulous, spiteful care. "That's your name. Don't think you can take advantage of me."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Zell, through the crack in the door, sees their frames draw closer, sees Roxas's Bliss blue eyes blink twice before he says anything more.
"I want this secret."
"When are you going to tell them about—"
"When it matters. Right now we're too small, they'll just get hurt."
"I have time then."
Squall is silent at great length. "…Yes. You have time."
In light of New Year's, everyone tries to forget the troublesome thoughts, the ones that Roxas evokes.
They each ready their new resolutions, all of them very proud to have found jobs as they had promised two years ago.
After six years, the house they have all lived in together is finally becoming a truly livable home.
On the night of New Year's Eve, Irvine is drunk and laughing. Sora is happy and full of food brought from the bakery and the café. Kairi and Riku sit on either side of him, joking and cheering together.
Roxas's eyes glow brighter than ever as he watches his brother from across the room. Squall is beside him; the two of them do not share so much as a word the entire night. Zell does not observe they so much as glance at each other. They are simply within close proximity, nothing more.
This is the last day of their fifteenth year. Two months from now, Irvine will turn sixteen. Fourteen weeks later, Squall will follow. Then fifty-four days after that, it will be Zell's turn. Then it's only one thousand six hundred and eighty hours until they will have rounded upon the twins again. Then there is little more than two months until the New Year comes again.
New Years: the day of the future. Never before has Seifer made it his habit to drop in on their celebration. When the two opposing factions meet in the streets, there are insults or fists thrown, consistently. That is what the household prepares for when he makes his arrival. However, Seifer tells Rai and Fuu and Vivi to play nice while he draws Squall to the side. Zell and Irvine spit and snarl, trying to keep a close eye on their friend, but Seifer's goons get in their way.
Roxas, of course, really seems to be the only one unconcerned. He sits quietly in his chair, his eyes riveted upon his twin.
Seifer and Squall are gone a long time and then the midnight bells ring out raucously. The true extent of debauchery this city is capable of is thrown into full swing. Roxas rises at the sound and crosses the room. He kisses Sora's forehead and says he's going out.
The brunet twin catches his wrist and begs to come with.
Roxas smiles, he looks happy, really, truly for a brief twitch. He nods and says Riku and Kairi may come if they like.
The four of them get ready to, but not before Seifer and Squall reappear, seemingly drawn from their discussion by the cacophonous sound of the bells.
They look as if nothing at all has happened.
Seifer rounds up his group and vacates.
Roxas and his small party patiently wait out the exodus.
The blond approaches Squall, leaning up to his ear and whispering.
Zell only hears his words because he's close by, or perhaps, because Roxas wants him to.
"Very interesting, isn't it, Leon?"
"Go," Squall replies gruffly, his gray eyes thin slits of confusion and worry.
"Roxas seems happy," Kairi offers over the ragged beat of electronic music. Lights flash, blue and red and green, the colors hang wickedly heavy, to the smoke in the air. This is where Roxas has brought them, and this is where has Roxas left them, disappearing into the crowd to who knows where.
Sora looks at her, forcing a smile onto his face. Riku pats his back mutely, before putting something in his own mouth.That gets the brunet's attention quickly; he leans up to kiss the taste of Ice from Riku's mouth. It's a spicy mint flavor that sends a thrill of hormone through his body, making his mouth wet and chilling his skin. Kairi makes a sound and they quickly pull her to them to share the taste and sensation.
Sora wonders what Roxas would say. Wonders if Roxas would be angry with this, the touch he shares with these two and… and the Ice, the drugs. Does Roxas really expect him to simply fetch Bliss for him? Did he think he would never get curious about how it keeps his brother so in thrall? That he wouldn't try something on his own?
Sora is saddened to realize he no longer understands his brother.
He's known for a long time, but it has taken this to admit as much.
"Maybe Roxas is happy," Sora whispers, leaning his head against Riku's shoulder.
Kairi strokes his hair and she looks up sharply as Roxas appears at her side.
His skin looks healthier, even in the strange cast of the light. His face is no longer a sickly white.
He smiles at them, all three of them, and then drags them onto the floor to dance.
His eyes are bright and their bodies are alive from the Ice. The four of them dance: a pocket of strangely isolated intimacy in a crowded room.
And when Roxas and Sora's mouths meet and they stop moving, clutching at each other on the dance floor and dredging the taste of different chemicals from one another's throats… It isn't as surprising as it could be.
When they pull apart, Kairi hears Roxas laughing wildly, hysterically.
Riku hears Roxas promise never to do it again.
Sora clutches at his other's hand and tries to make him return. Back to the way he was, when they were…
"When I was Sora and Roxas."
"And I was nothing."
"I was nothing," Roxas asserts. "I was a sleepless dream."
Seifer's been accepted to the SOLDIER Academy.
Raijin, Fujin, and Vivi are left with orders to drop the feud between the motley families. Meetings between the two groups now consist of awkward waving and pointed lack of eye contact.
Irvine's birthday comes… and goes.
Roxas disappears somewhere into himself, sinking in Bliss during the day, disappearing to no one knows where at night.
Squall is gradually absorbed by his work.
Sora by his lovers.
Zell by his past.
And Irvine by his loneliness, watching as his family gradually erodes.
At first, he doesn't expect Seifer's visits back to the city to mean anything to him. But quickly he begins to look forward to them, pestering Fujin at every opportunity for news.
He revels these visits, these moments, because when Seifer comes back again, Irvine can make everyone come together for a few hours.
Squall returns home from work.
Roxas stays in the house at night.
Sora brings Kairi and Riku, who are always lively additions to a party.
Zell stops running the pads of his fingers over his scar for a little while.
There's talk and arguing and glaring and eating and laughing.
Seifer's eyes, even after the mako treatment, are still nowhere near as bright as Roxas'.
He mentions it, sneering.
Squall glowers at him while Roxas smiles slowly.
He tends to stand at the window, looking longingly through the dark tint out at the wheel of the moon. He crosses his arms over his chest, and cants his hips. His body seems like sleek, sinuous muscle, like a genus of feline, which has long been extinct; coiled and dangerous.Zell is deeply disturbed, his eyes flickering about the room reaching for someone else that notices. Squall's face is creased in understanding; Seifer's eyes are narrowed; Sora keeps his gaze carefully away from his twin.
They do nothing.
"It's the nature of sin, Almasy." Roxas purrs out Seifer's family name like it's a silken curse. "It pervades and perverts."
Three days later Squall moves out of the apartment and begins renting his own.
He is still oftentimes found in their old childhood home, but the damage his abandonment causes is nigh on irreparable. They each realize this as they sit around their old card table eating dinner.
Well, Zell is eating. Sora is poking at his food listlessly, Irvine is drinking excessively, and Roxas… has his elbow on the table, propping up his head and drumming his fingers, watching the clock in amusement.
"You can go if you like," Squall says, and sounds like he's hopeful.
The blond twin grins at him. "And miss this?"
Strangely enough, it's then Zell explodes. "Goddamn it, Roxas!" He snarls flinging his plate into the other boy's face. He isn't sure why he does it; he isn't sure why his hatred for Roxas suddenly comes out like that. He isn't sure, but he thinks it has something to do with the licorice taste in the back of his throat. He half expects Roxas to lose his cool as well and attack him. Though, Roxas's true reaction, that laughter, is not surprising in the least.
Roxas smirks, wiping spaghetti from his eyes. "Yes, Leon."
"Whatever you say, Leon."
"Roxas!" Squall growls, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes. When he opens them again, he looks at Zell and Irvine and Sora. Not at Roxas, not at all, it seems to cause him great pain and effort. "I have something to tell you. About my job."
The city is laid out in sectors: beginning with the central sector, and moving out in ordinal numbers. Each area is within walking distance of another, and connected by lanes of air traffic.
Once upon a time, Zell lived in the central sector, in a high rise with his father and mother. That was before he was left for dead in the eighth sector and that was before Irvine carried him home to the very outskirts of Midgar, to the filthy and forgotten thirteenth sector.
Where the thirteenth sector ends, there's a wall, a high crumbling thing which none of them have ever dared venture towards. Strange people make their home at its base, lingering in its shadow. These are people even they, a rowdy group of orphaned boys, do not wish to go near. Their eyes gleam, horribly, wickedly, without the aid of drugs, steeped in cloying madness.
Everything from this wall to the central sector belongs to a certain group. A group called the Nobodies: a vicious collection of criminals, thieves, drug dealers, flesh peddlers, assassins, politicians, mercenaries. Mobsters, in short. They're an accepted part of life in this city. As looming as the law they openly flout.
And Squall is trying to bring them down.
He'd seen one of them, once.
One of the Nobodies.
He'd looked like a normal human, a tall man with chocolate skin and eyes like gold.
He'd watched that man become a monster and devour another of his demon ilk.
When he spoke to Merlin of what he had seen… it was then he was told of Kingdom Come.
Irvine thinks later, this is the beginning of the end.
None of them have ever been to the interior sectors before.The corrupted police force has never let the like of them past the fifth sector.
The dream of entering had stopped mattering when they found jobs. They found a measure of comfort in their lives, no matter how squalid.
Squall is ruining all of that. He begs them to come with him, to fight for the city, so they can live better lives. One where orphans have real homes too. Where potions aren't impossibilities. Where clean water isn't decadence. To fight so no one else will ever have to again.
He does not get down upon his knees, but from the way he speaks, he might as well have. He begs, because if they do not fight with him on this, he may never be able to see them again.
They leave the house of their childhood behind, even Roxas, though the blond twin says he isn't interested in Kingdom Come.
The Nobodies control the drugs, and that is enough for him.
The others are all too happy to use this as a chance to create new family ties.
They hope desperately these will not fray like the ones before.
They rent new apartments, each one placed in specific locations throughout the sixth, seventh, and eighth sectors. They become new hideouts, weapon caches, safe houses.
The main headquarters are in the ninth sector.
But the members are drawn from all corners of the city.
The year of their collective twentieth:
Is the year they learn of Hearts.
Is the year Seifer is promoted to Captain.
Is the year Zell finds peace with his past.
Is the year Merlin leaves Kingdom Come to Squall.
Is the year the Irvine meets Selphie.
Is the year Riku is lost forever.
Is the year Kairi leaves.
Is the year Roxas loses his soul.
Is the year Sora dies.
Their family is broken for good… and Rudra prefers it that way.