Naminé has her own little room at the East end of the Castle. This information is inconsequential but for one tiny detail: her quarters are perilously close to the door with the neon letter I blazing out from its face. The nearer Sora gets, the more he feels like he can almost scent Xemnas out, can almost taste the chocolate pigment of his skin, can almost feel the silken caress of his voice. Sora's stomach seizes violently the closer he gets, watching the numbers diminish, V, IV, III, II… He walks past the Superior's room without being accosted. He releases the strained breath he had not realized he was holding.

Sora's been directed down this passage after plying a recalcitrant Marluxia for information. He'd achieved his means by eventually inventing a vapid story about finding Naminé beautiful beyond words. For some reason, Marluxia found this amusing and a cruel smirk had pulled at his face.

Sora is horribly conscious and wary of that ominous sign as he knocks on Naminé's door with his knuckles. Unlike Roxas's way of answering his door, Naminé is prompt. The pressurized locks hiss within seconds and the door swings fully open, exposing her as well as her sanctum.

She seems only slightly different from when they had met for the first time. The look of intense discomfort has fled her features, leaving her with pale complacency. She cocks her head atypically to one side, her denim eyes narrowing in consternation.

"Do I know you?" she wonders, even as she steps aside to allow him in. Perhaps a sign that she does remember, but wishes to drive him away. Sora does not fall for this and ambles inside, feeling out his own expression to make sure he seems just as unassuming and guileless as he always is.

Naminé's rooms, by far, are the most memorable of all Sora has seen since his arrival. Everything from the paint, to the carpet, to the lacquer on the furniture is sterling gray. Even the picture frames, of which there are many. Sora can name a few of the paintings. Some are ancient, some are modern, and all of them are beautiful.

She sticks out in this room. She's a lily, white, perfect, and as she has no color at all, the vibrancy in the room lends itself to her, drawing the eye to her. The room in its entirety comes across as a piece of art; she is at the fore, with everything else purposefully placed in the background.

Sora gives her a vague, confident smile, following her as she leads him to her couches and her coffee table. She does not offer him anything to drink, only settles herself across from him and meets his eyes, hands folded primly in her lap. It is an act.

He is ridiculously aware that she expects him to get on with it, so he does.

"I want something from you," he says without further preamble. He attempts to make this sound polite, but the attempt falls flat.

"Obviously." She seems bitter; Sora reserves that particular contemplation for later.

"This isn't for me."

"Refreshing." She seems honestly intrigued, Sora better understands already.

"I want you to write a particular script for next month's videos."

"The tripe I put out now isn't doing it for you?" Cynicism, for some reason Sora can only connect his train of thought to Marluxia. He has a burning desire to know her more closely… she looks starved for affection.

"It isn't like that."

"What are you offering me." It would be easier if she wanted money, or jewels. Sora could find his way to those somehow. However, that isn't what a woman like Naminé wants. Sora smiles weakly from one corner of his mouth.

"I want you to write the most intimate thing you've ever written. I want you to write it for Axel and Roxas."

"What." She repeats, wavering, dangerously, fighting herself to be kind when she has learned she must be strong. Sora pities her, in a way, not the filthy kind. He pities her that she is not free to be a person of her own. He will remedy this. "Are you offering me."

"Satisfaction. Sanctuary."

"You think that is enough?"

He knows it is.

"Is it money you want?" he inquires softly.

She takes in an angered hiss of breath. He gives her a much more sincere smile now and she breaks. It is not so easy for her to discard her armor, but the chinks are there. "Fine. I could use a challenge."

Sora allows her this lie. "Would you like me to make you some tea?" he offers.

He is earnest, she notices. Her confusion makes itself plain upon her white canvas face. The affection he so easily shows is… Her eyes grow wide and wet, her breath staccatos in and out of her. When she begins to cry it is not out of sadness. It is simply a floodgate of numbed pain that has finally, at last, been set free. She has heard so much about him, his sweetness, his kindness, but she had never hoped he would offer it to her. She is grateful for the release and yet,

"You're a cruel person." She accuses breathlessly. "I don't even know your name and... How do you expect me to go back after this?"

Sora is frightened when he fails to understand her motivations behind saying this. She sees his fear and does not explain, but she cries just a little bit more hysterically.

He reaches out awkwardly to thumb away her tears. "You're very pretty when you cry."

She stares at him in silence and then rises abruptly to make the tea. She brings it out in little white china cups and a little white china kettle. The steam curls and swishes on the rejuvenated ozone of the room like an undulating swarm of butterflies.

Sora is unsurprised that the tea smells of Jasmine and puts him to sleep almost instantly. He sees her smile as his consciousness fades, it is very soft, and very loving and he is comforted in a peculiar way.

"I can't let you see me cry anymore," she whispers, reaching out and smoothing his hair with the slim fingers of an artist. Beneath her nails he sees the remnants of paints.

Axel does not say a word to when he wakes up again. Sora appreciates the gesture, though he does wonder how it is that he arrived back in his rooms. After a few moments, he decides that issue is secondary to bathing and removing from his mouth the foul taste of the drug Naminé had used on him. Whatever it was has left him dry and somewhat salty and little bit nauseous. The only reminder of the actual tea is a faint Jasmine smell clinging to his hair.

Axel doesn't say a word, and Sora begins to worry.

"What time is it?"

Axel leans into the bathroom and shrugs.

"Axel," and Sora doesn't mean to sound as pleading as he does, but his head is spinning. "I…" and then he remembers what Naminé had said. She'd agreed to help him. She'd agreed to help him help Axel. Sora smiles broadly.

His mentor's face makes a hilarious flip in inflection. "What the Hell?"

"Nothing."

"What did you—"

"Where are we supposed to be tonight?"

"Shinra party."

Sora makes a face and Axel laughs and it is like a particularly vile inside joke.

The Shinra party does not turn out to be as horrible as it could have been. Rufus is there to greet them when they arrive. He is cordial and slimy, per his usual, though he does get down on his knees and take Sora's hand into his own.

He makes a formal and public apology, a tactic Sora recognizes only too well from the Parisian days. He goes along with the act, letting his eyelids droop and mouths words he does not mean.

"Oh, it isn't your fault, please get up."

He pulls his hand away delicately, as if Rufus is covered in oil, making sure the other man can see the curl of his lip.

Rufus smiles in reply and moves to greet Axel.

The two of them play their little game; Rufus caressing Axel's skin subtly, fingers sliding across flanks, open and flagrantly inappropriate. Axel pretends to like it, while his own hands linger near Rufus's carotid, reminding the other man of how much he would like to slit it.

And then they kiss: a heated show for anyone who just might be watching.

Sora pulls his eyes away, just to be met with the Jenova triplets eyeing him from across the room. His eyes widen at their presence, but Sora makes no other sign, only turns away when Kadaj blows him a kiss.

Today Rufus is throwing a society party.

Men and women and tittering young debutants mill and stare openly. A girl of sixteen in a white satin dress reminds Sora of Kairi when she was that young. The girl catches him examining her and her face immediately explodes in blossoms of crimson. Her pretty emerald eyes dart away with all haste.

There are several men of uniform and decoration throughout the hall, though Sora cannot remember enough of the SOLDIER party to say whether he was introduced to them previously or not. He does not see the General or Captain, nor does he spot Sergeants Barret or Cloud. So, Sora pays them no heed.

He wonders just what it is he's expected to do at this party. These don't really seem like the sort of people who would enjoy the company of a whore. Certainly not while Sora and Axel are dressed like this. They would make good servants in this garb… Perhaps, that's what Rufus intends?

He's caught by the collar. He does not understand why Axel has him continue to wear the abhorrent thing, but nonetheless, he is caught by it. His mentor scowls and gives the choker another sharp tug.

"Here are the rules for a party like this, Sora." Axel grumbles out quickly. Rufus is coming. "Keep this on. Stay away from the Jenova boys. Go drink some champagne and talk to anyone who stares at you for more than two minutes. Don't forget your story."

"Ah, there you are! Slipped away from me," Rufus purrs through clenched teeth.

He drags Axel away, while Sora goes over his rules once more. They seem simple enough. Self-explanatory, and he has no qualms with the champagne. While he sips at it—it's a pretty white thing that tastes of grapes but smells of candies—he quickly notices the people who Axel had intended him to speak with. They are inquisitive men and sophisticated ladies who manage to hold his gaze.

He moves towards them smoothly, his bare feet are cold upon the tile.

They seem bemused and somewhat pleased when he bows and introduces himself. With his talents, conversation is an easy match to strike. The flow of words is warm and generous, though openly deprecatory towards his station. The champagne helps there, Sora realizes, the champagne helps to keep his tongue going and as long as he is speaking to these people, he has a barrier from any untoward action of the Jenovas.

He's always known, since the first meeting, that Axel is intelligent. Sora is not sure why he is surprised Axel's orders have come to good use. The man is not one overly wont to being entirely wasteful with words. Playful, yes, but they always have some meaning for him, even if those around him cannot decipher his aim.

Later, when Axel and Rufus reenter the room, it is only natural that all eyes should be drawn towards them: the resplendent host with his barbarian lover, beautiful and wild at his side.

The fresh burn on Rufus's cheek matches Axel's hair.

The man seems to nurse this injury smugly, while Axel stalks away.

Axel does not so much as look at him again that night.

Two days after the Shinra party, Sora is taken along on his first job with a woman as their client. Axel explains at great length why it is they have so few female regulars. The first of which being that Xemnas will personally behead any of the Thirteen who impregnates a woman.

Sora laughs wildly, attributing this to the domineering, self-important, possessive personality Xemnas must flaunt. It is the only logical answer to the abysmal circumstances he has created around himself.

Axel ignores this observation and begins to tell him the client's name is Victoria, however that sparks something. It's a hazy recognition in the very back of Sora's mind. He glances up sharply and Axel seems to understand and so he nods.

Their ship today is the Silvia.

On their way through the Castle's dock, wandering through clouds of steam and vapor, they pass a group of tittering young customers. In a sickening flash of instinct, both Sora and Axel smile at them flirtatiously.

"You know," Sora murmurs, his mind reeling in an attempt to drive itself away from the active self-disgust. "Roxas said that Xemnas and his friends don't have to take clients."

Axel pointedly doesn't look his way, though he does snarl. "Yeah, why would Roxas implicate the great and benevolent Xemnas like that?" His body pulls tight as it's wont to when he's made angry and uncomfortable.

"Because I asked," the brunet responds, resignedly ignoring Axel's quills and barbs. "But what I'm wondering is, if they don't have to take customers… why do they bother?"

The man spits at the floor in disgust. "Because most of them like to fuck. A couple of them even seem to like getting fucked. And they get the women besides. Even if the ladies request someone else, Zexion can always convince them to compromise." Sora is surprised when Axel does not warn him that Zexion is dangerous. He's learned over time, and Axel has come to trust in that. It is refreshing: honesty and trust, a tiny unprecedented pocket of it within a web of lies.

"Aren't we going to meet a female customer right now?"

"Victoria is a special case. She's the one… well, it keeps her happy to know she hasn't been entirely forgotten, but Xemnas sure as Hell isn't getting off his throne to take care of it himself. So, he forces us to do it."

Sora glances at him and sighs.

The story of the visit with Victoria is not truly worthy of mention. Sora attempts to block the whole disgusting affair from his mind as soon as it's over. Never before have his homosexual tendencies made themselves more prevalent. He supposes he's grown into them over time. Perhaps, however, it's really Victoria's defeated eyes, the way she begs them to acknowledge her and love her, which is so sickening.

Sora's never thought Axel the kind to pity someone, but he openly pities Victoria, it's clear from the way the two of them rut. He's rough with her, unnecessarily so. It's a punishment, just as much as it is attention and meaning. How sad her life must be if she goes from day to day waiting for the next beating to remind her of what she's done wrong.

When she and Axel lay entwined, sperm and spent condoms littered across her expansive bed, Victoria talks to herself. Neither Axel nor Sora really listening at all.

"Mmm, they should just have you boys cut your tubes… then everyone would be happy."

"That would be pretty rude," Axel murmurs. He's only staying awake to make sure Victoria respects the symbolic collar around Sora's neck. "Taking away a guy's manhood like that."

"Oh, you're a man now?" Victoria teases, running half-heartedly flirtatious fingers across his sweaty skin. "No, Axel, no. Franz, now Franz d'Epinay was a real man. Too bad he's dead now. He really knew how to treat a lady, even if he was hopelessly in love that Morcerf boy."

Sora watches mutely from his seat across the room. He raises his teacup in front of his face so that neither of them will be able to see the pain her comment causes him. Of all the epitaphs for Franz, the hungry lechery of a broken woman is the worst Sora thinks he can imagine.

Sadly, afterwards, when they've washed and regained their clothes, Victoria offers to take Sora and Axel to one of her dinner parties. Party is the operative word to the situation. Sora recalls these sorts of 'parties', as he'd attended a very reluctant few of them in Paris. He enjoys dancing and he enjoys socializing, he does not, however, enjoy drinking or having sex where everyone can see. And that is the gist of Victoria's Luna-bound Galas. Axel also seems to find the display unappealing and graciously makes an excuse for their disappearance.

It seems they've made a clean break. However, as they step out the door, they are caught in a squall of inebriated violence. Sora thinks, despondently, they could have avoided the whole thing if they had just left a little earlier.

Expensive hotel furniture is smashed, gold leaf vases are left in shatters, costly holographic machines smoke and sputter and spark. The police are eventually required to come resolve the matter. Their arrival prevents the two courtesans from making their escape. Police sirens sing strident songs like heralds and snapping at their heels, like carnivores, come the paparazzi.

"Donatien! Axel! Can you tell us what happened here?" Tifa Lockheart calls loudly. Her hands waver and she shoves a microphone into his face, bartering for his attention amongst a horde of other bidders.

Sora tries to recollect his poise, but as flashbulbs strobe wildly in his face, his eyes widen to seeming terror and guilt. An officer attempts to grab him, but Axel smacks his hands away, shouting above the sudden din that the police may come take their statement tomorrow. They are leaving. There is a stunning amount of force and undeniable threat in his voice. Axel seizes Sora, heaves the boy over his shoulder, and begins shoving his way violently through the thronging crowd of slavering mindless monsters, desperate to bring this new fact to their faceless public.

"Donatien! Donatien!" Sora feels Tifa Lockheart's disembodied voice pressing in on him, drowning him, one bead of water amongst an ocean of bodies swelling all around him.

It is somewhat terrifying and Sora is suddenly glad Axel is there to save his hide once more. This fear is something he has not felt since he was a child still wary of the dark. He is saddened that he can so easily draw the parallels between the two circumstances. He is saddened by what that means for him. Bitterness does not seem so becoming.


Standard Disclaimers for Kingdom Hearts, Firefly/Serenity, Gankutsuou, (The Count of Monte Cristo is Public Domain), and Memoirs of a Geisha.