Title: Mission Impossible

Author: Ladya C. Maxine

Rating: T

Summary: The rest of the Organization are getting fed up with Xemnas' bad mood. Desperate for a break, they conspire to get him to loosen up a bit. Somehow, this includes secretly setting him up with an equally unsuspecting Saix … Oh dear.

Warnings: shounen-ai, language, violence

Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts or any of its characters. I am not making any money off of this. I write only to entertain.

Mission Impossible

by Ladya C. Maxine

For a world that wasn't supposed to exist, The World That Never Was felt real enough. For a castle that had, allegedly, never been built, The Castle That Never was certainly felt sturdy enough. Why either were given such misguiding names was about as puzzling as the concept behind hearts and darkness.

Those who'd named their stronghold were rather proud of their creativity, though the ridiculousness of it all hadn't been lost to them. Like a virus, the simple yet redundant names had spread with every new room discovered until there wasn't a single space in the castle that didn't have a sentence for a name. The Library That Was Never Wanted, The Kitchen That Will Soon Be No More, The Gardens That Have Become Nothing, The Laboratory That Used To Go BOOM A Lot, The Roof That Had Yet To Become, The Floor That Sometimes Was But Not Always … and those were some of the better sounding ones.

Only the bathrooms were called just that (bathrooms), but only because the proposed names had been vetoed by the overwhelming majority. Xigbar was still peeved about that one.

And, because the castle was always expanding, there were more than enough rooms that needed naming, a chore that was taken over with much enthusiasm by the neophytes. Essentially, if you discovered the room, you could name it, though no vulgarity was permitted (really, there was no end to Xigbar's profanity-laced suggestion).

But to name something was to acknowledge it … so, if the world and castle they lived in didn't exist, there couldn't be anything to acknowledge, let alone name … right? The whole thing made no damn sense. Then again, they were called Nobodies but were obviously something, so who was he to question the existence of a few rooms?

Whoever, or whatever, they were, the fact remained that they were. Maybe not humans, and definitely not Heartless, they weren't the literal embodiment of a 'nobody'—it's just that no one had bothered to come up with a better word for them. Perhaps they weren't meant to exist, but that didn't mean they didn't. And if to exist—which they did—meant to be aware of oneself and one's surroundings—which they were—then one had to be capable of feeling the effects of both external and internal influences, and express one's reaction to those influences through emotions.

And yet, their Superior insisted that they were incapable of true emotions. Any evidence that suggested otherwise was dismissed as 'false and misguided memories' that were still trapped in the empty caverns in their chests that were once occupied by their hearts.

The Superior's word was final. Being the thirteenth and last member to join the ranks, Roxas was the runt of the litter, as it were, and didn't have any say in any of the decisions made by the senior members. If the Superior said they couldn't feel emotions, then Roxas wasn't about to challenge him.

But the Superior wasn't around at the moment, so Roxas had no problem sharing his feelings with the others.

"I'm confused," he said, holding out his cards to the other Nobodies at the table. "What's this supposed to mean?"

"Er, Roxas, you're kinda missing the point here," Demyx said, scratching the back of his spiky mullet. "We aren't supposed to see your cards."

Roxas frowned, but shielded his hand.

"Then how do we know who's winning?"

"Like you don't already know who'll win," Demyx said. Infamous for his undying chirpiness, the Melodious Nocturne was looking unusually dour as he stared back and forth between the three cards he had left.

For certain, the winner wasn't Demyx. He'd somehow managed to lose nine times, despite them having only played seven rounds so far. Neither he nor Roxas could figure out how he'd pulled off something like that, but, next to Roxas, Demyx had next to no clout in the Organization. It wasn't so much unfair treatment as it was a safety precaution: Demyx, though a competent fighter, didn't exactly operate as tactfully as the others.

Right now, he was openly pouting as he reshuffled his measly three cards, trying to make a glorious comeback in the game. No comeback was in the making as he quickly lost one of his precious cards to the redhead sitting on Roxas' left.

"It's not about knowing, it's about learning," Axel said to Roxas as he gave Demyx a smug smile, slipping the card into his already full hand. "L-E-A-R-I-N-G. Got it memorized?"

"You should take your own advice," a deep voice said from the other side of the room where Xaldin was polishing his lances on the couch. "You've never won a single game either, Axel. And you still owe me 500 munny."

"Put it on my tab," Axel sneered over a shoulder. When he noticed Roxas trying to sneak a peek at his cards he pulled away. "Quit it! Try using your instincts to read your opponents, or something."

"Scanning doesn't work. I've tried," Demyx said, holding onto his two remaining cards for dear life.

"Instincts?" Roxas rolled his eyes. "It's just a card game."

At last, the fourth and final Nobody at the table stirred at those words. Even though the game was a walk in the park for the Gambler of Fate, Luxord took every card game seriously. It had to be hard for someone like him to hear others speak lowly of his life's passion, but Luxord would never lower himself to respond with anything but a gentleman's patient argument.

Any other sort of response would be 'uncouth', as Luxord would say.

"Ah, but a card game is all about instincts, young Roxas," he said as he stroked his perfectly trimmed goatee. "You could learn all the tricks in the trade, but they cannot guarantee you a win. You have to know yourself when to fold and when to bluff; when to call a bluff and when to swap. In a game such as this one, one wrong move, one bad choice, one second of doubt, and everything is lost."

To prove his point, he relieved poor Demyx of his last two cards, leaving the musician staring morosely at his empty hands.

"You're playing Go Fish," Xaldin said bluntly. His lances vanished into thin air and he folded his arms. He was bored, but not bored enough to get drawn into such a childish game. They could have been embroiled in a good poker game right about now, had Axel not come along and insist that the boy be allowed to play as well, and XIII knew next to nothing about cards so he had to be taught, starting with the simplest games.

"I'm a gambling man, but I am also fair," Luxord said as he took mercy on Demyx and handed him five cards (which explained how Demyx managed to lose more than once per game). "Roxas is a novice, both as a Nobody and a player. As his superior I am compelled to acquaint him with the finer things in his new life."

"I'll bet you the boy doesn't last a week," Xaldin said.

"He can fight!" Axel hotly argued. "His keyblades can take out your floating toothpicks like that." He snapped his fingers.

"He may have keyblades, but that doesn't mean that he can use them," Xaldin shot back. This wasn't so much a heated argument as it was a way to pass the time, and Xaldin enjoyed nothing more than a good verbal battle, except perhaps a really good physical one. "The Heartless are getting stronger, and bolder. And it's not easy to hold the boy's hand once you're engaged in battle."

Roxas glowered at the much larger man, but he didn't yet have the experience to dispel Xaldin's predictions. He had done pretty good during training—good enough, even, to draw the Superior out into the courtyards to watch—but that had been against Axel and Demyx. Not that they weren't strong fighters; they just didn't make much of an effort to land any hard blows. He'd trained once with Luxord, but the man's manipulation of time, and his aggravating use of random cards and dice, had quickly overwhelmed Roxas.

"I'll get stronger," he said to Xaldin, who grunted and tossed his head. "You guys have been Nobodies a lot longer than I have."

"Yeah, and once he's done training he'll show you a thing or two," Axel said, slinging an arm around Roxas' shoulder and giving Xaldin a cocky look.

"One, you're never done with training," Xaldin said over Roxas' insistence that Axel not talk for him. "And two, all the training and experience in the worlds will never fully prepare you for what's to come."

The doors burst open, almost cracking as they slammed into the walls on either side. In came Xigbar, walking heavily, guns in hand. His coat was torn, especially around the hem and sleeves. His already scarred face was badle scratched and his hair had come loose. He was also missing a glove. Panting and staggering, he looked like an escaped madman as he dragged himself towards them. Meeting their surprised stares with a one-eyed glare, he snarled and threw down his weapons, which safely teleported themselves back to the second-in-command's room before any more damage could be done to them.

For a while, no one said anything.

For a short while.

"So, how was your evening?" Xaldin asked cordially, though he didn't hide his maliciously gleeful grin. "It seems you ran into some complications."

"Heartless," Xigbar hissed. He pulled Demyx out of the chair and carefully sat down with a groan, ignoring Demyx's indignant sputtering from the floor. "Fucking Heartless … everywhere. Those little bastards ambushed me. Not a dozen. Not a hundreds. Thousands! I had to summon fifty Snipers, and that only got half the job done! Seriously, dudes, this is getting really old, really fast!"

"You're age is finally catching up with you, is it?" Xaldin asked, milking the moment for all it was worth as he leaned against the back of the couch.

"Don't make me drag my sorry ass over there and rip your braids out, Dilan," Xigbar warned. It wasn't common for the Freeshooter to be in such a foul mood, but everyone knew that when Xigbar did get mad, he got pissed. "What the hell was the point of that mission, anyway? It was out in the middle of fucking Nowhere Land! When was the last time we had to be in K12?"

"Which one is that?" Luxord asked calmly, taking all of Axel's hearts to complete the set.

"How the hell should I know?! I didn't even know it existed until I was cornered in it by those cockroaches. Man, who cares if they're breeding down there? Let them screw around and have lots of Heartless babies, as long as they keep their nipping carcasses away from me!" Having said that, Xigbar released a long breath and slumped back in the chair, throwing an arm over his face. "Useless … This is the fourth time in less than two months I got such a crap-tastic mission."

"At least you got to fight," Axel grumbled, folding his arms as he watched the others play on. "I was stuck in Hollow Bastion for a week, watching talking ducks and an old wizard in purple robes. The only informative thing I picked up was how not to make sea-salt ice cream."

"Hey, be gratefully you guys didn't have to scrub castle floors," Demyx said, drawing on the floor with his finger while his head rested in his other hand. "It took me days, even with my powers."

"At least you could use your powers. My Dragoons are not made for washing dishes," Xaldin sneered, finally standing and coming over to the rest, working the kinks out of his back. He felt as old as Xigbar looked, but, giving the sour mood the Freeshooter was in, he would put a bullet through Xaldin's throat if he were to point that out. "Cleaning! Bah! That's a woman's work, that."

"You staked out the Beast's castle a few times, right?" Axel asked. "Doesn't he have a girl living there? You could tell the Superior that separating her from the Beast would throw him into even more despair, and we'd get a new maid!"

"Don't think I haven't considered that," Xaldin said. "Then again, not every woman has got a womanly touch. When she was here Larxene was little more than a deadweight. She wouldn't cook or clean or even act girly. Nothing but sadistic, straight down to the core."

"But she was a laugh to have around," Axel said fondly. "Too bad Marluxia went and ruined the fun for everyone."

"Hello? Will you guys forget the damn dishes and floors?" Xigbar loudly butted in. "Is it just me, or have our missions been more than a little shitty these past few months?"

Having not yet been on any mission, Roxas was feeling left out.

"Well, maybe … " he started to say, only to be cut off by Xaldin as the debate on who got the worst assignments escalated. Even Demyx had something to contribute to the subject.

Roxas sunk back in his seat.

He hated being the shortest, and the youngest. Not for the first time, he wondered why he'd even been recruited. Other than having the keyblades, which seemed to mean a lot to the others but no one would tell him why, he had very little knowledge of world domination or genocide. He was still in basic training and could not navigate the Corridors of Darkness as effectively as he'd like (though, to his credit, this was one aspect of being a Nobody he was learning quickly). During meetings he'd just sit there in his white throne-like seat, directly opposite the Superior, and try to follow all that was being said, unable to grasp enough of it to earn him the rights to voice any opinions.

Roxas' memory only went as far back as him waking up in front of a large mansion in Twilight Town, with no idea who he was. It had been a frightening moment when he realized he knew nothing about himself, not even his name. By the time the stranger in a black coat appeared before him and offered him a home and a name, he'd accepted the offer without hesitation, comforted at the thought that this had happened to others and that he'd be around people like him.

It was a … unique bond.

Because the Organization had been split into two teams (one that had remained in The Castle That Never Was, and one that had been sent to Castle Oblivion) soon after his recruitment, Roxas had had next to no time to get acquainted with their deceased comrades. Based on how that had ended, he was glad he hadn't met Marluxia and Larxene. Vexen had given him a medical examination when he'd returned with the Superior, but the blond scientist hadn't been the most patient or approachable person. Lexeaus had been even more intimidating then Xaldin, and was hardly ever seen without Zexion, with whom Roxas probably would have gotten along with since Zexion himself had been pretty young and serious, like Roxas.

Nowadays, when he wasn't trying to avoid Xigbar's deadly booby traps ("It's good training!" Xigbar insisted.), he had to contend with Xaldin's bluntness, and Luxord's at times mind-bogglingly speech. Demyx was friendly and outgoing, but when around him there was always the feeling that some freak accident was about to happen. Axel was the only one he could trust … most of the time … mainly because there was no one else to turn to. Since their first meeting in Twilight Town, Roxas had spoken very little with the Superior. Their leader preferred to watch his progress from afar, with little intervention, and now seemed much more interested in paperwork and Kingdom Hearts.

And then there was their final member, Saix. Roxas only ever saw him during meetings, and the Luna Diviner had shown no interest in approaching Roxas. Saix was quiet, like Lexeaus and Zexion, but whereas those two had mostly spent their time wordlessly planning and solving puzzles, Saix's silence reminded Roxas of a hunter contemplating his prey from a distance. Saix operated alone, and Roxas had yet to see or hear him speak to anyone other than the Superior, and only ever about their cause.

Their cause … Roxas still wasn't sure what exactly they were supposed to be doing. He figured that, as the newbie, he would probably be left out of any key decisions until they deemed him trustworthy enough. So far, they hadn't done anything all that organized, unless, as Xigbar so delicately put it, you counted 'mass bitching' and 'collective fuck-all-ness'.

And when they did get missions, they complained about them. Like now, for instance.

"How about we play for it?" Axel challenged Xigbar and Xaldin. "Whoever loses has to carry out the winner's missions. See how much you like sitting on your asses all day listening to ducks talk about ice cream."

"You'd rather be gnawed on by Shadow Heartless? Knock yourself out," Xigbar said, pointing to the door. "There were still a good two hundred or so left when I hightailed it out of there."

"Oh yeah, well … "

This was going to go on forever. Everyone seemed to be 'enjoying' the argument so much, Roxas felt that, as the only one with nothing to complain as far as missions were concerned, he was the only one who might be able to put a stop to this.

"Shouldn't we … " he tried again, now having to contend with everyone's voice as Axel, Demyx and Luxord had joined in, convinced that Xigbar and Xaldin (respectively ranked 2nd and 3rd) got far more favourable tasks, which the two vehemently denied. Roxas cleared his throat loudly. "Shouldn't we be taking on these missions without complaint? I mean, no matter how bad they may be, it's all for the good of the Organization … right? The Superior's doing this all in our best interest, after all."

The room fell silent.

"In our best interest," Xaldin repeated slowly, then scoffed, flicking thick braids over a broad shoulder. "Boy, don't speak of things you don't know."

"C'mon, lay off him," Axel said, coming to Roxas' defence.

"Look, lil' dude," Xigbar said, picking at a rip in his coat, "you probably think the world of the Superior, because he gave you an identity and all that, but you don't know him. None of you do," he said, looking at Axel, Demyx and Luxord as well. "He's no longer Xehanort, just as Xaldin and I are no longer Dilan and Braig, but there's still enough of his old self left for us to know when something's changed about him. Ever since flower boy and lighting girl tried to bring down the Organization, Xemnas has been very careful, but still suspicious. And it's not Xaldin and I he mistrusts … "

The neophytes looked among themselves.

"He doesn't … He doesn't think that any of us will try to betray, does he?" Demyx asked, sounding very nervous. "No way! Marluxia was bad news from day one, and Larxene was his best friend. And why would the Superior only suspect us; Axel's a neophyte and he proved that he could be trusted."

"At the cost of one of our own," Xaldin reminded.

"Hey now, I had to gain Marluxia's trust," Axel said, not looking as guilty as he should have been over Vexen's death. "It came at a price, but look! The traitors have been weeded out and the Organization is still going. Besides, you never liked Vexen very much, either."

"You really didn't, Xaldin," Xigbar agreed. "Anyway, so you kiddos got Xemnas all suspicious-like, though that doesn't explain why Xaldin and I are being punished as well."

"Perhaps he is trying to beat us down," Luxord said, gathering his cards since no one was playing anymore. "By making us do demeaning work, he is reminding us of his authority."

"Or maybe he's just feeling really stupid about being duped by Marluxia so he's taking it out on us," Axel said. "Seeing us return to the castle, bloody and filthy after another worthless mission, is probably really therapeutic for him."

"Well, if it's all because of Marluxia then maybe it's just a temporary thing," Roxas said.

"Xehanort was never the type to forgive and forget," Xaldin said, scratching his hairy cheek. "Unfortunately, that trait carried over when he became a Nobody. If he really is fuming because of what those two tried to do, then we can look forward to years of this sort of treatment."

"This stinks," Demyx said, stretching out his legs on the floor and wriggling them as they threatened to fall asleep. "I liked the Superior a whole lot more before Marluxia came along. He was strict and stuff, but at least we got missions that were fun to carry out. And he spoke a lot more to us, too. And not like his long, boring speeches during meetings; he'd even eat with us in the dining room. I wish we could get the old Superior back."

Everyone nodded.

" … Well, why not?" Roxas asked. "Why not try to get the old Superior back?"

"Not unless you can time travel, and not even Luxord can do that," Axel said. "No offence, Lux."

"None taken."

"Just think about it," Roxas insisted, planting his elbows on the table, "no more suicide missions."

Xigbar blinked, rubbing his scarred chin in thought.

"No more boring stakeouts."

Axel's green eyes sparkled at the thought.

"No more … well, someone has to keep the place clean, but the Superior could just have the Dusks do it."

Demyx beamed.

"And what exactly," Xaldin said, bursting the euphoric bubble of high hopes, "do you suggest we do about it, boy? Sign a petition asking Xemnas to be nicer?"

"You know him better than any of us," Roxas said to Xigbar and Xaldin. "Isn't there something you know about him that could help us? Before you became Nobodies, what was he like?"

"Bitchy," Xigbar said without hesitation.

Xaldin rolled his eyes, but didn't refute it.

"O-kay … what did he do most of the time?"


"He was the most studious out of all of us," Xaldin stepped in, with some more useful information. "When he wasn't attending lectures he was studying ahead and writing extra essays and carrying out different experiments."

"One of which didn't go quite as planned," Xigbar said, crossing one leg over the other and folding his hands behind his head. "Not much has changed there. He's still a bookworm and still prefers being holed up somewhere, writing who knows what and reading the same books and scrolls over and over again. Wow, I never noticed just boring he is … "

"Unless you can give him Kingdom Hearts, complete and ready for use, there's really nothing else. That's his only goal right now."

Roxas thought that one over, and the thought quickly grew into an idea that could be either brilliant or deadly.

"Why does he want Kingdom Hearts?"

"Haven't you been paying attention during meetings?" Axel asked. "Mind you, I fall asleep too sometimes. Once Kingdom Hearts is ready, the Superior says that it'll give us our hearts back, and unlimited power."

"The Superior wants his heart back. He wants to feel again," Roxas said, carefully putting his plan on the table. "He doesn't believe we possess emotions now, but he wants to. He must feel empty, like the rest of us. But at least we have each other."

"Aawwww," Xigbar said, putting on a loving face. "You care? You really care?"

"I'm serious," Roxas said, ducking the hand that was trying to ruffle his spiky hair. "Quit it! All I'm saying is that, although we drive each other nuts sometimes, it's usually fun hanging out together. It gives us something to do; helps us relax and feel at ease. But the Superior's on his own most of the time, in his office with nothing but reports and books. He can't unwind if he's working all the time, and if he's working all the time then he must be stressed every now and then, and if he's stressed … "

"He will constantly be on the edge, and perhaps a wee bit paranoid, is what your saying?" Luxord guessed. "There is a flaw in your theory, though. If you are suggesting we get the Superior more involved in our frivolity you forget that the Superior is not one to waste time. Right now, I dare believe that completing Kingdom Hearts is his passion. Gambling is my passion, and if ever I were to be parted from it I would become quite disagreeable. I cannot imagine the Superior enjoying himself if it does not concern Kingdom Hearts."

"Oh, I know!" Demyx said, excitedly waving a hand to get their attention. "If we cannot get him to relax around us, then why don't we get him a hobby he can do on his own? When I'm feeling down I like to play my sitar, so maybe we should get him an instrument—"

"This is a castle, not a symphony hall," Xaldin said.

"Okay, I'm getting bored. If no one's got a better idea, how bout we just forget the whole thing and hope that sooner or later Kingdom Hearts will come crushing down and kill us all?" Axel said, leaning back and throwing his feet up on the table, crushing Xigbar's hand where it rested.

"Hey!" Xigbar snarled, annoyed that he now had yet another injury to tend to. With a wave of his hand he deepened gravity beneath Axel, sending him crashing to the floor with a yelp.

Roxas was about to give up. He hadn't proven himself yet, but at least he'd gotten his say in something. So he was surprised when, of all people, Demyx still dared to continue with the subject.

"Guys, what if the Superior needs … you know … "

"No, we don't," Xaldin said. "Do tell."

"Well … maybe he's lonely, so … "

"No pets," Xigbar said immediately.

None of them would be forgetting Demyx spontaneous decision to adopt all 99 Dalmatian puppies anytime soon. That none of the yipping runts had been housebroken had made it a very quick eleven-to-one vote to send them straight back to Traverse Town. Larxene had sided with Demyx on keeping them, but only because she was giddy with the idea of making a fur coat out of the pups.

"Nah, not a pet. More like a … " Demyx blushed as he fiddled with the laces of his boots. "You know … "

" … Whoa." Axel's green eyes went wide. "You don't mean … You think the Superior needs a girlfriend?"

Demyx's earnest nod was met by ridiculing laugher from Xaldin, Xigbar and even Luxord.

"Awesome idea!" Xigbar roared. "Let's just round up those Princesses of Hearts and have him choose one! I can hear the wedding bells already! Dude, I call dibs on best man!"

"I'll be the flower girl!" Xaldin chuckled. "Marluxia would have killed for that honour!"

Roxas felt sorry for Demyx as the musician sulked on the floor, but even he thought the idea was too outrageous and dangerous. So when Axel, looking dead serious, spoke, it came as a shock to everyone.

"Actually … that's not a bad idea."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Count me out," Xigbar said, leaning further back on his chair than gravity would usually allow. "Absolutely not! Do you know what Xemnas would do to us if he found out? We'd be banished to the 100 Acre Woods for a month, and if I ever have to put up with that snivelling piglet again I'll pump him full of lead!"

"Not to mention we really don't want another woman here. Larxene was bad enough," Xaldin said.

"Duh, we're not going to bring in anyone new!" Axel said, looking more and more excited. "Can't trust strangers these days, can we? The Superior would have them slaughtered before they could even make it to the front door. Nope, we need someone who's already on the inside."

"Axel," Luxord said, very slowly, "if you're saying what I think you're saying … "

"…What's he saying?" Demyx whispered to Roxas, who shrugged.

"Pop quiz time! Three questions: who does the Superior tolerate the best? Who doesn't mind being around the Superior, no matter for how long? And who is just as socially dead as the Superior?"

The horrified looks growing on everyone's faces was just the answer Axel needed.

"Let's hook the Superior up with Saix!" he said with so much enthusiasm the rest knew there was no way they were going to talk him out of it.

The Luna Diviner's name alone almost made Roxas bolt from his chair. How the heck did things get so out of hand? His initial plan had been risky, but bringing Saix into the mix had just made the whole thing suicidal.

"You're all insane," Xaldin said, already on his way to the door.

"Ditto," Xigbar said, jumping to his feet and following Xaldin. "Have as much fun with is as you can before Saix rips your spines out and beats you to death with them."

Demyx couldn't even respond, too busy hugging his knees and fearfully shaking his head.

Luxord bravely remained in his seat, but his left eye twitched ever so slightly as he laced his fingers and tried to reason with the redhead.

"Axel, there is one major flaw in that plan, namely: Saix."

"Didn't you just say, Luxord, something about knowing when to bluff and when to call and all that? Think of it as the biggest and most rewarding gamble of your life!" Axel would not be dissuaded from his intent, that much was clear. "If we play our cards right, altogether, we must be able to outsmart and manipulate those two bores. Xaldin, manipulation is you speciality."

"I prefer breathing more, thank you," Xaldin said, leaning in the doorway while Xigbar paced back and forth in midair. "VIII, as your superior I order you to abandon this … this … doomed experiment."

"As the official second-in-command, I totally second that," Xigbar said, managing to look formidable despite hanging upside down like a one-eyed bat. "It was fun while it lasted, but you're taking this too far. What was the first thing I taught you youngster when you got here, Axel? Do not provoke Saix, unless you are the fastest son of a bitch in the universe."

"But we won't get caught!" Axel argued.

"You couldn't even slip pass the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland," Xaldin said.

"Oi, that plan would have worked if I hadn't suddenly developed magical cats allergies."

Roxas clenched and unclenched his fists as the pros and cons were bartered back and forth.

"Oh man, if Saix found out about it he'd go all Berserker on us for sure," Demyx moaned, tugging at his hair in distress.

Roxas had yet to witness this infamous Berserker mode, but if it made Saix an even more dangerous being than he already was, it had to be a hellacious experience.

"At least Roxas agrees with me, don't ya?" Axel said, turning to Roxas, who froze.

"Er … I … "

"After all, it was your idea to start with, remember?"

"Yeah, no … but … I … "

''There! Then it's me and Roxas on one side, you two babies," he pointed to Xigbar and Xaldin, "on the other. Luxord, Demyx, whadya say?"

"I won't pick sides," the Gambler said gamely. "Consider me to be on neutral grounds."

"Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man! You're asking the wrong guy here … " Demyx said when everyone turned to him. "I … I don't … I can handle all this pressure!"

"We need a decider and you're the only one left, pal," Axel said. " Unless you want to go ask Saix—"

"Ask me what?" a cold voice asked from the doorway.

Demyx dove under the table as Xigbar ungracefully lost his footing and tumbled to the floor, only just managing to flip over and land on his feet. Luxord, Roxas and Axel all went very still, almost hoping that, by not moving, they would go unnoticed.

"Damnit!" Xaldin snapped, having had a bad start himself. He spun around to face the blue haired man watching him with those feral yellow eyes. "Consider it an order from now on that you mustn't be so damn silent when entering a room, VII!"

"My apologies, sir." Saix said, respectful and polite towards his superiors as always, yet scarily unpredictable as well. "I understand that my opinion was being sought for something?"

Shifty eyes darted everywhere, and everyone wondered the same thing: had he heard more than he was letting on?

"We were … um … " Axel fumbled to come up with something, looking as though he was finally reconsidering his plan now that he'd been reminded just how terrifying Saix was.

"Which is more challenging: poker or black jacks?" Luxord asked, pulling out his cards and shuffling them, apparently calm but judging by how fast he was shuffling he had to be as nervous as the rest of them. "We're divided on the matter."

"You are the Gambler of Fate," Saix astutely pointed out.

"We were only wondering." Luxord said, then quickly dropped the subject. "You have been gone for quite a few days. How went your mission in Deep Jungle?"

"Successful," Saix said, looking over Xigbar's sorry state. "No complications."

"Meaning he killed whatever got in his way," Axel whispered to Roxas.

Saix's pointy ears twitched, being sharp enough to hear a pin drop in the middle of a bar fight. Everyone waited to see whether he'd react to that, but his mission must have gone very well because, his wrathful energy depleted, he did not pull out his claymore, or even growl. Without another word, Saix nodded to them all and disappeared through a portal.

Loud sighs of relief swept through the room and Xigbar pealed himself off the wall, leaving bloody smears on the white surface.

"That great idea of yours isn't looking so great now, is it?" he asked Axel.

"Betcha Saix would be a lot more agreeable too if he had a 'special buddy'. See, this proves I'm right," Axel said, which was received with exasperated groans. "And we're all going to have to be in on it; stragglers might say or do something to give the rest of us away if we aren't all up to date with the plan."

"That's blackmail," Xaldin sneered, but came back over, with Xigbar grudgingly in tow. "If anything goes wrong I'll make sure to have the pleasure of killing you first, Axel, before Saix peals my flesh from my bones."

"Enlighten us, Axel," Luxord said. "How, exactly, are we going to go about this?"

"We'll need a moderator, of course," Axel said. "Someone who's gonna be the one that steers those two together. Someone who has to get as close as them as possible yet not rouse suspicion, if you know what I mean. It'll have to be someone who can talk to them, and plant ideas."

"Master Manipulator," Luxord said, pointing to Xaldin.

"Let's get one thing straight: none of us can get close to Saix, so don't even try. And you don't think it would be suspicious that I, after having known Xemnas for so many years, would suddenly start asking questions and visiting him more often?" Xaldin scoffed. "Our relationship is already established: we were once Ansem's apprentices; now he gives orders and I follow them."

"Same here," Xigbar said. "Me and Xemnas get along better than him and Xaldin, but if I suddenly act all chummy towards him alarm bells will go off in his head, and then our heads will roll."

"But if Marluxia gave all us neophytes a bad name, then who's left?" Demyx asked, getting to his knees.

"Well," Luxord said, sounding as though he didn't really want to say it out loud. "It may be cruel, but I can think of someone … "

Roxas' eyes went wide when everyone turned to him.


"This was your idea, lil' dude," Xigbar said.

"My idea didn't include Saix!"

"C'mon, Roxas! You're our last chance," the redhead said. "You're the least suspicious of us all. The Superior won't think much about you asking stuff, since you're new around here. He'll assume you're just trying to learn the ropes by hanging around him more."

Roxas made a tiny sound, suddenly wishing he'd just kept his mouth shut and played Go Fish. Everyone was on board now, and, once again, he was back to where he'd started: being the new kid, the one everyone else could boss around. He'd really put his foot in it this time.

"Don't worry, Roxas," Demyx encouraged, "we're all behind you."

"Far, far behind him … " Xaldin muttered loudly to Xigbar, who grunted in accord as he found yet another tear in his long, black coat.

Slumping back in his chair, Roxas felt very light headed.

Tbc …

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