Title: Miserere (Translation: Have Mercy) - Chapter One
Rating: PG-13 overall, rating may increase later.
Pairings: Zexion/Demyx, Xemnas/Saix mentioned, other pairings may develop
Summary: AU. Zexion is finally living his dream, working at a prestigious scientific laboratory right out of college. And when he's given an important position in an upcoming project, he thinks life couldn't get better. But will he change his mind when the subject of his research tests his morals, his beliefs, and his dedication to his trade?
Author's Notes: I like this fic. A lot. So I decided to share it. It's not really in my usual style, so I feel like I'm branching out a little. Hope you like it too!
It had been the longest two weeks of Zexion's entire life.
Upon leaving college and gaining a position at this particular institution, he expected a life of the extraordinary, the freedom to study things that few other labs received funding to study. After all, this firm was famous for its studies of the biggest mysteries of the world. Their theories on everything from atmospheric phenomenon to deep sea creatures were simply legendary.
Zexion was the youngest person ever hired by the lab. Having straight A's through his entire college career as well as experience in his father's microbiology lab had secured the position for him a year before he was even set to graduate.
Now here he was. Two weeks of nothing but studying the diets of shallow water fish.
He was restricted from most areas, which he honestly expected. But to be given the task of writing reports on already well established information? This was demeaning, to say the least.
He stopped typing for a few moments, leaning back in his chair and diverting his gaze from the screen. His eyes were aching from hours of staring at nothing but the black and white of book pages and the half-written report on the diet of a few varieties of the seahorse.
This is entirely absurd. I'm worth more than this, he thought, eyeing the fish tank in his office wall as the clownfish ducked into an anemone. Fish were fascinating creatures, most definitely, but not worth two weeks of studying what they ate. When he was hired here, he expected travel, intrigue, constant food for a mind that craved something different than the norm.
He stood slowly, stretching his stiff limbs as he stepped closer to the tank. The lionfish swiveled in the water to eye him through the thick glass, and Zexion pressed three fingers to the tank wall, eyes locking with the eyes of the brightly colored creature.
The lionfish did no more than stare at him and twitch its fins. He was certain that the poor fish was probably bored out of its mind, trapped in a glass cage, its behavior on display for him and the people in the lab on the other side of the wall.
Like him. Trapped in a monotonous existence, under constant surveillance by people he simply couldn't touch. He suddenly longed for those lazy days in college, when he and Axel would bicker about who had the worse teachers, and whether Zexion getting drunk was a good idea.
Now Axel was working in a law firm. A very prestigious law firm, at that. Every time they met for drinks lately, Zexion could only admire how his friend was living his dream, snagging the big cases and wrecking havoc on the normally stoic courtrooms with his passionate way of approaching cases.
Zexion was comparing himself to a fish. A fish.
This cannot be good for my sanity.
A knock on the door interrupted Zexion's thoughts, and he turned away from the tank. "Come in."
A young blonde woman slipped into the room, her lab coat splashed with some kind of blue liquid. She was slender, curvy, with pale skin, vibrant eyes and blonde hair- in other words, Larxene was a very portrait of feminine beauty. Unfortunately, she was not mute.
"Are your reports done?"
Zexion shook his head. "I'm midway through the freshwater seahorses. All that's left after that is the octopus, then I'll be finished."
She snorted, tossing her hair. "A little slow, aren't you?"
"I prefer the term thorough," Zexion pointed out, his hands tightening into fists. "Unless you'd prefer I rush and possibly make mistakes out of haste."
"Yeah, whatever, kiddo. Look, we need those reports by tomorrow afternoon. We're bringing in a research specimen from the gulf and we need everyone on their toes about it."
"A research specimen?"
Larxene smirked in that cruel way of hers, then held up the file she was holding. On the cover in large red letters was the word 'Confidential'.
"You aren't high enough up the food chain yet."
"I'm hardly less incompetent than some of the amateurs you have running your experiments."
Larxene arched an elegant eyebrow. Zexion realized that he was taking a risk in talking back to her like this, of all people, but he was at his boiling point. He didn't take six years of highly advanced courses to be set aside like this. "Amateurs?" Larzene repeated, her tone both curious and amused.
"Saix doesn't know which end of a microscope to look into. The only reason he's a lab assistant is because he provides Xemnas with entertainment five times a day," Zexion said, lifting his chin. "I'm not stupid. I'm quite aware when my abilities aren't being utilized in the way they should be."
Of all reactions, Larxene did the one thing Zexion didn't expect her to do- she laughed. The sound was almost foreign, coming from her; though she had a light, colorful voice, nobody was fooled into thinking she was unintelligent or kind. Zexion made that mistake his first day, but he certainly realized his mistake by the time she'd dumped a bacterial suspension in his hair for his 'tone of voice'.
"I like you, kid. I liked your resume, I liked you in your interview, and I like you even more here. You have real spunk," she finally said, giving him a quick all-over look. "I'll tell you what…Xemnas has strict policies about who can work on which projects, by level of experience and amount of time working here. Normally, those policies can't be overstepped by anyone."
"You're his niece and his most trusted employee. I don't doubt you can pull strings," Zexion said. Larxene chuckled again.
"I pull more than strings, darling," she said, tilting her head and setting her hands on her hips. "You have real potential. I can see you owning the company, someday. I wouldn't have pleaded your case with Xemnas if I didn't feel that way. So…I don't see any harm in letting you step up to bat, just for a while."
"Damn right. I put you in charge of a section of this project, and see if you swim or drown."
"That sounds infinitely better than the grunt work you've dumped on me for the past two weeks."
Larxene paused in thought, eyeing the carpet for a few moments. Then, she looked back up at Zexion with a bit of an odd expression. "You a people person, Zexion?"
Zexion's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Hardly."
"Do you like music?"
"What does this have to do with the project?"
Larxene clicked her tongue at him. "I'm asking the questions. You should be kissing my shoes for the favor I'm doing for you. Answer the question."
Zexion sighed. "I suppose. Jazz, classical, it varies."
"Good. I know exactly where I'm putting you on this project," Larxene said, flipping open her confidential file and making a note. "You'll be taking psychological evaluations of the research subject, as well as shifts of observation."
Zexion stared. "You want me to psychoanalyze a fish."
"That's the idea. Make sure it doesn't get too stressed in its new environment, make notes of habits and behavior, the usual," she continued, then she snapped the file shut. "Sleep in tomorrow. Finish those reports tonight, come in at noon tomorrow, the subject is here at one. We'll do environmental acclimation through the afternoon and evening, then you'll have the first overnight observational shift. Happy?"
Zexion snorted. "As long as I'm not observing a common goldfish, it's a step up."
Silence for a moment. Larxene's smirk widened. "It's more than a step up. Try a flight of stairs," she said, opening the door again. "You're going to be helping us make history tomorrow, Zexion. For aiding us on this project, you'll be set for life."
The door shut behind her, and Zexion stood in silence as her footsteps retreated down the hall. He stared at the wooden door, his arms crossed, his mind still grinding away on the possibilities of tomorrow.
Did they find an extinct species? Would he be observing some kind of prehistoric creature long thought dead? Even the mere thought was enough to give him the mental fuel to get through what was left of the reports. He was done an hour after his shift should have ended, and he dropped the reports off in the lab, then decided to give Axel a call. After all, he finally had something to celebrate, and who better to celebrate with?
"Wow, man, that's really cool!"
Zexion took a small sip from his iced tea as Axel leaned forward, his green eyes bright with interest. "Do you know what kind of fish you're gonna have? Is it a dinosaur? Cause that would be awesome, unless you pulled a whole Jurassic Park thing and ended up dead. But hey, I would so pick up your parents' case in your wrongful death."
"That's a comforting thought," Zexion said with a snort. "Unfortunately, it's all confidential. Even when I find out tomorrow, I'm strictly forbidden from giving the information to a civilian."
"I'm not a civilian, I'm a lawyer!"
"There's something incredibly flawed in your line of logic sometimes."
"Yeah, I get that from growing up next door to you, freak show."
Zexion laughed, shaking his head. "You really are something else."
Axel tapped his fingers on the table impatiently. "So, are you gonna tell me what it is when you find out, or not?"
"Aw, come on…"
"Depending on what it is, maybe," Zexion said, his voice stern. "You're lucky I'm even saying maybe."
Axel grinned and took a shot of whiskey, leaning back in his chair with a sigh. "I'll tell you what. You let me in on your mysterious science project, and I let you in on the latest case. Hell, you can't turn that down, this case is juicy. Triple homicide and all."
"I saw the news. Somehow, I wasn't surprised that a man with guilty practically stamped on his forehead would go to you for a good defense."
Axel smirked. "I'm just that good, and you know it."
Zexion wrinkled his nose as the person sitting behind him lit up a cigarette, and he finished his glass of tea and stood. "I need to get out of this stuffy place. Are you coming?"
Axel nodded, slapping money down on the table before standing up. They left the bar and started walking down the waterfront, taking the boardwalk toward downtown. That was one thing Zexion didn't have to miss from college; he still lived within walking distance of his best friend.
The evening air was warm, but with a breeze off the water that left a bit of a chill. Zexion tightened his jacket around himself, taking in a deep breath of the salty air. The rhythmic sounds of waves lapping against the rocks was almost hypnotic, and for a few minutes they walked in silence, only the occasional car passing by or other people on a stroll disturbing the tranquility.
"So…you found yourself a nice, nerdy girl at the lab yet?" Axel finally asked, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his trenchcoat.
"Only one girl works at the lab, and you simply couldn't pay me enough to approach her romantically."
"Is she hot?"
Axel barked out a laugh. "Oh, one of those."
"If by 'one of those', you mean a psychotic creepy bitch on a power trip, then yes. She's one of those," Zexion said with a half smile. "I suppose she's tolerable, if you don't anger her."
"Anybody else there?"
"Just the usual," Zexion said with a shrug. "The amateur screwing his way to higher pay, the grunts doing menial labor, and the heads of department who think they get to decide what all the evidence means."
Axel patted Zexion on the shoulder. "Well, I'm glad they're finally giving you something to do. It'd be a shame to put a mind like yours to waste, especially when you tend to blow things up when you're bored."
"That was one time!"
"One time is enough when it comes to property damage, my friend."
Axel continued on about property damage and the cases he'd researched in which it was a major concern, but Zexion's mind had wandered. He was looking out at the water as he walked, studying the last tendrils of light clutching to the gentle rise and fall of the waves. He could've sworn he saw the shine of a large fish's scales for a moment, but it was hard to tell in the dim light.
He'd always wanted to see more than pictures of that vast world under the water, but that was a bit of a stretch for him. He loved the water, and he was fascinated by all the creatures who lived in it, but he doubted he would ever be able to join them in their element. He'd never learned to swim.
"Zexion? Hey, I'm talkin' here. Jurors don't even tune me out, and look at you, you're somewhere else," Axel teased, shaking Zexion gently. Zexion cleared his throat and said a quick apology.
"I got distracted."
"No shit," Axel said. "Well, this is where I leave you. Be sure to call me after your shift tomorrow night, we'll meet for drinks again."
Zexion nodded. "Of course. Be safe, Axel."
"Hey, safe was almost my middle name, but catastrophe had a better ring to it."
With that, Axel jogged across the street, quickly turning the corner past a small pet shop. Zexion sighed, looking back out at the water. The light was finally leaving it, striking a sharp contrast between the inky blackness of the deep water and the lights of the city stretching along the coast. Ocean and land, pressed along each other like lovers.
He could postpone sleep just a little longer. Even if this was the closest he'd ever get to seeing below that moving black curtain of water, he could still wonder and dream. After all, even in science there was more than adequate room for imagination.
Tomorrow, just maybe, he could let the facts do better than his imagination ever could.