a/n: Hello and welcome to the sixth chapter of So Much For That. It is embarrassing to note that 98 per cent of this chapter has been written for months and months. I'm sorry. But I'm not kidding on my profile when I say everything I've started will eventually be finished. Also, I don't own Kingdom Hearts!
I shivered as a I slunk through the school parking lot, shoulders hunched and hands thrust as far into my pockets as I could shove them. Mid October wasn't the best time of year to go traipsing around at night without a coat, but I'd been so worked up before walking quietly out after dinner that I'd forgotten it. I say "slunk" because of the things I'd noticed about my new town, the fact that everybody seemed to go to bed at nine was one of the stranger ones. Not the teenagers, of course, but the walk to school---so familiar in the mornings---had been a dark and deserted one, with only quiet lights on in the homes.
The fact that I had run into no one made me feel even more out of place, and this feeling---the knowledge that I should be, as everyone thought I was, studying over at Hayner's house, instead of where I was, edging ever closer to the brightly lit windows of the school---manifested itself as a guilt trip. I couldn't get Sora's reaction the night I'd come home late through my window out of my head. I paused, stomach twisting, and my shoulders flinched slightly at the sensory memory of his fingers digging into them, a nearly-forgotten panic refusing to let him loosen his grip.
I knew that tonight, at least, Sora knew that I was going to the school. He and Hayner were in on the plan---in fact, only my fast talking had persuaded Hayner to stay behind: we needed someone to confirm my whereabouts, should Aunt Gene call. Not that it was a big deal---I was only doing this for Mr.Z, I reminded myself. Sure, spying on a conference could be considered a breach in ethics. But it wasn't my prerogative to overhear a confidential conversation between he and his students. I just wanted to catch him off guard. To find out what was wrong.
Aunt Gene wouldn't see it as ' helping' . And you're making Sora lie to her. Again.
Shaving cream. Alien zombie. Mr.Z, I thought firmly, willing my legs to move. I'd approached the school from the West side of the building, which only housed a minor exit. Through the last window I would be able to see into the English classroom, which, apart from the lobby, was the only classroom on this wing lit up. There was a convenient line of bushes which made up a perimeter some feet from the side of the building, and I dropped to my hands and feet, grimacing when my palms met with the chill grass. I crawled directly under the window sill. It was only a few inches above my head, and I heard soft voices. I sat tight and waited.
I sighed, looking through the bushes, beyond the streets, behind the houses, my eyes focusing on the horizon lines of shadowed trees and fields. It was too dark to make anything out that wasn't flooded in a small circle of yellow, orange, or blue, whether from a lamp post or house light. There was a midnight blue touch to the edge of the sky. But for the most part, it was black. I craned my neck, momentarily distracted by the stars. There was no moon to speak of. For some reason something in my memory stirred when I thought that, and I frowned. There had been something about that fact, hadn't there? Something about moonless nights? But it was out of my reach.
I shook my head, noticing that I could no longer hear people speaking---perfect. I turned around and cautiously peered through the window. Luckily Mr.Z's desk didn't face the window. It ended up not mattering.
The teacher wasn't currently in the classroom. I frowned, scanning the entire room, but he wasn't there. I'd seen his silhouette earlier, were his conferences done with? I had planned to wait for a break between them, tap on the window, and then further pursue my earlier line of ignored questions.
I gave up the pretense of stealth and stood up fully, frustrated. He'd turned the lights off, which meant he probably wasn't coming back.
Maybe, though, I could catch him in the hallway.
I knew there was nothing urgent about my mission. Something was wrong with Mr.Z, but it didn't seem to be hurting him in a dangerous way. All in all it could have waited. But I couldn't bear the thought of having Sora lie to his mom for nothing. I had to find something out. Everyone else wanted to know what was going on, too.
So I loped to the small exit, sending a quick thanks to the janitor when the door swung open freely. I hadn't expected it to be unlocked, but I didn't waste time considering why it was. (Probably in case a parent mistook it for a main entrance). I found myself in one of the long corridors of the building. The only light was coming from a hallway some ways down that branched off this one, and the rows of closed classroom doors, standing like silent sentinels, made me a little nervous. Those nerves were calmed somewhat simply by the effect of the heating. I pulled my hands out of my pockets, trying to rub the numbness out of them as I quickly walked, skirting the edge of the lit corridor after making sure no one was standing in it. The lights did give me pause---would he go that way through the building? I couldn't guess, both hallways would eventually lead you to the faculty parking lot.
I followed the dark hallway on impulse, striding past the black cafeteria and a number of study hall rooms, grateful for my soft-soled sneakers that made the barest of thumps. Empty as it was, any noise I made would echo. I quickened my pace, hoping to catch sight of Mr.Z's retreating back as I turned the corner---
"What do you think you're doing?"
I wrenched myself backwards around the corner, body flush with the lockers, heart thumping. Had he seen me? No, he hadn't seen me. He wasn't facing me. His body had been obscuring someone else, a few paces away, and I'd pulled back as soon as I'd caught sight of them. Two bodies, posture indicating opposition towards the other.
Who was Mr.Z addressing that way?
"I think you know what I'm doing, sir."
I stiffened in shock when I heard Demyx's voice answer.
"Look, Demyx…please don't think I haven't thought about it. But you are a student. And I am a teacher."
"I'm eighteen, and you're twenty-three."
"I'm afraid that---what I mean is, it still isn't right, not as long as you are a student in these halls."
"No. All you mean is that you're afraid, period."
"We've been through this. Nothing has changed."
I slid to the tiled floor, not believing my ears, and feeling a little sick. I desperately wished I could see another way to interpret the conversation. But the passion in their voices as they continued to argue---obviously an old, often-fought battle---belied any other explanation. They were both feeling very strongly, although Mr.Z was uncertain, wary, and Demyx was forceful and earnest. I got the feeling that Demyx had lain in wait, then ambushed Mr.Z there in the corridor. Much as I had been planning on doing a minute ago.
And who was I to judge? I realized slowly. I didn't know what was happening here, not really. And I'd found out what I wanted to know---this had to be what was eating at Mr.Z, and it was understandable. His behavior and Demyx's return weren't coincidence, it was an obvious case of cause and effect.
And, thinking back to the implication of our conversation, it was not the first time this had happened. "It's not as bad as last time," he'd said, in the bathroom.
The argument dwindled down, voices losing their edge, and Mr. Z's voice was calm if not unwearied and exasperated when he next spoke.
"Hang on---I'll drive you home—I left my keys in the classroom, though."
Before he could finish the sentence I leapt to my feet without thinking, not keen on explaining my presence. I knew ducking down the lit hallway wouldn't be enough--- if he so much as looked to the side he'd see me---in my haste I pulled open the door of the first unlocked classroom I got to, shutting it as gently as I could. A moment later his silhouette passed through the small glass window cut into the door, and I sighed, turning around. I thought I had stepped into a science room, and would be met with the familiar smell of a chemistry lab, the chairs sitting on top of the glossy black tables, allowing the janitors to clean up whatever had been inevitably spilled, broken, or splashed during the day, test tubes and other glass instruments laid out on the counters, outlined from the faint light coming through the windows.
And, I was met with all that.
But I was also met with three pairs of incredibly startled eyes.
"As I was saying, Xemnas, the less likely something is to happen, the less you should be surprised when it does. Case and point."
And suddenly, I remembered. He'd said it so long ago; it had been weeks--- it was ridiculous to think it should come up now. One of those things that I should have kept in mind. And probably the only reason I hadn't fainted dead away:
"They say that the weird smoke and lights that come from the school on nights that there's no moon are from him doing weird experiments and…stuff." Sora had been educating me on the screwy upper math teacher, the same one that sat across the classroom, leaning in a chair with those disturbing eyes trained narrowly on my face. Near him was the chemistry teacher, , looking at me in an equally scrutinizing stare.
Maybe this would have made sense, if not for the last of their number, the one who had punctuated his point after I walked in.
"You're kidding me," I said weakly. I would have run for it, but the dogged look in Mr. Saix's eyes seemed to promise me a terrifying pursuit if I did.
Besides, I'd probably run straight into Demyx. Who, I remembered with growing confusion and alarm, had been the one to suggest I go to the school tonight in the first place. Who was supposed to be at a swim meet.
Maybe I was safer in the classroom.
"No kidding here, but it is pretty amusing," Axel said from his vantage point on the counter, dressed, as he had been the other two times I'd seen him, all in black. In the dark classroom his already pale skin was incredibly stark.
After the initial surrealism of the scenario, reality nudged me out of shock, and into panic. First I stumble across a secret conversation, then a secret meeting? Which housed, impossibly, Axel. The wiccan. The wiccan I had tea with. Who I talked to for hours, that night. The one whose expression I couldn't read. I chanced a look at the smile creeping across his face, but like before, it was no good.
I couldn't read him, not one iota.
Maybe the hallway was safer after all.
"I'll, uh, I'll be going now---"
"Sit down," Mr. Xemnas said, voice steely. I blanched. It had been worth a try.
"Or I could sit down," I said meekly, taking a chair and lowering myself onto it gingerly. The plastic/porcelain alloy of the seat was cold, and I bit back a shiver.
"You're Sora's cousin. Roxas."
I nodded. Mr. Xemnas's gaze, though disapproving, seemed to hold a hint of amusement. He was in a emerald green sweater today, customary lab coat placing him more fully into the setting than anyone else, despite the fact that the room, I noticed, belonged to Mr. Saix. But the science teacher had shed his own white coat, and watched the proceedings with one pale eyebrow slightly raised (he, too, was very disapproving.)
But it wasn't a flat disapproval. There were layers here. Amusement. At my plight? Curiousity. They were probably wondering why I was here. And there was very little anger, if any.
What, exactly, had I stumbled into here? Two teachers and a wiccan. Axel wasn't even a student at the school, of that I was sure---rumors of him would have abounded like an ubiquitous fire; seeing as he seemed to be open about his…unorthodox religion (he had told me after very little conversation, after all). Not to mention he lived all alone. In Hell's summerhouse. Which everyone thought was---what? I still hadn't figured that one out.
I hadn't thought of it at all.
His green eyes---I had forgotten their vividness, forgotten how striking he was---locked onto mine, and I could have ground my teeth in frustration. It looked like my few weeks of peace---it had barely been three---in which I had settled down into the role of obedient cousin and nephew, were going to be interrupted.
"What is going on here?" I asked quietly.
All three exchanged looks, with a mix of emotions between the two teachers, and then I realized it.
Not only was this a secret meeting, a covert gathering, it was one that wasn't allowed. They were doing something they shouldn't. Admittedly, it was hard to tell from their attitudes---they didn't sit, they lounged. They were relaxed, rather than tense, and when I barged in, they were more curious than worried.
Or that was what they wanted me to see, anyway.
After a conversation spoken mainly through glances and small motions, most of which was lost on me, Mr. Xemnas turned to address me.
"This is a lesson," he said, much in the same manner he would say "this is an example of the quadratic equation."
"A lesson," I repeated.
"I'm glad your ears are in proper working order," he said witheringly.
He glared at me, more for my skepticism than anything, I think, but eventually kept going. "The young man currently swinging his legs on the counter over there cannot, for reasons I see no purpose you need to be aware of, attend classes at this high school. As a personal favor Mr. Saix, myself, and other teachers occasionally give him supplementary lessons. You may think of it as independent study."
"Mr.Z," I said. "Mr.Z must also know about this."
"Yes, Mr.Z will also give lessons from time to time." Mr. Xemnas seemed loath to give me more information, however, and fell silent.
I sat and mulled this over. Beyond the fact that I couldn't think of why the teachers would bother with Axel, it made sense---those hypothetical rumors I'd thought about would be a great hindrance to him. He must not feel comfortable with the idea of attending class.
But that was a preference---did that equal the firm "cannot" in Mr. Xemnas's explanation?
Axel's eyes gripped mine again, and I had the eerie feeling that I was staring into a mirror---he was watching my expression, perhaps warily. That was probably fancy on my part; his face was as lost to me as ever as he glanced away, picking up a graduated cylinder and inspecting it.
"You may go now, although I would warn you that there are consequences for being on school grounds without permission at night."
I nodded and stood up. At first I had been worried, fearing detention or, worse, a call home, but it looked like I was getting away with only that; a warning.
"One last thing---the administration does not look favorably upon these sessions. I would ask that you consider the repercussions of your action on this young man's education if you should approach the faculty."
I blinked. I'd been right; the meeting was clandestine because it was breaking some rule. No wonder my reprimand wasn't stronger.
I nodded again. It seemed appropriate, and Mr. Saix and Mr. Xemnas both leaned back a little, content with that.
Something, however, made me pause on my way out. It might have been how reminiscent, with a strong glow falling outside the room into the hallway, the scene was of Axel's kitchen that night, after I had opened the door and been struck with a sense of overwhelming guilt. It might have been the way that said young man had managed, continuously, to drag my eyes toward him. Or it might have been something else, a loyalty I didn't know I had.
"I would never—I won't---you don't have to worry. About me, I mean."
Axel finally looked up from the chemistry tool, smiling. "Roxas," he said, and a slight thrill ran through me. I hadn't been expecting him to address me. And part of me had thought that he'd simply forgotten the encounter.
"Feel free to come over again, if you'd like to talk," he finished.
The teachers didn't seem to think anything of this statement, and I found myself nodding, fingers reaching for the door behind me and then I was hurrying through the hall; half expecting to run into Demyx and extremely relieved when I didn't. Thinking of him made my stomach clench nervously. But it was my brain that reacted strongest, now, and I was too lost in my thoughts to even notice the now biting cold night as I made my way home.
When I got through the front door, via the key Aunt Gene had made for me the week we'd moved in, (something I wasn't used to having. Sora wouldn't have known it from the clumsy way I'd crawled through my window that night, but I was very used to and quite adept at the action. And that is how I wanted things) Sora was waiting. He'd been lounging alone in the living room, and from the way papers littered the floor in a radius around him, he'd been studying. Or trying to, anyway---Sora found the entire thing extremely exciting, which was no surprise to me. I found myself wanting to ask exactly what kind of antics he managed to get up to, with such a vigilant mother (and he so wanting to please) but I suspected I already had the answer---nothing so daring as what he'd been doing after meeting me.
Oh, if I had found a simple, amusing answer, that would be fine with me. But how would Sora react--?
I was in the act of taking off my shoes, and Sora, having caught sight of me, was bounding through the room, when I paled. How would Sora react?
"Well?" He demanded, face eager, eyes bright with anticipation. "How'd it go? Did he talk to you?"
I didn't think about it, I just stepped aside and let my tongue take care of things.
"Well, you see, he feels very strongly about things like nonconformist ideas; like that and carpe diem, and he was wanting to impart a sense of those ideas to his students…but I asked him if that was really helping things, you know?"
"Yeah, yeah," Sora bent towards me, a habit of his. Our foreheads were nearly touching as we crouched in the foyer, the rest of the downstairs quite dark but for the single lit lamp in the living room.
"So he agreed with me that it had already served its purpose, shaking up…shaking up our routine. I think he might have just been agreeing with me, though. I think he might keep it up, until, uh, students figure it out for themselves."
"And to think, we thought something was completely off." Sora seemed lost in thought, but he was soon grinning at me.
We stayed that way a few minutes longer, sitting side by side, talking about how quirky the whole thing was. Soon, though, Sora yawned hugely and mentioned a math test the next day.
I kept a pleasant expression on my face until I escaped upstairs into the shower. I washed the mud off my knees and frowned. The steaming water was small consolation for my lies, but I couldn't feel I was wrong.
The wrong thing to do would have been telling Sora something that was only for Demyx to tell.
But this still left me the unnerving question---and I was sure that this was his intent, he was too clever for it not to be---why did Demyx want me, of all people, to know?
a/n: So how many of you people saw that coming? I'm curious! More exciting things next chapter as things heat up---in the meantime, please do me some good and leave a review, even if you just want to berate me or say hi, okay?