a/n: Right! Hullo there, and welcome to the second chapter of Hack Value, a chapter which I've been sitting on and changing for months. I still don't like it much, but you can tell me what you think, yeah? Yeah. Umm...so I'm a college student now...very busy, mind you, but I think in my spare time I'll be writing the next of chapters of smfTHAT and TCG, so, don't think they've been abandoned!Also, I have a fiction press account now, and my name there is also Souvenir, so if you like my writing and would like to see what I can come up with all on my own, give it a look.

As you know, Kingdom Hearts is the property of Square Enix and Disney.


Chapter Two

I looked at the door.

It matched the banner above my head; it was green, and someone had painted the outside edge of it in a white that had obviously seen better days. Whiter days. Or, for the sake of the livelihood of the business that sold the paint, I hoped it had, because it was in pretty shitty condition.

For a moment I stopped worrying over the sign and thought about how such a paint store would be run.

"Hello, what's that? You need some white? Sorry, we ain't got that. You'll settle for this pigeon excrement color with flecks of dirty grey? Excellent, we'll mix that right up."

The thought entertained me--the world doesn't work that way; consumers expect only the best, and if they don't get it they don't know any better. No one would ever advertise "We sell shitty paint," and expect anything good to come of it, because people expect the paint to be good. They expect it to be adequate, in any case, and at the very least--

why, they expect it to work.

I've been in hundreds of stores that make keys. They might advertise "new decorative border" or "tarnish-resistant finish" or "guaranteed to last a life time", some of them had signs proclaiming and explaining the science of a particular alloy used; and I used to be very interested in those, back when I was in the "I must just need a stronger key" phase, back when I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. (Not that there's anything wrong with me.)

None of those stores had ever said something like, "we make keys that work." Not even close. No one had said, we make keys that anything. It was expected! Just like people don't expect the paint to be shit, they expect a key to work. You shouldn't have to be reassured.

Of course, there was the little fact that not a single key had ever worked for me. Ever. Not once. And if I ever thought that it had come close to working, then I was just fooling myself.

I looked at the door.

I thought about my hotel room, a couple blocks in whatever direction I'd wandered on the way, with my one suitcase--that's right, just one, for my clothes and my tools--freshly packed and waiting for my return from what was only supposed to have been an errand.

It couldn't take long, though, could it?

Of course it couldn't.

Three steps in, ask the guy behind the counter, three seconds while I ask to test a lock, and out the door.

That's like eight seconds.

Nothing difficult about that, and absolutely routine.

(For me, anyway. You wouldn't believe the reactions I've gotten, pulling that in plain sight. Then again, most don't understand what's happened, anyway.

It's "You're turning it the wrong way," and all that guff, before I patiently explain that no thank you, it doesn't suit my needs.

So no, no one's ever really noticed the anomaly that's created when I touch a key.

(Except my family.

But that is really getting off track.

Let's just say, however unfortunately, my parents were of the "the problem must be with you," stock.

They were also firm believers in boarding schools, and in Norway, and in holidays spent at said boarding school.

And if you really want to know, the boarding school in Norway was an equally firm believer in locks, on every damned thing around.

I became a firm believer in climbing through windows.

This worked for the first year, of course, but then I was put on the third floor, and that is the year my life changed.

More on that later. ))

I walked up the steps and pulled the door open, peering around the edge of it surreptitiously before pulling the rest of my lanky body through the space. Behind me the door swung closed, and one of those absurdly loud bells propped up on the frame shrilly announced my presence.

I looked around, and very quickly became very confused. I had been expecting a hardware store of sorts, even if I didn't realize it, because that's where you tend to find keys and locks and things of that sort, right?

I mean, there were no house improvement implements lining the shelves, no furniture, gardening, or painting things, nothing, really, to suggest that this was a hardware store.

The first thing I noticed were the walls, which cleverly continued the striped motif, a pale and un-intruding yellow that brought back all the sunshine in the room which the dark storefront would have cast away, and the floorboards, which were a comfortably aged brown.

Now, what kind of store has décor like that?

A boutique, would be my first guess, but the second thing I noticed immediately repudiated this.

There were shelves. So dark a brown that they were almost black, incredibly smooth in texture--these were new, and if not new, then expensive--and arranged in something that I suppose you could call rows.

But only if your definition of a row is considerably less stringent than what I was taught in geometry.

Instead, I was faced with an open corridor of sorts, framed by these shelves, which housed--

You'd never guess.

Really.

You, in the back, vigorously waving your hand, no, not you. In the blue shirt--that's right.

Books.

And Other Things.

Like coffee. And ribbons. And origami paper, and pens, and canaries.

Okay, that's a lie. There weren't any canaries in sight, but surely, you get the idea. It was like someone had stood up and said, I'm going to open a store, and then stocked it with whatever was on the top of their head at that very moment. Someone cheerful.

And somehow, it worked.

I mean, I was delighted. I drowned my eyes in the book covers, children's books and how-to books and language readers and posters printing the Dewey decimal system. There were three shelves with epic and contemporary fantasies, which blended into a smattering of science fiction, which blended into--well, origami paper. Beside that a rack of wind chimes waved enticingly, begging for a poke, so they could display their dual natures.

It was all very safe, you see, this store, this charming place with its brightness and its quirky wares. It was even cute. Thus far I'd seen nothing resembling a key, true, don't think I'd forgot, but I was content enough.

But there were several things I didn't know, the first time I was there, and casually looking around. That's what you should remember. That I was minding my own business. That I was the victim.

I reached out, ready to oblige the chimes, when a small furry thing launched itself into my vision and promptly--too promptly, frighteningly promptly, if you ask me-- into my face.

Whatever it was, it had claws, and those sank into the left side of my face--below the eyes, near my cheekbones--and up into my hair, raking my scalp. Like it was looking for something. Digging.

Into my skin.

I did what any self-respecting consumer would do, I think.

I panicked.

Well, consider the circumstances. I didn't know what was going on--I stepped backward, accidentally knocking into the rack of wind chimes, which, of course, did not stand up to my weight. It swung with a breezy sigh, and my strangled yelp was lost in the twinkling, clear notes as I fell backwards, small furry attacker and all.

"Effing, bloody thing! God fu--" I swore crossly, trying to pry the thing off. I think the fall shocked it as well, though, so it wasn't resisting as much as I thought it would when I kind of accidentally threw it.

And I might have thrown it hard.

It yowled and hit the floor with a soft thump, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little pleased with the sound. I didn't know how much I would pay for that moment of satisfaction.

It was then that I heard footsteps.

I sat up carefully, trying not to do any more inadvertent damage--which I thought was very considerate of me.

I'd call myself considerate. I hold open doors for old ladies. I might have even, on occasion, gotten a kite out of a tree for a distraught kid or two. I treat my friends well, when I see them. I tip generously.

And I'm not the sort to jump to conclusions. I wasn't about to shake my fist and demand to know why I, a (soon to be) valued customer, was assaulted. No.

Instead, I opened my mouth--I hadn't really formulated a statement, but it turned out that didn't matter, since I was struck dumb before I could say a word.

Without my eyes scrunched shut, and without the flying fur, I could see the person who had come running.

I thought, for a moment, that I was on camera--I mean, people who looked like him were only on television. Or on magazine pages. Or in those places where you don't really expect to see ads, but companies put them anyway, like on the sides of warehouses in the middle of the city.

He had it all--gorgeous wide blue eyes, soft golden hair, smooth skin and a strong-jawed face. A little small, sure, but there was muscle packed into his slender frame, which his pale blue button-down shirt and khaki pants did little to hide. I won't lie: I never would have said that I had a "type", per se, but after laying eyes on him, I knew he was it.

I'm not saying he was perfect. He wasn't. His hair stuck up, and his skin--beautiful, yes--was a nice tan in most places but the tip of his nose and the sides of his cheeks were red, sporting a sun burn that seemed only days old.

Also, there was the way his eyebrows snapped down when he saw me. And his body language, too; most specifically the way he snatched up the creature and cradled it while ignoring the way I was uncomfortably sprawled in the middle of the wind chime rack.

And his tone of voice, when he hissed, "What do you think you are doing?!"

Kind of like a shout-hiss. He had a slight accent--French. Without meaning to I thought about the hazelnut coffee down the street I'd been subjected to, and my nose wrinkled.

"Um," I said, not sure of where to start. I thought getting off the floor would be a good place, so I gingerly picked myself up. One of my hands crept to the back of my neck in sheepishness as I watched him survey the damage. It could have been worse, though; at least I didn't actually knock down any shelves. I decided to share this with him, since I didn't think sun burns were capable of deepening in flush and color like his was. The way his foot was spasmodically tapping against the floor didn't look too good either.

"It could have been--"

He looked at me balefully.

I shut up. Somehow I got the feeling he wouldn't feel bad about letting his animal loose on me.

I didn't have to worry, though, he turned his back on me, pulling the rack up one-handed and proceeding to gather up the chimes and hang them back where they were supposed to be.

He shot me a warning look when I tried to join him, so I leaned back and observed the animal that had started the mess. It had jumped lightly out of his arms and was twining around his legs--I should have known it was a cat. In my defense, it was one of those strange breeds--very fuzzy, kind of a short tail. But definitely feline. It sat back on its haunches next to its owner, licking one white paw and looking at me askance, like it hadn't tried to kill me two minutes prior.

It was a look I'm somewhat familiar with; in retrospect, I should have known that the next logical step of the cat would be denial. It was cute enough to get away with it.

(If you're wondering about the implications of that statement, you should just know that to be different is to be in a dangerous place. And that the same goes for all-boy dormitory schools.)

At some point I realized that scrutinizing the creature probably wouldn't help me, and refocused my attention on him, even though he wasn't watching to make sure I was hanging around.

I watched him until he was done, waiting politely (if a little awkwardly) for the opportunity to apologize, and maybe find out why his cat had decided to attack me.

When he'd finished, though, he breezed past me. Like, his eyes didn't even meet mine. Not for a minute.

I stared at his retreating back.

Already I'd been unfairly attacked for my curious venturing. I could have turned back. A normal person would be weirded out and leave. Even a strange person would debate as to whether or not they'd just get out.

I didn't even blink.

I followed him, past all sorts of interesting displays, to the counter that fit snugly at the back wall of the store. Behind the counter was a large sliding door, and a cooling wind blew through, making the various hanging paper charms and things flutter like so many leaves. I'd been following him closely enough that the sight of him sitting safely behind the register, paperback novel in hand, was ludicrous.

On the one hand, I was pretty sure that the window advertisement was a gag.

On the other hand, I had very little to lose.

Actually, I had nothing to lose.

He made a small sound of discontent. I snapped my gaze to his face, but he was very pointedly not looking at me. I noted with relief that at least his face wasn't red anymore.

I cleared my throat.

No reaction from him.

I waited a few minutes; craned my head to glance around the store, then looked at him.

He turned a page, like there wasn't someone standing a foot away in his store, waiting to be addressed.

It was then that I noticed he was wearing a name tag. There was no frivolous "Hi, I'm", only a name.

A strange one, too.

"Roxas?" I tried it out, thinking that maybe he'd be more receptive if I called his name.

He twitched. A grin crept onto my face.

"So you've got a pulse after all, huh, Roxas? Where do you get your name from? Roxas. It's very unique, Rox--"

I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice that every time I said his name, his face snapped into a scowl that grew fiercer by degrees.

I totally noticed.

It was really interesting.

Things got better when he threw down the novel--it rebounded a fraction of an inch, then slid across the counter in a sigh like death until it fell over the side and lay with a thud, prone, staring up at me.

I left my mouth open for an instant, then shut it. He was ready to talk.

He was a very passionate speaker. He leaned forward, throwing his torso across the counter, hands flat on the surface with fingers contorted.

"It's Roxas," he said, Frenching the name up until it made my English pronunciation sound clumsy and obtuse. Rolled the 'r', extended the 'a'. Made the 'o' fuller.

I blinked. Then I bent over and picked up his book.

"Have you ever considered a leash?" I asked innocently, holding it out for him.

"Excuse me?" He said. Blue eyes flicked over the proffered book.

"Nothing," I said, abandoning my plan to antagonize him before further implementing it, "I wanted to inquire about your keys."

Something in him seemed to break, at that point. I'm sure if he'd been holding anything he would have thrown it. Lucky for me, he didn't.

"Are you suggesting Arnaud is poorly trained?" He asked quietly.

His accent was really sexy.

"No, of course not. So, is it good?"

"Is what good? I mean—if I can't help you with anything, sir, then please just leave."

I pointed at the book, which I was still holding out. He swiped it roughly from my grip, stashing it somewhere in the recesses of the desk.

I sighed. I was tired of playing the disgruntled employee game.

"Look," I said, abandoning the flippant tone I'd adopted and replacing it with some mode of sincerity, "Your window says you make keys. I'm not from around here. Your cat Arnaud jumped on me and freaked me out. All I want to know is--" I pulled up short. Roxas's expression had gone from an even fiercer anger at the start of my speech to one of perplexity.

So maybe he had realized that I wasn't the antagonist here, regardless of my sing-song mispronunciations. I probably should have stopped and let him enlighten me.

I've never really known when to stop. It's kind of a huge flaw in my personality. I could explain it--that my extreme perseverance had just, over time, melded into something less prudent and more troublesome. I've yet to find what I'm looking for and so I don't stop.

It's simple when you think about it.

And maybe I'm just making excuses for myself. I do that, too. Sometimes I believe them.

But I really can't find one to explain away what I said next, something sincere and yet oh so far from diplomatic, given the circumstance.

"--are you free tonight?" I concluded with a smile.

Inappropriate.

Okay, yeah, you called it. If I had waited until he was thoroughly calm, maybe things would have turned out nicely.

Well, that could be wishful thinking.

The return of the scowl was instantaneous, and inwardly I groaned. How many straight guys did I have to ask out before I learned? Not that I've got a history of doing so.

I wouldn't call "several" a history, anyway.

"Sorry," I said, observing his livid features. He didn't seem to know what obscenity to yell at me, so he was just kind of growling, and I'd be damned if I didn't see his hand itching for something to throw. (The stapler was just inches away, and I did not like the look of the dents it sported.) "Sorry. Sorry. "

I backed away slowly, then hightailed it out of the store, leaving a string of amazingly filthy French curses behind me.


a/n: I know, messy and disjointed. I'm sorry! Also, what's up with Arnaud? And how much French does Axel know? Norwegian boarding schools? Leave me a review and let me know what you think.