Disclaimer, three hours later: Yeah, I'm washing dishes and it suddenly occurred to me. So, no no no no, no no no annnnd - no. That should cover it.

A/N: HI, GUYS! So, here I am with another shortie, based on the gorgeous deviation of the same title by Nijuuni over on dA. This story is utterly dedicated to her (who is now known also as my Queen). The inspiration I get from her stuff is mind-devouring. Sadly, I feel like there's less violence in it than the picture demands… I mean, I was planning on Violence! …but it evened out too much DX Oh, well. Will just have to return to peppering it intermittently in my regular stories /big cheesy grin/

Absolute love and hugs and love and gratitude to my ultra-busy Decorinne for being my beta guinea-pig, I can post this a lot easier knowing that she likes it, and she gave me a couple of kickass ideas along the way, too :D :D :D

Oh, and while you're all looking, I'll just say – sorry for how bad I've been lately with review replies (I am experiencing sharp déjà vu right now coughMARCHcough). What I'm going to do is just slice off all the ones I know I haven't responded to, and start fresh from here :S But please know that I do know who you are (and where you live and what you ate for breakfast), and your words were enormously appreciated – they always, always are :)

/ cop-out

PS: Once a-bloody-gain, the Word to document conversion has left numerous words GLUED TOGETHER where there SHOULD be SPACES. So totally not my doing /face-palms/ I've spotted like... two, so far, but I can't face the thought of combing through hunting them all down, so if you see any, please to be alerting me? TA.


Warnings! SwearingsmutviolencebaseballbatsaSICKLELarxeneinstilletos(becauseshe'sjustthatbadass)alcoholchairs, PAINTGETSCHIPPEDAVERTYOUREYESCHILDREN,ahottubstrippers(notsleazyenoughtobeinteresting) bedframeabusetheoddsplashofbloodTARTANBLANKETSaBurmesecatmetalstairs, AND Axel singing.

Fairly warned be ye. (That was fun).


Those Who Lie


Feet lowered onto steps, carrying their owner down, down the dark staircase. The temperature rose as Roxas descended, the basement's heating turned high, a pocket of sweltering air separate from the night desert winds that swept through the city above.

The place was built like a bomb shelter, made of stone slabs, complete with steel doors, gas lights, a chair in the corner of the room. For watching from. Xemnas could be a sick, sadistic fuck when he wanted to be. Roxas had witnessed it first-hand.

And what did Xemnas usually like to watch?

Axel woke in blackness, out of breath, each hard-won inhalation thick, warm, sickeningly uncomfortable. His chest was – tight. Coughing weakly, the redhead attempted to open his eyes, felt his lashes scrape fabric, found himself greeted by a black veil, sealing him away in a dark abyss.

The first hints of fuzzy concern trickling through his veins, he tried to move… only to find that nothing was obeying him. His arms were locked in place, his legs numb, folded beneath him. His hands had lost all feeling, no sense of motion registering as he tried to twitch his fingers, tied cruelly behind him, arms pinned in place. His vessels constricted in fear, fluttering panic building in his throat.

Christ. How long had he been here for...?

Then he heard footsteps, calm and deliberate. Sucking a shallow breath, he went still, eyes moving automatically towards the source of the noise, mind working quickly. Lips parted, voice gathering hoarsely to deliver questions, demands, abuse… when the newcomer spoke.

He recognized it – he'd recognize that tone, timbre, pitch, anywhere, in any situation – only this time, it wasn't relief that surged through his veins when he heard the boy speak. It wasn't a soothing, melodious voice that drifted to him.

"Do you want to know…"

It was a voice–

"…what happens to those who lie?"

–that wanted him dead.

A hand wound through the hair at the back of his head, tightened, rested there a moment then wrenched upward, yanking the redhead mercilessly from the floor. Axel's knees scrabbled for a moment, a gasp escaping at the suddenness of the pain.

Then, everything stopped as a kiss was placed against his lips.



Axel froze, heart jolting hard. He swallowed. "…Rox –" He choked on the muzzle as it was stabbed into the back of his throat, gagged, the pain registering a moment later, teeth knocked harshly by unrelenting steel, tongue crushed, cut against a molar.

He struggled to breathe around it, snorting and huffing through his nostrils. Roxas relented with the barrel, drawing it back from the man's tonsils, but keeping it jammed firmly in place, levering it up, depressing his tongue, the top row of his teeth bared against the hard, spit-coated surface.

He tried to speak a little, garbled, nothing speech, useless vowels that were shaken out of him by one brief, vicious twist of his hair. Dizzy with fear, pulse slamming at every hot point of his body, Axel's voice was reduced to a faint, cut-off whimper, before dying completely. He felt the warmth of an exhalation against the side of his mouth, the stretched corner of lip not touching the gun, choked down the saliva flooding the chamber.

"Little white lies," the boy murmured against him. Axel heard the unmistakeable click of the safety being disengaged, bullet already loaded, biting down on the gun with a low moan, trying to shake his head, trying to move, and Roxas slammed it up into his incisors, chipping the corner of one, silencing the man.

"They build up, Axel."

The redhead's skull was tilted back, baring his throat, shortening his inhalations even further, chest hitching. A desperate mumble issued forth from around the gun. He was ignored.

"And this time, they've built too high for you," Roxas informed him quietly, voice tight with hidden anger. The blond adjusted his grip on both the gun and the man's hair, pointing the bullet straight down into his throat. "Too high for either of us, really."

Axel blinked rapidly into pitch black material, sweating trickling down his face, through his hair, into the numerous cuts, grazes, scratches, over the bruises, shaking violently. Each chuffed breath contained the slightest whisper of voice, but there was nothing he could say.

"See you in the next life," the boy tossed out, aiming for casual, coming across only bitter, impotent, each word ground from his boots.

Silly. Just because you have a next life…

Roxas' finger tightened on the trigger, expression impassive, wrist twitching upward to avoid getting caught by the bullet.

"Bang, Bang –

He shot me down.

Bang, Bang,

I hit the ground.

Bang, Bang,

That awful sound.

Bang, Bang…

My baby shot me down…"

"Music played, and people sang – just for me, the church bells rang," Axel shouted tunefully, hot air whipping through his hair as the Jeep rumbled over the craggy desert nowhere. Dust and bugs ricocheted from the dark lenses of his sunglasses, an elbow propped up on the open window, the sleeves of his white shirt billowing with the sharp draught. He glanced casually out the side of the vehicle, saw a scrawny, determined tree jutting out of the earth, swung the wheel around and headed straight for it, sending up a cloud of orange dust behind them.


"Now he's gone, I don't know why," the redhead bellowed, "and to this day, sometimes I crrryyyyyyyyyy."

"Son of a bitch!"

Roxas lunged across the driver's seat, hands wrenching at the wheel, swerving them hard away from the tree, the SUV skidding hard, thumping over the scrubby desert floor. Axel laughed, reached over as Roxas sank glaring back into his seat, the Jeep's existence – and theirs – no longer in any imminent danger. Pinching the blond's cheek, he cooed, "You're so cute when you're fearing for your life!" He was slapped away.

From the backseat, some muffled shouting came, the words incoherently garbled, their insistent panic evident.

"Ah, shut up," the redhead threw over his shoulder. "Don't worry, you're not gonna die before we want you to."

More noises, and Axel turned up the radio.

"Do you always have to play this song?" Roxas shouted over the wind, the Jeep eating up mile after mile. His blond spikes swirled wildly, slicing back and forth, giving him a breathless, wide-eyed look that made Axel drive all the more faster.

Axel cackled, yelled back, "Yes!" and steered towards a cactus patch. This time, Roxas didn't react except to twist sideways in his seat, arms crossing firmly over his chest, staring Axel down through the storm of his hair. Axel turned also, peering at him over his glasses with a slyly innocent smile, blinking calmly, eyebrows raised. The SUV hurtled towards the cacti, the redhead navigating blindly with one idle hand, green irises fixed on the boy.

Roxas accepted the challenge, eyes narrowing, and cemented himself in place.

At the last moment, Axel swung the wheel, the Jeep narrowly avoiding the sturdy plants, and, as they rolled across empty dust, he lessened up on the accelerator. He slid the blond a sideways smirk, complaining, "Aw, you're no fun."

"And you," Roxas replied firmly, "are fucking psycho."

Axel rolled his eyes, fluttered them, sliding his glasses back up his nose. "It's all part of my charm, darlin'." The Jeep pulled to a halt, the dust clouding around it, the air suddenly still and stiflingly hot. The Mojave sun pounded down on the two fair-haired males that climbed from the vehicle, stretching their limbs and squinting through the piercing light.

Hands on hips, Axel turned in a slow circle, long spikes swaying slightly in the baked breeze that blew across the plain. Roxas came around to his side, black, sleeveless hoodie also shifting in the wind. One eye shut, the other narrow, the blond asked, "You ready for this?"

Axel snuffed a laugh, dropping his hands and reaching for the SUV's back door handle. "Is this the part where I'm supposed to say, 'Baby, I was born ready'?"

Roxas lifted his shoulders in a shrug, face scrunched against the sun's intensity. "You could always reassure me that you brought the bat."

"I brought the bat," Axel told him, swinging the door open. Then, brightening his voice, he pounced his hands onto the lumpy bundle stretched across the cramped backseat and cried, "You hear that, Jack? I brought the bat." He sank his fingers into the two heavy tartan blankets wrapping the man up and dragged the both of them out, tossing the parcel to the rocky ground. It gave a dismayed shout, followed by some rapid, muted speech. Axel and Roxas glanced at each other as the rolled-up blankets began to tumble around like a caterpillar in heat.

"…You know, we could always just leave him like this," Roxas suggested, gaze returning to the squirming bundle. "He'd smother. Problem solved."

Axel shook his head. "Roxas, Roxas, Roxas. Where's this bloodthirstiness of yours springing from?" He leaned into the car, withdrew the wooden baseball bat from under the driver's seat. Swinging it up onto his shoulder, he informed the boy, "We're here to teach Jack a lesson, not kill him." He shrugged. "Sure, killing would be easier, but oh, the paperwork." He stepped towards the wrapped-up human, kicked the bundle. "Stop moving, asshole!"

There was a muffled scream from within.

"I think he said, 'Can't breathe'," Roxas supplied. Axel nodded.

"Yeah. I heard that, too." He paused, looked around. "We should've brought something harder to drink than water. Now would be the perfect time to take five." He sighed. "Oh, well."

He kicked the blankets again. Roxas leaned against the car, arms folding, and watched as Axel stalked around the figure, occasionally jabbing it and making it tremble with a hard toe, or the tip of the baseball bat. Then, the fun obviously wearing thin after a short while, he stepped back and gestured to the blond.

Roxas pushed away from the hot metal, stretching one finger against a hip and cracking the knuckle quietly. Shaking his hands out, he stood over the blankets for a moment, before bending and snatching at the stapled-down edges. He slid his fingers under, and ripped them all away with swift efficiency. There was some resistance, and a fresh shriek from within, but then a moment later he was unravelling the man from within the inescapable bindings.

Axel watched in amusement as the dread-locked creature came tumbling out, gasping fresh air and letting out an indignant choke a moment later, clutching one shoulder. "You stapled me with a bloody staple gun!"

Axel snorted. "That was seventy minutes ago. Grow some balls, man." He tapped a toe with the bat's tip, too energised to just stand still. The movement caught the man's eye, who swivelled around on the dirt, paling significantly – no easy task considering he was already hideously sweaty and pasty from the incarceration.

Roxas calmly folded the blankets up, eyes idly on the conversation as Axel held the object of attention up, balanced gingerly over his palms. Conversationally, he began, "So. Jack. You know why we're here, right?"

The man swallowed hard, eyes like saucers, ticking from the bat to Axel's face, then over at where Roxas was placing the blankets into the SUV. A thin, nervous smile spread shakily across his face. "Ah. Now… listen… mates… pals…"

The two exchanged amused looks.

Jack lifted his trembling index fingers, pointed at Axel. "You…" The smile became ingratiating. "Come on, now… you know me. We've been rum-buddies before, haven't we? We've shared some fun times, scoping out the Strip, swapping stories and the like, eh? Mate?" He tried to sit up, couldn't quite manage it yet – seventy minutes stapled inside two thick blankets took its physical toll – and sank, attempting to make it casual and lean on one elbow. As Axel smirked down at him, he blinked slowly several times, obviously fighting a head-spin.

"You're right, Jack," the redhead replied, voice dripping mercy, "we're great friends." He crouched, leaned towards him. "…So, what's my name?"

Jack's face went completely, comically blank. His lips parted, eyes momentarily distant, before snapping into focus on his own reflection in the other man's glasses.

"Jeffery!" he said triumphantly. Axel barked out a laugh, pushed himself back up to his feet.

"A," Roxas sounded out, then, sounding like a tar-slowed machine-gun, "A-A-A-A…"

"A…" Jack echoed, eyes wide, staring at the blond with one brow drawing low. "A… A…lan? Aaron? Adam."

"Think more obscure," the blond advised. The man sent him a bewildered look.


"Enough." Axel shook his head, thoroughly entertained. He stepped back again, holding the bat between his knees, leaning against the Jeep and pulling off his glasses to polish the lenses on his shirt. He flicked a couple fingers at Roxas, who shrugged, pulled on a set of brass knuckles, and flexed his fist.

Before the man on the ground could put up any fight whatsoever, he slammed the knuckles hard into his stomach, winding him. He worked his way systematically up Jack's body, slamming metal knuckles and cartilage ones into the man's yielding flesh, arm muscles flexing.

"You are here," Axel called above the thumps and grunts, addressing the desert at large, "because you owe Xemnas money, Jack, and have failed to pay it on time."

"I tried, mate," the man coughed, silenced a moment later by Roxas' effective fists.

Axel shook his head pityingly, squinted through the harsh light, said, "Jack, this isn't nursery school, okay? If at first you don't succeed, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit."He pushed his glasses back on, grabbed up the baseball bat and rested it over one shoulder, approaching from an angle.

Seeing him coming, the man gasped, through bloodied teeth, "I'll try again! I'll do it this time, I swear! I'll get Xemnas all the bloody – gold doubloons in the world, if that's what he wants! Just not – not my knees, mate."

"He doesn't want doubloons, Jack," Axel said scornfully. "Xemnas wants the fifty thou that you owe him, in cash, yesterday."

"But I lost the stuff," Jack groaned helplessly, inhaling with difficulty as Roxas drew back for a moment. "I made a bad bet. I was set up, though, I swear it! It's all Barbossa's bloody fault!"

Axel lifted a shoulder. "Yeah, you're probably right." He smiled toothily at the man, coming to a stop, feet planted apart, swinging the bat from hand to hand. "Don't worry, he's on our list, too. Until, then, however…"

"Ah!" Jack panicked as Axel lifted the bat, Roxas stepping clear. Raising a hand, fingers and thumb spread desperately, he blurted, "Five thousand extra! On the side! It'll be all yours, mate, both of yours!" His eyes darted between the blond and redhead, sweat dribbling down his skin. "I can – I can get it, I'm good for it, five k I can do. I swear on my mother's life, God bless her poor, innocent departed – departed soul!"

"Your mother was a crack-whore, Jack," Axel told him shortly. "By the time she fell off her mortal perch, there wasn't an ounce of innocence in her soul. And you." He flipped the bat around, slicing it dangerously close to point at the man's nose, Jack flinching away. "You're trying to bribe me? The eighth-ranked member in the Organisation?"

A long, dangerous moment passed, after which Jack, gazing up into the impossibly hard features of the redhead, slowly answered, "…No. Most… certainly not."

"Good choice," Axel said softly. "You're in dire enough straits as it is without having to deal with the punishment for bribery, Jack Sparrow."

A long-suffering expression fell across the goateed man's face. "Ah, that is to say, Captain –"

"Let's see how you crawl, Captain." Axel hefted the baseball bat high, wind snatching at his half-buttoned shirt, and slammed it down hard.

The great thing about the Mojave, aside from the rifts and ravines that swallowed corpses and never revealed them again, was the broad silence of it – the way a scream could travel so far, yet never be heard by a soul.


Las Vegas – the city of lights, which never sleeps, never dies, never wavers. Its famous Strip visible from orbit, it would be easy to enter that dazzling world and be swept away in an instant, consumed by the glitz, the fame, the flow of cash, liquor, pleasure, illicit glee… but below the lights, another layer burned and boiled, darker, more perverted. Decadence at its most supreme ruled the seedy underbelly of Vegas' great and misleading glamour, visible if you looked, most noticeable in the depths of night, but present twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, utterly without reprieve.

Shotgun chapels.

Shotgun. Fucking. Chapels.

It didn't get much lower than this.

Axel topped up Roxas' shot-glass of tequila, and together, reclining in the third row of the boxy little insta-church, they drank to marriage after intoxicated marriage at four in the afternoon.

"Oh, oh, look at that one." Axel pointed, Roxas balancing a foot on the fold-out chair in front of him, an elbow on the back of Axel's, twisting with a smirk to see who he was indicating. At the chapel's entrance, a staggering couple were slowly, painstakingly giving their details to the minister, who then swiped a MasterCard and requested the PIN number. Their faces glowed with alcohol, giddiness, and probably a little cocaine, much to the amusement of the two onlookers.

"I'd say – thirty-six hours," Roxas estimated, eyeing the tall heels on the floozy of the couple.

"A week," Axel more generously supposed, wondering what bra-cup came after 'D'.

The blond flashed him a cynical look. "What, are you kidding? Take a look at that guy, he doesn't know what the fuck he's doing."

True enough, the groom-to-be was now being shaken awake from where he'd been drooling on the guest-book by the license-by-mail minister.

"Second he regains an ounce of consciousness, he's taking one look at what he's done and running for the hills."

"Probably already married," Axel agreed, and, a second later, their theory was proven right. A slight scuffle broke out as the minister pointed out what seemed to be a gold ring already occupying the man's finger. The floozy and the asshole wrestled with his left hand for a couple seconds, before he flung the offending piece of sentiment away, shouting, "Fuck you, Dianne!"

The floozy approved, the minister approved, and they were on their way to getting hitched. The 'play' button was hit on the boom-box, the minister hurried to stand under the cardboard cut-out trellis, and the hammered couple stumbled their way into wedded bliss.

Axel and Roxas clinked shots, drank to their happiness. "May they live long and prosper," Axel decreed, refilling their glasses.

"At least until the other side of Tuesday," Roxas added. The newlyweds were given a complimentary bottle of wine, a pile of chips, and were ushered out the door to make way for the next fabulously shitfaced customers. Sure, there were chapels where the cliental weren't, as a rule, all completely and utterly wasted – but those places were a lot less fun, and wouldn't let two smart-asses regularly drink there and heckle the main events.

"Keep 'em coming, Frank! Roll those cows off the production line!" Axel called to the minister, who flipped him off and stopped the music, returning the song to its beginning in preparation.

Beside him, Roxas suddenly muttered, "Aw, shit, look who turned up." The redhead turned, saw Larxene coming down the aisle in a beeline for them, suppressed a groan.

"Well, well," she said sweetly, as she reached them, "fancy finding you boys here."

"Yeah, it's not like we come here often or anything," Roxas replied sarcastically. She sniffed.

"Now, now, no need for that kind of behaviour." She flicked a long, red nail at him, smiling maliciously. "Remember, Roxas, I outrank you."

"We're the glorified thugs of the Organisation, Larxene," the blond deadpanned. "Rank doesn't mean a whole heap between you and me."

"It means enough," she replied archly. She indicated Axel. "Him and Ass-For-Brains are only two and one numbers away from 'thugs', after all."
"Well, hell, if you want to put it that way," the redhead drawled, slinging an arm over the back of Roxas' seat, "you could say that Zexion is only four numbers away. I mean, when there's only thirteen slots being filled, there's never gonna be a whole heap of breathing room between king and shit-shoveler, is there?"

The woman cocked a hip to the side, clawed hands rising up to rest on her waist, a smirk developing quietly over her red-painted mouth. "Using that reasoning, one could argue that there's not that far to claw your way to the top, then, is there?" She faked a little yawn, fluttering her fingers at her lips, glancing around in disinterest. "Bump off a superior here, a superior there, and before you know it, you're the one in charge."

Roxas rolled his eyes, while Axel shifted and sighed sharply, fixing her with a patient look. "Your purpose here, your Royal Harpyness?"

She shot him a narrow look, but smiled thinly. "Just making sure you remember the meeting is tonight, that's all. You don't want to be late. Didn't forget, did you?"

Tersely, Axel responded, "No, Larxene, thank you, I didn't forget. I'll be sure to be on time, as per usual."

The blonde ran her nails through her hair, slicking one swept-back bang, and pivoted on the spot, hips swinging. "Good to know." She sauntered away, shoving past the next pissed couple with a sudden, inexplicable desire to wed in one of the cheesiest chapels in town. Axel and Roxas sank down, deflated after her visit. The woman had a gift for piercing bubbles.

"What is that with her?" Roxas demanded, annoyed, swinging back his shot a moment later, Axel automatically tipping in more tequila. "No one else gets asked that, but every single goddamn time, she hunts you down to make sure you don't forget. I'm left wondering if it's because she likes you, or doesn't like you."

At this, Axel leered, turned sideways and leaned close, breathing hard fumes over the blond's mouth. "Come on, Rox, what's not to like?"

Roxas' cold blue eyes narrowed. "There's nothing going on between you two, right?"

Interest sparked in the redhead's expression, brows raising lazily, the grin becoming Cheshire in proportions. He shifted his body a little closer to the smaller male's. "…What would you do if there was?"

Roxas' features turned icy, a small smile splitting out a moment later. "I would… do nothing. I wouldn't want to lose you, after all."

Uncertainty registered on Axel's face, along with a little bit of disbelief. Roxas' fingers stretched out, slid under the redhead's shirt, crept step by step up his smooth stomach, nails scratching faint circles the hard plane of his sternum as he murmured, "I wouldn't make a fuss. I wouldn't make threats. I might find a way to have Larxene killed, but I'd have to take a ticket and join the line for that…" He tilted his chin up, eyes lowering to Axel's lips, the man licking them unconsciously, studying the blond's calm expression. "Days, and weeks, and months would pass… We would fall more in love as time passed…" He smirked. "Maybe one day, we'd have our own shitty, drunken marriage in this place. Your… transgression, would be forgotten, though. You and Larxene would fade into the background of our minds, and never be mentioned again."

He eliminated the distance between them, Axel breathing heavily as he gently closed his fingers over one of the man's nipples, melting their mouths together in a lingering kiss reminiscent of hot, sleepless nights. It lasted for half a minute before the blond drew slowly back, their lips disengaging reluctantly, sticking together, peeling apart.

"And then, in a year or two, one night I'd be giving you the best head of your life, you'd be moaning my name like a two-dollar whore, writhing around on the bed, sweating and gasping and twitching the way that you do…" Axel swallowed hard. "And right at the end, right as you're coming… I would bite your fucking. Cock off."

His nails pinched the nipple hard, and the redhead let loose a shuddering, breathy sigh. Roxas viewed him with amusement. "…You're one mean word away from wetting your pants, you closet fucking masochist, aren't you?"

Axel's eyelids were down almost all the way, his focus entirely taken up by the blond's moving mouth. He drew a shaky breath, fingers tugging at the hem of his shirt, muttered, "Are you, are you gonna say it? That… one mean word?"

Roxas' lips curved upward. "…Okay, Axel. I'll say a mean word." He lowered his face until their eyes were level, engaged the man's gaze for a moment, then whispered, "Tease."

He pulled back, pushed the redhead's hands away, drank his shot and stood, placing the tiny cup down where he'd been sitting, beside the dazed man. Axel's gaze was distant, disconnected, his chest moving with short, shallow breaths as he looked up gradually, confusion blooming across his features. Roxas was smugly triumphant.

Axel had to inhale a few more times before managing, "Huh?"

The blond winked slyly, then turned and nonchalantly started walking away. He was almost to the door when there was a sharp clatter, the sound of breaking glass, followed by Frank cursing loudly, shouting after them, "You Organisation bums!"

Just as Roxas emerged out into the massive, dazzling foyer of the casino, the hotel rooms spiralling up and up and up, he was slammed against the wall. Hard. A hot breath exploded onto the blond's ear, as Axel crushed himself against him, whispering savagely, "You think you can just walk away after that?"

Roxas weathered the roughness placidly, unresisting, and said, "Sounds like you messed up someone's wedding vows."

He was pulled forward, slammed back. "You little shit."

A second later, Axel was kissing him, fingers digging into Roxas' shoulders, holding him in place. His lips sealed the blond's, insistent and demanding, and Roxas instantly, on cue, started struggling for dominance. Teeth found Axel's tongue sharply, the redhead swallowing a yelp and a drop of blood as Roxas then took control, pushing against his chest and mouth. His arms shifted, body undulating away from the cold marble wall as he tried to force the redhead out of his immediate space. Axel retaliated by seizing his wrists, grip strangling, pinning them at the sides of his head, using his greater height and weight to bully the younger male into submission.

He pressed open-mouthed kisses against the boy's jaw and throat, desperation in every motion, Roxas' head tilting back, gasps escaping his chest. "Come back and… fight me," the blond rasped. Axel let out a low chuckle that vibrated through his body, making blue eyes slip shut.


Roxas let out a small, helpless growl as Axel flattened his body back against him, finding a section of highly erogenous neck to nip and suck, a knee sliding between his legs as he began to sag. The boy's fingers twitched, imprisoned against the wall, desiring to reach out and tangle through the long, red spikes, but Axel was in a generally unmerciful mood that day. He kept Roxas firmly in place as he trailed his mouth along his collarbone, top teeth scraping along the thin skin, tongue creating a shining path along the paleness.

As Axel's thigh pressed firmly against his growing erection, Roxas' eyes flew open, a grunt thumping out of his lips, his arms jerking suddenly at their bindings. He saw the security guards patrolling the area carefully not looking, smart enough to not interfere with two of Xemnas' lackeys. The blond doubted they would even if Axel started fucking him against the wall.

Head lolling, vision slipping out of focus with a quiet moan as the redhead caressed his long body up Roxas' in a slow, fluid motion, blue eyes caught a flash of familiarity at the far right peripheral, near the foyer's main entrance, twenty metres away. Skull swinging back up, neck loose, he narrowed his gaze at Larxene, who stood watching the two of them. Her arms were folded neatly against her stomach, lips forming a sneer as she realised she'd been spotted – not that she was even trying to hide her presence.

The blond glared darkly, tugging again at Axel's tight grip, but the redhead, remaining oblivious of the encounter taking place over his shoulder, was having nothing of it. Realising that the only way to escape Larxene's scrutiny would be to give in, Roxas promptly folded. He sank heavily against Axel's leg, gasping at the jolt that shot through his nerves, and began returning the redhead's affections kiss for kiss, covering his throat in love bites.

Axel was forced to grab Roxas around the waist to keep the two of them from slipping down the wall, caught off guard by the sudden surrender, his automatic suspicions melting as the blond's administrations continued even after he was released. As he'd so badly wanted to from the beginning, he slid his hands down and cupped the blond's ass, pulling him against his body, pressing them together without an inch to spare.

Roxas' arms wrapped instantly around his neck, lifting himself easily up into the redhead's grasp, knees clamping at Axel's hips, catching his lips at last in a messy kiss. After allowing Axel to plunder his mouth unhindered, lips beginning to swell and softly bruise, Roxas nudged their noses together, panted, "Elevator."

The redhead approved heartily, grinning against him, adjusting his grip and turning to carry his lover across the foyer to one of the spacious hotel elevators, a favoured tryst point. Continuing to pleasure the man with small licks and kisses to the side of his face as they swiftly travelled, ignoring the onlookers and casino staff, Roxas' eyes rose, pinning Larxene coldly. As the woman smirked, he unfolded his right arm from its buried position under Axel's hair and extended his middle finger firmly in her direction. She glanced away, faking a yawn, turning her attention elsewhere.

She shouldn't have still fucking been there at all.

Axel bumped the call button for the elevator with a wrist, Roxas returning to suck at his earlobe, resolutely putting the unsettling bitch from his mind.

The gleaming doors slid apart, Axel barging through the casino-goers disembarking, loudly barking, "Out of the way!" while Roxas stuck his tongue into his ear and bucked against him. With startled, insulted murmurs, the crowd dispersed. Axel dropped Roxas onto his feet, the blond instantly attacking his belt and button as he reached over to stab the button to close the doors again. They sliced shut, blocking the many shocked faces on the other side.

Eighteen floors up, they opened again to reveal to those waiting the erotic tableau of a blond with his hands against the elegant rail, being thrust into from behind by a tall redhead, their pants around their ankles, breaths and groans humidifying the air.

Axel's green eyes swivelled around glassily, dully taking in the wide eyes and dropped jaws, a couple camera flashes going off a few seconds later from foreign tourists. His attention was drawn to a man with long hair as red as his own, tattooed cheeks flushed, looking like Christmas had arrived early. The man shuddered as Axel hit Roxas' prostate, making the blond groan particularly loudly, and mouthed, eyelashes fluttering, 'I just came.'

Axel grinned as the doors slid shut again, eliminating the most thrilling show most of them would ever see in their long, boring lives, and brought Roxas to panting orgasm seventeen floors later.


At eight-thirty that night, in a change of clothes – the regulation Organisation black suit – Axel stood calmly, hands folded behind his back, against the wall between Demyx and a luxuriant, impossibly healthy potted palm. Further along, on the other side of the heavy, gold-trimmed, wooden door stood another two, Saix and Luxord. All four were dressed identically, in the demure uniform of the Organisation's middle ranks, patiently watching the preamble to the night's meeting.

Five of the Six, founders of the Organisation and making up its upper echelons, were seated around the long table in the middle of one of the tucked-away Function rooms of the Golden Sakura, the casino resort belonging to none other than the eleventh-ranking member of the elite thirteen.

The men were still in the midst of settling, waiting for Xemnas to arrive, peering over the massive floral arrangement taking up the centre of the table. They had each brought his own personal quirks to the meeting; Lexaeus and Zexion sat mostly silent, the smaller man's expression cold and impassive, delicate hands folded over crossed legs, the pair rumoured to have formed a silent alliance between their sectors of Vegas, Lexaeus willingly following any directive Zexion felt inclined to issue.

Directly across from them sat Vexen, looking twitchy and unhappy, Zexion's hair-obscured gaze boring flatly into him over the flowers. The blond chewed a thumbnail, elbows propped up on the wooden surface, avoiding the quiet man steadfastly. Beside him, Xaldin was placidly stroking a long-haired Burmese cat, his latest acquisition, weathering Xigbar's mocking of his new pet on the other side of the table.

"I mean, what were you thinking?" Xigbar persisted, vastly amused, leaning forward in his chair. His hands gripped the antique wooden arms of his chair, his few rings glinting in the overhead light. "Jesus, where'd you find that thing, anyway? Makes you look like some kind of Italian fucking don or something, Xal."

Snippily, Vexen contributed, "Xaldin appreciates anything with facial hair that rivals his own." He then flinched as the larger man turned his head slowly to stare him down, and returned to his thumbnail, gaze quickly averting.

"Is there really something so wrong with desiring friendly company, Xigbar?" Xaldin posed coolly, to which the one-eyed man snorted.

"That's where the hookers come in, my friend," he advised.

"I prefer a creature that, when my money is used on her, displays genuine appreciation," Xaldin riposted.

Xigbar sneered. "Is its name Snookums?"

Beside Axel, Demyx sighed, muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "Got any plans tonight?" They both slid a glance sideways to where Saix stood stiffly, their immediate superior, a mere space away from the Six and highly valued by Xemnas – in other words, he had a gigantic stick jammed up his ass ninety-percent of the time, and wouldn't allow his underlings to fraternise at meetings. Poor Luxord on his right was looking bored out of his fucking skull.

Adjusting his shoulders, Axel whispered back, "Just gonna spend some time with Roxas, you know, whatever happens. Wander round a bit. Maybe get something to eat."

Demyx puffed out an affectionate breath through his nose. "You two are like a married goddamn couple."

"A dysfunctional one," Axel sceptically replied.

Across from Demyx, Saix cleared his throat. Loudly. The pair shut up, resigned themselves to waiting for Xemnas, when they could at least pay attention to what was going on, rather than having to ignore the bickering at the table.

The man was fashionably late, as usual, enjoying nothing more than illustrating time and again precisely who was in charge of the petty brigade of powerful Vegas landowners. He swept in through the door fifteen minutes beyond when the meeting had been scheduled to start, murmuring, "Thank you, Marluxia," as the rose-haired resort owner ushered him through from the hallway.

The door was then shut in the man's pleasantly smiling face.

The four men by the door straightened significantly, nodding respectfully to the Superior, who ignored them except to acknowledge Saix, and strode to his place at the head of the table. "Gentlemen. A pleasure to see you all here, so very glad you could make it." Xigbar stood, as was his due as second ranked, and pulled Xemnas' chair out, seating the man comfortably.

Xemnas folded his hands easily on the tabletop, regarding his men quietly as Xigbar returned to his position. His calm gaze rested on each of them in turn, lingering momentarily on Vexen's downturned head, before asking softly, "Alright, then – what do you have for me tonight? It's been a turbulent week with the mayoral elections approaching, I'm aware."

Xaldin let loose a disapproving sound. "I hear that Maleficent is in with a chance."

"As if," Xigbar scoffed. "That witch won't be getting anywhere near the mayor's office, not with Ansem in the race."

"She's got some powerful backers," Lexaeus pointed out.

"True," Zexion agreed quietly, "but the fact remains that Ansem's silent backer is keeping him ahead."

There was a general murmur at the table. Xemnas scowled, asked, "Is there any further news on who that might be?"

Zexion's eyes were fixed on Vexen for a brief second, before sliding to the Superior as he said, "It's looking more and more likely that the King's Men are behind it. Their silent backer, I believe, could very well be one and the same as Ansem's."

"I hate those guys," Xigbar complained in a mutter. "Fucking Mouseketeers."

"And… that's not all," Zexion softly continued, drawing the attention back to himself. He held Xemnas' gaze steadily. "…It is very possible that their ultimate goal will be to obliterate the Organisation entirely. Obliterate us."

Leaning forward, eyes narrow, Xaldin scratched his cat's ears and asked suspiciously, "Obliterate in what sense?"

"In the breathing sense, Xaldin," the man calmly returned. A thread of shock passed through the Six.

"That's a dangerous statement to be making," Xemnas observed, after several beats of silence. "What proof do you have?"

At this, Zexion hesitated. He shook his head. "My information ceases there, Superior. I apologise." He reached out, plucked up a flower from the central arrangement, taking a moment to inhale its scent. "I know only that there is a strong chance they will seek to destroy us if Ansem gets into office. However, it does present a series of options to us. If the King's Men, and whoever it is they work for, are planning some kind of coup, perhaps we should be plotting something similar of our own." He smiled thinly at the assembly. "They don't know that we are aware of their intentions. And, all going well, they will never find out about ours until far too late."

There was muttering among the Six. "Who's your source?" Xigbar demanded warily. "We can't put any weight onto this unless we know it's a hundred-percent reliable information. If we start setting up an internal rebellion, and try to get rid of the King's Men out of turn, we'll be opening up a whole can of worms that we won't know how to deal with."

"At this point, I regret that I cannot reveal my sources," Zexion replied softly. "It would put them in a dangerous position, to have their names known to any but myself and a choice few. I am sorry, gentlemen. You will have to take my word that it is reliable, and work from there."

Axel and Demyx exchanged uneasy looks. The King's Men and their goody-two-shoes approach to Vegas had been a thorn in the Organisation's side since the moment they had blossomed powerfully into existence. The King's Men was one of the oldest established groups within the city, but their ambition was limited to keeping things running smoothly – which was where the Organisation and their desire to rule over all differed just ever so slightly, forming an unconquerable conflict between the two.

Thus far, they had been keeping one another firmly in check, neither gaining the upper hand – though that's not to say they didn't try. But if the King's Men were growing tired of sharing their territory, then perhaps a coup was well on its way… After all, though they practiced decent enough habits as far as running Vegas was concerned, they had proven with the previously strong group, the Heartless, that they were willing to destroy in order to maintain.

Maleficent was all that the Heartless had left in the way of leadership, and she was reduced to placing herself in the spotlight to try and gain any control back whatsoever. It was far easier to manipulate the city from the shadows, away from the prying public eye.

There was silence, as everyone processed the information and weighed it up. Then Xemnas lifted his head, eyes seeking his right-hand man. "Saix? What do you know of any of this?"

The blue-haired man hesitated for a moment. "There has been an elevated level of activity from the King's Men lately, Superior. It was nothing we haven't been able to handle, but nevertheless, they do appear to be agitating. Before now, it was assumed that they were increasing the intensity of our encounters… but I never imagined that –"

"You're the ones in touch with the peons, though," Xigbar growled. "You should know this stuff way before us. It's not up to you to 'imagine' anything, you're paid to report your findings directly to your superiors."

Saix, when Xemnas didn't correct Xigbar's behaviour, looked briefly stung, before his expression shut down, and he nodded. "Very well. I will gather as much information as possible on the matter, and reveal absolutely everything at the next meeting."

"Which will be scheduled for three days from now," Xemnas decided, a finger over his chin, holding his head up with a shrewd expression. "Thank you, Saix, that will work out nicely. All information, whether it seems relevant or not. And Zexion –" He turned his acute gaze to the slender man, who returned it calmly, an eyebrow raised expectantly. "See to it that you refine your information for the next meeting. There is no use having only partial knowledge – for us to come out of this on top, we will require a full, clear understanding. Speak to your source again as soon as possible."

Zexion inclined his head. "Of course, Superior."

"Vexen, you've been unusually silent throughout all this," Xemnas then commented, making the blond jump, eyes darting up fearfully.

"Ah, yes, Superior, forgive me… I've had – a lot on my mind recently."

Sceptically, Xemnas asked, "So much that the notion of our downfall doesn't even rouse you to participate in the conversation?"

Vexen shifted awkwardly. "Oh, no, Superior, of course not… I just…" He floundered, trailed off.

Xemnas' eyes narrowed. "…Is it perhaps to do with that – certain someone we have discussed in the past?"

Vexen's face flamed, the others looking over in sudden interest.

"A certain someone?" Xaldin murmured, a faint smile tugging at his lips, hand stilling for once on his cat's long fur. Xigbar guffawed.

"So, the chilly aca-fucking-demic has someone special to him, eh?" He leaned forward sharply, eyes glittering. "So, what's the deal? Why do you look like someone just set your panties on fire, Vex?"

"Indeed," Zexion murmured, with high curiosity, and something akin to hunger. "Do share, we are your friends, after all."

Axel turned to Demyx with a raised brow, glancing sideways at Saix and Luxord. Saix's face was as impassive as ever, but Luxord was leaning slightly past him, sending them an amused, questioning look. Demyx shrugged, mystified, and the three returned to their respectful positions as Saix suddenly glared.

Vexen was looking five seconds away from panicking horribly and fleeing the room, and Xemnas, sensing this, made a dampening gesture. "Please, gentlemen, we may be colleagues, but a man's privacy remains his own, even among his peers."

Reluctantly, the vultures withdrew, leaving the blond a sweating mess of tangled nerves. Inquisitiveness thickened the air within the room, compounded by Vexen's utter misery.

"Vexen, we will discuss this later," Xemnas murmured, to which the blond closed his eyes and nodded. "Now, please, moving on to cleaner topics – I need to know more specifics about the coming election. Tell me how negotiations have been going with Hades. Xaldin?"

"Well, you see, Superior, Hades has started asking for a favour…"
"I advise against any covert dealings with that man whatsoever," Lexaeus warned. "It will return to haunt us."

Axel drew a breath, closed his eyes, and mulled over what he'd heard so far, waiting for the meeting to draw to a close.


Roxas adjusted the black fingerless gloves on his hands, skulking in the hall outside the Function room along with Marluxia and Larxene.

The three of them were in charge of scaring off anyone who felt like maybe they wanted to talk to the Superior without an appointment. It happened more often than Xemnas even knew. Part of the work of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth ranking members of the Organisation was to operate from the shadows, driving away all threats from the seat of power. As one of the most powerful groups in the city, it was an almost non-stop task, even with an army of deadbeats, hookers, drug-dealers, thieves, moles and street-urchins at their disposal.

The higher-ups, Axel, Demyx, Saix and Luxord, dealt with the more refined members of the city, gathering their information that way, but it was whatever rumours or facts were running around Vegas' underbelly that generally held the most weight, making the role of 'glorified thug' its own special royalty among the tall gods of Vegas.

Add to that the fact that the entire fucking casino the meeting was taking place in belongedto Marluxia, and you ended up bored, as per usual, with a diva-ing pink-haired bastard pacing to and fro.

He had been hissing to Larxene since the moment the door had been so unceremoniously closed in his face, the woman shutting him up every three minutes or so with a withering comment. Roxas stood quietly still against the wall across from them, paying the pair no heed, utterly uninterested in Marluxia's well-known superiority complex and its constant crushing defeat in the face of so many others being more important than he.

That someone like Demyx could rank better than him was a cause for poison to come gushing out of his mouth in an unstemmed tide, until he either ran out of curses or someone brought him another scotch on the rocks. He had a rant for each and every member of the Organisation, as to why they should be kissing his feet, and Roxas, in the past several months since his inauguration into the group as its thirteenth addition, had heard every single one of them several times over. Tonight, however, he seemed to be boiling even higher than usual.

"…my casino, my Golden Sakura. Does Xemnas have a resort that he built up himself? No, he has a daddy who was once the head of the Heartless, the group which suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the King's fucking Men." He whipped around to Larxene, demanding in a whisper, "Are we really fit to be led by the offspring of a failure?"

"Relax," Larxene commanded curtly, as Roxas' left foot shifted slightly at the borderline traitorous statements beginning to emerge.

Marluxia ignored her. "I am dealing with the shit of society, and what do I get in return for this dashing display of loyalty?"

"A position in the most powerful Organisation Vegas has to offer," Roxas cut in, attracting sharp stares from both of them. The blond had heard enough, however. There was only so much of Marluxia you could take without wanting to tear off your own head and eat it.

Rather than pulling rank and telling him to watch his bitch mouth, as the man usually did at every opportunity with both Roxas and Larxene, however, Marluxia's expression was suddenly lit up from behind with a dark light. "That's funny, actually," he said after a beat of silence had passed. He threw a glance over at Larxene, viciously amused. "It's funny, because that's exactly what Axel said to me, once."

Roxas regarded him evenly. "And yet, you're still mouthing off. I guess there's just no keeping you quiet, is there, Marly?"

Larxene sighed abruptly. "This is boring," she muttered. She narrowed her eyes at Roxas, a cruel smile forming. "So, what's Axel told you he's busy with tonight, Roxas? Is Xemnas going to need him for a 'vital mission'?"

The blond's irritation was sliced clean away, focus sliding away from Marluxia and to the woman with a scowl. "Excuse me?"

In a complete swing of roles, it was now Marluxia saying, "Larxene, stop being a troublemaker."

She pouted, crossing her arms, creeping closer to the man on her tall stilettos, sleek black pants drifting elegantly around her ankles. "But Marly, he called us thugs today, did you know that?" The petulance increased, blue eyes wide, slicked-back bangs bobbing as she lowered her chin in mock-upset. "Thugs."

Marluxia lifted his eyes to the ceiling, pulling a sterling silver flask from his jacket, the Golden Sakura's logo engraved in gold and diamonds on the front, and uncapped it. "I don't care if he called you Queen of the Harpies; we're supposed to keep the boy out of this."

"Well, actually –" she started scathingly, as the man took a swig from the flask.

"Out of what?" Roxas demanded sharply. "What are you talking about?" They were identically picture-perfect innocence all of a sudden, to which he coldly responded, "I'm not an idiot. You're both troublemakers, so don't try acting noble, Marluxia. What are you talking about with Axel?"

Marluxia handed the flask over to Larxene, who threw back a long swallow of God only knew what percentage of alcohol. "Nothing, dear boy," the man protested, with as much purity as could be summoned on such short notice. "That is to say…" His eyes developed a glint, one which Roxas had definitely seen before – it was Marluxia being pleased with himself, and generally boded ill for others. "…nothing that Axel hasn't chosen to already tell you."

Where the hell was this coming from?

Larxene held out the flask to him, smothering a giggle. "Why don't you have a drink, Roxas? You're looking tense."

The blond's icy eyes thinned out. He pinned her with his gaze, bringing not a falter, not a hesitation, only a broadening of the smirk, perhaps knowing that Roxas was imagining her in great pain, wishing he could take her somewhere quiet and beat her with his brass knuckles until those hideously red-painted lips could no longer spew taunts.

"…Leave Axel alone. Whatever you're thinking, or doing, or have in the works – leave him out of it. He doesn't need you and your shit." His voice was low, tight. It held great and terrible possibility… and the pair ignored the threat of it completely. They simply wouldn't be scared of him.

Larxene shrugged, took another mouthful of the drink and handed it back to Marluxia, who did the same and screwed the cap back on, tucking it out of sight inside his suit jacket, the three of them, unlike those ranked above them, able to dress in whatever they liked for these occasions.

After all, it's not like Xemnas even bothered to look at them.

Muscles taut, knots forming in his shoulders, Roxas subsided back into silence, leaving the pair to mutter and snicker to one another over the next hour and a half, his thoughts caught on the redhead in the next room, flickerings of anger, concern, and determination warring for attention.


The meeting finally broke apart, the Six gentlemen at the table rising, gathering their coats and pulling them on, heading out into the hallway, greeted by a charming Marluxia. Larxene and Roxas were already gone, out scouting the immediate area to ensure no one of consequence would attempt anything with the concentration of Organisation members in the area.

Vexen broke off and followed Xemnas, accompanied by Saix, the three of them heading for the elevator, their destination being the suite kept permanently available for the Superior. The rest of the Six split apart with no compunction, glad to see the backs of each other, Xigbar calling to Xaldin in parting, "Have fun stroking your very own pussy."

"And a fantastic fucking week to you, too," came the growled response.

On that note, Axel, Demyx and Luxord were free to go. As they strode along the brightly-lit passages of the Golden Sakura, the redhead commanded intently, "Check with your most trusted sources, and choke what you can out of Marly and Larx. I'll ask Rox. I doubt they know a hell of a lot, but we need to get everything we can on this." He glanced at each of them. "The Organisation could be at stake."

"I don't want this to end," Demyx said quietly. "That Sora kid in the King's Men has been following me around lately, man. I don't know what his deal is, but he's been having goes at me. Without you guys around, I don't think I'll last out."

Axel tersely replied, "Get a grip, Dem. You might not like to fight, but you are good when you want to be. Even if the Organisation dies, you can survive, you get me?" He paused, grabbed the blond's shoulder and shook him, a small, harsh motion that made him gasp in surprise. "I don't want to hear any more about you needing us to keep going, okay?" The seriousness in his tone made Demyx's eyes widen, Luxord, a moment later, laying a mollifying hand on Axel's arm.

"Relax, mate," he soothed. "Dem'll be fine, just like you said. The Organisation will be fine."

"But even if it isn't,we will be individually," the redhead insisted. Turning his burning gaze back onto Demyx, he demanded, "Do you understand this?"

Demyx gaped for a moment, nodded jerkily. Axel glared for several seconds, then released him. In afterthought, he rapidly smoothed the blond's jacket back out. "Sorry," he said gruffly. "I just – can't stand that defeatist bullshit, you know that. You can't just assume someone's always going to be looking out for you, Dem. You've gotta have plans for taking care of yourself."

"You're sounding worried, Axel," Luxord observed with a frown. The redhead went still, then shook his head.

"I'm just… trying to keep us all on our toes. We can't let up – not even for a second." Grimly, he added, "There's no telling what's going on behind turned backs."

"A pleasant attitude to be undertaking." Marluxia's voice broke into the conversation, halfway between polite respect and amusement. As the three men twisted to frown at him, he tacked on humbly, "Sir."

Axel's mouth twisted downward. "You want something, Marly? We're having a mobile meeting of our own right now."

"Then please, complete your delegation," Marluxia encouraged. "I would request a small appointment with you myself, though, Superior, before you hurry away."

The redhead scowled, but turned to the two blonds. "Okay, in that case, Dem, you go with Luxord. The pair of you hunt down Larxene, find out what she knows on the matter, then start hitting the usual haunts of the local squealers and turncoats. Worst case scenario, go crawl to Hades if you come up blank – he always knows some aspect of what's going on in the underworld. Don't promise him anything in return without coming back to me first, no matter what he threatens to withhold at the delay."

With murmurs of confirmation, the two men turned on heel and strode off towards the elevators, heading for the ceiling parking lot. Demyx glanced back once, then vanished around the far corner.

Axel turned to Marluxia. "Okay – what?"

Amusement staying strong, the rose-haired man commented softly, "My, my, you're all rather tense tonight, aren't you? Did the Superior's meeting not go well?"

"Did you plan to have Vexen leaking info to one of the Six?" the redhead demanded bluntly. Marluxia looked momentarily thrown.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Don't play stupid, as easy as it comes to you," Axel snapped. "If this mess is because of you, I'll be pissed. I wasn't made aware of any of this."

Marluxia lowered his head, cleared his throat discreetly. "I'll ask that we not discuss such – delicate matters – in the middle of the halls. This may be my establishment, but the walls still have ears…" He trailed off for a moment, Axel obediently shutting his mouth and pressing his lips thin. Marluxia glanced around, then focused on the door beside them, leading into one of the casino's minor ballrooms. He dug into his jacket, pulled out his silver flask and handed it to the redhead, who automatically uncapped it and took a swallow. Marluxia next drew out his master key, unlocked the door, and ushered Axel through.

They entered the broad room, the pink-haired man going to a fuse box hidden behind an enormous potted fern, opening it up and flicking on the lights. The electric chandeliers blinked to life, sending shimmering sparkles of light sprinkling across the walls. The air was still, utterly silent, the many tables with their raised Sakura designs cluttered with upturned chairs.

Axel stalked ahead, down the waiters' aisle, swigging again at the flask, feeling the hot burn of alcohol tear a path down into his belly. As Marluxia closed the door quietly behind them, locking it again to prevent any intruders from bursting in unannounced, he repeated harshly, "So? Was this your idea?"

Approaching with soft steps, adjusting his cufflinks, Marluxia said calmly, "How about you tell me exactly what you think is going on, Axel, and I'll tell you whether or not it's what I, or anyone else, intended."

"Vexen!" the redhead spat, whirling around, waving the flask through the air. "He's been squealing to Zexion, or if not Zexion, then Lexaeus." He broke off for a moment, then muttered, "Yes, he's too scared of Zexion, he'll be going to Lexaeus."

"In case you've forgotten, I'm not actually privy to the meetings," Marluxia reminded him curtly, "so perhaps if you'll tell me exactly what led you to this belief…?"

Axel sighed heavily, rubbing the inside of his wrist agitatedly over his forehead. "He was a nervous wreck, and Zexion had 'sudden new' information about the Organisation being in danger from the King's Men." He raised stony green eyes to the other man, taking note of the thoughtfulness of his expression. "So, what's going on?"

Marluxia shook his head after a moment. "No, this wasn't part of the plan. The whole point of blackmailing Vexen with that silver-haired boy's existence was to keep him quiet. He's been warned that if he tells, it will be known by his manipulators, who will then expose him… but it would seem he decided to take that risk." His eyes darkened. "The question is, precisely how much does Zexion know?"

"All he's revealing is that they're planning a coup," Axel told him shortly. "Whether that's the extent of his knowledge or not remains to be seen."

"Hmm." Marluxia wandered around the tables, fingers trailing from chair-leg to jutting chair-leg. "He doesn't suspect anyone within the Organisation as the perpetrators of the blackmail, at least. This is good." He frowned. "However, it's most certainly an undesirable development." His lips pursed, partially in displeasure, partially deep consideration. "…We will bring this to the meeting later. I don't think we should act without consulting our benefactors, especially when to do anything would be to interfere with the Six directly…"

Axel snorted lightly. "As if we haven't done that enough already." He shook his head. "Let's just hope they have something constructive to offer, because Vexen's in with Xemnas as we speak, and God only knows what that fucking coward might be saying."

"Nothing of consequence, if he wants to stay a respected member of society," Marluxia promised darkly. "He's too terrified for his precious reputation to spill too much. He just needs to be reminded of this…" The man nodded to himself after several beats. "Alright. It'll be taken care of. There's nothing to worry about."

"Says you," Axel responded brusquely, digging a hand into his pocket and tossing the silver, Sakura-emblazoned flask back to its owner, heading for the door. "I'm out; the last thing we need is someone noticing the two of us spending undue amounts of time together."

Behind his turned back, Marluxia smiled. "That's true. You wouldn't want Roxas to wonder, now, would you?"

Axel paused, hand on the doorhandle, eyebrows lowering slightly. "Beg pardon?" he quietly asked, without turning. Marluxia slowly replaced his drink into its dark inner pocket.

"That's a smart kid you've got, Axel. Like a whip. He figures people out fast…" The smirk turned unkind. "Let's just hope he doesn't figure out too much, and end up paying for it."

Axel snarled, whirled around, barked, "What did you say?!"

"We have nothing with which to manipulate him, after all," the man continued, paying the eruption no mind. "He has no illicit, dirty little secrets for us to expose to the world at large and ruin him… He has nothing, really. Nothing but you."

Axel crossed the distance between them in several long strides, grabbing a handful of the man's jacket, face contorted dangerously. "That's enough. You leave Roxas out of this."

"Funny. That's what Roxas said."

Axel froze, eyes going wide. "…You spoke to Roxas? What did you tell him?"

Marluxia's face was steely, his enjoyment obvious. "Nothing you shouldn't have already hinted at, if that little relationship you two have got going on is as sturdy as it looks from the outside."

Axel's right hand groped out, rested on a chair leg, tightened until the knuckles went white. He grated out, "What. Did. You. Say to him?"

Unflinching, the man mildly answered, "Well, to be fair, it wasn't I but Larxene…"

Axel's temper exploded. He threw Marluxia away, snatched up the chair and smashed it into the next table, sending other seats tumbling and crashing, before flinging it across the room with a bellow. He grabbed up the next one, brandished it violently, roaring, "Roxas isn't supposed to be involved, not in any way, not by any means, he isn't supposed to know! The whole point I'm even doing this is –!"

Silence fell.

"The whole point?" Marluxia prompted calmly, eyes narrowing, smiling growing. "Yes?"

Axel was hunched over, breathing hard, studying the man like he'd found something despicable stuck to the bottom of his shoe. The pause grew. When at last Axel spoke, his voice echoed slightly in the emptiness. "Leave him alone. Both of you – just leave him alone. He's not part of this." He tossed the chair to one side. His mouth became a snarl as he stalked towards the man, straightening and jabbing a finger between his eyes. "You've got nothing to fucking prove with Roxas, so back off!"

"Says you," Marluxia mimicked, before commenting, "It's incredible how much you and Roxas sound alike right now." Axel's breath escaped from between gritted teeth, eyes like slits. A pregnant moment passed, in which the heaving redhead did nothing but curl his fingers into clenched fists and direct hate towards the other man. Marluxia's smile returned to pleasant ranges. "Be sure to be on time tonight, Axel."

The redhead, sensing his dismissal, growled softly, then twisted swiftly, swung an arm and knocked down another two chairs, sending them clattering to the ground. He kicked them savagely out of the way as he stomped over to the ballroom's door, unlocked it and threw it wide, the doorknob slamming hard into the wall.

He left, trailing a blaze of impotent fury in his wake.


Let's just hope he doesn't figure out too much, and end up paying for it.

Axel hesitated at the foot of the stairs to Roxas' apartment, the metal walkway shivering under his weight. He was on the edge of Vegas now, far from the impossibly bright Strip, although to look back, you could see the lights polluting the night sky from any point in the city. To actually see the stars, one had to drive far into the Mojave.

The air, now that the harsh sun had sunk, was cool, the desert breezes gently sweeping through the city streets. They pushed at the redhead, shifting his spikes gently as he stared out for a moment, eyes blank and mind full. In his right hand, a plastic bag hung, containers of Thai food steaming, sending exotic scents undulating upward as he stayed in place.

Nearby, several streets over maybe, the sound of an engine screaming pierced the air, bringing him blinking out of his reverie, gaze turning upward to the illuminated window of Roxas' crappy apartment. As Axel mounted the stairs, he reflected on the fact that, no matter how well Roxas had done to earn his own space in the Organisation, Xemnas was keeping him crushed so far under thumb that the blond was likely to remain in this shithole til the day he died, forced to live among those he controlled.

Shoes clanging on the metal as he ascended the last little bit, alerting Roxas to his presence, the blond opened the door and waited for him wordlessly. He halted at the second-last step, slightly shorter than Roxas, and smiled up, trying to keep his anxiousness at bay. "Hey, Rox," he greeted, a little out of breath from the climb. "I brought…" He held up the bag. "I brought food."

Roxas, silhouetted, face invisible, quietly agreed, "Yeah. You did." He turned, and disappeared back into the apartment, leaving Axel to bring up the rear and close the door again.

"Hungry?" the redhead asked, as the desert air was shut out, the familiar scent of the apartment mingling with the Thai.

"Still wearing your work clothes?" the blond responded blandly.

"Hm?" Axel looked down at himself, lifting his arms. "Oh, right, yeah. I guess I'm not done being an Organisation lackey today," he joked. Roxas lifted his chin in distant acknowledgement, heading for the bedroom. "So – food? Did you say if you were hungry, or not?" Axel called after him.

"Not," came the short, quiet response. "I don't feel like anything."

Depositing the Thai food on the kitchen counter, the redhead unbuttoned his jacket, flung it over the back of the old sofa, left in a plain, black, v-neck shirt, the fabric snug against his torso. He followed the blond's path, entering the dark room cautiously, glancing over at the window, the blue and purple glow of the fluorescent motel sign across the road leaking through the blinds.

"Are you just – not hungry for Thai, or in general?"
Roxas had moved over to the bed, expressionless, settling cross-legged on the pillow and turning his gaze to the glass. "So, where are you going?"

Axel blinked, frowned, shifted closer with his hands on his hips. "Uh, nowhere?" he replied, an eyebrow raised. "Come on, Rox, are you eating or not? Otherwise I'll just go get my own."

"Tonight. Later. As an Organisation lackey. Where are you going?" the blond persisted coldly, not looking at him. Axel felt his stomach begin a slow, sliding descent, and mentally savaged Marluxia. He lifted a hand, dragged it through the thickness of his hair, scratching the back of his skull for a moment before stating, "Nowhere you need to know about. It's just something Xemnas has got us working on."

"I see," came the flat answer. "Just like Larxene said." At last, the blond turned to face him, mouth a thin line caught in a parody of smile. "Who knew the day would ever come?"

Axel halted with his hand tangled in his spikes, narrowed his eyes and let out a slow breath. "Right. Okay. What exactly did the Bitch Queen say, Roxas?" Forcing away the anxiety in his gut, he sarcastically supposed, "Am I meant to be going off to meet her for a passionate quickie? Are she, me and Marly scheduled for a threesome that they forgot to tell me about? Because, damn it, I'll tell Xemnas to fuck off if that's the case. I never miss sandwich time."

"Why do you assume it'd be sexual in nature?" the blond asked, refusing to take the bait. "You're saying all this to throw me."

Axel faltered for a moment. God damn it, they were going two for two – first Larxene was right with whatever the hell she told Roxas, and now it was Marluxia's turn. Fucking Roxas was smart as a whip. Too good at reading people, and Axel specifically.

"Roxas, I'm not trying to throw you at all," he said evenly, casting aside the attempt at flippancy. "I'm just trying to figure out how the hell Larxene could be right about anything, especially if I'm involved somehow. Since when do you give her word weight over mine?"

"What's going on with you three?" Roxas countered bluntly. "There's something you're not telling me, and I want to know what it is. Now."

"Why do think there's anything going –"

"They were too smug and sure of themselves for there not to be!" Roxas' voice rang on the still air, each word snapped out fiercely. "Where are you going tonight? Where do you go every time there's been a meeting of the Six?" He leaned forward, demanding, "If I were to follow you on some whim… what would I see?"

"You think that's something you're likely to do?" the redhead returned coolly. Roxas didn't respond, his flat gaze saying it all.

Axel swiftly calculated just how much the blond seemed to be aware of, comparing it to how much he thought Larxene and Marly would be idiotic and spiteful enough to reveal. Face pinching tightly, eyes hard, he made his decision. Striding over to the bed, he sat down at the foot of it, turning to Roxas resolutely.

"Okay, look. You want to know what's going on?" He flattened his hands on the bedspread, engaging the boy's gaze grimly. "…There's a coup in the works. The King's Men are behind it, they're making an attempt on the Organisation." He drew a breath, felt his heart speed up, and added, "We think it's an inside job."

This… Roxas hadn't expected.

As his eyes went round, Axel nodded, continued, "There's a – really high chance that there's someone in the Organisation leaking information to them, helping speed the whole process along." He closed his eyes. "Xemnas is sending me out independently to search for information. The best time to do it is right after one of the Six's meetings… that's when all their plans are freshest, and easiest to pass on to outsiders." Green irises flashed back into visibility. "I'm going to try to see who's selling us out, Rox. That's all. That's all it's ever been."

Regarding him with slight shock, the blond processed this. "It's been going on for – all this time? Months? A leak in the ranks? And you've been the one having to hunt it down?"

Now was the time that would break him, if Roxas knew too much.

Firmly, he answered, "Yes."

For a while, all either of them could hear was the traffic out on the road. The Thai smell was spreading through the house, extending fingers in towards them. Axel's stomach growled, but Roxas, true to his word, wasn't displaying any signs of hunger whatsoever.

"…Who's the main suspect? Is there one?" Axel relaxed slightly. Roxas' gaze sharpened. "Is it – Marluxia or Larxene?" He clung to the conclusion, eyes suddenly jumping wide, blurting, "That's why they were –? And Marluxia hates everyone so much… and Larxene was watching us, watching you…" His mind was racing, all suspicions instantly banished. He shifted onto his knees, grabbing Axel by the front of his shirt. "They know you're after them, Larxene knows you're going out tonight!"

Alarmed by the rapidity of the boy's connections, Axel fitted his hands over his shoulders, commanded, "Roxas! Calm down!"

Determination blossomed hard throughout the blond, who met his gaze and vowed, "I'm coming with you. I've got the night off, you know I'm not involved in any of this – they said some shit to me tonight, Axel, they were teasing me because they knew I didn't know that you were doing this…"

"Roxas, calm down I said!" Axel tightened his grip, forced the boy back down onto the bed, shoving him up against the backboard and holding him there. Roxas blinked at him. "No, you can't come with me," the redhead said, frustrated. "Xemnas doesn't suspect you, obviously, but that doesn't mean you can suddenly get involved. This is up to me to do… and besides, there's no proof that – that Marly and Larx are behind it," he added uneasily. It was too late, though – the blond had passed his judgement, had fit together all the pieces with frightening ease.

"Those fuckers," he hissed. "I can't believe they're doing this to us. Who the hell are they to decide they can take down the entire goddamn Organisation?"

Lowering his head, hands shifting from Roxas' hot shoulders to the metal bars of the bed, Axel pressed the top of his head into the boy's sternum and closed his eyes. Roxas broke off, looking down at him, uncertainty drifting across his features.

"…What? What is it?"

Slowly, when the redhead didn't respond, he let out a low sigh, tilting his face down into the bright hair and inhaling.

"I want… to keep you safe," Axel muttered, so low that Roxas almost didn't catch it. The blond scowled.

"Excuse me? I can keep myself safe, remember? I can help out, Axel. I'm coming with you."

"No." Axel let out a short, sharp, mirthless laugh, not looking up. "No, you don't understand. You're not…" He lifted his head a little, banged it back into the bone. "You're not understanding me."

Roxas rolled his eyes, sucked a breath, argued, "Axel, if you'd just give me –"

The redhead brought his head up sharply, cutting him off, and pressed their lips together. His hands on the bars tightened, his mood shifting with his body as he brought himself closer on his knees, trapping Roxas against a wall for the second time that day.

This time, however, there was no competition taking place; the blond reacted accordingly to the attention, kissing back, carefully at first. Axel wrapped himself around the boy, straddling his legs, dragging his tongue along Roxas' upper teeth and tangling his fingers in the boy's spiked hair. Roxas sank into him, against his chest and stomach, easily giving himself over to the sensations and intimacy as Axel placed kiss after kiss against him, never removing his tongue except to allow each of them a deep breath before resuming.

The slight noises were constant, the bed's bars trembling with every shift either of the males made. Axel pressed closer, his hands sliding under the blond's sleeveless shirt, massaging slowly at whatever flesh he encountered.

Roxas pulled away for a moment, lips shining in the blue glow, eyes shut, brows drawn together, and muttered, "You can't stop me by kissing me, you know."

Axel scraped his teeth gently along the soft skin beneath his ear, left a tingling trail down and around his throat, coming up at the other ear and nipping lightly at the lobe, so different to the rough energy of their last encounter in the casino. "Stop you what?" he breathed, nuzzling his nose into the side of Roxas' face.

"Coming with you," the blond answered, stubbornly clinging to his thoughts through the attention. Axel let out a grunt that was supposed to be a husky laugh.

"Now why would I want to stop that?"

Roxas gave a frustrated noise, started to speak again, choking off and inhaling deeply as Axel's long-fingered hand shifted down to his crotch and squeezed. The blond unconsciously sucked his lips into his mouth, teeth biting down, head arching back, thumping the bars. Axel changed their positions, sprawling his knees apart and using one hand to drag each of Roxas' legs around him while the other caressed firmly between his legs, pushing and kneading the front of his pants.

Roxas gasped, swallowed, scowled and made a weak attempt to push him away, determined to cling to coherent thought. "No, you… I won't… I'm coming…"

"Not yet you're not," Axel smirked, sliding their hips together and lightly grinding, just enough to arouse without any satisfaction whatsoever. "Wait for me to catch up, will ya?" The taunting touch was enough to send the blond into a weak frenzy, pumping his crotch up into the man covering him, hardening as Axel complied, returned the gesture with a hiss.

Axel tugged at the hem of Roxas' shirt, revealing the blond's pale stomach in one pull, arching over to place wet kisses against the rise of his ribcage, running the tip of his tongue along the firm muscle. Roxas moaned helplessly, rapidly losing all strength as, even as he did this, Axel continued to rub and thrust towards his erection.

Roxas, face constricted as if in pain, groaned deep in his throat, reaching up and grabbing feeble handfuls of red spikes, tugging them up, digging his tongue past Axel's teeth, clashing it with his own welcoming wet muscle.

The world, for Axel, was hazy and indistinct. Even as he successfully distracted Roxas from his questioning, dulling the razor mind behind the blue eyes like none other knew how, he was struggling to keep a hold of his own agenda. The fact that he'd deliberately initiated this was slipping further and further away, swallowed by the need to have as little clothing between the two of them as possible, hot skin on searing hot skin. Roxas was beginning to murmur, he would start whimpering soon, and Axel was pretty sure that once that happened, he wouldn't be able to tear himself away…

And yet, he needed to. Roxas didn't fall asleep after sex – he got hungry. He'd go and devour the Padh Thai, maybe want to watch some TV, and by the time it was all done with, Axel would need to leave.

Roxas might be forgetting in this instant, clouded by lust… but once he recovered, he wasn't going to let it happen again. He would become the redhead's unwanted shadow, whether Axel knew he was there or not. This was his only chance.

He drew in a breath, finding pain in the decision to not follow this delicious path to its inevitable end, and started unbuttoning the blond's pants. Evidently waiting for this, eager for it, Roxas groaned his approval, lifting his hips to aid the process, Axel's hand closing moments later around his arousal. The blond's chest vibrated deeply, voiced pleasure whispering from his lips.

As the redhead started stroking him, alternating between long caresses and short jerks, kissing up and down the boy's face, Roxas keened, "Axel…" The man shuddered, bit down on the inside of his own mouth, feeling a buzzing heat gather at his pelvis, and started groping sideways with his right hand, the one not already occupied with making the blond writhe.

He gazed down at the sweat-dampened face, the cheeks so flushed they looked burnt, and wished he was a little fucking better at multi-tasking, his pumping hand faltering as he grabbed the handle of the bedside drawer. Roxas blinked up at him, dazed, drunk, Axel pressing a kiss to his brow in apology and murmuring, "Just getting the lube…" He turned more of his focus towards the drawer, making sure to keep jerking the blond off, trying to grit his teeth and ignore the hard tightness in his own pants. He slid the nightstand open, hand scrabbling for a moment through the everyday junk, coming in contact with the lube, hesitating.

Roxas, growing frustrated with the sudden ease in activity, lifted his right hand and closed his teeth on the fabric of his glove, yanking it off, letting it drop to the pillow as he reached down and grabbed Axel's pre-cum-smeared fingers and forced them to continue.

Feeling his resolve drain away, Axel grabbed out the lubricant, clutched it briefly to try and warm it through the tube, then unscrewed the cap with his teeth and squeezed a handful onto the combination of their two hands and Roxas' erection. A sound of relief escaped the blond's mouth as the slickness spread, becoming a low cry as his enjoyment suddenly increased. He turned his head to the side, scowling into the pillow, choking desperately, "Axel… you need to – I'm close."

"Yeah. Yeah. I know." The redhead wiped the sweat off his brow with a frantic motion of his wrist, rubbing it from one of his eyes, tossing the lube back into the drawer and pulling out the true reason for his venturing into it in the first place. He inhaled, increased the pressure and pace on Roxas, the blond letting out a strangled cough, a gasp, never noticing when Axel took hold of his dripping right hand, hearing the two loud clicks and feeling the tightness too late.

Roxas' eyes rolled for several moments, completely out of focus, brow creasing gradually as he realised that he couldn't lower his arm. There was a metallic jangle as he tried to, confusion slowly infusing his blissful expression, but then Axel had stopped stroking him, was shifting down the bed, and replaced his hand with his mouth.

The blond barely got a look downward before the pleasure ripped through him, Axel extending his tongue and sucking fiercely, finishing him before he was ready to be done. Roxas convulsed, cried out, and came between the redhead's lips.

By the time he drifted down from the foggy heights of his pleasure, Roxas became aware of a discomfort in his shoulder and chest. Blinking through the cooling perspiration, beginning to wonder where the hell Axel had got to, he remembered the resistance from earlier and, frowning, turned his gaze up to where it seemed he couldn't remove his hand.

For a long, tense moment, Roxas stared at the handcuffs.

Experimentally, disbelief slow to thread his mood, he tugged a little, giving off another high jingle of metal links clinking together.

Slowly, he looked around for Axel, and found the man on the other side of the room, wiping his mouth with one of the blond's unlaundered shirts, firmly avoiding his eyes. Mind still addled, but clearing fast, Roxas croaked, "…Axel?"

The redhead lowered the shirt, dropped it back to the floor. "I can't have you following me, Rox."

Roxas stiffened suddenly, the haze smashed away by the low seriousness of his words. Understanding hit in a blasting bolt, the blond jerking hard at the handcuffs, trying to sit. "I won't! God damn it, get this off me!"

Axel shook his head. "I can't take that risk." He walked back over towards the bed, and scooped something off the nightstand, Roxas' eyes following his every motion, widening a second later.

"That's – the cuffs' key," he stated, watching Axel lift it, attached to the long, thin, black ribbon it was permanently attached to, to keep it from getting easily lost. The man nodded, looped it over his hair, tucking it under his shirt.

"Yep," he shortly said. A second later, he jumped back as Roxas lunged for him with his left hand.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I have to go out," the redhead replied bluntly. "You'll be staying home."

"Don't you dare do this to me!" the blond snarled, the handcuffs stopping short, the bed shaking as he slammed against their limit. He stabbed a finger in the redhead's direction, vicious, raging, "Don't you dare walk out and leave me like this!"

Axel was already heading for the door, knowing that he could try and try and try to explain, but Roxas would never let it get through. "Roxas, I'm keeping you safe. You stay here, and no one will get to you."

"No one will get to me anyway!" There was a fierce growl, a sudden barrage of crashing and ringing as the blond fought his bindings, the cuffs clattering endlessly against the hollow metal tubes forming the bed's frame.

Axel headed for the door.

"Axel!" His voice shook with anger, barely contained, rolling and bubbling and threatening to overflow like magma. "Let me out now! Do not leave this apartment, or so help me, the next time I see you I will make you bleed so hard you'll think you're dying!"

Briefly paused by the absolute, raw ring of truth, Axel turned at the doorway. The pale blue illumination from outside lit up the side of Roxas face, one bright eye standing out starkly, the brow drawn low, the other half of his head struggling in pools of shadow. Momentarily, Axel was mesmerised by the beauty of the sight – half his lover glaring at him, looking fit to kill at a second's notice.

It made his breath catch.

"…I'll be back, Rox. I will," he promised softly. "Soon. It's just something that has to be done. It's vital to the Organisation. And I need to do it alone."


The black warning in that utterance was ignored. Axel felt it shiver through his nerves, but there was nothing he could do. He exited the bedroom, hurried across the apartment as he heard Roxas renew his battle against the handcuffs, heart leaping into his throat at just how loud the blond was managing to be, sounding as if, at any moment, he really was going to break free and come after him.

Axel didn't look forward to facing him later, but he'd worry about that when the time approached.

In his haste, he forgot to pick up his jacket, forgot that he was hungry and there was food on the kitchen counter – he just got the hell out, as fast as he could, leaving the low, furious grunts and curses behind.

As he clanged down the metal steps, back out in the cool air, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone. A hand trailing the banister, he glanced down several times at the illuminated face, quickly locating Demyx's number, pressing the call button and, scraping some hair aside, lifted it to his ear.

Demyx picked up as Axel's shoes hit the tarmac. "It's me," the redhead said tersely, footsteps echoing like gunshots as he made his lone way across the residents' parking lot in the motel-sign lit darkness. "Listen, me and Rox are spending some alone time together, okay? If anyone wants me, just tell them I'm busy with him. I'm unavailable. I'm redirecting my calls to your message-bank, so handle it for me, alright, buddy?" He glanced up and down the quiet street, crossed briskly. "Okay, thanks. Bye."

He switched the phone off, tucked it away again, put it out of his mind. Tried to ignore the fact that Dem had sounded nervous when he'd first answered – had that Sora kid got his number now or something?

Axel shook his head, made a mental note to find out just how far that guy was pushing his subordinate, and hurried on into the darkness.


About an hour after Demyx hung up on the conversation with Axel, his cell phone began ringing again. The blond jumped, nerves unhappily tight, just about dropping the small device as he fumbled to answer it.

He was still within the Golden Sakura resort, hanging around outside the security station, where the guards monitoring the cameras were doing a sweep for Larxene, who remained frustratingly difficult to 'hunt down', as Axel had put it. Man, the only time that 'hunting' came into the conversation when Larxene was involved was when she was the predator, not the other way around.

Dem had left Luxord to do the manual search thing, room to room and floor to floor, the man being infinitely more familiar with the interior of casinos in general, and had been waiting for someone to give him something to do – all this standing and thumb-twiddling worked its toll on a guy when he was feeling anxious – when Axel had called.

This time, he answered less cautiously, figuring it was Luxord with good news on the twelfth member's whereabouts, since it almost certainly wasn't going to be Axel. "Yes?"

A moment later, he blanched.


Expression clouding as he listened, he glanced about the empty hallway, able to hear the voices of the security guards within the room directly beside him. "I… uh, Axel? I'm not entirely sure, Superior. He said – he's spending time with the thirteenth member, sir. So… perhaps at Roxas' apartment?"

Seconds after that, he was blinking and listening to the dial tone.


Roxas had been lying still for a while now, counting down the minutes until Axel returned. His eyes remained glued to the clock-radio on the nightstand, left arm bent so that the wrist rested on his forehead, right long void of sensation since the blood had had an hour and a half to drain away from the elevated hand.

He had fought the bed for thirty minutes, certain that he could break loose if only he just kept slamming at it with his foot… but the feeble fucking structure had defeated him. All he'd succeeded in was denting his bed, strangling his hand, tiring himself out.

Since then, he had just been… waiting. He'd managed to do his pants up one-handed, and at one point had heard his cell phone shrill in the kitchen, but other than that, his life now officially consisted of the room, and the room alone. He almost wished he could just fall asleep, use it as an opportunity to catch up on some rest, if nothing else. But with the distant pain spreading from his right shoulder upward, and the crowding thoughts and concerns bickering within his mind, a little thing like slumber wasn't going to be showing itself anytime soon.

All that existed during this time was the sounds of his breaths and heartbeat, the outside traffic, the glow of the motel sign glinting teasingly off the metal of the handcuffs, the lingering scents of Axel and Thai. Roxas gazed into nothingness, head twisted to the side, enduring the almost-pain, legs sprawled in an attempt to be comfortable.

At ten past twelve, he at last heard a noise in the apartment, the front door opening and closing, blue eyes flashing instantly open, turning towards the bedroom doorway. He waited quietly, waited for Axel to fill it, for him to shuffle warily in, wondering if Roxas was going to make good on his vow to put him in hospital.

The answer, he would find, would be 'yes'. Part of what had kept Roxas so calm the last couple hours had been imagining the various phalanges, upper and lower, that he was going to snap on the man as a warm-up exercise.

Axel didn't automatically make for the bedroom, instead detouring, hanging back, delaying the inevitable encounter. Roxas could hear footsteps out in the kitchen, the rustle of the Thai bags, and though he seethed at the deliberate delay, he kept it trapped inside, bottling up for when it could be constructively unleashed.

The footsteps resumed, a slight drag to them that made him frown, wondering if the redhead had been hurt. But – if he had been, why the hell would he pause to check on the food?

The blond stared at the doorway, automatically testing the cuffs one more time, as if they might have weakened in the time that he hadn't been wrenching at them, maybe, somehow. The jangle, the slight clang, sounded out through the apartment, and the footsteps suddenly stopped, before resuming with gained purpose.

A figure appeared, blocking the faint light that filtered through from the kitchen, Roxas' heart going cold as he realised that it was most certainly not Axel, in any state of health.

"Now… this I approve of," the person said, sounding deeply impressed and amused, shock bolting through the blond as Xigbar stepped into the room.

Roxas scrambled to sit, wrenching his shoulder as the chain reached its limit and snapped taut, eyes wide as he slammed back against the wall, breaths short. Xigbar stepped close, wearing a heavy black coat that gleamed in the motel-sign light, his single eye shining. Roxas could see the way his gaze travelled up and down him, as he struggled to think of a way to deal with having the second-ranked member of the Organisation in his room, which he was chained to.

"Axel… he sure knows how to treat a guy," Xigbar murmured, voice almost husky in the otherwise silence. His appreciation for Roxas' incarceration was almost morbid to listen to. God fucking damn that Axel, for someone who didn't want his lover getting hurt, he'd done a good job of leaving him utterly defenceless.

"I… Superior, what are you doing here?" Roxas rasped, eyes darting around the room.

Xigbar smiled, tilting his head to one side. "Well, I was looking for Axel." He bent at the waist, leaning his face close to the blond's, his grey-streaked ponytail dropping limply down the front of his coat. His eye bore into Roxas'. "Where is he, XIII? In the bathroom? Out for cigarettes?" He unfolded one hand from behind his back, reached forward and placed his thumb and forefinger around the lobe of the boy's ear, pinching hard. "Where." Tug. "Is your boyfriend." Tug. "Roxas?" Tug.

"He… he went out. Sir." Roxas weathered the sharp downward jerks unflinchingly. "He's – working for Xemnas."

The man huffed a laugh through his nose, pulled back a little and gestured to him. "He told you that, did he? What, and then he went out and left you like this? Like this?" He straightened, chuckling to himself, Roxas watching his every motion closely, not quite ready to unfold from the awkwardly scrunched, protective position he'd gone into.

Digging a hand into his pocket, Xigbar gave the room a perfunctory check, wandered over to glance in the closet, nodded to himself. "I'll take your word for it," he allowed, sounding thoughtful as his gaze traced the coloured lines the motel sign created on the ceiling. "You should know that he was lying though." He turned a smile onto the blond. "Axel's doing jack-shit for Xemnas tonight, little boy. He's off playing traitor, in fact… as if you didn't know already."

Roxas' head and heart both ground to a halt as the man withdrew a canon of a gun from under his coat, custom made and illegal as all hell, pretty, if guns were what you were into.

Roxas had never been into guns, though.

And, as Xigbar levelled the gaping-wound barrel in his direction, he felt his appreciation for them drop –

– just the slightest bit more.


"Bang, Bang,

He shot me down.

Bang, Bang –"

Axel parked the jeep three blocks from his destination, pocketed the keys, and walked to where the meeting was taking place.

Agrabah – themed strip club in old Heartless territory, a grey area that no one had quite made any official claim on yet. The girls walked around in skimpy belly-dancing outfits, beads and sequins dangling, sparkling, flashing, swaying in time with hips and legs and breasts. The light poured down in desert-sun pools dotted intermittently around the club, giving it a dry, dim atmosphere reminiscent of the outdoors, complete with fake palms set up around the place.

The redhead took a seat towards the back of the room, in one of the darker sections, a drink in hand, his eyes on the stage, where an exotic dancer was performing a skilful strip behind broad, feathered fans. His head bobbed faintly from side to side in time with the music, gaze following the girl's sweeping motions, watching another particle of clothing teasingly flung to the side.

Thus far, he had been here twenty minutes, and no one had shown up. But he'd arrived early – it wasn't an issue. Wandering the city just didn't hold a whole heap of appeal when you had a lover with murderous intent chained to a bed somewhere. He was beginning to tire, looking forward to being unconscious for a while.

As the dancing girl's routine came to an end, whistles and applause piercing the air, the performer sweeping offstage with a sashay of peacock feathers, Axel caught a glimpse of a familiar face. He sipped calmly at his drink as, a minute later, a be-suited figure took the seat beside his own, commenting, "She was decent. It was tasteful. I should steal her away for the Sakura."

"Why's that, Marly?" Axel asked mildly. "So you can dangle her over me with the threat of her being a witness to me fraternising with King's Men? Conveniently forgetting," he smiled thinly, "that you were anywhere in the vicinity, of course."

Marluxia brushed perfectly feathered hair away from his eyes, remarking, "Someone's breath smells like bourbon and cum. That sex smell, it's hard to get rid of."

"I always did wonder why you smell so consistently bland," the redhead returned disinterestedly, glancing around the room in a bored fashion. "It'd be hard to get any with Larxene around all the time."

Marluxia gestured to a passing waitress, ordered a scotch, asking with a smirk as she went to do his bidding, "How was Roxas this evening, anyway? Evidently feeling amiable."

"I'll kill you while you're sleeping," Axel threatened pleasantly. "I'd get away with it, too. Don't mention his name again, Marly. I think you've done quite enough speaking for one day."

The man sighed, shrugging dramatically. "You try to show a little interest in a colleague, and what do you get? A slap in the face. Not to mention that you took paint off the walls of my ballroom with your tantrum earlier. I'll have to have the entire wall redone."


Marluxia's drink came, and the men sat in silence, waiting for the next performance to begin. After a while, Axel glanced at his watch. "Huh. I thought you were being fashionably early for once, but yet again, you pulled a Xemnas. I wonder what's keeping them." He sighed, reaching up to his throat, automatically fingering the strip of black ribbon hidden by his shirt. "Am I the only person in this fucking city concerned with punctuality anymore?"

Marluxia sniffed, swilled his drink. "Evidently, they've been held up. You need to calm down and compile your thoughts for reporting to Naminé. Her memory is a wonder, but if you're just going to bitch about how late she is, she won't be able to focus on the rest of it. You know how easily upset she is. She's a delicate flower."

"Not so delicate that she doesn't work for one of the toughest gangs in town," Axel muttered into the last of his bourbon, draining it dry.

The next act started up, a pair of girls performing some pole dancing, which both males watched with detached interest. The music pounded, the noise and chatter continued, alcohol pouring and spilling, and the minutes passed one by one. The pole routine ended, and was replaced shortly by a more traditional stripper strutting the stage.

"I wish I still smoked," Axel muttered, tipping his head back, holding it in place as he stared at the ceiling, then snapping it down again and demanding, "Are they going to be here, or not? This is the first time we've been stood up, Marly. Don't you have them on turn-fucking-coat speed-dial or something?"

"What's the matter, Axel?" Marluxia murmured, sipping at his scotch. "Anxious?" Nevertheless, he was looking restless as well, checking his watch every few seconds and frowning. "We'll give them the full hour," he decided. "Once it hits two o'clock, we leave."

Impatience grew, Axel's expression darkening, Marluxia's becoming more strained. He started checking his phone for messages, coming up empty, and still, they waited. Eventually, one of the waitresses, an olive-complexioned girl in a blue Arabian-princess costume, approached smiling sweetly, lowering two more drinks onto the table. "These were ordered for you by someone at the bar, gentlemen," she informed them in soft tones. "Please, accept them with their compliments."

"Who?" Axel demanded, but the girl had already turned and quickly disappeared back into the crowd.

Marluxia placed a finger on the corner of the serviette she'd placed down as a coaster, and dragged both the paper and drink over to himself, shifting the glass to one side and checking the napkin. "Ah."

Axel looked at him sharply, his own drink utterly untouched. "What?"

Marluxia shook his head briskly, already crumpling the serviette up. "Change of plans, evidently. They're waiting for us out the back." He dropped it into his drink, the absorbent paper soaking it up instantly, destroying any sign of there ever having been a message scribbled onto it. As he stood, Axel joined him, disgruntled.

"That chick, was she one of them, or just a waitress?"

"Honestly?" Marluxia scanned the club as they headed over to the exit, weaving between patrons at various stages of intoxication. "I couldn't tell you."

They passed the club's hostess, ignoring her wish that they enjoy the rest of their evening, emerging into the cool air and turning left. Axel dug his hands into his pockets, scowling as they circumnavigated the pedestrians, demanding quietly, "The hell? They've changed plans before, but not this late in the game. We always get advance warning, damn it." He threw Marluxia a tense look. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking," the man responded archly, "that you should be quiet. I can't think with you yammering in the background." He pulled out his flask as they turned down the alleyway beside the club, taking several short swallows before wiping his mouth and tucking it away, the small diamonds glinting in the faint glow of the street lights.

Their shoes scuffed the pavement, the breeze blowing their hair, Axel's thick spikes bobbing slightly while Marluxia grunted and smoothed his perfect cut. The further they got down the lane, the more uneasy Axel became. "I don't like this," he warned Marluxia, eyes darting. "I don't like it a bit. Where the hell are they? Where's Naminé and the heavy with the scarred face?"

"Stop being so jumpy, it's not like we've never had to inconvenience ourselves for them in the past." The pair of them came to a halt inside the illumination of a weak, awning-bolted spotlight brightening the alley, Axel's hands shifting nervously, from his hips to his sides, to folding across his chest, expression tight. He hunched his shoulders, mouth a hard line, tasting alcohol at the back of his throat and half-wishing he'd downed the freebie. He was beginning to need the extra support. He tried to tell himself to relax, tried to gather his agitation and cram it down, be the calm smooth-talker he was famed for in public… but the longer the King's Men representatives were missing, the harder it was.

"If they left a note at the bar for us," he muttered, "shouldn't they have been here waiting for us already?"

Marluxia paused, turned to him with a blank look, the thought evidently having not occurred to him. Then, both men twisted at the sound of a startled scream from the street. The sound of the distant pedestrians changed slightly, footsteps embarking down the alley, shadowy figures heading their way – far more than the King's Men had ever sent before – accompanied by a dragging noise.

Tensing, the two men shot each other hard glances, shifting back towards the far edge of the light, the new group entering it moments later. Axel felt the blood go cold in his veins, eyes widening, heart stuttering, then erupting in a leaping explosion of palpitating fear.

They were not King's Men. There were perhaps a dozen of them, each and every one easily identified as Organisation by their all-black clothing.

The nearest one held the body of a blonde girl by her long, pale hair, leaving her torso and legs to scrape along the ground. She was limp, like a sack of flour, no indication of consciousness, no flicker of life.

She was pulled up, and thrown directly into the light, where she bounced once, and then lay like a broken doll. Her knees and shins were raw, bloody, coated in dirt. Her face was pressed down into the bitumen, neck at an unusual angle, and Axel was pretty sure she was gone.

"…Naminé…" Marluxia sounded almost disturbed, voice quiet, an element of dismay in there somewhere.

"Know her, Superior?" the leader of the group asked soberly. Marluxia stared at her for a moment, then flicked his gaze up at the man. The flunky stiffened at the ice in his eyes.

"Why are you here, you insignificant nobody?"

Axel started slowly shuffling back, steps silent, keeping his breaths even, watching every person, every motion, like a hawk.

"We've been informed that ranking Superiors VIII and XI are traitors," the man replied evenly. "We're taking you both in to Xemnas."

"Preposterous!" Marluxia barked. "How dare you level such accusations at me?!"

The light faded from Axel's face completely, the little body within it growing smaller as he cautiously put more and more distance between himself and Xemnas' men.

Their leader noticed, snapped, "Superior VIII! There is no way out from here! Your scheduled meeting with the King's Men is proof enough that your mission is to undermine the Organisation, and Xemnas will have you."

Marluxia's head twisted, gaze narrowing at the sight of the retreating redhead, who paused, met his look with frustration. After a second, the pink-haired man reached into his jacket and withdrew his flask one more time. He tossed it easily to Axel, who snatched it out of the air.

Then, motions calm, Marluxia delved his hand back in, addressing the flunkies, saying, "Gentlemen, it appears we have a form of stand-off. You have your orders, certainly, but the fact remains that we are your superiors, and if you lay a finger on us, they will be smacked in punishment." He withdrew a foot-long wooden rod from its perpetual place sewn into his suit, shining, rosewood inlaid with rose gold. Casually, he lowered it to his side. "If you plan to take us, our bodies will have to be broken." He smiled frighteningly. "We didn't get to where we are by being weak."

"As you wish, Superior," the leader agreed grimly, and gestured for several of them to step forward, drawing knives. Together, he and they approached Marluxia confidently. "Xemnas told us you don't have any weapons, after all."

"Of course he told you that," the pink-haired man responded, with a secretive smile. "And do you know why he told you that?"

They gathered around him in a loose circle. Axel, still out of range, watching with baited breath, waited for his opportunity, unscrewing the flask's lid and tossing it to one side with a minute noise.

"It's because," Marluxia said mildly, "the Superior enjoys the pain of others."

His thumb touched a point of gold on the wooden bar, a low click heard, distracting several of their gazes downward, and in the next heartbeat, Marluxia attacked, slashing his sickle in a broad circle. Its unfolded blade flashed in the dull light, slicing through sleeves, splitting skin, startled and pained cries piercing the air.


Axel spun on the spot and sprinted, half the Organisation's numbers splitting away from the pack and lunging after him, stampeding Naminé, the King's Man left forgotten on the hard ground. His thumb sealing the bottle's neck, Axel tore down the rough path, walls high on either side, the darkness thick. The screams of Marluxia's victims ringing in his ears, he reached the dead end of the alleyway, garbage cans and dumpsters lining the bricks.

Feeling them right behind him, the redhead launched his long frame nimbly up onto a dustbin, cursing viciously and leaping to the dumpster as it buckled and toppled out from under him, spewing litter onto the ground with a crash. A shin slammed directly, at full speed, into the edge of the dumpster's sharp-edged lid, alcohol jumping and spilling from the flask as he stumbled and fell to his knees on the dumpster's clanging surface, all feeling abruptly gone from the leg.

Seconds later, the hands were upon him, yanking at his shirt, a knife passing dangerously close to his jugular, the fabric of his shirt tearing as they hauled him back. Fingers scrabbling, nails scratching uselessly at the dark green metal, he was dragged down, good leg kicking.

Throwing the Sakura flask against his lips desperately, Axel filled his mouth to bulging with the last of the potent fluid, snatched out his lighter before his arm could be pinned. He turned to face his aggressors, cheeks bowing outward, flicked up a flame and exploded the alcohol out in a fiery stream. Hair burned, clothing burned, panicked yells filling the alleyway.

Axel broke free, leapt over their rolling forms, the few that weren't trying to kill the sudden flames clinging to their bodies torn between grabbing for him and helping their comrades. The redhead dashed back the way he'd come, limping heavily, returning to Naminé and passing her by, stumbling over two other bodies along the way, blood shining in the moonlight, the fight with Marluxia having migrated out onto the street.

The pink-haired man was still whirling and whipping at the enemy, but he was as outnumbered as Axel had been, only without the spewing flames to make up for it – as the redhead watched, a knife was slammed into his lower back.

Marly went down with a scream, his sickle quickly apprehended, and was beaten unconscious.

Axel, seeing that there was nothing he could or would do here, started escaping down the sidewalk, only to be tackled seconds later, pants-leg wet with blood from his shin. He was slammed with fists, the pungent stench of burnt everything filling his nostrils, but fought back, struggled hard.

It was when the butt of Marluxia's sickle was smashed into his cheekbone that Axel lost. He lasted for maybe a second, stars exploding, before dropping down into darkness.


The Organisation's superiors had failed to escape their pursuers, the pair of them lying twisted and bleeding on the pavement, the streets utterly empty of pedestrians now, the distant wail of sirens ringing through Vegas as per usual. They would arrive too late, also as per usual.

It didn't matter how much the King's Men paid off Vegas' cops, there was always someone else paying them more, too many gang members running free when they could so easily have their asses slammed behind prison bars and knocked out of the fight for good.

Atop the Agrabah strip club, which had turned its music loud enough to block out the yells and screams from the fight, a lone man sat and watched the discord play itself out. His arm was both dislocated and broken, the scar spanning from one temple down nearly to the opposite corner of his mouth split open above, and along with, his upper lip after a kick to the face.

He watched with narrow, dispassionate eyes as the lackeys gathered up Naminé from the light, carrying her away to throw in a van beside the two superiors, to be driven to across town.

Tongue playing with a loose tooth, Leon slowly hooked out his cell phone, and dialled Cloud.

"I lost Nam." His voice was gruff, dull, unrepentant. "She might still be alive. They were waiting for us, but I don't think the turncoats betrayed anyone. Those two'll be lucky to see dawn." His flat stare pierced the night, studying the way the van's taillights disappeared into the distance. "Looks like they're heading for the scientist's place. The one with the creepy laugh." He listened for a moment. "I don't care about them. We've just gotta get the girl back, before her sister finds out and goes on a shooting spree."

Moments later, he hung up, gripping the small phone in his broad hand, and waited patiently for the cavalry to come collect him.


Luxord found Larxene in one of the Golden Sakura's honeymoon suites, out of reach of the security cameras. She had been filling the heart-shaped hot tub in the large bathroom at the time. After the call came from the man letting him know where she was, Demyx, with a small contingency of Organisation pawns, went to back him up, Xemnas having put them on high alert just thirty minutes previously.

Apparently, there were traitors among them.

That Axel – Axel – could be one of them was currently blowing the blond's mind. It hurt a little bit, like a personal rejection, and made sense in other ways – like the redhead, for example, being so firm on insisting that Dem was going to be A-OK without the Organisation to back him up. He had been reassuring himself as much as his underling and friend. Demyx wasn't sure if that made it worse, or if it was maybe comforting in small ways.

One way or another, he was pretty sure he wasn't ever going to see Axel again. Maybe not even Roxas. It all depended on how deep the decay went.

Meanwhile – there was Larxene to deal with. Luxord had assured him that she was weaponless – the woman was savage, but dealt mainly in 'interrogation tactics' that Demyx had always been too afraid to ask about, and a knack for thin blades, none of which she had access to in the middle of the honeymoon suite in her underwear.

As a result, with support at his back, the blond felt almost confident going to face her, take her down and drag her to Xemnas.


As it turned out, that was a good hesitation to hold onto.

They arrived in the suite, the most luxurious that the Sakura had to offer, thousands of dollars per night, to find the main room empty. A bottle of champagne was half-finished at the foot of the bed, the TV going quietly, Larxene's clothes strewn around the place in a haphazard, lazily-flung fashion. She hadn't been expecting company, that much was obvious – well, maybe Marluxia, but certainly not Demyx. If she'd known he was coming, she'd have geared up the curling tongs and been waiting.

It was quiet. No one was about. Ordinarily, this would probably be a great thing, but… where was Luxord?

"Superior…" Demyx glanced over to where one of the men was pointing at the carpet, an odd look on his face. The blond frowned down at what he was looking at, and saw blood. It wasn't a lot of blood. Just some droplets of it… but when Larxene was involved, it was enough to send his stomach sliding for his knees.

At a signal from him, the underlings fanned out, swiftly checking the apartment-sized suite for the woman's presence. One of them opened the bathroom door, a billow of steam coming out to meet them, and from within, echoing against the tiles, Demyx heard Larxene drawl, "Hello, boys."

He shuddered a little. "They sent the wrong person for this," he whispered to himself anxiously, and, steeling himself, headed for the doorway.

The Organisation flunkies huddled uncertainly at the entrance, Demyx pushing through nervously, the first thing his eyes falling upon being the hot tub virtually overflowing with high, stiff bubbles. The air stank of bath salts and stifling heat. It was hard to draw a deep enough breath, a film of sweat springing up instantly across the blond's face and neck.

The next thing Demyx became aware of was Luxord panting shallowly, crammed into the corner next to the bathroom counter, leaning against the wall with flushed cheeks and an unhealthy glaze to his eyes. His hands were gripping his upper thigh, from which one of the woman's evil stilettos protruded. The heel was at least three inches long, every single bit of which had been stabbed deep into Luxord's muscle. It kind of looked to Demyx that she might have been aiming for his crotch. The notion made his skin crawl so screamingly that he wanted to jam his fingers into his mouth and bite down until he tasted copper.

Finally, he turned his attention to Larxene herself, who smirked at him from the other side of the tub. She sat on the small inverted v of the heart-shape, soles pressed together, knees elevated, hands behind her back, not touching the water. Her shoulders were rounded, and the expression she wore was enough to haunt the blond's nightmares for years to come. "Well, if it isn't yet another superior," she said softly. "I am popular when I start undressing, aren't I?"

Demyx inhaled slowly, gaze ticking over to Luxord, who stared at the bubbles and said nothing, his skin waxy-looking. He looked like he was going to throw up.

Larxene lifted her shoulders, invited lightly, "You're here to get me, right? So come get me. I betrayed the Organisation. I'd happily watch you all burn if it got me just that little bit further up the ladder." She ducked her head down, lips a cruel smile, eyes sparkling. "What, you're all too pussy to get your legs wet taking care of a half-naked woman?"

One of the flunkies snorted, and crossed the tiles, bringing out a security-issue nightstick. He hopped into the water, unperturbed by the foam, then glanced down and called back, "It's all just fucking bubbles. There's like a foot of water." He swished through and reached for Larxene, who brought up her right hand, complete with remaining stiletto, and punched it straight into his throat.

He went down gurgling, dropping the nightstick and clutching his neck. He slumped against the side of the tub. The other two lackeys sent shocked looks towards Demyx, whose knees were now officially shaking, lips numb.

"Holy shit," he said weakly. Taking this as their sign to go on the offensive – she was out of shoes and out of options – they, too, drew their weapons and lunged for her, moving more aggressively than their predecessor, ploughing through the bubbles, sending them floating into the air, Luxord flinching away sharply.

"Dem…" he grated urgently between his teeth, as Larxene's eyes narrowed gleefully. Panic bursting through his veins, Demyx leapt back, the woman hefting the hair dryer she'd been hiding against her spine, dangled it briefly on its cord, which had been hidden by all the bubbles, so that the occupants of the tub could see their doom impending.

Then she dropped it, extension cord slithering over tiles, and with a sharp crack, a flash that left Demyx blinking, they collapsed, hair smoking. It all happened too fast to even register properly in the blond's mind until it was long over, at which point he was the only uninjured male in the room, and Larxene was shooting him a dangerous look.

Hands shaking wildly, jumping about, he lifted them up in a pacifying gesture. "I-I-I'm not even gonna try."

He glanced at Luxord, who gazed back hopelessly, shrugging as their eyes met. "She said she'd gouge my eyes out if I warned them."

Demyx swallowed, tasted sourness, nodded jerkily. "…I'd have believed her, too."

Larxene got dressed, and left the Golden Sakura by a side exit.

She wasn't seen in Vegas again.


Roxas was escorted to Superior Xemnas with Xigbar's hand clamped firmly around his elbow. From his right wrist, half the handcuffs dangled, the chain shot in half. He'd been freed from the prison of his bedroom, only to be forcefully escorted into the high-ranking man's waiting limousine out the front of the building.

They had driven in silence, Xigbar not even bothering to look at him – though the gun remained where Roxas could clearly see it, as the luxury car hummed through the back roads, streetlights sliding and flashing off the pitch-black paint and heavily tinted windows.

A twenty minute ride later, they had pulled up to the home of one of the Six, its gates heavy, its walls high, the manor itself ridiculously splendorous, although Roxas knew, looking at it, that its interior was almost completely cold, sterile. He had waited quietly for the driver to open the side door, before climbing out at a gesture from his superior. Xigbar had followed, the driver tipping his hat, and together they had crossed the crunching driveway, mounted the stairs, entered the enormous home.

At this time of night, no one was around aside from Organisation members – Vexen was too intent on solitude to allow an actual live-in staff.

At first, Roxas was confused as to why he had been brought here, of all places. They thought Axel was a traitor – what did that have to do with the fourth Superior?

Then, he was brought to face Xemnas himself, and it all began to fall into place.

They entered Vexen's office, a warm-walled affair that belied the icy feel of the rest of the house. Xemnas was the one who had demanded that it be more accommodating – he had refused to have personal meetings with the blond man in anything but an ultimately comfortable environment.

Strange, really, when he then insisted on using it to torture and kill people within its confines.

There was a silver-haired boy reclining on the long, Romanesque lounge along the far wall. It was impossible to think that he was relaxing, or resting, or even drugged or beaten into oblivion – there was blood everywhere. It pooled on the carpet. It dripped from the wooden edge of the lounge. It soaked into the cushions. And, most of all, it trickled like the last dribbles from the bottom of a beer bottle from the several deep, vertical wounds slashing the boy's soft inner forearms. His wrists had been cut for him. They had been like that for a while now, too, judging by the fact that he appeared to be almost… empty.

Roxas wondered if this had happened before or after seven of his fingers had been sliced off. There was no sign of the dismemberments themselves, but the paper guillotine that usually belonged on Vexen's desk had been shoved to one side of the room, gory.

The boy was most certainly dead.

"I see you have noticed the last person we interrogated, XIII," Xemnas said, by way of greeting, a slight smile tugging the corner of his mouth as he watched the way the wide eyes took everything in. Roxas turned his gaze slowly to the Superior. "He was helpful," the man added simply. "In the end." He was sitting in the master chair on the other side of Vexen's work desk, looking for all the world like a patient principal confronting an errant student on his misdoings.

Xemnas was far from the only Organisation member in the room – aside from himself and Xigbar, Roxas noticed Vexen, on the absolute opposite side to the dead boy, looking like he was about to pass out; Zexion, his expression as flat and still as an undisturbed pond surface, sitting beside the long-haired blond, leaning back against the mustard-coloured leather couch with one leg crossed over the other; and, last of all, Saix, who slammed the door behind Roxas with the kind of finality reserved for caskets at funerals.

After Xemnas spoke, for a minute, there was silence. All eyes were trained on the blond, who, for all his life experience and training, found himself unprepared for such a situation. The best he could do was roll with the punches, and not let them get the upper hand. He could feel darkness twitching through the air, seeking some new victim to infuse and destroy, the way it had with the kid on the lounge.

"…Where is VIII?" the Superior asked quietly. Roxas stared at him blankly. His lips and throat were dry like sand. He wanted to cough, but didn't want it to come across as a nervous reaction. He instead inhaled steadily, letting the oxygen fill his chest, nourish his heart and mind, and narrowed his gaze, taking on a professional demeanour.

"I don't know, Superior. He handcuffed me to my bed and told me he was going out to look for traitors."

"The first part's true," Xigbar confirmed, yanking the blond's right hand up by the dangling, broken chain. "I blew a fucking hole in his wall getting him free."

Roxas snapped free of him, glaring, drawing his wrist close to his body and rubbing the abused flesh where the metal had cut in.

"Ah… hah," Xemnas murmured, every inch of his flawless face taken up with shrewd suspicion. "XIII, please sit." The boy wasn't given any choice in the matter – Xigbar planted a hand on his shoulder and shoved him down, slamming to the stiff-backed wooden chair. He shrugged the man off harshly, throwing up a poisonous look, before directing his attention Xemnas' way, the man speaking in low, honey-smooth tones. "Now, XIII… Currently, as you may know, we're dealing with an unfortunate situation within the Organisation…" His gaze glinted. "Traitors. Among us like rats. Whispering to the King's Men of our movements, in the hopes of becoming little kings someday."

Vexen was shaking violently over on the couch, bent at the waist and clutching his stomach, face low, shivering. At the mention of 'little kings', he let out a bitter sound, close to a laugh but not quite full enough. Zexion was the only one that didn't glance over at the perspiring man. Xemnas grimaced.

"In their efforts to do so, they have reduced one of our members to little more than their slaving dog." He clasped his hands together calmly on the desk's surface, adding mildly, "However, as with most mutts, if you take its bone away, it's amazing what it will do to get it back."

Roxas' gaze was drawn inexorably to the right, to where the dead boy lay. Vexen continued to shudder beside Zexion.

"They were blackmailing him," Xemnas told the blond bluntly. "The boy is underage, and Vexen wouldn't let him go. We ended up having to remove him from the situation entirely – he has proven himself too big a risk." He threw a scathing glare over at the man, adding, "Not to mention the small fact that he has familial ties to the King's Men, which our dear colleague chose to simply ignore. It even so happened that, when pressed, the boy revealed that he has been in contact with his wayward brother for some weeks, which of course the good Professor was utterly unaware of."

Vexen shrank into himself, Zexion sending him a distasteful look, brushing his knee off swiftly as if some element of the pathetic creature might have drifted like a mote of dust onto the perfect ebony of his pants.

Fingers sliding apart, the fingertips of his right hand pressing gently to the desk like an elevated cage, the Superior sent Roxas an unimpressed look, thoroughly unaffected by the stench of too much blood swimming through the air, the dense cloud of oppression hanging over all their heads. "We need to locate the perpetrators of this transgression. VIII is one of them, and while there are several places being combed as we speak for XI and XII, there are few places that your lover is known to frequent."

Roxas' expression dulled. "I'm sorry, Superior. I told you what happened. He wouldn't tell me where he was going."

Xemnas chuckled a little, a breathy sound, and opened a side drawer. From within, he drew a shining letter opener, the blade blunt. Roxas watched without a flicker as he slid the drawer closed again, and balanced the implement on its rounded tip. The blond met his gaze with tense boredom.

"I'm not intimidated, Superior. I don't know where Axel is. If I did, I would tell you. I am part of the Organisation, after all."

"Yes." Xemnas sounded almost amused. "And we've seen just how very binding that is to one's loyalty." He sighed, sitting back, regarding Roxas with a near-paternal look. "Now, XIII, that was a fine display of calm defiance. If I were sitting in your place right now, I'm afraid I wouldn't be nearly so composed." Lips pursing, he lowered his eyes to the letter opener, spinning it now against his finger. "After all, every sign would point to me being intimately involved in the betrayal, and, since I would be in the presence of men who obviously have no qualms with proper interrogation tactics…" He let the sentence trail off, the thought hanging heavily in the air between them. Roxas' jaw hardened.

"I'm not a traitor. You can assume all you want, but you don't have an ounce of proof against me, because there is none."

"We have only hearsay and speculation pinning those that are accused," Xemnas told him silkily, "and yet we are unquestionably correct. Assumptions can take a person far, XIII. Proof is reserved for the police – surely you know by now that we are as far from any judicial force that you will find you can get."

"So, what, you're sure Axel's a traitor, so that's it, he's being tracked down, and then – it's fingers time?" He jerked his head over towards the lounge. Xemnas' smile turned – cold.

"Perhaps you don't quite understand the depth of your predicament. Perhaps VIII meant for it to be this way – if you are indeed innocent, then you are in a perfect position to play dumb and be a scapegoat, all at the same time." He thought for a moment, tapping the knife against the desk's edge. "Hmm. It's – clever, actually. You are connected to all three of them. You work with XI and XII, and are in a physical relationship with VIII, all of whom are traitors. They go missing, and who is the first person all eyes then turn to…?"

Roxas stiffened slowly under the gazes of all present.

"…It's been well thought out," Xemnas had to concede.

"No." The blond shook his head firmly. "No, he didn't do it deliberately. I am not his scapegoat."

"No?" Xemnas threw looks to the other members in the room.

"Axel is an opportunist," Zexion said levelly. "It is possible, Superior, that Roxas is in fact blamelessly ignorant. VIII is a marvellous manipulator, when he wants to be."

"I have witnessed it myself several times, Superior," Saix contributed smoothly. "It's true; it is part of what made him such a valuable member of the Organisation, up until it was used against us."

Xemnas mulled on this thoughtfully, swung his cool gaze towards Roxas, who was beginning to feel like an animal in a trap. "Are you really… so sure that you haven't been used, XIII? It seems… quite neat, doesn't it? You are the newest member… VIII strikes up a relationship with you… and finally, they have the ability to act, with you as a last resort smokescreen."

The blond stared at a spot on the desk, letting the words wash over and through him, feeling the way they fit together like jigsaw pieces. While the heart and mind battled over which was the more likely – Axel using him, or it all being coincidence – his prevailing cold logic told him that yes, it was awfully neat. The handcuff bolted to his right wrist felt symbolic, all of a sudden.

But, though their relationship was odd, twisted at times, built on a foundation of chaos and others' pain… didn't Axel genuinely care for him? They had spoken of love; they weren't incapable of it, even in their line of work. You couldn't just fake that, right? Even – for the sake of overthrowing an entire established gang? The sake of something so much larger than yourself…?

Xemnas' gaze burned into the boy, allowing him a long minute in which to think. There was a light knock at the door, Saix scowling and drawing it open, Lexaeus appearing and murmuring a message. Saix drew back, announced, "Superior, XI has been located in the old Heartless district. He was seen entering Agrabah just a minute ago. The witness believes he saw VIII also in the club, but can't get close enough to determine if they are indeed both in the same place."

"Have them apprehended them at once," the silver-haired man commanded, as Roxas straightened, pulse increasing, flood-gates to adrenaline thrown open. "If there are any King's Men in the area, attack immediately, and bring them back here for questioning."

Vexen's head jerked up, eyes red-rimmed, appearance haggard, looking alarmed. "Superior, no – if you bring any King's Men here… Well, I mean to say, they don't leave their own behind, dead or alive. They might come to take the prisoners back, and – and my mansion…"

Xemnas shot him an icy glare. "That," he replied, "is a risk I am more than willing to take, IV. This is almost single-handedly your fault in the first place."

Vexen shut his mouth, eyes daring to dart over at the corpse occupying his lounge. He turned a new shade of pale, and ducked his head back down, bursting out a distressed, sickened breath.

"Make it happen," Xemnas reiterated to Saix. The man nodded curtly, relayed the order to Lexaeus, who had no doubt heard it anyway, and closed the door once again. "And you, XIII – Roxas…" The blond turned his eyes to the Superior, who was looking at him speculatively, a calculating edge to his features. "Perhaps there is a way for you to prove yourself, after all. Your loyalty to this Organisation." He licked his lips, a rapid motion, thoughts passing fast behind his eyes. "Yes…" He sat forward abruptly, eyes shining. He snatched up the letter opener, thunking it into the wooden surface. "You understand that the members that have wronged us are no longer part of the Organisation, yes? If you are indeed as loyal as you claim to be, this means promotions are in order. With VIII, XI and XII gone, you are suddenly tenth in line. You would be accepted into the inner cadre of the Organisation, and, quite frankly, if you prove yourself to me, I could easily see you being elevated to answering only directly to Saix." His face shone. "That is, perhaps, the greatest series of promotions that could exist within the Organisation." His tongue darted out again as he sat back sharply, leaving the tool jammed into the desktop. His gaze focused directly on Roxas, intense enough to drown out the rest of the room, creating a tunnel between them both, the man's hypnotic energy crackling along it. "They might have set you up, Roxas, but you can redeem yourself effortlessly."

Heart pounding uncomfortably behind his ribs, the blond eyed him off warily, untrusting of this sudden fervour. "And… what did you have in mind, Superior?"

Face hardening, Xemnas demanded, directly for the first time, "XIII: are you involved in the rebellion?"

Roxas' lips pressed tight. "No, sir."

He smiled, a relishing look. "Then prove it. Kill VIII. He lied to you, used you. Kill your lover, the traitor to us both."

Roxas faced him steadily. If he refused, Xemnas would then assumehe was guilty, and kill him. If he did it, he could either get deeper into the Organisation, furthering his rank and gangland future, or pack his bags in the morning and get the fuck out of town as fast as the next cab or bus would take him.

If he did it.

If he killed Axel.

Axel, who might or might not have deliberately set him up to take the fall, either now or in the future.

But Roxas had existed before Axel, and he could just as easily exist after him. It was the redhead that had brought this about – Roxas was lucky that he wasn't being executed right alongside him.

Sometimes, things just played out in ways you couldn't control.

"…Of course, Superior."


Once upon a time, there was a girl called Kairi, who existed in the uppermost ranks of what was known as the King's Men.

In their efforts to strongarm the King's Men into withdrawing their support from a presidential election, the Organisation one day sent a man to abduct her. VIII did so, managing to drag the girl in a public and traumatising manner from amidst some associates, who were easily caught off guard and defeated when they tried to regain her.

Kairi was then kept with the Organisation stronghold for two weeks, humiliated and tormented in the care of VII, until the King's Men finally agreed to their terms, incapable of tracking her down or creating a counter-check. Her sister was sent to collect her, and Kairi was returned home, never quite the same after her ordeal.

End of story.

In the here and now, upon discovering that Naminé had not contacted them when she was supposed to, Kairi followed a number of channels before finding out that Leon and Cloud were planning to go in and quietly retrieve the presumed-dead girl from an Organisation home.

Calmly, Kairi got in touch with Riku and Sora, along with a number of others, and informed them that some fuckers had some blood to repay.


Feet lowered onto steps.

The place was built like a bomb shelter… chair in the corner, for watching from…

Because Xemnas could be a sick, sadistic fuck when he wanted to.

And what did he like to watch?

Axel woke in blackness, out of breath.

His vessels constricted in fear, fluttering panic building in his throat.

Christ. How long had he been here for...?
Then he heard footsteps, calm and deliberate.

"Do you want to know…"
It was a voice–
"…what happens to those who lie?"
–that wanted him dead.

A hand wound through the hair at the back of his head, tightened, rested there a moment then wrenched upward. His skull raged with pain.



"…Rox –"

Gagging, the taste of blood, a tooth being chipped around urgent grunts and vowels.

"Little white lies."

Sweat trickling over cuts and bruises, struggling uselessly against the boy on one knee beside him.

"They build up, Axel."

Throat bared, inhalations short, chest hitching. A desperate mumble, ignored.

"And this time, they've built too high for you." The bullet pointing straight down into his throat. "Too high for either of us, really."

Axel blinked rapidly into pitch black material, sweating trickling down his face, through his hair, into the numerous cuts, grazes, scratches, over the bruises, shaking violently. Each chuffed breath contained the slightest whisper of voice, but there was nothing he could say.

"See you in the next life," the boy tossed out, aiming for casual, coming across only bitter, impotent, each word ground from his boots.

Silly. Just because you have a next life…

There was nothing he could do.

Roxas pulled the trigger, and an explosion sounded out, tearing through Vexen's mansion in a deafening bark - from above.

The blond jumped, the clack of the metal against Axel's teeth audible. The man's breaths stopped entirely for a full five seconds, before they erupted around the muzzle, saliva trickling down the sides of his mouth, a disbelieving whimper sounding out. Roxas scowled up at the ceiling, muttering, "What the fuck was that?" He turned his eyes to the bound and blinded redhead, thought for a moment, then threw him down, yanking the gun away, standing and straightening, frowning over at the stairs.

He walked cautiously towards them, quickly wrapping the stomach of his shirt around the gun and wiping it dry, letting the rumpled material fall back down and pausing as a massive crash was heard from above, a series of yells, the sudden hammer of feet running back and forth, panicked shouts filtering down into the stasis of the basement. Bewildered, he wondered aloud, "What the hell?"

There was a scrape and a thump from the other side of the basement, the blond turning in time to see Axel up on his feet, desperately seizing the only opportunity he would ever have again to get to safety, barrelling in the direction of Roxas' voice.

The blond's face hardened, he lifted the gun and let off three sharp shots, each and every one slamming into the man, taking him to his knees, crashing onto his side with a strangled cry. As Axel bled slowly onto the concrete, Roxas swiftly ascended the stairs, cracked the door open a bare half-inch, and peered out into the maw of chaos.


That night, the Organisation fell. Both alerted by a sudden absence of communication with Riku's younger brother, and the known presence of Naminé within Vexen's walls, a team of King's Men stormed the mansion, easily bypassing the various security measures.

Much in the way that they had dealt with the Heartless, the King's Men showed no mercy whatsoever. They were in the right – thus, they killed without compunction. They slaughtered all who fell in their path, suffering startlingly low casualties themselves.

Xemnas was shot through the head.

By Xigbar.

Who was then taken down by Sora of the King's Men.

Xaldin, not present at the affair, instead operating from his own home deploying Organisation members to hunt the traitors down, survived that night, along with his Burmese cat, whose name was most certainly not Snookums.

Vexen was discovered hysterically shielding the remains of the silver-haired boy, and was executed passionlessly by the boy's older brother, in exchange for the almost-year of paedophilia the man had been indulging in.

Lexaeus was hard to take down by himself in a one-on-one fight, but in his efforts to protect Zexion, he was disembowelled, also by Riku, who then dealt swiftly with the object of his determination, making his sacrifice utterly, ultimately worthless.

Saix was punched, shot, and clubbed with a bust of Einstein by Kairi, who finally was able to vent two years' worth of nightmares – after threatening to cut off his hands in the paper guillotine in Vexen's office, if he didn't tell her where the fucking goddamn hell Naminé was now.

Demyx took Luxord to the emergency room, where he received a mere two stitches for the puckered hole in his thigh, plus a prescription for some heavy painkillers. No questions were asked, and the two men went back to Luxord's apartment to get drunk and forget the unholy horror of a cornered Larxene.

Upon realising, the next day, that their entire support system was gone, and there was a heart-shaped hot tub full of dead bodies to be explained away, Luxord managed to grab the Sakura's reins before any other bastard tried encroaching on their territory, and happily relinquished all ties with the Organisation if it meant he could keep the casino-resort. The King's Men were accommodating, and the police conveniently forgot the toasted corpses in the honeymoon suite.

Demyx, deciding that he really wasn't cut out for this sort of thing – never had been, never would be – ended up leaving Vegas, with its creepy King's Man that followed him around all the time, and found work in a day-spa instead. He also performed in a band during the evenings. He was a lot happier this way.

Marluxia died of blood loss during the night – the knife through the lower back had severed his spine, anyway. There was no way he could outlive an injury like that, not without some fast microsurgery and a hell of a lot of luck.

The only two left unaccounted for were ranking members VIII and XIII of the former Organisation. They simply – vanished during the attack on Vexen's home. No one even thought about them until the next day, by which stage they had been given ample time to escape through any number of different channels.

Only two things ever indicated that they had survived and moved on.

First: a heavy payout to one particular surgeon at the general hospital, who both claimed he'd never seen anyone with red hair in his life – despite numerous other sightings of a man sporting VIII's description having been reported in the emergency room, accompanied by a fierce blond who allegedly kept hissing, "I told you so, didn't I fucking tell you?" – and couldn't explain precisely where the money had come from, even when it was successfully traced to the Golden Sakura.

Second: it was discovered at four in the morning that Pastor Frank, of a shotgun chapel that refused to have its name printed in the papers, had been shot to death, four bullets to the chest. His registry recorded the marriage of a 'Mr. and Mr. XY', with no further unions beyond that point. His wedding ring was missing from his left hand, along with one of the more decorative rings he liked to frequently wear. Neither item of jewellery was ever recovered.

Roxas and Axel were never seen again.