Goodlord, I'm a mess. I'm writing, I'm not writing. I have requests to write, fanfics to update, but I can't. I just can't. Some writer I am xD. I have so much I need to do, but I can't bring myself to. I'm sorry, guys. Eventually, I'll get around to everything. I don't know when or how soon, but I'll pick myself up eventually. I just need time to really… figure out where I'm going with all that I have.

Until then… I've written this. It's a multi-chapter, but merely a start. I may or may not continue this, considering everything else on my plate, but regardless. According to my genius plan, there will be smutty goodness (and possibly Reno? xD ) later, thus the M rating. But for now, I'll be gone all next week 'cause I'm going to Moscow! Woo!


Absinthe

Chapter One - "The Handsome Devil"



"They say that if you go in that house, it takes your soul."

Three children stood breathless on the sidewalk, shivering in the fall air.

"I dare you to go in, Roxas. I dare you."

There was definitely something to be said about the number five house on 21st Street. It was not old or decayed or in mismanage. It simply held a strange aura. It was pleasant, yet cold. Welcome, yet foreboding. The Victorian-style building proudly boasted three stories, a wide garden, and twenty acres of land behind it. Naturally, as the largest house on the street, Number Five did not fail to also supply the owner with a full stable for five horses, as well as carriage. Nestled in the middle of the street itself, most people actually wished it to be situated on the corner so that they could have an easier time avoiding it. They could only hurry over to the other side of the street and back so many times, after all.

The street was often busy and people roamed the sidewalk regularly. The rest of the houses were fairly ordinary as well, if not smaller. The same black and grey stone and woodworks and dark grey shutters. Which is why the house, Number Five, was not like the rest of the ordinary, simple residences. Its windows were always closed, framed with the specially painted crimson shutters and flower boxes that hadn't hosted life in years.

"I can't go in there!" The smallest boy whispered anxiously, eyes wide. "People who go in there never come out!"

However, despite the actual appearance of the house, and the impression of it, as some said, Number Five had never actually done anyone any harm. Nevertheless, the city people of London dared not disturb the place, although they could never put their finger on the exact reason why. The chills they felt buzzing up their spine or the anxious feelings in their gut were not plausible enough reason for simply avoiding a home.

Another factor contributing to the odd setting of the house, amongst all of the other strange feelings that the place exhumed, was the resident, who often appeared to be the greatest source of oddities.

"What, are you scared old Hallward'll get you?"

"They say he gave his soul to the devil."

Axel Hallward, much like his house, at first appeared to be quite ordinary. The man was tall and lanky in body. Those who met him said that he was charming, polite, eloquent, witty, and left them shaking in their boots. "There's something off about that man" they said in hushed voices, "He's an odd one."

"Have you ever actually seen him before?"

"Once. It was last year, I saw him walking in the park."

"Did you get a good look at him?"

"No, he disappeared like a ghost as soon as I spotted him."

The man was often seen walking about town, as he enjoyed a good stroll from time to time. He was not fearful of the public eye, but the public eye was, in fact, very fearful of him. Rumors about Mr. Hallward were rich in the city. They said he was married. Others said he was widowed. Many swore by the fact that he had gone through more lovers than you could count. But it was fairly obvious that Hallward was never seen with a woman by his side leaving or entering the house, unless he was entertaining guests.

And as the gossipy women in London enjoyed their rumors, Axel Hallward's entire history had already been filled in by the townsfolk.

"I've heard that he fought in some Indian war, left him a little loopy in the head. And when he came back here, he brought his victims along with him."

"You mean, Number Five is filled with dead bodies?!"

"Oh, shut your gob, that's complete bollocks. Hallward didn't fight in any war! He's a Frenchman. All he likes doing is strolling about, drinking wine, and taking baths. There's nothing interesting about him."

"But they say he has no heart."

The whispering boys fell silent, watching the unmoving house before them with worried eyes.

"Oh, please, it's 1880, who believes in that drivel anymore?" The oldest boy sniffed, fixing his scarf tighter about his neck. "Come on, let's be off, we still have errands to do."

The three boys took their leave, leaving behind the dark house, not noticing the single light that had come on as soon as they had turned their backs.


Roxas Cloverdale had lived in England all of his long and dreary life. All sixteen years of it. Born and raised in a respectable, middle-class family, he had spent most of his time out on London's grimy streets and, like the rest of his fellows, he had become something of an expert on the place. There wasn't a road or alleyway he didn't know. Which is why the teen visibly paled when he was asked to deliver a package to a certain number five house on 21st.

"Mr. Hallward actually has post?" He gaped, staring at the older man, his boss, who was seated across the desk from him and had been previously busy sorting through letters. Roxas glanced down at the small bundle of envelopes in his hand, all addressed to Axel Hallward.

"Mr. Vexen, sir, I can't go there."

"Nonsense. The man is a reputable member of English society; it would do you well not to believe those ridiculous rumors." Mr. Vexen had been fortuitous enough to be bestowed with a good dose of common sense, which made up for his lack of attractive physical features. Roxas eyed the man's greasy blond hair a moment before frowning again.

"But sir, why must I be sent? Surely, Hayner or Pence-"

"Mr. Cloverdale, I have given you a parcel to deliver and I insist that you do so before I lose my temper." Mr. Vexen replied testily, not looking up from his book of records. "Is that clear?"

"Sir." Roxas glumly tipped his hat, then turned slowly on his heel to leave. Mr. Vexen, however, stopped him a moment.

"Roxas." The teen looked up as his boss suddenly smiled and reached out to ruffle Roxas's short, blond hair. "You'll be fine, Roxas."

"… I hope so, sir."

The walk to 21st was brisk and easy enough, but Roxas couldn't help but drag his feet as he made his way towards the infamous road, a place he had not really visited in five years, whispering over the rumors surrounding the place. Who knew what horrors awaited him in the foreboding house? Death? Torture? … something worse? Clutching the package of post closely to himself, Roxas shivered in the chilly fall breeze and hurried along. He would just leave the post at the door, he decided to himself. That way, he could avoid meeting Mr. Hallward completely.

The swirling rumors about the man only made the journey harder. It had been ages since Roxas had stood before the house with his friends, but now, the whispers of the townsfolk came to life. What if Axel Hallward really had sold his soul? What if he was the servant of the devil that everyone believed he was?

With the multiple years of hearing the same stories about the man, it was hard not to believe them.

By the time that Roxas had actually trudged up to Number Five's doorway, moving past the wilting gardens and far off stable, his legs and hands had begun to shake. It had seemed to grow colder with each step, the air and the atmosphere around the house chilling even his bones. And the strange, eerie quiet around the place didn't exactly help matters.

Roxas hated every moment. What cruel hand of fate had allowed him to stray here and put him in death's path? The blond steadily took each step up the stairs onto the porch, growing colder each time until he came to be frozen at the very entrance of the house.

After a decent moment of standing at the door, however, Roxas finally had to tell himself that something needed to be done. The letters were still not delivered and the place didn't appear to have a post box. Which meant that the teen would have to hand-deliver the parcel. Bloody hell.

Roxas raised his clenched fist, paused, lowered his hand, raised it up again, swallowed nervously, then suddenly rapped twice on the door before mentally gasping in horror at what he had just done, already succumbing to the fate that something horrible was about to occur right before his eyes.

And for a tense, split-second, nothing happened. Roxas heard nothing, felt nothing, saw nothing, but simply stood stock-still and stared in terror at the door, expecting it to creak slowly open and unleash a monster on him.

Then the gateway finally snapped open and Roxas was left to gape up at a tall individual with an amused smirk and blazing green eyes.

"Yes?"

"Er… uh…" Roxas's mouth imitated a dying fish, opening and closing with nothing coming out. Was this Axel Hallward? The man standing before him was lanky, pale, and apparently quite intrigued. He wasn't even old; Hallward seemed to be at least in his mid 20's and his face was completely bare of hair. He was smartly dressed in shirt and waistcoat and black trousers, his slender, pianist fingers curled around the edge of the door as he gazed down at the smaller teen. And Roxas couldn't stop staring.

Surely, this was not London's mysterious man. This could not be the most talked about figure in the city, the person who cast intrigue wherever he went. He appeared to be quite handsome, a gentleman, really. Roxas felt quite humble in his modest coat and pants.

Not only that, but… The man's hair was red. Not even gingery, but red like the sheen of a cheery or apple. It arched away from his temple and skull in silky arches resembling spikes that extended past his shoulders. Like the fires of Hell. There was no way something like that was natural. A handsome gentleman with the hair of the devil.

A handsome devil. Roxas swallowed. I'll be damned.

"… do you need something?" Hallward spoke again, his husky voice sending even more shivers down Roxas's spine as he leaned out through the doorway, grinning. The rumors about Hallward's disfiguring scars were most definitely incorrect, his skin was clear of any imperfection. "I assume you do, considering that it's only the rare and few that come to knock on my door."

"Er… yes." Roxas flushed and, managing to get over his shock slightly, he fumbled around briefly with the letters before holding them out before him for Hallward, hands trembling. "Your post, sir. I didn't see a postbox for you, so I … just brought them up for you."

"How kind of you." Hallward murmured with a quirked eyebrow, willowy fingers extending to take the papery bundle. "And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"

"Cloverdale, Mr. Hallward, sir. Roxas Cloverdale." At that point, Roxas had begun frantically attempting to think of an escape route. The casual gaze of Mr. Hallward was making him mentally shudder and the wool scarf about his neck wasn't doing anything to keep out the inner chill.

"Cloverdale." said Hallward thoughtfully, rolling the name about his lips and tongue, then smiling. "Thank you, Mr. Cloverdale. I've been waiting a long time for these letters."

"Sir?" Roxas asked hesitantly, fearful of the other man's attempts at conversation, as well as his secretive smile.

"Indeed." Hallward continued smoothly, looking down at the letters and smoothing his fingertips over them, "Many years, in fact. So again, I thank you."

Nervously shifting from one foot to another, Roxas tried not to sigh in relief as the other man released him from his bright green stare. It was almost unnerving. Looking around, the blond settled instead on the floor. Axel Hallward, he found, was not wearing shoes. His feet were simply covered in socks, black, standing out against the hardwood floor. Roxas stared.

"Ah, it was… it was…" Unable to concentrate from the odd sight, the blond forced himself to look up again. Hallward had turned his attention back to him again, locking his gaze with his. "… T'was nothing, sir. I was just doing my job."

The man was shocking, yes, but Roxas was having trouble believing that Hallward was the demonic person everyone had made him out to be. He was unusual, but not evil. Or, at least, he didn't appear to be.

"Indeed! I really must thank you for your kindness, Mr. Cloverdale. Please, allow me." Axel's hand suddenly snaked out to wrap around Roxas's unsuspecting wrist and tug him forward into the house. Roxas yelped briefly in shock as he stumbled inside and Hallward shut the door behind him. Trapped.

"Mr. Hallward, sir?" Without stopping, the blond was hurried along, his arm still being pulled by the red-headed man with no sign of him letting go. Roxas tried to at least glance around the area to keep his footing as he clicked and clacked in his boots after Axel, whose socked feet made no noise. The mansion from the inside was even more impressive than stories had said. No ominous, dead bodies, but it was furnished with expensive, dark red furniture and deep hardwood floors. In fact, if not for the poor lighting, Roxas may have even ventured to say it was beautiful.

But his time to actually look around was short. Hallward bustled him through the corridors until they reached a small room that was a surprising contrast to the rest of the house, as far as Roxas had seen. It was bright and warm, and the walls were set with large windows. And in the center was a table set for two.

Finally, Hallward released Roxas. "Please, sit, help yourself to tea."

Roxas felt himself grow cold again. This was not the way to invite guests in to tea. "Sir, I really shouldn't-"

"Ridiculous! C'mon, now, Mr. Cloverdale, sit. I grow quite bored on days like this. You are my first guest in ages, you must have some tea." Axel Hallward waved his hand dismissively, seating himself at the table and helping himself to tea as he tossed the bundle of letters on a nearby sofa. Regretting ever coming to the cursed, bizarre house, Roxas scowled and sat as well.

The blond took note of the emptiness of the building first, "Do you not have servants?"

"I do, actually, but I hardly need them to have tea, now, do I?" Axel chuckled, scratching the back of his head a moment, "They come when they're needed."

A brief silence followed as Axel set the table and Roxas observed. Hallward's features were sharp. Elegantly so, especially with the man's almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones. Roxas hardly had an interest in men, but Axel seemed even more graceful than most of the elite London city folk that Roxas witnessed parading about the place in their carriages. The handsome devil, indeed.

"Mr. Hallward, sir, I thank you for your kindness, but I must be getting back to work…" said Roxas with a forced calm, frowning at the man across the table from him. Axel didn't even appear concerned; he merely smiled and took a sip from his china cup, holding the saucer delicately beneath it.

"Mr. Cloverdale, this is quite rude of you to be rejecting my hospitality." He said mildly, his green eyes lighting up again with amusement as a charming grin spread his lips out to the sides, making him appear even more handsome.

"There's a difference, sir, when you are forcing your hospitality on me." Roxas had already gotten over some of his fear, becoming more annoyed instead as he struggled to keep his wits and most of his manners about him. What kind of man simply invited strangers into his house for tea? Then again, what kind of man pranced about his house in socks? "I'm merely your postman. I insist that you let me leave."

A moment passed as Axel watched him intently from his seat. Then, setting his tea down, he chuckled and leaned forward. "Are you frightened?"

Roxas blinked, "Frightened?"

"Surely you've heard the rumors. You are sitting at the table of one of the deadliest men in London. I've killed hundreds. I leave their bodies to rot in my backrooms." Axel spoke slowly in a low purr, making sure that each word sunk into Roxas like a knife, "I especially love to seduce young boys like you, purge you of your innocence. It's so easy, too…"

All of the blood that had been in the blond's face immediately rushed out, leaving the teen pale and shaken as the fear returned to him. Just as some of the fright moved to fuel his limbs and allow him to bolt from his chair, however, the serious atmosphere immediately dissipated with Axel Hallward throwing his head back and gripping the arms of his chair as he began laughing.

Roxas gaped in disbelief. The man was becoming increasingly more and more bizarre by the minute. His appearance, his attitude, his house… there was absolutely nothing normal about him.

It took a few seconds, but Hallward did eventually calm himself. The atmosphere lost some of its chill. Sniggering, Axel took another sip of tea with a content sigh and sat back in his seat, "I must apologize, I was merely joking. The look on your face was quite hilarious, though."

"I see nothing funny about this." Roxas grumbled, annoyed with his inability to exit. He tore off his stifling scarf and unbuttoned the thick coat he had worn to protect him from the cold autumn winds. "For all I know, you are planning on killing me."

"Come now, Mr. Cloverdale, have a sense of humor! If I took all of the ridiculous rumors about me seriously, you must admit, I would become quite dull."

"So which parts of the rumors are true?" Roxas was angry at himself for his curiosity, but he couldn't help himself. It wasn't like he met Axel Hallward everyday. The man was a mystery.

"Ah, now we've got you opening up a tad." Grinning in approval, the man poured Roxas some tea, then sat back once more, leaning casually against the back of the chair and throwing an arm over it as well. The image of relaxation. "Which parts? That depends on what you've heard."

Roxas immediately began rattling off different stories, loosening up slightly thanks to his weakness in being nosy. "Did you fight in any wars that drove you insane?"

"Can't say I have. I'm not very prone to fighting or killing. Pacifist."

"Are you married or widowed?"

Axel chuckled then, "Neither. Nor do I have a plethora of lovers stashed about here."

"No?" Now that Roxas had seen what Hallward actually looked like, that fact was hard to swallow.

"No." Axel's grin grew at the blond's obvious disbelief, "You must remember, I have yet to shoot down the rumors of me seducing attractive young men."

Roxas almost choked on the tea he had finally consented to sip at. "So you do?"

"Well, I'll admit, I'm quite picky." Axel tapped his chin thoughtfully, "They have to be quiet innocent, but not too submissive. I like my victims wiggly, you see. Granted, I like to drug their tea first, strip them of their clothing, then tie them up to a bed and have my way with them. It's a bonus if they're blond postmen."

Roxas did choke then, slamming his cup down to start coughing and spluttering.

"Oh dear…" Axel murmured, standing and hurrying to Roxas's side to pound at the teen's back, "Keep coughing, Roxas, that's the ticket."

With a final wheeze, Roxas coughed out most of the tea and sat back in his seat to catch his breath. "Bloody hell." He muttered, rubbing his chest, which was now sore. "Th-thanks…"

"As long as you don't die. I hardly need to add your body to the growing pile in the other room…" Axel replied airily, continuing to kneel by the blond, "Feel alright?"

"Better." Roxas took a slow, shuddering breath, pointedly ignoring the red-head's concerned stare, as well as the slender fingers that were resting gently on his shoulder. The last answer had been too much. As fascinating as the man next to him was, reality was calling. "I should be going."

"If you feel that way." Without waiting for Roxas's consent, Axel helped the blond up, tucking a hand beneath Roxas's arm. The blond was quick to protest.

"I can walk, Mr. Hallward!"

"Hardly, my good man. You just suffered a near traumatic experience, you require my assistance." Axel piped up cheerfully, snatching up Roxas coat and proceeding to lead him back through the house to the doorway. He even went as far as aiding the blond in tugging on his jacket, by which time, the blond began suffering from burning cheeks of embarrassment. As quick as he had come in, Roxas was already leaving. His head was spinning.

Axel rested in the doorway, leaning against the frame, still clad in his waistcoat, shirt, trousers, and socks. "Do come back, Roxas. It was a pleasure having you here. Good guests are so far and few these days, truly."

Roxas tucked his hands into his coat pockets, feeling the warmth from the house leaving him as the autumn cold raked its fingers over his face. "I'll be sure to do that, Mr. Hallward." He mumbled, completely convinced that he would actually be doing otherwise.

"Good! And drop the Mr. Hallward nonsense, good sir. How about I just call you Roxas and you refer to me as Axel?"

"As long as this isn't a bizarre tactic of seducing me." At his words, Axel laughed again, the loud, ringing laugh that seemed to truly hold amusement.

"Oh, Roxas, you underestimate me. Why would I ever use such an underhanded tactic like that? I have much better tricks up my sleeve if I truly wish to seduce you."

Roxas didn't miss the glint in Axel's eyes, or the way that his lips curled into a smirk, but he chose to ignore it with a snort, "Excellent. Until later, then, Axel."

Axel raised his hand in goodbye as the blond turned on his heel and hurried back down the path from Number Five, past the wilting gardens and far off carriage and away from the dreaded house, intent on getting back to the post office as quickly as possible.

He didn't get halfway when he had to pause, stop, check his bare neck, then curse loudly.

Roxas had left his scarf at Axel Hallward's house.

And now, he actually had to go back.

The next day, a cold and cloudy one, found Roxas standing again at the large oak door, hands jammed deeply in his coat pockets as he shivered, at the mercy of the cold wind that was wrapping itself tightly about his naked throat. This time, however, Axel Hallward did not answer the door. Instead, his manservant stood in the doorframe, looking grumpy and very… tall. Roxas looked up with a frown, wondering why everyone in the damn house needed to boast their height over his own.

"Yes?"

"Er…" Roxas looked up at the servant with a defiant scowl. He may have been intimidated by the man of the house, but no butler would leave him cowering. "Is Mr. Hallward in?"

"Hm. Master Hallward is not seeing any visitors at the present." The stranger said coldly, glaring down at Roxas.

"He'll see me! Tell him that Roxas Cloverdale is here to see him." At the mention of his name, the manservant raised an eyebrow briefly, then cleared his throat and stepped back.

"Please, come in, sir."

That's more like it. Roxas thought in approval, hurrying inside just as another cold wind began picking up. The house was better lit this time. The manservant had apparently taken the time to set up lamps. "Please, follow me, sir." The butler began to lead Roxas back through the house, taking the exact same route to the small tea-room. Roxas walked behind the huge man, holding his breath.

Axel Hallward was sitting at the couch, hair reflecting the light of the fireplace, which was burning brightly to make up for the lack of sunlight outside. He was still in his socks, but a light scarf was now tucked loosely about his neck. Roxas's scarf.

"Sir." The butler stood stiffly by the doorway as Roxas took a step inside. "Mr. Roxas Cloverdale to see you, sir."

Axel looked up from something he had been busily reading, glancing from the man to Roxas before smirking. "Yes, I can see that. Thank you, Lexaeus, that will be all."

"Sir." The manservant Lexaeus bowed briefly, then took his leave, leaving Roxas alone with Axel and shutting the door behind him. A silence followed after, accented with the faint crackle of the fire in the hearth. Almost painstakingly, Axel turned his attention to Roxas. As the blond locked eyes with Hallward, he frowned and spoke first.

"I have one more rumor."

"Oh?" Axel's smirk widened as his eyes, in contrast, narrowed. He set down the letters he had been skimming, most likely the ones from the previous day, and looked more intently at Roxas. "Do tell."

"People say that you've sold your soul to the devil." Roxas realized than just what he was accusing the man of, but he pressed on anyway. "That you have no heart."

The red-head's first response was laughter, a laugh that was completely different from before. It was quiet and carried no real amusement. And it chilled Roxas more than any autumn wind could. It was terrifying. "Do you believe them?"

"I don't know what to believe now." Roxas answered honestly.

Axel was standing. "I asked you before if you were frightened. Are you scared now?"

"I am not."

"You should be." Before Roxas even knew it, Axel was right before him, still smiling as he slammed a hand into the door directly behind Roxas. "I'm a heartless, soulless, damned man."

"Are you?" Roxas stared up at Axel, finding the air around him becoming thinner. This wasn't the same quirky man from before. Axel was… different. Darker. His own scarf, hanging from Hallward's neck, dangled before him, but the blond couldn't tear his gaze from the piercing green eyes that had stabbed into him the day before. What had he gotten himself into?

The handsome devil…

"Are you shaking? Quivering in your boots?" Axel was leaning in, his warm breath skittering over Roxas's face and sending waves of cold over his entire skin. He reached out to trace a line down the blond's neckline to his chest where, beneath the layers of clothing, hung Roxas's cross from a gold chain. "Praying to God to save you from this?"

Roxas grit his teeth. The handsome devil whose eyes carry along the empty husk of a soul he was not able to salvage. "No."

"No? Good." Lips brushed over Roxas's ear, icy against the sensitive skin. "No God can save you now."

Lord help me now. I think the handsome devil has me caught.