Okay. So. This was a bitch. And I think it sucks. And I don't think it makes sense. AND I've probably brutalized Xion's personality, since I had to get spoilers for her online (which explains the whole running away and stealing Roxas's keyblade thing). Nevertheless, I hope you still enjoy it, Constance! I tried to through Akuroku goodness in there, but I think I ended up with more Roxas and Xion interraction than Axel and Roxas friendship. That's full of fail.
AND OMFG. I COMPLETELY DISREGARDED THE PROMPT! More fail. So much more fail. Jesus. Well, we'll just pretend I used the lyrics, okay, Constance? Because I totally suck. Oh my God. Hahaha.
ANYWAY. Without further ado, here's the story.
Disclaimer: Don't own spoilers or Kingdom Hearts in general.
-- - --
She heard his footsteps before she saw him, and she clenched her teeth. She hadn't figured on him finding her so fast. She'd hoped to see the sun set beneath the horizon, to see the colors explode in the sky, to feel the gusts of wind brush against her hooded face. She didn't want to go back to white walls, black robes, and silent faces.
She wanted to be free.
The sharp clicks of heavy boots scraped against the ground, and she stiffened her shoulders as Number Eight closed the gap between the two. He didn't bother to speak to her. He was probably infuriated underneath those layers of arrogance, since he hated playing this little game of babysitter, but he didn't bother to let on. He drummed his fingers in a tuneless rhythm against the rail, watching the slowly sun begin to break against the earth.
"Let me stay."
His robes rustled in the silence, and languidly he lounged his body against the rail, propping elbows up on double bars. "What's in it for me if I do?" His voice flickered dangerously, and she turned her head a small fraction to watch him idly clench and unclench his right fist. His eyes trained absently on the flexing fingers, and she followed the thin flame as it began to trace along his pale, pale skin. "You gonna make it worth my while, Number Fourteen?"
"That's up for you to decide," she muttered softly.
He flicked his wrist casually, and a small fire roared within his palm, licking at the still air that surrounded them with silence. She cringed back a step or two from that fire, he flame that only promised pain for her. He'd punished her before for being smart with him. He'd punished her for running away. He would easily do it again if she gave him enough reason.
"Not the answer I was looking for. The correct answer, Number Fourteen, is 'Yes, Number Eight. I will do exactly as you say.'" With his left hand, gloved and cool, he reached out and grasped her chin, jerking her face in his direction. She grimaced as her sea-deep eyes clashed with evergreen and venom. His gaze had narrowed to calculated slits as he leaned down to her level, and smoothly he watched her, danger etched into the contours of his face. "Try it again."
"I want to see all the seasons."
His lips cracked into a smile that bared grim, wicked teeth. She winced as his hand began to grow hotter, knowing that slowly but surely her face would burn if she continued to edge around his commands. "One more time…"
"No! I want to see Christmas!" she blurted out.
Summoning her keyblade into her hand, she lashed out with a swift slash before he could attack first. Axel's cat-like agility spared him any harm – he leapt narrowly out of the way, safely twisting his body from the singing path of her blade. Furious that she'd missed him, she arced her arm over her head and wildly swung the keyblade toward his face, but with surprising fluidity he ducked under her assault and rose to his full height inches in front of her. He caught her arm before she could trip backwards and regroup, and his eyes danced dangerously as he pressed close to her face. Her eyes widened as his palm began to grow warm, and as soon as white-hot blades of pain sank into her bared arm she shrieked, her knees buckling as savagely she clawed at his robes.
"Stop it!" she screamed. It hurt so much. She hated him. She really, truly hated him. "I just want to see snow! Bring Number Thirteen if you want – you can bring Number Thirteen!" Tears streamed down her face as she tugged at her arm, sucking in pained breaths as narrow flames chewed dark scars and blisters into her flesh.
"You stole his keyblade again, didn't you?" he hissed softly into her ear, twisting her arm behind her back. She choked back a shrill shriek, and her weapon trembled within her palm. She felt his sadistic smirk press into her skin, and she wanted to kill him for touching her. "I don't like you touching Roxas's things." The heat instantly died on her skin, and her teeth chattered with pain as he leaned closer, his breath lifting goosebumps on her skin. "In fact," he whispered, "I don't like you mentioning him at all."
Apathetically he threw her arm away from him, leaning back on his heels and crossing his arms as he cocked his head to the side to observe her. Tears stained her cheeks, and she refused to meet his eyes as she dug a handkerchief from her pocket and wrapped it fiercely around her arm, used to these injuries by now. She heard him scoff at the trinket, but she said nothing.
"Your silver knight pay you another visit, Fourteen?"
"It's none of your business if he did." Her voice trembled, and she felt completely and utterly defeated beneath his gaze.
Axel's bark of laughter was sharper this time. "He plays this little game with our favorite witch too, you know. See, Riku doesn't see you or your baby blues when he looks at you, sweetheart, 'cause you don't have a heart. He sees the Keyblade Master's girl. You're just his toy."
"I'm a toy in the Organization, too," she remarked stiffly, knotting off the cloth with her left hand and then brushing the tears from her cheeks from the back of her hand. Lifting her chin more confidently, she looked toward his face, but at the last second she flicked her eyes away from venomous green toward the open sky. "So I guess I'm used to it."
Axel twirled his finger around in sarcastic celebration. She gritted her teeth, idly tapping the keyblade against her boot as the wind sifted through her hair, and she felt the redhead's gaze being drawn to the weapon beating its staccato rhythms against her shoe. She stopped immediately, gripping the hilt more tightly within her palm.
"One visit to Halloweentown," he drawled in the silence, stilling his finger lazily and keeping it pointed in the air. His response surprised her, and before she could help it she jerked her chin up and met his flickering gaze with widened eyes. "Blondie has the same weird obsession you have. The little shit's been complaining to me about seeing snow for days now, and I need to find a way to shut him up." She traced the smile that pulled his lips' corners upward, blinking in disbelief. It must have been a trick of light, she figured – and, sure enough, after she'd blinked three more times, it had disappeared. "And don't think you're suddenly special because I'm letting you come along," he growled in warning. "I'm just sick to death of chasing you halfway across the worlds. Your pain only amuses me for so long."
She glared at him, but he wasn't fazed. He closed the distance between them with three short steps before she could stumble back, and, ducking down in a flash, he fiercely snatched her burned arm and ripped the sword out of her hands while she yelped.
"One of these days, I will kill you," he remarked simply, tapping her head with three rapid jabs to the temple. She hissed and turned her face from him, eyes scouring the road as he drew away from her. The silence swallowed them up as feet away he summoned a portal of darkness, and there he stood, waiting for her to give up her freedom, waiting for her to retire within white prison walls.
"I just wish…" she mumbled to herself, turning a wistful gaze toward the horizon. It now glowed with the dying breath of the sun. Everything else had been steeped in darkness, and as she arched her head back she could see the stars and worlds twinkling above, calling her.
"Don't make me drag you back by your hair, cupcake. It'll take me longer to visit Roxas that way. And I desperately want to see his cute, little face light up at the news after spending this excruciatingly long amount of time with you." He pressed his palm against his forehead and smoothed back his hair, an expression of weariness making his skin look all the more pallid and white. Sucking in a frustrated breath, she glowered at him through thick, black bangs. "And I really, really hate waiting," he remarked in a lower voice, green eyes glowing beneath his hand.
Closing her eyes in exhaustion, she nodded with resignation and tore her body away from the open air, walking closer and closer to Axel and her shackles. He stood a few steps back from the portal, arms crossed as he watched and waited for her to disappear into the swirling darkness, an impatient expression pursing his lips together.
With a final stare into the endless depths of oblivion, she caught her disappointed breath and walked straight into the cold. The world closed around her, and everything turned black.
-- - --
"Halloweentown. Was that your idea?"
Yawning from her spot on the couch, she blinked blurry eyes open to the common room, and she was surprised to see Number Thirteen's pensive, distrustful, even frustrated eyes boring into her own. Jumping slightly, she edged back on the cushions and pushed herself up, wincing when her arm gave a sickening throb. Roxas flicked his eyes from hers to her injury, and his lips twitched into a grimace.
"I want to see Christmas. I've heard that in Halloweentown—"
"And you were stupid enough to barter with Axel?" Roxas muttered in contempt, glaring at her with anger. She looked away from him sourly. "Go back and tell him you changed your mind."
"I haven't changed my mind."
"Look," he snapped at her in a clipped tone, and she glowered at him, her fingers curling on the cushions. "This isn't up for discussion. We're not going."
"You want to go, too," she remarked quietly, watching the way the color of his eyes shifted. There was so much expression in Number Thirteen's face – he was unique to their Organization. In no other member (except perhaps for Number Nine) could she see the way sadness and want and wistfulness glowed so vividly and brilliantly, before it dwindled into apathetic ashes. Even Axel kept his emotions masked. "You want to feel snow. You want to know what's so special about hanging lights and reindeer and the color red."
He turned his head away. "I hate the color red."
She stared at him. "You love the color red."
Roxas's hand twitched, and in frustration he sent his fingers through pale-gold locks of hair. "Go talk to Axel."
"You're the only one who can talk to Axel." She lifted up her burned arm, which she had ignored for the past day or two. She hadn't felt the need to find potions. She could feel this pain, coursing up her arms in sickening jabs whenever she moved. It would be a pity to make it a memory so soon. "Everyone else just complies."
"Well, thanks to you, he has this stupid idea in his head that he wants to see Christmas now, and that's just a waste of my time."
"He said you've been asking to see it," she corrected, following the way he jerked his head around, looking first to the far corner of the room and then to the doorway to his left, as if he expected Axel to come walking in. His fingers continued to grip fiercely at his hair, and he shielded his eyes from her. "It's the only reason why he'd let me go."
"You're just going to run away," Roxas remarked coldly, and hatred was in his voice as he stared fixedly at those sliding doors, waiting with his hands sunk into his pockets. She didn't think he hated her, though. She thought he perfectly understood her need to get out of these walls.
Maybe, if he could, he would run away, too.
"I won't," she promised. "I'll be good."
"It's far more trouble than it's worth. Forget about it."
"Do it anyway." Letting out a sigh, Roxas swung his eyes back to her, and she saw the longing burning there, saw the desire that laced and throbbed within those icy orbs. He wanted to go more than anything. "It's a bad idea."
She scowled at him, hands balling into fists on her lap. "I'll end up going anyway, whether you want me to or not! At least this way, I avoid a far more severe punishment than if I escaped again and forced Axel to drag me back. Then he'd really be angry," she remarked lowly, looking him square in the eyes. He shifted his face away, pursing his lips. "Then the burn on my wrist wouldn't be the worst of my problems. So if you think you're protecting me from Axel's anger, don't bother."
"She's right, Roxy."
She watched Number Thirteen stiffen immediately, the hands lost within his sleeves tightening into fists at his sides. His stare was frozen, harsh, fixed on her face with icy hatred as she sighed and flicked her eyes to the side, slumping down onto the couch cushions. Without want or need of introduction, Number Eight easily swaggered over, throwing his arm comfortably over the boy's small shoulders. The blond growled, struggling under this unwanted hold, but Axel didn't mind – he only took the opportunity to drag Roxas closer, leaning down and leering into the boy's frustrated face.
"I can be very mean when I don't get what I want," he whispered into Number Thirteen's ear, and the blond tried to twist out of his grasp, an expression of mingled emotions on his face. She traced disgust, discomfort, and something unidentifiable burning in his eyes, and she watched with interest as he raked his nails angrily over Axel's arm.
"You're such an idiot," he hissed back, turning his face to glower at the redhead's crooked smirk. "And I said no. I don't know how many times I have to say it before it gets through your thick, stupid skull, but we're not going."
"Blondie, a deal's a deal," he drawled, shrugging with a passive expression on his face. She cringed when Axel then shot her a sharp look. "And who am I to go back on my word?"
Roxas made a face. "You'd be Axel, the same stupid bastard who should really fucking let me go if he doesn't want a keyblade shoved through the middle of his stomach."
He tsked, a wider smile softening his lips as he wagged a finger in front of the blond. Going cross-eyed for a moment, Roxas bared his teeth and almost looked as though he wanted to bite Number Eight's finger off. "A promise is a promise, kiddo. I wouldn't want to have to punish poor Number Fourteen because her little truce with me fell through, would I?"
She watched the blond's expression twist into one of anger and remorse, and his eyes skidded over to hers. Their stares connected for a long moment, and she could tell that he was thinking hard about what he should do. There was no right answer, after all. Either way, she was going to be hurt for daring to make a deal with Number Eight. No one made deals with Number Eight. But, if Roxas were to agree to this ultimatum, maybe the Flurry of Dancing Flames would be somewhat happier. Maybe he would show the slightest amount of mercy when he exacted retribution for her daring to run away from the Organization.
She could hope for that. And so could Roxas.
"Do I really have a goddamn choice?" he muttered, turning away from Axel and glaring at a burn mark on the room's white tiles. She didn't know the history behind that particular scar. Maybe the redhead had been bored and decided to light up the room with a little color.
"Of course ya do," he teased, and Roxas twisted back to glare at him. "You can choose to say yes."
Rolling his eyes, the blond shrugged as well as he could under Axel's hold, and he dropped his stare to his boots. "Yeah. Fine. Whatever."
"Actually, Roxas," Axel breathed into the boy's ear, and she watched the blond shudder and press unconsciously into the warmth of the man's cloak. The bitter venom in Number Eight's eyes softened, and he playfully rubbed his nose against the soft skin of Roxas's jaw. "…the correct answer is 'I would love to go to Halloweentown with you, Axel.'"
The smallest smile twisted Roxas's lips upward, and he turned his head, glancing up into the redhead's grinning face. "You're stupid."
She was surprised to hear Number Eight hum pleasantly from the middle of his throat, and she watched him press his face affectionately into the blond's tousled locks of hair. With a short laugh, Roxas shoved the taller man away, belatedly rubbing his ear with the palm of his hand as he shook the feeling from his shoulders. It always confused her, witnessing their closeness and displays of affection. She hadn't thought that Roxas would be able to let any person into his withdrawn, personal sphere. Nor had she figured that Axel was capable of even the slightest inkling of fondness for another person. Yet here they stood, joking with each other, finding happiness in one another.
It baffled her.
"And fine," Roxas muttered, collecting himself finally, absently trailing his fingers along his jaw as he moved his eyes from Axel's to hers. Picking idly at the bandage on her wrist, she peered at him through his thick, black locks, patiently awaiting his agreement, with interest watching the way his joy ebbed out of his face and was replaced by indifference. "We'll go."
"Now?" she pressed, hoping that she didn't sound too excited. Axel snorted in disdain, threading his fingers through his flaming mane in a careless gesture, and she knew that she hadn't succeeded.
She straightened as he turned from her, dropping his arm and rolling his shoulders with a sigh. Axel observed him with amusement, his cat-like eyes mercilessly enjoying the stricken expression on her face. "When?!" she shouted after him, pivoting herself on the edge of the couch cushions, her fingers sinking into the soft material with suppressed fury. She watched as Roxas crossed the threshold, his robes swirling around his ankles, and then disappeared around the corner without so much as a goodbye.
Axel smirked at her, his eyes brimming with malice and satisfaction as he tapped his temple in farewell. "I like this development much better," he remarked wickedly, and she scowled at him. "Guess I should be thanking you, Fourteen. You really know how to make things interesting."
Cackling, Number Eight strolled out of the room, throwing an arm into the air as an absent wave. With a scream, she hurled a pillow at his departure, and then she collapsed onto the couch, slamming her fist onto the worn, torn cushions in rage.
-- - --
She started following Number Thirteen. She figured she'd get an answer more quickly that way.
Roxas didn't seem to mind. Striding casually through the castle's winding hallways, he kept his hood up and his intentions hidden as he avoided the stares of curiosity from whatever Organization members they passed, never acting as though anything about his day was different. It was as if she had always been following him, her footsteps loud and abrasive behind the quiet tap, tap, tap of his boots. The silence between them remained unbroken, and she hovered behind him like a shadow, tailing him to the library, to the common room, even to his personal dorm.
The only time she swerved away and lingered behind was when he stopped by room number eight, a place she passionately avoided. She merely watched from afar as he drummed his knuckles three times against the door, waiting quietly outside until the door inched open. Then, upon sparing a few quiet words to his comrade, he disappeared into the room's abysmal depths, and she walked away.
In fact, Roxas seemed somewhat amused by her antics. She sometimes caught him turning his head to look at her, waiting for her to thoughtlessly burst out and demand that they go to Halloweentown right away. She never did.
Today they were headed toward the library. She didn't get the appeal of all those books, all those stories about unreal people and their unreal emotions, all those facts that didn't apply to their lifestyle. It frustrated her to pick up a book by one of its covers and watch the pages fan uselessly into the air, taunting her with meaningless secrets. She felt as though she was missing something important, as though someone wasn't telling her some fascinating secret. Whereas Roxas had such an expression of serenity on his face whenever he scanned those layers and layers of text.
She exhaled aloud in aggravation, and Number Thirteen subtly turned his head.
"Trying to steal my keyblade again, Fourteen?"
She lifted her chin when Roxas broke the silence, his face covered again by his hood, all emotion on his face masked by its dark shadows. She ran his words through her head for a moment, and then she scowled, clenching her fists in front of her as she turned her face to the side. "No. I'm just waiting for an answer."
He shrugged. "Then you can wait a little longer."
"This is stupid," she muttered darkly, crossing her arms, sulking in the silence as the distance between them and the library slowly narrowed. "Why won't you just tell me?"
"Because waiting's the best part."
His response was simple, casual, and wholly unsatisfying.
"Maybe to you," she grumbled, dragging her boots over the floor as the library's impressive doors loomed into view. She didn't doubt that he heard her, but instead of providing a response he strode straight on through that entryway. She quickened her step and followed him into the room.
Her eyes glanced with disinterest off the many shelves as Roxas pulled down his hood and walked straight, down a narrow, shadowed row that ended at his favorite chair. She watched as he knelt down, seeking a book in the stack that he always hid on the floor underneath the seat cushion. She wasn't exactly sure why he did it. Maybe he was afraid Axel would steal into his room and burn them, or that someone would take one that he liked from a shelf. Whatever the reason, it seemed pointless to her – not many people bothered with this library in the first place.
When Roxas straightened again, he flopped comfortably down onto his chair without a word, a large, colorful book in his hands. The pages were aged and stained. The cover hung by mere threads to the binding. It was old and trivial, and she didn't know why Superior had bothered to collect it. It looked like a children's book – certainly not something that would aid him in his research about the human heart.
"What is that?" Blatantly she pointed at the tome, her eyes skeptical as he leafed through the pages. The book looked heavy in his lap, but Roxas handled it with age, his fingers rapidly flipping through the story to his desired section.
When he stopped, he twisted the book around, so that from her standing position she could bend down and easily read the caption. Her eyebrow quirked as atop it, in fancy script, the word Christmas jumped out at her.
"This is a history of every holiday and celebration of mankind – pagan rituals, religious tradition, dances, sacrifices, parades…" He shrugged, tapping his finger at the picture of a man in a red suit, sitting in a sleigh laden with gifts and drawn by reindeer. "I guess it's a good study of human nature." His expression was skeptical, and she nodded in agreement that the idea was far-fetched. "Anyway, it says something about a chosen one." Her eyes widened, but his expression didn't change. He merely bowed his head, hiding his face from her piercing gaze, ignoring her heightened curiosity. He didn't like being identified as the Organization's Chosen One. He didn't like being special. "They celebrate his birth on December twenty-fifth. That was also celebrated as Saturnalia, a day where gifts were exchanged and general merrymaking was made." Snapping the book shut despite the fact that she was still reading, he shrugged and stared straight into her eyes. "We'll go on the eve of that day."
"What's so great about going the day before?" she asked curiously.
"The picture I showed you. The man in red. He's some kind of saint of good cheer, I guess. Another branch of this holiday believes that he's the one who brings gifts to those who deserve them." Roxas's eyes sparkled slightly with excitement. She even saw the barest traces of a smile on his face. "Once a year, it's believed that he rides a magical sleigh around the worlds – he does that on Christmas Eve. December twenty-fourth."
"He sure doesn't come here…" she muttered flatly.
"But he will go to Halloweentown. They like to go all out in their celebration."
She gave him a funny look as he drummed his fingertips rapidly over the book's cover. "You really researched this in depth, didn't you?"
Rolling his eyes, he stood up and tucked the book under his arm as though he was going to take it with him. Upon further contemplation, he shook his head and turned around, kneeling to gently push the book deep into the shadows under his chair, where hopefully no one would steal it.
"Our world isn't the only one that's important. I like knowing what's out there."
"You should get out more."
"And that works so well for you?"
Without looking up Roxas walked past her, his shoulder bumping against hers as he drew his hood over his face. She lingered behind as he strode toward the doors, not waiting for her to follow, not expecting her to run after him. When the large barrier yawned wide and then swung shut, leaving her alone, she hastily knelt down and dragged his holiday history book forward, curling her fingers around it gingerly as she peered into its faded, nondescript cover.
Their trip was a week away. She figured this would entertain her for that long.
-- - --
"You need to learn to keep your hands off my stuff."
She rolled her eyes at him as he sat down on the couch, forcing her to pull her feet closer to her body. In her arms she cradled the book that he'd been so enthralled by. In the whole time that she'd had it, picking it apart with her eyes section by section, she hadn't been able to become absorbed in it.
"You can have it back," she remarked with a shrug, slamming it shut and holding it out to him. "It's boring anyway."
He snatched it from her with an irritated expression, running his palm protectively over the binding. She sighed and crossed her arms as he leaned back against the couch, lifting the cover and revealing the pages underneath. His fingertips found the table of contents, soon after finding his page of preference.
With a sigh she tipped her head back, short, black hair trickling down around her ears as he began to read. "Can we go yet?"
"That's up to Axel."
"Well, where is he?"
"You think I know?"
"You are pretty much his slave."
She yelped when Roxas swiftly grabbed one of her legs and shoved her off the couch. Her elbow struck the floor before she rolled onto her back, and when she twisted up into a sitting position she shot him a furious glare. He didn't return her gaze, but she could see the way his mouth twitched into a smile before it mellowed back into a solid line.
Scowling and rubbing her elbow, she grumbled, "Can't you just go get him?"
"No. I can't."
"It's not like it's that hard for you. You're ridiculously attached to him."
He pointed at his page. "I'm reading."
"Who cares? It's a stupid book anyway."
Slamming the book tightly shut, he swung his burning eyes to meet her expectant glare. "Look. It's not like I can control Axel. He'll come when he fucking decides to come. Now shut up, sit quietly, and just wait, would you? Jesus, you're so fucking annoying…"
She kicked him in the shin as he attempted to pry his book open again, and with gritted teeth he threw the book aside, glowering at her. Keeping her hands plastered against the floor, she shrugged, feigning innocence, and in annoyance he reached over and threw a pillow at her face. She ducked too late, and it hit its mark, mussing her hair and causing her to sputter indignantly as she shook her head from side to side and grumbled in irritation.
Settling back on the couch, Roxas crossed his arms and glanced toward the door, anticipation soon settling onto his shoulders. "I don't know what your rush is, anyway."
She rolled her eyes at his hypocrisy. He clearly wanted to leave as badly as she did. That was why he was even sitting there with her in this lonely common room, bouncing his leg, staring perpetually at the doorway that had yet to reveal the infamous redhead.
"I don't want to miss it."
"You won't miss it."
He sighed and swung his gaze to look at her. "Axel won't let me miss it. Does that make you feel better?"
She tilted her head at him, raking her eyes across his face, before she finally allowed herself a slight smile. "Yes it does."
Shaking his head, he sighed heavily and fell against the couch, tipping his eyes back to stare pensively toward the ceiling. She watched the light glint off the golden sheen of his hair while it slid out of his eyes and brushed against his ears, and in the silence she scooted into a cross-legged position, cradling her chin in her palm as she yawned and waited for something interesting to happen.
The minutes ticked by, and with aggravation she fell back onto the tiles, loosing a sigh from her lips. She stretched her arms wide and twitched her finger, chewing absently on her lip while she shifted her legs and painstakingly waited out the passing seconds. More than anything, she wanted to get away from these white walls.
"Can we go yet?"
Rolling her eyes, she hoisted herself up on her elbows. "Can't you, like…do what you always do and convince him to hurry up? I'm sure you have your ways."
Roxas twisted his head down and glowered at her. "What the hell are you implying?" His cheeks were tinged pink.
"That you're his bitch," she remarked flatly. As he sputtered, she let her head tilt to the side. "Or maybe he's your bitch, if he's doing what you wa—"
"No one is anybody's bitch!"
"So you say…" she remarked airily, her eyes lighting up at the way his hands clenched and his face heated up. This time she was wise enough to duck when he whipped a pillow at her, but it still managed to scrape against her shoulder – his aim and reflexes were impeccable.
"Maybe I'll just have him leave you behind," he growled, rubbing fiercely at his cheeks as he tucked his feet close to his body in a cross-legged position. She sighed and fell back onto the floor again, rolling her eyes at his defensiveness. She didn't know why it should bother him so much. So they were really close. She'd like to have that, too.
A quiet whir and rush of sound shattered the silence between them, and she perked up to see Axel stepping out of a darkness portal that had been conjured into existence behind the couch. She watched as Roxas belatedly lifted his head, but Axel had already leaned down over the couch and smirked into his ear, one gloved hand tenderly cupping his chin.
"Ready to go?" she heard him whisper before the blond could shove him away, his lips pressing softly against the boy's skin. Roxas grunted and shook his head, batting the man gently in the face with his fingertips as he crawled off the couch and stretched his arms over his head. She shook her head at his superficial apathy, scrambling up from the floor with eagerness and brushing remnants of dust and dirt from her cloak. Axel didn't bother to look at her. He simply pointed at the portal and remarked, "You first," his eyes fixed to Roxas's face.
She wasn't about to argue. Pulling her hood over her dark hair, she strode around the couch, listening to the way Number Thirteen's even step tapped over the tiles behind her. Before she plunged into the cool portal of darkness, she heard the rustle of Axel's cloak as he threw his arm around his companion.
"Just to clarify," she heard him murmur as she threaded her fingers in anticipation through the darkness, "if anything, Blondie, you're my bitch."
She smirked with satisfaction as the last thing she heard was Roxas angrily striking the flame-wielding Nobody with his keyblade.
-- - --
Her smile was wide and boundless as she skipped into Halloweentown, her fingers stretched out above her head and twitching in the open air. Behind her, Roxas moodily maintained his position midway between herself and Axel, keeping himself as far away from Number Eight's reach as he dared without losing sight of her.
Regardless of his companion's rage, the redhead still seemed rather pleased with himself. Every so often he grabbed hold of Roxas's hood and yanked the blond into his arms, wrapping tight arms around the boy's waist and nipping at his chin and neck. She would always have to stop and wait then, her patience waning as the blond thrashed in Axel's playful hold, cringing as the man nuzzled his face into the blond's ear. Of course, it really wasn't too long before the blond finally stomped on Axel's foot, struck him across the head with the keyblade, or elbowed him in the gut, successfully wrenching out of the redhead's hold. Number Thirteen would then wind his fingers furiously through his hair and snap at her to keep moving, a weary and frustrated expression on his face.
Because of Axel's sudden and surprising holiday cheer, progression through Halloweentown was slow. She supposed that was better, though. This way she was able to take in the sights, the way the creaking and rundown houses were strung with lights of bottled fireflies, how bloody elves and bony reindeer decorated front yards. The terrifying and at times grotesque faces didn't even bother her. She almost laughed at the witches cackling above, and whenever she jumped at something that popped out of the earth she had to cover her mouth to muffle a giggle.
In the center of town, a large skeleton dressed in red, his hat flopping in the wind and a fake beard hanging from his ears, was excitedly walking every which way, encouraging the ghosts and ghouls to pack burlap sacks full of decapitated dolls and monstrous jacks-in-the-box. She stopped, cocking her head to the side at the procession, and Roxas came to a halt next to her, his arms crossing as he flicked his stare to a man with two faces clapping his hands and hastening quickly beside the undead Santa Claus.
"They certainly know how to get into the spirit," she muttered to him, and the boy shrugged, his eyes soon falling on a cemetery several yards away from where they stood. She followed his gaze, noticing a faint red glow in the mist, blinking in and out of sight as the clouds rolled into town. "He doesn't seem like a jolly saint to me, though."
Waving her off, Roxas started walking without a word, and she stayed put as Axel took his place and watched him go. Frowning, she tilted her head up and took in the stoic expression on the older man's face, wondering what had happened to that playful mood that had existed mere moments before.
"What's eating him? Is he disappointed or something?"
"Probably." Looking down at her, Axel narrowed his eyes. "But that's none of your business, is it?"
Self-consciously she rubbed her wrist. "Well, you might wanna go fix that," she remarked, tilting her chin toward where Roxas stood gazing into the cemetery, his white-knuckled grip clenching the bars of the gated entrance. As the two watched, Roxas gritted his teeth and kicked the door open, shoving his hood over his eyes before storming off into the unguarded grounds.
With a sigh, Axel threaded his fingers through his hair. "Shit." Glancing down distractedly, he seized her arm with his left hand and tugged her forward. "You're coming with me," he muttered as he started to walk, and crossly she glowered at him as he proceeded to drag her.
Twisting around as he pulled her across the grounds, she tried to catch sight of the preparations that continued even while the three of them imposed on the little town. She sighed harshly as he dragged her into the cemetery, and stubbornly she jerked her arm away from him, moving to sit on a disrupted tombstone with her legs crossed. He watched her for a moment before shrugging and leaving her on her own.
Roxas was his priority, after all.
She dug the toe of her grounded boot into the earth as she watched them, her chin settled comfortably into her palms. Roxas stood not so far away, his body turned from Axel, his eyes downcast as he shrugged the redhead's hand from his shoulder. Bouncing her elevated foot idly, she waited for the boy to speak, her fingertips drumming every so often against her cheekbones. The mist rolled in all around them, and again, in the distance, she caught a glow of red.
The blond Organization member let his head roll with exasperation on his shoulders as Axel silently prodded the boy's side with one finger. Roxas twisted away in irritation, his body jerking with spasms when he was tickled against his will, until finally he spun around and shoved Axel a few feet away, crossing his arms afterward and pursing his lips together.
"I'm fine." His voice sounded soft, warped by distance and the thickness of the fog, but she could still hear it well enough.
"You're pissed and you know it." Poking him in the forehead, Axel leaned close and leered at the boy's stubborn expression of anger. "You're like a little kid, Roxy. This isn't your idea of Christmas at all."
"I'm fine with this," he muttered angrily.
"No you're not. You're not fine at all." Axel was inexplicably pleased with Roxas's unhappiness, which confused her. She couldn't begin to understand the depths of Number Eight's sadism. "But I can make you happy."
"Don't be a creep," Roxas remarked, though the edge to his voice was fading as he lifted his hand and pressed it against Axel's face, shoving him back several inches. Seconds later he withdrew his arm, wearing expression of revulsion as he shook his hand by his side and then wiped his palm on his cloak. Glancing down, Roxas asked incredulously, "What the fuck did you just do? Lick me?"
"Call it foreplay," the redhead cooed, and Roxas choked on a laugh as the man nipped at his ear. Lifting his arms defensively, the blond again pushed at Axel's chest, though his fingers eventually curled into the material and he didn't fight so hard to push away. "We can still have a very merry Christmas, Blondie – even if your stupid Santa Claus doesn't exist."
She sighed and closely hugged her sides as the chill in Halloweentown picked up, folding her legs comfortably beneath her. She shivered, rubbing her arms as hairs rose up along her the skin and at the back of her neck. The mist swelled thicker, nearly swallowing Roxas's vibrant eyes and Axel's red hair, and the moon above veered into view and throbbed against the midnight black sky, full and blinding above the celebrations.
"It's not stupid," Roxas insisted, but he failed to sound anything but childish as he scowled slightly and lowered his eyes. Axel scoffed and stifled his laughter, his smirk crooked on his face when the blond glanced back up to glare at him. "Oh, shut up! Sorry I actually wanted to believe in something that can't very well be explained, Axel! Maybe I wanted it to be real, huh? Maybe I wanted something in our stupid, unnecessary lives to be real!"
Number Thirteen's anger sobered Axel up quickly, and even she felt guilt and longing throb within her hollow chest. Absently she reached into her pocket and withdrew the handkerchief she hadn't had a chance to return, massaging the worn material within her palm. She understood the desire to be real, too.
Pressing the material against her cheek, she closed her eyes and breathed in the misty rain that had started to fall. She thought it was supposed to snow on Christmas Eve.
"Okay," Axel said quietly, and her eyes snapped open again. Through lidded lashes, she watched the redhead cup Roxas's face between his hands and lean down, pressing warm lips onto the boy's forehead. Cringing, Number Thirteen flicked his gaze to his feet. "We'll have a fucking great Christmas, I mean it." Trailing his lips along the blond's trembling chin, he moved his hand to smooth blond locks out of Roxas's face, his other arm wrapping around the boy's lithe middle. "With whatever the fuck you want. Christmas lights, presents, fucking reindeer…I'll get them for you." Tenderly, Axel coaxed Roxas's pursed lips with his own, making the boy's tautened muscles loosen slowly by running fingers up and down the blond's back. When he pulled back, the redhead cocked his head just so, peering into his companion's face with a softness that he so rarely showed. "Okay?"
"You're stupid…" Roxas's voice was almost a whisper, and tentatively he stood up on his toes, wrapping an arm around Axel's head and fisting locks of red hair as he then fiercely pressed his lips against the older male's. Number Eight was clearly pleased, his laughter bubbling into the silence, his mouth smacking hungrily against Number Thirteen's while she sat on her own, forced to watch the display with a mixture of disgust and envy.
Dropping her gaze to her legs, she fiddled with the cloth in her grasp, tugging at it absently and tracing the simple border of seashells that ran around all four corners with her eyes. She liked this handkerchief. Maybe she would keep it. She hadn't seen its owner in a while anyway – it could be that he didn't even miss it.
When she looked up again, Axel and Roxas had disappeared, leaving her to the tombstones, mist, and moonlight of a rainy Christmas Eve. Pursing her lips and cursing their nonexistence, she hopped off the fallen grave marker that had served as her seat and stretched her arms over her head. When she shook her head, she felt the dampness of the rain brush against her ears, and she shivered again. The temperature certainly seemed to be dropping fast.
She glanced up after she drew her cloak closer, and this time she saw the flickering red light looming several feet away. It floated far off the ground, but she couldn't tell what it was through the mist. Squinting, she thought of Rudolph, the famed lead reindeer of the fairy tale Roxas loved so much. She clenched the cloth tightly within her hand and with a finger brushed black bangs out of her eyes, using her crooked arm to shield her eyes from the brightness of the moon and to stare more effectively toward the light. Closer and closer the red light crept, until suddenly a ghostly figure zoomed out of the fog, straight toward her. Stumbling back, she tripped against the tombstone and lost her balance, falling uncomfortably hard against the stone marker. She winced and muttered a soft "ow," rubbing the small of her back in discomfort.
A sharp bark startled her, and as she jumped she jerked her chin back up. Blinking several times, she soon found herself staring face to face at a ghoulish canine, its tongue lolling, its tail wagging, and its pumpkin nose blinking cheerfully in the mist.
Seconds passed, and then a smile broke out onto her face.
"Hi, there," she said softly, cocking her head to the side. The deceased dog barked again, circling around her, its tail nearly stirring the wind from the force of its waving. She giggled and turned her head to watch it zoom – the animal's shape was more of a white blur than anything as it flew its roundabout flight. "What's your name?"
At the sound of her voice, the dog eased to a stop in front of her and cocked its head curiously, beady eyes boring into her own. Flicking her stare downward, she caught sight of a red collar on its neck. Vaguely caught sight of letters if she tilted her head, and when she squinted and leaned closer she could more clearly read Z-E-R-O scratched into the material.
Looking up, she curiously asked, "Zero?" Happily Zero barked, and she smiled softly, holding out her hand. "Zero. It's nice meet you. I'm Number Fourteen." The dog blinked, tilting its head to its side, the wave of its tail slowing. "Uh…that's because…well, no one calls me Xion…" Zero barked again, its tail wagging more viciously, and she laughed. She hadn't laughed in a while. "You like that?"
Again, the ghostly canine barked, flying closer to chew absently on her hand. She giggled, feeling nothing but wisps of wind against her skin, and she continued to rub the handkerchief between the fingers of her left hand, lowering her eyes to the cloth and smoothing her thumb over the white material. Her eyes softened as she took in its cheerful design, and she recalled its stoic owner, his silver hair, the pale skin. She remembered how he'd stood so tall in front of her, watching through his blindfold as she knelt on the ground, bleeding from a heartless wound, gritting her teeth as she expected him to do worse. As the rain began to fall, pattering against the concrete, he'd thrown a handkerchief in front of her, and he'd waited for her to take it.
That was the first time that she'd met Riku. He'd helped her tie the cloth around her arm, his gentle, callused fingers making sure that he didn't make her cringe too much from the pain. She'd watched him the whole time, her breath clouding in front of her face, her eyes darting now and again to Roxas's stolen keyblade sitting mere feet away. But he didn't cause her any harm. In fact, after he'd treated her wound, he'd walked away.
She saw him after that, several times. She kept washing his blood-covered handkerchief and returning it, but he always ended up giving it back, because she had hurt herself, because Axel had injured her. He didn't say much, but she liked that about him. He didn't tell her what to do.
He kept his disapproval locked within his eyes, wrapped up tight behind that blindfold that he always insisted on wearing.
Sighing, she lifted the handkerchief to her lips, flicking her eyes toward the hovering Zero, whose tongue was lolling again, its tail waving to and fro as it waited for her to speak. The cloth smelled salty, like what she imagined the sea smelled like, what Riku always smelled like, and she smiled. "Are you looking for your heart, too?" she asked softly, her palm crushing the material deep within her grasp.
Zero barked, and she was surprised when the dog flew away from her, swiftly reaching the open entrance of the cemetery. There it stalled, chasing its tail, playful growls sounding through the fog as curiously she rose to her feet. She winced as her body throbbed slightly, exhaling forcefully through her teeth.
Zero was staring at her in anticipation when she finally looked up, its head cocked as it waited for her to follow. Smoothing her hair out of her face, she picked her way over brambles and dislodged pebbles to where the ghost dog lingered, and she sighed in amusement when Zero zoomed ahead before she had the chance to catch up. Always the canine glanced toward her over its shoulder, barking sharply and breaking quiet of night with its excitement, and she followed its erratic path into town.
Again she took in the wicked and haunting inhabitants of Halloweentown, running straight into the excited throng. Almost immediately, she lost sight of the eager ghost as the crowd thickened before her eyes. Ghoulish figures hurried across the grounds and hauled their presents toward the sleigh, which the undead Santa Claus now sat atop, the reins gripped within his skeletal hands.
She jumped when a sharp yip broke through the mass of people, and if she pushed up on her toes she could see Zero circling the bony man. With a grand laugh the skeleton turned and extended his arm, his fingers curling in greeting as affectionately he welcomed his companion. "Ah! Zero! Just the friend whom I was looking for! You will guide my sleigh!"
A cheer rose up among all the townspeople, and she took several steps backward, rubbing her neck as she bumped into one of the heavily decorated huts. Her boot brushed against what looked like a gnome, and she shrieked in surprise when the figure squawked at her and shook a fist, waddling away and balancing a bag atop its head. Pressing clammy hands against her cheeks, she shook her head and exhaled a shuddering breath, watching the air puff up and cloud in front of her face.
"Tonight, we bring joy to all the boys and girls!"
Raucous cries broke through the night as heartily the skeleton laughed, and she shuddered at the grinding clamor of their celebration. She hadn't imagined that Christmas could seem so sinister, yet here and now it did.
She felt cold as the wind whipped down from the sky, and she drew her cloak close. Puffing out her cheeks, she stamped her feet onto the ground, her teeth chattering together as the frozen gust swept the hair against her neck. Quietly she stood at the edge of all the commotion, watching ghost upon ghoul upon witch pile that skinny sled with bags and gifts and toys.
"So this is what I got so excited for," she muttered, closing her eyes against the bitter breeze that suddenly gusted down from the heavens, billowing through the skeletal Santa's beard and raking her hair over her eyes. Spitting the black strands out of her mouth, she stubbornly sank her teeth into her lower lip and chewed on the chapped skin. She rubbed her arms fiercely, hoping to pump blood back into her frozen veins. "Doesn't seem that special."
"You're just cynical."
With a shriek she jumped and whirled around, nearly smacking the black-robed figure that had surprised her. On first instinct, she thought of Axel and took a wary step back, keeping her eyes furiously pinned to the ground as she crossed her arms in self-defense. She didn't want him to grab her arm. She didn't want to be dragged back. She liked it here, as eerie as this place was, and she didn't want to leave.
He didn't hiss at her, though. He didn't call forth any flames. He did nothing characteristically Axel, and her curiosity soon got the better of her. Dragging her gaze from the ground, she glanced up with hesitance in her eyes, and soon she found herself staring into Riku's blindfolded face.
"Christmas really isn't that bad, you know," he carried on despite her shock, absently gesturing toward the procession at her back. "They're just doing it wrong. As to be expected." Shrugging, he tipped his head backward, his veiled eyes studying the moon.
She watched him with a guarded expression. "I suppose you can do it better."
"Of course I can."
She frowned. "How?"
"It's really not that hard." She watched a smooth smile tilt his lips upward, and then he lowered his chin. His covered eyes took in every aspect of her face, and immediately she flicked her eyes away from him, peering toward the cemetery. There the mist still rolled, and there Axel and Roxas were still nowhere to be found. "It'd be nice if they had a tree, first off."
Her face scrunched up, and he snorted slightly as she shot him a befuddled look. "Why a tree?"
"To hang ornaments."
He shrugged simply. "Yeah. And that's where you put your presents, too."
She crossed her arms and stared at him in disbelief. "That's the stupidest thing ever." His lips quirked again, and she could hear him choking on his laughter as she glared at him harder. "It is! Who came up with that idea?"
"Well, it's a stupid tradition."
"You like Christmas…and yet you hate everything about it…" he drawled casually, unable to smother his smile any longer. She pouted stubbornly and kept her arms crossed, lifting her chin in defiance as he ran fingers easily through silver locks. "You'll have to explain, obviously."
"I don't know," she retorted sourly. "I like snow, I guess. And getting gifts for no reason. Isn't that why you like it?"
He shook his head, laughing softly. "No. Not quite."
Rolling her eyes, she fiddled with the handkerchief in her hands, pulling savagely at the cloth as behind her bells jingled and laughter sounded. Her fingers twisted into the wrinkled material, and then she jerked her chin up again, scowling at the boy who was watching her curiously. "Why do you like it?"
His expression softened, and he buried his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders casually. "It reminds me of home."
"Home." She toyed with the word balanced on the tip of her tongue, rolling its sound around in her mouth, feeling the hollowness spread through her chest as she kept her eyes on his face. "Destiny Islands is your home," she cautioned, watching him start, watching the ease in his shoulders harden. "You haven't been home for a while."
"No." His teeth were bared when he responded, and he sounded as though he was growling at her. "I haven't."
"Like me." Fiddling with the handkerchief in her hands, she nodded to herself. "I've never been home. What's it like?" Tilting her head, she blinked as black bangs slid into her eyes. "What's your Christmas like?"
"Warm." Riku's voice was soft, sad, and she lifted her chin a fraction to watch him through her thick locks of hair. He had tipped his head back again, and he was speaking to the moon. "We don't get snow on the Islands."
"Is it fun anyway?"
She watched that smile spill again across his lips. "It is. The three of us…we'd always exchange gifts under a palm tree. It was stupid. We were stupid. But we laughed a lot back then."
She frowned, unnerved to hear him sound so miserable even when happiness seemed to touch his face. Bowing her head, she searched through the pockets of her cloak, turning over pebbles, pieces of thread, and marbles that she had found within the castle or else in other worlds. None seemed adequate, though. Sighing, she stared back at him for a long moment, and then with determination she thrust out her arm, holding out the cloth that she had so loyally guarded. Surprised by her movements, he looked back down, and she watched his hairline rise as he regarded her with skepticism.
She shook her hand excessively. "Your present."
His melancholy began to fade as a genuine smile curled his lips. "You're giving me back something I already own as a present?"
"It's Christmas," she insisted, shaking her hand. "That's what you do on Christmas. Give presents. Right?"
He laughed, and his voice sounded soft. "Yeah. Right."
Tentatively he reached out, his fingertips brushing against hers as he cradled her hand for a moment. She studied his face for any expression at all, but seriousness had momentarily overwhelmed his amusement, so the two simply stood that way, watching each other, gauging the other's reaction. Behind her, the bells jingled a final time, and cheers rose up as Riku gingerly slipped the cloth from her palm.
She didn't look back at him. Instead, she turned around, watching the skeletal Santa snap the reins and urge his undead reindeer into the air. Craning her neck backward, she watched the ghoulish sight ascend into the sky, the bony legs that guided the sleigh swimming through the air, kicking toward the clouds.
"I guess that's the best we can hope for, as Nobodies," she murmured absently, turning her head to stare at Riku from over her shoulder. "A heartless Santa Claus. Maybe we can only appreciate Christmas if it's dead."
"Maybe," he assented in soft reply, knitting his brow at the material that he'd wrapped around his fingers. His thumb ran gingerly over the fabric as though he was testing it, as though it somehow felt different to him.
While she watched, a cold gust of wind ripped across the grounds, carrying with it solid moisture that landed on her face. Shivering, she clenched her hands twice and then reached up with her fingers to wipe the wetness from her face, scowling up into the night. However, her anger was soon displaced by curiosity as large, white flakes began to swirl down from the stars.
"I think something's happening to the moon," she whispered quietly, pointing toward the whirlwinds of white that swelled above and then began to fall toward the ground and blinking whenever the hardened moisture melted against her cheek. At her side, Riku chuckled softly, and she turned her head to watch him hold out his hand as well, his handkerchief still clenched within his left palm.
"You said you wanted snow, didn't you?" he asked gently, turning her way with a grin, his silver hair flashing as it fell into his face. She blinked in surprise and then looked back toward the sky, studying the flakes that began to fall with increasing speed. She flinched when one melted on her lips, and she tasted water on her tongue.
"It's just water," she murmured in confusion. "Magic water?" She turned to him for answers, and she saw that he was grinning at her, an incredulous expression on his face. "What?"
"You need to get out more."
She stared at him dryly. "You really have all the answers, don't you?"
Smirking, Riku reached toward her and tugged a thick strand of her hair. Frowning angrily, she batted his hand away, and he ducked, side-stepping her assault with ease before swiftly swooping in and prodding her ticklish sides. She shrieked, whipped around, and slapped him against the arm, which attracted several gazes from the ghouls of Halloweentown; but she wasn't bothered, and neither was he. He enjoyed tugging her hair and poking her cheek, and she was inclined to let him, feeling the smallest urge to smile pull at the line of her lips.
"Stop. It." Smacking him twice across the shoulder, she grimaced at him and ducked her head down while he laughed and ruffled her hair. "Axel and Roxas are here somewhere," she reminded him. "I could have them attack you."
His lip twitched. "I'm really scared."
"Good." Crossing her arms, she turned her head away from him, trailing her eyes back to the sky. A light coating of snow already covered some rooftops. "You should be."
He again reached out and ruffled her hair, a smile warming his lips. Sighing, she rolled her eyes and shook her head, feeling her damp hair brush against her shoulders and the wind blow against her skin. The sky shook with its backdrop of snow and stars, and she felt what must have been peace as around her gruesome figures shuffled back to their homes.
A faint jingling filled her ears, and with a sharp jerk of her head she looked straight up, watching the glowing moon. Riku followed her gaze, and together they watched a shadowed figure scrape against the celestial body, a faint, red glow leading the flight. Smiling, she lifted her hand and started to wave, even if they couldn't see her.
Snowflakes brushed against her fingertips.
"Merry Christmas, Xion," Riku murmured softly, and with a start she halted her wave, shooting a startled stare over to him. He wasn't looking at her. His attention was focused on the cloth within his hands, his fingers smoothing over the material, his expression soft and calm as snow lightly dusted over his silver hair. He looked really beautiful, she decided, basking beneath the light of the moon. Really, truly beautiful.
"Merry Christmas, Riku," she retured with equal softness, reaching out and tugging gently at his sleeve. He looked over to her immediately, and, though his eyes were overshadowed, she could almost see them smiling.
She hoped Axel didn't come to drag her back for a while.
She felt like she wanted to stay like this forever.
-- - --
That's it. Hope you liked it. Please review.