Notes on Water's Edge
I know I haven't done anything about this story for a while, and I did promise to some reviewers to explain certain things (like where the hell the ending went), so forgive me for the long delay! I made a list of things I want to clarify or talk more about, so I hope it answers any questions and satisfies in a way the ending didn't =x
Here's my list, and I'll try not to go on and on and be boring, but you know how it is when you've been holding something in your mind for ages and want to talk about it...
OK, the title. Water's Edge is the title of a song by a band called Seven Mary Three. I don't know how well-known they are, or many of their other songs ('Cumbersome' is good as well, it's worth a listen), but Water's Edge spoke to me on many levels. I literally nearly cried on my first listen to the song :( It's about a murder, with the corpse of a woman being thrown into the river. The singer has witnessed the murder, but is too scared of the killers (and what they might do to him) to speak out. Not remotely close to the plot of this fic, I know! :D But the idea had been fermenting in my mind for a long time and with the song, I finally found a way to express it. The title works for me (and hopefully for you :p) on literal and symbolic levels.
First, the literal meaning of the title is pretty obvious. The story ends at a literal water's edge, the edge of the lake on the plain (let's face it, how plausible is that geography XD), with Roxas hiding and hoping they won't find him. I came up with the title first, to be honest. The lake (and the ending) came later.
On another level, every character in that scene is at a metaphorical water's edge. Roxas is wondering whether to make one last break for it and jump into the water (preferable to being caught by the guards), but at the same time he's searching Axel's face for any trace of the person he once knew. The fact that he sees (or thinks he sees) regret may just be his imagination – it still shows his desire to go back to how they once were. However, it's coupled with the fear he now has of Axel.
Axel, quite obviously, has to decide which part of his personality is now the strongest – what's left of his original character or what he's turned into. He has a choice: to let Roxas go or to turn him in. That's the water's edge for him.
Plenty of other characters go through this 'water's edge' in the fic, but I'll talk more about it with each character.
Now for characters!
I meant Roxas to be the one who's holds out longest against the transformations they're all going through. He simply doesn't understand the change in the guards but he fights against it (like when he defies Riku). It's sad but there's simply no way for him to change things, and he degenerates into this bundle of survival instincts. His one lifeline is the memory of how things were (and how Axel was), and it's this conviction that things have gone badly wrong that makes him try and run. The fear soon takes over though, and by the end of the story Roxas has completely lost his sense of self.
Axel is the average person thrown into this situation, and he reacts how I think the average person would react in his position of power (just as Roxas is his counterpart in the prisoners). I know I wouldn't have the strength or the moral compass to act like, say, Demyx. Axel doesn't, either.. He is swept up in the majority and the sentiment that might makes right. His first 'water's edge' is when he could have chosen to defend Roxas against Riku, Saix and Xigbar. He doesn't exactly join in, but he chooses inaction. It's up to you to decide whether he's past the point of no return at the end.
Zexion is a coward. He hides behind his rationalisations and refuses to accept the true state of affairs – and he ends up getting the one he cares about hurt. His 'water's edge' is when he confronts Xemnas after Demyx is hurt, and even though he acts for the best morally, he too is succumbing to violence when he attacks Xemnas.
Demyx is the intrinsically good one (3). His motivation throughout the fic is consistently to help others; he chooses to join the experiment to help Zexion and he helps Sora selflessly, leading to him getting hurt. He's unchanged by what they go through, he doesn't degenerate like Roxas does, but there's no place for altruism in Hollow Bastion. By putting others first, Demyx doesn't watch out for himself and he ends up taking the fall.
Riku lets power go to his head in the most extreme way possible. He was always the leader in school, and though this is a step up, it's a logical one. Riku doesn't know when to stop – he's been given absolute authority ; he exploits it and his charisma makes others follow him and abuse their power as well. Riku demonstrates that you don't need to be violent to hurt someone badly when he does what he does to Sora – he gets to understand that physical violence hurts the body, but mental torture hurts the soul.
Sora's faith in Riku is badly misplaced . He chooses, instead of relying on his own strength, to put his trust in Riku, and the trust is betrayed in the worst way possible. Sora's unable to understand that his idol has changed so much and persists in clinging to him – it's his way of surviving, only it's not effective when even his one point of stability has succumbed.
As many people have pointed out, this fic is heavily based on the Zimbardo Prison Experiment (or the Stanford Prison Experiment). I won't go into details about the experiment because it's pretty much all in the fic, except that the people involved reacted differently. Another major inspiration (character-wise) for me was Lord of the Flies, by William Golding (it's my all-time favourite book! :D). If you've read the book, you can see that certain characters correspond pretty well. Here's what I was thinking of when I did the characters.
Roxas = Ralph. They even look something alike! XD Of course, Roxas' last run is pretty close to Ralph's being chased by Jack and his hunters (although the LotF boys were rescued)
Riku = Jack. Both charismatic leaders in their life before prison/island. Both react in pretty much the same way.
Saix/Larxene = Roger. I know Saix is random in the fic! =x But him and Larxene are both inherently sadistic, like Roger. Larxene was the first to actually hurt someone for the pure pleasure of it.
Demyx = Simon. Both are adorable!! Just kidding. Both are intrinsically good.
Finally, the ending. It's drawn the most comments, I feel, and though some of them were good, not all of them were :( I know such an ambiguous ending is just asking for trouble, but I really didn't think this fic could end any other way. I made up the ending even before most of the main events of the plot!
The main reason I decided to end like this is that I didn't want there to be any closure. If I'd decided to end with Axel betraying Roxas for the last time, the story would have been pretty much one long angsty romp. If I'd gone the other way, I wasn't sure how well Axel's characterisation would have stood up. Either way, if I'd given Water's Edge a concrete ending, it would have made a statement on human nature I don't feel competent enough to give. I mean, published authors treat this subject with caution. I really didn't feel capable of doing it believably and well. Also, it leaves you free to make your own decision, depending on what you think about human nature.
So no, I won't be writing any sequels to Water's Edge :( If anyone feels the need to do so, they can, I'm not complaining :)
Sorry, I know I shouldn't post an author's note like this, but I don't have anywhere else to put it =x