So here it is; a new AkuNami to add to the chaos of the Kingdom Hearts section. A story that has been long in the making. It's sort of a spin off of my other story, "Find Your Wings", and there are some references to it, but I suppose you can read this without reading that. Anyway, I won't keep you, so enjoy the story!
But first, a HUGE THANK YOU TO SCHMELLY INC! She's been a lovely beta and I can't express enough gratitude for what she has done to this thing. If not for her, I guarantee this story would have made your eyes bleed. Thank yoooou! :huggle:
Disclaimer: For the first and last time, I don't own Kingdom Hearts. Grr.
Chapter 1- Question
A simple game of Chinese checkers wasn't supposed to be this terrifying; it was meant to promote relaxation while simultaneously stimulating the mind. However, the only thing this game was doing for Naminé was putting her on edge and making her want to hide under her bed. Anxiously, she glanced up at the man sitting opposite her, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he planned his next move. The girl looked down at her own marbles. Most of them were tossed aside, sitting uselessly on the floor, despite the fact that pieces were not supposed to be taken in the traditional method of play. She couldn't, nor wouldn't, do anything about it though; this was Marluxia's game and Marluxia's rules, therefore not at all traditional. If he wanted to capture one of her pieces, thereby ensuring his victory, then that was how it would be.
Humming softly, the man plucked up a white marble and tossed it over his shoulder. Naminé watched as he took one of his red marbles and placed it a couple spaces forward.
"Your turn, Naminé."
The girl checked her current position. Four marbles left and nowhere near her opponent's empty space. His pieces were advancing towards her space like a swarm of red ants, instilling fear and destroying all in their path. Biting her lip, she picked up a white piece and set it in an empty hole.
Marluxia's hand was there to block her, "Oh, no, Witch. That's an illegal move. Try again."
Naminé wasn't sure whether to cry, scream, or simply give up. The last idea seemed easiest. With a sigh, she dropped the marble to the side and winced at the sharp crack as it bounced against the marble tile. Her reward was a low chuckle.
The whirring of a portal momentarily caught the attention of the players just as Marluxia made a quick exchange of a red and white marble. Naminé cringed when she heard the clicking of heels approaching. There was a girlish 'hmph' as the visitor leaned over the back of the couch; leather creaked in protest against the movement.
"Playing Chinese checkers with a prisoner?" Larxene snipped, turning her pointed nose to the air, "What's come over you, Marluxia?"
"Boredom, I think it's called," He answered with a shrug, flicking a white marble off the board. Two left.
"Um, it was my turn…" Naminé mumbled, watching the little ball roll under the couch.
Marluxia stared down calmly at her, but something in his eyes made the girl cower, "What was that, Witch?"
The smile he gave her was more dangerous than even the fiercest of glares.
Larxene 'hmphed' again as she walked around the couch to take a seat. Her booted foot bobbed uncomfortably close to the girl's head. Naminé desperately tried to keep an eye on both the woman and the game, fearing what would happen if she let her guard down towards either. She watched as Larxene stifled a yawn with her hand and Marluxia eyed his third turn. When would this ever end?
"When's that brat supposed to be here?" The woman questioned suddenly. Marluxia sat back from the board, running his fingers idly through his unruly mane as he did so.
"Eventually," He answered, "The little Witch has him already, so all we can do is wait for him to show up. We'll be ready for him when he gets here."
"I'm bored now though. I need a new toy to play with," She whined, motioning with her head towards Naminé, "That one is getting old already."
Marluxia managed a brief smile, "So selfish."
"At least I haven't lowered myself to playing checkers with a witch."
Naminé looked down to her hands folded in her lap. They always did this. Talked about her as if she was just some object to be abused and discarded when it no longer proved useful. It wasn't uncommon that they had these conversations within earshot, just to lower her morale. Of course, it could hardly get much lower. Being found and kept by the Organization since birth generally doesn't do much good for the mind, especially when handed off to these two. The others stationed in Castle Oblivion didn't show up much, unfortunately. She would have preferred the other four all at once to Marluxia and Larxene, even separately.
A leather-clad hand was being waved in her face, "Hey, Witch, are you listening?" Larxene's high pitched voice interrupted the girl's thoughts, "This is important for you, too."
Naminé nodded once, "Yes."
The woman seemed less than convinced, but she straightened up again and looked away. The girl wondered what would happen if she didn't do her job correctly. Would they let her go, thinking her useless, or would they destroy her just for that reason? The latter seemed most likely, but it was best not to find out.
"Just be patient," Marluxia tried to calm the Nymph, though obviously not putting much effort into it, "He'll be here."
"Who're we talking about?"
A voice like an echo filtered through the room, eliciting a variety of reactions. Larxene sighed with a roll of her eyes, Marluxia shut his eyes and prayed that this voice was just his imagination, and Naminé perked up just a little bit. Finally, some relief. Hopefully. With his usual Cheshire-cat grin and lazy strides, Axel made his apparently unwelcome appearance. Despite having the girl's complete attention, he hardly spared her a glance as he took a seat on the arm of the couch. The redhead glanced between the Nymph and Assassin and, when neither spoke, thought it necessary to remind them of his presence and the fact that his question had gone unanswered.
"Anyone going to answer my question?" He prompted. When still no one replied, he sighed and turned his attention to the game that been all but abandoned. Axel frowned, "Cheating again, are we, Marluxia?"
The man in question sneered, "Hardly."
"That's a lie if I've ever heard one," The redhead scoffed, kneeling down at the board. Swiftly, he took a handful of red and white marbles, shook them in his hands like dice, and let them fly across the board. Most simply rolled off onto the floor, but a few survivors managed to find themselves tucked safely in a hole. Six red and six white. Leaning back onto his haunches, Axel smirked and gestured at the board with his hands, "And that is how you properly execute Axel's Flurry of Dancing Marbles."
While the pyro looked absolutely elated, as though he had just found the meaning of life, Marluxia and Larxene looked disgusted, "How creative."
"But wait! I'm not quite done," Reaching out again, the redhead rearranged the red marbles so that the only spaces open in the triangle were the inside holes. On the white side, the spots open were on the outside holes. Two marbles, red and white, stood ready to be moved. Axel nodded in satisfaction, "Checkmate."
"Wrong game," Marluxia muttered, standing up, "What are you doing here?"
"What, am I not allowed to wander?"
"Not when I am in the room."
A slow smile slipped onto Axel's features, "Maybe you should stay out of my way then."
"What are you doing here, Axel?" Larxene asked, drawing the attention to herself now, "It's not often you visit this area for pure pleasure."
Naminé diverted her attention, not wanting to give away the fact that the redhead actually did visit her on occasion. Not often, of course, but certainly a lot more than the other two ever did. Not all the visits were good-humored, but at least it was something. Any sort of attention was better than sitting alone in her room with nothing but a sketchbook and box of pencils. The memories that didn't belong to her overwhelmed her sometimes. Axel did nothing when that happened, but he was there. That's all she needed.
"I came to see what you two were up to," Axel's voice was a lot calmer than Naminé's would have been. Maybe she was the only one who saw the abnormality in his visitations. The Organization wasn't exactly known for their kindness and generosity. Sometimes she wondered if the pyro's intentions were just a small part of a large scale scheme, but perhaps that was just paranoia on her part.
"Are you satisfied?" The woman asked, spreading her arms wide. Axel glanced down at the game, then shrugged.
"Relatively so, yes," He replied, "Amused? Not so much. Watching Marluxia cheat at Chinese checkers doesn't do much for me."
The aforementioned man tensed in annoyance, "I wasn't cheating. This is how you play my version of the game."
"Oh, of course," The redhead snickered, tossing his hand, "I get it now."
Marluxia opted to say nothing under the snarky grin of Axel, while Larxene watched the exchange with narrowed eyes, "Since you're here, how about you take a turn watching the little witch?" She suggested to the redhead, who replied with a careless shrug.
"You were here before I was. You do it."
"I was here before Marluxia. Besides, it would be your turn in a few hours."
A sour look replaced the smirk. Stepping in and relieving the Graceful Assassin of his duty would mean an extended shift for him. Again. Axel's eyes shifted to the girl still seated by the game board, trying her best to look invisible. No offense to her, but his plans for the day didn't include prolonged babysitting duties. Nice kid, but not entertaining enough to make him want to hang around.
"I think I'll pass."
"As your superior, I order you to go on shift early."
Red and blonde heads whipped up to stare at the man who had spoken. While the girl tried to mask her relief, Axel's teeth were bared in a snarl.
"You have no authority over me," He growled, clenching his fists at his side. Naminé's opinion had taken a complete turnaround within seconds and she was suddenly hoping that maybe he wouldn't be staying, "You are only a sorry eleven in this Organization of thirteen."
It was Marluxia's turn to be haughty. His smug smile was enough to just tap Axel's boiling point, "Eleventh in the Organization, maybe, but I seem to recall Xemnas leaving me in charge at Castle Oblivion. Don't you remember? Now," He unfurled his fingers in a graceful flourish and a single red petal drifted gently above his outstretched fingertips. Tendrils of swirling darkness wove patterns in the air, "I believe I told you to keep watch over Naminé."
The girl believed it impossible for a person to hiss, but the redhead managed it, and she was terrified of being alone with him. Never before had Axel displayed such hostility in front of her; he had always been all teasing and jokes. Cruel jokes, sometimes, but not dangerous. This Axel was threatening and she didn't like it a single bit.
Larxene sniggered behind her hand. Naminé frowned.
"You're lucky I don't torch you and your pansy ass flowers right now," The pyro threatened. His voice was strangled, like the pent up frustration made it difficult for him to speak, "Just get out of my face."
Both Marluxia and Larxene smirked as Axel stormed away to the only window in the room, his steps quick and posture rigid. Naminé cringed when the Assassin squeezed her shoulder a bit too tightly, "Be good, little witch. Don't forget to clean up your mess."
The man disappeared in the dark, swirling mass that was his gate to nothingness, but Larxene did not follow. The young girl watched as the woman quietly made her way to Axel's side and placed a hand on his shoulder. She leaned around him and her lips moved, but she was speaking too quietly for Naminé to hear. A deeper hum indicated the redhead speaking, but his words were inaudible as well. A brief exchange occurred in which the girl began to lose interest, before Larxene's high pitched laughter broke the silence. A portal was opened and she disappeared.
Naminé was hesitant to acknowledge Axel's presence in the room, fearing that he might decide to release his anger on her. With slow movements, she began cleaning up the mess Marluxia had left behind. Once she had placed all of the marbles in the correct spots, she fished around for the box that had slid under the couch. Her fingers touched the cool, metal container and it made an irritating scraping noise as she slid it out.
"You don't have to listen to him, you know," Axel's voice, only a few feet away now, startled her, "You don't have to worry. You're indispensable."
Still fearful, Naminé's voice was quiet as she said, "So are you."
He chuckled without amusement, "Maybe."
The girl finished putting away the game, despite Axel's assurance that it wasn't necessary. She retrieved her drawing supplies from the chair in the far corner, then returned to plop back down on the couch. The quiet that ensued crackled with the one-way tension. Naminé decided it was best to let the pyro cool down before attempting conversation.
The first hour of the shift was spent in silence, apart from the soft scratches of pencil against paper. Occasionally, the girl would glance up at her watcher to find him always in the same position: eyes closed, head tilted to the ceiling, legs stretched, and ankles crossed. Sometimes his hands would be on his stomach, fingers drumming in some erratic rhythm. Naminé took to watching him, wondering what he was thinking about, and if it always took this long for him to calm down. As time passed, her fear of him also subsided, and she felt what she usually did when he was around. Not comfort, but more at ease. Though definitely not an open book, he was much easier to predict than Marluxia and Larxene were, and in Naminé's opinion, that made him less dangerous.
But not safe. No, never safe. None of them were, and she was bright enough to realize that from the start.
"If you could put all that thought into your drawings, I bet you one hundred munny that you could open an art museum."
Naminé managed a half-smile at the smirking pyro who had come to sit on the other side of the couch. Brooding time was over.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
Axel shrugged, "Looks like you're doing a lot of thinking. Your face looks like this," He puffed out his cheeks but kept his lips tight, scrunching up his eyelids so that it looked like someone had taped them open and he was trying desperately to blink. The expression was replaced with a grin when the girl laughed quietly.
"You look like a chipmunk," She said.
"You look constipated."
Naminé blinked at the unfamiliar term. She opened her mouth to question, but the redhead stopped her with an outstretched hand. He said with a cheeky grin, "If you have to ask, then you'll never know. Hopefully."
Though confused and unsure, the girl nodded. A snicker from him wasn't too comforting.
Awkwardly, she returned her attention to her sketchbook. She had been drawing the Chinese checkers game, though with more colors and a better demonstration of the official rules. Intentionally, she left the red side of the board empty; the marbles were mere scribbles in the small tray off to the side. Satisfied for now, Naminé flipped back to an earlier drawing in her book. She peeked up at Axel, who was entertaining himself with the strings on his coat.
"Do you want to see a picture I drew?"
"Sure, kid," He leaned forward, allowing the strings to dangle freely. Naminé smiled shyly and turned her book around so he could see. Eyes narrowing, he pursed his lips in thought. It was of the few moments they had spent together in the rain, almost four days ago. He himself hadn't thought much about it- except for a few parts that he would never admit he was thinking about- but now the entire night was flashing through his mind. Especially that one part…
Ugh. I'm such a pervert, he thought, cringing. Naminé mistook it for dislike, and frowned as she turned the book away. Axel rolled his eyes and reached for the pad, but she held it firmly to her chest.
"Sorry, okay? The picture's fine. I was thinking," He rambled.
"About what?" Suspicion laced her voice.
"…Things," He started, "Unimportant things. Things you don't need to worry about."
Naminé narrowed her eyes. Axel thought it looked out of place on her rounded features.
"You were thinking about me wet, weren't you?" Her voice negated the accusation by remaining soft and gentle. The redhead shook his head.
"Of course not."
"Yes, you were."
Naminé blushed, her lips trembling like she was trying not to laugh. That was one good thing about her, Axel realized. Even if it was embarrassing for her, at least she could make a joke out of it. On the other hand, when he had caught Larxene just out of the shower, she had made sure to beat him until it hurt just to blink. Maybe it was just because the Nymph actually had something to... well, look at. Naminé couldn't be more than eleven or twelve.
He really was a pervert, wasn't he?
By the time Axel had returned to the real world, the girl had retreated back into her sketchbook and was scribbling away at a new picture. He sighed and rested his cheek in his palm. This was why he didn't like extended shifts; he was bored by end of the first hour, and with no rain in sight, he doubted he would be getting any entertainment.
He could feel her eyes on him every once in a while, but he didn't feel like acknowledging her. Maybe she was drawing him again; just in case, he stretched himself into a more posed position, showing off his 'good side'. Naminé didn't seem to notice. Well, fine then. He didn't want to be drawn anyway.
"We should do something," Axel said after another forty five minutes had passed without conversation, "This is boring."
"Sorry," She didn't really sound apologetic, "You can leave if you want."
He chose to ignore her suggestion, "What happened to those books I brought you?"
Naminé paused, twirling her pencil in her fingers, "Zexion took them back to the library yesterday."
"Because they belong there, I guess," She shrugged.
"No, they don't. I got them from my room."
Naminé quirked her head, "Well… he saw them sitting on my bed, got angry, and then left with them. I assumed he was taking them to the library."
Axel grinned. Sometimes he loved taking advantage of her innocence, even if it was just for a sick joke of his. Curse the Schemer for having just enough heart left over to want to protect the witch from the things any normal kid her age would know. Either that, or Zexion wanted the books for himself. Axel reminded himself to check into that later.
"How old are you anyway?" The redhead asked as an afterthought, "Ten? Eleven?"
The girl shifted awkwardly, "Almost fifteen."
"Oh," The pyro blinked in surprise. So he had been off by about five years; he felt a little less like a dirty old man now.
"What about you?" She inquired, not realizing the reasons for his asking. He exhaled loudly through his teeth and linked his fingers behind his head.
"That's a hard one. I didn't think to remember that," He shrugged, "I'm guessing between nineteen and twenty-two."
Apparently, this topic interested her, for Naminé settled her sketchbook in her lap and let her pencil roll up against the coils. Axel glanced at what she had been drawing: a mutated looking cat. Maybe he should have brought her an animal sticker book instead of adult novels. He shifted his eyes back to her, careful not to show any hints of his opinion on his face.
"You don't remember?" She sounded surprised.
"Nope, not really. What is age anyway, really, especially to someone who never changes and has nothing to look forward to except an empty nothingness in place of death?"
Naminé frowned, looking down at her sketch, "You don't want to be whole?"
"I didn't say that."
The tone in his voice told the girl she was approaching a line she wasn't supposed to cross. Questions still flitted in and out of her mind, endlessly curious about the beings that had found her, housed her, and protected her in a way that was unique to them. Naminé tried to judge his expression, wondering how much further she could probe him before he became the Axel she feared. If she went too far, he would become cold for the rest of the shift. If she dared to ask, one more question would be answered only to give birth to ten more. Her eyes dropped again.
Axel grunted under his breath and looked away. Maybe she had crossed that line without even realizing it.
Ta-da! First chapter down. Hope you enjoyed it. Reviews are welcome and encouraged; flames will be used for Axel's enjoyment.
A note: this story is complete. Meaning I have all of it typed already, which means that I'm going to have a fixed updating schedule. Today is Sunday, so I will post a new chapter every Sunday, so now you have something to look forward to every week. Yay.
Thanks again for reading! See ya!