Author's Note: Lauren's in the beginning, Lauren's to the end. ^_^
I…have never finished a chaptered fic before. This is exciting. 8D
Thank you all so much, the support has been great, and I hope to see you all again! I have been happy to share this little story with you. (My gosh, can you believe it was originally meant to be a oneshot?) ^_^
Chapter 12 ~ Forever After
When dawn came, it was spring.
Golden sun beamed warmly through the windows of the round bedroom, illuminating the slow dance of the dust motes and gently reaching further, touching and warming the skin of two young men who slept, clasped tightly in each other's arms. After a few minutes, blue eyes opened first, wakened by the touch of the golden light.
Roxas blinked sleepily; a moment later, his face broke into a wide, blissful smile. Axel's sleeping face was mere inches away, and Roxas could not help immediately admiring the beautiful sight of those completely relaxed and peaceful features as Axel breathed slowly and deeply.
I wonder if he's dreaming… Roxas sighed happily and moved to shift closer, seeking more warmth against his bare skin.
The motion, however, caused the blond to wince, surprised at a sudden bolt of pain. He bit his lip to stifle a grunt at the unexpected discomfort. At the same time, Axel stirred, brow furrowing as he began to wake up. Roxas realized the reason for the pain, then just as swiftly sought to conceal it before Axel's eyes would open. He didn't want the other man blaming himself and feeling guilty.
When green eyes opened, the first thing Axel saw was Roxas, happily watching his beloved wake up.
"Good morning," Roxas softly murmured. Axel could only sigh happily, drawing the young man closer, lost in his eyes.
"I love you…" Roxas grinned at Axel's dreamy whisper before replying in kind. Their words remained soft, sweet and adoring, hands soon caressing tenderly as well. Roxas was entranced by the feel of Axel's pulse. The rhythm was so even and slow…and he felt his own heart beat more heavily as he thought of what they had done, breaking the curse and saving Axel.
The pulse under his hands sped up as well. And, after several minutes of the two of them experimenting, Axel and Roxas both decided with certainty that their heartbeats were in sync. Perfectly matching. When Roxas' heart beat faster, he could feel it in Axel's pulse.
One heart, beating within two chests. So it was, and so it would always be after that. Neither of them understood the magic, but both were perfectly happy to share their heart.
Roxas spent much of that day in bed. Axel, as Roxas had expected, felt guilty and blamed himself for hurting Roxas, until the blond absolutely insisted that he would not tolerate any negative feelings attached to any part of their first lovemaking. Axel couldn't argue when Roxas put the situation in that light, and instead threw his energy into attentively taking care of Roxas. The blond even joked that he seemed to be quite the invalid lately, and perhaps Axel should look into studying medicine, since he was so often in the role of a doctor.
That day, for the first time in centuries, Axel was properly hungry and in need of human food. He and Roxas shared the stored venison, throwing out what little was left. There was no longer a way to keep it frozen or even cool. For the season had changed completely – the sun was shining with the full strength of a very ordinary day in spring, and the wet ground was beginning to dry out, the air becoming quite warm through the middle of the day.
The Heartless were gone. Not a trace of them could be discovered until late in the day. Roxas was feeling better and had gotten up, the two of them deciding on a stroll around the nearby parts of the castle. They discovered that the castle was as ruinous as ever, but the unnatural black that had covered the entire structure was gone, leaving crumbled gray stone – a perfectly ordinary building, ruinous after being abandoned for centuries.
Axel and Roxas had gone outside the castle as the afternoon drew to a close – it was Roxas' suggestion that they watch the sunset together, and little could be seen from widows or the courtyard. So they found a low wall outside with a fine view, and had just settled contentedly together when a sudden scuttling in the shadows caught their attention.
One lone Heartless emerged, creeping up warily as the two young men relaxed, seeing the familiar creature.
"What's it doing here, Axel? I thought they'd all gone?"
Axel shook his head and was about to reply when the creature reached them and extended a black arm which held a rolled parchment. Curious, Axel frowned, leaned forward and took it, the Heartless scurrying away again, but not disappearing completely. It seemed to be waiting to see what Axel would do.
The red-haired man examined the parchment with Roxas. The blond noticed a heavy, ornate seal and pointed it out, asking what it meant. Axel examined it, a look of concentration on his face.
"It is…a royal seal. But not mine. Yet it seems familiar…I just can't seem to recall which kingdom has this seal."
"Well, open it and perhaps we will learn."
Axel nodded, agreeing, and broke the seal, opening the scrolled parchment. Within, a letter was revealed – a fine, official-looking letter in decorative script.
From the Royal Family and Queen Mother of the Sovereign Kingdom Of Holegn,
To the Former King of the Sovereign Kingdom Of Radiant Garden, King Axel VIII,
Most Honorable and Cordial Greetings.
I, the Noble Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Holegn, do hereby extend my congratulations to King Axel VIII upon the occasion of his Resurrection. I also send this ambassadorial Greeting to enquire as to the future of Radiant Garden as a Sovereign Kingdom. As a gesture of Goodwill and Diplomacy, I am prepared to offer my personal support to the King should he wish to reclaim his Throne, and promise here, in writing, that the current King and Queen of Holegn will gladly extend Diplomatic Relations to Radiant Garden at my behest.
To sate the Noble King's probable curiosity, I also wish to inform him that I have reclaimed his hitherto Minions for my own uses, as they are unlikely to prove Obedient Servants now that the King is no longer a Magician, having become a Mortal Human.
I also extend my respectful Greetings to the King's Honorable Companion and congratulate him on his Survival. My Thanks to him for saving me the Annoyance of repeating my Efforts in Ten Years' Time.
The Blessings of the Goddesses to you both, as well as my personal Well-Wishes, and my Kingdom's Respectful Salutations,
The Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Holegn, or, as King Axel has called me, The Witch.
Postscript: I anticipate that a formal Reply will cause you some difficulty, therefore, you may address your answer to the Messenger verbally and I will receive it.
Axel blinked in surprise. "The Witch?"
Roxas, at the same moment, also voiced his surprise, "What does all that mean?"
Axel, though still confused over the writer of the letter, explained what he understood to Roxas. "It is a formal letter from one kingdom to another. This…Queen Mother is addressing me and asking, I suppose, if I'm planning on reclaiming my throne. She says that her kingdom, which is apparently ruled by her children now, will offer their diplomacy to mine, if I so choose. That sort of greeting often leads to alliances, which is a generous offer. I…hadn't thought about the kingdom yet, but such an offer would make rebuilding the throne far easier. I think she is also saying that she has taken the Heartless. But this last part I don't understand at all…only that I think it is addressed to you."
Roxas nodded. He would have to explain about the Witch and her current role in her own kingdom for Axel's benefit.
"I think I can explain what you don't understand…the Witch communicated with me recently. I will tell you more about what she said very soon, but in the meantime it is certain this is from her. And Axel," Roxas glanced up now, looking into the King's eyes, "About what she asks…will you reclaim your throne and your kingdom?"
Axel's brow furrowed uncertainly. "I…do not know. It certainly can be done, although not without difficulty…yet the friendship of an established kingdom would assist with that process…" He paused, thinking further, then shook his head. "I think not, though. That is…I think I should leave things as they are, and not rebuild the throne."
"Why?" Roxas asked, suddenly concerned. "Why should you not wish to? I have heard that you ruled well as a King, and I truly believe that you would still be a wise and strong ruler. I think it is what you are meant to do."
"Tell me this then," Axel answered. "The village you came from and the others in the valley…how are they now? Is there struggle, poverty, and lack? Are there foreign threats?"
Roxas paused, thinking, then shook his head. "No…we are not wealthy, but we are not poor or suffering in the valley either. And, though some villages are given to disputes, there is mainly peace in the valley, I think."
Axel nodded. "Then, if the kingdom does not need me, I am happy to leave them to their peaceful lives. Your faith in me is more than enough. Besides," he smiled at Roxas, touching the blond's chin tenderly, "if I resumed my place as King, I would soon be forced to take a Queen, for the sake of a political alliance, as well as for appearances. And we would never be free to live together – at best, we could only have a secret affair."
"Oh…" Roxas frowned deeply. He hadn't thought about that…
Axel smiled fondly. "You wouldn't like court life, Roxas. And I would be miserable if anything came between us. I would far rather live the poorest, simplest life and have you by my side than rule a kingdom and be separated from you."
"Axel…" Roxas reached for his lover happily, pulling him close and kissing him sweetly.
When they looked up again, the Heartless was already gone and the sunset was blazing beautifully.
When night fell, the moon rose, beaming silver light over the castle and the two lovers, who had retired together, sharing the large bed. Roxas was wrapped in Axel's warm arms, listening to their heartbeat and thinking of the future. Their future…together. Free.
One of the first things on Roxas' mind was an overwhelming longing to see his family and let them know that he lived. There were so many things to worry about though…
"My family…can we go…see them? I just want them to know I'm alive, so they won't grieve anymore."
Axel tilted his head to look at Roxas. "Of course. If you wish, we can set out tomorrow. We're out of food anyway; I was going to try hunting, but that's something we can do along the way."
Roxas smiled, but his expression wasn't clear yet. Axel wondered at it, pondering for a minute.
"Roxas…perhaps we should go back to your village…to stay?" Blue eyes blinked up at him, surprised. Axel continued, "It is clear that you miss your family, and I don't want to separate you from them. I will go anywhere with you, gladly. Wouldn't you be happier in the valley? We could find a small house of our own, and you could be near your family."
Roxas smiled, squeezing Axel tighter for a moment. It was something he hadn't dared to suggest…but there were also doubts.
"Thank you, my love. It is…a lovely dream, and I'm happy that you would go with me. I am just…uncertain about some things."
Axel gently combed his fingers through Roxas' hair. "What things?"
"Well…I want you to meet my family, certainly, but…I worry about introducing you to them…as yourself. The King. From childhood, we are all brought up to fear you. I don't think they would reject you if I explained, but…there is also the question of…past sacrifices." Axel was silent, listening as Roxas finished. "I don't know if they ever knew anyone…who…"
"Yes." There was a dark thread in Axel's acknowledgement that Roxas immediately tried to amend.
"Or if not them, the villagers. I just…I don't think I can tell them who you really are."
Axel nodded solemnly. "It is probably best not to. I could remain here…"
Roxas interrupted. "No! I mean…but I do want you to meet them. Perhaps we could choose another identity for you. They don't know for sure that there was no one else here, so you could be…an escort."
Axel nodded slowly, then paused. "I would be an escort who wants to spend the rest of his life with you." He smiled as he said it, but his green eyes were troubled.
Roxas slumped slightly. "Yes…it would be difficult to explain. But there are other things I worry about." Axel silently turned his ear back to Roxas. "I fear that, in my village, it would be just as difficult for us to be together as it would be in your royal court."
Axel understood, and pulled Roxas a little closer. "We would have to be secret there too?"
"Would you be facing…that is…as much as I would have to take a Queen, for appearances' sake…?"
Roxas nodded slowly. "My father is the village leader, and I am the eldest son. It has always been my fate to assume leadership someday. Since I left, that fell to my brother, Sora, but if I return…I think it will be given back to me. And…the next leader must have an heir. And even if I were able to avoid becoming the village leader, marriage would eventually be necessary. For, as you say, appearances' sake. Everyone in the village marries…as long as there is nothing dreadfully wrong with them. If I did not marry, I would bring my family great grief."
"I see." Axel thought for a moment. "I wish we could think of something…there must be some way to let you stay with your family. Besides that, I don't know what else to offer you…other than an empty, ruined castle." He sounded distinctly unhappy with the idea, dissatisfied at not being able to give Roxas more. The blond just laid his head against Axel's chest.
"I will have you, won't I?"
"You will always have me. All of me." Axel's response was immediate and firm. Roxas smiled.
"Then…let's go visit my family, and then come back. Together." He met Axel's eyes. "All I need is you. If this is where we can live freely together, then this is where I want to be."
Axel's smile began deep in his eyes, and soon the lovers were kissing again, Roxas pressing forward so much that he was soon on top of Axel. When they parted, only slightly, their lids barely opened and breaths coming heavily, Roxas murmured, "So…if we're leaving for my village tomorrow…we will have to be discreet and secret for a few days. Shouldn't we…prepare ourselves for that?"
Axel was likewise breathless, but unsure. "I don't think we should do anything to strain your body again so soon…and before a long trip…"
Roxas cut him off with a deep kiss before replying. "I'm fine now. And I won't be able to touch you in the village. Before that, I want to be as close to you as possible. I…want to make love again. Now." He pecked lightly at Axel's lips. "Please?"
With a moan, Axel weakened. "I want you too, so much…I love you…but…"
Their disagreement was eventually solved by one of the badly-labeled, mysterious bottles of some slippery liquid from the pile of unknown medical supplies the Heartless had brought. Axel's objections were overridden, and then the red-haired man was silenced completely as Roxas, kneeling in front of him on the bed, slowly lifted his own shirt off, the moonlight painting his perfect body with bright highlights and dark shadows as he arched beautifully before Axel.
And as their heart sped up wildly, faster and faster as gazes became touches became kisses, Axel and Roxas both knew how truly they had spoken.
This was all they needed, and even this was more than enough. If all they had was each other, they were content. Now and forever.
The late afternoon sun slanted over the farmers' fields as the men began to pick up their tools and head home for dinner. The dark earth was prepared for planting in all the fields that would not be fallow this year, and much of the sowing was already underway.
Sora and Cloud gathered their tools and prepared to join the other farmers in their usual procession homeward. They called responses to the other farmers when asked about their progress, and to all appearances seemed to be carrying on with their daily lives exactly as they always had.
Until they were ready to leave. Then, together, they paused and turned their faces away from the village and home, toward the distant mountains. It was a new routine, a habit that was becoming quickly engrained in the remaining males of the Strife family. They looked across the valley, not just at the close of the day, but many times – they looked to Old Smokey. Back home, they knew Tifa and the twins did the same, glancing out the window frequently. Every Strife was sure that their son and brother was dead now, yet none of them could stop looking.
Sora always looked the longest.
Today, he saw something unusual. Motion where there had never been any. Two figures…who weren't farmers. For a long minute he stood, staring, squinting and straining to see clearly.
"Sora?" Cloud had stopped, turning back to see why his son wasn't following. When Sora didn't respond, Cloud followed his gaze. "Are those…travelers?" Cloud's vision wasn't quite as perfect as Sora's.
Sora still didn't reply. Instead, he suddenly broke into a run.
Utterly heedless of the fields and the planting, Sora ran. Feet pounding the earth, lungs burning, he ran. Soon, he was close enough to be sure. He wasn't dreaming, wasn't seeing things.
"Roxas!" The scream tore from his gasping throat, drawing the attention of all the farmers. Cloud heard, and began running too.
Sora didn't see any of them. All he saw was his brother, and as he got closer, Roxas also began running, although it was more of an easy jog – he was very tired from traveling, after all.
He reached Roxas and stopped dead, grabbing his brother's shoulders roughly, hands clutching at his arms, his face, searching for any part of him that might suddenly fade into a ghost and disappear, any small indication that he wasn't real.
"Roxas…Roxas…" He choked, unable to draw enough air after the headlong sprint, unable to ask, Are you real? Are you alive? Instead, he pulled his brother into a crushing embrace…as sobs began to wrack his body.
Roxas smiled gently, arms reaching around Sora to return his little brother's hug, tears beginning to slip quickly from his eyes. He felt Sora trembling, sobbing…and tried to reassure him through his own happiness.
"I'm alive, Sora. I'm alive, and there's no curse anymore. It's all right…shhh, it's all right, I'm here."
Before the brunet could get a hold of himself, heavy footsteps thudding the earth announced Cloud's arrival. The older man saw his sons, Roxas alive and real, tears in his blue eyes as he held Sora and looked up at his father, and Cloud silently reached for his boys and closed both of them in a crushing hug. He didn't cry, but he couldn't speak either – he couldn't trust his voice.
Their little family reunion was soon surrounded by the men of the village, although most of them held back enough to keep from mobbing Roxas. Still, the crowd that gathered was loud and joyful, and Sora and Roxas were laughing and crying, and Cloud was smiling silently, his clear eyes brimming with emotion.
And Roxas' companion strolled up slowly during these greetings, then stopped, waiting outside the circle and watching. Watching the blond surrounded by those he loved…watching the joyful smiles on his lover's perfect face, delighted beyond words at seeing Roxas so happy.
In a little cottage in Strife's Ford, three small, bright-eyed children gathered before the fire one beautiful, starlit summer evening, and begged their mother for a story.
The mother, a lovely woman with fair blonde hair and the gentlest smile, finally agreed. Settling her children before her, she began.
"I have never told you this story before, children, but it is a very special one. This is the tale of the Heartless King." Eyes widened and little bodies huddled closer as the lady began.
"Long, long ago, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, there was a great King and a noble court, all in a magnificent castle atop Old Smokey. The King was powerful and rich and ruled well, but in his heart there was an evil seed of pride. And one day, that pride caused him to wrong a powerful Princess, and she laid a curse upon him in her wrath.
"Soon, the King was attacked by a horrible monster, which ate the heart right out of his chest!" The children gasped in horror. "Yet he didn't die…he survived, though his kingdom did not, and all his people were scattered. He lived on, alone atop Old Smokey. And, for hundreds of years, the King's curse was a blight on our valley. For once every ten years, a magical circlet would fall from the mountain, capture an innocent person, and drag them away to become a Sacrifice to the King. And he would eat their heart right out of their chest, even as his own heart had been eaten."
A tiny lower lip began to quiver, but the woman quickly continued. "But then! One day, not so very long ago, a very special boy was out one night, and was trapped by the circlet and taken away from his family to the King. However, this boy was braver and kinder than any boy ever chosen as a Sacrifice, and he was not afraid of the Heartless King.
"Do you know what he did, when the scary monster King came and wanted to eat his heart? Do you know what he said?"
"What? What?" The children all cried.
"He said… 'Oh Heartless King, you may have my heart, if you truly need it.' He was so generous and brave to offer the King his heart!
"Well, then the King was shocked, for he had never seen such a good and giving boy, and at last he said, 'I will not take your heart. You should live on…but I must have your heart to live. So here is what I will do: If you will promise to stay here with me forever and ever, I will let you live, and I will never take another Sacrifice from the valley again.' And the brave, good boy agreed!"
"So he never could go home?" The quivering lip persisted, unwilling to be stilled by a smile yet.
The woman continued. "Actually, he did go home. The King allowed him to visit his family, and he came back – he came here, to his family in our village – accompanied by an escort who was sent from the King. And he spent a week here, with his parents and his siblings, and the whole village celebrated every night because he had returned, and the curse was broken forever!
"But then, after the week had gone by, the boy had to return to the mountain. But this time, he promised to return and visit again often, and the whole village threw a farewell party for him. And, at last, he departed with the escort back to the castle, to live there and protect all of us from the curse forever. And now, children…who do you think that brave boy was?"
Wide eyes glanced at each other in confusion, little blond heads shaking, none of them having any idea. The lady beamed when they asked, "Who was it?"
"It was your Uncle Roxas!" She exclaimed with a smile.
The two elder children's eyed widened in amazement, while the littlest one piped up innocently, "Who is Uncle Roxas?"
Their mother smiled. "You wouldn't remember Uncle Roxas, you were only a newborn baby the last time he came for a visit. In fact, he came to see you right after you were born. And I think you will get to meet him soon, for your Aunt Kairi will have your new cousin within the month. So you will get to see Uncle Roxas when the baby is born, and he will be amazed to see what a big girl you are now!" This delighted the smallest child, who smiled brightly.
There were more questions from the other two, especially wondering if Uncle Roxas would bring them presents again this time, which caught the littlest child's interest as well. However, after a while, she asked another question.
"Will Uncle Roxas always live with the King?"
Her mother nodded gently. "Yes. Uncle Roxas promised to stay there for the rest of his life, to protect us all. But don't worry. He always tells us that he is very happy. And someday, when his time grows short and he is a very old man, he will take the Heartless King away with him, to the Other World, where there is joy and happiness forever."
"Where the little bunny went when it died?" The smallest child piped up again.
"That's right, dear. They'll go see your little baby bunny together. And someday, we'll go see them too, and be happy and together forever."
The children went to bed, all smiles and colorful imaginings of the beautiful Other World and their heroic Uncle. And, far away atop a tall mountain, the moonlight gilded over a beautiful, ruinous castle.
Parts of the building were falling apart, crumbling to the ground, but one wing was still standing, in relatively good repair. The windows were clean and whole and the walls were solid. Beside that part of the castle, the gently sloping ground had been cultivated into fields, several different kinds of grain growing and well-tended. Further off, into the edge of the forest, there were scattered fruit trees – once a magnificent royal orchard, now gone wild, but brought under cultivation again in recent years.
Within the repaired wing of the castle, the rooms were cleaned and organized. Some were clearly designated for more utilitarian purposes than the parlors and libraries they had once been. There were storehouses and even a kitchen of sorts. Other rooms were maintained for living spaces. And there was one special room at the end of a long, large hall, situated at the base of a tower – a round room with a newly-built door. It was the only bedroom restored and kept clean.
Within, the shimmering moonlight shone through clear windows that looked out to the gardens and fields – the beams illuminating two figures asleep on the large double bed. They slept peacefully, their arms loosely around one another, and the glowing moon illuminated sun-tanned skin and long, red hair and shorter blond hair, all in sharp relief against the darkness.
The red-haired man stirred in his sleep, grunting and tugging the other closer. Blue eyes opened sleepily at the disturbance, focusing on the face opposite, which slowly relaxed again, sinking back into sleep.
And the blond smiled softly, his blue eyes slipping closed again. Saying nothing, for nothing needed to be said, he snuggled closer into the warm arms of his lover, and drifted off to sleep again.
And so they lived together
Happily, forever after.
Note to readers! Hey guys! If you read this because you're into Axel and Roxas and that's pretty much it, well...thanks! I hope you liked it! :D But if you also wonder if this Kurosora1984 lady has anything else to entertain you, and if you are even a little interested in other guys getting their sexy romance on, check out my current original story on FP! Links in my profile! Thank you, dears! :D