"All right, you guys understand what we're supposed to be doing here, right?"
"We're supposed to be sounding the locals out about the mad inventor who lives just outside town, but the one the Superior is really interested in is his daughter," Roxas repeated back to Axel in a bored tone. "So we're trying to sound them out about her too, but in a more roundabout way so as not to arouse suspicion. See, I did get it memorized."
Axel just glared at him for that. "Right, and your part in this is...?"
With an eye-roll of his own, Fori picked up the thread. "Since none of us are in a good position to win the confidences of the world-class gossips, namely the little old ladies of the village, you, Axel, are going to be chatting up the little young ladies, who are presumably the inventor's daughter's peer group, while Roxas and I are going to be off chatting up the village children, because children tend to repeat whatever their parents say on any subject. But I don't think that's gonna work as well as you seem to think it will," he added, entirely off-script. "In the early seventeen-whatevers, you know, there was no such thing as adolescence, and...people our age would be employed by now. You know, working."
Axel gave him an even more poisonous glare than he'd given Roxas. "This was not my idea, got it memorized? I don't like this stupid mission either. This is the sort of thing they should be sending Demyx on, if he was on active duty yet. He likes this kind of mission. I do not. But - Demyx is still on the DL, this mission was assigned to us instead, and we are going to do it. Now shut up." He turned around and started walking off, peeling off his robe in favor of the more world-appropriate clothing he had on under it. "If you really want to bitch about it to someone, bitch to Xemnas or Xigbar, not me. And ditch your robes before someone sees you."
Both the younger Nobodies turned to stare at him as he left, then turned to stare at each other once he disappeared around a corner. "What crawled up his ass and died this morning?" Fori said finally.
"No idea," Roxas admitted as he removed his own robe and shoved it through a portal. "Just be glad we're on duty so he can't hit you or set you on fire or anything. Oh, man, I just love when we go to an antique-type world and it's summer...linen and cotton are so much more comfortable than wool, even if this is sort of pre-industrialized workmanship..." He shrugged and stretched his arms, enjoying the feel of something that was not hot, heavy, and itchy, then looked down at Axel's robe. "You'd think for all the whining he did, he would have dealt with his own robe..."
Fori, who'd just tossed his own robe through a portal and closed it, looked down at Axel's discarded robe as well, then picked it up, summoned another portal, and shoved it through. "Let's see how long it takes him to find it. Serves him right."
"Where did you stuff it?" Roxas asked, looking around to get his bearings - knowing Fori, the answer would not be "in Axel's own room". Unless it was somewhere ridiculous in Axel's own room.
"Under Larxene's bed," Fori answered casually, arranging a broad-brimmed hat to conceal his all-too-distinctive eyes. "Hopefully, she'll find it and wonder how damn long that's been there. Or mistake it for Marluxia's, except when she gives it back and he tries it on, it will be four inches too long and six inches too narrow, so he'll think she's still seeing Axel on the side..."
"Have you ever passed up an opportunity to make trouble in your life?" Roxas muttered as he headed off down the first dusty street that looked vaguely promising, leaving Fori to follow or not as he chose. The fact that Fori hadn't been looking in his direction at the time and wouldn't know he'd gone anywhere until he did look didn't particularly concern him. Axel's mood was apparently contagious; now everything Fori did grated on him the way anything either of them did grated on Axel.
There were running footsteps behind him as Fori realized he was gone and caught up with him. "Yes...lots of times...usually when the trouble didn't seem worth the entertainment..." he explained, holding onto his hat. "So, um...where to from here?"
Roxas shrugged, trying not to go from irritated to angry already when they were only about fifteen minutes into the mission. "I guess do what Axel said. Look for kids to talk to. Maybe find some goofing off, playing ball, catch the ball for them, hang around to watch, start a conversation that way...I dunno. Whatever circumstance throws our way."
"If circumstance has been trying to throw anything our way, it is a lame pitcher."
Roxas didn't even turn to glare at Fori. He was so thoroughly annoyed by this world and everything in it - including Axel, who they hadn't seen since splitting up three hours ago - that he didn't even condescend to give him that much attention. "Well, we can chalk this intel-gathering method up as a failure, then," he said in a stony voice. "Let's hope Axel is actually accomplishing something hitting up all the village maids, if only so we don't have to write this whole stupid mission off as a total failure."
"These kids are just too...un-curious," Fori muttered. "Give a wild ball back, and they just say 'thanks' and run off...stick around to watch them play, and they will ignore you until the cows come home, unless you get in the way..."
Roxas didn't even bother to respond to that. He just lounged casually against the wall, as if he and Fori were just two guys who honestly had nothing better to do than hang around the narrow alley where it met the main street and chew the fat. Even if they couldn't accomplish anything useful, they could at least not draw attention to themselves until they caught up with Axel. "...And Demyx likes this kind of mission," he said finally, with a note of disbelief.
"Demyx could have come here alone and accomplished more than we have," Fori grumbled, sliding one hand under his hat. "Axel could have come here alone and accomplished more than we have."
Roxas sighed heavily, shaking his head over the child-free street - they had been watching a couple of kids playing something that looked a lot like soccer, but they'd caught and returned their ball three times before their mother called them and they'd vanished. And they couldn't exactly follow them without seeming like creeps, so...they'd been stranded there for fifteen minutes, while the townspeople went on around their business and ignored them. "Okay, this is officially stupid. Let's find something to do..."
Just then, there was a loud rustle from the crowd. As the young Nobodies looked to see the cause of the disturbance, the crowd parted to make way for a very tall, enormously muscular, devastatingly handsome man with a musket over his shoulder and a very smug, obnoxiously self-assured expression...followed by a short, round man who was tagging after him like a loyal hound, which comparison was only helped by the fact that the fat one was towing along a bulging game bag. Roxas couldn't help but laugh at the scene. As the pair slowly drew closer, slowed by the fact that the muscle-man kept pausing to talk to people, especially pretty girls - in a loud and clearly audible voice - he couldn't help but roll his eyes and shake his head. "I thought Axel had a hell of an ego..." he muttered to Fori. "Wonder how this guy gets his head through the door. Not to mention the rest of him."
"Yeah...I'd say he kept his brains in his biceps, but that would presume he had any brains at all..." The two of them snickered at that for a moment, then fell silent again, watching the hunter and his human hound approach. This was good for a moment's interest, at least, though they had at least another four hours before they were supposed to rejoin Axel and go home...well, maybe they could fall in behind this guy, like a couple fanboys, and follow him around until chased off...
And suddenly, he saw the game bag in a whole new light.
He nudged Fori gently in the side, to get his attention without drawing anyone else's. "Think we can get our hands on Fatso's game bag?" he muttered in an undertone.
Fori looked calculatingly at the game bag, then slowly grinned. "You shake, I'll snatch," he muttered back.
"Right...just for appearances...catch me first!" Roxas aimed a mock punch at Fori's arm, then took off down the alley, Fori chasing him with a yell of mock indignation. They ducked around the corner, around the next corner, around the block - and without breaking stride, or even seeming to aim for him, Roxas cannoned straight into the fat man, knocking him down and making him drop his game bag. Fori came pelting after him, looking for all the world like one kid chasing another during some childish squabble - except without breaking stride himself, he reached down and snatched up the game bag on his way past. They didn't slow down until they were around two corners from the scene of the crime, out of sight in a different narrow alley. Only then did they pause to catch their breaths and exchange high-fives - that certainly livened up the mission.
"Where did they go? Where did they go? No one treats Gaston like that and gets away with it..."
Roxas and Fori looked at each other again, but the look was less "that was awesome" and more "we're fucked". Without a word, they took off running again, game bag still in tow - they had to find some way to get rid of it before anyone who might know where they'd gotten it and tell Gaston saw them with it. And for such a massive chunk of muscle and bone, Gaston could move fast...as fast as Roxas and Fori were going, they could hear him closing in already, and didn't help to lug that stupid bag along behind them...they really ought to just ditch it and flee before he caught up with them...but their perfect opportunity was just around the next corner.
A second later, Roxas and Fori were fleeing unencumbered towards the same alley they'd started in that morning, to make a portal and run home until the search cooled off, and Axel was left standing outside the bakery, the baker's cute daughter staring blankly at him and the game bag somehow in his hands. "What the hell..." he stammered, but Roxas and Fori were long gone.
And it may have been the effect fear has on the eyes, but the guy who was now coming at him with murder in his eyes seemed to be half again as big as Lexaeus, only much less calm and much more likely to crush him. Without even thinking to drop the game bag, Axel took off running with a panicked yell, back to home and safety and away from musclebound giants with muskets who wanted to break his skinny frame like a twig.
Within thirty seconds of ditching the game bag with Axel, Roxas and Fori were back at the castle, standing in front of their rooms, panting for breath and congratulating each other for a prank well pulled. The self-centered chunk of muscle had taken a blow to his ego, the unrelieved boredom had been relieved, they'd wrangled themselves a short break, and they were still alive, even if they'd had to leave the goods. All in all - job well done.
"You little shitheads are in so damn much trouble..."
Okay, maybe it was too early to make a call on that "still alive" thing.
Both of them were frozen in place as Axel dropped the game bag and stalked over to them, his eyes blazing with rage and his clothing close to it. "What the hell were you assholes doing?" he demanded, jabbing a finger at them. "Were you trying to get me killed or what? And if the answer is 'or what', what - the - hell - were - you - doing?" Neither of them could answer, even if Axel had given them the chance. Roxas was too busy trying not to shake - normally Axel let him off easy for anything, but apparently he wasn't going to get his usual mercy today. He'd be lucky to get just a verbal hiding and not a physical one. "Did you leave your brains at the castle this morning or what? What the fuck were you dipshits thinking, if you were thinking at all? That was supposed to be a fucking mission, got it memorized? I don't give two shits whether you liked it or not! It was a mission! Not 'you two dick around with your heads up your asses while I do the work and take the heat when you can't keep your retarded selves in line' day!" Axel's robe was definitely smoldering now. "Did you shit-for-brains think it was funny? To just pass the loot off on me and save your own idiot skins while letting Mr. Olympus grind me into powder? Way to leave me holding the bag, jackasses! I could have gotten my ass killed, just because you little shitheads got bored!"
Somewhere around that point, Roxas stopped listening too closely, because he was too busy hoping Axel wouldn't break his face to pay attention. In fact, concern for his continued survival was occupying almost his entire attention. So when Demyx limped over to see what all the shouting was about, saw the bag, looked into it, threw it over his shoulder, and retreated several feet back to be out of the damage zone in case Axel literally exploded, it completely escaped him. In fact, none of them even noticed Demyx was there until Axel shouted "If that fucking bag isn't overflowing with either treasure or hearts, I...wait...where the fuck is it?"
"Oh, I have it," Demyx said in a light, casual voice, hefting the bag for Axel to see. "I was just gonna take it up to the kitchen."
"..." It was possible to watch all the wind leaving Axel's sails in slow motion. "Demyx...you shouldn't even be able to lift that thing?" he said in a weak tone that made it more of a question than a statement.
Demyx just gave him a mildly chastising look. "I started physical therapy for my arms the minute Vexen gave the OK. And it has been effective. So clearly, I am able to lift this thing. See, I'm lifting it as we speak." Roxas and Fori burst into simultaneous giggles at that for no real reason; thankfully, Axel ignored them. "So, um...about the bag..."
Axel sighed, pressing a hand to his forehead. "I have no idea what's in it," he said in a flat tone.
Demyx grinned. "It's full of ducks," he announced, cutting off whatever else Axel might have had to say. "Apparently freshly killed - within the past four to six hours, at the latest. I was just gonna take them up to the kitchen. I mean, who could pass up a dinner like that? We could have a whole roast duck apiece, almost." His smile suddenly started to resemble the Cheshire cat's. "The next question is whether or not I tell Xaldin where they came from. Which, I'm afraid, would necessarily include the fact that you three cut out on your mission."
Roxas's jaw dropped instantly. He glanced over at Fori to discover the demon had gone suddenly pale. Axel, who had pale skin to begin with, had gone white. "W-we didn't...cut out..." he was stammering to Demyx. "I mean...these two dipshits...they..."
"I think I've gathered more-or-less what happened," Demyx said crisply. "Yes, I heard you bawling them out. I think Saix probably heard you, and he's in the Land of Dragons." Axel had the decency to flush at that as Demyx turned his attention to Roxas and Fori. "And, granted, you two could get in a lot of trouble for that - not only for running home without orders or really extenuating circumstances, but also for drawing unnecessary negative attention to yourselves. Buuuuut..." He turned back to Axel. "When you left as well - and not to immediately haul them back, because you've already spent twenty minutes bitching them out - since you were the most senior member, that counts as calling off the mission. Which, unless you could provide more concrete proof that your lives were potentially in danger, one of you was too sick or injured to continue, or that the mission was impossible to carry out..." He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't really need to.
"Um...h-how much trouble would we be in?" Roxas stammered, not really wanting to know but figuring he might as well be informed. "For, um..."
Demyx just gazed at him levelly, one eyebrow raised. "Well...here's a hint. Boredom is not considered an extenuating circumstance. Insanity is. Accident is. Boredom...isn't. If anything, boredom would be an aggravating circumstance."
Dead silence for several moments. "Is that code for 'you guys are fucked'?" Fori said hesitantly.
"That depends on whether anyone ranked higher than Axel finds out about it," Demyx said lightly, limping off towards the kitchen with the game bag. "And here's another hint - the longer you three stand around, the more likely it is that someone will. See you guys later. By the way...I should be saying something pithy about self-control here, but I think you three can figure out everything I might want to say for yourselves."
The three of them turned in unison to watch him hobble away. "I can't believe Demyx, of all people, would blackmail us," Roxas said finally, once he was out of sight.
"This was your fault," Fori groused. "It was your stupid idea to take the damn bag..."
"Okay, who's the bigger idiot, the idiot who has the stupid idea or the idiot who goes along with the stupid idea? As I recall, you didn't exactly jump up and say 'no, that's a stupid idea'..."
"Guys..." Axel was suddenly towering over them again, except this time, he didn't look so enraged...more like sick. "Just...knock that off," he said weakly, instead of delivering another searing torrent of abuse. "Let's just get the hell back to Provence..."
"How damn many apples do you actually need peeled for one meal?"
"For twelve people? You'd be surprised..."
Axel glanced back at Demyx, who was lounging at the table watching him peel what seemed like enough apples to feed Oregon for a week. He would have liked to glare poisonously at him, except Demyx just might see it and decide to mention to Xaldin just why Axel had "volunteered" for the most basic and dreary of kitchen duties this afternoon. "Why aren't you doing anything?" he asked instead, in a weary voice.
"Because, since you were kind enough to volunteer to peel those apples, as well as other basic preparatory work," Xaldin said in a bored tone as he dipped the duck carcasses in hot water, the better to remove their feathers, "his help won't be needed until closer to serving time. Besides, Vexen won't allow us to work him too hard just yet." Maybe it was Axel's imagination, but Xaldin almost seemed to be laughing at him, as if he guessed why he was here. And those overheated duck feathers stank, but Xaldin and Demyx didn't seem to notice. "Now, a little faster with those apples. I need them diced for the stuffing."
Demyx was back to grinning like the Cheshire cat. "I'm sure that's easy enough for you to handle, right, Ax? You can use them to practice for the onions..."
Axel groaned and pushed down on the counter in frustration, a half-peeled apple in one hand and a knife in the other. "Motherfucking onions too? I hate being anywhere near raw onions, unless they're in a burger or something..."
"And potatoes," Demyx added cheerily. "Now, the job won't go faster if you go slower. At the rate you're going, you'll still be peeling apples by the time you should be setting the table."
"Setting the..." It was all Axel could do to keep the apple he was peeling from suddenly catching fire. "Demyx, you..." He took a few deep breaths, trying not to let on that Demyx was essentially blackmailing him, because then someone would have to explain why. "Is dishwashing duty included in this...bundle?"
He'd never seen anyone smile so widely without hurting themselves before. "No, it's Roxas and Fori's turn to do that...once they finish with all the bathroom floors."
AN: I can't watch Gaston's introduction in Beauty and the Beast - where he casually blows a duck out of the air and LeFou runs to catch it like a bird dog - without laughing. Eventually, I started to wonder...what would happen if a couple kids came running along and knocked the bag out of his hands entirely? Or better yet, stole it as a joke? So eventually, the random kids turned into Roxas and Fori. Then I wondered, what would happen next? Gaston would never allow a pair of jokers to run away with his game bag, so of course they'd have to run for their lives, and since Gaston has so many friends, they'd most likely have to either ditch the game bag or come home, or both... So then, what did they do with the game bag, take it home with them? No, they shoved it off on Axel, who had no clue what they'd been doing, only that he'd just had this bag forced on him and this really huge guy was coming after him with violent intentions, and Axel, the innocent, would panic and forget to drop the bag before running home. What did he do when he got home with the bag? Hunt down Roxas and Fori and give them the telling-off of their lives, of course. What about the bag? Demyx heard him bawling them out and came to investigate, of course. And he'd have to take a look inside the bag. And since it was Gaston's game bag, it would be full of game of some sort, probably ducks. What would he do with them? Take them to the kitchen, of course, because Demyx likes duck.
This is set between "Blood Ties" and "Against the Wind". Demyx is mostly recovered from everything Malenisa did to him - he's up and moving around pretty well, at least - but he's still on the disabled list, which is why he didn't get sent on this mission. I'm trying to write a darker story, set when he's still bedridden and all but immobilized, but I'm having a hard time striking the proper balance between depression and plot.
And I don't know why, but I've always thought of Beauty and the Beast as taking place in Provence. I have nothing to back me up, except it's a beautiful part of France.
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts or Disney's Beauty and the Beast, or any characters therein. Disney does. Well, Square Enix owns part of Kingdom Hearts.