A/N: Hello, everyone. One reason I quit working on this story for awhile was computer issues, but I also wasn't all that happy with the way it was going. So I"m going to go back and improve it, editing some chapters, and possibly adding a chapter or two. Here is my first edited chapter! Feel free to drop me a review with your opinion on the new, improved version!

A Royal Pain

It felt good to back, Axel reflected as he walked through the corridor of darkness, the familiar, multi-hued mists of the realm in between swirling around him. Back in business, back in action, whatever. When Sora had shown up on Hollow Bastion—Radiant Garden, he corrected himself mentally, rolling his eyes. The townspeople's stubborn insistence on the new name was starting to wear off on him-only a week after the fall of the Organization, he'd been tempted to go tell the Keybearer to go jump in a lake. Trying to make nice with the locals was hard enough; he wasn't about to add babysitting the Keyblade master to his to-do list. But Sora had come bearing a mission from the King of Disney Castle, some vague nonsense about Maleficent summoning up a Heartless threat—it would probably turn out to be nothing, but hey, at this point anything had to be more interesting than sitting around Radiant Garden twiddling his thumbs and trying to ignore the townies' suspicious glares.

Axel gave a sidelong glance to the two walking beside him—Kanixa just on his left, and Demyx on her other side. It was no surprise why he'd done the closest his dignity would allow to jumping at Sora's offer, the real puzzle was why they'd decided to come along. Well, it didn't take a genius to figure out Demyx's motivation. It beat the alternative—the Melodious Nocturne didn't relish prolonged visits to Radiant Garden any more than Axel did, for much the same reasons. But Kanixa didn't enjoy fighting, and she should have been thrilled at the chance to sit around visiting with her Other's friends, trying to fit herself into the space that Anika had left in their lives and stubbornly refusing to see that she no longer quite fit, like a square peg in a round hole…

His face closed off, eyes darkening with anger, as he pursued that train of thought. If he was being honest with himself—something he'd rarely done in the Organization, as living without that burdensome thing called a conscience proved so much easier, but with Kanixa's power, and lately Sora's influence, pulling at him it happened more and more often now—that was the foremost reason he hated Radiant Garden. While there, Kanixa constantly found herself pulled between loyalties to her old life and her new life, and somehow her Other's friends always seemed to end up on top.

Well, perhaps another trip to save the worlds was just what the doctor ordered. Some time away from Leon and the Restoration Committee, to remind her just who was really important…

"Penny for your thoughts, Axel?"

"Huh?" Snapping back into himself, he glanced over to see Kanixa looking up at him with a curious expression.

"You looked pretty serious all of a sudden," she explained, giving him a smile.

"Just wondering what we're up against," he replied lightly. "Though this whole thing is probably just the King's paranoia talking."

Now it was Kanixa who wore a frown. Axel reached over to give her shoulder a light shove, to get her attention. "What's eating you?" he required, with his usual lack of tact, when she looked up at him in surprise.

"I just never thought I'd be going back there," she said softly.

"You've been to Disney Castle, Nixa?" Demyx asked, surprised. Axel waited to hear her answer, surprised himself. If she had gone to Disney Castle, it must have been during that brief period of time she'd gone rogue before he caught up with her, on her way to meet Demyx on Hollow Bastion.

"Disney Castle? I thought we were going to the World that Never Was! We are going after Maleficent, aren't we?" she protested, looking confused.

"That would be too easy," Axel commented. "First we have to see the King, so he can give us royal instruction on how to proceed." His sarcastic tone made it clear how he felt about the pointless side trip. The idea that he needed instructions on how to spy was ridiculous. The Organization had done far more to prepare him than one king ever could. The same was true for Demyx , and even Kanixa. Sora, on the other hand, could use a few lessons on subtlety. "Really it's an excuse to give us all a few days to rest."

"A few…days?" Kanixa asked, beginning to sound like a parrot. Axel prepared to make a snarky comment, but then remembered she'd been absent when Sora had explained the situation back on Radiant Garden. So he settled for explaining what she'd missed as graciously as he could. Not that that said much.

"In case you've forgotten, all of us, including the King's precious Keybearer, have just been through several major battles. Of course he'll want us all at top strength before we actually take any action. He won't want his spies making mistakes."

"Spies? But I thought—"

He cut her off impatiently, tired of rehashing old information. "Weren't you paying attention? Maleficent has summoned a huge amount of Heartless, and the King wants us to find out why."

"So, Nixa," Demyx interjected, shooting Axel a warning look. He held the water wielder's gaze for a beat or two, not intimidated, but he got the message all the same: enough already. "How are you feeling? Ready to tackle some Heartless?"

"Of course," she replied, smiling at the blonde. "I want revenge. Those little monsters destroyed my coat." Axel glanced over at her to see that she no longer wore her Organization coat, which had taken a beating. Someone, presumably Yuffie, had dressed her in a tank top and shorts. Paired with her calf-length Organization boots, the outfit made her look ridiculous—if he had to label it, he might call it "conservative hooker."

"Maybe you can snag one out of the spares out of the supply closet while we're paying a call on Maleficent," he suggested. But first, he would put the castle tailors to work to find a new outfit for her—it was the least the King could do for dragging them halfway across the known worlds for an audience.

"Maybe," Kanixa said doubtfully. The frown she wore now was softer, a thinking expression, as she doubtlessly went through the logistics of sneaking around to the supply closet without being detected in her head.

"We're here," Demyx interrupted, opening a portal out. Kanixa stepped out first, Axel just on her heels. They stood in the middle of the castle's immaculate front lawn. Grass an unnaturally bright shade of green made a neatly trimmed carpet, and giant topiaries loomed in every direction. Axel's fingers clenched and unclenched; the temptation to summon his chakrams and set one or two of the sculpted hedges alight grew every second he had to look at the hideous things.

"This place looks…nice," Kanixa said finally, sounding unsure of herself. The look on her face indicated she found the garden as pretentious as he did.

"Aw, man!" The dejected cry from behind him made Axel turn. Sora stood a yard or so away, staring at him in disbelief. Behind him, Riku watched impassively, arms folded, and Kairi glared at him through narrowed eyes. "How could you beat us?" The Keyblade master asked, half to himself.

Axel smirked down at the younger boy. "Better luck next time." Sora smiled back.

"Sora!" The mage, Donald, barreled between Riku and Kairi, racing up to the Keybearer and past him. "Don't dawdle! We have to report to the King!"

"Wait for me, Donald!" Goofy ran after his friend. Sora watched them go with a slightly puzzled expression.

"We'd better follow them," Riku said quietly. "We don't want to keep the King waiting." Sora nodded, breaking into a run himself. Riku and Kairi kept pace. Kanixa and Demyx trailed behind them at a walk. Axel fell in beside Kanixa, and, an idea springing into his head, gave Demyx a look that told him in no uncertain terms to make himself scarce. Demyx nodded slightly before speeding up until he'd nearly caught up with Sora.

"What's with him?" Kanixa asked, frowning at his retreating back.

"Dunno," Axel lied. Now that they were alone, he might as well dive right in to the matter he wanted to discuss. Speaking of reminding Kanixa who was really important… "You know, Kanixa, I've been thinking. There's a conversation we still have to finish." He turned an expectant green gaze on her.

"Conversation?" Kanixa looked confused, and slightly unnerved by the intensity of his gaze. "I don't follow you."

"On Twilight Town," he hinted further.

"We had lots of conversations on Twilight Town." Kanixa reached up to brush a piece of hair out of her face. "I don't get what you're hinting at," she said flatly. "So you might as well just tell me."

"We agreed to postpone talking about a relationship until after the Organization was dealt with. I think now safely counts as after. Don't you?" he added, raising his eyebrows. He wore his normal cocky smile, but for once he didn't have the inner assurance to back it up. Maybe springing it on her like this wasn't a good idea….what if she turned him down?

"Axel…" A light blush rose into her cheeks, and she dropped her gaze from his. "I…"

"Come on, you guys!" Sora cried from up ahead. He'd stopped and turned back to shout at them, hands cupped around his mouth.

Kanixa gave him an apologetic look, but her eyes held a glimmer of something else…relief? "I guess we'll have to finish this conversation later," she said before jogging forward to join Demyx, who had almost reached the spot where Sora waited impatiently for them. Axel brought up the rear, resisting the urge to summon his chakrams and sling one at the Keyblade Master. If the little pipsqueak hadn't interrupted, Kanixa would have had no choice but to answer him. As it was, who knew when he'd get the chance to get her alone?

They followed Sora through the double doors of Disney Castle, and down an opulent hallway to another set of double doors. Sora pushed them open to reveal a library that Axel had to concede would be impressive if you liked that kind of thing. Kanixa evidently did; her eyes were huge as she took in the walls covered with shelves of thick books, interspersed with pictures of what had to be royal ancestors.

"A-hem." A polite cough drew the party's attention to the center of the room. The queen, judging by the crown she wore, smiled blandly at them once she had everyone's attention.

"Your Majesty!" Donald and Goofy snapped to, saluting and looking grave. Sora bowed, after an elbow in the ribs from Donald. As he rose, he gave the queen a smile and a wave. "Hello, Queen Minnie."

"Hello, Sora," Queen Minnie chirped. "It's so good to see you again!"

Riku bowed as well, "Your Majesty," he said gravely. Kairi curtseyed mutely. So the redhead could keep her mouth shut when she chose. Who would have known? Axel wondered.

"You must be Riku and Kairi. And you three must be Axel, Demyx and Kanixa. The King has told me so much about you."

Demyx and Kanixa glanced at each other, uncertain of the protocol, then inclined their heads in half-bows. Axel merely nodded at the queen. He felt no need to kowtow to some sovereign he owed no allegiance to.

"The King is waiting in the throne room," the queen said serenely. "Sora, you know the way." Sora saluted, then ran out of the door, Donald and Goofy right on his heels. Riku and Kairi followed, and once again the three Nobodies trailed at the rear. Kanixa's hands pulled nervously at the hem of her tank top—evidently she didn't feel she was dressed to go before royalty.

"Relax," he advised her in a low murmur that wouldn't carry. "You've met the King before, remember? He's not that impressive."

"I am relaxed," she snapped back. Realizing that her tone belied her words, she settled for a haughty silence. About halfway down the hallway they'd come down, Sora stopped in front a pair of truly humongous double doors. They loomed all the way up to the ceiling. Axel waited, watching curiously. If Sora could get those open, the Keybearer was far stronger than he'd given him credit for. Sora shoved against the base of one of the doors, and a far smaller door that made up part of the huge door swung open. Typical.

The party filed through the smaller opening, down a very long red carpet to the throne at the end of the room where the King sat. As they reached the dais, he hopped down from his throne.

"Hello, fellas!" He greeted Donald and Goofy as they saluted. "Hello, Sora. Riku. Kairi." His gaze transferred to the trio of former Organization members and his gaze grew less warm. "Axel. Demyx. Kanixa. I wasn't sure whether to expect you three. But I'm glad you came."

Axel shrugged. "No reason not to," he replied easily, keeping his eyes firmly on the King. People with hearts were surprisingly easy to read, and he wanted to know more on why the King had asked them here.

"So, Axel. How much did Sora tell you about why I asked you here?" King Mickey asked.

"The basics," he replied. "Maleficent has summoned a huge amount of Heartless, and you want to know why."

"That's right. But there's more." The King looked around furtively, as if trying to spot anyone who might be listening. Did he really suspect his own people? "Maleficent is a powerful sorceress with a lot of ambition. Around three years ago, she tried to summon Kingdom Hearts for herself, but in the end a powerful being called Ansem—the Heartless of the leader of Organization XIII—took over the project himself. But Maleficent hasn't given up on her ambition. She may be trying to build another Kingdom Hearts."

"It makes sense," Axel commented. "But a huge crowd of Heartless won't do the trick. That's why the Organization was interested in Sora, here." He gave the Keyblade master a hard-edged smile, resulting in glares from Riku and Kairi, before continuing. "Once the Keyblade releases the captive hearts from Heartless, then the hearts can be used to build up Kingdom Hearts. Her plan won't work without the Keyblade master." Although really any Keyblade would do, so the witch might set her sights on Kairi…or…

"Maleficent must know this. So she could be setting a trap for a Keyblade wielder," the King said gravely, cutting off his train of thought. "That puts you at risk, Sora. And you too, Kanixa," he added, clearly as an afterthought. "Gosh, I almost forgot. You have a Keyblade too, don't'cha?"

"Yes," Kanixa replied levelly. "Two, actually."

"Then are the two of you prepared to accept this mission, knowing the risks?" The King glanced from Sora to Kanixa, face serious. "I'll understand if you say no."

"Of course, Your Majesty!" Sora said confidently, saluting.

"Yes, Your Majesty," Kanixa said quietly, inclining her head.

"Great!" King Mickey said, smiling. "Then I guess it's time for the servants to show you to your rooms. We'll talk more at dinner." As if on cue, the door to the throne room swung open. Brooms magicked into life filed down the carpet, each one stopping in front of one of the party. Sora appeared completely unfazed, but the others regarded the servants with expressions ranging from interest to surprise. Each broom paused for a few seconds before filing away again, the person it was assigned to trailing behind. Fortunately, all of the brooms seemed to be heading the same direction.

"I don't like the sound of this," Demyx muttered in a low voice, giving the King a suspicious glance over his shoulder.

"Huh?" Kanixa gave him a surprised look. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, I don't know," Axel deadpanned, "maybe the bit about possibly walking into a trap for a Keyblade wielder?" The King had conveniently left that out of the message he'd sent Sora. Otherwise he never would have let Kanixa off of Radiant Garden. At least he knew that he and Demyx were on the same page when it came to protecting her.

"And that's supposed to scare me?" she asked, raising her eyebrows. "Axel, the entire Organization was definitely trying to capture and kill me, and I survived that. Compared to that, this should be easy."

Axel kept his own thoughts on the subject private, but judging from the sober expression that Riku had worn when the King mentioned Maleficent, the witch might be a force to be reckoned with. Whatever the silver-haired boy's other faults, he didn't share Sora's rash judgment or easy impressionability. He made a mental note to ask Riku about it later.

"Still—" Demyx began, but Kanixa cut him off.

"Guys, don't you think you're being a little too cautious?" she asked, sounding amused. "Remember, I'm not the only Keybearer here. There's Sora—and he's a lot better known than I am. If Maleficent is setting a trap for anyone, he should probably be the one to worry."

"Hey, that's right," Demyx said, sounding cheered by the reminder. Riku threw the sitar player a glare over his shoulder.

"Don't worry, Kanixa," Sora said, glancing back with a smile. "Maleficent is nothing I can't handle."

"Really? That's not how I remember it," Kairi teased. Sora blushed slightly. Axel rolled his eyes. The two would end up together by the end of the mission. Though what Sora saw in the bratty Princess of Heart was beyond him. The brooms led them to the same wing of the palace, stopping in front of six doors on the same hall. Kanixa had a room between Axel and Demyx, and Kairi had a room between Riku and Sora.

"Bye, Sora," Donald squawked. Evidently he would be staying in his own room in a different part of the castle. Good riddance.

"We'll see you at dinner," Goofy said with a parting wave. With that, the King's two retainers left. The rest of the party vanished into their rooms. Axel put a restraining hand on Kanixa's arm.

"Now that the royal audience is over, how about we finish our conversation?" he asked, pinning her with his gaze, hoping to ward off any evasions.

"Sure. Come in," Kanixa invited, stepping into the room her broom had indicated. The door opened onto a room fit for a princess. Ruffles, lace, and the color pink appeared wherever Axel looked. Kanixa took in the overwhelmingly girly display with a what-can-you-do shrug before taking a seat on the edge of the immense canopied bed.

"You were just about to answer my question," Axel prompted her before she'd have an opportunity to dodge the issue. He leaned against the wall by the door, languid pose at odds with the tension he felt inside. "Before Sora so rudely interrupted us."

"I remember," she assured him. "And of course I want to date you. Silly," she added, giving him a smile. "I've just been waiting for you to bring it up."

"Oh." He felt slightly sheepish at that revelation, and he reached up to scratch the back of his head. "I didn't think you were that old-fashioned," he added with a smirk to cover the fact that she'd unbalanced him slightly.

"There's just one thing," she continued.

"Oh?" Axel asked sharply, thrown off-balance by the unexpected qualifier. "What's the problem?" The situation seemed straightforward enough—either she wanted to date him, or she didn't.

"We agreed to postpone dating until the Organization was dealt with—"

"And they are," Axel interrupted.

"But what if this whole Maleficent thing blows up into something else, and we have to go and save the worlds again?" she asked, sounding unhappy at the prospect. "What if we're always off fighting, and we don't have any time for just…us?"

Axel crossed the room to take a seat beside her on the bed. "We'll make time," he promised. "Besides, the rumor about Maleficent is probably nothing, Nixa. We're only here to play the tour guides—we can get Sora around the World that Never Was unseen if there really is anything there. But while we're on the subject, why did you decide to tag along on this little trip?"

"Tag along? I was invited too," she reminded him, lifting her chin mulishly. Apparently he'd struck a nerve.

"I would have thought that you'd prefer to stay on Hollow Bastion. You know, get some rest. See your friends. Stay out of the fighting for a while."

"I can do that when we get back. Like you said, this shouldn't take long. Unless you know something I don't about Maleficent. Actually, what do you know about her?" she asked, gazing up at him expectantly. "I'd like to know what I'm up against."

"I don't really know much about the witch," he responded truthfully. "Just be ready for anything." He reached over to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "I would hate to lose someone I care about." She glanced over at him, surprised, bringing their faces closer together…close enough to kiss…

At that point, someone knocked on the door. "I—I'd better get that," a suddenly pink-cheeked Kanixa announced, practically diving across the room to get to the door. Axel glared at the door, ready to give whoever was behind it a tongue-lashing for interrupting what could have been a romantic moment. To his surprise, after Kanixa threw open the door, he saw that the guilty party was a sentient broom. It thrust its bundle—some cumbersome piece of cloth—into Kanixa's arms before waddling away on its bristle-"legs."

"Weird," Kanixa commented, closing the door with her hip and staggering her way over to the bed with the heavy bundle. After she dropped it right next to Axel, who quickly scooted out of the way, she unfurled the bundle to reveal a full-skirted court gown.

Axel couldn't keep a smirk off of his face as he stared at the gown. It wasn't hideous, but with one glance he knew that the over-the-top, princess style wouldn't suit Kanixa. Other than the fact that this dressed looked trimmed to fit Kanixa, and that it was green instead of pink, it looked the twin of the pink monstrosity that Queen Minnie had been wearing in the library, from the puff sleeves to the star-shaped buttons holding back the gathered skirt from the darker-colored underskirt. "Huh. Guess we're expected to dress for dinner," he commented.

Kanixa looked at the bundle with distaste. "I'll look hideous in this," she whined.

Axel shrugged. "Now, now. It wouldn't do to refuse the King's hospitality. You'd better wear it," he advised, smirk only growing when she glared at him.

"Fine advice from someone who they're not trying to dress up. How do you know that there isn't a tuxedo or something waiting for you in your room?" she sniffed. Picking up the cumbersome bundle, she hauled it into her room's adjoining bathroom to change. A few minutes later, she returned, though her wide skirt almost got her stuck in the doorway. "What do you think?" she asked, trying her best to sound unconcerned, though her hands pulled at the skirt of the dress nervously.

Axel kept a poker face on as he let his gaze flick over the gown, just to needle her with his lack of a reaction. Though the gown had looked fairly awful just lying out, somehow Kanixa managed to pull it off. The tapered waist set off her own slim form, the pale green—almost the shade of his own eyes—made her eyes stand out, and the full skirt made her look like some fairy tale princess.

Some fairy tale princess whose mouth was twisted into an unhappy scowl. "I look like a kid playing dress up, don't I?" Kanixa complained, tone coming dangerously close to a whine. "That's it. I'm going to take it off!"

"Wait a minute," Axel objected, getting to his feet. "It looks better than you'd think. See?" Slipping an arm around her shoulders, he guided her over to the full-length mirror that hung suspended from a frame in the corner.

Kanixa examined her reflection with a narrow-eyed, critical stare. "I guess it's not so bad," she said finally.

"'Not so bad?'" Axel repeated. "Come on. Admit it. You're hot." He swept out one arm to gesture at her reflection. When Kanixa shot him a sidelong long, as if she wasn't sure what to make of his statement, he wondered if he'd overstepped himself.

"Thanks," she said shyly, dropping her gaze, a blush rising to her cheeks. "Now, get going," she snapped, sounding more like her normal self.

"Have I worn out my welcome that quickly?" Axel asked, smirking down at her.

"No. I just want to see if there's some equally horrendous outfit waiting in your room," she announced. "So I'm coming with."

"You have to be kidding," Axel said as he followed her towards the door. "The King has to know that I won't play dress up for him like some—"

His mouth closed abruptly as Kanixa opened the door and they beheld Demyx standing in the hallway, wearing a grim expression and a rather unusual-looking tuxedo. The cut was fine and it fit him well enough, but instead of the normal black it was a bright, cerulean blue, the same color as his eyes, and the buttons on the jacket and at the cuffs were a clashing lemon yellow.

"We have to dress for dinner," Number Nine explained, tone as bleak as though he'd announced they would all be executed at dawn.

"Looking good, Demyx," Axel declared with a smirk. He would have continued, but Kanixa elbowed him in the ribs.

"You look nice, Demyx," she said, giving him a smile.

"Laugh it up," Demyx advised, giving Axel a hard smile, ignoring Kanixa's compliment. "Just wait and see what they've got laid out for you."

"Who says I'm going to wear whatever it is?" Axel challenged.

"After what you just told me? No way. Fair is fair," Kanixa said, turning to face him and giving him a stubborn look, folding her arms. "If I have to play along, then so do you."

Axel's eyes flashed, and he glared at her, trying to think of a suitable response to extricate him from this situation. But nothing was coming to him. Besides, it probably wasn't best to antagonize her too much, given the fact that she'd just agreed to go out with him.

"Fine," he growled. "Wait here." And with that, he stalked into his room, slamming the door behind him.

Kanixa bit her lip as she and Demyx waited out in the hallway for Axel to reappear. He'd certainly seemed less than pleased when she'd called him on his bluff. But, come on! It wasn't fair for Axel to go around looking sleek and dangerous as usual in the Organization's black—he really did look handsome in it—while she had to be stuck in the pastel clothing of…of awfulness!

Suddenly, the door to Axel's room flew open. Axel stood in the doorway, eyes smoldering with defiance. "Happy now?" he demanded sourly, folding his arms.

He wore a—surprise—pastel tuxedo, and its minty green shade exactly matched the shade of her gown….and of his eyes, now that she realized it. Other than the color, the tuxedo wasn't all that awful—the tailored jacket and trousers played up his tall, lanky frame, and the sharp-cornered lapels on the jacket matched his spiky hair—and prickly attitude. The white dress shirt underneath looked like something that should have been forgotten in the disco age—a mass of ruffles that (fortunately) quickly disappeared under the jacket. A mint green bowtie completed the ensemble.

"You look good," she reassured him. "Well, except for the shirt. And look…we match!" She walked over to stand beside him.

"Hmph," Axel snorted, apparently not mollified. "Well, this is the one and only time I'll be going by their dress code. Got that memorized?" he asked, giving her a stern look.

"Don't pin this on me," she retorted. "You're the one that told me we shouldn't make a point of offending the King—"

"No, I said you shouldn't make a point of offending the King. I never said anything about me," Axel said, putting a hand to his chest, smirking down at her.

"We don't need to cause trouble, Axel," Demyx broke in, tone flat, giving Axel a hard stare. "This isn't our turf."

"What, you think I can't take that pipsqueak—" Axel began, in a tone that indicated he perceived a challenge and intended to rise to the bait. That didn't bode well at all, Kanixa thought, nervousness blooming in the pit of her stomach.

"Hey!" Sora's chipper voice provided a welcome distraction. "So, it looks like the King sent you guys new clothes too."

Kanixa glanced up to see the Keyblade master standing outside his room, wearing a pastel pink tuxedo. "You're looking snazzy, Axel," he commented, putting his arms behind his head as he took in Number Eight's new outfit. "You too, Demyx. I wonder what we all have to dress up for?"

"You don't look too bad yourself, Sora," Axel returned. "That is, if you like looking like a bowl of strawberry ice cream."

Sora gave a sheepish-sounding chuckle. "Yeah…I think we're supposed to match our dates," he said as Kairi stepped out of her room, wearing a pink gown. "That's why you and Kanixa are wearing the same color, right?"

"I guess so," Axel said, sounding cheered by this prospect, draping a proprietary arm over Kanixa's shoulders. She stiffened slightly, resisting the urge to say something about it. They'd been dating for all of ten minutes—he shouldn't be so cocky. But then, telling Axel not to be cocky would be like telling the sun not to shine—pointless.

"So if they're pairing us off an all," the redhead was saying, turning his attention to Demyx, "maybe they'll rustle up a beautiful court lady for you, Demyx."

Demyx gave the Flurry of Dancing Flames a hard stare. "You really think I'd want anyone that came from this world?"

At that moment, Riku emerged from his room, wearing a scowl—and a cerulean blue tuxedo.

Axel's eyes glinted, but before he could so much as open his mouth, Kanixa elbowed him in the side. "Don't you dare," she hissed, trying not to move her lips. He glared down at her, looking affronted.

"What was that for?"

"It means behave," she informed him. She would have said more—Axel didn't look mollified in the least; he was still glaring down at her—but Sora was finally breaking the silence.

"I never thought they'd actually get you in a tuxedo," he said, grinning up at his friend.

"I could have said the same about you. Although I'm betting Kairi had more to do with getting you to go along with it," Riku returned, a smile on his face as he teased his friend. "But…couldn't they have picked colors that were less…"

"Tacky?" Axel supplied. Riku gave him a sharp look, but didn't disagree with Number Eight's assessment.

"I think they just picked what colors looked good on the girls, and then the guys had to match," Sora explained, smoothing his pink tuxedo jacket nervously.

"Well, then…who am I supposed to match?" Riku asked, not looking pleased with the idea that there might be some court lady downstairs that would be foisted on him for the evening.

He glanced up…and met Demyx's most ferocious glare. "I am not," Number Nine declared, "spending the evening with you."

For a few long seconds, Riku just glared back, hands curling into fists. Then: "Whatever. Let's just get this over with," the silver-haired boy declared. He threaded through the group, coming dangerously close to shouldering Demyx as he did so. "If we're all dressed up, I'm guessing we should head to the ballroom," he said over his shoulder once he'd almost reached the end of the hallway. "I can show you the way. Are you coming?"

"I think we're all ready," Kanixa said after glancing at Axel and Demyx for confirmation.

"You go on. I think Kairi's still getting ready," Sora said, putting his hands behind his head and giving them a sheepish grin.

Not particularly pleased with this turn of events—a ballroom probably meant dancing, not something that was high on his list of preferred activities. The only thing good about this whole thing was that it might provide a romantic evening with Kanixa—Axel wore a scowl as he followed Riku through the maze of corridors.

"Axel?" He glanced down to see Kanixa gazing up at him, looking nervous.

"Yeah?" he asked, a bit curtly. He was still smarting—metaphorically and literally—over the none-too-gentle elbow in the ribs she'd given him back there. What was with her today?

"You don't think this is going to be some kind of dance, do you?" she asked, looking a bit pale at the prospect.

"It's looking that way," he replied slowly, keeping his eyes on her face, trying to read her thoughts. She normally wasn't this dense, so what was with her? "Is that a problem?" he asked when her already pale face took on a green tinge. When she didn't answer, he put a hand on her shoulder, halting her. "Talk to me," he ordered, steering her over to one side of the hallway, where they wouldn't be overheard.

"I don't know how to dance," she said in a whisper.

"Then just follow my lead. It'll be fine. Unless you want to skip?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

"That would be rude," she said, shaking her head.

"All right, but if you change your mind later…" Axel trailed off, deciding to change his tack. Maybe distracting her would work best. He offered her his best imitation of a courtly bow, and as he straightened he held out his arm for her to take.

"We might as well look the part, you know," he told her, smiling.

At first Kanixa just blinked at him, surprised. Then, a shy smile on her face, she reached out and slipped her arm through his.

"There you are," Riku commented flatly when they caught up to him and Demyx after the first bend in the corridor. "Let's get going."

"Where were you two?" Demyx demanded once Riku was nearly out of earshot, clearly indignant at having been left alone with him.

"Just sorting out a little hiccup," Axel replied evasively.

"Cheer up, Demyx," Kanixa advised, reaching out to lay her free hand comfortingly on his arm. "This could be fun. Maybe you can be the band for the party."

"Maybe," Demyx agreed, brightening somewhat. "And maybe we can find out what's really going on here," he added in a low voice, expression turning grim.

"What do you mean?" Kanixa asked, brow furrowing into a perplexed frown.

"Come on, Nixa. The King may be trying to be open-minded about Nobodies, but wining and dining us? Giving us fancy new clothes?" Demyx gestured down at himself. "Something's up."

"My thoughts exactly," Axel murmured. "They shouldn't be rolling out the red carpet treatment for a bunch of Nobodies. Maybe there's something about this Maleficent hag they're not telling us. Let's be sure to keep our ears open tonight."