Author's Note: Ugh, I don't know what to say. Here's to subtext, I guess? *headdesk* I love you like crazy Erin! Happy facking ridiculously late birthday again!
The air was still chilly, the wind still biting, and the nights still encrusted in frost. However, at present the sun was shining and the wind was utterly still, the blue sky was cloudless, and the sun beamed warmly down on the city, the castle, and the brownish-green fields nearby. These fields were used little in winter, but now that the days were slightly milder with the slow approach of spring, the guards were out more often – soldiers making use of the space for practice duels and other military training to hone their skills.
Sharp strikes of metal against metal rang out again and again in swift succession, each clash a sudden spike of sound across the field. Soldiers gathered around, watching the match between two of the best fencers in the capital.
The Prince lunged forward in a renewed attack, causing another loud clash as the captain of the guard parried his blow. Smooth and swift as the wind, Reno turned his defense into a strike, sending the Prince leaping back. Both young men were grinning, even through their deep concentration, and blue and green eyes glinted brightly with equal fire as Axel and Reno thoroughly enjoyed their battle.
In spite of their heavy black boots, both young men moved nimbly, feet light against the brown earth and dead grass. They had worked up a considerable sweat under the warm sun, but neither paid any heed to that. Axel was determined to beat his old friend this time…and Reno was set upon defending his title as the best. It was a matter of bragging rights, even though they both knew that Reno never won by a wide margin.
Suddenly, after a moments' pause as he threw off the Prince again, the captain spun around in a new direction, his blade coming up against Axel's with a spin the Prince could not predict, and before his opponent could blink, Reno had disarmed him and had his sword at the Prince's throat.
Axel looked stunned for a moment, then relaxed with a heavy exhalation, gasping for breath and grinning. "Very well, I yield." He laughed as the guards applauded and cheered their captain and Reno lowered his sword, also grinning. "Now what was that?" Axel immediately demanded.
The captain was also gasping for air, but quickly assumed a lazy, casual stance, strolling up to the Prince and drooping a companionable arm around his shoulder. "Oh, nothing much, my Prince. Merely a little technique of my own I thought up the other day." The laughter from the guards was renewed again as Axel sent him a skeptical look.
"Do not heed him, me Prince!" one shouted.
"Aye!" another joined in, "Our captain has spent long hours perfecting that little maneuver, ere he trusted it against you!"
Reno sent a dark glare at his troops, while Axel laughed again. "Your men are honest, captain. Not like you." He poked lightly at the captain's ribs as the two of them began to stroll off toward the equipment rooms, Reno's arm still looped over the Prince's shoulder and neither caring about the sweat of the other.
They put up their equipment with the other men, all loudly taunting one another and laughing. Aside from the title addressed to him at all times, Prince Axel was indistinguishable from the other men at times like this – he was open and friendly with them, and they gladly accepted him among them. It was one of the many indications that he was truly a well-loved Prince.
Axel finished first. "My thanks, gentlemen, for allowing me to join in your practice today!" He called to the room, waving. A chorus of jovial responses answered, and Axel turned to the captain. "I will bathe in my own chambers; will you be along shortly, then?"
Reno nodded, "Certainly, my Prince. I'll join you for tea there."
Agreeing, Axel waved and departed. Reno continued to put his gear away, his heart light for the first time in a seeming eternity. It had been so long since the Prince had been able to join him for a match, or do much of anything together. Reno shook his head, telling himself that his doubts were foolish. It had been a long winter, and winter was dark, but spring was coming, and surely the Prince would keep company with him as they once had when spring arrived.
"The Prince looks very well of late, don't you think?" One soldier was conversationally addressing another. Reno heeded them very little.
"Indeed," the other answered. "Though we have not seen him often in recent weeks, I have noted him as he passed my station from time to time. He looks remarkably well, especially since his engagement."
At this, Reno's attention was caught, and he listened more carefully. "Nay, it was shortly after that," the first answered. "For I saw him during the Princess' visit and after, and he looked quite spiritless for a time. But then, some week or so later, perhaps more, I am sure I noticed him beginning to improve rapidly. I remember marking it to myself at the time."
The second man shrugged. "Engagement works wonders for a man."
"Indeed…it may," the first soldier pondered aloud. "Yet I wonder if it is that."
Lowering his tone slightly, the soldier answered, "Well, if it is anyone else, best not to talk of it. Though surely it is some fair influence. I have seen enough winters to know when a young lad has found a lass."
"Aye," the response was nearly muttered, it had fallen so low. "Best to leave it at that. Let him have his lass in peace, and his Queen in the proper time."
The conversation ended, and Reno slowly finished putting away the swords. His high spirits had fallen considerably in a short time. No longer did he think hopefully of the coming spring…but a dark expression gathered on his brow as he remembered the past weeks. The Prince's preoccupation, his frequent disappearances, especially in the evening, his unusual manner – sometimes strangely elated, sometimes absentminded in everyday work, and always smiling, often for no reason. And Reno remembered, too, the guest in the tower – the boy who seemed content to stay in his room, who was rarely seen, who never attended functions, and who stayed on and on for no visible reason.
And he knew, he knew in the depths of his heart, but he would not, could not think it. He would dull his mind into oblivion before he would let it ponder too far…and at the moment, he was suddenly beginning to feel a powerful thirst.
He would have to wait, however – wine was not served at afternoon tea. Shaking his head, Reno attempted to return his thoughts to spring and the hope of more time spent in the Prince's company – perhaps hunting, some morning soon – but the ideas seemed distant and weak, like baseless dreams. They no longer lifted his head and livened his step with energy. In fact, they seemed to add to the burden on his mind, pulling his shoulders down into a slump again.
The servants had filled the Prince's tub with hot water and departed, and Axel was relaxing, soaking and cleansing away the dirt and sweat from his time down at the practice fields. Pouring clear water over his head and body, he finally rinsed away the soap and stood, stretching and reaching for a soft towel to dry himself with. As he did so, he glanced in the looking-glass. There were a few scrapes and bruises visible on his forearms and knees – his skirmishes with Reno were never gentle.
He wrapped the towel around his waist and prepared to leave the smaller bathing room and collect the clothes that would be laid out for him. Before he did, however, he caught sight of one other mark, as he was stretching his arms up to pull his soaked hair back and out of his face. This mark was a dark bruise, and it had not come from swordplay. It was located high up on the soft underside of his arm…and Axel touched it gently, blushing as he remembered receiving it.
It had been dark except for the golden glow of the candles, and there was heat…so much heat surrounding him beneath the sheets. Again and again, he had sucked passionately at a vulnerable throat, eliciting cries and moans of pleasure as he marked his lover over and over.
"Axel," that sweet voice spoke, calling his gaze to hazy blue eyes. "You too…please…if you are mine as well, I also want to mark you…"
"It cannot be seen…" he breathed, uncertain in spite of the way his heart raced.
The blond hesitated. "If…I do it somewhere else…somewhere unseen?" Axel, in awe of the beautiful young man he held, could only nod.
Roxas moved slowly, thoughtfully, touching his neck, then shoulders, then gently moving his arm, lifting it, and lowering his lips. He placed a loving trail of gentle kisses along the inside of Axel's forearm, moving upward, until he had reached this sensitive place. His lover's mouth had opened here, against his skin, and Roxas had sucked forcefully, intentionally, as Axel watched his sweet face in the candlelight and felt the pressure…and the momentary pain. Then Roxas had released him with a wet sound, and kissed tenderly over the spot again before lifting his eyes to Axel.
"My love…" The whisper swept the Prince away, and they melted together in an even more passionate, burning embrace than before.
The mark had darkened, and remained dark even now, a few days later. It would begin to heal soon, but before it could, Axel was certain that Roxas would give him another. Even if it had to be secret, he cherished the visible proof of their love – this evidence on his body that, even when they were apart, they belonged to each other.
It made his heart race, almost as rapidly as it always did when Roxas was in his arms, and it took his breath away almost as completely as his lover's smile in the darkness.
Almost. But nothing could ever entirely match those priceless experiences…and the Prince couldn't wait to be with Roxas again. To meet his love in the tower and embrace him, become one with him again.
He was snapped from his thoughts by a knock on the bedroom door. Hurriedly, he left the bathing room and sought his laid-out clothing, calling "Enter." Reno opened the door and walked in, and Axel picked up his garments and held them, carefully trying to make sure the underside of his arm couldn't be seen. Reno only glanced in his direction anyway, before turning abruptly away toward the window.
"Sorry Reno," he quickly began, still collecting the last articles of clothing. "I took too long. Ring for the maids to bring tea in while I dress, would you?"
The captain nodded, and Axel chose to disappear into the bathing room again to put his clothes on. He hoped Reno would attribute his unusual modesty to the immanent presence of the maids, and not suspect him of hiding anything.
Not that Reno would notice the mark…but the Prince could not be too careful about such things.
Roxas lay on his back, his eyes shut against the bright, bright, far too bright candlelight, and allowed himself the needed minutes to bring his breathing under control and his heart rate back to normal. He had grown more accustomed to this, and ceased to panic when the ownership of his body was taken from him. He allowed it, knowing that the ecstasy would fade again, and he would be as before. The process no longer overwhelmed him with fear.
Tender fingers were playing in his hair. Roxas knew that, when he opened his eyes, blissful green ones would be watching him. The performance would continue. But first, Roxas had to catch his breath – most especially because he was taking another step tonight.
When he felt able, he allowed his eyes to slip open, unfocused but seeking out the Prince. As he turned his head, he saw what he had expected – Axel's face turned toward him, adoring him with his eyes and touch.
"Roxas…" The voice was a whisper in the near-dark, "I love you."
"Axel…" The blond allowed his own voice to tremble, touched, as he reached for the Prince and their lips met in a soft caress. Axel's arms wound around him, drawing them close together, skin pressed to naked skin from head to toe as they kissed, long and slowly.
At length, Axel sighed and drew back. As usual, his voice was heavy with regret now: "I must go…"
"Don't," Roxas begged, and the Prince stopped, surprised. Roxas had not begged him to stay for some time, choosing instead to merely show quiet misery when the Prince departed. Tonight, however, the pleading was to be renewed.
"Roxas, you know I must…" The Prince's voice was troubled and just slightly reluctant.
"I know…" Roxas began in a frail, sorrowful tone. "I know you cannot stay beside me…I know I cannot have the joy of waking together with you in the morning. But at least…can you not stay a while and talk to me?"
Axel bit his lip uncertainly. "It is unwise…I could be missed the longer I am gone, and the risk is already so great…"
At this point, Roxas allowed a few tears to well up in his eyes. "Yet…yet I feel so miserably lonely. And…forgive me, please, I know this is not true…yet still, with the way things are now – you come to me at night and we do this, and then you are gone again – I apologize, my love, but sometimes I feel more like your whore than your lover!"
Axel drew back suddenly, sitting up, his eyes wide with shock as Roxas struggled to raise himself as well and face the Prince. "Wh-what? How can you…I mean…oh, Roxas, no! It isn't like that at all! I love you with all my heart, I swear it! It is only because I cannot be gone often, or for long…and, well, perhaps I am to blame for always wanting to embrace you when we are together. I should have considered your feelings…"
Reaching forward in distress, Roxas gently touched the Prince's lips to quiet him. "No, Axel…please don't blame yourself. I have the same desires every time I see you, and I cannot help them either. I know it isn't true – I am your lover as you are mine. It is only this feeling, and I cannot help it. I…I know I have your heart…and," he blushed sweetly, "of course…I have your body, as you have mine…yet…" Pained blue eyes sought Axel's face again. "I cannot help but wish for more. For your mind as well."
Axel tried to respond, but Roxas quickly moved closer, reaching for the Prince and feeling himself drawn close as well. "I know I am a secret, and I can never share in your everyday life…I cannot walk beside you and join you in your joys and sorrows and struggles and triumphs." His voice broke, and a few hot tears fell onto Axel's chest. "I know…and so all I ask is that you tell me of them. Just…stay long enough to tell me what you have done while you were away – it need not be anything special– and then I can at least feel a part of your life, even if I am not."
The tears were obviously torture to Axel's soul – his agony showed plainly on his face. "Roxas, Roxas, Roxas…do not say that. You are more than a part of my life – you are my life. Can't you see that you mean more to me than my very existence?" Grief ran deep in the Prince's voice now, too.
Roxas looked away, his pained voice now soft. "And yet…in all these weeks together, we still barely know each other. Apart from our intimate connection in body…in mind, we might as well still be strangers, meeting at a ball for the first time."
Roxas had played his cards. He waited to see what the effect would be.
Axel did not hesitate anymore. He pulled the blond close, crushing their mouths together in a passionate and possessive kiss. Then, he let go, and his voice was husky and his eyes intent, focused green, staring into Roxas' own blue gaze. "We are not strangers. Please," the Prince's expression softened in pain, "Do not break my heart by saying so."
The blond quickly reached for Axel, winding clinging arms around his neck and burying his face against a shoulder, apologizing tearfully, "I'm sorry, Axel. I'm sorry." The Prince held him lovingly for a few minutes, then moved. He lowered Roxas again, laying the blond on his back, then collecting the blankets and covering him…as Axel lay down beside him.
His face was apologetic too, but smiling, and his large hand cupped Roxas' face. "Today I went out with the guards during their training, for it was a warmer day. I had a fencing match with my captain of the guard…"
As Axel spoke, Roxas relaxed, smiling adoringly at him…and inwardly marking off another step. Another success. The Prince had heeded his pleas and capitulated to an unwise course of action – it was a large step forward, and all had gone smoothly, without unforeseen challenges.
The next time Roxas moved forward, it would be an important step, indeed.
The black night was just lightening on the edge of the horizon, one day a week later. Dawn had not yet come, but the servants in the castle would soon be busy about their tasks nevertheless. The halls were still quiet for now…but any minute, a maid or an attendant could come hurrying along, starting their day of work.
Axel crept stealthily through the dark. At each corner he paused, looking carefully around like a thief. When he was sure the next hallway was empty, he would hurry through it, his steps as silent as he could possibly make them.
He should have been back in his room hours ago. Yet now he stayed longer with Roxas each time he visited the tower, and they talked and conversed late into the night…and tonight, he had accidentally fallen asleep, wrapped in his lover's warm arms.
By pure luck, he had woken before the dawn broke…but luck had not allowed him to wake while the night was still fully dark. It remained to be seen if luck would let him reach his room unobserved.
He should have been upset – this was dangerous enough as it was, additional risks were verging on suicide! Yet…he could not bring himself to feel any resentment toward Roxas, who had begged him to stay and talk. He could not blame his poor lover. He could only be angry with himself for failing to stay awake, for losing track of the time…for…for being unable to release them both from this secrecy, unable to take Roxas on his arm before the entire kingdom and provide him with a free and comfortable life as his only beloved partner forever.
He knew there was nothing he could do…yet he still blamed himself at times like these, when he was reminded of the precariousness of their situation.
Luck chose to be a little kind to the Prince – he reached his room without being seen and hurried to change into his nightclothes so the earliest attendants would find nothing out of the ordinary. Leaving his clothes where he usually did, Axel crawled into bed, attempting to slow his breathing, hoping to fall asleep again before it was time to rise…if only the adrenaline would wear off.
I must be more careful next time. For his sake as well. I must protect him…
Spring was approaching faster and faster, the chilly edge vanishing from the milder nights, and the scent of flowers beginning to perfume the night air.
Reno, however, could smell no flowers in the noisy tavern in town. He had come here, to the establishment owned by a friend of his – his favorite retreat on a night off. And tonight, he was tired of the wine in the palace.
His friend drew him a mug of ale without comment, and Reno took himself to the far end of the bar, where it was darkest. Even out among people, he was drinking alone.
It wasn't many minutes of sullen gulping before his ale was gone, and Reno was waving tiredly to his friend. "Bartender! Hey! Another."
The stoic, bald man nodded, then turned to direct an employee, evidently telling him to take over. When he brought Reno's ale, the bartender stayed, waiting for the captain of the palace guard to talk. Reno, however, seemed more interested in downing his drink, and the bartender was forced to bring him a third. At last, he seemed to decide some prodding was necessary.
"How is the ale, Captain?"
"Quite good, Bartender." Reno spoke in a monotone in answer to the almost expressionless man.
"And how is the job, Captain?"
"Running smoothly enough, Bartender," Reno mumbled into his ale.
"And how is the Prince, Captain?" There was no visible change in the tone of the questioner.
Reno stared ahead blankly for some moments. How was the Prince? How should he know? He rarely saw Axel anymore, and when he did…the Prince always seemed to be somewhere else. How long had it been since they sparred in the sunlight, laughing and acting like the friends they had been all their lives? Only weeks? Yet it felt like an eternity… Well. Even so, Reno wasn't blind. What he did see of the Prince made one thing clear – Axel was happy. Whether he was with Reno, or whether his mind was wandering away from his captain of the guard, he was always smiling. Always clear-eyed and beautiful. Happy. It brought a bitter smile to the captain's face as he thought of it…and he finally answered his friend's question, speaking a truth he had long known, and never admitted.
"The Prince is in love, Bartender."
The bald man nodded, unperturbed. He was, after all, a friend Reno could tell anything to – he spoke no secrets told to him.
"Is the Prince troubled by love, that it troubles his friend, too?" The calm tone questioned, and Reno shook his head.
"The Prince is happy. And…and I am happy for him." Yes, Reno thought, as long as he is happy with his love…I will be content.
"What troubles you then, Captain?"
Reno drained his drink. "I am troubled for his future happiness…and…I am troubled for myself."
Still showing no reaction, the bald man asked, "Surely, though, the Prince's future happiness is secure? He will marry his Princess soon."
"Yes," Reno frowned. "He will marry his Princess. Even if it meant a lifetime of misery, he would marry her. That is sure. He would do more than break his own heart for the sake of the kingdom. He is a Prince who would willingly die for his people, and that is why his people would willingly die for him."
The bartender fixed Reno with a close stare, but Reno continued gazing blankly at the wall. "And what of you, then?"
The captain was silent for some minutes. Then, without a word, he pushed his mug toward his friend again, and the bartender went to refill it. When he returned, Reno took a long drink, nearly draining the ale before he spoke.
"I would willingly die for him…if only it would help him. But I don't…I don't know how to help him. I cannot protect his happiness, nor assure that it will continue in the future." His voice dropped lower then, his head leaning heavily on a hand that raked through red hair.
"Their end is already approaching."
The Grand Regent was issuing orders and dealing with the business of the kingdom from his private office, never heeding the warm, beautiful spring day outside. While his personal hobby was now at a gloriously busy season and the gardens contained more work than round-the-clock attention could give them, the Regent was not the sort of man to be distracted from his purpose. While he was at work, he worked, and when he had time for his hobby, that would consume all his focus.
There would be no time today. A messenger had just arrived with word that another emissary from their future ally was en route to the palace and would arrive tomorrow. This unexpected guest, a mere week before the Princess herself was scheduled to arrive, had evidently been dispatched to discuss preparations for the Princess' second welcoming ball. Apparently Her Highness had suggested changing it to something called a "masquerade" – a strange, foreign sort of celebration her affianced country did not have. There was no telling what manner of specifications the coming emissary would describe as necessary for this to happen. It could mean long hours of additional preparation, but the Regent was not one to panic. He would merely keep working, all night and all week if necessary, and that would be sufficient – the Princess' whims were extremely important.
In the meantime, he had just penned a small note, and called for a maid to deliver it before he set himself to the renewed tasks.
Barely glancing at the curtsying maid, the Regent extended the folded and sealed paper. "Take this to the occupied guest room in the east tower, and deliver it into the hands of the young man staying there."
"Yes, my Lord." The maid immediately departed. Calmly, Marluxia turned his attention to his many new tasks, showing no indication that anything of significance had just passed.
Showing nothing of the dark plans within.
Thanking the maid, Roxas took the note and shut the door, his face calm and friendly and unconcerned. Turning back into the room, his expression went suddenly flat and slightly suspicious as he broke the seal. One line met his eyes.
Idle men do not a living earn.
In a moment, a dark scowl had gathered over his brow, and his blue eyes were hard and cold, icicles of fury. The young man closed his fist mercilessly over the message, and, turning, he threw it unhesitatingly into the fire that warmed the tower room, even on such a fine spring day.
How dare he? The assassin raged in his mind. The gall! Implying that I have been idle! As if I have not been carrying out this mission flawlessly, night by night growing closer to my goal…!
Roxas was pacing rapidly, his fists clenched at the patronizing reminder from the Grand Regent. He raged and fumed, thinking of how he had never accepted such a troubling assignment before, and how he had never done so well in his life – and all this for the worst employer to ever hire him!
Well. Roxas had no love for the Grand Regent in the first place, and now he had even less. But the money…the money had been his love and his goal from the start, and as long as that remained, he would complete his task.
His plans were unchanged. In one week, the Princess would return. Her final wedding preparations were to take place here for the next month. At the end of that time, the ceremony date was set, and the coronation of the new King and Queen was planned for the following day. None of this had changed, and the Grand Regent's impatience would not affect the assassin's plans. Nothing could shake the perfectly designed progress of this mission.
And it was time to make the next move.
The Prince's heart raced as he tapped softly on the door to the tower room, then quietly opened it and slipped inside. The moonlight was so bright in comparison to the black corridor that he blinked, glancing around for Roxas as his eyes adjusted.
Movement and a whispering rustle brought his focus to the window. As his eyes found his lover, the Prince felt his heart leap suddenly.
"Axel…" The voice was a murmur, calling him forward as Roxas stepped closer as well, bathed in moonlight and wrapped in a long, flowing robe.
Axel could barely reply from his suddenly-dry throat. "Roxas…" Drawn magnetically toward his lover, he could already clearly see in the darkness – the robe Roxas wore was completely sheer, its beautiful pattern of dark colors flowing around the boy's pale body…and doing virtually nothing to conceal it. Axel could see, under the thin material, the beautiful, familiar figure – and Roxas was clearly wearing no undergarments. Axel's heart raced madly as the young man approached, reaching for him slowly. His encounters with Roxas were always incredible, but this…
"Roxas," Axel's raspy voice struggled out again, "Where did you get…I mean…I have not seen this garment before…"
That perfect face smiled at him sweetly. "I've had it…but I was saving it for a surprise. Do you like it?" And Roxas turned slowly, displaying the robe for Axel to see.
The Prince's green eyes were moonlit fire as he gazed at Roxas' body. Every familiar detail…now suddenly cast with a new allure, a beauty that made him wild with desire. His own body was already screaming, begging him to move…aching for Roxas.
He didn't even try to resist.
The robe was silky under his hands as he trapped the blond in a forceful embrace, claiming his mouth with an almost violent passion. The young man responded fully, clinging to him and moaning, answering the heat in Axel's kiss with his own powerful desire. The Prince's hands ran over the familiar shape of his lover, and the robe obscured nothing – to Axel, it felt as if he caressed his lover's naked body, only his skin had become far silkier than usual. Roxas was eagerly responding, arching into his every touch, while nimble fingers attacked Axel's garments, undressing him swiftly.
He was burning already, fire throbbing in his veins, his whole body consumed by agonizing want, and yet the anticipation was too thrilling – he couldn't help slowing down, suffering in his need, yet enjoying every moment to the fullest. And so, slowly, his hands moved to untie the silken band at Roxas' waist…and slower still, they pushed the folds of gossamer aside.
He released Roxas' lips to gasp for breath…and to turn his eyes back to his lover's entrancing form. The robe hung open from thin shoulders, revealing everything – and the beautiful blond smiled bashfully at him as Axel stared in awe. Roxas was obviously aroused, and the sight…it was almost too much. He couldn't speak, couldn't think…he was powerless to do anything but worship this young man with all his being.
Slipping hands over Axel's shoulders, pushing away the shirt he had been removing, Roxas spoke in a whisper. "Let me…give myself to you tonight. I want to show you my love…if you will allow me?"
Swallowing hard, Axel could only nod. He felt that if he tried to speak, his voice would break with tears of joy.
Roxas smiled, and leaned up to place a sweet, chaste kiss against Axel's lips, before slowly beginning to trail his kisses lower. As he kissed down the Prince's chest, those hands set to work again – this time on the Prince's trousers. Slowly, Roxas knelt, a hot tongue gliding down Axel's stomach as his remaining clothing was gently removed. The first touch of those fingertips to Axel's excitement was closely followed by sweet lips, as Roxas kissed the member in his hands. Axel could only gasp as he looked down, watching as Roxas began to slowly stroke him, moving his kisses along the length, and gradually opening his mouth more and more. The Prince's knees trembled when Roxas' wet tongue began to slide over him…and he could no longer contain a long groan of bliss when the blond drew back, dipped his tongue briefly into the slit, and then closed his mouth around Axel's arousal.
"Roxas…unn, ahh…" Axel swallowed hard, staring at the kneeling youth. Blue eyes glanced up at him as Roxas paused…and a smile filled them, seeming to say I love you as Roxas sucked gently, then continued bobbing his head, hands covering the rest of Axel's length. And the Prince, though he felt he could faint from the exquisite pleasure, could not tear his eyes away from the serene face, the moonlit golden hair, and the smooth, pale nape of Roxas' neck, exposed as the robe slipped down his shoulders.
Too soon, the sensations became more than he could bear, and Axel was struggling to gasp out a warning. "Roxas…stop, let go…I can't, I'm going to…" But the young man only smiled up at him again and hastened his strokes, taking Axel in deeper until he lost all control…and Roxas suckled hungrily, swallowing his lover's climax.
Axel's head spun, and he was dimly aware of Roxas letting go, and a hand finding his and gently tugging him down. He almost fell into the arms of the young man, but Roxas caught him and carefully directed him to sit. "Wait here one moment, my love," the blond softly whispered. Axel's hazy eyes were barely able to follow the flitting form as Roxas hurried away, long robe billowing behind him.
In a moment, however, he had returned. Kneeling again beside Axel, Roxas took hold of the Prince's face and kissed him deeply. "I want you to watch," he breathed against Axel's lips. "Watch me…Axel." Wide-eyed, the Prince could only nod.
Smiling briefly, the blond turned away. Axel could see that Roxas had returned with a few things – a large, soft pillow, and the small jar of skin cream that was always on his nightstand. He watched with a pounding heart as Roxas arranged things, placing the pillow in front of himself facing away from Axel, the skin cream within reach. Then, with a glance over his shoulder and an enticing smile as he met Axel's gaze, Roxas slowly bent forward, gradually lowering his upper body until his head was placed on the pillow.
Axel shuddered, hard. Roxas' hips were raised, and the angle allowed him to see everything, while Roxas could still look back and watch his lover's face. Axel felt burning blue eyes on him…but he couldn't look away. Hands slid into view as Roxas grasped behind his knees…then slowly slid his hands upward, dragging the silken robe away from his body until the bottom hem slipped with the rest of the material onto his back.
Slowly, then, those hands played over the pale, revealed skin for a few moments before moving again – Axel watched one arm extend to the side, delicately lift the jar's lid, and then two curving fingers dipped into the contents.
"Roxas…" He choked in disbelief as the fair hand travelled back…and the young man spread his legs a little further.
Lust-filled blue eyes shone as Roxas whispered, "Watch."
Axel watched. He watched Roxas stroke a few times over his own entrance, spreading the cream; he watched those fingers finally push inward, sliding easily in and out as Roxas whimpered slightly; he watched in increasing agony as more fingers entered, and as Roxas' other hand moved to stroke at his own arousal, and as the beautiful voice grew louder, more lustful, more irresistible. His own renewed need throbbed painfully, and Axel couldn't help taking hold of himself and stroking as well.
His own voice was helpless, desperate now. "Roxas…please…oh gods, Roxas…" But no matter his desire, he simply couldn't interrupt what the blond was doing.
Fortunately, Roxas seemed to hear the urgency. One by one, fingers slowly withdrew, and then the lovely young man was raising himself again, crawling toward Axel. He brought the pillow, placing it behind the Prince and gently pushing against Axel's chest, whispering, "Lie down."
Obediently, Axel lay back against the pillow, and Roxas threw one leg over him, straddling his hips. The silk robe brushed his legs and hung from Roxas' arms, but Axel was more occupied by slippery fingers closing around him, stroking a few times as Roxas moved, placing himself above the Prince.
He felt soft, wet flesh touch his burning tip as Roxas paused…and that sweet voice whispered again as they stared into each other's eyes: "I love you, Axel." And then Roxas lowered his body, and Axel felt himself sheathed tightly by his lover.
He groaned aloud. Roxas was biting his lip hard, his head thrown back, and moaning deeply as he took Axel in completely. When Axel felt himself fully within Roxas, the blond paused, breathing hard. The Prince had never seen such beauty – his lover, like this, in the moonlight. He felt that nothing in the world would ever compare to his bliss right now.
Reaching for Roxas' neglected arousal, Axel took hold of him, murmuring, "Roxas…you are so beautiful…I love you more than anything in the world…" Blue eyes sparkled at him as Roxas smiled weakly…and responded by lifting his body slowly, then lowering it again. He rose and fell rhythmically, and Axel stroked him with an equal pace, his whole being dissolving into Roxas as their bodies were united.
Soon, however, impatience overtook them. Axel felt Roxas moving faster, and moved his hand with more speed as well. He watched the place where they were joined – it was wet and slippery where he entered Roxas – until even that sight could no longer draw his gaze more powerfully than Roxas' face, his expression burning with pleasure. His lover was riding him hard and fast now, his whole body thrown back, surrendered to the cascading feelings of ecstasy, the climax racing toward them both.
Axel broke first, his long-strained control shattering, and he released inside Roxas. The blond, feeling Axel's heat shooting into him, tensed with a final cry of Axel's name – the sweetest sound the Prince's ears had ever heard – and spilled his own hot release into Axel's hand.
And then the thin body was collapsing onto him, and he was closing Roxas in a tight embrace, and their sweat-drenched chests were pressed together and heaving for air, and Roxas' hot breath was on his neck, and Axel had never felt so wonderful, ever. Every gasp for air was released with breathy words, holding his heart out to Roxas. "I love you…oh I love you Roxas, I love you…love you so much…"
And Roxas' voice was weak – "Yes…" – but his kiss was strong and soft and deep, and Axel gladly lost himself in it, and noticed nothing else for a long time.
They lay together in the moonlight, the pillow leaning against the wall beneath the window now, Axel resting on it with Roxas in his arms, relaxing against him. They had been silent for many minutes, not bothering with words, just enjoying the nearness. One hand held onto Roxas', fingers knitting and clasping tightly, while Axel's other lay around the pale body, tracing idle designs on that smooth stomach.
A slight squeeze of his hand preceded Roxas' voice. "When will you come again?" The dreamy tones were soft.
"Tomorrow night, most likely," Axel answered with a smile. As if he could let a night slip by without returning, especially after what Roxas had just done.
There was a pause. "And after that?"
"The next night. Every night. And if I can't come some night, I'll send my spirit on the breeze, and long to follow it to you." He kissed the blond head.
Roxas' voice was even lower now. "Is that what you will do hereafter? A week from now…and after that? Or will you come then, too?"
A week? It took Axel a moment to attach any significance to that time frame. Then…Oh. In a week, the Princess Kairi returns…
His spirits sank at the reminder, troubled eyes staring ahead, seeming to see the day approaching their darkened tower room. Reluctantly, he answered, "I…may still come in body too, after that. But…it may be less frequent."
The blond head lowered the slightest degree. "For a month, yes? And then you will not come for a week."
Axel swallowed on a lump of misery in his throat. "Then…I am to be staying in the country, at another castle for that week…yes."
He could hear the tension in Roxas' voice now. "And when you return?"
He could find no answer. No words…nothing rose to his mind but pain, sorrow, and a cold fear. They both knew it would be impossible then. He could not secretly escape at night when his bed was no longer his alone.
Roxas persisted. "Perhaps…while you are gone for that week…I should depart," Axel's voice rose in protest at once, but Roxas finished speaking, "and leave you quietly, since you will have no more use for me."
Horrified, Axel turned Roxas to face him, and there were tears hovering in those perfect blue eyes. "No! What are you saying? What use? I love you!"
Hands clutched suddenly at his shoulders. "Then do not leave me!" Roxas begged, eyes imploringly fixed on his own, desperation building in every fiber of the boy's being. "Do not marry her, do not abandon me! I cannot live if you cast me aside now!"
Axel felt his own tears building as he frantically tried to contradict Roxas. "No, Roxas, it isn't like that! No matter what happens, you will always have my heart! I love you more than my own life; I will never change!"
"Then, if you love me, do not take another to your side and separate us! Stay with me, if you truly love me."
The Prince's mind was in torment, his eyes wide with panic. "I…cannot. I had not dared to let myself think of this yet…but I cannot. I must marry her…it is my duty to my kingdom…"
Pain flashed over Roxas' face. "You love your duty more than me, then?"
Green eyes snapped back to Roxas. "I love nothing more than you! But…you don't understand. I don't have a choice. It is what I must do."
That perfect face fell. "You don't need me after all…"
"I do!" Axel swore vehemently. "I need you, I love you…don't you see the agony this brings me?" He couldn't help it – his tears overflowed. Haunting images flitted through his mind – a beautiful boy at a ball, sweet words of encouragement…Who can know the future? Perhaps it would work out somehow…Better to have loved and lost…
Roxas sobbed too. "Then don't do it…don't…if you marry her…then never again…"
Blue eyes pleaded miserably. Green eyes begged for understanding. "I must."
"Then we're finished." It was only a strangled whisper.
"Don't…" the Prince softly groaned. "Not yet…a little longer…"
"What is the point? How can I give myself to someone who is destroying my heart?"
Axel wept openly, but no more words would come. He could not tell Roxas that his own heart was being destroyed as well, torn apart, shredded in agony, and even that pain did not matter, because he would face death itself to spare Roxas any sorrow. And he cursed himself for the tears on Roxas' cheeks…but he was powerless.
Roxas rose, unable to look at him, and though Axel tried to hold him back, the boy shook free. "Go." He could barely hear the words through the tears. "Go, please…leave me."
And the darkness was filled with madness, with heartbroken insanity that engulfed him. Like the pain…surrounding him, blacker than the night, isolating him…the loneliest man alive.
Though it was late, the grand Regent was still hard at work, issuing orders for the morrow. He kept summoning various servants, giving them new orders and preparation instructions, leaving it to them to deal with the late hour of notice.
At length, he called for the captain of the guard. He had some issues of security to direct, and demanded that the captain come at once. Reno did, though sluggishly – he was only half-lucid, and his fogginess did not come entirely from sleep. As usual, he had been drinking.
The Grand Regent did not attempt to conceal his disdain at the unruly appearance of the captain, but he did not have time to chastise him properly. That would have to wait for later. Instead, he quickly handed the slouching redhead his orders, explaining the arrival of the emissary briefly, and the probability of changes to the coming ball. Reno grumbled wordlessly, but bowed and turned to go.
"One moment more," Marluxia called him back. "Take these documents with you and kindly deliver them to the Prince. You needn't worry about waking him; he must be informed of all these changes and the unexpected visit, and I have not had the schedule fixed until now. He must be sure to rise early for a special court session of welcome…well, it is all written there. Please make sure he reads everything carefully."
With that, the Regent waved the captain away, Reno making a wobbling bow and shuffling out with a disgruntled mutter.
How he was going to assemble the strength of will to face the Prince at this moment was…a difficult puzzle for his muddled mind.
Reno swayed slightly as he knocked on the Prince's door, not really expecting an answer so late at night. He waited a moment, however, knocking again before he gave up and opened the door, stepping into the dark room. He would have to wake the Prince…he just hoped Axel wouldn't punch him, as he had done a few times when they were children and Reno had woken him.
To his confusion, he found the bed empty when he had made his way to it. Uncertain if his eyes were tricking him, Reno turned and carefully worked at lighting a candle on a nearby table. The light, however, revealed the same – Axel's bed was not only empty, the covers had not yet been disturbed.
"My Prince?" Reno called softly, raising the light and beginning to search about the room. He checked Axel's favorite large chair…then all the other chairs. He checked every corner, even the bathing-room, but there was no Prince to be found. As he went, he lit more candles, just to be sure.
Eventually, there was nothing to do but admit that the Prince was missing. The strange circumstance had Reno's mind coming slowly back to life as he stood in the room, wondering what to do with the papers. Should he wait? Should he take them with him and search elsewhere? But where…
Reno stopped. Oh. Oh of course. The only possible place. A deep stab of pain hit the captain's stomach as he thought of it, his mind quickly painting images of Axel and the blond boy and the tower room – their trysting-place. Miserably, he tried to shut the thoughts out. He placed the papers on Axel's bed, determining that the Prince could just find them when he returned…Reno would not go there, nor would he wait to meet Axel when he was finished with his rendezvous. With that, he doused a few of the candles – leaving some light so that Axel wouldn't miss the papers – and turned to go.
He had not quite reached the door when it opened…and the Prince entered.
They were face to face, and Axel's eyes shot wide with terrified shock. Reno's shock, however, faded quickly at the sight of the Prince. Axel's clothing was disordered and his shirt open, his hair was a mess…but most of all, his face was wet and blotchy and his eyes were red.
He'd been crying. No, sobbing. Axel. The Prince.
By the time he'd taken two fast strides forward, Reno was sober, his mind clear of any haze. Gripping Axel's shoulders, his voice came out in a strangled growl, rough and unrelenting.
"What did he do to you?" Axel didn't answer at once, and Reno shook him briefly. "What did he do?"
The Prince's terror and confusion were obvious. "He…what? Who? Nothing!" He tried to break free, but Reno only clutched tighter.
"He. That boy. Your lover. He hurt you. Now what did he do?"
Axel gasped, choking as he struggled to form words. Finally, he weakly spoke. "Nothing… I…don't have a lover." Tears seemed to be welling up in his eyes again at that, and the sight infuriated Reno.
"Fine." The single, low word fell like a death sentence. The next moment, Reno released the Prince and vanished from the room.
Axel didn't follow him. Perhaps he thought that Reno believed him…but Reno's steps were swift and long, and never faltered in the slightest as he marched straight to the east tower, up those stairs, and to that boy's door.
He opened it without knocking.
The boy was standing by the bed, and started sharply when the door opened. Reno kept marching, straight for the wide-eyed figure.
When he was a few paces away, the sight before him finally sank in to his infuriated mind…and he slowed suddenly and stopped, staring in perfect shock at the sight of a lithe young body, utterly unconcealed by the thin robe wrapped around him. He should have expected to find Axel's lover naked, or nearly so…but the thought hadn't occurred to him in his fit of anger, and the sight was now paralyzing him.
And then a low, even voice interrupted his thoughts, dragging his gaze up to that fair face. "Well, if it isn't the captain of the guard. I wonder what errand brings him here so suddenly tonight?"
And Reno felt as if someone had punched him as he met those blue eyes…that were hard and arrogant and distant and very, very cold. The soft face was stained with obvious signs of tears, as Axel's had been, but even with such clear signs, Reno could not believe that those eyes had ever produced water, stirred by any trace of human feeling. They were terrifyingly cruel eyes.
"You…" He could only gasp, reeling from the shock, unable to understand the look he was being given. The temporary sobriety was failing him, leaving his mind struggling to make sense of this madness…he didn't even realize where his eyes were fastened.
Those pale lips smirked frigidly as the blank voice continued. "What, Captain? Such a ferocious look…surely you know better than to lust after what the Prince possesses."
Reno spluttered, beyond stunned at such a suggestion, and tried to peel his eyes from the robe. Roxas continued when there was no reply.
"Well, I'm afraid if you want me, you will have to ask the Prince, and I think he will not agree. Even if you are jealous of his toys, you cannot have me."
Reno could not collect his thoughts – he was lost in the face of Roxas' tone. These words were not things that a lover would say, no matter what had just happened between them. This heartlessness…why had he been so jealous of their love? There was no trace of love in this sneering…
"Slut." The word came out as a snarling accusation. Reno swallowed. "You…you slut! How dare you…to my Prince…" His anger choked him, and he could go no further.
"My Prince?" Roxas' face became calculating. "Ah…I see. So protective…like a territorial little beast. Perhaps it is not the Prince's toy you lust for after all…but the Prince himself?" Reno gasped. In his current state, there was simply no way to conceal his emotions. Roxas read him easily. "Oh, indeed…the dog dreams of bedding his master!" A mirthless laugh fell from those lips, before the voice dropped suddenly low, suggestive and still frighteningly cold.
"You want him, Captain? You're jealous, not of him, but of me? Because I am the one he holds…I am the one he kisses and embraces. Are you furious because I can speak his name to his face? While you must always call him 'Prince,' I am screaming in ecstasy every night…" The smirk stretched even broader as Roxas mimicked, "Axel, Axel, oh yes, Axel!"
"No!" Reno all but screamed, denying every wicked word from that hateful mouth.
"No? Oh come, Captain, don't lie. I can see it. It is not duty that brings you here, ready to kill the man who broke your precious Prince's heart."
Reno snapped. Lunging forward, one hand closed over a thin shoulder…while the other clamped around that slender throat, the force of his motion throwing Roxas backward onto the bed and pinning him there. Grey-blue eyes were crystals of rage as Reno growled. "Slut! I could kill you right now for that. I'm captain of the guard – I'd never be blamed if you were found dead on this very floor tomorrow. I'll free him from you!"
How could I not have seen this? I was so blinded by my own jealousy…how could I forget the warning my instincts gave me when I brought this creature here? How could I ever dream of him finding happiness with this monster…this whore!
To his overwhelming disbelief, the whore was…laughing. Laughing! In the face of his serious intention to murder him for hurting Axel!
"Fool." The blond spat. "I've broken his heart, but that doesn't mean he can live without me. Oh, far from it. If I die tonight, he dies tomorrow…I promise you." Reno's eyes widened in comprehension as the boy finished. "Oh, no no, Captain…you cannot touch me."
A sick, deadly calm came over the captain. "Can't I?" he breathed…then crushed his mouth down onto the blond's, kissing him hard, painfully hard. Then he jerked back, a strange light in his stormy eyes. "Looks like I just did."
Reno was getting an idea, slowly. "Maybe that's what I'll do…" He muttered, and the hands at Roxas' shoulder and throat moved to grip the robe mercilessly, tearing it open, exposing the youthful skin. Then, without hesitating, he leaned down fast and closed his mouth over one shoulder, biting as hard as he could, tasting blood. "There," he growled, "Let him see marks on you that he didn't make. Let him learn for himself your true nature, you filthy slut!"
The pale body was trembling…but not in fear. Roxas was…biting back yet more laughter. As Reno finished, he waved a hand at the captain, swatting at him as if he were merely a pest. "Oh, Captain," the mirthless grin spoke, "How stupid can you be? But go ahead, fool. If you want to mark me…here, mark me!" He turned his head to the side, exposing his throat, which was already covered with dark bruises – Axel's marks. "Or if you are starving for a taste of your Prince, I can show you where you'll find his flavor on this body. Go ahead, take all you want. It's no concern of mine." Then, as Reno stared, unable to believe the words he was hearing, the boy finished in a low, intent voice.
"He will never believe me a slut. If I pointed my finger at you and cried rape, he'd have your head, you pitiful man."
"You go too far, slut," Reno growled. "You overestimate your influence." Deep blue eyes locked onto his, no trace of mocking left in them.
"And you underestimate my purpose."
What? Reno felt suddenly cold. What purpose? He's a conniving slut… Then, as he paused, mind racing, one other memory came to him. The first time he'd seen this boy…in a dark hall after a ball. Which ball was it? Axel had told Reno of meeting Roxas at the farewell ball…but no, he'd seen the boy before that…it was…after the ball announcing the engagement.
Questions flew through his mind. Why was he in the palace then? What was he doing in the royal wing, if Axel hadn't met him yet? Now, too, Reno remembered the icy chill he'd felt that time, the instinctive fear. He…he isn't just a slut. He realized with a shock.
He's here for something else.
His stomach frozen with dread, Reno released the boy and drew back. "What do you want?" He choked out. "What are you here for?"
Smoothly, the blond sat up, drawing the sheer fabric over his body again, an eerie calm in his demeanor, a haughty indifference to the captain's inner panic and fury.
"Well, Captain," he lightly replied, running his hands through his hair to straighten it. "I can hardly tell you that. You'll see soon enough though. Now," he glanced almost carelessly at the red-haired man. "Shouldn't you be seeing to your beloved Prince? He's probably crying alone at this very moment, you know." And the tiniest smirk twisted those lips again.
Reno swallowed. He understood now. This boy was a threat…for a moment, he calculated the advantages of killing him anyway, thus preventing whatever the youth had planned. But no…it was true. Axel didn't know…and it would destroy him completely right now.
"I will stop you," he vowed. "I won't let you cause any more damage." With that, he turned and strode out…he had to get back to Axel.
He had let this danger come so close to his Prince that there was now nothing he could do to protect him. He had failed in his duty as captain of the guard, and he had failed as Axel's friend…and he had failed in a capacity that he had never possessed, but always longed for…and now had no right to whatsoever.
He had failed Axel so badly, he didn't deserve to stand at the Prince's side. Still…there was nothing else he could do. No other place felt like home…and his Prince was in pain now. He couldn't go anywhere else.
The assassin smoothly took the captain of the guard's new understanding in, calmly adding it as a factor into his calculations, fitting it into the equation and observing the outcome on the solution. The solution remained unchanged. The captain vanished from his mind.
Then he turned his thoughts back to the puzzle he had been working on – the place in his equation for the Prince's refusal to break his engagement. It was not the answer he had expected. It lengthened the process – he had expected this part to directly precede the goal…and now the goal was not reached, and more must be added to reach it.
Fortunately, there was still time. And the assassin was glad that he had moved with caution, leaving himself this buffer of days, just in case.
But how to use those days? That was the question. How to handle this unexpected strength of will the Prince had displayed? It was very troubling, irritating…and yet also interesting. Quite…interesting.
He rose slowly, pacing to the window, and gazed out at the setting moon. For once, he voluntarily endured the silvery light, pondering its color and its glow, its weakness in comparison to the sun…and yet its surprising strength in the night.
That man had embraced him by moonlight many times, holding his body in heated arms. And, strangely, that man had stood stronger than the assassin had believed possible for a man. He couldn't help a small feeling of respect for such strength.
And Roxas had never respected a target before.
And Roxas had never lingered so long in the moonlight before, thoughts trailing away from calculations and plans…to a different interest entirely.
Axel sat on the window seat, alone in his chambers, and stared, unseeing, at the city in the light of the setting moon.
"I love you…"
Golden hair and pale skin and ecstasy…
And the memories cycled through again, and glassy green eyes stared outward, but they were dry, for there were already no tears left in them.
Reno found him there. Nauseous worry washed over him when he saw the Prince, when he approached and his old friend didn't move, didn't hear him, didn't seem to know he was there. There was still no response, even when he sat beside the Prince and pulled him into his arms, casting aside all the years of reservation as a damned foolish idea in the first place, and just holding Axel.
For a long time, there was only silence. Reno didn't know what else to do, how to reach his friend…and he longed to erase this pain for him. Most especially because of the demon who had caused it all. He wanted to tell Axel…but he knew better than to try.
Axel's expressionless voice spoke without warning, finally. "I should never have brought him here. I knew it couldn't last…I should have suffered alone, and said nothing. He was free…and I dragged him down with me, because…because I was selfish and wanted to know love. It's my fault for running after him…and now I've broken his heart…" The words stopped, cut short. Axel couldn't speak anymore.
Reno wanted to scream. He wanted to grab the Prince and shake him and tell him everything, tell him that he'd broken no heart, that the one he loved was a heartless monster who didn't love him. It tore him deepest of all to hear Axel blame himself, not caring for his own pain but only grieving for what he thought he'd done to someone else – one who would never deserve such care as long as he lived.
"No…you didn't…" Reno couldn't help the words, they slipped out before he could stop them…but, just as he expected, Axel didn't hear.
"Yes, I did…and there's nothing else I can do. I have to marry…but oh, gods…Reno…I think it's going to kill me."
And Reno felt arms tighten around him in return, and he wished it was for a different reason…
But nothing was the way it should be. Everything was wrong…and there was nothing he could do to fix it.
Prince Axel went to court in the morning and welcomed the emissary, and he drifted through the routines his uncle had set, but voices seemed to speak in the distance, his body seemed to go on without him, and his voice answered with words that he didn't hear. Food was set before him and then taken away again before he had even noticed it there…not that he cared, for it didn't interest him. Discussions and preparations took place all around him, and an unknown word – masquerade – was passed around again and again, meaning nothing to his mind. Thus the day passed, and Axel was vaguely aware that Reno never left his side. Even when night came again and he lay awake in bed, the other man was there, in a chair across the room, silently keeping watch. And Axel let him.
It was the same the next day.
The next night, however, Axel didn't go to his bed. After retiring to his room, he automatically turned to his door again. Reno's voice came from behind him.
"You're going to him again?"
He paused, then answered softly, "I can't help it. I…have to. Please…don't follow."
His friend was silent for a long moment. Then – "I'll wait here."
Nodding, Axel left.
He found Roxas sitting in the dark, only a few candles lit. There was pain and confusion and longing in the eyes that met his…and he wanted to speak, to explain away the sorrow, to somehow erase the misery he had brought into those eyes…
Yet, when facing Roxas, he knew he couldn't. He couldn't say anything. Nothing would change.
But the desire was still there, and he couldn't just walk away. And though he was raw and broken, he was still in love…and Roxas responded to his need and his touch. They held each other and kissed each other, but everything felt dead and empty, and the heat only chilled him to the core.
For the first time, he took Roxas from behind, unable to bear the sight of that face. Roxas' shirt was open, but remained on, and Axel left his clothing very much as it was. They came together, but the room was empty of their usual moans and cries of ecstasy – only a few occasional muted grunts escaped them. Axel didn't even notice the tears running down his face again…until the end, when they were done, and Roxas turned his own tear-stained face to him, and whispered one strangled word, reaching for him – "Please…"
But the Prince could only shake his head and flee from those beautiful, tortured eyes.
Reno was waiting, as he'd promised, and Reno's shirt absorbed the Prince's tears until he fell asleep, his body depleted of the strength needed to stay conscious.
The morning after the Princess' arrival, a note appeared on the Grand Regent's bedside table. It read only, Last resort.
The Regent calmly burned the message in a candle's flame and prepared for the day's work. The masquerade was to be that night.
Again, the castle was a beacon of light in the dark night. Again, the nobles gathered, a glittering, beautiful crowd. And again, the food and the drink and the clothing and the dancing were all the finest the known world could boast for this royal revelry.
However, this time the lights and music extended beyond the ballroom. The gardens were lit with torches, and the balmy breezes played with ribbons and the arranged curls of the ladies' hair. And this time, there were to be no grand announcements of the hosts, nor were the royals obliged to sit and overlook the night's celebration. In the custom of a masquerade, they were to enjoy the event as much as any guest.
Evidently, the Prince had not been the only one who found the last few balls dull.
The flurry of preparations over the last week had resulted in this more exotic arrangement. The castle had also been forced to prepare numerous masks – the emissary had explained that a masquerade was intended to be a dance where every guest concealed his or her identity in costume and by hiding their face. In this country, costumes were out of the question on such short notice, nor was it possible to inform every guest of the need to bring a mask; thus, the castle had put forth the effort and provided a large selection of decorated masks for the guests to choose from. The nobility were delighted by the novel foreign custom.
For the captain of the guard, it was a security nightmare.
In the end, he had expanded the last ball's informal guard patrols, and placed several lieutenants in charge of checking with each agent. For himself, he abandoned the idea of monitoring it all. There was no way he could. Instead, he stuck to the Prince's side like a hunting dog to its master. Except for when the Prince had to dance with his fiancée – while Reno watched with intense alertness – the captain stayed close and kept his eyes scanning the crowd.
He never saw the cause of his concern. The blond boy attended, but he went nowhere near the Prince. Masked and clothed in the dark suit he wore for balls, he only spoke to one person, shortly after arriving…and departed again without being marked as soon as the brief conversation was over.
For those few moments, the Grand Regent was standing alone in the garden, his attention diverted by the blooms of his favorite rosebush. He did not hear or see the dark figure slip up next to him.
Roxas' soft words drew no yelp of surprise, however. "I wished to ask you, my Lord, where a man may find his pay when he must depart in a hurry?"
The Regent did not look at him, replying low and evenly. "If the man must depart in a hurry, he flees his reward as well."
Blue eyes widened unseen in the darkness as Roxas was silent for a shocked moment. The Regent…was implying that there was no pay for him if he killed the Prince!
"Pardon me, Lord," he at last answered evenly, "but this particular man may depart by walking or by running, but either way he will have completed a task for which he was promised a reward."
"Mmm…the reward likes the walking man better."
Clenching his fists, Roxas kept his voice steady. "Yet the reward was promised to the man, and the choice of pace was not given as a requirement for pay. The man has still completed a task, even if the preferred one was impossible."
The Regent nodded calmly, a silky smoothness in his deep voice. "True…the man will be paid. But only his employer can tell him where to seek his reward. Perhaps he should ask of that man when the work is done."
Forcing back his fury, Roxas nodded, answering in a whisper, "He will then. Without fail."
With that, he disappeared.
The night grew darker, the air becoming slightly chilly as midnight passed. The Prince had given up on his mask after the first hour. He had hoped to be bothered less when wearing it, but his unmistakable hair gave him away to the swarms of nobility. He wore the glittering mask long enough to please the Princess, and then discarded it.
He also took advantage of his unusual mobility to get away from his uncle's monitoring eye as much as possible. Reno, of course, stuck to him unshakably, and warned him from the beginning not to even attempt to slip away.
He needn't have worried. Axel had no reason to try. There was no one for him to seek. He only sought the darker corners, as far away from the chattering congratulations as possible…and Reno was not unwelcome to join him there.
It was early morning now, and the Prince stood in the shelter of a large rose trellis, his captain standing by, stormy eyes that had fallen into their usual detachment still scanning the crowd, even though they seemed to hold no interest. He only glanced at the Prince to be sure that the man was still there…his gaze could not bear to linger long on his unhappy friend.
Axel was tired. His fingers traced momentarily over a few rose petals…but then withdrew, his heart twisting with a memory of skin that, to him, felt much the same – a boy like a rose. When he thought that, his hands impulsively reached forward again, quickly breaking two flowers free, ignoring the thorns piercing his fingertips.
He couldn't help reaching for him, even when it hurt. He had done so more than once in the past week.
The captain glanced at the melancholy Prince again. Seeing him holding the flowers, Reno sighed. He knew that Axel was exhausted. His emotions were painfully strained – the Prince bore it well in public, but the weariness was bound to tax his strength, leaving little left for a masquerade ball such as this. Glancing around again, seeing that no one marked them, he turned to Axel.
"My Prince," he began, moving close. Axel looked up, silently. Reno reached up with one arm, wrapping it around the Prince's shoulders and drawing his friend near in a one-armed hug. He sighed again, and mumbled, "I have a security concern. I must escort you to a safer location until it is resolved."
Axel didn't catch on right away, but allowed himself to be led along the dark fringes of the party. At length, when they entered the castle, he realized that they were heading for the royal wing and began to understand.
When they reached his chambers and Reno shut the door behind them, the captain mumbled again. "My apologies my Prince, but you may need to stay in this secure area for some time. Perhaps you should lie down while my men deal with the…problem."
For the first time in over a week, a small, tired smile stretched Axel's lips. "Thank you, Reno…for that…"
The captain shrugged, removing his mask with a tried gesture of his own, and shuffling over to the usual refreshment table to see if any wine had been left for the Prince. He found, unexpectedly, some champagne, and set to pouring it while Axel flopped down on his bed, dropping the two roses he still held onto the pillow beside his head.
The captain swallowed champagne with little pleasure. The Prince lay silent, his thoughts turned to a certain tower room.
And above them, in that dark room, a silent watcher, who had marked their disappearance from the ball, now knelt before a locked trunk. Withdrawing the key for the first time since arriving, he opened the lid. Only the very dullest glow, reflecting one lone candle…but the assassin smiled at once, seeing the wrought hilts.
"I cannot do it, Reno."
Guarded eyes glanced up as the captain set his glass aside. "What do you mean, my Prince?"
Axel sighed, but a desperate edge tainted his voice – a high tremor of quiet panic. "I cannot marry her. I must…yet I do not have the strength. If I try to stand at that altar, I think my heart will truly break, and I will fall down dead."
A high, strained laugh interrupted the captain. "I cannot. Curse my miserable, weak heart…I cannot. I'll run…" He was moaning miserably now, crushing the heels of his palms into his eyes, "Oh Reno, I want to run…"
The captain hesitated, then stood and approached the Prince.
The assassin, a blade buckled at each hip, slipped from the tower room.
Reno slowly lowered himself to one knee beside the Prince's bed. Axel looked at his old friend, curious, and sat up. The stormy eyes were downcast, but there was an intense fire beginning to flicker in their dispassionate depths as the man's tortured voice spoke.
"I wish I could help you…m-my Prince, you've no idea…I would do anything for you, kill for you or die for you, it doesn't matter to me…"
"I know, Reno," Axel's expression had become a worried but kind smile as he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder.
Tortured eyes shot up to the Prince's face. "No, you don't! It's more than my oath as your captain…more…more than our friendship since we were children…it has nothing to do with the kingdom or your position. Though I know you are needed here…though I know you must become King…for your happiness I would help you to run, if only…" Reno shook his head, struggling for words. "But you cannot flee, the choice isn't there…"
"I know…" Axel interrupted wearily, wiping his free hand down one side of his face. "I just…can't help dreaming of it. I knew this would come one day, and I thought I was prepared to take my place, but…I made a mistake. I should not have been so weak…if it were only my own misery it would not be so hard. But I have hurt him…" His voice shook, threatening to break for a moment. "I dragged him into my hopeless situation; I broke his heart…all for a chance at love. I am…a selfish, stupid man."
Helplessly, Reno's head fell forward, his forehead resting on the Prince's knee. "That isn't what I meant…" he mumbled unhappily. Axel frowned at him, questioning, as Reno lifted his eyes again…filled now with sorrow and tenderness.
The handle of the door clicked…and slight creak announced a visitor. A visitor who had not knocked.
Green eyes glanced up in slightly displeased surprise…then bolted wide as the Prince stared at his visitor.
"R-Roxas…why are you…"
His line of vision was cut off suddenly when the captain sprang to his feet protectively in front of the Prince.
A cold, taunting voice addressed him. "Why, Captain, I do apologize…it seems I've interrupted something quite special. Were you confessing your passionate love to the Prince, perhaps?"
"What?" Axel could not believe it was Roxas speaking…the voice didn't sound familiar at all. And the words…
Reno stood firm even as the Prince tried to push him aside. Unshaken, he snarled back, "What have you come for, slut?"
"Reno!" The Prince gasped, appalled, leaping to his feet as well and facing his captain. "What in the name of…"
"Stand aside, my Prince!" Reno interrupted harshly. "It isn't safe!"
Axel wasn't about to listen…but that unfamiliar voice cut in again, drawing his confused eyes to Roxas. "Yes, Axel…best listen to your captain. You make my job much too easy otherwise." And, with a smooth, uncaring motion, Roxas drew one sword from its sheath, raising it and pointing the silver blade at the two men.
"Roxas…" The Prince began, pain lacing the confusion in his voice and expression. "What is the meaning of this?" Reaching for the blond, Axel began to step toward him. In a flash, a razor-sharp blade was pointed at his throat, and Axel froze; the next moment, Reno had yanked him back again, standing between the Prince and the threatening visitor.
Through clenched teeth, he cursed. "Will you attack unarmed men, coward?"
Roxas shrugged placidly. "It is no concern of mine; I have killed countless men and women who never even saw my face. I am not here for some foolish duel…" His gaze darkened intently. "I have come for his life. And I never draw steel to sheath it again without tasting blood."
Reno's eyes were wide with comprehension, Axel's with horror.
"An assassin." Reno spat angrily. "So vile murderers seek their amusement in whoring themselves as well, these days?" Dark blue eyes glinted angrily, but it was the Prince who spoke.
"Reno! Be silent!" He shoved angrily at his friend, shock plain on his face, before turning toward Roxas again, begging and pain overtaking him. "Please…Roxas, why are you doing this? Put the sword away and explain…please, my love…"
Instantly, steel slashed toward the Prince in a deadly arch.
Pushing Axel aside, the unarmed captain stepped forward and kicked high, blocking the blade with the thick sole of his boot. The metal stuck briefly before Roxas pulled it away with an annoyed glare.
The blond huffed angrily. "I suppose there is no use in pointing out that you commit suicide by standing against me…and I have not been hired to kill you."
"You must walk over my grave to reach him." The ice-cold captain didn't waver in the slightest.
The slightest cruel sneer met his challenge. "Gladly."
The assassin's blade descended again, slicing toward the captain. Unable to defend or strike back, Reno was suddenly scrambling away, dodging each slash with desperate speed…and drawing the killer away from the Prince as much as possible. He was casting about for a weapon, something to wield against this enemy, but attack after attack pushed him back, barely able to keep ahead of the cold metal. Suddenly, the captain almost stumbled over a small chair. As he fought for balance, however, he managed to grasp the wooden frame and block what would have been a deadly strike. The next moment, he hurled the entire chair directly at the assassin's head, forcing the boy to dodge as well, for once. In that space of time, Reno reached wildly – he had been pushed back almost to the fireplace – and his hand met with the ornate poker.
The tool was unwieldy. Its weight was balanced all wrong, making it hard to handle, but Reno could at least parry and attack now. And he was, after all, the best swordsman in the palace.
Roxas blocked his first strike and returned with one of his own, which Reno now blocked…and immediately realized that his weapon would not serve him well. The fire tools in the Prince's chamber were apparently made of solid gold, and the soft metal dented heavily when the steel edge struck it. Soon, it would break or be bent entirely beyond use…but Reno didn't have time to plan for that, not now. The assassin, irritated by the captain's defense, swiftly and efficiently drew his other sword.
"Two blades, Captain. Two blades means two lives tonight."
"Just try," Reno snarled, jumping forward with a stabbing thrust toward the youth's stomach. Roxas, however, struck the poker aside with one blade and slashed downward with the other. Having nothing to block with, Reno raised his arm.
It was fortunate for him that his decorative gauntlets used metal chains to signify rank. The thick leather alone would not have protected his arm entirely – as it was, even the silver links could not completely stop steel. They rang sharply and slipped, heavy leather parted, and then skin was slashed by the blade's edge.
The captain didn't even pause before he lunged forward again, knowing his only hope lay in attacking while he could. In the back of his mind, he thought he could hear the Prince yelling at them…but he couldn't heed that. He could only attack again. Roxas deflected his blow again. And this time, when the second sword came up – Reno struggling to bring his own defense back in time – the deadly tip came thrusting straight forward.
He almost managed to parry it. Almost. The tip was aimed for just above his navel, and the captain dodged and deflected…but not far enough.
Roxas' face was impassive as he felt his blade puncture flesh and scrape bone.
Reno's expression showed shock, eyes wide and unseeing. He felt…nothing, yet. His eyes had been focused on the blade…they drifted to the assassin for a moment, but then onward. They rested on Axel…on the Prince's utterly stricken expression. Then, the blade was yanked from his body…and the pain hit him with a force that sent him crumbling to the floor, powerless. His hand shook, but he struggled to grasp the poker again, frantically trying to deny the injury and keep fighting, fighting, protect the Prince, fight…
Roxas turned away from the fallen captain, paying no heed to the man's weak struggles. He was no longer a threat.
The Prince was rushing forward, trying to reach his friend, suddenly heedless of all else…when sharp metal poised expertly at his throat stopped him dead in his tracks.
Green eyes wide with horror were slow to abandon Reno's crumpled form, but Roxas' calm, even voice finally drew that gaze away.
"Your turn, Axel."
"Why?" He gasped, expression almost empty in the extremity of his pain and incomprehension. "How could you do this, Roxas? I thought…no, I was sure…"
The soft voice cut in. "I have been hired to prevent your ascension to the throne. You were meant to choose me over your bride, yet your death will also serve the purpose." He slipped closer, altering the angle of the blade, a slight, teasing smile stretching his lips as he whispered, "Last chance, Axel. Decide. Won't you run away with me?"
Tears slipped from the horrified eyes, green that stared into blue, into the face of the one he thought he knew, thought he understood, was certain he loved more than anything, even his own life. Roxas. Whose sword was dripping with Reno's hot blood…
"I can't…" He gasped.
Roxas shrugged placidly. "I thought as much." The arm that held the blade to Axel's throat tensed.
"I love you, Roxas."
The Grand Regent was a very well-informed man, indeed. He did not need to see the captain slip away with the Prince – an agent whispered it to him a moment later. Marluxia considered briefly. It would be well, given the assassin's earlier words, to remove himself from the party for a short while and prepare certain things. He could return within a half hour, he guessed, and would not be missed for that long, given the unusual format of this ball.
Accordingly, he too slipped away, swiftly and silently making for his own chambers with a soft word to his agents that he would return shortly, and to maintain an alert watch should the Prince and captain return. Then, he departed, seeking the dark shadows of his unlit rooms.
Alone in those chambers, the Grand Regent swiftly set about the task of retrieving a hidden leather case about the size of a large book. He already knew what it contained, and only checked briefly to make sure that the lock was secure. He placed it on a table, then paced to the window to look out over the lit gardens and the party and await any word from his assassin. He strongly suspected the young man would be along shortly with news for him.
Therefore, he wasn't the slightest bit surprised when his door opened almost silently, and he turned to see a dark shadow entering the room…the faint glint of torchlight far below filtering through the window and reflecting off of metal in the assassin's hands.
"Report your results." He faced the blond calmly.
In response, one hand lifted, raising sharp steel directly before the Regent's eyes…steel that reeked of blood, even if Marluxia had not been able to see the dark, red glisten by the dim light.
"He is dead, then?" The cruel man was unimpressed.
"My reward." The assassin demanded, no tone of request audible in his words.
Marluxia shrugged. "On the table." The shorter man held still a moment longer, before grudgingly turning and stepping toward the waiting case.
"It is locked." This, a moment later.
Matter-of-factly, the Regent explained. "Yes. You must go to the inn where you first stayed when coming here. The innkeeper has the key and from there, you may depart with that…"
Bright, shining steel silenced the Grand Regent as it came up to his throat again.
Roxas…was not pleased.
Suspicion filled blue eyes, but was invisible to the Regent, for Roxas kept his tone neutral. "I am afraid, my Lord, that this will not do. You will show me my reward now, before I depart."
The Regent sounded slightly annoyed. "That box is entirely filled with precious gemstones of the highest value. How dare you question my honor, you little mercenary?"
Roxas did not waver. "Unlock it and show me."
Marluxia huffed. "The key is already at the inn, you must go there…"
The sword shifted, touching his neck. "You have the key…or you will find one that works…or you will die."
Words of outrage were clearly useless. Marluxia's frame was tense with trembling, but he could see it would be impossible to talk the blond down. Thoughts scrambling, he slowly retrieved a small ring of keys from a concealed pocket of his clothing…and unlocked the box Roxas held.
It was empty.
Before the Regent could excuse and explain and amend, a low voice intoned, "I thought so," and the box hit the floor.
Blade flashing briefly, Roxas slashed through the Grand Regent's throat.
The Prince's screams for help brought a scurrying attendant shortly.
"Go, hurry! Get my doctor, get him here at once!" Horrified, wide eyes took in the sight of the Prince on the floor, holding a bleeding captain of the guard, before the terrified attendant raced away again, sounding the alarm as he went.
Axel's attention returned immediately to his wounded friend, tears streaming freely from his eyes now.
"By all the gods, Reno, if you die now I will curse your soul to be damned and walk the earth for eternity, you foolish, idiotic bastard…!" He choked on his frantic words, unable to speak for a moment, only clutching his captain closer, bending over the pale face.
Reno's eyes were shut…but as the Prince's tears fell onto his face, he pulled them open with effort, swallowing heavily a few times before he could speak.
"Sorry…I…I told you…didn't I? Anything…"
"Shut up, you bumbling fool, don't speak when you're wounded!" Axel reprimanded through his tears. "What in the hell could you have been thinking, you brainless oaf? Fighting when unarmed…"
Reno couldn't move…but he wanted to touch the Prince. Instead, he let his head fall slightly to the side, bumping Axel's chest gently. "Don't you understand yet?" He sighed through a weak smile. "Can't you see what I feel…why I would do this, and so much more?" He coughed weakly, then turned his clear eyes back to the Prince's beautiful, vivid green.
There was a sharp intake of breath. Axel…could not recall ever hearing Reno speak his name before.
Slowly, green eyes widened with new understanding. Comprehension. For the first time.
Roxas vanished into the night.
The darkness reached out and accepted him back, and the assassin trailed drops of blood from the tips of his twin blades. The captain of the guard's and the Grand Regent's.
"I love you, Roxas."
He'd been ready to strike…but at those words, he had lowered his sword. The nagging idea that had been twisting his mind away from his plan had finally taken over, and Roxas had redirected his steps in a new direction, almost without the slightest pause.
Standing down and stepping back, he had regarded the Prince.
"I do not love you. I never did. Understand that, Axel, first of all."
Agony in green eyes…tortured, heartbroken pain.
"However…" Roxas continued slowly, "you surprised me. You proved yourself stronger than I anticipated." He smiled slightly. "I respect strength, Axel. And I am interested in the strength you have shown."
Turning away, he had almost reached the door before the Prince called miserably after him, "Please…Roxas…"
He turned back to the man. "Show me what you can do now, Axel. I'll be watching."
It was not Roxas' habit to meddle in the affairs of a kingdom beyond the work he was paid to do…but he had made an exception. Marluxia had toyed with him anyway and had earned his fate, while Axel had impressed him…and earned his chance.
Now the Regent was dead, and though Axel was not yet King, he was a reigning Prince. Before, he had been under his uncle's control and kept ignorant of many things. Now, with power in his hand and knowledge…Roxas was curious what decisions the young Prince would make, and what strength and determination he would show.
As he slipped silently into the black streets of the city, taking a road that would have him out of the capital by morning and free of the kingdom in two days' time, Roxas turned his eyes to the black night sky. The moon was hidden behind a thick cover of clouds, but Roxas knew it was still there…its beautiful silver light only temporarily concealed.
If a strong enough wind came, choosing to blow the clouds aside and part the way for that light, the moon would shine again. Another chance for the light to shine.
Yet for now, Roxas remained in the darkness – the same darkness that covered two young men on the floor in the Prince's chambers – and while the memory of moonlight haunted his mind, for now he remained as before.
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