Larxene found him one night as she drove her drunken friends home after another wild party. He'd been badly injured, beaten to a pulp then left for dead at the side of the road. Uncharacteristically, she must have taken pity on him, as she carried his bloody body inside and laid it out on the kitchen table.
There was blood everywhere. It trailed in from the front door, dripped off the table, plastered his tangled, matted hair to his pale face.
I voted that we quickly put him out of his misery and bury him in the back garden. Larxene protested.
"We can't kill him," She said. "I'd feel like a murderer,"
She brushed away a lock of hair from his face, revealing the tattoo shaped like a crescent moon on his cheek. He shuddered at her touch, then lay still.
"Can't we keep him?" She pleaded. I shook my head.
"I'm not having a werewolf in my house,"
She gave me a desperate look and I set my jaw.
"No. He's practically dead anyway. It'd be more humane this way. A clean shot to the head is all it will take,"
Everybody kept a gun these days. Attacks were so frequent that it had become a standard safety procedure.
Larxene looked heartbroken.
"But he's so helpless,"
"He's a monster, Larxene,"
I pulled out my rifle. It was an old model from my grandfather's time, upgraded with the latest firing technology. I liked it. It fitted nicely in my hands.
I lowered the barrel until it was resting on the werewolf's forehead. Larxene looked away in disgust. I pulled back the safety catch.
The sound must have jolted the werewolf awake, because his eyes flew open and he scrabbled madly at the table to get away from the stare of the gun. His back hit the wall with such ferocity that something cracked and he cried out in pain and fear.
"Oh God!" He gasped. "Oh God, no, please,"
"Vexen, you can't," Larxene said, eyes hard. "Not like this. You can't kill him now,"
I met the werewolf's mad, wild eyes. Larxene was right.
I lowered the gun.
"But he's not staying here,"
The werewolf was moving, slowly lifting himself up from the table.
"I'll leave," He offered, following his own trail of blood to the front door.
Larxene glared daggers at me.
"You could at least pretend to be nice,"
"He's a werewolf," I said, as if she hadn't already noticed.
The monster had reached the hallway, leaning on walls for support. But now he spun around, anger flaring up in his eyes.
"Yes!" He cried. "I am! Do you think I chose to be?"
He let out a shaky breath, clinging desperately to the staircase banisters to keep himself upright. "It's easy enough for you," He continued, sentences jagged as he fought to keep his breathing under control. "You're not a freak,"
He stood quivering in mortified anger for a few moments, then collapsed.
"Blood," I muttered, inspecting the damage. "Everywhere. Larxene, what were you thinking?"
"Oh, come on, Vexen," She said. "Don't be so heartless. Look at him."
Here, my little sister, breaker of hearts, torturer of insects, proverbial kicker of puppies and stealer of candy from babies, was accusing me of being heartless.
"Just for tonight," I said, knowing that it would end up being so much longer. Give Larxene an inch, she'd take enough to get to Japan.
I helped her take the werewolf up to the bathroom where I stripped him down and bathed him while she cleaned up the mess downstairs. The stench of blood was tangible in the air, and the bathwater soon became opaque as I washed away the caked blood from his skin.
Halfway through, he awoke, startled.
"It's okay," I assured him. "I won't hurt you. You can stay here tonight,"
He nodded and closed his eyes, leaning back against the side of the bath as I gently sponged his arm.
"You're Vexen, aren't you," He murmured.
"Yes," I replied. "What's your name?"
It was odd that this broken creature should bear a name so regal and honourable. Yet, even more strangely, it suited him.
We were both silent for a few minutes.
"Thank you," Marluxia said.
"For not killing me. Letting me stay in your house. Getting me clean. It's consideration not many people would show to my kind,"
"It was nothing," I said quickly. Now he was more-or-less blood free, I could see that Marluxia was in better condition than I had first thought, and awake and talking to me, I didn't want to remember that I had been planning to kill him. The thought made me feel nauseous. Werewolves were, after all, so almost human.
Larxene popped in.
"Hey," She said. "I've set up the sleeping bag on the couch downstairs, Vexen,"
I nodded as she pulled out ample bandages from the cupboard. Marluxia politely denied them.
"I'm fine," He said. "I'll heal quicker without them,"
"Oh, okay," Larxene replied. "If you insist. We'd better get you towelled down, then, find you some clean clothes and then get you to the bedroom,"
"Bedroom?" I echoed in confusion. "I thought he'd be sleeping on the couch,"
Larxene looked comically aghast.
"No way! You can't force him to sleep on the sofa! Poor thing!"
It suddenly occurred to me that Larxene might not have taken in Marluxia out of the kindness of her own heart; rather that she planned to use the werewolf as a tool to make my life as miserable as possible. I hypothesised that this might be petty revenge for some unknown misdeed on my part. Larxene was like that.
I resigned myself to the sitting room as Larxene introduced Marluxia to my room and my bed. The old sofa was uncomfortable, the sleeping bag prickly. I ended up migrating to the armchair and spending most of the night watching television.
Halfway through, Marluxia came in. His condition had vastly improved; what had first looked like deep gouges turned out to be nothing more than scratches. Clean and dry, his matted hair fell about his face like a majestic mane, and out from underneath it poked two canine ears, barely visible. He had a tail, too, the same colour, voluminous and fluffy. But aside from them, he could have been human.
He scratched one ear, amiably.
"I couldn't sleep," He said. "You may as well have your bed back,"
"I'm awake now," I replied. "No point trying to get back to sleep," Usually, after about two or three in the morning, I didn't bother trying to sleep. I simply wired myself on coffee until dawn.
Marluxia looked a little surprised, but nodded, took the old sleeping bag-
"May I use this?"
- and crumpled on the floor in front of me. For a long time we watched the television in silence. Well, I watched. After a while I became aware that Marluxia was gazing absently at me, head tilted back against the armchair.
"Nothing. I was just thinking."
I turned back to the flickering screen.
Larxene found us both deeply asleep somewhere around midday. She none-too-gently shoved my shoulder, jerking me awake.
"Hey, sleepyhead, wake up,"
"You should have left for work, oh, about five hours ago,"
My eyes flew open.
"What?! Why didn't you wake me up?" I demanded, standing up abruptly. The room span and I had to hold my head to keep from falling over.
Larxene grabbed the TV remote and switched it off.
"Monday, you moron," She droned. Larxene always insulted me. After a while, I began to ignore her. "You should have set your alarm,"
"I did!" I exclaimed, before catching myself. Of course I did. My alarm on my bedside table, upstairs.
"They called to ask where you were. I said you were sick,"
"Great. What else did you say?"
"Flu. You'll be off all week,"
Larxene grinned at me. She obviously thought this was the best thing, ever.
"You realise they'll ask me for a doctor's certificate?"
"Man flu?" She said, hopefully. "Anyway, I'm out. Gotta go meet Axel,"
"I thought you dumped him,"
She waved her hand at me as she headed for the door.
"Vexen, you obviously don't understand anything. Dump a guy, he'll shower you with presents and promises of great sex. Axel's the perfect sucker. Do you really think I'd pass up on such an opportunity?"
I honestly couldn't understand why anybody found Larxene so attractive. She was shallow and cruel and I hated her. I was glad when she left the house.
"Why do you let her stay here?" Marluxia asked from behind me. He was perched on the end of our sofa.
"She's my sister. After she got kicked out of her flat a few years ago, she made me promise my mum that I'd look after her. She comes and goes,"
"This is your house, then,"
"I'm just paying off the last of the mortgage now,"
I turned around to face Marluxia. He was standing straight and proud, only just shorter than I was. His body was well defined, his jaw firm, and he had the most piercing flinty blue eyes I had ever encountered.
"Where do you live?" I asked, hoping that perhaps I might be able to take him home and be rid of yet another freeloader. My income was stretched far enough out by Larxene and her exuberant spending as it was. I didn't need a werewolf to look after, too.
"Nowhere. Monsters aren't allowed to own homes, remember?"
I honestly hadn't ever done much research into the likes of werewolves, vampires and gargoyles. All I knew was that when they were found, they were marked - a crescent moon for a werewolf, the outline of a bat for a vampire, and three claw marks for a gargoyle. The tattoos were on the left cheek, where everybody could see them. They were the scum of society, often banding together to form groups and attack humans. On the other end of the spectrum were mages and angels. They too, had marks; but they were a symbol of honour and authenticity.
I led Marluxia to the kitchen with the promise of food, eager to avoid that particular topic of conversation if I could. There was never much in the fridge; Larxene was lazy and I never had any time to cook, so both of us more-or-less lived off takeaways.
I found some bread and cheese, and made sandwiches. Marluxia seemed grateful for the food; when he ate, it was although he'd been starved.
"Vampires have it easy," He said once he was done. "All they need to do is find some poor, gullible victim and that's their fix for a month." He paused for a moment to scoop the crumbs into his mouth. "And gargoyles don't even need to eat. But werewolves are hungry all the time. With no money to buy food, we're lowered to searching through dustbins for scraps. This-" He pointed to his tattoo, "-is the ultimate degradation,"
I didn't really know what to say. I offered him another sandwich.
It was the majority of the loaf of bread, and our entire worldly stock of cheese, later, that the phone rang.
"Hey, Vexen! It's Xigbar. How are ya?"
Xigbar was one of the guys from work; evidently he'd heard that I was supposedly ill and had rung to check that I was okay. I coughed pointedly down the line.
"I'm feeling better," I said.
"Your lil' sis said you'd be off all week. Dude!"
"She was exaggerating," I quickly replied, trying to fake bunged-up-ness. "It's just a bad cold or something. I'll be back in tomorrow,"
"Oh. Wicked. I was worried you'd caught something bad."
"No, I'm fine,"
"Coolio! Gotta go. Catch you later!"
Marluxia was polishing off his eighth or ninth sandwich.
"That," He said, "Was the best thing I've eaten in months,"
"It was only cheese and bread," I replied, picking up his plate and dumping it by the dishwasher.
"My statement still stands,"
"So, what else can't werewolves do? I didn't know there were laws and things," I asked, curious. I'd always thought that monsters were simply marked and then left to their own devices. The tattoos were simply a warning to normal people that they might be dangerous.
"Well, nobody in their right mind would employ one of us, for a start, even if it was legal. No money means no food, no homes, no clothes, nothing, except what we can salvage from bins and skips. And the National Health Service won't ever treat us, so even a menial injury or illness could kill us. We're illegible for education, banned from public transport." He counted them off on his fingers. "And the worst thing? We're unprotected by law. Humans are allowed to kill us and there isn't a single thing we can do about it. Retaliate, and the police come and shoot you dead instead. We're completely at the mercy of sick freaks who think it's sporting to hunt down a powerless person and subject them to a slow and torturous death,"
The tone of voice made it sound like Marluxia was speaking from personal experience.
"Even I find that sick," I said, well aware that I sounded like a hypocrite.
Marluxia gave me a questioning look with those piercing eyes. I never fared well under that kind of pressure.
"Look," I finally said. "I thought you were dying anyway. It would have been more humane to kill you quickly,"
Marluxia glanced away.
"I understand," He said, making it clear that he never would.
I looked at him for a long time as he sat calmly at the kitchen table, watching the world go by through the window. He looked so deceptively human; nothing of the killer one would expect from the tattoo emblazoned on his cheek.
I felt awkward, here in my little bubble of a secure house and a job and a bitchy, freeloading little sister, when next to me was a man living each day not even knowing if he'd still be alive come the morning.
"It must be hard," I finally said, as though that would somehow excuse my actions last night.
"Crushing," Marluxia replied dully.
The phone rang again and I sighed, picking it up. I hoped it wasn't another sympathiser from work.
"Hey Vexie! It's Larxene,"
"Hurrah," I muttered sarcastically. "What do you want this time?"
"Thought I'd just tell you I'll be staying with Axel tonight. The werewolf still around?"
"Just making sure you weren't planning on getting rid of him,"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well obviously I'm keeping him,"
"He's not a pet, Larxene,"
I glanced at Marluxia and he steadily met my gaze. He knew we were talking about him.
"Yeah, well, he's cute," Larxene said, giggling like she'd just let on some big secret. "He can sleep in my room tonight if he likes,"
"I'm sure he'd be thrilled," I intoned sarcastically. Larxene didn't seem to pick up on this.
"Yuh-huh! Anyway, gotta go. Axel's calling. See you later!"
She hung up before I could reply.
Marluxia looked at me expectantly.
"Larxene says you can sleep in her bed tonight,"
"I don't think that's such a good idea," Marluxia said. He gestured briefly outside. "Tonight's a full moon,"
"Please," I said, sensing revenge on the horizon. "Feel free,"
Okay. Maybe I regretted letting Marluxia loose on Larxene's bedroom just a little bit. But it was worth it for her reaction.
"Vexen!!" She shrieked. She'd come home early morning, just as I was about to leave. "What the fuck have you done to my room?!"
"I haven't done anything," I calmly replied. "You did say Marluxia could sleep there,"
"This isn't sleep! This is manic, psychopathic wrecking!!"
She gestured wildly to the overturned shelves, the shredded clothes and bedcovers, the deep gouges in the wallpaper.
"If I had honestly realised, I would have found somewhere more suitable," Marluxia said, his voice the epitome of sincerity, so brilliantly convincingly apologetic. "But having been unconscious after the attack, I lost track of the days. I'm so sorry,"
Larxene melted. Ah, she always was a sucker for pretty boys.
"Oh, it's okay," She said. "I'm sure I'll manage. It's not your fault,"
I felt a lot better as I caught the train to work. Granted, I was still exhausted from lack of sleep - last night there had been such screams and howls that it was impossible to even drift off - but I was newly optimistic about Marluxia. If Larxene brought him in to make me suffer, then I would have no qualms in turning him right back onto her. And it would be the sweetest, most beautiful revenge.
When I came home, Larxene was out again and Marluxia was in the back garden, fixing her old pine bed. Oddly enough, he was sawing halfway through the screws before he drilled them back into the wood.
I gave him a questioning look.
"They'll last about a week or two," He said, giving one slat a test by pushing on it. "And then, hopefully, collapse spectacularly when she tries to have sex with somebody,"
I decided then and there that Marluxia was amazing.
"She didn't do anything, did she?" I asked, just in case.
"Does your sister flirt with everything on two legs, or is there just something about me that screams "sleep with me!" at her?"
I laughed, sitting down next to him amongst the odd nails and screws that littered the lawn.
"She thinks every man is screaming for her to have sex with him. I shouldn't worry about it too much."
"I didn't. I just ignored her,"
"So what's with the collapsing bed?"
"She was convinced I was flirting right back at her. Just because I offered to help fix her room for her,"
"My advice is steer well clear," I said, sagely. "Larxene doesn't understand the concept of male friends being just friends,"
"What about you?" Marluxia asked, giving the bed one last, finishing pat. It creaked ominously.
"Me? I don't do relationships,"
"You're not much like her, are you," Marluxia commented as he lifted the bed up - Good Lord, he must have been strong to be able to do that - onto his back and began to carry it indoors.
"I'm glad you can tell," I replied. "I hate her."
"I did sense some sort of sibling rivalry going on when I arrived," Marluxia said. He shifted the weight of the bed slightly on his back as he prepared to heave it up the stairs. "I would have liked to have planned to stay out of it, but it seems like I shall be a tool for revenge on both your parts from now on,"
I sighed, smiling wryly. So Marluxia had noticed too. Well, Larxene and I were always trying to get back on each other for even the tiniest little things. It stood to reason that everybody we knew was duly forced into taking one side or the other.
"I'm afraid that happens to most people we know,"
Marluxia had pushed the door to Larxene's room open, and carefully placed the bed back in its original place.
"I don't mind. It's highly amusing."
He stretched, his back clicking with the movement.
"I don't suppose you have any food?"
I'd already eaten out on the way home from work, and chucked what I couldn't finish in the bin.
"I think there might be some tins in the cupboard. Did Larxene feed you?"
Marluxia shook his head as he followed me downstairs to the kitchen.
"I did find her chocolate stash, though, but I left it alone. Just in case,"
"Wise," I replied. "You know what women are like with chocolate,"
I climbed onto the worktop and opened one of the cupboards. There was a large supply of old tins of fruit, vegetables and sauces that we'd just never got around to eating. Half of them were out of date by several years.
I pulled out the ones that would no longer be edible to throw them in the bin. There wasn't any point in keeping them.
"There's nothing the right side of its best before date," I told Marluxia, "Except a tin of sweetcorn and some bolognaise sauce,"
"It's okay. I'm not fussy. Pass it all down," Marluxia replied, opening a drawer at random to find a tin opener.
I watched in fascination as he easily consumed six cans of mixed vegetables, two tins of sardines and a bottle of pizza topping.
Finally he put down the last tin, licked clean.
"And still hungry," He muttered.
I glanced at the cupboard.
"This one's got a best-before date of 2004," I said, holding up a four-pack of baked beans. He ate them all. Cold.
Just as I was squashing the cans to put them in the recycling box, Larxene flung herself in through the door.
"That basta-" She stopped in her tracks as she saw Marluxia leaning against the counter in all his tall, assertive, masculine glory.
Yes, definitely a sucker for pretty boys.
She straightened herself out, puffed out her chest a little and ran a hand through her hair.
"Hey, Mar," He said, smiling. "Did you finish fixing my bed for me?"
"It's back upstairs," He said. Larxene waltzed over, ignoring my glares.
"Thanks so much," She said. "How can I ever repay you?"
I certainly knew what she meant.
Marluxia glanced back at the cupboard.
"More food would be good,"
Larxene sagged a little; evidently not the response she wanted.
"Hasn't Vexen even fed you?" She asked with an accusing glare in my general direction. Marluxia waved his hand at her.
"He has. Plenty. I shouldn't have asked. Never mind,"
"There's still some more out of date stuff in the cupboard if you like," I said, pulling out a few more tins. Larxene looked aghast.
"Vexen! You've been feeding him gone off food?!"
"It's fine," Marluxia said, opening a tin of sweetcorn and eagerly digging in. "It's better than what I used to have to salvage from dustbins,"
Larxene wrinkled her nose.
"Welcome to life."
She pouted at the comment and swept out in a huff. I laughed at her.
"Oh, she's so pathetic," I said. Marluxia looked up from his second tin of sweetcorn.
"She says the same of you,"
"No doubt. I bet she says some terrible things about me sometimes,"
"Hm." Marluxia agreed, polishing off the last of the sweetcorn. "You have quite a feud going between you,"
"That's because," I said, preparing for a full explanation for the werewolf's benefit, "Larxene is a slutty, freeloading bitch of a little sister that I have been unduly shackled with just because she can't take the strain of getting herself a job and living an everyday life that, oh, just about everybody else in the known universe manages to do,"
"Except the marked," Marluxia added pointedly.
"Yeah, but at least they have a good reason for it," I replied, chucking the last can in the recycling box and shoving it back under the counter. Marluxia nodded, but didn't look wholly convinced. I shied from his piercing gaze, and decided to change the subject.
"I guess you'll be staying here in the long term," I said with an air of resignation. "I'll need to get you some decent clothes. And find somewhere for you to sleep."
"Anywhere is fine," Marluxia said quickly. "I'll just sleep where it's most convenient for you,"
"Larxene's room?" I asked hopefully.
"I hasten to remind you that manic, psychopathic wrecking isn't part of my everyday behaviour," Marluxia said as we made our way upstairs.
"Here's to hoping for extraordinary circumstances, then?"
Marluxia shook my hand before making his way towards Larxene's room.
"You are a terrible, terrible man, Vexen," He laughed. "I think I might be starting to like you,"
Lying alone in my bed that night, I briefly felt sorry for shackling Marluxia with Larxene, but then again his good looks and charming personality had her curled around his little finger. He could ask her to build him his very own room and she'd probably do it in the hopes of future satisfaction, the shallow pig.
I awoke in the morning to find Larxene rifling through my underwear drawer.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, rolling out of bed none-too-gracefully and collapsing in a heap on the floor. She laughed at me.
"Well, Mar really needs some clean clothes and you're about the same height,"
I might have been about an inch or two taller than Marluxia, excluding his ears, but we were entirely different builds. I would certainly be surprised if he'd manage to fit his well built frame into a set of my admittedly somewhat effeminately shaped clothes. Larxene didn't seem to understand this obvious difference and was carefully picking out some of my nicest casual clothes for Marluxia.
"Where is he?" I asked, pulling out a smart, plain suit for myself. Larxene grinned wolfishly at me.
"He's in the shower. Come on, move it, I need to deliver these to him,"
"Whilst he's showering."
Larxene sighed dramatically.
"You obviously do not understand, Vexen," She said. "Look, there is a hot, wet, muscular, naked werewolf in my shower and he's left the door ajar. Do you think I'm just going to wait here like some chaste saint until he's finished?"
I glared at her as I fished a pair of boxers out of the drawer for myself.
"You are disgusting," I said, grabbing my stolen clothes back and making my way to the door. "I'm going to leave these in the bathroom for Marluxia to collect once he's finished, not that they'll even fit him. You go downstairs. And preferably outside, never to return,"
She huffed and looked for all the world as though she would stamp her foot and begin screaming like the spoiled little brat she was.
"You always have to ruin my fun, Vexen," She moaned as I steered her in the right direction, away from Marluxia. That done, I quickly made my way to the bathroom, past the shower room, to change.
On the way out, I happened to catch a glance of Marluxia through the crack in the door, carelessly left open.
He was stretching, leaning into the water, and it cascaded in streams off his body, steam rising up where it fell. His muscles practically rippled as he moved, bending down to pick up the shower gel before straightening again, always so perfectly poised. There were countless scars marring his skin; scratches, slashes, bullet wounds, but they just made him more defined, more ruggedly attractive, more-
I realised I was staring and quickly made myself scarce, my face heating up like an oven. But the image was burned into my mind now, even as I caught the train to work, even as I discussed thermodynamics with Xigbar, even as we blew up a teddy bear to test our newest reactor, even as I returned home with the remains of the wraps that my colleagues and I couldn't finish at lunchtime in a plastic bag for Marluxia.
I'd just closed the front door behind my and thrown my keys onto the hall table when there was the most spectacular crash from upstairs, followed by sounds of muffled female outrage, and cruel laughter from the kitchen.
Rather than risk Larxene's impending wrath, I instead opted to go speak with Marluxia. If I could just keep that mental image out of my head long enough not to blush furiously right in front of him.
I dropped the bag onto the table next to Marluxia.
"With love, everybody at work."
Marluxia sniffed once, and then attempted not to look wholly enthusiastic as he dug into the bag and pulled out the first half eaten wrap.
He was wearing one of my shirts, hanging open, presumably because it was - just as I predicted - too tight for him, and his old ripped and stained jeans from when he'd arrived at our house, held up with my favourite belt.
I gestured briefly upstairs.
"Larxene brought a friend home?"
"Axel, I think his name is. She said he got kicked out of his apartment and is going to stay here for a while,"
"I hope you told her to take her boyfriend and kindly shove off," I muttered. For God's sake, soon I'd be trying to raise half the population of the world on my modest salary. Well, half the world's male, good looking population, at any rate.
Larxene came storming down the stairs in her dressing down, a fiery redhead in tow, desperately attempting to pull his trousers on as he was dragged unceremoniously down the stairs.
"You bastard!" She screamed, ignoring us both as she all but threw Axel out of the front door, his bag flying after him. "And don't you dare come crawling back!" She slammed the door with great gusto, then flicked her cropped, blonde hair with one hand and waltzed over to us with a smile. "Men. They're so easy. Hey, boys,"
She leaned forward on the peninsular unit, facing Marluxia and leaving just a little bit more cleavage than I would have liked on show.
"Oh, Marly," She said with a wave of her hand. "Axel broke the bed again. I'm really sorry,"
To my satisfaction, Marluxia didn't even look up as he pulled another wrap out of the bag. "It's okay. It was on its last legs, anyway,"
Larxene gave him a somewhat disapproving look as he shoved the leftover food into his mouth. "You're eating again?"
Marluxia simply wiped his mouth on my sleeve and ignored her, pulling the last wrap from the bag.
She soon left, disgruntled that Marluxia was showing more interest in the food than in her.
I pulled two ready meals out of the freezer for Larxene and I and threw them in the microwave. Marluxia watched me potter around the kitchen, loading dirty cups and plates into the dishwasher, collecting old magazines to recycle, throwing old odds and ends in the bin.
"Why don't you just pester Larxene until she gets a job?" Marluxia asked.
"Because she'd go crying to our mother and say I'm being horrible again. Slimy bitch,"
"Hm. Got any more food?"