The angel approached us casually, safeguarded by his lackeys - as though we would dare to injure a citizen, although I suspected he was hardly just that - until I could see the whites of his eyes. He was tall and slim, stark white hair completely contrasting his black tailored suit. Turquoise eyes, white and turquoise wings. Every detail of his body and clothing was impeccable. This was a man who was powerful and knew it.
Ten metres from us, he stopped and smiled.
"Marluxia," He said casually.
I glanced at my lover; his stance was defensive, his teeth bared into a growl.
The angel's smile widened a fraction.
"I see you remember me," He stated pleasantly, looking over Marluxia's rugged appearance. "Even in your... sorry state."
"Enough with the formalities," Marluxia snarled. "I know why you're here."
Instantly, Riku's face was a blank slate. In the silence, I heard one of his bodyguards draw a sleek silver pistol and hand it to his master. Riku studied it for a moment, before throwing back the safety latch and firing it into the crowd. There were so many people that he couldn't miss. There were screams at the epicentre of the bullet, and a small group sank to the aid of the wounded.
Marluxia took a step forwards, fists clenched so tight his knuckles looked as though they'd split.
"What do you think you're doing?"
This time, Riku took aim before he fired, eyes easily catching the next innocent victim he plucked out of the crowd. Blood flowered and the Marked girl fell.
"They're monsters. They don't deserve to live." He said. His tone chilled me to the bone. It was like he somehow actually believed that these people were less than the scum on his shoes. Not, given his appearance, that there probably was any. He reloaded the gun and took aim again. People scattered and his sights trained them.
"Kill me," He flatly commanded Marluxia. "Unless you want to see more of your devoted followers die."
Marluxia let out a howl, but did not move. Another Marked, a vampire, crumpled to the ground. His hood happened to fall from his face and we all saw his stark white skin crumple under the dying sun.
Without meaning to, I grabbed Marluxia's wrist. I tried to form a sentence, some sort of encouragement or advice - but my mouth was frozen. He glared for a moment, then ripped himself way, turning back to the angel.
"Leave them alone!" He yelled. "They've done nothing wrong!"
"Like anybody would believe that," Riku said nonchalantly. The pistol cracked again and I felt the wind as the bullet flew past me. Too late, I twisted to see Larxene drop to her knees, cradling one of her beautiful children in her arms, already crimson with blood. And... its lifeless body was smiling. At her.
I felt tears press at my eyes and stumbled back a little, desperately grabbing for Marluxia's arms, anything to support myself. No. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. You didn't kill an eight-year-old. You didn't kill an eight-year-old even if it was a gargoyle, and you didn't laugh at the way that it smiled at the woman who had tried to save him.
"Kill him," I found myself whispering as Larxene screamed, laying the body aside and throwing herself to her feet.
Marluxia was frozen.
"What are you waiting for?" Larxene screeched. "Are you going to let him murder more innocent people?"
"No," He said, so quietly that I could barely hear him. Another bullet buried itself into a throat, instantly killing. There were screams, and silence. "No," Marluxia said again, hand falling to mine only to brush me away. "I'm not a murderer."
This time, Riku outright laughed.
"Hah! That's rich!"
Marluxia grit his teeth and said nothing. Riku grinned momentarily, stepping forwards.
"You haven't told them, have you?" He said, gesturing to us. "About what really happened the night you became this monster."
"I-!" Marluxia began, and dropped his gaze. "It wasn't my fault."
"Oh? Like it wasn't your claws that ripped her chest apart?"
I had never heard such stricken desperation in Marluxia's voice, not since the first night when I'd cocked my rifle to his head like I could ever shoot.
"Because you killed her, didn't you?" Riku pursued relentlessly. "Tell them the truth! Tell them how you tore apart our best friend without a shred of mercy!"
"No," Marluxia hissed, stumbling backwards. Riku fired again. "No. That wasn't me."
"It was!" Riku exclaimed, something of his icy exterior slipping away. "It was, Marluxia. I saw everything. I saw her try to comfort you, and you killed her."
"Don't you think I could bring her back if I could?" Marluxia howled, his entire body shaking with anger - or pain. "Don't you think that if I could change one damned thing on this world, I've bring Naminé back? Have you never considered that maybe I don't want to be a monster?"
Riku seemed to consider this confession and consider it a lie. He clipped another magazine into the gun, fired again. And again.
"I know better than to trust the word of a werewolf, Marluxia!"
"Kill him!" Larxene cried, scrabbling against Lexaeus, the only thing holding her fury back. "He's a murderer! He deserves to die!"
"No," Marluxia hissed. "Nobody deserves to die."
Someone burst from the crowd and Riku's bodyguard effortlessly took her out with a spray of bullets. As though he'd been hit himself, Marluxia howled again until his throat gave out.
"I don't think so," Riku said. "Not until I've purged your filth from this world."
"No," Marluxia hissed, shaking his head in disbelief. "You wouldn't."
"It's quite convenient, actually, that you've collected all the monsters in one place. Perhaps now I can finally avenge Naminé's death."
"This isn't vengeance," Marluxia exclaimed, somehow finding his muscles enough to gesture wildly to the fatalities. "She'd never want this!"
"Who are you to decide?"
Bang. Another fighter dead.
Marluxia seemed torn between letting his violent instincts take over and destroy the angel's body and watching his followers fall. I was glad, deep inside my vindictive mind, that I was not in his position. I'd crumple beneath the pressure - but it didn't seem as though Marluxia was faring too well, either.
"It's corrupted you,"
"I'm not the one with the Mark of the Unwanted."
Somewhere, some part of me that I didn't know existed stepped out of its corner and took control of my legs. And, apparently, my mouth. I hadn't even got a clue what I was saying. But I knew what I needed to.
"See here," I began, stepping in front of Marluxia to his - and my - surprise. "You have no right to kill these people! They've-" I paused, remembering Riku's accusations. Had Marluxia really killed the girl Naminé? Somehow, I had no doubts that he'd never do such a thing... not now. "Whatever's happened in their past," I corrected myself, "Doesn't mean they deserve to die just because of who they are."
Riku stared at me with his pistol.
"And who do you think you are?"
"I'm Vexen," I stated lamely. "Dr Vexen Carlisle."
"No doubt," Riku scorned, "Marluxia's convinced you with his silver tongue to take his side."
I reached back to grip Marluxia's hand with sweating palms. Whatever happened now, I couldn't lose faith in him. Not this far in the game.
Although... the game, I suspected, was over now.
"I made my own choices."
"You can't kill me," I stated, hoping to sound threatening. "I'm human."
"No," Riku agreed thoughtfully, "But I do happen to have an estimated five thousand Marked at my disposal instead."
I found myself faltering.
"I take it you've never witnessed a loved one's death at the hands of such a monster as these."
I couldn't argue that, but...
"No, but there are a lot of people here who have witnessed a loved one's death at the hands of such a monster as you."
This seemed to throw Riku off, I noted triumphantly. Somehow I found the courage to storm up to him and angrily prod him in the chest.
"That's right," I said, amazed that I could look a man with a very smooth gun straight in the eye. "You're the one who's sick and twisted. You and your-" I gestured to the men behind him, searching for the right word- "your cohorts."
Riku searched my eyes.
"Courage doesn't come naturally to you, does it, Dr Carlisle?"
"Well, it doesn't look like justice doesn't come naturally to you, either," I snapped back. "Or fair play. You think that you can win some kind of personal battle with your boys and your toys?"
I couldn't hold out much longer. I didn't have a tongue as fast as my sister Larxene - but, as I glanced a familiar stature in the distance and approaching - fast enough.
"Let me give you some advice," Riku said to me, glancing momentarily at where my eyes had been but seeing nothing, "Dr Carlisle. Don't get yourself caught up in affairs you know nothing about."
An irrational grin crawled onto my face.
"You do realise," Riku continued when my comeback wasn't snarkier, collecting another gun - one whose shape I dimly recognised - from a bodyguard, "That I have the power to turn you into one of these helpless, unprotected freaks."
"You wouldn't," I insisted, hoping like hell that I was right. "How many cameras must be trained on us by now? You can bluff your way out of killing a Marked but your Organisation can't cover the intentional conversion of a human."
"Maybe, then," Riku said, quick mind easily opting for other options every time I reasoned my way out of an unpleasant death, "You can be accidentally be caught in the crossfire. There are too many monsters here for a pathetic human such as yourself to be noticed amongst the bodies once we've disposed of them all."
Marluxia had come up behind me, and carefully pulled me away.
"He has no quarrel with you, Riku," He said, glaring meaningfully at me as his hand slipped from my shoulder to my fingers, "Leave him alone."
"Naminé had no 'quarrel' with you, either," Riku shot back. It was a low blow, but it was a direct hit.
"I told you, that wasn't my fault!" Marluxia yelled. "Don't you dare try to insinuate-"
He was interrupted.
"Vexen! Marluxia! Get down!"
Something happened and I was hitting the concrete, hard, Marluxia over me, and there was the explosion of a gun and I raised my head just in time to see Riku topple forwards and fall, a seeping circular wound neat in his back between the first preened feathers of his wings. I searched for the perpetrator.
"And," The diminutive angel said calmly, slotting his gun neatly away as Riku's bodyguards stared in shock, "Between you and me, I've been wanting to do that for a long time."
He stalked over to the dead body and found quickly cooling hands, locking them into a pair of cuffs.
"Riku Seraphim," He stated conversationally at the corpse, "You are under arrest for criminal activity in the name of justice, disregard for international law, corruption of the public and above all, genocide. If you have any words to defend yourself, speak now or forever hold your silence. Nothing? Good." He gestured to the bodyguards. "Take him away. You'll find a police vehicle waiting. Although the death penalty has not been legalised in this country for centuries, I think it would be a little unjust to give him a life sentence, wouldn't you?"
He laughed at their bemused expressions and made a beeline for Lexaeus.
I turned away at their embrace to offer them a little privacy, busying myself with crawling to my feet and helping Marluxia up as well. Noise was beginning to build amongst the bemused crowd again, but Marluxia shushed them as Zexion stepped away from his own lover and pulled out an important looking document.
"Riku was merely desperate for a shred of the power you took from him. I have your conclusion," He said to Marluxia. "If you would...?"
Marluxia uncertainly took the paper, and in his claws it didn't look as though it were the most important thing in the history of the Unwanted. He quickly scanned through it, and the only emotion I could pull from his face was disbelief.
"The Organisation wasn't terribly pleased. But the Governments have heard the truth and made their decision."
Marluxia nodded, and the two of them - plus me, dragged behind - made their way up to the Plinth. There, Marluxia coughed and held up his hand for silence.
It had never been so still.
"By order of the International Union, including the parliament of the United Kingdom, the congress of the United States of America and Canada, and the presidency of The Franco-Spanish Republic," He read, "Following the Trafalgar Square protest, London, and the consequent Central Park protest, New York, the Tokyo Bay protest, Tokyo and the Hillbrow Tower protest, Johannesburg, this emergency statement and decree is to be enforced in the entirety of the International Union from this moment forth."
To put it into the most overused cliché in literature, the air was so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. Or words.
"Those recognised to be the Unwanted, the Marked, Désemparés, or the Umeacha, including but not limited to the species werewolves, gargoyles and vampires, are to be protected by law from murder or abortion except in self defence or medical emergency, and if accused to be subject to fair trial in the courts of justice pertaining to the human laws in the state in which the suggested crime has been committed."
"So you mean," I whispered, "You're free?"
Marluxia flashed me a smile, and turned to his crowd.
"Friends," He said. "Today, the course of history has been changed forever! Today, we may walk the streets of our homes with pride! Today we may speak the truth with no fear for our lives! Today we have set in motion the wheels that will change the world!"
The sun was sleeping by the time the cheers had died down. Marluxia stayed waiting on the plinth. He was right - this was the first step, but the battle was far from over. There was still more left to fight for. So he waited, until the Marked sensed his desire to communicate and settled once more. He sat down, legs hanging down on the edge of the historic stone.
"There is much left to do," He stated truthfully. "There are still humans who do not wish to see the truth. Humans with bloodlust, humans with revenge on their lips. The deaths are not over and they will not cease for a long time. We may always carry a stigma, ten, twenty, thirty generations down the line. But we can change things. This proves that things can be changed. We are not helpless, or confined to a life of pain and loss. It is our duty to fight for equal rights for all sentient species on this planet, not just humans. But it works both ways, too."
He scanned the crowd for a moment like he was explicitly waiting for me to try to work out what he meant.
"It is time for us to learn to live in the human world. Now that we cannot be killed - we can no longer kill. When we can buy, we can no longer steal. You can choose to be a worthless criminal if you so desire, but don't come running to any other Marked seeking refuge. If we want rights, we have also to accept responsibility. Do I make myself clear?"
He sighed to himself as the crowd erupted into an impressively mixed response.
"This is going to take some work."
I drew myself up to sit beside him.
"You can do it."
He chuckled a little, leaning against me - and deciding to straddle my hips when that didn't seem intimate enough. I wanted to inform him that, actually, several thousand people could see us from here - but somehow with his lips on mine, I couldn't find the words.
"You keep saying that," He whispered. "It's not me. It's us."
"So magnanimous," I scoffed. "Aren't you the tiniest bit proud of yourself?"
Marluxia turned to momentarily glance at his followers.
"More," He decided, "Than I could ever express."
That, I had to admit to myself, sounded more like Marluxia to me, the Marluxia with a quirky tail and a crooked smile. And a devilishly handsome face.
Studying him and seeing the crescent tattoo on his cheek, I couldn't help but wonder what he'd looked like before the Mark and the scars. Marluxia with circular pupils, no furry ears and not even a tail was a strange thought indeed; I decided that I preferred him with skin slightly rough to the touch from years of abuse and that sensitive patch of fur just behind his ears. But...
"So," I said, trying to sound conversational and failing. "You knew Riku."
Marluxia seemed to collapse into me at the mere mention of the man's name. For several minutes, he didn't reply. And then-
"For a long time we were inseparable."
"And the girl Naminé?"
This time the pause was longer, terser.
"I loved her. More than anything."
I swallowed thickly, my hands finding that patch to stroke. It seemed to provide some comfort for Marluxia, his arms tight around my waist and nose pressed close to my neck.
"You know," Marluxia said quietly, "When werewolves first change each full moon, for a few minutes they are acutely aware of their surroundings but have no control over their actions?"
I nodded - Demyx had told me about it the night that Marluxia had tried to kill me. And what he was going to say next was all too painfully predictable.
"Naminé... She must have wondered where I was, because she came out to check that I was okay. But it was too late. By the time I realised what was going on-" Suddenly claws clenched tight into my shirt, scraping at my back and forcing a sharp intake of air into my lungs. "- It was too late. I couldn't stop myself. I saw everything. I ripped her to pieces until they'd barely be able to identify her body. You couldn't possibly hope to meet a more wonderful, intelligent, beautiful, kind hearted... and I killed her."
I felt moisture seep into my shirt. Marluxia was crying.
"It wasn't your fault," I whispered, pulling his heavy body close to mine. "You couldn't have-"
"I know," Marluxia interrupted. "I've had nine years to spend every night dreaming of her screaming face, don't you think I know? If the Organisation had tried to help cure the human race from this... this affliction, and not just brutally kill more innocent people, then maybe Naminé would still be alive today."
"This is more than just freeing the Marked, isn't it." I intoned dully. Marluxia nodded.
"A lot more."
How long did we stay up on the Plinth? Until the sun peeped above the skyscrapers and Larxene crawled up with her clutch of children - seven, now, all looking as tired and haunted as I felt - to plonk herself beside us.
Marluxia barely acknowledged her, even when a werewolf crawled in between us and began to make himself a nest from our limbs.
"So. We did it, huh?"
"Right now I don't feel as victorious as I should," Marluxia intoned dully. "This isn't the end. There's so much more to do. Too much. I just want to sleep."
I sighed, trying to shoo the invading werewolf away so Marluxia could rest, but he wouldn't let me.
"'S name's Sora," Larxene helpfully informed me. "The way you bribe him is to offer him food." And she pulled a packet of crisps from her pocket, dangling it in front of the little boy's face. Eventually he decided that food trumphed bed, and crawled out to eat. "He can't really talk," Larxene added as he polished every last scrap off. "He's been Marked for two years, about, but he's not even sure how old he is."
Her random useless information was as good a distraction as any for me, so I listened to every word until Marluxia pertinently pulled me away for a kiss. He only managed a few seconds before he pulled back to yawn and promptly fell asleep. For somebody who'd slept sparsely for the past two months, he looked like he was going to be out of it for quite some time.
Larxene giggled, her boys and girls in her arms as they, too, began to curl up for sleep after a restless night.
"Bet you never expected to be leading these guys out in a revolution, huh, brother?"
I glanced up. Larxene never called me brother. Never, ever. She barely even recognised me as a blood relation unless forced to. Hearing her state it so bluntly - and fondly - was a little odd. More than. Disconcerting hardly covered it.
"Yeah," I agreed lamely. "Strange, isn't it? Sister."
"Hah," Larxene laughed. "That sounds so weird coming from you."
"I could say the same as you calling me brother," I intoned dully.
"Aren't you glad that I brought Marluxia home that night?"
I opened my mouth to bark some snappy retort - but then a thought occurred to me.
"Why did you bring him home?"
Larxene shrugged, gazing up at the first tendrils of the sun creeping over the horizon.
"I dunno. I guess maybe I just knew he'd be special."
"Special," I echoed thoughtfully, looking down at Marluxia's sleeping form. Right now, what I really wanted was to go home. Mentally, I made a list of things I was going to do: make a warm cup of coffee - decaffeinated - run a bath and slide in with Marluxia up to my nose until my whole body pruned and I'd scraped two months of god-forsaken grease out of my hair, change into a pair of clean and ironed pyjamas warmed on the radiator, have a shave, and then crawl into bed and sleep for a week.
But that was a world away now. I wasn't even sure I'd ever be able to go back to my own house - not after everything that had happened. The Marked needed Marluxia and Marluxia needed me. And strangely, I didn't really care.
Except the shave. We'd had a razor but at some point it had got lost, and I really needed to shave. So did Marluxia. No matter who was bearing it, pink stubble was just... odd.
Larxene snapped me from my thoughts, which was probably just as well.
I looked out at the camps of Marked, and down at Marluxia snoring peacefully, propped up against my chest. Marluxia.
The months have passed in a blur. After that first victory, everything tumbled down like dominoes, step by step by ricocheting step. An emergency sector of the Government was set up; Marluxia made contact with ambassadors in nearly a dozen foreign countries. We filled an old warehouse with metal bunk beds for the sick and wounded, enlisted professional help for the deepest injuries. Larxene tidied up her children and now she's never seen without at least a couple of them clinging to her arms. She adores the attention.
In the London apartment Zexion and Lexaeus briefly inhabited, I finally got to wash myself clean. The six-plus-children of us moved in- it's cramped, and full of the Marked's comings and goings, but that's the way life is now. There's barely a free moment but it's twenty times more satisfying than any office job working for a merciless boss. There've been glitches, and quite a lot of them - opposition and idiocy on both sides - but Marluxia's charismatic personality is, by and large, pulling us through. It's insane, I've found myself thinking on more than a few occasions. The general public's still wary, but who knew that all it would take was a couple of correctly informed documentaries to set things back on the right path? Xigbar's put his technical expertise to use - we're slowly but surely listing an online database of the Marked. It's both the best and worst thing to see ordinary people come to collect their long lost friends and family, once presumed dead, and take them home at last. A widow reunited with her husband, now a rugged gargoyle. A single father who lost his son in a car crash gets more than he bargained for when he comes to collect his child. Sora's four years old and his birthday's in September; who knew that Larxene would ever lower herself to wear a ring on her next-to-last finger?
It's four years later that I find myself back in Trafalgar Square, staring up at the four lions smoothed with age, the remains of Nelson's column and the proof that things really are changing.
"It's strange, isn't it?" Marluxia, next to me, says. "The Government's still dithering about allowing the Marked into hospitals, but they've still got the time and money to spend thousands of pounds on a statue."
Nobody calls them the Unwanted any more. It took eighteen months for the first company to employ the werewolves' superior strength for manual labour - now there are a whole collection of businesses who've found uses for the Marked's unique talents. Marluxia thanked them all personally.
"It's not just a statue," I argue. "It's a memorial."
Marluxia's shoulders sag a little the way they always do when anybody brings up the fatalities his campaign saw though.
"Nine hundred and forty six. I know," He whispers.
They collected names, a painstaking task never fully completed. Countless others, the plaque reads beneath the string of deceased. Who have laid down their lives for the truth.
The Organisation is gone now. Word spreads like the wind when there's no wall to block it out - and now all the governments around the world are seeking to repeal their barbaric laws. But, I suppose, it's this one that's been forced to move first.
Marluxia wanted the four figures on the statue to be anonymous but he was outvoted by the team of artists commissioned to design it. So it's quite obviously Marluxia standing tall and proud, eight feet high and scanning the horizon, as the scaffolding is folded away. There's Demyx, too, strumming on his trusty guitar. Xigbar's leaning over his shoulder and laughing. On the last corner, long and slim legs hanging over the edge of the old base, there is a human.
I saw the original plan with my body flanking Marluxia.
"No," I said. "I was barely even involved. I don't want to take credit for just happening to be Marluxia's partner."
The updated development makes me smile. Shoulder length hair slicked back, a petite figure and a toothy smile is a hundred times more fitting than one of my no doubt saturnine expressions. And of course Larxene would never be complete without a few of her children, tossed in reckless abandon over her body or curled up around her arms.
"I like it."
Marluxia chuckles and leads me away.