"Well," Xemnas said, rubbing his temple. "It's not as if we didn't expect this would happen. But I had hoped it would at least have been a couple of hours before the trouble started."
"Where'd you find them?" Saïx asked.
"They were just in the lounge, watching television," Luxord answered, crossing his arms. "I don't know how long they've been there, but I don't think they've gotten into ay mischief. At any rate, I've seen no sign of it. But those brats sure get up early."
"Thank the stars for small favours," Xemnas sighed. He glared at the two small figures in front of him. "You two – weren't you instructed yesterday to stay in your room until Axel came to fetch you?"
Roxas squirmed. "But it's Saturday! There were cartoons on!"
"And Axel always sleeps in," Xion protested. "We'd have missed them!"
"Please don't be mad at us!" the pair said in unison, looking up at the older Nobodies with pleading eyes.
Xemnas, Saïx and Luxord exchanged some amused glances between them. Demyx, who was also present, couldn't prevent a soft giggle escaping his lips.
Roxas and Xion scowled at him, which only sent him into fits of laughter. They were just too cute.
Both of them looked as if they'd just enrolled into kindergarten. With their round faces, identical pairs of bright blue eyes and their Organisation cats, they looked like twins. Their pouty expressions clashed with their angelic faces and only made them look more adorable.
"Oh Saïx, Xemnas," Demyx gasped, quite overcome by laughter now. "How could you ever be angry at that?"
"Quite easily," Xemnas said, glaring at the blond-haired youth. "About as easily as I could get angry with you. Shall I demonstrate?"
This sobered up Demyx rather quickly and he relapsed into silence, wiping tears from his eyes. "No thanks you. I'm good."
"Speaking of Axel," Saïx said, "the children do have a point. He is late. I wonder if…"
He was interrupted by the flame-wielder's appearance. Axel looked flustered and upset. "Roxas and Xion aren't in their rooms!" he stated. "The doors were open, and – oh." Only then did he see the two children stand in the middle of the room and he fell silent. "They're already here," he added lamely.
"No thanks to you," Luxord said, frowning at the redhead.
"Yeah, well," Axel said, rubbing his head. "You know how early little kids get up. Bet they were watching cartoons too?"
He nearly got bowled off his feet by Larxene and Lexaeus, who entered the Grey Area in a hurry. "I wouldn't go out there if I were you!" Larxene announced to no-one in particular. She shook rime frost from her hair. "Not if you value your life. Vexen is in a bad mood."
"That reminds me," Xemnas said calmly. "Due to yesterday's events, the castle is still in a mess. The children can't stay here. It's too dangerous for them."
"Yeah well, mostly they'd be in danger from Vexen," Larxene giggled.
"Hey, you'd be grumpy too if you had to clean up all that mess with only Zexion to help you!" Demyx retorted.
Saïx frowned at them both and they fell silent. "Please continue, Superior," he said politely to Xemnas.
"Right," Xemnas said. "Axel, you're on babysitting duty. Take them somewhere else – somewhere safe," he added. "Keep them out of trouble and be back by evening."
Axel rolled his eyes when Xemnas left. "Why me?" he complained. "I'd say it's someone else's turn now."
He sighed. "Well, can't be helped. Let's go, Demyx." He grabbed his friend's arm.
"What, me?" the musician protested. "He appointed you – he didn't say anything about me. Why are you're making your problem my problem?"
Axel took him in a headlock and pulled him close to his body. "How about we make it our problem and I don't create a whole new problem for you?" he asked in a dangerously neutral tone of voice. Demyx squirmed. "A-alright! I suppose it beats going on missions, right?"
He rubbed his neck when the fire-wielder released him. "So where are we going? The beach again?"
"No – too risky, with you the only one able to swim," Axel said. "What if they fall into the water? Besides, last time we checked Destiny Islands, there was a storm coming up."
Demyx chuckled. "So you want to go somewhere with no risk of drowning, eh? I know just the place." He created a portal and bowed with mock courtesy to Axel and the children. "After you."
Axel looked at the gate with undisguised suspicion. "And where is that leading?" he inquired.
"Wouldn't be much of a surprise if I told you, would it?" Demyx said, smirking at him.
Axel wasn't left much of a choice. At the word "surprise", Xion and Roxas squealed with delight and jumped through. Axel groaned and leaped after them. Demyx was grinning widely as he followed.
"Oh, this is going to be so much fun!" the young musician exclaimed.
"I am so gonna kill you," Axel growled, glaring at Demyx.
The musician assumed the most innocent expression he could muster. "What? There's no way you could drown here. Besides, the kids love it."
Axel sighed and looked around him. He felt like a fish out of water – which, he supposed, was the worst analogy he could come up with, considering.
He floated in the water, swishing his red-gold tail gently with the current. He didn't know where the tail came from – somehow it just appeared when he came out of the portal. Some kind of magic, he supposed.
Demyx, Roxas and Xion had tails of their own. Demyx's was gold-coloured, matching his hair, and those of Xion and Roxas were as blue as their eyes. Looking at the pint-size Nobodies frolicking in the underwater world of Atlantica in which the foursome found themselves, Axel had to admit; they were having fun.
"Demyx! Demyx!" Xion cried, swimming up to the two older Nobodies. Her black hair floated around her head like a halo. "If we're underwater, how come I can't hold my breath forever?" Little Roxas came up behind her and they both looked up with quizzical faces.
"Uh," Demyx said, looking just as puzzled. "That's because, um…"
Axel rolled his eyes. "It's because you still need oxygen," he told the small girl. Only now you're breathing water instead of air, and you get it from that."
Xion looked at Roxas triumphantly. "See, I told you we should have asked Axel first!" she said. "He knows everything!"
"Yeah, right," Demyx muttered as the two children swam away. "Do they even know what any of that means?" He looked sideways at Axel. "You told them nonsense anyway. Everyone knows there's no oxygen in water!"
The fire-wielder threw him a disgusted look and swam after their two small charges.
His fool mood lifted after a while, when he became accustomed to the use of his tail and fins. He marvelled at how easy it was and actually started to regret never having learned how to swim before. Drifting happily through the water, he almost forgot to look after the children, until he saw them hovering excitedly over something small and red. He swam closer.
"What's that you've got there?" he asked, wondering idly where Demyx was. Probably goofing off somewhere.
"Nothing!" Xion said hurriedly, hiding the whatever-it-was behind her back. An indignant squeal sounded from between her hands.
"That nothing sounds an awful lot like something," Axel said. "Come on, let's have it!"
Xion sighed reluctantly and held her cupped hands up to Axel so he could look inside. Two large eyes on stilts looked back at him.
"Who are you?" a voice sounded muffled from between Xion's fingers. "I demand that you release me at once!"
Xion looked up at Axel hopefully. "He's funny! Can we keep him?"
"No!" Axel said. "It must be one of the inhabitants of this world. Let him go!"
Disappointed, Xion opened her hands and spread them apart. The small crab-creature drifted in the water for a moment, blinking in confusion, and then suddenly spurred into motion, pedalling furiously and yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Intruders! Intruders! Intr- ow!"
The noise was broken off abruptly as Demyx slammed down a large shell on top of him, keeping him firmly confined by slapping his hand over the opening.
"Gosh, but that thing sure makes a lot of noise!" he said. "He'll bring all of Atlantica down on us if we're not careful!" From within the conch, muffled protests could still be heard. "What do we do with him? We can't just release him!"
Axel sighed. "Looks like we'd better leave," he said. "I don't want to get in trouble with the locals – not with the kids to look after."
"Aww!" Xion said.
"Do we have to go?" Roxas whined.
Axel looked at the two downcast faces. "Sorry kids. Hey – we'll go for ice-cream in Twilight Town – how's that?"
Xion and Roxas cheered up considerably at that prospect.
Demyx carefully wedged the sea shell between two rocks on the sea bottom. "It'll take a while for him to escape from that," he said. "We'll be long gone by then."
Roxas and Xion cast sad glances over their shoulders as Axel created a dark portal, but the thought of Twilight Town and sea-salt ice cream soon drove all further thoughts of water adventures out of their minds.
Seifer and his friends were loafing about at the Sandlot, their usual hanging out place, but didn't notice the dark gateway appearing in a nearby alley. They did not see four black-robed figures – two tall, two little – step through.
"All clear," Axel called. "I shall go for ice cream – you three look for a nice spot to eat it."
"Up there!" Xion cried with glee, pointing at the bell tower. Axel followed her pointing finger, then looked back at the two little children looking up at him expectantly. "Ah – let's not, kids. Not today. Don't want you to trip or something and tumble all the way down."
"But… it's where we always eat ice cream!" Roxas said, his lower lip beginning to tremble.
"We'll be really, really careful," Xion promised, a tear sliding down her nose.
"Oh – drat!" Axel said, looking from one to the other, at a loss.
"Hey, how about we go sit on top of the hill?" Demyx suggested. "You can look at the trains from there – wouldn't you like that?" The children's faces brightened. "Can we write the train?" Roxas asked hopefully.
"Maybe later," Demyx said. "How about ice cream first, huh?"
"You go on ahead," Axel told him. "I'll be right back. Don't let them wander off and get in trouble!" He stood for a moment and watched as Demyx made his way to the hill, holding a toddler by each hand. "Aw, how cute," he mumbled. "I should tease him about it later." He chuckled to himself and wandered off on his errand.
"Aah – this is the life," Axel sighed, looking up at the sky. He was stretched out on the grass on Sunset Hill, liking the last of his ice cream from its stick. Equally lazy, Demyx leaned against a fence, with one child on his lap and the other draped over his legs. "Toldya it was a good idea," he said.
"You did?" Axel sat up, glaring at him. "It was my idea to go for ice cream. You just wanted to go on a stupid sea adventure!"
"Hey Xion, Roxy," Demyx said, ignoring him. "I think Axel wants to play. Doesn't he make a nice trampoline?"
"Wha-? No! Stop!" Axel yelled as he got pounced upon by two gleeful little kids. "Oof! Roxas – you're too heavy! Get off my stomach – I just ate! Demyx, I'm going to get you for this!"
He tried to release himself from the tangle of chubby arms and legs, but once they had hold of their prey, Xion and Roxas proved without mercy. "Ow – no tickling! No tickling!"
It proved fortunate for Demyx that Axel couldn't show off the little Nobodies, for he would have made a far easier target himself, rolling over the ground helpless with laughter.
It was getting later in the day. Made drowsy by the warm weather, the foursome soon dropped off to sleep and had been slumbering for the greater part of the afternoon. For a while it seemed that nothing would wake them, but then a dog came running up the hill. It looked around, panting with the effort of the descent, and then spotted the still bodies and ran up to them eagerly.
It licked Axel's face first, but the fire-wielder fended him off in his sleep, never waking up. Next it ran over to the children and planted its paw smack in the middle of Roxas' belly.
"Oof!" The small Nobody bolted upwards. "Doggie!" he cried happily when he saw the cause of his rude awakening.
"Wha' is it?" Xion murmured sleepily. She sat up next to him. "It's a doggie!" Roxas said excitedly. "I think he wants to play!" He pulled at the dog's ears and it barked. It ran away, but came back just as quickly, wagging its tail eagerly.
"Ssh!" Xion said, giggling. She stood up, tripped over the dog and nearly fell over Demyx, who mumbled something and rolled over. Xion hastily climbed back to her feet and pulled back the canine, but Demyx remained slumbering comfortably.
The children and their new friend were interrupted in their play by the sound of a train passing by. The little Nobodies ran up to the fence that overlooked the track and looked down, watching it disappear around the bend.
"I want to ride it," Roxas said wistfully.
"Let's ask," Xion said. "They did say that maybe we could."
She dropped to her knees at Axel's side and shook him. "Axel – Axel! Wake up!"
"Mmph – let me sleep!" Axel murmured… and slept on.
"Demyx? Can we go ride the train?" Roxas asked, poking Demyx in the side.
"Um – go away!" Demyx mumbled… and continued to doze.
Roxas rose to his feet and went to stand next to Xion. "They're not waking up!" he said indignantly.
"Let's go anyway," Xion suggested. "You hea'ed what Demyx said. "Go away," he said."
Roxas hesitated, a niggling little voice in the back of his mind insisting that this was definitely not what Demyx had meant – but the lure of the train proved too great. "Let's go," he affirmed. "I know where the station is!"
Together they bounded off, their new four-footed friend in tow, down the hill and to the station, leaving the two older Nobodies behind in blissful slumber.
Small as they were, the diminutive Nobodies had no problem slipping aboard the train unnoticed. They went through a slight moment of tension as the dog attempted to play with the train conductor, but the man just assumed it was with somebody else and took no notice.
Xion and Roxas had a stellar time riding the train through Twilight Town. Although in their more grown-up forms they had been sent on missions in the place, they had never had the opportunity to ride the train before and they got to see the town from a whole different angle.
It was only after the fourth round that they began to get bored and jittery. "Maybe we should go back," Xion said, uneasily. "Axel an' Demyx might've woke up by now and wondering where we are."
"Let's," Roxas agreed.
But getting off the train they met with an unpleasant surprise. Twilight Town's self-appointed Disciplinary Committee was waiting for them at the exit. "Ticket check!" Seifer, their leader, announced. He spotted the two little kids (plus dog) and glared down at them. "Hey, you two – were you on that train unattended? Show your tickets!"
"We - we don't have any," Roxas said, taking a step back and bumping into Xion. They wanted to flee back onto the train, but the door had already slid shut behind them. Trapped between Seifer and the train, they had nowhere to go.
"So you don't have tickets, do you? What about your parents?"
"We don't have any of those either," Xion said from behind Roxas' spiky hair. Seifer took a threatening step in their direction. "Are you saying you rode on the train without paying for your fare?"
"W-we're very sorry!" Roxas said, getting scared.
"We won't do it again!" Xion added in a quivering voice.
"Too late now!" Seifer said. "Do you know what happens to little brats who ride trains without buying a ticket in our town?"
"They get spanked, y'know!" Rai added gleefully.
"Punishment!" Fuu agreed.
"No!" Roxas protested. He grabbed Xion's hand and tried to run past the three bullies, but Rai snatched him up by the collar and handed him to Seifer. Fuu took hold of Xion and held her tight, despite her struggles. The dog, thinking it was all jolly good fun, started running in circles and barking furiously. Seifer frowned, trying to get a proper hold on the fighting, kicking Roxas. "Will someone shut up that dog?" he snapped. "As for you…" he tucked Rocas firmly under one arm, flipping up the Nobody's black coat, and raised his hand high in the air. "I'll teach you some manners!"
Little Roxas clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the hand to come down on his poor defenceless bottom. But it never did.
Seifer dropped Roxas, yelping in pain and surprise as someone grabbed his wrist from behind and held it in a death-like grip. "Those little squirts are ours," a voice hissed in his ear. "They need punishing, we'll be the ones to take care of it. Got it memorised?"
"Axel!" Xion and Roxas cried happily. "Demyx!"
"Hiya, kids," the redheaded fire-wielder said. "Be right with you. Me and Demyx – we've got to put out the trash."
Seifer stumbled backwards as Axel released him and glared at the Nobody. "You'll regret this!" he hissed through clenched teeth. "Nobody interferes with the Disciplinary Committee! Nobody – ack! My coat's on fire!"
Panicking, Seifer ran around in circles while his friends tried to put out the flames and Axel and Demyx bent over double with laughter. The dog added to the fun by chasing after the Twilight Tow threesome and nipping at their ankles.
Finally the fun ended when a big splash of water came out of nowhere, dousing Seifer as well as his partners in crime. For a moment, it seemed as if the three bullies wished to start a fight, but – after one look at Axel and Demyx, who were looking very grim and intimidating in their black cloaks (Axel added to the image by creating a flame on the palm of his hand) – they ran off.
"You know," Demyx said, chuckling. "That guy was right. He said nobody would dare to interfere with him – and they just did. Two Nobodies, in fact."
But Axel was quiet. Roxas and Xion had been laughing too, but fell silent when it gradually started to dawn on them that the grim glare Axel was sending into the world might not be completely directed at Seifer and his gang.
Demyx was slower on the uptake but he slowly became aware of the gravity of the mood as well. He quit laughing and looked uneasily from Axel to the two children, who clung together, looking up at their friend with wide eyes.
"C'mon, guys!" Demyx said, in a desperate attempt to clear the air. "We chased away the bad guys and all's well! Who's up for another ice cream?"
"No ice cream," Axel said in a strange strained voice. "Little kids who run away leaving us all worried don't deserve ice cream." He opened a dark portal and picked up the children, one under each arm. "We're going home."
"Hey," Larxene said as she, Marluxia, Xigbar and Xaldin came upon Axel striding through the corridors of the Castle That Never Was. "How'd your trip go? Uh-oh," she added as she took in Axel's expression and the two weakly struggling toddlers under his arms. "That bad, huh?"
Xigbar grinned. "It always seems to end in a spanking, doesn't it? I don't know what those two did, but I sure wouldn't want to be in their shoes right now! Okay, blondie," – he intercepted Demyx who was following Axel, looking anxious and uncertain – "you're coming with me so you can tell us the whole story."
"But-," Demyx looked after Axel.
"No buts – I'm sure Flamehair over there can handle things fine on his own."
"Oh, I think there will be butts – two very red ones, I'd say," Larxene giggled.
Demyx threw her a hurt look. "That was mean, Larxene! Those poor kids…"
The rest of his protests were strangled as Xigbar grabbed him by one arm, Larxene grabbed the other, and he was dragged away to regale them with tales of the trip. Xaldin walked behind, shaking his head. Marluxia lingered for a while, looking confused.
"Does it smell like dog in here?"
Axel marched over to Roxas' room and put the children down inside, kicking the door shut. They both stared up at him, too scared to make a sound.
"What," Axel said, making a sweeping motion with his arm, an angry gesture, "did you two think you were doing, running off on your own? You could have gotten hurt, could have gotten lost, could have fallen in front of a train, could have fallen out of a train – do you have any idea how worried you've made us?"
Roxas and Xion were too stricken to make a reply, but apparently Axel wasn't expecting one: he just raged on.
"What would the Superior have said if we'd returned without you? Huh? You wanted to land me an' Demyx in trouble? Seriously, have you no sense at all?"
He passed a hand over his eyes and forced himself to calm down. "Alright, let's get this over with. You know what the Rules say about children who run away…"
Little Xion looked puzzled, but Roxas turned very pale. "No…" he protested, his hands moving to protect his bottom. "We'll be good!"
"Should have thought of that earlier," Axel said. He knelt down on one knee and, grabbed Roxas by the arm, pulled him over the other.
Roxas struggled, but as the red-haired Nobody brought a heavy hand down on his bottom, he stiffened and uttered a small plaintive cry. He didn't have time to catch his bearings before Axel hit him again, eliciting another cry. Tears started to pour from the little boy's eyes as he was hit a third time.
Xion, looking on as her friend got spanked, had already started crying as loudly as Roxas. She sank down at the foot of the bed and made no move to struggle or run away when Axel put Roxas down and pulled her over to take his place.
Axel made sure to spank her just as long and hard as he had Roxas, but by then his anger had dissipated and his mood began to soften at the sounds of muffled sobs coming from both children.
"Alright then," he said, setting Xion back on her feet. "We're all done now – stop crying. I'm no longer angry, alright?"
"But my butt's still hurting!" Roxas said, making Axel laugh. This drew indignant stares from both children, making him laugh even louder. The laughter felt good, relieving the tension he'd felt ever since he woke up that afternoon in Twilight Town to find his two little friends gone. He ruffled their hair and they looked up at him suspiciously, but no longer crying. "Go to bed," he told them. "You must be tired. Maybe Demyx will come by later to tell you a story."
"And we can have some ice cream?" Xion asked, her face brightening hopefully.
"No ice cream," Axel said. "You've still been bad, remember?"
He came upon Demyx in the hallway. "How are the kids doing?" the young musician asked.
"They're doing okay – I've sent them to bed," Axel replied. "Said you'd be by to tell them a story later."
"Yeah – I'll do that now," Demyx said. "Hope you weren't too hard on them – they're still little kids, after all."
"Nah, they'll be – what are you hiding?" Axel asked, suddenly realising that Demyx was acting a bit suspicious.
The blond Nobody quickly pulled his hands out of his pockets and hid them behind his back. "Nothing – you go on doing… whatever it is you're doing. I'll go tell the kids their bedtime story. Yeah, that's what I'll do…"
Axel stared hard at him, but Demyx just looked back innocently, edging away towards Roxas' room.
The red-haired Nobody sighed and gave up, sauntering away. Sighing in relief, Demyx ducked into the room and closed the door behind him.
Later on, when Axel went back into the room to check on the little Nobodies, he found them huddled close together, sound asleep. Axel smiled, then frowned and looked a little closer.
Both children were clutching a familiar stick in their hands and their mouths were sticky with ice cream. Axel shook his head as he pulled the blankets up around them and dislodged the sticks.
"That Demyx!" he muttered. "I'll never trust him acting all innocent, ever again."