Author's Comments: Does anyone even read this anymore?
If so, thanks for sticking around! I'm sorry for the heavy inconsistency in updating and adding on to this story. Hope you enjoy reading!
Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, Cinderella, or the italicized lyrics to Valerie by Amy Winehouse and Counting Stars by OneRepublic. I own Imani.
Her eyelids drooped heavily as she stifled a yawn. Really, who went out drinking past midnight on a Monday evening? That pack of drunks kept her and Xigbar at Seventh Heaven almost all night. (Xigbar didn't seem to mind, though. He was practically drinking along with them.)
Imani reached for her cup of coffee…only to set it down with a sigh after finding it empty. She knew she should've ordered the biggest size possible. There was no way she could stay alert through the remaining two hours of the class without her coffee.
"Now with that said," Aerith began, glancing at the clock on the wall, "I've invited a guest presenter to lead a discussion on today's case study. He should be arriving any moment, but in the meantime, please prepare to take notes."
Aerith's announcement woke her up a little. A guest presenter? That was different. Sluggishly, Imani flipped her notebook to a blank page and scribbled the date.
"Oh my God. It's him!"
She glanced up…and immediately wished she'd just stayed home.
"Okay, class." Aerith's sweet smile made Imani's stomach drop. "Please give your undivided attention to our guest presenter, Dr. Axel Flynn."
Gooooooooood morning, Imani.
Axel stepped to the podium as Aerith slipped into a seat near the front of the lecture hall. "Morning, everyone," he greeted, surprisingly polite and chipper. "Sorry to keep you waiting. Just give me one sec while I load this video…"
Imani sunk into her chair, the pounding of her heart echoing in her ears. Was this Cloud's doing, too? Would he stoop low enough to get Aerith involved? Did he know Axel looked that good with glasses that he told Aerith to get him to present in class with them?
"Okay," Axel clapped his hands once and rubbed them together, "I'm going to start off by showing you a clip of a TV show—one of those crime scene investigation series. We're going to use this as our case study for the day and discuss the pathological possibilities as a class."
No matter how hard she fixated her eyes on the overhead projector screen, she could hardly concentrate on the clip. Not only did she feel more awake, her nerves made her fingers twitch and her stomach churn. She could feel his eyes on her skin, despite how dark the room was.
The clip finished and the lights reappeared. Axel sauntered to the center of the room and leaned easily against the short table. "Alright. Obviously, she was murdered, but I'm not looking for reasoning on who killed her. As medical professionals, that isn't our concern. Besides that, anyone have any initial thoughts? Yes, you with the scarf."
"It looked like she drowned," someone near the front responded.
"Why do you say that?"
"She was found in the river."
"Any other thoughts? What about anything having to do during the murder? Was there a struggle? How long ago do you think the murder happened?"
No one responded. A few girls off to her right giggled with each other, whispering something about his sexy voice and eyes. She fought the urge to groan miserably—partially because their fangirling was irritating and partially because she secretly agreed with them.
"Come on, do I have to start calling on people?" His green eyes landed on Imani. His smirk sharpened. "Don't be shy."
She could have sworn that last part was directed only at her. She felt her face heat up and quickly broke her gaze.
She nearly jumped at the sound of her name. He did not just call on her.
"Give me your thoughts on what happened to the poor girl," Axel instructed, crossing his arms. "First off: Did she drown?"
Imani took a moment to smooth out the nerves in her voice box before answering as calmly as she could manage. "No."
"No? Why not?"
"There aren't any signs of struggle on her body like handprints or scratch marks. There didn't seem to be any blood amassing in her head, either."
He tilted his head, his grin widening. "So what happened?"
"She was poisoned and then dumped into the river."
"What gave that away?"
"Despite being in the river, her veins looked like they were protruding slightly from her skin. This is a possible reaction to certain poisons."
"True, but swelling veins deflate after a while, especially if the body is dead."
"So that means the murder possibly happened within six to twelve hours of her being found in the river."
"Supposing she was poisoned, then, how do you think it happened?"
"She most likely ingested the poison."
She watched him nod slowly. That grin on his face seemed to grow wider, the corners sharpening almost devilishly. A low hum filled the silence following her response.
She resisted the fidgets in her toes. His stare made her limbs turn to jelly and her stomach a mushy mess of…mush. Was he going to say something or what?
Finally he broke his silence and spoke to the rest of the class. "Any other thoughts? Anyone disagree with her theory?"
Only thing was that he didn't break his stare. Damn those piercing, kohl-lined green eyes of his. He just loved turning her into a wreck, didn't he?
"Well," he said, "you're right. Considering the lack of information that this clip provided, that was a solid speculation."
When he tore his gaze to glance at his watch, she felt her chest deflate with breath she didn't realize she was holding. Axel and Aerith exchanged a few words—something about running out of time—and Imani sighed in relief.
"Thank you for your time, Dr. Flynn." Aerith smiled peacefully at the class. "Good job today, everyone. See you next week."
As everyone around her began gathering their things and preparing to leave, Imani took a moment to just sit. She would never have imagined Cloud could plot an attack this solid. She couldn't figure out if she felt more exhausted from Axel's stares or from being so impressed by Cloud.
She jumped in her seat. That ridiculously stunning pair of eyes was right in front of her along with Axel's easy grin. "Hi," she managed to say.
Axel slid into the desk next to her. "Good job today."
"Thanks for picking on me."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to single you out. You're the only one I knew in the class, though."
"The girls sitting next to me would've loved it if you called them."
"You're the only one worth paying attention to."
She nearly groaned aloud upon feeling her heart speed up and her cheeks turn warm. Did he say things like that on purpose?
"Anyway," he nodded at her empty cup, "can I buy you a cup of coffee? You looked like you were about to pass out in the middle of class."
"Sure." She closed her books and allowed a small smile onto her face. "Thanks."
He grinned, getting up with her and snatching her books before she could pick them up herself.
"By the way," she stepped carefully behind him as he headed to the front of the room to grab his things, "I only really knew what happened to her because I saw that episode before."
"Really?" His thin eyebrows shot up. "You fooled me. Anything else I should know that you've been keeping from me?"
You're driving me crazy I really really like you I might even lo—
"You're surprisingly chipper this early in the morning," she quickly replied, cutting her own train of thought short.
He leaned in slightly, holding the door open. "Only because I knew you'd be in this class."
She froze. Damn you, Axel Flynn.
"You still want that coffee?" He chuckled as he gently poked her tomato-red cheek. "You look like you're waking up a little bit."
She turned away, clearing her throat and striding out ahead of him. "I can always use more coffee."
"No wonder you're so short."
They watched as she smiled easily, sauntering off from her devastated stepdaughter. "Goodnight, Cinderella."
Sora shook his head in agreement with Riku, popping another potato chip into his mouth. "Poor girl."
Maybe it was the overcast sky pouring dim sunlight in through the window. Maybe it was the warmth beneath the covers and the fluffiness of the pillows. Maybe it was simply the fact that it was only Tuesday. Whatever it was, the boys woke up this morning, turned to each other, and decided, Screw school. We're watching Disney movies.
So here they were, still lying in their sweatpants and t-shirts with chips and cookies between them on the bed and Riku's laptop playing Cinderella. This was how he knew he and Riku were best friends.
Sora faintly registered the knock at the door. "C'min," Riku mumbled.
The door opened and shut behind them. Shuffling feet slowly made their way to stop beside their pushed-together beds. Roxas stared quizzically at the scene. "What the…?"
"Welcome," Sora said, flashing him a grin.
Roxas waved a hand to the laptop. "This is why you skipped class?"
Sora shook his head solemnly. "You don't mess with tradition."
"What tradition is this?"
"Disney Movie Marathon Day."
"And how often is this tradition?"
"Whenever we feel like it."
Stunned silence followed.
"Hey," Riku waved a hand absently, "no judging. Hurry up and sit down."
Roxas gaped for a few moments. The struggle to wrap his mind around the situation was evident on his face, but soon he let his backpack drop to the floor and plopped down next to Sora.
"First rule of Disney Movie Marathon Day," Riku began. "No homework or studying of any sort."
"Second rule," Sora continued, "no using the phone unless it's an emergency."
"What counts as an emergency?"
"For you? Namine."
"Third rule: Nothing leaves this room."
"Last rule: Anything goes."
Sora sat up and crossed his legs to give Roxas more room on the bed. "Make yourself comfortable."
The three of them watched Cinderella quietly, munching on snacks as she was whisked to the ball and swept by the prince. Sora could feel a peace in the air as they let themselves get sucked into the movie. It was quite nice.
But he wasn't off-duty. He still had a job to do…and he had the perfect assistant on hand to make things happen.
Riku scoffed at the stepmother as she locked Cinderella in her room. "She's such a bitch."
Alright, Agent Ess. Go time.
"So Roxas," Sora began casually, "what're you going to do for Namine's birthday?"
He felt Roxas jump slightly at the question. "Um…"
"Please tell me you at least arranged to hang out with her that day," Riku droned.
Embarrassed silence followed.
Riku reached over to pause the movie and then stared pointedly at the blond. "Roxas."
"Don't say it," Roxas sighed. "I know."
"Text her now."
Sora grinned to himself. Way to go, Riku!
"I thought phones were banned from Disney Movie Marathon Day."
"She's your crush and her birthday is this Saturday. This is an emergency."
"Wait. How'd you know she's my—"
"Text herrrrrrr," Sora insisted.
Roxas tried croaking out a comeback, his blue eyes darting back and forth between them. Finally, he sighed with slumped shoulders and pulled out his phone. "Fine, fine."
Sora and Riku eyed him as he wrote out his text to Namine.
They peered at the screen, making sure the message was actually sent. Riku nodded with approval, reaching to the computer to resume the movie. "Good."
Sora agreed. It was good, but it was only the first step.
"No matter how your heart is grieving…"
"What're you planning to do with Nam?" Sora asked.
"I don't know." Roxas shrugged. "Dinner, I guess."
"That's it? Just dinner? You can do better than that."
"Stop being shy, Roxas. We're here to help you out."
The blond hummed thoughtfully as he took a few cookies for himself. "The Hollow Bastion Gallery of Art is having an exhibition that I think she'd like…"
"After that, we could get dinner at Clair de Lune…"
"Ooh. Nice choice."
"Then…I don't know…That's all I got."
"Eh. It's a good start."
The movie finished with a triumphant blast of trumpets and returned to the menu screen.
"You have to confess."
Roxas threw himself back on the bed, smashing his face exasperatedly. "Oh come on."
"Grab a soda." Riku switched out the movie discs on his computer. "We're just getting started."
"Won't you come on over? Stop making me a fool out of me…"
He tossed another finished crane to the side and plucked a clean slip of foil paper from the stack. He gave up keeping count of how many he'd made. It was just nice to not have to think about anything in particular while folding cranes. He could just sit and listen to the radio.
A corner of his mouth twitched. Imani had rubbed off on him.
Speaking of which…
He took a moment to tap his phone screen. His eyes lit up at the sight of the sealed envelope icon indicating an unread message. Another tap and Axel's text expanded to cover the whole screen.
Thanks again for telling me her class schedule. Her face was priceless. ;)
His smirk grew. He thumbed back, Bet you're dying to change your schedule so you can teach all her classes now, huh?
The door to the bar swung open and laughter wafted in as Zack ducked into the kitchen. He heaved a sigh. "I really wanna know what guys who drink in the middle of the day do for a living."
He quickly pocketed his phone with a nonchalant shrug, kicking out a chair for Zack to sit down.
Zack collapsed into the chair and took a slip of paper. "Wonder what their wives think…"
The two of them sat in silence, folding cranes as the radio continued pouring songs out.
"Lately, I've been, I've been losing sleep…"
"Any second thoughts?"
He felt Zack's wide eyes land on him. "Are you kidding me? If I had a choice, I would've married her yesterday."
"We'll be counting stars…"
"What about you?"
It was his turn to glance at Zack with wide eyes. "What about me?"
"Any second thoughts about denying your love for Teef and driving yourself insane with your own suppressed desire to kidnap her, whisk her to your place on Fenrir, and rock her world until she can't stand up straight for at least a week?"
He narrowed his eyes into a glare. Jackass.
Zack paused, a sneaky glint in his eyes. "Oh no, wait. You wouldn't do that. You would worship every inch of her skin. You'd shut off all alarms and unplug every clock and do a three-day sex marathon—"
"Seriously, what's wrong with you two? Just tell her you love her and marry each other already."
His pocket buzzed before he could answer. Cloud settled for shaking his head as he pulled his phone out and read Axel's response.
That'd be pretty awesome, but I doubt Aerith would let me get away with that.
"You might as well do it yourself. You two are meant for each other and will end up together either way."
Yeah, but she likes you two together. Maybe she'll give you credit for it.
"I'm just saying." Zack leaned over to peer at his phone. "Who's that?"
He switched the screen off and slipped his phone back into his pocket, silently hoping Zack didn't catch any names. "A friend."
Cloud glanced up at Zack, watching him frown quizzically. He arched an eyebrow at him. Something wrong?
He watched him shrug with one shoulder and shake his head. "It's just that you hardly do anything with your phone."
"This guy needed help with something and he can't talk on the phone because he's at work."
His lips curled into a smirk as he tossed what he knew would be the last crane he'd fold for now. "Sounds like he handled it alright. He said Imani's face was priceless and he's going to talk to Aerith about rearranging his schedule."
Zack hummed incoherently…then froze. Blue eyes wide with panic locked with Cloud's cool stare. "Wait. What?"
Hah. Payback for saying all that crap about Tifa.
Cloud shot up from his seat and dashed to the door. It was time to go.
"You mean…Aw hell no! Get back here, you son of a—"
The back door slammed shut after him. Cloud cackled under his breath. And so the war continued.
Author's Afterthought: Thank you for reading! Reviews and comments (specifically encouragement to keep going with this story) are always welcome.