To reviewers of chapter 7:

Phoenix-Thunder: Thanks for the compliment. Sorry I didn't update earlier.

Lionwings: I'm a sucker for putting characters in historic settings, haha. It's too bad there aren't as many of these fics around. Maybe I'd actually start reading KH fanfics again. Ha.

KatrinaEagle: Hehe, I know that technically neither character has met each other in the games, but I am interested in seeing how this pans out.

99450: Indeed, playing SWTOR too, haha.

Innocent Uke Or NOT: I didn't think Roxas would keep the gloves with him at all times as though he expected to be bumping into her the day after the ball. After all, "Sarah" was supposed to be on a trip out of town, haha.


The afternoon after the ball found Roxas grudgingly answering a summons from his "father". Though he knew the king would inquire about his search for his future wife during the ball, he didn't want to let Xemnas know that there was one person he was interested in.

He frowned unhappily as he leaned against the wall next to the door that connected the side room to the staged area of the throne room. He was alone, but he knew there were guards posted on the other side of the closed doors. It was all to make sure that their conversation would be private, though Roxas believed it was also to make certain the prince wouldn't try to leave before the king was done with him.

After all, he did interfere with the plans of yet another noble loyal to the king. Even if it was perfectly lawful, his recent track record didn't exactly inspire Xemnas to change his mind about keeping his heir more closely guarded.

The only thing he could exchange for his "freedom" was one name. Yet at the same time, Roxas knew that it wasn't enough. Xemnas could potentially use Sarah against him by keeping her hostage in the castle and forcing them to marry. He was that heartless.

All thoughts about his own immediate future was quickly banished when one of the side doors opened to admit the king—wearing far more jewelry than Roxas thought necessary. A servant quickly made a beeline for the small round table at one corner of the room and poured a glass of red wine out of the round flask, presenting it to the king as he took a seat. The silent man then quickly left the side room to give the king and his charge their privacy.

Roxas waited until prompted to speak.

"So," Xemnas said, swirling the contents of his glass while he stared at his heir. "I heard you've found someone at the ball."

"Perhaps, your majesty," Roxas quipped. "I would need more time."

"Oh?" the black-haired king queried with curiosity. "Are you courting this lucky lady?"

"With your permission," the prince answered with a bow.

Roxas's decision to defer to the king's authority was not lost on the crimson-eyed man. Xemnas took a long draught from his glass of wine before looking at his heir silently, his eyes evaluating the boy's appearance as if to gauge his true intentions. The silence that followed stayed a bit longer than Roxas would have liked, but the boy kept quiet.

"Why the sudden deference?" he asked bluntly, setting the empty wineglass down to focus on the teen. "Have you accepted your duties?"

"If I am to marry," the blonde replied, "then I wish to pursue my mate on my own terms."

"And that means letting you out of the castle," Xemnas concluded for him, leaning on an arm with amusement.

"Yes," Roxas confirmed with a nod.

The king stood up silently and poured himself another glass of red wine, looking at the dark liquid with intensity. He took a drink of the alcohol and swirled the contents in the glass absentmindedly. There was no way for Roxas to determine what exactly was going on in the king's mind, not after knowing that Xemnas seemed to actually entertain the idea of giving his heir his freedom back.

Of course, Roxas knew to suspect the king's ulterior motive.

"You are allowed to leave the castle," Xemnas said at long last, turning around to face the blonde. "But, you will keep your weapon to yourself and not interfere with the works of the nobility. If you value your future wife's freedom, you will abide by these requests."

Roxas stared at the older man with narrowed eyes. His hands balled into tight fists in anger, but he didn't burst. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and breathed out a shaky breath, trying to keep his composure.

"I will do as you say," he said curtly. "I will avoid your supporters."

Xemnas's smile widened triumphantly. "Excellent," he said. "Be happy that I didn't ask for the name of your future wife. I trust you will tell me her name once you are sure."

"Yes, your majesty. I will let you know." The boy bowed stiffly and took his leave, his entire body shaking with bottled fury.

The smile that had been on the king's face quickly fell once the teen was gone from the room. He took a good, long draught of the wine and slammed the glass down on the table.

"I hope you're right about this, Saïx," he said coldly as the sound of a door closing met his ears. "This is a very big risk I'm taking."

The head advisor with his light-blue hair joined Xemnas at the small table and picked up the wine flask to pour his lord another glass. His yellow eyes twinkled with mirth—the wicked glee evident in the fanged smile upon his face. "I promise you, your majesty," he said, "slowly letting him go and earning his trust will bring him to our side. You've made the right move."

Xemnas took a drink of the wine and gave his advisor a smile that promised death. "You realize, if you're wrong, you will die."

The blue-haired man's bow was graceful and free of fear. "I am willing to bet my life on this matter."

The king eyed his advisor with a frown. "You realize he is not as stupid as you think. This plan of yours isn't exactly foolproof."

"That is why, your majesty, we must move slowly. Keep him blind to the grand scheme of things. Let him think we're coming around to support him. If this fails, you can always go after his friends."

"If it resorts to that," Xemnas sneered, "you'll still die."

"Then so be it," Saïx bowed again.

Roxas stomped through the hallways after his meeting with the king, brushing past bowing servants and saluting guards without any acknowledgement. His eyes focused upon a set of straw dummies at one corner of the training grounds the moment he stepped into the sunlight. Nearby, Hayner and Pence were having a wrestling match with a few of their fellow royal guards watching.

When Roxas picked up a set of throwing knives from the weapons rack twenty yards from a dummy, the two wrestlers stopped their match to watch their prince. The angry blonde pulled a knife from the leather belt that held the throwing weapons and tossed it up. He caught the steel blade with expert practice and immediately threw it at the straw dummy, not even bothering to watch the knife hit the target before he pulled out another knife and repeated the action.

His aim was impeccable as the set of ten knives was soon spent. Each knife landed on the dummy's torso, with one directly in the dummy's "throat". A round of applause filled the air and quickly ceased when the prince raised a hand, waving it to signal to his audience to return to what they were doing. He stomped over to the dummy and pulled the knives out to be replaced on the belt.

"One of these days you're going to cut yourself," Pence commented with a frown as he looked at Roxas's unprotected hand. The blonde looked at him and gave a sideway smirk.

"And to be quite honest," Roxas answered, "I really wouldn't care. Come on, Pence. You know I'm careful with these."

"But you also get hotheaded like Hayner," the guard replied quietly.

"So?" Hayner interrupted before his friends went into a discussion over Roxas's choice of venting. "What did he do to make you come down?"

Roxas didn't answer immediately, returning to the previous spot where he had been standing. He pulled a knife out and set the belt in the outstretched hands of Hayner, who watched his prince closely but didn't say a word. The blonde traced the edge of the knife with a finger, quietly evaluating the weapon. The edges weren't sharp enough to slice through butter cleanly, but Roxas knew that the weapon was still dangerous if enough force was applied to it-such as stabbing or when thrown.

He flipped the knife up so he was holding the blade portion and let the knife fly. If the straw dummy had been a real person, the knife would have blinded the man in one eye as it landed with a crackle.

He quickly reached for another knife and evaluated it with the same expert eye as he did with the first one.

"He's letting me out of the castle," the morose blonde finally answered his friend's question.

"That's great news!" Hayner remarked. "Though, even I will have to admit, it seems highly uncharacteristic of him to change his mind so abruptly." He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "You didn't-"

Another crackle cut off whatever Hayner had wanted to say. This time, the knife had landed right down the middle of the dummy's torso. "No," the prince replied, shaking his head. "I didn't tell him about Sarah."

"What's the condition then? What did he ask for in exchange for your freedom?" Pence asked, taking Roxas's place with one of the knives in his hand. He focused intensely on the target and threw the dagger.

Simultaneously, all three teens winced when they saw where the knife landed.

"Getting… better…" the blue-eyed blonde remarked hesitantly, struggling to find the right words without being too blunt.

The black-haired guard scoffed. "No need to sugar-coat it," he replied with a shrug, "I suck at throwing weapons. I can't understand why you can't just use bow and arrows."

"Harder to conceal," Roxas easily answered.

"Look on the bright side," Hayner began, pulling the knife Pence threw from where it landed below the belt, "no man would want to be your target if all of your throws end up castrating the guy. I know I certainly wouldn't. I would like some kids in the future."

"By gods," Pence exclaimed incredulously, "can you imagine a bunch of Hayner juniors running around here?"

"Hey…" the sandy-haired teen glared at his friend. Pence simply grinned in return.

Roxas stifled a snicker and took his place again to throw another dagger. "Anyway," he lined up and aimed the dagger directly at the dummy's chest, landing it where the heart would be with master precision. "I'm not supposed to interfere with whatever his people are doing."

Hayner grimaced with an "ugh". "That's terrible."

"I might as well impose the ban on myself," Roxas replied with a lackadaisical shrug.

"But what about Sarah?" Pence asked. "You can't possibly be asking her to come to the castle every time you want to meet."

Roxas heaved a great sigh, pausing in throwing yet another knife at the straw training dummy. He lowered his throwing arm and placed the dagger back into its slot on the leather belt. "I'll figure it out when I see her. I have two weeks to prepare myself before she's back in town anyway. That'll be enough time for me to sort things out."

"That's assuming she'll go back on her trip," Hayner remarked.

"She's a businesswoman, Hayner," Pence replied. "She wouldn't put off her trip if she's been successful. I've heard that amongst entrepreneurs, time is money. Of course, you wouldn't know much about spending time efficiently, Hay."

The sandy-haired guard glared at his friend. "Call me 'Hay' again and I'll melt your sword down, Dense."

"You want to have a go, man?" The two teens both crouched lower to wrestle again.

"If you're going to fight, go back to the ring," Roxas pointed out, getting ready to head back to the castle. Before he knew it, he was lifted off of his feet, flipped over something—or someone, and landed on his back.

Sprawled out on the dirt ground, the prince blinked blankly at the sky for several moments. He didn't seem to acknowledge the fact that one of his friends had basically ambushed him. He watched as clouds rolled past with a brisk wind and snorted in amusement.

He jumped acrobatically onto his feet and looked at his friends with the roguish smile that Hayner and Pence returned. "Time to teach you guys some lessons," he said, taking off the thick black jacket he had on and tossing it over onto where the belt of throwing knives sat on top of a table.

"Don't hold back now," Hayner challenged.

"I should be the one to say that," grinned Roxas.

It was almost mid-afternoon when Sora finally managed to get back to the bakery. He had expected to see Kairi at the front, but instead found Riku manning the counter while the former was finishing up the final batch of bread they needed to bake for the day.

"Hey, Sora!" Riku waved with a grin on his face. "Is Sazh?"

The brunet returned the grin and gave him a thumbs-up. "Of course. Got him out."

"You're going to have to tell me how you did that," he remarked, moving aside for Sora to take over.

"Connections, Riku, connections," winked Sora. "You know."

"Where's Sazh?" Kairi asked as she joined them at the front with a tray of sheepherder's bread in her hands.

"Home," answered Sora, taking the tray of bread from his friend. "He's going to cook dinner for all of us tonight."

"Mmm," the redhead uttered almost dreamily. "I hope he'll make his scrumptious potpie."

"He'd have to bake it here, don't you think?" teased Sora.

"A minor logistics inconvenience," Kairi waved off his point flippantly. Riku laughed.

"I'd hate to see what you consider a major inconvenience." The girl only stuck her tongue out childishly at him. "Anyway," he continued, "I'll head back to Aqua's."

"Thanks for helping, Riku!" The silver-haired teen waved back with a smile.

Once their friend was out of sight, Kairi looked back at Sora expectantly. "So, are you going to tell me what happened?"
Sora paused in what he had been doing, the blush on his face telling Kairi that the brunet must have bumped into a certain someone while he was at the castle.

"I need you to send a letter for me," Sora murmured, the blush refusing to fade from his face.

"Oh?" Kairi raised an eyebrow in question, bewildered by her friend's sudden request.

"I told Ven that I was going to send him a letter later," the boy confessed, the redness on his face darkening as he relayed the entire exchange between himself and the prince to Kairi.

The red-haired girl's blue eyes twinkled with amusement as she listened attentively. "So what did you want the letter to say?" she asked.

"Um…" Sora hummed thoughtfully, making strange faces as he attempted to find the words that would be appropriate in a lady's letter to a gentleman.

"How about, 'Thank you once again for your assistance at the castle'," Kairi suggested.

"In response to your earlier question, I will be delaying my trip by a week in order to secure a permanent job for my friend," continued Sora. He looked at Kairi with a worried frown on his face. "When do you think I should meet him?"

Kairi shrugged. "I've manned the bakery on my own before, remember?"

"But I probably will be away for an entire day."

She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and smiled happily at him. "Don't worry about it," she said. "Go and have fun with Ven. Besides, since Sazh will be eager to find a better job, what better place than to work with us at the bakery?"

Sora blinked in surprise at her suggestion. "You want to start selling other stuff besides bread?"

"Why not?" grinned the girl. "Sazh's pies would be a hit in the market, don't you think?"

Suddenly, the brown-haired boy narrowed his sapphire eyes in suspicion. "Are you sure you're not just planning to indulge yourself on Sazh's pies?"

Kairi scoffed indignantly at his insinuation. "So what if I really like the savory pies?" she quipped. "You do too!"

Sora laughed. "Yes, I do. But, it'll be a good expansion. Hope we don't have to find a larger place."

She shrugged nonchalantly. "If the time comes that we have to move, we'll move. But for now, pick the day you want to meet with him."

"How about… in two days," the boy finally answered after thinking. "We'll get Sazh settled in tomorrow and I'll go meet with Ven the day after."

"Okay," Kairi grinned. She silently mouthed the words that should be on the letter a couple of times, memorizing the sentences for the brief message. "I'll head to Quistis's."

"Oh, here," Sora added, pulling the stamp that bore the Fairfarren's emblem from his pocket. "To seal the letter."

Kairi took the old stamp from him and brushed over the intricate design with her fingers. With a smile, she pocketed the stamp and grabbed the money needed for the delivery and the bakery supplies.

"I'll be back soon," she grinned. "Need to get some semolina flour."

"Okay," Sora nodded in understanding. He watched as Kairi disappeared into the crowd, the smile on his face wavering with nervousness over his meeting with the prince. Shaking off the flutters within his body, he turned his attention back to business and smiled brightly at passerby, calling to potential customers with his cheery voice.

"You're all idiots. You know that, right?" Olette huffed with annoyance as she dropped the bucket of cold water onto the ground. She dunked several towels into the water and wrung the excess liquid out of the individual towels, slapping them onto the bruises and aching muscles the boys had brought on themselves during their rough hand-to-hand combat.

"Ow, ow, ow," Pence whined as cold water trailed down from his shoulder underneath his shirt. It didn't help that Olette wasn't too gentle in laying down the wet towel.

"Ah, you big baby," the sienna-haired girl chastised.

"Can't you be just a bit gentler?" Hayner winced with a hiss. Olette was relentless in expressing her disapproval of the obvious macho-macho display the three boys engaged in.

"You deserved it," she remarked curtly.

She turned her attention to the boy who was lying face down on the only bed in the room. To be quite honest, the servant girl was amazed that they had managed to get all the way up to Roxas's room. The prince was silent, but Olette knew that he had his shares of bruises and aches as the other two.

"Don't you dare, Olette," Roxas's voice came muffled from the pillow. The girl didn't heed his warning, having known the boy to have more bark than bite when it came to his friends, and tossed a cold wet towel onto the boy's back.

"Ack," winced Roxas, reaching back to grab the towel and chucked it back in Olette's direction. She correctly predicted the prince's reaction and ducked out of the way, stifling a snicker when the towel hit Pence right in the face.

"Dammit, Roxas!" the black-haired teen cried in dismay. Muttering under his breath, he tossed the towel back into the bucket of cold water, tending his bruises in irritation. The blonde didn't even respond.

"It's only going to get worse if you don't deal with it right now," Olette remarked, dropping another towel onto the boy's back. Groaning loudly, Roxas grabbed the towel and gingerly sat up, wincing as his back ached from all the times Hayner pushed him against the fencing around the wrestling ring because he could never pin the agile prince down. He watched as Olette wrung out another cold towel and slapped it against Hayner's lower back.

"Damn, woman!" the sandy-haired guard exclaimed with a jump. "Do you understand the meaning of 'mercy'!"

"Keep whining and I'll pommel your back myself," the girl threatened, her narrowed eyes shining with the fire of fury. "You don't want a more mottled back, do you?"

"You're heartless, Olette," Pence muttered, shrinking under her angry glare.

"Honestly," the sienna-haired girl replied, her hands balled into loose fists on her hips, "how did you expect me to act if you three keep behaving like knuckleheads!"

Roxas smirked at his pouting friend. "We're boys, Olette. What did you expect?"

"Maybe less brawn and more brains," she remarked with a derisive sniff.

A series of knocks on the door interrupted whatever discussion they would have had. The servant girl wiped her hands on the apron over her skirt and went over to the door, a look of confusion replacing the furious expression on her face. She opened the door just a sliver and peeked through the crack to find a young boy dressed in the outfit of pages—kids who delivered letters within the city walls—on the other side.

She opened the door slightly more to show her face. "Can I help you?" she asked, smiling gently at the unfamiliar boy.

"I was told to deliver this letter to you," the boy, around the age of seven or eight, answered as he held the wax-sealed letter out.

She accepted the letter from him and looked at the name on the envelope. The name "Ventus" was written in neat script. She knew then who it was from. "Thank you."

"It's a pleasure, milady," the boy replied with a respectful bow. Olette giggled at the boy's misconception, believing her to be of nobility rather than a servant like himself.

"Wait a second, please," she said, staying the confused boy while she dug through her pockets to produce a silver coin. She gave him the ten gil coin, much to his astonishment, and said, "Get yourself and your friends some treats."

"Thank you, milady!" the boy said excitedly, bowing yet again before dashing away. Olette could only shake her head, amused at the misplaced deference she received from the child. But then again, he didn't exactly see her servant uniform.

She closed the door behind her and looked at the seal of the letter, an unfamiliar emblem imprinted in the red wax. The script on the front of the letter lacked the frivolities that were common amongst Hollow Bastion scripts, but it was considerably neater than her own handwriting.

"Letter for you," she stated as she handed over the letter. "I think it's from Sarah."

Roxas raised an eyebrow and removed the towel on his back to accept the letter. He inspected the seal on the wax and furrowed his brows. He, too, did not recognize the emblem, but Olette made the correct assumption when he saw the name on the front of the folded letter.

He broke the seal and unfolded the paper, his eyes going back and forth as he read the short message. A wide smile appeared on his face and his eyes twinkled with excitement.

"Good news?" Olette asked, noting the smile.

"You're right; it's from Sarah," Roxas answered. "She said she's delaying her trip by a week to get the man she saved settled into a more secure job."

"Huh," Pence uttered lamely.

"Guess you're wrong about that dumb saying," remarked Hayner with a snort.

"Whatever." The black-haired teen rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"She's coming to meet me in two days," the prince added, ignoring the confrontational exchange between his friends.

The annoyance that had previously dictated Olette's actions quickly faded like steam as her eyes lit up with girlish giddiness.

"Oh!" she clapped her hands together. "Can we go with you?"

"Let the man be, Olette," Hayner said. "You really want to play third wheel to what is obviously an alone time for them."

The sienna-haired girl childishly blew a raspberry at her childhood friend. "And what about Kairi and Sora? You don't think they'll come?"

"She didn't say they'd be here, Olette," Roxas interjected.

"Besides, they'd still be working at the bakery," added Pence.

Olette pouted in disappointment, but she wasn't going to argue against that. "Fine," she said. "But where are you going to take her?"

"No idea yet." Roxas shrugged his shoulders, wincing as a muscle protested with a twinge. "I'll figure it out when I see her. Until then," he stood up and hissed as he tested his limbs, "I'll have to rest."

He plopped back down on his bed and sighed dramatically, earning him soft laughter from his friends. He deliberately ignored them and covered his head with his pillow.

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and its associated characters and motifs do not belong to me. I only own a copy of the games and this fanfic.

A/N: Blah, got sidetracked during January, but I finally got this chapter out. Hope you all enjoyed it.

Just a sort-of "filler" chapter to set up the next one with Sora and Roxas's "date", haha, so not much to say. The only new name/reference made in this chapter is Quistis from Final Fantasy VIII.

Not sure yet as to when I'll have the next chapter out since I did get Final Fantasy XIII-2 and will be playing through it over the weekends. I'll write out snippets here and there, but I probably won't update before Valentine's Day. I will most likely have a drabble out on Valentine's Day just to join in the fun though, so hope you'll look forward to that.

As usual, questions and comments are welcome. Until the next update, everyone!