Title: Last Train
Author: nikki_ntm
Beta reader: Shattered Apocalypse
Chapters: 1/20
Genre: Drama/Adventure/Suspense
Rating: M for language, violence and disturbing themes such as bullying, crime and disease.
Characters: Axel, Saïx, Larxene and Marluxia amongst others (Lea, Isa, Seifer and Org. 13).
Pairings: Implied past/present/future pairings, mainly past Axel/Larxene, and implied one-sided Isa/Lea.
Setting: Modern Japan (yakuza-themed)

A/N: First I just wanna thank my beta reader. This is a monstrously big piece with a "main pairing" that isn't that popular in this fandom, but she accepted it anyway *-*
I've been working on this piece for quite some time with research and the likes. There are a few words in Japanese, not in dialogue, mind. Most Japanese words are explained in the narrative, the only word that isn't described is genka. Genka is a small hallway right by the entrance to the house where you take off your shoes and change into slippers.

Anyway, comments and reviews are much appreciated. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Hell's Highway


Four years earlier


Axel reached for his glass of water as the three judges entered the courtroom after recess. The benches behind him were filled with people waiting for the conviction. He had tried to see if Saïx was there, but the only representative from the family was Lexaeus and he had chosen to sit at the back to not draw attention.

He knew that he was going to jail. He had confessed to the crime, his fingerprints were on the murder weapon and the family wanted someone to pay.

"Before dealing with the business at hand, I would like to remind everyone how important it is to honour the decorum of the court and remain quiet after the verdict is rendered." The judge sitting in the middle looked at the crowd from behind his glasses and then back onto his papers.

"In the case of the murder of Ienzo Fujiwara the suspect, Lea Connolly, has pleaded guilty. This court has reviewed the forensic evidence and has taken into account the testimony of the witnesses as well as the factors to be considered determining credibility."

The wait was killing him. How many years? That was all he wanted to know. He didn't need all the formalities around it; he just needed a number to get an idea of how long he would have to cope with this decision.

He had used his only phone call to speak with Larxene to try to explain to her what had happened, why he hadn't showed, but there was no answer from her. Axel sighed and reached for his glass of water again to have a sip. He just had to keep reminding himself of why he was doing this and nothing else.

"Lea Connolly has been found guilty on the count of manslaughter and is hereby sentenced to three years in federal prison."

A buzz of displeasure broke out amongst the spectators who wanted Axel to be hung until death, but Axel seemed completely oblivious to it as he turned to the lawyer that had been chosen for him with a look of awe on his face. He had expected five years at least.

"What's this?" He asked in a whisper as the judge tried to silence the spectators.

"Haven't you been paying attention, Mr. Connelly? Your punishment was alleviated due to the circumstances."

"What circumstances?"


Axel looked forward as the judge managed to silence the masses. What happened now didn't really matter. Axel was still trying to melt the fact that he had pleaded guilty for the murderer of Zexion, the man who had been up for the spot as the second in command, the man who he had responded to until that night, and gotten away with three years. A shiver ran down his spine. This had to be Xemnas' doing.

As he was cuffed by the police officer that was going to escort him out of the courtroom, Axel looked to where Lexaeus had been sitting and saw that there was only an empty seat there now. He paled as he prayed that these three years wouldn't be as tough as he feared.




The lights were going green and the long line of cars started to move slowly down the jammed road. Axel sat in his gray Toyota Prius with no air conditioner, shaking his left leg impatiently. It was in the middle of summer and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky to save them from the sun, whose mission was to roast every driver on this street. He was an exit away from this godforsaken city, away from Kobe and its depressing ghettos he once had called home.

"C'mon, c'mon. Move."

The lights turned red a car away from the open road. Axel held back a groan and sank down into his seat, glancing into the backseat discreetly when a police officer passed by on a bicycle. He dried off the sweat on his forehead with his sleeve and turned on the radio, hoping to find anything that would calm his nerves.

"It's going to be very hot in Kobe today! It's only 11 A.M and our thermometers show that it's 31 degrees outside. We advise you to avoid the traffic jams on the main roads, especially in Shinkobe. Drink a lot of water and don't stray from the shadows. Stay tuned for the latest single from the Johnny's phenomena NEWS!"

Axel looked in the rear-view mirror to make sure that his passenger hadn't woken up yet. Out of all the stupid things he had done in his life this probably took the cake. In less than 24 hours he had become a refugee, stolen a car and kidnapped his best friend. Why was he doing all of this? He had been living quite a comfortable life as the wakagashira's bodyguard within the yakuza. He lived in a big house in a nice neighborhood, he drove a nice car and he could afford very nice clothes. Occasional killings and extortion aside he lived a very good life. There was only one small problem that had been bothering him lately. Somewhere along the way he had grown a conscience and with that came a backlash of nightmares, guilt trips and the biggest taboo of them all; questioning the boss' orders. Axel had already lost a third of his right-hand pinky and he was afraid of what his boss would like him to cut off for kidnapping his right hand man and turning his back on the only family he had known since the age of fourteen.

"And I thought jail was bad…"

The car in front of him drove off the second the lights turned green and Axel followed suit. He could see the exit to the Hanshin Expressway and as he turned his blinkers on, he felt that the palms of his hands were all moist from the heat in the car. The traffic lightened once he was on the Hanshin Expressway. He wasn't sure where he was going, he just knew that he had to get as far away from the yakuza stronghold as possible. He had been thinking that leaving Japan would be the best idea but it wasn't safe to go to the airport and it would be difficult to go by unnoticed with a fainted person tossed over his shoulder. The idea now was to get to Shimonoseki and maybe take the ferry to South Korea.

Saïx had a nasty bruise that was shifting into a darker shade of purple on his forehead; Axel was responsible for it. His best friend was not going to come with him willingly and Axel had made it his mission to make the right decisions for Saïx until he realized that what Axel was doing for him was for the best, even if that meant beating him unconscious. He had tied Saïx's hands behind his back, his feet were tightly tied together too, and he had put a piece of duct tape over his mouth just in case. Saïx wasn't the screaming type in a situation like this, he was more likely to find a way to untie himself and give Axel the beating of his life.

An hour into the drive Axel began to relax, he even hummed along with the brainless bubble-gum pop on the radio while taking in the sights. As the bodyguard of a high profile gangster he never got much time to explore his surroundings unless he was in the red light districts or in a secluded ryôkan. Axel had left Kobe a few times in his life; he had gone to Kyoto and to Tokyo while on duty and truth to be told it was the same shit with a different name. It was nothing like the landscape before him now. There were suburbs alongside the Hanshin Expressway that reminded him of the city, but in the background there were high mountains with greenery that almost stretched all the way to the top. He could see the nature and the clear blue sky.

Saïx started to move around in the back with a low moan. Axel kept glancing at the rear-view mirror and lowered the volume on the radio a bit, he was certain that Saïx would have the mother of all headaches and he didn't want to give him more reasons to be upset right now. He didn't seem all too pleased to be tied up and muffled. Saïx gave up after fifteen seconds of squirming and tossing with a loud sigh. He lay still for a while and he was oddly quiet. Axel tried to catch a glimpse of him in the rearview mirror again but was distracted by the hard kick against his seat instead.

"Easy," he said with a laugh and gripped the wheel tighter. "The headache will be gone before you know it and one day you'll thank me for doing this."

Saïx kicked the seat even harder this time.

"Okay, sure. Fair enough. I could've used chloroform or maybe asked you nicely but that wouldn't have been me, right?" Axel knew that there was a third kick coming and he rolled his eyes. Saïx should know better than to throw a tantrum. He wasn't the first unwilling passenger Axel had had in his car.

Axel turned his attention to the GPS-screen and squinted to see if there were any rest stops nearby. It was only two miles to the first rest stop. When the fourth kick came Axel decided to speed things up a little. He hadn't come this far to drive off the road and get himself killed.

The rest stop consisted of a diner, five vending machines and a parking lot. The parking lot was pretty much deserted and they hadn't even gotten to Chûgoku Expressway yet. Axel parked the car as far into the parking lot as he could and was glad to see that there was a big garage that blocked the view from the diner. He didn't need nosy and bored workers meddling. He was drawing attention by just being here. He turned to look at Saïx and sighed at the foul glare he received.

"Listen, there's no point in making a fuss about this. I made sure to leave enough evidence to make them believe that you're an accomplice and if you try to contact our boss or any other family-member they will shoot you down like the traitor they think you are." Saïx didn't seem to give a rat's ass about what Axel did or did not do. "You'll thank me one of these days. This is for the best and I know that you'll come around and realize it too once you've chilled out a bit – you might want to start doing that now 'cause...I think you're turning red." Axel snatched away the piece of duct tape and folded it into his pocket with a worried look on his face.

"Fuck you," Saïx hissed. He had clenched his fists so tight that his knuckles turned white.

"Phew, I thought you were going to do something -" Axel flinched when Saïx spit him right in the eye, and slowly wiped the spit off with the back of his sleeve, "...worse."

Axel turned back and jumped out of the car, slamming the door shut after himself and locked the doors to the car properly. If that's the way Saïx wanted to play, then fine. He could roast in the car while Axel went to stock up on water and food. He hadn't eaten in a whole day and he had to be in his best mood if he was going to cope with having Saïx in the back of his car, spitting like a lama. Whatever happened to manners?

He had six water bottles, a Coke, and three bags of candy in his arms when he saw that there was a vending machine for hot food as well. He hurried over to it and looked at the menu with a frown. It all looked good but he couldn't take it all with him to the car. The hot dogs were making his mouth water until he saw the fish and chips. He tossed in the coins into the machine and waited for it to spit out his food.

Axel had barely opened the door when Saïx shot up from the backseat and frowned at the smell of the fish and chips. "Get that vile thing out of here." Axel put the bottles and candy next to him and flopped into his seat, taking a huge bite of his fish stick and chewed loudly.

"That's what you get for spitting me in the eye." Axel reached for the Coke, taking another bite of his fish stick.

"Open the window." Saïx lay down again, feeling nauseous at the smell of fish and dizzy because of the hit to his head. Axel kept eating away and didn't show any sign of wanting to open a window even though it was getting really warm. When Axel put the Coke bottle to his lips Saïx kicked the driver's seat again, causing Axel to almost empty the Coke over himself.

"Dammit, Saïx!"

"Open the window," he repeated. "It reeks."

Axel opened the window and finished his lunch. He was annoyed, sweaty and sticky. He looked at Saïx where he lay in the backseat; he was sure that Saïx must have felt overheated in his black suit. If he wanted to keep Saïx from having a heatstroke, he would have to keep him hydrated.

"Sit up, you have to drink water."

"Tell me where we're going first." Saïx looked up at Axel when the silence stretched too far.

"I can't."

"In that case I don't want any water."

Axel rolled his eyes and the plastic bottle crackled in his tightening grip and he smiled sternly.

"We're going to Fukuoka."

"You don't know anyone there."


Axel opened the bottle of water and waited for Saïx to get up a bit, "Drink."

There was no denying that he was thirsty. He was almost through half the bottle when he moved away and lay down again. Axel started the engine and drove back onto the highway. He didn't like to lie to Saïx, it just kind of happened by its own accord.

Axel turned the radio on again - he didn't like where his thoughts went when he sat in silence. There were very few cars on the road today. The Chûgoku Expressway was known for its lack of visitors. The gas stations along the way had to close down because no one ever drove by. Axel had thought it to be an exaggeration when he had heard about it. He had never been to a place where there was a lack of people. It almost felt surreal to be alone on the road like this.

The radio frequency became weak and there was more white noise than music coming through the speakers. Saïx had been quiet all the way and Axel was starting to worry. He wasn't sure how hard he had hit him; maybe Saïx had a concussion. In that case they would have to go to the hospital and check in, risking having the boss know about their whereabouts. Axel turned around to take a quick look at his friend and was completely unprepared for the right hook that crushed down on his face.

All went black.

Axel wasn't sure how long he was out. Once he came to he was being dragged across very pointy gravel by his feet and he could hear the faint sound of the radio coming from the car wreck. He had a couple of seconds to think of how nice it was to be saved by his best friend and that Saïx really did care about him despite the downs they had been experiencing lately until he felt Saïx's roaming hands over him.

"Uh, what are you doing?"

"Where's your cell phone?"

Axel sat up and pushed Saïx's hands away and tried to frown but was reminded of the hit he had taken to the face.


He touched where he thought his bruise began and winced at the pain. He turned around to see that the car was upside-down, the windows were cracked, if not broken, and the engine was steaming. Saïx was a bit dusty with sand. He still had the bruise from when Axel had knocked him out and he had bitten his lip. He looked better than what Axel felt at least.

"We're in the middle of nowhere, we're both injured and we don't have a car! The only one who can help us right now is our boss."

Axel got up onto his feet and brushed the dust off his clothes. They were by a small creek, a couple of a hundred feet below the highway. There was no point in trying to climb back up, there was hardly any traffic and it would be safer to keep off the road in case any by-passers noticed the car wreck and called the police.

"I'll give you the cell phone if you give me time to show you that what I'm doing is for the best."

"You don't have one with you, do you?"

"Maybe, maybe not, either way I'm the only chance you've got right now, so what do you say? Do we have a deal?"

It surprised Axel that he could look Saïx straight in the eye even when he lied, but he figured that the means would justify the ends and to be fair, he hadn't started all of this.

Saïx glared at him for a second, "Fine."

Saïx followed Axel down the creek and into the forest, and that made the black eye worthwhile. It didn't matter that they would probably have to sleep underneath the stars tonight amongst all the bugs and humid soil as long as Saïx followed him far away from the hellhole Axel had gotten them into years ago.


Arlene sat by a table for four and faced the large windows, looking out over the beautiful skyline. She was shaking her foot underneath the table, which caused her to remember how she had got that annoying habit. She was at the luxurious top-floor restaurant at the Crowne Hotel in Shinkobe, waiting for her company to show up. Arlene was sure that he had gotten stuck by a mirror on his way up.

There had been a time she had been stupid enough to think that she was done with this life, but it always found a way to catch up with her.

She played with the ring on her finger, noticing the reflection of herself in the window. Life had never been easy. She didn't expect it to be, but she would have liked to catch a break at some point.

"Arlene, how nice of you to show up on such short notice." A tall man in a dark suit sat down across from her with a polite smile. He had a younger man with him that sat to his right. It was obvious that he wasn't all too used to nice places like this one. The waiter showed up with menus for everyone. The ash-blond, short-haired follower took it and looked through it with a serious expression.

"You are on very thin ice if this is the best bodyguard the family has to offer, Liam." The fact that Arlene had used his real name made his follower look up with a surprised look. "Oh, I'm sorry. I mean Marluxia."

Despite her fear for this man, she couldn't help annoying him. She had been careless in coming back to Kobe. She didn't think Marluxia would still be after her. Now she knew how wrong she had been. He was as ruthless as ever and she had seen herself without any choice but to agree to his invitation for dinner. Ironically, he chose the Crowne Hotel for it.

"I'm not here to play games, Arlene." Marluxia leaned back into his chair. "You know what's at stake here. I've seen the pretty little house you've bought in the suburbs together with what's-his-name. I'm sure that he doesn't know the whole truth about your past, does he?"

"Just tell me what you want." Arlene didn't know if he was serious or not, but she didn't want to risk it. She had escaped this man before and she knew that she could do it again.

"Axel has left. Or he thinks he has." Marluxia seemed nonchalant about it and looked over at the waiter that approached them again. He knew that Arlene was intrigued.

"Have you decided for anything?"

"The usual. For all of us."

"I'm not eating," Arlene interjected.

The waiter looked from Arlene to Marluxia and waited for a final call, "For three," Marluxia said again in a more decisive tone and the waiter nodded, collected the menus, and turned to walk back into the kitchen.

Marluxia turned to her again and looked at her in silence. She sure had cleaned up her act. Her low-cut was high enough to leave something to the imagination and the red dress that revealed her nicely shaped, but far from curvaceous body, gave her a look of a femme fatal.

"Oh, you must be slightly intrigued," he said finally when the silence turned into a game of who blinked first.

"I don't believe you. He wouldn't leave the family."

"Correction, he wouldn't leave the family for you. It doesn't suit you to be so conceited, Arlene. I always said that he was unreliable, remember? Imagine how your life would have been if you hadn't run away from me. You're still in time to change your mind."

"Xemnas would have you killed if you did anything to me." Arlene did not feel the least flattered by Marluxia's proposal. It frightened her that he was still pursuing her. She found it hard to believe that he did it because he was romantically interested in her; there were other things he wanted to get to – things that would grant him power.

"Stop flattering yourself, Arlene. Xemnas stopped caring for you a long time ago. You were only important to Xemnas when Ansem was alive, and Saïx only protected you to control Axel. I'm your best option for security, Arlene. Axel left the family and he took Saïx with him."

"Are you done? I don't have time for your bullshit."

"But it's true. Axel left yesterday. That in itself is not interesting, although it has our boss upset. What's worth mentioning, however, is that our boss is outraged because of the abduction of Saïx and has us all working on getting him back."

Arlene snorted, "Poor thing. He did always get uneasy without his lapdog."

She decided to unfold her napkin over her lap to avoid the amused look on Marluxia's face at the obvious avoidance of the subject he was poking at.

"Axel is desperate. He knows that our boss will do everything to get Saïx back. They know far too much about our organization to be let go that easily. He will call you and when he does you will lure him to us." Marluxia smirked at the dangerous glare that Arlene shot at him. "If you don't, your better half will sadly have to suffer the consequences."

"You don't even know who he is."

"That's anyone's guess, isn't it? Regardless of what I know, see this as a favor I'm doing for you. Axel abandoned you when you needed him the most. He exposed you to great danger and has never shown any regret for it."

He could see Arlene tense. He knew that he was playing with a sore spot and he could almost see Arlene's guard come down and slowly make sense of what Marluxia was saying.

"And that's just the top of the iceberg, isn't it, Arlene? It's like he keeps finding new ways of harming you, even though you long decided that you didn't want to have anything to do with us. Think of what he did with -"

"Shut up, Liam." Her breathing became slightly harder and she looked away from both Marluxia and the bodyguard he had chosen to bring with him. "I'll do it. If he calls, I'll lure him out."

The waiter showed up with dinner and served all three of them. Another waiter showed up to pour the wine and Arlene found herself staring off into the distance. Her hands were tied and she could only accept the deal Marluxia had offered her. To gain the normal life she had fought so hard to get, she would have to betray an old friend that had helped her through rough times and brought her down when her strength had frightened him. She both hated and loved Axel, but at the end of the day she loved the idea of her normal life more. She just hoped that her resolution wouldn't dissolve at the sound of his voice.


They stumbled out of the thick forest and were met by the sun rising behind the mountains. They could see vast fields of grass beneath the hill they were on, and in the far off distance they could make out a small village.

Axel was feeling a bit nauseous; he could swear that he tasted the milk acid in his mouth and it wasn't uplifting to feel, unfit as he was in his current predicament. His shoes were brown with mud, he smelled like a decaying body and his left sleeve was hanging by a thread. His right eye had completely closed up, much thanks to Saïx's non-pacifist side and his entire body felt sore from all the walking and the tumbling around in a car down a steep ditch. He couldn't say that Saïx was much better off; he had dropped one shoe at one point, his pants were splattered with mud and his hair was covered in twigs and leaves.

"You wanna hop on?"

He leaned forward and spread his arms, ready in case Saïx wanted a piggyback ride.

Saïx walked past Axel with not so much as a glare in his direction. There was no way that Saïx was unmoved by this spectacular scenery, Axel thought and looked at Saïx as he walked ahead. After a few seconds Axel was ready to give up and conclude that Saïx couldn't care less about what they were both seeing for the first time in their lives, but then he saw it and he chuckled softly to himself.

Saïx had reached his arms out slightly, feeling the tall grass with the palm of his hands as it swayed underneath him, moved by the playful bursts of wind that blew past them.

They walked in silence all the way up until the end of the grass fields. The two were approaching the village, but it looked deserted. They stopped by the street that had to be crossed to enter the village and just stared for a while. What worried Axel the most was the tattoo that was sticking out of Saïx's collar. People outside their circles didn't respond well to gangsters and Saïx had a knack of always showing off that special side that wasn't in the least charming to anyone else but to the people they called family.

"How tired are you?" Axel asked and looked at Saïx with a meaning look.


"Tired enough to pull your collar up?"

Saïx sighed and pulled up his collar as they both crossed the street and into the seemingly empty village. They didn't have a clue as to what time it was, all they knew was that they had to find a bed soon or they would collapse in the middle of the street.

"Look, villagers." Saïx nodded in the direction of the villagers ahead and Axel squinted to try to get a better look. For some reason, Axel had expected ridiculously old ladies, so he was surprised to see that it was one young woman helping an older and quite muscular man down the road. He had a big tattoo on his torso and Axel tried to ignore the mean look Saïx was shooting in his direction.

"Good morning," Axel said with a light bow of his head. "Me and my friend here were on our way through the highway and we had an accident. We were wondering if you have an inn or a hotel nearby?"

The black-haired man with a bare torso eyed them both and frowned. He bit hard onto the stray of wheat in his mouth. "You folk's city slickers?" They weren't given time to answer the obvious, the woman put a calming hand on his arm and smiled at Axel and Saïx.

"Don't worry about him," She said and bowed quickly. "We don't have any inns or hotels in our village, but you are free to stay at my place until you've sorted yourselves out."

"Yuna, no." The man shook his head decisively and jumped about with the one leg he was standing on since he had the other in a cast, "You are not taking home two strangers – no!"

"We can pay..." Axel wasn't sure why that had slipped out; he knew it had been a bad idea to say it the second the man stared right at him with a very annoyed glare.

"That's yer answer to everything, innit?"

Yuna didn't seem at all bothered by her companion's dominant ways. She shrugged it off and decided that Axel and Saïx could come with them. After a slightly awkward introduction they followed Yuna and Jecht to a very traditional Japanese house. They walked through a neat garden and stopped by the genka to take their shoes off.

Yuna didn't have much stuff in her house, only things she had deemed strictly necessary. She helped Jecht down onto a cushion by the low table in the middle of the room and she slid the doors open to allow him a view of the garden outside. Axel caught Saïx looking around and he knew full well for what.

"Your room is upstairs. You can stay with Jecht while I heat up the bath."

She hurried out and left the three men in silence. Axel sighed and grabbed Saïx by his sleeve, pulling him along to the table where they sat down on the cushions across from Jecht. There was a dog barking in the distance and Axel found himself fidgeting his fingers as the silence stretched. This situation was far from normal for him. He was used to owning the place he walked into, to have people back away when he made his entrance. This dynamic was strange. They were here at Yuna's mercy as "ordinary" people. Saïx wasn't feeling good with this new situation either, Axel could sense the tension in his shoulders.

"What you lot doing here anyway?" Jecht asked, crossing his arms. "I know yer kind. Y'all come here and take our kids away to the city and leave us old folks here to rot."

"We're really just passing by."

"You on the run from the police? If you drag us into trouble..." He gestured towards the odd bruise Saïx had on his forehead and made a strange noise at the back of his throat when he looked at Axel's black eye.

"We're yakuza. He kidnapped me and now we have the head of the family thinking that we've betrayed him. We are running from a force much more frightening than the police."

Jecht suddenly roared with laughter, the reaction so sudden that it took both Axel and Saïx by surprise. He almost put his fist through the table when he hit it and he leaned in with a chuckle. "I like yer stile," he said to Saïx and then turned his voice into a whisper and gave a quick nod in Axel's direction, "His, not so much." He sat back up with a smug look on his face, "You lads know how to fix a roof? My leg's out and I need a couple'a hands to fix the neighbor's."

"We don't…" Axel began but was interrupted by Jecht hitting the table again.

"Y'all ain't ingrates, right? As soon as y'all had some shut-eye, you'll come down to my place and help me fix the roof." They heard Yuna walk in again and she smiled as soon as she saw all of them around the table.

"Good, you're getting along. Jecht can be quite a handful sometimes."

"I have to be, with you letting strangers into your house and what not."

"The bath is ready. Once you're done you can go upstairs and change into the clothes that I've laid out for you. Breakfast should be done by then."

Axel stood up and bowed again, "Thank you, and sorry for the trouble."

"It's no trouble, Axel. I'm happy to help." Yuna bowed her head too and she smiled at them again, "Go on then."

The bath house was detached from the main house, with a small path leading through the yard and stopping right by it. Axel slid the door aside and saw the bath that Yuna had prepared for them. There were two barrels of wood standing across from each other; it was like something taken right out of a history book.

A few moments later, both Saïx and Axel sat in their barrels, letting the warm water relax them from their long walk through the forest. Axel couldn't stop thinking about the tattoo on Saïx that would be so apparent in traditional clothing, and even though Jecht had his tattoo out in the open, it seemed different enough to not be comparable to the tattoo that Saïx had.

"We gotta do something about that tattoo," he said at last.

"What for? Jecht has one; besides, if it bothers you so much stop looking at it."

"His tattoo seems more religious. Yours just – I don't know, it doesn't fit in these surroundings and I don't want you to freak Yuna out. She's been really kind to let us into her house. Let your hair out or something."

"I'm not gonna let my hair out just because you say so, Axel. You're in no position to give me orders."

The dragon that went from his back, over his shoulder and down onto his chest looked every bit as arrogant as Saïx. Axel took a deep breath and tried to think of anything that could make him cooperate.

"You have tattoos too."

"Yeah, but mine are strategically placed, unlike yours."

Axel's tattoos were on his left arm and shoulder. He only had one tattoo on his chest and it had been the first tattoo that he had gotten made; a guardian lion right above his heart. It was for protection, and all things considered, he thought it had worked pretty well.

There was suddenly a soft knock on the door, "Axel, Saïx, breakfast is done. I'm sorry to have to stress you, but Jecht is starting to get really cranky."

"We'll be right out."

The clothes that Yuna had laid out for them on the second floor were traditional yukatas, worn during the warm and humid Japanese summer. Axel hadn't worn one in quite some time and he liked the way it looked on him. Much to his relief, Saïx was letting his hair out to hide the dragon body on his neck, and once they were both done they walked downstairs where Jecht was mumbling in his impatience.

"Finally," he said when Saïx and Axel sat down by the table.

"Now that we're all here, you may begin with breakfast, Jecht."

Yuna had made a lot of small dishes for breakfast. There were small bowls with tofu and nori for the miso soup, two kinds of small fish, rice, and pickles. Axel dug in and didn't notice Yuna's worried look until she put down her chopsticks and tilted her head to her side slightly.

"Saïx, are you okay? You're not eating any fish."

"I'm fine. I'm not very fond of fish."

Jecht shook his head in disbelief and reached for Saïx's portion of fish. "Ya'll city slickers are too spoiled. Back in my day we ate what was served and left no trace of food on our plates."

"Don't mind him, Saïx. He eats anything I put on the table. Do you want anything else instead of fish? More pickles?"

"He eats like he's on a diet, Yuna," Axel said with his left cheek round from all the rice in his mouth. "But leave a pastry out and it'll be gone in five seconds flat. The culprit?" He pointed at Saïx and started to chew again.

Yuna giggled and continued eating. Axel realized that this was the first time in forever that he had a normal conversation with a normal woman. He wasn't sure how he felt about it; she treated them as if they were any other persons. Her kindness made him think of times in his life when he had been less than kind to women.

After breakfast they went upstairs where Yuna had put out two futons for them. As Axel heard Saïx accommodate in his futon, he stared up at the ceiling and took in all the different smells that he couldn't get in the city. All the new scents were kind of overwhelming. The wood the house was made of had a special scent, the futon he was in had another kind of scent that was similar to that of his clothes. It smelled like soap, but it wasn't like the soap back home, it was a scent that was more felt than smelled. It didn't make much sense but Axel couldn't keep himself from noticing it. He blinked slowly and looked over at Saïx.

"Not bad, huh?"

"Not bad at all," Saïx agreed with a small smile playing on his lips.

It didn't take long for Axel to fall asleep. The walk here had taken its toll and the bath had relaxed him so much that he thought he would go through the floor. What he failed to notice while in his deep sleep though, was that Saïx slipped out as soon as Axel's breathing evened out.