Title: Last Train
Beta reader: Shattered Apocalypse
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, current Leon/Arlene, and implied one-sided Isa/Lea.
Setting: Modern Japan (yakuza-themed)
Chapter 20: The Tide Pulls from the Moon
Even the most silent of cars could disrupt the peaceful silence in this picturesque house of minimalistic overabundance. It wasn't cluttered with furniture and decorations, but everything that was there had been carefully chosen, and this flawless exterior of their home made Aqua wonder if there was anything in this house that was a reflection of her as she walked toward the hallway to get the door.
"I'll get it."
Aqua slowed down when she felt her husband take her hand in his. Sometimes she found it difficult to assimilate that this was her life that she was living. She could wake up and wonder how this came to be, and she would whisper her husband's name to see if he would respond to it for no particular reason other than to see that soft smile on his face.
She watched him open the door and greet whoever was there to pay them a visit. It worried her sometimes that he would spend too much time with work and leave her behind, despite the fact that he did everything he could to be by her side. She knew that it was strange to feel this unexplainable dependency on someone, but there was nothing she could do to prevent it.
Dr. Even stepped inside, wearing his ever present lab coat as he rested his hands onto his back, eyeing his surroundings like he hadn't been over enough times to know their home by heart.
"Good afternoon, Aqua. You seem well."
"Good afternoon, doctor."
"She felt a bit drowsy after the last treatment, but she hasn't had any relapses."
Xemnas walked up to her and rested his hand on her hip. Aqua had been told that she had fallen ill and that her fever had caused a few delirious moments. Dr. Even had given her a special treatment to make sure that she didn't suffer anything like it ever again. The treatment had ended recently after nearly a year and Aqua was glad that she wouldn't have to take anymore medication.
"I've signed up for a couple of evening courses at the university."
"How exciting. Are you preparing for a profession?" Dr. Even stared at her like he was studying a lab rat, but Aqua had learned to cope with it since she had seen so much of Dr. Even during her time with her husband.
"No, it feels like that time is gone. I'm past thirty already." Aqua smiled and shrugged lightly, "This is mostly to get out of the house and meet new people. I chose a course in math and another in political history."
Dr. Even nodded, "That is very good. A bit of both."
"Doctor, would you like to sit out in the garden? Aqua has taken good care of it."
"Terra, would you and the doctor like some tea?" Aqua looked at both Xemnas and Dr. Even as they turned around halfway down the living room.
Xemnas looked after Aqua as she disappeared into the kitchen and started to prepare the tea. He followed Dr. Even out on the porch where he sat down and eyed the garden quickly before he turned back to Xemnas.
"Well, there is nothing else to report other than that our mission has been accomplished. If it hadn't been for the small ethical problems of some, I would be up for a Nobel-prize."
"Are you saying that Aqua will no longer break down?"
"There is no reason to now, is there? Saïx and Aqua are now two independent persons with the only exception that Aqua is still leeching off Saïx in a way. The small device in both their brains allows Aqua to use parts of Saïx's brain that are no longer functioning in her own."
Dr. Even avoided using the name Xemnas preferred to be called in his house, it felt strange calling him after a fabricated memory, and at the same time he avoided slipping in front of Aqua.
Xemnas gave a slow nod at Dr. Even's explanation. They had gone through a lot of trouble reprogramming Ansem's hologram to make it do what they wanted it to do. The first step had been to get Axel where they wanted him before they could continue with the next step, which was to make the hologram undo the entwining of Axel's and Saïx's memories. That had been the main challenge, it was that misstep that had nearly cost Aqua her life and it had jeopardized this entire project.
"What if he meets Axel?"
"There will be no consequence. Saïx will feel a sense of déjà vu at most, but the fact of the matter is that he has no recollection of Axel's existence, there is no longer a wall to protect, Aqua is safe and the only thing that we need to do is to keep Saïx alive to keep her well. With the life he's living now that won't be a problem, I imagine."
"She resembles him at times."
"It's to be expected, isn't it?"
"It makes me question her feelings for me."
"Aqua would never stab you in the back for your position in the family."
Xemnas glared at him and Dr. Even quickly sat up straight and bowed his head slightly. It was clear that he had grown far too accustomed being in Xemnas' company that he even felt that he had the right to say whatever came into his mind.
"I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, sir." Dr. Even coughed lightly, "What matters is that we succeeded. You have reached your goal, you will most certainly grow old with Aqua and with this worry out of the world you can reassume your impeccable leadership in the family. They ruffled a lot of feathers, sir, and the family needs to reestablish its former order."
Aqua came out, holding a tray with tea and biscuits for the three of them. She put the tray on the table and reached them a cup each.
"What are you talking about?" She sat down with a sigh.
"Work," Xemnas said, "It would only nauseate you if we kept talking about it now. Speaking of things that nauseate you, Mrs. Kanda invited us to a charity event next weekend. She also mentioned how she would want you to help her picking out the decorations."
Aqua narrowed her eyes, "What did you say?"
"That we would attend and that she would have to talk to you about the decorations."
"Terra! You should've just nipped it at the bud, tell her that I don't want to sit around watching her treat people like trash. She made two waiters cry last time in front of the rest of the staff, and I'm not having that again."
Dr. Even observed the married couple bicker about their charity event. It wasn't only Aqua who had changed, he noticed. Xemnas became the false person that he had created within Aqua's mind whenever he was around her and to Dr. Even it was interesting to see how Xemnas chose to be that person, even without having his brain altered.
The day had gone from cloudy to sunny to almost raining and then back to just being cloudy again. Axel's mood seemed to be changing with the weather, he couldn't tell how many times he had gone to feeling sad for thinking that Isa had broken his promise to feel stupid for thinking that Isa would remember a promise he had forced upon him while he was breaking.
He had been there with the sunrise early in the morning; he didn't want to risk missing Isa even though the possibilities of him showing up were next to none. He had seen busloads of tourists come and go, boats had stopped by the pier and left again, and the man selling ice cream had even walked up to him to offer him something to eat.
He had been left in that basement floor after Naminé had done her job. He had run around the facility like a maniac, looking for Saïx and looking for Arlene, but there had been no one there. There had been no one to turn to during the first months after that either. He had been alone for the first time in his life and as he looked back on it now, he couldn't tell how he had managed to survive it without turning to booze or anything else that would take the edge off loneliness. At times he had thought of returning to the family with his head hung in shame and his tail between his legs, but the thought of starting over with Isa had kept him going.
Two months ago, when the wait had nearly driven him up a wall, he had gone to a place he had nearly forgotten in his despair. The doctors that had helped him once upon a time found a way to help him once more and he was sent to a church nearby where young delinquents were sent to learn a profession all the while they learned to cultivate the land, to keep violence out of their relationships, as well as coping strategies to not fall back into old patterns.
When he looked at his watch again and realized that he had been waiting for twelve hours, he got up with a resigned sigh and tried to shake off the feeling of disappointment to not end up like those salarymen that found it fitting to jump in front of trains.
It just wasn't meant to be. Their story had ended years ago, on a day just like this one.
And then he saw him walk by.
He almost called after him. He nearly ran after him. He thought of giving him a big hug and tell him that he had managed to wait for an entire year, but all of it would probably end up frightening him because he had no clue that out there was someone, a certain Lea, who had been his best friend once upon a time.
"Sir!" He hurried up to Isa as fast as he could and dug in his pockets until he found a wrinkled bill of low value, "Sir, you dropped your money." He tapped Isa's shoulder and he turned around with an oblivious look on his face. He was holding a Frappuccino from a 7-eleven down the road and he looked down at the money Axel was reaching him.
"I don't think that's mine."
"But I saw you drop it."
Isa eyed him suspiciously and took the bill slowly almost like he was waiting for Axel to change his mind. It gave Axel time to come up with another excuse to keep him though, and Axel was happy for any and all opportunities fate sent his way.
"I'm sorry, sir, I – your name isn't Isa by any chance, is it?"
"Who are you?"
"Um, I don't mean to freak you out or anything but there was a fortune teller here earlier and I had her predict my future and she told me that I had to sit here and wait for Isa. She, uh… she said that this man Isa would drop the power of man on the road by the vast sea."
He tried not wince at the bad, half-baked lie he was trying to feed Isa, but it was difficult not to when Isa was looking at him like he was growing a second head.
"The power of man is money and this is a road by the vast sea." He motioned towards the sea and tried to smile.
"1000 yen is hardly considered to be power nowadays, is it?"
"One man's trash is another man's treasure, no? C'mon, I've been waiting all day for Isa so that I can go up the tower." His brain wasn't connecting thoughts the way he wanted it to, it was making it difficult to come up with proper lies although he had told himself time and time again that once he met Isa there would be nothing but honesty for him.
"Why would you need me to go up the tower?"
"So your name is Isa?" Isa shot him a glare, "Right. Well, if I didn't wait I would be run over by a car on my way home, I would be unable to work and then I'd be thrown out on the street where I would be hit by another car. It was just one awful thing after another, but hey, you're here now."
"How do you know I'm going up the tower?"
"Because you look like a tourist and tourists in Kobe generally go up the tower."
"Are you going to mug me? I think I've seen you somewhere."
"No, I just want to accompany you up the tower." Axel smiled at him and tried to keep it together, "It's your birthday today, right? The fortune teller told me."
"Is she here now?"
Isa looked around to see if he could find any fortune tellers while Axel looked at him with a heavy heart. In a way he was still waiting for Isa to look at him and laugh while he told him that this was a joke, that he had missed Axel as much as he had missed him and that he was expecting a birthday gift.
"She left a couple of hours ago. Maybe she'll be here tomorrow. I can take you to her if you want to. If you let me."
"Hmmm," he hummed and gave Axel a look. "Let's go up the tower first."
He didn't seem scared, just curious. Axel knew that he had said that he could settle with seeing Isa once more, but once his one time was over he knew that he wouldn't be able to let go even though the look in Isa's eyes kept reminding him that he was no one in Isa's life anymore.
"I'm Lea, by the way."
"Hello, Lea. Are you from around here?" He smiled, amused.
"Born and raised in Kobe. I know this city like the back of my hand. How about you?"
"I lived here a couple of years, but I moved. I live in Kyoto now."
Axel gave a slow nod, "Are you ill or something?"
"I'm fine, thanks." Isa side-eyed him as they walked towards the tower's entrance, "And you?" He obviously thought that Axel was being weird, but he had to make certain that Isa was in good health. He couldn't see a reason for Isa to want to live in Kyoto where one of Ansem's main laboratories was located.
"I'm fine now. I didn't think you'd show up."
"Welcome to Kobe Port Tower! How many tickets would you like to purchase?" The woman in the booth bowed her head and smiled at Isa as she looked back up again.
"Two." He reached her the ill-treated bill Axel had given him along with two 100-yen coins. The woman smiled at Axel as well as he walked past the ticket booth and after Isa into the elevator.
Axel hoped that there wouldn't be other people going up now, but the elevator quickly filled up with people eager to go to the top of the tower and see the entire city. Isa had taken the stairs last time they had been here. He hadn't been good with small spaces after that incident at the fishery, but he didn't seem to be bothered at all now. He looked out through the glass doors and saw the space grow between him and the firm ground underneath his feet.
He had cut his hair short, he was dressed like a typical tourist with the "I heart Kobe"-shirt, and the shorts that came just underneath his knees. He had brought a thin jacket with him in case it got cold, he even had a backpack. The dragon was gone. They had rid Isa of everything from his former life, Isa was someone else now. He had been liberated from the demons that had haunted him and Axel figured that he could be happy for that, even though there was one demon he wished had remained in Isa's memory.
The elevator stopped and the door slid open, letting the awestruck tourists out on the observation deck. Isa walked up to one of the large windows, overlooking the glass building right by the tower.
"What brings you to Kobe?" Axel stood beside Isa, not sure of what answer he was expecting.
"Felt like the right thing to do. I needed a break from work and the bus trip here was cheap and I've always wanted to come here. There's something about this place."
Axel was bursting at the seams. All he needed was a bone thrown his way and that had been it. A year's agonizing had come to this and he was certain that never in his life had he needed to keep his self-control as much as now. The euphoria he felt at that small recognition of Isa's past became nothing more than a soft chuckle and a wide smile.
"You like to travel?"
"Yeah. I've been thinking of going on a road trip but none of my friends are up for it, especially not now when everyone is trying so hard to keep their jobs and save up on money."
"I'm actually going up north, to uh, Echizen. It's a couple of hours by car, but I figure it's going to take longer because I want to see the sights. You could come with if you want to – if you grow tired of me you could always catch a train back."
His heart was beating so hard that he had to lean against the handrail and take a deep breath to calm down. This was a delicate situation, one misstep and he could scare Isa away forever. He didn't want to come off as pushy but he knew full well that he was failing. It was difficult to seem casual when everything he valued was on the line.
"Whenever. Y'know, as long as it's sometime soon. At the end of the month or something." He paused to quickly look at Isa and see whether he was seriously considering his offer or if he was just making small talk. "I have a couple of friends in Echizen. At this time of year they have a garden filled with apples and the macaque monkeys come down from the forests to eat the apples that have fallen to the ground. The thing is that with the heat of the sun, the apples have fermented and the alcohol makes the monkeys drunk. It's quite a sight to behold."
Isa laughed. It was a genuine laugh, it wasn't restrained or weighed down by anything else, and by the end of it there was no soft sob that had once been a reminder that emotions had bothered him, good or bad, they all threatened to break his façade. Isa had been a ticking bomb for a long time, his downfall had begun long before he met Xemnas, Axel knew that much, and thinking back and realizing how many hints there had been was one of the main things his brain preoccupied him with, but now he found himself staring at Isa, shamelessly taking in the sight of the smile that lingered on his face.
"We could go out on the small roads and see Lake Biwa and maybe make a stop at Tsuruga Bay."
"Have you done that trip before?"
"Well, yes and no. I was in a bit of a hurry the first time, I didn't get to see all of it. But I loved what I did see. There are small villages down the road, they look like something taken out of a postcard with vast fields of greenery, surrounded by mountains and hills. I'm sure you'd love it. It's nothing like the city."
"What's the catch?"
"There is no catch. You want to travel and I don't want to travel alone."
"What if I turn out to be a psychotic murderer?" Isa challenged this stranger, oblivious to the brief mental hiccup Axel suffered at the question.
"Well, I'll have to cross that bridge when and if I get to it, besides, I don't discriminate. If you want you're more than welcome to join me up north. You'll get to see Japan and you'll have a competent guide with you."
Isa looked at him with an amused yet questioning look. He wasn't saying no at least.
"Let's meet the fortune teller tomorrow first," he said before he turned to the binoculars that had just gotten available.
Axel didn't mind. He could sit with him all day outside of the Kobe Port Tower waiting for a fortune teller that didn't exist as long as Isa didn't decide to go and leave him behind. He was buying himself more time and he held the hope that Isa would warm up to him and give him a chance to get to know him again.
A/N: As this is the end for this story, I'd like to thank everyone who have taken their time to read, review, and even message me. I didn't have any expectations when I decided to post this story, and I'm glad that so many have enjoyed it. Your support means a lot. I'm also gonna take the opportunity to explain (in short) my view on characterization and actions (some were a little upset that I was turning Axel into "the bad guy", amongst other things). I firmly believe that the road to hell can be paved with good intentions, and I also believe that good people can do bad things for various reasons. Moral ambiguity is interesting to me ^^
I also know that many wanted to know what became of Arlene. Sadly, when she walked away from the family the last time, she also walked out of my head, thus the open ending for her.
Finally, a quick plug-in: Kingdom Hearts Big Bang Challenge is in need of beta/alpha readers as well as cheerleaders. If you're interested, look up khbigbang at Livejournal and/or Dreamwidth for more information about what it means to be any of those things, sign-up is open until June 15th.