Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, Disney, Final Fantasy, or anything else belonging to Disney or Square Enix.

A/N: Due to several nice comments from readers, I've decided to give the Kingdom Hearts fandom another chance. This is what I came up with. This story takes place on Day 21 of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, two days before the trip to Castle Oblivion, and it does fit with the canon storyline. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Art of Teaching

"Seems like we're getting new members everyday. Number XIII was a boy, Roxas. Now we've got a Number XIV, Xion. Today's mission was to show Roxas the ropes. I feel like they've had me babysitting him since he got here. He's not a bad kid, but he's spacy. Good fighter, though. At least I won't be bored." -Axel (Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days: Secret Report)

Twenty-one days. It had been exactly twenty-one days since the golden-haired Nobody known as Roxas had joined the ranks of the Organization.

Twenty-one interesting days to be exact. At least for me...

Leaning leisurely against the pale, circular wall of the meeting room, which was known simply as the Round Room to those residing in the castle, Organization XIII's Number VIII, who went by the name of Axel, watched with narrowed eyes as the other members of the Organization slowly began to make their way out of the room, leaving only their leader, Xemnas, and his right-hand man, Saix, to finalize the details of the mission that was to take place at Castle Oblivion in a mere two days.

Only Roxas and the newest member of the Organization, a young Nobody by the name of Xion, had not been present for the meeting, and in the case of Roxas, Axel knew the kid had deliberately been left out. Now, it wasn't exactly surprising that Roxas hadn't been asked to participate in the meeting earlier, due to the nature of the discussion that had taken place, but even so it still made things a bit more difficult for a certain red-haired Nobody. Axel wasn't quite sure exactly why Xion hadn't been present, though he had his suspicions. He was sure there was a lot about Number XIV that Saix was holding back from him, and maybe even from the rest of the Organization.

The thought of Saix keeping things from him irritated him somewhat, but instead of dwelling on his old friend and the secrets the man may or may not be hiding, Axel resolutely put the Nobody known as the Luna Diviner out of his mind and instead turned his attention back to the golden-haired kid with the Keyblade, his vivid green eyes narrowing even further.

The Keyblade Master's Nobody...I gotta admit, I'm still having a hard time seeing the connection, but...every so often there's a glimpse of something...I wonder what he's really like. Sora...

It was at that precise moment when Axel suddenly felt as if he were being watched, and lifting his green gaze he met the strange yellow eyes belonging to Saix, who, like Xemnas, was still sitting high up in his chair. Even from a distance, Axel could tell Saix was watching him intently, and for some reason that greatly amused him, though he doubted very much that the feeling was mutual. For a moment the two of them merely locked eyes in silence, and then letting out a soft snort Axel lifted his hand in a hearty wave before turning briskly on his heel, his head held high as he proceeded to follow the other members of the Organization out of the Round Room. His cloak swished softly against the floor as he walked with a purposeful stride, and though he was in a hurry to leave, he kept his pace slow and steady.

He was still debating how he was going to tell Roxas that he was leaving for Castle Oblivion in a couple days, and thinking the matter over in his head, he was surprised to find that he was feeling rather reluctant about having to leave his new charge behind. Most likely Roxas wouldn't understand about Castle Oblivion, since it was important the golden-haired Nobody didn't discover the true purpose of the mission, but work was work, and Axel knew Roxas would at least understand that much. Thus, the reason why Roxas being left out of the meeting made his life a tad bit more difficult, though for obvious reasons it was necessary that the golden-haired Nobody remain behind.

But even so...he was going to miss having the kid around for a bit, even if Roxas was still a little on the spacy side. He was also going to miss their visits to the clock tower in Twilight Town and the generous amounts of sea-salt ice cream he would have to give up for a while.

Roxas is improving everyday, though. Maybe there's hope for him yet.

"Ha ha, not me! Hey, I laughed...I guess we really are friends."

It had only been a simple gesture, but a smile and the sound of his clear, pleasant laugh had made an unbelievable change in the kid's face, and Axel allowed himself a small smile at the memory.

Once you get past the zombie attitude he's not bad company for the most part...

The difference in the kid's expression and demeanor that day up on the clock tower had been astonishing, to say the least. Just a simple smile and a laugh had completely reanimated his face, eliminating the zombie look entirely, and it was all because he, Axel, had joked around and told the golden-haired Nobody they were friends.

"Friends..."

Axel spared himself one last glance for his old friend Saix, who did not do him the honour of returning it, and slipping through the door, he was about to make his way down the hall towards his room when he suddenly spotted the other nine members of the Organization who had been present at the meeting standing grouped together in a tight circle at the end of the corridor, right at the spot where it branched off into two other hallways. One turned left, and the other turned right, both of them eventually branching off again into other areas of the castle. Though they were all of different heights and statures, the Organization's standard uniform made it hard to tell them apart at first glance in the dusky atmosphere of twilight. Even without their hoods on, it was hard to make out their faces, and watching them Axel had to admit they made a pretty impressive sight, especially with the way their black cloaks nearly blended in with the evening gloom. It was always dark in The World That Never Was, making it difficult to judge the time unless there was a clock within viewing range, but for some reason this particular evening seemed especially dim inside the castle. Though the figures that were huddled together at the end of the corridor were talking rather heatedly amongst themselves, they were speaking so softly their voices did not echo or carry down the hallway.

Now what do we have here...

After spotting them earlier, Axel had abruptly stopped short in his tracks, and growing tense he watched the group silently from several feet away, his emerald eyes moving from face to face before he finally approached them. Though outwardly he appeared calm and composed, even relaxed, on the inside he was wary and suspicious.

And truthfully he had every right to be.

A rare sight indeed to see so many members of the Organization gathered together in one place that wasn't either the Round Room for meetings or the Gray Room, where they had to gather in the mornings if they didn't want to risk the wrath of Saix.

Normally after their missions the members of the Organization tended to disperse and either retire to their own quarters or left to partake in whatever other interests they had in solo, though Axel used the term 'interests' lightly, since they were Nobodies after all. Most of them tended to be loners by nature in the castle, often staying clear of one another unless it was work related.

In that sense Axel was a bit of an oddity, as he tended to prefer the company of others.

If he was in good mood, that is.

Demyx was also more along the same lines as him, though the Melodious Nocturne tended to be ignored for his efforts, and Roxas...Well, Axel wasn't quite sure about the golden-haired Nobody yet. The kid certainly didn't object to his company, and even seemed to enjoy it, and thus Axel was quite confident he'd found himself a worthy sidekick.

Patience.

When it came to Roxas, time and patience were the key, and that was not an easy thing for Axel to practice. After all, patience had never been one of his virtues.

"Ah, Axel, there you are. Either a stroke of luck, or you haven't played your cards very well. I can never decide which with you," Luxord suddenly called out pleasantly, spinning a card on the tip of his finger before allowing it to disappear up the sleeve of his dark coat. "We were beginning to think you'd gotten lost."

Axel stopped just outside the circle, and taking up a familiar position against the wall, his lanky body and long limbs emphasizing what would look to the others like a characteristic display of nonchalance, he chose not to respond. So many members of the Organization gathered in one area at the most unusual of times. It was indeed suspicious, and keeping his wits about him Axel was careful to tread lightly.

Though the members of Organization XIII were all working towards the same goal, Axel didn't trust a single one of his subordinates. Except maybe Saix. And him only to a certain extent. As was his nature, Axel had learned early on that it was important to remain cautious and inconspicuous at all times if you didn't want someone to stab you in the back, both figuratively and literally.

Xemnas was his boss, and Axel respected the man...after a fashion, but that didn't mean he had to get friendly with his fellow associates. Saix was, as mentioned before, a bit of a different story...as the two of them had their own agenda to follow, so to speak.

In the end, Axel knew the only person he could truly trust was himself, and to him the only important thing was following his own instincts.

Because in this business putting your trust in someone else could get you turned into a Dusk, or you might just disappear completely...

Axel blinked at this sudden uncharacteristic thought, and giving his head a mental shake he turned his attention to Luxord and the rest of his fellow members, his emerald eyes watching them without expression. As far as he was concerned, if they wanted his time then they could do the talking.

"All set for your little excursion to C.O. in two days?" Xigbar asked, studying him with a smirk.

The Freeshooter was standing next to Luxord, and pushing away from the wall Axel stepped right into the circle of Nobodies, his confident and steady gaze settling on Xigbar. "Disappointed you're not going in my place?"

"As if. Scrawny kiddo he might be, but the Keyblade Master doesn't seem like the type who's gonna back down easily from a fight."

Axel raised his eyebrows at this, his arms once again crossing over his chest. "You scared of a kid half your size?"

Xigbar snorted loudly, and reaching out the older man cuffed him lightly on the arm. "You wish. I'm just saying...watch your back. He might be full of surprises."

"I don't doubt it. I'm sure he'll keep things real interesting. The kid's definitely going to liven things up a bit, and after hanging around this dull castle for so long I could use some entertainment."

"Just don't forget the purpose of your mission," Xaldin warned him harshly, stepping up next to Xigbar, a look of evident disapproval on his gruff face.

"Play nice and don't break him," Xigbar teased, grinning in amusement.

Axel glanced slyly at the female Nobody standing off to his left, and keeping his gaze on Xigbar, he said lazily, "Don't worry, I'll be gentle. Larxene's the one you need to worry about."

Larxene glared at him as Xigbar laughed in agreement, and blue eyes narrowing into angry slits she flashed him her knives, which gleamed dangerously in the dim lighting of the corridor. "Keep it up, Axel, and I'll make sure you suffer more than that baby with the over-sized key."

"Right, I'm positively quaking in my coat," Axel mockingly replied, sliding up next to her and poking her in the ribs, which she resolutely ignored.

"I'm just glad I'm not going. Sounds like too much work to me," Demyx commented, plopping himself down on the floor and crossing his legs in an effort to gain a more comfortable position. Summoning his sitar, he began to strum a slow melody, the soft sound of his music echoing faintly down the hallway. "And fighting isn't really my thing, you know."

"Idiot," Larxene snapped, whacking Demyx upside the head.

"Ouch! What was that for?" Demyx yelped, clutching his head and giving the female Nobody a pathetic look.

Unfortunately for him, Larxene was happy to reply. "Why Xemnas ever let you into the Organization is beyond me. You're even more useless than that mediocre Keyblade wielder we're stuck with for heart collection, who can't even hold up his end of a conversation, I might add. Seriously, he's supposed to be the Keyblade Master's Nobody? What a joke."

Axel felt a sudden and unexpected flash of anger pulse through his veins, and though the tips of his fingers began to give off smoke, which he quickly extinguished before anyone could notice, he said nothing in reply. Though he had had his own misgivings about Roxas and the kid's relation to the Keyblade Master in the past, for some reason hearing Larxene insult Roxas made him want to burn something. It wasn't normally like him to lose control over himself like that, and the fact that he had almost done so, over Larxene of all things, slightly concerned him.

"You didn't have to hit me," Demyx whined, earning himself another whack over the head from Larxene.

"Speaking of our new recruit, I have not yet had a chance to work with him," Luxord tactfully interrupted, a faint smile overtaking his handsome face. "For those of you who have, what did you think of him? Is he the lucky charm we've been searching for, or is Lady Luck taunting us with her fickle nature in a teasing game of her own? I'm quite curious to know."

Larxene didn't hesitate to speak up, and poking Luxord in the chest, she said in annoyance, "You really wanna know? Worst. Mission. Ever. That bratty Nobody would be nothing without that Keyblade of his, and I for one didn't bothering hiding the truth from him in that respect."

"How do you figure that?"

Axel spoke quietly, and there was an edge to his tone, but luckily Larxene didn't seem to notice.

"Look at him," the female Nobody sniffed, waving her hand in obvious dismissal of the golden-haired Nobody. "He's scrawny, and he can barely pick off a Pureblood let alone a Heartless actually worth killing."

"Now, now, Larxene, it isn't very attractive to exaggerate the facts," Marluxia said calmly, stepping suddenly out of the shadows, his rosy-coloured hair gleaming in the twilight.

The Graceful Assassin had taken up position next to Axel, and glancing sideways at the man who was to lead the mission taking place at Castle Oblivion in a couple days, Axel had to suppress a strong desire to step away and put some distance between them.

Cruel, cautious, calculating, and fascinated with the Keyblade to an almost obsessive extent, the feverish gleam in Marluxia's sapphire eyes could sometimes prove to be a bit unnerving. The man could hide behind a mask of obedience and subservience all he wanted, his overly polite manner making him sometimes hard to stomach, but his mannerism and demeanor didn't fool Axel in the slightest. Marluxia's interest in the Keyblade, his desire to always be in control, and his hungry thirst for power were obvious warning signs, and quite frankly Axel wouldn't trust him with a stuffed moogle, let alone Roxas or the Keyblade Master.

In other words, the man was dangerous.

"You're kidding, right?" Larxene said incredulously, glaring accusingly at Marluxia. "I was lucky to ditch him with most of my brain cells intact."

"In case you've forgotten, I as well have seen him fight," Marluxia said smoothly, completely unperturbed by Larxene's behaviour. "He wiped out the Heartless that crossed our path with ease. Perhaps not the best conversationalist, but he's curious and asks questions when needed. He's quick to learn and he catches on fast. I have high hopes for him."

"He's a total dunce at magic," Larxene shot back, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

"But the power of that Keyblade of his is impressive," Marluxia murmured, a faraway look appearing suddenly in his deep blue eyes. "Indeed, most impressive. And I made a point of making sure he understood its significance and how special he is. An excellent fighter and a necessary asset to our ranks. He is a gift to our Organization, as are the hearts he will be collecting for our noble goal."

"Ugh, seriously, you told him all that?" Larxene groaned, sticking her finger in her mouth and making a gagging motion that was overly exaggerated.

For once Axel agreed with Larxene, and leaning close to Marluxia, he said in genuine amusement, "I'm surprised Roxas didn't turn tail and run after that speech. Quit talking like a creep, Marluxia, even if it is in your nature. You'll scare Roxas off with that kind of attitude."

Nice try, Marluxia, but I'm no fool. You don't care about Roxas at all. All that matters to you is the Keyblade.

It was true, and Axel wasn't going to let Marluxia try to convince him otherwise.

Overly polite to Roxas and quick to praise him, Marluxia had been eager to meet the golden-haired Nobody and to have a chance to work with him. Anyone with half a brain could see he was sucking up to Roxas and trying to get on his good side, not because of the kid himself, but because of the Keyblade.

Because the only thing Marluxia cared about was power.

Thinking on this, Axel felt another spark of anger somewhere within the vicinity of where his heart should have been, and resisting the urge to summon his chakrams he turned his back on Marluxia, who said stiffly, "The boy seems to be progressing nicely. Perhaps it is a good thing you're going to Castle Oblivion. I wouldn't want his training to be...compromised."

At this, Axel did lose control, and summoning a charkram he spun it in a threatening manner, the light from the revolving circle of flames reflecting in Marluxia's cold, blue gaze. "You say something, Marluxia? Sorry, but I didn't quite catch that from you."

Marluxia wisely kept silent, but he didn't look anywhere near as unnerved as Axel would have liked.

"Whatever, you can gush about him all you want, Marluxia, but I for one am not a babysitter," Larxene informed them, green eyes narrowing. "Especially not his babysitter."

"No, that would be me," Axel said smoothly, and turning to Marluxia, he smirked, "Jealous?"

Marluxia's eyes narrowed into angry slits, and leaning close, the pink-haired Nobody said scathingly, "You would do well to hold your tongue once in a while, Axel."

Axel calmly circled Marluxia, and coming up behind the other man, he spoke swiftly in the Graceful Assassin's ear, his tone and expression becoming rather dangerous. "That's asking the impossible there, Marluxia. The kid's my responsibility. Got it memorized?"

"You assume too much, Axel," Marluxia replied softly, catching his arm and pulling him around so they were facing each other.

Refusing to back down, Axel said, "And you assume too little."

They stared at each other for a moment, and letting out a soft huff, Marluxia finally released his arm, the rosy-haired Nobody's expression once more becoming neutral.

"It is with great disappointment that I for one regret having to agree with Larxene, to a certain extent," Vexen lamented, shaking his head in despair from where he stood grouped together with Lexaeus and Zexion. The other two Nobodies were shadowing him on either side, and both wore masks of indifference that were hard to read. "The boy is a bit of an idiot. Tragically, our mission was almost an utter failure, though he did at least show a glimmer of intelligence at the end. Mind you, it was a woefully small glimmer, I'm sad to say."

"See? I told you," Larxene gloated, smiling in satisfaction.

Axel ignored her mocking tone, and turning to Vexen, he said with feigned respect, "Of course, nobody can ever meet your standards."

"Very true," Vexen agreed, missing the obvious sarcasm completely. "Even in the best of hands, my own to be exact, the boy fell just short of being a lost cause. It is disgraceful that a pupil of mine should display such dismal results."

"At least he has good taste in hairstyles," Demyx offered helpfully, continuing to strum his guitar.

"This, coming from another failed pupil of mine," Vexen sighed, shaking his head in disgust and giving Demyx a reproachful look. "I really cannot condone this terrible trend we seem to be falling into. I do wish Xemnas would be a tad more wise in choosing new members. Preferably ones with brains..."

"Questioning the Superior, are you?" Xigbar asked, giving Vexen a look.

"No, just his taste in subordinates," Vexen shot back, turning his nose up in the air. "I cannot teach if my pupils do not have the brains to work with, and quite frankly young and stupid don't fit the bill. While I'm always eager to pass on my knowledge, I can tell you the boy's mind was not made for reconnaissance. He spent most of the time gawking at everything he saw instead of analyzing it. It's rather distressing seeing as how he is our key to collecting hearts."

"And a blow to your ego," Luxord added, smiling in amusement. "Such is the hand you've been given."

Surprisingly Luxord had come to the Keyblade wielder's defence before Axel could say something he regretted, and relaxing somewhat he quickly distanced himself from Marluxia and moved to stand with Vexen and his two cronies.

Why was he so touchy about Roxas whenever one of the other members of the Organization would insult the kid?

Refusing to dwell on the matter, Axel instead raised an eyebrow and fixed Vexen with a challenging stare. "Afraid you'll be the laughing stock of the castle just because Roxas would rather fight than do recon? Sorry to inform you, Vexen, but even without Roxas it wouldn't take much for you to become the castle's court jester."

Vexen puffed himself up, and glaring, he said with dignity, "You are absolutely insufferable."

"Another failed pupil, am I?" Axel mocked. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"Seriously? He'd rather fight than do recon?" Demyx interrupted, shaking his head in disbelief. "That's messed up."

Axel glanced at the Melodious Nocturne, and shrugging his shoulders he leaned over and gave his fellow Nobody a hearty whack over the head, earning himself a loud yelp.

"Say what you will, Axel," Vexen said in a frosty tone, a frown overtaking his angular face. "Though I cannot comment as of yet on the boy's fighting abilities, his talents in performing reconnaissance do not even begin to come close to my standards."

"Neither does his ego."

"He was becoming more hopeless by the minute until I managed to step in and plant some useful knowledge into that empty mind of his," Vexen snapped, losing his patience.

Clearly your ego is your own best friend...and your own worst enemy.

"Is that so?"

"Improvement or not, he has a long way to go before he performs such a duty with adequate standards," Vexen continued, refusing to allow himself to be interrupted again. "I trust my teachings will pay off in the end, but I'm not going to get my hopes up."

Vexen was quite clearly offended, and Axel gave himself a mental pat on the back for ruffling the egotistical scientist's feathers a bit.

"You done yet?"

Vexen pointed an accusing finger at him and said with an air of satisfaction, "I will say one thing in his favour. He wasn't nearly as impertinent in training as you were, thus I am satisfied."

"Show off," Larxene muttered, rolling her eyes.

Axel raised his eyebrows, and watching Vexen he gave a disappointed shake of his head. "Really? I guess that means I still have some work to do with him then."

That air of superiority. That snide way of ordering Roxas around like a puppet. More concerned about himself and looking like a fool than teaching Roxas the ropes. How typical.

And the fact that Vexen obviously cared about what the other members thought of him could be considered a weakness. Axel made sure to file that information away for later use.

Never know when it might come in handy...

Vexen was about to reply when Zexion suddenly placed a hand on his arm, the one azure eye Axel could see giving the older man an unreadable look. Introverted and watchful, Zexion spoke softly, effectively silencing all the other members present. "While I agree that Roxas still has much to learn, I can't say I fully approve of all your observations, Vexen."

Vexen glanced at Zexion in surprise, having obviously assumed that the younger man would agree wholeheartedly with him, and even Axel studied Zexion with a new kind of curiosity and wariness.

"Explain," Xaldin demanded, frowning at Zexion. "Though I have not worked with the boy yet myself, I cannot say I'm wholly impressed by him."

Zexion paused before saying quietly, "It appears some of you are lacking the observation skills necessary to fully understand the potential of our Keyblade wielder. It's deplorable really."

"I do hope you're not referring to me," Vexen said indignantly, a sharp edge to his tone as he continued to study the younger man.

"I believe he is referring to the fact that while there is no doubt you have a brilliant mind, your ego can occasionally blind your perceptions," Xigbar smirked from his position between Xaldin and Luxord.

Zexion again placed a firm hand on Vexen's arm to silence him, a warning look in that watchful eye of his. "Easy, Vexen. I merely wish to point out something I feel that has not garnered enough attention. Marluxia has touched on the subject, though perhaps he was a bit...overzealous in explaining and did not get his point across."

"Go on," Marluxia said pleasantly, gesturing for Zexion to continue.

"Wait...you couldn't possibly be implying I'm an idiot," Larxene said sweetly, stalking up to Zexion and poking him sharply in the chest.

Zexion merely stared at her indifferently, his neutral expression remaining firmly fixed upon his handsome face. "You are free to interpret my words as you see fit, Larxene."

"Why you-"

"Enough," Lexaeus interrupted, and much to Larxene's extreme indignation he picked her up off her feet by the scruff of her neck and set her out of the way next to Marluxia. "Continue, Zexion."

Axel, who was standing in front of Zexion after having been unceremoniously pushed to the side by Larxene, straightened his coat and said with a particular lightness, "Please do. We're all eager to hear what you have to say."

Zexion eyed him and Axel could feel that one eye boring into his non-existent heart, searching for any sign of weakness.

It was a wasted effort, though, as Axel didn't intend to let down his guard very easily.

"After having had the opportunity to work with Roxas, I discerned several things about him that may either help in our main objective...or hinder us later on."

"Hinder us? A baby like him?" Larxene snorted. "The only way he's going to hinder us is by being unable to do his job right."

"From my observations, Roxas appears to be fairly bright and observant, and he's quick to learn. He listens well to instruction and he's an obedient student. Quite easy to teach, I found," Zexion continued, ignoring Larxene. "He performs a task given to him well under pressure, and he isn't inclined to make the same mistake twice."

"Are you quite certain we're talking about the same student?" Vexen asked in disbelief.

A faint smile appeared on Zexion's face as he said, "We've always had different methods of teaching, Vexen. Perhaps mine proved to be...a little more effective this time around."

"Time will tell, I suppose," Vexen grudgingly replied.

Axel was growing increasingly impatient by this time, and nudging the shorter man, he said curtly, "Get to the point, Zexion."

"Roxas is curious enough to ask questions when given the opportunity to do so, and though his attitude and demeanor make him appear rather naive on the surface that will cease to be the case once he has fully integrated himself into our Organization."

"Your point?" Axel said irritably, losing his patience altogether.

"My teaching methods may be different from yours, Axel, but because I don't fool around like you and Larxene or waste words like Marluxia, and even Vexen here, I'm able to ascertain things that would otherwise go unnoticed," Zexion said calmly, earning himself several outbursts of protest, mostly from Larxene and Vexen while Marluxia merely settled for giving the Cloaked Schemer a frosty look.

Luxord actually had the gall to smile, and Xigbar was sniggering in approval, indicating the man was enjoying himself immensely. Xaldin merely look stone-faced, and Demyx, still strumming his sitar, hit a bad note and quickly slapped a hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing. This, unfortunately, earned him another whack to head, this one coming courtesy of Zexion's heavy Lexicon.

Lexaeus didn't seem particularly bothered by the fact that Zexion had managed to insult several members of the Organization in one sentence, and Axel, refusing to take offence, merely shrugged and said, "Whatever gets the job done. Roxas seems to think my way of teaching is just fine, and I don't intend to change for your sake. Got it memorized?"

"Regardless, I'll let your lack of tact slide this time, if only because you at least appear to have picked up on the boy's potential," Zexion replied, ignoring Demyx's pitiful whimpers drifting up from near his feet.

Axel was caught off guard by this sudden declaration, and he shifted a bit uncomfortably, though he didn't dare look away from Zexion's penetrating gaze. "What can I say? Roxas is a good fighter. With him on the job we'll be sure to complete Kingdom Hearts in no time."

"I quite agree. Instead of insulting Roxas and his intelligence like some of our comrades...I chose to use my time with him a bit more wisely. On the surface he may show signs of foolishness and naivety, but he listens, he learns...and he doesn't forget what he's been taught. In other words, it would be wise if all of you were to use digression when speaking, and be careful of what you say around him," Zexion warned, his tone becoming serious as he turned to address the other members as a whole.

"Did something happen?" Luxord asked mildly, his interest piqued. "A unforeseeable twist of fate?"

Zexion paused before saying, "Roxas informed me that Marluxia had explained Kingdom Hearts to him briefly. He gave the impression that he had been told it was some kind of force, to use his exact words. Is this correct, Marluxia?"

Marluxia hesitated before replying, "It is indeed correct."

"When I defeat those Heartless, those hearts pop out and become part of Kingdom Hearts, right?" Zexion quoted softly, his intense gaze moving from one member of the Organization to the next. "Those were his words."

Axel waited in uneasy silence, as did the others.

"Do you know what he said to me then?" Zexion asked, filling the silence.

"Are we supposed to guess?" Demyx inquired, looking up at the shorter Nobody.

Zexion responded by giving the Melodious Nocturne another whack with the Lexicon, and quoting Roxas again, he said, "But like, what's the point?"

Axel, feeling something he couldn't quite describe beginning to build in his chest, replied a little more sharply than he had intended. "Out with it, Zexion. What are you getting at?"

"The boy may be obedient and quick to follow orders, but he is not stupid as Larxene and Vexen would have us believe. Again, I stress...He's curious, he thinks, he wonders, and he questions the motives of things he does not understand. That...could be dangerous."

"So you need me," Lexaeus suddenly quoted out of the blue, the words having no doubt come from Roxas.

"Pardon me?" Vexen asked.

"The boy. That's what he said. I answered affirmatively. Told him there are deeds to be done that only he can do. He asked me if they were good deeds."

"The boy's thinking...He's showing an uncanny ability...dare I say a sensitivity to distinguish between what is defined as right and wrong, what constitutes as good or evil, and even what may lie in between," Zexion murmured. "Curious. Very curious."

"You think because of the Keyblade Master?" Xaldin asked gruffly, exchanging a look with Xigbar.

"I cannot be sure, but...the Keyblade Master may or may not play a part in this."

Roxas...just what kind of a Nobody are you really?

"Be wary, and hold your tongues if you want our Keyblade wielder to preform his mission effectively," Zexion cautioned. "I, for one, was satisfied with his performance, and as you all know I am not free with exacting praise on my students. Though I am not one to without compliments if they have been earned. I trust he will perform well in the future, and I'm confident he will not disappoint. I see no reason why that would fail to be the case. What of you, Lexaeus? What do you have to say on the matter?"

Blunt and to the point as always, as he too did not feel the need to waste words, Lexaeus said briefly, "He's an excellent fighter. Won't go down easy and can hold his own in an ambush. He's not stupid, and he learns fast. Good to work with, and he can be counted on to do his fair share of the work."

"Unlike some Nobodies," Axel replied, giving Demyx a teasing smile.

Demyx's response was to stick out his tongue, which earned him another whack to the head, this time from Xaldin.

"Ouch! Why does everyone keep hitting me?" the Melodious Nocturne whined.

"What about you, Axel?" Larxene sneered, her hands coming up to rest on her hips. "We've heard from everyone else. What's your opinion on the brat?"

Axel immediately recognized the fact that he was treading through dangerous waters, and still standing within the centre of the circle completely surrounded by his subordinates, he was careful to remain conscious of his words. "He's definitely a little bit on the spacy side, but he's a good kid. Definitely a good fighter. I'm never bored on our missions together. Dunno how he ended up being my responsibility, but you know Saix..."

"Gives you a job and expects you to do it. No questions asked and no answers given," Xigbar snorted.

"You can't tell me you actually like being a babysitter!" Larxene asked incredulously.

"Spacey or not, he's still better company than you are," Axel smirked, and immediately stepped to the side as a bolt of lightning just missed striking him in the head. "You take this stuff too seriously, Larxene. Roxas will do fine. Still kind of hard to believe he's the Keyblade Master's Nobody, but stranger things have happened, I guess."

"So you approve of him then?" Marluxia asked quietly, studying him closely.

"...For the most part. We could have done worse."

Marluxia's gaze lingered on him for another moment before he nodded curtly and turned away to address the group. "For those of us heading to Castle Oblivion, we set out in two days. Make sure you're ready by then."

"But of course," Larxene mocked, giving the rosy-haired Nobody a hearty salute.

Since the conversation had apparently come to an end, the nine members of the Organization in Axel's company began to disperse, each going their separate ways to spend the evening as they saw fit.

Axel watched them leave in silence, and once the last member's coat had disappeared around the corner of the hall, he once again leaned back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, his emerald eyes falling closed to think over what had just transpired.

Everything he'd said about Roxas to the other members of the Organization he had in fact thought at one time or another, but now that he'd gotten a chance to spend some more time with Roxas, he was starting to question his own opinion on the kid. Definitely a good fighter, no argument there, and though he was a bit spacy that tendency to go quiet and drift off was sort of endearing in a bizarre kind of way.

At first he'd definitely had trouble seeing how Roxas could be the Keyblade Master's Nobody, but after hearing what Zexion and Lexaeus had to say on the matter, and from what he knew about the Keyblade Master so far, he was inclined to maybe reconsider his opinion.

If Zexion and Lexaeus were telling the truth...then maybe Roxas had more in common with his Somebody than he had exhibited thus far.

Which meant Roxas could in fact be a threat to the Organization. The kid would need to be watched, and Axel was gong to make sure he was the one doing all the watching.

Castle Oblivion in two days. I have a feeling it's gonna turn into one heck of a show...

Pushing away from the wall, Axel made his way down the hall towards the Gray Room, his thoughts turning to the mission that was to take place in two days.

Sora.

For the first time Axel would have the chance to meet the Keyblade Master in person, and he had to admit, he was both curious and intrigued. Perhaps meeting Sora would allow him to have a better understanding of Roxas...or would it be the other way around? And then there was still the matter of telling Roxas he was leaving for C.O. He hoped the kid wouldn't be too disappointed, especially now that he was finally starting to show some personality. Somehow Roxas really did seem to have become his responsibility, and though it had amused him at first, now he was sort of glad things had work out this way, especially after listening to the other members of the Organization.

For some reason he really did feel responsible for the kid, and he was confident Roxas would do well in the Organization. If he was completely honest with himself, he was curious to watch the kid continue to grow and to loosen up. But...why had all the insults towards Roxas angered him so much? Why did he take such offence to them? He was a Nobody. He did not feel. So why...

Must be imagining things...

Thinking back on his outings with Roxas to eat ice cream on top of the clock tower in Twilight Town, to his surprise Axel found himself smiling again. He still did not know what had possessed him to tell Roxas they were friends, but for some reason it had just felt right at the time, and he didn't regret it.

It still felt right somehow.

He was the first one who had ever made Roxas smile, and for some reason that made him feel oddly warm inside.

Hmm, I wonder...The kid seems to have such a weird effect on me...

Axel paused just inside the door of the Gray Room, and leaning against the door frame his eyes settled on Roxas, who was standing at the big window gazing into the night. At the moment, there was a pleasant look on the kid's young face as he studied the rain drizzling down, a faraway look sparkling in his brilliant blue eyes.

The golden-haired Nobody's blond hair shone softly in the gloomy light of the room, and his dark coat blended in easily with the shadows, the pale lights of the city illuminating his handsome face. At the moment, Roxas was the only occupant in the room, and with an over-sized Keyblade, that young face of his, and his long coat, at times he seemed like a child clad in an outfit that was too big for him.

Or maybe a heavy burden that was really too large for him to handle on his own.

Roxas...

At that moment, the kid looked particularly childlike, and though there was no doubt he was a good fighter, there was just something about him that seemed to set him apart from the other members of the Organization.

So innocent, so naive...

Watching him now, Axel had the strangest and most uncanny feeling in his chest, almost like a premonition, that somehow, without intending to, he had irrevocably tied his own destiny to this kid, to this mere boy who had only existed for about two and a half weeks. And what that meant only time would tell.

"Teach him well, Axel."

Turning his back on Roxas, Axel left in silence, his presence going unnoticed by the blond Nobody.

He would teach the boy well, even if his definition of teaching didn't exactly agree with Saix's definition.

Roxas might not seem like it, but Axel was beginning to understand more everyday that the boy was a special case, and he wasn't about to let the other members take over the responsibility of looking after him in his stead. There was just something about Roxas that went against any traditional methods of mentoring.

Friendship...

Axel thought of his visits to the clock tower with Roxas for ice cream and the unexpected friendship that had sprung up between them, and his green eyes narrowed as he left the Gray Room behind.

Teach him well.

Just don't come complaining to me later when things don't happen to go quite as planned, Saix. After all, I was only following your orders. Got it memorized?

And with that Axel sent one last glance towards the Gray Room, which somehow at that moment seemed just a little brighter than the rest of the castle, before slipping around the corner and disappearing into the darkness, the hem of his black coat trailing behind him.

The End

"Let's meet again, in the next life." -Axel (Kingdom Hearts II)