The walls were like insurmountable cliffs all around him, and no matter how Roxas searched, he could find no openings, no secret crevasses to slip through. Though they seemed to part like water before the master of the house, letting him come and go without being seen or heard, to Roxas they were prison bars he could not break. Nevertheless, he combed every inch of his cell, then did it again – searching and searching for a door, a latch, a trick wall, anything. Even though he could not know what waited on the other side of these walls, he had to believe that it would be easier to escape than the two rooms that held him. Whatever came after, he would deal with it as swiftly as possible, but he could not even begin to flee until he escaped his rooms.
After hours and hours of useless seeking, his vision was blurring, his arms and legs were weary from reaching, his knuckles red and pained from rapping at every inch of paneling…and his hopes were fading into blackness. It is too solid. I cannot find the way out. He…he has me. And he promised to keep me as his prisoner forever. Never again to see Sora, or Naminé, or my fellow performers…never again to stand on the stage and sing, or even to walk in the sunlight and breathe fresh air under the blue sky…I cannot! To live in fear of his temper, never knowing what he will do next…whether he will cease to respect my person, in time, and…use me… A sick feeling rolled over Roxas, his stomach clamoring against the idea and threatening to vomit. Oh, that paradise I once tasted when he held me in his arms! Destroy me, imprison me, take away anything, but God, do not let him ruin that!
Tears filled his eyes, blurring the wall in front of him, and desperation and frustration rose up within Roxas. With a cry, he turned and grabbed a nearby chair – sturdy-looking, but not too heavy – and swung it with all his might at the wall. With a loud thud, it ricocheted off, shivering in his hands from the impact. A little dent appeared in the wall, but Roxas hardly saw it. All his pent-up fears and frustrations rushed to the surface, finding an outlet at last in mindless violence, and Roxas lifted the chair again and again, throwing it against the same spot on the wall, not caring whether it made any difference – just relishing the loud bang! bang! and the force of each impact that vibrated up his arms.
Tears blinded him, the chair's legs broke off one at a time, and the wall became gouged and chipped, but Roxas did not see it. He could only feel that the barrier remained, refusing to crumble, and he threw all his strength into beating against it, sobs of despair choking his angry screams.
Arms closed around him from behind, locking him in a powerful grip and suddenly immobilizing him. "Roxas! Roxas, stop!" For a moment, Roxas still strained to get free – a voice in his ear softly chanting soothing words over and over. At length, he sagged against the arms holding him, his hands dropping what remained of the chair. Axel drew him back from the wall, sitting him down on something soft and velvet. Roxas slumped, feeling utterly drained and hopeless. After several minutes, he finally looked up, meeting green eyes that watched him carefully – worried.
The moment their eyes met, Axel stiffened and turned away. "Are you calm, now?"
Roxas stared at his back. It took a moment for him to process that the face he had seen had been uncovered – ruined by scars that showed clearly in the room's bright light. The realization hardly affected him, however. Axel seemed more fearful and determined to hide than Roxas was repulsed by the sight. In fact, the scarred face hardly repulsed him at all, at present. He hesitated a moment, thinking, and a distant thought surfaced – It is because he is not yelling at me. Is he…he does not seem angry at all, right now.
Though the idea did not even begin to give him hope that Axel would relent to his pleas, Roxas could not withhold his request. His voice, empty of emotion after the outburst, spoke without caring for consequences. "Please…let me go."
Shoulders hunched slightly. "Never," that once-lovely voice growled back at him.
So it is true… If there had been any hope left in him, it would have died, then. Still, he could not stop pushing, against all hope, just as he could not stop trying to break the wall with the chair.
"Oh please, Axel…please. I…you spent so much time in teaching me these past few months…you have made me a better singer than I could ever have been without you. My voice is yours. And yet only once did I stand upon the stage and let the world hear what you had taught me – your instruction…your genius. I cannot bear to remain here and let your work disappear into oblivion. If I could only stand on the stage once more and sing – sing for you – and let all of Paris hear true music, your music through me…if I could do that, then I would return to you, here, and never ask to leave you again." Please…please believe me…
Axel's head was inclined slightly – he was listening. "Paris…Paris does not deserve the gift of your voice."
"No…" Roxas thought quickly. "But I could make them stand silent, in awe of the music you have taught my voice to sing. And then I would return to you of my own free will, and stay with you forever. And our…love…"
Axel's head turned on the word, a backward glance over his shoulder pinning Roxas with famished green eyes. "Yes?"
Reaching forward, Roxas laid his hands on his teacher's back, leaning gingerly against him. "It would be just like before. Everything you wanted – I will give it all to you. I will love you with everything I am, Master."
Roxas' heart beat loud in the silent pause – he hoped Axel could not hear it. Finally, Axel snapped, "Am I to believe that you brought that wall halfway to ruin," he nodded toward the torn paper and beaten-up boards, "all because you were desperate to prove your love to me? Not because you were trying to escape from me?"
What do I say? What will he believe? Roxas swallowed. "I…I'm sorry. I was frightened. You…you left me, and…" He felt Axel's breathing stop – waiting, listening. Yes, that is it! "I was afraid you hated me now…and would not return. I was trying to follow you, but I could not get out."
Silently, the man turned to face him fully, searching his eyes – yet even now, Axel held his head slightly turned down and away, as though he could not prevent himself from shielding his face from others' eyes. Steeling his racing heart, Roxas moved with intent. I must make him believe me. He raised both hands, placing them on Axel's gouged and marked cheeks, feeling the uneven skin beneath his palms and not letting go, even when his tutor flinched slightly from his touch. Bravely, Roxas held on, leaned close…and placed his lips chastely over Axel's.
He felt and heard a soft gasp, yet he held the kiss, letting it linger until the tension melted from Axel's body. With soft, tentative pressure, Axel finally returned the kiss. Oh Axel…please forgive me. Carefully, sweetly, Roxas caressed Axel's trembling mouth with his own. I do love you…I do. But I must return, if only once. Forgive this lie – I will make amends someday soon.
It was true – Roxas knew now that the feeling which had been growing inside him since he first spoke with the beautiful voice…was love. Yet even as he loved Axel, this new side of the man – his wrath – terrified Roxas. He hated to deceive the one he loved, but if it was that or risk angering him again…
I cannot. Forgive me.
Messieurs Xemnas and Saïx sat and stood, respectively, in their office, staring aghast at the chorus boy before them. It had been bad enough, the sudden new sensation disappearing the night of his genius performance in Marluxia Pinagi's role. It had been a mortifying task to cajole Piangi into singing again, when the chorus boy had immediately gone missing. And as if these problems were not enough when added to the hassle of running a large, famous theater, both managers had been handed letters earlier that day – Madam Giry had stated that the letters were from the Opera ghost, and could tell them nothing more. She knew nothing about their contents.
Xemnas blessed Lady Luck that Saïx had been elsewhere when he received the letter, and Saïx thanked the heavens that Xemnas had not been present when Madam Giry had found him. Both letters were of such a sensitive nature that neither manager wanted his partner inquiring what it was about. In fact, they had each thought that no one else knew the fact detailed in the letters, and both were distraught over the final line:
"My final message will arrive later today, and you will do as he says, or these abovementioned facts will soon become widely known."
Xemnas cleared his throat, still staring at Roxas, who stood quietly waiting, having placed the parcel of papers he carried on the desk. "So am I to understand that this…Opera Ghost…has written a new opera, and he wishes me to stage it at once, without delay, casting yourself – our lately-absented chorus boy – as the lead tenor…or else some sort of disaster will occur?"
"That is my message, sir, yes." The boy's blue eyes did not quite look at either manager, fixed unflinchingly on the wall above Xemnas' head, instead.
There was another long, dreadful pause. Xemnas frowned, picking up the sheaf of papers and beginning to flip through it. I absolutely cannot let anyone find out about what I did to Ansem… "Well this is all very irregular…" He gruffly complained.
Saïx watched, his own stomach knotting up badly. I absolutely cannot let Xemnas find out about that little white-haired bitch in la Rue Saint-Denis. It is bad enough if he learns I dally with a man…what if he saw the whore's face? Saïx shuddered. Even Xemnas – who sometimes failed to notice things that did not interest him – could not fail to see the resemblance. That alluring whore looked just like him. If anyone saw him, they would guess at once… "I say," he cleared his throat, "that is in rather poor taste and all, but we do not want any more trouble, do we? We have had quite enough as it is…"
Xemnas hummed, nodding, half his mind elsewhere – distracted by guilt over his betrayal of a good scientist and his theft of that man's research. "I am not fond of threats, but our accounts will hardly bear another disaster this month."
"And the press have been clamoring to see our young star again," Saïx mused aloud. "We would certainly sell out if we cast him at this point."
Xemnas grunted. "Indeed. And this…it is not half bad, I think. We shall give this to the chorus master and see what he thinks of it." He dropped the opera back on the desk and stood, looking Roxas over again. "Well, boy, I hope your voice is still in good form, regardless of whatever secretive little corner you have been hiding away in. You shall have an audience again in…a week, I think."
"A week?" Saïx's eyebrows went up. Oh thank God – that will surely be soon enough to keep the "ghost" from fulfilling his threat.
A curt nod. I dare not delay, he will think I mean to ignore his order…he might reveal the secret without warning… "A week is enough time for a short piece such as this. We have a free night coming up; I can schedule it then."
Neither manager chose to mention the havoc this decision would surely cause for everyone at the Opera. They dismissed Roxas and sent for the chorus master, who would never have a chance to express his shock upon reading the opera – his objections would be overruled with a firm and simple "Make it happen."
Although the entire Opera was in chaos for that week, Roxas was unable to slip away for even a moment. At the center of all the panic and hurry, every minute of his time was filled – he had barely a few hours each night to collapse on a settee in his dressing room and sleep like the dead. And what was more, he knew – he could feel the unseen eyes, and he knew that he could not leave the opera house. If any task took him in the direction of one of the building's exits, he would feel the powerful, weighty presence of his watcher. At night, though his sleep was dreamless, he woke with memories of a hand brushing through his hair, soft whispers and songs accompanying him in the lonely hours of the morning. He was never, never free.
Yet his fear was not as great as it might have been. He knew that Axel would not drag him away against his will. He had promised, and Roxas had sworn to return to his tutor willingly, with open arms. He felt almost sure that Axel did not believe such a thing could ever happen, yet at the same time, he knew that Axel yearned for it more than anything – and he would wait. He would not take Roxas prisoner again as long as he could still hope that Roxas would choose to return to him.
So Roxas poured himself into the performance, yet always watched for Naminé. He thought perhaps that she would come to see him – the new opera and his role in it had been announced, and she would certainly have heard of it. Yet Roxas knew that, even if Naminé did come, someone would most likely turn her away, telling her that he was too busy and could see no one. The thought made Roxas' heart ache, imagining her trying to come speak with him, worried and wondering where he had been for who knew how many days, only to be put aside like a commoner from the streets… No. Do not think such things. I will see her. I will speak with her. I will tell her not to fear for me, ask her to give my love to Sora. They may not understand, but they must at least know that I am safe and well and…happy. He hoped it would not be a lie.
And he reminded himself that, even if he was bound to the opera house and she was unable to meet him, surely she would come to the performance. Naminé had always been his strongest supporter – she would see him sing no matter who tried to hold her back. And if she came, surely he would be able to steal a moment to speak with her after the performance. Just a moment to explain, to reassure her…and then he would go to Axel.
And he will forgive me, and we will be as we were before. All will be well…I am certain.
Don Juan Triumphant opened to a full house – as the managers had predicted, Paris was wildly curious about the new, unknown tenor. What was more, no one had ever heard of this opera before, and the managers billed it, mysteriously, as a "romantic tragicomedy" – a genre which basically meant, "We have no idea what it is, but people like romances, tragedies, and comedies, so this should bring in absolutely everyone." That was, essentially, Xemnas' proclamation while ordering the advertising materials, and Saïx agreed wholeheartedly. The Parisian upper class, right on cue, became exactly as interested as the managers wanted them to be, and opening night sold out.
Roxas took the stage as though it belonged to him. At least, to the audience's eyes, there was no hesitation, no wavering – only powerful, captivating music from a voice stronger and more beautiful than any they had ever heard. The startlingly attractive youth showed no fear or uncertainty – but his eyes constantly reached out to his audience, as though drawing them in, begging them to pity the young hero's plight.
In truth, he was searching for Naminé, and when his eyes found her, he could only silently plead for her to come speak with him after the performance.
But first, Roxas must sing. His role was a naïve young nobleman called Antonio, recently released from the world of education and home into a foreign city – beginning his foray into the liberties of manhood. As the opera opened, Antonio met a worldly gentleman several years older than himself – Leonardo. The man immediately took it upon himself to mentor Antonio, and Roxas followed Marluxia – who was controlling his fury at being given the secondary role – as Leonardo took him out for a taste of "the city's finest." The man's idea of the city's finest proved to be a house of pleasure, and Roxas hung back, singing Antonio's reluctance and uncertainty as his new "friend" pulled him insistently through the brothel's doors.
Antonio was overwhelmed by drink, dancing, and women. The scene involved a rather riotous ballet before finally ending with Roxas in the center of the stage, sinking out of sight as countless bare arms reached for him, caressed him, and pulled him down. Roxas sang Antonio's final lines – the cry of a man unable to resist seduction, yet still fearful of the unknown consequences.
Oh beckoning, passionate ecstasy
Oh soul-deepest sorrow!
I yield to beauty on this night,
And dread to face tomorrow!
The scene closed, and the next one opened to show that Antonio was fast becoming as much a "Don Juan" as his mentor. This scene also introduced Mirabelle, the loveliest girl at the brothel. Antonio was taken with her immediately, and Roxas had a long duet with Carlotta in which Antonio and Mirabelle clearly became lovers. The act ended with them swearing eternal faithfulness in a brothel bedroom, just before – apparently – consummating their new relationship.
There were murmurs of unrest and shock from the audience, and Roxas did not want to dwell on what Naminé must be thinking of this performance. It did not matter now, anyway – the show must go on.
In the second act, Antonio was forced to take a journey, traveling for several months. After a tearful farewell to his sweetheart, he had another duet with Piangi. Leonardo promised to look after the girl, and Antonio left, trusting her to his mentor's care.
The moment he was gone, Leonardo seduced Mirabelle.
Roxas had a short break backstage while this happened, and he was able to more closely observe the audience. Many faces were beginning to show disgust – Don Juan Triumphant certainly did not pay heed to the ordinarily accepted boundaries of decency. He found Naminé again and chewed his lip as he watched her reaction. She was frowning in confusion and concentration – not entirely understanding, yet not entirely missing the point either. She probably did not understand every innuendo, but she surely knew enough to see that the opera was far more risqué than any other. She must be wondering why we are performing this, why I am singing such a role… Oh, what will she think in the third act…?
He could not dwell on his worries too long, however. Antonio appeared onstage again, far away on his travels, where word of his lover's betrayal reached him, thanks to a letter from a former schoolmate. Roxas sang a heartbroken aria, cursing his love and yet still expressing his passion for her – far away, lonely, longing for the warmth of her touch, the delight he felt in her bed…
The scene shifted again, back to Leonardo, but Roxas had almost no break this time – Antonio returned from his travels unexpectedly, bursting in on his former love and his best friend. The act ended in a shattering, dramatic duel in which Leonardo wounded Antonio but refused to take his life. Antonio, bleeding on the floor, cursed his friend, who fled, then called in agony for Mirabelle – but she, too, was gone. She followed after the older, stronger man, leaving Antonio almost dead in her chambers.
Applause followed the second act as the curtain fell – the drama and action seemed to have momentarily wiped away the viewers' shock at the rest. Yet Roxas still dreaded the response to come.
The third act was set several years later – Antonio, now a married and established young nobleman, returned home one ordinary day, greeted his lady wife, and retired to his study – only to find a letter from his former mentor, Leonardo. The mysterious note said little – merely asking that Antonio come to a certain tavern at a certain time of night. Leonardo promised he had something to tell, something Antonio would wish to hear, and then he swore to never disturb him again, if Antonio wished.
After an aria in which he went back and forth – recalling his old misery, the betrayal, and the events that brought him home and saved his life after that – Antonio decided to hear Leonardo out. He arrived at the tavern and met his friend – Marluxia Piangi wore a coarser costume, showing the ravages of time on Leonardo. Roxas sang yet another duet with Piangi, playing the role of Antonio a little differently now – less naiveté, less trust, more maturity and sobriety.
Leonardo, however, soon launched into a solo in which he told Antonio "the story you knew not" – Mirabelle, he claimed, had always been unfaithful. Antonio had turned a blind eye and forgotten, in his love, that she was, after all, a prostitute. Leonardo had seen this, and, "With no thought but all for thee, with no desire but to set you free" he had seduced the whore to get her away from Antonio before she ruined him.
Roxas, crumbling into a seat in the tavern, sang as though torn apart anew by this – yet he could not be sure if Leonardo was speaking the truth or not, and he expressed his doubt.
Leonardo answered his doubts, telling him that Mirabelle had lately died of a disease gotten in the brothel – she had been a whore to the last, and died a whore's death.
The music began to build rapidly as Roxas sang a solo – Antonio lamented his foolishness and cursed women, revealing that he had always clung to some small spark of hope in his heart that she had loved him – "But now, no more, no more! Let her die, let my heart release the cursed whore!" As Roxas sang this part, he felt strangely…watched. Of course, through the entire opera he had felt countless eyes upon him at all times – Naminé's among them. Yet now, he felt a ghostly shiver, as if another watcher was here now – close.
Then Piangi began to sing with him again. But it was not only Piangi's voice which Roxas heard.
Soft, sliding under the strong tones that the tenor projected out into the opera house, there was another voice. A voice that seemed to snake up from beneath the stage, singing Leonardo's lines, wrapping Roxas in the words, in the music, as though there was no audience, no scene, no Antonio and his mentor – only Roxas and the soft, secret voice that sang to him.
Leonardo – Piangi, and the barely-there voice that joined him – began to comfort Antonio, who leaned on his old friend's chest, forgetting his former distrust in the face of the truth about Mirabelle. The older man's arms wrapped around him gently, rocking him softly as the solo became almost a lullaby. Leonardo told Antonio to forget about Mirabelle, to cast off such shallow attachments, for:
"All women are frail, and such frailty must
Take man's deepest love, and exchange it for dust."
Still holding Antonio, the older man continued, singing now of his own loyalty and dedication to Antonio. Truthfully, Leonardo swore, "I never sought to woo or wed, but for love of you, I sought her bed." For Antonio – to protect him, to save him – Leonardo swore he would do all again, and infinitely more. As he continued to sing, Piangi turned Roxas around in his arms until they faced each other. Still held in his mentor's arms, Antonio listened as the solo became increasingly passionate – as words of loyalty and friendship slipped past their usual boundaries and became words of admiration, adoration…love.
Echoing from beneath Roxas' feet – love.
Antonio made a few weak protests, but his mentor's passion overpowered his objections. Soon, Antonio's doubts and questions began to sound almost like begging pleas for Leonardo to be more forceful, and his resistance began to truly melt before the older man's seduction. Roxas kept his eyes away from the audience now – he did not want to know if some of them were standing, walking out in a huff. He only prayed that Naminé would not go…and he focused desperately on finishing the performance, trying not to think about the voice calling to him from below – or the future he faced after tonight, with no one but that voice's sometimes-frightening owner to be his lifelong companion.
Don Juan Triumphant ended with a final song, a grand finale – Antonio yielded to his mentor's passion, making it plain that, after all, the "Don Juan" of the play had always been Leonardo. The two men consummated their passion in an upstairs room of the tavern, then fled the city, leaving Antonio's wife and everything else behind. The chorus hailed another triumph for the master of seduction, but Antonio seemed oblivious to any implication that Leonardo was merely using him for his own pleasure. Instead, he blissfully sang the final lines of the play, wrapped in his new lover's arms:
Love, at last! Pleasure unending
Burns away the wasted years.
His strong arms embrace me,
Lips kiss away my lonely tears!
I love thee! I am yours
Today, forevermore –
Most faithful, truest friend
Thee I desire and adore!
Piangi lifted Roxas and carried him offstage as the curtain fell. Applause followed, but it was weak, polite applause, mixed with murmurs that sounded displeased. Roxas knew that Axel's opera would never be staged again – though perhaps, after the critics had expressed their full outrage at the plot, perhaps one or two of them would venture to admit that the music had been brilliant, unlike anything they had ever heard before. Because…he is a genius. Perhaps some of them will eventually see that, when their shock has faded.
Marluxia dumped Roxas from his arms as soon as they were behind the curtain. Barely keeping his feet, Roxas heard a muttered "Filth" as the tenor turned away – and then it was time for a perfunctory, quick curtain call. The audience was already leaving.
Naminé easily found her way through the backstage crowd – those gathering to congratulate Roxas and the other stars were far fewer and less eager than usual. Roxas accepted everything with a weary smile – he had known it would be this way – yet his heart lifted in sudden relief when he caught sight of Naminé. Quickly, without a word, he embraced his dear friend, then took her hand and began to drag her away from the others, to his dressing room. "Thank you so much for coming, Nami – I must speak with you at once!"
Hurrying after him, the girl answered with bewilderment, "Roxas, what…that is, I must speak with you as well, you disappeared and so much has happened… And the…the opera just now…"
Steps quickening to almost a run down the hallway, Roxas threw back over his shoulder, "I know, I am sorry dearest, I hope it did not shock you too badly, but please, put it from your mind. We have much more pressing things to speak of now, and very little time."
"Little time?" Naminé echoed as they reached his room and Roxas hurried them inside. "Why would we only have a…"
"I cannot explain, Nami, but we have only a few minutes at most, so please, let us speak as quickly as possible," Roxas gasped in a rush. It was almost as if he could sense the ghostly footsteps following him, trailing through the walls, under the floor, making their way from the main stage to his dressing room, here. And I must be ready to meet him when he comes. I must be ready to go to him.
"If that is the case, Roxas, I must beg you to promise to visit me at home tomorrow. Mother is quite insistent; I have had the most horrible time trying to delay her, telling her you were too occupied with rehearsals, when in truth I had no idea where you had gone…"
Shaking his head, Roxas gently held the girl's shoulders. "I cannot visit tomorrow, Naminé, you must tell you mother that…"
"But Roxas, she is insisting on meeting with you to discuss our betrothal!"
He felt his heart stop and his breath freeze in his lungs. "What…what betrothal?"
The young lady flushed, suddenly stumbling awkwardly through her words. "Yours and…and mine. Mother seems to have decided that you and I…"
The blood drained from Roxas' face in a rush. "But…but Sora! Sora's education…he is studying everything he will need to know to run your estate! His accomplishments…all gentlemanly arts, everything he puts his hand to and excels at is all to make him better suited for you! I thought your mother had always intended…"
Flush darkening, the girl bowed her head. "I think she did intend to betroth me to Sora…but you know Mother. She can be so whimsical at times, and she was so terribly taken with your sudden success. I do not think she ever believed you would become such a star, as I always knew you would, and the glamour of it all…" She was struggling through the words, clearly torn. Reluctance, unhappiness – and yet not misery, for how could she be miserable? Roxas knew, he understood – they had always been close. Naminé could never hate him, nor could she gather together a strong objection to him. If her mother was set on marrying them, Naminé would make the best of it. They were dear friends, after all.
Yet Roxas also knew what his childhood friend had never spoken – perhaps never even realized, until now. He was dear to her, yes – as a brother. But Sora had never been quite a brother to her, as Roxas had…and Sora was also very, very dear. The whole family had always expected Naminé and Sora to be affianced, and no one had ever been unhappy with such an idea – least of all the two young people themselves.
Naminé was still rambling unhappily, trying to explain. "She has not even spoken to Sora yet, but she is adamant about speaking with you at once…"
A footstep. A creaking board. A presence. He is here.
"I do not think she even means to ask your opinion. She talks of wanting to arrange things with…with your schedule." Oh God, he is here. "So that the wedding and honeymoon do not interfere with your performances, as much as possible…"
"Come with me!" Roxas' voice rasped hoarsely, and again, he grabbed Naminé's hand and dragged her with him. I cannot let him hear of this, I do not know what he will do… But oh, he will be furious. Will he even let me explain that I did not know if it?
"Roxas, what…?" He didn't stop, didn't listen. He rushed from the dressing room and fled.
"We must get away…go somewhere safe, where no one can hear. Hurry, come!"
"But we were in your…ah! Wait, slow down! Heavens Roxas, where are we going?" Naminé clutched at her skirts, holding them out of the way as she hurried after Roxas, climbing spiraling stairs to the upper levels backstage. They reached the last narrow staircase leading to the catwalks, and Roxas nimbly raced upward. The depths are his, the walls are hollow for him – we must find a place away from both. Up, up, a final ladder and a trapdoor and he scurried out onto a small ledge on the high-domed roof of the Opera Populaire. Naminé awkwardly crawled out behind him, then froze when she saw the vast expanse of Paris spread out beneath them. Instantly, she was glued to Roxas, clutching his chest nervously. "R-Roxas…" Her voice wavered between a whisper and a whimper, "why must we come up here?"
Wrapping his arms around the young lady, Roxas tried to ease her fears. "It is all right – the railing is solid, you see?" He pushed on it hard, still holding her tightly, then turned to look into her wide blue eyes. "We must talk, Nami, and I must be sure no one else overhears our conversation."
Swallowing hard, she nodded seriously, attempting to put her nerves aside. She relaxed her tight grip on Roxas, but continued to hold on to him, and her eyes focused on him exclusively, almost as if she could make the height go away by not looking at it. "Yes…we should talk. There must be something we can do. I know you have no desire to be distracted from your music by such a marriage…"
Placing a hand over her lips, Roxas stopped her words. That dark shadow had returned to her eyes, and he wanted to banish it. "Naminé. It could only be an honor for me to be given your hand in marriage. You are my oldest and dearest friend, apart from my brother. If I thought I could bring you happiness, I would gladly spend my life in the attempt. But…" He smiled gently at her, meeting her eyes, "you would be far happier with another, wouldn't you?"
With a small, tearful hiccup, the girl threw her arms around Roxas. "Oh Roxas, I do love you so very dearly! You know that I do, don't you? You will not be hurt, or think that I do not care, will you Roxas?"
Squeezing her gently, Roxas was about to reply – he knew well enough what she meant, knew she wanted to make sure he did not feel abandoned if she loved Sora more – yet in that moment, he thought he heard an echo, a sigh of Roxas carried on the night breeze. The skin on the back of his neck prickled. Is he here?
He swallowed. "Naminé," he began seriously, "You need not fear. Your mother will forget this temporary idea. The marriage will proceed as we always expected. I am sorry for the trouble I have caused you, but I promise that soon, nothing will stand in the way. But now I must tell you something vitally important, and you must listen and have faith in me. Can you?"
Blinking away tears, the lady nodded. "I always believe in you, Roxas." Roxas, Roxas… The rooftops seemed to echo back. "What is wrong?"
Glancing around with searching, nervous eyes, Roxas forced his voice to steady as he faced his friend again and spoke, "You remember the music tutor I told you of? The one I had not seen?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, I have seen him now, Naminé. When I disappeared, I was with him. I have been with him all this time…and tonight I must go back. I think…this time I will not return. You must explain to Sora and your mother, give them my love…" The girl was shaking her blonde head slowly, horror masking her face. Roxas would have continued despite this, for he had to make her see, and quickly…but suddenly her blue eyes were not on him anymore. They widened, looking behind him, and a sharp, startled little cry left her lips.
God, no… Roxas knew, even as he spun around, what he would find – and he did. A towering black shape had just emerged onto the roof and his face – Oh Axel, why? The mask he wore over his face bore a perfect resemblance to a skull.
"Traitor." The word was as icy as death, heavy with finality.
"So everything was a lie." The unrelenting voice cut him off. "You tricked me with your cruel promises, all so that you could rush back to your pretty little sweetheart." A slow step forward, then another. Roxas shrank back, drawing Naminé closer as she trembled fearfully. "You think you can escape me so easily?" Axel's voice was ragged with desperation. "You think I will wait for you forever, alone in the darkness, while you run to this frail creature's arms?" His arm shot out and gripped Roxas' shoulder with terrible strength. "I. Will not. Allow it. You promised to be mine, so mine you are, Roxas, and I will kill anyone who tries to take you from me!"
A high-pitched cry reached him as he was harshly yanked away from Naminé. The girl's hands clung to him, but Axel was too strong, and he easily broke her hold on Roxas. Then, before Roxas could react, his back hit the sloped roof, knocking the breath from his lungs. He gasped, struggling to remain on his feet, and saw with horror a dark shape closing in on the delicate lady. "No…" he coughed, straining for air. Hands shot out and grabbed his dearest friend, pushing her toward the railing – and the dark abyss below it. Paris was a long way down, from here.
"Axel, stop!" Staggering, he sucked air into his lungs and pushed every ounce of strength into his legs, throwing himself across the space between them and grabbing Axel's arm, hauling him back. It took all his power just to make the man waver. Roxas had never noticed how incredibly strong Axel was.
"Still so desperate to have your fairytale ending with your little fiancée?" Axel growled bitterly. "Beg and plead all you like – I will never listen to your lies again!" The man was almost screaming in his rage, but Roxas heard more. He heard the sound of a sob buried under the anger, and before he knew it, he was sobbing too. He will never believe me now…what can I do to save Naminé?
Then – he knew. And the moment he thought of it, he acted. Springing to the railing, he latched on tight and jumped over, planting himself on the steep roof and holding on. His footing was so shaky that he could have been hanging in midair, for only his grip on the railing was keeping him from falling to his death. He fixed Axel with a determined look and ordered, "Let her go!"
All the towering, solid fury went out of Axel in a rush as he dropped Naminé at once, eyes wide and panicked behind the mask. "Roxas! What are you doing?"
Naminé scrambled away from Axel at once, and Roxas closed his eyes a moment in a silent prayer of thanks for her safety. Then he opened them again and met Axel's. His voice was lower, but still firm and serious. "Making you believe in me again." Holding Axel's eyes, refusing to waver, even for a moment, he continued. "Axel – you have misunderstood. Naminé is my friend, and this talk of marriage has surprised us both. No! Stay where you are, and listen!" Roxas snapped suddenly. Axel's eyes had begun to cloud with doubt again, and Roxas feared losing his attention now. "Do not move, Axel, or I swear I will let go and be crushed on the streets below us."
Frozen in place, the masked man trembled, a sob escaping him. "No Roxas, I beg you, come…come back to safety and I will hear you, please, only do not place yourself at risk, oh please Roxas…"
Unwavering, Roxas answered, "No. You will listen or I will die. Will you listen?"
"I will listen, Roxas, I promise!" The reply was immediate.
A brief nod. "As I was trying to tell you, I knew nothing of this marriage, and I have no intention of accepting it." He laid stress on every word, eyes locked with Axel's as he willed the man to understand and believe him. "Yes, I wanted to speak with Naminé. I wanted to explain my disappearance to her, so that my family would not fear for me from now on. Because I am keeping my promise, Axel." His voice softened just a degree, yet remained filled with sincerity. "I am coming back to you. I do love you, and I wish to stay with you. Forever, if you will let me."
With a low, tear-filled moan, Axel crumbled to his knees, sobbing. Naminé stared at Roxas, blue eyes wide and occasionally flickering uncertainly to the broken man between her and Roxas. "Nami," Roxas added softly, "I think it best if you go, now. Please…do not fear for me. And I think," Roxas glanced a moment at Axel again, "…I think you will see me again. I will explain everything to you soon." He smiled warmly at her. "I must come to your wedding, after all. Sora would not forgive me if I missed it."
At last, a smile flickered in the girl's eyes. She looked about to speak, but with another glance at Axel seemed to think better of it. Instead, she met Roxas' eyes with a warm, trusting gaze, and nodded once. We will meet again. Be well until then, dearest friend. Then she turned and disappeared through the hatch as Roxas slowly pulled himself back over the railing and onto solid ground. He walked to Axel and knelt beside him, gently placing his arms around the man's shoulders. Desperate hands flew out to grab him, pulling him in close and tight as Axel sobbed over and over, "Roxas, Roxas, Roxas…" He buried his masked face in Roxas' neck and clung to him so tightly that it hurt, but Roxas made no move to pull away.
"I wish you could have trusted me a little better, Axel," he murmured, stroking the long red hair. "I would have returned to you. Will you ever be able to believe that I love you?"
Voice muffled and thick with sobs, Axel answered, "I am trying, Roxas, but whenever I think of it… How can such a thing be true? It seems so impossible."
"Why should it be impossible?" Roxas softly asked, bringing his hands to lightly touch the grotesque mask. "Because of this?" Slowly, carefully, Roxas lifted Axel's face and looked into his eyes. Then, with a reassuring smile, he lifted the mask away, revealing Axel's marred, tear-stained face. Dropping the mask, he returned to that face, tracing his fingers over the uneven skin. "I love deeper than this, Axel. It is only you who minds these scars at all." And leaning forward, he tenderly pressed his lips to Axel's forehead, then his cheeks, kissing each dark scar in turn, his crooked nose, his chin, and finally his open, trembling lips.
It seemed at first that Axel could not accept his kiss – he flinched away slightly, stiffening, frozen and unable to return the caress. Yet Roxas pressed forward, refusing to relent, and kissed his reluctant lover more deeply. At last, Axel broke. He answered with a kiss that was rough and tense with need, and Roxas accepted that, too.
When he finally drew back, tears were running down Axel's cheeks again. "But you…you were terrified," the man choked out. "With one look, I saw the horror in your eyes…"
With another brief, quick kiss, Roxas silenced him. "I was surprised, at first, and yes, I was afraid – of your fury, not your face. I was afraid that in your anger, you would…hurt me. You became so violent, and you are stronger than I…"
"I will never hurt you," Axel declared, his voice rasping. "You are precious beyond measure; I would destroy anyone who threatened you, but never would I raise my hand against you. I could not bear to see you hurt, Roxas."
With a little smile, Roxas sighed. It will take a while, I think, to convince you that there is no reason to destroy anyone. But for now… "That is enough for me." He embraced Axel with firm pressure. "I will trust you. I know I am safe with you." Then he chuckled, leaning back and gazing into his love's eyes, smiling but serious. "Please do not kill anyone, though. I would not like that at all."
And Axel promised that too, and Roxas felt his heart flood with warmth – Yes, this is him. This was the man he had believed in and begun falling for, even when he know no more than the disembodied voice. This kindness, this devotion – this was Axel. He had feared, for a time, that somehow he had been mistaken – that Axel was dangerous… perhaps evil. But now he was sure – that rage was not Axel, not a natural part of him. Axel was still himself, and Roxas loved him.
He rose, grasping Axel's hands and pulling him to his feet as well, then led the way to the little door. Axel followed obediently, and Roxas kept their hands clasped as they returned back the way they had come. They walked silently through the dark, hushed backstage area – it was late, now, and nearly everyone had gone home. Even the usual opening night celebration had slipped away quietly – Don Juan hadn't been the sort of opening night the company would stay up until dawn celebrating.
He stopped only when they were in his dressing room again. Axel watched him, puzzled, but Roxas simply turned to face him and smiled. "I am returning to you of my own free will, Axel, as I promised. But you will have to show me where to step next, for I do not know the way."
The next moment, Roxas was enveloped in the taller man's arms. Axel held him tightly for a long minute, and Roxas let him. At length, without a word – but with fresh tears showing on his cheeks – Axel turned to the mirror on the far wall of the room. His hand slid behind it and touched something, and the mirror silently swung aside, opening a door to a passage beyond. Without hesitating, Roxas took up a candle and stepped through the opening, Axel flowing him as they began to travel downwards.
Leading the way, Roxas only paused when the path split and he had to ask Axel's guidance for the way to go. At length, they reached a massive underground lake, with a rowboat waiting on the shore. Guessing that this was the boat he had traveled in once before, he calmly took a seat and allowed Axel to take the oars, carrying them over the water toward their destination.
He could see the house from the outside this time – an odd, rambling structure on the far shore of the lake, parts of which ascended beyond sight in the darkness. It certainly consisted of more than two rooms, and Roxas wondered what the rest of it would look like on the inside. Then, as they reached the shore, he began to wonder how to get inside. He did not see a proper door anywhere…
Axel led him forward from there – around a corner, up a flight of stairs, and through a door hidden from the front. Roxas found himself in a room that looked like the interior of a cathedral, in miniature proportions. At the very end of the long room, a massive pipe organ filled the wall. Below and in front of that, where the altar would have been, the gothic archways suspended over a large bed. Books and sheet music surrounded the area, and velvet curtains hung waiting – it looked as though they could be drawn around the smaller "bedroom" area, enclosing it, but at the moment they were pulled back. Gazing up at the organ, Roxas imagined that the sounds of Axel's music must resonate magnificently in this room when he played. Perhaps that was the music I heard from far away, when I was here before. Then he looked again at the soft, lush bed and imagined what a paradise it would be to lie there and listen to Axel play. Or to sing together in this room, where their voices would resonate together, amplified a hundredfold by the arched ceiling above them.
Very soon. He promised himself. We will share all of that…oh, yes, very soon. Now however, they walked forward hand in hand – neither one leading the other.
Almost to the bed, Roxas suddenly chuckled. Looking up at Axel, he smiled brightly. "This room…and the way we are walking right now – it almost feels like I really am walking down the aisle with you."
Green eyes gazed at him, dazed with happiness and love. "To have to by my side like this, willingly…it means more to me than any ceremony presided over by a stranger." They reached the foot of the bed and stopped, Axel turning to him with hope in his eyes as he took Roxas' other hand as well. "Shall we…say our vows? Even if it is only a game…"
Squeezing those hands, Roxas shifted closer. "It is no game, Axel." Then he took a deep, slow breath, and began speaking softly, "I, Roxas Daaé, ward of the House de Chagny, take you, Axel, as my avowed husband…"
"And I, Axel, former phantom of the Opera Populaire, take you, Roxas Daaé, as my own as well – my avowed, beloved, cherished…husband."
"To have and to hold," Roxas prompted with a smile, leaning closer and lifting their hands to let their bodies press together.
"To have…and to hold," Axel whispered the echo.
"From this day forward, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health…"
"From this day forward, for all eternity, no matter what may come," Axel choked and spoke briefly, as his voice began to waver.
"To love…" Roxas whispered, laying his head against Axel's chest contentedly, "…and to cherish. Until death."
Axel buried his face in Roxas' hair. "To love more than any other, to cherish above life itself, until the grave, and even after."
At perfect peace and filled with bliss, Roxas sighed, then lifted his face to Axel's. They kissed, and it was a painfully sweet kiss that seemed to go on forever…until as last, Roxas shifted against his lover and began to ignite some heat within the tender moment. Axel's response was like fire – flaming up suddenly, then intensifying into a hot, insistent burn. His mouth claimed Roxas' deeply, their arms twined around each other, and their breaths came unevenly, gasped in the scarce moments when they parted.
With a soft moan, Roxas sank down onto the bed. When Axel did not follow at once, he reached up to pull gently at the man's arm. "Come, Axel. It is our wedding night at last."
"Roxas!" His name was a gasp of purest longing from Axel's lips as he knelt on the bed beside Roxas. Then his arms were wrapping around Roxas again, and the warmth surrounding him as he embraced Axel felt more perfect than anything he had ever experienced. He shivered with delight as Axel's hands roamed over his body. At last, Axel was touching him, without fear holding him back. He no longer tried to stop Roxas' hands from touching his face, he only trembled slightly every time Roxas' fingers brushed the uneven skin. And his touch – so urgent and yet gentle – was making Roxas melt.
Hands slipped under his clothing, and Roxas smiled as he let Axel slowly begin to undress him. As the fabric fell away, Roxas felt the heat between them climbing. He let his own hands gently tug at Axel's clothing as well, and when they were both bare and Axel drew him into another embrace, Roxas pressed himself close to Axel and marveled at the smooth, delicious feeling of Axel's skin against his own.
They were so close. They were becoming intimate, closer than Roxas had ever been with anyone, and it made him breathless with happiness. Axel touched him so carefully he was almost a timid lover, but his hesitation only made Roxas more willing. He needed Axel so deeply, and he would not have withdrawn, even if Axel chose to be forceful. Yet Axel did not lose control or rush ahead – he cared for Roxas, paying attention to each detail, preparing him slowly, and giving him pleasure…as he gave himself.
And it was a gift, when they finally came together. It did not feel quite perfect at first, and Roxas felt a little shy, in spite of how much he ached for more. Still, he was one with Axel…and it was wonderful. He knew at last what it meant to belong to someone, to experience pleasure together, to show their love to each other. And as he experienced the ecstasy of being joined to Axel, he listened to the man's beautiful voice whispering to him, over and over, words of love and adoration – words he answered with promises of his own.
The heat overwhelmed him, erasing everything from his mind – except Axel. Their passion grew more intense, too much for either of them to bear…and then they reached the climax, surrendered to the sweeping pleasure, and finally collapsed in each other's arms. Roxas gasped and panted for air, clutching Axel as though the solid strength of his body would anchor Roxas and keep him from fainting. He felt utterly spent – and perfectly safe, accepted, and loved.
After they could breathe easily again, they shared more kisses – and these kisses, to Roxas, felt far more intimate than the ones before. They still conveyed the same love, yet now there was also a familiarity, a sense of belonging in every kiss that made him smile helplessly. He is mine. He truly is. Green eyes opened and looked into his own, and Roxas smiled broadly. When Axel looked at him this way, Roxas felt that he had no other words to describe the man – Axel was, quite simply, beautiful.
When he touched Axel's face and told him so, renewed tears spilled from his eyes, but that only allowed Roxas to kiss them away. And I will always kiss away your tears and doubts and fears, Axel…until you have none left.
Then they slept, exhausted and delightfully sated…and together.
It was several weeks before Naminé heard from Roxas. It was not that Axel attempted to forbid Roxas from leaving again. Roxas simply felt that he should wait before mentioning the topic. He felt sure Axel would have allowed anything he asked, even if he wanted to go visit Naminé at once, yet he wanted to give them both time to spend together. He knew the last few weeks had been difficult, and he wanted to replace those memories with new, sweeter ones, so that Axel would not even feel a flicker of fear or doubt when Roxas spoke of leaving the house on the lake for a short time.
The wait was wisely chosen, and when he did finally begin to speak to Axel of it, his lover did not even hesitate. Roxas had been slowly explaining things to Axel – not just telling him about Naminé, but relating everything about each of his close friends and family members, so that Axel would have more than just Roxas' word that his love was only Axel's – the reclusive musician would now be able to see and understand, from Roxas' accounts, that the other people in his life were beyond even considering. He could not take his heart from Axel and give it to another, because his other loves were different, and he could not change that feeling into the one he felt only for Axel.
Now, he was readily freed to go and visit his childhood friend – Axel even showed him how to leave the house and return on his own. He still watched Roxas carefully as he departed, almost as though a shiver of fear still lingered – worrying that Roxas would not return. But he let Roxas go.
Knowing that a visit to Naminé would take several hours, at least, Roxas postponed such a trip. Instead, he used his time above ground to write a letter to her, assuring her of his health and happiness, and promising to visit her and explain everything soon. He posted the letter, then went and spoke with the chorus master, apologizing for his absence and explaining that a personal emergency was taking him away from the stage for a few more months, perhaps.
His disappearance had not caused too much upset, as it turned out, since further performances of Don Juan Triumphant were all cancelled, and for the rest, Roxas was always either a chorus member or a small role, easily replaced. The managers had been asking questions – they still wanted to capitalize on their newfound star – but the chorus master knew that they could not really put Roxas on stage as the star this season. Roxas was not ready to take over every lead tenor role, and Marluxia would throw a fit and retire permanently if they took even one of his already rehearsed and performed roles and gave it to an understudy for the season. It would be an unbearable insult to the singer – though the managers had not realized that yet.
Next season, perhaps, Roxas could be cast as a lead in one or two operas. Next season, but not now.
He thanked the chorus master deeply for his help, as well as for permission to be absent for a while.
Then, without delaying, Roxas returned to the house on the underground lake. Axel's relief momentarily overpowered him, but Roxas was not discouraged over the fact that his lover had worried. This once, this first time, it was understandable. Next time, he would have fewer doubts.
And so, on Roxas' second visit to the world above, he was finally able to meet with his dearest friend – in their usual café, for their usual tea.
The moment they sat down – after a long embrace – Roxas smiled, noticing a sparkling little diamond on Naminé's fourth finger. "I see the matter of your engagement has been settled in my absence," he prodded. The young Countess blushed.
"Yes…Sora had his holidays recently, you know, and they made the matter official while he was here. I think…" She darkened another shade. "I think, however, he brought the ring with him, before the discussion took place." Her fingers touched the little stone affectionately.
Roxas nodded. "I would not be surprised at all. It sounds like Sora."
But then, of course, Naminé wanted to know how he was, and Roxas owed her quite a lengthy explanation. It was a very long chat over tea before he had satisfied all her questions and reassured all her fears for him.
"Well," she sighed at last, "It is an incredible and frightening story, but…you do seem very happy." She smiled at him. "I think I would not be satisfied with only your word in this case, if you did not seem happy, but…I can see that you truly are. I am not sure I understand everything, but if you truly love this man as much as you seem to…"
"I do." His voice was quiet and confident.
Another sigh. "Then I can only give you my blessing." A small hand touched his own. "May you be happy with him forever, Roxas." Then, a tiny wrinkle appeared between her brows. "Yet are you absolutely sure he will not hurt you? From what I saw…"
"Yes, Nami, I swear to you, it was all quite out of character for him." He had already explained this a few times, but it did not frustrate him to repeat himself. He knew she was merely worried. And…it felt good to say it, too. It felt good to speak so confidently about Axel – to declare things like "He loves me" and "He will never hurt me" and to feel the truth of the words resonating in his heart.
So Roxas did not mind the many repetitions at all, and he very much enjoyed his visit with his dearest friend. And, when it was over, he happily returned to Axel.
He found the man at his organ, playing and writing music – not waiting at the door, watching for the boat on the lake, like the first time. Smiling warmly, Roxas joined his lover, winding his arms around the man's broad shoulders and kissing his face fondly.
"How was your visit?" Axel asked kindly.
"It was lovely," Roxas hummed. "She gave us her blessing."
A sigh of bliss from the man in his arms. "Next time, you must give her my thanks for it…and my apologies for our last meeting."
Next time… Roxas smiled proudly at Axel. Soon, they would be able to talk of Roxas returning to his stage career. Soon – but not yet. There was time enough before then to improve his voice, learn more from Axel's instruction…and time enough to spend simply being with Axel, loving him and building their trust in each other. And, of course, deepening their love for the years ahead.
Note to readers! Hey guys! If you read this because you're into Axel and Roxas and that's pretty much it, well...thanks! I hope you liked it! :D But if you also wonder if this Kurosora1984 lady has anything else to entertain you, and if you are even a little interested in other guys getting their sexy romance on, check out my current original story on FP! Links in my profile! Thank you, dears! :D