Title: Broken Cookie Jars and Spilled Milk
Beta reader: Tamisin
Word count: 36 565
Warnings: Mentions of racism and classicism, nothing explicit though.
Other: There's art and a FST (Fan SoundTrack) for this story at my LJ: chicasumi dot livejournal dot com
Written for the Kingdom Hearts Big Bang Challenge 2012
Broken Cookie Jars and Spilled Milk
There are three things in this world that scare Saïx silly; relationships, clowns, and changes.
Because of his fears he was single, he never went to the fair at the square outside the castle (even though it was said that the best pastries in the world were sold there), and finally, he worked as a history teacher at Lumineux High.
Routine was his comfort, and the only thing allowed to change without notice was the frosting on the donuts in the teacher's lounge, which was why this day was turning into a bad one very quickly.
"I know that this comes as a surprise, but we need the money and we need the publicity," said principal Xemnas with a quick glance at the clock on the wall behind his employees.
Saïx wasn't the only one letting his displeasure show. His colleagues seemed every bit against this as he was, although for entirely different reasons.
"Sir," Professor Vexen began, "while I understand the need for money, I am also certain that there has to be another way for us to attain it. We can't stoop so low as to collaborate with Terne High for the Summer Festival. It would be an insult to our students and our faculty members."
"I agree," said Zexion with a nod.
Meet the former student and teacher. They had been like two peas in a pod, but as Zexion had grown older, he also became more independent in his research. He was now the youngest scientist to have become head chief of the Royal Science Committee of Radiant Garden, and that had caused a bit of friction in the relationship between the two.
"Unfortunately for the both of you, your opinion means nothing unless you have four million munny to spare for our school funding."
Xemnas shot them both a look that clearly told them that they had been overruled.
It was to be expected. Xemnas ruled this school with an iron grip. This wasn't the most prestigious school for nothing. Everyone who graduated from Lumineux High could expect a bright future with many open doors.
There were very few who had an opportunity like that, and it seemed like someone had been spreading that secret around. People were pissed.
"We're working with Terne High for this semester, and we'll show the citizens of Radiant Garden that everyone has a shot here, regardless of gender, race, and social status as long as they work hard for it. They'll be convinced that this contrived inequality they've concocted only exists in their minds. We'll get to their money, get paid by the King for our splendid work, and then we can resume business as usual."
"Great plan, Principal Xemnas," Zexion said with yet another nod, and earned foul glares from both Vexen and Saïx.
Zexion had checked out. He didn't have to care about any of this; he was here on part-time anyway. All he had to worry about was staying on Xemnas' good side, which he did on autopilot nowadays with small mishaps that he always managed to get out of.
"Saïx, you'll meet with their representative who'll be here tomorrow for lunch."
"What? Why me?"
"Because the representative is one of those – those tribal…" He pointed to his face and tried to gesticulate the tattoos that were traditional for the descendants of the ancient tribes to have, and tried not to fail at being politically correct at the same time.
"And you're a history teacher, so you should be able to deal with them without stepping on any toes."
"You're overruled! This meeting is over. You will all receive worksheets through the mail, where you'll also find out who your assigned working partner for this semester is." He gathered his coat and brief case, "Zexion, we have to leave."
"Absolutely. I could not agree more."
This was Lumineux High, a school for the elite, where la crème de la crème was educated into honorable citizens, and where science thrived in a perfect ambiance for intellectuals. And yet, there was nothing scientific or glamorous about the flick Zexion took to the back of his head when the principal of their prestigious school had had enough.
When Zexion and Xemnas had gone, and they stood outside Xemnas' office, Professor Vexen gave Saïx a pat on the back.
"For what it's worth, it could've been much worse."
Yes, it could have been, Saïx agreed as he watched professor Vexen walk down the wide corridor with a limp; Saïx wasn't the only one here who had been left with scars from the war between Radiant Garden and the tribes. The war had ended a little over ten years ago, but it was still fresh in the minds of the survivors. Saïx was no exception.
Home was his sanctuary. There was nothing he didn't like about it; he had even grown fond of his slightly crooked mailbox that made it impossible to see his house number from the road.
But today was a bad day, and when he saw the letter from his mother, he knew that the day would turn into one of those evenings when he would have to curl up in his worn armchair in the corner of his beloved garden, armed with his favorite book that had long since seen its best days.
"Son, please talk to your father. I've forgiven him, why can't you?"
She could've at least bothered to write a hello if she was going to use an entire arc of paper. Not that it mattered, it was going into the bin either way; just like all the other twenty letters he had received on the subject.
The annual family gathering was a few months away. Saïx's parents were divorced, but they had come to a point where they could be civil around each other, something that would have been thought impossible during the time of their split up.
Saïx's father was a retired soldier who had served in the Royal Army during the war against the tribes, but he had opposed it when he saw the atrocities that were done to them. To show his support to the tribes he had offered many fugitives help, but while he was playing the hero, his family fell apart. When things were at their worst, Saïx's mother found out that he had been cheating and that a child had come out of that relationship.
That child was referred to as Saïx's half-sister whenever Saïx's father decided to talk about her. Being reminded of her existence was enough to enrage Saïx because it made him think of all the time he had spent blaming himself for his father's unhappiness, all the fights he had to endure, and the hurt in his mother's eyes when she had found out.
Saïx's father wanted to introduce his lovechild to the family and make her a part of it because "she deserved to know her family" and because "he wasn't ashamed of her".
He could say whatever he wanted about his new family, Saïx had made the decision to never accept them as anything but as the people who ruined his childhood.
He ate when he was nervous, and not just anything either; it had to be blueberry and chocolate chip cookies. They were the most expensive kind of cookies around because blueberries were difficult to both find and grow so far away from the forests.
The good thing about routine was that he was rarely nervous, but now, only hours away from the meeting, he had to find the emergency cookie jar that was hidden in the cupboard at the teacher's lounge.
Saïx stood at the very tip of his toes, trying to reach the cookie jar that kept sliding further back on the shelf.
A man his age should have outgrown his sweet-tooth – only women have such urges, he could hear the nagging voice of his mother in the back of his head say. It was all her fault; if she hadn't used sweets for her Pavlovian conditioning, he wouldn't be like this.
He had been a bit on the hefty side as a child; it was difficult to keep in shape, growing up in a crumbling home where his mother insisted on giving him sweets to keep him happy. "Nothing can be bad with the world once you taste the sweetness of sugar," she would always say.
He had shed most of his weight running away from his bullies. Fear had always been a very strong driving force in his life, but he had to bring his A-game to the meeting today for the sake of their school. He hoped that the blueberry and chocolate chip cookies would stifle his fear long enough to make it through.
"Need help with that?"
The sudden sound of someone's voice had been enough to frighten him, but when he turned around and found himself staring into emerald-green eyes that stood out against a pale complexion with tattoos of tears underneath the man's eyes that looked as painted on as the paleness of his face, Saïx could only draw one conclusion; he was staring a clown dead in the eye.
He scrambled up onto the counter behind him to flee, "Stay away, clown! Don't– no!"
The clown grabbed a hold of his arms and tried to talk to Saïx to calm him down, but Saïx couldn't even hear him chuckling over the beating of his heart.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
At some point the clown had gotten him the cookie jar, and Saïx mumbled a 'thank you' before hurrying out of the room.
It wasn't until he sat in the cleaning shed, clutching his cookie jar like it was his safety raft on a stormy sea, that it dawned on him that the clown could very well have been the representative from Terne High, and at that moment there weren't enough cookies in the world to make his anxiety go away.
Xemnas and Vexen stood on each side of the door, curiously peeking through the small window to catch a glimpse of the native.
Saïx was late, and Xemnas was seriously considering sending Vexen in there when Saïx decided to show up.
"Where have you been? You're ten minutes late."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't go in there."
"You weren't given a choice in the matter, Saïx."
"I might have called him a clown."
Even Vexen turned his attention to Saïx, only he didn't look as flabbergasted as Xemnas.
"And I might have screamed a little, and tried to swat him away."
His confession was met by silence and an odd glare from Xemnas. No one would think of Saïx as one to lose his calm; he had never been pushed that far. So hearing him confess such a thing without having any background story to it was nothing short of weird.
"In Saïx's defense, sir, the representative does resemble a clown."
"A mime, maybe," Xemnas offered with a quick look through the window.
"Don't they wear black and white paint?"
"Sorry, how is this relevant right now?" Saïx interrupted.
"It's not." Xemnas moved away from the door and looked back at Saïx, "You're going in there and that's final."
"Sir, I called him a clown to his face. He could go to the newspapers with it and ruin this school."
"A little bit of truth has never hurt anybody. Go in there, apologize if you have to–"
"Tell him that you forgot to take your medication earlier," Vexen suggested. He had already pulled the door open and Xemnas grabbed Saïx by his arm, pulling him forward hard enough for Saïx to wobble into the meeting room.
For a split second, he found himself staring into those emerald green eyes again and all of his instincts screamed for him to run, but his legs seemed to be out of commission as he stood planted to the floor, fumbling for words. The representative took the opportunity to speak first.
"You're late," he said with a smile that might have been smug, but Saïx could only focus on keeping his arms tightly against his sides to fight the reflex of hitting the man in the face.
"I thought you were punctual at a school of this caliber."
"I am. I mean, we are. Usually, but…"
It took Saïx a moment to realize where the representative could be going with his question. We're usually punctual, but not when dealing with you savages. He could already see the headlines of Radiant Garden's two major newspapers, and he could see the masses of people gathering outside the school gates to protest.
"But?" he repeated. He was sure digging himself a grave deep and wide enough to fit him and the entire school. "But nothing. No buts. I'm late because…I forgot my medications."
"Allergies. Shall we?" Saïx motioned toward the table and nearly yelped when the representative took his hand in his and held it firmly.
"I'm Axel. What's your name?" he stressed the question and shook his hand.
"Saïx. Very nice to meet you." Saïx tried to pull his hand away, but Axel held on. "Would you kindly let go?"
"Were you forced into this, Saïx?" Axel asked calmly.
"Of course not." He managed to pull away. "I'm looking forward to this partnership between our schools. Diversity is important."
"Right. Mind if I ask you a question?"
"Did you get that scar during the war?"
Saïx's face was stern, and for a moment he forgot that he was scared of this man.
"No," he said. "I ran into a small windmill."
Now there's a phrase he hadn't used in years. He rarely spoke of the reason behind his scar. It was nobody's business and generally, people had the courtesy to let him keep it that way.
"Sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's fine. Don't worry about it."
"So," Axel began as he sat down. "The Summer Festival. How are your kids feeling about it?"
"They don't know about it yet." Saïx eyed him. "It was my understanding that the case would be the same for your students."
"I might have let it slip, but they promised not to tell. They were already planning for the festival. I didn't want them to get their hopes up."
"Their reactions were negative?"
"Are you surprised? This school has never shown any interest in them before. Can't say I'm entirely happy about the situation, but we need the money."
"Were you sent here on your diplomatic skills?"
"Diplomacy? So this is a political game?"
"What difference does it make?"
Axel leaned forward, staring Saïx right in the eye. "You haven't given anyone a straight answer in your life, have you?"
"What I have or haven't done in my life is none of your business, nor is it relevant to this meeting, Mr. Representative. I suggest that–"
"Whatever. When this is over I'm sure our names will make very little difference to the other. We need to make an outline for the goals our students have to meet by doing this project for the Summer Festival. Do you have any suggestions, Mr. Representative?"
Anger worked as a great replacement for fear. Saïx was usually understanding of the attitude many natives had initially when they were approached by non-natives, but this man was at a meeting meant to promote cooperation and acceptance, and yet he chose to act all high and mighty.
Saïx's father had been an advocate of the natives' rights, and there had been a time where they had housed many fugitives during the war. But of course, this man knew nothing of it and was much more comfortable making judgmental assumptions.
By the end of the meeting, Saïx had nearly forgotten that this man had made him so nervous, he had almost eaten half a jar of blueberry and chocolate chip cookies. And while he still thought of him as a clown, it wasn't the kind of clown that scared him.
Even during the weekend, Saïx maintained a certain kind of routine. He would wake up at half past six and get dressed for his morning jog around the picturesque neighborhood that he lived in. If the guilt of pigging out the day before still lingered, he would run an extra lap regardless of his legs' protests.
He would take a shower, then dress in something plain and comfortable because after breakfast he would tend to his small garden, where the first buds had appeared on his plants.
A person his age would probably sleep in late to be energetic at night, when it was time to find a suitable mate for the evening, or for life if you were lucky, but going out usually required friends or at least people who were tolerable, and Saïx preferred to stay in the comforts of his own home rather than going all the way to the night districts where lots of bad things could happen.
That was not to say that Saïx had no friends. He had friends; they were just not of the same species.
At lunchtime, Saïx unlocked his front door and left it ajar to let the scent of his stew waft out and tell his friend that there was food ready for him.
In the background, he had soft music playing on the gramophone his mother had given him when he had decided to move out.
His living area wasn't that big. His house was a small entrance and a living room/dining room where his house parted in three different directions. Ahead was the kitchen, which was a relatively small room in comparison to the living room, but it had all the essentials.
To the left of the living room was the exit to his porch, and where he had his worn armchair surrounded by the plants he couldn't fit in his small garden.
To the right of the living room was his bedroom, which he wasn't quite happy with. He had a list of things on the refrigerator that he needed to buy for his bedroom to make it feel like a part of the house. He couldn't quite pinpoint what was missing. He thought it could have been the lack of plants, decorations, or books, but now he was certain that it was the wallpaper. His room was too white.
Saïx had just set the table when someone rang the doorbell and quickly followed up with a soft knock on the door that stood ajar.
"Hello? Sorry, I'm lost and I was wondering if you could tell me where I can find the house with the number 42B? I asked around and I've been told that it should be around here, but I can't seem to find it…"
The silly chuckle from the man on the other side of the door sounded far too familiar for Saïx's liking, and while Saïx generally liked being right, there were times he'd rather be wrong.
He pulled the door open and for the third time that week, he found himself looking into the emerald green eyes of the clown from school.
"Hey!" Axel greeted him with a big smile. "Your house is impossible to find. I've been walking around for at least an hour. All the other houses have the house number on their mailbox."
"What are you doing here, Mr. Representative?"
"Didn't you get the worksheets? We've been paired up for the reenacting of the end of the war." Axel looked back and noticed the crooked mailbox for the first time. "Don't you ever get your mail?"
Of course, who else would get paired up with the representative if not Saïx?
He stepped aside to let Axel in and tried not to roll his eyes. Sometimes, people went out of their way to get into trouble and feel alive, but in Saïx's case trouble came around and knocked on his door, ate his food, and promised him a semester of compulsive eating that he hadn't experienced since the age of twelve.