My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 9

Soaking in the hot water, his legs stretched out in front, Roxas inhaled the freshening scent of cucumber melon. One woman named Ganda - who has tan skin, and long black hair – scrubs his feet with a loofah sponge, massaging away knots and tension. She lathered on a lotion that at first felt heated, but slowly grew warm as she scrubbed.

"My boy, your knots have knots, son." She says. "You travel a lot?"

Roxas weakly smiles back. "Something like that." He croaks.

His chin still lightly tingling from where she shaved away his five o'clock shadow, Roxas rests his head back on the pillow they placed around his neck. He's been with the staff for nearly an hour. They lotion his arms and legs, trim his nails, smoothing his hair and removing any unwanted knots.

"And I have to say you have such perfect eyebrows." She adds.

"Thank you." Roxas speaks politely. He sighs. "I may never come out."

Zenski, a man with combed-over brown hair, scrubs Roxas' arm and massages his back. Scrolling designs covered much of his skin. His chest, sculpted and smooth like a polished statue, depicted minutely detailed tattoos of sailing ships, tossing waves, and foam. A long-haired mermaid graced his existing shoulder, her scaly tail sweeping the length of his arm. An entire portion of the sea epic vanished under the fabric of his shirt.

Then washing his hair was a woman named Jolie with her skin a delicate snow white and pale pink lips. Her hair was a deep red, dripping down in an endless waterfall of curls.

All together they wore the same belted tunics of the staff of the castle.

"Alright sweetie," Ganda says. "you can get out now."

Roxas sighs and presses his palms to the sides of the tub, careful not to lose his footing. Pushing up, he nearly slips from the oils, but gains his footing and takes the three steps out of the tub. They hand him a towel and once he's dry, they toss it aside, handing him a soft, blue robe.

Roxas can't stop the smile on his lips. He's never received this kind of luxury before. His body feels so fresh and warm he could swear he was squeaky clean from head to toe. Usually he had to fill his tub with warm water he boiled over the hearth. And he never realized how greasy his hair was until he ran his fingers through it, and it mimics that of silk.

"My, my," said Ganda. "You have such beautiful blond hair. I mean look at that shade. You can't even get that color with honey."

Roxas smiles bashfully.

"Just follow me, sir." A maid says as she escorts Roxas out of the room.

He follows her down a long hallway to a room on the right. It mimicked that of a parlor room. The walls were a mauve color with thick velvet draperies hanging around the tall windows. Victorian chairs bordered the table while a fireplace with a cherry-finish wood, sat at the very back of the room; golden candelabrums poised on each end. A mahogany hutch stood guard along one wall, holding the most exquisite plates, bowls, gravy boats, glasses and a few crystal figurines.

A chandelier with crystal balls dangling off the arms hung suspended above them with flames of candles casting the room in a warm glow. A monstrously huge oil painting, a portrait of a terrifyingly beautiful woman with glowing gold eyes, hung over the fireplace. Atop the mantel, an antique clock that reads ten to noon.

Roxas' footsteps went mute as she stepped onto a plush carpet barefoot.

"Please sit." The maid gestures to the couch.

Roxas smoothes the robe and takes his seat across from the maid. She goes over to a mahogany butler and picks up a tray with lunch. A plate of pasta noodles smothered in a sweet sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and a side of sausage. A glass of strawberry water, and for dessert, a cinnamon bun drizzled with gooey icing.

Eager to taste, Roxas picks up a fork and twirls the noodles on, then popping it in her mouth. The sweet and cheesy sauce rewarded her mouth with a glorious taste.

"So, if you'll wait here, the dresser will come to collect you to get ready for the party." She says.

"And this is just a party, like it's not like the prince's birthday?" Roxas asks.

"No, no. The prince's birthday is in three days." She confirms.

Roxas nods as he pops another forkful of pasta in his mouth. The maid then leaves, shutting the big oak door behind her. The crackling of the fire is Roxas' only company as he finishes his meal. The flavors contorting and mixing into a rather sour aftertaste in his mouth, but his stomach has never felt fuller to the point where he feels green in the face. He rubs his stomach and slouches back into the velvet couch. He folds his feet underneath him and keeps his hands in his lap. He sees his hat on the hutch and immediately retrieves it.

As he places it on his head, he hears the door click open and in steps in another servant.

He's of middle-age and wears a more extravagant tunic under a fur-lined robe. "I assume you're the guest? Jesse?"

Roxas nods. He had a handlebar mustache starting from his nose and his coal-black hair is smooth and greased back. His nose protruded out and hooked near the end, a pair of spectacles along the bridge. The gold chain of a pocket watch glimmers as he pulls it out and pop the gold case open. He closes it a second later and places it in his vest pockets.

"Follow me." He simply says then turns around and walks out.

Roxas sighs knowing that this is going to be one of the stereotypes of castle servants Demyx talked so much about. He follows the dresser to another room about the same size with similar furniture, the only difference is that around the room there are several partitions poised with several articles of clothing draped over the tops.

"His Majesty the Prince already sent up your clothes. The maidens and I will help you change."

"Fine." Roxas replies placidly. He grips the man's wrist as he reaches for Roxas' beret. "But the hat stays."

The man scoffs and it takes all that Roxas has not to reach into his boot and wrap his hands around the man's neck. Given they took his boots, his dagger was taken with it. He managed to hide the pendant Luxord gave him, though. He kept it cupped in his hand as he bathed and only just reattached it as he was given the robe.

Roxas follows the man to a platform with a three-paneled mirror similar to the one in Kairi's store. Only this one has exquisite bordering and delicate craftsmanship to form in the shape of a bird's wings. A young woman brings over Roxas' clothes from the shop and removes the string on the package.

Lifting his arms, Roxas feels the delicate linen of the shift as it drapes over his body, then a pair of trousers, then a velvet vest, and brown belt. He steps into new polished leather boots. The supple leather gives his toes room to wriggle, something that never happened with his old pair. They touch up his hat and then he turns to face the mirror.

Roxas' eyes can't help but widen at how difference he looks. Compared to the boy usually smothered in dirt and has dry blood smeared on his cheeks and hands, this one, this man is of royal blood. Someone who eats with the proper fork but still has the eye for adventure. The family crest was embroidered on the bottom of the vest, and Roxas lets his fingers spider crawl up to his neck where his fingers clasp around the chain to the pendant. Even without understanding, Roxas can't help but feel that the pendant makes the ensemble. With the royal emblem and the exquisite silver of the necklace, it seemed, fitting.

"You look, absolutely beautiful." A young maid says.

"Thank you."

"Do you like it?" another maid asks.

"It's, unusual." Roxas admits. "I've never had such nice clothes before."

He cringes as he hears the awing of the staff, except for the dresser who only looks at his watch. And this is the only time that Roxas appreciates him.

"Yes, yes all very pretty and such, but there is a party going on and his majesty is going to be introduced soon!" he urges.

Roxas rolls his eyes, but smiles as he follows the dresser out into the hallway. But not before he slips the dagger into his new boots, and slipping the other between his belt. Roxas follows the dresser to the grand staircase in the foyer of the castle, where guests were already filing in through the front doors.

Extravagant, flamboyant, expensive and very colorful outfits are worn to make sure all who were witness of them were very aware of their high rank. Long house jackets are worn by noblemen and the length of the jacket often is an indicator of the wealth of the individual. Women in royalty wore long flowing gowns and very fancy hats or headpieces that were often so ornate that they hindered the wearer from doing anything practical at all.

Roxas' heart triples in speed at the sight of so many nobles and dukes and lords of other kingdoms file into the castle. More importantly, the many items and valuables worth pickpocketing for.

It was only the very wealthy and people of the highest ranks that wore jewelry. For women, a ring brooch was a popular jewelry choice. There were also very particular kind of garb for specialty classes in society such as the military, knights and the clergy. High ranking members of the church often dressed in such a fancy way that their garb could rival kings and princes both in expense and ornateness.

Roxas looks over the banister of the cherry wood finish railing and digs his fingernails into the wood. Powdered and pale, the women look like stale pastries. Tall and with garnish, pointed masks, the men seemed like predators.

"Pretty cool, huh?"

Roxas jostles and whirls around to see Sora in his royal robes. It looks exactly like Roxas' only more, fine. Roxas can't help but snicker at the gloves Sora has on, not to mention the vest that seems too fitted by his abdomen.

"What's the matter? You have this problem with dirt?" Roxas teases.

"Shut up." Sora smacks his arm. Roxas smack shim back. "It's necessary that I represent my parents well." Sora's nose suddenly twitches and he smells his underarms.

"The picture of sophisticated grace." Roxas laughs.

Sora glares.

"So how often do you guys host parties?" Roxas asks. Hovering over the banister, leaning as if he's ready to fall over.

Sora leans near, but keeps his distance. Something about how he needs to make a grand entrance and isn't supposed to give any sneak peaks. "Mostly just around my birthday. We sometimes host holidays, but only if we can afford it."

"Afford it?" Roxas arches an eyebrow, unconvinced. "You live in a castle. You can feed the entire village if you tried." Roxas says.

"That's not what I mean." Sora counters, stepping away from the banister and down the hall.

"Sora." Roxas calls. When Sora keeps walking, Roxas sighs in aggravation and pushes off the banister and follows Sora down the hall. "Sora."

They maneuver through the dim hallways of the castle, which have no windows, not hint of the world outside. Roxas can almost feel the paranoia emanating from the walls, like the terminal itself is terrified of unfamiliar eyes. If only they knew what Roxas' eyes were searching for. As they walk, Roxas gets a glimpse of Sora's hands, pressed to his sides. The skin around his fingernails is raw and red, like he chewed it away overnight. The fingernails themselves are jagged. Roxas remembers when his own fingernails themselves looked that way, when the memories of failure crept into every dream and every ideal thought. Perhaps it's the agony of waiting that has Sora doing this.

"Look Sora," Roxas catches up to him and grabs Sora's shoulder, turning him to face him. "I'm sorry, I . . . I didn't mean it like that."

Sora lower his head. "I know, it's just, a sensitive subject."

"It's your brother, isn't it." Roxas states.

Sora's eyes meet his, and Sora slowly nods, folding his lips in as if to hold back the tears at the very mention of his brother's existence. "They have courage, and I'm trying to, but . . ." Sora' voice caves. ". . . It doesn't make it any easier. For years I've roamed these empty halls, alone."

Roxas was never one to hug or firmly know how to comfort someone, let alone the son of the man he's trying to kill. The thought makes his insides cold and numb with a pain. He clears his throat and places his hand on Sora's shoulder. He can only give it a firm, reassuring squeeze. And it seems to help as Sora cracks a smile. At least he knows Roxas isn't the comforting type, it's just how he was raised.

"I feel like you'd handle this better than me." Sora suddenly says.

Roxas quirks an eyebrow in confusion. "What?"

"I, I mean, you always seem so strong and confident and self-assured."

Roxas snorts. He stuff his hands in his pockets and leans against the wall. "While I appreciate the complement, it's nothing to be proud about."


Roxas shrugs his shoulders. "Sometimes it comes off as being cold, or uncaring. Unphased."

"Sometimes the big dog gets bit!" Lexaeus once said to Roxas. His words echo in Roxas' head, and he fists his hand. "No tears! How are you supposed to prove you're a worthy opponent if you cry the minute you get smacked?"

Roxas remembers that day. He was only eight years old. They had traveled further outside of town for training. While Lexaeus was tutoring him, it was Lexaeus's responsibility to teach Roxas how to utilize the Limit Break and survive battle with low strength. He struck Roxas harshly in the face before the training session to put him on his "last legs". Roxas then had to battle a couple of cave bears and correctly execute his limit. The bears then served as a stuffing dinner, and Roxas managed to get a good amount of coin for their pelts.

Everything the organization did made him what he is today. Powerful. Dangerous. Cold. Stronger than one, ten, stronger than a hundred men.

Roxas swallows. "Sometimes I wish that my family was more, caring."

"They're not?" Sora questions.

"They're aren't really the lovey-dovey type." Roxas says. Curiosity brewing in his eyes, Sora leans near Roxas but Roxas folds his arms, forming a barrier between them that may as well be a wall. He looks somewhere south of Sora's eyes.

"They never praise me or reward me. I ask for an allowance, they reply: I allow you to live." He says. His voice shakes, and Sora does not make the mistake of thinking it's from tears. It's from anger. "They only say I need to do better. They always think I'm the runt of the litter who could never and never will exceed the expectations of the . . . family." Roxas brings his fist up and speaks to it, still avoiding Sora's gaze. "I never really, truly feel, loved."

"What about Axel?"

"Yeah I guess, but . . . I don't know." Roxas' cheek fluster to a soft pink as he remembers the feeling of Axel's lips on his.

He traces his finger over his bottom lip to mimic the feeling. He never thought Axel thought of him that way. Yet, tracing back on all the small gestures that Roxas merely brushed off, it seems . . . obvious. A twinge of guilt pinches Roxas' chest and he suddenly wants to escape and find Axel back in the woods, in their usual spot by the outcropping of rocks near the river. He would ask Axel, but he'd probably dismiss it as it was a simple way to calm him down. Then he'd never hear the end of Axel's teasing if he were to be wrong.

Sora watches as Roxas shakes his head as if to shake the dust out of it. Then suddenly a chorus of instruments sound through the halls. The people cheer and clap.

"Oh, oh! The party! I need to go!" Sora suddenly chirps. He turns around, then back to Roxas. "Listen, go and join the parry, I'll be out shortly."

"Knock them dead." Roxas smiles.

As Sora jogs down the hall, Roxas leaps and slides down the banister, bouncing on his feet as he lands. He's about to follow a group of patriots in when a hand clamps over his mouth from behind.

Instinctively, Roxas goes to elbow his perpetrator in the stomach, but he's ready and Roxas feels a hand coil around his elbow. Someone shoves a sack over his head while someone else pushes him against the wall. Roxas thrashes against the, struggling with the fabric covering his face. He twists one arm free and punch, hitting someone in a shoulder or a chi, he can't tell.

"Hey!" a Zexion says. "That hurt!"

"Sorry for frightening you Jesse." Demy's voice says.

Roxas can't help it: he laughs. Maybe it's the shock – or the fear, his heart pounding heart slowing by the second, his hands shaking with relief.

"Let go of me!" he says, almost growling. The hands holding him to the wall fall away. "Why such desperate measures?"

"Anonymity is integral to our operation." Zexion says.

"What do you want? I know what I'm doing." Roxas says. And he does. He checked the secret compartment behind one of the knight standees and found a sack of throwing knives and stars. Also a small blow dart with a poisoned tranquilizer. All of which are now hidden underneath his clothing.

"Just came to deliver a message from Xemnas." Demyx answers. Roxas snorts. "Now this is supposed to be a public killing. So he said to make sure you have an escape route planned out."

"I do." Roxas answers. He scoured the castle while Sora fetched the prep team. He managed to find a small hidden crawlspace by the fireplace in the kitchen. It leads directly out to the side of the building into the courtyard.

"And don't let the crowd see you." Zexion adds. "Conceal it, and put on a show. Be that good little boy you always have to be."

Roxas fists his hand. "Zexi . . ." Demyx warns. "Just be careful Jesse. Make one wrong move and everyone will know."

"I'll be fine, Demyx." Roxas says.

All at once, there's a rush of wind, blowing the sack against Roxas' cheeks, and he hears muted running footsteps down the hallway. By the time he's able to pull the sack from his head, the corridor is silent. He looks down at it – it's a dark-green pillowcase. He quickly stuffs it behind an end table holding a flower vase and straightens out his clothes.

When he enters the ballroom, he's nearly floored by the size and grandness of the room. Tired crystal chandeliers were dripping from the ceiling. The ballroom is white as snow and decorated on pastels, opened large and wide around a circular dance floor filled with revolving dancers. Gilt details chased the curved wall and netted the dome ceiling far above. The whole room glistened and sparkled like the inside of a Faberge egg. At the very back of the room, poised atop a three-step platform, stood three throne chairs.

Dressed like iridescent dragonflies, the musicians sat huddled in one corner. They played their instruments feverishly, bowstrings fluttering like the wings of the insets they represent. The rhythm they kept was a steady one-two-three, one0two-three. Dancers turned like dervishes, bead-and-gemstone-encrusted skirts flaring out.

People stood scattered throughout the ballroom dressed like peacocks and jesters, demons, and queens. There are feather masks and silk masks, glittering gowns with belled sleeves, top hats and long cloaks.

Roxas slinks close the the sides as he navigates his way through. Tall, shuttered doors were thrown open; the breeze carrying the scent of gardenias, which were arranged in tall silver vases, artfully placed on the tabletops.

A monstrously huge oil painting hung along one wall, but it was covered with a black cloth. It was somewhat transparent so that Roxas could see that faces, but not entirely make out who they were. Their faces, their identity concealed off by a black veil. He wanders over to the painting, gazing in awe at its intimidating size.

"It's a shame isn't it?" a voice says.

"Huh?" Roxas turns to find a young woman wearing a bird's mask. Her golden-bronze arms coated in black lace sleeves, her thick dark hair piled atop her head beneath bands of silver, secured with large roses and long rapes of black ribbon. Shen looked like a queen, her full dress a deep bloodred, accented with black.

"After all these years and the family is still in mourning." She speaks. She turns to her head to gaze at the painting.

"Mourning," Roxas whispers. "Oh right, the prince, correct? He was, kidnapped?"

The woman nods. "This is how the family mourns. And this is probably the only few paintings they have of him. So young."

"They never found him?" Roxas asks.

"The king sent out his best men, but they never found the prince."

"They never found out the identity of the kidnapper?" Roxas asks.

"Oh no, they did. Some long arch rival of the King, I believe."

Roxas feels a cold chill rush up his spin, and a shudder through his shoulders. The one obvious choice comes to his mind. Xemnas had told him a vague breakdown of his kidnapping of the prince, but he never really got into full detail. Roxas doesn't even know the fate of the prince himself; just that Xemnas had "Done away with him." if the whole kingdom believes he's dead, then it must be true. Xemnas is more than capable. Yet Sora still believes that he's alive, somewhere. Looking at it, it now sounds more like denial. Even if the prince miraculously managed to escape Xemnas' grasp, he'd never learn how to survive on his own, and given that he was only a baby, chances dwindle even more.

A man calls to the woman. Aerith. She excuses herself to accompany a blond-haired man in a waltz. His suit mimics that of a demon with its dark colors. He also has a flowing red cape and a metal claw on his left hand. Protruding from his back is one large demonic wing that repeats itself as it sweeps out from the side of his one eyeglass. His hair is like Sora's but blonde, eyes a deep cyan blue. A scarf covers the lower half of his face, concealing only the tip of his nose.

As they walk off to the dance floor, Roxas turns back to the portraits. There were thick, braided strings on either side of the painting, decorative tassels on end. The strings maneuvered the cloth. Rather them cause a disturbance, Roxas looks around to make sure there were no guards on patrol. At least one stood at each corner of the wide, rectangular room on duty. Arms folded, they only exchange a nod and smile toward the guests.

Roxas reaches his hand out and brushes his thumb underneath the material. Slowly he lifts the cloth inch by inch. The portrait progressively reveals the hand of the queen – as recognized by a dainty fingers with a ruffled cuff and exquisite silver gemstone rings. Soon Roxas unveils a baby Sora, his eyes holding the same innocence he sees now. Around his neck is a silver chain with a crown pendant. The quality matched that of the one around Roxas' neck. His fingers clasp around the star charm as he moves across the portrait.

Baby Sora has on a simply pale – blue shift and is wrapped in a blanket. As Roxas moves his hand, soon the hand of the king comes into view. The hand is rough and callus. Worn by years of work. Another small form is cradled in his hands, wrapped in the same blanket as Sora, and a small hand grabbing the King's finger.

Roxas leans closer as the music of the ballroom becomes slow. He lifts the veil even higher to reveal the other small hand clasping around something silver. Roxas lifts the fabric to see the child's face.

He only catches a glimpse of blue before Herald's trumpet blasts through the room. Roxas jolts and lets the fabric drop.

The Herald keeps buzzing on his instrument as the crowd gathers near the thrones, where to guards stand ready. Roxas weaves his way through the crowd until he's near the front to see. All around him he hears the jitters of the guests. "Oh I can't wait to see the prince!" "He'll be so handsome!" "The Queen will look stunning in her new gown." "His Majesty will be dominant!" Roxas rolls his eyes as he tries to peek past the curtains that up above, look to divide the chairs from the rest of the room. He does spot a streak of silver, and finds Riku standing with his hands behind his back, tall with pride as if he's a member of the family himself.

The Herald stands next to the chairs and extends ne hand out to the right. "Introducing, His Royal Highness, and the Queen of the Twilight Kingdom." He says.

The King steps out wearing royal robes and with the Queen on his arm. She wears a gorgeous glittering gown with a long cape behind her, attached by the collar. They smile as the crowd bows in respect, Roxas quickly joins them, holding his hat steady. He can't help but peak up at see the feature of the King. Hard and chiseled with that authoritative look to him even if he wears a smile. No wonder people obey him.

As Roxas gazes at him, he expects to feel a boiling liquid of rage course through him, replacing his blood with white hot liquid. But he only feels curiosity as he comes to terms that he and the King have similar features. His hair is blonde like Roxas; they are both blue-eyed and stern-looking. The thought is so disturbing to him that Roxas loses his train of thought for a few seconds, and instead stares at him in silence.

Roxas is fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and firm. He looks to the world as if above it, but also on the same level with its people. He is like the King. And he can either despise it, attack it, eradicate it . . .

Sora and his mother were one in the same for sure. Their hair is the same brown, only the Queen's hands in a long braid down her back. Her eyes share that same compassion and love that Sora has. They're similar, the Queen and Sora, two people sharpened by loss. The difference is that the Queen's pain seems to have made her certain of everything, and Sora has guarded his uncertainty, protected it, despite all he's been through. He still approaches everything with a question instead of an answer. It is something Roxas actual admires about Sora.

The Herald motions his other arm to the left. "Prince Sora, of the Twilight Kingdom."

A group of girls giggle idiotically as Sora steps out with his hands folded at his sides before folding them in front of him like the Queen. The guests remain in bowed position, but Sora can see Roxas leaning slightly up and waves with a smile. The girls giggle and squeal and wave back, but Roxas knows it was meant for him. Roxas can only smile back as he turns and positions himself next to the Queen and King. Once they're all together, the guests rise and give them a round of applause.

The King raises his hand and waves and the crowd fall silent. "On behalf of my wife and son, I would like to thank all of you for honoring us and coming out tonight in celebrating the soon coming of age for our son, Prince Sora." He turns to Sora and Sora smiles. The audience applauds. "Through the years, you have grown into a fine young man. You're independence is prideful, and your selflessness aspires our hope, that you will make a fine King to our kingdom."

Sora nods and mouths: Thank you.

"I know the years have been rough for you. You have suffered such loss that no one should ever have to bear to feel. But you never cease to disappoint us. And despite the loss of a treasured heir and son, I know that he would be as fine and proud as you one day."

"And just as handsome." The Queen adds.

The crowd awes and claps again as they King and Queen take their seats at the throne. Sora runs aside to speak to Riku. The musicians start again and the crowd disperses to make room for the dancers. Roxas stands against a thick column under an awning and watches as people yelped and flutter about. Other members stand in groups with glasses filled with wine and talk amongst one another. Dancers churned around them lie storm-tossed flowers, their heads held to either side as they whirled with abandonment. Roxas suddenly feels a pinch on his elbow.

"Hi," Sora smiles.

"Hey." Roxas smiles back.

"So, what'd you think?" Sora sighs.

"Good, good. Heartwarming." He teases by placing his hand over his heart. Sora in result smacks his arm. "So uh . . . you look good."

"Thank you." Sora smiles. "You look great too. Like royalty. Even tough, you know, you're not really royalty, but you look the part." He stutters.

Roxas chuckles "Thank you. So, this is what a party looks like."

"Yeah," Sora says. "What do you think?"

"It's, warmer than I thought." Roxas awkwardly smiles. "And that smell . . ."

"Oh yeah, dinner will be ready soon. I'm excited for you to see what we have." Sora jitters.


"Your majesty," the Herald says. "Princess Selphie of the Destiny Isles."

In front of them is a girl relatively Sora's age. Eyes are green and she also retains a peculiar hairstyle; brown hair styled into one large curl on the back of her head and two more on either side. She wears a deep-blue dress encrusted with glittering diamonds. A glittering line of thread along the neckline. The dress fits her. The deep blue of the dress brings out the blue in her eyes, and the diamonds sewn into the bodice sparkle in the light.

"Your Majesty, it's such an honor to meet you." She starts. "And I would be even more honored if you would have the first dance with me." As she leans over to bow, a small snip in the back of her dress rips, revealing a slight peek of her undergarment. Sora and Roxas covers their mouths in attempt to stop from laughing out loud. Sora clears his throat.

"Thank you, milady. Only I don't dance." Sora denies, and Selphie sighs. "But my friend here does."

"Oh, I . . . wait what?!"

"Oh!" Selphie pipes. She loops her arm into Roxas'. "Lucky you!"

"Oh no I don't think -"

Selphie tugs him onto the floor and Roxas turns back to Sora as he's swallowed by the mass of people. He gives Sora a glare, but a face that calls for his help. Sora laughs and waves.

"Sorry." He whispers.

Roxas isn't the best dancer since he doesn't go to many celebrations. He's not used to being touched, and there are very few people he allows to even touch him. He doesn't want to feel Selphie's hands, one resting on his chest, the other against his. He was raised to rank royalty somewhere below maggots in terms of creatures he wants in contact with his skin. But Selphie can't seem to take a hint and steps beyond the boundaries of personal space.

They chitchat about the party, about the entertainment, about the food, and then she steps on Roxas' toes and he instantly retracts. "Oh! I'm sorry!" she squeals, and Roxas knows she's genuine. And he tries to keep this in mind as she steps several more times on his feet until the song ends. He then instantly pries loose and wander back over to Sora who hasn't moved.

"What did I ever do to you?!" Roxas hisses with a half-smile.

Sora can't help but laugh. "Well, she certainly seemed spritely."

"Especially for someone in heels." Roxas groans.

"Are you okay?" Sora chuckles.

Roxas can't help but smile. What he did, it was a joke he knows that, but it seemed, different than normal. Almost like something he'd do to a sibling. "I'm, I'm fine. Thanks. This is actually one of the most fun nights of my life." Roxas admits.

He looks to Sora and smiles.

"Thanks for inviting me."

"Thank you for coming." Sora replies.

Suddenly a bell sounds and the Herald clears his throat. "Dinner is served. Please take you seats."

"Oh dinner! Finally! Come on, you can sit next to me." Sora exclaims. He takes Roxas' arm.

They pass through an archway, and violet walls hug in close around them in a short, curving, almost tunnel-like passageway. It funneled them into another room o about the same size. Reaching the archway into the next room, the boys had to pull themselves back to one side to avoid being trampled by a long train of revelers. Hands linked, they rushed past them, screaming and shrieking with laughter. Roxas and Sora fall away from them, half stumbling into the next room.

The entire hall was soaring and grand. It was blue and had crystal snowflakes hung suspended from the vaulted ceiling, wavering ever so slightly. Embroidered pillows and carpets lined the floor, while thick clouds of sweet smoke hazed the air. Lethargic courtiers sat, stooped, and stood around hookah pipes and bowls of smoking incense. A heavy perfume pervaded the space, making Roxas dizzy. A young woman decked with white ostrich feathers and diamonds lay stretched on a divan. Her ivory slipper hanging from one toe, a glass of wine in each hand, she laughs hysterically as a tiny man in a green and yellow jester's costume took one false fall after another.

"Come on!" Sora urges as he guides Roxas towards the large mahogany table that stretches all across the floor. He motions Roxas to one of the carved, straight-backed chairs with velvet cushions. This one is placed next to Sora's seat. It's made for someone taller than Roxas, so his toes rest on the ground.

Roxas' eyes widen as the table is covered with an elaborate feast. It is set with silver and pearl-white plates, which were actually made of pearl for all Roxas knew; and is overflowing with food. A crown roast filet tied with rosemary, and exotic dishes he'd never seen. A while roast pig with an apple stuck in its mouth. A standing rib roast with little papered puffs on the top of each rib, sat next to a mangled-looking goose covered with chestnuts and creams, rolls and breads, collards and beets and spreads Roxas couldn't name.

"Please sit." Sora says, and Roxas obeys, still in shock at the feast.

"So we get to eat all this?" Roxas asks.

"Oh no," Sora asks. "This is just the first course." Roxas looks to him wide-eyed. "There's a total of nine."

"Oh my god." Roxas murmurs as he turns and leans back into his chair.

"You ready?"

"I don't know. So how does it go?" he asks.

"The courses begin with some type of seafood, followed by soup, salad, then by a dish consisting of fish. The fifth course is usually a light dish consisting of white meat, followed by a dish consisting of red meat and then by some wine and cheese. The last two courses are some more salad and finally the dessert."

"Dear god, help me." Roxas says.

"You don't have to eat all of it. If you're full, then you're full." Sora assures.

"Okay, no more than one bite of each dish. I want to taste everything." Roxas says.

"Then pace yourself." Sora advises with a smirk.

Roxas nods, and hears a door open, followed by the squeaking of chairs. The King and Queen enter the room, and everyone stands, even Sora as a show of respect. Roxas joins them and follows the King's movement. Watching him like a calculating cat ready to pounce. But of course he needed to put his skills of stealth to good use.

If he's remembering correctly, from the dining hall, out the door they just came, it's a straight-shot down a long corridor and turn a sharp corner and out to the courtyard. It's unnerving how easily he could get lost in these halls. Which won't work in his favor since the guards probably know this place better them him.

The King takes his place at the head of the table, the Queen to his immediate left, sitting across from Sora. The rest of the guests – or rather the important guests – take the remaining seats and nestle into comfort. Riku sits adjacent to Sora. Set in front of Roxas are utensils and plates and bowls fit for each course Sora mentioned. There are at least four different forks and spoons, and counting total at least with thousand salad plates in total for the guests.

Roxas' resolve is practically broken instantly at the first course, which has twenty different types of seafood. Ocean creatures drizzled in sauces or begging to be dipped in spicy concoctions. Then by the time the salads arrive, Roxas has already finished his glass of water, thankfully refilled by a butler. As he stuffs another forkful of greens in his mouth, a patron woman speaks up from a conversation with Sora.

"So, Sora tells me that you are from the village?" she asks. Her lips a deep crimson red, her hair pulled back by a headband and falling past her shoulders in a waterfall of ringlets.

Roxas finishes swallowing and answers. "Yes." He wipes his mouth with the napkin and places it back on his lap, as how Sora taught him. "I grew up near the South Market."

The woman laugh a feminine tone. "Well at least you have decent manners," she says as a butler comes to take her unfinished plate.

Roxas' nose twitches in disgust. The idea of throwing away food as he sees so many of the guests doing so casually is abhorrent to him.

"The last time my son brought home a villager, he ate everything with his hands like a savage. It completely upset my digestion."

Roxas snarls. That man had probably not one day of his life, had enough to eat. And when he did have food – due to the kindness of her son – table manners were surely the last thing on his mind. Xemnas taught Roxas to eat properly, so yes, he can handle a knife and fork. But he hates this woman's comment so much, he makes a point of eating the rest of his salad with his fingers. Then he wipes his hands on the tablecloth. This makes her lips purse tightly together.

Out of the corner of his eye, Roxas can see Sora trying to suppress a laugh. For the finisher, Roxas gulps down his water, resulting in a guttural belch that turns the heads of the guests looking in disgust, and the King and Queen's eyes widen. This time, Sora's laugh sounds and he covers his mouth to hide it, but his smile is too wide. He looks to Roxas and he only has a smug look on his face. He shrugs and wipes his mouth with his napkin. Sora clears his throat and keeps his smile as he pokes at his spinach.

Breezing past the course of fish, the fifth dish had whole roast pigs still on spits, hissing with steam and huge platter of foul stuffed with savory fruits and nuts. When it's time for the wine, Roxas denies and sips his water, crunching on an ice cube while the guests cheer and toast. Countless cheeses, beds, vegetables, waterfalls of wine and streams of sprites that flicker with fizz.

Near the end of the meal, Roxas is fighting to keep the food down. His stomach isn't used to such rich food. Yet Sora is completely unphased, and still laughs and smiles with the guests. If Roxas can hold down Xaldin's concoction of bird meat, wine and beans - a fall specialty – Roxas is determined to hand onto this.

A duke with grey hair and several badges pinned to his suit, wrinkles his nose and sniffs. He turns to Roxas and Roxas can see he has a small pair of spectacles on his nose. "My boy, I must say that you're a very strong boy to be able to stomach such exquisite food."

Roxas rolls his eyes. "It's all about breathing through it."

"How do you spare food at home?" if I may ask." He presses.

"I hunt." Roxas answers. "I trade the meat and pelts at the market either for better food, or for something we need at the house." Roxas answers wryly.

The men smiles. "Well I must say that you are a fine example of what this kingdom has to offer."

Roxas was in mid-sip of his water when he pauses. He looks to the man, then to Sora who eyes the men with caution. "What does that mean?" Roxas asks, nearly growling.

"Oh I assure you boy it's a compliment. I've been trying to tell his Majesty that there's no need to feed the hungry when they're perfectly capable of feeding themselves."

"Oh my god." Roxas mumbles.

"Since when is it your place to tell my father how to run his kingdom?" Sora sneers.

"Sora," His mother warns.

"Some people aren't as lucky as me." Roxas counters. "I have siblings that taught me how to hunt."

"I just don't see the point into feeding commoners. If you can learn to hunt, why can't others?" The man cuts through his greens as he speaks.

"Some don't have the capability. Or the stomach." Roxas says. "And hunting is illegal is some kingdoms due to the idea of villagers holding weapons. Why do you care if they can hunt anyway?" Roxas says. He fists his hand around a knife.

"Could you pass the butter young man?" he asks, ignoring his question.

"Why do you care?" Roxas repeats.

"Honestly, if you have the manner to eat surely you can hand me a butter -"

He goes to reach for the butter plate, when Roxas stands and drives his knife through the man's cuff and into the table, barely missing his skin. The man's arm becomes pinned and the guests gasp. Roxas stares at the man, placid.

"I asked you a question." Roxas growls.

The man hesitates as he tries to pry his arm free. But Roxas only answers in driving another knife through this time closer to his elbow. A woman yelps.

"I just, don't think we should waste precious time and money on people who are uncivilized and won't survive anyway."

"Not all villagers are uncivilized. And those that aren't, should be given the chance to learn. They're the people who're going to support you in the later years. Why wouldn't you think that helping them will win you in their favor?" Roxas says, his voice deep and threatening.

"Jesse . . ." Sora pipes. "don't make a scene."

"Too late for that, Sora." Roxas denies. Meanwhile the man tries to pull the knife loose, but he only turns red in the face.

"I swear young man, if you don't release me right this moment, I'll . . ."

"You'll what?!" Roxas barks. "You'll slap me with a hankie?" he mocks.

"You want the truth? Fine! I think commoners area waste of time, and have no right to live. Polluting my kingdom with their waste, its ill rational! They're a waste of space."

There's a collective gasp among the guests, who have fallen still silent.

"Teach them! Help them!" Roxas yells.

"Even if we were to teach them proper manners, there's are those, such as yourself, who will simply rebel! So why bother?!"

"Jesse," Sora repeats.

Roxas looks to him and sighs. He grabs both the knives and pulls them free with a single tug.

"You're just the perfect example." The man retorts rubbing his arm. "Uncivilized, reckless! Worthless!"

"Alright Sir Duke, that's enough." The King suddenly interjects. "I'll not have you disrespect my guests like that."

"Did you not see what he just did?!"

"Like you didn't deserve it." Sora scorns.

"This is exactly the kind of barbarianism that proves my point!" The Duke pushes.

"Oh! So now you see me as a barbarian!" Roxas screams. "You don't know me at all! You don't know what I'm capable of!"

Roxas proves his point my getting a grip on the blade of the knife and throwing it into the wall across the room. It lodges between a small hole in the lace design of the curtains. He spins the other knife between his fingers.

"I could make something of my life if I had the money or chance! But I'm stuck with twelve other siblings who treat me like shit otherwise! But I can see now no matter what I do, it'll always be a waste of time, sine to you, I'll always be the uncivilized barbarian boy!" Roxas hysterically laughs. "You bastard!"

Roxas then raises his arm and swipes it across his section of the table, knocking off the platters of food and sending the dishes and glasses shattering to the floor and spilling along the man's entire ensemble. "Fuck you!" he screams. The guests gasp and women squeal as they rise from their seats.

Roxas doesn't wait for the guards to come. He shoves his chair aside, knocking it over and storms out of the dinner hall. "I hope the wilds claim you one day!" he shouts.

"Jesse!" Sora calls. He turns to the man. "You had no right to say that to him."

"He nearly killed me!"

"If he wanted to, which I know he did, he would've before you even reached your butter." Sora disdains. He then pushes his chair out and runs after Roxas, calling his name.

When he leaves, two guards come up behind the man. "What, what is the meaning of this?!"

"I think it's time you leave." The King speaks with a deep tone.

Roxas snatches his cloak from the rack near the door and wraps it over his shoulders, fastening the button around his neck and pulling his hood over his hat and head. He storms out to the barbican in front of the gate. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and tries to breathe in the fresh scent of pond lilies and springtime.

"Jesse!" Sora calls. "Jesse!"

Roxas groans and forces himself to turn. Sora runs up to him, breathless.

"Hey, hey. Listen, I'm so sorry about that, he . . . he had no right -"

"Sora it doesn't matter."" Roxas interjects. "I just need to leave. It's clear I don't belong here."

"No, no Jesse please. Please, I don't want you to leave." Sora begs. "I'm sorry, you can stay I promise. Please."

Roxas can't help but coldly laugh. "Sora, it's not your fault. But I just, need to leave I can't go back in there." He turns starts to walk away.

"Jesse wait!" Sora lunges and pulls at Roxas' hood, knocking off his hat.

"Whoa Hey, easy. I only have one of those." Roxas says as he fixes his hair.

Sora reaches down and snatches Roxas' hat.

"Hey give me my hat!"

Sora was about to use it hold it outward out of Roxas' grip when he freezes.

In the icy moonlight, Roxas' hair glimmers blonde with multiple spikes in a hefty swoop. Sora can also see that a stripe of silver has been knocked loose and a star winks at him in the light. It's all these things combined together that helps Sora connect back to the portrait hidden away in the attic, to the sight he sees now.

Sora can feel his hands grow numb and cold, as it happens when he gets too excited or panicked. His lip quivers as Roxas' eyes seem to brighten with the darkness of his hood not shadowing his face. A tremor begins in Sora's hands and works its way to his shoulders. A cold chill rushing his spine and making his skin crawl with goosebumps.

Roxas snatches his hat with a chuckle and secures it back onto his head. "Ha!" As he adjusts it, he looks to Sora. His face shows bewilderment. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?" he asks. "I, I mean, I know why you're looking at me . . ."

Sora draws a shaky breath and his lip quivers. His hands hover out as if afraid to touch Roxas. His blue eyes so wounded. His eyes become glassy with tears.

"Oh no. Oh, you're not going to cry are you?" Roxas feels guilt twinge his chest as a tear spills over on his cheek. "Sora I'm sorry, I just, lost it. And I can't stay because of it and -"

Roxas is cut off as he feels Sora collide with him in an embrace. Sora buries his face into Roxas' shoulder, taking in the scent of soap and dew. Sora sniffles and lets a sob escape and rattle his body. He shivers as if he's been caught in a snowstorm in nothing but a tunic.

He's here. Alive. Warm and steady beneath me.

"Uh, Sora." He hears Roxas say, his voice vibrating his chest. "What's going -?"

"Just hug me." Sora muffles.

He feels Roxas go rigid, but Sora feels his hands against his back. It's not an embrace, not even a comforting gesture. He just pats Sora' back in an attempt to ease. Roxas awkwardly pats and rubs Sora's back as Sora nestles into his shoulder.

"Listen," Roxas coos. "It'll be fine. I'll be fine, but, I just have to go."

Sora clutches Roxas tighter and gulps down a sob. He starts to make those awful choking sounds he makes when he's upset, so he loosens his grip and pulls back. He wipes his nose and takes deep breathes to calm himself before he breaks out into a bad case of the hiccups.

"Are you okay?" Roxas asks, and Sora nods. "Again, I'm sorry -"

"No, no, no. it's okay. Y-you don't have to apologize." Sora sniffs.

"Okay, will you be alright?" Roxas asks.

Sora nods, eyes still wet with tears. Roxas nods in return and turns to start walking to the gate.

"Hey Jesse!" Sora suddenly calls. Roxas whirls around. "Leave the hat off! You look better without it!"

Roxas smiles and to Sora's surprise but delight, Roxas removes the hat and waves it off to Sora. Sora smiles, maybe t widely, but waves in return.

Sora watches as Roxas' blonde hair sways in the breeze and the shudder still doesn't stop. So many questions – many of them already with answers – swirl in his head like a blizzard. He can't seem to organize them as he watches Roxas disappear into the sahdows.

Everything is so suddenly overwhelming, but the whole time Sora keeps thinking: He's alive.

He's alive.

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