My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 7

That night, the family of the organization feasted.

The table was overflowing with food. All the kills Roxas and Axel managed to gather, as well as a few extra desserts upon Xemnas' demand. They broke open a bottle of the best wine Marluxia had and toasted to Roxas success. Cheers and woops oh joy enveloped the room. Each members' echoes throughout the walls.

All but Roxas.

While the others drank their wine and sang the kingdom songs off-key, Roxas sat, pushing around his peas with his fork. Something wasn't right. He should be drinking until his heart's content, indulging himself to the King's demise. Yet, he had a sick feeling that tricked his body and stomach into thinking he was full.

What could be wrong? Could it be that this was all too soon? That it wasn't what he originally planned? But Roxas was trained to roll with the unexpected and make work it to his advantage. Was he nervous? What could it be?

At the end of the meal, most of the members were flopped over the living room furniture drunk as skunks, and Roxas made sure he wouldn't be around to clean up the sickening vomit that was bound to come within the next hour.

He retreats to his room and stretches himself out on his bed. He takes a deep breath and holds it in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure that builds in his chest. He breathes out and the pressure is still there. Staring up at his blank yet cracked ceiling, Roxas' eyes continuously drift over the long fissure that crosses along his ceiling to disappearing behind his headboard. A warm fire flickers in his fireplace, casting his room in a warm buttery glow. There's a knock at his door. Roxas sits up and ruffles his hair.

"Jesse?" the voice, though muffled, belongs to Axel.

"Come in."

The door creaks opens and Axel slinks in, a plate with a slice of blueberry pie in his one hand. He smiles and hands it to Roxas without a word. Roxas takes it with a nod and crosses his legs. He pokes at the tip of the slice and scoops it into his mouth, Axel taking a seat next to him on the bed. It wasn't until Roxas was halfway through the slice did he speak.

"I saw you hardly eat a bite of food. What's up?" Axel asks.

"I'm just not hungry."

"Bullshit you're not."

Roxas looks to Axel, who only raises his eyebrows in anticipation for the truth. Roxas sighs and sets the pie on his end table. "I don't know what's wrong with me, honestly. I, I mean, I thought I was excited for this, but . . . now that it's here . . . I . . ."

"You think you're not ready?" Axel asks, adjusting so one leg is tucked under.

"I don't know!" Roxas moves up from his bed, pacing about the floor; the wood squeaking under his footfall. "I mean, I thought I did, but now I don't and I don't know why; I-I'm suddenly nervous, and shaking, and I can't control it! I don't know what's wrong and it's seriously pissing me off . . ."

Axel doesn't say anything, and knowing Roxas is having his own version of a breakdown, he does what he thinks is best.

He kisses him. Cutting off Roxas' words instantly.

Roxas doesn't push him off, doesn't resist. Roxas tenses up at first, unsure of himself, so when Axle pulls away, he's sure he did something wrong. But Axel wraps his arms around Roxas' torso and kisses him again, firmer this time, more certain. Axel can feel Roxas settle in his arms, open his mouth and tilt his head, push to stand on his tiptoes. Axel rets his hands on Roxas' lower waist and pulls him closer, despite the little space between them.

When Axel finally releases Roxas' lips, the boy is short of breath. Roxas is short of breath, but still remains enclosed in Axel's arms.

"Well that's one way to shut you up." Axel snickers.

Roxas tries to smack him, but he can't fight the smile from his face. He steps away and plops onto his bed, flopping to his back. "What am I going to do?"

"I think I might know but I'm afraid you'll throw another tantrum. So, I will take one big step back." Axel says as he takes a few steps back, shielding himself with the armchair poised in front of the fireplace.

"What is it?" Roxas asks, coming forward, resting his elbows to his knees.

"Well, I think ti's because you like Sora." Axel mumbles, but Roxas heard every word.

"What?"

Axel ducks behind the hair, then slowly peeks his eyes over the palmette. "Not like that, but because you let him in." Axel takes cautious steps around the chair. "I mean, I've seen the way you two interact. You seem pretty close. And you always seem happier around him."

"Shut up!" Roxas snaps, springing up from his bed. He rakes his fingers through his hair and has to clamp his mouth shut to keep from screaming.

"Jesse I'm just -!"

"Yeah I know, just shut up!"

Roxas scrapes his scalp and takes several breathes through his nose. He paces around his room and tries to calm down. He knows this has more to do than with Axel's assumption. And he knows what it is.

Axel's right.

Roxas screams and the next thing he knows, he's snatched a small rusted lantern he keeps on his end table and chucks it to the fire. The flame explodes in a ferocious burst of sparks, and embers and heat. Axel brings his arms to cover his face as he feels the heat rushing him. Roxas doesn't move as it dials down from settles back into the hearth. Mild black charcoal marks along the brickwork. Roxas' knees collapse and he huddles into himself. Axel's by his side in seconds.

"I'm sorry." He murmurs into the crown of Roxas' head.

"Don't be." Roxas replies. "Because you're right."

"Are you mad about that?"

"No," Roxas swallows thickly. "I'm mad because he's made me this way. How could I have fucking let my guard down?!"

Axel shushes him and begins to rock back and forth in an attempt to comfort. Roxas rests his head in one of his hands and constricts a fistful of his hair so hard his follicles tingle.

"What am I going to do?" his voice is tight, and Axel wishes it wasn't. "I know I don't want to hurt him, but I do at the same time because he made me like him! I fucking hate that kid."

"Maybe you could use that as a motivation?" Axel cautiously suggests. Roxas rests his head in the crook of Axel's neck and sighs.

"I, I- I'm sorry. I mean I . . ."

"Forget it. It's fine." Axel instantly cuts him off. He strokes the blonde's hair and pulls the blonde close. He kisses Roxas' forehead, then the tip of his nose, and then his lips. He tilts Roxas' chin so that they make eye contact. "You're fine." He releases Roxas. "I'll let you get ready."

Once Roxas was sure everyone was in bed and done with their convulsing of the mead, Roxas draws himself a bath; making sure to add extra soap so that the entire top layer is covered with suds, much like the delicate whipped cream on top of a warm mug of hot chocolate. Roxas lowers into the tub, enveloping his body in bubbles. He scrubs away the dirt and sweat, even adding a fair lathering to his hair. His fingernails scrape his scalp until it burns and tingles. Dunking his head deep, he lets the water leech out the lather.

When he gets out of the tub, Roxas goes back upstairs to find a stack of clothes on his bed. A new tunic and fresh pants. Most likely it's from Axel. He leaves them and goes into Axel's room.

Walking through the threshold, the pressure in Roxas' chest intensifies to where he has to breathe through his mouth from a lack of oxygen. Axel is sleeping in bed.

Roxas looks to him, tilting his head slightly to the side. Having the unprecedented opportunity to study him.

His torso exposed, he lays on his front, the muscles of his back contracted seemingly perfectly as his arms are angled to where his hands are tucked under his pillow. His breathing heavy and even, releasing a soft sigh as he shifts his head. His lovely face looks younger, relaxed in sleep. His sculpted, pouty lips are parted slightly, and his shiny clean hair a glorious mess. How could anyone look this good and still be legal? It's tempting to reach out and touch him, but like a small child, he's so lovely when he's asleep.

So Roxas smiles, blows out the small candle on his bedside table, enveloping the room to only the bright light of the moon.

Roxas pushes himself up to the dresser. Pulling open the top drawer, Roxas slips on a dark blue tunic that is too big for him. The sleeves come down past his fingers, so he rolls them up. The hemline covering half of his thighs. Then he takes a pair of brown pants and slips back into his room.

Curling up on the bed, Roxas tucks his head towards his chest, the neckline of the tunic braising under his nose. At that moment, Axel's smell - which is an even mixture of pond lilies and fresh air - wafts upwards, and it fills his nose; fills his entire head with him. Roxas lets the scent of Axel, numb his insides, allows it to help him forget all the trouble he's bound to face, and give him a clear head.

Somehow, he manages to find sleep.

The morning he was supposed to pick up Jesse, Sora woke up early from anticipation. He tries to pull a pant leg over his thigh and it sticks just above his knee. Frowning, Sora stares at his leg. A bulge of muscle is stopping the fabric. He lets the pant leg fall and looks over his shoulder at the back of his thigh. Another muscle stands out there.

Sora steps to the side so that he stands in front of the mirror he keeps leaning against his wall. He sees muscles that he couldn't see before in his arms, legs, and stomach. Sora pinches his side, where a layer of fat used to hint at a slim figure. Nothing. Training with Jesse has stolen whatever softness Sora's body had before. Is that good, or bad? At least he's stronger than he was before.

Since he's taking Jesse to the palace, there's really no need to be disguised. In a sense, it's a bit of a relief. Maybe now, guards and citizen will treat him with the respect of the royal family. Plus, as much as he hates to admit it, he was getting tired of the ragged tunic, and missing his silken robes. Still, has he descends the stairs, instead of pulling on his fine bots, he slip into the hunting pair Jesse gave him about, two weeks after they started training. The worn leather pinches at his toes, but he's grown used to it by now.

Sora then exits the castle and out to the stables, where his horse and Jesse's horse are waiting. Sora isn't sure if Jesse ever rode a horse, but even if he didn't, what's so hard about it?

As Sora approaches, the stable boy bows and says, "Your Majesty."

Sora nods and putting one foot in the stirrup, heaves and swings his leg over the saddle.

"Will you be needing an escort, sir?" the stable boy asks.

"I don't think so." Sora smiles. "I'll be fine."

Snapping the reins, Sora's horse neighs and begins to trot forward. With the reins of Jesse's horse tied to the horn of the saddle, is keeps pace, trotting alongside Sora. The guards posted at the front gates to the castle signal and Sora watches as the one poised in the turret to the right nods and begins to crank the wheel to the drawbridge. The chains rattle and rumble as they loosen and allow the plank of wood to descend. Sora always hated the gate since it was so loud, signaling to the villagers that the royal family is finally coming out of their little hideout in the castle. As he's having second thoughts and considering sneaking out, the bridge is already down. Sora continues forward.

The horses thunder through the village, and the villagers immediately move out of the way; greeting with nods of their heads and 'Greetings your Majesty'. Sora nods and smiles in return and continues on his way on the main road towards the woods. He keeps checking Jesse's horse and it keeps up. Ducking under branches and brushing aside foliage, Sora can't thank the gods enough that he has a photographic memory. He remembers every turn and shortcut to Jesse's house; something he did forget or intentionally forget to tell Jesse.

Turning a corner at a small stack of stones he made, Sora can see the outline of Jesse's house against the green of the trees. A cold nip in the air tells Sora that it'll rain and that the temperature will drop. With them being months away from autumn, Sora imagines it'll be difficult for Jesse to harvest food. Here Sora is with buckets of money, yet he won't take a cent. Part of that stupid male pride all but Sora seem to have.

Sora pulls up to the front lawn and dismounts his horse. He pats its thick neck and jogs up to the front door. Knocking a couple times, he only waits a matter of seconds before the door opens. Axel stands in the doorway, to Sora's relief. He couldn't really handle meeting the rest of Jesse's family, especially when they're not supposed to be meeting the tailor in a few minutes.

"Hey Axel." Sora greets with a smile.

"Your majesty." Axel retorts with a bow.

"Is Jesse ready?" Sora asks, peering around Axel to see if he was coming.

"Oh, you're getting him now?" Axel presses a hand against the doorway, blocking Sora's path.

"No, I'm just here to deliver mail. Where is he?" Sora asks.

"He's still sleeping." Axel answers.

"Well let's wake him up!" Sora ducks under Axel's arm and darts for the stairs. The bedrooms obviously being upstairs, but judging from the size of the house, how high?

"Wait, your majesty!" Axel calls, but Sora is already past the first flight of stairs.

"Jesse!" Sora calls.

Sora has to make split decisions as Axel chases him up the through the levels of the house. He takes mental notes of how no one else seems to be present in the home.

"Jesse!" he calls again.

Suddenly he crashes into a lean-muscled body. He manages to catch himself and says sorry as she pays little attention to who he just rammed, besides the fact that he had amulet style haircut, holding a sweet roll.

Demyx rubs his stomach. He looks at Sora running, eyes wide, then when Axel follow up, he whirls to face him. "Was that . . . ?"

"Yep." Axel answer, slightly short of breath.

"And it he . . .?"

"Uh-huh."

"Oh boy."

Sora finds another flight of stairs and takes a sharp turn to the right. His feet get quieter as he mounts, knowing that unless Jesse's bedroom is in a nook in the attic, his bedroom had to be here somewhere. Finally he looks around and finds a door singled out at the very end of the hallway. He smiles and jogs up to the door. He then crouches and slowly curls his fingers around the brass knob.

The door opens on silent hinges, and Sora peers inside and finds Jesse still asleep in bed. His breathing even and long; he hadn't even heard Sora calling. Then again when up this high in a mansion, there could be a herd of cattle charging and Jesse wouldn't be able to hear it. Despite his instincts screaming that it's a bad idea, Sora decides to risk it.

He runs and up and jumps onto Jesse and the bed screaming, "Can-opener!"

Jesse yelps, eyes popping open. He instinctively kicks under the sheets with his right leg; managing to hit Sora in the side. Still in a daze, the uses his left to knock Sora off the bed, then reaches under his pillow and retrieves a dagger. Sora lands with a thump, laughing even when Jesse jumps off the bed onto him, pointing the tip of the blade at Sora's nose.

"Whoa! Whoa!" Sora says through a laugh. He holds up his hands, smiling. "Victory is yours! I submit!"

Jesse blinks a few times before Sora can see his eyes awaken with focus. "What the . . . ? Sora?!"

"Morning sleepy head! Ow, I landed on my hip."

"What the hell?! I could've killed you!" Jesse snarls.

Axel quickly paces over to Roxas' bedside table and slaps on the burette onto Roxas' head. Roxas looks to him and Axel only gives him a look to just go with it. Roxas shifts and hauls Sora to his feet with one smooth pull at the arm.

"Is the rest of the family home?" Sora asks.

"No, Roxas answers, "they're all, out. Wait, how'd you get in my house?" Roxas asks, still pointing the blade at Sora.

"Axel let me in." Sora says.

"I did not!" Axel counters.

Roxas sighs and rubs his eyes. He shoves the dagger back under his pillow. "I thought you weren't coming until later. Don't you know that it's seven in the morning?!"

"Uh, it's noon. Give me a break." Sora answers. "Maybe if you didn't sleep in so late . . . what is it with you anyway? Late night?"

Roxas sits on his bed, one elbow resting on his knee the other hand tucking his hair under the hat. He sighs. "Yeah, something like that."

"Hey," Sora walks over and grabs Roxas' hand. Roxas has cuts on his knuckles, wrapped in gauze, but starting to permeate through.

"Your hands." Sora mumbles.

"My hands are none of your concern." Roxas snaps, twisting his hand away. "I'm fine." He recovers, voice softly.

Sora's quiet, but he folds his lips in and takes a breath. "Well come on," Sora goes over to Roxas' dresser, pulls open the top drawer and plucks out a simple tunic. He tosses it to Roxas, who catches it with one hand. "put on whatever you have, it doesn't matter. By tonight you'll have a whole new wardrobe."

"Wait, I was told I was getting a robe." Roxas quotes as he slips the rugged tunic over his head.

"You are, and then some." Sora says, leaning against the dresser.

Roxas adjusts his hat and rolls up the sleeves of the tunic to his elbows.

"You really think it's smart to have me have all these extravagant clothes around my family?" Roxas questions.

Sora shrugs. "Well I think you should have some things. I mean I don't meant to leave them out and I don't want you to think I'm showing off or giving handouts, but -"

Roxas stops him with a hand up, palm open. "It's fine. I'm just messing with you. But what would I use them for?"

Sora shrugs. "You know, for special occasions."

Roxas snorts. "Like what?"

"Birthdays, weddings, and holidays . . . funerals, I guess." Sora lists.

Roxas laughs.

"What, don't you celebrate those kind of things?" Sora asks.

Roxas was about to answer when Axel beats him to it.

"We don't celebrate birthdays around here. Apart that there are more important things to do than celebrating another year closer to death; they're considered self-indulgent." His face is placid, arms folded, leaning against the doorframe. "Our family teaches us to be selfless and to only acknowledge the accomplishments the family achieves as a whole."

Keeping on the pants he wears to bed, Roxas sits on the edge of the mattress and tugs on his one and only pair of leather boots.

Even though Sora's facing Axel, Roxas could practically hear Sora's eyebrows furrowing, and his eyes widening. Roxas keeps his gaze to the floor as Sora's feet turn to face him. It is then for some reason, did Roxas notice how out of place Sora's hunting boots look compared to the shiny and silken look of his palace clothes.

"So, you've never celebrated your birthday?" he asks, and the sympathy in his tone made Roxas want to punch him.

Roxas doesn't look up, "There's that usual 'Happy Birthday', but no, we don't have a big party or anything." Roxas finishes tying his boots.

Sora doesn't say anything, but when he stands, Sora has a disappointed look on his face, but no sympathy in his eyes. Roxas decides not to dwell on it. "Well, I'm all set." He claps his hands together.

Sora looks up, "Oh, okay! The horses are outside."

"You brought horses?" Roxas eyes widen.

"Yeah, you ride?" Sora asks.

Roxas shrugs, "A little. Sometimes."

Sora smiles. "Come on, I picked a good one for you."

"Jesse, at least wash up." Axel nags. Roxas looks to him and glares.

Axel sidesteps and ushers Sora out, then follows out after Roxas. Roxas meets his gaze and eyes him wearily. While Sora heads down the steps, Roxas ducks into their bathroom and uses the simple bowl and rag to wash his face. He scrubs until his cheeks tingle and makes sure to even get under his fingernails. Patting his face dry, he simply ruffles his hair and hides it under his hat again. Something about how quick Axel was about putting the hat on seemed, odd; even for him.

Roxas descends the steps and heads straight for the front door; making sure to grab his jacket of the coat rack. Shrugging it over his shoulders, Roxas head outside to find Axel and Sora actually conversing; Axel smiling and laughing along with Sora. The sight was rather bizarre, and shows Roxas just how little he knows about Axel's way of charm, or rather manipulation.

"Jesse!" Sora waves over.

Roxas keeps steady steps as he approaches the mocha-brown horse with a fancy and new-looking leather saddle. The head is refined and relatively small, with large, expressive eyes and ears that are held erect. The neck is long, erect and muscular. The body is compact with strong shoulders and smooth, muscular quarters. The legs are clean, long and have excellent bone. The breed stands between fifteen and sixteen hands in height.

"Wow." Roxas breathes. He gently pets his hands along the neck. The fur was smooth and soft, rippling as the horse shifts. "They're strong."

"Best stallions money can buy. At least that's what our stable boy says." Sora says. "Come on."

Sora places one leg in the stirrup and swings himself over. Roxas watches and mimics his movements perfectly. He wriggles and adjusts to the width of the saddle and holds the reins. The horse sidesteps a couple times before snorting.

"These guys feel powerful." Roxas says.

"They are, but they're really amazing. Mine is Tula." Sora pats the neck of his horse and she snorts. "Yours is Peter."

"Funny name for the horse. Seems so, normal." Roxas says as he tugs at the reins and turns Peter to facing the opposite end of the dirt path.

"Well, Peter was the jester my grandparents had, and apparently he was a friend of the family . . ." Roxas quirks an eyebrow at Sora. "Yeah, I don't know."

"How fast can they run?" Roxas asks.

"Want to see?" Sora smiles mischievously.

Roxas smiles and looks over his shoulder. "Axel, take care of the house."

Axel waves and smiles.

Then the boys snap their reins in unison and the horses thunder through the forest trail. Their hooves pounding the dirt, Roxas' heartbeat slams against his ribs as the world becomes a blur. The trees merge together into a green-to-brown gradient.

"Last one to the town is a rotten egg!" he hears Sora call.

"What are you ten?" Roxas answers, but he can't hide the smile on his lips.

He then snaps the reins and hears Sora yell, "Hey!"

The two boys are neck in neck as they outline of the houses and stands come up over the horizon. The wind sears Roxas' eyes and he can feel the corners moisten with tears.

He turns to Sora, whose cheeks are raw and his hair a tangle of spikes. "I haven't done this since I was a kid!"

"But you still are a kid!"

Soon the dirt becomes cobblestone, and trees turn to people. The world shifts to a gray and the smell of wet stone and food replaces the pine. The boys slow their horses and Roxas wipes his eyes as they enter the Square.

People bustle about, children frolic around playing a game where they run from one person who tries to tap the others. The villagers move out of the way as the horses trot down the road and reduce to a walk.

As Roxas observes the scenery, he hears Sora exhale a 'woot'.

"Now that was fun!" he leaves with Roxas and smiles. "I've never seen that side of you."

"What side?" Roxas asks.

"You know, fun and wild and crazy. I mean, you always have this look like you hate the world."

Roxas glares.

"There's the look!"

"Shut up." Roxas laughs and shakes his head. "So where is this place?"

"Well actually let's return the horses and then we'll grab something to eat." Sora says.

"You didn't eat?"

"Nope, I was too excited." Sora shrugs and smiles.

Sora takes the lead and Roxas trots behind him, a feeling of unease as he passes under the giant footbridge, then the barbican. Entering the bailey, the stables could be easily spotted off to the right. The stable boy comes running out immediately and takes hold of the reins of Sora's horse.

"Your majesty." He says with a smile.

Sora dismounts and nods. "Terrance."

"Is this your friend I presume?" he notions to Roxas. Roxas dismounts.

"Jesse, sir." Roxas extends out his hand and Terrance takes it with a firm grip.

"Nice to meet you sir. Will you be entering the castle I presume?"

"Actually we came to drop off the horses." Says Sora. "We'll be in town for a while."

"Well wouldn't you want the horses then?"

"Nah, we know our way around. But we'll be back before dinner." Sora says.

Terrance bows. "Very well your majesty."

He then turns and escorts the horse back to the stables.

"Ready?" Sora asks.

But Roxas wasn't paying attention. He was too in awe at the sight of the massive compound that is the castle.

There's a massive wall that borders the perimeter if the forty-three acre estate. It's a massive expanse of weather-stained gray stone bolstered by ribbons of steel. Darkened windows are cut into the bulky exterior like idles, unblinking eyes, and the roof holds several turrets manned with guards whose sole job is to cut down any escapers before they've gone twenty paces. Looking past the fifty-yard perimeter of the moat that keeps around the wall, the sun is nothing but a fiery mirage below the tree line. Mud puddles gouge the gritty road, courtesy of a heavy rain shower; the still heavy overcast casting its shadow over the compound. The rusty iron gates shut every night with a heavy and authoritative metallic clang.

Immense steel ribs joined by tons of concrete as thick as twelve men standing shoulder to shoulder wrap around the estate. Every one hundred twenty yards, a turrets rises, guards assigned to the wall spend most of their shift in their assigned turrets. But three times a day – at dawn, noon, and at sunset they leave their turrets to do a detailed sweep of their section of the Wall.

"Whoa." He breathes.

"Pretty cool on the inside huh? Not as intimidating as it seems." Sora says as she measures with Roxas.

"This place is amazing." Roxas says.

"Wait until you see the inside at the party." Sora nudges with his elbow.

"The party," Roxas repeats "Right."

"Come on!" Sora takes him by the elbow and tugs him out toe the drawbridge once more.

They enter the village where people bustle about with their general merriment. They stick close to one another – or rather Sora continually clings to Roxas' arm - and browse around the stands of food, weapons and merchandise.

"Hey listen, Jesse. About the birthday thing. . ." Sora starts.

"It's fine Sora."

"No, I was going to say that, I find it, interesting."

"In a good way, I hope?"

"Yeah, I mean, I guess I can see where the selflessness comes in. you all should be treated equally. And I guess that because of that, you seem, proud." Sora explains.

Roxas raises his eyebrows. "Really? How?"

"Sora bites the corner of his mouth. "Well, you always seem so strong and confident and self-assured. And I don't know if it has any direct relation but, you don't care what you look like or what people think. I just wish I could be like that." Sora speaks.

"I don't care what I looks like because I'm not looking for anyone's approval. I know who I am."

"And that's what I really admire about you. I just wish I was like that but being raised as the prince, I've got duties, responsibilities, expectations. My whole life if practically planned out."

Roxas snickers. "At least you have plenty of food and warm beds."

"That's one out of the other reasons as to why I wish I had your life."

"You wish to live like me?" Roxas chuckles.

"Well, maybe for a day. I'd like to see you live in my shoes." Sora challenges.

"No thanks. I know how good I have it."

The boys laugh together as villagers greet Sora at every turn. Soon a growling, like that of a ravenous dog erupts in their stomachs.

"Let's head to Oliver's." Sora suggests.

"Good, I'm starved." Roxas agrees.

They turn and enter the South market where the crowd seems to dwindle in numbers. Couples with heavy cloaks huddle by the fruits and crops stands, men checking out the weapons for a hunting dagger. A trio of men stand by a wheelbarrow, one sitting in the driver seat, the other two in the back with sacks of merchandise. They eye Sora in a way that Roxas recognizes, and doesn't like.

He grabs Sora by the shoulder and pulls him closer; his other hand feeing for his knife and realizing he left it back at the house due to Sora's rushing. Roxas mentally swears and goes over tactics he learned from Lexaeus about taking out an enemy who is larger and stronger. The men seem to understand Roxas message and look away. Sora doesn't say anything, but Roxas can feel him huddle closer to him. When Oliver's tent comes into view, both boys breathe a silent sigh of relief.

Oliver looks up to them from kneading dough. "Ah boys. There you are."

"Hey Oliver," they say in unison.

Sora walks up to the stand, and realizes that Roxas is gone. He looks across and finds him at the fruit stand, greeting the woman running it with a lowered prayer gesture. She smiles and turns her back because a delivery boy as arrived. Roxas takes a sample of a new chestnuts, then an apple. But as he was about to bite his attention is caught about something else. Sora follows his gaze and direction. A plate of apple pie.

He watches as Roxas sticks the apple in his mouth then glides over to the other stand. His back acing the stand, his fingers find the tray. Then he turns, keeping the ray in one hand as he rotates and sneaks off towards Oliver's stand. No one stops him.

Sora looks to him wide-eyed and Roxas only has a smug on his face.

"You'll get a stomachache." Oliver ridicules.

"I'm saving them for later." Roxas answers. He boost himself onto the counter, folding his legs; balancing the plate in one hand. Sora can't help but pluck a slice. With no place or utensils, he simple eats it with his hands.

"Oh how scandalous! The prince eating with his hands!"

Sora lifts his head. Roxas points to him, smirking. Oliver laughs and Sora flicks a berry at Roxas. Roxas blocks with his hand laughing.

"Oh wait, try that again. I want to try to catch it."

Since Sora knows using his hands would be too easy, he assumes Roxas means his mouth. Sora readies the berry.

"Ready?"

Roxas nods and arches his head back. Sora tosses the berry in a high arc towards Roxas.

He catches it in his mouth and breaks the delicate skin with his teeth. He holds his arms up in a victory gesture. "Yes!" he chants.

Sora chants too and they share a high-five. Sora tries next. Roxas aims the berry, but it pokes Sora I the eye.

"Ow." He chuckles.

"Did that blueberry hurt you?" Roxas tease.

"Come on, again." Sora insists, but after three berries, Roxas calls it.

"You suck at catching." He teases.

"No, you just suck at throwing." Sora counters with a smile.

"I'm aiming it high. How could you not catch that?"

"You keep chucking them at my neck!"

Both boys are laughing and finally Oliver stops them both. "Alright enough! There are berries all over my counter, and I'm pretty sure the bread rolls have more berries than the recopy call for."

"Sorry Oliver." Sora says, but he still suppresses a laugh under it. "We should be getting to the tailor."

Roxas bounces off the counter and dusts his hands on his pants. As Sora was about to follow, Oliver's gentle but rough hands grasp his elbow. He leans in close. "I don't' know what you're doing boy, but keep it up." he whispers.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've seen that boy crack a smile?" Oliver says.

Sora stares in surprise for a moment, then Roxas calls him. He slips off the counter and looks to Oliver, who only smiles and waves them off. Sora jogs over to Roxas after exchanging a smile.

"What was that about?" Roxas ask.

"Oh, he just wanted to let me know that we can't eat on his counter again."

Roxas snorts. "Let's see how long that lasts. Personally I feel that we helped him. Let's see how much better those bread loaves taste." Roxas smiles and winks.

Sora smiles and playfully nudges Roxas. He nudges back and chuckles.

"So where is this place?"

"Turn right at the next corner." Sora instructs.

Sora follows Roxas, keeping close as they pass a couple of girls in floral evening gowns. They giggle and say hello to the prince.

Sora nods. "Ladies."

They erupt in a raging sea of hormones and squeals. One asks. "So when's your party?"

"Tomorrow."

Roxas couldn't help but snicker as he could tell Sora wanted little to nothing to do with these girls; who easily could be seen as those who only wish to live in the luxury he does.

"Will there be musicians?" another asks.

"Yes."

"It must be so exciting." The third speaks.

"Yes it is. If you'll excuse me." Sora takes the lead and ignores Roxas' smug look. They pull up to the front of a quaint little shop that's across the street from a floral shop in the cloud district of the village.

From one look Roxas could tell the upper level was someone's house. The painted bricks chipping green pain, a chimney visible on one side of the roof belching black smog. The sign above a pine green awning was in exquisite cursive reading: Kairi's Clothing.

"Kairi's Clothing?" Roxas reads.

"Yeah, Ms. Merlin runs the shop, Kairi's her daughter." Sora explains. "She's a very sweet woman, and she's a hoot. You'll like her."

Sora's the first to cross the threshold, and Roxas sighs as he follows.

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