My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 8

The door creaked, and a belt of rusty bells, clanged as he entered the antique shop.

Inside, the musty air held an antique thickness, and the scent of perfume and freshly washed silk combined to make breathing a chore. The front room stretched before them long and wide, lined with rows of tall, sturdy manikins that posed with elegant dresses and gowns. Overhead in the chandelier, the tired light of torches burned a dull gold, adding little relief to the accumulated shadows. Carefully, Roxas stepped around a mound of bejeweled slippers near the door. Sora moves between two sewing machines and thought about calling out but for some reason, he couldn't bring himself to break the dead silence. Their gazes passed up and over the marked spines of countless dummies, every item categorized by its own number and date, and it made them feel almost as though they are walking through catacombs. When they reach the end, they peer around a three-way mirror to see a counter. Well, really, they see a lot of fabrics piled on top of something that at one time must have been a counter.

"Quite the organized set up." Roxas snickers.

"Trust me, they're be fine." Sora assures. "They're probably in the back."

Roxas has to jog two paces to keep up with Sora as he effortlessly weaves around the people and dummies to a stockroom where they find a woman and a girl about Sora's age piling up fabrics and organizing pincushions.

The girls turns her head and a wide smiles some across her face. "So- oh. Your majesty." She stops herself, then gestures into a curtsey. The woman notices and also does a curtsey.

"Ladies, pleasure as always." Sora replies. "Kairi, maybe you could help my friend Jesse fitted for a suit."

Kairi nods and smiles at Roxas to greet him. Roxas smiles and nods in returns.

Kairi has a dark shade of auburn, her bangs part to the opposite side, and her body has developed into that of a young woman. She has crystal indigo eyes, a pale complexion, and a necklace with a silver bead. She wears a simple belted tunic with sleeves stopping just past the elbow; the color a pale pink.

"What's the occasion?" she asks.

"Hosting a banquet tonight, and he's cordially invited." Sora smiles.

Roxas was nervous that Kairi would feel uninvited, but Kairi's eyes are only bright and glowing with excitement. "How exciting!" she exclaims. "Is this your first time to the palace? I don't think I've seen you before."

Roxas shifts nervously. "I don't usually spend much time in town unless I'm trading at the market."

Kairi nods. "Ah, that must be it. Well if you're heading to the palace, and you need a more, suitable outfits, this is the palce."

Roxas frowns. "What's wrong with my outfit?"

"Nothing. It's very . . . nice. It's just that if you wish to look presentable and with a little more style, we have some robes for you that'll be perfect. Come on!"

She snatches Roxas' wrist before he could say anything while Sora and the older woman follow out after them. Roxas looks back, and his nerves rush as he sees a mischievous look on Sora's face.

It wasn't Kairi, but the woman with her – Grelod – who suggested Roxas wear a girdle so that they could try and find his fitted size. Why they couldn't just measure him the way he assumes they would, he doesn't know. He only managed to convince the women that the hat stays, saying he had early male pattern baldness.

The thing itself was torturous. His clothes folded on a table with one drawer and a measuring tape rolled neatly next to a pincushion with multicolored pins poking out of it. Another was around Grelod's neck. His hands grip a stool while the woman mercilessly pulls and tugs at the strings of the piece of clothing until Roxas could barely breathe. The rough linen threads scrape against his skin, digging so hard into his skin that he believes the skin is red and throbbing. He gasps and grunts into his teeth as Kairi keeps tugging. He always assumed he was thin from his eating, but apparently not as much as he thought; though he can't say he calls it a relief at the moment.

"If you're trying to cut off my circulation, you've succeeded!" he grits his teeth.

"I know, I'm sorry, but we need this if we want to take your measurements." Kairi insists. "Not much longer I promise."

Roxas looks to Sora, his face moist with sweat. "You go through this?"

"Not all the time, but you get used to it." Sora answers nonchalantly.

"How?!"

Finally Kairi tugs one last time and holds it. Roxas takes deep breathes, but his stomach can't even expand an inch with this restricting around his abdomen. Few beads of sweat bud on his temples and he tries to hold still as Kairi helps him stand straight so that Grelod takes his measurements.

"Hold your arms out." She instructs.

"I can't breathe." Roxas croaks.

"I know, just hold on." She says, her face placid.

Roxas decides to hold his breath; slowly exhaling and inhaling so that his breathing expands his shoulders than his stomach. Suddenly Grelod poked him between the ribs. He squeaked and instinctively clapped his arms to his sides.

"Oh relax dear. Now come on, the sooner we can get this done, the sooner this comes off."

Roxas sighs and holds out his arms horizontal. Grelod loops the tape around Roxas' waist and drew it in snug. She strips the tape away and pulls a pen out of her bun to mark a pad of paper. Kairi peeks at the paper.

"Boy, you're skinny." She says.

Roxas clamps his arms in against himself against like chicken wings as the two fussed around him. "Is it always like this – Ow!" He jolts as Kairi pinched his right on the fleshy part of his underarm.

"Mostly for like fancy robes. Anything like tunics, they just measure you." Sora answers, a smug look on his face.

"I'm starting to regret this." Roxas murmurs. Then he feels Kairi take the tape and string it around his bustline. "Hey!" he reflexively smacks her hand away.

"Oh, I hate you," Kairi grumbles, making a note on the sheet of paper. She pulls the tape away again, this time drawing out one of Roxas' arms to measure its circumference. Scowling, Roxas gave up with a huff, resigning himself to be handled and measured and cataloged.

Meanwhile, another worker was working with Sora. Roxas watches as she leaves for a moment and later brings back several clothes that are heavily embroidered, and luxurious. Precious gems would have been sewn into the clothing as well - pearls, silver and gold too. A term known as 'blinking' their clothes. A fur hat the best ermine, trimmed with finest feather available; belonging to a bird Roxas didn't even recognize. Embroidered finery and ruffs and fancy collars.

Soon the girdle was finally ripped from his skin. While the girls went to fetch the fabric, Roxas spent the next minute gazing at himself in the mirror and massaging his pulsing skin red with the linen. He circles his shoulders and cracks his neck. He sighs and when he turns to the side, he takes notice of the crown-shaped birthmark on his left shoulder. He sighs and tilts his head to just gaze at it.

It was a three pointed crown with near perfect circles at the crooks. Only about the size of a grape, Roxas never really paid much attention to it. Only now, something about it seemed unusually peculiar. Xemnas really told him much about it, for obvious reasons, but it always made Roxas curious as to why he had a crown birthmark when he was never really much royalty.

Sora comes walking up with a simple blue silk robe when he stops. He catches Roxas gazing in the mirror, and Sora' eyes instantly find the birthmark. His heartbeat triples in speed and his breathing hitches. He only had a moment before Roxas catches him staring and turns around.

"Oh, you got me a robe. Thanks." He smiles.

"Huh? Oh yeah." Sora hands him the robe, and while Roxas shrugs it on, he places his right hand on his left shoulder and just stares at Roxas as he adjusts and secures the tie around his waist. He sighs and steps down from the stage.

"Geez, if it's going to be like this for your birthday I might not just not come."

"What?" Sora looks to him shocked before he realizes he's joking. "Oh."

"Hey," Roxas nudges his arm. "I was joking. Okay?"

"Yeah, yeah." Sora mumbles, taking a seat in a wicker chair.

"Are you okay?"

"Uh, just a little nervous suddenly." Sora lies.

"About finding a girl?" Roxas teases.

"It's a lot more nerve wrecking than you think." Sora laughs.

"Oh yes, trying to swoon women seems like the worst thing in the world."

Sora punches Roxas' arm and Roxas punches back, both boys laughing. They spend the next hour roaming the store and Sora teaching Roxas the basic understanding of fabric and who wear what in the social standing of the kingdom. Roxas musters about how most of it seems ridiculous, and that the rich should donate their old clothes to the poor. Sora agrees, but he could tell that Roxas was upset about how much clothing the rich have while the poor stick to earing old rage and dirtied tunics from the trash. He can count on both hands the number of times he's seen beggars in the street asking only for a spare septum or two, yet people simply walk by as if they're nothing more than rats. Some even kicking dirt to the people and spitting in their faces. Sora always hated that sort of treatment. So what if they're poor, they're still people. Sora can see that this whole thing is boring Roxas to ears, and thankfully for the both of them, Roxas' clothes are soon ready.

Outside, the sky is a mixture of pale orange and pink with purple clouds. The cool air of the oncoming night dwindling through the alleyways and crevices of the townhouses as the sun settles on the horizon.

Stepping back in front of the three-pointed mirror, Roxas is soon clothed in better materials, brighter colors, and even with decorations. Fur lines the garment and jewelry was lavished. Much of it was imported. Velvet, satin sable and ermine were only worn by nobility, and he now sports a hose and a jacket with pleating, and a surcoat. New leather boots reach to just below his knee and gleam in the light of the candles. The clothes miraculously match his hat, so the entire thing looks like a complete ensemble.

"Wow . . ." Roxas breathes. He turns to examine his back and holds out his arms.

"Walk around, see how it fits." Grelod says.

Roxas walks, runs in a circle, swing his arms about. "Yeah, it's fine. Fits perfectly."

"See, the girdle was all part of it." Kairi assures, but Roxas gives her an amused glare.

Roxas runs his fingers over the smoothness of the fabric of his arm and fidgets with the vest. "This is, amazing."

Sora can't help but smile as Roxas audits himself. The way he reacts to the luxury of the upper class is, cute. "You like it?" Sora asks.

Roxas can't hide the gratitude smile. "It's, amazing. Thank you." He turns to face Kairi and Sora. "Thank you."

"Alright!" Sora claps his hands to his knees and smiles. "If that's it, all we have to do is pay for the ensemble and we'll be on our way."

"Oh, also your Majesty, the rest of your order is ready." Grelod says.

"You order something else?" Roxas asks as he shrugs on his old tunic, and slips his feet into his old hunting boots.

"Yeah." Sora bluntly answers.

"For the party?"

"And for you."

Roxas' head snaps up. "What?"

"We talked about this." Sora says as he walks over to the counter with the girls.

"But I didn't think you were serious." Roxas follows in a hustle. He can't ignore the feeling of utter happiness that Sora's paying for him, but at the same time, he feels bad for having Sora spending his money.

"Sora," Roxas starts.

"Jesse, don't start this. We've been through this."

"I know but -"

"No buts." Sora orders.

"But –"

"I said no buts! By order of the prince!" Sora strikes the most humorous pose that Roxas instantly breaks into a laughter.

Roxas raises his hands in defeat, "As you command, your majesty."

Sora nods, then turns and pays for the clothes. Kairi wraps them in paper packages and secures them with string. They give them their regards as they leave the shop. The chiming of the bells in their wake.

Roxas sings the package over his back as they continue to explore the rest of the market. The North Market was more of the richer part of town. Roxas rarely set foot in this faction because of social standing reasons. Yet still, he holds his head high, ensuring the rips and tears in his leather cloak are noticeable in the breeze. The eyes of the nobles scour him like he's a vermin, but to Roxas, it's a statement. He's a fighter, and isn't afraid of a challenge; and it's best to stay out of his way and skip the bullshit.

It's amusing to think that he's the one in the wrong place as Sora with his purple fabric cape, with gold trimming – seem to fit in right fine. Bright colors swirl around Roxas. Deep greens and royal blues mingle to stands that have actual tables and silk banners on posts to advertise. The road is of clean cobblestone with spits of grass sprouting from crevices. Oliver's tent lay just on the border line between the North and South markets. It would seem that both ends of the social scale adore his baking, as they should.

Roxas looks around, flicking the sides of his hood so that it conceals half of his face as a profile glance. He wanders over to a jewelry stand with a display case at the forefront of the stand. A gorgeous silver emerald necklace is sprawled at the center, on either side, silver rings with amethyst and ruby gemstones. Over in the back of the tent, Roxas can see a bowl filled with sapphires, garnets, diamonds and emeralds. His thumb twitches as he thinks of the coin in can rake in for him and the guild.

"Shiny trinkets for your good lady!" the barter calls. She's a woman of her fifties, crow's feet near her eyes. She looks to Roxas and smiles. "Come to buy a trinket for that special someone?"

"Oh no, I'm just looking. And I don't even have that person." Roxas gently smiles.

"Well, buy one of these, and they're sure to fall for you." She presses.

Sora walks up with Roxas and spares the lady a nod.

"Your majesty."

"What've you got for sale?" Sora asks.

"Just what I have on display, really." She replies. She ducks down and pulls forth another display box with two circlets inside. One of sapphire and emerald, the other a ruby and diamond. Roxas' thumb twitches. "Surely you your majesty have a certain someone you wish to impress?" the woman says.

"Not yet, but by tonight my mom's hoping I will." He sighs.

"Well what better way to express your love than with beautiful gemstones."

"That's a way to get a tramp." Roxas comments, and even though Sora snickers, the woman gives him a glare.

"Thank for showing me, but you take care of yourself now." Sora says as he takes Roxas' shoulder and guides him away from the stand.

"You too, your majesty."

When they're out of hearing range, Sora smacks Roxas' head. "You don't have to be so rude." He says hiding a smirk.

Roxas rubs his head. "I'm just saying it like it is."

"What, did your family always tell you to be honest?"

"Yeah, something like that." Roxas breathes through a sigh.

Xemnas' number one rule is to always report to him. There should never be any secrets kept, especially if it involves treason, danger for the organization or anything that threatens mainly Xemnas' life. Roxas always hated how he still looks to himself after all he's done to unite the kingdom's lowest and most feared assassins and thieves. Roxas braises his hand over the sheath that holds his knife, and feels his ankle clatter against the blade of another one he keeps hidden in his boot. What Roxas hates the most is how, he's just like Xemnas, in a sense. If he were in such a situation, he fears he would only look out for himself. At least that's what the organizations' taught him. But if it weren't for Axel, even Demyx . . .

They make their way over to another stand that sells mead and spiced wine. Carts of bottles are stacked behind the barter by the tenths. A tray of free samples it out and Sora eagerly approaches.

"Welcome your majesty." A woman of her thirties greets. She had short brown hair and brown eyes. She hands him a cup of wine and smiles. "On the house, in celebration for your eighteenth."

Roxas walks up and glances at the beverages.

Sora hands him a cup. "Try some. It's good."

"Eh, why not."

"Down the hatch!" Sora chugs his whole drink down and wipes his mouth. Roxas takes a timid sip and instantly puffs his cheeks, and leans over to spew the liquid out of his mouth.

He initiates a sound of disgust. "What's in this? Onions and cat urine?" he slams the mug on the table, smacks his mouth and wipes his tongue with his hands.

Sora merely smiles at the woman, gives a nervous laughter and hauls Roxas away by the arm.

"Ow!" Roxas squeaks.

Despite what he did, Sora can't help but laugh. "Jeez, you don't have a filter do you?"

"Not on most occasions."

Sora ruffles his spikes. "Well, we need to work on your etiquette."

"Ugh." Roxas moans.

"It's nothing! Just basic manners and such."

"And such?"

"Like you can't say everything that's on your mind, or whatever it is you're thinking. Think about some people's feelings. They're no as thick-skinned as you."

"So you want me to lie?" Roxas quirks an eyebrow at him.

"On some occasions, yes. Well . . . no, just . . . so that no one's feelings get hurt."

"What if a woman has some toilet paper stuck to her foot?" Roxas questions.

"Then you quietly lean to her and whisper it." Sora drops his tone to a whisper on the last bit of his sentence to add emphasis.

"Fine, fine. I'll be on my best behavior." Roxas sarcastically says, rolling his eyes.

"Well that just instills me with confidence."

They explore more of the market, Sora communing with the barters and Roxas simply taking in anything he counts worthy of stealing depending on its value. He's at a fruit stand prepping to buy a cluster of bananas when he hears a call.

"Jesse!" Roxas jerks his head up. Sora stands near the gate leading into the castle courtyard. "Come on!" he waves.

Roxas jogs over, but quickly speaks before Sora can order the guards to open the gates. "Wait, Sora. I need to head home."

"I thought you could just get ready here." Sora said.

Roxas pauses. His mind reeling for the briefest of moments. Preparing himself in the castle would be the best way to memorize or get an idea on how the structure is built. Thereby giving him access to hidden entrances, secret hiding places for weapons, and all the bedrooms and halls with trinkets and odds and ends just ripe for the picking.

"Okay, that's good, but I just need to pick up a few things before I go." Roxas assures. Sora sighs in annoyance. "Oh, don't give me that. With Peter here, I'll be quick as a bunny."

Sora moves him with his hand. "Go. I'll be waiting in the entrance hall."

Roxas gives him a thumbs up and jogs to the stables where the stable boy has Peter ready and waiting. He mounts and torts back to his home, still out of habit making sure he's not being followed but suspicious guards.

Pulling up in the gravel driveway of his home, Roxas dismounts and quickly enters the home, shoving the door open, nearly missing Xigbar with a cigar between the grooves of his fingers. "Whoa! Watch it kid!"

Roxas ignores him and runs straight for the stairs. He climbs all the way up, ignoring the burning in his thighs as he pushes open his door and immediately grabs his satchel. He fills it with a multitude of poisons and venom mixtures until he hears a voice come from behind him.

"Don't bother, Xemnas has already smuggled everything he can into the castle. Should be everything you need."

Roxas whirls around, his hand instinctively grabbing his knife hilt. Luxord stands in the doorway, arms crossed. A small smile on his lips. Roxas gets an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

"Oh, it's you." He says.

"It's me." Luxord mimics. He unfolds his arms and walks into Roxas' room, taking a seat on his armchair in front of the fireplace. "So, tonight's the night."

Roxas looks to him in confusion. "Not it's not. It's just a ball so Sora can find a wife. His birthday isn't for three more days."

"Oh, well that's not what Xemnas said." Luxord says, a tone of fake surprise in his voice. "If it weren't the night, why are you packing all that?" Luxord leans forward, elbows to his knees as he points to Roxas' sack of poisons and alchemy reagents.

"In case guards recognize me." Roxas retorts.

"You always wear a hood."

"Well Ansem and his guards will be there, and I bet they can pick out a face even from the slightest detail. I'm . . . just being cautious."

"Hmph."

Roxas huffs in annoyance. "Why are you here anyway? You don't normally come to visit me." Roxas accuses.

"Don't sound so suspicious." Luxord says as he stands. He leans in close and Roxas feels his cheeks warm and his fingers braise over his knife. When Luxord next speaks, his tone drops nearly an octave and something about it seemed like he only wanted them to hear it. "Listen, I have something for you."

Roxas looks to him with a mix of suspicion and surprise. He watches as Luxord draws out a mahogany box. He hands it toward Roxas.

"Here."

Roxas frowned at the small, flat, post-card box, uncertain whether he should accept it. Luxord continued to hold the box steady. At last Roxas' curiosity outmuscled his indecision. He took it. Luxord retracted immediately and went over to the bed.

"What?" he said. "Don't look at me like that. It's not a freaking tarantula. Would you just open it already?"

Roxas goes and sets the box on top of his dresser. He clasped the box between both hands and carefully opened the hinged lid. Inside, the thin chain of a silver necklace glimmered. A tiny charm in the shape of four-point star rested in the middle of a black velvet cushion, its points with delicate filigree. In the center of the star, a tiny iridescent opal lay nestled in the dish of a circular setting.

The necklace sparkled like moonlight on water.

Roxas let out a small sound of surprise. The pendant was so beautiful and intricate that he had no doubt the stone it held was genuine. It struck him as an extravagant token. At the same time, the well-worn state of the box gave him the impression that the charm was old – an antique, if he had to guess. Though the pendant had four points, it looked different from any representation of a star he'd seen. It mimicked more of that of a throwing star than something that brightens the night. It hung from an intricately designed silver pendant made of a dozen interlocked circles.

"It's a gift for you. And it would mean a lot to your parents if you'd accept it." Luxord says.

Roxas' heart skips a beat at the mentions of his parents. "My . . . parents? They didn't want me." He clamped the box shut with a sharp snap and, shaking his head, held it back to Luxord. "I can't accept this."

"You have to."

"Why would I take something from a family that didn't need me? I don't need them, either." Roxas sneers.

"Ro- . . . Jesse," Luxord pauses. "Please understand, there's more to this story than what you know."

Roxas looks to him and sees a look of anticipation and urgency on Luxord's face. This is something so foreign that it captures Roxas' attention and he goes and sits in the chair adjacent to the bed. He still holds the box in his lap as Luxord blinks, his cold eyes remaining downcast. Leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees, he sat staring at the floor in front of him. His hands hung in between, one overlapping the other the curved of his fingers aimed toward the floor. Tilting his head to the side and knitting his brow, he seems to contemplate what he's about to say.

"Your parents . . . they're not as bad as you proclaim them to be. They did indeed love you. Your father had that pendant especially made for you."

Roxas is speechless as he tries to ramble together a logical response. "How . . . how come I've never seen it?"

"You never asked."

"That's not an answer!"

Luxord sighs. "I had intentions of giving it to you," he briskly speaks. "But you always expressed such disgrace that I figured you wouldn't accept it, or just chuck it into the river."

Roxas angles his head down to stare at the pendent which seems to glow even brighter even with the limited light of the fireplace.

"I wanted to wait until you were old enough to understand." Luxord says.

"So the other half of my teen years didn't count?" Roxas sarcastically sneers.

"This way, when you're eighteen, you'll be a full-fledged adult. Able to make you own choices, move out and live your own life. This way no one can have control on what you can and can't see."

Roxas' chest rises and falls, and for moments this is all he focuses on; his mind reeling. How could it be that he despised his parents all those years, and yet they left him such a precious and valuable gift? And now Luxord says that they indeed loved him?

"Why did they leave me?" Roxas asks, his voice shaky and distant.

"I was told is that they couldn't afford to take care of you."

Roxas jerks his head up "You were told? Who else knows?" Roxas slowly rises to his feet, and from the look of desperation in his eyes Luxord places his hands on Roxas' shoulders and sets him back down in the seat.

"Jesse. Jesse, listen. I've already broken enough rules getting this to you. And in this place, you know as well as I do that these walls have ears." Luxord drops to a whisper near the end of his sentence. "Take good care of it. Wouldn't want anyone to see it now and steal it for a price."

He closes his fingers around Roxas', the necklace still resting in her palm. Luxord holds Roxas' cheek in his hand before brushing his thumb over Roxas' cheek, then ruffling his hair to cover the small gesture of kindness and love. He rises from his chair. "Oh, and have fun at the party." He smiles and descends the stairs. The door shutting hushly behind him.

Roxas gazes down at the box, the pendant gleaming silver. He sighs and rises from the armchair. He tosses the box onto his dresser and begins to reorganize his things. He puts back nearly all the venoms and toxins, leaving only five bottles of poison.

As he shrugs on his leather jacket, he looks to the mahogany box again. He then plucks the necklace free of its velvet bed. The chain untraveled like a silver snake. The star dangles at the end, the opal gleaming, as iridescent as the sparkling snow that coats the world in winter.

Roxas unlatches the necklace and walks over to his wardrobe, opening the panel revealing the long mirrors on the inside of the door. Roxas lowers the chain over his head and latched the clasp in place.

The pendant rests against his chest, glowing like it was always meant for him.

Remembering what Luxord said, he takes the chain and tucks it beneath the collar of his shirt. He sighs and notices the corner of his lips curl upward. He doesn't fight the smile as he pulls on his hat and takes his satchel.

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