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Singing in the Shower

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            Roxas didn’t just sing in the shower. He performed in the shower. He liked to simultaneously sing lead and back-up vocals, lead guitar, drum solo, and whatever else the songs he liked to listen to prominently included. He liked to sing, and the talent came naturally to him. Everyone else who lived near him knew this by now.

            When Roxas lived in the World that Never Was before the second Keyblade War happened, he never really listened to music; it simply wasn’t a priority of his. Sure, he would occasionally hear music playing in the worlds he visited, but he never took the time to really appreciate it. But now that he had his own life and his own body, he allowed himself to stop and smell the roses more than he used to, or rather allowed himself to turn on the radio and lay on his bed listening to music for hours until Xion or Axel bothered him.

            Ever since the end of the Second Keyblade War, Roxas, Xion, and Axel were living in a dingy apartment in Twilight Town near the clock tower, their favorite hangout spot. Axel wanted the former Nobodies to live a normal life (as normal as they could anyway), so he decided to enroll them in school, much to their chagrin, and Axel got himself a job working in an office, much to his chagrin. Roxas didn’t mind school all that much, but he did mind not being able to listen to music during class, so he had to cram in as much song and dance as he could before school started.

            Xion sat in her room getting ready for the school day and could hear Roxas passionately belting out the lyrics to Tie the Knot. She smiled at his antics while she put on blush as she sat at her vanity which sat on the same wall as her door with her blue bed behind her. During Xion’s time in Organization XIII, she never wore makeup and put almost no effort into how she looked aside from bathing and combing her hair, focusing more on her missions than her appearance. She didn’t even think Larxene wore makeup during that time. But now that she didn’t have to worry about missions or stress over her own humanity, she allowed herself to be her own person, so to speak. She liked to experiment with fun eyeshadow and would purposefully make herself up in a garishly over-the-top way just to see the looks of shock on Axel and Roxas’ faces. She giggled at the memory.Though she liked makeup, she still often preferred to go without it. She then heard a knock at the front door.

            She exited her room into their cozy, white kitchen with brown cabinets and a cutout in the wall that separated the living room and the kitchen. A small, wooden, round table under the back window sat in front of the long hallway that led to Axel’s room on the far left side of the apartment behind the kids’ bedrooms. Xion passed through the archway to her left, leading to the living room. A grey couch and armchair faced the TV on the back wall with a scratched coffee table sitting in the middle of the room. Xion passed the bathroom door and then the door to Roxas’ bedroom, both of which were on the same wall as the door to her room.

            Xion opened the front door to find her downstairs neighbor, a woman in her late thirties or so, looking extremely ticked off.

            “Excuse me, young lady,” she said in a prissy voice, “but could you tell your roommate to tone it down a bit? Some of us are trying to sleep.”

            “Oh!” Xion had forgotten just how dingy their apartment was. The walls and floors were incredibly thin, and their tiled bathroom resonated sound extraordinarily well. Their neighbor had complained about Roxas’ singing before, and Xion didn’t blame her. You could hear him clearly from anywhere in the apartment, even if you were standing outside the front door. “I’m so sorry, ma’am,” Xion said politely, “I’ll tell him to be more quiet.”

            “Thank you,” the lady said, not looking at all thankful and walked away. Xion giggled and closed the front door.

            “Who was that?” Axel, her fiery redheaded roommate who actually had a heart of gold, emerged from the back hallway, an electronic toothbrush in hand.

            “The lady from downstairs,” Xion replied walking over to the bathroom door.

            Axel scoffed. “Who else?” He began to brush his teeth as he combed the fridge looking for breakfast.

            Xion knocked on the bathroom door and the singing abruptly stopped. “Hey, Roxas!” Xion called through the door.

            “What?” Roxas said over the din of rushing water.

            “The lady from downstairs says you need to be quieter.”

            “She always says that!” Roxas began to sing again but at a much more acceptable volume. Xion chuckled and went back into her room to finish her makeup. During that time, Roxas finished up his shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. He peeked his head out the door.

            “Is Xion out here?” he asked Axel, who sat at the table, eating eggs.

            “Nah, coast is clear.”

            “Good.” Roxas quickly ran to his room, lest Xion should walk out of hers and see him in all his glory. Roxas ran a hand through his blond, wet spikes (the only grooming his hair would ever get) and got dressed for the day. His school uniform was nothing special, but he slipped his favorite necklace over his head in an attempt to dress it up, a simple chain with a quad spiked pendant hanging from it, formerly a stylish attachment to the zipper of his favorite shirt. Xion helped him take the pendant off the zipper and put it on a chain when he told her that he would have liked to wear it with his other clothes. Around his neck he settled his silver, cordless headphones that he would slip over his ears to jam out during passing period.  

            When he went into the kitchen for breakfast, Xion sat chatting with Axel, eating last night’s spaghetti out of a Tupperware container. Roxas noticed that Xion wore blue eyeshadow and winged eyeliner, which, in his opinion, marred her perfectly good face. “What’s with the war paint, Xion? We’re just going to school, not a night out on the town,” Roxas said with a laugh.

            “I just think it’s fun,” Xion replied simply, giving him a smile.

            “Well, I think you’re too young to be wearing makeup personally,” Axel said, gesturing his arms grandly for effect.

            “You’re just jealous that you can’t pull off this look,” Xion retorted with a grin. Roxas chuckled.

            “Hey, I could, too!” Axel cried. “It’s just not acceptable for work,” he said straightening his tie. “Speaking of work, this afternoon is when I’m leaving on that business trip that I told you about. I’ll only be gone for a few days but I expect you to not trash the place while I’m gone.”

            Roxas rolled his eyes. “What makes you think we’re gonna trash the place, Axel? We have a flawless track record.” Roxas’ mind jumped to the time that he broke DiZ’s computer with his Keyblade and, with a smirk, hoped that Axel remembered it too.

            “Flawless track record? Yeah, right. Just make sure to feed yourselves, do your homework, and no parties. Capeesh?”

            “Capeesh,” Xion replied with a giggle. After consuming breakfast and stacking the dishes in the sink to be washed later, the trio left their home and stepped out into the perpetual sunset of Twilight Town. Axel headed to work, and Roxas and Xion headed for the trams.

            “You know we totally could throw a crazy party and he would never know,” Roxas joked.

            Xion laughed. “I think he would find out. He knows we’re terrible liars.”

            “Yeah, you’re right about that,” Roxas replied with a grin as they sat down in the tram that would take them closer to their school.

            Twilight High was a fairly large high school, perfect for the growing number of families that settled in Twilight Town. When Roxas and Xion enrolled, they were just two more faces in the hallways (or so they thought), and they appreciated the lack of attention drawn to them. Even so, they did have a few friends that they hung out with every day, the friends Roxas spent time with when he lived in the virtual Twilight Town. Hayner, Pence, and Olette met them in the lawn by the front doors of the school and Hayner immediately launched into a retelling of the epic Struggle match that he saw take place with Roxas and Pence last Saturday. Xion and Olette conveniently decided to go shopping that day, however.

            “It was the awesomest thing I’ve ever seen!” Hayner said enthusiastically. “You guys gotta see the match that’s going on tomorrow!” Hayner sighed. “I just wish that we could have a Struggle match every day and not have to wait a week in between them. So are you ladies gonna join us this time?” Hayner asked.

            Xion and Olette shared an amused glance. “You know, we were definitely planning on it,” Olette began, “but then we heard that there was a sale happening at the mall that we couldn’t possibly miss, right, Xion?”

            Xion laughed. “Right. It’s a shame we’ll miss the Struggle match though.”

            “Oh yeah, I’m sure,” Hayner said with a shake of his head. The group headed for their separate classes, Roxas and Pence for English, Hayner for gym, and Xion and Olette for math, and decided to meet at the clock tower for their lunch break.

            Xion sat in the back of her math class in an attempt to go relatively unnoticed by her classmates, but girls would occasionally cast glances her way. She knew by now that she should just ignore them, but she often heard them whisper Roxas’ name. Yeah, she definitely didn’t like those girls very much. Olette sat next to her and tapped her shoulder.

            “Um, Xion, you have lipstick on your teeth,” Olette said, lifting up her top lip and pointing her own teeth.

            “Oh!” Xion said with a small gasp and tried to lick away the lipstick. “Did I get it?” she said, barring her teeth for Olette.

            “Yeah, you got it,” Olette said with a smile.

            “Thanks.” As her teacher droned on and on about quadratic formulas, Xion kept looking at the clock, waiting for the end of the day so that she could finally have her weekend, even though first period had barely begun. Xion sighed, watching the second hand on the clock tick slowly on.

            After what seemed like an eternity, class finally ended. As Xion packed up her things, a voice quietly hissed her name from across the room. She looked up at the source. A group of girls were huddled together in an obvious gossip session. Some of them sported obnoxious smiles, but the others wore scowls. They chittered on unintelligibly, but Xion picked out “…Roxas…with her…” They were talking about her and Roxas. A few of them glanced at her, but quickly looked away when they caught her eye.

            “Come on, Olette.” As Xion walked through the hall to her next class with Olette, she thought about the girls and what she had heard. She sighed.

            “What’s wrong,” Olette asked.

            “Last class, did you hear what the girls were saying on the other side of the room?” Olette shook her head. “They were talking about me and Roxas.”

            “What were they saying,” Olette asked, furrowing her brows.

            “I couldn’t tell,” Xion said with a shake of her head. “What do you think they could have been talking about?” she asked.

            “Hmm, well, I know a lot of girls think Roxas is cute…”

            “Really?” Xion asked with surprise, looking at her friend.

            Olette giggled. “Haven’t you noticed?”

            “I guess I never really thought about it before.” Before now, Xion had been more concerned about dealing with Organization XIII and saving Roxas’ life, not necessarily how good she thought he looked while she did that. But Xion had more free time on her hands now to think about boys. So she thought about one. A clear picture of Roxas appeared in Xion’s mind and she examined every one of his features from his blond locks and blue eyes to his peach-colored lips and pointy nose. She thought more about his eyes, those eyes framed with thick, dark lashes. His eyes that crinkled when he smiled but would also have a look of determination when he battled Heartless. The way those eyes would just barely squint when he concentrated hard on something and his lips would part just barely, completely focused on the task at hand as his chest rose and fell evenly with each breath he took. Xion stopped in her tracks. “I just realized something. Roxas is actually…Kind of —”

            “Awesome?” Xion whipped around, having been cut off by the very subject of her inner thoughts. Roxas, Hayner and Pence stood right there, and Xion thanked Kingdom Hearts that he had finished her sentence for her, or she knew she would never be able to live that down.

            “I was actually going to say stupid,” Xion quickly recovered. Olette giggled.

            “Hey, that’s not very nice Xion!” Roxas looked so hurt, pouting those adorable lips of his.

            Whoa, whoa, whoa, adorable? Snap out of it, Xion! Xion mentally berated herself for the slip. I mean, this is Roxas we’re talking about, right? He was her very best friend, definitely not a crush. In Xion’s mind flashed an image of the two walking hand in hand across campus. Don’t go there, girl! She then imagined the looks on the faces of the girls in math class, watching the couple forlornly. She smirked.

            “Well, why don’t we just head to history class so we can fill up that empty brain of yours,” Xion said, poking Roxas in the forehead. He rolled his eyes.

            “Fine, if you insist,” he said with a huff. They quickly made their way to class but even if they were late, it wouldn’t have mattered because their teacher always arrived late anyway. Xion and Roxas sat at the back of this class, too, and, as they made their way to their seat, Xion noticed some more girls she hated, and who apparently hated her because of her friendship with Roxas. Roxas sat down in the very back seat and Xion put her bag on the desk in front of his. She glanced at Roxas, who pulled out his notebook and set it on the desk, then reached down to pull his textbook out of his backpack. Xion glanced back at the girls. They were looking this way. Imagine the looks on their faces if she just…

            Xion stepped next to Roxas’ desk, pushed his notebook into his lap and slid herself up on his desk. Roxas noticed her legs suddenly swinging by his face and sat back up in mild surprise. Xion cast a glance at the girls once more. They were fuming. Xion smirked again.

            “So Roxas, what are we gonna do while Axel’s away this weekend?” Xion said, her voice just loud enough that she knew the girls could hear her. “I mean, no adult in the house. We could do whatever we want.” Xion looked over at the girls again who were huddled together, whispering moodily amongst themselves.

            “Well I was thinking we could have a movie night with snacks or something like that.”

            “Yeah, we could have a fun pajama party, just the two of us,” Xion said with a smile, but then she realized how that would sound out of context and quickly tried to diffuse the situation. “Y-ya know, like we could get those funny adult onesies from the mall, and, uh, watch a musical and sing along to it. Something like that,” she finished lamely, not daring to look at the girls again.

            “Hehe, that’d be funny, but Axel would get mad at us for wasting our munny on those onesies.”

            “Yeah, probably,” Xion agreed. Their teacher finally waltzed in, coffee in hand, and began the lesson, so Xion slid into her seat and looked at the clock. The end of the day couldn’t come quickly enough.

            When the group of friends met up at the top of the clock tower for lunch, Roxas told them that Axel would be away for the weekend. “Xion and I were thinking of having a movie night tonight. You guys want to come over?”

            “Sorry, man, I got a ton of homework to do,” Hayner said.

            “Yeah.”

            “Me too.”

            “What? None of you want to come?” Roxas asked in mock offense.

            “We could come over tomorrow morning before the struggle match,” Olette suggested. The others agreed and decided to come to their apartment at 10 am, about an hour before the match started. As they finished their lunch, they brainstormed fun ideas for the weekend (that would likely not be okay with Axel) and took the tram back to school. The rest of the day carried on uneventfully, nor did anymore annoying girls bother Xion, much to her delight.

            Once Xion and Roxas had gotten home and changed out of their school uniforms, Axel called them into his room to reinforce some discipline into their rebellious little noggins.

            “Like I said, no parties, no having fun, and no property damage whatsoever,” Axel said, putting a folded shirt into one of the two suitcases that sat on his bed. Roxas rolled his eyes.

            “Alright, alright, we’ll be good children,” he said.

            “Oh, you had better be. If not, I’ll find out about it and punish you both. Got it memorized?” Axel said, momentarily disappearing into his bathroom to grab his toothbrush.

            “What would we even do,” Xion asked innocently. Axel gave them each a worried look as he stepped back into the room.

            “Just don’t do anything I would do.” With that, he tossed his toothbrush into his suitcase and zipped them both up. “Go start on your homework, okay, kiddos?” Xion and Roxas retreated into the kitchen and pulled out their homework, setting it on the table. “Hey, uh, Roxas.” Axel emerged from his bedroom and walked down the hallway. “Would you please help me with this suitcase?” Axel asked as he pulled his luggage into the kitchen.

            “Oh, yeah, sure.” Roxas stood up and took the suitcase Axel offered him and they walked out the front door.

            “Bye, Xion,” Axel called into the apartment, “I love you! Make good choices!”

            “You too!” Xion called back. Roxas wondered if she meant she loved him too or if she was telling him to make good choices. Probably both.

            Axel and Roxas took the suitcases down the stairs and put them into the trunk of the taxi that sat waiting for Axel. Axel then turned to Roxas. “Now Roxas,” he began gently, “You and Xion are gonna be left alone for the weekend, so if I find out that you have done anything…” he trailed off for a moment.

            He thinks we’re gonna do something illegal, like rob a bank or light the house on fire, doesn’t he?  Roxas thought.

            “…inappropriate…to Xion—” Axel continued.

            “Wait, what?” Roxas asked taken aback.

            “Now, I know you’re a perfect gentleman and all and would never even think of such a thing, but, well, you are fifteen and hormones are raging…”

            Roxas had never formally had the talk before, but his Somebody counterpart Sora had, so Roxas instantly realized what exactly Axel was trying to get at. His eyes widened and his cheeks burned.

            “What? NO! I wouldn’t—we would never—I—I don’t—no—uh—that’s not even—um—li-like you said, I’m a perfect gentleman,” Roxas finished with nervous laugh.

            Axel looked at him seriously. “I hope so because if Xion tells me anything otherwise,” Axel leaned down, hands on hips, so that he was eye-level with Roxas, “your kneecaps will be broken.” There wasn’t a single trace of humor in his voice.  

            “Right,” Roxas said quietly, “I mean Xion is like a sister to me anyway, heh.” He didn’t necessarily believe that, but he thought saying so might appease Axel.

            Axel just stared at him for a moment, one eyebrow raised. “Really?” Disbelief colored his voice. “I’m sorry, but weren’t you singing her a love song the other day?” Axel said, gesturing with his hand.

            Roxas scoffed. “I was just singing along with the radio! It’s not my fault they were playing a love song!” Roxas said, throwing his hands in the air.

            “But you were directing it at Xion.”

            “I always sing for Xion,” Roxas reasoned.

            “Aww, how cute, you like to sing for her,” Axel teased, clasping his hands in front of his chest and grinning cheekily.

            “Oh, shut up, will ya? I’ll see you next week,” Roxas said, turning back towards their building.

            “Oh come on, bring it in,” Axel said, pulling Roxas into a big bear hug, thumping him on the back before they broke apart. Axel let out a deep breath and said, “Well, I’ll see you in a few days. Be good, and remember to call me in case of an emergency.”

            “Okay, Axel.” Roxas waved as the car drove off then made his way back into the apartment and sat down at the kitchen table. Xion looked up and smiled at him, but Roxas just stared at her for a moment.

            “Something wrong?” Xion asked. “Did Axel threaten you again?” she said with a smirk.

            “Uh, something like that that,” Roxas admitted. Xion chuckled. “Xion…? Do you like my singing?” Roxas asked.

            “Yeah, I think you have a beautiful voice, Roxas.” Xion smiled.

            “Thanks.” Roxas slid sideways glances at Xion as they did their homework. He had never really seen her as anything more than a friend, but apparently Axel thought otherwise. Roxas had always thought Xion was wonderful, though. After all, she personified Sora’s memories of his beloved Kairi, and since Roxas was an extension of Sora, how could he not become attached to Xion? In Kairi, Sora saw strength and kindness, some of the reasons he loved her so much. Roxas saw those things in Xion, too, and liked being with her because of it. Roxas glanced up at her again. The forever setting sun streamed in through the window in the front room and fell on her dark hair, illuminating her chocolate highlights. Her brow furrowed in concentration and she pressed her lips together in a thin line as she worked, but then suddenly released the tension, letting them fall back into their natural shape. He knew she did that unconsciously as she worked. He realized it was actually kind of…

            No, he couldn’t even give the word thought. This is Xion. His best friend. If he developed feelings for her that she didn’t reciprocate, then he would be forever pining after someone standing right there but just out of his reach. And if he did tell her, then she would be made very uncomfortable for sure and would never want to talk to him again. Calm down there, Roxas, nothing is even happening between us yet, he thought. Roxas then decided to find out what his feelings for her actually were. He tested some phrases in his head, starting with the though he had a moment ago.

            Xion is cute. Well obviously. Who wouldn’t think that?

            Xion would make a good girlfriend. Of course she would. She kind and caring and gives great hugs—Roxas paused, a new phrase to test forming in his head.

            I want to cuddle with Xion. Roxas pictured them snuggling on the couch, watching a romance movie, looking at each other with loving eyes. What if he just leaned over and—

            “Roxas?” the boy in question snapped out of his thoughts and looked over at the girl whom he realized he had been day-dreaming about. “Are you okay?” Xion asked. “You’re just sitting there staring.”

            “Oh, yeah, I’m fine, I just zoned out for a moment,” Roxas said, blushing.

            “You sure?”

            “Yeah.” Roxas made sure to buckle down and actually do his homework so they could have the rest of the evening free. Once they finished their homework and consumed three-day-old leftover tacos (which probably should have been thrown away at that point), they were ready to begin their fun, Axel-less weekend.

            “So what do you want to do first?” Xion asked excitedly. “We could paint each other’s nails and talk about boys.”

            “You’re messin’ with me, right?” Roxas asked and Xion chuckled.

            “Well, what do you want to do?”

            “We could put on a musical like you said today and dance so hard that our downstairs neighbor has a heart attack,” Roxas suggested.

            “Sounds like a perfect idea to me.” After some bickering of what movie they wanted to watch, they eventually settled on Teen Beach Movie. Roxas had wanted to watch High School Musical, but Xion did not. Xion wanted to watch the Aristocats, but Roxas did not. So they decided to go with Teen Beach Movie. Neither of them really wanted to watch it, but were quickly sucked into the silly plot and entertaining dance numbers. Roxas even performed a near perfect rendition of Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’ for Xion. Things were okay until Falling for Ya started playing because of course Roxas had to sing along, and of course he sang directly to Xion.

            When the song started, Roxas pulled Xion into a funny exaggerated slow dance as he sang the loving lyrics to her in a falsetto voice. Xion giggled and sang with him as they danced wildly around the room. Roxas poured his heart into the song, but Xion couldn’t take him seriously, singing in such a high voice. She burst into a fit of laughter and would have fallen over had he not been holding onto her. He started laughing too, as the woman on screen continued to sing.

I'm not the kind to fall for a guy

Just ‘cause he says hi (When he's cruisin' by)

He's ready to race

And I'm catching his gaze (They'll go on like this for days)

            As the verse played, Roxas steadied Xion so that she wouldn’t fall over and they settled into a traditional slow dance position, with Xion’s hand resting on his shoulder and his hand on her waist. They locked eyes.

And now I'm

Falling for ya, falling for ya

I know I shouldn't but I

I just can't stop myself from

Falling for ya, falling for ya

Can't hold on any longer

And now I'm falling for ya

            Xion slid her arm around Roxas’ neck and rested her head on his shoulder as he held her close. They began to dance once more, much more slowly this time.

It feels like I tumbled from another world

Into your arms and it's so secure

            Xion breathed in the scent of his cologne as they twirled around the room. She thought he smelled very nice, like the ocean. Roxas rested his head on Xion’s and likewise breathed in the scent of her. Her shampoo smelled fruity and her perfume was floral.

Maybe I'll stumble but I know for sure

Head over heels I'm gonna be your girl

            Xion took her right hand out of Roxas’ and rested it on his chest, right over his heart and he wrapped his arm around her. She felt the steady thumping in her palm and vowed to never take that heart for granted. He fought so hard to have a heart of his own. Xion wanted to protect it; to protect him. When the chorus came around for the final time, Roxas sang along in a soft voice, the vibrations of his vocal cords thrumming through his chest and into her body.

And now I'm

Falling for ya, falling for ya

I know I shouldn't but I

I just can't stop myself from

Falling for ya, falling for ya

Can't hold on any longer

And now I'm falling for you

            Xion looked back up into Roxas’ eyes. They were standing so close together. Roxas swallowed, his eyes flickering to her lips. If he leaned forward just a few inches, he could feel those lips on his. Would they be soft? Would she like it? Roxas wondered if his thoughts qualified for broken knee-caps.

            Roxas and Xion snapped back to reality as the song ended and the movie continued on, awkwardly (and regrettably) letting go of each other. They sat back on the couch and watched the rest of the movie in silence. Roxas, too shocked at his own actions, didn’t sing along anymore. Eventually, the movie ended, much to Roxas’ relief. Xion stood to take the disk out of the DVD player and asked, “So, what do you want to do next?” She fiddled with the DVD case in her hands, not turning around to look at him.

            “Um…I don’t know.” He looked at the clock hanging on the wall. “It’s only about 8:30.”

            “Ooh, I know!” Xion turned around, excited once more. “Let’s build a blanket fort!” Roxas laughed and agreed. Soon they had pulled every single comforter and linen out of their rooms and closets, pulled the kitchen chairs into the living room and started draping blankets and sheets over the chairs, creating a floor out of pillows inside their fort, laughing and joking all the while. They stood back and admired their hard work once finished. “I’ve never built a blanket fort before,” Xion said.

            “I know.” And he did know.

            They stood there for a moment longer, and Xion thought about the two words that Roxas just said. She realized he knew almost everything about her. He knew that she was merely a vessel with a consciousness put into it; he knew that Xemnas intended her to copy and take his powers from him; he knew that she was never meant to exist in the first place. But he also knew that she had never built a blanket fort before, and now here one stood that they had built together. It made her kind of emotional.

            “Oh!” Roxas exclaimed, “Let’s get our pajamas on!” Roxas rushed into his room, and Xion went into hers with a smile, opening the drawer to her dresser and began to pull out her PJs. She looked at the black camisole in her hands. Would that be okay to wear in front of Roxas? She wondered what Axel would think. Then she wondered what Roxas would think. He’d seen her in her pajamas before, but usually only in the context of fighting over whom got the bathroom first in the morning. He didn’t really see her wearing this for extended periods of time. Should she just wear a t-shirt? In the end, she decided to wear the camisole with a sports bra underneath, deeming it a slightly more appropriate for spending time with a guy-friend than just wearing the camisole. Then she picked up her booty shorts. She signed and just put them on.

            She exited her room and went into the living room. As she walked around to the other side of the couch where their fort stood, she called out, “Roxas, you in there?” But he wasn’t. She felt a pillowcase slip over her head and torso as arms wrapped around her middle. She shrieked as Roxas laughed, lifting her into the air and over his shoulder.

            “Roxas! What are you doing!?” Xion cried.

            “Ha! I’ve captured you, princess, and now I’m going to take you to my evil lair!” Roxas cried as he knelt down and crawled on his knees into the fort, sitting Xion down on the pillows and pulling the pillowcase off her head. She gave him an annoyed look.

            “Gotcha,” he said quietly with a grin. Xion shook her head and rolled her eyes.

            Even in the darkness of the fort, Xion could see that Roxas wore a beige long-sleeve shirt and his long plaid PJ pants. Seeing Roxas in his nice pajamas, perfectly messy hair, and cheesy smile made Xion’s heart skip a beat. She swallowed loudly.

            “Well…” Xion leaned back against the chair supporting their fort, “now what?”

            “Now, my princess,” He said my princess, “I’m going to marry you off to a Lord to strengthen our alliance with the Destiny Islands.”

            Xion laughed. “Rude,” she quipped.

            Roxas laughed too. “Actually, I’m kind of hungry again. Wait right here,” he said, holding up his hands to stop her from going anywhere, and disappeared outside the fort. Xion heard the freezer and a drawer open, and a few moments later, Roxas returned with a tub of sea salt ice cream and two spoons. “Here we go,” he said taking the lid off the tub and the two dug right in.

            “Ooh, let’s take a pic for Gummigram,” Xion said, crawling under the blanket wall of their fort and grabbing her gummiphone off the couch.

            Roxas chuckled. “Alright sure. Make sure to show off the ice cream,” he said. Xion held out her gummiphone to capture them both in the frame and held up the carton of ice cream. Roxas grinned and held up his spoon, keeping it in frame as well. Xion snapped the pic, tagged Roxas and Axel, and gave it the caption, “Ice cream slumber party!!! <3 #icecream #seasalticecream #sleepover #icecreamparty.” Xion put her phone down and dug back into the ice cream.

            “Axel is gonna kill us when he finds out about this,” Xion said around a mouthful of ice cream, pointing to the carton with her spoon.

            “I’ll take my chances. Besides he was planning on breaking my knee-caps anyway,” Roxas replied.

            “Why?” Xion asked with a laugh.

            “Oh, uh, no reason. Just for fun I guess,” Roxas ended quietly.

            “Just for fun? That’s not very nice of him,” Xion said with a grin.

            “Heh, I suppose not,” Roxas said nervously, but she didn’t notice that. As they sat eating ice cream in their fort, chatting about trivial things like school, and their friends, their eyelids began to droop, and they started to yawn.

            “I’m tired,” Xion said, leaning against the pillows under her.

            “You wanna just sleep in the fort?” Roxas asked.

            “No, it’s way too hot in here.” Roxas agreed. They regrettably decided to tear down all their hard work, and put the chairs back in the kitchen.

            “Let’s bring our mattresses out here, so we can have a sleep over-type thing,” Roxas said, rubbing his eyes. Xion nodded in affirmation and together, they pulled their mattresses into the front room, Roxas’ closer to the window and Xion’s closer to the kitchen, having to move the coffee table out of the way to fit them both.

            “I’m gonna take off my makeup,” Xion said walking into the bathroom.

            “Okay,” Roxas replied. He decided to close the black-out curtains to the windows so they could get ready for bed because, although the never-ending sunset of Twilight Town was pretty, constant sunlight streaming in through the windows made sleep almost impossible. Roxas closed the curtains in the front room and then the kitchen, plunging the apartment into darkness. Roxas had blackout curtains in his bedroom since his large window let in a lot of light, being located at the front of the apartment. Xion’s room on the other hand didn’t have any windows save for a skylight that didn’t catch the sun’s direct rays, so Roxas wanted to make the front room dark enough for her to sleep in. Roxas walked back into the living room and let his eyes adjust to the darkness as he stood on his mattress.

            Xion opened the bathroom door and light flooded the room, ruining Roxas’ night-vision, but he didn’t mind. “Hey,” Xion said. Roxas turned around to face her. “I think I have an eyelash in my eye, could you look and see?”

            “Sure.” Roxas stepped on the couch cushions and over the back of the couch and approached Xion. He gently took her shoulders and faced her towards the light.

            “It’s this eye,” Xion said, tapping her right cheek just underneath her eye. Roxas held her hair out of the way and examined her eye, taking the chance to admire her beautiful blue irises. But he could see that a rouge eyelash had stuck itself to her waterline.

            “Yeah, I see it.” Roxas transferred the hair he held with his left hand into his right hand, and rested his left hand on her soft cheek, his fingers tangling themselves in her hair, trying to pull the eyelash off her waterline with his thumb. This surprised Xion, and she gasped and pulled away, blinking. “Wait, let me…” Roxas leaned toward her and tried once again to brush away the eyelash with his thumb. Xion decided to trust that he wouldn’t poke her in the eye even if another person touching her eye area at all made her uncomfortable. After all, Roxas would never intentionally hurt her.

            Roxas managed to slide the rogue eyelash onto her lower lashes, then gently pinched it with his thumb and forefinger, pulling it away from her. “Got it,” he said in a low voice. He held out the eyelash to her that now sat on his forefinger. “Make a wish,” he said with a smile. Xion looked up at him with a small smile on her lips, then looked down at the eyelash again and blew it away. Roxas wondered what she had wished for, and if it had anything to do with the fond smile she gave him. Roxas sighed contentedly.

            “You know, Xion.” She looked back into his eyes. “You don’t need all that makeup. You’re pretty just the way you are.” Roxas smiled softly.

            “Really?”

            Roxas realized then that he had actually said that aloud and not in his head. He cleared his throat and turned away from her, walking around the couch. “Well, I mean yeah, of course you are, why wouldn’t you be?” Roxas tried to back pedal while screaming internally.

            You idiot! How could you say that to her?! Do you have any self-control?! Is there even an intelligent bone in your body?! What if you’ve upset her?! What could she even be thinking about that right now?!

            Xion was surprised at his confession but pleased.

            Roxas sat down on his bed, facing the TV, not saying anything more. After a few moments, Xion’s voice came softly but clearly, “Thank you, Roxas.”

            There were any number of deflective responses Roxas could have given her to try to bring some levity back into the conversation, but Roxas settled with, “You’re welcome,” in an equally soft voice. Xion turned off the bathroom light, and got in her bed pulling the covers over her.

            “Good night,” she said.

            Roxas pulled his covers up to his chin. “Good night, Xion.”   

Chapter Text

            The next morning, Roxas awoke to a buzzing sound. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, noticing that the sound came from his gummiphone with the screen alight. He picked it up and squinted at the time. For some reason, Axel had decided to text him at 8:40 in the morning. Roxas wondered why Axel would bother texting him so early in the day. He unlocked his gummiphone and read the message.

            Axel: Do you value you kneecaps Roxas? >:(

            He included a picture with the message, a screenshot of Xion’s Gummigram post. Mild panic settled into Roxas’ heart. Somehow, Axel knew that they had danced together, and, no matter how platonic Roxas fooled himself into believing it was, Axel was not happy about it. Trying to seem innocent—which he was anyway—Roxas typed a reply.

            Roxas: What do you mean?

            Axel: I’m gone for just one day and you two are already having a “sleepover”

            So Axel didn’t know what happened the night before. Roxas smirked and shook his head.

            Roxas: I promise we were fully clothed the whole time

            Axel: She doesn’t look fully clothed to me

            Roxas: I promise nothing happened! It was a totally innocent pajama party. You know I wouldn’t lie to you Axel

            Axel: You better not cuz I would find out about it and bust you up. Got it memorized? I gotta go to a meeting now, but I’ll call you later

            Roxas didn’t respond and set his phone on the ground. He stared up at the ceiling. Did Axel really not trust him that much? Roxas knew he wouldn’t be getting on Xion about this, but then again, Xion wasn’t a teenaged boy. He looked over at the girl. A crack in the curtains let enough light in the room that he could just barely make out her features. Her sleeping face had a look of serenity on it, and Roxas thought that her future husband would be lucky to wake up to that every morning. She looked so lovely. He really did believe that she looked better without makeup.

            He looked back up at the ceiling and thought about that. Even though Xion looked better without it, in Roxas’ opinion, he could tell that she had a lot of fun with makeup and she would often show off any new products that she got with a big smile. Roxas thought about that smile. Makeup or no, it could brighten a room. Roxas decided that a smiling, made up face was prettier than a frowning, bare one. He considered giving her some slack about the makeup she wore but then dismissed the thought. He had too much fun teasing her.

            Roxas fell back asleep and didn’t wake again until he heard a knocking on the door. He jolted awake, confused for a moment, but then remembered that his friends were coming over that morning. He pulled himself out of bed with a groan and opened the front door. Hayner, Pence, and Olette stood impatiently on the step and bid him good morning.

            “Morning, guys” Roxas said with a yawn.

            “Hey, man, are you still half asleep?” Hayner teased.

            “Yeah, kinda.” Roxas opened the door for them and turned on the living room light. “Xion! Wake up!” Xion groaned and pulled her blanket over her head.

            “Did you guys have a sleepover without me?” Olette cried, flopping down on Roxas’ bed, pulling the covers around her. “Xion, wake up, I have to tell you about this cute guy I saw on the tram earlier.” Xion sat up and pulled her blanket around herself to preserve her modesty in front of Hayner and Pence.

            “Hey Xion, go get dressed so we can get out as soon as possible,” Hayner said, talking over Olette. The two girls left the living room and went into Xion’s, talking about the guy on the tram as Xion’s blanket trailed behind her like a cape.

            “I gotta shower before we go,” Roxas said, entering his room and searching for some clothes to take into the bathroom with him. Hayner and Pence followed him into the room and closed the door.

            “Sooo, you two had a sleepover, did you?” Hayner said, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Roxas scoffed.

            “I get enough of this crap from Axel, and now from you?” Roxas pulled a shirt off its hanger and threw it on his now mattress-less bed.

            “What did Axel say?” Pence asked.

            Roxas sighed. “I dunno. He thinks I’m gonna steal Xion’s virtue or something like that,” Roxas said, rolling his eyes.

            “Well he makes a valid point.”

            “Yeah!” Hayner agreed. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “You guys are totally into each other!”

            Roxas spluttered. “Pfft, what, no, we—we’re just friends. Obviously.”

            “If you insist,” Pence said, scratching his neck. Hayner sat on Roxas’ box-spring and leaned on one knee.

            “So what happened last night?” he asked, very interested in Roxas’ answer.

            “Well, we did homework—”

            “Lame.”

            “Then we decided to watch Teen Beach Movie,” Roxas continued on as if Hayner hadn’t said anything, and sat down next to him on the empty bed. “And we were kind of singing and dancing a little bit.”

            “You were dancing?” Pence interjected.

            Roxas took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “We were just goofing off, then the next thing you know, she had her face really close to mine and we started slow-dancing,” Roxas continued in a whisper, reliving the scene in his mind. “She put her head on my shoulder,” he said touching the place her cheek had rested. Roxas felt his face heat up and tried to shake the color from his cheeks.

            “Did you kiss her?” Hayner asked.

            Roxas shook his head. “No, but…I wanted to,” he admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

            “You totally should have! When are you going to make your move before someone else snatches her up? I’ve heard a lot of guys are after her, but they don’t want to mess with you.”

            Roxas’ head snapped up. “She has guys after her?” he asked in a sudden panic. How had Xion’s popularity grown so much amongst the boys their age without him noticing?

            “Dude, you’ve got to ask her to prom before anyone else does!”

            Prom was right around the corner, only two weeks away, and Roxas had thought about asking Xion to go with him as a friend, but he supposed he could ask her to go as more than a friend. He had wanted to ask her sooner, but school work had pushed any thought of prom out of his mind.

            Until now that is.

            Roxas sighed. “Maybe I should.”

            “What happened after the movie?” Pence asked.

            “We built a blanket fort and ate some ice cream,” Roxas said with a fond smile. “Then we decided it would be fun to pull our mattresses out into the front room and sleep out there. And that’s about it.”

            “That’s it?” Hayner asked.

            An image of Xion and her rouge eyelash he helped remove filled Roxas’ mind. He cleared his throat. “Yup, that’s it. Anyway, I’ve got to shower before we go.”

            While Roxas had been trying not to share too much with the boys, Xion had changed into her favorite outfit, a black top with ruffle sleeves and white skirt, and brushed her teeth. She fried up some eggs on the stove as Roxas disappeared into the bathroom. When Olette asked her what happened the night before, Xion gave her vague answers; she would tell Olette everything when she was certain the boys wouldn’t hear. Hayner and Pence joined them in the kitchen and Xion offered them some eggs. They declined, having already eaten breakfast.

            The sound of music and the rush of water came from the bathroom, and Xion assumed that Roxas had turned on the radio on his gummiphone, part of his morning routine. She smiled secretly to herself as she scooped eggs onto a plate. Over the sound of the shower, Roxas’ voice could be easily heard as he sang a popular song called Makeup.

I wanna see you when I wake up, wake up, wake up

Cause you look good without make up, make up, make up

Ain't nothing on you phony, phony, phony

You're sexy and you know it, know it, know it

            Xion didn’t think Roxas knew this song and was kind of surprised that he sang it out loud so willingly, especially since he knew other people could hear him. She liked that about Roxas; he had stopped caring what others thought of him a long time ago. Xion admired him for that. She tried not to laugh as he sang the first verse, trying to make his voice as seductive as he possibly could for someone at the tender age of fifteen years. Hayner and Pence ignored him, talking animatedly about the Struggle match they were going to see today to each other.

            Olette, on the other hand, commented on the performance happening in the bathroom. “Roxas is quite the singer, isn’t he?” she said with a giggle.

            “Heh, yeah he does this every morning,” Xion said.

            “Every morning? And I thought I couldn’t stand it in the locker room,” Hayner quipped.

            “He sings in the locker room?” Olette asked.

            “Yeah, well, not this song, but he always sings when we’re showering up after gym. Sometimes other guys join in,” he said, chuckling.

            Xion giggled. “That sounds like Roxas.” If anyone was goofy enough to start singing in the locker room showers in front of their bros, it was Roxas.

            Roxas, unaware of the conversation taking place as he sang, continued belting out the lyrics with fiery passion. After about the tenth time he sang the line “You’re sexy but you know it,” Pence asked, “Who do you think he’s singing about?” Olette’s gaze flickered to Xion who focused on her eggs and didn’t notice.

            “Must be talking to himself in the mirror,” Hayner said. The others laughed.

            Olette’s suspicion only grew as Roxas continued to sing.

Baby when we go to sleep at night,

Oh,

 I don't wanna close my eyes

Why dream when I can have the real thing?

            Olette glanced at Xion once more, who ate her eggs without concern for Roxas’ singing. How could she be so oblivious? Olette thought Roxas made it pretty obvious about whom he chose to sing about right then, but apparently no one else did. How could they not see it? They literally woke up next to each other! Olette knew for a fact that if Xion thought Roxas was calling her anything remotely related to “sexy,” her face would be red as a tomato. But, currently, her face shone as porcelain as a doll’s. Olette shook her head lightly.

            “So, Xion,” Olette said as if nothing was the matter, “What did you want to get while shopping today?”

            “I don’t know, maybe some more eyeliner, and I would like to find some new heels; the strap on mine broke.” Just then the group heard a loud thud followed by a few colorful words that Axel certainly wouldn’t have approved of coming from the bathroom. Xion laughed. “Sounds like he knocked over the shampoo bottle again. Oh! That reminds me, I need to get more shampoo too.”

            “Cool,” Olette said brightly, “We can stop by the salon while we’re out.”

            Once Roxas had finished getting ready for the day and scarfed down some breakfast of his own, the group left the apartment. They headed toward the tram that would take them to the city-center where the mall resided and where the Struggle match usually took place. They chatted about school and rumors about who was asking whom to the upcoming prom as they took their seats.

            “I heard that Iris is going to ask out Noctis,” Olette said knowingly.

            “Yeah, right,” Roxas said, “There’s no way she’s gonna work up the nerve to do that!” Iris, a girl in their grade had been crushing on her older brother’s best friend for the longest time, but poor Noctis remained blissfully ignorant to it.

            “You know, I think she should just go for it and ask out the love of her life before someone else does, right, Roxas?” Hayner looked pointedly at him.

            Before he could respond, Xion said, “They would be such a cute couple. She’s just so happy all the time and he’s just a big ball of…” she groped for the right word, “…angst. Those are always the cutest couples.” Xion clasped her hands in front of her chest with a smile. Roxas thought that any relationship she would be in, she’d definitely be the happy one. Roxas briefly thought of the end of his time in the organization. He had felt angry (well as angry as a Nobody could feel) and used, especially after he lost Xion, even if he didn’t remember why at the time. Would Xion consider that angsty? Roxas certainly felt angst whenever he had spoken to DiZ.

            Olette laughed. “Yeah, you’re definitely right about that.”

            When they got to the city-center, the group parted ways, the boys heading for the Struggle match in the town square and the girls headed to the Twilight Town mall. As soon as Olette thought they were out of ear-shot, she gripped Xion’s arm and said, “Okay, now tell me everything that happened.”

            Xion took a deep breath. “Well, after Axel left, we did our homework, then decided to watch Teen Beach Movie, and…” Xion trailed off and looked behind her. The boys were quite a distance away this point; there was no way they’d be able to hear her.

            “And?” Olette prompted.

            “And, well…we were kind of singing along to the songs and dancing, and Roxas was going way over the top with it,” Xion said with a chuckle. “But then a love song came on, and, well, we were just singing normally and all but then something happened.” At this point, they were at the front doors of the mall and stepped into the cool air-conditioning.

            “What?” Olette asked, excited.

            “Well, Roxas was just being really funny and I was laughing really hard so he tried to steady me and held onto me, and then we just…gazed into each other’s eyes, and…we wrapped our arms around each other,” Xion hugged herself, “and started slow-dancing for real.” This response seemed to satisfy Olette, who squealed and started jumping up and down, causing passers-by to look their way.

            “Oh my gosh! That’s too cute! You guys are made for each other!” she said with a grin.

            “Well, it was actually kind of awkward after that while we watched the movie. Oh! But then we decided to build a blanket fort and have a pajama party,” Xion continued with a smile.

            “Cute!”

            “I wasn’t sure if my pajamas would be appropriate, but I decided to throw on a sports bra underneath and it worked out just fine. But,” Xion turned towards Olette and gripped her arms. “When I walked out my room, he snuck up behind me and put a pillowcase over my head and threw me over his shoulder. He pretended he was capturing me like a princess.” Xion couldn’t help grinning at the memory.

            Olette gasped lightly. “Wait. Did he call you a princess?”

            “Yeah,” Xion continued in a daze, “He said the words ‘my princess’ at one point.”

            Olette gasped again and covered her mouth with her hands as she giggled. They walked through the doors of their favorite store in the mall and began combing the racks of clothes.

            “What happened after that?” Olette asked.

            “We just talked for a little bit and ate all of Axel’s ice-cream. Roxas wanted to sleep in the fort, but it was way too stuffy in there.” Xion pulled a shirt off the rack to examine it. Too floral for her taste.

            “Oooh, he did, didn’t he?” Olette teased.

            Xion laughed. “We decided to take it down. After that I went to take off my makeup, but I had an eyelash in my eye. So I asked him to see if he could see it, and he helped me get it out,” Xion continued on to an absolutely absorbed Olette. Xion took a breath and continued, “He was holding my hair out of the way and had his hand on my cheek. When he tried to get it out of my eye, I started to pull away, but then he told me to wait and leaned closer to get it out. Then he told me to make a wish on it.”

            Olette, enraptured by the story, couldn’t help her mouth hanging open. “What did you wish for?” she asked.

            Xion snickered, stepping around a rack of clothes. “That’s my secret,” she said.

            “Oh, come on!” Olette cried, too invested to give up now. “You have to tell me!”

            Xion giggled. “No way!” she said, walking backwards away from Olette, but then she accidentally bumped into someone. Xion turned around. “Oh! I’m so sorry I didn’t see where I was going.”

            Aranea Highwind, a senior from school that Xion knew but didn’t talk to very much, brushed at the front of her top and smirked. “I’ll forgive you,” she said, sharing a glance with her companion Cindy Aurum, “If you tell me who it is you two are fawning over.” Xion’s eyes widened and her cheeks instantly flushed. She looked at Olette in panic, who looked equally shocked at the senior girl’s question.

            “Umm,” Xion couldn’t say anything because what if someone else found out? She couldn’t stand the embarrassment if someone thought she had a crush on her best friend and told the whole school.

            “Oh, I bet they’re talkin’ about that little blond fella they’re always hangin’ around,” Cindy drawled. Xion’s face burned an ever deeper shade of scarlet. “What was his name? Roxy?”

            “Roxas,” Olette supplied. Xion shot her a warning look.

            “Oh, yeah, that guy,” Aranea said. “So have you two finally decided to go out? We’ve all been waiting for it.”

            “Wh-what are you talking about?!” Xion cried. “Roxas and I are just friends!”

            “Just friends who like to give each other hugs whenever they see each other!” Aranea said.

            “That’s completely normal,” Xion argued.

            “And who help get eyelashes out of each other’s eyes?” Cindy asked, one brow raised.

            Xion shushed the two girls and said, “Would you two quiet down?” The senior girls grinned. “Roxas and I are…just friends,” Xion said again, not really knowing if it was true anymore.

            “Oh, come on, you two are so in love. The whole school knows it,” Aranea said with a casual wave of her hand. Xion’s panic rose. This wasn’t exactly news to Olette, but it was the first Xion heard about it.

            “The whole…school? Everyone thinks we’re dating?” Xion asked to clarify.

            “Well, they think ya should,” Cindy said with a grin.

            “And the only reason you’re embarrassed,” Aranea said knowingly, “is because you think so, too.” She booped Xion on the nose.

            “What? No way! Roxas doesn’t even like me like that!” Xion said, waving her hands in front of her.

            “Oh, you think so?” Aranea said with her hands on her hips. Xion paused and thought about the night before.

            There’s no way Roxas actually has crush on me, she thought, He was simply dancing with me as a friend, that’s all. What teenaged boy doesn’t want to dance with a girl, regardless of their relationship status? He couldn’t actually have feelings for me, right? Xion’s didn’t know. Did the whole school really think they were dating? No wonder the girls in her class didn’t like her. They saw her as a threat.

            Xion cast her mind about, trying to find a reason why everyone would think they were a couple. It was true, they spent a lot of time together, and yes, the often gave each other hugs. Aren’t friends supposed to do that? Xion was friends with Hayner and Pence, but she didn’t give them hugs. What made Roxas different? He was kind and caring, and always had a way to cheer her up when she was down. Roxas had gentility about him, but could stand up for her if she needed him to. Xion realized she liked to spend time with Roxas because…

            She liked Roxas. As more than a friend. Did he think the same? And if he did, were they really that obvious to everyone but themselves? Whatever the case may be, Xion didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about them. Until she and Roxas could figure each other out, they would have to present themselves as more platonic from now on—or, at least, Xion should treat him that way in public. She took a deep breath and released the tension in her forehead.

            “Whatever Roxas’ feelings are, I don’t know,” she began, “but I…I don’t want my feelings for him to ruin the friendship we do have.” Olette looked at her with sympathy, but Aranea and Cindy both laughed.

            “I don’t think you have to worry about that, sweetheart,” Cindy said with a wink, “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. It’s like you’re his dream come true.”

            Xion raised her eyebrows. “You think so?”

            “We know so,” Aranea said. “We’ve got quite a few boyfriends under our belts after all. We can tell a love-struck fool when we see one.” Xion wondered if she meant her or Roxas.

            “So what should I do?” Xion asked.

            The suggestions they made in the next minute Roxas would have probably liked but would have caused Axel to skin her alive. As the four girls split off to go their separate ways, Xion decided she would no longer be taking suggestions from the peanut gallery.

            Meanwhile in the Square, the boys had become entrenched in the Struggle match that took place. Roxas had wanted to enter for a long while now, unable to do so due to school work consuming his time. But just watching the matches filled him with glee. The two contenders for this round squared off and swung their foam bats, strategically trying to dislodge the little foam balls from each other’s suits. One of the boys hit the other so hard that the balls seemed to explode from his side. Roxas whooped along with the crowd. The boy somersaulted on the mat in an attempt to stick the foam balls to his Velcro suit once more, but it was too late. The timer buzzed and his opponent won the match, having retained the most foam balls in the end. Roxas cheered but felt sorry for the kid that lost.

            He eagerly awaited the next match to start, but was surprised when one of his classmates from school jumped into the ring and called for everyone’s attention.

            “What’s goin’ on?” Hayner asked, miffed that the match had been interrupted. Roxas shrugged.

            “Can I have my girlfriend come up here?” the boy called out to the crowd. Roxas looked on in confusion as a girl walked up to the ring, equally confused. “Serah.” The boy dropped to one knee, taking her hands in his. Roxas gaped. “Would you do me the honor…of going to prom with me?”

            The girl giggled and happily agreed, but Roxas scoffed. “They interrupted the match for that?” he said in disbelief.

            “That’s what I’m saying!” Hayner agreed.

            “Oh, come on you guys. That was super romantic,” said a voice behind them as a camera shutter clicked. The three boys turned around to find Prompto Argentum, a senior at their school, holding a DSLR camera and grinning like an idiot.

            “Ya know, he could have just asked her in private instead of interrupting the match,” Hayner complained, crossing his arms.

            “But the ‘promposal’ is the most fun part about prom!” Prompto said.

            “Hey, are you sure that’s the most fun part, Prompto?” said Gladiolus, one of Prompto’s friends, and one of the scarier seniors due to his hulking size and facial scars. On either side of him were Ignis, the nerd of their friend group, and Noctis, the star-quarterback, local bad boy, and school heartthrob.

            “Why even bother with prom?” Noctis asked in a dull voice. “The tickets are just a waste of munny.” Prompto simply couldn’t allow of that kind of talk.

            “Whadaya mean, Noct?! Don’t you wanna dance with a pretty girl all night long?” he cried. Noctis rolled his eyes.

            “Perhaps it is because he’s shy and feels too awkward to ask anyone,” Ignis suggested with a smirk. Noctis threw Ignis a dark look and Roxas chuckled, thinking he was on to something.

            Prompto turned his attention back to Roxas and his friends. “So who are you guys gonna ask?”

            “Uh...” A certain raven-haired girl flashed in Roxas’ mind, but before he could say anything, Pence answered for him.

            “Roxas is going ask Xion.”

            “Pence!” Roxas cried, whipping around to face him.

            “What?” Pence said defensively. “Were you not?”

            “Aww, Xion is such a sweetheart, isn’t she?” Prompto said. “Ya know, if I was two years younger…”

            Roxas rolled his eyes but then furrowed his brows. “Actually, I’m not sure if I should ask her,” he admitted.

            “What!” Hayner cried, “Why not?”

            “Well...” Roxas rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean…we’re best friends and I don’t want to ruin our friendship if I try to push her.” Roxas sighed.

            “Wait,” Noctis said, confused, “I thought you guys were already dating.”

            “What? No,” Roxas said perplexed, shaking his head. “What gave you that idea?” Roxas couldn’t believe that Noctis, a guy he almost never interacted with, thought that he and Xion were a couple. Just because they hung out a lot didn’t mean they were "together".

            Noctis lifted an eyebrow, impossible to see behind the spiky black hair framing his face. “Uh, you did,” he said as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world to Roxas.

            “What do you mean?” Roxas said.

            “He means,” Prompto began slowly, “that whenever you two see each other, it’s like no one else is even in the room.” Prompto sighed dreamily. A shocked expression covered Roxas’ visage. Is that what other people thought—that they had been dating this whole time?

            “Is that how we really look to other people?” Roxas said quietly. Prompto nodded with a big grin.

            “You better ask her out before someone else does, kid,” Noctis said and turned his attention back towards the match.

            “We could help you, if you want,” Prompto offered, “we could all go as a big group!” he gestured to all six of the boys around him. “But,” he turned to face Noctis, “that means you need to find yourself a date, Noct! No going solo.” 

            “Not gonna happen,” he said in a bland tone, not looking away from the match.

            “You’re no fun at all, Noct,” a new voice behind them said. It was Iris, whose smile didn’t quite reach her eyes as she regarded him. Noctis just shrugged. Roxas felt kind of bad for her, being rejected before she even had the opportunity to ask.

            “He’s just mad that Luna’s not going to be there.” Prompto smirked, earning a dirty glance from Noctis.

            “Who are you guys going with?” Iris asked, turning away from Noctis, repeating Prompto’s question from before as she tried to hide a crushed expression.

            “Well,” Pence began, scratching the back of his neck, “we haven’t really asked anyone yet.” Pence had enough sense not to reveal Roxas’ feelings in front of Iris, a girl they saw daily.

            “What about you, Iris?” Roxas asked.

            She briefly glance at Noctis but said, “I’m not really sure.”

            Roxas sighed. “Well, I’m sure we’ll find someone.” The group went back to watching the Struggle match, but Roxas was no longer interested. He knew he should ask Xion before anyone else did, but what if he chickened out? Roxas didn’t think he could bear to see anyone else slow dancing with her. He knew her best out of anyone in this or any world. When they were in the Organization, they spent so much time together on the clock tower, eating ice cream. They had laughed and joked, and Roxas knew he could never do anything to hurt her. (Well, aside from killing her that one time so Sora could receive his memories of Kairi back from her, but that was a…special circumstance.) Now that they had their own hearts in their own bodies, Roxas didn’t plan on doing that ever again. Having her ripped away from him once was enough. Being the direct cause of it…

            Roxas imagined Xion, broken, in his arms. Xion had good intentions for provoking him into killing her, but, had he had a heart at the time, it would have shattered into a million pieces. He vowed that he would never do anything to hurt her ever again. Roxas needed to think of a good plan to ask her out and brainstormed some ideas until the Struggle match ended, pleased with none of them.

            Xion and Olette arrived at the city-center just as workers began to clean up the match. “Roxas!” Olette called out to them. Roxas turned around and smiled. They each had a few shopping bags apiece and he wondered if it cost enough that Axel would make Xion return most of what she bought. The three boys began walking over to them, but they only made it a few yards before a shadow appeared on the ground in between them—a shadow being cast by nothing.

            Roxas gasped. “Heartless!” he cried, summoning Oathkeeper and Oblivion, ready to take on the heartless that were popping up from the ground. What were they doing here? Wasn’t this world supposed to be safe? The infamous Heartless sent panic through the crowd which began to flee the area. Xion shoved her bags into Olette’s arms and summoned her own Keyblade. Roxas knew he could count on her in a fight.

            Roxas and Xion slashed at the Shadows, releasing them from their prison of darkness and sending their hearts up to Kingdom Hearts, where they belonged. At first only tiny Shadows appeared. Roxas easily sliced through them with his Keyblades like they were nothing. The Heartless, realizing they were up against Keyblade wielders, enlisted stronger comrades to defeat the two. Neoshadows and Soldiers appeared, scaring the people the in the Square. Roxas intercepted them before they could attack anyone, swinging his Keyblades as metal met smoke.

            A group of Mega-Shadows suddenly appeared before him, too many for him to battle all at once. Roxas raised his Keyblade in the air and shouted, “Thunder!” Bolts of lightning struck the ground around him, making contact with his enemies, but the civilians around him were unharmed. The lightning Roxas called from the sky left the Heartless stunned and confused. He took advantage of their temporary weakness and ran them each through with his Keyblades.

            As they battled, frightened townsfolk fled the scene, including the group of seniors and Iris who tripped and fell as a Heartless readied itself to pounce on her. She tried to stand but had twisted her ankle.

            “Iris!” Gladiolus screamed in panic, rushing to his sister’s aid, but he didn’t make it there in time. The Heartless flew toward Iris as she screamed, shielding her face with her arms, bracing herself for a very painful death. Luckily for her, Roxas got there first, batting the Heartless away as if it were a bothersome insect.

            “Iris! Are you okay?!” Roxas said turning around and kneeling on one knee in front of her.

            “I’m okay, but I twisted my ankle,” she said. Gladiolus skidded to a halt next her and scooped her up in his arms.

            “I gotcha, Iris,” he said running away from the scene. Iris cast a glance back at Roxas as she and her brother retreated. They locked eyes for a tense moment, but the sound of metal clashing with shadow called Roxas back to the fight. He turned his attention to the Heartless once more and jumped into the fray.

            The tiny Shadows were no match for the pair, but as stronger enemies appeared, Roxas felt his strength begin to wane. He had not battled the Heartless in months and realized how severely out of practice he had let himself become.

            Roxas and Xion battled with all their might, but just when they thought they had won, a pool of shadow settled over the ground. From that pool rose a Darkside. Roxas gasped and suddenly felt small compared to its size, being at least two stories tall. He furrowed his brows in determination and grit his teeth, launching himself at the monster, slashing at its hands and feet, slowly chipping its health away. As tired as he was, he had to take down this beast before it hurt anyone. Xion concerned herself with taking out the Shadows the Darkside summoned while Roxas dealt with it. Xion was faring well, but cried out in pain as a Shadow launched itself at her, dark energy permeating her being.

            Roxas gasped. “Xion!” He had vowed to never hurt her, but he couldn’t even do something as simple as protecting her from a little Heartless. He tore his eyes away from the Darkside, making sure she was okay, but didn’t realize his mistake until too late. The Darkside’s hand connected with his body, sending him flying into a wall. Roxas collided with the bricks and collapsed on the ground, struggling to breathe as the wind had been knocked out of him. Roxas’ vision blurred and a high note rang in his ears. The rough ground scratched his cheek and something warm and sticky dripped down the back of his head which throbbed intensely. He blinked but couldn’t shake the stars from his vision and struggled in vain to push himself off the ground. Bleary-eyed, he tried see if Xion had been hurt, but his eyes refused to focus, and he could only see dark smudges and shapes. He just needed to get his proper vision back, and then he could get back to protecting Xion. But she beat him to it.

            “Heal!” she cried, casting Cure over his form from her place on the battlefield. Roxas immediately received his strength back. He took a deep breath, vision cleared and head stitched back up again. Euphoria filled him at the sudden absence of pain, and he decided then that Cure was his favorite spell. He could fight hundreds of Heartless now. Roxas grinned. The Darkside was toast. He launched himself back at the monster, newly invigorated, slashing at its hands once more as Xion helped destroy the beast. He knew he could rely on her. The Darkside disappeared in a great cloud of smoke with Roxas’ finishing blow, its heart now floating up into the sky. Xion dismissed her Keyblade and leaned on her knees panting. Roxas ran up to her and cast Cure over her form, even though she wasn’t really hurt, but she appreciated being able to breathe normally again. “Thanks,” she said with a grin.

            “No problem.” Roxas smiled and dismissed his own Keyblades, but then grew serious. “What were the Heartless doing here?” he said concerned. “This world is supposed to be safe.”

            “No idea,” Xion said with a shake of her head. “What if more appear?” She gave Roxas a worried look.

            “We should call Axel,” Roxas said, pulling out his gummiphone and dialing Axel, but got his voicemail instead. He groaned. “Come on, pick up!” the voicemail beeped, telling Roxas that he could record his message. “Axel, we’ve got a big problem,” Roxas said with urgency, “Heartless showed up even though this place has been safe for a long time. Please call me back as soon as possible.” Roxas ended the call and sighed. “He’ll get back to us at some point.” Xion nodded gravely. They looked at each other for a brief moment before she launched herself into his arms, surprising Roxas but he readily wrapped his arms around her.

            “Don’t ever scare me like that again!” she cried. Roxas rubbed her back and smiled.

            “I’ll try not to, but I don’t make any guarantees,” he said with a weak chuckle.

            Xion pulled away sighing. “Just be more careful.”

            Roxas nodded. He grinned at her but worry gnawed at him. Heartless meant trouble, trouble that only Keyblade wielders such as themselves could take care of. He sighed, anticipating the work they had to do. This was supposed to be a fun weekend.

Chapter Text

            Roxas stood with his eyes closed as water forcefully hit against his back and neck and dripped down his chest. Even though his wounds had been healed, the fight with the Darkside had left him tired and sore once the adrenaline wore off. Where his head had cracked open against the brick wall still throbbed immensely. He stared at his feet, watching the blood caked into his hair flow down the shower drain, thinking of what had taken place that day.

            The appearance of the Heartless in Twilight Town had shaken Xion, but Roxas only grew wary. Heartless meant bad news and he knew that only he, Xion, and Axel could put a stop to it. It had only been a few months since Xehanort’s defeat and he already had to go back to work again. No rest for the weary, he thought.

            Axel of course had called them back in a panic when they reached home. He assured them that he would send for Keyblade wielders to provide backup for them since he couldn’t be there. That was just like Axel. Even if he didn’t always act like it, he made protecting Roxas and Xion a top priority of his, a priority that caused him endless headaches when they were in the Organization. Roxas blinked the water out of his eyes, tilting his face toward the ceiling and scrubbing the blood out his hair.

            What a nasty wound, he thought. If Xion hadn’t healed him when she did, he would have likely passed out from loss of blood. He could have died.

            But she saved me. He smiled fondly. He knew he could always depend on Xion; she cared about him so much, using her own magic power to heal him. He thought about his last moments with her as Nobodies and the smile slid from his face, replaced by a slight grimace. She sacrificed herself for me. She died so I could live. Ever since they gained their own lives, Roxas often thought about the sacrifice Xion had made that day, giving up her own life for his and Sora’s. I would do the same for her. I would give my life for Xion. Roxas hoped nothing would ever come to that but remained firm in his conviction. He smiled once again and began to sing.

So this is love, mmm

So this is love

So this is what makes life divine

I'm all aglow, mmm

And now I know

The key to all heaven is mine

            Roxas wondered if Xion knew that he meant the song for her—he knew she could hear his singing. Deep in his heart, he hoped she did know and would want to come to him about it, but another part of him wanted to prolong the revelation; the thought of Xion rejecting him filled him with dread. He would give her the chance to come to him first, and if she never did…well, he would burn that bridge when he came to it.

My heart has wings, mmm

And I can fly

I'll touch every star in the sky

So this is the miracle

That I've been dreaming of

Mmm, mmm

So this is love

            Yes, he was in love. If only Roxas could have realized it sooner. When he was a Nobody, he had no idea what “love” meant. Axel had tried to explain it to him, but without a heart, Roxas couldn’t surmise any real meaning from the word. But he understood now.

            Xion sat on the living room couch, listening to Roxas sing. Her nerves were in a tizzy from the fight with the Heartless, but just listening to Roxas’ angelic voice calmed her. He sang relatively quietly, but she could still hear him well enough. She closed her eyes and listened as he repeated the short song a few times. If only he would sing that song to her. If only she could tell him how much she loved him.

            Before the fight with the Heartless, the fact that she had a crush on Roxas troubled Xion slightly, not wanting to hurt their friendship, but even she didn’t realize the true scope of her feelings. When she saw him crumpled and broken after the Darkside had struck him, ice-cold fear had coursed through her veins. She thought she had lost Roxas forever, and a life without Roxas was hardly worth living, in her eyes. She couldn’t live each day without seeing that smile of his or hearing his jokes that would make her laugh so hard her stomach hurt. If Roxas died…she couldn’t even bear the thought.

            The shower water stopped and, after a minute the door cracked. “Hey,” Roxas said, “don’t turn around, I’m not dressed.”

            “Okay,” Xion said with her eyes still closed. Roxas disappeared into his room and shut the door. Xion took a deep breath and opened her eyes again, wondering what to do with the Heartless problem. They would certainly be targeted because of their connection to the Keyblade—practically a homing beacon for Heartless. But no Heartless were bothering them now, so perhaps they could get some peace and quiet for the rest of the day.

            Xion stood and went into her room. Olette had brought by Xion’s bags from the mall earlier and Xion dumped the contents onto her bed. There sat new eyeliner, shampoo, a few cute dresses, and a killer pair of silver high-heels bedazzled with rhinestones. They were very expensive and Xion made Olette promise to never tell Axel what they had cost. She believed they were worth it.

            She slipped the heels onto her feet and strutted into the living room. They weren’t too uncomfortable when she first put them on, but she knew that walking in them for a while would surely feel like pins and needles. Beauty’s pain, she thought, sitting back down on the couch.

            Roxas emerged from his room and flopped on the couch next to her without a word, wearing a black tank top and cargo pants. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment.

            “What are we gonna do about the Heartless?” Xion asked quietly.

            Roxas waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t wanna worry about the Heartless right now,” he said, looking away from her.

            “Well, what do you want to do?”

            Roxas shrugged. “I don’t know.”

            “You want to just watch a movie or something?” she asked.

            “Eh, I don’t really want to be at home right now,” Roxas replied, gazing around the room. “We could go to the movie theater if you want.”

            Xion smiled. “That sounds great,” she said, propping her feet on the tiny stiletto heels of the shoes she wore. “Oh!” she said, remembering her new purchase and jumping up, “Look at my new shoes! Aren’t they so cute?” Roxas glanced down at her feet and stood up next to her. Normally, Roxas was about an inch or so taller than she was even when she wore her usual heeled boots, but in sky-high-heels, Xion practically dwarfed him. Well, really the heels made her only a couple inches taller than Roxas, but, to him, it felt like much more than that.

            “They’re beautiful,” he said, looking back up at her, “I hate them.” He grinned.

            “Hey! That’s not very nice,” Xion said, giving him a playful smack on the arm.

            “You’re not supposed to be taller than me.”

            Xion laughed. “I’m sure you’ll get over it.”

            Xion traded her heels for flats and soon the two were out the door, headed to the local cinema. As they passed the sight of the Struggle match from earlier that day, Roxas couldn’t help but feel slightly anxious about the thought of the Heartless that had been there. He took a deep breath and willed himself to forget about it. He was going to have a nice evening at the movies with Xion and no Heartless were allowed to ruin that.

            When it came to deciding what movie they wanted to see, they practically repeated the conversation they had had the night before. Roxas wanted to see the Aladdin remake but Xion wanted to see Frozen 2. They decided to settle things with a good, old-fashioned game of rock-paper-scissors. Roxas won, much to his delight, and fifteen minutes later they sat in the theater for Aladdin, watching trailers as they munched on their popcorn, chatting about the day they had had, pre Heartless. Roxas tried to get Xion to tell him how much she had spent, but she wouldn’t budge.

            “Axel is going to find out sooner or later, you know,” he said with a smirk.

            “I’ll take my chances,” she said, echoing his words from the day before.

            The theater lights dimmed as the movie started, but Roxas found that he struggled to pay attention, as Xion’s shoulder pressed against his. Roxas ran a hand through his hair and cast his eyes about the dark theater, suddenly bashful, when his eyes landed on a couple near the front of the room. They had their arms around each other, one person’s head leaning on the other. Roxas had an idea.

            He remembered a trick that Riku taught him once, a trick almost exclusively used in a movie theater setting but would be weird anywhere else. Roxas swallowed. Could he pull it off? Sweat beaded up on his forehead for even thinking about attempting it, but he didn’t think Xion would be too offended (hopefully), so he decided to give it a go.

            He stretched his arms above his head, accented with a faux yawn and settled his left arm around Xion’s shoulder, heart hammering in his chest during the entire act. Roxas wished at that moment that he could go back to his days as a Nobody, when he didn’t have a heart that would beat so loudly. Were that the case, however, he wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. It seemed that having a heart of his own was a double-edged sword. Xion stiffened slightly, but then after a minute (of Roxas shaking in his boots), she relaxed and settled into his side.

            Wow, I can’t believe that actually worked. Roxas grinned to himself, turning his face slightly away from Xion so she wouldn’t see, pleased that he managed to pull off the move without getting slapped. Roxas must remember to thank Riku for his advice the next time he saw him. For a few minutes, Roxas couldn’t even focus on the movie with Xion pressed into his side the way that she was since the arm of the chair was up, but eventually he relaxed and began watching the movie again, rubbing Xion’s shoulder with his thumb.

            About halfway through the movie, Xion leaned her head on his shoulder and settled her hand on his knee, tearing his focus from the movie and sending his heart into a frenzy once again. Did she even realize the effect she had on him? Roxas thought about the possibility of his heart jumping right out of his chest and wondered if Xion’s wanted to do the same. Xion, however, remained completely oblivious to Roxas’ inner turmoil. In fact, she found his arms quite a comfortable place to be. Roxas took a breath, willing his pulse to slow down, trying to avoid being distracted by the thumb rubbing his knee. All that fighting over what movie to watch and she wouldn’t even let him pay attention. She’s doing this on purpose, he thought, amused at his own petty assumption. Two can play at that game. He smirked wickedly.

            Roxas pulled away from Xion slightly and tilted his head down to whisper in her ear. “Do you want to get some dinner after this?” Xion’s cheeks warmed at his close proximity and her heart suddenly started beating faster at the feeling of his hot breath on the side of her face.

            “Uh, yeah, we could go to Uncle Scrooge’s café.”

            “Sounds good.” Roxas pulled her into his side and rested his cheek on her head. Instead of rubbing his thumb on her shoulder, he brushed his fingers lightly against her arm, sending tingles up her spine. Xion’s cheeks burned flaming red as she sighed gently, thankful for the darkness in the theater that hid her blush. She took a few more deep breaths to try to calm down, but Roxas made sure her endeavors were unsuccessful. He took the wrist of the hand on his knee and slid his hand into hers.

            We’re holding hands, she thought in mild panic, trying not to sweat, and totally unprepared for this turn of events. What if he tried to kiss her? She wasn’t ready for that, but how could she say no to Roxas? Surely he would understand her trepidation, but it would be awkward giving him the cheek. She tried not to think about it and turned her attention back to the movie.

            Eventually, after Roxas insisted on staying to see if there was an end-credits scene, the movie finally ended. Xion stood abruptly, wrenching herself from Roxas’ grasp and said, “Let’s go get some food.” She walked out of the theater without checking to see if Roxas had followed her. She knew he would.

            They walked in silence to Scrooge’s café as each thought about what had happened in the movie theater. Roxas had put his arm around her. Xion never thought that Roxas saw her in a romantic way before, but she couldn’t believe that the way he rubbed her arm was at all platonic. Nor did she want it to be.

            Xion couldn’t believe how hard she had fallen head-over-heels for Roxas in the past day. One second, she and Olette were chatting about annoying girls in math class, then the next second, visions of Roxas’ beautiful blue eyes danced in her head.

            When they got to the café, Xion looked inside at the patrons, and felt slightly underdressed for the establishment. When she brought up her qualm with Roxas, he asked the hostess if they could get a table outside, in front of the café. He pulled her chair out for her like a proper gentleman and took his seat across from her.

            “Roxas…” He looked up at her as a smiled played on his lips. Xion wanted to bring up the subject of her feelings with him. After cuddling with each other at the movies, it should be apparent how she felt, but she wanted to say it with her own words. However, Xion’s bravery shriveled in that moment. “What do you think you want to get?” she said, picking up her menu and flipping it open.

            “Hmm, that’s a good question. I’ve never heard of most of these dishes,” he said, raising his menu and staring perplexedly at it. “Maybe the chicken tenders.”

            Xion giggled. “We’re at a fancy French restaurant and you want to get the chicken tenders?”

            “Hey, you can never go wrong with chicken tenders,” he said knowingly.

            “That sounds like something Sora would say.”

            “Well,” Roxas shrugged, “I kind of am him.”

            “Kind of,” Xion conceded.

            Just then, a waiter came rushing up to their table and greeted them. “What can I get the lovely couple to drink this fine evening?”

            Before Xion could deny the fact that they were a couple, Roxas said, “Coke for me. Xion what would you like?” He smiled at her.

            “Coke is fine,” she said, hoping her cheeks weren’t as pink as they felt.

            The waiter swept away and returned with their drinks as they chatted about the movie they saw. Luckily for them both, they each managed to remember something that happened in it. The waiter took their orders and swept away once more, leaving them alone again. Roxas rested his cheek on his fist and gazed at her. His eyes sparkled in the never-ending sunset and Xion thought that golden hour looked good on Roxas.

            “You know, Xion,” he smiled, “this kinda feels like a date.”

            Xion’s eyes widened and her cheeks became bright pink once again. She swallowed and said, “What do you mean?” as if she didn’t know exactly what he meant. Even if Xion ignored the lit candles sitting between them, cuddling at the movies would have been strong evidence for Roxas’ case.

            Roxas shrugged. “I dunno, I’m just saying that maybe it would look like it to other people,” he said, smiling then taking a sip of his drink.      

            “Maybe,” Xion said, focusing on the place setting in front of her. She quickly changed the subject. “So, who do you think Axel is going to get to help us with the Heartless?”

            “Probably the whole gang, knowing him.” Roxas stared off into the distance.

            “It would be nice to see everyone again,” Xion said.

            “Yeah, I’ve got to take the guys to the skate park when they’re here,” Roxas said.

            Xion laughed. “While you’re doing that, I’ll take the girls shopping with me.”

            Roxas made a face. “Shopping? Girls are so boring,” he said with a grin, taking another drink of his soda.

            “Hey, we are not!” Xion crumpled up her napkin and tossed it at his chest. Roxas chuckled. As the two dined, they talked about what they wanted to do if their friends decided to show up and funny things that had happened with them in the past. When they finished their meal, Roxas insisted on paying, forking over nearly all the allowance that Axel gave him.

            As they walked home, Roxas glanced up at the clock tower. He stopped Xion. “Hey, do you want to head up to the usual spot?”

            Xion grinned. “Of course.”

            After buying two sea salt ice creams from a nearby vendor—Roxas paying once again and exhausting the rest of his allowance—they went through a service door that no one ever locked and up the rickety stairs. At the top of the clock tower, Roxas sat down on the ledge and Xion took a seat beside him. They silently ate their ice cream, gazing at the forever setting sun.

            Roxas thought about the dinner they had just had and smiled, quite pleased with himself for putting a blush on Xion’s face. He knew she would have corrected the waiter, said they weren’t a couple, but he didn’t give her the chance and implying that it had felt like a date had been just as fun as he thought it would. He chuckled softly, remembering the shocked expression on her face when he had teased her. His mind went back to the movie theater. He couldn’t actually tell if holding her hand had made her nervous, but he had enjoyed feeling the soft pressure of her hand in his.

             He glanced down at her hand, wanting to hold it again, but stopped himself. At the movie, they were under the cover of darkness in a foreign environment, but here at the usual spot where their friendship first developed, they would both be vulnerable. Perhaps Roxas wasn’t yet ready to lay his cards out on the table like that. So they just sat and ate ice cream in silence, occasionally remarking on how beautiful the city looked, until all the ice cream had been consumed. They walked the short distance home to their apartment where they met Isa—who had let himself in and whom Axel called to keep an eye on them while he couldn’t—covered in flour, baking something sugary in the kitchen.  

            “There you two are,” he said, stepping through the archway to the kitchen. “I was starting to worry.”

            “Oh, we just went to a movie and got dinner,” Roxas said, flopping onto the couch, noting that their mattresses were no longer on the floor. Isa must have returned them to their beds.

            “Hmm,” was all Isa said before disappearing back into the kitchen.

            “You know, Roxas,” Xion said sitting down with him on the living room couch, “When the gang gets here, we should ask them if they want to go to prom with us.”

            “Do you think they’d want to?” Roxas asked. Kairi would most certainly make Sora go with her. As for Riku and Naminé, well, they had an interesting relationship. To be fair, Riku had an interesting relationship with everyone. His devotion to Sora caused him to make some questionable decisions, such as attacking Roxas and Xion to save his friend’s life. Since then, Riku had apologized profusely, but they still thought it best to tread lightly around him. Not that they didn’t trust him—they did, but it would take a while before they could get over the walls he had put up around himself. They didn’t begrudge him of that.

            Riku was a complex person, but Naminé was just as complex for similar reasons. Both wanted the best outcome for everyone as a whole, but didn’t allow themselves to selfishly pursue their own desires. Watching the two interact could sometimes be likened unto pulling teeth—painful. Each wanted something from the other but they didn’t quite know what, both looking like a fish gasping on the shore, seeking love, but not knowing how to go about it.

            A corner of Roxas’ mouth lifted as he pictured his group of friends in a formal setting like prom. Sora’s and Kairi’s general craziness mixed with Riku’s and Naminé’s quiet uncertainty for each other would make for an interesting night.

            “I think they would love it. Terra and Aqua can be chaperones,” Xion said with a laugh.

            “We’d have to find a date for Ven,” Roxas said, totally willing to go out of his way to do so.

            Isa asked them about the Heartless that attacked them as he baked. When Roxas asked why he was baking in the first place, Isa simply said that cookies had sounded good to him, but Roxas suspected that maybe Axel had put him up to it—a treat after a trying day. After just having eaten popcorn, a full meal, and ice cream, they told Isa they would save the cookies for tomorrow as they sat down in the kitchen to talk. Roxas and Xion briefly filled him in on the fight with the Darkside, but neither wanted to dwell on it.

            “I think I’m going to take a nice, long shower,” Xion announced, wanting to get out of the conversation.

            “Don’t use all the hot water,” Isa chided.

            As Xion showered, Roxas sat on the living room couch thinking. The gang would love to go to prom with them and they each had a date, well, all expect for Ven, but Roxas could definitely set him up with someone. That just left him and Xion. It would make perfect sense to ask her. Besides, Roxas couldn’t think of anyone he would rather go with. He resolved to ask Xion once she had showered and gotten dressed. He would have to take her outside so that Isa wouldn’t be listening in on them. Just as he made this decision, the doorbell rang. Roxas stood to answer it.

            Iris stood in the doorway with her hands locked behind her back.

            “Iris,” Roxas said with surprise, “How are you? Is you ankle feeling better?”

            “Yes, It’s fine, thanks, it just needed some ice.” She smiled. “But I wanted to talk to you about something.” She kicked the ground with her toe.

            “Sure, come on in,” Roxas said, opening the door wider.

            “Actually, do you mind if we go for a walk?” Iris said, pointing her thumb behind her.

            “Yeah, sure,” Roxas said, curious. The two made their way down the steps of the complex and walked down the sidewalk. Iris turned to him.

            “Roxas, I wanted to thank you for saving me today,” Iris began.

            “No problem,” he said brightly. As a Keyblade wielder, Roxas had an obligation to save those defenseless against Heartless.

            “It was very brave and I can’t possibly thank you enough. And…I was wondering if…” they stopped under a tree. “…you wanted to go to prom. With me.” Iris looked at him, hopeful.

            Shock flitted through Roxas. This whole time, he thought she would end up asking Noctis to prom, certainly not him. Had she given up on Noctis and gone after the first boy that had shown her kindness? Or did he sweep her off her feet as some sort of knight in shining armor? Whatever the reason, Roxas didn’t feel that way about Iris. He liked her as a friend, but nothing more.

            “Umm…” Roxas didn’t answer for a moment and the small smile fell from Iris’ face.

            “It-it’s okay if you don’t want to, I totally understand,” she said, turning around to quickly walk away, hugging her arms around herself.

            Roxas sighed quietly. Forgive me, Xion.

            “Iris, wait!” Roxas said, grabbing her arm. She turned around, preparing herself to be friend-zoned, but, with great difficulty, Roxas grinned widely.

            “I would love to go to prom with you,” he said.

            “Really?” Iris said, eyebrows high on her forehead.

            “Of course! What are friends for?”

            Iris giggled and gave him a hug, which he returned a little too enthusiastically to be realistic. “Thank you so much, Roxas!” she said, squeezing him tight. “It’s going to be so much fun! I have to go now but I’ll call you later to go over the details.” Roxas bid her farewell and she skipped off happily.

            Roxas sighed and walked slowly back into his apartment, taking refuge in his bedroom and sitting on the edge of the bed. Well, he thought, there goes prom with the squad. Roxas stood and grabbed his guitar, which sat in the corner of his room on its stand, and sat back down on his bed, setting the guitar on his lap. Roxas had picked up guitar playing from Sora, one of the many second-hand skills that he got from his Somebody. Roxas wasn’t as good as he was, but Sora had more practice. Roxas put his fingers in position and began picking out a sad melody that always reminded him of Xion and her fate as a Nobody. He focused on the strings that he plucked as he thought about what he had just done.

            Iris was a sweet girl, almost too sweet for her own good, but Roxas didn’t want to go to the dance with her. He wanted to go with Xion. But Roxas didn’t want to hurt Iris’ feelings. He was proud that she had the courage to ask him when normally it would be the guy’s job to ask a girl, but he had hoped she would have directed that courage at Noctis. If only Noctis wasn’t such a tool, he thought bitterly. Had he been more approachable, Iris would have totally asked him out, and Roxas could have asked Xion.

            He sighed, resigned. It killed Roxas to give up a potential date with his best friend, but he wanted to be fair to Iris. It doesn’t matter what Noctis is like, he thought, Iris deserves a fun night out. Even though he was determined to show Iris a good time at prom, Roxas still moped.

            A knock sounded on his bedroom door and Xion’s voice emanated through it. “Roxas, can I come in?”

            “Yeah,” Roxas said.

            Xion stepped into his room and closed the door most of the way behind her. “Hey, is something wrong?” Roxas shook his head, staring at the wall. “Oh. You usually play that song when you’re upset.” Roxas paused his playing and raised his eyebrows, surprised that she noticed.

            “Oh. I guess I do.” He took a breath and said quietly, “Iris just came by and asked me to prom.”

            Xion’s eyebrows rose. “Really? What did you say?” she asked, dreading the answer.

            “I said yes.” Xion’s heart shattered into a million pieces. “Is that okay with you?” Roxas looked up at her in concern.

            “Of course, why wouldn’t that be okay with me,” Xion lied with a smile. “You two will look so cute in the pictures.”

            Roxas laughed lightly once. “Thanks.” He stared at the wall again. “Well,” he said, “I should get ready for bed.”

            Xion left him alone then, but instead of going to sleep, Roxas put on his headphones and listened to the saddest songs he could find on his gummiphone as he lay on his back, staring up the ceiling. A tear slid down his temple and into his hair as the emotional music washed over him.  

            He knew it was stupid; there were more important things like Heartless and the powers of Darkness to worry about, but something as trivial as a date to prom proved enough to crush Roxas’ emotional teenaged state. He sighed and decided that having a heart sucked. He needed to talk to someone about it.

            Roxas wanted to talk to Axel, but he didn’t want to bother him if he was sleeping, but he knew there was someone else who would be willing to talk to him. Roxas sat up and dialed Sora’s number. Roxas completely trusted Sora, his literal other half, with sensitive information like this. He may act like an idiot most of the time, but Sora was the most genuine and caring person Roxas knew. The dial tone rang three times before Sora answered, wearing aviator sunglasses, which he slid onto the top of his head, with the sun shining brightly on his face and palm trees behind him.

            “Hey, Roxas!” Sora said with a big grin, “What’s up?”

            “Sora,” Roxas said in a low voice. He didn’t want Xion or Isa to hear him. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

            Sora noted Roxas’ somber tone and grew serious. “What’s wrong?”

            Roxas sighed. “I know I’m being stupid, but…our school is having this prom thing, and…” Roxas dropped his voice to a whisper and Sora leaned closer to his gummiphone. “I really wanted to ask Xion, but I waited too long.”

            “Who asked her?” Sora said.

            “Well, nobody, actually. A girl asked me, and I couldn’t really say no. She would have been so upset if I did and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I don't think she would have had a date otherwise.” Roxas rubbed his temples with his free hand.

            “So it’s a pity date,” Riku’s voice said, coming from Roxas’ left earphone. Sora glanced to his right where Riku must have been sitting.

            “No it’s not a pity date,” Roxas said, “It’s just…me being nice.”

            Riku stuck his head in the frame of the video, over Sora’s shoulder. “Sounds like a pity date to me,” he said with a smirk. “You’re such a nice guy, Roxas.”

            Roxas rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. “Okay, it’s a pity date, happy? I should’ve just asked Xion before this happened.”

            “Did you guys talk about going together?” Sora asked.

            “No,” Roxas said, shaking his head, “I can’t let her find out I wanted to ask her, though. Talk about embarrassing.” Roxas paused for a moment before panic swept his mind. “Wait! Is Kairi with you?” Had Kairi been privy to this conversation, she would have swiftly relayed the information to Xion.

            Sora chuckled. “No, she’s over there,” his gaze flickered to his left, “looking for seashells. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us,” Sora said, pointing to himself with his thumb. Roxas sighed with relief.

            “Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.”

            “Don’t worry about Xion, Roxas,” Sora said brightly, “there’s always next year, right?”

            “Unless Xion finds another guy to be her boyfriend,” Riku said, smirking.

            “Riku! Don’t say that!” Sora cried.

            Horror slowly filled Roxas, spreading from his chest to his fingertips, settling in the pit of his stomach. “Do you really think she’ll get a boyfriend?”

            “No! She’s madly in love with you!” Roxas wondered if Sora actually believed that or if he just said it to make him feel better.

            “I hope so.” Roxas sighed, lying on his back. He thought it might be true, especially after what happened at the movie theater. “We went to see a movie today—before I got asked out—and I did that thing you told me about, Riku,” Roxas said.

            “Oh, the yawn/stretch thing?” Roxas nodded. “Did it work?”

            “Yeah it worked.” Roxas smiled, despite being upset about Iris. “Thanks for the tip.

            “No problem,” Riku said with a grin. His voice became slightly husky. “Did you kiss her?” he said, asking the same thing Hayner had asked that morning.

            Roxas rubbed his eyes. “No. I don’t think I would have said ‘yes’ to Iris—the girl who asked me—if I had.” He took a deep breath through his nose and frowned.

            Pity filled Sora’s eyes as he wondered what to say to make Roxas feel better. “Well, it’s only one date, right?” he said reassuringly, “After prom, you can go back to wooing Xion. And we’ll be there to help! I promise.” Most people say those kinds of things but didn’t really mean it. Roxas knew Sora meant it.

            “Thanks, guys,” Roxas said. He glanced at his clock which read 11:38. “Well, I gotta get to bed. It’s pretty late here.”

            “Okay! We’ll talk tomorrow,” Sora said with a bright grin plastered on his face. They said goodbye, and soon, Roxas sunk into the worst night’s sleep he’d had in ages, thinking he should enlist Riku’s dream-eater expertise after waking several times from nightmares where he frantically looked for a lost Xion, but she transformed into Iris as soon as he grabbed her hand. Eventually, his mind calmed and allowed him a few hours of dreamless sleep.

            The next day, Xion awoke to the sound of voices chattering away in the kitchen, voices loud enough to interrupt her slumber. She groaned and rolled out of bed, pulling on her black silken robe. Whoever had the nerve to be this loud so early in the morning better be prepared to get an earful from her. She opened her bedroom door with a scowl, getting the attention of the early morning denizens of the kitchen.

            “Could you—” she began, ready to let them have it, but someone cut her off before she could say anymore.

            “Xion!” Sora cried, throwing his arms around the girl, squeezing her tight. “You’re awake!”

            “Yeah, thanks to you guys,” she said, patting his back, noticing the entire gang of Keyblade wielders in her kitchen. Terra and Aqua were making waffles with Isa, and Riku, Kairi, Naminé, and Ven sat around the kitchen table, eating the cookies from last night. There were several bags on the table, some luggage and some of the shopping variety. “What are you all doing here?”

            “Lea called us,” Ven said, using the name Axel went by before he became a Nobody and the name that Ven, Terra, and Aqua knew him as.

            “All of you?” Xion didn’t think she and Roxas needed this much backup, nor did she think Axel would actually end up calling all of them. She smiled brightly at them, though, as she stepped further into the kitchen.

            “Well, he called Terra, Aqua, and Riku,” Kairi said, “But we wanted to tag along too.”

            “Here, have some breakfast,” Riku said, standing up to offer her his chair. Xion sat down.

            “Oh,” Kairi said, offering Xion a shopping bag, “This is for you.” Xion took it, pulling out the tissue paper and the contents inside, a hot pink tank top and neon blue shorts.

            “Matching pajamas for our sleepover tonight,” Naminé said with a bright smile.

            Xion grinned. “Thanks, guys, you’re the best.” She said, touched by the generosity of her pseudo sisters.

            She and Naminé owed their existence to Kairi and Sora. Naminé used to be Kairi’s Nobody, but now had her own life and body, thanks to Vexen’s replicas, as did Xion. Each girl had her own distinct personality, but occasionally would do or say something at the same time, to the amusement of everyone watching. The same thing often happened to Sora, Ven, and Roxas. The three boys could easily pass as brothers, especially Ven and Roxas, and Sora declared that, after everything they had been through together, they now were brothers.  

            Sora couldn’t wait to hang out with Roxas, but he had not seen the boy yet. “Where’s Roxas?” he asked.

            Xion shrugged as she picked up a cookie and bit into it. “Probably still asleep.”

            “Oh, I’ll wake him up, then.” Sora smiled widely. “I can use my Power of Waking.”

            “Sora,” Riku and Kairi said simultaneously, distaste coloring their tone. The last time Sora used that power didn’t end well and Yensid forbade him from using it again until he gained more responsibility over his powers.

            “What? I’m joking,” he said with a laugh. Riku and Kairi sighed, shaking their heads at the boy who turned on his heel and swept into Roxas’ room, opening the curtains to let in the twilight. He leaned down at his brother’s bedside. “Roxas,” he whispered, moving his hand to touch Roxas’ shoulder.

            Roxas, sensing his presence, muttered his name. “Sora,” he breathed. Sora drew his hand back, waiting for Roxas to open his eyes and sit up, but the boy slept soundly on. Sora chuckled softly and shook his brother’s shoulder.

            Roxas woke with a start, gasping softly. “Sora?” He rubbed his eyes, “What are doing here?” Roxas asked with a smile.

            “Hey, I said we’d talk, didn’t I?” Sora grinned. “We’re here to help with the Heartless!” he said in a voice much too loud for the time of day, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Everyone’s here! And we’re going to have a big sleepover tonight! It’s gonna be great!”

            Riku and Ven walked into the room and sat at the edge of Roxas’ bed. Roxas always felt weird around Ven since the two looked exactly the same, but he had started to get used to it at this point.

            “But, most importantly, the Heartless,” Riku affirmed, always serious. “Yensid said that the Heartless are just residual Darkness from our fight with Xehanort, and if we relock the Keyholes of the worlds that had been opened, things should go back to normal.”

            “We’ve already taken care of most of the worlds,” Ven said, “But there’s still this one and The Caribbean.”

            “You already took care of the other worlds?” Roxas asked, impressed.

            “Well, not all of them fell to Darkness, just a few this time,” Sora said. Roxas was relieved that his gang managed to handle the Darkness themselves and were now here to help him fight the Heartless in Twilight Town. “Once we take care of things here, we’re going to go to the Caribbean.” Sora jumped up off the bed and stuck his fist the air. “I love that world!”

            Roxas rolled his eyes. “You just like being a pirate.”

            At that moment, Aqua knocked on the door and had everyone come out for breakfast. She and Terra went over the itinerary for the day as everyone ate. “Today, we’re going to split up into groups and find the source of the Darkness keeping the Keyhole open,” Aqua said, sitting down at the table with the girls, “I’ll take Roxas, Xion, and Riku. Terra, you take Ven, Sora, and Kairi. Naminé…” The blonde girl looked up from the sketchbook she was drawing in. Poor Naminé wasn’t a Keyblade wielder and had to stay home. “Hold down the fort and don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.” Naminé, prone to worrying, tried to have faith in Aqua’s words.

            “When you encounter the Heartless, steer them away from the townsfolk, and keep property damage to a minimum,” Terra said, “We’ll set out after breakfast. And after Xion and Ven—uh—Roxas get dressed.” Terra and Aqua, the parents of the group, often mixed up the two boys’ names.

            “Oh, Xion, I almost forgot,” Aqua said, pulling out her gummiphone, “Look at this!” A picture of Aqua in a stunning white gown shone on the screen. Xion grinned.

            “It’s so pretty, Aqua! You’re going to be the most beautiful bride!” Xion said with a giggle.

            “How come everyone else gets to see the dress but me?” Terra complained.

            “Because you’re the groom,” Aqua said, cutting into her waffle, “It’s bad luck.”

            “You don’t really believe in that do you?”

            “I’m not taking any chances!”

Chapter Text

            Roxas, Xion, Aqua, and Riku patrolled the streets of Twilight Town searching for any Heartless that terrorized the streets. The day before had been relatively peaceful after Roxas and Xion took out the Darkside, but with so many Keyblade wielders suddenly appearing in town, the creatures of Darkness were getting antsy. Luckily, all they had to do to get them to leave was lock the Keyhole of Twilight Town. A year ago, Sora found the Keyhole located by the train station, but, after the group arrived there, they found the area to be peaceful and monster free, no Keyhole in sight. They split up, looking for a solution to get the Keyhole to reveal itself.

            “I wonder why we couldn’t get it to come out,” Roxas said as they walked down the road.

            “Well, the last time, Sora found it with a piece of the Struggle trophy,” Xion said, “Maybe we need something like that this time.”

            “Or maybe,” Riku said, resting his fist on his chin, “It’s waiting for us to defeat a certain enemy.”

            “But there weren’t any Heartless by the train station,” Roxas said as they turned a corner of a building.

            “It could be biding its time,” Aqua said, “The monster, I mean.”

            The group trudged through the streets, fighting small hordes of enemies and looking for clues that would help them get the Keyhole to appear. Occasionally they would run into the others who had just as much luck as they did—that is to say none at all.  It seemed like a pointless endeavor, so they headed back to the train station. They had searched all over town but, try as they might, they could not find a way to make the Keyhole appear.

            When they got back to the train station, a few people lingered outside on the veranda or out in the small plaza in front of the building. The group of Keyblade wielders stopped in front of the steps, brainstorming ideas of what to do next for a while.

            Roxas sighed. “This is pointless,” he said, “We need to call Sora. He’s the one who did it last time, so surely he can do it again.”

            “I don’t know,” Riku said, pensive, “He was here with us earlier and nothing happened."

            “Maybe we could use our powers as Keyblade wielders to summon the Keyhole,” Xion said, gesturing vaguely at the group.

            “We could try,” Aqua said, summoning her Keyblade. “Everyone, get in a circle.” They formed a loose circle around each other.

            Roxas stuck his hands out in front of him, searching for the pull of magic inside him. He felt warmth, almost an electricity of sorts, bubble up in his chest right over his heart as he willed his Keyblade into existence. It tickled slightly, but he was used to the sensation. With a flash of light, Oathkeeper and Oblivion materialized in his hands. He pointed his Keyblades into the middle of the circle along with the others, trying to focus his energy on making the Keyhole reveal itself.

            He took a deep breath and glanced at the two masters of the group. Riku’s brows were furrowed as he stared down his Keyblade with an almost angry expression. Aqua looked absolutely serene in comparison, with her eyes closed in concentration. Roxas wondered what they were concentrating on and if he should be concentrating on the same thing. He looked back at the tip of his Keyblade and stood there for a moment.

            “What exactly are we supposed to be focusing on?” he asked.

            Riku sighed. “I don’t know,” he admitted, dismissing his Keyblade. Aqua opened her eyes and lowered her own weapon to the ground.

            “Don’t give up, guys,” she said, “When it appears, you’ll know what to do.”

            “But it’s not appearing,” Roxas said, knitting his brows together and pouting. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.” He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair.

            “Hey, don’t worry, Roxas,” Xion said, touching his shoulder. He looked at her. “Maybe it just takes a little time, or we have to do something to trigger it, or—” As she spoke, she turned toward him, accidentally knocking her Keyblade into his with a clang.

            This small interaction of the two Keyblades alerted their presence to the Heartless, and a pool of shadow formed in front of the steps to the train station. The people who stood in front of the building fled inside when they saw the beast that rose from the pool. At first, it seemed that a mixture of black and red inky liquid emerged, but began to solidify as it turned toward the Keyblade wielders.  

            Roxas gasped. The Heartless had to be at least 20 feet tall and vaguely humanoid, with long arms and legs. It wore a long red cape with the Heartless emblem on it and had a large collar pointing up, but Roxas paled at its most prominent feature—giant fangs as long as he was tall with a blood-like substance dripping from them.

            The Keyblade wielders immediately sprang into action as the monster spat streams of red gunk at them. Roxas and Xion slashed at his legs and arms, avoiding being kicked or swatted at while Riku and Aqua dealt magic damage, occasionally jumping in and swinging their Keyblade at the monster. Roxas managed to avoid most of the gooey sludge coming from it, but it just barely grazed him on the arm, scorching like fire. He cried out in pain and dropped his Keyblades, gripping his arm as tears stung his eyes.

            “Roxas!” Aqua cried. She rushed to his aid, but the Heartless lunged forward and grabbed the two in either of its hands. Roxas struggled to free himself from its grasp, but the monster gripped him tightly. He tried to breathe normally but could not fully inflate his lungs as the Heartless’ skin seared into him where he wasn’t protected by clothing, scalding the wound on his arm and burning him quicker than Firaga. He grimaced in pain and tried to summon his Keyblades back to him, but the Heartless’ entire hand encased his body.

            It leaned its head toward him and opened its mouth, preparing to bite his head right off, but luckily for Roxas, Xion and Riku were hard at work, slicing into the monster’s legs. Before it could devour them whole, they were dropped unceremoniously as the Heartless cried out in pain and Roxas landed hard on his left foot. The monster took a swipe at Xion, but she back-flipped out of its reach, barely being grazed by its claws. Roxas tried to stumble away but tripped and fell, gripping his ankle.

            He could hardly move his foot without a sharp pain zinging up his leg. He pulled up his pant-leg and saw that his ankle had already started to swell. Roxas grimaced, hoping it wasn’t broken—wishful thinking on his part. 

            The Heartless saw him vulnerable and quickly reached for him again. Roxas gasped and shielded himself with his arms squeezing his eyes shut as he braced himself for the burning touch of its skin. But that touch did not come. He opened his eyes and saw Xion slicing at the monster’s hands with her Keyblade. It pulled away and roared in fury. Xion jumped against the side of the building and launched herself at the monster’s head, darting toward it with dazzling light streaking off her body as she utilized her flow-motion abilities. She brought her weapon across the enemy’s face and it bellowed in pain. As she fell to the ground, she managed to grab hold of a lamp-post before the end of her descent, zipping around it and flying at the monster again, hitting it in the chest. She landed on the ground with bent knees then straightened upright, pointing her Keyblade at the monster.

            “Fire!

            A firebolt shot out the tip of her Keyblade and hit the Heartless square in the face, sparks exploding all around it, dealing it extra damage. Riku and Aqua, who had been slicing at the monster legs and stomach, were unharmed by the fire attack; the Keyblade knew they were not her target. Xion leaped at the enemy to attack it with her Keyblade again.

            Roxas watched with wide eyes as Xion fought the Heartless. She battled like one of the finest Keyblade wielders he had ever seen, with such strength that he bet she could easily take out hundreds of enemies without breaking a sweat. Not only was she strong, but she fought with such a beauty that he had never noticed before, like some kind of angelic warrior. His heart beat faster in his chest, but it had nothing to do with fear for the monster.  

            “Heal!” shouted a voice behind him. Roxas’ ankle no longer hurt and shrank to its normal size, and the burns on his arms disappeared. He stood and looked behind him, seeing his other friends running up to the scene. “You could’ve waited till we got here to fight the bad guy!” Sora said with a pout.

            “Well, you were too late!” Riku shouted at him from where he stood.

            All the Keyblade wielders encircled the enemy, jumping at it to attack it while also trying to avoid the sludge it spat at them or running into one another. Every so often someone would get hit, but their comrades always came to their aid before they could be seriously hurt. They slowly chipped away at its health with each strike of their Keyblade.

            The monster, now on its knees, could not defend itself as Xion struck it with a finishing blow. It screamed in rage, clawing at the air and disappearing into smoke, as its free heart floated up into the sky.

            Its cape remained suspended in the air and started to glow. Xion shielded her eyes from the bright light as a Keyhole appeared in the air where the cape had been. She felt a tingle inside herself and the hand holding her Keyblade itched; the magical weapon wanted to seal up this world for good.

            You know what to do.

            She closed her eyes for a moment as she took a deep breath and raised her Keyblade, pointing it at the Keyhole. Energy flowed out of her as a beam of white light shot from the tip of her Keyblade and into the Keyhole. The sound of gears turning and a loud click echoed around them as it disappeared. She took another breath.

            “Xion,” Roxas said, putting his hand on her shoulder, “That was amazing.” They smiled warmly at each other. Roxas looked at his hand on her shoulder and withdrew it, turning slightly away from her and rubbing his neck as his cheeks pinkened. Xion’s countenance fell as he turned away from her, and her arms itched to wrap themselves around him. But instead Sora threw his arms around her.

            “Yeah, Xion. You’re so awesome!” he shouted in her ear. She winced and gently pushed Sora away from her. “You sealed the Keyhole!”

            “Sora, you’ve done that dozens of times,” Riku said crossing his arms.

            “Yeah, but Xion never has.” He smiled at her. “You’re a great Keyblade wielder, you know.”

            “Thank you, Sora,” she said.

            “You should have seen her before you got here,” Roxas said, starry eyed. “It was like she was some kind of warrior goddess.” Both he and Xion blushed at his words. “Or something like that,” he said with a wave of his hand, looking away. Kairi and Sora shared a smirking glance behind their backs.

            “Yes,” Aqua agreed, taking the attention off the blushing teens, “It was quite a sight.”

            Xion laughed nervously, self-conscious at the praise. She rubbed her arm and cleared her throat. “Thanks, guys,” she said, eyeing the ground as they began the walk home.

            The gang of Keyblade wielders returned to the apartment for a late lunch, where they met Isa and Naminé again. They were hot and tired from their fight with the Heartless and desperately wanted something to eat, not having eaten anything since breakfast, several hours before.

            “Is anyone else hot in here, or is it just me?” Ventus asked as he closed the front door behind him. He began stripping off layers of his protective garb down to his black turtle neck tank top.

            “Wow, Ven, have you always been so buff?” Xion joked, poking his bicep, which wasn’t huge, but it was more toned than she thought it would be.

            Ven chuckled. “Course I have. You just never noticed,” he said, wagging a finger at her. Roxas looked away, rubbing the back of his neck with a small pout. He didn’t know why the exchange between the two friends bothered him, but it did.

            Aqua and Sora made a big lunch for everyone; Sora wanted to show off the cooking skills he learned from little chef. By himself, the food he cooked was only halfway decent, but with Aqua’s help, they managed to pull off making a batch of perfectly well done croque-monsieurs—delicious French ham and cheese sandwiches.

            As they cooked, Roxas jumped in the shower, wanting time to himself to relax after the fight with the Heartless. He thought about Xion’s battle prowess, a definite force to be reckoned with, as he sang a song that he thought could describe her perfectly.

My girl is superbad, super stacked

Got no time for photographs

Watch out

My girl is superbad, that's a fact

Knock your train right off the track

Watch out

            He sang without inhibitions, momentarily forgetting about the group outside the bathroom door, picturing Xion fighting the Heartless from the train station as he sang his heart out. Maybe the Keyblade didn’t necessarily choose her, but what did it matter when she was so awesome that she could wield one anyway? That alone made her “Superbad.”

She's divine, all the time

And everything she does is always by design

My girl is superbad, that's a fact

Knock your train right off the track

Watch out

            After he showered and changed, lunch was ready. There weren’t enough chairs in the kitchen, so they sat in the living room and watched Horton Hears a Who as they ate. At the conclusion of the film, Xion commented that Roxas and Ven sounded remarkably like Jojo’s voice actor.

            The group chatted about Aqua and Terra’s wedding plans as they cleaned up their meal, and Terra scolded Roxas and Xion for not doing their dishes while Axel had been away. Shortly afterward, Isa said goodbye and went home, leaving his two young friends in the safety of the other Keyblade wielders.  

            As they sat watching the boys play video games, Kairi glanced at the clock which read 8:17. “Oh! Hey, let’s get on our pajamas,” she said, turning to the other two girls with a grin. Panicked expressions bloomed on the boys faces, save for Roxas’, who didn’t yet know about tonight’s strict dress code.

            “We don’t have to do that, do we, Kairi?” Sora said pulling his brows together in a frown as he paused the game.

            “Of course you do,” she declared. “Oh, that reminds me.” She grinned. “We have a present for you, Roxas.” Kairi went into the kitchen and Naminé giggled.

            “Now’s your chance to run, Roxas,” Sora whispered urgently, grabbing his brother’s shoulders.

            “What? Why?” Roxas said.

            “Don’t question us,” Ven said, “just run.”

            Kairi returned with a shopping bag and handed it to Roxas. He pulled out a hot pink tank top and light blue shorts, identical to the gift that Xion had received.

            “Uh, I don’t think this—” Roxas began.

            “You can’t make us do it!” Sora cried, jumping up.

            Kairi and Naminé giggled. “If you love me, you’ll put them on,” Kairi said.

            “I do love you. But at what cost!?” Sora said dramatically, throwing his hands into the air.

            “Oh, come on, guys,” Xion said, “It’s just for fun, right?” She laughed.

            “What do you think, Naminé?” Kairi asked, “Wouldn’t the boys look lovely in these PJs?”

            Naminé blushed and looked at the ground. “Certainly,” she said with a grin, eyes momentarily flickering in Riku’s direction.

            Roxas raised an eyebrow at the girls. He had made a fool of himself in front of Xion many times in the past, but at least he was always sensibly dressed. Hopefully he wouldn’t look too ridiculous in the get-up.

            Aqua then walked into the room, already in uniform, having changed as the kids argued.

            “Aqua!” Sora turned to her for support, “You can’t let them do this to us!”

            Aqua opened her mouth to speak but before she could say anything, Terra’s voice came from the kitchen, “What, are you guys chicken?” He strode boldly into the room, wearing the pink top and blue short-shorts as if they were some kind of regalia.

            “You’ve taken Terra!” Ven cried, abashed.

            “Oh, please,” Aqua said with a grin, “He’s perfectly comfortable in his masculinity.” She folded her arms.

            Riku stood and held his hand out to the older man. “Terra, if this is a hostage situation, blink twice.”

            “We’re getting, married,” Terra said, “I already know it’s a hostage situation.” Aqua laughed, rolling her eyes at the comment.

            “Quit complaining, boys,” Kairi said, ushering them into Roxas’ room, “Go get dressed. We’re dying to see how you all look,” she added with a smirk, closing the door.

            Roxas stared at the clothes in his hand as the other boys unzipped their packs, digging around in them and pulling out the girly pajamas.

            Sora sighed. “Are we really gonna do this?” he said, running a hand through his hair.

            “I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” Ven said with a small grimace, pulling his top over his head. The others weren’t convinced.

            Once dressed, Roxas examined himself in the mirror. The blue shorts showed way too much leg, and bright pink was definitely not his color. He sighed. “I feel like an idiot,” he said. Ven laughed and agreed.

            “Hey! We look the same,” Roxas said, playfully punching Ven on the arm. “You think they’d notice if we switch places and pretend to be each other?” he asked.

            “Aqua and Xion would definitely notice,” Riku said. The boys chuckled and prepared themselves to exit the room.

            They stood staring at the door for a moment. Sora reached for the handle but stopped and pulled his hand away. Roxas’ cheeks turned red at the thought of what Xion would say. She would definitely make fun of him, take several pictures, and then show them to Axel. He gulped and wrapped his fingers around the door handle, ready for the worst.

            “Wait,” Riku said quietly, “I can’t go out there.” Roxas looked at him, despair plain on the older boy’s face.

            “Don’t worry, Riku,” Sora said, “We’re all going together, so…it won’t be as bad.” Roxas tried to believe him.

            “No, you don’t understand,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “I can’t let Naminé see me like this.” He gestured to himself. “She’ll laugh at me.”

            “They all will,” Roxas said as if that should have been obvious.

            “Look,” Riku said, gripping Roxas’ shoulders, “I like to keep up a kind of ‘bad boy’ persona around the ladies—”

            “Ha!” Sora interjected.

             “And I cannot let Naminé see me like this.” Fear shone in Riku’s eyes.

            Roxas stared at him for a moment. “Sucks to be you, I guess,” he said without sympathy and threw open his bedroom door, grinning and pulling Riku by the arm into the living room.

            “Roxas!” Riku seemed upset, but Roxas thought he needed to get out of his comfort zone a little. And he just wanted to mess with him. The other two boys followed reluctantly behind.

            Roxas heard a gasp then a shriek of laughter. He thought he should apologize to Riku as Xion stood laughing her head off at the group of boys, wearing clothes identical to theirs.

            “Oh my gosh, guys!” she cried, running back into her room to get the other two girls, “Come look at them!” Roxas shifted uncomfortably, wishing his shorts were a little bit longer.

            “Lookin’ good, guys,” Aqua said as she came out of the kitchen, holding a mixing bowl full of popcorn. Suddenly, Kairi and Naminé burst through the door of Xion’s room, grinning widely. Riku jumped to hide behind Roxas and Sora, pulling the two boys closer together to shield himself. When the girls saw them, they laughed just as hard as Xion had. Kairi sunk to the floor wheezing, and Naminé doubled over, laughing into her hand as she held her middle with the other. The boys quickly exited their line of sight and sat on the floor in the living room. Terra sat down next to them.

            “Why are we doing this?” Sora said unhappily as the girls struggled to collect themselves.

            “Because,” Terra said quietly, “It makes our ladies happy. Remember that, guys,” he said, looking each one of them in the eye.

            “Is it worth it?” Riku asked.

            “Yes, it is,” Terra affirmed.  

            Aqua directed the girls to help her bring some things into the other room as Terra turned off the video game they had been playing before. The girls returned, holding all manner of sugary snacks and junk food that Aqua and Terra had bought that morning, including several boxes of sea salt ice cream pops. They set the snacks in the middle of the circle the boys formed and squeezed themselves beside them, Kairi and Aqua between Terra and Ven, Xion in between Ven and Roxas, and Naminé between Sora and Riku. So much visible male leg made Roxas grimace slightly as he gazed about the group.

            Aqua seemed to be thinking along similar lines and said, “No judgments, but I haven’t shaved my legs in a few days.” The girls laughed as Sora glanced down at her legs.

            “Hey!” he said in surprise, pointing across Terra, “Your leg-hair is blue! I always thought you dyed your hair.”

            “Nope,” Aqua said, biting into a snack cake. “People from my home town all have crazy hair colors. Well, they’re not crazy to me, but you guys would think so,” she said around the food in her mouth, “Blond and brown hair is quite exotic, actually.”

            “Ya hear that, Xion? I’m exotic,” Roxas said to her.

            “If you insist,” she said with a roll of her eyes and a flash of a smile that made Roxas momentarily light-headed.  

            “Okay,” Kairi said, cutting off their conversation, “We should play some fun games. Let’s start with ‘Would You Rather.’ We can go around in a circle,” she moved her finger around the group in a clockwise motion, “and pick who we want to answer our question.”

            “I want to go first,” Sora said, raising his hand in the air. The others allowed him the first round. “Okay, Ventus,” he said, turning to the boy sitting across from him. “Would you rather… eat a spider or a lizard?” Roxas rose an eyebrow at Sora’s lack of creativity.

            “Probably a lizard,” Ven said.

            “That’s not even a good question, Sora,” Roxas cut in.

            “Hey, I couldn’t think of anything good!” Sora sheepishly rubbed his neck.

            “You wanted to go first,” Riku said as Sora ran a hand through his hair with a smile. Everyone laughed and turned to Naminé who sat to Sora’s left.

            “Um, Aqua, if something horrible happened to Terra—”

            “Like what?” the older man said with wide eyes.

            Naminé continued, “Would you rather marry Ven or Terra’s dead corpse?”

            Sounds of mild disgust came from the group. Aqua laughed and said, “Maybe Ven. He would be less horrifying.”

            “Oh, thanks, Aqua,” Ven said.

            For Riku’s turn, he asked Kairi if she would rather lose her sight or lose her hearing.

            “Probably hearing, so I don’t have to listen to you guys complain all the time,” she said, teasing Sora and Riku.

            “Wow,” Sora said. She giggled, innocently batting her eyelashes. Everyone turned to Roxas.

            “Hmm, Xion…” He turned to the girl next to him. Roxas tried to think of a question both funny and embarrassing, payback for having to wear his current outfit. “Would you rather never shower for the rest of your life or have to wear a diaper for the rest of your life?”

            She laughed. “Probably a diaper, ’cause no one would know.” She turned to Sora to ask her question. “Okay, Sora,” she said, pinning him with her gaze, “would you rather find out you were Xehanort’s son, or…” she smirked, “find out you’re his boyfriend?”

            “What?!” he said with wide eyes as his friends exploded into laughter. “Um, well, his son, I guess, but neither.”  

            Ven asked Terra if he would dress in drag or a dragon costume for his wedding. Terra chose the dragon costume. Then all eyes were on Kairi.

            She put her fist up to her mouth, thinking. Then she smiled and turned to Xion. “Speaking of weddings, Xion, if you could marry Terra or Riku, who would you choose?”

            Xion blushed slightly and giggled behind her hand. “Well, I feel like Aqua would kill me if I stole Terra away from her.” Aqua agreed. “But Riku has beaten me up before.”

            “Hey! I said I was sorry about that,” Riku said, scandalized.

            “Okay, yeah, you’re right. Since you apologized, and since I’m kind of scared of Aqua, I’ll go with Riku.”

            At her words, Roxas felt something settle in the pit of his stomach, a feeling that he couldn’t name, similar to what he felt when Xion gave Ven’s arm muscles her attention earlier. He didn’t like it.

            Roxas glanced at the boy sitting next to him. Riku? Was that really her choice? Roxas could recall quite clearly holding her hand the day before. What did she see in Riku? Roxas quickly reminded himself that he wasn’t one of the choices, trying to avoid souring his mood.

            “Roxas,” Aqua said, pulling him out of his thoughts, “Same question.”

            “What?” he said.

            “Would you rather marry Terra or Riku?”

            “Oh,” Roxas laughed at the odd question. “Well, I’m not really into guys,” he began as he ran his fingers through his hair, wanting to make that point clear, “But if I had to pick one, let’s see, Riku has beaten me up too, and Terra is big and strong and can protect me, so I’m going with Terra.” He turned to Ven. “I’m your new dad now, kid,” he said, poking fun at the paternal relationship Aqua and Terra had with Ven.

            Ven made a face and looked at Aqua. “Mom, can I live with you?” he said. Everyone laughed.

            Terra asked Naminé if she’d rather die from too much chocolate or become a daredevil and go out in a blaze of glory. She chose the chocolate. They continued on like this for some time, eating themselves sick on the junk food. After a while, they put on Mario Party to play, each taking turns with the controllers.

            As Roxas struggled to beat Sora, Aqua, and Ven in a mini-game, he heard his gummiphone ring in his room.

            “Oh, no!” he cried in faux panic. “Here, win this for me,” he said, quickly passing his controller to Naminé and jumping up.

            “No promises,” she said with a chuckle.

            Roxas ran to his room to answer his phone, seeing Axel’s caller ID. He grinned and picked up. Axel’s face appeared on screen. “Hey, Axel, what’s up?”

            “Just checking to see if you’re doing all right without me,” Axel said.

            “Oh, yeah, totally,” Roxas said, stepping out into the living room again, “Xion totally showed that Heartless who’s boss.” He sat on the couch next to Sora.

            “Well, that’s good to hear,” Axel said with a smile.

            “Hi, Axel,” Sora said, leaning over Roxas’ shoulder, jostling him so that Axel saw their attire more clearly. His face changed from joyous to confused.

            “Why are you two dressed like that?” he asked.

            Roxas sighed and turned the camera around. “The girls made us do it,” he said, panning over the group, before flipping it back to his face.

            Axel guffawed. “You guys actually agreed to this?!”

            Xion sat up on her knees from her place next to the couch on the floor. She grabbed Roxas’ wrist and pulled the phone towards her face, resting her forearm on his thigh. His heart skipped a beat and his face felt hot.  

            “They had no choice, Axel,” she said with a grin, “And we have an outfit for you, too.”

            “I’m flattered that you ladies thought of me, but please leave me out of this,” Axel said, raising an eyebrow.

            “Not a chance!” Kairi said with a laugh.

            “Axel,” Xion said, taking Roxas’ phone out of his hand, “When are you getting back? You’ve been gone forever.”

            “Yeah, Axel,” Roxas said over Xion’s shoulder, “We miss you!” He stuck his bottom lip out, trying to look like a sad puppy. Axel rolled his eyes. Several other members of the group also said they missed Axel with varying degrees of tragedy. Axel told them that he would thankfully be returning the next morning before they left for school. After telling them so, he had to say goodbye. They hung up and Roxas turned his attention back to the group.  

            Shortly after the game of Mario Party, they deemed the night late enough that they could retreat into the bedrooms to get ready for bed, or, as Kairi referred to it, to get to the good stuff, the conversations that couldn’t be had in front of the opposite gender. Before they retired for the night, however, Aqua laid out some ground rules.

            The older girl stood before them with her hands on her hips and said, “Kairi, Naminé, you’re in Xion’s room. Boys you’re in Roxas’ room. Girls, no going into the boy’s room, and boys,” she pointed a threatening finger at them, “do not go into the girl’s room. If you break that rule, the consequences will be incredibly severe.”

            Terra piped up from the couch, “Axel gave us permission to break your kneecaps if there’s any funny business going on.” Xion cocked her head. Roxas said Axel had planned to break his kneecaps. Were the two threats related? Her eyes flickered to Roxas but he had looked over at her at the same moment. They caught each other’s eye and quickly looked away. Xion’s face warmed. 

            Aqua released them and the girls retreated into Xion’s room.

            “Do you think we can all fit on your bed?” Kairi asked. “It is a queen size.”

            “I’m ok with it,” Xion said and Naminé agreed.

            Kairi plugged her gummiphone into the dock on Xion’s dresser and turned her music up to a volume that Xion didn’t think her downstairs neighbor would appreciate at this time of night. Kairi said it would protect sensitive information when Xion asked about the music.

            “So,” Kairi began brightly as the girls hopped onto the bed, “now that the boys are out of the room…”

            “We can talk about them?” Naminé asked.

            “Obviously.” Kairi turned to Xion. “You know Sora and I are totally perfect together and all that, but,” she raised an eyebrow, “I want to know about you and Roxas.” She ended in a low voice.

            Xion took a deep breath. “Me and Roxas…” Just saying their names together sent a shiver down her spine. She giggled. “Well…” she told the two girls the events from the past two days from slow dancing to cuddling at the movies. She left out no detail, sending Kairi and Naminé into fits of girlish delight.

            “Riku said that prom is coming up for you guys,” Naminé said, “Are you two going together?”

            Xion’s face fell and she shook her head. “Another girl asked him last night, and he said yes.” Her eyes stung as tears began to prickle up.

            Naminé and Kairi stared at her in shock for a moment. But Kairi recover quickly.

            “What?” she said as her face transformed into a look of indignation. Naminé, too, looked almost offended. “Are you serious?” Kairi continued, “He said yes to another girl?” Xion shushed her as her voice rose in volume and octave. “Why?” Kairi said in a fierce whisper. Xion admitted that she didn’t know. Kairi scoffed. “Who even is this girl? She can go by herself, but you have to go with Roxas!”

            Xion sighed. “It’s too late now, I guess.”

            “Who are you going to go with?” Naminé asked.

            Xion shook her head. “I don’t know.” She leaned back on her pillow as her friends tried to offer her supportive words, but Xion didn’t want to be consoled right now. She blinked, her vision blurring with tears as she thought about Roxas and Iris slow dancing at prom. She sniffled and took a sharp breath. What if they kissed during their magical slow dance? Xion turned her face into her pillow and began to sob.

            Kairi and Naminé looked at each other in dismay, surprised at Xion’s sudden breakdown. They increased the intensity of their words of affirmation as they rubbed Xion’s back, telling her how beautiful and amazing she was and that Roxas wasn’t worth her time. Xion shook her head and screamed into her pillow that “yes, he is worth my time,” grateful that Kairi had turned up the music so loud that the boys couldn’t hear her. The two girls said nothing more after that and let Xion cry herself out for about a minute until she quieted. She sat still for a little while longer, sniffling.  

            When all her tears were exhausted, Xion sat up and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry guys, I got kind of emotional just then,” she said, wiping her eyes.

            Naminé rubbed Xion’s arm. “It’s okay, it happens to me all the time,” the former Nobody said. She, too experienced powerful emotions from time to time that she still had to get used to.  

            “Enough about me,” Xion said wanting to no longer be the focus of the conversation. She ran her fingers through her hair as she turned to Naminé. “Tell us about you and Riku.”

            Naminé blushed bashfully, struggling to meet the eyes of the other two. She smiled. “Well, we’re not anything official yet, but I think it’s going somewhere.” She looked back up with a wistful expression. “He so sweet to me; always has been. Sometimes we hold hands while walking around Radiant Garden during his visits.” Kairi squealed and Xion giggled as she clasped her hands together.

            Naminé smiled again but furrowed her brow. “I can tell he’s being careful though. He said he wanted to respect his replica’s wishes.” The replica Vexen made of Riku at Castle Oblivion had fallen in love with Naminé, and she grew attached to him as well (as a Nobody, she was incapable of truly loving him back), and he had asked Riku to take care of her when he died. “I keep telling him that I’m over his replica, but…I don’t know.” Her shoulders slumped. The other two girls looked at each other. They knew that Naminé had most wanted to see the Riku Replica when she first awoke in her new body.

            “Well,” Kairi said, “You have room in your heart for the real Riku, too.” Xion nodded. Naminé smiled, admitting that they were right.

            “What did you guys do on his last visit?” Xion asked.

            “We went swimming in the lake near town.” Naminé’s face turned red. “He’s so muscular,” she said in a whisper, pressing her hands to her face. The other two laughed. “I got to see his tattoo.”

            Xion’s eyes widened. “Riku has a tattoo?”

            Meanwhile in the boy’s room, they were similarly chatting about their romance woes under the cover of music just as loud as the girls’. Riku and Ven sat on the floor in front of the dresser and Roxas lied on his stomach on the bed as Sora reclined against his brother’s pillows. Roxas told them all about the past weekend, going into more detail than he did with Hayner and Pence. The three boys expressed their sympathy about Roxas not going to prom with the girl he wanted.

            “That sucks, dude,” Riku said, lying back on his blanket. “Sometimes I see Naminé talking to Ienzo, and I think she might be going for him.” He chuckled.

            “How are things between you guys?” Roxas asked.

            Riku shrugged. “Good, I guess. I don’t know if she’s as invested in the relationship as I am, though. I think she might still be hung up on my replica.”

            “Your replica?” Ven asked with furrowed brows. Riku briefly described the events that happened in Castle Oblivion and the relationship his replica had had with Naminé.

            “Well, he’s dead now, isn’t he?” Roxas said, “You’re like her shoulder to cry on.”

            Riku sighed. “I wish it were that simple.”

            “Don’t worry, Riku,” Roxas said, “Naminé just takes a little time opening up.”

            “But we’ve known each other for so long. We spent so much time together while Sora was in that sleep pod.”

            Roxas looked at him with sympathy and said, “Maybe it’s different when she’s trying to be romantic.” In truth, Roxas had no idea how Naminé acted romantically. He had gotten close to her just before he rejoined Sora, but not that close.

            Before Riku could answer, the boys heard a knock on the door and it cracked open. “Can we come in?” Kairi said.

            “Hey you’re not allowed in here,” Riku scolded playfully.

            Kairi opened the door and poked her head in. “Xion wanted to see your tattoo,” she said, looking at Riku. She walked into the room fallowed by a grinning Naminé and Xion, whose eyes looked slightly red. Had she been crying?

            “Oh, you were talking about my tattoo, were you?” Riku said raising an eyebrow. “How did that topic come up in conversation?”

            “I want to see it,” Xion said before anyone could answer his question. Riku shrugged and stood up. He turned around and pulled the back of his tank top up to his neck. A large black Dream Eater emblem adorned his entire back.

            “Nice,” Xion said with a laugh, “Did it hurt?” She reached out and poked the tattoo with her finger. An uncomfortable feeling shot through Roxas’ chest, the same thing he felt earlier when she chose to marry Riku in their game of “Would You Rather,” only this time it struck him with such force that his breath caught in his throat.

            Ever since Roxas started learning how to properly handle his new emotions, he would occasionally feel something he couldn’t understand. This particular feeling came once before, when Roxas had lost a struggle match to Hayner. Of course he was happy for his friend, but he had still felt rather dejected and annoyed at the same time. Sora told him that he had experienced jealousy.

            Jealousy? Is that what I’m feeling? Roxas knew that Xion didn’t see Riku romantically. But he could be wrong. Roxas tried to maintain a neutral expression as his inner thoughts spiraled downward. He tried reining them in, reminding himself about how they had danced and how she put her hand on his knee when they cuddled at the movie theater. Roxas didn’t think she would let Riku cuddle with her.  

            “A little bit, but not that much,” Riku said.

            Roxas scoffed internally. He’s totally lying.

            Xion seemed to be mirroring his thoughts. “Oh, yeah, right. I’m sure,” she said sarcastically as Riku turned to face them, pulling his tank top down. The girls giggled as Aqua’s voice sounded from outside the room.

            “Hey, what are girls doing in there?” she admonished, walking into the room full of teens.

            “Xion wanted to see Riku’s tattoo,” Kairi said. Aqua’s eyes filled with alarm.

            “His tattoo where?!” Aqua seemed more than a little concerned to hear this news. Riku rolled his eyes at her as the boys laughed.

            “His back,” Kairi said.

            Aqua frowned. “No. no, no. Too much skin,” She began to usher the girls out the door. “Everyone out and back into your room.”

            Roxas wanted to thank Aqua for getting Xion out of this potentially flirtatious situation. Not that Riku would flirt with another girl in front of Naminé, or flirt with another girl period, but Roxas wanted to make sure Xion’s eyes didn’t wander away from him. Roxas stared at the floor, surprised by his own possessiveness. He reminded himself that whoever Xion chose to date was her own business. That didn’t mean he had to like, though.

            Aqua ordered them to go to sleep, and Roxas kicked Sora off his bed. Even though they turned the light and their music off, they stayed up for a few more hours, and spoke in hushed whispers. Roxas and Riku lamented about the ladies in their lives, asking Sora for any advice he could offer. Ven occasionally gave words of encouragement, but had never had a girlfriend, so he wasn’t really qualified to give any advice. Instead, Sora, Riku, and Roxas tried to give him tips on how to pick up girls. Ven just scoffed at their suggestions.

            “Come on, Ven, there’s no one you like?” Sora asked.

            “Well…I used to know a girl,” he said slowly, “She was shy and sweet and had long, red hair…”

            “What was her name?” The only answer the other three received was Ven’s even, deep breaths. He had fallen asleep.

            At about 2:30 in the morning, the last boy awake finally lost himself to his dreams.

Chapter Text

            When Roxas awoke the next day, he was dead on his feet. Staying up past two really did a number on his sleep schedule and he could barely concentrate on his toast as he ate the breakfast that Aqua had set in front of him. He and the other three boys, against their better judgement, had stayed up for hours talking, and now Roxas had to pay the price for it. Riku looked just as tired, but decided to wake up early when Roxas had for breakfast. Their other friends were still passed out as Aqua and Terra made breakfast, the only two who had a full night’s sleep. Roxas envied their bright-eye-and-bushy-tails demeanors.

            He rubbed his own eyes and yawned. How could he go to school like this? He hoped his teachers wouldn’t mind if slept in class. Even Axel’s return barely managed to perk up the drowsy boy. He greeted the group much too loudly for Roxas’ liking, asking Aqua and Terra how things went the night before.

            “Hopefully everyone’s kneecaps are still intact,” he said with a single laugh, resting his hands on Roxas’ and Riku’s shoulders. Roxas, too tired to even blush, swatted his hand away. He took a bite of his toast, but didn’t bother chewing as he laid his head on the table.

            “What’s wrong, Roxas?” Axel bent down and poked Roxas’ knee. “How are these things holding up?”

            “I’m tired,” Roxas said around his toast. Axel raised an eyebrow.

            “Oh, really? And why is that?” he said, implication heavy in his voice.

            “We all stayed up late, talking,” Riku said. He took a drink from the glass of milk that Aqua had given him.

            “Oh, I see.” Axel stood up straight and patted them on the shoulders. “Cute outfits, by the way.” He dragged his suitcases down the hall into his bedroom.

            Roxas heard the door behind him squeak open and someone walk into the kitchen. He lifted his head off the table to see Naminé wearing one of Xion’s hoodies grab a plate and scoop herself some eggs, then get a bottle of maple syrup out of the fridge. She sat down next to him.

            “Morning, Naminé,” Riku said with a sleepy smile, resting his chin in his hand.

            “Morning, sleepy head,” she said, smiling back at him as she poured syrup on her eggs. Riku took a breath to say something else, but Roxas cut in.

            “Is Xion still asleep?” he said, still not having swallowed the toast in his mouth.

            “Well, her alarm went off, but I don’t think she’s fully awake yet,” Naminé replied.

            “I’ll wake them up,” Aqua said. She knocked on the door, shouting brightly at the girls to awaken and Roxas heard groans and complaints coming from the room. He looked back at the door as Aqua moved on the other room, ready to ruin Sora’s and Ven’s morning before it even began. She left it wide open, so Roxas deemed it safe enough to approach. He stood slowly from his chair and walked into the doorway of Xion’s room, resting his forearm above his head on the door frame and swallowed the toast in his mouth.

            “Xion,” he said quietly to the lump in the bed. The comforter shifted and Xion poked her head up. She stared at him for a moment before a small grin spread on her face. She blinked slowly and giggled.

            “You just look so good in that outfit,” she joked, shaking her head. Roxas grinned and rested his forehead on his arm on the doorframe.

            “Thanks,” he said.

            “Do I look good, Xion?” Sora came up behind Roxas and slid his arms around his Nobody’s waist, resting his chin on his shoulder.

            “Yes, of course you do, Sora,” Xion said with a laugh.

            “Sora, quit being gay,” Roxas said, removing the other boy’s arms and stepping back into the kitchen. He sat down at the kitchen table and continued to eat.

            “If you insist,” Sora said with a yawn, grabbing a plate of food for himself.

            Xion and Kairi finally came out of the bedroom for breakfast a few minutes later, and Xion wore her black robe over her colorful pajamas. They grabbed some of the eggs from the stove and sat on the countertop to eat.

            As Axel came from the back bedroom, he told Roxas and Xion that they had to tell their teachers they would be out of class for a few days as dealing with the Heartless in the Caribbean would take some time. Roxas could tell that Sora was more than a little excited for the trip, and he began to share the many adventures he had had there as they all ate. The way he described it woke Roxas up more fully and he looked forward to having some more adventures of his own in another world, missing that aspect of being a Keyblade wielder.

            After breakfast, he went into his room to get ready, nudging a still sleeping Ven with his foot. “Ven, wake up.” Ven groaned and ignored him, so Roxas got dressed into his school uniform, not caring how much noise he made. He slid his headphones around his neck and walked out into the front room where Xion waited for him, saying farewell to their friends. Axel stopped the two before they could leave.

            “Let’s meet at the clock tower for lunch, okay, guys?” he said, and Roxas and Xion happily agreed. Axel sighed and said, “I just got home and you already have to leave for school. Make sure to tell me all about your weekend.”

            The two met their friends in front of the school when they got there, telling them about the epic fight with the Heartless from the previous day. As Xion and Olette parted ways with the boys to head for math class, Xion told her about Roxas’ date to prom. Luckily, she managed to not burst into tears this time, but felt a heavy weight settled in her stomach as she told Olette about it. Olette’s face morphed into an expression of deep sympathy.

            “I’m sorry you couldn’t go with him, Xion,” she said. “Maybe next year.”

            “That’s too far away,” Xion muttered with a shake of her head. They entered the classroom and sat in their seats. Xion rummaged through her bag, looking for the textbook that was not there and said, “Oh, I think I left my book in my locker. I’ll be right back.” She grabbed her bag, stood from her desk and exited the room, making her way to her locker a few halls away. As she took her book out and bent down to slip it in her bag that she had set on the floor, a pair of shoes entered her vision. She stood up to find Noctis standing next to her.

            “Hi, Xion,” he said, regarding her with an anxious look on his face.

            Xion smiled at him. “Hi, Noctis, how’s it going?”

            “Oh, good, good.” He gulped and ran a hand through his hair, settling it on his neck. “Um, I was wondering…” He took his hand from his neck and stared ringing it with the other hand as he cleared his throat. “Well, see, I’m going with this big group to prom, and Roxas is in it and I know you two are good friends, and I heard that you didn’t have a date yet,” Xion rose a confused eyebrow and fiddled with her tie that Roxas had once tied for her and had never been untied as Noctis rambled on, “So I thought that I might ask if you wanted to go with me since I don’t have a date either.” Xion’s other brow joined the first one on her forehead. “So…would you like to go to prom with me?” He looked hopeful. “I mean just as friends,” he quickly added, “Since you probably don’t see me like that anyway.” He chuckled nervously.

            Xion knew she could do worse. She could definitely do worse than Noctis, the prince of the school. He was attractive, athletic, and intelligent. Any girl would be lucky to go to prom with him. Having Roxas in her group but not with her would hurt, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go out with the guy who was bound to be prom king. Xion smiled.

            “I would love to go with you.”

            Noctis’ eyebrows shot up at the pleasant news. “Really? Wow, that’s great.” He smiled the first smile Xion had ever seen from him, “I have to go to class now, but maybe we should exchange numbers, you know, just in case something comes up.” Xion agreed and entered her contact information into his phone.

            She walked back to her class feeling much lighter than she had before. It sucked not being able to go to prom with Roxas, but Noctis asking her had given her self-esteem a major boost. As she told Olette what happened, she thought that maybe prom wouldn’t be so bad after all.

            Meanwhile Roxas told Hayner and Pence about his prom date before they left for their separate classes. Hayner couldn’t believe that Roxas had said yes to Iris. Pence only sighed.

            “Have you guys asked anyone yet?” Roxas said.

            “Well…” Hayner rubbed the back of his neck. “I asked Olette to go with me,” he said not looking at the other two boys. Roxas’ eyebrows rose and he grabbed Hayner’s arm.

            “Are you serious?” he said with a hoot of laughter, “What did she say?”

            “Well, she said yes, but it’s just a friend thing, ya know?”

            Roxas smirked. “Oh, I’m sure,” he said.

            When they asked Pence, he said a girl had offered to go with him in exchange for him tutoring her in math. Roxas frowned. Pence deserved to go with someone who he actually wanted to be with, not someone who felt obligated or like she needed to be nice. Roxas’ thoughts turned to his own situation and he realized his own hypocrisy.  

            It’s true; Roxas only said yes to Iris to be nice. It wasn’t fair to either of them, but he couldn’t change anything at that point. She wasn’t his first choice, and that seriously bummed him out, but he knew that he wasn’t her first choice either. Perhaps they were both to blame for this. He didn’t know if he wanted to even see her that day, but, unfortunately, they had first period together.

            As he took his seat next to Pence in English, she skipped up to him with a huge smile on her face. Roxas sat and listened with his chin on his fist, staring at the wall as she rattled off the plans for prom night. Apparently, her parents were renting a giant limo for the group and were letting them have a little after party at their house.

            “It’s going to be so much fun!” she said in delight, “We’ll stop by and pick you and Xion up after getting Prompto and Cindy. Noct said that he wanted to pick up Xion personally, but the boys convinced him to go with the group.” That pulled Roxas up short, and a look of astonishment crossed his face.

            He quickly turned to her and said, “Wait, Noctis and Xion are going together?”

            “Yeah, Prompto got him to ask her, and I just heard them talking in the hall a minute ago.” Iris gave a small smile but looked away from him, hugging her arms and taking a short breath.

            Before Roxas could respond, his teacher called for the class’s attention and began the lecture. He struggled to keep his eyes open as his teacher’s monotonous voice droned on and on and on. Still fatigued from staying up so late, he had to force himself to stay awake. After fighting off his drowsiness for an hour, the bell thankfully rang. He slipped on his headphones as he walked through the hall with Pence, blasting a rock song to hopefully keep himself awake. When he met with Xion to go to history, he slid a speaker off one of his ears.

            “Hey, I heard you’re going to prom with Noctis,” he said, hoping he wasn’t frowning. Xion nodded, not meeting his eyes.

            “Yup, he just asked me,” was all she said.

            “Hmm,” Roxas replied. He didn’t want to hear any more about it, so he slid his headphone back on and they walked to class in silence. When he sat down at his desk, a slow song came on his gummiphone and he blinked slowly, resting his head down on his arms. His eyes slid closed.

            When Roxas opened his eyes, he saw waves lapping lazily against a sea shore. He shielded his eyes from the bright sun over his head and looked around. He sat alone on the beach of Destiny Islands, feeling the grit of the warm sand against his legs and the cool breeze on his cheek that made the palm trees sway. He sighed contentedly, breathing in the salty scent of the ocean and closing his eyes against the warm rays of the sun.

            Roxas heard a splashing sound and looked back at the surf. Xion rose slowly from the waves, brushing water out of her face, and walked up to where he sat. She wore a long flowy black dress, soaked with water, as was her hair. She said nothing but smiled, sitting down next to him. He smiled back at her and put his arm around her shoulders. They stared at the calm sea for a moment, letting the sun warm their backs and listening to the waves crashing against the beach.  

            "Roxas,” Xion said gently. He turned to her and giggled, happy to be with her. They gazed at each other for a moment and Xion’s eyes flickered to his lips.  She leaned into him with a small smile and closed her eyes. Roxas’ eyes widened and his heart beat faster in his chest. He swallowed and took a breath to calm his nerves, preparing for the soft brush of her lips on his. When they were mere inches from each other, someone tapped his arm.

            Roxas’ head shot off his desk and he gasped softly, looking around the room, disoriented. He slipped his headphones off his head. Everyone stared at him and a few people wore smirks.

            “What’s going on?” he asked, confused.

            “Don’t fall asleep in class, Roxas,” his teacher scolded, “And turn down your music. You’re going to ruin your ears.” Xion giggled, sparing a glance at him as he apologized. Roxas blushed furiously as their teacher continued roll-call and sat low in his desk, trying to look inconspicuous for the rest of the period.

            When they met Axel on the clock tower later, he produced three sea salt ice creams for them to eat with their lunch. When he asked them about their weekend, they told him about the Heartless they fought over the past two days.

            “What did you do aside from fight Heartless?” he said with a wave of his hand, taking a bite out of his ice cream. Roxas hoped the red sunset hid is blush, thinking of his time spent alone with Xion.

            “Well,” Xion said, “on Saturday, I went shopping with Olette, and Roxas went to see a struggle match with Hayner and Pence. Then after we fought the Heartless, we went to see a movie and ate at the café.”

            Axel smirked. “Just you two or all five of you?”

            “Just the two of us,” Xion said quietly.

            “Oh, I see,” he said.

            Roxas glanced at Axel, rolling his eyes at the knowing grin the older man gave him, and asked him what he did that weekend.

            Axel said that he had been in and out of meetings and conferences all day, but still tried (unsuccessfully) to flirt with the conference organizers. Roxas and Xion laughed at his failed attempts as he told them various stories of what happened over the past few days. Roxas laughed particularly hard when he told them about how one woman threw a drink in his face at his cheesy pickup line during cocktail hour. She turned out to be his boss’s wife.

            “You are absolutely hopeless when it comes to women!” Roxas said, chuckling.

            “Hey, I’m just a little out of practice,” Axel said, “I went a decade without a heart, remember?”

            “Maybe we could give you some tips,” Xion said, looking over at him with a grin, waving her ice cream at him. Axel rolled his eyes at the youngsters and scoffed.

            “All you got to do,” Roxas said, holding his hands out, pinching his ice cream stick between his finger and thumb, “Is carefully scope out your prey, perform your perfectly choreographed mating dance, and when you have her in your grasp, you strike!” He jabbed his ice cream out in front of him, but it slipped from his grasp and tumbled to the ground, a few hundred feet below them. He cried out in anguish. “My ice cream!” he said, reaching out to it. Axel and Xion roared with laughter at the look of distress on his face as he watched his beloved ice cream hit the concrete in front the train station entrance.

            “Here,” Xion said, “You can have a bite of mine.” She offered him her half-eaten ice cream. Rather than taking it out of her hand, he leaned over and ate some off the top, wrapping his fingers around hers to steady them, and smiling at her as he pulled away. Xion bit off the part that Roxas had just eaten and took a deep breath. Roxas glanced back at Axel who smirked at the exchange. The boy blushed and stared back at the sunset. They chatted until Roxas and Xion had to leave.

            Back at school, Roxas made sure to tell his teachers that he would be gone for a few days on “family business.” Only his choir teacher, Ms. Heartilly, had a problem with it.

            “Roxas, the Midnight Festival is next week, you need to practice as much as you can for your solo,” she said with a frown, “Even a few days off would be a detriment to your progress.”

            The Midnight Festival happened once a year in Twilight Town, when the sun finally dipped below the horizon for a complete 48 hours, and Twilight High often performed several musical numbers and plays put on by the drama kids. They always scheduled prom during the time of darkness to celebrate it, about 24 hours after the festival.

            Roxas would be performing a solo with his guitar, accompanied by a cellist from the orchestra, and Ms. Heartilly had been working with him during free period for the past few weeks when he didn’t have piano lessons.

            “I’ll be sure to practice while I’m gone,” Roxas said, 100% certain that that wouldn’t be the case. His teacher seemed unsure, but wished him luck with his “family business.”

            Xion also made sure to let her teachers know that she would absent for a few days. Her physics teacher was even less understanding than Ms. Heartilly, reminding her that she had a quiz the next day as well as several papers to turn in. His conversation with her turned into a rant directed toward the whole class about how students shouldn’t slack off just because they want to go on a family vacation. Xion stood at his desk by the front of the room as he talked, unsure if she should sit down as her cheeks turned pink from embarrassment. He told Xion that she would be receiving half credit on all the assignments she missed and she took that as her cue to sit down in her seat. Iris, her lab partner, looked at her with sympathy and whispered a few consolidating words. Xion nodded but didn’t meet her eye.

            As their teacher lectured on, Xion gave sideways glances at the girl Roxas would be taking to prom. Xion had to admit that Iris was absolutely adorable. She was cute and quirky—even her handwriting was that flowery, loopy thing that all the cutest girls seemed to have. In comparison, Xion had a plain, average scrawl. She scowled slightly, watching Iris dot her I’s with hearts. Yes, Iris was cute, but could she be cute enough to tempt Roxas?

            When their teacher allowed them time to work on their assignment, Iris turned to Xion.

            “Hey, Xion,” she said, “What’s Roxas’ favorite color? I want to get the same color dress for prom.” She smiled.

            “Blue,” Xion said. The same color as sea salt ice cream.

            “Blue,” Iris repeated, “Cool.” They worked on their assignment for a few minutes more before Iris said, “I heard you’re going with Noct.” Xion nodded and hummed in affirmation. “So lucky. He’s absolutely gorgeous,” Iris said with a giggle. She stared off into space for a moment, fiddling with her pencil. Xion rose an eyebrow. Perhaps Iris wasn’t intending to steal Roxas away from her if the mere mention of Noctis had her daydreaming. Iris snapped back to reality and said, “His favorite color is black, by the way.”

            “Oh, ok. Thanks,” Xion said, planning to wear a completely different color. They spent the rest of the class in silence as Xion waited for the final bell to ring.

            When she met back up with her friends, she had to force herself to keep her expressions toward Roxas neutral. It wouldn’t do to be longingly gazing at someone else’s prom date, especially since she now had a date to prom as well. The tram ride home seemed painfully longer than usual.

            When they arrived home, they were welcomed by a scene of complete frenzy. Their friends were garbed in their protective garments, checking to make sure their Keyblades were properly powered up while Sora and Riku spoke with Donald and Goofy over the phone, making plans for their departure to the Caribbean. Time was of the essence and Axel and Isa urged their young friends to dress in their Darkness protecting clothes quickly. Soon the group of Keyblade wielders made their way to the outskirts of town where Donald and Goofy had parked the Gummi Ship.

            “Donald, Goofy!” Sora said, greeting his friends who he went with on all his adventures with a big smile.

            “It’s about time you showed up!” Donald quacked, “We were worried you forgot.”

            “Oh, Sora wouldn’t forget about us,” Goofy said, “Besides, he likes the Caribbean too much to forget. Uh-hyuck!”

            Xion smiled and greeted Donald and Goofy as she boarded the ship after her friends. As she stepped up into the cockpit, she lost her footing and began to slip. She gasped and reached out for a hand-hold as she fell off the ship’s wing, but steady hands caught her waist.

            “Careful, Xion,” Roxas said, eyes bright with concern, “Are you alright?” He looked her up and down, trying to detect any injuries.

            “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said blushing. She thought her heart would beat right out of her chest as Roxas took her hand to help her into the ship. As she took her seat next to Naminé, she made eye contact with a smirking Axel, who had apparently seen their exchange take place. She looked away pointedly, blushing again. Roxas took a seat next to her, and soon they zoomed off into Gummi Space.

            Since the cockpit of the Gummi Ship basically just had a glass bubble over their heads, they had an excellent view. As Sora, Donald, and Goofy piloted, the rest of the group gazed at their surroundings in awe, pointing out different parts of the beautiful landscape. Xion stared, transfixed by the swirling colors, bright distant novae, and glittering stars. She smiled and sighed at sight.

            Roxas heard the small sound and rested his eyes on her. Though Gummi Space was beautiful, it didn’t even hold a candle to Xion. The lights of space played off her features, illuminating the soft edges of her face and dancing in her eyes. He glanced down at her lips, thinking of his interrupted dream from that morning, wishing he hadn’t been woken up when he did. Oh, how he wanted to kiss those lips, to share his breath with her. Had they been alone, he would have acted on his impulse, but the large group of friends around him held him back.

            Xion felt his eyes on her and looked down at him. “What?” she asked with a smile. Roxas looked like a deer in the headlights.

            “Nothing,” he said quickly, gazing back at the swirling blue expanse above them. Xion giggled but didn’t press him, opting to ruffle his hair instead.

            “Hey!” he said with a grin, swatting her hand away and ruffling her hair in return. This erupted into an all-out poking and prodding war between the two, as they laughed at each other, both determined to seem more annoying to the other and both failed miserably in that respect.

            “All right, all right, you two,” Axel said, “Enough flirting.”

            “Axel,” Roxas said, blushing and pulling his hands away from her, but Xion and the girls next to her laughed. She probably blushed too, but didn’t care, in too good of a mood to be embarrassed. Though Xion and Roxas kept up their friendly banter, they actively tried to avoid touching each other after Axel’s quip.

            After a few hours of space travel, Sora excitedly told the others that they were nearing the Caribbean. Xion looked up at the imposing skull-shaped world and shivered slightly. She had never seen a world so intimidating. It was literally a skull. As they passed through the atmosphere, Xion felt her stomach drop as the inertia made her insides churn. The last time she road in the Gummi Ship she threw up everywhere and did not want a repeat of that experience. She held onto Roxas’ arm for support as she took a deep breath, trying to tamp down her nausea. He gripped her hand in his and squeezed tightly, giving her a reassuring smile.

            Sora discreetly landed the Gummi Ship on the opposite side of the island of Port Royal, away from town. As they disembarked the ship, Roxas helped Xion down, and the group stood gazing about the beach. The clean sand was perfectly white and the water of the sea a crystalline blue. A few hundred yards away from the shore was a jungle of palm trees. The beach looked mostly deserted, save for a single ship anchored by a lone dock. Sora informed the group that it was his ship, The Leviathan.

            “Alright, time to protect the world order,” Donald said, waving his staff at the group. With a sparkle and a flourish, their clothes were transformed into something typical of what would be worn in this world. “Now you look just like pirates!”

            Xion looked around at the group of boys standing in front of her. Several of them, including Roxas, had daggers attached at their waists, which Xion thought was a bit superfluous since they could all use Keyblades apart from Isa, who carried a sword instead of a dagger. Sora wore a leather trench coat over a deep burgundy button-up, as well as a captain’s hat over a blue bandana tied at the nape of his neck. Riku looked like a typical swabbie in a pale yellow tank-top and a black bandana tied over his head. Axel likewise wore a tank top in black, and an eye patch over one eye. Isa sported a black, long-sleeved tunic and his long hair had been tied back in a low ponytail. His hair had also changed from blue to dirty-blond. Terra and Ven both wore form-fitting striped shirts, Terra’s blue and white, and Ven’s green and white. Ven also wore a grey bandana tied around his neck. Roxas too wore a bandana around his forehead, a red one that had been folded over itself several times into a thick band and his hair stuck over it at all angles. He wore a cream colored tunic with a tie around the middle and had a bit of lacing near its neckline. The lacing was not tightened however, and Xion could see a bit of Roxas’ chest. She looked away from him as her cheeks turned pink and looked down at herself, realizing that Roxas’ chest shouldn’t be the one she worried about.

            The first thing she noticed about her attire was that her neckline should have been at least four inches higher. She wore a long black gown with a corset laced over her torso, a white panel of fabric peeking out between the lacing on her bodice, and long sleeves with lace cuffs. The skirt of her dress had two pleats in it that also had panels of white within them, and a petticoat filled the whole thing out. She tugged at the tight corset that bound her middle and found that she could not take a full, deep breath.

            “Is anyone else having trouble breathing?” she asked, looking at the three other girls in the group.

            Kairi was dressed similarly to Xion except her dress was a dusty rose color with black accents, a bit of lace around the equally low neckline, and didn’t have any pleating in the skirt. Naminé wore a cream off-the-shoulder gown with gold paisley designs embroidered onto it and a tattered shawl hung at her elbows. Her golden hair was styled in an intricate twist on the back of her head with ringlets hanging down over her shoulder, and wore heavy eye makeup, red lipstick, and heavily rouged cheeks. Xion felt the sticky coating of lipstick on her own lips, and wondered if her makeup was as heavy as Naminé’s. She also noted that Naminé had a much more appropriate neckline than she or Kairi.

            Aqua was given the most dramatic makeover. She didn’t wear a dress, but rather a long brown coat over a white tunic that had a royal blue corset laced over it, black leggings, and knee high brown boots. She also wore a large hat with a peacock feather sticking out of the back. But Aqua’s most prominent feature, her bright blue hair, had turned light brown, just as Isa’s hair had changed color so that they could blend in with the residents of Port Royal. All their clothes would have been absolutely beautiful if they had not already looked so worn and dirty.

            “I am,” Naminé said, pulling at the fabric at her waist, trying to get some room in the corset underneath her dress. Aqua and Kairi likewise voiced their discomfort.

            “Donald,” Aqua said, turning to him, “Why did you put us in corsets? We can’t fight like this.”

            “It wasn’t me, it was the magic!” he squawked.

            “We look like prostitutes!” Naminé hissed, pulling her shawl over her shoulders.

            “You look like pirates,” Donald retorted.

            Terra chuckled. “I think you all look lovely,” he said, gesturing to them.

            Xion blushed and turned slightly away from the boys, who chuckled at the girls’ plight. Xion had always felt uncomfortable wearing low-cut clothes, but it seemed there was no escaping it this time. She hoped the boys wouldn’t take notice of her neckline, but almost laughed out loud at the thought.

            They were teenaged boys. Of course they would notice.     

            Aqua continued arguing with Donald as Roxas walked up to Xion. “Nice dress,” he said with a smile, “You should wear something like that to prom.” He chuckled at Xion’s raised eyebrow. “Oh, that reminds me.” He turned to the rest of the group. “Did you guys want to come with us to prom next week? It’ll be tons of fun,” he said with a grin.

            Kairi’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, yes! Sora, we should go together!” she said, turning to him. “Have you found a date yet, Xion?” she asked without awaiting Sora’s reply.

            “Yeah,” Xion said with a smile that didn’t touch her eyes. “Someone asked me this morning.” Roxas looked slightly away from her at that, running a hand through his hair.

            “Great! Riku, Naminé, are you guys gonna come too?” Kairi bounced up and down on the balls of her feet excitedly.

            “Sure, sound like fun,” Riku said and Naminé agreed.

            “Ven?” Kairi turned to him.

            “Count me in,” he said, pointing to himself with his thumb.

            “Don’t worry, Ven,” Roxas said, clapping him on the shoulder, “We’ll find you a date.” Ven rolled his eyes but thanked him.

            Meanwhile, Aqua was getting nowhere with Donald who insisted that he couldn’t change how the girls looked; that the magic knew what it was doing.

            “Come on, Donald, just make us look normal. All you have to do is wave your wand again,” Aqua said.

            “It doesn’t work like that,” he said with a shake of his head, “And you do look normal here.”

            Aqua sighed heavily. “I can’t believe I’m dressed like this.”

            “If it’s any consolation,” said a voice behind them, “I think you look rather fetching.”

            Xion turned to find the source of the voice as Sora laughed.

            “Jack!” he said, running up to the pirate who walked toward them on the beach.

            “Hello, Sora,” the pirate said, “You wouldn’t have happened to found any rum around here, would you?”

            “Um, no,” Sora said, shaking his head, “But come meet my friends!” Sora swept his hand out to the pirate. “Everyone, this is Jack Sparrow.”

            “Captain Jack Sparrow,” he corrected.

            “Jack, this is Aqua, Terra, Isa, and Axel…”

            “A pleasure, milady,” Jack said, tipping his hat to Aqua.

            “This is my best friend, Riku, and my brothers, Roxas and Ven…”

            “Ah! Twins,” Jack said, “Tricky things, twins are. Every set of twins I’ve met has cheated a gold coin or two from me.” He furrowed his brows, eyeing the boys suspiciously.

            Ven chuckled. “Don’t worry, we won’t take any of your gold,” he said.

            Sora continued, “This is Xion and Naminé, and,” he threw his arms around his girlfriend’s shoulders, “This is Kairi, the lovely young lady that I’m courting.”

            “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, miss Kairi.” Jack hid his mouth behind his hand and said, “You know you can do better than this lad, right?” He winked at her and Kairi giggled.

            “Hey! I heard that,” Sora said with a pout.

            “Oh, he was only joking,” Kairi said, pecking Sora on the cheek.

            “So what are you lot doing here?” Jack asked, gesturing at them with his hands, “To take care of those little black shadowy things?”

            “Exactly,” Sora said, “We’ve got to get into town, and ask around to see if anyone knows where they’re coming from.”

            “Oh, I wouldn’t do that, mate,” Jack said, “There are soldiers everywhere, looking for a group of pirates that’ve been terrorizing the sea as of late. I don’t think they’d take too kindly to the likes of you barging in.”

            “We should make camp here, then,” Terra said, eyeing the sky as it slowly turned pink and orange, “We can come up with a plan for tomorrow.”

            “Hope you don’t mind if I join you,” Jack said with a wave of his hand, “You look like good company and I happen to be hiding from Elizabeth at the moment. She thinks the pirates have something to do with me.”

            The adults brainstormed plans for the following day, and asked Jack anything he knew about the Heartless. He told them that they mostly stuck to the wooded areas of the Island and rarely entered town.

            As they spoke, the younger teens busied themselves with making a fire out of dry sticks and logs they found on the beach. Once Jack had found the rum he had been looking for, he helped them kindle their flame by pouring some of the alcohol over the top of it. By the time the sun dipped below the horizon, they had a great bonfire blazing and started dancing and singing around it.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me

We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot

Drink up, me 'earties, yo ho

            As they danced and sang, Roxas took Xion’s hand and twirled her about, gripping her waist in a way that made Jack raise his eyebrows.

We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot

Drink up me 'earties, yo ho

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me

            “Oh no, Xion!” Roxas cried, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder, “I’m gonna throw you in the fire!” He laughed.

            Xion shrieked with laughter. “Roxas, no!” He feigned preparing to toss her in but gently set her back down. She went to smack his chest, but he caught her hand and began dancing with her again, picking her up into the air and spinning her around. Xion giggled.

            “You’re very strong, Roxas,” she said, squeezing his bicep when her set her back down.

            “I work out,” he said giving her a wink. They began to sing along with the others again.

            The adults sat, watching the teens with amusement. “The twin seems rather fond of that lass, doesn’t he,” Jack commented.

            “Yes,” Aqua said, “They both like each other, but won’t admit it.”

            “Hmm, perhaps they could use a little help,” Jack said, raising his bottle of rum and giving it a shake.

            “Perhaps not,” Isa said dryly. Axel laughed and got up to sing and dance with the youngsters.  

            Once the teens had become exhausted from dancing, they all lay down on the sand and Sora and Riku pointed out constellations in the sky as the fire slowly died out.

            Roxas looked up at the stars, admiring the sight he rarely got to see since he lived in Twilight Town. He tried to follow along with what Sora and Riku said but couldn’t see any patterns apart from the Big Dipper.

            “The stars are so beautiful,” Xion said next to him.

            “Yeah,” he said softly. “You know what else is beautiful?”

            “What?”

            Roxas grinned. “Ice cream.”

            Xion laughed, elbowing him as he chuckled. He felt the knuckles of her hand brush up against his as she settled into a more comfortable position. He gently settled his hand over the top of hers and interlaced their fingers. He took a deep breath as his face practically caught fire from his deep blush. Xion said nothing but rubbed his hand with her thumb as they looked at the stars. They fell asleep hand in hand.

Chapter Text

            Axel sat on the beach, staring at the waves crashing into the shore as the morning sun turned the sky pink, and sighed. He ran his fingers through the sand, thinking of the promise he made to Roxas and Xion when they were in the organization, that the three of them would go to the beach together on their days off. They had all only been to the beach once before this, though, during the reunion after Xehanort’s defeat. He resolved to take them more often.

            He rubbed his shoulder, sore from sleeping on the ground, and glanced behind him at the few teens that were awake. Riku, Kairi, and Ven roasted a few fish that Riku had caught earlier over a fire, and Terra and Aqua were training with each other a distance away so as to not disturb those that still slept as Jack watched them, occasionally making a comment about their technique. Axel envied the young peoples’ resilience.

            Isa walked up next to him and sat down. “What are you thinking about?” he said, nodding to him.

            Axel shrugged. “Just about how I wish I could be one of the kiddos again. Sleeping on the ground is a killer on the back, isn’t it?”

            Isa nodded with a chuckle but then turned serious. “That’s not what you were really thinking about, was it?”

            Axel clicked his tongue. “You know me too well. I was thinking about the organization days, actually. Roxas and Xion and I always wanted to go to the beach but never made it. You could’ve assigned us more days off, ya know,” he said with a wave of his hand.

            Isa smirked. “You were already as unproductive as you could be, Axel,” he said with a roll of his eyes.

            “Well,” Axel said, “If not for me, then for Roxas and Xion.” The smirk fell from Isa’s face and he looked away from Axel, toward the surf. “You were pretty hard on them, especially Xion.” Axel’s eyes drilled uncomfortably against Isa’s skull, but he forced himself to meet his friend’s gaze.

            “I know,” he said after a moment, “I don’t know if I can forgive myself for what I did to them.” He rubbed his temple. “How could they have forgiven me so easily?” he asked thickly, suddenly growing emotional.

            “Hey, don’t take it so hard,” Axel said, slapping him on the shoulder, “You apologized, right?”

            Isa ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “It seems so…hollow. How can I make it up to them?”

            “Just be their friend,” Axel said. Isa’s forehead creased and his lips pulled into a slight grimace. Just being their friend couldn’t possibly make up for the abuse he had put them through.

            Before Isa could say anything else, Riku called them over for breakfast.

            Axel smiled and stood up. “I thought it’d never be ready,” he said as they walked over to the three teens. “What’s this dish called?” He gestured to the fish Riku had on a spit over the fire.

            “It’s called fish, Axel,” Riku said sarcastically, “You don’t know what fish is?” he smirked, teasing the older man.

            Axel raised an eyebrow and said, “Never heard of it.”

            Sora, having been woken by the smell of fish, sleepily sauntered over to the group. He took a deep breath and smiled. “Smells delicious,” he said. He sat down next to Riku and Kairi. Riku placed the fish on a banana leaf on the ground in front of him as Terra, Aqua, and Jack joined them.

            Axel glanced over at the two teens that were still asleep and smirked. “Someone ought to wake up the two love birds over there,” he said, gesturing to Roxas and Xion. “Wouldn’t want them to miss breakfast.”

            “I’ll get them,” Sora said, jumping up. He walked over to his friends who had somehow ended up in each other’s arms during the night. Xion snuggled into Roxas’ side with her hand on his chest and Roxas had his arm around her. Sora grinned devilishly, pulled his gummiphone out of his pocket, and snapped a picture of them.

            “Hey, send me that pic, Sora,” Kairi called to him with a grin. Sora chuckled and knelt down, shaking his friends awake.

            Roxas jerked suddenly and Xion rubbed her eyes. They looked at each other for a moment, flushed bright red, and sat up, disentangling themselves from each other’s arms and avoiding each other’s eyes.

            “Breakfast is ready,” Sora said with a smirk, standing up. They walked over to the group, trying to not look sheepish, as Riku cut up the fish into pieces, distributing them to the group on banana leaves as plates.

            As they ate, Roxas pretended not to notice Xion’s low neckline. As Axel said a few days before, Roxas was a gentleman, and he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable with any wandering eyes. Never in his life had he forced himself to make so much eye contact with another human being. If Xion found his behavior odd, she didn’t let on, happily chatting with him and Axel.

            Once Axel had finished his meal, he laid down on his back and began to watch the clouds. “That one looks like a mermaid,” he said, pointing at the sky. Roxas looked up and laid down as well.

            “Where?” he said, “I don’t see it.” Xion looked up at the sky, trying to find the mermaid that Axel had pointed out.

            “Right there, see its tail and its hair on top. It looks like its waving to a ship over there.”

            “Oh, I think I see it,” Roxas said with a nod.

            Xion couldn’t see anything like a mermaid waving to a ship in the puffy white clouds, but she giggled and lay across her two friends, resting her head on Roxas’ stomach and throwing her legs over Axel, who pushed her substantial skirts out of his face, resting his hand on her boot. Though she couldn’t see the mermaid, she did spot what looked like a broken heart and pointed it out to them. Roxas chuckled at her inventiveness, making her head bounce on his stomach, and he began running his fingers through her hair, brushing her bangs across her forehead. She hoped he couldn’t feel the warmth that immediately rushed to her face.

            The three gazed at the clouds for a while, as the other members of their group played in the surf or looked for seashells, but a shout from Naminé broke their revelry.

            “Heartless!” she screamed, pointing at the jungle of trees.

            Xion quickly sat up and accidentally elbowed Roxas right in the family jewels. “Ow, Xion,” he said in a strained voiced, grimacing.

            “Sorry,” she said brusquely, jumping up to look for the Heartless. The black, shadowy creatures bloomed from the ground and advanced on the group. Everyone brandished their weapons, apart from Naminé, who stood on the beach terrified. Xion wondered why they had decided to bring her here in the first place.

            “Get behind me!” Riku cried, jumping in front of her.

            Roxas staggered to his feet, trying to shrug off his pain from being elbowed by Xion, and brandished his Keyblades as he advanced toward the Heartless with a slight limp. He and his friends attacked the Heartless, tearing through their shadowy bodies and releasing their hearts.

            Xion, Aqua, and Kairi had a much harder time fighting than the boys, breathing shallowly in their corsets. Xion wished she could take the darn thing off, but there was no time for that. They relied mostly on magic attacks during the fight, able to be cast at a distance and not requiring as much physical exertion.

            “Stream!” she cried, casting a water spell at the Heartless. The spell had a devastating effect on the monsters, so she continued using it until her magic ran out, forcing her to cross blades with the Heartless once again. With so many of her friends to help, they quickly dispatched the monsters.

            Though the Heartless disappeared from the beach, they still lurked among the trees. Xion could see their yellow eyes taunting her. “Come on, let’s go!” Sora cried, beckoning them into the tree line and the Keyblade wielders followed him into the jungle. Isa and Jack assured Riku that they would watch after Naminé. He nodded and booked it through the trees, following after his friends. They chased after the monsters that fled from them, but the girls lagged behind, huffing and tugging at their corsets.

            Kairi stopped and rested on her knees, taking shallow breaths. “I don’t think we can do this,” she panted. Xion opened her mouth to give Kairi a weak reassurance, but a group of Heartless closed in around them. At this point, Xion could feel the fullness of her magic inside her again and began casting Water at the monsters, as did Kairi and Aqua. With so much water flying around, the Heartless didn’t stand much of a chance against the girls and were quickly vanquished. A few of the monsters managed to escape with their lives, however, and fled from them.

            Xion rushed after the Heartless, leaving Kairi and Aqua behind. A small group readied themselves to attack her, but she quickly dispatched the monsters with a few well-placed water spells. Once they had been killed, Xion could neither hear nor see any more Heartless. She dismissed her Keyblade and took a breath.

            “That was quite a sight, lassie,” a voice said behind her.

            She whipped around to find a small motley group of pirates that had come out of nowhere and looked as if they had never seen a bathtub before. The one in front had his hand on the sword belted at his waist, rubbing the jewel on the pommel with his thumb. Xion furrowed her brows. “Were you the ones who brought those monsters here?” she demanded.

            The pirate laughed and the crew behind him joined in raucously. “Ney,” he said, “But we have a feeling that you can help us with them, witch.” Xion’s lip curled.

            “‘Witch?’” she spat.

            “You used magic to take care of those things,” the pirate explained. Just then, Xion heard the snap of a twig off to her left, but when she tried to find the source, she didn’t see anything. She looked back at the pirate who continued, “So you must be the sea witch we’ve been lookin’ fer.”

            “I’m not a witch,” Xion said, “And I don’t need magic to take care of you!” She brandished her Keyblade and readied herself to fight the pirates, but a strong blow to the back of her head nocked her unconscious. She fell to the ground, and her Keyblade dissipated.

 

            Roxas breathed heavily and sat down on a log. The large group of Heartless he fought with the boys weren’t the toughest he’d ever faced, but dealing with so many tired him a little. He almost suggested making their way back to find the girls to see how they were doing, but before he could say anything, Kairi and Aqua came barreling through the trees, panting heavily and in quite a panic.

            “They’ve taken Xion!” Kairi shouted. Roxas’ eyes widened and his stomach dropped. He jumped up from the log.

            “Who?” he cried, rushing over to them.

            “Pirates! We saw them carrying her to the beach.” She pointed to the general direction behind them. Roxas didn’t waste any more time talking, and rushed passed the girls, sprinting back to where they had come from. He crashed through the trees as his friends followed closely behind him, rushing to save their friend.

            A group of pirates faced off with Jack and Isa as they defended Naminé who stood closely behind. They all had swords and guns drawn, but as the group of Keyblades wielders burst through the trees, magically summoning their weapons to them, they shifted their focus away from the two.

            “Ha!” one of the pirates said, “Friends of the witch!”

            “Everyone back to the ship!” another pirate shouted over him, an obvious authority figure, since the pirates turned and fled toward the boats that waited on the surf. They pushed away from the beach and began paddling frantically to a much larger ship out on the water and the Keyblade wielders chased after them, firing spells until they reached the water’s edge. One of the pirates waved his revolver haphazardly behind him and took a random shot at the group. A few of the wielders had enough sense to quickly cast Reflect.

            But others did not.

            A small round bullet slammed into Roxas’ chest and he staggered backwards, clutching his wound, as an infinite amount of pressure bloomed on the small entry point. His face blanched and his extremities went cold as he sank to his knees. He looked down at his chest and pulled his hand away. It came back bloody and the sticky red substance slowly spread across his shirt. Then came the searing pain, so intense that his face went slack and he fell forward into the sand, blacking out.

            Axel’s eyes widened and a wordless scream tore from his lips. He sprinted to his fallen friend and shouted, “Heal!” Several of the others likewise frantically cast the spell. He dropped to his knees where Roxas lay and rolled the boy over. “Roxas,” he said, shaking his shoulders. Roxas coughed weakly and his eyes fluttered open, finding Axel’s.

            “Axel,” he said feebly.

            “I’m here, Roxas,” Axel said, gripping his hand.

            “Xion,” Roxas said, pushing himself up into a sitting position as his voice grew urgent, “They have Xion.” He made a move to stand, but Axel pushed him back down.

            “Hold on, Roxas, you need rest.”

            “I’m fine,” he insisted.

            “You just got shot!” Axel retorted, “How is that fine?!”

            “You healed me, so I’m fine,” Roxas said simply.

            “Actually,” Aqua said, “Cure would have healed the wound around the bullet, but it’s still in there. It needs to be taken out, or you’ll die of lead poisoning.”

            Roxas sighed and rubbed his face. “We can do that back at Twilight Town, but Xion needs our help now.” He shakily stood up and Axel didn’t stop him. Sora beckoned everyone to The Leviathan, but an angry voice halted them. 

            “Jack!” They turned to find a blonde woman garbed in pirate’s raiment running up to them on the beach.

            “Elizabeth,” Jack said quietly. He turned to the group and said, “We need to leave immediately.” He turned and began to jog toward the ship.

            “Jack, don’t you dare take another step,” Elizabeth said, “I would like a word with you.” She pointed her finger at him.

            Roxas growled with impatience. Whoever this woman was, she clearly didn’t understand that they were on a time crunch.

            “Dear Elizabeth, I’m so sorry, but I’m a bit busy at the moment,” Jack said, waving his arms about.

            “Those pirates,” Elizabeth began, “They—”

            “Yes, exactly,” Jack said, cutting her off, “We’re after those pirates because they’ve taken a dear friend of ours.”

            “We need to rescue her!” Roxas cut in. Elizabeth regarded him when he spoke, but turned her reproachful gaze back on Jack.

            “Jack, I know this has something to do with you,” she said. Roxas frowned. Elizabeth seemed to have a one track mind. “Those pirates said that they needed a witch to sacrifice to make all the monsters leave and you’re the only person I know who befriends witches.” She gestured at the group of Keyblade wielders.

            Roxas’ eyes widened and his blood went cold. “They want to sacrifice her?” he whispered in horror.

            Elizabeth ignored him, jabbing her finger at Jack again. “You’d better have a good reason for—”

            But Roxas could no longer stand around on the beach, listening to Elizabeth’s complaints. “Argh!” he cried, “Yell at him on the ship! We have to go!” He turned on his heel and ran toward the ship as the others followed, climbing on board.

 

            Xion awoke in a dark, damp place, and her head throbbed intensely. The hard, rough ground underneath her swayed back and forth, making her queasy. She blinked her eyes open and tried to sit up with great difficulty, as her hands had been bound by rope behind her back. She looked around. She sat in a small cell made of wood and iron bars, and light filtered through cracks in the boards above her head, providing enough illumination so that she could see she was not alone.

            Across the room from her, another cell had two men sitting in it. One sat against the back wall and regarded her curiously, but the other gripped the bars of his cell door, leering at her.

            “I thought you’d never wake up, poppet,” he said, giving her a smile that didn’t have a lot of teeth to go with it.

            Xion grimaced. “Where am I?” she said.

            “You’re on a boat,” he said. Xion took a breath, and willed herself not to snap at the man for his obvious answer. “What are ye in for, love?”

            Xion scowled at the term of endearment, but nevertheless answered his question. “They kidnapped me. Said I’m a witch.”

            “Ah, that’s a right shame, now isn’t it?” he said, “You’s is the one they’ll be sacrificing to the sea god, then.”

            Xion’s eyes widened and her heart beat faster in her chest. “Sacrifice? Why?” she said.

            “Why, to make all them monsters go away, of course. If we can appease the sea god, then they’ll all leave, won’t they?” He grinned.

            “No!” Xion said quickly, “That won’t work! I’m here to get rid of them by fighting them. They won’t take any sacrifices!”

            “They’ll only take the right sacrifice,” said an oily voice. The owner of the voice slowly stepped down the stairs into the brig, wearing the finest and most luxurious clothes Xion had seen, followed by two of his cronies, who practically wore rags in comparison. “That is where you come in, witch,” he continued, stepping to her cell in front of the door. He stared down at her with cold eyes. “I have sacrificed many witches to appease the sea god in these trying times, but all have been for naught.” Xion glowered at him as he spoke and tried to summon her Keyblade, but her hands were bound too close together for it to appear. “But now, I think I’ve finally found the right lassie for the task. You have special magic that the others did not possess, the power over water. The sea god will certainly accept that power and take the monsters away.”

            “No!” Xion spat, reiterating what she said to the previous pirate, “That’s not going to work! Let me go, and I can take care of the monsters on my own!”

            “I’m sorry, but this is the only way.” He turned to leave and nodded at his henchmen. They opened her cell and made a moved to grab her, but she pushed away from them, kicking and trying to bite their hands. One of them slapped her across the face and her cheek stung. She grunted softly but did not cry out. They grabbed her by the arms and hoisted her to her feet.

            “Let go of me!” Xion kicked at them and struggled to release herself from their grasp, but they were much stronger than she and escorted her up the stairs and onto the deck. Xion squinted against the bright sun and looked at her surroundings. The beach she had come from was just a smudge in the distance and everywhere else, open water. She thought she saw another boat approaching, but a sword pointed at her throat grabbed her attention. The well-dressed pirate, presumably the captain, smiled and gently brushed the blade of his sword along her neck. He didn’t try to cut her, but she held still regardless, not wanting to take any chances.

            “Here’s what going to happen, love…”

 

            Roxas stood at the side of the boat and watched the horizon with a worried expression as they closed the distance between them and the ship they chased after. When it came to sailing, the gang left most of the work up to Sora and Riku, the only two who knew how to sail—well, Jack and Elizabeth also knew, but they were too busy arguing to be of much help. Roxas didn’t pay attention to what they were saying, however, as worry for Xion consumed him.

            He pressed the heels of his hands to eyes and tried not to think about all the horrible things the pirates could be doing to her. How could he have let this happen? He should have stayed with her when they fought the Heartless earlier, then she wouldn’t have been kidnapped. He took a shaky breath.

            “This is all my fault,” he said quietly, voice breaking, as tears seeped into the cuffs of his sleeves when he wiped his eyes. A hand fell on his shoulder.

            “No it’s not,” Axel said. Roxas looked up at him, trying to keep his emotions in check in front of his friend, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from welling with tears. “We’ll get her back, Roxas. I promise.”

            “But what if they hurt her?” he asked in a small, quivering voice, “I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.” He dropped his gaze to the ground and sniffled, wiping his eyes. After all they had been through, he couldn’t lose her now.

            “Xion’s strong,” Axel said, “I’m sure she’ll be just fine.”

            “But what if you’re wrong?” he whimpered, sucking in a sharp breath as a single sob escaped his lips.

            “Oh, come on,” Axel said, waving his hands, “When am I ever wrong?” He faced the horizon. “Besides, when we get there, we’ll make those pirates regret messing with our friend,” he said, balling his hand into a fist. Roxas watched for a moment as Axel’s brows pulled together and he set his lips in a thin line.

            “You’re right,” Roxas said quietly, turning away from him and wiping away more tears. He furrowed his brows and clenched his jaw. Those pirates would pay for hurting Xion.

            “Look,” Axel said, pointing toward the bow of the ship, “We’re catching up to them.” Sure enough, they quickly closed the distance with their enemy’s ship, who seemed to have dropped anchor and just sat in one spot as if they were waiting for them.

            “Ready the cannons!” Sora shouted as they pulled up alongside the ship.

            “No!” Roxas cried frantically, “Xion’s still on there!” He searched the deck of the other ship and spotted the small black figure against the mangy pirates. “Xion!”

            “Roxas!” Xion called back. Roxas tried to keep an eye on her through the commotion on the enemy ship but couldn’t get a good look at what was happening.

 

            Xion grit her teeth as her captor dragged her over to the plank, wishing she could give these pirates a good thrashing, but the many guns trained on her told her that such an attempt would be a bad idea. The pirate holding her cut the ropes binding her wrists with a dagger and shoved her onto the plank. She rubbed her wrists and gazed down at the water, wondering if she knew how to swim or not. Hopefully Sora had set her up with some fond memories of swimming with Kairi, otherwise, she was out of luck.

            “Today,” the captain said, pulling her focus to him, “We appease the sea god with an offering of one of his children.” He pointed his sword at her and stepped onto the plank, walking closer to her as she gingerly backed away, trying to keep her balance as the ship bobbed in the water, and stopping when she felt the edge of the board with the heel of her boot. She gasped, looking down at the water again. “My dear, I’m sorry it has to be this way.” Xion doubted the sentiment as he lowered his sword and stepped back onto the deck.

            One of his crew chuckled darkly as he put one foot on the plank, jostling it slightly. Xion stuck her arms out to the side, struggling to keep her balance as the board she stood on wiggled up and down. The pirate pushed even harder against the board, making it sway dangerously, and Xion lost her footing and tumbled over the edge. She screamed as gravity took effect, pulling her into the water. As she slipped beneath the waves, she accidentally inhaled a large amount of water into her lungs. She struggled, throat burning, to make her way back to the surface, but she quickly lost consciousness.

 

            Roxas watched with wide eyes as Xion fell into the water. “Xion!” he screamed. He climbed onto the railing of the boat and dove into the water after her.

            “Roxas!” Axel cried, trying to halt the boy, but it was too late.

            Water stung Roxas’ eyes as he forced them open under water, looking for Xion. He spotted her floating gently, immobile, and kicked his way over to her, wrapping his arms round her waist and pulling her up to the surface. He took several gulps of air and blinked the water out of his eyes as he made his way back to the boat, vaguely aware of a shouting match between his friends and the enemy pirates and the sounds of gunshots and spells being cast, but he couldn’t care less about the fight going on above him; he needed to get Xion to safety. When he reached the side of the boat, a bullet whizzed past his head and imbedded itself in the wood paneling in front of his face. He then registered that someone had cast Aero on him, gusts of winds encircling him to protect them from the projectiles.

            Riku and Terra lowered a rope to him with a loop tied at the end. He struggled to keep ahold Xion, limp in his arms, and keep his head above water as he slipped one foot through the loop and grabbed the rope with his free hand. The muscles in his arms seared as he painstakingly pulled himself upright, wrapping his arms around Xion, clutching her close to him, and trying not to drop her. The boys pulled them up slowly and grabbed Roxas’ arms to pull them over the railing of the boat. Terra tried to take Xion from him, but Roxas pushed passed him, gently laying her on the ground. He pushed her wet hair out of her face, cupping it with his hands as worry creased his brow.

            “We’ll make sacrifices out of all of you!” the captain shouted. Roxas’ head snapped to the other ship as the crew began setting boards across the distance of their boats preparing to fight them, but Aqua quickly set them aflame with fira and she and Kairi pushed the boards off the edge of the boat before the flames could reach them.

            “Get below deck,” Sora said to Roxas, “We can handle the pirates.” He turned back to the other ship and readied his Keyblade.

            As Goofy pulled up the anchor, Roxas scooped Xion up in his arms and rushed below deck, followed by Axel and Jack, where they found Naminé sitting on a barrel on the far side of the room, squinting through the boards at the cacophony on deck. She stood and rushed over to them as Roxas laid Xion on the floor and put his ear near her mouth. He couldn’t feel her breath nor was her chest moving. “She’s not breathing!” he said in panic.

            “Cut her lacing, boy!” Jack shouted, pointing at her chest. Roxas knit his brows, confused for a moment, then realized he meant the tight laces on Xion’s corset. He took the dagger from his hip and slipped it under the lacing at her waist, slicing the cords binding her torso, and barely avoiding nicking her chin.

            “I’ve had to do that a few times before,” Jack commented with a smile and a nod.

            “Um, Roxas,” Axel began, raising an eyebrow, “Maybe let Naminé do that…”

            Roxas ignored him. He tossed his dagger aside and ripped the corset open, so Xion could breathe again, but her chest remained motionless. He tilted her head back and put his face nears hers, preparing to perform CPR, but then she gasped, coughing water in his face and rolling onto her side. He jumped back in surprise.  Xion coughed several times as water spewed from her mouth, before pushing herself up on her elbows as Roxas cradled her. She gulped in air heavily.

            “Are you alright?” Roxas said, resting his hand on her shoulder.

            Xion nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said weakly. She noticed the blood stains on his shirt and her eyes grew wide. “What happened to you?”

            “I got shot, but don’t worry about it, I’m fine,” Roxas quickly assured her.

            “You got shot?!” she cried, gripping his arm, sitting up fully.

            “Like I said, I’m fine, but you need rest,” Roxas insisted.

            “You both need rest,” Axel said, crouching down.

            Roxas helped Xion stand up and Axel pushed them towards the rows of hammocks tied to poles as Jack excused himself to continue fighting with the pirates on deck. Xion slid into one of the hammocks and Axel pulled a barrel up next her to sit on. Roxas and Naminé stood by her head, gripping the canvas edge of the hammock. Xion sighed and rubbed her face.

            “What happened, Xion?” Axel asked quietly. She told them about the pirates that found her in the jungle and how she had been knocked unconscious, later waking up in their ship and being grabbed and taken up deck, forced to walk the plank.

            “Did they…do anything else to you?” Roxas asked cautiously.

            Xion shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.” He breathed a sigh of relief.

            By then, the fighting above had quieted; no more shouts or gunshots could be heard. “Well,” Axel said, standing up, “You two should get some rest.” He pushed Roxas toward the hammock next to Xion’s and walked toward the stairs. “I’ll see how the others are doing.” He ascended the stairs as Naminé followed, leaving Roxas and Xion alone.  

            Roxas gripped the edge of the hammock and attempted to crawl into it with great difficulty. The hammock swayed as he tried to bring his knee over the edge of the canvas and nearly fell over. Xion giggled weakly.

            “Need some help there, Roxas?” she said.

            “Uh, no, I got this,” Roxas said with a grin, turning around and falling backward into the hammock. They lied there for a few moments, swaying gently with the motion of the boat, before Roxas said, “Xion, are you sure you’re okay?” eyebrows pulling together in concern as he looked at her.

            She nodded and shifted onto her side, hanging her arm over the edge of the hammock. “I’m fine. Just a little tire, that’s all.” She took a deep breath and asked, “How did it feel getting shot?”

            Roxas rubbed his chest where the bullet had penetrated. “It felt like…someone hit me in the chest with a sledge-hammer. I didn’t really process it at first, it just felt like a lot of pressure, but then…” he shook his head, “so much pain all at once. It hurt so bad I passed out.”

            Xion frowned at his words and said, “Well, I’m glad you’re okay.”

            Roxas quickly shook his head again and said, “Don’t worry about me; I should be the one worrying about you.” He ran a hand through his wet hair and sighed. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you were taken,” he said softly.

            Xion shook her head. “Roxas, it’s not your fault—”

            “No, it is my fault,” he insisted, leaning on his elbow, “We’re best friends, we’re supposed to be there for each other, but I feel like lately…lately…” In Roxas’ mind flashed Xion falling into the water and then him accepting Iris’ proposal. He sighed. “I haven’t been.”

            “Roxas, of course you’ve been there for me,” Xion said, “I wouldn’t be here right now if you hadn’t saved me.” She smiled softly, making his heart race. “Thank you.”

            Roxas couldn’t help but smile back. “You’re welcome. You know,” he reached over and took her hand in his, “that I would do anything for you, right?”

            Xion’s breath caught in her throat as she regarded their hands with slightly widened eyes. She looked back at Roxas’ twinkling ones and smiled. “Yes. I know.”