The daytime city was worse than the nighttime city, in his opinion. The streets were more crowded. No matter how anyone walked, they were always going to smack shoulders and walk with an awkward silence only broke by polite excuses and the occasional shout. What was worse, the undeniable scent of sweat and garbage was brought out by the hot sun. It was enough to make one sick.
Heartless didn’t crawl around, or not as much. He could see their beady eyes glowing from the dark alleyways where some crawled off to die. The bars that had been so full the night before stood empty and closed. Those that weren’t closed held the vacant air of a morgue.
No blaring trumpets could be heard during the day time.
He watched the pickpockets crawl from their respective holes in the wall. They gracefully moved past him and his bloody shirt. He was amused at how much they thought they knew about a person. The gentleman’s wallet was long gone before he ever even noticed the urchin running off with it.
Axel stopped and rested against the wall. The crowd passed him, indifferent to his swollen nose and grinding headache. He laid his head back against the wall and heaved a sigh. His eyes closed tightly. He could feel the flakes of blood on his face.
Others were looking at him in disgust and mothers pulled their children closer to their bosoms. Don’t look, honey. He smiled ruefully and opened his eyes. He had to get clean. He glanced around and made his way towards one of the opened bars. A man watched him with his nose stuck up in the air.
“The fuck do you think you’re looking at?” he demanded of the man with clenched fists. He jumped and ran away. Axel smirked and walked towards the bar.
“Where’s your washroom?” he asked of the barkeep who just jerked his hand towards the back. Axel scowled at him and looked for what he was motioning at. When he finally found the damned room, he headed for the sink and turned on the water.
The entire room had a look of neglect, with the sort of mellow polish of grime and rust. The floors appeared to be made out of dirt and the cracks in the wall seemed like they’d give at any moment.
He was annoyed to find that even splashing water to his face was enough to hurt his nose. He cursed Larxene and wished desperately that he’d get the chance to return the favor one day. Oh, and he would return it threefold at the very least.
On the wall was a poster that flapped in an imaginary breeze before gliding to the floor. Axel looked at it and reached down to grab it. Champion of Heartless: Tournament to be held Saturday.
He thought back to the days when the heartless tournaments had been his best way of making money. He crumbled the sheet in his hands. Back in those days, everything had always been fixed, too. He couldn’t lose. He crumpled the paper in his hands and threw it to the side as he left.
One for the road. The missus is waiting, y’see. Outside the bar stood several men, their dark skin glistening with sweat. They held their ragged hats and wrung their hands as they pondered over getting a drink, and how they could get inside. Axel passed them by without a second glance.
He walked along the edges of the crowded sidewalk. At times he was shoved into the wall by a bitter stranger. He shoved back and continued walking, not even sure where he was going. He only knew he had to go somewhere.
As he passed a long alleyway, he stopped. The heartless in the shadows weren’t looking hungrily at the passing people, but instead surrounding a filthy boy. His clothes were tattered and torn. His white shirt was now a permanent mess and his jeans were falling apart. His face was filthy, and through one hole in the side of his shirt one could see his ribs in great detail.
His blond hair needed a combing and he glared pointedly at all the heartless. Don’t come any closer, bastards. His shoulders were straight and he looked at all the heartless in turn. As they moved closer, he didn’t bother to move away.
Axel looked away, knowing what would happen to the poor kid. He didn’t stand a chance, for all his bravado would have one believe. The kid flexed his fingers as Axel turned to walk away.
He stopped when he heard metal clash against the floor. A heartless screamed in agony, and its scream was cut short by the sound of metal cutting through air. He looked back and in the kid’s hands were two metallic looking swords. One was light, the other was dark and the way they both were shaped reminded him of a key.
Within minutes, all the heartless lay in bloody pools around him. Slowly, the blood and corpses faded as he breathed heavily with exertion. He wiped his hand against his open mouth and stood there silent. Axel’s mind started working feverishly. He had found his way out of debt, and maybe his way into fortune.
“I’ve never seen anyone get rid of heartless like that,” he said slowly. He gave a nod of approval and smiled just so slightly at the kid. He turned to look at Axel and the blades vanished from his hands. He backed up. His shoulders weren’t quite so straight anymore and his legs were tense. He stared at Axel with wide, blue eyes.
“Hey, chill out. I’m just trying to give you a compliment,” he explained and held his palms outward as he shrugged. He continued to move towards the boy who had still not run. “What’s your name, kid?”
He looked around him and took a step back. His knuckles were white from how hard he was clenching his fists. His face was abnormally pale, almost sickly. “Roxas,” he said as he turned to run.
Unfortunately within a few steps he stopped and held his hands to his sides as he breathed heavily. He couldn’t run, not after that fight. Noises surrounded them both, a paper boy calling his wares, men frustrated with the news, men frustrated with each other, cab drivers in crowded traffic.
Roxas forced himself to stand up when he felt Axel lay a hand on his shoulder. He pulled away, but he couldn’t shake the man’s hand. “The name’s Axel, and I have a proposition you might actually be interested in, Roxas.” He sneered at the boy and led him out of the alleyway.
Roxas allowed himself to be led along, though his steps dragged and his face was glazed over, mouth agape, eyes not in focus. He ran into several people and didn’t offer so much as an apology and Axel had to practically drag him with his one arm. On the ground, he noticed a quarter gleaming out like a beacon.
He reached down and grabbed it before anyone else could. “Let’s get you something to eat,” he announced to Roxas. Roxas turned and looked at him eagerly, suddenly all eyes and ears. Axel looked around, not wanting to go to a simple café because of his shirt and Roxas, period.
The cafe would have to do, he decided as he pulled Roxas to one. At the strange looks, he snapped, “C’mon, what’s a guy got to do around here for food?” The cook leaned over the wood lazily.
“Whatcha want?” he asked with a skeptical raise of his eyebrows.
“Whatever twenty-five cents can buy,” Axel responded smoothly as Roxas began looking for a seat. He was starting to feel faint and he didn’t give a damn about the exchange currently happening. He’d rather be back in the alleyway trying to sleep.
Axel sat next to him after a few moments. Minutes later, a hamburger and fries was placed in front of Roxas. The waiter made a disgusted sound and quickly walked away. He waved his hand in front of his nose as soon as he was sure the pair couldn’t see him.
Roxas looked at the food in disbelief. Without asking if it was his, he snatched the burger and started tearing into it gratefully. Axel frowned as his stomach growled. Patience, patience, he reminded himself. He’d get to eat plenty if this plan went his way.
“So, Roxas,” he began with a lazy smile, “have you heard of the heartless fights?”
“No,” he answered in between hasty bites. He coughed as he choked on the food for a moment. He had hardly cleared his throat until he finished the hamburger off and tore into the fries.
“Aww, too bad.” Axel had to look away from his eating. The boy was starting to make him sick. “Cause, you know, there’s a lot of money in it for the winner.”
“We could help each other out, too. We’d be so rich that you could eat any time you want.” He grinned and added with a laugh, “And you could afford to take a bath.”
Roxas glared at him, finally having slowed down to actually chew his food. “How?”
“If you enter the fight, you’re sure to win with that blade-whatever-it-is--”
“It’s a keyblade,” he corrected pointedly.
“Yeah, whatever. You enter with it, you’ll win easy. I place bets on you, we collect the money,” he said, sugaring over his words towards the end.
“What do I do at the, uh, heartless fights?” he asked with a slight raise of his eyebrows. He leaned forward and pushed the empty plate aside.
“You survive,” Axel replied with a strange glow in his eyes. “That’s the beauty of it, and why you’ve got such a damned good chance. You keep that keyblade hidden until the last moment and the odds will be stacked against you, meaning bigger rewards for us both. We’ll be rich!”
Roxas looked at him skeptically and relaxed back into his chair. He looked to the side, with a deep frown. He didn’t want to seem like he would give in too easily. The plan was appealing, though.
“What are you going to bet with? You don’t have any money.”
“How does everyone keep guessing that about me,” Axel mused aloud before turning to Roxas with a grin. “Oh, I’ll find the money. It’s the one thing I’m good at.”
Roxas lowered his eyebrows and tilted his head slightly. “How?”
“There’s a local gang, mafia, whatever… They like to help out the destitute. Real do-gooders when they’re not collecting payments. That’s where we’ll get our money. Their leader never shows his face, but they got this one girl in there that’s a real sucker for any sob story, and she holds a lot of sway.”
“You’re going to lie?”
“It’s not a lie if it’s true. You said it yourself, I don’t have any money. Are you hiding a wad of cash somewhere?” He watched Roxas shake his head quickly and grinned. “So, we aren’t lying. We’re poor and we need cash fast.”