Axel’s step was just the little bit lighter. He had the key to getting out of debt. The boy and his keyblade would take those at the fights by storm, and he would reap the benefits. Of course, he had never explained to Roxas that the fights were not designed to be survived.
He smirked to himself at the thought of not having to share. Roxas stumbled, hesitant at the very least to be seen with the redhead. Vacant eyes turned to stare with the slightest hint of pity at the two of them. Homeless men shoved past them rudely, and women averted their sympathy. On the corner, as the occasional horse drawn carriage passed, a man stood with a grimy saxophone in hand. At hat lay at his feet, loaded down with the weight of nickels and pennies.
Roxas looked away with a cringe as a young girl grabbed the hat with a gleeful laugh. What a shame. It had been a nice hat, too, without the extra dollar that had been thrown in. When he looked back, the man was walking away, as if he had simply given the girl the hat.
Axel placed an arm in front of Roxas, to stop him.. “You don’t walk into a busy street,” he snapped with a roll of his eyes. Axel muttered something under his breath and Roxas backed up, but not without a defiant glare.
They walked in silence. Roxas noticed the cracks on the pavement and the occasional penny or nickel. He tried to grab them at first, but he gave up the effort because men in expensive shoes kept stepping on his hands. One man walked into him, but his nose was stuck so far up in the air he couldn’t see what he’d stumbled over. Sometimes Axel would glance back to make sure that he wasn’t lost.
That look was starting to make him angry. Besides, the more he thought, despite all the shouting, stumbling, and unbearable dampness around him, the more he wondered why. Why was Axel wanting to borrow money from a mafia, a gang, a crime lord, all synonymous with illegal?
“Why don’t you get money from a bank?” came the question. It was asked with obvious mistrust and settled right between Axel’s shoulder blades. He grinded his teeth and ignored it.
“Big Bosses back in government! Read all about it! Extra, extra…”
He turned down a side alley and kicked a can towards the paperboy’s grating voice. He glanced back at Roxas before stopping at a red door that was shoved haphazardly against the mossy bricks. He felt his nose again, as if the swelling might have decreased from that morning.
“Give it up, you look terrible. Go home, have a drink, and go to bed.”
That was probably what Demyx would have said. He looked at the boy, who looked more atrocious each second. Except for that damned stubborn frown, Axel could pass him off as a destitute orphan.
A homeless man sniggered down the alleyway, and the faint smell of booze and cigar smoke wafted towards them. He looked back at Roxas and sighed.
“Try and look a little hopeless,” he pleaded quickly before turning around and reaching for the doorknob.
“What?” Roxas asked incredulously. Axel cringed and stopped.
Whatever god there might be, he hoped he’d help him out, because he was obviously dealing with the worst liar ever. It was rather sad, considering he found him in an alley. People who lived in alleys always tended to be the most cheerful liars.
“You know, hopeless. Nothing to live for, nothing to survive for. Come on, it can’t be hard. You’re barely alive now,” he said, thinking he was being helpful.
Roxas wanted, for the umpteenth time, to hit him. At the very least, he wanted to tell him off, but before he could open his mouth, Axel had thrown the door open and vanished into the dimly lit room. He ran his hand over his face with an exasperated sigh before following.
Inside, the room was much louder than he though. The distinct absence of the heavy smell of smoke and alcohol bugged him. There was, however, the snap of cards, and the occasional sound of clapping. He looked towards the noise and noticed a boy with silver hair, not much older than him.
The really strange part, however, was his two companions.
“Gawrsh, how’d ya do that, Riku?”
They were an oversized dog and duck. Roxas couldn’t help but to stare. Axel, however, was more intent on looking for the rumored red mask and cape, or at least the girl he was supposed to sway. The room was so cast in shadows, though, that the task was difficult, and there were at least two dozen people crowded into the room.
Every conversation, it seemed, revolved around heartless and the ways to get rid of them. Because a gun simply would not do, if anyone paid attention to the large man to Axel’s left. No, heartless were becoming immune to guns, and the only people truly safe were the Nobodies. But they shouldn’t have to give up their hearts to escape the dangers!
“What do you suggest we do? Shut down the city at night? It’d never work.”
“Well, until we find a suitable weapon, what do you propose we do? They’re starting to prey on children, and I won’t have my daughter get hurt because of our irresponsibility.”
“Yeah. The government can ban alcohol, but they can’t protect our cities?”
Axel scowled in their general direction. If they though that ban had worked, they obviously had not been outside this polished, albeit dark, room. He highly doubted they listened to half the things they said, as the homeless man peeked into the room from the door Roxas had neglected to close.
Roxas had drawn closer to the table with the strange trio. It was magic, slight of the hand, he realized. That was what the boy was doing with the cards. He shuffled them dutifully before glancing at Roxas.
“Who’re you?” he demanded.
Roxas turned and walked away from the question, searching for Axel. The boy’s loud question drew stares to him, and from some platform, a man in a red cape and mask stood up, adding to the clamor.
“Yes, who are you strangers?”
Finally, Axel thought. “The name’s Axel,” he said, and was greeted with repeated cries of “who” and “what’d he say.”
“Speak up!” said the cloaked man.
“Who is that?” Roxas muttered under his breath. “Is that the leader?”
“His name is DiZ, and no, he’s not the leader. The leader never shows his face,” Axel muttered back before saying loudly, “My name is Axel.”
“Well, he’s not exactly showing his face,” Roxas muttered. He folded his arms and glared at the back of Axel’s head.
“Will you shut up?” Axel demanded.
“What business do you and your friend have here?” Several chairs shifted at DiZ’s question. Apparently some people had decided that it would be best to stand up, just as a precaution. The silver-haired boy had put away the cards and was resting his hand lightly on the pocket of his vest. Roxas took a small step away from Axel.
“I have- no wait. We have a request to make. And we’d kind of like to do it without the theatrics, if you know what I mean,” Axel said with a grand motion towards all of the crowd. Several angry and distrustful cries came from the crowd. And someone finally shut the door in the face of the homeless man.
DiZ stood silently for a moment as more and more people began to rise and make their sentiments known. Said sentiments seemed to revolve around the blood on Axel’s shirt and the dirt encrusting his companion. Many were of the opinion to throw them out. A few thought that shooting them would be much better.
“Riku,” DiZ said at last. “Lead them to the back room.”
The boy stood up and walked towards Axel and Roxas. He motioned for them to follow him, while DiZ vanished amongst the crowd. Axel had to resist rubbing his hands together, though he couldn’t quite keep the ridiculous smile off his face. They were led to a carpeted room.
There was a table pushed into the corner with a fair stack of books on top. A girl with auburn hair propped her feet on it as she read a book. She didn’t even glance their way as they entered. The sequins on her dress almost lit the entire room. They highlighted the faded and peeling wallpaper on the walls, and the stained state of the carper.
DiZ stood in the center of the shabby room with his hands behind his back. Roxas shuffled behind Axel, and Riku leaned against the wall next to the girl. The room was silent until Axel realized that they were waiting for him to speak. He coughed into his hand.
“We’re in desperate need. This is Roxas, my nephew. My sister, his mother, is suffering from, ah, smallpox. She’s left him to my care, but I don’t have enough money to take care of him.”
“Looks like he doesn’t even have enough money to wash his shirts,” Riku whispered to the girl. She giggled, though she never took her eyes from the book. However, Roxas was staring with wide eyes, his shoulders tense, and mouth slightly agape, at Axel.
“It seems you’re nephew doesn’t believe your story,” DiZ commented as he turned his back towards them.
“He’s a little shocked that I told the whole story. He doesn’t like thinking about his poor mother. His father recently died, as well. Long hours at the mills and all, so I’m the last person he can turn to, and you’re the last person I can turn to.”
The girl placed her book in her lap as she turned to look at both of them, though she seemed particularly interested in staring at Roxas.
“Kairi?” DiZ asked expectantly. She glanced back at him with an easy smile and nodded. “How much are you asking for?”
“Two hundred,” Axel responded just a little too quickly.
“One hundred and fifty,” Kairi said with a last glance at Roxas and then picked up her book.
“One hundred and fifty is all you will get. Riku, get them the money and send them on their way.”
Later, Axel recalled how he had barely been able to control himself as the boy had counted out the twenty and ten dollar bills. The money was kept snugly in his pocket, and he would beat any pickpocket who decided to move it within an inch of their lives. Of course, he would get a new shirt first, but he placed his arm firmly around Roxas’s shoulders.
“Now, it’s time for part two. Time to get you and your magic key registered, yeah?”
Roxas glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and he wished that he would move his arm. “That was a really stupid lie.”
“Hey, it could have been true for all I know. It isn’t a lie if you don’t know if it’s not true.”
“That was a lie and you know it, Axel. I’m not stupid.”
“Heh, but now we have money, and we’re going to make it grow. By Sunday, we’ll have paid them back with plenty left over.” Including his debt to the Organization, he thought gleefully.