They were very tidy about their bandages, those doctors. They changed them every hour it seemed like, and the boy never even stirred. Apparently the damage had been worse than Axel had originally thought. Eyes staring pointedly over spectacles as the list of problems was recited to him. Infections, malnourishment, lack of sleep, and the loss of blood.
Axel waved it off, wanting to know how quickly he could get Roxas out of the hospital. Hospitals cost lots of money, and they did nothing more than he could have done himself, and he wondered how much better those nurses were in their tight skirts, with their little caps, strutting around like they were some sort of angel.
The doctor had something interesting to show him. Nothing could be interesting in that sterilized environment, where he could only smell the ethanol and bleach. They peered over the raised scars on Roxas’s back, and the boy only sighed in his drug induced sleep.
Etched deep, puffed out and red, was the word ‘Nobody’ in hasty scrawl. Axel looked away with a cringe. He couldn’t imagine the pain of someone taking a knife to his back like that. The doctor looked at him expectantly and he walked away. There was nothing else that could be said, and he had his own matters to attend to. Gray walls crowded behind him as he walked away.
The message written on Roxas’s back wasn’t important. It very obviously wasn’t true, and it wasn’t his concern anyway. He half suspected that the doctor showed him in order to goad him into spending more money that the boy didn’t need. Besides, wasn’t it bad enough that he would have to share his money? Or at least pretend he was sharing?
The city wasn’t much friendlier. As he walked past parks and streets and alleys, he noticed that not being destitute didn’t change anything. The sights were still the same, and he was overlooked by the people. Mothers and their children passed him, while construction workers with lazy drawls continued chatting as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
Axel smirked to himself, sun beating down on him and money hidden in various places throughout his person. A trolley rolled past him, it’s bell chiming in the wind. Cats and dogs announced themselves in a crazy frenzy from the alleyways and heartless clicked and gnashed their teeth from the shadows.
On the streets, women in outrageous hats and traditional dresses flooded from the releasing churches. Soulful singing could be heard from the rundown church on the corner as black men poured out, clapping their hands and praising the Lord. Axel could have laughed. It was all so petty. Men and women chatted merrily, and the friendly bars were closed in observance of Sunday.
No whores on the streets, no beggars wantonly strewn about, the homeless had lifted themselves to convenient corners to collect handouts from those renewed with the Lord’s generous spirit. Because apparently His spirit was fleeting and was typically gone by Monday evening, where the same jovial men tended to drown their sorrows in alcohol and jazz.
Jazz. That was what Axel enjoyed, almost more than he enjoyed having wads of cash at his disposal, knowing that he could do anything he would like and no one would say otherwise. Even the purist of saints had a weak spot for money, and Axel had a weak spot for jazz. He hated Sunday, because there was no jazz on Sunday.
He saw the trolley stop ahead, with young people jostling and shoving. Their faces were screwed up in laughter, some in anger, some just wanted to look silly. Axel moved past them and took a seat, wishing he could walk the rest of the distance. But he could afford to take a trolley. After all, the scenery was supposed to be lovely.
There was supposed to be something poignant about the cobblestones and brick buildings, even the rotting wooden buildings and the abandoned shanties. Whoever said the scenery was beautiful must have had a better, or blinder, eye than him, he mused as more people crowded together and some stood in the aisles. With a jerk, the trolley moved forward.
Strings of conversation surrounded him. All sounding particularly like something between many mothers and their young children. People always sounded that way when they spoke. Loud, unruly, talking about nothing in particular. Axel closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. It would be a long ride.
Perhaps walking would have been worth it. Minutes passed without a change in the hectic environment, people talking, everywhere, and they dragged on. Axel was glad when the trolley neared the central part of the city. He growled at the packed sidewalks. There was no escaping decent people, not on a Sunday.
He weaved through the crowd, shoving and being shoved. Buildings loomed over him and the streets were covered in shadows. Police patrolled, and the crowds shifted to make room. Axel cursed, ignored the glares. The building he wanted seemed far off, like an oasis in the distance with it’s brick and wood coverings.
He could smell alcohol as he opened the door. The shelves lined with food, freezers glowed from the back. Behind the counter, he was glared at by a surly and well-muscled employee.
“Come to pay up?” he demanded, flexing his muscles for good effect. Axel nodded, with a quick glance around the store.
“You’re the only one here today, Lexaeus? You mean they trust you to count money?” he asked, a nasty smile creeping across his face and Lexaeus just shrugged, ignoring the commentary.
“Everyone is downstairs,” he stated with a frown. “I’d be careful. Larxene’s quite ready to pounce.”
“I know she is,” Axel muttered as he pressed along his sides, looking for the pocket he shoved the two thousand dollars into. “But she’s got to be joking if she thinks she’ll get me twice.” Lexaeus chuckled dryly. He wished he was talking to anyone but Axel. The clock on the wall ticked softly and Axel produced the money, which Lexaeus took without another word.
They descended the stairs in silence. Lexaeus counted the money and chuckled again, adding, “That’s a thousand too much, Axel.” Axel cursed softly.
“Well, give me the extra,” he snapped and Lexaeus turned, handing the money over, still laughing. Axel hated his laugh with a passion. There was nothing more infuriating than knowing the hulking man was laughing at him, and he hated Larxene for setting him up.
“Larxene likes to play jokes, apparently,” he said softly as the reached the bottom of the stairs, the room dark, lit only with mellow neon lights. Smoke pervaded the room and Axel gagged. It was stronger than even in the bars, and the alcohol mixed with it easily. Strings of conversation stopped, replaced by soft laughter.
The room was exceptionally cold, probably to suit the taste of its inhabitants. Lexaeus made his way towards the center of the room around the many tables, where he handed the money to the group’s Superior. Axel rolled his eyes at the thought of the title, and he heard Larxene scowl from some dark corner.
He wished he could see her face. The laughter stopped, replaced by shuffles, coughing, and an awkward silence. Lexaeus whispered something to the Superior and walked away, leaving Axel to fend for himself. He ascended the stairs with a grim smile, much preferring to be behind the counter than in that dark room.
“Axel, you got the money,” the Superior, Xemnas, began. Axel shrugged and forced a grin onto his face. “I am very surprised.”
“What can I say? I’m a crafty bastard.”
Marluxia and Luxord shifted, watching him from their hidden positions, laughing at his lying. He was rather good at keeping a straight face. Too bad his poker game had went to hell. Guns clicked playfully and Axel shifted uncomfortably. More laughter.
“Yes. I suppose it goes without saying that you’re in good standing with our organization again. Welcome back to the fold,” Xemnas laughed. “Sit, have a drink. Maybe a cigarette.”
Axel glanced around, trying to pick out who was there. Everyone. He wanted to look disgusted. Did they not have anything better to do? He quickly waved his hand and shook his head. “No thanks. I have other things to attend to.” Like getting the kid out of the hospital, investments at the bank, and perhaps even a romping night with the first beautiful woman he saw on the street. He turned away, ignoring their silence and the pounding stares at his back and ascended the stairs.
Xemnas waited until the redhead’s footsteps had officially vanished, along with the tinkling sound of the door’s bell. He laughed again and counted the money, ignoring the continuing uncomfortable silence from all his subordinates. Chairs scuffed against the concrete floor, and the damp, cold air permeated the skins of those around him. But he liked the feeling, the isolation, the room provided.
He smiled, “Speak, Luxord.”
Luxord smiled, head laid against the concrete blocks that formed the wall. “He didn’t get that money all by himself, you know.” Xemnas didn’t respond and the silence dragged on as Luxord preferred to let his words sink in. Larxene twitched and Zexion rolled his eyes. Luxord tended to use too many theatrics.
Zexion leaned forward against the table, asking as dolefully as he could, “And?”
Luxord smiled. “He had a little help at the heartless fights, didn’t he, Marluxia?”
All eyes turned towards Marluxia and he shrugged. “He registered a skinny kid. Couldn’t have been more than sixteen.”
“The odds were a thousand to one, and Axel placed a little over a hundred,” Luxord continued, moving towards the center of the room. Deep chuckles followed his every move. Jeers and sneers seemed to lighten the dark room. “Needless to say, the kid won.”
“What?” Larxene interjected wildly and loudly, slamming her fists down on the table in front of her. Zexion gave her a disgusted look and waved her to be silent.
“Keep to your place,” he reminded her darkly. “How did this kid win, if the odds were so stacked?” In the corner, someone laughed. Marluxia.
He sneered as all eyes looked towards him. “Some sort of fancy sword. He sliced through the heartless as if they weren’t even there, much more effective than guns.” The room grew colder with the Superior’s stare and Marluxia’s sneer fell from his face. “The boy survived though.”
“Vexen, Larxene,” Xemnas called out. Larxene twitched while Vexen simply stood and moved towards the front of the room. “I want you two to keep an eye on Axel and his new little friend. With such abilities as the boy has, we could make a bigger fortune than what Axel is thinking.” All eyes waited expectantly, knowing there was something else that he wanted to say. “And Axel is definitely trying to tug at our heart strings.” He laughed dryly and alone.