Larxene folded her arms across her chest, her hands gripping the cloth of her shirt and red covering her face. She snarled and bared her teeth at the weed-ridden concrete, devoid of life except for the greedy eyes from the shadows. She could feel her shoulders shaking and Vexen laughed at her hapless anger.
“You don’t have to pretend, Larxene,” he reminded her with a smug smile, his hands behind his back, relaxed where normal people weren’t. The lampposts barely lit the ground, the glass covering the flickering bulbs was far too dirty from neglect. Metal stained with rust, he could almost smell it stir in the wind.
She laughed at his words and kicked the concrete uselessly. “I don’t think I’m pretending,” she muttered and forced her hands to her sides, flexing them, needing to rake her nails against some defenseless sap. Didn’t even need to be defenseless, but she’d much rather ready screams than having to work for them.
“Then it’s nothing more than a strong memory,” he smirked at the nighttime sky, distant trumpet squeals could be heard, and the dim roar of a crowd. Closer to the center of Chicago, where the ground would be covered by more than abandoned pieces of the Chicago Tribune and dust. “But a memory of what, I must wonder.”
She smiled with narrowed eyes at the side of his face, her hands moving to rest on her hips. “Vexen, that’s almost as rude as asking a lady her age, don’t you know?”
“No, I didn’t,” he replied all matter of fact. A taller heartless scuttled by and they both moved to cover their noses. “That must be an older one.” They followed its hunched walk, hearing what was either labored breath or a hushed laugh. Larxene wanted to throw the damned thing against the wall and make it scream. Vexen wished heartless could talk.
“How could you tell?” she muttered and swallowed, as if that would make the lingering smell of death pass.
“It’s amazing,” Vexen trailed off absently. The wind carried the smell away and the steps on the streets ahead could be heard, and the joyful laughing and somewhere behind them someone screamed. Larxene smiled, music to her ears. “Heartless can survive for so long. Who knows how old the oldest ones are?”
“Vexen, stop. We’re almost there, and I don’t want to hear your inane theories,” Larxene snapped and Vexen frowned, a cleverly disguised pout. Posters from the walls around them fluttered nervously and then they crossed into the crowded streets. People danced and shoved. Gleeful cheers and drunken songs grated against Larxene’s sensitive head and she hated Axel’s haunts.
Neon lights and the strong smell of fresh alcohol surrounded them. Cops with wine stains on their shirts leaned against the walls lazily, and there was jazz. Larxene hated jazz. She shoved past people roughly and towards the bright doors of the bars, soprano singing that sounded too much like a record to be sincere. People laughed at her tomboy attire.
She sneered and Vexen followed her silently. They pushed their way past groping, drunken hands to the main bar where they both sat. Twitching, Larxene demanded for a drink. They stared at her slowly, and finally recognition dawned on the faces of one of them. He had slipped too many of his wares and he stumbled towards Larxene with a dopey grin.
“Long time no--”
“Where’s Axel staying?” Larxene cut in sharply. “Quick now, Demyx. I don’t have time to play your games.”
“What?” he asked, oblivious. She wanted to wrap her hands around his throat, but there were far too many people there. It was also an unfortunate coincidence that he would be missed. “Axel left awhile ago, Larxene.” She snarled and Vexen laughed at her.
“Demyx, I think you may be misunderstanding us,” Vexen interjected smoothly. “We’re not here for idle chit-chat, and Larxene’s right. We aren’t really interested in your games. Now tell us what we want to know, and we’ll be on our way.” Demyx’s smile was frozen on his face as he looked between the two of them unsure. Vexen folded his hands in steeple fashion. Demyx didn’t understand. “You seem to forget your own debt to us.”
His expression faltered and Larxene cracked her knuckles. The room grew darker as the lights dimmed for the next singer, the main attraction. Men whistled and howled and girls laughed, tinkling full glasses together in high-spirited toasts. The floor shook from the commotion around them.
“He didn’t tell me,” Demyx said finally and loudly over the piano duet with saxophone accompaniments. “He was getting something set up, bought some alcohol, grabbed a girl and left.” Larxene and Vexen looked at each other and back at Demyx. He swallowed nervously, placing the glass he had been holding onto the counter with a loud click. How long before he would have dropped it?
“Where did he get the money, the money he used in the bet?”
“I don’t know,” Demyx said with a sigh, even as the crowds pressed back against the bar yelling for more drinks and the music grew louder and the shrieking girl grew more emphatic in her song. Everyone couldn’t have cared less about the bartender and his two acquaintances. “He came in two nights ago, and from what he said, I thought he was broke.”
Larxene slammed her fists against the counter and then reached out to grab Demyx’s shirt. “Next time he comes in here, I want you to get as much fucking information out of him as possible.” Demyx nodded numbly and she let go of his shirt, looking back to Vexen. He smiled and shrugged.
“Dead lead. What about his other haunts, Larxene? You should be very familiar with them,” he said with a smirk and Larxene shoved him away from her. She walked towards the exit without another word.
She watched the two of them leave, the blond man and woman. The bartender sighed in relief, though he still seemed nervous. She laughed to herself and vanished behind the curtains, safe in her solitude. She spread her dress and sat down, removing the gaudy earrings from her ears. Her bracelets clanked together and she ignored the rushing people around her.
The two of them must have been looking for Axel, she mused. She hoped they didn’t find him. If they did, they’d find Roxas, and she didn’t want him to get caught up in Axel’s life. She hoped he left Axel soon. Axel was no good, and he didn’t realize how far and wide his reputation actually carried. And Roxas was too desperate to care, if he did know.
She placed her hands over her face, makeup smudged and guilt weighing heavily against her. She shouldn’t have abandoned him. She should have realized that a pair of clothes and a farewell wish wouldn’t have been able to help the poor boy out. Not enough to save him from destitution.
“Are you okay?”
She looked up at her companion and smiled. “Yeah. Let’s go.” She should be glad Roxas was alive at all. If Roxas died, she would have to live with the guilt of hurting a part of Sora. Oh, but wouldn’t that have been ironic? It was a lose-lose situation.
She could only remember his blank expression, like Roxas wasn’t registering anything she said. He was too close to unconsciousness. What did he do once he woke up, she wondered as she stood. Her friend handed her cloak to her and she pulled it around herself. The stage manager rushed towards them hurriedly, assuring her that her money had been deposited in the bank.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile and a nod. “I was glad to sing for you.”
“Please, we should arrange it again. They love your singing, madam. Much more than any person I’ve seen here. We could draw a huge crowd if I promoted it,” he trailed off thoughtfully, those greedy eyebrows knitted together in strenuous thought as her tried to predict the cost and profit of this venture he was planning.
She continued smiling and walked out the door. Wondering about Roxas and how he was doing.
He’ll be okay, she told herself as she walked away. He’ll know how to survive, right?
She brushed her hair out of her face.
“Wait, come back,” he called out feebly. She was too far away to hear. He pushed himself up against the wall. He hadn’t ever been so cold. “Wait,” he breathed, wanting that warm voice to come back. Clothes tumbled down onto the ground and he stared. He could hear the steady drop of water. He was scared and alone.
He whirled around, couldn’t see, had no clue who was beside him, but could taste the grit from the ground. His mouth suddenly pushed against the ground and then searing pain, couldn’t help but scream as loud as he could. Didn’t know what else he could do.
Roxas opened his eyes, shivers wracking his body. But he had no strength to move. Tears rolled down his face. He was comfortable, he realized. He was in a soft bed and had a fluffy pillow against his head. The nightmare seemed so close, and his body was too comfortable and tired to move. Where was he?
He could feel his back sting, burn, ache in pain, but it seemed subdued. On the edge his mind. Roxas buried his face into the pillow, muffling a groan.
Laughter he hadn’t even realized was there stopped. Slurred questions, and a rough, “Get out.” Protests and then a loud slamming of the door. He cringed. Someone was next to him now. “You awake kid?” He moved his head away from the pillow and nodded numbly.
“The morphine must be wearing off,” the man said. Red hair. He knew him. He tried to recall the name, but he was drawing blanks. “We’ve got more, for now.” He walked away and Roxas felt something in his arm. The man was moving it, he could feel it. “There. Put some more in.”
Roxas closed his eyes, and the stinging in his back vanished again. “Thank you, Axel,” he murmured. He could hear Axel talking and he struggled to maintain attention, but it was so hard, he felt so drowsy. He was disconnected from his body, like he was watching himself from the ceiling.
Axel watched him fall asleep and shrugged. Should have figured that would happen as soon as he added more morphine to that stupid bottle. The room was dimly lit, new carpet against his feet. He walked out of the room and closed the door. Roxas would, hopefully, be out for the rest of the night. The fine lamps and hand carved tables and chairs, the fine couches and clean smell, Axel had missed them all in his destitution.
The city flashed brightly in the night from the windows and he smiled, grabbing the bottle he’d been feeding to the girl. It was his turn to drown himself in alcohol. Not that he had any particular sorrows. He carried it to his room, and flopped onto his bed. What would he do after that night, he wondered. It had been a long while since he had not had to worry about anything. Well, he did have to worry about taking care of Roxas.
He supposed the doctor hadn’t been lying when he said Roxas was in pain. The kid had been screaming so loud moments before. Dead tired. Completely infected, had to change those bandages often, make sure he used the salve. His wound was so bad, could kill him. It would be all his fault for taking the boy out of the hospital. Axel had heard the full spiel. Wads of cash shut doctors up almost as fast as they did cops, he mused.
He chugged the bottle, warmth spreading up his spine and into his head. Well, at least he had moonshine.