Chapter 13: In With the New

Nightshroud: ...yeah, I got nothing. This was a long time coming, and I'd be surprised if anyone was still invested in this. But if you are, I hope it was worth the wait!

"Isn't it marvelous?" Mina said, cooing over it as she circled around Larxene. The blonde had to agree, though she didn't feel any happiness at it. Instead, she felt a hollow ache in her heart at the sight of the bride to be, marching toward a wedding that was a total farce.

"Dear, what's wrong?" Mina asked, reaching up to pat Larxene's face. She hadn't even realized that her eyes were beginning to tear up.

"Nothing," she said, forcing a smile as she wiped at her eyes. "It's just so hard to believe. Our first wedding wasn't anything like this, you know."

"Well, you deserve it," Mina said, beaming at her daughter -in-law. "For making me the happiest mother on earth!"

Crushing guilt nearly wiped the smile from her face as Mina hurried to the counter to put in the order.

"No, I don't..." Larxene murmured to herself, unable to look at the false reflection any longer.

Getting into the office late wasn't the ideal situation for Larxene, but it couldn't be helped. The dress shopping had to be squeezed in before the end of the week, when the dreaded day would arrive.

"Morning, Larxene," Namine said with a smile, greeting the president from her desk. "How did the dress shopping go?"

"Great..." Larxene replied with a tired sigh, her lips pulling mechanically into the false smile she'd been forced to wear for what seemed like forever. "Get Luxord in here when he has a chance, will you? We still have to get these accounts all settled in."

Namine nodded as Larxene entered her office and sat down at her desk, taking a moment to soothe away the stress and concerns of her double life. This was business time now. The new Organization was still a fledgling business, and she would need to work hard to make it a success. This was her dream, and she wasn't about to let it slip her fingers.

Not for another dream that couldn't happen.


The president turned around abruptly in her chair to Luxord in the doorway, watching her with a concerned expression. She offered the new CFO a smile and one of the chairs.

"I know you have a lot going on, but you need to take some time to relax. It's not good for your health," Luxord said, patting her shoulder.

Relaxation... the word almost seemed foreign to her. How long had she been in this tempest of corporate intrigue and lies?

The corporate stuff had been one thing. In a way, she'd thrived on the challenge and difficulty, and it had paid off. But this...

"Yeah, relaxation..." she said distantly. "Maybe when this all over."

Luxord's eyes narrowed slightly, but he made no comment, instead reaching to grab the files for their discussion.

"You know if you need anything, you can always ask," he said, almost off-handedly. But Larxene understood the gesture, and it was enough to make her smile, despite everything.

"Now, let's see those reports," she said, the president persona firmly in place.

It was distressing. Larxene had gone through a lot of difficulties in the past few years, but Marluxia had never seen her like this.

"I know it's tough," he said soothingly, placing a hand over hers as he set their two mugs of hot chocolate on the kitchen table. "But it's almost over. You get through the ceremony, and then you put in the papers a little while after that."

Larxene nodded dully, but didn't respond. Marluxia sighed and took a sip from his mug, but Larxene only wrapped hands around hers, perhaps seeking the comforting warmth.

"I know they would have been disappointed," Larxene began, and Marluxia had to struggle to figure out what she was referring to. "But is lying to them really any better? The trouble that poor woman has gone through for all this..."

It was true that the situation was terribly unfair, but Marluxia was a surprised by how much this bothered Larxene. He knew her softer side, but she tended to be rather self-centered.

"Is there something you're not telling me?" Marluxia prodded gently. Larxene brought her mug to her lips and sipped gently, perhaps buying time to organize her thoughts.

"Maybe it's... that part of me wants it to be real," she whispered. "To have a loving, caring family... a dream wedding, and a husband who wants me."

The suspicion had been growing in his mind, and Marluxia felt the time had come to ask.

"Just any husband?"

Larxene didn't reply, but the look in her eyes said enough.

"That stupid trip!" Larxene suddenly snapped, channeling her distress into anger. "If only it had never happened. If only I hadn't been so stupid as to go and get drunk with Axel. Then the whole marriage would never have happened, and I could go back to..."

To what? Hating him? Maybe she wouldn't have had to deal with all this stress, but she still wouldn't have been happy. Cause more than anything, she hated the fighting, hated the tension, hated not...

"I should get to bed early. Tomorrow's the big day," she sighed, cutting off those thoughts and trudging toward the stairs.

Marluxia watched her go, but his mind was elsewhere. Bringing up that night had started his mind working, bringing out nagging thoughts that had laid in his subconscious for quite some time now. It was time to put them to rest.

The morning preparation and trip to the church had been a forgettable blur. Only now, sitting in her prep room at the back of the church, did time seem to slow to perceptible range. Alone in the quiet of the room, she could only sit and stare vacantly into the mirror, seeing the entirety of her journey with Axel laid out before her.

As she touched on each memory, she felt a confusing wave of emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, wistfulness, regret...

It was amazing how this one person could make her simultaneously make her want to wrap her arms and her hands around his neck. Her body felt like a bottle ready to pop from the built-up pressure of these conflicting emotions.

"Axel..." she murmured, closing her eyes as she tried to steel herself.

"Yes?" came the reply, startling her from her thoughts. Dressed in a sharp tux, Axel looked remarkably handsome, even managing to groom his unruly red spikes for the occasion.

"It-It's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding," she laughed weakly, struggling to regain her composure. Axel smiled, shaking his head at her.

"I think we're way beyond the point of conventional," he said lightly, though she could see something troubled in his eyes. Putting her veil aside, Larxene stood and walked over to him, laying a hand on his shoulder.

"What's going on?" she asked him. He seemed to have trouble looking her directly in the eyes, choosing to gaze at the reflection of the bride and groom to be in the large mirror on the wall.

"We make quite the pair," Axel said with another brave attempt at his light air, but the fa├žade was crumbling rapidly. Perhaps the image of them like that was the last blow to his composure. He closed his eyes, covering his face with his hand.

"Axel?" Larxene said, her concern mounting now as she gripped him by both shoulders.

"I'm sorry," he groaned. "I'm so sorry, Larxene."

Larxene released her hold on him as though stung, taken aback by the sudden apology.

"I shouldn't have put you through all this. I had no right to make you live a lie just so I could save face," Axel said, biting his lip.

Larxene couldn't just wave it all off. It would be a lie to say this hadn't hurt her. But at the same time, she couldn't bring herself to burden Axel with more misery and self-loathing. In the end, she could say nothing.

"It's my fault," he sighed, running a hand through his hair as he turned away. "Not just this, but everything. I was stupid, okay? And I was too stubborn to admit my mistakes and that I..."

He trailed off abruptly. No, it wasn't right to admit that, to burden her with such an admission. He had no right.

"Axel..." Larxene murmured, reaching out to touch his back, but he stepped away toward the door, unable to face her any longer.

"I hope you can forgive me someday," he whispered before shutting the door, and the image of the bride he had no right to call his, behind him.

"Did you tell her?" Roxas whispered as Axel joined him to head up to the altar as the ceremony began.

"How could I?" he sighed.

The music had started. The hour had approached.

Larxene stood outside the doors to the chapel, nervously fidgeting as she waited for Marluxia. Where was he? He was supposed to walk her down the isle, but he hadn't been around all morning. What on earth could be so pressing as to keep him?

"Larxene!" Marluxia gasped, hurrying up to her. "Thank God."

"What took you so long?" she snapped, her nerves strained more tightly than a rubber band.

"Research," he said, pressing on before she could ask. "Larxene, I looked into your marriage with Axel. There's something you need to know."

"Can't it wait?" she hissed, gesturing toward the doors. "We're about to go out!"

But Marluxia was surprisingly persistent about all this.

"Larxene, didn't something seem off about the whole thing? You said you were married at a church, but you and Axel were drinking long into the night. What's more, I checked with all the churches in the area, and there's no records of anything."

Larxene stared at her best friend, as though he were speaking in another language. The murky details were filtering back, along with some odd inconsistencies. A vague impression of shuffling up steps, a man sitting in the corner, Axel declaring their intention to be wed as she giggled drunkenly...

"Marluxia..." she asked, her voice coming out in a hoarse whisper. "What are you saying?"

The doors to the sanctuary opened, casting light on her and Marluxia's pale faces, the music nearly drowning out his last frantic whispers.

"Larxene, you never got married."

"Larxene, you never got married."

The words felt like the blow of a hammer on her mind. The world was reeling. Had her legs given out on her? Marluxia was steadying her, whispering vague words as all eyes turned back toward them expectantly.

Mechanically, Larxene took his arm and began to walk forward uncertainly. Marluxia gave her a questioning look, but thankfully made no remark.

The walk to the isle was long and slow, but it seemed to be racing up to her like a head-on collision. What was she going to do? They'd never been married. It had all been a mistake. Then this... this wouldn't just be a formality. This was going to be the real thing. They really would be married.

Marluxia released her as they reached the altar, and Larxene felt as though her flotation rink had drifted away, leaving her adrift in an ocean of uncertainty.

"Dearly beloved," the pastor began to drone as Axel stared at the lovely vision in white. The cascade of emotions throbbing in his chest nearly blinded him to the realization that something was very, very wrong.

"Larxene, what is it?" he whispered, seeing the expression on her face even beneath the veil.

"Axel..." she whispered back hoarsely. "That night... it was mistake."

Axel winced, feeling as though she stabbed him in the heart. He knew that, but it still hurt to hear...

"No, you idiot," she hissed, regaining some of herself, "Not like that. I mean it was a real mistake. Marluxia found out. We never actually got married."

Now it was Axel's turn to feel as though the floor had given out beneath his feet. The implications made him dizzy as he stared at Larxene's frightened expression.

"What do we do?" he mouthed, glancing at the group gathered there. To break things off in front of his mother, his family... all their friends - Roxas, Namine, Luxord, Zexion, Lexaeus, Xaldin, Demyx... it was nightmarish. But to force Larxene into a marriage like this...

"Do you love me?"

Axel's eyes snapped to Larxene, wide as saucers. She was gazing back intently, determined to know the answer.

It was impossible to deny. He was surprised she didn't know that already. And anyway, he was tired of lying, tired of hiding, tired of denying.

"Yes," he said softly, and Larxene knew in the depths of those startlingly green eyes that he meant it.

"Larxene, do you take Axel Flynn to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love and cherish forever in sickness and in health while foresaking all others for the rest of your life?"

The words seemed to echo all about her as Larxene felt her mind calm. She put aside her worries and fears. She put aside the expectant looks of the attendants, of the pastor, and even Axel as she asked herself the same question she'd asked Axel.

If she could answer that, then everything else was meaningless. That was the only thing that mattered.

Did she love him?

"I do," Larxene answered softly, gripping Axel's hands. The look on his face, the moisture gathering in the green orbs... why did they feel like such precious, irreplaceable things?

"Axel, do you take Larxene de Sade to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and cherish forever in sickness and in health while foresaking all others for the rest of your life?"

"Yeah..." Axel said breathlessly, smiling. "Yeah, I do."

The pastor smiled as well, and the group gathered couldn't help but follow their example.

"Then I now pronounce you man and wife. You may-"

But Larxene had already pushed away her veil impatiently, and Axel was scooping her into his arms. Then there was nothing but his arms, his lips, and a dizzying breathlessness from her head to her toes.

"-do that," the pastor said wryly as the congregation laughed before errupting in applause and cheers.

"They do make a lovely couple," Luxord sighed fondly as he, Xaldin, Lexaeus, Zexion, and Demyx all clapped together.

"So beautiful!" Demyx wailed as Zexion rolled his eyes and produced another tissue for his waiting hands.

"Idiots," Roxas said with a roll of his eyes. "It's about time."

Namine nudged him in the ribs, but she couldn't help but giggle as the bride and groom made their way down the isle.

"You know," Marluxia said as they passed by. "This would all have been a lot easier if-"

But he was cut off as Larxene placed a kiss on his cheek before hurrying off after Axel. Well, hindsight was 20/20, after all.

"You think we should fly somewhere for a honey moon?" Axel asked, grinning as they passed through the threshold at the other end.

"I'll be damned, Axel Flynn, if I ever get on a plane with you again," Larxene swore as they disappeared from view, earning more than a few grins.

"Well, who's ready to party?" Roxas said cheerfully, standing up. Namine rolled her eyes and took his hand.

"You're not planning to wear a dress this time, are you?" she asked, earning a sheepish grin from Roxas.

"Now this I want to hear," Zexion said with a smirk as they made their way out.

"If you want to hear all of Larxene and Axel's shennanigans, we'll be here all night," Marluxia sighed with the air of an ever-suffering saint. But with any luck, this would be the end of all that.

"I'd be willing to wager," Luxord said with a wink. "That they're only getting started."

There was nothing left to bed said. After all, who would be willing to take on those odds?

Nightshroud: And there it is, ladies and gents! The conclusion to Corporate Punishment. Originally, I was going to end things with the vows, but I added the bit on the end as an afterthought because, at the end of the day, this was more about humor than drama. In any case, rereading the whole thing, I can honestly say I'm rather pleased with how the whole work turned out. Hopefully, you are too. I think it's a good note to end on for me as well. With my attention turned toward writing original stories, this will probably be my last fanfic on here, though I'll certainly keep visiting to get my dose of wish fulfillment. *roll eyes* Anyway, thanks for reading, everyone!