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The Schemes of Ice & Space

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It began as remnants of a numbing sensation that left pins and needles in its wake. It shook him awake with a groan, and the second his eyes opened, they went wide from pain as his heart throbbed painfully, sharp and mercilessly, sending a shooting pain throughout his entire body. He grasped his heart with a loud, pained gasp, and then writhed, his eyes rolling back into his head.

His mind went blank from the sheer intensity of the pain. All that existed was the pain. He could barely breathe, only able to take in a few breaths before it was cut off as he took in the pain. His body writhed, arched, shook, convulsed, and tossed violently from the pain.

All that existed was the pain.


Gloved hands slowed before coming to a full stop, just inches from a beaker of bubbling, steaming pink liquid. Behind a large pair of protective goggles, icy, almost glowing green eyes slowly, deliberately glanced off.

Something was wrong.


Gasping for air for the umpteenth time, he regained his senses and reached for the bottle of pills just within arm reach atop his bedside table. His hand reached, only to curl and his eyes rolled back again. He clenched a hand over his heart, crying out, and he was sure he tasted blood from the back of his throat. His body suddenly arched, his lips parted in a soundless scream, and he ceased breathing as an intense bout of the pain ran through him again.

All that existed was the pain.

When he came back again, he desperately reached for the pills again. Hyperventilating, he tried to use telekinesis to bring it to him, but his mind was too jarred, too much in a shock, to focus. Again, he spasmed violently, his jaw locking and blood gathered in his mouth. His tossing sent him off the side of the bed, and he proceeded to vomit rich sanguine to the floor, not once, but several times, turning his skin sickly pale from blood loss.

His body was suddenly flung backwards, hoarse, creaking groans emitting from him as his body convulsed again. Once more, he tried to reach for the pills, an eye closed and blood dripping down his throat. The pill bottle fell to the floor, and he crawled over to it, his movement desperate, yet rigid. Just as he grabbed it, another fierce spasm shook his form, causing it to roll out of his hand.

He went supine, once again clenching his chest, but with both hands. The sounds he emitted were mixed, intermittent hoarse breaths, chokes and screams. He vaguely felt the tears streaming down his face, and saliva and blood rolled from the corners of his mouth.

He could sense it. Despite everything...despite the pain. He could feel it.

"D...don't you—" He choked, but he spit the blood out, and clenched his teeth before trying again. "Don't—"

His eyes rolled back, his body locked up. For several minutes, he soundlessly writhed, clawing at the floor, his chest, and pulled the bedding from the bed. When he could finally move again on his own will, he cried out.

"Don't you dare, Even!" he breathed, closing his eyes as more moisture left them. "Don'...please...Don't...see me like this..."

He grabbed the pill bottle and, with shaking hands, managed it open. Quickly, desperately, he took two into hand and brought them to his mouth. He swallowed immediately, and only hoped he didn't vomit again.

Groaning softly, he lay there, on the floor, waiting for the convulsing to continue. They didn't disappoint, and he grasped at his heart, his eyes back in his head from the pain.

All that existed was the pain.

-:IIxIV:-

Twenty minutes passed before the pain subsided, even by a bit. By then, the bedroom was trashed, wrecked from his mindless actions during his convulsions. He laid slumped against the side of the unkempt bed, his eyes blank and distant, his body shuddering and limbs twitching from the residual pain.

But the pain was fading.

Rapid, urgent knocking at his front door brought him back to full consciousness. He slowly, with great effort, sat upright. He stopped holding his breath and breathed normally when his heart didn't hurt so painfully that he couldn't hide it. He was used to pain.

But the pain was fading.

The knocking continued.

"Dammit...Even..." he muttered, moving to stand up with the assistance of the bedframe. His body ached, throbbing from top to bottom. He placed a hand over his heart, feeling it was rapidly beating. Abnormal. Trying to overcompensate.

"Fuckin' asshole..." he scoffed, lowering his hand and steadily making it to the door.

But seeing himself in the hallway mirror caused him to stop.

Quickly, he glanced away. He was a wreck, covered in blood and saliva, his hair unkempt and matted with blood from when he fell into his own vomit; he couldn't let Even see him like this. Instead, he did the only other thing he could come up with.

He swiftly went back into his bedroom to retrieve a new pair of clothes and entered the bathroom, but not before closing the bedroom door and opening the front door with his telekinesis. "Be a sec, Even..." he said, just loud enough, as he heard his friend enter.

Even caught just a bit of the younger man disappear into the bathroom further within the house as he entered. He slightly frowned, but was glad to know that he was...at least not in any sort of horrible condition that would render him unconscious. Or something of that nature. The man was conscious, thankfully.

He moved to sit at the counter, unsure how to explain his visit. He just had the most...unusually strong feeling something was amiss. Amiss with Braig. So many horrible scenarios entered his mind—steadily, as if to urge him along—until he couldn't ignore the possibilities. He managed to clear out his lab and leave instructions behind for Bartholomew before racing over. Otherwise, he would have arrived sooner.

Patiently, he waited, listening to the sound of running water as Braig took a shower. As he waited, he considered what this meant. The only other time something like this was done was when the sniper had far too much to drink the night before and would take a shower to rinse the strong smell of alcohol from his body.

The thought made him frown. It was too late—or too early—for Braig to be recovering from a night binging. It was cutting into his time to sleep before going back to work. While his ability to drink every night before going to sleep for two hours and go back to his duties without any negative side-effects was remarkable...it wasn't an ideal schedule to have. For the umpteenth time, he considered talking to his old friend about his...habits.

Glancing to the bedroom door, he took note that it was closed. Rarely was it ever, and it never boded well. Never. Every time. He slowly rubbed his forehead, reconsidering what he was going to talk about. He would rather take this steadily. Preferably with some sort of cover-up so the man wouldn't get defensive. A defensive Braig was an unpleasant Braig, and Even didn't come to argue or fight. He was concerned, damn it all.

Finally, the water ceased. Several minutes after, the bathroom door opened, and Braig emerged. Unashamed, Even pointedly leaned back to catch a glimpse of the long, loose, wet black hair before a towel hid it from sight. It was then he realized he rarely saw Braig with his hair down and wanted to see it that way more often.

Steadily making his way to the counter, Braig peeked between his locks to smile at Even. "Hey, babe. What brings you here so early...?" he asked, approaching the older man. He was dressed in a large long-sleeved shirt and baggy black pants. He then wrapped his arms around the man's waist, smiling up at him.

Bright green eyes scanned the man's form from top the bottom. Immediately, Even noticed a few things. One was that Braig was several shades paler than what was his norm. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, which never happened, even when he was thoroughly inebriated. Though it was to be expected, he was noticeably tired. He was also trying to hide a slight limp, which would have fooled anyone else. But not Even.

The scientist sighed deeply, briefly closing his eyes to both steel and calm himself and to take Braig's head into his hands before kissing him. A slightly coppery taste...Undoubtedly blood. He hid his concern by deepening the kiss, and he felt the younger man's body relax. They slightly parted, and he licked the lower lip. "I have my reasons," he hummed. "Maybe I wanted to see you dearly."

Grinning, genuinely touched, Braig kissed the cold nose. "The Snowman's got a heart, after all," he chuckled, earning a smile in return. He then moved back a bit, head tilting to the side. "You didn't come for a sleepover, did you...?"

Recalling the door, Even quickly went over his responses. He opted for, "No...unless you want me to. I've already left instructions in my absence."

The grin faltered by a bit. That was the last indicator Even needed to know something was indeed amiss. Braig never turned down a chance for him to spend the night, or even spend time together at all. Not when there wasn't a bleeding good reason, otherwise.

Braig pulled away a bit, glancing off. "The room's a mess..." he muttered, his grin completely gone.

"What happened?" Even asked, truly curious.

Softly sighing, Braig briefly hid behind his hair as he patted it with the towel. "Just...my own experiments," he said, not even bothering to sound genuine. He likely figured he was nearing a corner, or nearly backing himself into one.

Mind games and lying with Even was never easy for him.

But Even played along, smiling at him. "Experiments, you say? Are you keeping secrets from me, again?" He turned the man's head towards him with a pale finger under the scarred chin.

Braig initially avoided eye contact, but then smiled apologetically at him. "Let me have this one, eh?" he asked. Weariness was apparent even within his eyes. His bloodshot eyes...

Raising a brow, Even considered. He could see how long this would play out, which would likely mean having to let something bad happen, or he could end their evident tit-for-tat and cut to the chase.

As he waited for an answer, Braig's expression showed he seemed to be considering something similar.

This gave Even the sign he needed, and he narrowed his eyes, causing brown eyes to turn wary. "It depends on what you're hiding from me," he said finally, taking Braig firmly by his chin, this time. "I noticed the door is shut."

Swallowing, Braig pulled, moved and looked away. "Damn it, Even. Don't make this harder on me than it is..." he muttered, his long hair obscuring his features.

"Something is amiss. That's why I'm here, in truth," Even confessed, his expression darkening.

"I know."

"Then you know I'm not leaving until I am relieved of this uneasiness."

A visible glare was thrown his way. "You know I wouldn't throw you out. I just...don't want you to bother me about this. Let me have my secrets, just this once."

Crossing his arms, an eye narrowed into a thin slant while the other opened wider. "And I told you, it depends on the nature of the secret. If it has anything to do with you, personally, that isn't happening," he hissed.

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I know you, Braig, and your personal business never bodes well for either of us when it is something you find worthy to hide."

"You know, sometimes I fucking hate it when you're right." Braig sat heavily on the farthest stool from Even's. He placed a hand upon his forehead, exhaling in irritation.

A short silence overcame them. Sitting with anticipation, Even lessened his expression until he was only giving the younger man a stern frown. Braig slowly reached up to massage his chest, aware this would likely give the secret away. Watching this, Even's eyes indeed widened.

After the destruction of Xehanort's heart, and inevitably, Braig's as well, Braig should have died. But he didn't. His heart was in pieces, and yet he didn't fade away. After several days, his heart instead pieced itself back together, but it was a fragile little thing. Perhaps...too fragile.

Even clenched his jaw, wanting to demand answers to the questions running through his mind at the speed of sound. But he knew better to, mindful he had to give his friend his space and time.

He sighed, closing his eyes, and turned in the stool to face the counter. "Think about it. I'll be here," he said softly.

Braig glanced up at him. He remained still for a moment, and then slid off the stool to slip into his bedroom, closing the door gently behind him.

-:IIxIV:-

Several long minutes later, Braig emerged from his room, lured by the smell of food. He peeked into the kitchen, only to blink in surprise upon seeing Even cooking a very early breakfast. Approaching, he smiled when green eyes glanced back at him, taking in his appearance.

He wore loose navy pants and a grey tank top, allowing his χ Sigil to be fully visible, and his feet were bare. Undoubtedly, he was wearing nightclothes. His hair was still damp, but remained loose, earning an appreciative hum from the older man.

He then wrapped his hands around Even's waist, resting his head on his back. "You're cooking for me...?" he asked, sincerely touched yet again.

Even smiled, focusing back on the stove. He served the perfect sunny-side-up eggs onto a plate of pancakes and homemade hash browns. "Naturally," he simply responded. His smile widened, complacent, when the hug tightened.

"Thanks," Braig murmured, moving away to sit at the counter. He rubbed the back of his neck. This was a first. If Even was trying to charm him into a confession, he was nearly there, already. Almost.

...If not for the meaning behind his secret, it wouldn't have been a secret at all. Not from Even, in any case.

He sighed heavily at the reminder, glaring in resignation at the other man's back. Damn Even and his...his knowing-it-all.

As if aware of his thoughts, Even softly chuckled to himself, causing Braig's expression to deepen.

Damn him.

He blinked back to the present when a plate was served in front of him. His expression changed to one of appreciation upon taking in the sight of fresh fruit served alongside the dish. Even placed beside the plate a cup of orange juice and water along with a fork and knife.

Black brows furrowed. "Wait...I had all this in my fridge?" Braig asked, causing his friend to chuckle with a shake of his head.

"Yes, Braig, you poor man. Most of it was going bad, or nearly so. You need to eat at home more often," Even lightly scolded, moving to sit beside him with his own plate.

Braig made a face, taking up some grapes. "But everyone else cooks so well..." He popped some into his mouth before cutting into his food.

"Maybe if you cooked more often..." Even trailed off, casting a meaningful glance at his friend, who only scoffed as if that was funny. He then shook his head again and began to eat.

Eyeing the plate, Braig took notice Even wasn't eating very much. The plate only consisted of fruit, an egg and a single hash brown. He poked Even's muscular forearm. "How'd you manage a body like this with a diet like that?" he asked before eating his pancakes.

Smirking, Even slanted his eyes. "It's a secret," he teased, knowing damn well what he was doing.

Braig tut, glancing away. "Bastard," he muttered.

"Turnabout is fair play," Even reminded between a bite of his strawberries.

-:IIxIV:-

Even kept Braig in his peripheral vision as he washed the dishes and cleaned up. Now that he ate, the man seemed even more lethargic, somehow. The scientist had been hoping for the opposite effect, but...He watched as Braig stared off while slumped on the couch.

...Something was wrong, damn it all.

Once the kitchen was clean, Even approached the couch. Braig was dozing by then, his head resting on the back pillows. He slightly stirred from the slight dip in the couch when Even sat beside him, but otherwise remained unmoved.

Even looked over him, and then at his Sigil. He placed his hand gently over it, and then let his Darkness flow from his hand. Braig reacted immediately, jolting up and gasping softly, though his eyes remained closed, this time. He breathed hard, but from deep contentment, and his head lolled to the side.

"Feels nice..." he softly murmured, pressing against Even's hand.

Slanting his eyes, Even revised a thought he had. He had the strangest feeling that when Braig spoke during this time, while siphoning his Darkness, he wasn't entirely..."himself". It was that "otherness" that he read about in the tome from the Library that spoke instead. The "essence" that made up Braig's heart, his Piece; the entity that his heart was comprised of.

"How does it feel?" he asked, just as softly, leaning forward by a bit.

Braig slightly tilted his head. "Feels...good...Real good..." A slight smile spread on his face before his expression went neutral again. "More..."

"As much as I can," Even assured. He wondered if that was all Braig needed. But it couldn't be. There was something else, he was sure of it..."How are you feeling, Braig?" he asked softly, whispering into the man's ear.

"Tired..." Braig softly moaned, a hand reaching up to place over his heart. He massaged his chest, and he blinked himself to consciousness. He stared forward for a moment, and then glanced at Even. "Playin' dirty, Even..."

Sighing, Even moved away, removing his hand. To his surprise, Braig actually emitted a sound of disappointment, but he didn't do anything more than that. "I merely worry about you, Braig..." Even softly sighed.

"I know..."

With that, Even stood up. "I should get going..." he said, moving towards the door.

Continuing to stare forward, Braig frowned. "Not even a goodbye kiss...?" he murmured. "What'd I do to deserve that..."

Stopping, Even smiled back at him, but it was a sad smile. He managed not to roll his eyes as he returned to kneel before the younger man and smile up at him. At the small, lethargic smile returned to him, his expression turned somber. He took the other's head into his hands and leaned forward to kiss him. It was a gentle, tender kiss, and it broke Braig's heart for them to end it like this. Especially...considering the nature of his secret...

Even blinked in surprise when Braig broke the kiss, his expression guilty and wrought with conflict. His breathing was slightly harder, and he avoided eye contact, glancing at the floor. "I'm dying," he whispered.

Lips parting, as if to say something, Even lowered, but kept his hands on Braig's face.

"I'm dying, Even," Braig repeated, as if the reality of what it meant was dawning on him, as well. He looked into the green eyes of his best friend, his gaze weary and ridden with guilt. He slightly nodded his head. "Yeah. I'm dying..."

Even's expression fell to one of horror and disbelief. He shook his head, but his friend only nodded again. He then stood up, never breaking eye contact, and wrapped his arms around Braig while sitting beside him. He held him close, closing his eyes, and inhaled the smell of his hair as he hid his head in the crook of his neck.

He couldn't do that, again.

He couldn't go through that, again.

Braig held onto his best friend, his gaze crestfallen as he stared at nothing. There was little more he could do but hold him. Neither was much of a crier, so it hit him hard when he heard soft sobs emit from the older man. He clenched his jaw, shutting his eyes. Held him tighter, closer. They were practically atop one another. Didn't matter. They needed this.

Shakily, he exhaled. "I'm...an ass...I know," he apologized in a whisper. He combed his fingers through the platinum locks. "Y'know those...pills you gave me? For pain? They came in handy, today. Dunno how long they'll work, but...Damn, I was in some serious pain, before you got here. Wrecked my room..."

Even's hands clenched. He knew there was something dire that was wrong. He knew it. Moreover, his heart knew it, too.

Noticing this, Braig pursed his lips. "I'm sorry, babe..." he whispered, feeling wearier. Oddly, he wondered if he was going to have another attack. Where was this fatigue coming from...? Well, it wasn't like he wasn't dying or something...His thoughts amused him, if not self-disparagingly. "It's my heart...but I guess you know that..."

Gently, Even pulled slightly away, moving his hands to place on the sides of Braig's face again. "I'm not mad," he assured quietly, massaging a cheek with his thumb. "I knew this could happen. I simply...tried not to consider it."

Braig's gaze was still rather weary, not quite focused. "Don't blame you." He briefly closed his eyes, and then focused on the teary face before him. "Babe, I...I hate it when you cry..." He tried to smile, but it trembled.

Even kissed the man's eyes just as tears fell from them, and then his tear-stained lips met Braig's in a gentle kiss. They embraced, and Even pulled Braig down to the floor with him. They stayed there, holding desperately onto one another, until Braig finally fell asleep, at last.