Actions

Work Header

Incandescence

Chapter Text

Twenty years ago, a world called Kelewenya fell to darkness.

~

Genki had a bit of spring in his step as he marched ahead of you. He was excited. But he’d always been excitable for as long as you’d known him. You were markedly less so. This task your mother had given you was nothing new. Deliver some baked goods from her bakery.

“Why are you so excited anyway?” you asked. It wasn’t like he’d never seen your uncle’s lab before. He smiled up at you with a row of perfectly straight, white teeth, his ocean blue eyes gleaming with mirth even as some of his pale blonde hair fell into them. Sometimes you forgot how beautiful your best friend was even with the long, jagged scar running from the end of his eyebrow across his face to his chin.

“I rarely get to go see your uncle’s lab! I wanna see what he’s made! Or is gonna make!” You rolled your eyes. The novelty of having an inventor for an uncle wore off at about age ten. It was still neat, but you weren’t nearly as excited as Genki.

As the two of you walked you passed a large bronze statue of Ansem the Wise. It shone brightly, reflecting the glow of the bright blue screens you called the sky.

“What do you think he was like?” Genki asked as he eyed the statue. It stood regally with a bronze cape appearing to billow behind him. He looked akin to a superhero – nothing less than what he was revered as. Savior of the people of Kelewenya. You’d never met him. Only his assistant – a short, yet brilliant scientist you’d had the honor of calling, Pops.

“I’m not sure,” you mused, “If he’s anything like Pops, he’s scatter-brained and unorganized.” Genki wrinkled his nose, skeptical.

“What’s that look for?” you laughed, “I can’t see anyone working with Pops without those behaviors. He’d drive them crazy otherwise.”

“The guy designed and built a planet for the entire population of Kelewenya to live on when it imploded. I’m not sure he’s as unorganized as you make him out to be.” You just shrugged. How anyone functioned with your scientist of a pseudo-uncle was beyond you, but to have helped in the creation of an artificial planet must mean that he couldn’t have been all that jumbled in the head.

You put the thought from your mind. He was the last stop of the day then you were free to enjoy the rest of your afternoon as you pleased. You had yet to plan out your summer with Genki, and with all the stress from the last of your final exams from the previous day, you were ready to fall into the ease of stupid college age fun without the college.

The streets and sidewalks were a bit crowded that day. It wouldn’t be strange to run into anyone as you walked. And when it did happen, like any normal person, you (or they) would just say, “Excuse me,” and move on. You’d probably barely notice if they said nothing or didn’t acknowledge your apology, but this time it was different. This person had been covered head to toe in a black robe. Their very presence mildly gave you the willies, and when they bumped into you, you turned to tell them, “Watch it!” But they were gone. Just as quickly as they’d come. Genki just told you to get over it. And, yeah, that made sense. But still… They could have at least said, “Excuse me.”

You approached the lab minutes later, the strange encounter far away in your mind, entering a medium sized home and walking down the stairs into the expansive basement which led to white pristine walls that were reminiscent of a hospital. Further down the walls turned to brick and piping where it led to more industrial sized means of operation. You didn’t know the specifics of the works other than that it eventually led down to an industrial core where the Spaceship Earth’s inner workings lay – water flow and irrigation, air filtration, and the mechanical works of the train and monorail systems that allowed the many cities to function in daily life. You passed numerous doors until you arrived at the one you had been searching for. Twelve doors down to the left across from the forensics lab.

                You gave three steady knocks on the heavy wooden door adorned with a gold-plated plaque that read, “Professor Ludwig von Drake,” and listened to the shuffle of papers and the calls of “One moment, one moment!” as a pair of webbed feet steadily padded over to the door. The door swung open to reveal a duck in a lab coat and sweater vest, spectacles in one hand and handkerchief rubbing idly at one of the lenses in the other. The gray hair atop his balding head was pointed in every direction and he blinked up at you annoyedly until he realized who you were.

“_________! You must be here to bring me my dinner. I wouldn’t be expecting you otherwise since you never visit.” You smiled brightly and a little guiltily, always happy to see your uncle and knowing full well you should visit more often than you do and held out the box to him.

“Mom says muffins aren’t an actual meal and to come over for dinner later,” you stated as you moved past him into his workspace, “And you can visit me at my next ballet recital.”

“You know I don’t leave here,” he grumbled. You just rolled your eyes. He never left his home, and you assumed it had something to do with his appearance.

You leaned on the large mahogany desk that was covered in papers and blueprints, formulas and even a small model of a building and vehicle prototype he was working on. Pinned on a corkboard was the blueprint of your city. Well all the cities technically, being that they’d all been designed using the exact same blueprint. In large white lettering above the drawing, it read Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Next to it sat a blueprint for the World Showcase which housed the remains of cultures of a planet 20 years dead. Hanging off the end of the board, pinned by a large thumbtack was the blueprint of the whole of Spaceship Earth – a geodesic sphere adorned with indestructible boron nitrate panels. You could recite this by heart as it was random high school fact equivalent of the mitochondria being the powerhouse of the cell. Though what it boiled down to in your head was, “It looks like a giant golf ball.”

Genki excitedly eyed the different pinned up blueprints, models, and stacks upon stacks of math and equations all written over each other in a chaotic language only the truly gifted could understand before he spied a picture of Ansem the Wise standing next to Ludwig and a rather jolly looking man with a bushy beard holding a little purple dragon. They stood side by side, Ludwig holding a champagne bottle and Ansem holding a shovel. All three were smiling broadly, heads adorned with construction helmets.

“Who’s that?” Genki questioned.

“Oh, that’s an old family friend and a brilliant scientist,” Ludwig supplied, “He was one of Ansem’s assistants alongside myself who helped with the creation of Spaceship Earth.”

“Another one?”

“Yes, unfortunately, went missing some odd years ago, shortly after Ansem left.”

“And the dragon?”

“That’s a creation of his. The literal embodiment of the creative mind that serves as a bridge between the human psyche and reality. He’s also my lab assistant, and a lazy one at that. I asked him 20 minutes ago to find my wallet for when you arrived. ‘No more skipping out on my niece’s tips,’ I said but he’s taking his sweet time finding it. So, I’m sorry I won’t be able to tip you this time, but I just can’t find my wallet.”

As if on cue, his wallet fell out of his lab coat sleeve.

“Well now how did that get there?” You gave him a look. “Figment? Figment! Did you put my wallet in my sleeve again? You just can’t find good help these days,” he said as he took a few bills out of his wallet and handed them to you.

Figment then decided to pop into view in a small cloud of purple smoke from wherever he’d been before, standing no higher than your knee and wearing pajamas. He blinked blearily at Ludwig. He’d obviously been sleeping and enjoying his time far more dreaming than teleporting into the room for all of Ludwig’s loud and unnecessary demands. He perks up at the sight of you, and you give him a happy wave. Genki has a look of wonderment on his face, but, oddly enough, it’s directed at you and not either of the cartoons in the room.

“What?”

“You just take all of this in stride. Is there really nothing about this you find odd?” Genki asked lowly while Ludwig busied himself with clearing off his desk. Figment stood nearby sipping a cup of coffee.

You thought for a moment, then shrugged.

“I’ve known them all my life. It was more mind-blowing to find out what ducks from Kelewenya actually looked like or that dragons were supposed to resemble ferocious beasts. But by then, this was normal for me.”

“Sorry. I was just led to believe that cartoon characters didn’t exist.”

“Maybe they’re experiments. I never really asked about it. I mean, I know Figment was created, but Pops… he just kind of exists as far as I know.” You turned your attention back to your uncle who had put some sort of contraption on the desk, aiming a light over an opening to see the tiny mechanisms inside before he called Figment over to act as a screwdriver. In another little cloud Figment transformed into a screwdriver. Genki gave you another questioning look as if to say, ‘You’re really not gonna question that?’ You just smiled and shrugged.

“So, he shapeshifts. That’s his thing.” Turning attention back to the scientist delicately fiddling with his creation you asked, “So, what’s new?”

“I think I’ve discovered a way make the monorails a bit more efficient using technology that will allow it to hover rather using a rail system.” You smiled broadly.

“That’s amazing!”

“Yes, I know I am, but unfortunately it’s a prototype. And that’s all it’ll ever be,” he grumbles, tossing it into a pile of several other prototypes.

“Why’s that?”

“The crew hired to handle these specific tasks are all gone. None of them made it to Spaceship Earth. Since both of my partners are gone, I’ve just thrown myself into my work for the past twenty years developing new technologies. Creating some, putting off others. Maybe one day I’ll see my work completed, but until then I’m content to do as I have been, managing and maintaining the upkeep of Spaceship Earth from behind the scenes.”

 Pops’ chest puffed out in obvious pride. He took pride in all his works, praise or no praise, but you felt he desperately craved it now more than ever. After all, Spaceship Earth and its many EPCOT cities had been his creation, but most of the credit had gone to Ansem. When you asked why he didn’t just come out and say that, he’d brush it off saying he didn’t need the credit or that it’s already quite a feat to think a man made a world, so imagine if everyone knew a duck had done it. You respected his wishes enough to let it go, but still….

“So, I’ll tell mom you’ll be seeing us at…?”

“The usual time,” he supplied. Which was at 8 o’ clock when the screens darkened from their evening blue to a night black. You texted your mother on your gummi phone – a gift from Pops that he said was more advanced than most other phones. And it was true. It took really good pictures. Though you had never needed it for more than just texting or calling.

“We should get going,” you said to Genki. He nodded. “I texted mom about when you’re gonna show up so don’t be late, Pops,” you called over your shoulder as you stepped out of the door.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be there. You just worry about visiting your poor, lonely uncle every now and again.”

“I will! I promise!”

You and Genki emerged just as the artificial sky was shifting through its blue gradients from a soft pastel to a darker midnight blue, so you knew it was about 6:30. By 8 ‘o clock it would be black.

“Well that sucks,” Genki muttered, “I was hoping we’d get a little fencing practice in….”

You wrinkled your nose at him. Not the first thing you wanted to do with your free time.

“Fencing? Really, Genki?”

“What? I don’t know how you don’t want to fence all the time. You literally have a magical sword you can summon whenever you want!” The two of you stopped walking. You shuffled from foot to foot, restless.

“I mean, we can do a quick patrol. Those things seem to be popping up more lately.” Genki nodded. You weren’t sure what the things were exactly – little creatures that moved unnaturally with sharp claws and beady yellow eyes that seemed intent on causing harm. You’d first encountered them when you were fifteen. That was four years ago. And that’s also when you got your sword, a blade in the shape of a key which had changed form once when you were sixteen into a blade you named Pathfinder. Since then you had been discretely vigilante-ing about town wherever they appeared. Genki fought alongside you, but he couldn’t permanently get rid of the beasts as you could. That didn’t stop your dynamic duo from kicking ass together for the last four years.

Mom didn’t know about your little secret. In fact, Genki was the only person you confided just about everything to when it came to your sword. It had been him who taught you how to fence and encouraged you take up the fight against monsters which had come from all but nowhere. It was strange because nothing could get into Spaceship Earth let alone one of the many EPCOTs without setting off some sort of notification that Ludwig would see. It had been you who figured out it had something to do with your sword. But what? You weren’t sure.

Genki brightened. He liked patrolling with you as much as he liked fencing with you.

It was on patrol, walking past some of the farm land that the you spotted the hooded figure from before. He stood in the middle of a field still and silent. Unmoving. Unnerving. You stopped to watch him. Genki almost ran into you at your abrupt stop, and he turned his head to look at what you saw.

“Well that’s creepy,” he muttered lowly. It was quiet and felt quite loud to you who was next to him. You didn’t want to draw any attention to yourself. The figure didn’t seem to notice.

Then his head snapped in your direction. You heard Genki gasp, and you knew you too had held your breath at the sudden movement.

The hairs on the back of your neck were standing up you just knew. This guy was trouble. You knew that even if you’d had no reason to. Genki gripped your arm tightly. You didn’t need to look at him to know he felt you should both be leaving.

That was when more of those monsters appeared between the figure and yourself. No less than fifteen or so. Your blade materialized in your hand immediately out of habit. You could feel the hidden eyes of the immobile figure trained on you, and you felt almost frozen when they didn’t leave. Then the creatures were upon you and you had no more time to focus on him as you had to get rid of the monsters surrounding you.

You hacked and slashed your way through them, feeling your breath come to you more slowly, your heart beating harder than normal. You’d never had to face so many at once. When the last one had been cut down you whirled around to face the figure whose gaze you swore you could still feel on you.

But there was no one. Nothing. Naught but you and your friend.

“We should go home,” you breathed, still winded from the fight.

Your walk home was quiet and felt longer than normal. You didn’t know what had just happened. You didn’t know who that was. You didn’t know why you still felt watched. You didn’t like this.

“Something doesn’t feel right,” Genki said finally, once the two of you were back in the city, a few blocks from your home. He was right. Something felt off. People were talking animatedly and moved restlessly. There were fewer children and cars out as if the world were turning in early. And the city seemed quieter. There was still the steady sound of traffic and shouting and music. But it felt muted like there was some other noise being played over it that pushed it into the background. And through it all you still felt watched.

You didn’t respond to Genki’s statement, only walked faster as if that were going to make it better. You knew it wouldn’t, but the thought of home and your mother were comforting to say the least. Genki matched your stride, not acknowledging your lack of response. Perhaps he was talking to himself. You weren’t sure. But you felt off. More than the city, something in the core of your mind (maybe your soul) felt unsettled and had steadily grown over the course of your walk since spotting the hooded figure in the field.

As your home came into view, you nearly broke into a sprint, flying through the door with Genki at your heels. Your home made you feel better. It was familiar. It was safe. You were safe. Your breath calmed, and Genki appeared to visibly relax. You almost laughed. You felt ridiculous even when you knew that whatever danger you had faced near the farms had been real. But now it seemed so far away.

You walked into the kitchen where your mom was humming and stirring a pot of what looked like a pasta sauce. You leaned on the kitchen island and Genki took a seat in one of the barstools.

“There you two are,” she said with a warm smile on her face, “How long does it take to make a delivery? I expected you back ages ago.”

“We stopped to talk for a while then went on a little walk around town.” You left out the part about your little encounter in the fields, and you honestly didn’t want to think about it anymore. You suppressed a shudder that tried to run up your spine, and Genki shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Hmm well I’m sure Ludwig enjoyed your visit. You said he’d over by eight?”

“Yes, he’ll be here soon enough.”

“Genki, dear, what’ve you got planned for the summer?”

“Well, _______, and I haven’t planned anything out long term yet. But there’s a party across town later we’re gonna hit up.”

“Well that sounds fun,” she chirped, “Home by midnight, ________.” You rolled your eyes.

“I know, mom, I know.” You smiled despite yourself. This was nice. Hooded figures be damned, you were going to enjoy the rest of your evening and kick his ass tomorrow.

Then the ground shook. It started as a deep rumbling, a vibration so low you wouldn’t have heard it over most noises and wouldn’t have noticed it were it not for the sway of the hanging lights in the kitchen ceiling. But the rumble grew into a tremor, the low vibration turning into something more of a pained groan and creaking metal. The tremor turned into a quake that shook your home and made pictures fall from the walls.

Then it stilled.

“That felt like an earthquake,” your mom breathed, “But… that wouldn’t make sense. There are no tectonic plates on an artificial world.”

Then you heard the screams and the sirens. You all ran outside. Multiple people were rushing out of their homes or were already outside. You looked around, trying to gauge the situation when you noticed the upturned gazes of your neighbors. You looked up.

The screens were messed up. The sky had flipped back to day in some places and night in the others. Some parts of the screens of the skybox showed static and others had error messages popping up. Then the tremors started again. A low sound, almost like a growl that grew into sharp loud snaps that ripped through the air as you watched deep veins of black stretch across the screens where cracks had formed. It was a terrifying sight to behold, but it was not nearly as awful as when you watched large panes of glass begin to fall. The first hit the ground a good distance from your neighborhood, but you still felt the resulting shake of the ground and heard it shattering into millions of deadly shards that no doubt flew about like shrapnel, hitting those it did not crush.

Your hands went to your mouth as if trying to hold back your scream, but it just came out muffled and shrill. You looked to Genki and your mother. His eyes locked with yours in a panicked stare. Your mother’s eyes were still locked on the falling sky.

Chapter Text

“_________! ________!” You could hardly hear your name being called over the screams of the people as they scrambled to find shelter, some running back into their homes and others jumping in their cars and speeding off towards a city that seemed bathed in an odd glow. Fire, you realized, had sprouted up in spots in the distance.

The voice was that of Ludwig von Drake. He was running towards you at a frantic speed with Figment hot on his trail.

“We need to go! We need to go right now!” he yelled at you.

“Huh?” was all you managed.

“Look!” a woman screeched. Your eyes turned upward again as in the large black holes left by fallen screens appeared hundreds of thousands of millions of tiny lights. You would’ve been confused were it not for the fact that you recognized them. Millions of tiny little eyes on little pitch-black bodies that writhed out of the cracks in the sky and fell upon the people below.

A sharp yank on your arm recaptured your attention. Your eyes landed on your mother’s who was mouthing at you that you needed to go. No. She was shouting. Had to be. But everything was more muffled than before. Everything so muted and moving in slow motion. Your breathing was shallow, and you thought for a moment that you might pass out.

Genki’s voice cut through the haze.

“Move!” He gave you a rough shove, and you and your mother, Ludwig, Figment, and Genki broke out into a sprint to your mother’s car. Next thing you knew, you were all speeding away from…. From what? The sky?

“We need to get back to my lab,” Ludwig instructed as your mother swerved around pedestrians who ran frantically in the street, only narrowly missing them.

“My family,” Genki all but whispered.

“I’m not sure-,” your mother began cautiously, eyeing Genki via the rearview mirror. Even before she could finish that sentence, you knew how she was going to end it. Genki knew it too. You knew she might be right in thinking that you wouldn’t be able to find them and still make it to Pops’ lab. But he couldn’t leave them behind. He jumped from the car, tucking himself into a tight ball to take minimal damage. Your mom slammed on the breaks and you slammed on the seat in front of you, hearing her roughly hit the steering wheel. Both Ludwig and Figment crashed into the windshield and, were it not for the fact that they were cartoons, you’d have been more worried for their wellbeing. But all you could focus on was Genki’s unmoving form. You jumped out of the car yourself despite your head pounding from the hit when you took when your mom braked. You ran as best you could towards him, hearing your mother call after you. You let out a frantic, hysterical, breathy laugh when he began to move as you approached him.

“Genki! I’m coming!” you called. He managed to get up to his feet, but he was holding his arm and one of his eyes was closed. He had big, nasty scrapes over both. Frankly, he was lucky he hadn’t died in the chaos. A car could have just as easily run over him. Or he could have been trampled by the stampeding hordes of people or crushed beneath the falling glass.

“I have to find them,” Genki called to you, limping off in the opposite direction.

The tremors beneath your feet had not stopped since you ran outside but the they were steadily growing now. Running became a hassle as the ground recoiled and rocked beneath you. Your sense of gravity and balance were lost, and you stumbled to your knees more than once. And he was almost within reaching distance. Then he was sinking. Rapidly. No falling.

You didn’t think. Didn’t have time. You jumped after him, grabbing on to his arm with both of your hands in a death grip, tumbling into the blackened abyss below with him, his terrified, tear-filled gaze looking up at your own. Then your foot caught something. No, someone caught you.

“_______!” your mother’s voice called, strained as the ground dug into her middle almost enough to break the skin and tear at her clothes as half of her body dangled over the abyss with you. She had jumped after you and had barely managed to catch you. Ludwig and Figment had her legs in their grasp, struggling to pull her up. But you couldn’t focus on her. Genki’s hand was slipping from yours. You were crying and sobbing desperately as you clung to his hand, his nails digging into your wrists, dragging cuts down them as he slipped.

“No! No! No! Please no!” you cried, feeling him slip through your fingers. You watched him tumble into the darkness below, the look of horror on his face firmly etched into your mind. You felt your mom’s grip tighten on your leg as, with a primal yell, she yanked you and herself back over the ledge and onto solid ground. Your body felt heavy as you thumped onto the hard concrete and asphalt, moving felt like trying to push against a thick molasses that slowed your movements to a crawl. But you had no time to fumble through exhaustion and shock. Your mother was pulling you along, already on her feet, and shoving you back into the car and speeding down the road again and into the city where fire seemed to swallow up most every building. Corpses littered the ground along with shattered glass. There was so much blood. All you could hear were screams.

A mother screaming and clinging to a child that hung limply in her arms, its eyes blank and empty. The bloody, pulpy remains of a face crushed between glass and asphalt. A woman gurgling out blood between her lips, reaching limply towards anyone for help with twitching, broken fingers. A man shrouded in a black aura warping into one of the many creatures you’d faced over the years. Were… Were they who you’d been fighting all this time?

“What’s happening?” you finally asked, desperate to hear something, anything, even your own voice, anything but the sounds of screaming and your world collapsing around you.

“The darkness,” Ludwig murmured, “It’s happening again.”

“Darkness?” your mother questioned. “The same darkness that took Kelewenya when it fell?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why? Why is it happening?”

“I don’t know,” Ludwig answered honestly, though it looked like it pained him to not have some sort of solution.

“Where will we go?”

“I have a ship. One I used in order to come here all those years ago. We can use it to escape.”

“What about everyone else?” you asked. It was a stupid question. You knew the answer to it as well as everyone else did. Just as well, neither of them answered it. Silence fell over the car except for the sound of the tires swerving to miss people lying in the street and other cars mangled into heaps of metal where they had collided, only distinguishable by color where one car ended and the other began. A few times your mother drove on the sidewalks to avoid colliding with them. She drove over bodies. Most dead, some dying.

A gasp left your lips before a cry of warning.

“Look out!” Your mother slammed on her breaks again as large chunk of concrete and steel landed just in front of the car with a damn near deafening crash, blocking your path but leaving enough space for your bodies to be able to squeeze by. You were flung against the seat again, but, thankfully, you had braced yourself this time. It appeared that everyone else had too.

You’d have to continue this journey on foot. You all scrambled out of the car and started running towards the lab, keeping your heads low, shirts pulled up over your mouths and noses to avoid inhaling too much smoke and debris, eyes squinting against the clouds of dust and plumes of thick, black smoke that seemed to choke the light out of the air. Though most of the light came from the flames now as the electricity struggled to continue and most of the sky had either fallen or turned off into a black pane that reflected the chaos below.

As the four of you approached the lab, more of the monsters that had continued to fall from the sky blocked your path, at least seven or eight. You had been lucky up to this point. It seemed that their main point of entry had been where you saw the first pane of glass fall. It meant that they were few everywhere else, but it seemed that they had gained some ground since then. Your mother took a step back, standing in front of you to shield you.

You summoned your weapon, dashing in front of your mother to cut your enemies down. You took a few hits, your balance consistently leaving you as the ground continued to rock back and forth, jutting up and all but disappearing beneath your feet. But you dispatched them.

“Let’s go!” you ordered as your mother looked at you in confusion and mild fear. Ludwig looked shocked to say the least as the four of you continued to run, the lab just a few blocks away now. The blocks seemed to stretch on before you. You felt like you wouldn’t reach the lab in time. Something was going to happen. You or your mother or your uncle or Figment would be crushed by falling glass or blown away by exploding cars or buildings or burn to death in the flames that raced across the terrain or fall into the belly of the planet when the ground gave way beneath you as it had with Genki. Yet despite all your fears and that most of your concentration lay on staying alive, you had this tiny nagging feeling that set itself at the forefront of your mind.

You were being watched.

You whipped your head this way and that to see who could possibly focus on you and you alone in the myriad of bodies that surrounded you running or otherwise when it was so hard for you to even focus on running to keep yourself alive. But there was no one. No one that you could see.

You finally made it after what felt like an eternity when pushing through the remains of your world all the while feeling like some unknown presence was bearing down on you. It was dark inside. You could barely see anything except for what had a faint glow cast on it from the light of the fires outside. Figment, thinking quickly, shapeshifted into a flashlight and Ludwig grabbed it with trembling hands, leading you down to the basement where all was quiet except for the sounds of crashing and explosions on the surface.

Your breathing was shaky as you descended the steps into the hallways below. You were briefly reminded of a memory of when you were six and your mother had taken you down here to visit Pops. You thought the quiet, empty halls were creepy then when all you could hear were footsteps echoing in the space around you and your own breathing. You kept glancing over your shoulder, sure that the echoes of your own feet were some unknown presence like a boogeyman that was coming up behind you to take you away and… And what? You didn’t know. And not knowing was much scarier.

You felt that way now. Only now, shrouded in darkness, it was much worse. And you knew someone just might be there, but you couldn’t see them. You were shaking as you tried to tell yourself that it was just your mind playing tricks on you. But you weren’t so sure.

The hallway seemed to stretch endlessly as you all had to slow your speed from a run to a brisk walk. As you reached where the hallway turned to brick and piping it became more hazardous as some pipes hung lower than others, and none of you would have much hope of escape if you were unconscious from running headfirst into a steel pipe. But the hallway did eventually end, and it gave way to a metal hallway. Ludwig pulled a switch and a few dim emergency lights switched on and a generator putted to life somewhere.

“This way,” he instructed as he continued to lead you down the ever twisting and turning halls with their phantom footsteps ever echoing behind you. After a few minutes of walking, the lights flickered, and the generator went out and the lights with it. No doubt the world above was as dark and haunting as it was here. No wait. They had fires to light their way. Well that was morbid.

“I think I’m going to lose my mind,” you thought hopelessly.

“________,” your mother began, her voice causing you to jump, “What was that? You fought those monsters. Where did you learn that? Where did you get that sword?”

“That was no ordinary sword,” Ludwig said before you could answer. He looked over his shoulder at you, his eyes as grave as his voice, not that you could see it very well in what little lighting Figment was able to provide. “That was a keyblade.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ll be able to explain better when we’re on the ship.”

“Where are we going to go?” you asked helplessly. Space exploration was not a large venture on Spaceship Earth, and from what you learned in your history classes, it was not the primary focus of science on Kelewenya either.

“Another world. Far from here. We need to speak to Ansem. The King, assuming we can’t find Ansem.”

“Ansem? You know where he is?” you inquired. It seemed so surreal that he was alive when he had not even been on this world anymore as far as you knew. You thought he was on some sort of space station or something exploring the cosmos never to be seen again.

“No. I know where he might be.”

You passed through a room that opened into a large hangar. At the end of the walkway sat the ship. It was sleek and smooth, white in color, covered in dust and cobwebs. The material was something you didn’t recognize as it seemed out of place in this world. Not as much as Ludwig or Figment, but “not from here” was the best phrase for it.

You all stopped at the side door which Ludwig was punching in the code to open. Was it weird to feel, not relaxed, but sluggish now? Like your body knew it could collapse soon and was preparing you to do it as efficiently as possible. Then you heard the echo of footsteps again and every hair on your body stood on end. You whipped around to face more darkness. Your body was shaking again, and you willed yourself to stop. The footsteps were gone as soon as you managed to calm your body enough to a weak shiver. Though your heart continued to beat loudly in your ears, thumping against your chest at a speed you were sure might kill you if it got any faster.

You couldn’t get into the ship fast enough. Ludwig turned on the lights and you each picked a seat and buckled up. Figment sat in your lap.

Ludwig started the ship’s engine and turned on the headlights.

Standing in front of the ship was a tall figure wearing a black robe. His hood was down this time. He stared at you with heated amber eyes that contrasted sharply against the icy blue hair that framed his face. In the center of his face was a scar in the shape of an x, and you were briefly reminded of Genki.

“Who’s that?” Ludwig asked. But you were freaking out. Never mind that his face wasn’t some grotesque monster or faceless being beneath that hood. You were scared, and you didn’t like the way he was looking at you.

Just you.

“Go! Go! Go!” You all but screamed. Ludwig floored it. The ship shot forward but not before the figure disappeared in a haze of black that was anything but natural. You were pressed back against the back of your seat by the force of going at such a speed. Figment held tightly to your middle and you held back.

The next few minutes were a haze that gave you horrible motion sickness and dizziness as Ludwig maneuvered the ship through the sky, shaking off any of the little shadow monsters that managed to hit the wings and avoiding any falling glass. It’s over quick though. The ship shoots through a crack in the sky and then you’re surrounded by space. Endless black night and stars blur past you. You can’t look back. You don’t want to know what it looks like. You don’t want to watch your world collapse.

It’s silent for a moment. Then you here the whimpers of your mother as she holds back her sobs.

You realize that you’re crying too.

Chapter Text

                You were shaking. And sniffling. And you couldn’t see anything because you couldn’t stop crying. Why can’t you stop crying? You cried loudly, all but wailing. Your mother had stopped crying about ten minutes ago, but you were inconsolable. No one tried to console you. What could they possible say to you? What could they do? Figment just continued to sit in your lap, blinking up at you sadly. No one said anything, and eventually your wails quieted to sobs which weakened to whimpers which subsided into weak sniffles. Then there was a horrible deafening silence.

                “We need to go to Radiant Garden.” No one spoke. “We might find some help there. Maybe some answers. Like how the heartless got to Spaceship Earth.”

                “Heartless?” you asked quietly.

                “Maybe Ansem has something in his journals about this. Something that will tell me what’s going on.” Ludwig either didn’t hear you or didn’t care to. He was frantic, hands trembling as he worked the controls for the ship.

                “Journals?”

                “I thought it was over. Spaceship Earth shouldn’t have been able to fall. Maybe we’d have had more time if there were signs.”

                “You knew?!” This time your voice was not a whisper. This time you would not be ignored. “You knew this could happen?”

                “Not like this!” he snapped back. He was angry and frustrated. “This can happen to any world at any time, but there are signs! Warnings! Heartless!”

                “What are heartless?”

                “Those little monsters that look like shadows! But I can’t focus on that now! We need to find Ansem. Find out what happened to Kelewenya.”

                “We know what happened to Kelewenya,” your mother said slowly, but, like you, knew there was more to what Ludwig had said.

                “No. There’s more to the story now than just that….” He sighed defeatedly, slumped forward in his seat. “There were multiple worlds that fell to darkness. More than I could possibly count. Some with friends I’d made throughout the years. Some where there was family. But, for reasons I can’t explain, they came back. It was miraculous, and I immediately sent out a probe to scout for the location of Kelewenya. But there was nothing. It didn’t come back, and I didn’t know why. I tried to contact Ansem but could not get a hold of him.”

                “Why would Ansem know about why it didn’t come back? Why shouldn’t Spaceship Earth have been able to fall? And where exactly is Radiant Garden?” you asked rapidly, growing only more frustrated with every question that popped into your mind.

                “Radiant Garden is another world.”

                “Like another planet? Like there’s life on other planets type shit?”

                “________!” your mother snapped.

                “What?!” you snapped back. She blinked back at you in surprise. “Where the fuck are we going? What the fuck is going on anymore? A-am I just supposed to take all this in stride? My home is gone! This is bullshit! And now you’re telling me there’s another planet somewhere in the great beyond with a man who all but abandoned us and who just happens to have all the answers?”

                “________,” Ludwig chided in a voice that was too calm for your liking even when you knew he was only trying not to piss you off further, “I’ll tell you everything I can, but I need you to understand that there’s a lot you don’t know about the way the world works.” You hated the way he spoke to you. Like a child. Though it wasn’t like you weren’t throwing your emotions around like one.

“You asked me what the other world was. Now while there may be life on other planets, that isn’t what I’m referring to. What I’m talking about is the existence of multiple universes. Radiant Garden is one such town that exists on one of these alternate worlds. And that, hopefully, is where we’ll find Ansem.”

                “So… Ansem’s not even from our universe?!”

                “That’s correct. He is not, and neither am I.”

                “And what about heartless? I know you said it wasn’t important, but I’ve been fighting them for years. And I want to know more about them.”

                “You what?” your mother all but hissed at you. She was angrier than you could ever possibly right now. You squirmed nervously under her gaze. “You’ve been deliberately putting yourself in danger for what was apparently years fighting those- those things?”

                “I… yes,” you were looking down to where Figment sat in your lap still. Even he looked at you like that was a stupid thing to do. You looked to Ludwig, but his gaze, while not as harsh, was not happy with you either. You huffed. “I was helping people.”

                It was a weak defense, you knew, but what could they say to that?

                “Why didn’t you tell me?” your mother worried. “You could’ve gotten yourself hurt or worse! ________, didn’t you see what they were doing to people?! They killed them! Turned them into more of them!”

                “That’s even more reason to fight them! I could’ve just let them do that to people and maybe we’d have been in this situation sooner rather than later! If I had told you, you would have made me stop.”

                “That’s not the point!” she shouted.

                “Actually, she may have a point,” Ludwig interjected, but he quickly shrank back when your mom sent him a glare.

                “My daughter isn’t a superhero! She’s a nineteen-year-old girl who is in way over her head!” She directed that last part at you.

                “Well, regardless of her stupid decision to keep it hidden, we now know she has a keyblade,” Ludwig continued.

                “What’s a keyblade?” you asked quickly, wishing your mother would stop giving you her angry mom look.

                “Well from what little I know about them,” Ludwig started, “They’re the only efficient way to combat heartless. When they’re attacked by any other means, they just regenerate elsewhere.”

                “That’s all you know?” you asked somewhat desperately.

                “Unfortunately, yes. But perhaps we can find more answers where we’re going.”

                “I have more questions. Like what’s going to happen to us now?” The ship was silent. No one knew. Your home was gone, and if what Pops said was true, there was a good chance that it was never going to come back.

                “I don’t know. But we’ll figure something out. I’m sure of it.” The conversation ended after that and that feeling of sluggish exhaustion overcame you. You slumped back and felt your lids grow heavy. You blearily looked about the ship, noting that that towards the back were three bed compartments – two stacked over each other and one opposite them with storage compartments over it. Just past that was a door marked “lavatory.”

You set Figment in your seat and made your way to the bathroom. It was small, almost cramped with just enough room for a sink, toilet, and shower and only enough room to turn around in a little circle. You gazed in the mirror. You looked awful, hair disheveled and the area around your eyes was swollen from crying. More tears slipped from them. As you turned on the sink to splash water in your face, you noticed the cuts on your arm from where Genki had slid while clinging to you for dear life. You bit back a sob before turning off the water and deciding to just jump in the shower, already peeling off your tank top and shorts.

The hot water felt nice, a small comfort you couldn’t even enjoy. Your wrist seemed to burn now, and you were heavy with the weight of your guilt. Every time you closed your eyes, his face was there, looking at you with the knowledge that he was going to die. He screamed on the way down, you remembered, and just beyond the blackness that had swallowed him up, you heard it abruptly stop. You couldn’t see him, but you still had an image of his body broken and mangled and coughing up blood lying there waiting to die alone. Or already dead, a puddle of blood steadily growing beneath him.

Was he one of those monsters now too?

Genki, I’m so sorry.

Sorry wasn’t good enough. Sorry would never be good enough.

You dried off quickly, jumping back into your clothes, which you wished weren’t so dirty and hopped into your bed with a huff. The bed was soft and warm at least.

When you looked across the way at your mother who had chosen the single bunk below the storage compartments, she was already sleeping. Figment had a small bed he’d conjured up for himself that was just large enough for him. He was sound asleep too. The only noises you could hear were the low hum of the ship’s engines and your own steady breathing. You weren’t sure how you could sleep with all that had happened, but you did. You fell under almost immediately.

~

White.

Everything is white. The walls. The furniture. How tacky.

The only spots of color were of drawings on the wall.

Hey… that one looked like you…...

~

You arrived in Radiant Garden roughly two days later according to von Drake. He must’ve had a clock or calendar installed in the ship since night and day were the same when one was in deep space.

It was roughly midday by the time the ship touched ground. You landed in large square of pavement in front of what looked to be a dilapidated castle. Was this Ansem guy royalty or something? Was he even here anymore? The castle looked like it had seen better days.

Your legs were stiff and when you stood from your seat to stretch you heard a few of your joints pop. You looked at your mom who was staring very hard at something. You followed her gaze to the window where you noticed Figment and Ludwig were also staring very intently.

There, outside the window, stood two people. A tall man with brown hair and a scar across his face. Next to him was a girl with short black hair. But that wasn’t why everyone was so tense. They were armed. One held a large blade and the other a large shuriken.

“Maybe we should leave,” your mother whispered.

“We can’t,” Ludwig reminded her. A beat of silence passed between all of you. “I’ll speak to them,” Ludwig said finally. You followed him to the door before feeling your mother nearly slam her hand down on your shoulder to keep you from following him. She was giving you a look. One that asked if you were crazy.

“We can’t just let him go out there alone,” you whispered. Ludwig opened the door, your muscles tensed, wanting to move forward and barely being held in place by your mother.

“Hello there!” Ludwig called in as friendly voice as he could manage, stepping from the ship. Your mother, Figment, and you held your breath. You yanked your shoulder from your mother’s grasp walking outside briskly as you saw both the man and girl relax in their posture. Though a look of caution passed over their features when they saw you.

But you couldn’t focus on that. You felt dizzy. The air was so different here. It was almost overwhelming. And it was so bright out here. But despite that, a pleasant warmth surrounded you.

“Is she gonna be okay?” the girl asked, as she watched you stumble around blearily.

“What?” von Drake asked, looking back over his shoulder at you as you leaned on the side of the ship to catch your breath and adjust to it, blinking in the sunlight.

“Oh, ha, yes, yes, she’s fine,” he laughed, “Her lungs are just used to ‘von Drake brand air’ it’s 20% more efficient than natural air.”

“More efficient how?” you breathed.

“Hey! Whoa! Look at you asking all these question like some sort of scientist,” Ludwig laughed, blatantly ignoring your question. You stood upright, taking in slow, deep breaths. The air smelled a bit sweeter here than it had on Spaceship Earth. And why wouldn’t it? You were on an entirely new planet – one you doubted had its air consistently filtered as it was back home. It was just strange.

“What can we do ya for?” the girl asked, her wary eyes trained on you but a smile on her lips, nevertheless.

I,” Ludwig began a hand on his chest, “am the great Professor Ludwig von Drake. And this is my niece.” The man and girl gave each other a look of confusion. You forgot for a moment why that sort of relationship would be weird.

“Adoptive,” you clarified.

“Yes, well, we are looking for a man by the name of Ansem. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. It’s a most pressing matter. A matter of life and death!”

The two looked at each other. You didn’t like the look that passed between them.

“Ansem the Wise,” the man spoke slowly, “Has been missing for a long time now.”

A moment of quiet passed between the four of you when you noticed their eyes flick behind you. Your mother or Figment must have exited the ship.

“What did they say?” your mother’s voice called. You were still frozen in your spot. A feeling of hopelessness passed over you, and you could feel it radiate from von Drake too. Your body felt heavy like lead.

“They say it’s hopeless,” you finally answered, your voice breaking. You didn’t look behind her. Didn’t want to see her face and the, no doubt, look of sorrow that inevitably passed over it. You hugged your arms close to your body like that would keep you from breaking apart. Tears were already clouding your vision. What was this the 50th time you must’ve cried in the past three days?

“I see,” Ludwig answered them. “His lab still exists though, yes? P-perhaps I can find something there to help us. Some closure maybe.”

“You all look like you’ve seen a lot,” the man answered as his eyes darted from one despondent face to the next, “Come with us. We have a place you can rest, and tomorrow we can go to his lab.”

“Thank you,” Ludwig answered bleakly. You knew he was just desperately looking for answers that may just be leading him on a wild goose chase. But you hoped too. Despite yourself, you hoped.

“This way,” the man instructed. You mustered the ability to move, eyes remaining glued to the ground moving below you. “I’m Leon, by the way, and this is Yuffie.” Yuffie tossed you a small wave and a smile which you did your damnedest to return.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Yuffie began, “What was the emergency?”

“Yuffie,” Leon reprimanded, nodding his head in the direction of you and your mother. You must’ve looked a sight for him to take this as a cue to not talk about it.

“Uh! Never mind,” Yuffie back tracked. “So, um, Ludwig was it?” Yuffie began again, “You know about Ansem. Were the two of you friends… or… something?”

“We were friends, as a matter of fact, and coworkers. I was his assistant here in Radiant Garden.”

“Hollow Bastion.”

“Excuse me?”

“This town is Hollow Bastion,” Leon corrected.

“It wasn’t called that when I lived here, but I suppose times have changed. As I was saying, it was here when I first developed prototypes for many of my later inventions and experiments, including the monorail and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow!”

“That’s quite a far cry from Ansem’s experiments,” Leon mentioned. You didn’t miss the suspicious glance he sent Ludwig. Something was up.

Ludwig’s brow furrowed, a small amount of sweat collecting at his temples.

“Yes, well, I made it a point to not become too involved in any of his personal projects. I had my own passion projects after all what with the creation of Spaceship Earth.”

“Spaceship Earth? I didn’t see any of that in his journals.”

“You’ve read his journals? How much did you learn?” Ludwig asked. You were avidly paying attention as well.

“Enough.” It was a harsh, clipped answer.

“Are any of my old journals still lying around?” Ludwig asked, either not caring about or missing entirely the tone of voice Leon had used to answer him.

“I wouldn’t know. I hadn’t seen any of them.”

“Hmm. There may be answers here yet.” He looked optimistic. And you felt that tiny well of hope that had sprung in you earlier grow just a bit.

~

You entered their home, somber, still holding yourself.

“Leon!” a girl with long, brown hair, said, surprise lacing her voice, “You brought company?”

“Refugees, actually. Their world is gone, and they were looking for Ansem.” She looked at all of you with a look of sadness and pity.

“Well I hope you’ll feel welcome here. I’m Aerith. The man over there at the computer is Cid,” she pointed to a blond man hunched over a computer who tossed you and your group a wave and a smile, “And that’s Merlin.” She pointed to a man standing behind a desk dressed all in blue with a pointy wizard hat sitting atop his head. Floating books surrounded him. He looked otherworldly but in a way that was familiar to you. Perhaps he was from where Pops was from?

He gave you all a friendly smile and a wave. Your mother and Ludwig greeted them warmly, thanking them for their hospitality, but you had all but managed a small, “hello.” There was a moment of quiet you hardly noticed as everyone’s eyes briefly lingered on you.

“You must be tired,” Aerith said quickly, “I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.” She gently grabbed one of your hands to lead you upstairs.

“Your daughter is, um, very quiet,” Cid mentioned once you were out of earshot.

“Understand that she doesn’t mean to be rude,” your mother explained in a soft tone of voice, “She’s been through quite a lot. We all have, but she’s never lost more than a pet fish before. She’s not accustomed to grief, let alone on such a grand scale. You see our planet fell just a few days ago.”

Cid seemed to rethink his words. It was almost comical to see such a sorry expression on such a gruff face, but laughter was hard to find lately. Your mother looked down into the tea Merlin had given her. It made her feel the slightest bit better as he said it was a special blend meant to ease frazzled nerves and soothe tension. She wasn’t sure about the specifics – something about magic and roots not found on this world. He was a wizard apparently.

“Of course, we understand,” Merlin interjected, “Ignore him.” Cid huffed, but didn’t argue.

“If I may,” Leon started, “Can we ask what you hope to find in Ansem’s castle?”

“I don’t know if you know this but a while ago, roughly and year ago, world’s that had previously fallen to darkness returned. We were hoping to understand why.”

“We know why,” Leon said, leaning against a wall, “A keyblade wielder named Sora brought them back.”

Ludwig and your mother stared back at Leon with looks of shock. He looked between the two of them, trying to gauge why they would react in such a way.

“You said a keyblade?” your mother almost whispered.

“You know about them?”

“My daughter has one. She said she’d had it for years…. Just what are those? Why do they exist, and why did they pick her?”

“Keyblades just pick their owners,” Yuffie answered with a shrug, “They either pick you or don’t.”

“I think it’s a bit more than that,” Leon responded with a shake of his head. “But this is good. If your world fell to darkness, you have someone who can bring it back. How though…. I can’t say I know. But what is it you hope to find on an artificial world in Ansem’s lab?”

“That’s not the planet I want research on. I want to know more about the experiments done on the heart of Kelewenya.”

~

Merlin’s home was modest. Two floors. Holes in the roof, “patched” – if you could really call it patching – by floating umbrellas. Yeah, that’s not weird at all.

You met Cid, Merlin, and Aerith. Though you didn’t really care all that much. It wasn’t that they weren’t nice people and certainly accommodating considering the circumstances, but you were tired. And sad. And you didn’t really want to be around people. Never mind that you had just met a literal wizard. You just couldn’t bring yourself to feel good about this. Any of this.

You had a room on the second floor with a bed and nightstand and a small wardrobe. You had changed into a new set of shorts and shirt offered to you by Aerith while she washed your other clothes. You felt a little crummy you couldn’t be happier with how kind these people had been, but nothing really mattered to you right now.

You lay in your bed for the rest of the afternoon, listening to the vague sounds of conversation that carried on below you while staring up at the ceiling for hours at a time. You skipped dinner. You didn’t want to deal with anyone else right now. Even after the sun sank below the horizon you continued to lay there. Sometimes crying. Sometimes not. Just thinking.

Screaming.

Blood.

Genki.

Death.

Home.

Then, suddenly, a feeling of restlessness overcame you. The room seemed to small. Your thoughts too loud. You needed to go. Somewhere. Anywhere. You didn’t want to be around people anymore. You didn’t want to be in this cramped room. You needed space.

You climbed down the lattice on the side of the wall outside your window. You jumped from it once you were close enough to the ground and you walked. You ambled through the town, many of houses’ white paint seeming to glisten in the night, the grass covered in a light dew from the evening’s temperature change that sparkled like tiny diamonds. You found your way to a square decorated with several miniature gardens in the center of town. The flowers were beautiful. You kneeled next to one full of pink flowers labeled, “peonies.” You’d never seen flowers like these where you were from, and they smelled so nice. You felt better.

You plopped your body all the way on the ground, sitting on your back on your feet, content for a moment to just sit and focus on nothing but beautiful, fragrant flowers and air that made your head whirl yet smelled so sweet. It was calm and peaceful and quiet. And the air felt warm but not uncomfortably so. You felt relaxed. Really truly relaxed for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

.

.

.

.

.

“Not the plant most people use to get a buzz, but to each his own I guess.”

You jumped, not expecting anyone to be here, let alone behind you. You turned around to see a young man standing not far from you. He was tall and had bright red hair that hung in spikes to his shoulders and stunning green eyes that caught you off guard. He looked down at you with an amused glint in his eye and a small smirk on his face waiting for you to say something, but you just blinked back silently at him. Had you been that deep in the smell of flowers to not have heard him approach?

He quirked an eyebrow at you.

“They don’t have these where I’m from,” you explained quietly, “I thought they smelled nice.”

You looked back at the plant with a soft smile forming on your features before you turned back to the admittedly, now that you were really looking at him, handsome stranger. He couldn’t have been that much older than you. Maybe three or four years?

“Where are you from?”

“Somewhere far away.”

“Another world?” You froze, looking back up at the handsome stranger who had ambled over closer to you. You were tense. He could see that. He halted his movements for now, taking on a relaxed posture so as not to alarm you. You stood up.

“Not anymore,” you answered.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He sounded sincere. You must’ve looked sad for him to have said that. You tried to set your face at least neutrally. You’d cried enough.

You briefly wondered how he’d guessed you weren’t from around here so quickly. Maybe people from other worlds were common here? Leon and Yuffie seemed to take your arrival in stride once they realized that you were no threat to themselves or anyone else. And Merlin certainly didn’t fit the bill as far as looks went on this world. You’d spent enough time around Figment and von Drake to recognize a toon when you saw one. How many other people were like you if what Pops said was true and so many worlds vanished one day? How many had escaped just as you did?

“Are you a botanist?” he asked. You were confused as to why he would ask that. Then giggled when you realized that you must have looked ridiculous with your head almost shoved into a planter.

“No. Most of the flowers on my home were blossoms on fruit trees. There were recreational flowers, of course, but not as many.” He looked at you as if he was trying to decipher your words.

“You say that like every plant in your home was handpicked to be there.”

“Well kind of. My world was artificial.” A moment of silence passed between the two of you again as he absorbed what you had said. He clearly had not been expecting that as an answer. You almost laughed at the look of surprise on his face.

“So, your world was man-made?”

“Essentially, yes,” you said, absentmindedly beginning to walk. He followed. “Everything had to be planned out. Animal and people and plant populations. How to regulate it all to create functioning ecosystems. All nature was made by man if that makes sense.”

“Not really.”

You chuckled.

“Yeah, I guess not.” He continued to look at you with inquisitive eyes, brows furrowed. There was no way you could have been making this up. It was too stupid to be made up.

“What did it look like?”

“Well… kind of like a golf ball actually.” He chuckled a bit at that. “Well the outside looked like that anyway. Inside the sky screens were blue and grew brighter and darker depending on the time of day. And the cities, neighborhoods, and farmland were all plotted out through a blueprint that every district followed.” Your eyes briefly sparkled when reminiscing about your home.

“So the sun and the sky and all that were fake?” You wrinkled your nose at the word fake but continued regardless.

“Well the sky was, yes, but we didn’t have a sun.” You were walking past illuminated fountains that cast a gentle blue glow on everything.

“What about the moon?”

“Nope. No moon.” You stopped on a sidewalk that overlooked the town.

“So this is the first time you’ve seen the moon?”

“Seen the….” You’d completely forgotten to look at the moon. You turned your gaze upwards, taking in a slow rush of air at the beauty of it. It was beautiful. You’d seen pictures of moons, of course, but there was something about seeing it in person that damn near took your breath away.

You sat down on the sidewalk, eyes never leaving the moon as you did.

He pitied you. He really did. How does one grow up having never experienced the basic points of life and nature? He sat down and looked up at the moon with you.

“I have a friend who loved the moon once,” he spoke lowly. You turned to him prepared to ask plenty of follow up questions when you heard a voice calling for you.

You turned to look in the direction of the voice and recognized it as your mother. You faced him again to tell him you had to go, but he was gone already. Vanished without a trace.

“_______, what are you doing out here? I was worried,” she said, her brow furrowed in concern as you stood and brushed yourself off.

“I was looking at the moon,” you answered half honestly as she led you away back to Merlin’s home.

Chapter Text

You skipped dinner yesterday evening, but, as your stomach growled loudly, you knew that was not an option this morning. No one had questioned you last night when your mother brought you home, and you were thankful for that.

“Sounds like someone’s hungry,” Aerith said with a soft smile as she placed a plate of pancakes in front of you. They smelled so good. And they had warm syrup all over them!

“Thank you,” you said softly with a smile, mouth already watering. Ludwig, Figment, and your mother were already eating, Ludwig and Figment practically wolfing theirs down, while your mother was a bit more reserved. Manners be damned, you were going to enjoy this. You didn’t even hesitate to dig in. They were really good, and honestly a home cooked meal felt really nice right now.

“Did you sleep well?” Merlin inquired. You nodded. You really did sleep well. It was a dreamless sleep, but you preferred that to potential nightmares. “Good, good. We know you’ve had a rough time of it as of late.”

“And today’s the big day where we get some answers to long awaited questions, so you’ll need all the energy you can get,” Yuffie said as she strode into the room with a big smile on her face.

“I actually have a few questions about the owner of the lab,” you said around a mouthful of pancakes. “Like who is, or was, he?”

“Ansem was the ruler of Hollow Bastion once. He was a beloved ruler and an avid student of the sciences involving the heart. He built a lab below his castle where he conducted experiments on subjects, testing the strength of the hearts of people and some of his apprentices.”

“You say that like something bad happened,” you said, noting a dark look that briefly passed over his face before settling into a hard mask of tranquil fury.

“I’m not sure all of his experiments had willing test subjects,” Leon admitted in a clipped tone of voice. You looked on with wide eyes. Your gaze slid over to Ludwig who had stopped eating. He was sweating a bit, staring at his plate far too intensely.

“Pops,” you began weakly, “Did you… know?”

“I had my suspicions. But… I never investigated them. I was too busy focusing on my own research.” It was a weak excuse, but you didn’t want to focus on it. You looked down at your own plate of almost finished pancakes. You had lost your appetite. So much for enjoying it.

“Perhaps that topic is a little heavy to have during breakfast, Leon,” Aerith interjected as a heavy quiet settled over the room. Figment and your mother also looked about uncomfortably.

“Yesterday you mentioned something about someone bringing back the worlds,” your mother mentioned. Your head snapped in her direction so quickly it almost made you dizzy. “Maybe we can find this person and get him to help us?”

“Wait, wait, wait, what?!” you asked, practically shouting. But it was a happy shout, full of so much hope it almost made everyone smile just at the drastic change in your demeanor. “Please tell me you’re serious.”

“Calm down, ________,” Leon instructed carefully, “We know that he’s done it before but not why yours didn’t come back. We don’t have all the answers we need.” You heard him, but you were too hopeful. You were practically bouncing in your seat.

“So who it this guy anyway?” you asked, pressing for more answers. You had already made up your mind to find whoever it was and drag them back to wherever to get your planet back.

“I said hold on. Your world was artificial, so the home you knew is gone,” Leon said, and you felt yourself bursting with anticipation, knowing he had more to say, “But the people who lived there are tied to their original home which can mean that bringing back your first world may restore everyone. But this is just a theory.”

“That’s another question I have,” you interrupted again, “why was Spaceship Earth able to fall?”

“That’s a bit tricky. Every world has a heart, and to this heart the people are tied. Every heart is a mix of light and dark, and good people have hearts that are primarily light and bad people, primarily dark. When a world falls by natural means, it typically means that the darkness has over taken the light. These are rare cases. However, if an outside source of darkness is introduced, the process can be sped up and darkness can consume the world much more quickly.” You were practically on the edge of your seat at his words.

“So how does that guy you were talking about fit into all this?”

“His name is Sora,” Leon spoke, and you nodded, hanging on his every word. “He’s a keyblade wielder. Like you.

You froze, swallowing thickly. You felt like you should say something, but you didn’t know what.

At least I’m not alone in this.

“He was the one who brought the worlds back once they were destroyed. And we were thinking that maybe he could help you out too. You see his world had also fallen to darkness, though I don’t know the specifics of it. I can guess it happened the same way yours fell. The heartless might have been drawn to your keyblade.”

The world seemed to stop at those words. Or at least your world did. Your head felt heavy. You felt your stomach churn. You stood on shaky legs.

“What?” Your voice was little more than a whimper and your lips felt numb. You felt dizzy again, but not because of the air this time. Blood was pounding in your ears.

Your fault.

All your fault.

“Are you going to be okay?” Leon looked alarmed. You looked queasy. Your breath was coming quickly and shallowly. You stumbled through the door and leaned on the wall outside.

“I did this,” you choked out.

MY fault.

All MY fault.

ALL MY FAULT.

“________, you couldn’t have known!” Yuffie tried to reason with you. Aerith stood by you, reaching out to set a hand on your shoulder, and you jerked back from her touch as if she were trying to stab you and not comfort you. Meanwhile in your head you kept hearing the words, “All your fault,” in the accusing voices of the friends and family you had lost – Genki’s the loudest of all.

And you ran.

You ran from your family. The voices. Everything until you couldn’t run anymore until the only sound was that of your heart beating too fast and your breath getting jagged and begging you to stop. You took in your surroundings for a short moment, finding yourself back in the gardens from the night before.

Then you threw up in one of the planters, collapsing to your knees. You kept thinking about it, but with nothing left in your stomach, you just dry heaved. You rested your head on the cool stone on the ground. It felt nice on your skin which seemed to be burning up.

“Uh, are you…okay?”

The voice startled you, and you jolted upright, keyblade at the ready. When you saw that it was just the handsome stranger from the night before, you relaxed. Your eyes landed on your keyblade, and you groaned. Your stomach churned again, and you threw the stupid sword off to the side.

“Bad food?” he asked. You let out a dry, humorless chuckle. If only that were all it was.

“No,” you rasped out, “I just learned that I’ve basically killed my entire planet. They were drawn to my keyblade, and maybe, just maybe if I’d have said something to someone about it. Maybe we could have stopped it.”

“Hmm, I doubt it. Planets touched by darkness tend to fall sooner or later.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” He just shrugged.

“It’s the truth, but hey since you’re a keyblade wielder, there’s hope.”

“Hope?”

“Yeah, I mean, keyblade wielders can save worlds as well as draw darkness to them.” You stood up at that, marveling at the words he’d just said. You hadn’t even considered that. Everyone had talked about how Sora brought back worlds with the power of his keyblade, and maybe he could bring yours back. Or maybe you could. You paced back and forth a bit, tossing the idea around in your head. You didn’t even know where to begin.

The stranger’s eyes lingered on you, watching you pace back and forth with a fierce look of determination and ferocity in your eyes that seemed all but dead when he first met you and when he saw you again when you were tossing your pancakes into a planter.

When you tired of pacing in the same area and began to wander, he followed you. You were quiet.

Then you abruptly stopped and whirled around to face him, surprising him mildly. You looked at him with bright, intense eyes that showed all the fight you had in you.

“Do you think I can really do that? Can I undo all the harm I’ve caused?”

He shrugged.

“Maybe.”

“That’s good enough for me!” you said brightly as you began to jog back to your temporary home. Then you stopped and turned to look at him. He hadn’t moved from where you left him. He was watching you closely.

“What’s your name?” you asked him, a soft smile gracing your features. He offered his own smile, though it was closer to a smirk.

“Axel,” he supplied, tapping his temple, “Got it memorized?”

You smiled more broadly.

“_______,” you said hastily before taking off in the direction of your family again.

A moment later, just when you had turned out of sight of him a corridor of darkness appeared. Axel turned his eyes from the direction you disappeared into to look to see who was coming through. Icy blue hair and cold amber eyes. A crease between his brow as he frowned at Axel pointed down to the x shaped scar in the center of his face.

“Saix,” Axel greeted.

“She’s still alive.” It was a statement, not a question. Axel hummed in acknowledgement of his little announcement, feeling Saix’s amber eyes bore into the side of his face. “Why?”

“I felt kinda bad for her.” And he really did.

“You’re an assassin. Get over it.”

“Did you know that yesterday was the first time she saw the moon?”

A moment of silence passed between the two as they silently regarded each other.

“Don’t get careless, Axel. You’re still on thin ice.”

~

“It’s not fair!” You sounded just like a child. And you were being treated like one. Regarding your panic attack earlier, your mother deemed it best if you were left out of the investigation of Ansem’s castle. They didn’t know what they may find in the journals that lay within, and your mother didn’t want to send you into another blind panic. And you were livid.

It was as much your home as hers! You had a right to know. But they’d been adamant. To add insult to injury, they stuck you with a babysitter!

“Figment, keep an eye on her, and make sure she doesn’t get into trouble,” they had said.

You were furiously pacing your room, trying to find a solution to your problem.

“I don’t get it, Figment,” you ranted, “I finally have the will to do something. Realize that I can do something, and I’m not even allowed to get involved!”

Figment rolled his eyes. He would be no help, of that you were sure. You flopped onto your bed to hatch a plan.

~

Meanwhile deep in Ansem’s castle, past the twisting, turning halls, in the study were your mother, von Drake, and Leon searching through journals upon journals of information. Ansem was nowhere to be found as Leon had stated the day before, but he’d left a plethora of information behind on his experiments.

“This is it!” your mother exclaimed, holding an old worn journal in her hands, the spine worn from use. Ludwig and Leon crowded nearby to read the information within. She flipped to the most recent entry.

A discovery was made about the hearts of worlds. They hold everything and everyone together. Just as people can connect their hearts to each other, so are the hearts of the people connected to the world. It has led me to believe that all sentient life bears a connection to its planet of origin. This means that should my world fall to darkness, if the heart of the world could be restored, so could the people I’ve sworn protect.

Experiments were conducted on a world not too far from my own in another realm. The planet is called Kelewenya. I, as well as my apprentice Xehanort, studied it at a distance at first, but any attempt to tamper with the heart proved to be too dangerous to the inhabitants as the heart of the world directly affects the physical aspects of it such as weather, tectonic plate movement, fertility of the soil, etc. Due to the unpredictability of the world, I’ve decided to abandon research on it until a safer mean of experimentation can be conducted.

Your mother turned the page where the writing continued.

I’ve a theory that a world’s heart contains a will like that of a person. If such is true, then it is possible for it to linger even after its destruction. This may be the key to retrieving worlds fallen to darkness or opening possibilities for new ones.

“That can’t be all,” your mother despaired. But as she continued to turn page after page in the book nothing came up. It was just blank and empty.

“Don’t worry. We’re not down and out yet, my dear,” von Drake said as he gave her hand a light pat. “There is one more person who may have answers. He may not know too much about the hearts of worlds and so on, but he was close to Ansem the Wise when I was here. He may know where to find him.”

“Who?” your mother asked as she set the book down on the table.

“The king of the world I hail from.”

~

You skipped dinner that night, throwing yourself into your bed to sleep so you could wake up early. You were going to that castle. Oh, yes. They could try to keep you out, but you were going with or without their knowledge.

You dreamed that night. You dreamed of fish with opalescent tails and birds with rainbow feathers. The day was bright, and the air was warm. The night was bathed in purple light from the pink and green moons in the sky. You heard light piano music tinkling through the night, and you danced through the stars. You danced to the applause of many and you were on the stage during a recital you remembered from 8th grade. You stepped off the stage accepting flowers from everyone. Someone tapped you on your shoulder. You turned. It was a girl, roughly your age. She had the bluest eyes you had ever seen. She was speaking, but you couldn’t hear her.

When you awoke the room was dark. You quickly blinked the sleep out of your eyes. You picked up a small satchel lying near the wardrobe. You’d bring it back. You’d be back before anyone could notice hopefully. Figment, who had been sleeping nearby in his own little bed, blinked open an eye and saw you busying yourself with getting dressed then closed it again.

You froze as you heard a soft knock on the window. Your breath hitched. It was far too early for any reasonable person to be up. You looked over to the window, heart pounding.

It was Axel. But… why?

You briskly walked over to the window and opened it, leaning out to look at him. You narrowed your eyes suspiciously at him.

“Are you following me?” You’d had no problem with him before, but you’d never told him where you were staying, and seeing him here now had several alarms going off in your head.

He just smirked and against your will, you felt some of those alarms quiet. Something about the way he was looking at you made you want to go along with whatever he was planning, some weird mischievous part of you was screaming for adventure. But you still waited for an answer to your question.

“Wanna go watch the sunrise?” Your eyes widened, not expecting him to say that of all things. You bit your lip to keep down a big, excited grin that was trying to take over your face. You tried to say no, to force the word passed your lips and be smart about this – to not run off with someone you’d just met only two days ago who was now suggesting you leave in the middle of the night with him.

You nodded vigorously. You so desperately wanted to see the sun rise!

His smile broadened, and he climbed down from the window with you following close behind him. Figment reopened his eyes in time to see you climbing out of the window. Alarms went off for Figment then too – but much more literally in his case. He tried to chase you out the window, but you closed it before he could. He rammed into the glass head first and passed out on the floor, stars circling overhead.

Chapter Text

This. This was the most beautiful moment of your life. You wanted to cry, but happily this time. The town below was bathed in a warm, orange glow as the sunlight slowly creeped over it. The sky was splashed with orange and red and pale blue that swam and swirled in the sky as the sun moved higher. It felt alive. Warmth crept over your form as the shadows and darkness were pushed back from you. This felt nice. This felt like stepping into a new world, and it made a warmth rise inside you that bubbled passed your lips in a giggle of giddy excitement.

Axel glanced at you from the corner of his eye. You were like a child, over excited over something so mundane that he’d seen time and again. Your eyes were wide, face aglow with sunlight. You were biting the corner of your lip. He shook his head at your reaction.

You turned to look at him with your doe-like eyes, a broad smile on your face. If you’d had suspicions about him before, you’d all but forgotten about them now.

“Thanks,” you said softly as if you didn’t want to wake the town that sat so far below where the two of you were, “for this, I mean. It’s beautiful.” Axel just shrugged in response, a small smile on his face that he wasn’t even aware of. He turned back to the sunrise. The orange glow made his red hair seem impossibly redder and contrasted softly against the seafoam green of his eyes.

The two of you continued to watch the sun rise until it was a decent way above the horizon line and the sky was bluer than it had been but still decently balanced with a wash of warm colors mixed in.

“What were you doing up so early anyway?” he asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had settled over the two of you.

“I’m going to go get some answers. My mom was worried about what answers they’d find in the castle and wouldn’t let me go. I’m going to go find those answers anyway.” Axel quietly regarded you for a moment as you fiddled with the strap of the satchel that was slung over your shoulder, debating his next move.

“You really think the castle has what you’re looking for, huh?” he asked, eyes studying your face intently. You fought the urge to fidget under his gaze, steadying your breath you gazed back before responding.

“Yup,” you said, nodding, “I can feel it in my gut.” And you did. The surety of your decision sat heavily in your mind and you doubted anyone would be able to convince you otherwise at this point. But you’d always been so stubborn.

He considered this further then stood up, stretching, a few joints in his shoulders, popping as he did so. He rolled his shoulders and neck and you sat watching him. He was really tall.

“Alright. Let’s go,” he said starting to walk to the castle. You scrambled to stand up and caught up with him.

“What? You’re coming to?”

“Yeah, I used to sneak in there all the time.” Your eyes widened. Sneak into the castle? For what?

“Why?”

“S’ not important.” That was all he had to say on the matter, and you let it go. He obviously didn’t want to talk about it. You walked quietly together for a while.

“Hey, Axel,” you began, he looked down at you, “How… do you know so much about keyblades?”

“I used to know someone who had one once upon a time.”

“Was it Sora?” You’d heard so much about this Sora kid lately, you just assumed it was.

“No.”

Hmm. Short answers again. That’s another no-no topic, you guessed. You thought about another topic of conversation, trying to keep the silence from being awkward because you kept venturing into forbidden conversation when he spoke instead.

“Tell me something, ________,” he began, “Do you have any idea what you might be getting into?” Your brow furrowed in confusion. “You have to at least imagine that restoring an entire planet and its people won’t be easy.”

You actually hadn’t considered it.

“I hadn’t actually,” you mumbled, “But it hardly matters. What kind of person would I be if I knew I could do something and didn’t?” Axel observed you for a moment. That look of determination from the day before when he first said you could bring your planet back was in your eyes again.

“If that’s how you feel about it,” he concluded, “then you do what you gotta do.”

~

Figment blinked his eyes open. His head was killing him, and he was seeing swirling stars. What happened? Then he remembered. You! Climbing out of a window! He couldn’t remember what prompted you to do so, only that you were sneaking out and he was supposed to be watching you. He got up and flew to your mother’s room to wake her then to von Drake to alert him as well.

~

“Stay close,” Axel instructed as the two of you entered the castle. It was big. Your eyes were upon the tall ceilings. Columns carved out of marble and marble tile and hard wood flooring. Stone walls where the occasional tapestry hung between large ornate windows.

“I’ve never been inside a castle before,” you said as you trailed behind Axel down a set of stairs that led to what had to be the basement.

“Did you know Ansem when he lived here?” you asked, looking at the sharp contrast of the basement walls in comparison to those on the first floor. These walls were a beige-y brown with metal supports all through out.

“I knew of him and briefly knew him for a while, but not for very long. The castle was abandoned not long after….” Hmmm.

“One of my friends said he was doing things in his lab. Uh… sketchy things…. Do you know anything about that?”

“Things like what?”

“Um… I don’t really know,” you mumbled.

“Now that you mention it, what do you know? You’re here in an abandoned castle you don’t know the layout of in the dark with someone you can’t even say you barely know, and you’re looking for answers to questions you don’t know you should be asking?” He stopped walking and you stopped just a step in front of him.

“I guess I don’t know anything,” you looked up at him defiantly, “What I do know is that the carpet’s been ripped out from underneath me, and I’m learning things that I never would have believed existed. Like other worlds or magical swords. I don’t know what questions to ask. I don’t know what answers to seek, but I won’t learn anything if I don’t try. And right now this castle and your guidance are my best bet.”

“How do you know you can trust me?”

A beat of silence passed between you.

“I don’t know. But you’re all I’ve got.”

The two of you continued walking after a bit, you actively reconsidering trusting Axel but not too much. If he were going to hurt you, he’d have done by now, yes? He’s had you alone and away from everyone more than enough times. You were lost in thought for a while, slowly trailing further and further behind Axel the deeper in your thoughts you sunk. It was then that you’d seen something out of the corner of your eye. And without rhyme or reason went after it, turning through halls this way and that, always just shy of what was rounding corners. You’d no idea what it was, but what if it was a person? Someone with answers? You slowed. Or a threat…. You looked around. Axel was no where in sight. You were on your own now. You tried to back track. Which way was it again?

There were plenty of hallways branching off from the one the two of you had been in. It would be easy to get lost in the labyrinthian maze.

So it was really annoying, and let me stress really annoying when Axel heard your footsteps echoing off in some random direction he was not currently in. He stopped and turned the nearest corner he thought you might have gone down, but you were not there – probably having sprinted literally anywhere for any fucking reason he could not fathom.

Unless…. You saw something or someone?

“Shit,” he muttered, doubling his efforts to find you before anyone else could.

Meanwhile you had stumbled upon a door at the end of a hall way that was just a bit more ornately decorated than the others. You grabbed the handle, twisting it slowly and pushing open the door. You’d no idea what awaited you on the other side.

Thankfully, the room was devoid of life. There was only a large circular room with a crescent desk in the center. Lining the walls were several short bookshelves full of what you could only assume were the journals your mother, Pops, and Leon had come to investigate. You approached several large… you could only really describe them as cannisters or displays. Inside were several floating purple hearts. They were beautiful. But… were these the hearts they spoke of? Should you be horrified right now? Or are these different from what you had recently learned of. Up until now, you hadn’t assumed what the heart of a person might look like unless they were talking about a heart in the medical sense. This was an entirely new concept to you. Your fingers brushed over the cool glass as you looked at the hearts inside that glimmered like jewels. You then turned your attention to books. There were so many. How would you find the ones you needed? Then you spied an open book on the desk.

You approached the desk, eyeing the journal warily. What would you find in these?

You’re looking for answers to questions you don’t know you should be asking.

You shook your head and pushed Axel’s words to the back of your mind. You took the book and began to quickly flip through it, reading some pages, scanning most. You went through it rather quickly. You noticed the empty slot in the bookcase where it came from and began to work backwards through the journals, finding more than you were prepared to handle. But you bit back any possible horror and pushed through.

~

Axel rounded another corner that you were still not around before he saw three corridors of darkness appear in front of him. He let out a groan and rolled his eyes.

Out of the corridors stepped Saix, and two blondes – a tall one with platinum blonde hair twirling a playing card between his fingers and a shorter one with honey blonde hair and a cocky swagger to his walk.

“Axel,” Saix said in a tone that was none too pleased with him, “What are you doing? She’s going to find out far more than any keyblade wielder should.”

“Relax,” Axel said with a small “calm down” gesture, “I was trying to keep her from finding out too much. But then she got away from me. You know this place is like a maze.”

None of them looked too pleased with his answer, except for Demyx who looked far too amused for his own good.

“Do you think this is a game? That you can play with a target like a cat with a mouse? This should have been the simplest task. So why is she still breathing?”

“The situation isn’t exactly out of hand,” Axel started before Saix cut him off.

“Yes. It is. I’m ending this,” he said, summoning dusks with a wave of his hand. They appeared before them, sleek, silvery bodies writhing as they awaited orders. “Find the keyblade wielder. Kill her.” And with that the dusks flew off in flash of contracting and extending, distorted limbs to search the castle for you.

“And what am I going to do?” Axel asked casually, “Or is there any particular reason you brought Luxord and Demyx?” He gestured to the taller and shorter blondes respectively.

“Nothing. We’re only here to keep an eye on you. I’m afraid letting you continue this job is a gamble we can’t risk. Not after the Namine and Roxas business,” Luxord stated with a smirk. Axel glared at him.

“Whatever,” he snarked.

~

As you were sifting through a journal, you heard a shout.

It was more like screaming actually. It started low but then it kept getting louder. You stood abruptly and ran to the door to see what was approaching you, keyblade drawn and at the ready. You saw Figment flying at you at full speed with Ludwig latched onto his tail, hanging on for dear life and screaming. You backed out of the way just in time to avoid being bowled over by the two of them, almost falling on your ass as you did. Figment stopped abruptly, flinging Ludwig face first into the wall.

You wished you could say you were happy to see them, but you felt angry more than anything. You picked up the journal you were reading along with several others and started to hurl them at Ludwig. He had just barely recovered from pulling his head out of the wall, just in time to dodge the books you were throwing.

“AAH! Why with the books and the throwing and the hurting of poor Ludwig!?” he shouted, hitting the floor to avoid more of the books. That was about when your mother came damn near sprinting into the room.

“_________  __________  ___________!” Oh you knew you were in trouble when she used your full name, “I can’t believe you would go against me and come here without anyone with you. It could be dangerous. You don’t know what’s down here!” Leon jogged in after that.

“You’re yelling at me?! If Pops had even an inkling of what was going on in this place, all your anger for the rest of your life should be directed at him!” You whirled around to face him. He was standing there fidgeting guiltily while simultaneously wondering if you were going to start throwing things again. You did, picking up more journals and chucking them at him. “You knew, didn’t you?! All those experiments! All those people! The hearts of so many worlds! The heart of my world!”

Before Ludwig had a chance to explain himself, writhing bodies rapidly slither into the room. You scream. They did not look natural. They did not move natural. And, honestly, they were freaking you out. Regardless, you fought them. Granted, your hesitation cost you a few hits and caused you to take a few, but you managed. Leon, of course, helped as well seeing as how he was the more experienced fighter. It did not take too much to fight the creatures off, but more arrived shortly after.

“We need to get out of here!” Leon ordered.

And that’s what you all did. You followed Leon, who knew his way around the castle far better than you did, stopping occasionally to fight the monsters off when there grew to be too many following you. It would be bad to be cornered, outnumbered, and outmatched.

The maze seemed to go on forever, as did the battles. You were exhausted by the time you made your way to the ground floor, bursting through the doors and into fresh air.

“Go! Find the king!” Leon instructed as he turned to face your attackers, blade at the ready.

You ran towards the ship, still in its spot from when you first arrived, while Leon held off the remaining dusks that had followed you to the surface. Then a sudden thought stopped you.

Axel.

“Wait! My friend is inside!”

“What friend?” your mother asked, stopping as abruptly as you did.

“I’ll find them. Just go!” Leon instructed. You were worried. Very worried. You hadn’t seen Axel on your way out, and you weren’t sure just how many of these things were running around the castle. But then you felt a sharp yank on your arm as your mom all but dragged you into the ship.

“Are we really leaving? Just like that?” you asked as you stumbled into the ship on tired, shaky legs and buckled up. Ludwig started the ship.

“We have to. If we go anywhere else, they’ll just follow us there. We have to leave before we cause any trouble for the town,” Ludwig explained as the ship was rising.

You looked below as Leon took out a wave of dusks. You hoped both he and Axel would be okay.

~

“She’s escaping. Again,” Saix said, leveling a harsh glare at Axel who responded with a smirk.

“Well if you hadn’t acted rashly, I could’ve taken her out once I found her,” Axel replied smoothly as he watched the ship take off, “But you just had to intervene.”

Luxord chuckled then left in haze of black.

“Axel has a point,” Demyx laughed, obnoxiously playing a riff on his sitar. Saix, not having any of it, grabbed the sitar and broke it before giving it back to him and leaving through his own corridor.

Axel watched as the ship flew out of sight until it was just a speck.

“You know,” Demyx began casually, a little too casually, “She was pretty cute. I know I wouldn’t want to be the one to kill her.” With that, Demyx went through his own corridor and left Axel there contemplating his next move.

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe you would be so reckless! You could have died down there, ________! Then what am I supposed to do? If Figment hadn’t warned us, who knows what might have happened to you!”

“Well I wouldn’t have been down there if you’d trusted me enough to see what was down there. I know I didn’t have the best reaction before, but you’d be pretty messed up too if you found out that you’re the sole cause for the deaths of billions of people. You can’t keep sheltering me! I want to help!”

“Ugh, Ludwig, back me up here. Tell her it wasn’t safe down there and that she could’ve died!”

“Well that’s an interesting thing,” Ludwig began, taking his glasses off to clean them, “One thing I noticed after we were attacked was that there were only two people who were not totally helpless. And we were not either one of them. ________ was definitely in danger and probably wouldn’t have made it were it not for Leon. But that raises the point where it’s already been stated that monsters will find her just for having a keyblade. It’s probably best that we get someone to train her to use it. But for now, it’s probably best that we find the king and get some answers before focusing on her battle readiness.”

“Speaking of Ansem,” you begin, narrowing your eyes at von Drake, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop those experiments from happening?”

“I-I-I told you. I was doing my own work at the time!”

“That’s not good enough! You didn’t do anything! How many died because of this?!”

“It wasn’t that simple! I was threatened! Not by Ansem but his apprentices. They needed me to keep quiet when I found out they were continuing the experiments. Ansem had stopped, but that didn’t stop his apprentices. His closest, a young fellow by the name of Xehanort, was heading the experiments. I knew I probably should have done something, but I didn’t know what. When I checked the heart of Kelewenya, which was one of the planets they kept tampering with, it was close to the final stage of a heart’s collapse.”

“The weather,” you mother whispered, “It’d been getting worse. The world was in a state of panic. Scientists couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

“I lied and told Ansem that it had been growing steadily unstable since the beginning – before he called off his experiments. He gave me the green light for the building of Spaceship Earth. He thought he was atoning for his actions, but we were both just trying to atone for my silence.”

A moment of silence passed between all of you.

“The journals mentioned something about a man named Xehanort. Who was he exactly?” your mother asked after a minute of uncomfortable silence. You don’t think she knew how to feel. You didn’t.

“I can’t really say. Not much was known about him when he was found. He’d lost all of his memory, and Ansem tried to tap into it – simultaneously trying to unlock the secrets of the heart and mind, but he found it unsafe and abandoned the project.”

You let out a frustrated sigh. It seemed every lead was a dead end for you right now.

“Well… Do you have a theory of what happened to Kelewenya at least?” you asked.

“All we know is that the heart of the world was tampered with, and Xehanort had something to do with it.”

“We need to find a way to bring it back,” you said determinedly.

“That’s assuming it can be brought back at all,” von Drake cautioned. There was no need to get your hopes up. But they were already up, and you would search to the ends of the multiverse to restore your world.

“It can be,” you said with confidence. “Those journals said new worlds were possible when old ones fell, that worlds could be restored. They said that the will of its heart lingers even when it’s gone. I’m going to bring it back, and if not me, then I’ll find someone who will.”

Your mother stilled. For a moment, you were someone else. You were a woman she did not recognize. That’s not to say it was in a bad way. She just, for the smallest instant, did not recognize you. For a moment, you weren’t her daughter. You were a keyblade wielder – a protector of worlds, as Leon had told her the night you first snuck out. She shook the thought from her mind, and when she looked at you, you were her daughter once more.

You all went about your business for the next few hours, however little business there was to go about. Your thoughts almost consistently drifted to Axel and Leon and if they were okay. But you managed distraction. Leon was a capable fighter. He’d be alright. Maybe you could visit at some point to make sure. You’d ask Pops after your visit to the next world.

You and your mother each tried to read some of the books von Drake kept around, but they were wordy and boring. And honestly, you both had no interest in The Universe of Energy, World of Motion, or Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Then you noticed a book that was a bit different from the others. It was a burgundy book with gold plating along the edges of the spine. It didn’t have a title on the side. You pulled it out, flipping to a random page in the middle where you saw that it was a journal.

You probably shouldn’t read it, but… You glanced over to your mother, Ludwig, and Figment. They were all occupied for now.

You turned your attention back to the book, walking as casually as possible to your bed to lay down and read.

~

Nothing. That was all Axel could think of every time he found himself sitting in this room. It was white and empty except for the symbol of the Organization in center of the floor and thirteen thrones that once held each member of the Organization. A few of them were empty now.

He had a hand in that.

Now what was left were gathered here, sitting in their respectively ranked chairs – awaiting orders. Or in his case a speech on how he was incompetent. He sat there leaning on the armrest, one of his legs propped up in the seat. He looked bored. Nothing was really happening.

Although, there were two familiar faces that he wasn’t expecting to see so soon.

“I don’t think I need to start out by stating the obvious. Marluxia and Larxene have rejoined our ranks. Though now they’ll be under heavy watch after circumstances have shown that too much trust in them can prove counterproductive,” Xemnas began.

Axel let out a snort. Xigbar and Demyx openly laughed.

“Now for the main concern of this meeting,” Xemnas stated, and Axel could feel more than one pair of eyes land on him. Though he continued not making eye contact, looking as if he had better things to do.

“The young keyblade wielder yet lives. Too inexperienced to be of any assistance obtaining hearts and close enough to our actual target to be a nuisance. Would you care to explain yourself?”

“I was going to take care of her in the castle. It would’ve been a good place to look like she had a little accident as opposed to an open murder in the town. But she got away. Then someone else interfered,” he said smoothly, eyes sliding over to Saix who narrowed his eyes at him, “That pretty much assured I wouldn’t get her.”

“Saix, care to clarify your decision?”

“It didn’t appear that Axel was going to kill her. I made a judgment call and erred in my decision. I have trouble trusting Axel to be able to do his job.”

Axel rolled his eyes. Though he knew why he may not be trusted to carry out his job in light of more recent events.

“How did your little assassinating job go on Spaceship Earth, Saix?” Axel said in a lighthearted tone. “If I’m not mistaken, your target and mine were in the same room together. You could’ve done that, and you wouldn’t have to trust me to do this job.”

“I’m confused about that actually,” Demyx spoke up, “Why can’t we just use her like we did Roxas? She’s a keyblade wielder, but not acting against us like Sora. That’s good right?”

“True,” Xemnas answered, “She may be of use to us but since we no longer have Namine as a means of controlling memories, she’ll remember exactly how she became a nobody.” Then he looked to Axel who minutely stiffened under his gaze. Xemnas was honestly the only person who could make him feel uncomfortable here anymore. But that was for good reason.

“If we can make her death appear to be an accident, we may be able to convince her to join our cause so she can be recompleted.”

He knew his orders. He was still trusted to kill her, but to be discrete about it.

“Axel,” Saix called, “Don’t let this be another Roxas situation. I think we all remember how that turned out for you.” A few of the other members of the Organization chuckled.

“Fuck you,” Axel spat, leveling a harsh glare at a smirking Saix.

The meeting essentially over, they each left, leaving only Axel and Demyx behind.

“That was harsh.” He could assume that he was referring to what Saix said, but he wasn’t having any of it right now – comfort or not.

“Piss off. I’m not in the mood.”

A beat of silence passed.

“Are you gonna kill her?”

“Yeah. But on my terms and in my own time.”

~

03/05/83

I’ve created life! Or, rather, something like it…. It’s sentient either way! A loveable fellow that is as keen on the capabilities of the mind as I! A small dragon-like creature with two tiny wings, eyes (big and yellow), horns of a steer, and covered head to toe in royal purple pigment. I’ve decided to name him Figment. He’s truly a wonder! He can change shape and size – though he grows no higher than about two feet tall. And he doesn’t speak! But those are just his physical attributes. He can travel into the mind of any living being at will! And talks! But only once inside the mind! In fact, once inside the mind it seems his limitations on size and conjuring ability (where he could only conjure up things for his size alone) have all but vanished!

I think I’ll knit him a sweater!

~Dreamfinder

This must be the man who was holding Figment in that photo in Pops’ lab! You thought about the man with the bushy beard holding Figment. You skipped ahead to the last entry.

11/05/97

Something’s happened. A tragedy I could not have foreseen. As it turns out, the scientists thought to merely be studying Kelewenya, have been steadily killing it. A plan was made by my friend Professor von Drake to circumvent the casualties of such a catastrophic event, but I fear the worst has yet to come.

On top of that, it came to our attention that several engineers had gone missing without a trace. Von Drake refuses to investigate it. But I was approached by another engineer, an old friend of mine who has stumbled upon a dark discovery indeed. However, he was the only witness to the admission of the dark goings on behind the slow destruction of Kelewenya.

Tonight I shall retrieve his memories using my dreamcatcher. Using my own technology to convert those memories into physical data, we can reveal the plot of those behind the destruction of this planet and put a stop to the experimentation on the hearts of worlds.

I won’t tell anyone. If word should spread then the lives of all who know this terrible secret will be at stake, and I would not wish to add more casualties to those who have already fallen or may fall when the inevitable end of the world is upon us.

~Dreamfinder

You closed the book with shaking hands. Dreamfinder was Figment’s creator. He disappeared. You remembered what von Drake had said. You feared the worst. He’d probably been caught as no one on Spaceship Earth knew the dark history of why it existed. And von Drake had not even known what happened to his friend or the engineers. You could guess what had happened to at least some of them.

You sat up with the book in your lap, gasping when you saw that Ludwig was standing nearby. You glanced at your mother who sat in her chair, flipping through another wordy book with a vacant expression in her eyes. Figment was reading his own book in your chair. Your eyes met Ludwig’s once more.

“It’s all I have left of him. I don’t know what happened to him… But I can assume.”

“Does Figment know?” you asked as you sent another glance his way.

“No, I just haven’t had the heart to tell him.” You nodded slowly. You didn’t need to be told to keep your mouth shut about this. You wouldn’t have known how to tell him anyway.

“I’m sorry,” you said. You put the book back on the shelf before deciding it was maybe time for bed. You snuggled under your blankets, seeing that your mother was doing the same and wishing her good night and sweet dreams.

Your mother went to sleep almost immediately, but you were a bit more fidgety – despite being tired as you were. You looked over to Figment in his little him-sized bed. He had a small reading light on and was flipping through a thick book.

“Whatcha readin’?” He looked up at you over his tiny reading glasses. He shows you the cover. The Stand.

“Huh,” you muse, “Hey, Figment?”

He looked at you patiently as you gathered your thoughts together. You so desperately wanted to ask about Dreamfinder, but found you had trouble even really thinking about it. All those horrible experiments. Was Dreamfinder one of the victims?

“I, um…” You fumble through your mind for a new topic before one hit you, “Thank you for looking out for me today! I mean I think I can take care of myself but thank you for being there anyway!”

He nods his acknowledgement. But now you had a request to ask now that you thought about it.

“Can I ask a favor though?” He squints at you suspiciously. “I’m not totally helpless or stupid. I know no one else will, so can I ask that when you’re looking out for me, you trust my judgment.”

He gives you a skeptical look.

“I know today wasn’t the best example, but you know I’m not an idiot. I can do this. I know I can. I just need someone to have a little faith in me.”

He continues to look at you skeptically but eventually nods his agreement. You smile widely at him before flopping onto your back. You yawn and begin to drift away, the drowsiness that had previously been pulling on your eyelids now slipping them closed entirely.

~

The girl. You’d dreamed about her before… She had the impossibly blue eyes. She was dressed all in white, her pale blonde hair cascading over her shoulder. She’s speaking but no sound is coming out. You read her lips and just barely catch the last words out of her mouth.

“The Old Mansion.”

You’re in front of it. You know this is the place. You place a hand on the doorknob, and something seems to resonate deep within you. Something is here.

You push the door open, but when you take a step through, you just find yourself back home.

You’re in a park on Spaceship Earth, balancing on the lip of a fountain while Genki smiles up to you. Only… he doesn’t have a scar on his face. And he’s younger. Quite a few years younger now. Looked at your reflection in the water, you realize you are too.

This night feels familiar. Something is going to happen.

“Why did you stop dancing?” You look back to him. You’re going to answer, but you notice shadows writhing out of the corner of your eye. They close in quickly before a brilliant, white light surrounds you, and the next thing you know, the familiar weight of your keyblade was in your hand. But it was different. It was just a key now, and it wouldn’t change shape yet. It wouldn’t become what you had named Pathfinder for at least a year.

When Genki gets his scar.

Chapter Text

“________,” your mom shook you gently, “Sweetie, wake up. We’re about to land.”

You wake up disoriented. This… wasn’t your room. She was not waking you up for one of your classes.

“Where am I?” you mumble as it all comes rushing back to you. Oh yeah. This isn’t a dream.

“Are you alright?” your mother asked when a look of sadness passed over your features.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Are we there yet?”

“Yes, we’re about to land.”

You got up quickly and went to your seat just as the ship descended through the clouds. The moon was high in the sky. Hey… Those didn’t look like regular clouds. They looked drawn – like with outlines and everything. Below the buildings resembled painted backgrounds until you got close enough to see their outlines as well. But all the scenery quickly vanished as you descended into a ship hangar which seemed void of any ships. Or at least the area where you were was, as it seemed to stretch quite far.

“Home sweet home!” von Drake announced. He seemed giddy as he hopped from his seat with more energy than he normally had, a little bounce to his step. So this was where he was from….

Figment also flapped around giddily, eager to see what was, no doubt, his home as well.

Ludwig opened the door almost immediately while your mother and you were still unbuckling your seats.

“Professor von Drake!” you heard two rather high pitch voices announce. So he was known around the castle? Did he used to work here? “What a surprise! We certainly weren’t expecting you back, well, ever!”

“Yes, yes! I know! It’s not every day I can grace the masses with the presence of my superior intellect!”

“Ok, wow, never mind.”

“And it’s good to be home!” Ludwig continued as if he hadn’t just ruined his own welcome.

“And look! It’s Figment! Have you heard from Dreamfinder?”

You froze at the door.

“Uh, no. Unfortunately. We still haven’t, uh, heard anything from him. I can assume you haven’t either?”

“No.” They sounded somber. You took this moment to exit the ship. You were greeted with the sight two of the most adorable little chipmunks you had ever seen! The “aww” was out of your mouth before you could stop yourself.

“Who’s that?” the one with the little red nose asked.

“Oh that’s my niece,” he clarified. They gave you a look.

“Yeah, I see the resemblance.” You… weren’t sure how to take that.

“Anyway, what can we do ya for?” the chipmunk with the little black nose asked.

“We’re here on official business! And we’ll need to speak to the proper authorities immediately.” He began to march off in a random direction. You assumed if he knew people here, he might know his way around the castle. Your mother stepped off the ship and marched ahead of you.

“________,” your mother turned to face you. “Ludwig and I had a chat.” Her face was stern. What did you do now? Did he tell her you’d read someone’s private journal? Was that a punishable offense now?

“I… We don’t think you should come see the king with us.”

“What?!”

“After that last stunt you pulled, I’m not even sure how deep you should be in this whole thing.”

“B-but this is exactly what happened last time! I only went to the castle because I wasn’t allowed to go! You can’t keep doing this!”

Your mother considered this for a moment. She looked like she was warring with herself.

“You’re right,” she admitted. You almost celebrated but deemed it inappropriate for the time. “BUT I don’t want you to go in there with us. Maybe go explore the town? Ludwig said it was safe and protected from darkness, and there would be plenty of things to do to keep you occupied. And I’ll cut a deal with you.”

You squinted suspiciously.

“If you can promise you’ll stay out of trouble and don’t do anything reckless or irresponsible from now on, I’ll tell you any information I think you should hear.”

You weren’t too keen on the deal. That could honestly mean that she could tell you any number of things – and not necessarily anything you needed to know. You also knew she was making this deal more out of worry rather than respect for your own personal wishes. But you didn’t have many options.

“Deal,” you said with a pout, folding your arms over your chest. She smiled regardless of your childish behavior.

You spun around on your heel to walk out of the hangar, heading towards a door with a flashing exit sign above it. You were going to go take a better peek at that moon, and if it were late/early enough maybe see another sunrise.

Then you thought about Axel again, and another wave of worry hit you for his and Leon’s wellbeing. You shook your head of the thought. You couldn’t do anything about it. You were sure they were fine. Or, at least, you tried to convince yourself as much.

Your mother watched you exit the hangar before motioning for Figment, who’d been patiently waiting on her, to come over. He flapped over.

“I have a favor to ask,” she began, “I want to trust my daughter. I really do, but she’s always been a bit of hassle when it came to following rules. I know she’s not a bad kid, but could you keep an eye on her? Discretely.”

Figment blinked. Babysitting again? Well, at least he’d get to see the town as opposed to just sitting in the castle for the remainder of their visit. He nodded.

“Thank you, Figment. I owe you one.”

~

You stood outside the castle walls looking at the moon.

As it turned out, it was also a toon. Not just drawn but a sentient being. It looked tired and wore an old-timey sleeping cap. Then it looked at you.

“You know it’s not polite to stare.” Your eyes widened before you looked away quickly.

“S-sorry!” you said quickly. You hadn’t expected it to look at or talk to you – though you guessed that was reasonable seeing as how it was a person.

That’s when you heard a strange beeping. You looked back at the moon who had pulled out a watch with its arm??? He looked at it.

“Well my shift’s over.” He then reached up and pulled down a cord. When he let go the night sky snapped up and out of sight like a pull curtain to reveal a bright and sunny morning sky with a sun who looked as tired as the moon and had a five o’ clock shadow. He was casually sipping a cup of coffee.

“Mondays am I right?” he sighed.

“Huh,” you mused. What a strange world. You still thought the sunrise was amazing but also thoroughly confusing.

“So how ‘bout that sunrise?” said a voice that was very close to you.

You yelped, backing up so fast you tripped over your feet and fell on your butt. You were simultaneously hit with a wave of relief, confusion, and annoyance. Axel laughed lightly at your reaction as he leaned casually on the wall where you just were.

He’s okay! But why is he here? And is he laughing at me right now?

You wanted to be more annoyed that he was laughing at you, but… you had to, grudgingly, admit that it was actually a really nice laugh.

Then little alarms went off in your head. You stood up, drew your keyblade and pointed it at him. He looked bored, not threatened. Which he should very much be right now!

“Why are you following me?” you asked, all business.

“You know,” he began, looking up at the sky, “no two sunrises are alike in each world. You just saw more than most people ever will in their lifetime.”

Your keyblade lowered minutely when you thought about this. It was honestly a really cool thought that you had seen much more than the trillions of quadrillions of people that existed in the many known and unknown universes ever would.

“That’s true,” you marveled out loud. You shook your head to clear your thoughts. That was unimportant right now, “You still didn’t tell me what you’re doing here!”

“I just hop from world to world. Like you,” he pointed out, casual demeanor never leaving him. He said it like he was talking about the weather rather than answering someone who was currently threatening him.

“Well I’m still 99% sure you’re stalking me, so I’m gonna have to ask that you stay a minimum of this length,” you motioned to the length of your keyblade and outstretched arm, “away from me.”

“That’s fair,” he said with a shrug. You sighed with a bit of relief before walking off to see the town. Axel kept his word and remained a good distance from you.

Figment watched the exchange at a distance, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Axel. He very obviously didn’t belong there, and non-toons were an oddity in this world. He watched the two of you walking as you both turned a corner. He followed you silently, trying to get close enough to hear what you were talking about when he felt a pull on his tail.

He was greeted by the sight of a green parrot with a cigar and a rooster wearing a sombrero. He looked between the two nervously.

“Hey José,” the rooster spoke, “Whaddya make of this?” he asked, holding Figment up to the parrot by the tail.

“I don’t know, Panchito. Maybe he wants to help us out,” he suggested. What?!

“Hey, buddy,” the rooster spoke again, “You wanna make some quick cash?”

This could go one of two ways, and Figment was nervous to find out what way they intended. Figment began to sweat nervously.

“Of course, you do!” he said taking him away, still holding him by the tail. Apparently, his answer didn’t matter.

~

You walked with Axel for a while, occasionally glancing his way to make sure he was making good on his word and was not getting any closer, when you heard really pretty piano music drifting from an open window. It was light and tinkling and you could visualize the smooth black and white keys, and you began to think about your home back in the dance studio when you’d play the same kind of music as you twirled about.

It was when you stopped to listen that you noticed Axel getting closer. You were about to protest when he reached for your wrist and yanked over to him, pressing your face into his chest, his hand on the small of your back.

“H-hey w-we had an agreement!” you stuttered, trying to blatantly ignore the nervous flutter in your chest at how close he was holding you. Then you heard an abrupt, loud crash behind you. You turned your head to see the piano you had just heard smashed to pieces on the ground where it landed. Right where you had been only seconds ago before Axel pulled you out of the way.

Axel dropped his hands from your back and your wrist, moving passed you to continue walking. You momentarily gaped. What had just happened? You looked up to where the piano had to have come from, seeing a pig leaning out of the window.

“Sorry,” he apologized, “I thought you were somebody else!”

“Uh, no problem?” How does one respond to almost manslaughter? Never mind the fact that dropping pianos on someone was not a reasonable means to handle most disputes.

You turned to catch up with Axel, breaking your own rule of distance to walk alongside him. He glanced down at you.

“You’re too close,” he said casually with a small smirk on his face. You ignored him.

“Um, you kinda just saved my life, so you know, thank you?” You sounded more unsure of yourself than you intended, but either Axel didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“Yeah, well, you should watch out for yourself because I’m not going to do that every five minutes.”

“Every five…?” Another piano landed behind you, and you jumped with a squeak leaving your mouth.

“Sorry,” the pig called again, “Thought I saw a spider.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked, stopping to turn and look at you. You almost ran into him, stopping just in front of him and looking up at his expression, bored overall but his eyes were searching. His eyes were always so observant you noticed.

“What do you mean?”

“You obviously have no idea how most if not all worlds work. Every world you visit has different rules of logic and reason. You stick out like a sore thumb here, so what are you doing here?”

This guy had a lot of nerve!

“Well, I mean, it’s not like you don’t stick out! I mean look at you! You look… you know… You’re…!” You gestured up and down at him.

“Sexy?” he said with a smirk and a quirk of his eyebrow. You ignored that cute fucking expression on his face. He’d just love it if you said he was conventionally more attractive than most of the citizens in town you’d seen thus far, and you weren’t having it.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve!” you said defensively. He chuckled at your flustered state. You felt both vulnerable and annoyed. And anger. There was a little anger mixed in there. “And you still haven’t answered my question! You don’t belong here so why are you hopping worlds?”

Axel thought of a quick lie to tell you.

“My world fell to darkness a while back, so now I just drift around.”

You seemed to visibly deflate at that, all anger and annoyance gone from your face. In its place was a look of sadness. You grabbed his hand, something he wasn’t expecting, and gave it a light, comforting squeeze.

“I’m so sorry,” you said in a tone laced with sympathy, your eyes looking up at him with all the understanding in the world. It was too much for even him to handle. He turned away from you, taking his hand out of your grasp, so you wouldn’t see the mild blush that began to creep across his face.

“It’s nothing. I’ve come to terms with it,” he said beginning to walk again. The two of you walked in silence for a moment, you taking in the scenery, him alternating between watching your childlike wonder and taking in the scenery for himself.

He only really interacts with you when you’re about to cross the street. That is if you can call holding the edge of your shirt interaction. You weren’t sure why he was stopping you initially, but as soon as your foot hovered over the crosswalk a large rush of cars zipped by you.

He’d saved your life again.

“Thanks,” you mumbled. He just hummed in acknowledgment, watching you closely.

You tried again once the sign on the crosswalk said, “walk.” But as soon as your foot was out there, it switched back immediately to “don’t walk,” and a mess of cars zipped by you again.

You furrowed your brow, thinking of Saturday morning cartoons where this very gag would happen to any poor soul trying to cross the street. Then you looked up at Axel who raised an eyebrow at you.

“Is this one of those different world rules of logic and reason?”

He smirked.

“Now you’re getting it memorized,” he said tapping his forehead. He pulled some munny out of his robe and offered it to the crosswalk sign, and it just grew a fucking arm and took the munny. It nudges him for more munny, and with a roll of his eyes, Axel complies.

The sign abruptly switches to “walk,” and the rush of cars halts, causing a massive pile up. The drivers are shouting and cursing out Axel. You’re nervous, but he puts a hand on the small of your back and guides you across the street. You tried to ignore the warmth coming off of him. You were pretty sure no one should feel that warm, but you’d be lying if you said it didn’t feel nice. You also notice he’s got a cocky kind of swagger to his walk. He’s very confident in himself. That pissed you off. But it suited him. It was a very Axel thing to do.

“Okay,” you began, leaning on a building once you were both on the other side of the street, “I really have no idea what I’m doing. I mean, this place is a fucking cartoon.” He chuckled at that.

“Well I’ve got nothing better to do,” he said, moving to stand in front of you, “Maybe I give you a quick lesson in the laws of different worlds?”

He offered you his hand with that expression on his face again. The stupid cute one. You bit your lip before nodding and taking his hand.

“If you’re gonna be a keyblade wielder, you should probably know the basics of world travel. Laws of physics? Accessibility to outsiders, or rather, lack thereof? Or what other worlds even are?”

“Laws of…?”

“Right. Come on. I’ll buy you some lunch, and we can have a quick lesson.”

Chapter Text

Queen Minnie was busying herself in the library of her castle when she heard a ruckus outside the heavy, wooden doors. It sounded like shouting and she briefly wondered if there were approaching danger.

“Sir you can’t just barge in here!”

“Nonsense! The king and I are close personal friends!”

That was when Professor Ludwig von Drake burst into the room, Chip and Dale each riding on one of his shoulders.

“Professor!” Minnie greeted excitedly. She rushed over to greet him, dismissing the guards who had followed him there. A moment later a woman walked in after him, apologizing to the guards as she passed them for Ludwig’s behavior. “Oh, who’s this?”

“We’ll get to that in a moment. It’s not important,” he said, brushing your mother off, “I’ve so much to ask you – too much to catch up on! How are my nephews? How’s my brother-in-law?”

Minnie cast a glance at your mother who didn’t seem bothered by Ludwig’s dismissal of her, giving her a kind smile and motioning that it was ok.

“Well Huey, Dewey, and Louie are running an item shop in Hollow Bastion.”

“I was just there! I wish I’d known I’d have paid them a visit!”

“Scrooge is there as well starting an ice cream franchise!”

“I can’t believe it. My family was right there, and I missed them!” He looked distraught. Your mother placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. It can’t be easy to not see your family for twenty years then miss out on the opportunity to visit them.

“Maybe we can go back after this,” your mother suggested, “If we have the time.”

“Yes, I’ll see to it that we do see them. After all, it’s important that you meet your extended family.” Your mother let out a soft chuckle. “And Donald? How is he?”

“He’s off with Goofy and a young keyblade wielder named Sora.”

“Goofy abandoned his son to go off on some dangerous mission?”

“Well a while back the king asked him and Donald to go off and find Sora. They’re off doing important work right now.”

“Did you say Sora?” your mother asked. Minnie looked surprised.

“Why, yes. Are you looking for him?”

“Ah, no, your highness,” your mother spoke, “I’m afraid our story is a bit more complicated than that.”

The queen’s brow furrowed with worry.

“Come join me in the study. We’ll have tea, and you can tell me your story.”

~

“Got it memorized?” Axel asked you having given you the basic run down of worlds and the order in which this one worked.

“You say that a lot,” you commented, “But, yeah, I got it. Keyblades can unlock any door. They’re also the only means of entering the barriers between worlds. Unless you have other ways to get there, like ships.”

You’d been having a relatively pleasant chat while eating at a little outdoor café. It was a nice day. It was warm, sunny, and the air smelled sweeter here than it had on Hollow Bastion and it seemed there was music around every turn the two of you took on your way to the restaurant. And honestly, were it not for the apparently constant threat of death by cartoon gag, you’d love it here.

There was light jazz music playing right now and the soft sound of chirping birds. It was peaceful, and you let out a little happy sigh at how relaxed you felt.

You hummed and smiled, eyes looking over towards Axel who was looking out at the town.

“I used to do this all the time with my friend Genki back at home. We used to go to this little bistro that had the world’s best lemonade everyday after class. You ever do anything like that with your friends?”

Axel quietly regarded you for a moment, debating on whether or not he wanted to answer. You waited patiently, looking at him inquisitively – always curious…. Kind of like….

“Roxas,” he said finally, “I used to go get ice cream everyday with him.”

“Why’d you stop?” you asked leaning forward on your elbows, chin resting in your hands. He was silent for a moment more.

“I lost a friend too,” he said lowly. And then you were looking at him with that stupid, fucking sympathetic look again that was really starting to piss him off. Though he wasn’t sure why it pissed him off. It just did.

The two of you just looked at each other for a moment before a penguin in a bowtie came by with the bill. Axel left some munny on the table, and you both stood up to leave.

You walked through the park for a while, enjoying the quiet afternoon.

Then you heard an explosion. It was loud and jarring, tearing through whatever peace you had previously felt. You could see smoke in the distance – not very far, maybe two or three blocks away – and an alarm was sounding. You immediately started to walk towards it. Then you felt Axel grab your wrist.

“Where are you going?” He looked legitimately confused by your decision to head towards the explosion.

“There was an explosion.”

“Yeah, and?”

“What if someone’s hurt?” He blinked at you, letting go of your wrist.

“But it’s none of your business. The authorities will take care of it.”

“But someone might be hurt. I’m a keyblade wielder. It’s my job to help people, right?” you insisted, giving him a stern, almost scolding, look that almost had him laughing. But instead he huffed and rolled his eyes.

“Fine. Let’s go.” You smiled brightly, taking off in a run towards the explosion. He followed close behind.

You skidded to a halt in front of the large hole made in the front of a bank. Inside were three dogs – one short, one tall and skinny, and one big and muscular – holding a large safe trying to figure out how to maneuver it through the hole in the wall which was just short enough to not let the safe through. Nearby a weasel in a fancy suit, probably the bank owner, was frantically calling the police. You relaxed a little. Axel had been right. The authorities would handle it.

It was about then you heard sirens. Wow the cops here worked fast.

They pulled up to the curb.

“You three!” they shouted at the dogs still holding the safe. The three of them froze. “Have any of you seen any bank robbers around here?”

Are you kidding me?

“Uh, yeah, they went that way,” one of them said, pointing in a random direction.

“Thanks! Stay in school!” And just like that, they drove away. You looked at Axel who just shrugged. He looked like he kind of expected it but didn’t really care either way. You huffed. Well he wasn’t going to be any help. And the bank owner was crying by this point since his last source of help had just been bamboozled.

You drew your keyblade. Axel leaned on a nearby wall to watch, ready to step in if need be. This ought to be interesting if nothing else. He had to admit that keeping you alive temporarily purely out of spite was proving to be more entertaining than annoying as he’d originally thought.

“Hey, you!” you said, getting their attention, “Stop what you’re doing!”

They looked at you, looking you up and down.

“You think you can stop the Beagle Boys, little girl? Ha! I’ve eaten more frightening things for breakfast!”

“I said drop the safe,” you tried again, readying yourself for a fight as best you could, feeling a loose floorboard beneath your foot and weakening your stance as it wobbled. The shortest of the three glanced down at the floor then back up at you with a smirk.

“You heard the lady, boys, drop the safe,” he said with every confidence in the world. The other two looked at each other before shrugging and dropping it on the other end of the loose floorboard you were standing on. You were catapulted into the air as if it were nothing. You were, honestly, too surprised to scream, but it didn’t matter. You noticed you were going to land on the largest of the Beagle Boys and you made sure you put all your weight behind it. The two of you skidded a few feet away into a corner of the bank and you noted that he was out cold. You got up and whirled around to face the other two.

“A wise guy, huh?” the short one said as if that little stunt had been your plan all along. “Take her out,” he said turning to the tall one. He closed in on you before reaching into his pocket.

Oh this ought to be good.

Then he whipped out a cannon.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

You weren’t sure what to do. You were quite literally backed into a corner with a cannon pointed at you. How does one handle a situation like this? Axel ambled over casually as the Beagle Boy lit the fuse, laughing evilly.

Then he flipped it. Axel just fucking flipped the cannon’s barrel, so it was pointed in the other direction at the Beagle Boy.

The Beagle Boy let out a high-pitched girlish scream before being blown into the opposite wall, knocked out cold with little birds chirping and circling his head, cannonball firmly lodged in his mouth.

It was such a ridiculous situation and outcome that you couldn’t help it. You let out a loud snort, then a laugh – which sounded like something between the sound of a barking dog and a donkey’s bray. It was truly a laugh only a mother could love.

Yet Axel found that he wasn’t as put off by the sound of your laughter as most other people would be. He might even deign to say that he liked it. It was certainly different from the modest giggles you had let out before.

“Oh you think that’s funny do you? Well you’ve yet to face me!” the last of the Beagle Boys said, drawing a sword. You smirked. This was a fighting style you were at least familiar with.

And it showed. Even Axel was mildly impressed watching you trade blows with the Beagle Boy as you matched him hit for hit, moving just as graceful as you pleased – almost appearing to dance.

Then you did something that surprised both the Beagle Boy and Axel. You managed to disarm him, sending his sword flying until it embedded itself into the ceiling of the bank.

“So you’ve bested me once more! Well I have one more trick up my sleeve!” He prepared to make a move, and you readied your keyblade once more, prepared for whatever he had to throw at you. But then he just took off running, leaving a him-sized and shaped hole in the wall next to where they had already blown a hole in the wall.

You blinked in surprise. You had to go after him. But…. You looked between the other two Beagle Boys and the one who had just gotten away, trying to decide if you should leave them alone or chase down the last one.

“Go on ahead. I’ll take care of it from here,” Axel said, picking up the skinny one and slinging him over his shoulder. You smiled broadly at him.

“Thanks! I owe you one!” you called as you ran out of the larger of the two holes in the wall.

~

Queen Minnie set her tea down.

“That is… truly horrible. I am so sorry. I cannot possibly imagine everything you must be going through right now,” she said to your mother who sat somberly sipping her own tea. “Was everybody able to escape to safety?” It was honestly just wishful thinking on her part.

“No,” your mother answered sadly, “There were many people who did not. The engineers and mechanics of Spaceship Earth stayed behind to ensure as many people made off the planet as possible. My husband…” Your mother was tearing up. “My husband was one of them.”

“Oh you poor dear,” Minnie consoled, “You don’t have to continue.”

“Thank you, your grace, but that’s why we need to find the king,” your mother said, setting down her own tea.

“I’m sorry,” Queen Minnie began, “But he hasn’t been here in a while. The last any of us have heard, he was headed to Twilight Town to meet up with Goody, Donald, and Sora. No wait, Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Yeah, that sounds better. And you just missed Sora by a day.”

“Well maybe this will work to our benefit,” Ludwig pondered, “Perhaps Sora can help my niece as she learns to wield her keyblade while we continue our search for the king.”

“Speaking of,” Minnie interjected, “We’ve spoken a lot about her, but where is the new keyblade wielder?”

“Oh you know kids,” von Drake said with a wave of his hand, “Out and about on the town, probably at some wild party or something.”

Minnie blinked at him.

“Is something wrong, your Highness?” your mother asked, not liking the look she was giving von Drake. Liking it less when it morphed to a look of worry.

“I know this is a stretch, but by any chance, is your daughter a toon?” Minnie asked, though she was certain she knew the answer.

“No…,” your mother answered slowly.

“Professor! How could you let out on the town on her own?!”

“What?! Why?! What’s wrong?!” Your mother was already in a panic. “I thought you said the town was safe?!” She directed her anger at Ludwig who dove behind the chair he was sitting in.

“It’s perfectly safe!” Ludwig countered.

“For cartoons!” Minnie argued. “Go find your daughter! I’ll try to contact Sora, Donald, and Goofy via their gummy ship to see if I can get a hold of them.”

Your mother and Ludwig rushed out of the castle and into the streets.

“It’ll take too long to find her in this city,” your mother despaired.

“No worries,” Ludwig said confidently, “I know someone who can get us around quickly.” Ludwig stuck his thumb out, and up zoomed a taxi with headlights for eyes and a bumper for a mouth.

“Benny the Cab at your service!” he said with a little mock bow and heavy New Yorker’s accent. “Von Drake is that you? I haven’t seen your mug around here in ages!”

“Yes, yes, we’ll catch up later! Right now we gotta find my niece!”

“Sure, what does she look like?”

“She looks like a younger, hotter version of her,” Ludwig said, pointing his thumb back at your mother, who promptly slapped him.

“No problem, we’ll find her before you can say Brooklyn Dodgers!”

Your mother hardly paid attention to Benny’s talk with Ludwig, too focused on wondering where you’d wandered off to if this place was so dangerous. She wrung the edge of her shirt in her hands as she looked at the blurring colors around her as Benny zipped down streets this way and that. Then she saw a sight that caught her eye and also infuriated her.

“Stop!” she shouted. Benny slammed on his breaks, and von Drake flew up and out of the car to who knows where screaming into the distance.

“Figment!” your mother shouted. A sign had been what caught her attention. It said “The Three Caballeros! Starring Jose, Panchito, and Donald Duck!” However, Donald’s name was crossed out and in its place was written, “Lizard Eddie.” Standing on a stage with a rooster and a parrot was Figment, now wearing a sombrero and doing the samba and not watching you like he was supposed to be. He froze at the sight of your mother glaring daggers at him. “Get in the car. Now.”

“But Donald’s been AWOL for a while now, and we need a third member for our band!” the rooster called.

Figment ignored them and didn’t hesitate to get in the cab. He sadly waved goodbye to his career as a musician, hoping you were alright so your mother wouldn’t kill him.

“You were supposed to be watching her,” your mother scolded as Benny took off down the streets again, “I swear if anything happens to her, you and that duck are gonna be mounted over a fireplace.”

Figment gulped.

~

You finally cornered him in an alley, keyblade at the ready. He turned around slowly to face you.

“So it all comes down to this,” he said, glaring at you as you blocked his only exit.

“Looks that way,” you said.

Then you heard a screaming. And it was getting louder. You turned around just in time to miss Ludwig flying past your head and embedding himself into the wall behind the Beagle Boy.

“Pops?!” Your eyes briefly glanced at the Beagle Boy when you noticed something glinting in his hand. It was a gun. You thought of a phrase about bringing a knife to a gun fight and briefly wondered if that applied to swords too…. Or keyblades in your case.

“End of the line, little girl,” he said with a grin. Then you heard piano music. Sweet, sweet piano music. You looked up then back down at him with a smile.

“Looks that way,” you said again. Then a piano landed on him.

“Thank you!” you called up to the pig.

“That was the guy! He owed me money!” You let out a snort of laughter. You were about to break out into full blown laughter when a dreaded sound hit your ears.

“________ _________ ________!”

You froze on the spot. It was your mother. And she was pissed.

“Hey, mom,” you said weakly.

“Don’t ‘hey, mom’ me! I don’t even know what’s going on, but it hardly looks like nothing. Your keyblade is out, and there’s an unconscious man covered in piano!”

“I swear I wasn’t doing anything reckless!” you said, hands up defensively.

“You there!” A new voice was thrown into the mix. You both turned to see the bank owner running up to you with a large bag of money in his hands. “I cannot thank you enough for defeating three heavily armed and very dangerous robbers! You could have totally died! Because they sure were gonna kill you. With their weapons! That they had. The dangerous, blood thirsty, heavily armed robbers.”

Your mother turned back to look at you. You were in so much trouble.

“Okay, I know it sounds bad, but I swear I wasn’t in any danger!” Okay that was a lie. And a really bad one. She didn’t even look like she believed you. You wouldn’t.

“And I’d like to reward you with this bag of some guy’s savings!”

“Wait that belong to someone?!” you asked. Von Drake peeled himself out of the wall, quickly approaching the bank owner and taking the money.

“Ignore her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Okay let’s go everyone!” You followed Ludwig, your mother, and Figment back to the cab. You sighed. You were not looking forward to the lecture you were going to have back on the ship.

You all squeeze into the cab, and it’s a relatively silent ride back, outside of the cab talking ad-nauseum about his unfiltered opinions of the Brooklyn Dodgers. You pass by a little jailhouse, and outside you can see the other two Beagle boys tied up with a little sign around their necks that read, “Lock us up. We’ve been naughty boys.”

You slapped a hand over your mouth to keep from laughing.

Why did he write that?!

Once back at the castle you were sent to the ship while Ludwig and your mother bid the queen farewell. You were a little upset. You didn’t get to say goodbye to Axel, but you guessed it hardly mattered now. The queen had given you food and supplies for the trip. And a little extra munny – you guessed Ludwig had neglected to tell her about your little award from earlier.

You looked out the window as the ship was taking off when you noticed something out of the corner of your eye. It was Axel, sitting on the roof of the castle. He gave you a little mock salute.

Aww, he came to see me off. That’s sweet.

A little smile found its way on to your face.

Figment looked between you and Axel, narrowing his eyes… again. He didn’t trust Axel.

Chapter Text

“You really have a knack, no a talent, for finding trouble and placing yourself in the middle of it!

Your mom was madder than you’d ever really seen her before.

“Mom, I’m not looking for trouble! Someone was in trouble! What else was I supposed to do?!”

“I know, but I’ve told you before that you aren’t responsible for the world’s problems! You’re not a superhero that you see in movies! When you get hurt, there isn’t some dramatic come back! You just get hurt! Or killed!”

“Well why do I have this if not to help people?” you asked, drawing out your keyblade.

“I understand that! But you’re my daughter first and a protector second!” Your mother looked on the verge of tears.

“Please understand,” she pleaded, “That you, Ludwig, and Figment are all I have left of a dead world. And, you, ________, are all that’s left of your father. I can’t lose you too. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if anything happened to you.”

Little tears had sprung up in your eyes.

“I know…,” you said, voice wavering slightly, “I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else. But if I don’t do anything, then who will?”

Your mother let out a shaky, defeated sigh.

“Ludwig, will please talk some sense into your niece? Please?”

Ludwig watched the two of you before speaking.

“You’re both right. _________, you’re brave and daring. But you’re also impulsive and reckless. You don’t think most of your actions through, if you stop to think at all. And it is my professional opinion that you’ll be dead sooner rather than later.” Oof. Harsh.

“Thank –,” your mother began before being cut off.

“But! You’ve been chosen to do something extraordinary and we can’t ignore that, try as we might. And just based on my knowledge of the mathematics behind probability, ignoring it will also get her killed,” he leveled his gaze at your mother who looked shocked to say the least, “She will face her destiny when it comes to her and not a moment later. Wouldn’t you rather she be prepared?”

Your mother stood there gaping. She opened and closed her mouth repeatedly, trying to think of words to say, tears beginning to spill over.

“I think I need to lie down,” she said finally. She brushed passed you silently, and you huffed in your seat, angry and sad. You were bitter to say the least.

“You know, I never asked for this,” you grumbled.

“I imagine you’re talking about that fancy-schmancy little sword you got. Well you’re stuck with it.”

Your frown deepened.

“So, knowing that, what are you prepared to do with it?”

“What?”

“There is a chance that what happened to Spaceship Earth may have happened regardless of you having a keyblade. The planet had no heart, and the darkness of the people living there would have eventually caused it to fall because there was no heart to balance the good and evil in people. But our one saving grace, the only thing that stands between its permanent destruction and new hope for the people who once lived there, is you. Because you’re a keyblade wielder. You may function as a beacon for darkness, but remember that beacons are the guiding light in the dark. Without you the world would fall to darkness, and that’s where it would stay.”

You began to pout again but this time at the realization that what you had said was incredibly selfish for someone who was supposed to abandon their own selfish desires to protect others. You sighed and slumped in your seat, tired from the day’s activities. Maybe you would lie down too.

You trudged back to your bunk and flopped beneath the covers. You felt dirty in your clothes, but since you only had the ones you escaped in and the ones Aerith had given you, you couldn’t really do much to rectify the situation. You swore, the next place you visited, you would buy yourself some new clothes. Wherever that place was.

~

“You know, personally, I don’t care what you do. But you know Xemnas doesn’t like to play around, so now I have a burning curiosity to know why it is you’re playing with fire – so to speak – just to push Saix’s buttons when you know that you’re subsequently pushing Xemnas’.”

Axel turned to see Xigbar leaning on a wall, his black and gray pony tail slung over his shoulder, a smile playing across his face.

“You aren’t pulling that stunt Marluxia and Larxene pulled, are you? Where you start acting more in your own interest?”

“Nope. Just doing my job when I feel like it.”

“When you feel like it,” he repeated with a chuckle, “I feel like you’ve only been doing what you feel like lately. Be careful. Xemnas won’t wait around for you to do your job forever, and he certainly won’t let it go unpunished.” Xigbar pushed himself off of the wall and turned to walk in the opposite direction then halted.

“Why are you taking so long anyway? Is it really just spite?”

Axel tried to think of another reason. Saix interfering with his job. Saix’s comment about Roxas.  Saix openly insulting his capabilities.

“Yep.”

Xigbar turned his head to study Axel’s expression.

“Hmm,” he hummed before continuing on his way.

~

“Why did you…?” you were bewildered more than anything. You knew Genki had a thing for you, but you also thought the two of you had a mutual understanding that it just wasn’t meant to be. He laughed at your expression then shrugged.

“I don’t know. I guess I just really wanted to do it at least once,” he laughed with a blush. You shook your head. Then you both turned back to the sky. There was something surreal about staring up into a dark blue background. It felt like any moment you were going to fall into the sky, and a sense of weightlessness would overcome you.

“I’m sorry.” You said after a moment.

“Don’t be. You’re my best friend. And I love being friends with you.”

A warm feeling overcame your body. You truly did not deserve the love and support of this beautiful boy beside you. He was the one source of “not drama” in your life, and at fifteen everything felt like drama.

The two of you heard a rustle in the bushes. You both sat up quickly, eyes darting this way and that. Your blade appeared in your hand and you had barely managed to block one of the shadow creatures that had lunged at you, stumbling backwards.

Another attacked you from the back, knocking you forward, the sword sliding across the ground. Your vision swam and your head throbbed. You could see Genki rush to pick up your sword. He stood at the ready in front of you as another one of those creatures lunged at him. But the strangest thing happened. It vanished from his hands in a flash of light.

You couldn’t forget the sound of his shout when the creature carved a bloody red line across his face. You called to him as he held his face in pain, blood running down his arms. You scrambled to stand up, your sword appearing in your hand automatically.

You dispatched the creatures quickly with more aggression than you had ever felt before. You turned to your friend who was still clutching his face. You took him to a hospital.

You were still angry. You should have been stronger. You should have protected him. Why had the sword disappeared? Why had it vanished from him when he needed it? Was it only meant for you?

Genki had to get stitches across his face. The scar would never fade.

You wished you could have changed things at the end of that night. Everything had been nice up until that point. The peace. The feeling of floating. Your best friend. Your first kiss.

“Don’t beat yourself up over it. It wasn’t your fault.”

You whirled around to see a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes smiling gently at you.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Namine,” she said in a soft voice.

~

Axel walked through a corridor and into a white pristine room. Standing at the window, looking into the forest was Namine.

She’d been searching for someone as of late. She’d been reaching them through their dreams.

“Still searching for your mystery hero?” Axel asked. She looked at him with a surprised expression. Then she smiled kindly. She always had kind smiles for him, something he’d grown to appreciate over time though he’d been neutral initially. Your face flashed in his mind briefly. Your smiles weren’t kind so much as they were welcoming.

“She’ll be here soon. I know it.”

“She?”

Namine nodded eagerly. Each time she had talked to the person, she could never quite see what they looked like. She could only hope they could hear her messages to them. Though it had been quite a few days, and Axel wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to break through to them.

“I saw her for the first time the other night. She was having a nightmare. She asked who I was, so I’m worried if she was able to see or hear me in the other dreams. But I’m confident in her ability. She’ll find me.”

“So what does this mystery girl look like?” Namine thought for a moment while Axel leaned on the wall. Then she began to describe her, and Axel’s calm demeanor began to slip. He didn’t show it on the outside, but he was swearing on the inside. Of course, it had to be you. You who he was done toying with and was ready to get rid of and never have to see again so he could move on with his life.

“Bad news about that,” Axel said, scratching the back of his head and looking away. Namine watched him with wary, uncertain eyes. “The Organization knows about her. They want her gone.”

Namine’s eyes widened slightly.

“I was afraid you were going to say that. I knew she was a keyblade wielder. I didn’t know they would learn about her so quickly.”

“Saix was there when her planet fell. That’s most likely the only reason they know anyway. It’s funny how these coincidences work.”

“Can I ask a favor?” she said, turning completely to face him. He frowned.

“No.”

“It’s important.”

No.”

“Just for a while. I need her help.” She was looking at him pleadingly, and he found it harder to say no this time around.

“I’ll think about it,” he said reluctantly with a roll of his eyes. She gave a soft smile.

“You need food?” She nodded. He just nodded back, pushed himself off the wall, and turned to leave. It was then that he noticed a crude drawing hanging by the door. It was you.

“I hadn’t known it was them until yesterday evening,” she admitted, “It was just the face of someone I’d made up until then. It’s funny how these coincidences work.” She turned back to the window, smiling.

~

An alarm woke you up. Funny you don’t remember your alarm clock sounding like that. Or being that loud.

You blinked your eyes open to see your mom also waking up disoriented then looking around in a panic. You realized your sense of balance was off. That was because the ship was tilted forward making a beeline for the ground as you zipped through the atmosphere of another planet.

Ludwig was leaning on the steering wheel of the ship, snoring while Figment desperately tried to wake him. You hopped out your bunk, sliding forward to the front of the ship where you grabbed von Drake by his shirt and slapped him hard across the face.

“What? What? Oh it’s you! I was having the most wonderful dream!”

“Pops, we’re crashing!”

“No, no I said it was a good dream!”

You turned his head to look out the window to see the rapidly approaching ground.

“Why didn’t you say we were crashing?! This is no time to be asking me about my dreams!” You’d slap him if you didn’t need him to pull the ship out of its nosedive.

He yanked back on the steering wheel, pulling the ship out of its descent in time to just barely graze the tops of the tree line of the forest you were flying over.

“And would you look at that! We’re here!”

“Pops, you should stay on the ship. You haven’t slept in like two days.” He looked at you, his eyes were clearly still disoriented. Each eye was looking in a different direction and bloodshot. Even his blinking was out of synch.

“I agree,” your mother said as she walked to the front of the ship, “We’ll look for Sora and the King. You get some rest.”

You went back to your bunk and grabbed the satchel you had meant to give back to Merlin and some munny from the bag the bank owner had given you. You were more than eager to put anything else on. You opened the door to the ship, eager to explore another world when you felt a firm tug on the collar of your shirt. You looked at your mother who was leveling a stern look at you.

“Figment is going with you. You’re both going to act like you have some damn sense and stay out of trouble. You will meet me back here in about five hours, or I will punish you both. Am I making myself clear?”

Both you and Figment audibly gulped and nodded.

“Good.” She let got of your shirt. Figment shrank a bit in size to sit on your shoulder and held on as you took off running towards the town in the distance. Then you slowed to take in the nature around you. There were trees everywhere and grass and flowers. Only they weren’t arranged. You’d only seen parks on Spaceship Earth. Nothing had ever been unplanned and sporadic as it was now. It had a chaotic beauty about it that you vastly appreciated.

Once you arrived at the town, you squeezed through a hole in a wall that supported a set of train tracks. Traditional entrances be damned.

You went into the first clothing store you could find, picking out a pair of short shorts. Legs for days bitch! Then you browsed through a few cute t-shirts. You picked one with a little dragon on it that fit you rather snugly. Oh, yes, you were super cute.

“Look now we’re all match-y,” you said to Figment who gave you a dry look. “I imagine having to babysit me all the time isn’t that fun. How about we do something you want to do?”

He just shrugged. He didn’t know about anything around here to do any more than you did.

“Well then let’s just walk around for a while.” He nodded, and the two of you exited the shop. You elected to wear your purchase out, stuffing your old, dirty clothes into your satchel.

You walked through town, purchasing an orange and sharing it with Figment, seeing what was called a “Struggle Match,” and just browsing shops in general. It was a nice town, and the people were friendly. Then you saw him, sticking out like a sore thumb as he ambled through town, a bag of something he probably bought swinging next to him as walked. Figment spotted him too and narrowed his eyes.

You were already walking over to him. Figment began to pull on your shirt, but you ignored him. Then he flew in front of your face, holding up a stop sign.

“What?” you asked annoyedly. He bonked you on the head with the sign, pointing at Axel and shaking his head. You huffed. “I thought you said you’d trust my judgment.”

He crossed his arms.

“He saved my life you know. Because, you know, I almost died like three times in the last world we were in. Plus I just wanna say hi. That’s it.”

Figment debated this in his head. He did not trust Axel. But if what you said was true, then he couldn’t guarantee that Axel was all bad. That didn’t exactly make him good either.

Figment rolled his eyes and sighed, uncrossing his arms. You beamed at him.

“Thanks!” you said as you trotted over to Axel.

He turned just as you approached him. A flash of annoyance ran through his mind as he thought of his conversation with Namine and was quickly replaced with mild surprise. You were smiling brightly, happy to see him. It was not something he was accustomed to. Not since Roxas anyway. But there you were happy with a smile all for him.

He returned it with a soft smile of his own. You noted that a smile that wasn’t one of his cocky ass smirks actually suited him rather nicely.

“Who’s following who now?” Okay you take it back. Smile be damned.

“I didn’t know you’d be here!” you defended rather quickly. He smirked. “What’re you up to?”

“Just taking a walk,” he answered with a shrug. You shuffled from foot to foot, biting your lip. Were you nervous? Why?

“Mind if I tag along?” you finally blurted out in a rush.

“No, thanks.”

You seemed disappointed and confused.

“Well what are you doing here if you’re not stalking me?”

“Okay, wow, conceited. Look, you’re cute, but I do have my own life you know.”

Oh no. You were about to do that thing. You could already feel the giant, goofy smile forming on your face. You hated that smile.

He called me cute.

And you knew he didn’t mean anything by it. But having a cute guy call you cute was nice. You’ve been staring at him with this stupid smile for a few seconds now. Time to go before you make an even bigger goof of yourself. You spun around and began to march away.

“Wait,” he called, and you looked back, smile half way under control, “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing!” you called and jogged off.

Chapter Text

“It’s just weird,” you said to Figment who rolled his eyes. You just wouldn’t shut up. Yes, it was weird that he was on the exact same planet as you at the exact same time again! Yes, it was weird that for once he wasn’t there to follow you! But you had a job to do!

But here the two of you were at a bistro sitting at one of the little umbrella tables outside while you let your thoughts wander around rampantly about Axel. Again. He was going to cry. You couldn’t pull your head away from trouble to save your life. And sometimes that was very well the case.

You let out a sigh, putting your head on the table and looking at Figment who was face down on the table. You knew you should be thinking about anything and anyone else right now. Well, not anyone. Sora. That’s what you were here for. Ugh, but you felt like you could barely focus.

You took a deep breath and held it for a second before exhaling slowly. Then you stood up abruptly.

“Let’s go,” you said. Figment looked up. He could let a few tears of joy slip from his eyes. Finally!

You paid for your lemonade and left.

You continued walking around, asking if anyone knew a Sora or if he’d passed through recently. It was always a, “No, sorry,” or a, “I saw him a few days ago.” Well a few days ago isn’t helpful! You let out a growl of frustration passing by the Struggle match area again and stopping to watch.

Apparently, this wasn’t a tournament so much as just an entertainment source and means of practice. The official tournament was apparently a few days away.

“You must be new here. I’d remember a face like yours.” Who the fuck? You turned to look at who had just spoken to you. Oh. He was pretty. He had striking purple eyes and silver hair. His face had a few scars, but they certainly weren’t unflattering. Lotta people with scars on their face lately…. He smirked. You knew it was because you were checking him out. You weren’t hiding it. You gave a small smile.

“Is that so?” you flirted back.

“A woman like you with all the beauty of the heavens contained in her eyes? Of course. The name is Setzer by the way,” he said in way that was almost like a purr. Oh he was good. “Are you enjoying the tournament?”

“________, and it’s alright I suppose. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Are you one of the competitors?”

“And current champion.” He made a gesture to the belt he wore. “It took a bit, but I managed to take it from, Seifer, the previous champion.”

It was a little gaudy for your taste but not wholly unappealing.

“Was it difficult?”

“Maybe for someone else, but I assure you, I’m the best there is.”

“Maybe one day I take it from you,” you tease. He snorted.

“I’m not sure you could handle the first few rounds, hon.” You weren’t sure if he were talking about the matches now or something a bit more lewd. “You’d have to be a pretty strong fighter to qualify, and no offense but you don’t look cut out for the warrior lifestyle.”

Okay, yeah, he was insulting your ability as a warrior. You scoffed.

“Offense taken. I’m a decent enough fighter, thank you very frickin’ much.” You thought he’d abandon his shameless flirting after he’d obviously insulted you. But he wasn’t done yet.

“Alright then. How about a little wager? You and I can do a quick little match, and if I win, you get to go on a date with me.” Well wasn’t he just as bold as could be. You weren’t sure.

“And if I win?” you asked, slowly. He gave you a cocky smile that said you most certainly were not going to win, but he’d humor you with an answer.

“I’ll let you have my championship belt.” You didn’t think you’d be wearing that gaudy thing with any of your clothes on a regular basis, but to see the look on his face as you swished your hips with his championship belt loosely hanging from them would be too good to pass up.

You bit your lip as you considered his offer a second more. And a date, while strange and very forward, didn’t sound too bad.

“Alright. I’ll take that bet.” Figment facepalmed.

~

Figment has officially given up. He doesn’t know what he can do at this point to convince you not to fight this strange man you just met off the street. Maybe if you get your ass kicked, you’ll snap out of it and be all business from here on out. And as soon as the two of you started, he was honestly afraid he would get his wish. He just lay face down on the ground as he waited for you to come to your senses.

Despite the fact that he called you out on being an amateur fighter, Setzer didn’t go easy on you. Or maybe he was going easy on you, and you were just that bad a fighter. Most of your hits didn’t land, but he was certainly handing you your ass with a cocky smile on his face that was beginning to annoy you a lot more than charm you. He was looking forward to that date as much as he seemed to be enjoying kicking your ass this way and that.

“You must really want that date,” you panted as you barely managed not to go down on that last hit.

“You could say I give my all in whatever I do. Believe me, I’ll make it up to you when this is all over,” he said. He hardly sounded tired. “Had enough, pet?”

You lunged at him again. But he swiftly dodged you, giving you a firm hit on your back. You stumbled then whirled around to face him, prepping yourself to attack once more.

“Nope,” you half laughed.

“Then I’ll just have to end it myself.”

He was fast. Very fast. You could only take a step back as his hit was about to connect with the center of your chest when your view was obstructed.

You heard Setzer make a gasp of surprise before you watched Axel fling him to the other side of the stand the two of you had been fighting on. You stood there in mild shock as you watched Setzer pick himself up off the ground. Axel grabbed your elbow and began to lead you away.

“Come on,” he grumbled.

“Calling in reinforcements?” Setzer said in a relatively mocking manner. You looked back at him and gave him a half shrug as you were led away. He looked after the two of you but didn’t do or say anything, just watching with a look of confusion and mild amusement.

Axel led you around in a daze until the two you were in a smaller, vacant town square. He let go of you and turned to face you with an expression of, “What ever am I going to do with you?” His arms were folded, and you just blinked up at him with doe-like eyes.

“That was just sad,” he said finally. You imagined he was talking about your fight with Setzer. You put your hands behind your back, shuffling from foot to foot, and looking anywhere but at him as you gave a shrug. You were embarrassed. Axel rolled his eyes.

“Did you kidnap me just to insult me?” you shot back.

“I guess not,” he said after a moment, “Attack me.” You looked back up at him. Uh, excuse me?

“I don’t want to hurt you,” you said quietly. He snorted.

“Trust me. You won’t.” You were getting pretty sick of everyone acting like you couldn’t do any damage. You summoned your keyblade.

He looked at you expectantly, and you were still slow to act. But you did. Swinging at him half-heartedly so as not to cause any harm if you managed to hit him. He grabbed your wrist.

“Like you mean it. Or are you actually that bad of a fighter?”

You swung again, this time with all your speed and strength. He easily dodged you, moving passed you and giving you a light push where you had left an opening.

“Again,” he instructed. You tried again from another angle. He dodged you again, once more giving you a light push where you were vulnerable.

Again,” he instructed, but it just yielded the same outcome. You weren’t really sure what he was playing at.

“You’re too careless. Stop putting all your focus into your hit and think about your defense for once, or you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“I’ve been fine up to now,” you argued.

“So far you’ve only fought cartoon characters and non-sentient monsters. Don’t think for a moment that up against an experienced fighter, you’d stand half a chance. You’ve attacked me three times and three times I hit you where you were most vulnerable. If this were a real fight, you’d be dead.” You had a lump in your throat. You had not considered any of this before.

You don’t think most of your actions through, if you stop to think at all.

Those words rang loudly in your head.

And it is my professional opinion that you’ll be dead sooner rather than later.

“So what do I do?” you asked.

“Attack with your opponent’s next move in mind for starters. And maybe don’t attack first. Strength clearly isn’t your strong suit so much as speed and movement. You’re a dancer, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but how did you know?”

“It shows. You move more fluidly than most people and every step you take is measured and on your toes. You’d be great at dodging if you weren’t so focused on attacking.”

“Well how do I land a hit on someone if I’m just dodging?”

“The same way I did to you every time you attacked me,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh.”

“I’m going to attack you. Find an opening. Use it.” Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he was moving towards you at a lightning fast pace. You squeaked, barely dodging it but not hitting him in your surprise.

“You didn’t hit me,” he stated.

“I wasn’t expecting you to move so fast,” you admitted sheepishly.

“Your opponents aren’t going to care that they’re moving too fast for you.” He attacked you again though at a notably slower speed – but still fast as hell. You dodged, nudging him with the flat of your keyblade so as not to hurt him.

“Not bad. But you could be better.” He attacked you again. A bit faster this time. You did it again. “Nice, but this time hit me. I’m tougher than you’re giving me credit for. Or you’re weaker than I thought.”

You huffed. He attacked you again and you countered, putting all of your weight and strength behind it. He must not have been anticipating it because you managed to cause him to lose his balance. This would have been a victory in your book if you hadn’t fallen too. On top of him no less.

He was surprised. One moment he was teaching you to fight, the next he was looking up at the sky. He could feel you shift your weight above him. Your chin was resting on his shoulder, and your legs were straddling his hips. He heard you let out a giggle at the ridiculousness of the situation in which the two of you landed.

You both began to sit up. It was an innocent enough movement. But you were sitting in his lap and incidentally rubbing yourself intimately on him in your attempt get up. And for a moment, just a split second, it caught him off guard to be touched like that by someone. And he lost control for a bit – incidentally igniting himself as a hot, red flame spread over his body. He felt many things in that moment. He was confused. And surprised. And embarrassed.

You yelped at the intense heat, jumping off of him before you could be burned.

You both stared at each other in shock for a few seconds. Then you heard rapid footsteps approaching. Your head snapped in the direction of the approaching person and then back in Axel’s direction. But you found that he had vanished – not unlike the night the two of you first met.

“Are you alright, miss? I heard a scream.” A man said with a look of worry on his face.

“Oh, yes,” you recovered quickly, “I tripped and fell. Clumsy me!” He looked relieved then concerned again as his eyes trailed to the ground next to you. Your eyes followed to see a large burn mark on the ground.

“What happened?”

“It was there when I got here,” you lied. The man nodded slowly and walked away. You got up and brushed yourself off. Then you were pushed by what felt like someone throwing a sack of flour into your back. You spun around to see Figment looking at you angrily.

Oops.

You had kinda abandoned him. You gave him a shy smile.

He was not having it.

“Um, sorry?” you tried. He continued to scowl at you. “I hadn’t planned on leaving, but then Axel showed up and….” You continued to ramble, and Figment, just not wanting to hear it right now, tuned you out.

Oh of course it was Axel again. He stared as you kept trying to justify the unjustifiable when he noticed something just passed you. A silvery body writhing unnaturally beyond your field of vision. This was bad. He flew after it.

“…and I just thought hey you know it ain’t that bad – Figment?!” You stopped your ramble which at this point you weren’t even sure where it was going to follow your friend. You ran after him, fighting back a giggle at the thought of chasing a purple dragon, following him this way and that until the two of you had run back out of town and into the forest.

Finally, Figment slowed, looking around frantically.

“Figment,” you panted, “What’s wrong? Why’d you run off?” But he was still looking around. You waited until he had calmed to try to ask again.

“I was wondering where you’d run off to,” you heard Axel coming up from behind you.

“I think something spooked Figment,” you said as he stopped looking around to level a glare at Axel who stared back bewilderedly.

Then you realized that the two of them had never actually met. At least, not officially.

“Oh, uh, Axel, this is Figment. Figment, this is Axel.”

“Is he your…pet?” Axel asked. You looked shocked and a little like you wanted to laugh. Figment just looked offended.

“No, no,” you said through giggles, “He’s my uncle’s lab assistant.”

“He’s a lab assistant?” Axel said disbelievingly. You nodded.

“He’s got a doctorate in psychology and everything,” you stated as if you were proud of him. Figment just continued to stare in a distrusting manner at Axel. “And, Figment, you said you’d trust me more,” you all but whining at him. Figment looked back at you with a mix of disbelief that you were playing this card and also anger that you were playing this card for someone you obviously had no business being around.

“So what is he exactly?” Axel asked, still inspecting the dragon closely.

“He’s the literal embodiment of the creative mind that serves as a bridge between the human psyche and reality,” you quoted your uncle, “That means he can go into the mind of any living being and view and interact with your thoughts, desires, and memories.”

Axel blinked at you.

“What?” you asked after a few seconds of silent staring.

“Nothing,” Axel said with a shake of his head. For all the random and crazy shit he’s seen, this should not be a shock to him. You just shrugged then looked around you at the woods, appreciating its untamed beauty. You smiled and closed your eyes at the feeling of a breeze. You almost flipped your shit the first time you felt one.

“We didn’t have forests on Spaceship Earth,” you said as you began to walk about the woods, Figment settling on your shoulder where he could watch Axel’s every move. “Nature was never this untamed or wild or natural.” The day felt nice and warm.

“Yeah, I just assume if it’s normal, you didn’t have it.” You swatted him lightly on his arm with a laugh. You didn’t notice him distance himself slightly after. He was still mildly flustered from earlier, and he’d like to keep the contact between the two of you to a minimum.

“My home had things other planets have. Just nothing so… spontaneous? Is that the word for nature? That didn’t make it less beautiful though. It’s just everything that involved the beauty of the world there was an extension of the beauty and creativity of the people that lived there.”

Hm. The way you described it made him almost want to see it.

The two of you strolled in what you thought to be a companionable silence when you stopped abruptly, remembering his sudden disappearance from earlier.

“Hey,” you began. He looked down at you. “Where did you go earlier? You just vanished???”

“Oh, uh,” he looked taken off guard for a minute then got a mischievous smile on his face, “I had explosive diarrhea.” You looked at him and that stupid smile on his face, already feeling laughter begin to erupt from deep in your gut. You almost doubled over with laughter, nearly throwing Figment from your shoulder and hearing Axel’s laughter join your own.

“Wait!” you almost shouted between gasps of laughter, “What was that?! You were on fire, but like you weren’t burning?! What the fuck was that?” You looked more excited than anything. He smirked, holding out his hand and producing a small flame. Your eyes lit up.

“Holy fucking shit! That is so cool!” you said in a rush, “Can you teach me to do that?”

He chuckled starting to walk again. You eagerly followed like a puppy, Figment resting on your shoulder again.

“I could,” he started slowly looking like he was actually considering it, “But it would take years for you to master it. And I just don’t have that kinda time.”

“Oh come on,” you whined, “I’ll be your best friend.”

“I thought you were trying to convince me not chase me away.”

“Oh screw you,” you laughed.

“We should head back before it gets late,” Axel said after a moment. The two of you had walked enough, and he wanted to keep you as far away from the mansion as possible.

You looked up at the sky. It was still twilight – as if the town were stuck in a permanent sunset. But time had indeed passed, and had to meet your mother soon. You lowered your eyes when you noticed something just above the tree line. You almost missed it. A steeple to a building somewhere in the distance. You wouldn’t have cared were it not for the fact that you recognized it.

You stared. Axel waved a hand in front of your face, and even Figment was looking at you.

Then you began to move towards it instead of the town.

“Where are you…?” Axel noticed your gaze and followed it to the steeple peeking up in the distance. He let out a long groan of annoyance. Really? Just when he had stopped thinking that you were kind of annoying with the way you always seemed to subvert his intentions and expectations, you do the very thing he absolutely doesn’t want you to do in that moment.

“I know that place,” you mutter.

“That’s crazy. As far as I know, you’ve never been here, yes?”

You stopped.

“Well, yes, but, and I know this sounds crazy, I saw it in a dream once. It looked just like that.”

“Do you know the odds of seeing something in a dream and seeing it in reality when you’ve never even been to the planet it exists on are incredibly slim to none?”

“Yes…,” you said, feeling more than a little foolish. But it was right there, and you were certain it was the Old Mansion the girl had told you about. You may not have even given the place a second thought were it not for the fact that she had appeared in your dreams so often. She had even appeared in your memories, and you’d had those dreams so often before with no blonde in sight outside of Genki.

Figment’s head snapped to attention at something moving behind Axel. Axel noticed, whipping around to see a dancer nobody slinking passed them. It wasn’t really that alarming, but it belonged to Demyx. And he knew damn well Demyx wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near Twilight Town.

In his distraction, you began to slink back off in the direction of the mansion – somehow oblivious to the dancer nobody Axel now had to get rid of. You felt like you were in a haze. It started as a walk but soon you were sprinting in the direction of the mansion, stopping in front of the gate and leaning on the wrought iron bars.

“I knew it,” you breathed.

Chapter Text

Things just kept getting better and better for him.

Axel slammed Demyx into a tree, Demyx throwing his hands up in surrender and letting out a yelp as his back slammed against the rough bark of the tree.

“I’m not here to cause you trouble! Please don’t hurt me!” Demyx said in a rush, blue eyes wide and scared as opposed to Axel’s which looked damn near murderous. Watching him interact with and seem to relax around you had caused him to forget that Axel could be ruthless.

“What are you doing here?” Axel’s tone was cold. Demyx thought quickly about how to approach this. He decided on the roguish approach.

“Just getting some leverage on ya,” he said with a wink. He felt Axel’s grip tighten and the air around them began to heat up rapidly. Okay, roguish wasn’t working. Pleading? Yeah that seemed like a good idea.

“Hey, hey, wait! I was just saying that to get your goat! I want in!”

“In what?” Axel said, re-slamming Demyx into the tree.

“Whatever you’re doing! I wanna just do whatever! I mean the Organization isn’t exactly helpful ya know? And they want me to fight all the time, and I hate that. I don’t even miss my life from before I was a nobody.” Axel’s expression flicked to neutral in a split second. The temperature dropped so fast it was almost like having cooling water thrown on you.

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh come on,” Demyx whined just like you had not ten minutes before. Suddenly Axel remembered. He was doing something before he chased down the dancer nobody and subsequently Demyx. He was with you, trying to keep you from going towards the mansion. And if he’d learned anything from your impulsivity, you were definitely at the mansion right now. He did not have time for this.

“And let’s not forget,” Demyx said, all smiles, “I do have the upper hand. Be a shame if someone back at HQ heard anything about this.”

Fine,” Axel bit out. Demyx gave a little fist pump.

“Two questions,” Demyx said, holding up two fingers. Axel gave him a look but didn’t verbally respond, “First off, where is she?”

“The Old Mansion.”

“Right. I don’t know where that is. Second, is she single? I mean, I know I don’t really know her like you do or anything, but hey I figured she’s cute, ya know?”

Axel was giving him an entirely different look now. It was a mix of confusion and annoyance. Demyx misread this though. He never was the best at reading people.

“Right,” Demyx said quickly, “Off limits. She’s all yours, bud.”

Axel rolled his eyes, making his way to the Old Mansion with Demyx walking alongside him with a doofy smile on his face.

You were frozen with your hand on the door when they found you. Figment was standing next to you, watching you with a concerned expression on his face. You looked scared.

Something was here. You knew. But like your dream, you didn’t know what.

“________.” Axel’s voice made you jump, and you looked at him. He looked at you curiously, noting the hints of nervousness and fear fading from your face at the sight of him. Had something spooked you? You couldn’t have been that scared if you weren’t desperately trying to get in or out of the mansion.

“So your name’s ________.” A new voice said rather loudly. You turned all the way around to look at the newcomer. You squinted at him, your inner alarm system going off. He looked innocent enough, but he was wearing the same robe as Axel, and that was weird. His face was actually quite disarming. Honey blonde hair in a mohawk/mullet style, big, round, blue eyes, and a full rounded face.

Your eyes glided over to Axel. He was surprised. He’d made so much progress with you, it was strange to see your distrust aimed at him again.

“Who’s this?” you questioned slowly. Figment had a similar look on his face but more aggressive than cautious.

“This is Demyx. He’s….” He looked like he didn’t know how to describe him. But Demyx, idiot that he was, threw an arm around Axel’s neck and brought him in close.

“I’m his best friend!” he announced proudly with a wide, stupid grin on his face. It was such a contrast to Axel’s cool, calm, and collected demeanor that it made your serious face crack as a minute hint of a smile pulled up the corner of your mouth. Demyx’s grin widened as he noticed this.

“Is he really your best friend?” you said, trying to maintain your serious façade while Demyx all but broke it immediately. Axel sighed with a roll of his eyes.

“Yup,” he said throwing an arm around Demyx’s neck and pulling way too tight, “Best buds.”

You giggled. Figment huffed next to you, crossing his arms.

“What is that?” Demyx questioned pointing at Figment.

“That’s not important,” Axel interrupted, “What is important is that we get out of the forest and back to town.” You looked at the sky again. It was a still twilight, but you were late. Your mom was going to be angry. She would never trust you again. But if you were already in trouble….

You spun around and opened the mansion door before your nerves could catch up to you again. Figment took off after you. It was dusty inside. You entered the foyer quickly, almost running up the nearest set of stairs you came to, placing a hand on a door nearest you.

“________, wait!” Axel warned, but you had already pushed on the door and entered a room that was pure white. Everything was white. The walls. The furniture. How tacky….

“I knew it,” you whispered.

“You’re here!” Your eyes snapped to the corner where a girl sat. She set down her notebook and pencils to stand and greet you.

“It’s you!” you said in shock, “Namine.”

“Yes, that’s me. I’m afraid you were never asleep long enough for me to get your name.”

“_______,” you said with a smile. Meeting her, somehow, felt like meeting an old friend. You walked toward each other, stopping in the middle.

“You knew where she was the whole time?!” Demyx damn near screeched. You both flinched, looking at him with a look of both confusion and annoyance. Axel let out an exasperated sigh, placing his hand over his eyes. Figment looked more overwhelmed. He just wanted to go back to the ship like you were already supposed to do. He felt like crying again.

“Yes, and if you tell, I’ll hurt you. Severely,” Axel said coldly to Demyx.

“You’re keeping her hidden?” you questioned looking at Namine to ask if she needed help.

“Axel protects me from those who would abuse my abilities,” she explained. You visibly relaxed at that statement. But something else had piqued your interest.

“Your abilities?” you asked. She nodded.

“That’s part of the reason I called you here. Come with me.” She exited the room, and all of you followed her – Figment, Axel, and Demyx more reluctantly than you – as she descended the stairs. Demyx pulled Axel back slightly. Both were on edge. Deeper in the mansion was the entrance to an alternate Twilight Town. And beyond that the World That Never Was. Any moment, any member of the organization could appear. And they were both in too deep in this to come out of it unscathed – assuming they came out of it at all.

“So remind exactly what’s going on? You know where she is? Knew where she was the whole time?!” Demyx was whispering and glancing up at where you and Namine walked ahead, but the two of you seemed invested in your own conversation.

“Yes,” Axel answered curtly, his irritation at the current situation mounting faster than his paranoia that Saix or Xemnas or any fucking organization member was going to come waltzing up those stairs as they were going down.

“And you brought ________ here too? So you’re fraternizing with the enemy and harboring the Organization’s ‘secret weapon’ which would have made our job with recruiting ________ significantly easier if you’d come out about it like you found her like it was some big surprise? Are you like turning on us or something?!”

No,” Axel stressed out through gritted teeth.

“Then why are you flirting with ________ and keeping secrets from the Organization and bringing her here to help Namine?!” Demyx’s voice was getting higher in pitch the more his panic grew. He was in it now, and now that he knew so much, there was no backing out.

“I’m not flirting with her! And I didn’t bring her here! She just does whatever the hell she wants even when people say it’s a bad idea! She’s so damn stupid!”

“Well that doesn’t explain the Namine thing! Why are you keeping her a secret? The Organization’s been looking for her since you let her go at Castle Oblivion!”

“I owe someone.” That was all Axel really wanted to say about it. Someone didn’t kill him, said look after her, and here he was. He didn’t have to be persuaded to look after her now. She was a friend. But you were a risk he wished he hadn’t taken at this point. He didn’t like feeling or thoughts of feeling or even memories of them. They felt like a tease, dangling something just out of reach. And while he wanted to be certain Namine was wrong, he couldn’t deny that at hearing you say that you’d never seen the moon made him, at the very least, acknowledge that it was something to be pitied.

And that pity snowballed into the reason you were here now unintentionally fucking everything up.

Demyx was looking at him, but Axel wasn’t meeting his eyes. He was glaring ahead at you. Demyx always knew Axel to be laid back, so to see him like this was new. You’d gotten under his skin in a way that shouldn’t have been possible given the nature of his existence. And it made him wonder. It wasn’t like Axel had ever been one to show his cards to everyone. He’d always kept his opinions close to his vest and read everyone else like a book, but he was acting, or feeling, like you were a nuisance. And this was a puzzle to Demyx.

He looked at you and Namine as your face lit up while speaking to her. And he felt nothing. Well, sort of. Maybe it was the memory of envy he was feeling when he saw that you felt something so easily. It took over your face in a way you probably weren’t even aware of simply because you’d never been without emotion. He couldn’t be sure.

You were puzzled to say the least.

“So… you can go through memories?”

“Yes and manipulate them which is how I was able to communicate with you the last time we spoke.”

“How did you know I existed?”

“I sensed the presence of another keyblade wielder in the realm of light when you were on your way to Hollow Bastion. I’ve interacted with enough keyblade wielders to understand what their hearts feel like. And when I felt you, I thought you could help me.”

“Why me though?”

“Two of the three I knew are busy in their own missions and have to follow their own hearts. And the third is lost to me,” she said with a sad smile on her face, “But you can do even more than they can and help a lot of people along the way. Your friend, Figment, has actually changed everything. I know through your memories that he can go inside the minds of others and subsequently escort others there too. This is really important for what I need to ask of you.” Figment’s eyes widened. Whatever was going on, he wanted no part in it. When you looked at him, he was already shaking his head no. But you just frowned, continuing to follow Namine wherever she was going with the reluctant Figment trudging alongside you.

She led you down a set of stairs in a library to a room with a multi-screened computer.

“Namine,” Axel began, sounding more wary than you’d ever heard him – considering his cocky attitude before.

“We’re not here for that,” she said.

“What’s ‘that’?” you asked, placing air quotes around the word.

“Nothing to worry about for now. We need to keep moving.” You followed without question. Something about Axel’s tone sent shivers up your spine. You didn’t know what “that” was, and you were hesitant to find out.

She led you down two more hallways into a corridor with flower-like containers made of a tinted glass. She stopped in front of one near the end. Inside was a middle-aged man who appeared to be sleeping. Namine lightly touched the glass.

“You know about the experiments of Ansem the Wise,” she stated. You nodded. “He is one of them. His heart was deconstructed and reconstructed with the hearts of some thirty other people. He is thirty-one hearts and consciousnesses put together. Originally, I wanted to just set them free and have you unlock them, but since you have Figment, things have changed.”

You and Figment exchanged a look. You were surprised at what you saw though. He looked sad and worried. He clearly didn’t want to be here.

“You can retrieve the memories of the experiments. Perhaps with them, some of the damage done can be undone. Rather than just setting the hearts free, lives can be saved. If you agree to help, of course.”

“Why can’t you just go through the memories yourself? You were able to sift through mine just fine,” you asked. This was all a lot to take in.

“The memories I’m looking for have been locked in the subconscious, and his heart locked his subconscious as a defense mechanism when his heart was being tampered with.”

“And there are no others that have these memories? No one else who can… I don’t know…. Testify?”

“He was, unfortunately, the only survivor of this particular experiment of the thirty people whose hearts were forced together. I wish there were another way, but there isn’t. I feel like it’s destiny that brought us all together. You can unlock the subconscious, Figment can get you there, and your uncle is a scientist who can undo the experiments on the remaining survivors. I know it’s a lot, but it would mean so much that you would save these people and put the others to rest.”

“Of course, I will,” you answered automatically. You looked to Figment who continued to look at the man in the pod. Then he turned to you and nodded. You gave him a little smile.

“Thank you, so much, but I do have to warn you. Each mind is essentially a world. And heartless may be an occurrence because of the nature of the experiments done on it, but you’re a keyblade wielder. So this will be no unfamiliar task to you.”

“Nope,” Axel interjected, stepping forward from where he and Demyx had been quietly listening, “She’s way too inexperienced for that kind of mission.”

“Hey! I’ve fought heartless before!” you countered. He gave you a dry look.

“You just learned how not to completely get your ass kicked today, and that was after you thoroughly got it kicked ten minutes before. You’re not ready for this.”

“So come with me!” you nearly shouted, much to the surprise of both Axel and Figment. “You always seem to know what you’re doing and seem keen on at least making sure I don’t die. Come with me.”

Figment began to violently shake his head ‘no’ to the point where it was almost a blur.

“We need him, Figment,” you said, hands on your hips. He frowned up at you then looked at Axel. “He’s right you know. I’m not that experienced yet, and we need all the help we can get. And we can’t just let it go when we know that there are so many depending on us.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Axel interjected again, “Don’t I get a say in this? Who says I want to go with you?”

“Then don’t complain when I say I’m going with or without you!” you say, giving him a hard poke in the middle of his chest. He grabs your wrist, staring you dead in the eye with a steady, heated glare.

Why are you so damn difficult?”

“How am I being difficult because I said I want to help people? Isn’t that what you said keyblade wielders do? They help! Well that’s my job now too! Why don’t you want to help what may be hundreds if not thousands of people?”

“Because they’re not my responsibility!”

“Well neither am I! So come with me or don’t, but I’m going,” you said, snatching your arm out of his grip. The air around Axel was noticeably warmer but you were too annoyed/pissed off to notice or care.

“So what do we do to go into the mind?” Axel finally asked after a moment, looking to Figment who still hated the thought of bringing him along – and it showed in his face. You on the other hand gave Axel a smile – one he was not appreciative of despite all the gratitude it communicated.

He hated that look more than the sympathetic one.

Figment motioned for Axel and you to lay down on the floor. Then he put your hands together. You gripped Axel’s hand lightly, noting how warm he was.

“Wait, wait,” Demyx said anxiously, “Let me see if I’ve got this right. That guy is in a coma because of some crazy experiment done on him who knows how long ago, and the two of you are gonna go inside his mind and get his memories and try to wake him up?”

“Basically,” you said.

“And we’re just gonna take this guy’s memories in some half-cocked attempt to undo a bunch of damage done to other survivors?”

“Yes.”

“And what does Demyx do?” he asked, pointing to himself.

“Demyx,” Axel said in an authoritative tone, “Watches Namine, ________, and me until we get back and makes sure nothing happens. And if anyone you know might cause trouble comes through, you end it right then and there.”

Demyx got the picture. He wished it weren’t the case though. What if Saix or Xemnas came through? He was just supposed to be able to kill them? He wasn’t that strong. His only hope would be the element of surprise.

“Right,” he answered unenthusiastically.

You looked at Axel and gave his hand a light squeeze. He looked at you and was met with that ever so grateful smile again that he hated oh so much. But he didn’t show it.

“Thank you. For this, I mean,” you said softly. He grew a fraction warmer, not that you noticed.

“You’re hopeless,” he said simply, a dry look painted over his face.

“That’s why you’re here,” you said, your smile growing a bit brighter. He just rolled his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. You giggled at his reaction and looked up as well. Figment motioned for the two of you to close your eyes and you did so.

It was quiet, and the only thing you could hear was your own steady breathing.

Then you felt winds steadily going passed your face, growing in pace until it was whipping passed you at an alarming rate. And as you acknowledged the feeling of weightlessness about you, you snapped your eyes open to realize that you were falling. You looked at Axel who seemed to open his eyes and realize this just as you did.

Below you saw clouds. They were far away but rapidly approaching. You were falling, and Figment was no where to be seen. You were going to die.

Chapter Text

Your mother had a headache. You were becoming a hassle to keep up with. She hadn’t been this stressed since you had learned to crawl and walk and kept wandering every time she had her back turned for more than a second. More than a few times she had to catch you from falling off of changing tables. But now it was worse because you were running around a strange and new world.

She’d been at the ship for a while now. She’d been forgiving when you were running a bit late. She imagined you were exploring the town as much as looking for Sora or the King, and you were always so excited about new things. She imagined you lost track of time, and Twilight Town was such a calm town that she doubted there was any trouble you could really get into. But it was an hour passed your meeting time, and she just knew you were in the middle of something. Again.

She walked into the ship and to the bunks where Ludwig was snoring. She shook him gently.

He stopped mid-snore and looked around blearily.

“Huh? What? Who’s there?”

“Ludwig,” your mother said softly, “We need to go.”

“What happened? Where’s ________?”

“That’s why we need to go. We were supposed to meet up about an hour ago. But she’s run off. Again. I don’t know what I’m going to do with that girl.”

“I’m sure she’s fine, probably off at some wild party or something,” he said as he hopped down from his bunk.

“You said something similar back in Disney Town, and she was stopping a bank robbery.”

He let out a sigh as he followed your mother out of the ship and back into town.

They asked around, and many people had seen you wandering around town before challenging someone, apparently the reigning champion, to a Struggle match – whatever that was supposed to mean!

Apparently, you were losing until a tall, red-haired man intervened and escorted you away with no resistance from you. It seemed like you knew him from what they said.

“Well do you know which way they went?” your mother asked a young woman who looked a bit younger than herself.

“Well I believe they were headed that way. Not much over there except a few shops. Most of it is residential.”

“Right, thank you,” your mother stated, barely finishing the sentence before marching off in that direction. She and Ludwig combed the streets looking for you while occasionally stopping to ask if anyone had seen a red-headed man come by with a girl matching your description. They each pointed to a little town square not far from there.

When she arrived, your mother eyed that burn mark on the ground. She didn’t know how you did it, she just knew you were the cause of it.

“How do you think she managed that?” Ludwig asked, inspecting the mark more closely.

“I was wondering that myself,” a man said as he came towards the two. “A girl came through here a few hours ago and said it was there when she arrived, but I know it wasn’t there this morning when I was first here. I walked away a bit after she said that but heard she was running through the town later.”

“This girl,” your mother began almost desperately, “What did she look like?”

The man gave a brief, relatively accurate description of you.

“I saw her run off into the woods,” a woman who overheard the conversation interjected.

“Was she with someone?” your mother asked, wondering if you were still with some redhead.

“No, she was by herself, but she seemed in an awful hurry to get into the woods as soon as possible. But there’s nothing out there but the Old Mansion, and it’s been abandoned for as long as anyone can remember.”

“Can you point me in the direction of the mansion? If I know my daughter, the one place she has no business being is where she’ll be.”

“Well sure miss.” The woman gave her directions, and she and Ludwig immediately set off to find you. If they were lucky, you’d still be there.

~

They started their search on the lower floors but saw no sign of you. Upstairs was a room that was pure white where your mother found a rudimentary drawing of you. It was the library that yielded results. She could hear faint voices coming from further in the mansion – a male and a female. Though the female didn’t sound like you. The voice was too soft. Your voice was sharper, more commanding. It always made its presence known when you spoke normally and stole attention when you raised it – not unlike your mother’s.

She followed the voices.

“Hello?” she called, and the two voices stopped speaking immediately. She continued onward, hoping that you were somewhere nearby or with these people and safe.

She saw a young blonde girl with large blue eyes dressed all in white and a young blonde man also with blue eyes dressed all in black. She looked to the ground where you lay with your eyes closed next to a tall redheaded man whose eyes were also closed.

“________!” she said rushing over to you and kneeling next to you. She sighed with relief when she saw you were still breathing. She brushed some hair from your forehead.

“You must be ________’s mother,” said the soft voice of the girl. Your mother looked at her with a questioning gaze. “I’m Namine. This is my friend Demyx. You must have questions.”

“Too many. Why isn’t she waking up?” your mother said looking back down at your sleeping form with a look of concern.

“She’s with Figment. She’s safe. They’re going inside the mind of a man who was experimented on. Are you familiar with the experiments of Ansem the Wise?”

“I know a bit about them,” your mother answered numbly, eyes never leaving your peaceful expression.

“She’s looking for information on the experiments done on one of the test subjects. We think that we may be able to undo some of the damage of the few remaining subjects that still live. So she went with Figment and Axel to find his memories that were locked away in his subconscious.”

Your mother’s eyes drifted to the man laying next to you. She could assume this was Axel. She then noticed that your hand was holding his.

“Do they know each other well?” she asked. Namine noticed where she was looking and giggled softly.

“I’d like to think they’re friends or that ________ got under his skin in a similar manner.”

Your mother let out a breathless laugh. That did sound like you.

“And who are you?” she asked the other blonde in the room.

“Oh me? I’m Demyx. I’m just here to guard and stand watch. Who’s the duck?” he said, eyeing the professor who was looking shocked at the man in the pod. Your mother noticed his odd silence as it was a rarity for him to not introduce himself and his credentials upon meeting new people. But then her eyes drifted to the pod he was staring into.

She let out a shocked gasp and began to sob desperately as she stumbled over to him.

“Is something wrong?!” Demyx asked in a panic, jarred by your mother’s violent reaction.

“Where did you get him?!” she said as she leaned on the pod.

“He was one of the few survivors of Ansem’s experiments. He was brought here to keep him safe,” Namine explained, eyes wide at your mother’s reaction. “Did you know him?”

~

Axel and you held each other’s hand for dear life as the two of you fell through the sky. Then you landed, rather softly surprisingly, on two large fluffy pillows on the floor of a boat. You looked around in a daze, shaking and still holding Axel’s hand, wondering how it was you were still alive when just seconds ago you were plummeting towards the clouds below.

“Ahoy, mateys!” Figment exclaimed from the front of the boat the two of you had landed in, “All aboard the SS Imagination!”

“Figment, what the hell?” you shouted as soon as you found your voice.

“Relax,” he waved you off, “I wasn’t going to let you die.”

“He can talk now?” Axel questioned, dropping your hand as he stood up, his legs a bit shaky but not nearly as much as yours. You struggled a bit more to stand, and Axel grabbed your hand again to help you up, letting go once you were steady on your own two feet.

“He can only speak in the mind,” you said before redirecting your anger back at Figment who was wearing a little yellow and orange sweater that had his name spelled across the chest… and a pirate’s hat?

“Why’s he wearing the hat?” Axel mentioned. It didn’t seem that important, but his curiosity was minorly piqued.

“I don’t know. I thought it looked nice,” Figment mumbled, slowly taking the hat off of his head. You swatted Axel’s arm who gave you a look.

What?”

“Why’d you have to go and make fun of his hat?” you questioned in a hushed voice.

“I wasn’t making fun of it,” Axel countered, equally hushed. “I just wanted to know why he was wearing it.”

“Well now look at him! He’s got anxiety!” You both looked over to Figment who was kicking the hat, muttering that it was stupid over and over again. Axel rolled his eyes. Then you took in your surroundings. You were on a boat. In the sky? You looked over the edge of the boat. You were no longer falling but floating towards the clouds. All around you was a bright blue sky.

“Where are we? Is this the mind?” you asked Figment. This didn’t look like the mind. Or at least, not what you thought it looked like.

“Yep! We’re in the hub of all imagination and innovation, creativity and creation! Here you can conjure anything and everything with your only limitations being the ones you set for yourself!”

“Can I imagine things too?” you asked excitedly.

“No!” Figments said, smacking you on the forehead with a newspaper, “Only I and the person whose mind we enter can.”

You rubbed the spot where he smacked you.

“So what part of the mind is this exactly?” Axel asked as he looked around at the bright blue.

“We’re in the preconscious. These are thoughts and opinions that have yet to form, the part of you that is experiencing life just before your mind processes how to feel about it. Every thought and feeling begins here, so this space is ripe with potential for anything and everything. This is anything that can be potentially brought into the conscious mind.”

“And what are those clouds down there?” you asked, leaning further over the edge of the boat to gaze down below.

“Below lies the conscious mind. It is everything you’re aware of in any given moment – thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes.”

“I thought the memories were in the subconscious?” you questioned, if what Namine told you was true.

“Yes, they exist there too. But these are memories that are retrieved easily and brought to awareness. Where we are about to descend is where these things can be thought about and discussed about rationally.”

“And what about where we’re going? What’s in there?” Axel asked as he casually leaned on the side of the boat.

“Where we need to go is the subconscious. That would be the unconscious mind. In there are the hidden thoughts, suppressed urges and memories – things tied to your id that your ego and superego keep in check so you can act like a person with social graces as opposed to a wild animal. There are also the unpleasant as well as the unacceptable contents – such as feelings of pain, anxiety or conflict.”

“How do you know all this again?” Axel asked as he eyed Figment who eyed him right back.

“I studied Freud’s theory of the mind in college,” he said, sticking out his tongue.

“And what college was that exactly?”

“Why the Imagination Institute of course!”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“What does the conscious look like?” you asked. If the preconscious looked like the sky, you could only imagine what the conscious looked like.

“It varies from person to person,” Figment supplied. You were both excited and worried. You hoped this guy wasn’t some kind of pervert or something. “Here I’ll sing a song about it, so you can understand better.”

Three other Figments appear to form a barber shop quartet, complete with little straw hats and thick mustaches. Axel just looked at him as he sang the first few notes and walked away. As interesting as Figment hijinks were, you decided to follow him.

“We shouldn’t be here. I don’t wanna be here. I’m in some guy’s head. And a magical cartoon dragon, who apparently went to college, is singing to me about the wonders of the imagination.”

“Actually it’s an entire choir now, and he’s doing a gospel rendition of the song he was just singing,” you supplied. Axel looked at you.

“You know for someone’s whose entire concept of being and existence was shattered only a little over week ago, you’re taking this – whatever we’re doing – remarkably well.”

“I’m one of the only people who can bring my world back. I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of what I have to do. And you taught me that things will be different everywhere I go. I think I’ve kinda come to terms with the fact that everything will be different for me from now on. Which, not gonna lie, was all you. You’re a good teacher.” He looked at you. You meant it. He could see it in your eyes, your smile. You appreciated him, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about it considering the circumstances of his job regarding you. And despite himself, the longer he kept you alive, the more he knew he would want to keep you alive.

“You remind me of Roxas sometimes,” he said finally. You remembered him mentioning him once in Disney Town.

“Was he difficult too?”

“Yeah, he could be real hard headed sometimes. It was the death of him.”

He didn’t need to look at you to know you were giving him that fucking look again, but he did and there it was. But… oddly enough, he wasn’t angry about it this time. He felt a little bit happy, grateful you shared that sympathy with him. He’d never known it from anywhere else. Not in a long time. He chuckles a bit. You were caught off guard. You’d never really seen him smile before. He sure smirked a lot, but never a genuine smile like the one he wore now. It was handsome smile. One that brought out his eyes which you noticed were a really pretty shade of green.

Axel noticed that you were just standing there looking at him with wide eyes.

“What?” he asked after a moment.

“Nothing,” you said, mildly flustered and more than a little dazed at this tiny realization, “I just noticed. You have really pretty eyes.”

His eyes widened. He was more caught off guard by your honest statement about his eyes than you were when he smiled. He blushed, a light pink spreading over his cheeks, and turned away quickly.

This was bad. He was showing vulnerability to someone he was supposed to kill. But he was realizing with dawning horror… he might not want to kill you. That isn’t to say he couldn’t. He just might feel a little bad about it.

“We should get back before Figment notices we’re gone,” you said as you heard the song hitting its high point, which probably meant the big finish was coming up.

“Okay, yeah,” he said a little hastily. Anything, anything, to get him out of this moment.

You were already walking back when he turned, and he stayed a few steps behind you to let his face calm down before he reached Figment.

The last note was playing as soon as you reached him. He was now dressed as Abraham Lincoln alongside forty-something other Figments all dressed as presidents, panting and sweating and wiggling their jazz hands with lively smiles on their faces.

“So,” Figment panted, clearly out of breath, “What’d you think of the song?”

You both blinked. Then you started clapping and cheering. Axel just clapped lightly along with you, his blush gone but his mind still darting around the fact that he was feeling, and he didn’t like feeling. At least not when a target was involved.

“That was great!” you lied, with a happy smile and a little bounce.

“Well that enough of my wacky shenanigans,” he said with a snap of his fingers, reverting back into one Figment, “We’re entering the conscious now.”

The boat touched the clouds and began its slow descent through them, rumbling as it did so.

“Why’s it rumbling?” you asked with minor worry.

“WHAT?!” Figment screeched. “You didn’t listen to the song at all did you?! There was a whole verse dedicated to the rumbling!”

Figment began hitting you repeatedly with the newspaper while you waved an arm around trying to swat him away. But you all froze at what you saw below those clouds.

It was awful. The color had all but vanished from the landscape below you. The only distinguishable shades were whites, grays, and blacks. Everything that you could make out looked rotted away, like the land was poisoned.

“What was this guy into?” Axel asked, his own surprise showing on his face.

“It shouldn’t look like this,” Figment said in a low voice, “No one’s mind should look like this.”

You looked at Figment who looked worried and moderately scared to say the least.

“What happened?” you breathed.

“I don’t know.”

You could see a mountain scape in the distance that had thick layers of fog running over it. No snow capped the tops. They merely jutted out as dark gray and black shapes like the finger tips of a giant that slept below the surface… waiting.

There were forests, but trees were gnarled and barren. They looked like deformed skeletons with their trunks and branches bleached various, sharp shades of white. The branches stretched up like arms, reaching for help. Or to pull you down with them.

There were cities too, but they were dilapidated. Some looked like they’d been shaken down to the bare bones of their structures. Fragments of buildings were scattered and layered over each other. The only indication that it had been a city at all were where some buildings still managed to stand but they looked as if they had not been touched in years.

And when you got a little closer, you could see little things running around, darting in and out of trees and through the streets of the cities. If you had to guess, you’d say they were the heartless Namine warned you about.

And in some places, there was nothing. They were pitch black spots where it looked like holes had been cut out into the world. It was something difficult for your own mind to comprehend and you felt dizzy staring at them. But occasionally there would be a glint, light managing to reflect off of something. It made the pools of black appear to have movement. They undulated and writhed in a way you didn’t understand – couldn’t understand unless you got any closer. You did not want to get closer.

“This is gonna be a journey,” you breathed. Then you noticed something out of the corner of your eye. You almost didn’t with how dark it was nearly blending in with the rest of the landscape. You turned your head quickly seeing a humanoid… thing with large horns curling to form a heart. It had wings on its back and forearms and a large sword in one of its hands. It looked at you with bright yellow eyes, its tail swishing behind it.

Your keyblade was in your hand instantly, and good thing too because it charged you as soon as you noticed it. The sound of your swords clashing alerted Axel and Figment to its presence, but they had no time to help you as several more of the same kind of heartless swooped down to attack the three of you and the boat.

You weren’t much help unless any of them got close to you. And those that did proved to be very powerful. You’d been so sure most if not all heartless attacked similarly to animals, but these were different. They attacked, and they had brute strength to match it. You did your best, holding your own for most of it, and implementing the lesson Axel had given you earlier to avoid some of the nastier hits they would have landed on you.

Axel held them off in the air with Figment as best he could, using a weapon you couldn’t make out outside of the fact that it reminded you of a frisbee that was on fire and Figment using a purple RPG he’d imagined. But it seemed the combined efforts of the three of you weren’t enough as the boat took several hits. It began to jarringly rock back and forth unsteadily as it was pushed and battered in the air. And you, you were thrown. And you were falling again – staring into one of the deep pools of black that gaped at you like the maw of the world widening to swallow you up.

Chapter Text

“Xigbar.”

Xigbar stopped in his tracks, turning to Saix who looked at him as serious as ever but with an underlying anxiousness about him. He watched him silently.

“I’m looking for Xemnas. Have you seen him?” Saix continued.

“First you lost the duck and now your own boss? Man, you really are bad at tracking. They might be better off putting Demyx on it, or did you lose him too?” Xigbar was all smiles while Saix only glared coldly at him. After a moment of quiet anger, Xigbar chuckled.

“He’s on his way to the Chamber of Repose,” he answered finally, with a roll of his eye. Saix’s eyes widened and he let out an angry huff before hurrying to catch Xemnas before he locked himself away for who knew how long to talk to who knew what.

“You’re welcome,” Xigbar called out behind him.

Saix just barely managed to catch Xemnas in time just as he was about to enter the chamber.

“Xemnas,” he called. Xemnas stopped all movement. He was annoyed.

“What do you want?”

“I’m concerned,” he answered immediately, not one to waste an impatient Xemnas’ time.

“This is about Axel again.” It was a statement, not a question. Saix almost flinched at his tone. It was as calm as always, but Xemnas had always had a way of communicating his anger without using a tone.

“The girl is still alive.”

“Be that as it may, we have more pressing matters to attend to. Like your failure to bring me the only person who can bring any form of stability to my world. Your incompetence wears my patience thin. As does your incessant prattling about someone else’s job when you have failed to do your own. If Axel wishes to lay his life down for the life of some whelp, then let him. Now if there isn’t anything else?”

Saix didn’t respond. He wasn’t supposed to.

“Good.”

Xemnas disappeared into the Chamber of Repose.

~

“Excuse me, I have to take this.” Your mother nodded at Ludwig as he stood up, ringing gummi phone in hand. He gave her a lingering glance as she sat next to your unconscious body, holding your free hand and idly rubbing a thumb over it.

He stepped into the other room where the computer was before answering his phone.

“Oh thank goodness! I’ve made a horrible mistake!” Queen Minnie said from the other line.

“What? Did something happen?”

“I’m afraid I’ve given you the wrong information. I told you that the last I’d heard Sora was headed towards Twilight Town.”

“Yes, we’ve been looking for him for about a day now.”

“I know. That’s why I’m sorry! Chip and Dale told me Sora came from Twilight Town. He wasn’t headed there. He was leaving! I sent you on a wild goose chase!”

“Hey! Watch your language! I have geese in my family! It was hard growing up, but I’m okay with that now.”

“Oh, uh, sorry.”

Ludwig let out a long dreary sight.

“Well I’m afraid we’ve gotten wrapped up in a situation here in Twilight Town and can’t leave as of yet. Do you know where he might be headed next?”

“He just left here actually. And I actually don’t know where he’s headed at the moment. But I’ll keep an eye out for him and let you know when I hear anything.”

“Thanks, Min. Hey! What was he doing there anyway?”

“Oh just some epic time travel mumbo jumbo.”

“What?!”

“Well I have to go now. Duty calls!”

“Wait!”

Minnie hung up. Ludwig let out another sigh. Well finding Sora was doomed to failure, but at least something came out of it.

~

You were falling, wind whipping passed your face, the horror of knowing Axel and Figment did not know you fell. The dread of watching that dark abyss draw ever closer. You could see the shapes that moved within it come into view. They were hands, reaching for you. They stretched forth with sinewy, skeletal arms with fingers that seemed to extend further than they should. You were going to fall right into their grasp.

You screamed at the thought – a horrible shrill sound that ripped through your throat and made it feel shredded and raw. You curled in on yourself, shielding your face from what was below with your arms as if that would protect you.

Then you heard a sound that was very much out of place.

“We-oo! We-oo! We-oo!” It was Figment. He had transformed into a helicopter and was swooping in to save you, catching you just as the icy tips of those too long fingers brushed your skin. It felt like that part of you would never get warm again.

You looked around but didn’t see any sign of Axel. A quick glance up showed that he was still fighting but was slowly being overwhelmed. The ship was also coming down at a much faster rate. It wouldn’t hold for much longer.

“We have to help him!” Figment began to fly closer but couldn’t get too close for fear of drawing the attention of the heartless near the ship, but one of the heartless grabbed Axel and began to pull him off of the ship, pulling him into the air and taking him who knows where.

You did the only thing you could think of and threw your keyblade at it. It worked. The heartless dropped Axel but now he was plummeting into the abyss below as well. You jumped, grabbing him by the hand and dangling over the abyss as the Figment-copter held you by your feet to keep your from falling.

He looked up at you surprised, letting out a somewhat nervous disbelieving laugh. And you did too, letting tears fall from your eyes. It was too much like it had been with Genki. But you were determined. He would not fall. You would not let him.

Figment pulled the two of you back into the body of the helicopter and you both collapsed on the floor, panting from as much the exhilaration and anxiety as the exhaustion.

“Are you alright?” you breathed. He looked surprised. Only mere moments ago, you were the one in danger. The next thing he knew, you were jumping from the helicopter with absolutely no hesitation to save his life. He was not alright, but he nodded, nonetheless.

“The skies aren’t safe,” Figment observed as he searched for a spot to land.

“And something’s up with the heartless,” Axel noted.

“What do you mean?” you asked, eyeing him warily, dreading what he was going to say next.

“They didn’t disappear,” he said, looking outside the Figment-copter to watch for danger. “When you defeat heartless with your keyblade, they shouldn’t reappear. That should be it. End of story for them. But they kept coming back. Almost immediately. We never stood a chance in that fight.”

You looked to the skies, also watching for more heartless, noting that the ship had already crashed in the distance. It seemed to draw heartless to the noise, and you could at least be grateful that wherever you landed, at least a good chunk of the heartless had left the area.

Figment landed in a small clearing. You hopped out of the Figment-copter and into the dried grass below you. A small cloud of gray dust kicked up where your feet landed like the ashes of a fire put out long ago.

You looked around. The air was bitter and stale, and the landscape looked no less ominous from the ground than it had from the sky. In fact, it was darker now that you were on the ground as opposed to when you were in the sky. It was like a black fog had rolled in. It didn’t obstruct your view, but it choked a good amount of the light out, dimming your surroundings.

“We shouldn’t be out in the open,” Axel said, lightly grabbing your elbow and leading the you to a small thicket of trees nearby in the forest, eyes scanning the area for any immediate danger.

Figment’s eyes darted around in a panic.

“It shouldn’t look like this,” Figment said again, “There shouldn’t be heartless in here!”

“Like, not as many?” you asked.

“Like at all!” He took in a deep breath, and once he exhaled, looking calmer once he did. “Well… we press on.”

He donned a pair of hiking boots and began to fly off deeper into the forest. You and Axel followed.

“How do you know which way we’re going,” Axel questioned as he eyed the trees.

“I have my ways,” Figment answered. It was a large compass that just said yes and no. Thankfully, you were heading into the yes direction.

“Do you know when we’ll get there?” you asked.

“When we get there,” he answered. You rolled your eyes and continued on.

Axel noticed a bit later that you were staring at him, but your eyes were sad and distant.

“Are you alright?” he asked. You blinked, surprised. You’d apparently been deep in thought about whatever had made you so upset. You shook your head, letting out a bitter laugh that didn’t suit you at all.

“Yes and no. You reminded me of someone earlier,” you said. Axel snorted.

“What? When I was falling to my death?” he said with a smirk and a light roll of his eyes.

“Yes,” you answered somberly, looking away from him.

“Oh.” The two of you grew quiet for a few seconds. “I’m sorry.”

You looked back up at him with a small smile, one of gratitude he noted.

“It’s alright. I’m just glad I didn’t let you down too.” Figment popped in next to you.

“Hey, I’m sorry to cut in on the conversation, but your talking is going to draw a lot of attention to us in this ever so quiet and heartless infested death trap.”

You both nodded, resigned to remain quiet, eyes watching the trees for signs of movement.

~

“Please tell me,” you mother began softly once her sobs quieted, “Where are they exactly? What are they doing?” Ludwig sat next to her with a comforting hand on her back. He was still quiet.

“Perhaps a bit more explanation is in order to help you understand better,” Namine suggested. Your mother was impatient but nodded anyway. Her answers would do no good if she could not understand any of them.

“Your daughter is a keyblade wielder.”

“Which means she can stop the heartless,” your mother supplied.

“Yes,” Namine said, “This also means she can lock and unlock any door in existence. This is not limited to physical doors. She can unlock and lock the barriers between one universe and the next, the barriers of one’s heart and mind, even between realms of light and of darkness.”

“And she’s trying to unlock a heart and mind right now?”

“Yes, she’s going to unlock his mind in the hopes of traversing the subconscious.”

“What does she hope to find there?”

“With any luck, a means to undo the damage done to him,” Namine looked sadly at the pod where the man still slept.

“How do you intend to use what she finds?”

“Well we may be able to reverse the experiments if we can figure out what exactly was done to them. I know what happened to him,” Namine nodded towards the pod, “But if there’s anything else it can be a big help. These experiments were done on hundreds of thousands of people. Anything we can do will help out. If, of course, you’d be willing to help, Professor.” She was looking at Ludwig now.

Ludwig looked at her silently as if he were in a stupor. Slowly a look of determination overcame his glassy eyes. He nodded.

“I don’t know how. I never specialized in memory conversion. It was the work of one of my colleagues, but I’ll dig up his old research and do my best to convert the memory into something useable so I can learn from it.” Namine smiled at him.

“I don’t know that they’ll even find anything,” she mentioned, “But if there’s even a chance that she can bring something back that’ll help, it’ll be worth it. And I know she can do it.”

“How can you know that? She doesn’t have any formal training or experience,” your mother said, a little frantic and frustrated.

“I’ve seen her memories. She’s had some minor training, fencing with her friend. And Axel is with her. He’ll protect her and Figment.”

“How did the two meet actually? ________ always made fast friends but hardly in a day,” your mother said, casting a wary glance at Axel.

“That I can’t say I know, honestly,” Namine said, giving both you and Axel’s sleeping forms a soft smile. A tear ran down your face, and you gripped Axel’s hand tighter, “But I know they’ll look out for each other.”

Your mother looked back down at the two of you, brushing your tears away and watching as your eyes moved rapidly behind your eyelids.

“Do you know when they’ll be back?”

“Well, time moves faster in the mind than it does here. They may be gone for only a few hours, but it will have been days for them.”

~

Even if you could swim, and you couldn’t, you wouldn’t dip a toe in that.

Before the three of you lay a swamp. The water was dark and black – not as black as the pools you saw earlier but pretty damn close. There was thin dark, green film that floated over the water which gave it a sickly, poisonous, and oily appearance. It gave off a slightly sour smell that made your nose wrinkle, and the air felt thick and humid. Yet, despite its humidity, it felt cool – just enough to be moderately uncomfortable, yet nowhere near as icy as the fingers that had brushed your arms earlier.

“Looks like we’ll need a boat,” Figment said, conjuring up a big purple motorboat with his face on the front and a small cabin for him to start and steer the boat from.

“All aboard,” the boat called to you from little speakers on the outside of the cabin.

You didn’t want to go on that water – not because of the boat but just because of the general sense of unease the swamp gave you. Maybe you could walk around?

You looked left and right. The swamp didn’t appear to have an end as far as you could see – which wasn’t far considering you had to see through the haze of fog that seemed to thicken minutely as you approached the water. You let out a sigh and hopped onto the boat, Axel close behind you.

You took a seat on one of the few benches while Figment started up a motor from the front of the boat. Axel sat next to you, and the warmth he radiated felt good. You almost leaned into him, but that would be weird.

You glanced up at him. He was looking at the swamp. His brows dipped down lightly in concentration as his really green eyes scanned the swamp’s shore where the two of you had just been. You looked around too. The trees here were different than they were in the forest. These trees appeared to droop like they were being pulled toward the water by an invisible force. Limp gray moss hung from their bare branches. The bark of more than a few trees had gouges and claw marks through them, exposing rotted wood underneath, and more than a few looked like they had been snapped under the weight of… something.

“I think something large lives in this swamp,” you said quietly. Your heartrate picked up hearing it out loud as opposed to just hypothesizing it. It made it feel more real. Axel gave a brisk nod of acknowledgement.

“On the bright side,” he replied, “The swamp’s plants are pretty spread out and thin. It won’t be able to get the drop on us.” You nodded. It didn’t make you feel better.

Axel turned around to where Figment was fiddling with the ignition.

“Any reason we aren’t moving yet?” he asked Figment who was turning the key over and over again for the engine to sputter.

“Well I don’t wanna flood the engine,” Figment said, turning the key again.

“Isn’t this boat imaginary?”

“…”

“…”

Figment squinted at Axel, starting the engine and grumbling about how Axel had no imagination to begin with.

The boat finally started moving, and it moved forward at a snail’s pace. The motor hummed quietly, and it seemed to be the only noise around.

It navigated the swamp, and thankfully the vegetation never thickened. The trees that had been broken and carved even began to vanish. You could at least say you’d moved out of the creature’s place of residence or hunting grounds.

You looked at Axel again who seemed to have relaxed a bit like you. He looked at you with bright, observant eyes.

“You were crying earlier…. Said I reminded you of your friend. Was it the one you mentioned back when we were in Disney Town?”

You nodded.

“Genki…. When everything was falling apart… When the world opened up beneath our feet… I couldn’t save him. I tried to hold on. I really did,” your eyes were sad and distant with a mild look of horror to them. He didn’t need to ask to know that you were reliving that moment in your head. And you were. Re-seeing it in perfect detail. You absently rubbed at the scabs on your wrist. Axel glanced down at your hands as you rubbed your wrist with one hand and clenched and unclenched the other.

“I know you did all you could,” he said finally. You looked up at him with mild confusion written on your face. “You jumped from a helicopter to save me with no questions asked and you don’t even know me. I know you did all you could to save someone you obviously care so much about.”

“I just wish I could have saved him,” you said gravely.

“You will,” he said, and you gave him a warm, tender smile.

“I know. Thank you.”

“So what was he like? Genki, I mean.”

You brightened.

“He was my best friend. Taught me how to sword fight.”

“Yeah, that’s an odd occupation, don’t you think?”

You shrugged.

“I mean, he’s been fencing since he was a child. I never questioned it. It was something he was passionate about. I mean, I feel the same way about dancing.”

“How long did you know each other?”

“About five years. We met in high school and have been together ever since. I mean, we met in a shared geometry class, but it wasn’t until I made some sarcastic remark about the teacher half way through the third quarter of the school year that he laughed at that we even noticed each other. We found we actually had a lot in common after that. We were like the perfect match.” You were obviously very proud of your relationship.

“Oh so the two of you were dating?” Your eyes widened in surprise before you let out a nervous laugh, waving his comment off.

“Ha, ha, oh no, no. We were just friends.”

“But you wanted to be more?” Now you looked a bit guilty, not meeting his eyes anymore.

“Well not me,” you admitted sheepishly.

“Well you clearly have such a strong bond. Was he not up to your standards physically?”

“I’m not that shallow!”

“So he was ugly.” You scoffed, mildly offended.

“I’ll have you know that he was gorgeous!” Axel gave you a dry look.

“Okay, so you have a lot in common and can have fun with each other for hours on end, and you think he’s ‘gorgeous’. But you’re not into him?”

“No. Not like that.”

“Well… what was the problem?”

“Ugh… It was mostly his confidence. He was always so unsure of himself and self-conscious, but he never did anything about it. He complained a lot, but never did anything to improve himself to make himself someone he was proud of. And I don’t know… I guess I just like guys who are a bit more… assertive? Is that the word I’m looking for? I mean, that’s why he learned to fence to give himself a confidence boost, but….”

“Learning to fight doesn’t help with personal issues.”

“Well I know that, but he was adamant that it was the only thing that gave him self-esteem. But it never changed anything. If he was bullied, I was always coming to his rescue. I mean, I don’t really have a problem with that, but when it comes down to it romantically, I want someone who’s more self-assured.”

“Oh. So you want to be dominated?”

You choked on air for a moment.

“No! That’s not what I’m saying! I mean it would be nice, but that’s not what I was getting at!”

You cast a glance at his face and saw he was smirking at you. He was just messing with you. You gave him a rough shove while he chuckled at your reaction, nearly falling from the bench as he did so.

“You’re the worst,” you said half-heartedly as he righted himself on the seat next to you, sitting a bit closer to you.

“Hey, you’re the one who said you wanted to be pinned to a wall while he bites your neck and you wrap your legs around him.”

I never said that!” you almost screeched.

“Well you’re not denying it.” You were laughing and leaning on each other for support at this point while Axel kept making lewd comments about your sexual preferences.

Your laughter devolved into giggles and he just chuckled. Hmmm. There was that nice smile of his again. Your laughter quieted after a moment, but you looked at each other again and your fits of laughter came back.

“Hey!” Figment snapped, flying between where you and Axel were leaning on each other, separating you and Axel and smacking you both on the head with a rolled-up newspaper. “Need I remind you that you have to shut your pie holes! I don’t think you understand. If you die in the mind you die for real. Well, not exactly. Your body will be a vegetable, but your conscious mind will be gone for good.”

You both quieted quickly with wide eyes. That sounded awful. You couldn’t imagine what your mother would do if Figment had to tell her that she’d essentially be waiting for your body to die because what was left of the real you was dead.

Figment went back to the cabin of the boat to continue steering and you looked at the swamp around you disappear as the boat floated into a cave.

“We’ll be fine,” Axel whispered to you when your look of fear hadn’t left your face. You seemed to relax a bit and you offered him a small smile, giving his hand a grateful squeeze before letting go.

The cave was ominous and there were low hanging stalactites above you. They were pointed like teeth and the walls and ceiling of the cave were slick with damp moss and water, and it only made worse the feeling of being engulfed. The creeping darkness wrapped around you as you drifted further from the mouth of the cave, and the temperature dropped at least another ten degrees.

Figment conjured a few lamps to light the area next to you and turned on some headlights near the front of the boat. There were no sounds now except the muffled putting of the boat’s motor and the echoes of liquid dripping from the ceiling and into the water below. There was no light except that on the boat. It felt like you were floating in the void. It was unsettling. You remembered staring up at the blue screens of the sky with Genki and feeling weightless. You felt like that now, but now it was more ominous. You gripped the edge of your seat as if you would fall up into the inky blackness any minute.

Where the light faded, the water and cave seemed to meld into one.

It was just black.

You weren’t even sure if the boat was on water anymore.

“Why is the boat so slow?” you asked Figment after a while, eager to be out of the cave. Your own voice made you flinch in the quiet.

“I’m not sure,” Figment said, looking over the side of the boat. The water was pure black as well, no longer covered in a thin film that you could see. “If I had to guess, it’s gotta be the water.”

He dipped a finger in the water. It dripped from his hand like a thick sludge and onto the boat where it quickly grew two bright yellow eyes and a body. It was a shadow heartless. You wasted no time, slicing through it with your keyblade immediately.

“We should get out of here,” you said. Figment nodded. He conjured up a second motor, and the boat hummed louder. The boat moved no faster. It drifted as slowly as it had before. You were getting anxious. You bounced on the balls of your feet impatiently. Even Axel was drumming his fingers against his leg, eyes darting this way and that. Every little noise set you on edge. The slosh of the water, the hum of the engine, the drip of the water from the void above into the abyss below, your own breathing.

Figment conjured up another motor, and the boat was making a significant amount of noise now. It moved no faster. You began to pace, eyes glued to the floor beneath you because the never-ending black surrounding you made you dizzy. Then you stilled.

Just barely over the roar of the motors you heard thudding. It was low and you had to strain to hear it. You looked around the boat, but all you saw was darkness. Nothing. Your heartrate picked up. You strained to see beyond the low light the boat managed to give off. Then you just barely saw it. Two, tiny, dim little dots in the distance. They were high up and swayed back in forth as they grew slowly closer. Your mind darted back to the trees where they’d had chunks of rotten wood gouged out of their trunks.

Something large was coming.

You took a staggering step back, summoning your keyblade.

“Guys?” you squeaked. Axel looked at you and followed your gaze, eyes widening at the approaching entity. Then you noticed two more sets of eyes not far behind the first.

Axel readied himself for a fight.

The first one broke through the dark haze. It was far too close for your liking. It was pitch black, and you could barely see it. It towered over you, dwarfing the boat you stood on by a large margin. It had a large muscular frame with a giant heart cleaved into its center. Its head was a mess of tentacles with yellow eyes peering through the tangle. You felt the eyes settle on the boat, and you tensed.

It continued its slow walk over to you, a low thud echoing through the cave with each step. It reached a long black arm out, its large hand which was easily half the size of the boat moving to grab the small vessel.

“Figment?” you called to him. He had seen them too and was now talking to the boat and asking him to hurry up.

“I’m trying,” the boat answered, and you heard the engines straining to go faster, but the boat wouldn’t move any faster despite all the black goo it kicked up in an effort to move forward.

They were nearly upon you now. You drew your keyblade. Then the boat gave a lurch as it struggled to move.

One of the creatures was here now, and reaching a hand out to grab the boat. Axel threw his weapons at it agitating it, and it drew the hand back. But the other one was already swinging at the boat in anger. You jumped from the boat.

“No!” Axel shouted.

You carved your keyblade up part of its arm before propelling yourself from its there to its face where you stabbed it with your keyblade.

It stumbled, moving to swat its face. You couldn’t dislodge your blade in time and jumped before the hand could strike you. But then you were falling again.

You landed in the water. It burned your eyes and stung with cold. It was pitch black. You couldn’t even see the light from the boat floating atop the waters. You were lost and scared. Your lungs, in your panic, burned with a need for air. Your mind urged you to scream, reach for help. Your limbs flailed to find something, anything, to pull you to the surface. You could feel yourself sinking. Slowly. Then there were eyes.

Hundreds of tiny yellow eyes that turned their gaze to you as you sank deeper into the cold abyss.

You felt numb now. You couldn’t move. The eyes began to move closer. How long until one would grab you, pull you deeper to drown? Or kill you outright? Leave your body a barely living husk back in reality?

You felt despair. You didn’t want the last thing you saw to be the dark or the eyes of hundreds of monsters that were going to kill you and take your heart.

Then you felt warmth, something that felt incredibly out of place for the cold abyss you found yourself in. A warm limb wrapped around you and pulled you upwards. You clung to it desperately.

You gasped when you broke the surface, feeling the sludge cling to you.

Axel grabbed the edge of the boat and hoisted himself and you back into it. You were flat on your back gasping while he looked deeply into your eyes to see that you remained unaffected by the darkness that had moments ago, swallowed you up.

The boat lurched. Figment had snapped his fingers, and the boat had sprouted wings and began to flap frantically to propel you forward. It had moved out of the way just in time to miss another attack from the heartless and just as the other two had caught up. The ceiling blurred passed you and Axel stayed low. The stalactites were much too close now, but the giant heartless had vanished rapidly in the distance. You were grateful to have the ordeal behind you. You shivered as you sat up, the cold and wind making your wet clothes even colder.

Then you saw a barrier, a thin translucent film that led to… somewhere. All you could make out on the other side were blurred shapes and multi-colored lights in hues of orange, pink, and purple.

The boat flew through the barrier.

Figment and Axel both let out sighs of relief. Until they saw the shattered remains of the hearts of thirty people floating in the air.

You on the other hand, couldn’t look. You had collapsed back onto the floor in a heap, crying out and alerting the others to your state.

It felt as if your entire being had shattered, and you hugged yourself to keep everything together. You were crying and sobbing and screaming. You could hear them. All of them. And you could feel them. And it hurt. It felt as if your own heart had been fragmented just as theirs had. They cried for help you could not give. And no relief came to you.

Axel held your shaking form close, unable to find any injury on you and unable to offer any other form of comfort.

“Can you go any faster?” he snapped at Figment.

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Figment snapped back.

~

Your form began shiver, and your mother worried over you. Did you need a blanket? Were you okay? Suddenly you began to sob loudly with tears running from your eyes in a constant stream. Axel’s hand gripped yours tighter.

Namine swiftly walked over to the man, probing his conscious to find the problem.

“What’s wrong? Where are they?” Demyx asked as he glanced between you and Namine.

Namine concentrated, finding your location.

“They’re in his heart.”

Chapter Text

You moaned in pain. Your head was splitting open. Or at least it felt that way. It was your head, right? You could hear them all. And they wouldn’t stop talking and s c r e a m i n g.

“________.”

That one! That’s your name.

I’m ________.

But that’s not my name. I… I don’t remember my name. We’re lost. Is it over yet?

I’m lost.

“________.” Your eyes snapped open, and you looked at Axel. He looked mildly relieved to have you look at him. You tried so desperately to cling to this moment. It felt like moving through tar.

“I… I can’t,” you choked out before you were pulled back into the haze. And you were lost again. Your head fell back limply, and you hung in his arms with a horrified look in your eyes. Your eyes darted back and forth, and you occasionally let out whimpers, but then you’d grow still and quiet. Then you’d be crying again. Then all emotion would vanish from your face, and no sound would come from you. You’d look dead. And that would scare Axel. And he’d call your name, and sometimes you’d look around or make a noise. Then you’d stop, and he’d worry again.

That had been the first time you responded coherently, making eye contact and speaking actual words. Axel looked to Figment who was steering the boat as fast as he could into what looked like stretched into an endless nothingness.

“Where are we?” Axel asked, looking around at the shattered fragments of hearts which glowed and dimmed rapidly.

“We’re in the heart chamber.”

“Why does it look like this? It’s just that I just imagined it differently.”

“I’ve never been in a heart before, but if the conscious was anything to go off of, I’d say it’s not supposed to look like this.”

“How were we even able to access this place?” Axel asked, looking down at you when a gasp left your lips before you began the cycle of sobbing softly again. He dried your tears. You leaned into his touch. He felt minor relief rush through him. You were responding again. Then you went limp, a look of fear on your face once more while your eyes darted back and forth rapidly – looking at what he couldn’t see.

“The conscious mind and heart are tied together. Separately the heart functions as your emotional guide. Your mind functions for everything else – wants, desires, wishes. But they function as one to create you as a whole.”

“How much longer to the other side?” Axel asked. You choked out another sob. You weren’t responding to him again.

“I think we’re getting close. I see a light.”

Axel tried to see where Figment was looking. It was a small dot of light. You wouldn’t be there for a while, but if he could keep you responding until then, maybe he could find out what was wrong with you. If the problem even could be fixed.

“Have you figured out what’s wrong with her?” Figment asked as he cast you a worried glance.

“No. If I had to guess, being a keyblade wielder and in a heart affects her.”

“But since it’s thirty people plus the original host, it might be having an adverse effect on her,” Figment concluded. He heard you let out another groan of pain.

Your hand shot out and grabbed Axel’s robe, fisting it tight. You pulled yourself up, looking him in the eyes. His eyes were wide in shock.

“Please,” you croaked, searching his face with desperate, half-crazed eyes. It was all you could say before you fell slack into his arms again. You weren’t just asking, no, you were begging him for… something. Your face held an expression of despair. Your eyes were dull but not void of life, your lip quivering and tears reappearing on your face. You curled into him, letting out a despondent noise of suffering.

You were scaring him. Which was quite a feat. He wasn’t scared so easily. But you were scaring him. You seemed to rely on him but in a way in which he could supply no support. He was useless, and that scared him too.

~

When you passed the barrier on the other side you gasped. It was like breaking the surface of water after having been under for so long. There was quiet around you, and it was a relief. Axel was relieved briefly that you were functioning as normal, but your eyes still looked frightened.

“________,” he said, grabbing your attention. You held your gaze this time, and Axel took that as a good sign that you were not going back into your stupor. You sat up slowly, crawling to sit next to him, hugging your knees to your chest and burying your face in them to cry.

Axel put an arm around your shoulders. He didn’t know what else to do. You leaned into him.

“I could feel them,” you said finally after a few minutes. “But I couldn’t feel me. I was all of them, but I knew I wasn’t any of them. I was lost. I couldn’t find myself or my way back and it was so dark.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“The people here. When we were in there, I couldn’t tell the difference between me or any of them. They’ve been trapped here for so long. They can barely tell themselves apart anymore. And I couldn’t find my way back most of the time. They kept pulling me back in and begging me for help, but I- I couldn’t do anything.”

“If it’s any consolation,” he began, “We are here to help them. I know you feel like you can’t do anything now, but you will.” Your eyes turned up to him, brighter than they were a moment ago but still very dull.

“Thank you,” you croaked out, leaning further into his side.

After a few hours the silence began to be unsettling again. Despite the fact that you had longed for it a while ago, now in the silence all you could hear were the echoes of those agonized and angered screams bouncing around in the back of your mind. And you felt better at least. You didn’t hurt anymore, and your headache had ebbed away.

Say something,” you thought, “Anything.”

You looked up at Axel. His arm wasn’t around you anymore, and you weren’t leaning on him, but he’d stayed firmly planted by your side. A comfort you were very grateful for. You didn’t want to be alone – even if your company could only stray about five feet from you.

You thought about other times he’d been there for you, and your mind immediately went to Disney Town. The safe, the crosswalk, the bank….

You snorted, and the sound was loud in the stillness. Axel flinched lightly, eyes darting down at you in worry. But then you started laughing your loud braying laugh, and he relaxed.

“Oh great. She’s lost it,” Figment said walking over to you with a bucket of water. He prepared to throw it on you, but you put a hand up in protest through your fits of giggles.

“No! No wait! I’m not crazy!”

“Well what’s so funny?” he asked. Axel looked at you as well.

“Axel,” you said turning towards him, eyes so much brighter now, “Back in Disney Town. The sign you left on the Beagle Boys! Why did you write that?”

Axel looked confused for a moment then recognition crossed his face, and he chuckled, scratching the back of his head.

“Seemed appropriate at the time,” he said with a light lilt of laughter in his voice. You continued giggling. Axel began to laugh too.

“Oof. That’s a laugh only a mother could love,” you heard the boat comment. Figment and the boat continued laughing, but you slapped a hand over your mouth, laughter dying in your throat. You seemed to shrink in on yourself a bit. Figment noticed before halting his own laughter and slapping the boat.

“Now look,” he said gesturing to you, “You hurt her feelings.”

“I’m fine,” you muttered.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Axel commented with a shrug. You smiled, bashfully looking down at your feet.

“Thanks,” you said. You were glad to have him as a friend. Wait. You were friends, right? Well, you barely knew each other, but you’d be hard pressed to say you didn’t like or trust him. After all you’d been through up to this point, it was certainly hard to say you felt like he hadn’t earned that title.

“Axel,” you began again. He looked down at you with a small smile on his face. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

He seemed surprised by your question. He was surprised. He hadn’t expected it… well ever. This was bad. Not only had he kept a target alive. He had allowed it to believe the two of you could be friends. And the worst of it was… he felt guilty. It made sense to him now – why he hated when you gave him that look of sympathy. He didn’t deserve that look. He had never gotten that from anyone in a long time, and when he finally did, he didn’t fucking deserve it. He realized, with revulsion, he liked having you around.

“Well I’m here with you. That’s gotta count for something, right?” Your smile brightened.

“Yeah. Thanks for that by the way. You’ve been a big source of support for me.”

“No problem,” he said softly.

Meanwhile Figment was having his own conversation with the boat, glancing at Axel and you. The two of you were smiling and talking innocently enough.

“No, sir, I don’t like it,” Figment said as he steered the boat around a tree. “He was on Disney Town. So what’s he doing here? Because last I checked I’m 87% sure that inter-worldly travel is expressly prohibited.”

“So he’s just following her? That’s creepy,” the boat said with a quirk of his brows, “How does he even know about other worlds?”

“Yeah, and then another guy wearing the exact same outfit shows up and claims to be best friends with the guy, and she just takes it all in stride!”

“Yeah, who does she think she is?!”

“What? No! That’s not the point!”

“Well what is the point?”

“I don’t trust Axel. Something about him just rubs me the wrong way.”

“And it rubs her the right way if you know what I mean,” the boat said, wiggling its eyebrows.

“I’m gonna act like I didn’t hear you say that about someone who is basically my niece.”

“Sorry, bro.”

“It’s cool, bro, but then he’s also a pyromancer! Where’d he learn to do that? Why is this pyromancer in some edgy, Hot Topic trench coat following my niece around?!”

“Hey, what are they doing now?” the boat asked. Figment looked behind him. The two of you were just laughing together.

“They’re just laughing.”

“Ooh. That’s how it starts.”

“Wait, what? That’s how what starts?!”

“Well if I wanted to get close to someone, I’d make them laugh. It’s the easiest way to break the ice. I mean look at him. He’s tall and has those gorgeous, green eyes.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, look at them. She can’t get enough of him.”

And Figment did look, noting that the two of you were a lot closer than you were before, just a few inches more and you’d be leaning on each other again. Figment panicked.

“If I were you, I’d handle that shit, bro,” the boat said, “Oh but we’re about to hit shore.”

Figment breathed a sigh relief, thankful to have a reason for you two to separate. You all hopped off the boat and onto the foggy gray shore. It was a relief to not be confined to the small space any more. It made you feel vulnerable. You and Axel stretched your stiff legs while Figment had one more word with the boat.

“Remember, keep an eye on Hot Topic over there,” the boat said, eyeing Axel as he stretched. Figment nodded and gulped as he snapped his fingers and the boat vanished.

“Well,” he started, flying between you two, “Let’s get a move on.”

“Wait,” you said. They both looked at you. You were squinting ahead of you down the path you stood on. You could see heartless ahead. They looked like the shadows you were used to seeing but taller and with a lanky muscular build. You almost didn’t see them in the dark haze, but their movement and eyes stood out just enough for you to catch them. “Get behind the trees.”

They did as you instructed. They looked where you were gazing.

“Good eye,” Axel whispered, noticing the neoshadows writhing about the path ahead of you.

“How should we handle this?” you asked, voice low.

“You’re the keyblade wielder. Tell me your plan, and unless it’s really bad, I’ll back you up.”

“Me?” you asked in a slightly higher voice. Figment also looked shocked.

“You want to be a keyblade wielder, you’re gonna have to make a few strategic decisions.”

You bit your lip, nervous. Then you looked around at your surrounding and what you had to work with. A direct attack was out of the question. If you had been able to spot them, then no doubt they would spot you as you were coming down the path. The trees offered a little in the way of cover. You might be able to go passed them unnoticed, but an attack would only go so far before they caught on. There didn’t look to be anything else.

“We’ll use the trees,” you whispered, “Attack only if necessary. Spread out.” Axel nodded, and you breathed a sigh of relief. This meant you were at least a little competent. The three of you spread out, Axel summoning his chakrams and Figment conjuring a bazooka. You decided against summoning your keyblade. You were a beacon, a fact you couldn’t forget since Leon had told you. And here that may very well be a death wish.

“I mean I could just turn into a bulldozer and knock them all down,” Figment said with a shrug, but you shook your head.

“They’ll just come back a second later since we can’t get rid of them, and then they’ll know we’re here.” Figment sighed but relented. You were right.

You rushed between the trees as quickly and quietly as you could. Every sound seemed amplified to you. You never knew if the rustle of the leaves were your own or a heartless that had passed you. You hugged close to every dark surface, holding your breath each time one walked by you only a few feet away. Your heart beat loudly in your ears, and you prayed that they didn’t have some sort of super hearing that allowed them to notice you.

You pressed your back into the next tree when one sidled up next to you. It stood there twitching and rocking back and forth. Your breath hitched. You could see Figment and Axel from where you were. They had stopped to look at you, eyes wide, glancing between you and the heartless. You made no movement to attack. All it had to do was turn its head and you would be spotted. Sweat beaded on your forehead. Seconds ticked by that felt like hours. Then it moved on. Your legs felt shaky. You hadn’t realized how frightened you were until now. Axel and Figment were still looking at you, and you gave a tiny nod that you were fine before peeling yourself off of the tree and moving on.

Then you heard a snap, and the world around you stilled. You looked to see where it had come from. Across from you Axel stood stock still as a few neoshadows crept closer to him. You watched the grip on his chakrams tighten as he readied himself to be discovered. This would end badly; you could feel it in your gut. But what could you do? Drawing the attention to yourself was just as bad if not worse. You looked around hastily and thanked your lucky stars that you found a rock. Just large enough to make a sound and small enough to be thrown a reasonable distance.

You chucked it in the other direction, behind you and away from Axel, watching as a small group of them ran passed to see what had disturbed the leaves. You looked at Axel who had already darted ahead and away from his previous hiding spot. You ran ahead too, eager to be out of reach of the horde.

You crouched in a small huddle of bushes. The next tree had been too far to dash over without risking being spotted. But as you looked between the branches you saw a neoshadow that you could swear was looking at you. The two of you stared at each other for a moment. After a minute, you were sure it hadn’t actually spotted you and that you had imagined it – that it was just looking in your general direction. You sighed in mild relief. Then it began to run towards you. You almost jumped from the bushes, feeling your keyblade calling to be summoned. But the heartless jumped, landed near you and kept moving. You were shaking. That was entirely too close. You dashed ahead to the next tree, thankful that this stretch of your journey appeared to be at an end. You couldn’t see any more heartless infesting what little of the forest there was left to get through, and you began to step into a clearing.

Axel looked at you, already heading to the edge of the forest. Then he noticed a shadow. It was turning just as you were passing it, and it spotted you. He jumped from his cover immediately using one of his chakrams as a pseudo shield when its claws swiped through the air. With the other he sliced through the heartless’ middle. By now you realized what had happened and that he had alerted a few nearby shadows to your presence.

“Call it,” he ordered. Call it? Oh! Fight or flight.

You looked across the clearing. The forest was much thicker over there and would provide plenty more cover, provided you could make it across and into a hiding spot. You could fight them off here but then you’d be trapped in whatever hiding spots you picked until they stopped searching for you. How long would that take?

“We’ll run for it. Figment!” you called, “Give us some cover!”

“Right-o!” he said, firing off a shot from his bazooka. The noise was near deafening, especially considering the silence that almost ruled this world, but the cloud that billowed up from it was just what you needed.

“Move!” you ordered, sprinting across the field to the other side. You already picked a set of bushes to dive into. Axel and Figment were hot on your heels. You looked behind you once you were half way across. The dust had begun to settle where you once were and the neoshadows were just starting to emerge. You pushed herself harder across the clearing, all but throwing yourself into the bushes, and crouching down low. Axel and Figment hid behind trees. The three of you dart silently through the forest, keeping close but not enough to draw attention to yourselves. But it seemed that no matter how fast you ran, they stayed on your heels.

The three of you broke through the trees, but when you looked back you saw something that chilled you more than the swamp. They just stood there, just inside the tree line, watching you with bright eyes. You slowed to a stop, watching them closely. They did not come forward. Axel and Figment stopped to look back at you. Why weren’t you running? Then they saw the heartless line that formed along the trees.

“What are they waiting for?” you asked quietly.

“Something’s wrong if they won’t come forward,” Axel mentioned, watching them with narrowed eyes.

“Maybe it’s a barrier?” you suggested. Though you couldn’t see anything keeping them back.

“Maybe,” Axel agreed. But he, himself, wasn’t so sure.

The three of you continued on, glancing back nervously, but the heartless began to creep back into the forest silently. You entered a neighborhood shortly afterward.

“Figment,” you called, “How much further to the subconscious?”

“Not long now,” he said, pulling out his compass which now said, “Won’t be long now.”

The houses were run down with caved in roofs and shattered windows. Some leaned dangerously to one side, and you wondered how they managed to continue standing. The lawns were gray and dry as the vegetation everywhere else had been. There didn’t seem to be any heartless around which was just as odd as when they hadn’t entered from the forest. And yet you felt you were not alone.

The three of you walked silently through the neighborhood. It was devoid of any signs of life, yet you felt as if you were waiting for someone, or something, to leap out at you from one of the houses. You remembered your time below Spaceship Earth as you made your way to the ship and the unknown danger following you. Why did this feel so similar?

Then something caught your eye. It was hard to miss. A house that stood at the end of the cul-de-sac of the neighborhood. It was a house that stood up perfectly intact – a far cry from the ruins of the cities you had seen earlier and the neighborhood in which you found yourself now. It was also colorful. It was a bright spot amongst all of the black and rot that had poisoned the land. And yet, it was the most unsettling thing of all. You stepped forward, noting the lush green of the lawn. The paint was mostly white with a dark blue roof. The windows though… they were pitch black, and you could not see into them. You stood at the end of the concrete walkway that led to the porch. Your breaths were shaky, and every fiber of your being screamed to turn back and take your chances with the heartless in the forest or the swamp or the heart chamber with all of its endless screaming. Whatever awaited you inside there was so much worse – you just knew.

.

.

.

“What are you waiting for?” Figment’s voice snapped you from your reverie. You nearly jumped. Your feelings of dread had not entirely ebbed away, but even the momentary distraction of conversation was a minor relief. Better than facing whatever lurked inside.

You blinked at Figment before actually registering his words. You didn’t know what you were waiting for. You should unlock the door now. Using your keyblade. Hmm. Well the key obviously wasn’t going to fit in the door. How did you go about this exactly?

“I… uh… I don’t actually know what to do?” you said, looking at the door ahead of you. “I’ve never actually had to unlock anything before.” You only knew that you could.

“Well I’m sure you’ll figure it out?” Figment said with a shrug, sitting on the grass and watching you expectantly. You looked at Axel who was also looking at you. He shrugged. He wasn’t keyblade wielder and knew about unlocking as much as you did. Was there some secret to it? A phrase or magic word?

You paced back and forth, lost in your dilemma. Did it have anything to do with the connection of the wielder to the key? Was the key an extension of yourself? Was it as simple as being a keyblade wielder and just opening the door yourself?

You summoned your keyblade and stared at it. It held no more answers about its abilities and existence now than it had when you got it five years ago. You took a deep breath, holding it with both hands and feeling the connection you held to it. It was indeed an extension of yourself. It felt like you. You gazed back up at the door, pointing your keyblade at it and willing it to open. Your keyblade began to glow, and you were certain this was right.

But what’s inside?

Your fear came back full force and halted any progress you made. Your key was shaking in your hands, but you felt more frustrated with yourself than anything.

You don’t even know that there’s anything in there! You’re being ridiculous!

Two hands wrapped around yours and steadied your keyblade, pointing it back at the door.

“Relax,” Axel said in a low voice. You nodded lightly, taking another deep breath and concentrating again. Your keyblade began to glow and beam of light connected from your keyblade to the door, illuminating a keyhole shape and unlocking it with a satisfying click.

You breathed a sigh of relief, missing the warmth and temporary comfort Axel’s presence gave you as he lowered his hands from yours and stepped away.

You walked up the stairs to the porch, every step feeling heavier than the last. Your hand froze over the doorknob. You felt the stares on your back as they waited for you to lead the way. Holding your breath you turned the knob and pressed inside, freezing once you had stepped over the threshold. It was dark. Far darker than it had been when you were traversing the forest. About as dark as the swamp. But you could see walls. It looked like a hallway lined with doors that led to who knew where. Just a simple hallway.

But everything felt off, and you began to shiver in place. You were terrified.

Axel placed a hand on your shoulder. You looked up at him, and he gave you a small, encouraging smile. You took a small comfort in it, but the comfort was quickly lost.

You heard something. It was so faint that you almost couldn’t hear it over the pounding of your own heart.

Crying.

It faded so quickly though; you couldn’t be sure you hadn’t imagined it.

“Do you hear that?” you ask, unsure if you want them to answer in the affirmative or not. On the one hand, this place might actually be driving you crazy. And on the other, you were completely sane, but something or someone actually was in here. And you couldn’t decide what was worse.

Axel and Figment both looked at you questioningly. They each shook their heads. Crazy it is then.

“Okay, I think I’m hearing things.”

“You’ve been through a lot,” Axel rationalized for you. Yes, that had to be it. You’d rest once you were back in your body. If restful sleep were even going to be possible after this.

“As much as it pains me to say it,” Figment began after the three of you were fully in the subconscious, “You need to hold hands. The subconscious is ever changing, and if any of us get separated, it’ll be near impossible to find you.”

“Why does it pain you?” you asked. Figment just cast wary glances between you and Axel.

“No reason.”

You rolled your eyes, slipping your hand into Axel’s before following Figment. You wanted to speak, say that this wasn’t unlike what you had been through in the heart chamber, but you were afraid to make a sound here. Your feet didn’t even make a noise as you walked through the ever-changing halls. Even the walls which shifted and moved behind you and in front of you were quiet. It was disorienting to say the least, especially when you’d turn a corner, look behind you and see the corner gone – replaced with a path facing another direction or a dead end. The only comfort, only thing keeping you grounded, was the tight grip you kept on Axel’s hand. He seemed unaffected by the darkness or the strange environment in which you found yourself, and his surety in this place gave you a vague sense of security.

You continued walking silence, and you heard the weeping noise again. You shook your head. Hearing things. You’d heard a lot of things today. You’d heard crying in the heart chamber – crying and screaming. Now was no different. But no matter how many times you told yourself this, your frayed nerves got no better. And you kept hearing it. It would slowly make itself known like an icy chill up your back and fade away. After the third time, you had to say something.

“I still hear it,” you rasped barely above a whisper, “I know you don’t hear it, but I swear to you I can hear someone, somewhere crying.”

“Well I’m not sure we can help them,” Axel said. But that was the thing, you realized with mild disgust, you didn’t want to help them. You wanted them to leave.

The three of you kept walking in silence, you deciding to keep your selfish revelation to yourself, when Figment opened a door. You and Axel stepped over the threshold, entering a hall covered in what looked like screens. Most of the images were blurry and muffled, but it was enough to see what was going on in them. They played out like movies in first person. Memories, you realized.

“We’re here,” Figment announced, closing the door behind you. You headed deeper into the memories. Most of the ones you passed were mundane, day to day activities. Then they got worse. Kidnappings. Tiny cells void of light. The sounds of crying, which further set you on edge. Then the experiments started. They started small with just general observation, poking and prodding, responses to stimuli. Then there were the injections. You heard the screams of a woman having pure darkness injected into her heart. How they managed to keep alive people separated from their hearts, you weren’t sure. Then you saw the many fatal experiments used just to achieve that result. Some of the people were kept on a sort of life support while their heart functioned outside of their body. They were capable of little more than facial expressions and pained groans and whimpers.

The darkness forced into them consumed their hearts, and those who did not survive it, had their hearts collapse under the strain. It was an experiment that did not often have a successful outcome. Those who did survive, lost their minds to the conflict of desires that were not their own. They were transplanted, and you watched them go mad when their bodies rejected them, flailing wildly and screaming, sometimes foaming at the mouth with a wild, animalistic look in their eyes.

Some people were just given to heartless just to see how long they would survive. They never lasted long. Hearts were tested to see how long they could tolerate darkness before turning into heartless. Some of them would succumb quickly – that was almost a mercy. Others had their dragged out far beyond what could be possible, going mad, losing the whole of their being to the darkness before they could even turn into a heartless.

Tears began to stream down your face. You were crying. These people suffered so much.

Some hearts were depleted of light and darkness completely. It left the subjects tranquil, emotionless and blank. When anything was reintroduced to them, light or dark, they begged for death. They’d been trapped within their own body and unable to express any of what they felt.

The experiments went on and on. Hearts cleaved in two; hearts that were separated from the hosts being fed to heartless to see how the host would fare; putting hearts in dusks and watching them both collapse under the strain; seeing if the hearts of children and the elderly could last longer in these conditions than that of young or middle aged adults.

Then, finally, there was this one. Thirty hearts cleaved into shards and fragments and spliced into the heart of the existing host. By the time it was done, the heart didn’t even look like a heart anymore. It was grossly misshapen into a lump with jagged edges the curved and jutted out in random places. The colors bordered each other. The hearts would not mix. They were just shoved into each other and forced to exist.

Every single one of the subjects forced to be the host of the thirty hearts died. Except for this one. He went into a coma in his body’s last-ditch attempt to preserve his life. It worked. But he never woke up.

The last memory was one you were all too familiar with. You had lived it and relived it over and over again when you were in the heart chamber. It was darkness full of screams and cries for help. It was loud and unnerving. You put both of your hands over your ears and moaned in pain. Your headache was back full force, but your body didn’t collapse as it did then. But you couldn’t do this. Couldn’t take this anymore.

You bolted.

“________, no!” you heard Axel and Figment call, but you couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop.

Axel and Figment both ran after you, calling for you to stop before you were lost in the subconscious for what could very well be rest of your life, but you kept running.

You ran out of the door, hearing it slam shut behind you. And the screaming from the memories stopped, but then you heard the crying from before. And that was worse. You kept running, but the sound of his sobs seemed to echo around you, and you didn’t know where to go. You turned this way and that desperate to escape it.

Then you saw it. It was a man. No, it was shaped like a man. He was pure black, and he sobbed loudly. He was just standing there. His cries were warped and inhuman. They were almost like screams as much as sobs, and you ran in the other direction. You wanted to be far away from him, but no matter how far you ran, the volume of his sobs never decreased.

Leave me alone!” you screeched. Your eyes were shut tight as you ran, afraid to look behind you, but the moment you opened them, he was there and far closer than he should be. He held no face. It was just a void where it should have been. You let out a shriek of pure terror as you turned and ran in the other direction. You kept your eyes wide open now so you could avoid him as best you could. He seemed to be around every other turn you made, his cries getting louder to an almost deafening roar, and he was getting closer. He would be on you soon enough.

Tears blurred your vision and kept coming in fat, heavy drops that blinded you. You ran for what felt like an eternity. Then collapsed finally. You sobbed wildly, hands gripping at your head as you awaited whatever this apparition had in store for you, but nothing came. You took your hands slowly from your head. It was silent now.

You looked around, blinking away tears that still fell from your face.

There was nothing.

It was all nothingness, nothing but a black abyss that stretched on forever. You didn’t know where you were, and you didn’t see anymore doors or hallways. You were truly lost now.

~

“W-w-w-w-w-we need a plan! A plan that’s what we need! A good old-fashioned plan ‘o action!” Figment was near hysterical with worry, and it showed in his incessant talking. To say it was getting on Axel’s nerves would be an understatement. He was heated with annoyance and anger and worry. Figment wouldn’t shut up, and you’d run off and there was no guarantee either of them would ever be able to find you again.

Figment had also summoned a small committee of five other Figments – each with a number on their sweaters to identify them easier – to come up with a plan. All of them talked over each other in a layered babble while pacing. Axel just stood there, watching him, arms folded while he tried to keep his cool.

Why had you run off? Well he knew why you had run off. He was pretty ruthless being that he was an assassin, and he’d done his fair share of murder in the past, but the torture he’d just witnessed was pretty hard to stomach. And you’d only been a keyblade wielder for a little over a week. None of this was anything you’d been exposed to, and he could imagine how overwhelming it must have felt. He just wished you had said something instead of waiting until you were having a mental breakdown to do anything about it. Especially since that thing was to run off to probably never be seen again.

It should have been an easy thing to accept. His actual job was done and after they searched around for you for a few days, it would be safe to say you had been taken care of. He wouldn’t have a nobody to bring home, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t necessary. Xemnas could overlook it.

But it wasn’t that simple anymore. He didn’t actually want you gone. And he felt actual upset that you were now. This was a mess. He should’ve just killed you as soon he had you in Ansem’s castle. That was the plan, but like then, you ran off. You did that a lot. And now he actually felt worry. He shook his head, focusing his anger and annoyance that he felt towards himself to the committee of Figments now sitting around a table with a large atlas on it and still talking over each other and arguing.

He walked over to them.

“If you could pull yourself together for a few minutes, I say we just start walking and go find her.” He was honestly tired of waiting around. You were unstable and probably a bigger danger to yourself than anything else they might find there.

The Figments all glared at him, the original standing up to speak.

“Need I remind you that the subconscious is constantly changing? It could take literal years to find her, and her body will be long dead by then. We have four days to find her before her body dies of dehydration, and if her body dies, her consciousness will cease to exist.”

“Then let’s go,” Axel said turning on his heel. Figment flew in front of his face, halting his progress.

“We can’t just go! This place is a maze, and if we waltz in there with no plan whatsoever, we may as well sign her death certificate ourselves! Also yours, buddy boy!” Figment snapped, jabbing a finger in Axel’s chest. “So you would do well to trust me!”

“I don’t even know you,” Axel said, lightly slapping Figment’s hand away. He was being facetious and petty at that point, but he was too annoyed to care.

“Let me tell you something,” Figment said, narrowing his eyes at Axel, “I don’t know you either! I saw you with her in Disney Town! You obviously don’t belong there! And you just happen to show up on another world, the one she’s in, wrapped up in whatever business she has with that other girl and you just happen to be involved in that too?! I don’t know who you are or what you want, but I don’t trust you! But it doesn’t matter because my niece is lost somewhere and you’re all the help I’ve got to find her. I don’t care if you don’t know me! If you actually care about her the way you act like you do when she’s around, you’ll do what I say!”

“…Fine.”

“Good, now if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of a very important meeting.” Figment marched back over to the other Figments where they proceeded to continue arguing, throwing cups of coffee at each other.

~

You sat in that spot for a good long while. You were afraid to move, but you knew you couldn’t stay here. Not forever.

You stood on shaky, wobbly legs and began to walk. You didn’t know where you were going but if you kept going straight, then you’d wind up somewhere. So that’s what you did. Eventually you could hear a faint echo of something in the distance and see a small light. You nearly sprinted towards it, your legs aching in protest. But as you approached you saw it was another memory, this one crystal clear with clear sound.

The viewer was looking through a camera from what you saw. It was a bright and clear day. They pointed the camera at their house and said they wished you’d get to see it, but they were going to a new home soon where you and everyone else would be safe.

He pointed the camera at a woman, and your whole body froze. You were certain that even your heart had stopped.

It was your mother. But she was heavily pregnant, waving to the person holding the camera. He introduced her as the love of his life and the person who would be the best mother ever.

You felt tears welling up in your eyes again as your father swung the camera around to look at him. He was bright and smiling, a face that was twenty years younger than the man you saw in the pod but undoubtedly the same man.

“I can’t wait to meet you,” he said, “I’m gonna give you the world, baby girl.”

You were crying and smiling. Your tears were bittersweet. You were happy to have gotten to see something of your father that wasn’t in pictures in old albums your mother had shoved into an attic. You wished you had gotten to meet him properly. You were saddened that he was here – that he was one of these long-suffering experiments. But you were happy he’d survived.

“That’s the last good one,” said a voice from right behind you.

You shrieked, jumping away several feet and landing on your ass. You looked up with wide, frightened eyes at a face that actually put you at ease. He had a thick red beard that framed a jolly face. His eyes were warm and jovial. But that was only half the reason you’d relaxed. You knew this man. Well not really. You’d only seen him in the one picture your uncle had, but you recognized him all the same.

“You’re Dreamfinder,” you breathed.

“Somewhat! Blarion Mercurial to most, and Dreamfinder to my friends and colleagues. Are you one of my friends and colleagues? And how do you know who I am? Are you my rescue party?”

“Uh, no,” you answered sheepishly, “My name is ________. And, no, I didn’t come with a rescue party. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, of course, I’ve only been stuck here for twenty years might as well make it twenty-one!” he said throwing his hands into the air in frustration.

“I have so many questions and a lot of things to say.”

“Let’s start with the first one.”

“Okay, um, for starters I read your journal, and I know who you are. I came here with Figment –”

“Figment! How’s Figment? What’s he doing these days?! Where is he? I’m sure he’s been leading you, no doubt.”

“Well that’s the thing…,” you said, glancing around anxiously.

“Let me guess. You got separated from him, and now you’re lost here in the void with me?”

“Sort of. I ran off, terrified might I add, got chased, got lost, and then ran into you. And now I’m here in the void.”

“Chased? So you saw it?” You stilled, mind flashing back to whatever had chased you, blank face staring at you, cries echoing loudly all around you. You nodded. You doubted you would ever be able to forget it.

“What is it?” you whispered.

“Bad,” he looked at you gravely, and you wondered briefly the level of the threat you had escaped. Your hope diminished – not that there was much of it left.

“Oh,” you said lowly. You looked around. “Do you know how to get out of here?”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s a way out. I mean, the subconscious is consistently on the move, so now that we can’t even see what it is that’s changing, we can’t find our way out. Besides, you don’t want to leave here. It’s the only place it hasn’t tried to enter. It’s the safest place to be. Figment will find us in due time.”

“But my other friend is here too.”

“Well if he’s with Figment, then he’s in good hands.”

“I know, but I don’t feel right just sitting here in the one spot. There’s got to be a way out. I mean, if we keep going forward, we’ve got to wind up somewhere right?”

“What if it’s in the clutches of the creature that attacked you?”

You shuddered to think what would happen if you ever came face to face with it again. You might not be so fortunate as to escape this time.

“I can’t let it get to my friends either. They may not have much of a chance against it with me, but I know they won’t without me. I can’t abandon them. Not again.”

“And might I ask, who are you? Just to be on the safe side, I can’t risk following another hallucination.”

“I’m _______. This is my father, and I originally came to search his memories.”

Dreamfinder quietly regarded you for a moment before his face lit up in a grin. He clapped his hands together, rubbing them together like he was getting ready for something exciting.

“Lead the way!” he announced. You blinked. Just like that? You shrugged and smiled; happy you’d at least have a companion on this long journey. You picked a direction and began to walk in it.

It was an easier said than done task. You’d been walking for what felt like hours, but you didn’t have time to lose hope. Right now, your best shot of leaving was this, and you’d be damned if you let it end here.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly prompted this little expedition of yours?” Dreamfinder asked, breaking the dead silence and causing you to jump a little.

“I’m trying to find the memories of the experiments done on these people and then some. You were doing the same thing, right? I saw it your journal.”

“I was indeed before the host was captured. I couldn’t very well leave then at risk of discovery. I thought I could wait it out, but when they did the experiment on him, things became severely more complicated. I can normally navigate the subconscious with little to no problems, but the introduction of some thirty people has warped it into a maze that changes at thirty times the rate the average subconscious is supposed to change. If I’d had Figment with me, I’d have been able to find my way out much more easily.”

“But you couldn’t risk his discovery in the involvement of your plan too?”

“Precisely.”

“I’m so sorry. I’ll get us out of here.”

“It’s quite alright, but if may ask one more question. After the host locked me in here, I wouldn’t have been able to get out if I had wanted. So how did you manage to bypass his mind’s natural lock?”

“I’m a keyblade wielder,” you answered simply, “Basically, I was given this key, somehow, that can function as a weapon and unlock any and every door, regardless of whether or not it resembles a door. Pretty much if it’s locked it can be unlocked.”

“Fascinating! Tell me more!”

“Well I don’t know much about it outside of the fact that it should be able to take on heartless and get rid of them permanently, but that the ones here in the mind are far less effected by that than those outside of it.”

“So it’s an object tied to heart? If it can normally banish heartless, it must be.”

“It is. I know it’s an extension of myself and my heart.”

“Hmmm,” he thought this over for a minute.

You looked up at him as you walked, watching him turn this information over in his head.

“I’ve a hypothesis,” he said finally, “The keyblade is tied to your heart, correct?”

“Yes…,” you answered slowly.

“Hearts are a hub of connections, not unlike the mind itself. But the heart has the unique ability that the mind lacks that allows it to form connections outside of its central core. If the keyblade acts as part of a physical manifestation of your heart, then you ought to be able to use it to amplify your abilities.”

“Like what? I don’t know much of how to use it except to unlock things and fight, and I only learned how to unlock things a few hours ago.”

“Well I hope your ability form friendships existed before you got that blade. You may be able to use it find your friends, sort of like a dowsing rod but for strong emotional connection.”

“Oh!” you gasped, summoning your keyblade, “I’ve never tried that!”

“And now we’ll see first hand what you’re capable of! I love trying new experiments!” he said, clapping jovially. His attitude was catching. This was the best you’d felt in a while. “Now concentrate on your friends. Think of all the strong emotions they’ve made you feel – happiness, anger, passion!”

You closed your eyes, bringing your keyblade up until it was touching your forehead. You thought about Figment and Axel. You thought of all the laughter you’d shared with Figment in the years of your life you’d known him. You thought about how Axel liked your laugh and how you appreciated his comfort after you’d been in the heart chamber. You thought of Figment giving you comforting pats on the arm when you cried just after your world had collapsed. And…

You saw it. Two lights pulling your heart towards them. You could feel and recognize Figments easily – most likely because of how familiar you were with him. The second was less recognizable as if it were barely there, but you knew it was Axel. And you were so happy to feel them. In your burst of happiness, you watched Axel’s light grow a bit in brilliance. It flared back at you, and you felt hope.

“This way,” you all but yelled, grabbing Dreamfinder’s hand and pulling him along at a run.

Meanwhile, Figment and Axel had resolved to walking deeper into the subconscious to head towards the center where they’d have a better chance of running into you. But then Axel felt a tug. It was a small little feeling that he could have ignored. But it felt foreign. It wasn’t his. But it felt vaguely familiar. Then he felt a small wave of happiness hit him all but out of nowhere.

Figment had stilled.

“Did you feel that?” he asked. Axel nodded. Then he felt another tug, this time giving him hope.

“This way,” Axel said quickly, grabbing Figment and taking off in the direction he felt pulled. It was a long run, one that nearly exhausted him, but he couldn’t stop. Even Figment gave no protest. This was the right way to go, and there was no doubt about that.

He eventually had to stop running, and he let Figment go, but the two continued at a brisk pace towards where they were sure you were.

You sent out another pulse, searching for them again. Axel’s light continued to grow a little brighter, and you kept seeking it out as every little bit of brightness that accumulated seemed to give you renewed energy. Dreamfinder followed alongside you at a brisk walk. You’d both tired after about ten minutes of solid running, but it didn’t stop you. You’d finally made your way back to the twisting turning hallways with their endless supply of doors, and you hadn’t heard any crying, which was a good sign. You pressed onward, never letting go of Dreamfinder’s hand.

Dreamfinder was absolutely beside himself with glee that his hypothesis was correct and that he was going to see his lifelong friend again and that he was going to be out of this abysmal place for the first time in so long.

You were so close now. You could practically feel the pulses between the three of you rapidly bouncing between you back and forth sending emotions at such a rapid pace, you almost had trouble processing them. You were so overwhelmed by the determination and hope you felt that tears had sprung up in your eyes again.

And then you saw them.

“Axel,” you called, breaking into a sprint, Dreamfinder following close behind. Figment and Axel ran to you too. You all but jumped at Axel, throwing your arms around his neck. He hugged you close. He was overwhelmed with emotion too, not enough to cry as you were, but he felt more than a little happy to see you. And overcome with relief.

“Dreamfinder!” Figment yelled in happy surprise, leaping into his arms. Dreamfinder held him close, doing a small little jig. You laughed, still drunk on your own emotions and so happy that they were reunited after so long. You couldn’t help it, you joined in on their hug, and they welcomed you.

“How did you manage to find us?” Axel asked.

“I saw your lights. I looked for the two of you using my heart, and I could see the light in your hearts,” you breathed. “Axel…,” you said, looking at him like he was someone new, “You were radiant.”

He blinked at you in surprise. Him? Light? Heart? He almost scoffed in your face, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it when you were looking at him like that. In fact, beneath all that disbelief, he felt happy(?) that you saw light in him. As if maybe some small part of him actually deserved all the sympathy you’d given him up to now, even if he knew most of him did not.

Figment looked at Axel. Begrudgingly, he was regarding him in a new light. If you’d seen light in him at all, then he couldn’t be all bad. And he still didn’t entirely trust him, but this was enough to at least know he wasn’t going to kill you.

“Well now that the dynamic psychiatric duo has been reunited,” Dreamfinder announced, “It would be my pleasure, and Figment’s I’m sure, to escort the two of you out of here!” Figment nodded.

You let out a giddy laugh of excitement. Then you remembered.

“Oh! The experiments! Did you get the memories?” you asked Figment and Axel.

“We immediately started looking for you,” Axel said, scratching the back of his head.

“Not to worry!” Dreamfinder stated, “It just so happens I had grabbed them as they appeared. I did come here for that very thing after all. I kept collecting them as they were done, and the host witnessed them. Of course, this was before that thing became a consistent threat.”

As if on cue, you heard the crying again. It wasn’t loud as it had been before, but it was there. Your body seized up with fear, and you almost fell to your knees. You stumbled, and Axel steadied you.

He was looking around.

“Was that what you were hearing?” he asked you, looking down at you with a firm gaze. You nodded frantically.

“We have to get out of here,” you gasped, “Now!” Dreamfinder nodded eagerly.

“This way,” he instructed. You all left at a brisk pace. The cries faded but you were no less on edge, hugging yourself tightly as you walked.

You walked for hours more, every now and again hearing the cries and picking up the pace whenever you did. Even Axel seemed off put by the noise now. It didn’t sound right to him, and he was moderately grateful you did want to play hero in this case and run off to help them.

You finally arrived at a door, and Dreamfinder pressed it open with no small amount of haste. You all rushed out of the door, and you were almost relieved to see the run-down neighborhood. You closed the door behind you, turning and freezing. In the center of the street, a ways from your crew but still too close for your liking, was the faceless man. He just stood there. Crying.

You felt little tears spring up in your eyes again, a shuddering sob making its way passed your own lips.

“Is that him?” Axel asked lowly, already armed, eyes never leaving the man in the street.

“Quickly! We can escape on the Dreamcatcher!” Dreamfinder said, nearly jumping down the porch steps and circling round the side of the house. You followed after Axel grabbed your arm. You nearly fell. You could hardly get your legs to function.

Then you all fell to your knees, covering your ears as his cries were deafening to the point where you could hardly function. You looked just beyond the corner of the house where you could see. The man was gone, and the had screaming suddenly stopped.

Dreamfinder wheeled his vehicle, a strange contraption you’re not sure you could ever describe if you tried, around the side of the house. It looked like a mix of a hot air balloon and several random tubes and one container meant for little dragons and another container attached to a large hose that funneled out to the front of the contraption to capture/collect you didn’t know what. You all tried to pile on to it as best you could. It was not meant for more than one passenger and a little dragon, and so you and Axel had to pick points on which to stand on the metal piping and hang on, as if you were windsurfing, across from each other. Dreamfinder began to peddle as fast as he could, trying to gain speed enough to lift you off of the ground.

You looked behind you. There was the man again. But then he flickered in and out of existence. One moment there and gone the next. Then he flickered away for what seemed for good, but then you were thrown from the Dreamcatcher in a sudden lurch as Dreamfinder pulled a sharp turn to avoid colliding with the heartless who appeared before you.

Axel had managed to grab your arm, pulling you back on before you could hit the ground.

“What are they doing in the neighborhood?! They wouldn’t set foot here earlier?” you yelled.

“It’s gotta be that guy,” Axel said, looking around frantically for him. “They’re blocking the way!”

Heartless surrounded all of you, shadows that writhed about in an excited frenzy. You hopped off of the Dreamcatcher, keyblade drawn in hopes of clearing a small path for the Dreamfinder to pedal. Axel and Figment joined you. You slashed your way through heartless in almost manic fever. You had gotten this far. You would not fall so easily. They were drawn to you though, and it was up to Axel and Figment to ensure you were not overwhelmed.

But they began to overwhelm you anyway. You fought harder, growing too tired to keep up with their movements. But you were so close to clearing a path.

“That’s enough! Let’s go!” Axel shouted, and the three of you turned to go back to where Dreamfinder waited for you.

“Behind you!” you heard Dreamfinder yell. You were still midturn, ready to face whatever was about to attack, when Figment jumped in your path to block the hit a heartless would have landed on you. He fell limply to the side.

“Figment!” you cried. Axel scooped him up, holding him close as he continued towards Dreamfinder.

“I’ve got him! Let’s go!” You nodded, still worried beyond belief but understanding that no help you could offer would matter if you did not make it out of here alive.

You hopped onto the Dreamcatcher as Dreamfinder began to pedal fervently. You glanced behind you as the man appeared again. But he was getting further and further away as he just stood in the one spot. You almost felt relieved as you felt yourselves began to lift off the ground and away from this awful place.

Then he flickered out of existence once more, but when he reappeared, he was a giant, taller than most skyscrapers you had seen. You’d already been a good distance into the sky and away from him, but now he was closer and taller. He began to walk towards you, taking long, slow steps. You kept your eyes on his hands, waiting for him to lift one where you would be easily within reach and grab you or hit you, and there would be nothing you could to avoid it.

But he just kept taking those long, slow steps, pushing buildings and debris out of his way with each step, the ground fracturing beneath him with each stomp. You should have been able to outfly him easily, but after every second or third step, he would begin to flicker, and he would appear much closer than he was before. And he was gaining on you. You looked at Axel who looked far beyond worried at this point, almost afraid as he looked between the clouds which were so close and yet so far and the man who flickered and stepped ever closer to you.

Then he flickered far too close to you. If he had a face, you would be directly in front of his nose, almost touching it with the close proximity of the creature to the Dreamcatcher. You put little distance between yourselves and him as he leaned in close then opened what you could only assume was something like a mouth. You could almost feel the end upon you. You were going to die this time; you were sure of it. Inside that gaping maw it was darker than he, and he exhaled a cloud of black that began to surround the Dreamcatcher, almost consuming it, as little yellow eyes appeared in the thick fog. You were sobbing now and screaming. It stretched forth, almost consuming you to the point where in front of the Dreamcatcher was a tiny spot of light. But that would be consumed too, and this is where your journey would end. Just as you were certain the darkness would consume you and your companions, you broke through the clouds, ascending quickly through them until you were met with a bright blinding blue. You wept with relief, letting out a hysterical laugh and hearing Axel and Dreamfinder let out their own. The air was refreshing, and you wanted to faint, feeling yourself sway slightly. Axel placed a steadying hand on your shoulder.

You turned immediately to Axel and Figment.

“It he alright?” you said glancing worriedly at Figment who let out a loud snore at that moment. You all breathed a sigh of relief, smiling at Axel who smiled back. It was a larger smile that you were used seeing on his face, and you realized that this may have been the first time you saw the full of his emotions on his face where you normally only saw what he wanted to show you.

You lingered on that smile for a moment, committing it and the feeling of freedom, having just escaped death, to memory. You felt different, partially renewed. Something in you had changed, and part of you swore to free your father from this affliction. You would fight darkness to the end of your days and defeat the people who had done this. Then you felt something like a shift in your heart.

You summoned your keyblade to see that for the second time in your life, it had changed its form. The handle was a circle made of two crescent moons, one light and one dark that came together at their points to a star where the light pushed the darkness back. The body of your blade resembled a flame intertwined with a dragon. You knew immediately what you would name it.

The Break of Dawn.

Chapter Text

A bubble drifted from the pod. It went passed Demyx, Namine, Ludwig, and your mother who didn’t even notice. It floated outside where it popped. There Dreamfinder and Figment as well as the Dreamcatcher rematerialized in the physical world. The consciousnesses of Axel and you snapped back into your bodies where you both gasped awake.

“_______!” your mother gasped. You looked around, disoriented, hardly believing you had managed to escape the mind. Once your eyes landed on your mother, you threw your arms around her in a hug, crying into her shoulder. She pats your back, shushing you quietly as she held you. Axel shook his head, reliving the moments in the mind as if they were too surreal to be reality. Demyx puts a hand on his shoulder, giving a look that mirrored worry.

“You okay, man?” Axel nodded, standing up.

“It was just… a lot,” he said lowly, moving to go outside and get some fresh air. You parted from your mom, looking around.

“Wait,” you said, standing up on stiff legs, “Where are Figment and Dreamfinder?”

“You saw Dreamfinder?” your mother and Ludwig questioned. It was someone they had not seen in a very long time. You trotted outside the house with everyone else in tow to see them out there, Dreamfinder and Figment kissing the grass around the mansion while Axel looked on with mild amusement and disgust.

“Dreamfinder!” Ludwig exclaimed. Dreamfinder looked up over a mouth full of grass!

“Lufwif!” he yelled around the grass, rushing forward to envelop his old friend in a hug. Your mother joined them, Dreamfinder saying her name in a muffled fashion as well.

“Blair, where have you been? I’d thought you were lost with the engineers,” your mother said as she backed up a bit. Well such wasn’t entirely untrue.

“Your husband and I were on the verge of exposing a nefarious plot where we had discovered several engineers had gone missing! Your husband learned that Ansem the Wise’s apprentices were kidnapping them and taking them back to Hollow Bastion. I was going to go inside his head, retrieve those memories, and convert them into digital data play them for all to see and thereby end their plot! But he was captured before I could escape his mind, and I’ve been trapped there ever since. Well, that is, until young ________ here helped me to escape.”

You looked down bashfully, kicking a pebble near your foot.

“About my husband,” your mother said, gaining a sad, far away look to her eyes, “Did you see him? Could you wake him up with what you found?”

“I’m not sure,” Dreamfinder said grimly, “But rest assured, I will do everything within my power to ensure I undo everything done to the victims of Xehanort and his accomplices.”

A few tears slipped from your mother’s face, and you grabbed her hand.

“Don’t cry, mom,” you said, though you were tearing up too, “I’ll find a way to bring him back. I swear to you I will.” She just nodded, crying anyway while she pulled you into a hug.

Axel just watched the two of you, unsure of what he wanted to do but feeling like he was intruding on something in which he was not welcome. Demyx stood next to him, looking around awkwardly. He didn’t know what to do either. Namine watched calmly, as she often did, smiling at the small reunion you were having.

You turned to them, jogging over with a bright but saddened smile on your face.

“I want to thank you all. I couldn’t have done all of this without all of you. You reunited a part of my family and may have opened the way to helping a lot of people. I’ll never be able to repay you for that,” you said, your smile wide as you looked between the three of them. Your mother walked over to you, placing a hand on your shoulder.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?”

She’d said that looking at Axel who you imagined was the only one she had not gotten a proper introduction from. You suddenly felt embarrassed. It was mostly her tone, as if she’d caught you in the middle of something naughty. Then you shook your head. You refused to think of anything that involved Axel or being naughty.

“Mom, this is Axel. He helped me when we were inside Dad’s head. Axel, this is my mom.”

“Namine said you went in there to protect my daughter,” your mother said, extending out a hand which Axel hesitantly shook, “I can’t thank you enough for bringing her back safely.”

“It’s, uh, no problem.” He glanced away as his face heated up in light blush. You giggled behind your hand at his reaction. It was cute. Your mother smiled warmly before looking at you.

“We should get back to the ship so you can rest. I imagine you’ve been through a lot.”

“Yeah, let’s do that.” She began to walk off, but you stayed a bit, lingering with the others as you shuffled from foot to foot watching her.

“Thank you again,” you rushed out, “I hope to see you again.” You looked at each of them as you said it, eyes lingering just a fraction longer on Axel than the others, before joining your mother and the rest as they left to go towards the ship.

You had trouble sleeping though. You were plagued with nightmares that caused you to toss and turn in your sleep and occasionally cry. Eventually you were able to fall into a dreamless sleep. That was a great relief to you, and then you drifted into dreams that were far more pleasant.

~

You were standing on top of a clock tower. You could see the sunset, and you were stunned. It was so beautiful. You gazed at it for a while longer, but you were confused. You’d never seen a sunset before. Much less one over Twilight Town. You looked at the scenery below. Yup. That’s Twilight Town alright. You had to be dreaming. You hoped the sunsets were really like this.

You looked for a place to sit so you could continue to soak up the marvel your mind had created, and you were surprised to see Axel already there looking at you. He seemed as surprised as you were before a flurry of emotions flickered over his face too quickly for you to catch any of them.

You walked over to him slowly, almost reluctantly as if you thought he’d bite, and plopped down next to him before looking back out at the sunset, letting that look of wonder consume you again. He turned to watch the sunset too.

Was it weird you hadn’t said anything to him? Well, it was your dream, and he didn’t seem to mind the silence. You didn’t either to be perfectly honest.

This was nice.

You closed your eyes and inhaled deeply to breathe in the fresh air, but when you did, you could smell the farms of Spaceship Earth. You opened your eyes and you were standing near the fields of a farm.

“Well that’s creepy,” Genki muttered next to you. You looked at him in shock. This day again? You didn’t want to dream of this day. You looked to the field and sure enough, there was a hooded figure.

.

.

.

Wearing the same robe you’d seen Axel and Demyx in….

~

You jolted awake, looking around you in a panic. Your mother was already awake, exiting the bathroom wearing clothes you’d never seen her in before. She looked at you and gave you a smile.

“Well, good morning, sleepy head.” You kept looking at her clothes, and she glanced down to see what you were looking at, “Oh I did a little shopping yesterday while I was looking in town for Sora and the King. I picked up a few things for you too, though I see you picked up something as well.”

You groggily looked down at your clothes from yesterday which you’d been too tired to change out of when you landed in your bed.

“Well get up and get dressed. We can head into town later for breakfast. I’m going to have a bit of a walk to stretch my legs.” She walked out of the ship, and you stayed silent, mulling over the ending of your strange dream. You had more questions for Axel now, and you were afraid of all of the answers.

You pushed yourself off of the bed, slumping into the bathroom. You looked better rested now than you had yesterday when you got back from the Old Mansion. You showered quickly and put on one of the outfits your mom bought you – all of them delightfully girly – a pale lavender sundress that tied around the neck and stopped a few inches above your knees. You slipped on some sandals and put a few ribbons in your hair until you could separate yourself as far as possible from ________ the keyblade wielder and just be ________ the girl from Spaceship Earth who liked girly dresses and long walks in the park. You wanted no adventures today. You needed a break.

You didn’t even want to ask Axel about his robe. Nope. You were not thinking about that right now, and it certainly had not been buzzing in the back of your mind the whole time you were getting ready. And you certainly weren’t going a little crazy over it.

You shook your head. Calm down, ________. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the robes. Probably.

You exited the bathroom and glanced at the bunk above yours. Pops was resting peacefully in his bunk, Dreamfinder spooning him…. And Figment on Pops’ other side, snuggling in close. You snapped a quick picture on your gummi phone.

“Oh, you look nice,” your mother said as she stepped back on the ship. The ribbons brushed over your shoulders as you whipped your head around to look at her. You’d put your hair in a couple of French braids with the ribbons woven throughout. You smiled at your mother.

“How about we spend the day together, Mom?” you asked. She blinked in surprise.

“I thought after breakfast, you were going to go find Axel,” she said with a sly smile you pretended not to notice. She gave you that smile whenever you spent time with any boy that wasn’t Genki.

“We haven’t really spent time together since –,” you stopped short, picking your words more carefully, “In a long time. I thought it’d be nice.”

~

“So,” your mother started after a few minutes of silent eating, “You’re making new friends.”

You looked at her, swallowing a mouthful of omelet before answering.

“Yeah.” She watched you for a moment. She was probably expecting more than, “yeah,” but what else were you supposed to say? You hardly knew any of them, but Demyx and Namine certainly earned the title friend after helping you get through what you went through – even if you’d only known them about an hour or so longer than your mom had.

“How did all of you meet, exactly?” Oh boy. She was probing. You could lie, but it seemed pretty futile at this point considering you could only have known them on Twilight Town for the short amount of time you’d been there.

“I actually met them when I was exploring the woods,” you said. Half-truths were easier. “I ran into Namine and Demyx when I got to the mansion in the woods.”

“When I was looking for you, plenty of people said they saw you with Axel beforehand. When did you meet him?” she said as she sipped her cup of coffee.

Uh oh. This was no-no territory. Maybe. You probably weren’t supposed to be involved with people that were doing some interplanetary multiverse planet hoppy trips. And Axel was most definitely doing that. Figment might call you on it later if you lied now. It didn’t take a genius to know he was not as fond of Axel as your mother was, and that was only because she’d only met Axel, the protector of ________ – not Axel who was following ________ from world to world. Meh. At least Figment can’t talk.

You shoved a forkful of food into your mouth to give you more time to answer. Then you sipped your orange juice. Then you slowly but thoroughly wiped your mouth. Then you gingerly folded your napkin back up, and okay ________ you’re stalling.

Your mother quirked an eyebrow at you, waiting. You took a deep breath.

“Okay don’t be mad,” you started, and your mother rolled her eyes. “See! You’re mad already!”

“I’m not mad, ________. I just have to wonder what you’ve stuck yourself into this time.”

“Well, I mean, nothing really. Axel’s not from this world,” you said lowly so nearby patrons wouldn’t think you were crazy. Your mother gave you a dry look. She already did not like this.

“So what’s he doing here? Is he following you?” Hmmm. Better to lie this time around.

“No, we just happened to run into each other. And then we hung out for a while and walked around the woods together.”

“Wait, was this the same friend you had in Hollow Bastion that was in the castle?”

You nodded slowly, wringing your napkin in your hands. Your mother watched you for a moment, and you did your best not to look guilty. You didn’t want to have to spill that you’d seen Axel in Disney Town either because that would raise too many alarms for your mother, and you didn’t want her to forbid you from seeing Axel again. And despite recent suspicions involving his odd attire, you still wanted to see him.

Your mother sighed. Time for the verdict.

“Well,” she began, picking up a strip of bacon, “I’m glad he made it out of there alright.”

You let out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding and smiled brightly.

“What do you want to do next?” you asked as you pushed your plate away. You had finished your meal, and your mother was nibbling on her bacon but for the most part done. She shrugged.

“You didn’t really tell me about your other friends.”

“Oh well, I don’t know so much about them other than the fact that they’re old friends of Axel’s. Maybe he comes here to visit them every now and again.” She nodded.

“Well they seemed nice. I have to admit though; I’m worried with what they were involved in too. I understand them bringing Axel into the mix but to drag you into the mess from yesterday. Do you know how you looked at me when you saw me? Like you didn’t believe I was there. ________, what happened in there?”

“Nothing happened,” you muttered. It was a blatant lie, and there was no hiding that. But you didn’t ever want to revisit those memories if you could help it.

“________, if you can’t even talk to me about it, how can I trust you can handle it? I know you’re doing this for something that’s much bigger than me – bigger than all of us – but I’m still worried.”

“I know, Mom. But I can’t stop now. We have a whole world of people counting on us, and what if what happened yesterday can bring back Dad?”

Your mother froze, mouth pressing into a tight line.

“I know that would be a wonderful thing. You know better than anybody, I’d give just about anything to have my husband back. But I don’t trade lives, ________. I wouldn’t trade you for anything.”

“I know. It’s just… Yesterday was a lot to take in. And a lot of it was really scary, and I don’t want to relive any of it – memories or no.” The worry line on your mother’s brow deepened.

“You cried while you were in your father’s mind. You cried a lot. And there was nothing I could do, and I wondered what was going to happen to my baby girl when she got back from wherever she was – if she got back.”

“I was with Axel and Figment. You didn’t need to worry about me.”

“I saw you two holding hands. I know he was there for you,” she said with a slight smirk, trying to lighten the mood. You wanted to be relieved that she had tried to change the subject a little, but now you were too flustered.

“That’s not why we were holding hands!” you almost shouted, and your mother laughed.

“I know, I know,” she said with a wave of her hand, “But it’s not like there’s anything wrong with it. I mean, he’s cute, isn’t he?” Her smirk was twice as devious now.

“I am not having this conversation!”

~

“So I gotta ask,” Demyx started as he barged into Axel’s room, “What happened in that guy’s head?” Axel had been laying on his bed, reflecting on recent events involving his trip through the mind. It was more than a little jarring, and the fact that you came out of it more or less sane was a miracle.

Axel leveled a glare at Demyx as the door closed behind him. Demyx had always been kind of obnoxious and was never that good at reading a room, but to walk into someone’s room unannounced was pushing it even for Demyx.

“There’s nothing to know. We got there, it was messed up and crawling with heartless, we found the memories, we got out. That’s it.”

“Well that just sounds boring. Were they like crazy brain-y looking heartless? Did _______ take ‘em out with her sweet keyblade moves?”

Axel snorted at the thought of you having “sweet keyblade moves.” You were still a beginner and it showed even in the way you held yourself. You were still far too impulsive – to the point of self-destruction, he realized when he thought of how you jumped from the boat to fight the darkside that had attacked you. You had potential though. Your leadership skills and ability to think your actions through when you actually took the time to think about them was nothing to sneeze at.

“Yeah, sure. She took out so many,” he lied. He didn’t know why the heartless never disappeared when you took them out with your keyblade but explaining that to Demyx was a headache he wasn’t ready to have.

Demyx flopped down to take a seat on Axel’s bed near his feet, and that’s where Axel drew the line. He kicked him off none too gently, and Demyx landed on the floor with a grunt, but he didn’t seem to mind too much. Demyx leaned against the side of the bed, hands resting behind his head like he’d been intending to rest there all along.

“I heard about the Kairi situation. You know with Saix getting a hold of her and all that.”

“What about it?” Axel snapped. Demyx filed that little outburst away for later.

“What was the endgame?”

Demyx had never been too smart about getting information from people who weren’t ready to hand it over. That’s why Axel acted as the resident spy and assassin and Demyx was on recon duty almost all the time – because that’s what he did best. Not interrogations. Like the one he was casually trying to pass off now.

But how would Axel have answered that anyway? Oh I just wanted to rile Sora up so he’d get careless and get killed, and maybe I could bring back my best friend who ________ occasionally reminds me of to the point where I both want to keep her around and simultaneously strangle her? Yeah, that wasn’t gonna fly. Especially since Demyx had trouble keeping his mouth shut. He’d nearly given them away yesterday when they got back to the castle when Saix asked where they had been. He’d let it go, but there was no doubt that little bit of extra surveillance Demyx caused was how Saix managed to get a hold of Kairi in the end.

“Get Sora moving. Complete Kingdom Hearts. Same goal it’s always been.”

“Then why is ________ still alive?” Axel looked down at Demyx. Demyx wasn’t looking at him. He turned his eyes back to the ceiling. He’d be damned before he admitted he screwed around just to fuck with Saix and wound up fucked because you had decided to be friends.

He didn’t answer. He heard movement. Maybe Demyx was getting the hint. But then Demyx just popped up in his line of vision. He had a weird smile on his face. Axel gave him the same face he had been giving the ceiling a moment ago – straight up boredom.

“Is it cause she’s pretty?”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I just thought maybe….”

“No.”

Axel wasn’t sure why Demyx was on this whole ________ was cute thing. He thought of every moment he’d spent with you up to that point. And despite the moments where you made him feel any sort of emotion just by the looks you gave him alone; he couldn’t think of a single time he found you cute or pretty. Those weren’t even words to describe you. They didn’t match you at all. Bull-headed. Now there was word. Uncontrolled was another one. Maybe fierce. But not pretty – let alone cute.

Demyx shrugged then left. He clearly wasn’t going to get any info from him while he was being so grumpy. Maybe he’d pop by Twilight Town in a few days to see if you were still there and chill for a bit.

~

“I feel a bit rude about just dropping by unannounced,” your mother said as you gave the heavy wooden door of the Old Mansion a few solid knocks.

“I’m sure she won’t mind. Plus she’s probably dying to get out of this stuffy old place.”

Your mother gave a sigh of frustration. You’d suggested after a small walk through town that you wanted to visit Namine. It was apparent she lived here if her room were anything to go by. And plus you wanted to get to know the woman who may have opened the door to reviving and meeting your father.

The two of you waited patiently, then you heard footsteps quickly approaching the door. Namine peeked her head out. She looked pleasantly surprised.

“Are you here to visit him?” she asked. You could assume she either meant your father or Axel or Demyx if they were here at all. You shook your head. You still weren’t ready to confront those demons.

“I’m actually here for you!” you said brightly, and she seemed even more surprised then.

“Me?”

“Yeah, I wanted to know if you wanted to hang out for a bit today.” Namine mulled this over a little in her head. She was a bit conflicted. Leaving the mansion was a big no – especially when there was a chance the organization could find her. But leaving sounded nice after having been cooped up for so long. And here was someone who viewed her as something like a friend. She nodded finally.

You face brightened even more.

“Great! Let’s go!”

Namine stepped out of the house and followed you and your mother through the woods and back to town. It was so surreal to see the town. She’d seen it before, but now she was seeing it more or less as a fugitive.

The three of you walked about for a bit. She asked you about your family and what you enjoyed about the town so far. You asked her about her life from before. She gave vague answers that showed she was a bit uncomfortable talking about it, so you let it drop.

“We should get her something,” your mother whispered to you as the three of you walked around a shop to browse.

“I was thinking about that,” you said as you checked the price tag on a dress. It was cute.

“I saw a nice paint set in the last store we were in, and I know she likes art,” your mother said, holding up a shirt.

“You should get her that. I think I’m going to get her this dress. It would be a nice color on her. It matches her eyes.”

Your mother eyed the deep blue garment with an appreciative hum.

“You’re right. That would look nice.”

Namine was ecstatic about her gifts but seemed guilty she would not be able to repay you. You assured her you didn’t need her to. After a few more hours, your mother went back to the ship to rest and curl up with a few books she bought to occupy her time for the evening.

You continued your little jaunt about town with Namine for a few hours before the two of you retired to a bubbling fountain in the town, resting on the lip of it while you dipped your fingers in on occasion. Namine looked sad, with a distant look to her eyes. She’d been making that face a lot today. You weren’t sure if your mother noticed, but you had.

“I should probably head back now,” she said with that same sad look on her face.

“You keep making that face. You’ve been doing it all day,” you said quietly over the gurgle of the fountain.

“You’ve learned quite a bit about being a keyblade wielder and hearts,” she said after a long moment of quiet passed between the two of you. “Do you know about people without hearts?”

You briefly thought back to the experiments where people had their hearts forcibly removed and shuddered. That probably wasn’t what she meant though. She continued without waiting for an answer.

“Sometimes when people die, a part of them is left behind. This part is their will. It keeps them around even after the body has passed on and their heart becomes a separate entity. The heart turns into a heartless, but the body exists as a person unable to feel any emotion.”

“That sounds awful,” you concluded after thinking it over for a moment. She just laughed lightly.

“The person can be recompleted if both the heartless and the nobody die. They’ll reform just as they were before they died.”

“So they just exist as an emotionless husk until their heartless and them just die? There are so many heartless that exist. How do they even know which one theirs is?”

“Usually they don’t. I’ve only seen one instance where the heartless actually had a form.”

“And the body? It just doesn’t feel? How does it live?”

“That’s the interesting part. I don’t think they stay emotionless forever. I think when they form strong bonds through other people, they can reform their hearts.”

“Why are you telling me all this? I mean, not that it isn’t interesting! I’m just curious. Is that why you look so sad sometimes?”

“I’m a nobody, ________.”

“Oh.”

The two of you were quiet for a moment longer.

“You don’t feel?” you finally asked after what felt like an eternity.

“I don’t know. I think I have something like feelings. Sometimes I know I feel things.”

“If it means anything. I think you might have them. I mean, I couldn’t even tell anything was different about you from anyone else. And you looked so sad sometimes, you must be able to feel something.”

She smiled softly. She felt something like reassurance.

“If meaningful connections help you get a new heart, then I’m glad we’re friends,” you said with a smile on your face. You pulled out your phone. “Let’s take a picture! It can be our first recorded friendship memory!”

Namine’s smile brightened at your giddiness before she leaned in with you to take a selfie. The golden light of the sky made the two of you glow and made a pretty nice “filter” for the two of you. You snapped the picture of your smiling faces and went to have it printed.

You handed her a copy.

“For your wall. It can be like another piece of artwork.”

She smiled at the picture then enveloped you in a hug as she felt a strong feeling of gratitude and happiness overcome her. You hugged back tightly before the two of you parted ways.

Chapter Text

Ludwig awoke with a sensation of comforting warmth surrounding him. He blearily opened his eyes to be met with those of Dreamfinder’s uncomfortably close to his own.

“Good morning, bestie,” Dreamfinder said lowly with warm smile on his face. Ludwig blinked. Then turned over to the other side to be face to face with Figment who was giving him a toothy smile.

“Okay! Everybody out!” Ludwig announced, booting Figment from the bed. This was the fourth time he’d woken up to them uncomfortably close and cuddling him since your little journey in the mind. They needed a place to stay. One with separate rooms where the beds were far apart. Maybe back home in Disney Town.

“Oh you’re up!” you said as you walked out of the bathroom. You were wearing another sun dress – this one in a pale blue – with little flowers pinned to your braids and ballet slippers your mother found a few days after your shopping trip with Namine laced up your legs. “We’re gonna head out for breakfast in a few minutes if you’d like to join us?”

“Oh that sounds nice!” Dreamfinder said as he hopped out of the bed, pushing Ludwig out with him, “Where are we going?”

You giggled behind your hand as Ludwig picked himself up off the ground, muttering something about personal space and potential restraining orders.

“There’s a café in town I’ve been frequenting,” you answered as you stood from your spot on the bed.

“Well that’s all well and good but we’ve got a lot of business to attend to. We’ve been here for four days now sitting on our keisters,” Ludwig said as he began to pace the ship. “We have a world to save and experiments to reverse. We’ll need an actual place to work because the ship is too cramped and lacks the appropriate materials.”

“Oh don’t worry about that now,” your mother chimed in as she stepped onto the ship from a little morning walk she had taken. “Let’s go eat and chat about what we’re going to do later. You’ll want to be well rested anyway.”

Ludwig started to protest, but everyone else had already voiced their agreements, food winning out the room. He let out a long sigh and begrudgingly followed you.

“We do need to talk about it though,” Ludwig continued as you all stepped off of the ship, “She still needs training, and we’d be hard pressed to find a suitable teacher for keyblade wielders around here.”

“Well that may be true,” your mother replied, “But we can discuss how to handle it after breakfast.”

“That’s what you said yesterday,” Ludwig grumbled.

Huh. Had she said that yesterday? You thought back to the last time she’d said it. Yesterday when you got back from chilling with Namine you may have recalled her mentioning it. You mostly just remembered your time out. You and Namine had become quite close quite quickly. You’d been hanging out every day, and she seemed to enjoy herself. That was good. Emotions were good.

“Well it’s true. We can recuperate here and talk about it when we’re ready to get on the move again.”

“We’ve been recuperating for days! How much longer do you intend to put it off?”

“I’m not putting it off. I’m just enjoying time with my daughter.”

“Hmm. I don’t know, Mom. Maybe he’s right. We’ve been doing nothing for a while now.”

“A few days ago you said you couldn’t even speak about what you’d seen on your last adventure,” your mother said, narrowing her eyes at you. You were mildly taken aback.

“I don’t have time to focus on that when there are billions of lives on the line, Mom.” Your mother turned to look at you. She did not like that.

“Don’t ignore your mental health, _________. How can you be a protector if you can’t even think straight?” She patted your head. It was a gesture that normally felt comforting, but it felt more forced than anything now.

“I don’t know,” you mumbled, ducking from under her hand, “But I’m sure not gonna be one if I can’t figure out which end of my keyblade is the pointy one.” She looked a bit hurt that you shied away from her touch, so you grabbed her hand to give it a little, comforting squeeze. She didn’t let go.

“You’ll learn in time,” your mother said, “Like all things that come in time.”

“I don’t have time, Mom. I have however long until the heartless catch up. They’re here too you know.” You’d been lucky in not seeing them the first and second day you’d been in Twilight Town, but as you ventured deeper into the forest, you saw them appear more. Thankfully, not in the overwhelming numbers you’d seen on Spaceship Earth or in the Mind.

Your mother’s grip around your hand tightened.

“You know I understand what it’s like to be worried for those you love,” Dreamfinder interjected, “But your daughter has chosen to take up her blade and fight. That is her wish, and it’s a very admirable one at that.”

“My daughter can’t even manage to stay out of trouble for two seconds! How could I not be worried?” Her grip tightened a bit again.

“Well that’s exactly the point isn’t it?” Dreamfinder said, stroking his beard, “She can’t stay out of trouble, and from what I’ve learned of her adventures up to this point, trouble isn’t likely to vanish because she decided she didn’t want to be involved in it.”

Your mother leveled a glare at Dreamfinder.

“You remember what Leon said,” Ludwig picked up where his friend left off, “Heartless are drawn to her, so this lifestyle has chosen her as much as she’s chosen it.”

“So that’s it? I send her off into battle and maybe she comes home, maybe she doesn’t?”

“Well I’ve actually given that some thought,” Ludwig said, looking anywhere but at your mother or you. “You could stay with Leon and his friends.”

“Excuse me?! I’m just supposed to abandon my daughter? You must be out of your mind!”

“Let me explain!” Ludwig said, putting his hands up as if your mother was going to hit him. And she didn’t look far from it, but she kept her fist clenched firmly at her side, the other gripping your hand tightly to the point of pain. You tried to wriggle out of her grasp, but she wouldn’t budge.

You all stopped walking at this point, just at the edge of town.

“They can protect you because they’re experienced fighters. ________ can barely protect herself – let alone you if anything happens to you.”

“Mom, you’re hurting me,” you said, tugging lightly at her hand. She whipped her head away to look at you.

“I’m protecting you!” Then she looked down to where you were tugging at her hand. She realized her mistake, dropping your hand as if it burned her. You were giving her a look of shock. She couldn’t backtrack from her response at this point. She looked sad, angry, and embarrassed. “I want you to be safe,” she said softly.

“She’ll die,” Dreamfinder finally said gravely. You all looked uncomfortably between each other, your mother’s eyes welling up with tears. She wanted that even less than she wanted you running into danger. You wrapped her up in a hug and she hugged back tightly.

“I’d do anything to protect you,” she said sadly into your shoulder.

“Even leave?” Dreamfinder asked. Your mother let a little shudder pass through her body and silently shook her head, holding you tighter.

“No. I could never leave her. But I’ll back off. I’ll give her space, but please don’t make me leave her behind.” She pulled back to look at your face. She studied it as if she’d never see you again, but you both understood that it was a very real possibility if she left. And… you didn’t want her to.

~

“Xemnas trusts you. You’d be wise not to betray that trust again,” Saix warned carefully, narrowing his eyes at Marluxia.

“Or what? The assassin will hunt me down? I hear he’s slacking off lately.”

“Your recompletion didn’t make you immortal, and you’d be foolhardy to test that theory. The only reason you’re still the Organization is because Xemnas needs you as one of the thirteen seekers of darkness. Because that would be much simpler than finding a brand-new recruit. But you’re on thin ice, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like spending the rest of your borrowed time as a dusk. That being said, if I were you, I’d watch how I speak to my superiors.”

Marluxia cast a passive glance at Saix. He seemed hardly phased by the threat but knew that Saix did not make idle threats.

“Regardless, getting the duck was your job. If I’m so untrustworthy and this job is so important, why are you handing if off to me?”

“Because I know you won’t mess up because there’s too much at stake for you.” Marluxia could hear the hidden threat in his words again. “Besides, Axel’s recent behavior has given us an advantage over Sora.”

“Advantage?”

“We have Kairi, Sora’s driving force. It’ll make him angry, reckless. He’ll keep destroying heartless and simultaneously make himself vulnerable in his blind fury.”

“So why do we need the duck?”

“The world is unstable. And that duck is the only person who’s versed enough on the hearts of worlds to help us either build a new world or stabilize the one we’re currently residing in. Just as well, Xemnas’ Kingdom Hearts is destabilizing.”

“Oh is that all?” Marluxia said with a roll of his eyes. Saix leveled a glare at him but didn’t have time for his insolence. Not that he wanted to deal with it anyway.

“You have your assignment. I suggest you prepare to do it,” Saix said in a cold, detached tone. Marluxia left. He was bored and now he was on kidnapping duty. He’d have much rather had Axel’s job of eliminating troublesome targets, but he was on the bottom rung of the Organization now. And beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

Saix waited until Marluxia had left the room before turning to the other person awaiting orders.

Vanitas stood there with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall.

“So why do you need me?” he asked.

“I need you to take out Axel’s pet.”

~

The plan was set. Your mother and you would be put up in a hotel for a few days. Ludwig, Dreamfinder, and Figment would go to Disney Town for a few days to learn a few things about being a keyblade wielder. So with any luck they’d be able to find some books and journals in the King’s library to help you.

Everything was set in motion. You were going to learn about your new abilities and then some and get your planet back. You were happy about this. You would do them all proud.

 “You would be fine,” your mother told herself.

And you would be.

You both stayed and watched until the ship was out of sight before heading back into town to get a room at the hotel. The walk felt longer than normal, and the world felt quiet. It wasn’t ever noisy on your walks from the ship to town but staying on this strange alien world without a means of leaving was a surreal and somewhat uncomfortable yet thrilling thought.

You checked into the hotel. The room was modest, two twin beds, two nightstands, a desk with a chair, and a window overlooking part of the town.

Your mother settled onto her bed, pulling out a book to read. Great. She was occupied. Now what do you do?

.

.

.

You wound up on top of the clock tower. Well, no, you didn’t wind up there. You very deliberately climbed up there to see if the sunsets were as beautiful as you had dreamed. They were, but something about seeing them in person was even better. You don’t know how long you were up there before Namine joined you. You noticed she was wearing the dress you’d bought her. You smiled.

“I saw you when I was looking for you. The ship was gone but I still felt you nearby.”

“Mom and I are gonna hang here for a few days while Pops, Dreamfinder, and Figment go to Disney Town to find Sora or books written by the King to teach me about being a key blade wielder.”

She hummed an acknowledgment, and the two of you watched the sunset in a comfortable silence for another few minutes before a question burned at the forefront of your mind.

“Namine?”

“Hm?” She looked at you, but you felt you couldn’t look at her eyes.

“What happens when you’re recompleted? Where do you go?”

“We go to where our bodies last were when they first died. But… that won’t be the case for me.”

“Why not?”

“I’m something of a special case. The person I am and the person I recomplete into are two separate people. They did not form a heartless because there was no darkness in their heart. I merely exist as an extension of them that will one day return.”

“You don’t have to. I mean, if they can exist normally without you, why leave?”

“Because I’m not supposed to exist. Nobodies aren’t supposed to exist. And I’m a part of her. I can’t just continue to exist. That’s like stealing.”

“Asking you to go back is stealing too! You have a life! Our friendship is proof of that! You have memories and experiences just like the rest of us, and it’s no one’s business of whether or not you should exist. You do, and that means something.”

“You believe nobodies should exist?”

“It’s not that I believe they do. Because the circumstances that exist which create one are a bit farther than I’d be willing to push. And if they exist as themselves and gain a heart then it should be totally up to them whether or not they be recompleted. But you said it yourself that you’re a special case. You exist as a separate person with a life that you’ve lived. You don’t deserve to lose that anymore than the original person deserved to die to create you.”

“You think I should exist?” Namine sounded sad, and you snapped your head in her direction. She was crying, little tears dripping from her chin where they’d run down her face, but she was smiling. You grabbed her hand.

“Of course, I do. You’re my friend, and I don’t want to lose you.”

No one had ever told her openly that she should exist. And here you were expressing that you wanted her to exist and be friends with you. She had never, before that moment, felt like anyone but Namine, Kairi’s nobody. But now she just felt like Namine. Her own person.

She knew it didn’t matter though. One day she and Kairi would be one again, and that would be the end of her. But she didn’t mind being her own person, having a friend, and enjoying a life she had never fully acknowledged for now.

~

Riku walked through a corridor and into Master Yen Sid’s quarters.

“I haven’t been able to locate it. I’ve combed the area, but it’s like a signal getting bounced around so I can’t track it,” Riku said in a solemn voice. Yen Sid ran a hand over his beard.

“That is worrisome. I’ve never seen an influx of darkness like this, especially one that has been unable to be located by normal or otherworldly means.”

“We may need the King to find it and bring it down.”

“He’s occupied with his own tasks. However, there is another keyblade wielder I’ve been monitoring that I would like you to observe for a while.”

“Do you think they will be able to locate it?”

“No, they aren’t ready yet. They’re still new to the responsibilities of being a keyblade wielder. But when they are ready, I’d like to make contact so they may hone their skills. And I’d like you to be their guide.”

~

Axel showed up the next day to see Namine and see if she needed anything as usual. Demyx had also opted to tag along, and outside of that nothing had changed. And yet….

Everything was different about Namine. Well not everything. They were subtle things that Axel could pick up on. If that weren’t enough, he could always see the more obvious things – like the pictures on the wall. Regardless, everything pissed him off – especially you right now.

Namine was a bit tanner. It was almost unnoticeable, but it contrasted a bit with her pale hair. She’d been outside more. Okay. No big deal. She could have been in the courtyard out front or the garden in the back.

She had a new dress. Also not a big deal. You could have just as easily brought it to her as you could have taken her to get it. Though he doubted that.

There was paint on the table and a paint set next to it. It was strange to see any colors on the stark white furniture, but he could ultimately chalk this up to the same reason as the dress. You could have just brought it there. But he really doubted that.

But then there were the pictures. Of you. And Namine. Out and about and in town. It was bad enough that she would leave the mansion at all considering the risk of the Organization popping up and spotting her. Then they would take her away and kill him – or turn him into a dusk – because he supposedly didn’t know where she was.

He inhaled slowly through his nose, pinching it and leaning his head back. Namine just watched him silently. He exhaled slowly through his mouth before looking at her with an annoyed glare. Namine looked around guiltily. Demyx, reading the room for once, saw himself out and took a leisurely stroll around the upper levels of the mansion.

“Before you get mad at her, you should know that I didn’t tell her I’m not supposed to leave,” she said finally, meeting Axel’s heated glare. It softened a bit at that.

“So this was purely your decision, no impulsive and reckless influences had any part in convincing you to leave?”

Namine shook her head. At least you weren’t being a bad influence. It’s just that your bad judgment seemed to rub off on everyone you came in contact with – himself included. He sighed again.

“Why?” he asked simply. Namine did not need clarification. He wanted to know why she would willingly put her and himself at risk for a few hours of being in town.

“The same reason you used to be so reckless. The same reason you’re still reckless. I know I’ve only known her for a little under a week, but she makes me feel like I have a heart.”

Axel stared. He knew that feeling far too well, and it drove him to do more than he was willing to admit just to feel it again and have his best friend back at his side. He let out another sigh, this one a sigh of defeat. What could he say to that that wouldn’t make him a hypocrite?

He looked at the pictures again. Namine had a large smile on her face, larger than the small ones she always seemed to have, even going so far as to show teeth and posing in some of them. You looked different too – more girly. It was strange considering he’d only seen you in shirts and shorts up to now. The clothes didn’t quite match the personality you emitted. But then again, he’d only known some of you up to this point, always stepping into trouble or already in it. He didn’t really know much else outside of that. Apparently, you were a little girly.

He thought back to Demyx calling you cute. It still didn’t quite match what he’d known about you. He’d just known you as the person who always seemed to be in trouble or danger of some sort. He thought of more words to describe you. Perilous. Brave. Those were right. Though the latter was interchangeable with wild depending on how you looked at it.

Noble too, he realized. Almost every time he’d seen you in danger was almost always to help others. Whether it was stopping a bank robbery, finding information to help total strangers, or being a vigilante on your home world for years. And not once had he seen you second guess doing any of these things for your own self-interest. Or preservation for that matter.

Now there was the matter of Namine who he was certain wouldn’t want to stop her trips into town with you. But she had to. Ugh. He didn’t want to have this conversation.

He didn’t want any of this. You were invading too many aspects of his life. You were a danger to himself, Namine, and yourself. And Demyx by some odd extension.

There three sharp knocks on the door downstairs. Axel’s breath hitched, and Namine hopped up excitedly. She wanted to move passed Axel, but his tall frame took up the space in the doorway.

“I’ll get it,” Demyx called up. Axel wanted to stop him because it could be anyone at the door, and he and Demyx would do well to stay out of sight. But he had a pretty good idea of who it might actually be.

Demyx opened the door, and there you were looking up at him and more than a little surprised. A flurry of emotion flicked over your features. It settled on worry. There was an unspoken question on your lips, and you were warring internally with yourself of whether or not you wanted to ask it.

“What’s up?” Demyx said finally when it seemed you were too stunned to speak.

Your hand shot out, grabbing the chain that hung on his robe. You yanked him down to eye-level. Demyx was caught between surprise and fear. Were you here to fight him? Well you didn’t look angry or murderous. Then you asked him a voice that sounded odd but worrisome to him. It was low, full of fear and warning, almost like a threat made by a cornered animal.

“Where did you get this robe?”

Chapter Text

Demyx swallowed a lump in his throat and gave you a nervous smile before he attempted to lighten the mood with humor.

“Nice to see you too,” he said with a light chuckle.

“Answer me,” you demanded. Your voice wavered a bit, but the threat was still there. You were on edge to say the least. You had only wanted to hang out with Namine but then seeing Demyx and that robe shocked you into a state of mind that was a mix between fear and anger as you switched between the thought that your friends may very well not be your friends at all and that your friends may be more closely related to the destruction of Spaceship Earth and maybe Kelewenya than you’d like.

You could feel the magic of your keyblade swirling around you, running down your arm and feeling like a weight in your hand already. Though you kept it from forming. You did not want to threaten Demyx – especially since you weren’t sure if he really was tied to Kelewenya or Spaceship Earth.

“Is there a problem here?” you heard Axel’s voice drift to you – smooth and cold. He stepped around Demyx to stand next to him, in front of you. Your eyes slid up to him, and he was mildly taken aback at the predatory gaze in them. He’d never seen you look like that. Dangerous.

“When my world fell, there was a man wearing this robe. He was everywhere. Following me. Like you,” you said with more acid to your tone than you had intended as you didn’t break your gaze from his. He maintained his cold demeanor. As did you. “Tell me why.”

“I told you I go from world to world. I use corridors to do it. The robe protects me from exposure when I use them. Plenty of people who world hop have them when they don’t use ships.”

You stared at him for a moment longer before your expression softened. The anger was gone, but the fear lingered.

“Please don’t lie to me, Axel,” you said pleadingly, letting go of Demyx’s robe. Axel glanced at Demyx who looked at him with a mix of concern and curiosity. What was he gonna say this time? He looked back to you. You hadn’t broken your gaze from him, though there was sadness in your gaze now.

“I’m not lying to you,” he said finally. You visibly relaxed. Your magic dissipated. You looked tired.

“Good,” you said glancing away. You were relieved to finally have that question answered. You almost felt silly for doubting them after all they’d done for you – especially Axel. “I’m sorry.”

“I’d have done the same in your shoes,” Axel answered with a shrug, some of the warmth having returned to his voice. You smiled at him.

“I actually came here to see Namine, but if you guys are here, maybe you want to come with us?”

Oh right. You didn’t know Namine wasn’t supposed to be out. He still had that headache to deal with.

“About that,” he started, scratching the back of his head, “You remember how Namine said I helped her? I’m still technically helping her. She can’t be found, and she can’t be drawing attention to herself. And, no offense, you’re like a walking, talking spotlight.”

You wrinkled your nose at that in a half-hearted scowl.

“So she just stays here all the time?” you asked. It hardly sounded appealing.

“Yep. I mean, you can walk around the forest a bit or hang around the mansion but going into town is out.”

“I mean I guess that’s fine. Why didn’t she tell me?”

“I just wanted to go into town,” she said from behind Axel. He stepped out of the way. She gave you a sad, somewhat guilty smile, “But I should’ve told you. I’m sorry about that.”

You shrugged.

“I’d have probably done the same,” you admitted. Even when you were back home, it was hard to keep you in one spot. Even now you were restless. “We can hang around the forest if you want?”

She nodded with an eager smile.

You walked back through the courtyard with Namine by your side. You turned around where Axel and Demyx still stood.

“You aren’t coming?” you asked. Demyx looked excited at that prospect and quickly walked to where you were. The three of you continued on, and Axel just ambled up at an easy pace eventually matching your speed.

“So where are you from?” Demyx asked you. Your face lit up as you retold your tale of what your home and life was like. Demyx and Namine were, of course, in awe. Axel listened too though he knew a good chunk of your story by now. Demyx was floored that you hadn’t seen the moon or sunrises or sunsets until recently and cast mischievous glances at Axel when you mentioned you had gazed at two of the three with him. Axel just rolled his eyes.

You all stopped at another point in the forest not too far from the mansion, near the remains of an old wall to some structure that had long since fallen away. Then you began climbing the nearby trees, minding your dress but not caring too much.

“You know I’ve never done this before?” you mentioned from a branch below Demyx.

“Really?”

“We weren’t allowed to climb the trees that were actually sturdy enough for climbing because they were usually food trees, and we weren’t permitted anywhere near them. The trees in the parks were more decorative than anything – skinny little things with plenty of flower blossoms.”

You swung upside down from the branch you were on, holding your dress with your hands so you wouldn’t flash everyone. You looked towards the ground where Namine sat that the base of the tree smiling up at you. Axel leaned on it next to her also looking up but with a neutral expression on his face.

You briefly wondered if you could let go and land on your feet safely next to them. Hmmm… You were agile but not catlike. You sat back up, standing on the branch and walking on it as if it were a balancing beam. You stood near the edge of the branch where you were sure it could support you. You could see the town in the distance.

You admired it briefly before looking up at the next branch. Demyx was sitting on it now. There was enough space for you. You jumped up to the next one, grabbing it with both hands then swung yourself up into the air, landing on your toes.

“That was dangerous,” Demyx noted. You looked down. If you fell it wouldn’t kill you, and provided you didn’t land awkwardly, you probably wouldn’t break anything.

“I’m not worried,” you remarked. You continued to look around you when you noticed a tiny glint of silver near the base of the tree. Neither Axel nor Namine had seen it yet. You didn’t think, just acted. You jumped from the branch, keyblade already drawn. You sliced cleanly down its middle, landing on your feet with a harder thud than you intended, but you’d survive.

More of the creatures appeared but by now Demyx was next to you and Axel was already fighting the next one. Some of them you had never seen before. They were relatively large, frames that were built like soldiers – armored like them too. They also carried large claymores. You’d hate to find out how heavy their swing was. It looked like a definite one-hit kill.

Demyx and Axel exchanged a look at the appearance of the berserker nobodies. He didn’t need to be told that the dusks were probably here to watch to see what side Axel would fight on just so they could report back to Saix.

This was a do or die mission for the two of them now. Because if any word of them got back to Saix, they’d be dusked or killed for sure.

You struggled against the larger ones to be certain, and, unfortunately, their larger size didn’t slow them down by much. It gave you a decent strike zone though. It also meant a harder time dodging. You focused on the smaller ones as best you could. Demyx and Axel seemed to have the larger ones under control.

Axel kept a wary eye on you and Namine during the fight. You were still very new to this, but you were doing better than he’d expected – even implementing the short lesson he’d given you. You almost seemed to dance around the battle with how you moved around the writhing dusks and heavy-handed berserkers. You managed to avoid being hit so far and that was good.

You executed a turn on the very tips of your toes, swinging your keyblade in an arc and looking every bit the dancer you were. Graceful.

Your eyes landed on him briefly and widened. He spun around just in time to block a hit by a berserker, but it still sent him flying. He hit a tree with a less than soft thud and slumped slightly. His vision swam.

“Axel!” you called. He looked up at you through hazy vision to see you fighting much less gracefully than before – less controlled, with less thought. Your emotions were in the way. And you were getting sloppier with each passing moment – angrier with every hit you didn’t land and every hit you took.

He got up quickly, ignoring the throbbing pain in his back, and thudding headache. He jumped back into the fray.

“You’re getting sloppy,” he noted as he fought next to you.

“I’m doing my best,” you said through gritted teeth, but your fighting got no better.

“Calm down. You’re gonna get yourself killed.”

“I’m doing fine,” you stressed as you barely held off a claymore from striking you in the face.

“You’re getting worse.” You pushed the berserker off of you and it slid quite a distance from you. Had you not been so angry at Axel’s comment, you might have been impressed by your own strength. You whirled around to face Axel who had just destroyed another dusk.

“Do you want to do it by yourself?” You were shaking with how angry you were, tiny tendrils of a black aura swirling around the hand which held your keyblade.

Look out!” Demyx yelled having looked to see how the two of you could possibly be managing an argument in the middle of a fight and seeing the berserker you knocked away mid-swing.

It struck you. Hard. You went flying into the brick wall which crumbled around you. Namine who was behind a tree, watched with wide eyes full of horror. Demyx had a similar expression but quickly went back to fighting. Axel looked scared and pissed, destroying the berserker immediately after it struck you and sending out a wave of fire that nearly scorched everything in its path, destroying the remaining nobodies.

They all ran over to you – or your corpse – frantically digging through the heavy cement blocks.

Please be alive.

Then the pile moved once a significant chunk of it had been removed. You pushed the remainder of the rubble from you standing up and looking around to see if there were anymore creatures to fight. Your shoulder ached from where the berserker hit you, but you felt okay for the most part. Which was strange. You could’ve sworn you were knocked into a brick wall.

You looked around. Yup. That was definitely once part of a wall. Your friends stood around with mildly shocked expression on their faces. You looked down.

.

.

.

These were not your clothes. You looked at your hands, your arms, chest, legs, circling around yourself to look as best you could at your back to look at your gleaming armor. It was pointy to say the least but smooth. It flattered you quite nicely. And were those little metal wings on your back?! You looked at your armor again then felt your face. There was a helmet. You pulled it off and looked at it. It was dragon-like in nature.

Holy shit.

“That is so cool,” Demyx finally said. You let a little laugh escape you.

“This is so beyond cool!” you said with giddy laughter. “I have fucking armor! This is fucking amazing!” You, Demyx, and Namine gushed about how cool it was and wondering if the wings let you fly, but you weren’t eager to jump off of any buildings to find out.

Axel looked at you with relief coursing through him. You were alive. You were safe. That was scary. He looked at the armor which had no doubt saved your life with mild awe. It was cool. And he noted that you looked… not pretty necessarily but something. You looked nice. Really nice.

You stepped out of the rubble feeling good enough that you hardly acknowledged that your shoulder had been hurt but still like you’d been through a lot. You’d be getting a bruise from it no doubt, but you couldn’t even be bothered to care.

You carried the helmet under your arm as you went to rest against a tree. You were tired. Your eyes went to Axel, widening as you remembered that he’d been hit as well but had no armor to protect him.

“Are you okay?”

You were giving him that look of sympathy and worry again which was good. Because that at least meant you weren’t suffering from any kind of brain damage and were still your usual emotional self.

“I’m fine, but you should get some rest. This has… been a lot. And you should have a doctor look you over. That was a really hard hit you took.”

Aww. He was worried. You wanted to protest but saw that Namine and Demyx held similar expressions of worry on their faces as well. You were tired. And while you were certain you didn’t need a doctor, you’d love a nap. You shrugged.

“I’ll head back then,” you said, starting to walk back toward town before you turned to face them again, “You should go see a doctor too, Axel.”

You had a genuine look of caring and worry in your face this time, and it felt nice. He found he was not as put off by your emotions as he had originally been. That coupled with the fact that he had very much not wanted you dead earlier meant he was in this far deeper than he intended to be.

.

.

.

He’d check in on you later.

 

~

Your walk back to the hotel was, thankfully, uneventful. Somewhere half way through your trek your armor vanished, and you were back in your clothes as if nothing had happened. You couldn’t figure out how to bring it back, so you assumed that was going to be one of those keyblade wielder things you’d have to practice.

Your mom wasn’t in the room. She probably left to go about town again or get something to eat. You made your way to the communal bathroom and had a long, hot shower. You felt like you needed it after that fight. You looked at your back and shoulder in a mirror. Yup. There was a nice large bruise forming. You would be wearing tees for a while if you didn’t want your mother to worry about you.

You changed into a soft cotton t-shirt and some pajama bottoms that stopped just above your knees and flopped into your bed, jostling your shoulder a little and making you cringe. Mom wasn’t back yet. You closed your eyes while you waited for her, your eyelids felt really heavy all of a sudden.

.

.

.

You weren’t sure how long you were asleep when you heard a knock on the door. You jolted awake. Mom still wasn’t back. Maybe that was her at the door? But why would she knock? Unless she had done a lot of shopping and couldn’t get the door.

You hopped up, opening the door and being met with Axel instead of Mom. Weird. He was holding a pizza and your stomach growled really loudly just then.

“Please tell me that’s for me,” you said automatically, eyeing the box in his hand.

“Actually it’s for me,” he said with a smirk while you pouted, “But I guess you can have some.”

You rolled your eyes, smiling as you let him into the room. You both sat on your bed facing each other as he opened the box. You picked up a slice, munching on it as politely as you could so as not to shove the whole fucking thing in your mouth. He hadn’t started eating yet, eyeing you instead.

“How’s the injury?” he asked finally. You rolled your shoulder; it stung a bit.

“Fine. It’s bruised but that’ll fade. I can still move it.” He nodded. That was good. You were okay and he could put some of his more stubborn worries to bed. He kept staring.

“What?” you asked after a moment of him just staring at you. His eyes were boring into you and it began to make you uncomfortable. He blinked as if he were surprised to see you there.

“Nothing. Sorry. You just remind me of someone.”

“Roxas?” you guessed. He nodded.

“You got hurt today,” he began, solemnly, looking out of the window at the town, “It’ll probably happen again. Trouble will always find you. Keyblade wielders always find themselves in trouble.”

You nodded. You knew this. But he wouldn’t have said this without reason. You slowly pieced it together.

“Roxas was a keyblade wielder, wasn’t he?”

Axel looked at you. Roxas was keyblade wielder. He had mentioned that he lost Roxas. Your heart broke for him. You remembered losing Genki, how that felt – the feeling that you would never see your best friend again. That must have been how Axel felt.

You could feel tears welling up in your eyes and… you saw them in his too…. You brushed your finger under his eye just as his tear began its descent. He looked shocked more than anything. He grabbed your wrist, looking at the tear drop on your finger like tears were a strange and foreign concept to him. Then he looked at you, feeling a dull ache in his chest he hadn’t felt in so long.

“You’re crying,” he said finally, letting go of your wrist. You hadn’t even realized your tears had fallen, too focused on his. You wiped at your face, sniffling a little.

“I’m sorry,” you apologized, “I didn’t mean to be.” You laughed at yourself lightly.

“It’s fine. I’m kind of being a buzzkill,” he joked.

“No, it’s fine! Tell me about him. Roxas, I mean. If you’re comfortable with it, of course! I know it can be hard to talk about the people we’ve lost.”

“I can’t,” he admitted though, of course, you would assume it’s because it’s too painful to talk about and not just because Roxas was a part of a life that he had not told you about and did not want to tell you about.

You grabbed his hand, surprising him again. The ache in his chest had dulled. You gave him a comforting smile that told him it was okay to not want to talk about it. And even though you didn’t know why he couldn’t, he felt better.

“Should I come back later?”

You both jumped and looked at your mother who stood in the doorway looking between the two of you with a smirk.

“Nothing’s going on!” you blurted, putting your hands over your face to stop that stupidly big grin that always popped up on your face at the most inopportune times – usually when you were stuck between giddy and embarrassed.

“Okay, wow, I thought we were having a moment,” Axel said, feigning offense.

“Get out!” you said, hitting him with a pillow. He laughed, and you tried to ignore the flutter in your chest at the sound of it.

Chapter Text

Pops called you one morning about a week after you’d learned you had armor. You were relaxing at a pond with Namine, Demyx, and Axel when he called. You were sitting a short distance away from the edge of the pond on a large boulder, soaking in the sun like a cat and smiling contentedly.

Demyx was showing Namine how to skip rocks, and Axel was reclining against the base of the rock you sat on. You’d occasionally make conversation but enjoyed the comfortable silence between the two of you.

“Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I called,” he said with a toothbrush in his mouth. Honestly you wondered why it couldn’t wait until he was done brushing his teeth. “Well I’ve discovered something interesting! As a keyblade wielder, you have a number of abilities! However, the one I think will interest you the most, and keep you safe, would be that you can summon armor!”

You chuckled and heard another low one drift up from Axel.

“What’s so funny? Is that your boyfriend I hear?”

“Nothing! I know how to summon armor, and what boyfriend?!” you damn near screeched into the phone, fighting off a smile.

“You know the one!” Dreamfinder interrupted, taking the phone from Ludwig while he yelled several obscenities and how he had no privacy. “He’s tall, dreamy eyes –”

“Axel is not my boyfriend!” you snapped at him, already knowing where this was going.

“I never said it was Axel.” You could hear Axel quietly laughing at you.

“Would you get out of here?! I told you several times that bathroom time is Von Drake’s special time!”

“What do you want?!”

Ludwig snatched the phone back.

“Go sit in your corner!” Ludwig snapped at Dreamfinder who left the bathroom. “Now, I called to tell you about the armor. I figured knowing how to summon it would benefit you most as a first lesson. But since you already know, I suppose we can come pick you up in about three days to train and hone this skill.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that!” You jumped. Demyx, Namine, and Axel were all looking over your shoulder. You couldn’t meet Axel’s eyes. “There’s a better way to get there.”

Demyx opened a corridor which honestly looked like the gateway to hell with how creepy it was. You approached it, eyeing it warily.

“I don’t know about this. It looks –”

Demyx pushed you through to the other side.

“What the hell?!” Axel said, more than a little pissed.

“What?” Demyx asked with a shrug.

“She isn’t exactly protected against darkness, you idiot!”

“Huh? Oh yeah,” Demyx said with a nervous chuckle, scratching the back of his head. Axel sighed and shoved Demyx through the corridor, following behind him with Namine in tow.

~

“What are you doing in my bathroom?!” Ludwig all but screamed at you, waving his toothbrush around and holding a towel around his waist.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” you yelled covering your eyes and facing the other way.

“Is that ________?” Dreamfinder asked, barging back into the bathroom and hitting Ludwig with the door, Figment in tow. Ludwig peeled himself off the back of the door and stumbled around with his toothbrush in his mouth just as Demyx came flying through the corridor and crashing into him. Axel and Namine followed closely behind.

Ludwig was choking on his toothbrush, the shape of it clearly defined, sitting horizontally in his throat. Axel rolled his eyes and grabbed him by the neck, pushing the shape of the brush up his neck until it came flying out of his mouth and landed on the floor near your feet.

“Ew! Pops that gross!” you complained, wrinkling your nose at the drool-y thing on the floor.

“You should really have better manners in the bathroom, Ludwig. I mean, honestly,” Dreamfinder said with a shake of his head.

“Everybody out! Out! Out!” Ludwig shouted, and you all filed out mumbling about how he didn’t have to be rude about it.

~

It was shortly after the bathroom incident when you found yourself in the library. You looked around in wonder. The bathroom, you realized upon exiting was not in the castle – just as well it was pretty small for a castle bathroom – but was in Ludwig’s house. Which turned out to be a mansion.

You stood in the library looking down the sloping hill in the front of the mansion. The lawn was a lush green with a winding sandy path that led to the front door. Dotted through the greenery were several topiaries cut to resemble Ludwig in many majestic poses. Also dotting the lawn were several marble statues of Ludwig in togas posing with small harps and olive branches.

“You never said your uncle was rich,” Demyx said as he reclined on a royal blue and gold fainting couch in the corner, putting his hands behind his head and stretching his legs. Namine sat at the end of a matching couch that sat in the center of the room, flipping through a book she’d picked up from one of the many shelves. Axel was leaning on a wall looking to cool for school as usual, lost in thought. You tried not to let your gaze linger on him too long. Dreamfinder and Figment had gone somewhere else – probably to surprise your uncle with another of their impromptu bathroom visits.

“He never told me,” you admitted. Though you supposed it had been unimportant for him to mention it. You had never considered the life he had outside of Spaceship Earth. Of course he’d have had one. You had assumed he was from another planet – then found out there was even more to it – but had never asked what his life had been like on that other planet. You had just grown up with him and assumed that’s where he’d stay until the day he died.

He must have been happy to come home – even though you knew he loathed the circumstances which had allowed it as much as you did.

The doors to the library opened and you were broken from your train of thought. In came Ludwig and three other cartoon birds – a short blue owl in a suit with a collar that was much too high on him, a duck in a dress shirt and tie, and a tall, skinny chicken wearing a button-up shirt, loose fitting vest, and a little hat.

Ludwig cleared his throat and made a sweeping gesture to the birds lined up next to him before he spoke.

“The birds you see before you are my esteemed colleagues,” he said, gesturing with his hand, “They are highly regarded in the scientific community and legally certified geniuses, like yours truly. I give you Professor Owl, Gyro Gearloose, and his assistant Fenton. Gearloose and Fenton specialize in scientific engineering where as Professor Owl teaches music.”

“Music is a very important science! But I teach much more than that. I assure you!” Professor Owl defended.

“Yeah, sure, whatever you say, bub,” Ludwig said, brushing him off with a wave of his hand.

“Wait. Did you say Fenton?” you asked.

“Uh, yes?” Fenton said, looking every bit like you thought he would – which was the way he was described to you if he was in fact who you were thinking of and you were very sure he was. If that made any damn sense.

“Like, Fenton Crackshell?”

“Yes? You’ve heard of me?” Everyone but Ludwig looked just as confused as Fenton.

“Are you kidding me?!” you almost screamed as you bounced in your spot, “Pops used to tell me stories about Gizmo Duck when he used to babysit me all the time! I mean, I never thought he was a real hero, but you were like my childhood idol!”

“Why thank you!” He seemed as excited as you were.

“But you don’t look that old?” you questioned. Ludwig had told you those stories at least fifteen years ago, but this duck looked fairly young.

“Oh, yes, you don’t know how time works,” Ludwig explained, “Time can vary from world to world. Some worlds will have time that flows much faster than your own or much slower. Some will have a roughly equal ratio. Two days in one world can be two months on another.”

“Really?”

“I told you each world has its own set of time and physics. Thought you had it memorized,” Axel said from the corner. You vaguely remembered him mentioning that.

“Take my nephews for example,” he said pulling out his wallet. Out flopped numerous pictures of family, yourself and your mother included and even a picture of your mother and father. He pointed to one with three little ducks dressed in red, blue, and green. “Huey, Dewey, and Louie when I came to Kelewenya to build Spaceship Earth were eight years old. And decades later they are still eight years old.

“Oh. I see. Wait,” you said already jumping to your previous train of thought about superheroes you thought were fake turning out to be real, “But like they’re all real, right? The superheroes? Like Darkwing Duck, Launchpad, and Paperinik?”

“All real,” Ludwig said, “The last one is another one of my nephews He’s actually traveling with Sora.”

“I’m related to Paperinik?! This is so cool! Oh my gosh please tell me we’re using Gizmo Duck to train! The lowly rookie learning to fight from the young scientist turned superhero via his super cool mech suit!” You felt like you were going to explode with how eager you were.

“Absolutely not!” Gyro interrupted, “We are not ruining the suit after I just fixed it after his last battle. Now why don’t we get on with the evaluation so we can start her training.”

You visibly deflated a bit, but you were still eager to work with the hero’s alter ego.

“Uh, nice to meet you by the way,” you said, wondering what you’d actually need any of them for. You were visibly excited, unable to stop moving. Gyro and Professor Owl looked at you rather skeptically.

“So… she’s really the keyblade wielder?” Gyro questioned, continuing to eye you up and down. Rude.

“I know. She isn’t much to look at,” Ludwig agreed with a shake of his head.

“Hey!” Wasn’t he supposed to be on your side?

“I just expected something or someone more serious about this. Not a fan girl.”

“Well what can she do?” Fenton asked. He seemed more eager than skeptical. Which was a nice.

They all looked at you. You felt the stares of your friends on you too. You could only really summon your keyblade and unlock things – and you didn’t have much practice in that specific skill. Oh gosh what could you do? You hadn’t even been able to summon your armor except for a handful of times. How much should you know by now? Sora probably knew a lot. You’d been at this for how long now? Your excitement was quickly fading under the crushing weight of your newfound anxieties.

You looked down, rubbing your arm before answering.

“Nothing, really,” you finally admitted. The scientists – sans Fenton – gave you a disgruntled look before looking at Ludwig who began to sweat under their gaze.

“I did say she was new to this,” he defended. You shrank when their gaze landed back on you.

“Don’t sell her so short. She’s learned way more on her own than most people, and she doesn’t even have a teacher,” Axel remarked. You gave him a grateful smile before turning back to the birds standing in front of you. “She can do enough fighting to keep herself alive, and she’s already discovered the ability to unlock things – an invaluable skill among keyblade wielders. She discovered her armor by complete accident. That she was able to summon it at all is probably a feat in itself considering she didn’t even know she could.”

“See she’s a natural,” Ludwig added. You couldn’t tell whose side he was on anymore.

“Has she at least been able to summon her armor since discovering it?” Fenton asked.

“I try,” you admitted, “But I’ve only managed to make it come back a few times, and it doesn’t always stick around when I’m not concentrating on it.”

Gyro pulled out a notepad from his pocket and began to jot something down.

“Can you use any magic? Fire, water, ice, force, etc.?”

You shook your head. He began to write on the notepad again.

“How much formal training have you had?”

“None?”

You were pretty sure Axel’s five-minute lesson didn’t count.

“Well we have our work cut out for us, gentlemen,” he said, pocketing the notepad once more.

“Let’s move them to the training grounds so we can observe her in action,” Professor Owl said, finally contributing to the conversation.

They filed out of the library and you and your friends followed shortly afterwards.

“Thanks,” you said quietly to Axel.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said with a shrug, “I only told them the truth. You’ve got to have more confidence in yourself if you’re gonna be some sort of keyblade wielding hero one day.”

“Hero?” you giggled.

“You butt into everyone else’s problems to help them with next to no questions asked. That’s the kind of sappy thing heroes do isn’t it?”

You laughed, giving him a light push. He chuckled.

“He is right though,” Namine said from your other side. “You have a kind heart. You helped that man in the basement even before you knew he was your father.”

You smiled softly – somewhat sadly.

“You’re gonna be the most kickass hero ever,” Demyx said with a bright smile. You let out a small laugh. You would not let them down.

~

The training grounds turned out to be a local park. But it was open and empty, so it would have to do for now.

Ludwig and the other scientists had set up a table and chairs with plenty of stacks of blank paper on it. You assumed they would be taking notes on you and observing. Or at least, your friends, Fenton, Gyro, and Professor Owl would be observing. Ludwig did not even attempt to hide his intentions. He put out a lawn chair and a small side table where he had a pitcher of lemonade and a stack of little Styrofoam cups sitting on top. He hopped into the chair, wriggling to get comfy and slid on a pair of sunglasses.

“Let the training commence!” Ludwig announced from his spot on the lawn chair. You just stared. After nothing happened, you rested your weight on one leg, folding your arms under your chest with a frown on your face.

“Is there, like, a training dummy or something?” you asked with a roll of your eyes, “Or do you just expect me to attack the air?”

“What? Oh right,” Ludwig said before giving a whistle, ignoring your sarcasm and attitude. In ran a black metal robot the vague shape of a rectangle with large claws for hands, red and yellow eyes, and bright red and white sneakers. “This is the Martian robot. He doesn’t have a name, so we’ll just call him Manny. Say hi, Manny.”

Manny waved. You waved back. You felt uncomfortable now. You wanted a target but not something with, you know, sentience.

“And you’re sure he’s okay with this?” you asked, wondering what creature could possibly find any enjoyment in being someone else’s punching bag.

“Yeah, yeah, he signed a waiver.” Ludwig held up the paper. You sauntered over to him and squinted at the paper before giving Ludwig a dry look. You loved toons to death, and your uncle was among your favorite, but sometimes their own humor went passed the point of sensibility.

“That’s your handwriting and it just says waiver where the name should be!”

“Don’t question your elders,” he snapped, rolling up the waiver and bopping you on the nose with it. He lay back down. “Oh and if you see park ranger walking around just be cool, and don’t tell him anything.”

.

.

.

Okay?! You rolled your eyes and huffed. Fine. Whatever. But you should probably ask “Manny” if he was okay with this first.

“If you want to back out, no one will question you,” you said to him. He just blinked at you. You shrugged. Okay then. “So, uh, how do we start?”

You’d never had an actual training session before. Ludwig didn’t even appear to be paying attention anymore, and you could have sworn you heard a small snore. The scientists just shrugged. They weren’t exactly fighters or coaches. Axel stood up with a sigh.

“Let’s start with offense,” he said, coming up next to you. You looked at him, surprised. Well at least someone was taking charge of this day. “Hit the robot.”

“Just… just hit him?” you asked. Axel quirked an eyebrow at you as if you were not as smart as he thought.

“That is what I said. I thought it was a pretty basic command, but if I’m moving too fast for you….,” he answered with a smirk. You gave him a soft push as you moved passed him and towards Manny.

“Smartass,” you muttered, summoning your keyblade, bounding over to Manny and hitting him with it. He blocked it. Okay. At least he took measures to defend himself. You’d feel less bad hitting him knowing he wouldn’t stand there helplessly while you assaulted him.

You looked back at Axel.

“Keep going,” he ordered. So you did. You continued to hit him until Axel stopped you to give you more instruction regarding your movements.

“Glad to see you know how to hit, but your movements don’t follow through. You never hit with the next move in mind. You should always think about your and your opponent’s next move. He blocked you, so you need to move on and attack the next opening. But that opening won’t mean anything if you have to stop to think about your next move. You should already have it planned out by the time he’s blocked it. The next time you hit him, direct the next hit from that position.”

You nodded, not sure you understood, but you tried your best.

“No,” he said after watching you try for a few minutes, “Like this.”

He stood with your back directly against him, and you tried your best to ignore how close he was. His arms came around you, and he placed his hands over yours. He slowly directed you through a strike then another, flowing up from the previous one. He continued to do that for a minute, and then he pulled away much too quickly.

“Practice that drill for a bit.” You did. You and Manny worked slowly as you followed hit to hit until they were almost the same movement. You picked up your speed a bit, and Manny followed suit.

“Good. Now look for openings.”

You did your damnedest, but Manny was good at predicting your next move. Maybe it had something to do with being a computer. He saw your moves coming as you were making them.

Hmmm. Or maybe… you were just too predictable. Maybe it was time to try something new? It was a bit juvenile, something that worked on children when joking around, but it was the best idea you had right now. You used a feint. You moved as if you were going to attack one side. Manny leaned to block the hit. Good. He predicted that. You changed directions mid-swing to the other side. Manny’s eyes widened just a bit. He hadn’t been predicting that, so it was time to make this hit count. With his weight leaning to the one side and you hitting him full force, he didn’t stand a chance.

He hit the ground with a thud and slid a few feet from you, mowing down the grass and digging up some dirt as he did.

You were breathing heavily; exhilarated and happy it had worked. But you also felt a smidge guilty. You hadn’t meant to hit him so hard that he fell or slid with his face in the dirt.

“Sorry!” you squeaked, moving to his side. “Are you okay?”

Manny picked himself up, dusting off his exterior before giving you a pat on the head. Um… okay? At least he wasn’t broken or angry with you. You still had some reservations, but if he was willing to continue, then so would you.

“Not bad,” Axel complimented, looking mildly impressed. You couldn’t stop the big smile that found its way to your face, but you were okay with this one. Namine gave you a thumbs up and an eager smile. The scientists were busy scribbling down notes, but they looked pleased with what they were writing so you took that as a good sign.

“Are you kidding? That was great!” Demyx cheered. You giggled.

“Thanks,” you said lowly.

“Okay, okay. Don’t get cocky. You still have a long way to go before we call you a professional. Let’s get back to it,” Axel said with that same cocky smirk from earlier. You nodded, turning back to Manny, and readying yourself again.

“Ready?” you asked him. He just blinked. You’d take that as a yes.

You trained offensively with Manny for about another hour. Occasionally, Axel would remind you to follow through and stop breaking up your attacks, but for the most part you did alright. You wound up getting many more hits on Manny than you had in the beginning. You continued to use feints similar to the one you had done earlier. They worked a few times, but Manny was catching on, and you were forced to learn other methods of attack. You were learning. That was good.

“Let’s switch to defense,” Axel called, and Manny obeyed immediately. One of his claws was replaced with a spinning saw blade. Your eyes as well as those of everyone observing – i.e. everyone that wasn’t Ludwig – widened.

“You don’t think this is getting a little dangerous?” you called to Ludwig.

“No, Manny can take it! Can’t you, Manny?” he said, waving his arm flippantly in the air.

“You can handle it!” Axel called though he was less sure than he sounded. Demyx and Namine glanced at each other nervously. If anyone could handle it, you could. But that didn’t mean you should try. But you didn’t back down.

You dodged Manny’s attacks this way and that. You thanked your lucky stars you were faster than he. Then you remembered Axel’s first lesson to look for openings in your opponent’s attacks. The second was to think about your own moves as well as theirs. You could try blocking? But you weren’t sure. Manny’s follow through on his attacks were much more calculated than your own – and faster. Were there any openings to attack? Did robots leave openings?!

You tried blocking. Or at least you thought it was blocking. It was more of an attack against an attack where you wound up in a battle of strength against the robot. You were not winning. And as you were locked claw against keyblade, you noticed his saw blade lifting. You jumped out of the way, watching the saw come down where you once were.

“I said defense, ________. That’s not how you attack defensively or protect yourself,” Axel called in a mildly scolding voice. It was cute that he was teaching you, but it annoyed the fuck out of you to hear him scold you.

“Yeah, I know that,” you snapped back. As if almost getting sliced in half were not enough of a lesson for you.

You jumped back into the fight as if nothing had happened, tiny pulses of darkness swirling about your hands as your annoyance towards Manny grew. He continued to attack, repeatedly trying to cut off some part of your body. Or at least, it seemed like he was trying.

Probably just in his programming. You tried to tell yourself this to push back your own anger. Why were you even angry? Because this was hard? Why weren’t you better?

Your anger flared even more when he managed to actually knock you back a few feet. You picked yourself up. He wasn’t attacking yet, so you at least knew he wasn’t actually gonna kill you. Or maybe he wouldn’t attack when you were down. It didn’t matter. You grit your teeth, running forward to attack.

Wait. Bad. Bad idea. Manny pulled back his claw. He was going to push it forward just as you would run into it. No. You needed a new tactic. Then you saw it. An opening. Right behind him. Unguarded. Unconventional, sure. But not impossible. You jumped a bit, letting your momentum carry you forward. Manny raised his claw to match your trajectory, but you dropped to the ground just as he pushed it out to catch you. Flat on your back, ignoring the dull pain you felt as your head hit the ground and as small rocks rubbed you through your clothes, your body slid beneath the robot’s legs.

You jumped up as soon as you were out from underneath him, swinging around in a spin and bring your keyblade around in a wide arc. You bashed Manny in the back of his head and like the first time you caught him off guard, he slid forward on his face.

You turned around breathless. After the hit you took, you didn’t feel the least bit bad about this one.

“Alright, that was pretty good,” Axel called, “Now do another one.”

Manny began to pick up on your counter attacks just as he had when you used feints in your previous training. He even began to use feints as you had, and that made dodging significantly harder. You got hit far more than you’d like. Was he even pulling his punches?

He swung his claw around to hit your side. You did not have time enough to block that hit. You raised your keyblade as best you could to block, but your stance was all wrong. You flew this time. He definitely wasn’t pulling any punches, and this impact would hurt a lot worse than when you slid beneath Manny. You curled in on yourself to minimize the amount of damage you’d take.

You hit the ground shoulder first. But it didn’t hurt? You bounced off the ground flipping onto your stomach and sliding the rest of the way. But it didn’t hurt! You looked down. Your armor was there. At least it showed up when you needed it – otherwise you’d have been looking at a pretty fucked up shoulder. Now you just hoped the armor would stick around.

You charged at Manny who was charging you as well. You blocked his hit with your keyblade, pushing away the claw and using the momentum to spin and hit him from the other side. He blocked your hit, moving to hit your opening. But you were ready. You blocked it. Barely. And stumbling a bit as you did.

Manny took advantage of your weakness and began to attack you rapidly with you barely managing to keep up. But then you couldn’t. And he swung at you with his claw. You put your arm up to block the hit out of instinct, your keyblade not held in a position that would allow you to block. You closed your eyes, fully prepared to feel a brute, crushing force as the heavy metal contacted your arm. It made contact, but it didn’t hurt as much as it should have. In fact this also didn’t hurt?!

You stumbled backwards a bit from the impact, barely managing to keep your footing and lowering into a crouch to get your balance better. You opened your eyes to see a shield.

Shield?!

You looked closer realizing that the material looked familiar. Manny swung at you again, but you used your shield to block it, using the push from your crouched stance to force him back. You threw a quick glance to your back where you saw that your wings were missing. They’d come together on your arm to form a shield.

This armor is so fucking cool!

“Woo! Go, ________!” Namine cheered.

You didn’t hear her though. You were too pumped on adrenaline. Your shield disappeared shortly after, and you went back to trying to block with your keyblade.

“Watch for his follow through! Your openings are in there somewhere,” Axel instructed from the side. You were trying. You really were. But you were tiring.

When Manny finally knocked you back again, you were slower getting up, letting yourself rest on your arms. You pulled your helmet off, panting and reveled at the cool air that hit your face. Axel approached you and offered you a hand.

You took it.

“That’s enough for today,” he said with a smirk, “You look like you’re gonna die.”

“I have been dodging being crushed by a claw and sawed in half all day. I feel like I’m gonna die.” He chuckled lightly as you stood to your feet. You were so ready to end your training. It had been fun for you mostly. You couldn’t deny that you learned quite a bit, but you were exhausted.

Then you noticed Manny’s charging shape out of the corner of your eye. He was closing in fast. You pushed Axel behind you just as Manny’s saw was about to reach him. Your shield reappeared. You pushed the saw away, carrying through with the motion of bringing your keyblade around, knocking Manny away. He slid through the grass.

“That’s enough for the day, Manny!” you said, kinda sick of his programming or whatever it was that made him fight to the near death. The robot picked himself up, saw returning to a claw, and just stood there awaiting further instruction.

Day-uhm!” Demyx yelled from the sidelines, “She totally saved your ass, Axel!”

“Yeah,” Axel breathed, “That wasn’t bad.”

“I saved your life and that’s all you have to say?”

“What do you want? A medal?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice actually,” you said with a laugh and looking like you were actually considering. He just rolled his eyes at you.

“Hold up!” Professor Owl called, “We still haven’t tested her for magic ability, and every last variable counts toward our final goal.”

“Oh I don’t know any magic,” you said, looking away. If it was supposed to be some innate ability for keyblade wielders, you certainly didn’t fit the bill. “I don’t think I have any.”

“Well according to the king’s journals, all keyblade wielders can use magic, so hop to it,” Gyro said as he continued to write on his notepad.

“Let’s take a break first,” Axel said to them, “She’s been at this for almost four hours.”

Gyro heaved a sigh like you’d been slacking for four hours and not training.

“Fine. One hour. Then I want to see some magic.”

You breathed a sigh of relief as the two of you walked back over to the table. You poured yourself some of Ludwig’s lemonade. He was still snoring soundly.

“That was some grade A training out there, ________,” Demyx said, making a gesture for the lemonade. You passed it to him and leaned on the table.

“Yeah, well I’d still be at square one if it weren’t for Axel,” you said with a small smile.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Axel said, stealing the cup Demyx had just poured, “You’re barely on square two.”

“What? Really? That’s not fair. Isn’t there like extra credit or something?” you asked as he leaned next to you against the table.

“Whatever it takes to pass, huh?” he said with a roll of his eyes as he sipped his lemonade.

“Oh I’ll do anything for an A, Teacher,” you said in a flirty tone as you pushed yourself off of the table to walk over to where Namine was. So you didn’t notice Axel setting his cup on fire. Demyx held back a loud barrage of laughter and settled on quiet giggles behind his hands.

“Things -snicker- things heating up between you two, Axel?”

Axel picked up Demyx’s lemonade and tossed it into his face. He smirked at Demyx’s sputtering and coughing.

“Interesting,” Professor Owl muttered. He, Gyro, and Fenton shared a look, eyeing Axel after his reaction to your flirtation.

Axel didn’t think it was interesting. He felt not unlike he had when something you did caused him to set himself on fire the first time. And a bit like the time where you told him his eyes were pretty. He didn’t like it – primarily because he lost control of himself.

It wasn’t like no one had ever flirted with him before. It’s just that usually it was just Larxene. But she was Larxene, and she hardly meant it. Plus he didn’t like Larxene enough to even tolerate her for more than a few minutes. But it was you. And that was different. And weird.

After about ten minutes of chatting with Namine the two of you left to walk around the park for a bit.

“So how do you feel? About the whole training thing?” Namine asked as the two of you enjoyed the gentle breeze blowing through the park.

“I feel pretty good! I mean, I’m kinda exhausted, but I feel really confident about this!”

“You’re gonna do great things, ________.”

“I sure hope so. I have a lot riding on this, and a lot of people counting on me. I can’t afford to let any of them down.”

Namine watched you for a moment with mild awe in her eyes.

“I want to be like you some day.”

“What’s that mean?” you asked.

“I mean I want to be like all of you. You, Axel, Sora. I want to do great things too. I hope one day I can do something for other people.”

“You did. You called me to you so I could help a bunch of people who were tortured and experimented on in the past.”

“Yes, but you’re the one who actually did what had to be done to save those people.”

“But none of it would have been possible without you. You are capable of great things, and you’ve already started. You have a brave and compassionate heart.”

“I don’t have a heart, ________,” she gently reminded you with a soft smile.

“Well I think you do. Demyx and Axel too.”

“Speaking of Axel,” she began, changing the subject and giving you a sly smile, “You have a crush on him?”

“Yeah,” you said, fighting off a smile and looking away from her.

“Are you going to tell him about it?”

“I think he knows, honestly,” you admitted, “I’m not exactly subtle about it.”

The two of you shared a quick laugh before turning the conversation to other things.

~

Your break came and went much too quickly, but you were eager to start your next lesson which would, no doubt, be more fun than the others – and maybe less tiring.

The scientists watched you with eager eyes. Maybe because science and magic were so far apart on the spectrum? Then again when didn’t science and magic collide when it came to toons? Your uncle had taught you that.

You gave a sigh. Where does one start when learning magic? You shrugged after a moment.

“I have no fuckin’ clue what I’m doing,” you finally admitted. Axel chuckled at your statement before walking over to you.

“You still wanna learn how to make fire?” Axel asked, looking down at you with a knowing smirk. Your mouth dropped open and your eyes went wide. You let in a deep gasp of air, bringing your hands up to your mouth, and you tried your hardest not to squeal that you were about to learn fire magic.

“Teach me fire!” you almost shouted at him, bouncing on the balls of your feet. He quirked an eyebrow at you, smirk still in place as he watched you with amusement. He motioned for you to follow him.

“Fine, let’s go where we won’t burn down any nearby trees.” He led you to a small clearing where the birds could still see you and where you wouldn’t be causing any unnecessary damage to the surrounding foliage. You were practically skipping behind him; you were so excited. Then he turned and stopped, and you almost crashed into him. He gave you a dry look at your antics, but you were too giddy to care.

Axel held out his hand, gave a small wave, and a tiny flame appeared in his palm. He held it out to you. Though you’d seen him fight with fire before, you still felt mildly amazed to see it – even though it was no bigger than the flame you’d find on a candle. You looked between the little fire and him. Did he want you to touch it?!

“I… I just hold it? Just like that?” you asked, looking up at him.

“Just like that. You’re wearing armor, so I don’t think it’ll be too warm for you.”

You hesitantly cupped your hands underneath the tiny little flame, holding them just above Axel’s hands. You could feel the magic in it that separated it from regular fire. It felt so strange and so familiar. It was Axel’s magic, and you could feel that. It almost felt alive.

“Now push your own magic into it,” he instructed.

“I, uh, I don’t know how.” You had only just learned about a few minutes ago that you could do magic, and you’d certainly never accidentally summoned it when using your keyblade before. Was the magic you felt summoning your keyblade similar to this? You tried to feel for it, but there was nothing. Nothing about this fire felt like the magic you felt when summoning a keyblade. Your brow furrowed as you buried deep into yourself to search for magic. What was it supposed to feel like?

“I can’t find it,” you admitted. You felt mildly dejected and frustrated with yourself. “I don’t know what my magic is supposed to feel like.”

Axel brought his hands under yours, supporting you. You felt warmer than before. You were probably imagining it, but you could have sworn that the tiny flame, for the smallest instant, flickered brighter.

“It’s more than just magic. What do you think of when you think of fire?”

You thought of a lot of things actually. You thought of warmth and heat. You thought of warm, cozy nights and dimly lit candles that made the house smell like warm vanilla. You thought of sunsets and the fiery colors they painted the sky.

“Which thing am I supposed to think of?” you asked after you couldn’t decide on any one thing.

“Whatever makes you think of fire.”

“That’s so vague! Is that how you learned?”

“Yup.”

“Well what makes you think of fire?”

“Anger.”

“So you’re just angry all the time?” He almost laughed, giving you a lopsided grin instead that made your heart do too many flips. The tiny flame definitely flickered a little brighter that time.

“No, it’s just I discovered it when I got really angry. Your magic is more than your keyblade and it’s more than just magic. It’s a part of you.”

You thought about what he’d said for a moment, staring into the tiny flame that still flickered between the two of you. Your brow furrowed. When he’d asked you to think of fire, you didn’t think about anger. You didn’t think about anything like emotion, but you thought of things that made you happy and warm.

“I think of warmth when I think of fire. Like little things that make me happy like scented candles and sunsets.” You smiled warmly as you thought about them.

“Then use that.”

You closed your eyes and thought about the moment you’d shared with Namine at the fountain in town and again on the clock tower, how happy you were that she existed, that you found a friend. You thought about how warm it made you feel. You held on to that, trying to find the magic in it, and you felt an odd warmth surround you. Or was it in you? It was nice. It felt like a bubble rising through you. You felt for it and pushed it up and through your chest and a little giggle escaped you and you felt a flutter around your hands as your magic swirled around your fingers and into the tiny flame.

You remembered your friends at home who gave you so much joy. You thought of the new friends you had made. Demyx and Axel. You thought about Axel and how he always seemed to be there for you.

The flame grew a bit brighter.

You remembered being in the mind and the bright light Axel had given off when your heart found him. You remember the push and pull of hope and determination you felt between the two of you which, at the time, felt raw and uninhibited.

You felt another flutter in your chest.

The flame grew bigger, a rich blue pushing up from the bottom until it had consumed the red of Axel’s original flame completely. You couldn’t feel Axel’s magic anymore. This was yours. You let out a giddy, breathless laugh as you stared at it. It flickered and waved as if laughing too. It felt like a little part of your heart was in your hand.

“You learn quick,” you heard Axel say lowly. You’d almost forgotten he was there. He was leaning in close to the flame like you were. He’d never actually seen blue fire magic before.

“I have a good teacher,” you said back quietly. He chuckled.

“Flirting is not going to be a part of the research data, so if you could stay focused, that’d be great!” you heard Gyro yell from where he sat. Your heartrate picked up. You weren’t flirting.

.

.

.

You may have been flirting a little.

“We’re not flirting!” you yelled back anyway.

“Sure, whatever you have to tell yourself!”

You gave a dramatic roll of your eyes while Axel laughed it off, and you tried to ignore the little flips your heart was doing – that it always seemed to do when he laughed lately.

You tried again to summon the flame on your own, but you had more trouble channeling the magic. Before you had one to build on. Summoning your own was much harder, but you’d get there eventually.

After a several more attempts where you had actually managed to do it once more, you and Axel walked back over to the scientists to see if they had gathered any more useful data.

“Could you try summoning your magic one more time? And could you,” Gyro gestured towards Axel, “Stand all the way over there please? I have a theory I’d like to test.” Axel walked a short distance away. You tried once more to summon your magic but all you managed was a bit of hot air and a small spark.

“Hmm. Just as I thought,” Gyro said, as began writing and muttering to himself, “Can only make fire when aroused.”

“What?!” In your shock and embarrassment, your whole body ignited in blue flame, startling everyone nearby. The flames died quickly but your embarrassment lingered long afterward. “Don’t write that down you sick fuck!” you yelled, chucking some papers at him. It wasn’t true anyway.

He continued writing.

“And when prone to violent outbursts.” You prayed that Axel hadn’t heard that. It was bad enough that both Demyx and Namine were within earshot, but the thought that Axel might hear it would be enough to kill you on the spot. Sure he probably knew about your crush, but you didn’t want to make it into something awkward. He treated you like a friend, and you were very happy with that. You didn’t need him thinking you got off to him.

“What was that?” Axel asked walking back over, looking both shocked and mildly impressed at your sudden magical breakthrough. You shot a deadly look at Demyx, Gyro, and Fenton.

“Science,” Gyro answered, eyeing you to see if you’d set him on fire next. Demyx snickered despite your glare.

“Yeah, science,” he chuckled out. “Or chemistry,” he muttered under his breath. Axel didn’t seem to hear, so you didn’t have cause to murder him. Yet. But he sure was walking on thin fucking ice.

“Excuse me,” a new voice said, “But what, may I ask, is going on here?”

There was a rather chubby man standing in a park ranger’s outfit. You looked at his ranger badge which read, “Ranger J. A. Woodlore.” This must have been the park ranger Pops told you about.

“Science,” Gyro answered again, not even looking up from his notepad. You didn’t say anything.

“I see, and would you happen to be the head of this little operation?”

“No. That would be him,” he said pointing to Ludwig. Ludwig lowered his glasses and gave the park ranger a nervous smile.

“You again?!” he shouted. You flinched, glancing quickly between the ranger and your uncle. “I’ve told you three times already that the public park isn’t for your wild experiments! And I’m not cleaning up any bodies this time!”

What?!

“Whoa! Hey!” Demyx interrupted, “There’s nothing crazy going on here! We’re just having a little fun see?” Demyx used his magic to splash a little water around as if you all were just trying to beat the heat when a little water splashed on Manny.

Manny froze in place then stuttered and jolted while several sparks flew from his head. The colors of his eyes inverted so they were primarily red and angry. Then he looked at Demyx. Your breath hitched, waiting for him to make a move. It felt like everyone briefly froze in place.

Then Manny grabbed Demyx with both of his claws and began shaking him vigorously. You, Axel, and Fenton rushed forward to try and pry his claws off of him, but he swatted you all away at every turn, spinning about rapidly and throwing out his arms in random directions while you all barely dodged them.

The park ranger eyed Ludwig, a growing frown on his face while Ludwig tried to explain the situation in the best way he could to make himself sound innocent.

“I’ve had it up to here, von Drake!” the ranger snapped, “Humphrey!”

A big brown bear quickly lumbered over, and the ranger pointed at Ludwig. The bear growled and picked him up.

“What are you doing?!” you screamed, afraid your uncle was about to be eaten.

“He’s under arrest for disturbing the peace! Humphrey and I will be escorting him to the big house where he’ll serve out his sentence. I suggest you focus on cleaning up his mess because I’m not having it!”

Once you were certain the bear wasn’t going to eat Ludwig as they left, you turned your attention back to Manny. You looked just in time to see Fenton being flung away while Axel attacked Manny, doing his best not to injure Demyx in the process. You jumped and caught Fenton, landing on your side as you did so.

“Are you going to be alright?” you said once the two of you righted yourselves. He dusted himself off, none the worse for wear.

“I’ll be fine, but it’s time to bring out the big guns!”

You gasped. He didn’t mean that did he?!

“You don’t mean…” You couldn’t even finish your sentence due to your mounting excitement.

“Blathering blatherskite!” Fenton called, and you watched the Gizmo Duck armor they mentioned earlier zip through everything in its way to get to him. You nearly squealed as your childhood idol stood before you in all his heroic, ducky glory.

You let out a squeal of delight, readying your keyblade to fight alongside the Gizmo Duck.

The two of you jumped back into the fray. You smiled as you realized that the three of you were starting to actually win since he couldn’t take on all three of you with only two arms and holding a screaming idiot. Manny seemed to understand this too, so he began to run. Fast.

You were never going to be able to catch up to him.

“Come on!” Gizmo Duck said, as he grabbed you and Axel and hoisted the two of you up onto his arms. This was so weird but so cool! He zipped after the robot, and you and Axel had to hang on for dear life not to fly off, but you were gaining fast.

Manny went on a rampage. When he wasn’t focused on Demyx he was swinging his arms about and knocking them into various stands and walls – thankfully never the arm he was holding Demyx in. He crashed through the back wall of an opera house, and, miraculously, you lost sight of him. There was a play going on currently.

“We need to evacuate these people until that robotic renegade is stopped!” Gizmo Duck exclaimed, slamming a fist into his palm. You nodded as he wheeled out onto the stage.

“Excuse me, everyone! There’s a rogue robot on the loose! He has a hostage! Please remain calm and exit through the back!” The actors looked at each other with confusion written all over their faces.

There was moment of silence before the audience clapped, exclaiming about the budget on the prop designs. Oh my fuck they thought it was part of the play!

“No! I’m serious! There’s a mad robot on the loose!”

That was about the time Manny decided to come crashing through the roof from who knows where, Demyx still clutched in one of his claws, coughing through the dust of drywall and debris.

The audience let out another round of applause before Manny began to rocket all over the room, spreading smoke everywhere and catching the curtains on fire.

It was only when burning parts of the opera house began falling did anyone seated in the audience take it seriously. It was chaos. You watched through the hazy air as people stepped over each other to get through the exit and avoid the falling debris.

Then Manny shot off back through the roof and into the sky. Just like that. Just into the fucking sky, leaving you with a tough decision. You looked up at him through the large hole he’d made then back down to the theater with several more people trapped inside and caught under the debris. And while you were certain none of them would die because the rule of funny and living with cartoons taught you that, you still didn’t want them to get hurt. Whatever jokes they made, pain and fear were still very much real to them.

“I’ll take care of the fire,” Fenton instructed, “But I’m not sure what can be done about your friend at this point.”

You looked back up at the quickly fading duo.

 “Throw me,” you told Fenton. He looked at you then back at the ever-decreasing size of Manny and Demyx as they disappeared into the sky. If Manny didn’t stop his ascent soon, he’d be in space. And Demyx wouldn’t survive. This, of course, was assuming Manny didn’t just drop Demyx altogether.

“Are you insane?!” Axel shouted.

“I can do this! Gizmo is the only one who can put out the fire, and you’re probably more fire resistant than I am and can get these people to safety. It has to be me!”

Axel couldn’t refute these points, but he still didn’t like the thought of you being that high in the air with no way to come back down.

“Do you at least have a plan?”

You did kinda.

“I do. It’s half-baked, but it’s all we got. Demyx is getting too high. I gotta do this now!” Axel nodded. You couldn’t afford to wait anymore. He understood that.

Fenton picked you up, and you straightened out, allowing him to hold you similar to a spear.

“Yeet!”

And just like that you were flying through the sky, quickly catching up to Manny and Demyx, latching on to his antenna as best you could. You were grateful for your helmet because you weren’t sure how you’d handle this wind. You could barely hang on. You summoned your keyblade anyway, hitting Manny on the head with the blunt end. You didn’t want to have to hurt him for a malfunction, but the sky was getting darker around you, and Demyx didn’t look so hot. Actually, he looked like he was struggling to breathe, already turning a bit blue in the face.

You hit harder. Nothing. You shouted for Manny to snap out of it. He reached up and grabbed you before flinging you back towards the ground.

Shit!

You tried to think of something, anything that might save you before you hit the ground. Was this really it?! But then you landed with a thud.

Huh. The ground didn’t seem that close when you were clinging to Manny a second ago? You turned your head and were met with empty space. You looked down. You were still in the sky but laying on something. You looked at what had caught you. It looked kinda like a surf board but floating? A glider? You stood up. It looked like your keyblade.

Could you make it move? You thought about going forward slowly and it obeyed the command. You thought about backing up. It did that as well. You thought about flying after your friend and Manny, and you took off much quicker than you were expecting, just fast enough to catch up. You passed him slower than you would have like and the sky was getting alarmingly dark. You didn’t have much longer and no time to calm him down normally – not that that had worked so well last time. You went faster turning once you were a good distance from them. Then you charged them. You jumped from the glider, launching yourself at them and drawing your keyblade.

You rammed your keyblade straight through the upper part of Manny’s head. His jets stuttered and went out and for a few quiet seconds the three of you floated. Demyx was unconscious and now so was Manny. Then you were falling again.

You grabbed Demyx, pulling him close and willing your glider back. It caught you at an odd angle where you were desperately clinging to Demyx’s arm. You yanked him up. He landed on top of you. You huffed. He was heavy – only more so now because he was unconscious. But he was breathing again without any need of assistance on your part. So that was good. You lay there for a moment, exhausted before pushing the both of you up. You struggled to stand, wobbling unsteadily in the air as you tried to hoist Demyx up to a semi-standing position. You supported him, slinging his arm over your shoulder and letting him rest on your side. You began your descent back down to the ground.

About half way down Demyx showed signs of consciousness. He was tired and worn and continued to lean on you for support.

“Where’s Manny?” he barely mumbled out, head lolling until it was resting against your own.

“Gone. Er, well, falling now.” The robot was rapidly descending below you, and there was no hope that you’d be able to catch him. But cartoons had gotten out of worse scrapes, and Manny was unconscious. So you at least could avoid the guilt of causing unnecessary pain – outside of putting a hole through his head.

“How are we flying?”

“Glider.”

“That a keyblade thing?”

“I guess.”

Your answers were short and clipped. You weren’t annoyed at Demyx so much as you were just exhausted and wanted to go home. Why did everywhere you go have to be such an ordeal? Though you’d be lying if you said you didn’t think your shield and glider were totally kickass. Because they very much were.

Manny hit the ground with a loud crash that rivaled an explosion, leaving a crater in the ground. Axel and Gizmo Duck rushed over, frantically searching for signs of you or Demyx in the wreck. Several other toons gathered round to see the mess. But it was just Manny with a gaping hole in the center of his head and two X’s where his pupils once were.

So, where were you?

Axel had a brief moment of panic flash through him at the thought of you and Demyx floating in space dead or in your own craters, having fallen off before Manny met his untimely end. But he breathed a sigh of relief when you and Demyx descended a moment later, stepping off of your glider.

That was new. Had you discovered that on your own? Maybe he should have given you more credit. You were more capable now than when he first met you. You looked every bit the hero you were in that armor, and you actually had some of the skill to back it up. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t the least bit impressed. But you’d been surprising him since day one.

Demyx had more fully woken up about half way down and wouldn’t stop thanking you no matter how many times you said it was no problem. The two of you stumbled off of the glider, and you were met with a round of applause. You were surprised, and you were grateful no one could see the look of embarrassment on your face thanks to your helmet. Demyx, once steady on his two feet, even joined in on the clapping

“Okay, people, move it along nothing to see here,” an officer who arrived on the scene said as he shooed the crowd away. He was a spotted… cat? His badge read Officer Bonkers.

“You!” he said suddenly, whirling around to face you, a gloved hand pointing in your face, “You did this?” He jabbed his thumb in Manny’s direction.

“Um, yes?”

“Then on behalf of the Kingdom of Disney Town, I’d like to thank you. Also, uh, your… uh, duck friend says you’ll be bailing him out?”

“Duck friend? You mean my uncle?”

“Oh so he wasn’t lying.”

“What did he say exactly?”

“He said his armored, human, superhero niece and her pyromancer boyfriend were going to save the town from a rampaging robot and bale him out. For obvious reasons, we didn’t believe him.”

“Well what’s the bail?” you asked. Maybe it wouldn’t be too high.

“Five billion dollars.”

“What?! For disturbing the peace?! How long are they gonna hold him?”

“Two days.”

You gave the officer a dry look, spun on your heel, and walked the other way.

“What’d he want?” Axel asked when you approached him and Gizmo Duck. The four of you began walking in the general direction of the park, going at a slower pace for Demyx who was still worn out.

“Nothing,” you said with a flippant wave of your hand.

“What about your uncle?” Demyx questioned.

“He’ll be fine. Let’s go back to the park.”

“Oh that reminds me,” Gizmo Duck interjected, “We collected the data at the end of your little, uh, display of power, and they should already be on their way back to the lab if they aren’t there already.”

“Which reminds me,” you said, “What’s this data for anyway?”

“Oh that’s the cool part!” he said, suddenly excited. “We’re building a virtual fighting room! Well it’s got a better name than that, but that’s basically what it is. It’ll create a virtual environment with virtual enemies for you to train with. And, and this was my idea, it’s got a learning algorithm that will learn from the data we gathered to start off your training. And it will continue to learn from you the more you train with it, adjusting the difficulty to your level and style of fighting!”

“That’s amazing!” you said bouncing on your feet as you walked. “Tell me more!”

Demyx and Axel hung back a bit as the two you continued to talk animatedly about the graphics and abilities the new training program would have for you.

He looked at you. You were almost a new person from the one he’d met almost a month ago with her face stuck in a planter smelling flowers and gazing at the moon. You were stronger now, more formidable an opponent. He didn’t need to babysit you anymore. At least, not as much now that you could hold your own in a fight. You were sort of remarkable. Never mind the fact that you took a semi-coldblooded assassin and turned him into a friend. He wasn’t sure he’d have another one of those after Roxas. Let alone one outside of the Organization.

And he’d be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy being your friend. You were fun to be around.

“Dude,” Demyx began, eyeing you with open infatuation, “If you don’t ask her out, I will.”

Axel snorted and Demyx laughed. He’d only said it to get his goat, and Axel didn’t take the bait as usual whenever Demyx tried to egg him on – especially about you.

But it wasn’t like he couldn’t see why Demyx might like you. You were brave and noble and nice. You were just a nice girl.

.

.

.

And you didn’t look half bad in that armor of yours.

~

When you got back to the lab you, Axel, and Demyx popped in on Dreamfinder and Figment to say goodbye before you portal-ed your way back to Twilight Town for a well-earned meal and a nice long rest. Namine was already there waiting for you.

“I’m actually glad you stopped by!” he exclaimed upon seeing you, giving you a big hug. He was a very friendly fellow as you had learned on Twilight Town. And with how grateful he was to you, he’d all but adopted you as his niece as well. “I’ve been converting the memories we picked up into data that we can view on Laserdisc – the most technologically superior audio and visual format.”

No one bothered to correct him.

“And also I have gifts for Axel and Demyx! Namine already has hers.” He pulled out a cardboard box and you all peered inside to see two gummi phones – one in dark blue and the other in dark red. Demyx immediately grabbed for the blue one.

“That’s great!” you said, already pulling out your own phone. “Give me your numbers!”

You spent a few moments exchanging numbers. You were overjoyed that now you’d have a way to contact them!

“And I’ve hired Namine!”

“What?” you asked, confused. You looked at her, and she looked as if she could barely contain her excitement.

“She has the ability to manipulate memories, making them clear, rearranging them, putting them in order, etc. She’ll be a wonderful asset to deciphering the rest of these memories. Of course, she’ll have to go through a bit of training at the institute, but I just know she’ll pass with flying colors.”

“Really?” you asked her. You were really happy for her. She nodded.

Namine was overjoyed. She’d finally be doing more to help people like she wanted. You ran over to hug her and give her hearty congratulations. Even Axel and Demyx gave her praise for her endeavors.

Dreamfinder let you all revel in the excitement for a bit before he got more serious.

“Which brings me to my next bit of news,” he said, face turning grave. “The story of how all this came about – my time in your father’s mind and wrapped up in the experiments – is a dark one I’m afraid. And I understand that you went through quite a bit before you found me, so if you’d like to wait a while before I tell you this, I won’t question it.”

Your mood plummeted immediately. You could feel your hands shaking. Hear the sobs of the creature in your father’s head echoing in the back of your mind. Every hair on your body was on end. Your eyes were already beginning to well up, but you blinked away the tears.

 “This isn’t about me,” you answered, voice wavering against your will, “I want to know what you have to say.”

You didn’t want to know.

Figment and Dreamfinder both cast you wary glances, but he nodded, nonetheless. You felt a warm hand grab yours and realized Axel had come to stand next to you. He gave you a worried look, and you managed a small smile before turning back to Dreamfinder.

“Back when Spaceship Earth was still under construction, when Kelewenya still existed but was falling to darkness, your father was one of the engineers that worked on its design and maintenance. We met one day when having lunch and hit it off right away. We worked together on many aspects of Spaceship Earth. But then he began to notice things. Engineers that went missing. He investigated it. The first answer given to him were that they were volunteers to a special project being conducted by Ansem. But they didn’t come back. Your father grew worried – suspicious. He began to investigate, did some digging. He learned about Ansem’s heart experiments but also they had been shut down.”

“So the engineers should have come back,” you filled in. Dreamfinder nodded.

“But they didn’t. He learned that Xehanort was continuing the experiments. He heard this conversation, and he knew he couldn’t just tell everyone. It was crazy, and no one would believe him.”

“Which is why he asked you to go into his head to get the memories yourself. You were going to do with them what you’re doing now,” you said, remembering what you’d read in his journals.

“Precisely. Now I’ve converted the memories to be viewed. It isn’t much because I was unable to properly convert and order most of the memories thus far. That’s where Namine comes in. But I’ve prepared what I have so far to watch, that is, if you’re still comfortable with this.”

You would never be comfortable with this.

“Keep going,” you instructed. It almost sounded like an order with the way you had to force the words from your mouth. But no one questioned you.

~

The first memory was from inside of a cell. There were numerous cells lining the walls, and your father could see a woman in the cell across from him crying. She was curled in on herself, rocking back and forth while she sobbed. There were similar sounds coming from other cells. But they paled in comparison to the sounds of the screaming. He wasn’t far from the door that led out of the holding area, and he could hear the screams of the victims from within.

He did not know what lay beyond that door, and he didn’t want to know. But he knew it hardly mattered now. Blair had not made his escape from his mind, and if he didn’t do it soon, he would not have an opportunity to escape. He may be subjected to the same fate as himself. And who knew what that would be.

The door at the end of the corridor opened, and in strode two tall, imposing figures – one a quiet man with broad shoulders, a stern face, and fiery red hair; the other shorter than the first but still tall with broad shoulders, violet eyes, and pitch-black hair. They stopped in front of his cell, the brunette unlocking it while the other stood by, watching him with cold eyes.

They grabbed him roughly, dragging him through the hall and into the torture chamber. They dragged him passed bodies laid out on stretchers, their faces frozen in fear or agony – sometimes a crude mix of both. Their chests were carved open. Some looked like precision cuts done with instruments. Others looked like the victim had clawed at their chest themselves, the tips of their fingers covered in a dark red-brown where the blood had dried. There were piles of people on the floor. The stench of death and decay hung thickly in the air like a rancid fog, and your father gagged a little at the sights and smells.

There were men and women, young and old – some children or the elderly. And they all held the same glassy, milky-eyed stare, faces contorted around those soulless eyes in pain.

A child, probably no more than six years old, lay almost in the middle of the aisle, dried blood on its lips, accusing eyes staring up at nothing. A hole in its chest where a few ribs could be seen and the remains of a heart glimmering faintly in side.

One of the guards kicked it away.

At the end of the long room of bodies there were numerous work tables. People lay there either screaming and writhing or barely moving, hardly blinking, with eyes still filled with abject horror. And there were hearts and shards of hearts everywhere. In trays and dishes, sometimes containers that kept them suspended in the air and others being held by the people working on the victims.

He watched a woman’s heart shatter. Just one moment there and the next it broke into hundreds of tiny shards.

“Bring him here.”

He knew that voice.

He looked up at Xehanort as the two guards dragged him to his feet.

Xehanort let a light frown crease his features.

“You look around and all you see is death and destruction. I know this because you are ignorant to the truth. You can not know the true power that lies within the heart. I seek to unlock that power.”

“You’re sick.”

He regarded your father quietly. His frown was no longer there, just a blank stare that held no emotion. It only further enraged your father.

“You will be a special project. You will know the true strength of your heart,” he said finally, “We will see how much pain and experimentation you can endure before you are broken into nothing.”

He looked to the two guards.

“Prepare him. I will be along soon to conduct his experiments myself.”

Chapter Text

Namine was going to be staying in Disney Town for a bit. If she needed to get back, she could open her own corridors. Who knew? Demyx went home. That just left Axel to take you back to the hotel.

He opened the corridor right in your room so you could rest immediately. You were exhausted. Emotionally now too. You’d only seen the one sequence of memories, but it had still been a lot to digest. It was only worse because it was your father.

You both stepped through the corridor, and you immediately sat down on your bed. Your mom wasn’t there, so you assumed she had gone into town. Axel looked at you. You looked angry and hurt.

“Will you be okay?” he asked.

You were quiet for a moment, staring at nothing. He wondered if you even heard him. Then you looked at him, eyes dull and sad like night he first met you when you told him that your planet had fallen.

“Can I see you later?” you asked. You needed rest. You wanted it too. But you wanted to see him again. You needed him. He was the only other person besides Figment and Dreamfinder who knew what you were going through, and you just wanted the support.

He nodded.

“Text me when ever you need to,” he said. You nodded. He gave you another look, appearing like he wanted to say something but decided against it. He did that a lot lately. You’d always had trouble reading passed the expression he showed you, but you always knew there was more to him that he would let on.

He opened a corridor and left, casting one more worried glance in your direction before leaving.

You took a quick shower and put on a soft pair of cotton shorts and a tank top to sleep in. When you collapsed on your bed, you tossed and turned for a while. The still quiet of the room didn’t lull you to sleep as you had hoped. You were only consciously aware of how lonely you felt now that Axel was gone.

You got up, despite your protesting muscles and went through town. You didn’t see your mother. You leaned on a wall, thinking of where she might be. Then you walked into the woods, summoning your glider as soon as you were out of sight.

You couldn’t go too fast, but you still got to the mansion quicker than if you’d walked.

You descended into the basement, walking until you were in the pod room.

And there was your mother. She was standing next to the pod, hand lightly touching its surface as she gazed at your father with a mix of longing and sadness. Your heart ached.

“Hi, mom,” you said quietly. She was mildly startled, turning to look at you.

“Hi, sweetie,” she said opening her arms for a hug which you quickly accepted. “How was your day?”

“Busy. I went back to Disney Town. I trained.”

She took a step back from you with a mild look of surprise on her face. Then she smiled.

“I was about to go back to the hotel if you want to tell me about it,” she said softly. You nodded. You cast a glance at your father, your heart breaking just a bit all over again.

You didn’t tell her about your father.

~

Axel laid on his bed. His head was a jumbled mess right now, and it kept sleep from him – no matter how tired he was. And he was exhausted.

“Is she okay?” Demyx asked, as he poked his head through Axel’s doorway. He didn’t need to ask to know who he was talking about.

“She just saw her father’s memories of heart experiments, and those were just the one that scratch the surface.”

“Yeah,” Demyx said as he stepped fully into the room, “That was pretty heavy. How are you holding up by the way?”

“I’m…,” he hesitated, the sighed, “Fine.”

“You’re usually better at covering up lies,” Demyx joked. If Axel didn’t want you to know something, very often, you didn’t know it. So this was almost a laughable moment. You know, if they hadn’t just seen what they had.

“I’m worried, then,” he answered honestly.

“Why?”

“I want her to be safe. Tell her what she needs to know to keep her safe,” he said, staring up into the ceiling, hands behind his head.

“I mean,” Demyx scratched the back of his head, stepping a bit further into the room so he could read Axel’s expressions better, “Sure, but you probably shouldn’t tell her everything at once? I mean, she trusts you. Telling her everything might fuck it up, ya know?”

“I guess.”

Silence hung thickly in the air. Demyx could practically feel all the unspoken words Axel was sorting through.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” he prompted.

“I… feel bad about the Kairi thing,” he said turning his head away so Demyx couldn’t read him. “She didn’t do anything. Doesn’t have anything to do with any of this.”

“You did it to rile up Sora, right? I know that’s why Saix wants her.” Demyx ignored the part where Axel mentioned how he felt. He wasn’t supposed to feel. None of them were.

“Sort of.”

“Is this about Roxas?”

“It was. But I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. I don’t know that any of this is worth it.”

“Hey, man. That’s something you may not want to go around saying. If the wrong person hears it, you’ll get dusked. Like, imagine if Xemnas heard you.”

“Fuck Xemnas. He’s lying. I know it.”

“About what?”

“The hearts? Our hearts? I don’t know. But what I do know is that there’s more to nobodies than what he says, and I’m tired of running around doing icky jobs for the guy when I’m not even sure he’s telling the truth about it anymore.”

“So what? You’re gonna turn on the Organization completely?”

There was a creak at the door.

They froze. Demyx crossed the room quickly and stuck his head out.

There was no one.

He turned back to Axel, who was standing up now and glaring at the door. Demyx shook his head. Axel visibly relaxed.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” Axel admitted in response to Demyx’s previous question, “But I’ve got a good feeling about her. She’ll be a good keyblade wielder.”

Demyx nodded.

“I should probably go,” he said after a quiet moment, having registered Axel’s words. “I gotta big recon mission tomorrow.”

Axel nodded, and Demyx left the room.

He lay back down and stared up at the ceiling again. He felt a little better having gotten at least some of what he was thinking off of his chest. His exhaustion was catching up with him quickly, and he felt his eyelids droop.

~

Another field.

You were in another field. But you weren’t on Spaceship Earth this time. You didn’t know where you were. But it was dark all around, and it reminded you of being in your father’s mind.

But that wasn’t why you stood frozen in your spot. Surrounding you in a circle were heads. Thirty of them. As tall as trees and upturned to look at the sky. They were pitch black and you could see no eyes on them, just gaping maws that were frozen in silent screams.

You were compelled to look at the sky.

You didn’t want to look at the sky. You didn’t want to see what made these things so fearful. But nothing about your body was listening to you. Your head slowly began to tilt back to bring you gaze upward, and you felt mounting panic.

You didn’t want to look at the sky!

Your gaze finally landed on the sky. And there was nothing. You felt a great relief wash through you. There was nothing there.

You looked back down to be met with the gazes of all the heads as their gaping, silent screams and their empty black gazes were now directed at you.

~

You jolted awake, thankful for the constant sunlight of Twilight Town. You had not been able to handle the dark. You were terrified of it now. And every nightmare you had was plagued with it.

Your body was shaking, and you felt like all the breath had been knocked out of you. Above all you felt tired. You’d probably been asleep for a few hours now, but your nightmares had a nasty habit of sapping all of your energy from you. But you couldn’t sleep now.

Not with those faces. Or not faces. Or whatever they were still burned into your mind.

You looked at your mother who was still sound asleep. At least she could sleep easy. She’d have to now that she had a job. She’d told you on the way back from the mansion that she had gotten a job at the local bakery. Hotel rooms didn’t pay for themselves, and the munny you’d gotten from the banker and Queen Minnie had almost run out.

You picked up your phone from the nightstand, prepared to text Axel. You hoped he’d be awake. Just as you were about to hit send, there was a soft knock on the door. You threw quick look at your mother who remained soundly asleep before getting up and crossing the room.

You peeked through the little peephole on the door and saw it was Axel. You nearly threw the door open, quickly stepping outside and hugging him close.

You so desperately needed this – needed someone who understood.

He was surprised at the welcome but hugged you back lightly.

“I wasn’t expecting you back so soon,” you admitted as you finally let go and took a small step back, almost pressing yourself to the door.

“I wanted to check on you,” he said honestly. You smiled. It was one of the few times Axel was completely genuine with his emotions, and you studied his face to commit it to memory.

“I was about to text you, to be honest,” you confessed, clutching your phone a bit tighter in your hand, “I feel like I’m going crazy. Like all the time. And you’re the only one who really gets it.”

He looked at you for a moment, a million and one thoughts running through his head at once.

“Do you wanna go somewhere?” he finally asked. You nodded, and he opened a corridor. “Oh by the way,” he said, handing you a little black bundle you hadn’t noticed he was holding, “I got you this. Well, Demyx, Namine, and I got it for you, and Demyx customized it.”

It was a black robe like his and Demyx’s. You held in a little squeal of excitement, slipping it on. It fit you very nicely. Stitched in tiny letters on the edge of the sleeve was the word “besties” with a little heart next to it.

“I love it!” you exclaimed as you did a little twirl in it. Axel smiled a little. You looked nice – and happier now than you had when you rushed out of your room.

“It’ll keep from being exposed to anything when we go through the corridors. Let’s go,” he instructed, allowing you to step through the corridor first.

You did as you were told and stepped through and out the other side. It was dark but not too much so. The sky was lit with countless stars and a bright moon. You gasped and marveled at it. It had been so long since you’d seen the moon. And you’d already forgotten how beautiful it was. You de-summoned your armor, and took a few steps forward, gasping again at the feel of sand beneath your feet. You wiggled your toes in it.

It was cool and rough against your skin but not unpleasant. You picked some up, feeling it and letting it drop through your fingers. It was weird. Before you lay the largest body of water you’d ever seen. It made the air smell salty and added a bit of chill to the wind but not enough to be uncomfortable. Dark waves rocked gently further out at the sea and every few seconds white rushes foam would roll in and lap at the shore.

Beneath the moon, it all seemed to glow. It was incredibly stunning.

“I figured you hadn’t been to a beach before. Was I wrong?” he said with a half smirk, half smile. You smiled widely at him.

“No, no beaches on Spaceship Earth. Fountains, sure, but no beaches.”

You walked further onto the beach, reveling at the feeling of the sand shifting beneath your feet as you walked.

“I also thought you might like to see the moon again. I don’t know how you do it in Twilight Town with the sun always up.”

“I have to admit,” you began as you sat in the cool sand, “It is a little maddening sometimes. But I don’t mind. I don’t like the dark all that much.”

Axel sat next to you, and the two of you just enjoyed the sound of crashing waves and the smell of the salty air for a few minutes.

“Thank you,” you said softly, “For everything. And for this. I needed it.”

“It’s no problem,” he said as he looked away from the moon to look at you. You were smiling softly and looking at him with that look of gratitude in your eyes he’d seen so many times from you before, your eyes glowing softly in the moon light.

This was a problem. This was a big problem. Because there was so much he needed to tell you, and even telling you bit by bit like Demyx had suggested was difficult. Because he like being friends with you, and he didn’t want to not be friends or even risk being not as good friends because everything he was doing would change the way you looked at him.

And he didn’t want you to ever stop looking at him like that with those eyes that glowed in moonlight and showed him sympathy and gratitude when he didn’t deserve it.

Your gaze lingered on him a bit longer. Axel looked quite handsome in the moonlight. But you turned away before he noticed you were staring at him for more than just your conversation, pulling your knees to your chest and resting your arms on them before burying your face where your prominent smile could not be seen.

“So, where are we?” you asked after another moment, looking around and noticing the thick forest of foliage lined up behind you where the beach ended.

“The Destiny Islands.”

“There are other islands?” you asked as you turned back out to the ocean to see if you could spot another on the horizon.

“Yes. I picked this one because it’s a little more secluded.”

“Trying to get me alone, Axel?” you giggled out. He rolled his eyes but smiled.

“It also has the best view of the sunrise.”

Your eyes widened. You were going to see another sunrise? You missed them just like you missed the moon. You turned back eagerly to the shore, toes curling and uncurling in the sand in your excitement.

He couldn’t do it. He’d tell you. But not now.

“When will it start?”

“I’d say in another half hour or so,” he guessed based on the slightly lighter blue of the night sky. You let out an exasperated and impatient sigh before lying on your back. You’d probably get sand in your hair, but you didn’t care all that much. You just lay there and watched the stars.

You looked at Axel with a smile and patted the ground. He lay down next to you and looked up at the stars.

“Each star is different world you know,” he said, drawing imaginary constellations in his mind as he gazed at the twinkling lights.

“That’s so surreal. I mean, just under a month ago I was sure worlds like I know them now, didn’t exist. Everything is so much bigger than I thought. It’s kind of amazing. And I’ve gotten to see so much more of it than anyone else may ever see.”

You were quiet and still for a moment, and Axel began to wonder if you had fallen asleep, but then you shot up abruptly, sand flying from your hair and back when you disrupted it.

“I want to find seashells!” you said finally. “I’ve never had one before. Or seen them in person.”

You were up before Axel fully registered what you said. You began pacing around nearby, toeing through the sand and occasionally moving it around with your hands to find shells.

“You’re too far back. You’ll find more closer to the ocean,” he said standing up and walking towards the water. You followed behind him, your eagerness to find shells, dissipating the closer you got to the massive body of water. It was so big. You felt… intimidated….

You eyed it warily, standing just at the edge of the wet sand where it reached. Axel had stopped walking to watch you, looking at how you gazed intensely at the tide as it rolled in and ebbed away.

“It’s not gonna hurt you,” he said finally, offering his hand. You grabbed it tightly and let him lead you over the cool, wet sand as the water pulled back out into the sea. The sand felt more compact here, molding to the shape of your foot rather than spilling over it when your weight sunk in. You could see seaweed and shell fragments on the ground, and you brushed a hand over the plants. Then the tide rolled back in.

It rolled over your feet, giving you a jolt at how icy it felt. It went over your feet and splashed up against your ankles, and all you could think about was your descent into the swamp when you’d been back into the mind. It was no where near as cold as the swamp, but the sensation and the memory sent your body reeling into full on panic.

You gasped, yanking your hand from Axel’s and hugging yourself as you backed up rapidly until you could feel dry sand beneath your feet again. Your breaths came rapidly, and you hunched over slightly, a groan of sadness rumbling out of your throat and passed your lips. Your body shuddered as if you’d been submerged in ice water and not feeling it run over your feet. Your eyes were blurring with tears and you began to hyperventilate. Your eyes shut tight and a sob worked its way up and out of your mouth.

You felt two warm hands on your shoulders and could vaguely hear Axel calling your name, telling you to breathe. Your shaking form clung to him in a desperate hug as you struggled to slowly inhale and exhale as he instructed. He was warm and comforting, and you needed warmth right now. He held you close, paying close attention to your breaths until they began to even out.

You were exhausted at the end of your episode, the weariness from before overtaking you, and causing your legs to barely support you. Axel continued to hold on to you, eventually settling the two of you on the ground so you were sitting next to each other while you leaned on him. After a few minutes, he asked you what had happened.

“It felt like the swamp,” you said quietly as you sniffled lightly, voice wavering, “When I fell in. I couldn’t – I can’t –” You shuddered. His arm around your shoulders tightened.

“You don’t have to say anymore.”

You sighed.

“I’m sorry. I feel like I ruined a good time.”

Axel shook his head.

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Let’s just enjoy the sunrise.”

You looked out to the ocean where the sky had turned dusky shades of light pink and purple on the horizon. Slowly, it peeked brightly over the ocean, and the sky was a gradient of red, yellow, and blue, with pink clouds dusting over the sky in wispy strokes. Axel watched until the sky was a deeper blue then laid back with his hands behind his head. You continued to watch until the sky was almost completely blue with only a faint hint of any other colors barely gracing the sky.

You felt better. The warmth of the sun caressed you and the light gave you comfort.

You looked at Axel. He fell asleep, snoring lightly. You giggled. He looked cute. And calm. You’d never seen him so relaxed.

You lay down next to him, staring up where the sky was a deep blue and watching the white clouds drift by. The air had gotten significantly warmer but not enough to be hot. The ocean rolling in and out the shore relaxed you too. You’d forgotten up to now how exhausted you had been.

Your eyes slowly drifted closed.

.

.

.

You woke up slowly in your room in Twilight Town, blinking the sleep away as you slowly realized that you were on a soft bed and not warm sand. You sat up and took in your surroundings. Your mother had already left for work. You were on top of your bed, your robe folded neatly and placed on your nightstand, lightly dusted with sand. On top of it was a little scallop shell. The ridged back was a bright peachy-orange, and on the other side it was a wash of pale cream and rosy pink. It was beautiful. You marveled at it for a while, alternating between the rough ridges and the smooth glossy sides.

Axel must have carried you back to your room, and you grinned openly at the thought of Axel carrying you to bed, breaking out of your reverie when it began to turn a bit steamier than thoughts of your best friend ought to. Even if it was just kissing.

~

Axel had a day off. He’d had a lot of those recently, but he knew why that was. He was what Luxord would refer to as a wild card. Or a gamble. He’d become erratic in behavior in regard to the Organization, and that meant that he toed the line between barely useful and expendable – no great loss in the eyes of the Organization.

And he was certain there was no chance for redemption as there was for Marluxia or Larxene. And they were the only two members more monitored than he. Though from what he knew, Marluxia was running an important job, but he was now too low on the list of trusted associates to get a hold of the information in regard to what it was.

But he hardly cared right now. Nothing he’d managed to gather in terms of the Organization’s next move involved you, and that was good. You were under the radar, and that’s what he wanted. And now he wanted to visit. He was bored, and he hardly had a dull day whenever you were involved.

So that’s why he was in the middle of the woods, walking towards Twilight Town to find you. Maybe you’d want to explore deeper into the woods, picking a new direction. The pond had been a neat find for you the last time you had decided to explore. Or maybe he’d take you somewhere new again. You seemed to like the Destiny Islands. There were other islands with beautiful beaches you’d probably like. Maybe one with black sand. That would probably blow your mind.

Snap.

Axel stilled. He wasn’t normally one to be paranoid. He could write off the sound as a squirrel that had run by. So why did he feel this was something different?

He looked behind him.

Nothing.

He kept walking, taking slower steps, listening more closely and swearing he heard the faintest sound of a second set of footsteps. A chill ran up his spine. Something was wrong.

He was paranoid. And nervous.

He looked around again, slightly anxious.

When he turned back around he saw Vanitas standing a short distance away from him.

Now he was paranoid for different reasons – and anxious and nervous and scared for your well-being. Vanitas should not be here. Vanitas should not be anywhere near your location.

“What are you doing here?” Axel asked in as calm a voice as he could manage when the urge to see you and make sure you were still breathing was setting his every nerve ablaze. He almost felt sparks at his fingertips as heat raced through his veins.

Then Vanitas blipped out of sight.

Axel whirled around this way and that, seeing nothing. Vanitas’ laugh echoed around him.

He needed to go.

Now.

He enveloped himself in a corridor, reappearing in his room. He took out his phone and sent you a text.

Axel: Where are you right now?

You texted back almost immediately.

***: I’m in my room. Why? Wanna hang for a bit?

Axel: I can’t. I won’t be able to see you for a while. I’ve got some stuff to take care of.

***: Aww Text me when you’re free again. It’s so boring when Namine isn’t around to keep me company.

Axel: Be safe ________. I’ll see you soon enough. Demyx will keep you company while I’m gone. And try not to get into too much trouble.

***: You sound like you going off to war lol. I’ll be safe, mom.

Great that was done. Now he had to text Demyx.

Axel: Vanitas is on the move. He’s watching me. I’m gonna keep a low profile and hop different worlds for a bit until I think he’s off my trail. That means you need to look after ________ and take her to her training sessions. And MAKE SURE SHE GETS HOME SAFE.

Demyx: What??? Why me???? If Vanitas is looking around shouldn’t I be keeping a low profile.

Axel: Because you “wanted in” and now you have to follow through. No one suspects you anyway. All you have to do is take her to Disney Town and back and maybe hang out with her a little at her room. Don’t be seen with her in Twilight Town.

Demyx: Ugh fine! But you owe me! You told her some stuff about the Organization right?

Axel: Not yet.

Demyx: Well what am I supposed to tell her about why she can’t go out.

Axel: DON’T tell her. Just make something up. Or act like you’re too tired and just wanna stay in the room with her and talk.

~

“Did you find her yet?” Marluxia asked, eyeing Vanitas from a distance. Vanitas was harder to read than most of the Organization members, and the mask obscuring his face didn’t help.

“Why? Does she owe you munny?” he asked, not moving from the spot where he was leaning against the wall. Marluxia resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Better to not piss him off until he found out what he wanted.

“No, but your target and my target are most likely to be found around each other. It’d be a great help to me to know if you found her.”

Vanitas was silent for a moment.

“I didn’t find her.”

“And you took my advice? To follow Axel?” He’d given him this advice roughly two weeks ago, so it was a wonder Axel hadn’t been with the girl since then.

“I did.”

“And he hasn’t led you to her? Did something happen between you?” Maybe somewhere in the middle of that two weeks, Axel got wise to the situation – someone giving him information they shouldn’t.

“He saw me.”

Marluxia was quiet for a moment, pushing back great annoyance and mild anger.

“How?”

“I stood in front of him.”

Why?” Marluxia stressed out. It was becoming harder to restrain the anger and annoyance from his tone, but he had a hunch at this point that Vanitas was enjoying that.

“Because he’s paranoid. He’s paranoid, anxious, and worried,” he said letting out a little chuckle. Oh right. He had a thing for negative emotion. Or something.

“Axel’s a nobody.”

“I know. Threw me for a loop too, but I’m not complaining.”

At least this confirmed his theory that at some point Axel had figured out he was being followed.

“And when was this?”

“Two weeks ago.”

Marluxia took a deep calming breath.

“And you’ve been what? Following him around on a wild goose chase just to feed off of his negative feelings?”

“If he’s putting his life on the line to keep her alive, he’ll find his way back to her.”

“I don’t have that kind of time,” Marluxia snapped, irritated. He couldn’t see his face, but Marluxia felt Vanitas’ heated and angry gaze on him. He reigned it in a little. “A few weeks ago I overheard Axel and Demyx talking. I didn’t hear most of it, and only came in at the end of the conversation. But I’d be willing to bet that maybe Demyx is wrapped up in this somehow. Follow him too and tell me what you find. If you don’t mind.” He’d only added the last part as a curtesy but felt nothing but annoyance towards him. Vanitas’ sadistic nature was throwing a wrench in his own plans.

Vanitas didn’t answer him, and after a moment, Marluxia left.

~

Axel texted you often over the next two weeks but not to say he was available to hang out. So that bummed you out a little, but Demyx more than made up for it. You wished his attitude weren’t as laid back because it made for not so exciting days, but you were happy to have the company. Especially since Namine had left for her training at the Institute of Imagination a week ago, so you couldn’t even visit after your training sessions when Demyx would escort you back and forth between Disney Town and Twilight Town every other day.

Thankfully, Demyx had the decency to visit on a few of the days between your training sessions to give you company. The two of you remained confined to your room most of the time, but he could be persuaded to leave every now and again.

Like today. You’d tempted him with the prospect of free food. It was only supposed to take a few minutes. Go into town, get a few cookies, go back to the hotel. Easy breezy beautiful Demyx doing a good job. But then you went and signed up for the struggle match. That was not part of the plan. Demyx was not prepared for this part of the not plan. So he texted Axel.

Demyx: ________ is trying to sign up for the struggle match!

Axel: ?! So STOP her! You’re not supposed to be in town anyway! What happened to keeping a low profile?!

Demyx: I know but we were only gonna be out for a few minutes you know like for snacks! But then she saw that there was a tournament today and now she’s signing up!

Axel: So don’t let her! Get back in the room! And for fuck’s sake keep her from leaving!

Demyx: It isn’t that easy! You’re asking me to keep her in a hotel room until you can come back and be all protect-y and heroic and stuff, but you don’t even know when that’ll be! It’s been two weeks already! How long is she just gonna have to sit in a room day in and day out?

Axel: Until it’s safe.

Demyx: …

Axel: It’s not like I don’t get it or know it isn’t easy when she’s so damn headstrong. But just hold out for a little longer. I’ll take care of Vanitas.

Demyx: What?! What are you gonna do?

Demyx: Axel?

Demyx: Axel answer me!

Demyx: Don’t do anything stupid!

Demyx: I don’t wanna have to tell ________ you died or some shit!

Demyx huffed. Axel had stopped answering. Maybe he was already doing something stupid. He really didn’t want to be the one to deliver the news to ________ that something had happened to him.

You chose that moment to come bounding back up to him, bright smile on your face, excited gleam in your eyes.

“I’m all signed up! I’m so excited!” you said. And Demyx suddenly couldn’t say anything, just kept looking at you with those sad blue eyes of his. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” he lied, badly you realized. “Let’s, uh, go stretch before your big match!”

“Okay,” you muttered, heading off towards where the other competitors waited, stretching. You heard them talking quietly amongst each other.

She didn’t actually sign up for this did she?

Girls don’t really do this for a reason.

Guess she’s gonna learn that the hard way.

She’ll be out in the first round.

You calmed your breathing, determined to not let their statements get to you. Nearby Demyx was pacing nervously. This was bad. You were supposed to be flying under the radar, and now you were participating in an event that would very much mean damn near the entire town would have you in their sights. You already stood out enough as it was, wearing your robe, and he was no better in a matching one. You were already drawing attention to yourself just by being female and entering apparently.

But then Demyx saw someone that made his blood freeze in his veins, and without thinking he hid away, opening a corridor in a secluded area so he could go anywhere that wasn’t the town.

Demyx: Axel! I just saw Sora! What do I do?!

Demyx: Axel come on! This isn’t cool, man!

Demyx swore to himself. What was he going to do now?! You were in town drawing attention to yourself; Sora was walking around doing who knows what in Twilight Town of all places; Axel wasn’t responding to any of his texts. This was a mess.

~

“I’ve never seen her before. Maybe she’s new?” Sora said as he eyed you at a distance.

“Who knows how many members the Organization has gathered by now,” Goofy said as he glanced nervously between you, Sora, and Donald.

“Remember, Sora,” Donald said, eyes never leaving your stretching form, “We need to talk to her first. She hasn’t caused any trouble, and it would disrupt the order to outright accuse her.”

“And if she drops out of the competition early, you need to do the same so we can get a hold of her,” Goofy finished. Sora nodded.

They’d watched you fill out the form to enter the struggle match, and they needed to figure out exactly what it was you were planning. Whatever it was, it probably meant trouble. You hadn’t spotted them yet, so chances were that you didn’t know he was here. Donald and Goofy kept out of sight to keep you from spotting Sora too easily. If you were planning something, you may react differently if you knew anyone was here to stop you.

You felt like you were being watched, but when you looked around, you didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. People were stretching, towns people being skeptical about your fighting ability, Setzer watching you having reminded you a few minutes prior that this officially counted as a rematch if you got to the final round against him – and he was still very much looking forward to that date. Though Demyx had run off somewhere, but if you had to guess, it was to get more food.

.

.

.

You began to worry when he hadn’t come back after an hour. You were doing quite well in the matches so far. You’d worked your way up to another kid, close to your age with brown hair and blue eyes, who fought like he knew what he was doing. Honestly, you were looking forward to his fight more than the others. And you were almost bouncing with giddiness when the announcer was about to announce the match.

“Up next!” he called. You were already standing up, your heart pounding. “________ versus Sora!”

You froze, eyeing your opponent as he mounted the arena. This was the same Sora you were looking for? You readied your weapon, still eyeing him. He readied himself too. The two of you just stood there, watching each other for a moment. You stepped closer slowly, and he did the same, and the two of you began circling each other.

“You’re Sora,” you said finally.

“And who are you?” he replied, eyes watching you carefully, almost as if he were wary of you.

“________,” you said, “The announcer said that.”

“Oh, right,” he said, a light blush coating his cheeks. You giggled. This kid was the keyblade wielder you were looking for? Two sentences and he’d already broken whatever badass image you’d built up for him and turned into a somewhat awkward kid with a knack for fighting.

“I’ve been looking for you,” you admitted, suddenly excited again. He went from embarrassed to suspicious all over again. What had this guy so on edge?

“Oh yeah? What for?”

“Are you two gonna fight or dance?” someone from the audience called. You both looked around, surprised. You forgot the reason you were even here.

“Oh right!” you mentioned. Sora struck first. You dodged, spinning around him to get a hit in on his other side. He stumbled forward a bit but didn’t go down so easy. He attacked you with more fervor than before. He was fast, and it was a struggle for you to keep up. He certainly knew what he was doing, but you were no match for him. You matched him almost blow for blow but the more tired you got, the fewer hits you landed and the more you took.

Finally, you went down, the announcer holding up Sora’s hand to announce him winner of the match and the next opponent for Setzer. You huffed. It was a good match, and at least you could say you made it to the second to last round before being knocked out.

You climbed out of the arena and walked past a few grumpy competitors who you’d personally kicked out of the competition with no small amount of pride.

Out in the first round my ass.

You wanted to get some water before seeing the rest of the next match and maybe getting a chance to talk to Sora after all this time.

“Hey! Wait up!” you heard Sora call after you.

“What are you doing? Don’t you have to fight the final round?” you said, looking passed him at the arena where the announcer was already calling Setzer the reigning champion.

“I dropped out,” he said in a rush, “Who are you and where did you get that robe?”

“________, we’ve been over that, and a friend gave it to me.”

“What friend?” he said with his eyes narrowed. Your eyes narrowed back.

“Why does it matter?”

“Why so secretive?”

You both regarded each other silently for a moment. Something was up. Something he wasn’t telling you, and now you had a sneaking suspicion your friends were wrapped up in it if he needed to ask about the coat. Or maybe he’d met another traveler in a similar coat. Axel did say that people who hopped from world to world needed them.

“I’ve been looking for you,” you stated again, “I have been for almost a month now.”

It wasn’t entirely true, but he didn’t need to know that you’d stopped looking for some time now.

“What do you want with me?”

“I was looking for a teacher.”

He looked shocked. He was very much not expecting that at all. He opened his mouth then closed it again. He didn’t know what to say next. Had you thrown him for a loop that hard?

“A teacher?” he finally said after all that hard debating he’d done in his head.

“Yes. I have a keyblade, and I needed someone to teach me how to use it. I mean, I don’t need one now,” you said scratching the back of your head, “But I also wanted to ask questions.”

“Questions?” He seemed even more confused than before.

“You brought all the worlds back. All the ones that fell to darkness. Mine didn’t come back.”

He looked at you with something like confused sympathy now.

“I don’t know about any of that,” he admitted after a while. You looked upset. You took a deep breath, held it, then blew it out slowly, looking around at anything but him until your eyes landed on two cartoons observing from a short distance away.

“Um, hi?” you said, giving a small wave. They took this moment to approach you, standing on either side of Sora before introducing themselves.

“I’m Goofy,” the dog said with a friendly smile.

“And I’m Donald,” the duck said. Your face lit up.

“Like Donald Duck? You’re the Paperinik!” You were bouncing on the balls of your feet. “We’re related!” You said, noting the looks of absolute confusion on the faces of all three of them. They very clearly thought you were insane.

“Well sort of,” you began to clarify, “I’m the adoptive niece of Ludwig von Drake!”

“That’s my uncle!” the duck exclaimed, suddenly excited.

“Mine too!” you said back eagerly, “You’re one of my childhood idols. Pops told me so much about your heroic adventures!”

“Whoa, whoa,” Sora interrupted your little family reunion, “You still haven’t answered any of my questions!”

You had almost completely forgotten about that tense little convo you were having moments ago. You calmed your excitement, turning back to Sora – all business.

“You said you got that coat from your friends. Who exactly are your friends?” he asked finally.

“Why does it matter?” you repeated, frowning a little, “Plenty of people have these, right? What makes you so sure you’ll know who they are anyway?”

“Because the Organization wears them too,” he answered, and you cocked your head to the side a little in confusion. Organization?

“I don’t think she’s a part of the Organization, Sora,” Goofy said after you tried searching all of your memories for mentions of an Organization. Hmmm. Nope. Nothing. Nada.

“I don’t even know who they are,” you said. Sora visibly relaxed.

“Well it’s true that not everyone who wears those is a part of the Organization, Sora,” Donald said, looking up at his friend, “The King wears one.”

“Oh. That’s right. He does,” Sora said, scratching the back of his head with an apologetic smile.

“Should this Organization be something I worry about?” you asked finally, not quite piecing together what they were talking about.

“They’re a group of people who steal people’s hearts,” Sora answered with no small amount of venom in his voice. He almost looked angry. You on the other hand were more caught on the end of horror rather than anger.

“And they all wear these?” you said, tugging at the sleeve of your robe a little nervously. If these robes were so common, you didn’t need to worry about your friends being wrapped up in whatever the Organization was involved in. That was good.

“Yeah, it’s kind of like their uniform.”

“But other people wear them too?”

“Yes. Though usually they’re a part of the Organization.”

“Right,” you said, quietly. You had tiny nagging doubts in the back of your mind. “Would I have anything to worry about regarding the Organization?”

“I don’t want to worry you, but maybe.” Sora looked at your face morph from troubled to mildly alarmed. “I mean, being a keyblade wielder could mean something to them. I don’t know what they’d want with you or how they would know you even exist, but you should be careful.”

You were silent for a moment. You remembered the blue haired man on your planet and the icy glare he’d given you. You remembered the invisible stares on you when you’d run into him near the fields the day Spaceship Earth fell and fought the heartless with your keyblade.

Was he in the Organization?

You thought about running into Axel on Hollow Bastion. Your blood began to run cold. You thought about how he knew where to find you. Knew you were staying with Merlin. Took you to the castle to get answers alone. The dusks that attacked you not long after. He found you on Disney Town.

But if he wanted to do you any harm, he’d have done it by now. You kept telling yourself that. You believed it a little less every time you needed to keep telling yourself this.

He was your best friend. Did Namine know? Did Demyx know? Were they both involved?

“Please don’t lie to me, Axel.”

“I’m not lying to you.”

You were starting to develop a headache.

“I’ll be careful,” you assured him.

“Um, also I know you said you didn’t need a teacher anymore, but I think I know someone who would really help you learn to use your keyblade,” Sora said, warily watching you. You were worrying him with your sudden silence and lack of movement. You’d been so animated before that this was a sudden and relatively off-putting change in demeanor. You looked at him expectantly.

“Oh you’re talking about Master Yen Sid!” Goofy answered with a nod, “He’ll be able to tell you everything there is to know about being a keyblade wielder. He trained the king!”

Your eyes brightened a little. You filed it away to ask someone about later to see if he was someone worth visiting. You could almost hear Axel asking if you had it memorized, and your eyes dulled a bit.

“Thank you,” you said, “I have something I need to take care of. But I’m glad to have met you.”

You spun on your heel and began to walk away, eyes combing the street for Demyx.

“She looked awful sad, didn’t she?” Goofy said as they all watched your retreating figure. Sora and Donald nodded, watching as you turned a corner.

~

“I know you’re there,” Axel said, summoning his weapons and putting himself in a stance ready for a fight. Vanitas’ chuckle echoed around him.

“And you’re going to fight me? That’s treason you know.”

“I’d like to avoid it, but something about you just rubs me the wrong way,” Axel snarked back, trying to keep up his calm and prepared demeanor. In all truth, he didn’t know if he could take Vanitas, but he couldn’t keep up this cat and mouse game and leave you unguarded. Well, Demyx was there, but he was way more lenient with you than he ought to be.

“You must really like her to be throwing it all away for her,” he heard Vanitas’ voice behind him. He whirled around in time to block his attack, sending him sliding back just a bit. Not enough to knock him down. Vanitas didn’t move from that spot, just remained ready to strike or defend just as Axel did.

“Throwing what away? An Organization that sent you to kill me?”

“Oh I’m not here to kill you. I’m just enjoying the show. Watching you run around in circles like a coward, knowing that if you go be with her, it’ll be all over for you. I like those feelings of loneliness, all that negative energy you’ve been emitting.”

Little sparks ran over Axel’s fingertips when Vanitas talked about you.

“But it’ll be nothing compared to what she’ll feel when I hunt her down and tell her you’re gone. Or maybe I’ll just tell her you left. Abandoned her. Or maybe I’ll just be honest about it. You’re supposed to kill her, and nothing you’ve done with her, no friendship she thought she had with you meant anything.”

Axel’s body had ignited about halfway through Vanitas’ little speech, but he made no move to attack. That was what he wanted.

“You don’t know where she is.”

“I got a tip, and I can assure you that once I’ve beaten you to nothing, I’m going to casually waltz right up to her, tell her that her friend was never her friend and kill her while I watch the betrayal linger in her eyes as in her final moments she thinks of how you let her down.”

That actually got more of a rise out of him.

He lunged at Vanitas who reciprocated, weapons clashing in a flurry of flame and darkness.

~

You were typing out a text to Demyx, glancing up occasionally to watch where you were going when you bumped into someone. You saw them just as your shoulder hit them. He was wearing a black robe just like the one you wore. You were frozen in your spot, turning a few seconds after the encounter to see no one there.

That worried you more.

You felt a weight in your hand and looked down to see a piece of folded paper sealed with a wax stamp that depicted a little wizard hat with stars adorning it.

This worried you even more.

You doubted anyone was having as bad a time as you were right now.

You were wrong, of course. Marluxia had followed Demyx here. And his hunch was correct, he led him right to you. It seemed that Vanitas had elected to ignore his tip about Demyx in favor of chasing down Axel. Probably trying to absorb more of Axel’s potential emotions if such things actually existed. You didn’t lead him to the duck the entire time you were out and about, and he found himself increasingly annoyed with having to watch you. He couldn’t see why Axel enjoyed you so much. But then there was another wrench thrown into his plans with the appearance of Sora. He wasn’t quite ready for a rematch with you helping him.

He was pleased when you finally separated yourself from him, but then he saw that other one. As if one keyblade wielder weren’t bad enough, Riku had to go poking about the town for reasons he didn’t quite know.

He was still lurking around for a good while after too. You had scampered off back to your hotel. He lingered nearby. Maybe the duck was inside?

You rushed outside of the hotel maybe half an hour later talking on your phone, and he made his move. He walked calmly into your room through his corridor. It was empty. On your bed was a letter with a broken wax seal. He read the letter, placing it back on the bed just as he found it. He concluded that the duck was nowhere around as he should have made himself known at least once during some part of this day.

Vanitas would be very interested in what he’d found, and maybe next time he asked for a favor, he’d be more compliant. He left shortly after. Riku was still sniffing about, and that was a headache he didn’t need right now.

~

Demyx wasn’t picking up his phone. Neither was Axel. Namine didn’t either. You figured she was just too busy. Usually she called you when she had down time. But the other two had you legitimately worried about what you might find out about them. Especially since you didn’t know where either of them was. Had Demyx seen Sora and run because he was involved in the Organization? Or did he just wander off? He’d done that plenty of times before when the two of you went into town. But what if he was involved in the Organization? That would mean Axel was too….

You really didn’t want to believe someone who had done so much for you was involved with people who took hearts from others. Nothing about any of the people you’d met and befriended fit the description of anyone who’d do something so horrible.

You couldn’t imagine Axel so ruthless – let alone Demyx who’d only presented himself as laid back and relatively lazy.

You called Ludwig. You didn’t know what information he could offer, but he was the smartest person you knew, and you were desperate to get answers for your latest discovery which had your mind reeling.

You remembered the letter you’d gotten, lying on your bed where you’d left it when you decided to head back into town and look for Demyx.

You remembered every word as if they’d burned themselves into your mind. You didn’t know what you’d do, but you knew you only had until 6:03 to make your decision.

________,

You have grown into a formidable keyblade wielder; however, you lack direction and instruction. I believe under my tutelage you have the potential to do great things and to grow to be a worthy protector of worlds.

My envoy, Riku, has given you this letter, and enclosed with it a ticket for a train that leaves at 6:03 p.m. This train will bring you to my realm where I will give you your first assignment as a keyblade wielder. This will be the first of many in your journey to becoming a keyblade master.

It is understandable if you should choose not to accept this task as it will be a long and arduous journey that will push you passed your limits and to the very edge of your capabilities. But I believe there is much potential in you. But should you choose to accept my invitation, I have no doubt in my mind you will grow into your full potential as a keyblade wielder and guardian of worlds.

I await your decision but know that the train will not wait, and the opportunity may not present itself again.

Sincerely,

Master Yen Sid

The line continued ringing on the other end as you paced nervously near the train station, phone clutched almost desperately in your hand, the other idly rubbing a thumb over the ticket you’d received for the train.

“Hello?”

At least, Ludwig was answering his phone.

“Hey, Pops. I don’t know if you’ll actually know anything about this, but I’ve got about fifteen minutes to even have this conversation, so let’s make it quick.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Do you know anyone by the name of Yen Sid?”

“You know him? I mean, of course I know him! He used to live here!”

“He’s a toon?”

“Yes, but he moved away quite a long time ago. How do you know him?”

“I think I got a letter from him. I think this might be one of the keys to getting back Kelewenya, but I have to go there’s something I need to take care of first.”

You hung up. You knew he would have questions, but you didn’t have time. You tried calling Axel next. No answer. You tried one more time. No answer.

You huffed.

You called your mother. She would be at work, but maybe you’d catch her at a good time.

She picked up on the second ring.

“________, is something wrong?”

You chuckled. Classic mom.

“No, nothing’s wrong. I was calling to tell you that I’m going on a little trip, but I’ll be back before you know it.”

“A trip? When was this scheduled?”

“It wasn’t. I, um, I ran into Sora today, and I have to go see someone about some potential training.”

“Oh. So this is a keyblade thing.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon, but I might not get another chance to do this.”

“It’s fine. I understand. At least you told me. Can I know when you’ll be back?”

“I don’t know. When I get my assignment, I’ll tell you how long it’ll take and give you plenty of updates until I’m back.”

“Well I suppose that that’s all I can ask. Please be safe, ________.”

“I will, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

You hung up. You tried Axel’s phone one more time. Nothing.

You were dialing Demyx’s number when he came running up to you. You glanced at the clock. Ten minutes to go.

“I have been running around like crazy looking for you!” he panted. You backed up a few steps when he got close. You hadn’t meant to. You just… It was like he was someone you weren’t sure you recognized.

“Demyx,” you began slowly, eyes downcast, “Do you know anything about something called the Organization?”

Chapter Text

“Demyx,” you began slowly, eyes downcast, “Do you know anything about something called the Organization?”

Demyx froze up at your question. What was he supposed to say? How did you even know?!

“How do you know about that?”

He wasn’t denying it. That didn’t necessarily mean he was in it. Just that he knew about it. But his face looked scared and unsure. You didn’t want to think that meant anything. You knew you’d be lying to yourself if you acted like it meant nothing though.

You took in a deep shuddering breath.

“I met someone who knew about them.”

Sora. Sora had to be the one to tell you. Demyx couldn’t think of who else it might be.

“I know about the Organization,” Demyx finally admitted. The air grew more tense around you.

“They take hearts,” you choked out. It was a statement not a question. Demyx didn’t say anything. He didn’t deny it though. “They’re not good people.”

Demyx still didn’t say anything. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there right now. He wished Axel had talked to you like he was supposed to so he wouldn’t have to be the one to tell you about any of it.

“Are you…,” you trailed off, looking like it physically pained you to ask the next question. Though Demyx had a good idea of the next question you were going to ask, but being in no hurry to answer it, waited for you to manage asking first. “Are you and Axel a part of the Organization?”

He was quiet longer than he needed to be. But he looked no less uncomfortable.

“I need you to hear me out,” he said slowly. You already looked crestfallen. “Please! I can tell you everything I can and why anyone would do something like that!”

You looked like you wanted to run. Demyx wanted to run too. He also kind of wished you’d run first, so he wouldn’t look like so much of a coward for having a conversation with you that he should have had with you in the beginning. A conversation both he and Axel should have had with you in the beginning.

“Okay,” you all but whispered.

“Yes, we are a part of the Organization. We lost our hearts a long time ago.”

“You’re both nobodies?!” you almost screeched. Demyx looked surprised.

“You know about those?”

“I know Namine is one. She didn’t tell me you both were too,” you said, head reeling with this revelation. It furthered your belief that nobodies do, in fact, have emotions. But you wondered why they never told you.

“Well, we are,” he said awkwardly but mildly relieved he wouldn’t have to explain how nobodies worked to you. “We were recruited by the Organization because they told us that we could get our hearts back in time by… working for them.”

“By stealing people’s hearts…?” you said, eyes narrowing just slightly.

“Well that’s not necessarily what everyone did. Like I did recon. So I just scouted what planets looked like. I never actually did much in the way of taking hearts.”

That was easier to hear even if you knew the endgame of every part of their process was to steal the hearts of others. But that left one question.

“What did Axel do?” you asked. You were really hoping he was just a scout like Demyx.

“I can’t say,” he said in part because he didn’t want to mention the word “assassin” and partially because he felt this wasn’t his story to tell, “We didn’t get overly involved in the jobs of others. So you should really talk to him about what his life was like in the Organization. I mean, he was in it longer than I was.”

“And these robes,” you said, needing to know if Axel lied to you that day, “Are these just worn by the Organization or do people actually use them to prevent exposure when traveling to other worlds?”

“Uh, both actually. The organization wears them sure, but we use those black portals to protect ourselves from darkness. I mean, they’re called corridors of darkness.”

You nodded. You didn’t want to ask for clarification, didn’t want to believe your best friend lied to your face when he said he wasn’t.

“And the two of you are still in the Organization?”

“Well, yes and no. We kinda left. I mean, Axel all but committed treason. Which is really frowned upon by the way.”

“What did he do?” you asked with a little bit of hope placed back into your friend.

“Well he protected you actually,” Demyx said with a smile. “The Organization doesn’t want another keyblade wielder like Sora running around and meddling in their plans, but Axel’s pretty much been looking out for you since day one.”

You felt a small swell of joy in your heart.

“Why though? If it would get him into a lot of trouble?”

Demyx shrugged with a smile.

“You’ll have to ask him that.”

“Okay. I will as soon as I get back,” you said as you turned to the train station. Demyx blinked in surprise.

“Get back? Wait! Where are you going?!”

This was going to be another one of those parts of the not plan he was not prepared for.

“I got a letter from someone who’s going to help me learn to master my keyblade, but I have to go now. My train leaves in like five minutes,” you said as you went to give the ticket master your ticket.

Demyx panicked. If this was a keyblade thing, he certainly couldn’t go. Namine was away at some institute he didn’t know where to find, and Axel wasn’t answering his phone. He tried to run through the list of people he could ask to go with you and thinking of no one.

No wait!

He ripped open a corridor to the lab Dreamfinder worked at in Disney Town, practically flying through it. He looked around frantically for the near inseparable duo and spotted them almost immediately.

“You!” he yelled, pointing to Figment who was sitting down to tea with Dreamfinder, “Let’s go!” Demyx said, grabbing Figment like a football.

“Heavens!” Dreamfinder swooned dramatically before fainting. Demyx ran back through the corridor and into Twilight Town just as you were boarding the train. Demyx held Figment up, looking him in the eyes.

“________’s going somewhere to learn keyblade stuff, and I don’t know if she’s allowed to bring anyone. But I gotta make sure that she’s safe! That’s why I picked you. Don’t let her or anyone else know that you’re there okay?”

Figment looked at him with wide, worried eyes but nodded, and Demyx smiled with relief. He let go, and Figment jetted off to you, slipping into your mind with you none the wiser.

Demyx breathed a sigh of relief. At least you wouldn’t be alone.

~

Axel woke up to darkness. It was jarring and unexpected initially, but then it all came rushing back to him. Vanitas, the fight, ________…. ________! He needed to find you! Now!

Axel landed on the hard ground with a thud. He’d taken more than just a beating, and that last blow to the head had his vision swimming, little black dots appearing in his vision as he struggled not to pass out.

He heard Vanitas’ breathless laugh drifted through the air as he limped to where Axel lay. His steps faltered a few times. Axel had given him a run for his money. But that’d been his fault. Axel knew Vanitas was tough, but Vanitas had assumed Axel would be weaker.

He let his keyblade drag along the ground next to him, hoping the noise of impending doom would illicit more of those negative emotions from him, but Axel was out of it.

No matter. He knew how to get a rise out of him even on the edge of consciousness.

He stood next to Axel who wearily looked up at him. He tried to push himself up, but Vanitas put a foot on his back and pushed him back down with ease.

“You know,” Vanitas began, letting out another dark chuckle, “I was gonna kill her.”

He felt the anxiousness rise up from Axel, body tensing beneath his foot. He smirked beneath his mask.

“Let me finish before you get all worked up. I said I was gonna kill her. But you know, I might let her live. Fighting you made me realize that. I’ll keep her around. Listen to her scream and beg for death that’ll be slowly coming for her. She’ll curse your name and the betrayal that brought about her suffering.”

Axel’s eyes clenched shut, trying to block the images from his mind of you being tortured by Vanitas. He was losing consciousness fast. He needed to get to you. Had to find you.

He felt Vanitas lift his foot off of him, and Axel gathered all the fight he had left in him and shot out a fireball. It caught Vanitas off guard, and he stumbled backwards.

Axel used those few precious seconds to open up a corridor around himself. He passed out before picking a destination though. But he was safe at least, floating in the space between.

Now he was awake, and his body ached all over. But he hardly had time to think about that now. He opened another corridor, going into Twilight Town and beginning his search for you, ignoring the stares of people who asked if he were okay or needed a doctor. He didn’t care right now. He needed to know where you were.

He saw Demyx walking in the distance, heading towards the hotel. Maybe you were there.

“Demyx!” he called, limping over. Demyx looked at him, eyes widening when he saw the beaten, bruised, and bloody state Axel was in.

“What the hell happened to you?! I thought I told you not to do anything stupid!” Demyx threw Axel’s arm around his shoulders to support him, and Axel welcomed the shift in weight. He was exhausted and carrying himself around was more and more of a hassle with each agonizing step.

“I fought Vanitas. He said he might know where ________ is. I need to find her.”

“Never mind that!” Demyx said, as he opened a corridor to let Axel into your hotel room. Your mother wasn’t there, but Demyx would explain everything to her later. He set Axel on the bed. “She’ll be fine. She’s not even in Twilight Town right now.”

“What?!”

“She just left. She’s with someone who will keep her safe. I’m gonna go into town and get some potions for you. You need to rest.”

“Wait!”

But Demyx had already left. Axel had no idea where you were, and that left him no choice but to lay on the bed and wait for Demyx to get back. He pulled out his phone, mildly surprised it had not been damaged in the fight. It was durable at least.

He had too many missed calls to count. Some from Demyx. Some from you. He felt a pang of guilt run through him as he wondered if you were calling for help. You didn’t leave any voicemails, and Demyx said you were safe and with someone safe. Whoever that was.

His exhaustion tried to pull him back under to sleep, but he couldn’t sleep until he knew where you were.

Demyx came back with an armful of potions. He opened one and handed it to Axel who downed it in one swig. He felt better at least and less tired. His bruises faded and his milder cuts sealed themselves seamlessly. The deeper cuts left scars behind in addition to the ones he’d accumulated over the years.

“Now tell me,” Axel began, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, “Where is she, and who is she with?”

“She didn’t say exactly,” Demyx said, as he realized you never actually said where you were going, “She just said she was going to meet with someone who would help with her keyblade stuff. I sent Figment with her just in case anything happened.”

“What’s Figment going to do if something happens to her?” Axel asked with a dry look. From what he understood, Figment was limited in ability outside of someone’s mind. Demyx shrugged.

“I don’t know! But it’s better than nothing! At least now we have someone who can give us info if anything does happen to her.”

Axel sighed and leaned back on the bed. He looked at his phone again and read all of his missed text messages. There was a new one from you from 6:08. That was roughly an hour ago.

***: I’m going somewhere for a while to train as a keyblade wielder. I’ll be back before you know it. And we need to have a talk. Be safe, Axel.

He didn’t know what the last part meant. But he felt the impending weight of the words “we need to have a talk.” It could be about anything, but there would no doubt be a moment mixed in where he should talk about who he really is and why he’s so involved with you.

Though he himself wondered why he was so involved with you. You were friends. He had Roxas. Then Roxas started acting on his own agenda, acting out against the Organization. And Axel had warned him not to. Tried to stop him. Couldn’t. And now Roxas was gone.

It had been when he was supposed to kill him and didn’t that he first didn’t act in the best interest of the Organization. Then you came along. You were presented as an opportunity for redemption. If they could trust him to take you out, then he’d be more well trusted again. Not fully. But he wouldn’t be on as low a rung as he was now.

But then you were pathetically pitiable since you hadn’t even seen the moon before. Then you had reminded him of Roxas, and suddenly it was that much harder to kill you. Now he was sticking his neck out there to keep you safe. Worse. He’d attacked someone working with the Organization. He was a traitor now.

But he didn’t regret it. He had lost one friend by choosing to stick by the Organization. Lost someone that made him feel again. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Demyx shuffled from foot to foot awkwardly. He wasn’t sure what to say in this situation. He was still getting used to the idea of emotion. Namine told him her theory, and he wasn’t so sure about it. But he liked the idea that he wasn’t just experiencing memories of emotions and still had them – was still himself before the Organization.

“She’ll be okay,” he offered, and Axel sat up to look at him. Then his eyes drifted to something on the bed next to him. He picked up the letter.

“She’s gone to see someone named Master Yen Sid,” Axel said after reading the letter, “Riku gave her the letter. That’s good. She’ll be fine.”

He seemed to be telling this to himself more than Demyx.

~

You kept staring out of the window. You could have sworn you saw something fly passed it. Though maybe it wasn’t anything in particular. A meteor or something? It wasn’t like that would be the most interesting part of this journey. No that was definitely the part where you had boarded a train to space apparently. You wondered what this meant for Master Yen Sid.

Where did he live exactly? You tried imagining all kinds of strange and fantastical places, but then again you had no idea what he looked like. Pops had said he was a toon, but that could mean he could be any number of people, places, or things. You wondered when you’d be there. You’d already been on the train for about an hour or so.

You started to get a little sleepy, feeling your eyelids droop. Your breathing slowed, and you were just about to rest your eyes for a minute when a tiny whisper floated by your ear. It was so small you almost missed it entirely beneath the sound of your own breathing.

You are nothing. Give up child, or forever join the ranks of the key-bearers that proceeded you.

Your eyes blinked blearily in confusion. There was no one else on the train. You shook your head. It was nothing. You were dreaming probably – unaware that you’d even fallen asleep.

~

Vanitas was unsure of Marluxia’s endgame. If he had to guess it had something to do with a grudge against Axel. He’d heard about the events of Castle Oblivion and knew that Axel played double agent. He knew that while Axel himself hadn’t offed Marluxia, he was definitely going to until Sora showed up.

That would explain why Marluxia told him where to find you. He’d found the mysterious tower with little trouble. If it existed in the lanes between and was accessible by train from Twilight Town, he could deduce that it would be at least near the town. He almost gave up looking until he saw your train go by. So he hopped a ride on top, quietly riding until the two of you reached your destination. He watched you leave the train, and he picked another hiding spot.

You were uneasy. He could feel that. The train vanished behind you. That made you even more uneasy. He reveled in your raw emotion for a bit. You walked up to the tower with slow cautious steps and knocked on the door. You were riddled with apprehension when no one answered.

He felt his tongue run over his lips. He was enjoying those emotions a bit too much. He watched you open the door and poke your head in. He didn’t know what was inside outside of a very powerful wizard. He knew it would be foolhardy to underestimate him. He’d only just recovered from his fight with Axel.

He’d wait until you got back.

You cautiously stepped into the tower and were met with stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.

“Hello?” you called. No answer. Looks like you were going up.

You went up the staircase for what felt like forever. The first room you entered was empty. So you went through the door and discovered more stairs. Hooray. The second room was also empty, and you wanted to kill yourself when you saw another corridor with another set of steps. You were going to die in this tower. This was obviously your first test as a keyblade wielder, and you were going to die and fail and not be a keyblade wielder. How many others had perished on this journey as you were about to?

Against all odds, you made it to the top of the tower. This new room looked like someone actually used it. Well that was a good sign. There was a desk with a skull on it with a candle melting over top of it. What kind of toon did Pops say this was again? There were also numerous bookshelves about with dusty tomes lining the shelves from end to end.

You caught your breath and walked around the room, gazing out of the large windows behind the desk. You looked out to the countryside. Or what of it that existed. You’d expected an entire world and to get off the train there. While the train still brought you where you needed to be, you didn’t expect an island floating in space amongst the shimmering green lights and stars in the sky. You looked at your phone. You’d took a picture as best you could. You wanted to show Axel. You wished he were there to see it with you.

You heard a little bell like chime and whipped your head to see something that made your blood boil.

An elevator.

There was a fucking elevator!

Out stepped quite possibly one of the most intimidating toons you’d ever seen. He was tall and imposing with eyes that seemed to look right through you. He had a long gray beard and wore a blue robe and a hat that matched the one on the wax seal your letter had. It made him seem even taller.

You were caught between bowing with respect and sticking your hand out to shake.

“You must be ________,” he said finally, voice old but still commanding. He moved to sit at the desk, and you circled around to be standing at the front of it.

Seriously. Were you supposed to curtsy or what? He noticed your slightly sweaty and out of breath state.

“Did you take the stairs? You know there is an elevator.”

You bit your tongue and all of the obscenities it longed to fling at him.

“It hadn’t occurred to me,” you answered dryly.

“Can I get you some water?”

Okay so he wasn’t all bad.

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

He snapped his fingers and in walked a broom. No really. It was a broom with arms. It saluted Master Yen Sid and awaited its next orders.

“Fetch, ________, some water please.”

It nodded – kinda – and left. Master Yen Sid turned back to you.

“My envoy Riku has been keeping an eye on you at my request, and he tells me a great deal about your progress as a keyblade wielder. I am to understand that you’ve chosen Axel as a teacher in combat and magic?”

“You know Axel?” No wait. That wasn’t an answer. “I mean, yes. He’s taught me a bit. The rest is on a training ground my uncle built.”

He nodded. Taking in this information.

“That is good. However, I’ll be assigning you a new teacher – one with experience using a keyblade. But tell me what you’ve learned so I understand the lessons you need to learn.”

“I know how to summon my keyblade armor and glider, but I only just recently got used to that one. I’m okay at sword and shield combat, but that’s it so far.”

He nodded as he stroked his beard.

“You’ve progressed farther than most keyblade wielders with your amount of training.”

You beamed with pride.

“But you still have much to learn,” he said, standing up and crossing the room to a map. He gestured for you to come closer. You did. He pointed to a location on the map.

“Your first lesson will take place here. Riku will meet you there to instruct you on the order. You’ve been lucky that every world you’ve visited thus far has some understanding of the existence of other worlds or has been one that you blend into without the help of magic. But this will be one that does not know of other worlds and has only a small collection of beings similar to yourself there.”

“So I’m going there to learn what exactly?”

“You will be learning how to change your appearance through magic so you can blend in as you visit different worlds.”

“I’m going to learn how to shapeshift?! That’s so cool!”

“I understand your excitement but know this: The order is something that cannot be ignored. Your knowledge of other worlds must be kept a secret, and therefore others cannot know where you truly come from. Take this lesson and the responsibility of your new role in the universe seriously.”

You calmed down and nodded.

“Go back to Twilight Town and prepare for your journey, and the next day travel to Riku where you will begin your training.”

“Thank you! Um, how will I get back? I took a train here, but it vanished as soon as I left.”

“You may use your glider and armor to get back. My realm exists in the lanes between. Use your keyblade to enter and exit the lanes between worlds.”

“Okay? And how do I find these other worlds from the lanes between?”

“May your heart be your guiding key,” he said cryptically.

Well what did that mean?!

If you had to guess, it meant the same thing as every other time you’ve had to use your keyblade for non-combat purposes. When you used it to unlock your father’s subconscious or used it to understand your heart better to find Axel and Figment.

“Thank you, Master Yen Sid for your wisdom and guida-AAH!!!”

You weren’t sure what happened. One moment you were thanking the almighty wizard, and next you were soaking wet. You looked behind you to see the broom from earlier standing there with an empty bucket. But why? Oh wait. Get some water. Ha-ha. Very funny. You were so fucking done right now.

“You know that isn’t what I meant,” Yen Sid said to the broom who just shrugged and walked away. You turned back to Yen Sid who was rubbing his temples. “Forgive him. He’s still learning.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna go,” you said as you trudged over to the elevator, not caring that you were dripping water over his nice, clean floors.

When you reached the bottom floor, you thought to call your friends and family to tell them you were on your way back since you neglected to tell them when you had arrived.

You called your mother. She was in a café now enjoying dinner before she’d head home. She was glad you made it there safe, and you told her you’d be back hopefully by the early morning since you’d left sometime around the beginning of the evening. You exchanged quick “I love you-s” and hung up.

You debated on whether or not if you should call Axel. He hadn’t picked up before, but maybe he would this time. But you had said you needed to talk. And you did. But you weren’t sure you were ready to hear the full story.

You bit your lip, debated it for another second then decided to do it anyway.

It rang twice before he picked up. You were almost surprised to see his face on your screen. It felt like it had been ages since you’d seen him – even though it had only been about two weeks.

“Axel,” you breathed, a small smile gracing your face. You couldn’t even remember what made you nervous about talking to him. You were just overwhelmed with how happy you were to see him safe and sound and wait –, “Are you in my room?!”

Axel laughed, making a show of reclining on your pillows. The nerve of this guy!

“You can’t just be in my room! That’s so inappropriate! And creepy! And are you wearing your coat in my bed?! You wear that thing literally everywhere! Take it off!” you were flustered though you weren’t exactly sure why that was.

“If you insist,” He said, unzipping the robe to reveal more skin. You stopped him before he got too low on his chest.

“No! Stop! Keep it on!” you said, trying so desperately not to take it all back so you could see what he looked like shirtless. You couldn’t look at the screen until you were sure it was zipped up all the way. He was giving you an amused look. He liked agitating you like this. He had since the first time he’d done it in Disney Town.

“Relax. It’s not like we’re in bed together,” he said with a smirk. He knew that would get another rise out of you, but you would not be had this time! No it was his turn to act like an idiot when someone flirted with him!

“I mean,” you said lowly with a smirk of your own, “I can change that.”

He gave you a look you’d never seen on him before. His eyes were half lidded and darker. The smirk on his face seemed much more devious now.

“I’ll be waiting,” he purred. Oh. Oh no. That wasn’t fair. He’s not allowed to do that!

You bit your lip to keep that stupid fucking smile off of your face.

“That’s not fair,” you said with a lilt of a giggle in your voice.

“I have no clue what you’re talking about,” he said, all hints of flirtatious deviousness gone from his voice. Oh no you don’t!

“You know exactly what I’m talking about!” you snapped back playfully. “You’re… you know!”

“What?” he asked, daring you to say it. And normally you wouldn’t. He knew you wouldn’t.

“You’re sexy,” you said bluntly, with a straight face. It obviously took him off guard because now he was a blushing mess on your phone, and it was so cute it made you want to die. You laughed at his expression.

He tried to keep his blush from getting any deeper when he heard you laugh. He missed it. He missed you. He didn’t even realize how much until he got to actually see you again.

“When will you be back?” he asked, trying to change the subject.

“Why? You miss me?” you teased.

“Yes,” he said back with a straight face. Your heart fluttered. You gave him a soft smile.

“Hopefully by tomorrow morning. Hey! If you’re back, that means we can hang out, right?” You were eager and excited again. He chuckled at your reaction, his eyes softening just a bit as he looked at you.

“Yeah. I’ll see you when you get here.”

“Yay! Bye!” you said, eyes bright and over excited.

“See you, ________.”

You hung up. You rushed out of the tower, now too hyped up at the prospect of seeing your friend again after all this time.

Vanitas watched you don your armor and hop on your glider. Huh… You were further along in your training than Saix thought. He doubted any of the Organization knew you were already capable of such things when Sora and Riku had yet to manage them.

You flew up into the sky and waited.

You bowed your head and closed your eyes and concentrated. You tried to feel where your heart would pull you. You thought it might be simple to single out the hearts of your friends and family, but you felt too many pulls in too many different directions. You couldn’t feel exactly where any of them led, so you picked one at random. And if you were wrong, you’d just have to try again.

You focused on the singular connection, opening a gate that looked like a hole in the fabric of existence. It was strange and surreal, but you knew it had been you who had made it. That gave you some comfort.

You flew through. It looked the same as before on the other side, but the pull you felt on your heart was stronger now. You were closer. You followed it, hearing the gate you’d opened up close behind you, unaware of the presence that slipped through at the last moment.

You flew towards the pull at a fast pace. You hoped this was the right one. You saw a planet in the distance, yet you weren’t sure. You hovered just outside of its atmosphere, trying to feel if the pull on your heart were the right one. It didn’t feel all too familiar. It probably wasn’t right. You took out your phone, ready to text everyone and say you were still figuring out this whole heart map mumbo jumbo that was supposed to miraculously lead you wherever you needed to be.

But maybe you should try again? You’d only done this once, and no one is an expert after their first try. Maybe just one more try, then you’ll text everyone about how hopelessly lost you were.

You felt for more connections, pushing through them to connect more strongly to something.

That was when you felt it.

A presence. It wasn’t a good one. It made your blood freeze and your heart hammer against your chest. You froze, hearing nothing but your own breathing within your helmet.

Then you were flung sideways, violently knocked from your glider and tumbling through space. You re-summoned your glider, righting yourself and seeing a man in a purple-black body suit with red highlights lined throughout. His face was completely obscured by his helmet.

He stood on his own glider; arms folded across his chest.

This was him. This was the presence you felt. He was trouble. You began to turn and run but almost as soon as you had started to glide away, he was in front of you, slamming his foot into your chest and knocking you backwards.

You coughed, struggling to breathe passed the pain. You righted yourself again as best you could. You didn’t think anything was broken, but you were certainly bruised to hell.

He was on you again before you could blink, kicking you in the head. Your vision was swimming, and you felt yourself slipping in and out of consciousness. Who was this guy? And what had you done to piss him off?

Passed your still doubling vision, you watched as he slowly approached you on his glider. But that wasn’t what caught your attention. It was… Figment? He’d turned himself into a mallet and was already mid-swing just before the masked stranger could harm you again.

Where had he come from? Had he been with you the whole time?

The stranger was barely affected by the hit, stumbling forward a bit on his own glider before reaching behind him to grab Figment.

You gasped, ignoring the pain in your chest as you did so to reach out to catch Figment as best you could in your delirious state as the masked stranger threw him. You curled around Figment to protect him from any harm as you felt the stranger grab you and punch you in your already dizzy head. You were fading faster now.

The stranger shook your shoulders lightly and your head bobbed back and forth. You held Figment tightly though. His grip on your shoulders tightened. You could feel a heated glare behind the mask as if he were displeased with you for some reason or another.

And he was displeased. You were a disappointment. Vanitas had assumed your ability to summon armor and a glider might mean you were more advanced than those other keyblade wielders that had the Organization running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But no. You were just some bitch who got lucky. Torturing you wouldn’t even be satisfying.

He grabbed you by your neck, just as you were feeling the rest of your consciousness slip from you and flung you towards the nearby planet. At least his job was done. You’d burn up in the atmosphere. And if that didn’t kill you, the crash landing most certainly would.

He noticed something floating just off to the side in his peripheral vision. It was your phone. He pocketed it. A trophy. Something to give to Axel to remember you by.

~

Figment desperately tried to wake you up as he clung to your falling form. You’d miraculously survived the part of the atmosphere you were supposed to catch fire in – he’d done his best to put you out, and your armor didn’t appear to be damaged at all. There was hope.

But you were halfway to the ground, and he doubted even the world’s best armor could protect you for a fall from such a height. He slapped you back and forth across the face repeatedly. He was running out of options and time.

Your eyes blinked blearily open. You saw Figment in your haze. Your head lolled to the side, and you saw a tree. It was enormous – the size of a mountain with intricate carvings of animals on every inch of its trunk.

Beautiful.

You fell out of consciousness again but very briefly this time. The next time you resurfaced, you were well aware of what was happening. You summoned your glider as quickly as you could, pulling up at the last second just as you were about to hit the ground at full force.

You didn’t have time to right yourself on the glider once you’d summoned it. You only barely managed to hang on to it with one hand as you used it to save your skin.

Your fingers slipped off shortly after and you landed in a rough tumble across the ground being battered against hard rock and soil, hearing a snap and feeling a sharp pain in your leg that had your vision blurring as your eyes welled up with tears.

You cried out when you felt the break, gasping in pain with every other hit you took as you rolled across the ground. You finally slammed into a tree, back first and stopped. You vision was blurring again but this time it was because you were losing consciousness. You looked around you as the darkness creeped in at the edges of your vision. Around you were a layer of thick vegetation that formed a canopy of green over your head.

You turned your head to the side to see where you had tumbled in from. You had mowed down quite a bit of bushes and sapling trees in your crash. You could see in the distance the mountainous tree from before. Figment quickly popped into view, removing your helmet and looking in your eyes with his own bright yellow ones. His brow was creased in concern as you faded into unconsciousness once more.

Chapter Text

Axel had a strange sense of foreboding when he went to the hotel to check on you. You should have been back by now, and maybe he was conceited to think it, but he’d hoped you’d have been practically dying to come see him. Hmm. Yeah, now that he thought about it, it was extremely conceited. Especially since it was him who was almost dying to see you – make sure you were okay, didn’t have any trouble getting back, didn’t see anyone suspicious. He was just as eager to hang out as he was to make sure he was safe though. It was already midafternoon by the time he decided to visit you himself. Because maybe you were with your mother and catching up with her to have a little family time. There was no cause for worry. But he did anyway.

He knocked on the door to your hotel room, and your mother swung open the door and visibly deflated when she saw him. It was all he needed to see.

“She’s not back is she?” he asked. Your mother, face wrinkled with worry, shook her head.

“I had hoped that she’d just forgotten to text or call me when she got back. I had hoped she was with you or Demyx.”

Axel checked his own phone. No new calls or messages. No voicemails. Nothing.

He was far more worried now. He didn’t wait. He immediately opened a corridor to Disney Town.

“I’ll find her,” he said over his shoulder to your mother as he stepped through the corridor. He entered Ludwig’s lab. Ludwig was hunched over several papers and books on the hearts of worlds. Dreamfinder was fiddling with a machine that displayed static on the screen – sorting out memories perhaps.

“Have either of you seen ________?” Axel started, not bothering with formalities. They both looked up startled, too absorbed in their work to have noticed him.

“It’s not her training day,” Ludwig responded, casting a confused glance at a nearby calendar.

“This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with Figment would it?” Dreamfinder asked as he eyed Axel warily.

“No, but I know he’s with her. Demyx told me he sent Figment along with her to keep an eye on her in case anything went wrong. She was supposed to be back earlier today, but I haven’t seen or heard from her. Neither has her mother.”

“Do you think they could be in trouble?” Ludwig asked, leaving his desk and stepping closer.

“I don’t know,” Axel answered honestly. You very well could be in trouble, but what kind was what worried him the most. If you were lost at least it meant there was a chance to find you again. If Vanitas or one of the other Organization members had gotten to you, it was almost certain that you were dead. And he didn’t like to think about that. It made him feel sick and angry and hurt.

So he held on to hope. Hope that somewhere you were alive and well.

~

You were alive but not well.

You blinked your eyes open when you felt drops of moisture hit your head. Then many more came after that. It was raining, you realized.

You wished you were under better circumstances to appreciate seeing it for the first time, but you could only look around in panic at the foreign environment. You scrambled to get up when a searing pain shot up your leg.

You screamed, sobbing a little after as tears welled up in your eyes. Figment was up and over to you in a second. He hadn’t left your side since you’d crashed. He wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t have the ability to open gateways to other worlds to get back to your own and get help. And you couldn’t do it. Your leg was obviously broken. He looked at it again. Your armor had disappeared shortly after you lost consciousness again, so he could see it. Your tibia was snapped. It wasn’t bent in too odd an angle so he could assume at worst it may have been a fracture rather than a clean break. But the point was that you weren’t going anywhere any time soon in this condition.

“This isn’t happening,” you whimpered, tears falling from your face in grief this time rather than pain. You hugged yourself tightly. “I can get out of this in no time. I’ll just call him, and he’ll come get me. Him and everyone else.”

It sounded forced and desperate as you were saying it. You felt around for your phone. Nothing. You must have dropped it. Somewhere.

You looked around. You were in a jungle. There was no way you were going to find that phone. There was no way they were going to find you. Your leg was broken. It would take at least six weeks for it to heal. You couldn’t survive out here for that long.

“I can build a signal fire. They can follow it here.”

But you weren’t even in the right world for that. They were in an alternate one that you couldn’t even reach right now.

Another choked sob forced itself from your throat. Figment just watched as you forced your way through your situation, trying to find a solution. He’d thought about all of them, and none of them were viable options. Well, except survival. It was your only option.

You seemed to realize this after a few minutes, and so you began to cry. You cried and cried until you couldn’t cry anymore.

Then you sat there and sniffled for a while. The rain had soaked through your clothes and you shivered. The air was warm and humid, but the rain caused the wind to chill you to the bone. Something about the bracing cold made you snap out of it a little. Figment watched some clarity appear in your eyes as you thought about your current situation. Several expressions flickered over your face before it settled on pain.

You took a deep shuddering breath.

“Figment, I need you to find two sturdy, straight sticks. About this big,” you said, holding up your hands to about the length of your lower leg. He nodded.

He flew off to gather them and was back in about half an hour. You took them then ripped the bottom half of your shirt off. Then you split that in half to make two strips of fabric. You were a little upset that you had to rip the shirt. It was the little dragon one you’d bought in Twilight Town the first day you were there. You laughed a little at yourself. What a trivial thing to be upset about considering your current situation.

“This is gonna suck,” you said lightly whispering to yourself. Now that was funny. This was way worse than just “it’s gonna suck.” Being late to a date sucked. Breaking your favorite pair of high heels sucked. This was way worse.

You picked up a nearby piece of wood and wiped it off on your already dirty, ruined shirt. It would have to do for now. Figment had an idea of where this was going. He wasn’t looking forward to it either.

“I need you to set my leg,” you said looking at Figment. You felt your stomach cramp at the thought of how bad this was going to be. It was risky you knew. You had no x-ray to know if it would be set properly, and it was extremely dangerous as you might hit an artery. But you couldn’t function with it like this, and there were no doctors nearby to help you. You were stranded, and no one you knew was going to come help you. At least not for a few days, but you’d be possible dead by then. It was time to act like no one was ever going to come. You were on your own.

Figment moved over to your leg and looked at you, waiting for you to signal that it was okay to start. He looked nervous. He knew this was dangerous. He knew the two of you had no choice.

You placed the wood between your teeth, clenched your fists, and closed your eyes. Taking a deep breath, you nodded at Figment. He hesitated the began to right your leg as best you could.

You screamed and cried around the obstruction in your mouth, and you thought you might pass out again from the pain. It was excruciating, and you thought you might not be right again, but then Figment approached you to tell you it was done.

You lay there for a while to get passed the pain before you set to work with Figment’s help to structure a splint for your leg. It was crude, and it was no cast, but it would at least make sure your leg wouldn’t heal completely wrong.

It was still raining.

You needed shelter. And water.

“Figment, could you find a place with water? I need to get there.” He nodded and flew off. You lay there and once he was gone, began to cry again. You wanted to go home. You missed Pops and Dreamfinder and your mother. You missed Namine and Demyx. You missed Axel. You wanted to lay in your bed and sleep and forget about everything for a few hours.

This was hopeless. How were you going to manage this? You were stranded with a broken leg. You could look at the bright side. The person who had caused this had obviously meant to kill you. And against all odds you had lived.

Hmm. No, the thought that there was a homicidal maniac somewhere trying to kill you didn’t make you feel any better.

Figment didn’t come back for an hour, and you were at least hopeful to know that he had indeed found a body of water to move towards. He pointed in the direction and you nodded.

You took a few deep breaths, bracing yourself before rolling to on to your hip, injured leg up. It still hurt like hell, but you imagined it would be far worse without the splint to keep it from jostling as much. You brought you good leg under you and pushed up as best you could. You managed to get into a standing position, balancing on one leg. You summoned your keyblade and used it as a makeshift crutch. It wasn’t as long as a crutch, so it was really more like a cane. But it was the best you could do.

You hobbled down hill for about an hour when you came to a clearing. You could see the tree better now despite how far in the distance it was. It was the largest tree you’d ever seen. You studied the trunk for a moment. It had weird patterns all over it, and you wondered what force of nature had caused it. But you didn’t have too much time to focus on it.

You looked at the sky. The rain had let up a little, but it was still coming down in steady, fat drops. The sky was gray and coated in a blanket of clouds, but it was bright out. You couldn’t tell what part of the day it was, but you could guess you had a few hours of sunlight left.

You continued to hobble down the hillside after Figment, taking frequent breaks to rest your leg and occasionally cry. Figment was patient with you. He understood you were probably a little depressed. The fact that you were managing to do anything at all in your mental state was amazing – even if it was just walking.

It took another hour or so before you reached the water. The rain had stopped a bit ago, and you were grateful. The water Figment led you to was a wide stream that began at a small waterfall and flowed through the rest of the jungle.

You hobbled to the waters edge. You were still wary of water. You didn’t like this. But you had no choice either. You struggled to get on the ground, even with Figments help, until you were laying on your stomach, propped up by your elbows just at the water’s edge.

You splashed your face with the water, to clear the dirt and sweat from your face. It was cool against your skin, colder than the rain had been. You ran your tongue over your lip. It wasn’t salty either. That was good. You could drink this then.

Ugh. But it wasn’t clean. And it was probably full of dirt and clay. You looked at the edge of the stream. You were lying on bright red clay and dirt. It clung to your skin and clothes and contrasted sharply against it. Yeah you couldn’t drink this without at least boiling it or something.

You could probably use your magic to start a fire. You weren’t that good at it yet. You hardly made flames bigger than a candle’s light. But you didn’t have a choice. You also had nothing to boil it in.

“We have to boil it,” you said to Figment, “We don’t have anything to boil it in.”

Figment paced around for a bit, getting red clay on his feet and leaving little dragon prints behind in the clay. A little water from the stream gurgled up and lapped over where he was pacing, filling the little hole.

You gasped before frantically digging at the clay near the water. Figment watched you closely. You were probably going mad. Funny. That usually took a few days.

You finally stopped when you had a sizeable ball of clay and sand in your lap. Your hands were stained with bright red. You pounded all the lumps together then began to make a large bowl shape. Figment caught on quick and began to do the same.

“The sun’s not out,” you said, suddenly dejected. “These won’t dry right. We can’t get water today, and we can only hope that the sky clears up soon so we can use the sun to dry them out.

Figment dug a pit in the ground and flew off to get something. What? You didn’t know.

When he came back, his little arms were full of sticks and leaves. He threw the leaves into the pit then lay the sticks over the pit in a crisscross pattern. He got ready to breathe fire into it when you stopped him.

“Wait!” you called. He stopped and looked at you with a quizzical gaze.

“Let me do it,” you said, practically crawling over to where he knelt near the fire pit. “I need to do this.”

You needed to take care of yourself too.

You moved the sticks resting on top around a bit so you could get to the leaves below. You held one in your hand and concentrated. You tried channeling your magic as best you could.

Come on, ________. Think of happy things. Think of happy things. Warm nights and cozy places and sweet smells.

It wasn’t working. You weren’t happy. You were upset. You were lost and cold and hungry. The only people who could rescue you were literally worlds away, and your leg was broken. If anything you were angry. You hated yourself right now. You hated this planet. You hated your magic which never wanted to work when you needed it. You hated that prick who knocked you here in the first place.

The leaf began to burn where your hand gripped it. You wanted it all to burn. Everything. It ignited in a blue flame and you flung it heatedly back into the pit where it slowly began to spread to the other things Figment had gathered in the pit. Soon you had a small blue fire. Figment put your bowls over the fire. They wouldn’t be ready for a good few hours.

You huffed from where you sat on the ground, throwing a miniature tantrum in your head and wishing you had more things to burn.

You cooled off after about half an hour, staring up into the bright, gray sky in almost a trance as you watched the vague shapes of clouds overlapping each other float by slowly. Eventually Figment approached you again. He tugged on your sleeve to get you to move.

“What you want?” you grumbled out. He made a house gesture with his hands.

Oh. Right. Shelter.

“I don’t know how to make one of those,” you said, fully prepared to just deal with the elements as they came. You prayed storms were not a thing you’d have to experience. Figment rolled his eyes and gave you a dry look. You knew damn well you couldn’t just brave the elements. You weren’t a survivalist. You were an unlucky 19-year-old girl.

“Well I don’t,” you stressed. Even if you wanted to, lack of knowledge about such things proved to be a barrier you could not surpass – not that you were trying too hard. You were sad and angry again. And unproductive.

Figment gestured to himself.

You know how to make a shelter?” He nodded. You didn’t need to be told that he was going to make a shelter, he would need your help. You struggled up with Figment’s help, letting out steady streams of swears when you accidentally jostled your leg. Figment led you back into the jungle, instructing you to cut down a few sturdy branches with your keyblade. You could only carry one at a time, but apparently that was all you needed.

You dropped it back off at the camp, and Figment led you back into the jungle to get several much smaller and more bendy branches. You needed a lot of these, and it took several trips to get a decent bundle together.

Figment did most of the work for the next part, pulling down broad leaves that were at least a foot wide from tall trees and several leaves that were only an inch wide but several feet long from shorter trees. It took several trips to bring back all of those too. You could only carry enough to fill one arm, and apparently Figment needed every damn leaf in the forest.

You dug up roots next. Flexible yet strong. You used them to tie things together. He guided you the basic process of constructing a lean to. Motioning for you to weave the sticks through each other. That one is too high. That one is too low. Good. Weave the leaves through. You left a hole in it. If it rains, you’ll get wet.

It was near maddening work with only silent instruction to go by, but it got done. It was a modest structure, but you felt a small sense of accomplishment come with having made it.

The bowls were almost done. Figment had been turning them this way and that as the hours between your trips deep into the jungle and back and building your new lean-to structure ticked by. They were almost as hard as stone. You’d have fresh, clean water soon enough.

You sat beneath the roof of your new shelter. It looked out towards the stream and waterfall. Now that you had calmed some and could relax for a bit, you could appreciate its beauty. The nature here was more untamed than the forest in Twilight Town, but it was no less beautiful.

Eventually your appreciation gave way to sadness again. You curled in on yourself as best you could with your broken leg and began to cry again. You missed everyone so desperately, and you had no idea if they’d ever come for you, if you’d survive long enough for them to get to you once they realized you were missing.

The sky was getting darker. It had to have been at least sometime in the afternoon by now.

Figment approached you again once he had set the pots down to cool.

“What now?” you whined out. Then your stomach grumbled. Figment motioned that that was “what now.” You needed food this was a fact. You began to stand up, but Figment motioned for you to stay put for now. Then he flew off at breakneck speed to who knows where.

You had actually begun to doze off when Figment came back. You were getting cranky with the inconsistent time to rest. He’d given you breaks sure, but it never felt like enough. And your leg was constantly throbbing in a dull pain. And when you moved, it escalated to sharp stinging pains.

You couldn’t imagine how bad it might be without the splint.

Figment helped you into a standing position, and you wobbled unsteadily as you tried to balance on your keyblade. You were normally better at balance than this. Maybe you were still shaken up.

You hobbled after Figment regardless.

He led you to a guava tree. You’d never eaten them before, just saw them in stores back home in the tropical fruit section. It was fortunate to find one here. Your stomach let out another growl, and you moved to the tree. You couldn’t use one of your legs, but surely your arms would be enough to get up the tree.

Figment stopped you with a stern look. You leaned heavily on the tree. It was a welcome support as opposed to your keyblade which caused you to lean quite a bit just to be able to hobble around with it.

There were quite a few of them there – most dark green and some a bright yellow green. You could assume if you found them in stores yellow-green, then they were the ones that were okay to eat.

“Only get the bright ones,” you told Figment. He nodded and flew and proceeded to knock them down. You picked them up as best you could, shoving one into each of your pockets and using what was left of your shirt to hold more. You could hold more like that than you could in one arm since the other would be needed to lean on your cane-blade.

Ugh. You felt so damn useless.

Once you were back at camp, Figment filled one of the bowls with water and added more kindling to the fire before setting some water to boil. You dumped the fruit into the other bowl and moved it near the lean to.

Figment began to clear the ground of excess leaves until there was a clear patch of dirt beneath the covering of your lean to. Then he laid the small twigs you’d gathered there and covered it with small blankets of moss. You imagined it was because it was a softer covering. But Figment did it so you wouldn’t lose all of your body heat in the leaves and dirt overnight. After all, you had no idea how cold it might be at night.

The sun was definitely beginning to dip below the horizon as the fire began to be the brightest thing you could see. You were happy to have everything done by night fall. You would survive. You would. You kept repeating this to yourself, and it didn’t feel wholly untrue with everything that had passed up until now.

You had clean water and food by the time the sun had gone away. And you were able to push back your sadness enough to enjoy the view of the stars. It reminded you of being on the Destiny Islands with Axel. You missed him and wondered if he was thinking of you too.

~

Axel couldn’t stop thinking about you. He would not lose you. Not like Roxas where he had practically let him walk out of his life.

While your whole day had gone by, not much time had passed for Axel or anyone else for that matter due to the world time differences. In fact, by the end of their first day of searching, a little over a week had gone by for you. They combed Twilight Town and Disney Town repeatedly to search for you in case you showed up there. They called you endlessly, but you never answered. Your phone would often go straight to voicemail.

“Axel, you should rest,” you mother said, when he came back to see if you were there for the umpteenth time that day. They didn’t know where to look. Axel had never been to Yen Sid’s realm before and had no means of getting there to see if you’d left and gone back without telling anyone. Though he knew deep down the Organization was somewhere behind all of this. He could only hope that they had recruited you as a nobody in the best-case scenario.

He didn’t want to think about the worst.

Axel looked at your mother when she said this, seeing the concern for him in her eyes. He let out a dreary sigh and sat down on your bed. He hadn’t slept yet. Not when he thought he might see you. He thought about coming the woods again. Maybe you were out there for who knows what reasons.

He knew you weren’t out there. He wished you were. At least then he could see you again.

“I can’t sleep,” he finally admitted. He was restless almost all the time. It wasn’t like he didn’t feel his body’s constant exhaustion. He felt that to the point of pain. He was pushing his limits and he knew it. But when his body wasn’t restless, his mind was. He was haunted by what Vanitas said.

“I’ll keep her around. Listen to her scream and beg for death that’ll be slowly coming for her. She’ll curse your name and the betrayal that brought about her suffering.”

“You should at least try,” you mother encouraged gently. “I know you care a great deal for ________. She means a lot to you, and I can’t thank you enough for trying to help find her. But you can’t look if you haven’t slept. You won’t be able to see properly or function. Your body needs rest.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said, not meeting her eyes. He checked his phone. No missed calls or messages.

Your mother let out a weary sigh. She’d been a mental wreck. She told her boss that her daughter was missing, and, of course, the boss told her to look for her and gave her time off. She almost wished she were still working, needing the distraction. It was hell being unable to traverse universes and search alongside Axel and Demyx, but she knew they left no stone unturned.

Demyx was worried as well. He worried for Axel too. Axel was coming undone, and he worried what would happen if the search extended too long. Someone would have to tell him at some point that they might be looking for a body.

He shuddered to think of it, so he kept trading off with Axel to search Disney Town and Twilight Town. Well trading off was a stretch since whenever Demyx needed a break, Axel was flying between both realms searching. He was going to wear himself out sooner than later.

~

By the middle of the second week, you’d finished bargaining with yourself that anyone would find you. And you were thrown into your thoughts of your mysterious attacker. Why had this happened to you? Why did they attack you of all people?

You vaguely recalled Demyx mentioning to you about how the Organization wanted you out of the picture. Had they sent him?

He wasn’t wearing the coat though. Could he just have been some random and violent stranger? You doubted it.

He had glider too. Was he a keyblade wielder? Or did he just have a glider? You hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary about him outside of his strange fashion choices.

You groaned out in frustration. Figment glanced at you from where he sat. You had been doing that a lot lately. You were angry.

He glanced at the fire before removing the sticks from over its top so they wouldn’t burn up. The fire flared up as you let out another huff. You still couldn’t get fire to appear every single time you wanted it to, but you were getting very good at it very fast – able to produce fires much bigger than before. But you still seemed linked to any fire you created, regardless of if you were trying to summon it or not.

You didn’t necessarily need anger to do it anymore or happy thoughts. You’d gotten much more familiar with your magic and yourself. It was a part of you now, and you realized that your emotions were still tied to it. If you got to emotional, sometimes you’d flare up. It didn’t mean you weren’t allowed to express yourself, but you had to keep an eye on your magic. It flowed through you like blood and boiled just as easily when emotional.

You were still caught in your thoughts. You knew being a keyblade wielder was dangerous. You knew it from the very beginning when you were a no name vigilante on Spaceship Earth. But you’d always been attacked by creatures and monsters and heartless. This was a person. Someone who had an advanced cognitive ability to think about their actions outside of the base need to kill on instinct.

It frightened you. That there was someone who didn’t have a drive to kill you because of instinct but because they wanted to kill you. You knew the Organization had had similar intentions, but you hadn’t seen any attempts to do so.

But Demyx also said that Axel had been looking out for you from the beginning. How many attempts had they actually made without your knowledge that Axel had stopped? How many people actually wanted you dead?

It was overwhelming and scary. And oddly enough it didn’t make you want to curl up and cry. No, you were done crying on this miserable planet that you’d been stranded on in the hopes that you’d be dead. No, you were angry and fully prepared to survive out of spite alone. You wanted to find them. To end them. Them, and their plans to steal the hearts of people. To make sure they never hurt you or anyone else again.

You remembered how you felt the first day you were here and trying to start a fire. You felt similar now. You wanted everything to burn. Your body felt hot but not unpleasantly so.

Figment was looking at you in concern now. Your body had small blue flames flickering across it. He really hoped you wouldn’t burn down the lean-to.

~

You couldn’t live off of fruit alone. You needed protein, and the guavas and pineapples you found were far from it. There were fish living in the stream, but you often had more trouble than anything catching them.

You’d finally gotten used to water again. You’d had to but going under water was still strictly a no-no. Needless to say, you hadn’t learned to swim in your time here. You’d crawl into the water on all fours, minding your leg and would try to snatch the fish up, but it proved to be too difficult.

You were trying again because you didn’t know what else to do. You couldn’t find any beans or other plants good for protein. You resulted to trying to use your keyblade.

You held it like a spear above your head. You had next to no luck in getting it to actually spear a fish. If it did manage to hit anything, it split it in half and the pieces would be carried away by the current, even with your mad scramble to try and grab it. You hated your limited range of movement.

It was one day when you were bathing beneath the waterfall you saw a particularly large fish nearby. It wasn’t humongous, but it was sizable. Maybe your keyblade would be able to not slice it in half. Maybe you could catch this one.

You lifted your blade above your head, balancing as best you could on your one leg. You were getting good at it in moving water after two and a half weeks. You concentrated. You needed this to work. Then something changed.

You glanced to the side and saw your keyblade had changed its form. It kept the aesthetic of how it had looked before with the dragon and flame, but now that was merely a design on the staff of what looked like double-sided spear. The two spear heads were the sun and moon that had been at the hilt of your keyblade. You were surprised, but two and a half weeks in the wilderness had taught you not to waste the opportunity. And newfound abilities rarely stuck around long from what you’d learned with your armor, shield, and glider when you’d first gotten them.

You quickly took aim and threw your spear with all of your strength. It stuck in the sediment below, clouding the water so you couldn’t see the results of your throw. Then a little pool of red began to form.

You scooped the spear up so see a dead fish hanging from the other end. The spear quickly remade itself into a keyblade, and you quickly scrambled to catch the fish which had fallen now that there was nothing to support it. You barely managed to catch it and keep yourself from falling into the water.

There was blood smeared across your chest and arms and was dripping steadily down the rest of your body, but you hardly cared now. You were ecstatic to show Figment what you’d gotten.

He was as happy as you had been. He fashioned some tools out of clay and you gutted the fish and deboned it as best you could. You almost cooked it in your bare hands due to your eagerness to eat it. You’d almost done just that when you were bringing it back in your excitement. You’d gotten much better at building fires and creating them yourself considering how often you had to make them.

The fish tasted awful. It wasn’t seasoned, and it was bland and almost tasteless excluding the fish’s own natural flavor. But you couldn’t overlook that it was the first hot meal you’d had in a long time. You couldn’t wait to go home and have hot meals again. You truly did not realize how you took things for granted until you were stranded with only fruits readily available to you. And even those you had to forage for.

You couldn’t wait to do a lot of things. Like see your friends and family. You’d given up hope that they were going to come for you. They had no way to find you. No way to know where you were. And you had to accept the fact that they probably assumed you were dead. Or at least that they’d never be able to find you again.

It made you upset to think that – especially for your mom who only had you. And here you were. For all you knew, planets or galaxies or worlds away.

But you felt for them every day, using your heart to find them. It had taken a very long time – days actually – but then you happened to find one. Axel. It was bright and familiar to you and you reached out to it but felt nothing in return.

Maybe you were too far away.

Slowly but surely, you eventually found all of them. And they were a comfort to you on the long nights that got lonely and when you afraid and having nightmares and when you missed them more than life itself.

~

Axel collapsed from exhaustion at the end of the third day of looking for you. They placed him in your room to sleep while your mother kept a wary eye on him whenever she wasn’t out looking for you herself.

~

You stood at the edge of the water. The sun shone gently on your face, lightly warming your skin. You gazed at the tree in the distance. A gentle breeze blew by, and you heard the soft footsteps of someone behind you. You turned to look and saw Axel.

He looked surprised to see you there. And happy. And relieved. He hugged you tightly, and you hugged back equally tight. You missed him so much. You often had dreams like this, some idealistic but ultimately empty hope that Axel would come for you – be there for you like he always had been before he had to leave. Those dreams hurt you the most. And they didn’t stop hurting even when a month on this planet had passed.

He pulled away, keeping his hands on your shoulders as he studied your face, committing every detail to memory.

You stared at his eyes, the pretty green something you missed seeing so dearly. You were much better than you had been when you had arrived. You would be leaving soon.

“I miss you,” you said finally.

“I’ll find you,” he said with a note of finality in his voice. He looked around you, spotting the tree in the distance and looking at your surroundings. It was an odd place for him to dream. He’d seen plenty of jungles in his travels but none with a tree like that in the distance.

“I’ll find you,” you promised. You knew this was just a dream, and Axel couldn’t know what you were saying or promising. But you felt better saying it.

~

Axel awoke with a start. His vision was blurred. When he blinked, he realized his eyes were clouded with unshed tears. He continued to blink them away.

“Are you alright?” Axel looked at your mother. She was giving him a concerned look.

“Bad dream,” he mumbled, sitting up on your bed.

“Tell me about it,” she said, sitting on her own bed, “I could use the distraction.”

So he did. He told her about his short dream of being in the jungle. Of feeling like he was being called to the beach. Of seeing you and telling you that he’d find you. Of the large tree in the distance that seemed to be the size of a mountain with strange shapes he couldn’t quite make out decorating the tree from top to bottom.

Your mother’s eyes widened at that.

“We need to go see Ludwig,” she announced suddenly, standing up abruptly, “I don’t know where ________ is, but I have an idea.”

~

The hand tightened around his neck. He hoped it wouldn’t bruise. Though he supposed that should be the least of his worries. Xemnas didn’t play around, so this was either a very strong threat or he was going to die.

“Have I done something to upset you?” Marluxia asked with strained breath. Xemnas’s grip tightened even more.

“What you have yet to do is my main concern. Tell me. How hard is it for a high-ranking member of the Organization to catch vermin?”

Was that a rhetorical question? His eyes drifted to Saix who stood just behind Xemnas. His glare was no warmer than Xemnas’s.

“This was your task. Your only task, and I’m not going to be lenient with deadlines any longer. Axel’s betrayal has shown what comes of letting you have too much free reign. You will catch the duck. You will bring him here. And if you do not –”

“You’ll turn me into a dusk?” Marluxia finished for him.

“No. I will do to you what I did to Saix. I will show you what true loyalty looks like.”

Marluxia’s eyes drifted towards Saix again, eyeing the large scar in the center of his otherwise beautiful face.

“I… understand,” Marluxia croaked out. Xemnas eyed him for a moment longer before dropping him. Marluxia collapsed, hand moving to the tender flesh of his neck. He glared balefully at the retreating figures of his superiors. Damn them both.

“Are you alright?”

It was Larxene. She looked down at him with an almost neutral expression on her face, though worry darted through her eyes.

“No,” he answered darkly, “But I will be.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going make their precious Organization turn on them. Then I’m going to destroy Kingdom Hearts. I’ll show him how to destroy vermin.”

Larxene let a slow, devious smile spread across her face.

“Okay. So how do we take down the Organization?”

Chapter Text

You saw something. You awoke from your dream of Axel in the middle of the night when a light storm was blowing over. You huddled back as far into your little shelter as you could to keep dry, and for the most part it was working. It wasn’t a chilly night, which you were thankful for, but the rain would certainly make you feel cold. Occasionally a streak of lightning would rip across the sky.

But that was when you could see it best.

Light would flash in the sky and you would see the giant figure of something in the distance. Well it didn’t actually look that big, but at the distance you were, you knew it would be enormous up close. It would stand in the branches of the mountain-tree and turned this way and that, the lower half of its body obscured by the many leaves and branches of the tree. And yet that was also when you began to feel a pull. It was the same pull that called you to the realm of this world in the first place. You had felt it dully in your heart for a while, but you just assumed it was because you were here. But now the pull felt stronger and it was on the tree where whatever that thing was, was located.

You nudged Figment awake, eyes never leaving the spot where the figure was. He got up, took the sleeping mask off of his eyes, and looked at you crankily, not that you noticed.

“Figment look at that thing,” you said.

And he did look. You looked to where he was to see a dust cloud shaped like Figment dissipating where he once was. Then you felt him shivering next you on your other side. You could understand his fear. Watching the figure eerily reminded you of the giant heartless that lurked in your father’s mind. But the call you felt in that direction was stronger than your fear.

Figment looked between you and where your gaze was pointed, still looking where the figure last was. And he saw that look in your eyes. He always saw that look when you were going to do something he generally didn’t approve of. Like heading towards the figure on the mountain.

He flew in front of your face, arms crossed, and gave you a stony glare. You met him with an even gaze.

“Someone needs help, Figment. And I have no idea if it has to do with that,” you pointed to the darkness where the figure once was, “But I have to go there. We may not even see it. But there’s someone out there.”

Figment pointed to your leg.

It was almost healed. You could put weight on it without it sending crippling pain through your body, but you still did not rest on it. You were summoning your spear with more ease now. It made a much more effective support than your regular keyblade had been.

Figment dropped to his knees to beg you to not go there, hands clasped tightly in a pleading gesture as he stared up at you with big, sad puppy eyes. You were doing fine. You were successfully surviving the wilderness – had been for a month now. You’d be able to leave in a few weeks when your leg was completely healed. You were going to be able to go home.

Why? Why when they were so close to leaving, did your hero complex have to kick in? It was the same complex your father had when Figment knew him. It was the same one that landed him in the experimentation lab. But you had a chance to escape – leave this planet behind and never come back.

But you were going to abandon that for people you didn’t know with problems you didn’t know if you could solve that most likely involved the giant creature on the mountain.

“I don’t like it either, but I have a job to do,” you grumbled as you looked in the distance again. “But I’m no good like this. I’ll wait until I’ve fully recovered.”

~

Recovering was hard when you were running out of food options. The pineapples had been depleted, and there weren’t many ripe guavas left on the tree. And the fish were already scarce to begin with, but now they were even more so.

To be honest, you were surprised your hunting and foraging has lasted as long as it had between you and Figment. Rations were low until the two of you would be able to find a new steady source of food for the next few weeks.

When you were down to enough guavas to maybe last a week if you only had two for a meal. And that was one meal a day. You also had a small fish, but you knew you’d need to eat that soon before it spoiled. You were growing desperate. There would not be enough to last more than one more week, and you had already cut down to one meal a day. Figment had stopped eating all together when he realized the food was going to run out, and he didn’t need to eat.

The two of you finally decided to go hunting. Now normally you wouldn’t bother. With your leg, you could hardly track, trek, or chase anything. It was hard for you to keep quiet with how you had to hobble around on your spear for support, so most animals ran from you as soon as you approached. And after three hours of attempting to hunt, you were ready to throw in the towel.

Then the two of you spotted something. A sizeable enough bird lying on its back, with bright red and yellow feathers. Its legs were trapped under a tree branch, and it flapped its blue and green wings in a desperate attempt to get out. It probably got caught under a branch knocked down by another one of the storms that had blown in the night before.

It wasn’t much, but it was food.

You looked at Figment who looked back at you. You both nodded. It was better than nothing.

Figment handed you a large rock. It wouldn’t take much. You just had to bash it over the head, and you’d at least have food for the next day.

You inched closer to the bird kneeling down next to it. It looked between you and the rock and began to flap its wings frantically. You lifted the rock up, silently counting down from ten to yourself. You couldn’t afford to back out, so you had to just do it at one and let it be over with. Then it stopped flapping its wings. It looked at you just as you reached two.

.

.

.

You dropped the stone. You couldn’t do it. You didn’t know why it was easier to kill fish, but something about this bird was just sad to you. It made your heart ache. You let out a sigh, feeling like you wanted to cry but refusing to do so.

“I’m sorry,” you apologized before rolling the branch off of the bird. It looked alright for the most part. It flipped itself right side up and walked a few steps before taking off into the sky.

Figment watched the little exchange and sighed. He gave you a look when you walked back over to where he was. You shrugged.

“I couldn’t do it,” you sighed to him. He sighed too. He may not have been able to do it either, so he couldn’t really blame you all that much. The two of you continued your fruitless hunt with nothing to show for it when you returned to camp.

Once you ran out of food, and found no hope of finding a new source that you could safely eat, you and Figment loaded up the guavas closest to being ripe and some water in a jug the two of you had managed to craft and began to walk down stream in search for a new source of nourishment, simultaneously heading towards the mountain-tree where you’d felt that pull ever since the storm so many nights ago.

~

Axel told Ludwig his dream. Demyx, Dreamfinder, and Namine were also there. She returned in the middle of her graduation to help search for you. They listened as he told his short dream, though your mother had not explained why this was important. But as they listened, Ludwig and Dreamfinder both perked up at hearing about the tree, looking at each other and sharing a look of understanding.

“Now I find it incredibly interesting that you’ve had this dream as the tree you described does, in fact, exist. The question is, how do you know about it?”

“That’s what I wanted to know,” your mother chimed in, “There are legends of a tree like the one you described that existed on Kelewenya. And I couldn’t just write it off when I know you’ve never seen it. And I know that Kelewenya is gone, but I need to know if there’s something more to this. When you told me what she said… When she said that she would find you, something resonated with me. As a mother.”

Everyone turned to look at Axel. He shrugged. He didn’t know if there were anything more to it.

“I didn’t know it existed. I’ve never been to Kelewenya, and ________ never mentioned anything about a tree.”

“See now that’s where my concern comes in. The tree you described exists in only two places,” Ludwig continued, “One of which fell to darkness 20 years ago and did not come back. And we know you weren’t on Kelewenya before it fell. The other place it exists is on a planet called Chinyama, or the ‘Animal Kingdom’ as I have it catalogued in my ledger. This is the sister world to Kelewenya.”

“I didn’t know Kelewenya had a sister world,” you mother chimed in.

“Yes, and even more interesting it’s one of few binary worlds that exists. Binary worlds are worlds that contain either two hearts or two halves of a heart. Kelewenya, or ‘Beastly Kingdom,’ is the other part of this world. It’s a wonder that Animal Kingdom is still around. I monitored it as I had other worlds, but it never fell to darkness.”

“Why is it called Beastly Kingdom?” Demyx asked, wondering why the two worlds needed different names to begin with if they shared a heart.

Ludwig pulled out a book and flipped to a page that depicted an artist’s rendering of the tree from Axel’s dream. The tree’s markings were actually animal carvings that stretched from top to bottom.

“This tree has a depiction of every creature that lives on it engrained onto its surface. These are animals that are more common – creatures most of us are familiar with. Kelewenya has a similar tree but it’s got animals that we once thought were mythological.”

He flipped to another page where the tree was covered in strange and foreign animals that they only recognized from descriptions in fairytales – a unicorn, a phoenix, a pegasus, etc.

“You’re kidding me,” Demyx said with mounting excitement.

“Nope,” Ludwig said pulling out his wallet and showing them one of the many pictures he had in it – particularly one of you when you were five riding a unicorn at your birthday party.

“And they’re magical?!" Demyx nearly shouted.

“What? No! Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a stupid animal. They’re just animals like you’d find anywhere else and used for food, work, and recreation.”

Your mother stepped closer, running a finger over the picture of the tree.

“I never knew the tree existed,” she mused.

“Yes, well,” Ludwig cleared his throat nervously, “The tree probably fell long ago. When I arrived with Ansem we theorized that it once protected the heart in some sense, but we don’t know to what extent. What we did discover, however, is that the spot where the tree was missing was heavily concealed with magic and beyond that the heart was almost completely exposed.”

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Dreamfinder interjected, changing the subject much to Ludwig’s great relief, “You said if one world falls then the other falls, yet Axel has had a dream of one of the worlds to which he’s never been which shouldn’t exist right now. He shouldn’t know what it looks like.”

“I actually have a theory about why he would know that,” Namine spoke. The room waited with bated breath while Namine gathered her thoughts, a bright and happy smile breaking on her face, and tears springing into her eyes. “________ is alive.”

The room stilled.

“How can you know?” your mother asked quietly. You could cut the tension with a knife. Your mother wanted to believe you were alive which is why when Axel told her about his dream she held out hope that he had found you somehow through magic or keyblade wielder mumbo jumbo.

“Well,” she began, somewhat nervously, “When hearts form strong bonds, through constant interaction or experiencing things together, they can connect more strongly to each other. Now, Axel, I personally believe that your heart is in the process of rebuilding itself. It started with Roxas when you were friends and stopped when he left. But when you met ________ it started again as the two of you grew close. I think that while your heart was being recompleted she connected with you really strongly at some point. And I think it was amplified because she was a keyblade wielder.”

“So you think they connected hearts the same way one might call someone on a phone?” your mother asked, casting a quick glance at Axel before refocusing back on Namine.

“I think they may be sharing the phone actually. Not quite sharing a heart, but they have a connection so strong that if Figment were to enter the mind of one, he could travel to the heart, enter the other heart through that connection and come out the mind of the other person,” Namine clarified. “Hearts that connect don’t necessarily share dreams or memories. Those are things tied to one’s own heart. To be able to do such without existing inside the heart of another should be impossible, but they’ve managed to do it. It’s possible the two of them shared a moment where they understood something about each other in perfect clarity and connected. But they never disconnected. That is, of course, assuming you can.”

“You think ________ and I share dreams?” Axel asked.

“Well I can only confirm this one dream, but if you’re seeing places you’ve never been, then there’s a good chance that wherever Animal Kingdom is, is where ________ is. You entered her dreams via her heart and saw what she saw. So I have reason to believe that not only is she alive, she’s on her world’s sister planet.”

There was a moment of joy and relief throughout the room. You were quite possibly alive, and that happiness was palpable to everyone.

Dreamfinder gave Namine a hearty clap on the back, expressing how proud of her he was. Your mother was crying tears of joy while Demyx gave her comforting pats on the back. Ludwig was searching his lab for a book and map on Animal Kingdom. And Axel was overwhelmed. You were alive. He hadn’t lost you. And apparently the two of you had joined hearts in a sense. He wasn’t sure how that should make him feel. But he liked the thought of having a heart again – even if it wasn’t whole yet.

“Now that leaves one question nagging in the back of my mind,” Ludwig said as he laid out several maps on a table, “If Beastly Kingdom fell, then why hasn’t Animal Kingdom?”

“Perhaps you’ll find out when you get there,” your mother replied.

“You’re not coming?” Demyx asked.

“I’d love to. I really would, but I need to go back to work so my daughter has a place to come home to. I know you’ll bring my baby home to me,” she said with a warm smile, eyes still laced with unshed, happy tears.

“So I guess it’ll just be me, Ludwig, and Axel then,” Demyx said with a shrug.

“I’m coming too,” Namine chirped, “________’s my best friend. I want to help find her.”

“I’d also like to find Figment as well as ________,” Dreamfinder added, “So I’ll be coming on this little expedition of ours as well.”

“Great!” Ludwig said, clapping his hands together, “Let’s gather some supplies. It’ll take a few days to get there. We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

~

Even after three days with guavas you could barely stand to eat and light headedness and exhaustion nagging at you, you still didn’t regret letting that bird go. Wouldn’t have mattered anyway. You’d only have had maybe an extra day of food. At least with the stream and your ability to start fires, you’d never run out of water or warm places to sleep.

At least you could admire the scenery. While plants that had food on them were a rarity, an abundance of beautiful flowers was not. And also your leg was much better now. You could put weight on it again, but you didn’t test it out too much. No need to accidentally put yourself back at square one.

Well keeping off of it was the plan, but then you saw something you hadn’t expected in the least – at least not out in the middle of the jungle. A person. People didn’t tend to live in nature this wild, and if Figment had found a bustling city or metropolis when he had first scouted for water, then no doubt he’d have told you. You were both shocked when you watched this person – a little girl – run past you at a breakneck speed through the bushes. You doubt she’d noticed you through the thick bushes as she ran, she seemed too focused on pushing forward.

A second later, you realized why that was.

Despite the fact that you had gone quite the distance, you had not once run into heartless. You assumed that if they had not yet infected this world then they were more concentrated in areas you were not it. But here they were chasing after a little girl.

So, ignoring your plan to let your leg heal naturally and avoid straining it, you took off at a sprint after the heartless, not thinking twice about any pain you may have felt or progress you’d ruined. Someone was in trouble. Thankfully, your leg didn’t feel that bad at all, and with all the adrenaline coursing through your veins, you hardly noticed anything feeling off at all.

These heartless looked like primates but not quite the ones you were used to on your home planet. They were smaller and their lower leg joints were pointed in the right direction. They also had long, curly tails. They chased her to a tree which she desperately tried to climb, but one of them grabbed her by her leg.

You acted fast, summoning your spear and throwing it and nailing the heartless dead center in its back, the other side of your spear firmly embedded in the tree the little girl was trying to climb.

You were huffing already. You didn’t have the energy for this. But that didn’t matter. The heartless all turned to look at you, and you re-summoned your spear as a keyblade and put on your armor, and shield.

There were at least 20 heartless all jumping around sporadically, and your eyes darted back and forth in their haze to keep all of them in your sights.

As soon as you fought back against the first one to lunge at you, they all seemed to come at you from all sides. You took more hits than you needed to, thankfully not against your already weakened leg, and Figment did his best to help defend you.

By the time the last one had fallen, you were about to collapse from your injuries and exhaustion. The little girl jumped from the tree and approached you just as you fainted.

Your armor and weapons vanished. The little girl nudged you while Figment watched, trying to wake you up, but you were out cold. So she ran. She ran as fast as her little legs could carry her until she found who she was looking for – the foraging party she’d wandered off from when she stumbled upon the nest of heartless lurking in the trees.

~

You awoke in a building. Strange. You didn’t fall asleep in a building. You couldn’t remember falling asleep. You thought hard for a moment. You were hungry and looking for food, going towards the tree to see what heart called to you for help. There was a little girl.

You shot up, ignoring the thudding aches of bruises and cuts on your body to look around frantically.

“Oh! You’re up,” said a voice from not so far away. Your head snapped in the direction of the voice to see a woman dressed in a bright orange and gold garment. Her arms were covered in gold bands, her hair in a long braid down her back.

She gave you a warm smile, her bright, brown eyes sparkling.

“You’ll need to take this,” she said, handing you a cup that was half full of mystery liquid. You looked at her skeptically. Who was the woman exactly?

“Don’t worry, dear,” she said, placing a hand on your shoulder, “You’re safe now.”

You felt your eyes blur as you registered those words. She quickly took the cup from you, placing it on a little side table before she sat on the bed next to you and wrapped you up in a hug. You leaned into her as you began to sob.

The hug felt nice. You hadn’t seen anyone else in so long. To see another person – have them talk to you and tell you that you were going to be okay – was overwhelming. She let you have your moment, gently patting your head and rubbing your back, uttering words of sympathy.

When you could finally calm down enough to speak, you looked around.

“Where am I?” you asked.

“You’re in somewhere safe. The chief’s sister said you helped her escape from the dark creatures, so she and the foraging party she was with brought you back here for treatment.”

“And she’s okay?”

“She’ll be just fine. And you will be too as soon as you drink your remedy,” she said placing the cup back firmly in your hands.

You downed it in two gulps. It was sweet. And you felt better. So much better! Your cuts healed instantly as if by magic. You felt well rested and rejuvenated – like you hadn’t been almost starving and beaten to unconsciousness before you’d gotten there.

“Doesn’t that feel better?” she asked as she leaned over and jostled your previously broken leg. You stretched and flexed your foot, wiggling it in the air and feeling no pain whatsoever from your leg. Not even minor discomfort.

“That’s amazing!” you exclaimed, hopping up on your feet and bouncing a little, rising on your tiptoes and rocking back down on your heels.

“We’d have helped you recover as soon as you got here, but you’ve been asleep for almost two days now,” she said, as she wrote down something on a sheet of paper on a desk.

Two days?! Then you remembered Figment. Where was he? Was he out there? Did he keep hidden? Was he in your head? Had he been missing for two days? Worried about you for two days?

The door to what you assumed was a clinic swung open. The little girl you saved popped her head in, looking around with wide eyes until they landed on you. Her smile was bright and happy. On her shoulder, slightly draped by her long hair was Figment.

You breathed a mild sigh of relief.

“Um, hello,” you began. Figment darted over to you and hugged your middle. You hugged back of course. Then the little girl did the same, latching around your legs.

“Amaya! Don’t just attack her like that,” a new voice said as another woman entered the room. She had a slender frame and wore a royal blue garment with a beaded belt around her middle that stretched from her rib cage to her hips. She also had gold bands lining her arms and a circlet with a single red jewel in the middle upon her head. The little girl let go but held tightly to your hand, still smiling up at you. Figment had relocated himself to your shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” the woman apologized, “My name is Daealla. I’m the mother of the chief, and this is my daughter Amaya. I cannot thank you enough for saving her life.”

She walked over to you and bowed deeply. You were flattered and embarrassed. What does one do when royalty bows to you?

“Of course, my lady,” you said as best you could. Were chief mothers “my ladies” or was there a different title you were supposed to call them. She giggled at your flustered attempt at being proper.

“If you are feeling better, the chief, my son, would like to speak to you about an urgent matter regarding your arrival.” Her eyes looked more somber when she said that, and you briefly wondered if your being there was disrupting their way of life somehow.

“Oh, um, okay,” you said as you followed her out of the door, Amaya still gripping tightly to your hand. You threw a quick thank you over your shoulder to the doctor who gave you a happy smile and continued your trek through the village.

It was strange.

All of the buildings seemed to be made of wood, though there were plenty of smaller structures that used bricks and metal. There were people milling about in brightly colored clothes all threaded with gold and silver embroideries, gold bands up and down their arms and piercings lining their ears. They watched as you passed, stopping in the middle of their activities to watch and whisper amongst each other.

You walked through a market district where they seemed to trade other commodities rather than money. Strange.

Then there was the residential area where all the buildings were once again wooden with flat roofs. They had large windows with bright curtains hanging in them, also embroidered intricately.

At the end of one stretch of the neighborhood was a house that was much, much larger than the others. You could assume this one belonged to the chief of the village.

Your theory was confirmed when you followed Daealla into the house. The room you entered was something like a throne room with sweeping staircases that led to other parts of the house. You assumed this must have been where most of the business with the public was handled.

In center near the back of the throne room sat the throne, and on that the chief. He looked young, not much older than you. He watched you approach with cool, contemplating eyes that watched you as if trying to learn everything about you in the short time it took you to cross the room.

“My son,” Daealla spoke once the three of you stood in front of the chief, “This is the warrior Amaya spoke of.”

“And you’re certain,” he said, voice deep and authoritative, as he looked to his young sister, “Of the weapon you saw this woman using?”

Amaya nodded earnestly.

“So you really are a keyblade wielder then,” he said to you. You nodded quietly.

“You know of them?” you asked as he continued to watch you carefully.

“There used to be quite a few of them that lived here. We have not had many in quite a long time. You are the first. I must admit, you are just as he described you.”

“’He?’” you questioned. As if on cue, a bird with bright red and yellow feathers and green and blue wings flew over to the chief’s throne, perching on the armrest and looking at you with intelligent eyes. You remembered him.

 “He told me of a woman in the jungle whose leg had been injured. He said you spared his life. After that, he watched you and frequently told me about you.”

“Why would you want to know about me?” you asked. He smiled at your confusion, amused.

“It is not every day someone from another world comes to visit. You had to know that you don’t exactly blend in with the community.”

 ~

They’d only been traveling for a few hours when something strange happened.

Axel got a text.

From your phone.

It made his blood run hot and cold as a flurry of emotions ran through him. He felt dizzy.

“You good, Axel?” Demyx asked from where he sat next to Namine on one of the bunks near the back of the ship.

“________ just texted me,” he said. His mood was somber yet hopeful. Ugh. Conflicting feelings were probably the worst thing about having a heart again.

“What did she say?” Namine asked quietly. He didn’t know.

“I haven’t opened it yet.”

Namine and Demyx crowded around him to read the message, Dreamfinder and Ludwig too focused on finding the best path to you and steering the ship.

***: Axel where are you?

Another message popped up beneath that one.

***: Axel I’m scared.

Then another.

***: You let me down Axel.

***: I trusted you.

***: I hate you.

Axel felt too many things in that one moment. He couldn’t pin down any of them, but they made his chest ache with hurt.

Demyx and Namine also felt bad. Where were you? Were you hurt? Did you really blame Axel for all of this? Had they let you down as well?

***: Your girlfriend seems pretty upset with you Axel.

***: I would be too.

Demyx and Namine were more wrapped up in confusion than anything, but Axel felt a tiny chill slowly crawl up his spine. Something wasn’t right.

“That’s not ________,” he said finally. Of that he was sure. He looked out of the windows but saw nothing. And no more messages came for a while either. They flew through space in silence for the next few hours.

.

.

.

“Sure is quiet back there for three friends about to be reunited with their other friend,” Ludwig called when he had noticed that they had all gone eerily quiet. They were much too somber for such a happy occasion.

“It’s probably your driving that’s depressing them,” Dreamfinder said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“What?” Ludwig asked, clearly thrown by the logic of that statement – or rather the lack thereof.

“Let me drive,” Dreamfinder said with a giddy lilt in his voice.

“What? No!” Ludwig said as they began to argue back and forth about who should be allowed to drive.

Meanwhile the text messages kept playing over and over in Axel’s head. They weren’t from you, but for just a moment he believed you felt that way. That you hated him. He didn’t want that.

Namine and Demyx continued to look on worriedly at their friend as he went through his emotional roller coaster.

“We’re going to find my new friend and Figment, so I should get to drive,” Dreamfinder whined as he and Ludwig continued to argue back and forth.

“We’re going to find my niece!”

“But I deserve to drive!”

“It’s my ship!”

“You’re being very inconsiderate, Luddy!” He said, bumping Ludwig from his seat and taking the wheel. Ludwig quickly hopped up and pushed him back out of the seat.

“Don’t call me that! Now look! I let you drive for two seconds and there’s guy standing on the hood of the ship!”

Everyone stiffened as they registered Ludwig’s words. Everyone looked at the hood of the ship, and there stood Vanitas. He had his arms crossed, resting his weight on one leg and leaning into that hip in a relaxed yet cocky stance.

Axel stood up immediately. Demyx did as well, moving to stand in front of Namine so Vanitas could not see her and know where she was.

“Ew. Wipe it off of there,” Dreamfinder instructed, squirting wiper fluid on Vanitas’ shoes and turning on the wipers. Not that it did anything except piss him off.

Vanitas summoned a corridor and walked through and on to the ship. He took a few steps towards Axel who looked ready to tear Vanitas a new one.

“Remind me when we get back to Disney Town,” Ludwig said to Dreamfinder, “To buy a stronger wiper fluid.”

Vanitas filed that bit of info away for later but preferred to focus his attention on the traitor in front of him.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before you’d come looking for her,” he said, voice laced with cockiness. “Too bad there isn’t much to find. But I have to admit that you were really something when you were looking for her, Axel. I don’t think I ever felt so much raw negative emotion before. Not so strongly anyway.”

Axel just glared at Vanitas silently.

“No, wait,” Vanitas said, “There was one time. ________. The fear she felt when I found her was almost intoxicating. She felt so good,” he purred with a sensual tone to his voice.

It took all of Axel’s self-control not to set anything on fire. He was pissed. He was beyond pissed. Not only had Vanitas attacked you, this fucker was getting off to it.

“But all isn’t lost,” he cooed at them, “I brought you a little something to remember her by.”

He tossed Axel your phone, and he caught it without taking his eyes off of Vanitas.

“I swear,” Axel almost growled out, “I’m going to find you. I’m going to kill you.”

Vanitas just laughed.

“And after I gave you such a lovely gift? You should be thanking me. I didn’t even torture her like I said I would. I didn’t leave a mangled corpse behind either. No, I thought it would be better if there weren’t a mess to clean up, so I chucked her to the nearest planet to let her burn up in the atmosphere.”

Axel almost relaxed when Vanitas said that. That meant that this was a while ago. Before he’d had his dream. Vanitas didn’t know you were alive. He could see everyone else ease up as well at the news.

“So what will you do now that your pet is gone?”

 “I already told you,” Axel repeated, “I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you.”

Vanitas laughed again.

“I’ll be looking forward to our rematch,” he said, stepping through another corridor and leaving them alone with their thoughts.

A collective sigh of relief was breathed throughout the ship.

“We need to hurry,” Axel said, “We can’t risk him or anyone else finding her.”

Each of them nodded or murmured out an agreement.

“How did you know him?” Dreamfinder asked, eyeing Axel rather warily.

“He’s someone from my past,” Axel answered vaguely, “A past I’m leaving far behind me.”

Dreamfinder nodded and considered this for a moment. Then he turned to Ludwig.

“You know, Ludwig,” Dreamfinder began, “I think you’re right. It’s your niece, you should get to fly my ship.”

“IT’S MY SHIP!”

Chapter Text

Your first week in the village showed you just how strange it was. All your life you’d been with electricity in some way shape or form, but the village was completely devoid of it. They made do without it, and it seemed to benefit them just fine.

Lights were oil lamp sconces fitted with mirrors that allowed the light to shine down brightly from where they sat against the wall near the ceilings. Homes were made from several different kinds of wood of many different colors and were carved ornately and were quite beautiful. Stone and clay were used to create tools, but metal and glass were not unheard of.

They made cloths and silks by hand and dyed them with dyes they made from all the different plants found in the jungle.

They preferred to coexist with nature more than anything, and in a way it was beautiful.

You quickly found a place in the village. You absorbed their culture like a sponge, trying to integrate as best into society you could until you were just another villager.

Though you mostly worked with Daealla. She had become something of a mentor to you during your stay, showing you the best places to gather fruits and how to bake herbed bread. She taught you dances once you mentioned that you were a dancer where you came from. She gave you clothes typically worn by the village people, noticing you seemed to prefer the dresses with beaded waists. She took you out foraging for fruits and vegetables with other members of their tribe and often put you to work with the scouts who searched the nearby areas for places with food sources that weren’t crawling with heartless.

You learned that they once had farms, but the heartless had become a problem there and were steadily creeping closer to the village. Moving was not an option with all of the elderly and children they had. Basically they were waiting for war with the creatures, and your arrival had put a spark of hope into the people. Though that wasn’t the only reason they needed you as you had learned from the chief. But you were currently in no condition to do anything seeing as how you needed to gain all of your strength back.

Daealla admitted that sending you out with the scouts was to help build your strength. Though as another method of doing so, she sometimes took you hunting. That was when she noticed the spear you used to hunt with.

The two of you were riding horses bareback back to the village, two dead boars strapped to the backs of them and three wild turkeys hanging over the sides.

“You realize that spear isn’t really made for hunting, yes?” she asked with an amused glint in her eyes.

“Well keyblades aren’t usually used for hunting… I think.” Your horse chuffed, shaking its head as if he knew your statement were stupid.

She laughed. You took no offense. You’d had no proper training in using the spear, so it was to be expected if you weren’t exactly good at it. You could at least say you had decent aim.

“Your spear is double ended. The moon forms a curved blade on one end for cutting down enemies. The star on the other end is to pierce your foes,” she said as she ducked beneath a low hanging branch.

“How do you know so much about spear combat?”

“I was a warrior before I was the wife of the chief. I could show you how to use it if you like? It will be good for you to get into some training now that your leg is better. I know we’ve been doing lots of physical work to get your strength up, but if you’re going to do what you do best, it’d be best if you got back into your combat. And I would like to be the one to train you.”

You nodded, excited at the prospect of learning a new technique of fighting. You hadn’t realized how much you missed training and fighting until she mentioned it.

“When should we start?”

“Tomorrow. So get a good night’s rest. I will be ruthless in my training. And by the time I’m done with you, you will be a master,” she said with a mischievous smile. She said it in a rather joking manner, but you knew she meant it. And while you may not be a master any time soon, you knew she’d work you until you were at least a formidable opponent.

“So why the spear?” you asked, “I mean, why, when you were a warrior, did you pick to train with a spear? I’ve seen other warriors use plenty of other weapons too.”

“There is an old legend about the goddess of balance and chaos, Uh-Oa. She was considered a goddess of ruin at one point as she set fire to the forests and brought about storms that ravaged the land. The people cried out to her and begged her to stop. She told them that she did what she did for the benefit of mankind. She burned forests to make new fertile land for plants to grow, clearing the brush of small weak plants that would have caused larger, unstoppable fires that would destroy entire forests. She brought storms to soften the earth and usher fish to shore so crops could be planted, and fish harvested the day after the storms for the food of the people. And the people saw the rains brought forth bountiful harvests in lands that previously could produce no fruit. The people realized that she was not a goddess of ruin but of balance and chaos. And when she is depicted, she is shown to be holding a double-headed spear to represent the balance she brings through her destructive ways. I chose the double-headed spear to honor her.”

“That’s incredible,” you breathed.

“And you will be too,” she said, smiling brightly as the two of you approached the village.

~

You progressed quickly through your training. Sometimes that’s all you did with Daealla. The two of you would disappear into the jungle for hours on end training – leaving early in the morning and returning late at night. She taught you how to hide amongst the forest and move silently. How to use the layout to your advantage and, of course, how to fight with your spear.

It was made for you – was an extension of yourself that you felt completely in tune with. More so than with sword and shield combat. It required fluid, controlled movements, and this benefited you most when it came to combat. It was like dancing. You caught on quickly, much more quickly than Daealla was expecting you to, but she was proud to call you a student. By the week’s end she said you could at least hold your own. But you practiced religiously everyday you weren’t working in the village – even when you were not with her.

You sparred often with the warriors of the village, learning from the other spear bearers as well, and they had much to teach you. By the end of the next week, you were capable of wielding a spear with amateurs without them having to go easy on you.

It was in your third week when you were out in the forest training not too far from the village when you heard the commotion. A loud noise that sounded like a low rumble like thunder that began to grow. You began to run back to the village to see what was happening, and you prayed that no one was in trouble or hurt.

You broke through the trees stopping short at the sight before you.

It was a gummi ship.

But you recognized it.

It was Ludwig’s gummi ship.

You pressed forward, sprinting across the village, one fourth of the way there just as the ship touched ground. You could just barely see the village’s warriors gathered near the ship, not standing in a pose ready for attack but cautious in case the visitors were not friendly. The people of the village were standing a bit farther back.

You could see the door opening and a figure stepping out just as you reached that halfway point. You pressed onward faster, pushing yourself harder, your garments flying wildly about your legs, the beads in your braids clacking against each other noisily.

You slowed to a brisk walk once you reached where the villagers were, gently nudging them out of the way as you pressed forward, just as Dreamfinder, Ludwig, and Namine had finally exited the ship. Figment was already there being greeted eagerly by them. They looked so happy. You missed their smiling faces so much.

You could already feel tears in your eyes, a smile breaking across your face.

Demyx stepped off of the ship just as you broke through the wall of warriors. They spotted you as soon as you did, looks of happy surprise washing over their faces. You couldn’t decide who to go to first, so you threw your arms out wide trying to hug them all at once. You were sobbing into someone’s shoulder, all but collapsing against them as you felt them hug you from all sides. You didn’t know who. You didn’t care. It had been so long since you’d seen them, and you’d had no idea when you’d see them again after knowing you had to help the village – if you’d ever get to see them again.

You stood upright, looking at all of their bright tearful faces when a flash of red caught your eye. You looked passed Namine, who had been the person you almost collapsed on, and saw Axel.

It felt surreal.

He looked at you like he was seeing you for the first time in years. You had a similar look on your face, your heart swelling with happiness to have him at your side once again. You felt your legs move of their own accord towards him, picking up speed until you were all but running at him, kicking up dirt behind you.

You jumped into his arms and felt him hold you back tightly, lifting you off the ground and holding you close. You clung to him, feeling more tears slip from your eyes and a gentle push and pull of happiness and hurt flowing through your heart.

Axel felt it too.

He continued to hold you even after he had set you down. And he just looked at you, studied your face, glancing down more than once at your lips.

And you just stared at his eyes, the bright seafoam green quite possibly the thing you had missed most about him. And now he was here.

“Guardian,” you heard the chief call to you, “You know these people?”

You broke away from Axel to face the village who looked at you expectantly.

“They are my friends and family,” you answered with a bright smile. He regarded each of them individually, gauging them and their demeanors. He was cautious about everything as you had come to learn.

“Then,” he said with a soft smile, “We’ll have to prepare a place for them to stay.” The crowd behind him, sensing that there was no longer a need to observe, began to disperse to continue with their preparations for the evening. The chief and the warriors remained.

You smiled and began to turn back to your family when Ludwig interjected.

“Stay? No, you’re mistaken. You see we have a ship! A ship that will allow us to leave whenever we want. Which is right now. Come on, ________, get in the ship.”

Ah. Right. You hadn’t told them yet. You had, somehow, almost completely forgotten.

“Actually we can’t go yet,” you said rather somberly considering your bright mood earlier. “There’s a problem with the people here that I need to take care of.”

“Seriously, ________?” Axel asked, mildly annoyed. Were you seriously playing hero again? He was happy to have you back and not quite willing to lose you again because you had to do something big and heroic that, knowing your luck, was likely to get you killed.

“I agree. We don’t have time to fix the world’s problems, and you can’t fix the problems of every world you visit,” Ludwig concluded already turning back to the ship.

That was when a scream pierced the air.

You whirled around in a panic to see who it was this time. You saw one of the warriors, a female you knew by the name of Akash. She fell to her knees, trembling as her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She continued to scream even as she fell to her side.

You rushed over, cradling her head in your lap, whispering a few words to her you’d learned in the village that they said to all of their dying. Something which was happening at a steadily accelerating rate. You felt a pang that told you to go back to training. Something you always did in excess when this happened. You needed to be ready. You needed to save these people and end this cycle.

Your friends and family watched you whispering to the warrior, a look of peace passing over her face before she faded from existence. You held your tears. As did everyone else. You felt the stares of them on you. They looked to you every time this happened. You were the answer to all of their unasked questions.

“Their planet is dying,” you said lowly but aiming it at your friends and family, “And the people have been slowly dying with it. And it gets worse every day.”

Everyone remained frozen in place.

Ludwig turned back around to you with a tired and relatively fearful expression on his face.

“We’ll stay. But your mother’s worried about you. I mean, you have been missing for a week.” he said as he walked past you and towards the village, prepared to get acquainted with his new surroundings. But you were still stuck on the mention of the “week” you’d been missing.

You must have had the stunned look blatantly and openly on your face because everyone else began giving you a worried look.

“Are you alright, ________?”

“A week?” you murmured. Then you remembered that time could function differently world to world. It was a small comfort to know that they may not have had to think you were dead and that your mother wasn’t mourning you.

Then you started laughing a little hysterically.

“Oh great, she’s got jungle madness,” Ludwig said, with a nervous glance in your direction.

“A week,” you laughed out, standing up, “I’ve been here for over two months.” You kept laughing, a bit more of your hysteria seeping in.

No one else was laughing.

“I thought you were looking for a corpse,” you wheezed out, “Assuming you were still looking at all. I think… I think I’m relieved. I’m glad none of you went through that, but talk about a mind fuck, am I right?”

Despite your laughter, a part of you was obviously distraught.

“Geez, if you were here for two months why didn’t you come home? You had to know we were worried about you! Axel worked himself to exhaustion everyday looking for you! He didn’t sleep for three days!” Demyx said before Axel roughly nudged him in the side.

“I’m sorry,” you said, with a sad smile, “I know that’s not funny. And I would have come home, but I didn’t just show up here and decide to stay for so long. In fact, I hadn’t even known these people were here until about one and half months – maybe a little over – into my stay.”

“So what were you doing here?” Namine asked warily. Your expression was suddenly completely serious, brief flashes of fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness all flickering over your face so fast, they almost missed them.

“I was attacked,” you said after a moment of quiet had passed over you. “Someone – I don’t know who – attacked me when I was trying to find my way back to Twilight Town. I didn’t even stand a chance against them. They knocked me out, next thing I know I’m hurtling towards the ground from space and barely managed to avoid a full-on collision with the ground. But I didn’t manage the most graceful landing. I broke my leg. So I was stranded in the middle of the jungle for a while.”

Each of your family members wore a look of horror.

“________,” Namine choked out, overwhelmed. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say after that. Axel came up and hugged you again. You hugged back suddenly overwhelmed with all of the things that had happened to you that you never once said out loud since they had happened. Hearing them made them different. More real. And, yes, you’d thought about them before, but now you didn’t have to carry such a burden by yourself.

A few tears slipped out of your eyes, but you didn’t need to cry. You’d gotten past this and come to terms with it. Then you felt the weight of each of them coming to hug you again.

You laughed a little. You missed them so much.

“It wasn’t all bad,” you said, slightly muffled against Axel’s chest, “I had Figment. But there is something I want to know. How did you all even find me?”

You had broken away from the group hug to look at all of them. And they all looked at Axel, a light pink beginning to dust his cheeks no matter how hard he fought it off.

“We share dreams,” he said bluntly. There now it’s out of the way.

“Share dreams?” you asked. Great. Now you’re asking questions and it’s not out of the way.

“Namine has a theory where our hearts are connected really strongly to each other. I was able to see you in your dreams that way. Do you remember a dream where I told you I would find you?”

You did, in fact. That dream came to you more vividly than any other dreams you’d had here, and it stuck with you. As did your promises to find each other.

“That was really you?” you asked in a hushed, stunned voice. Had you known it was, you’d have never woken up just to stay with him a little longer. You felt a push and pull of warmth and affection run through you, and you could only assume now that the reason it pushed a pulled like the waves of an ocean so much was because you and Axel were connecting and exchanging your feelings and emotions.

Realizing it sent a jolt of nervous excitement and disbelief and comfort. The resulting mix made Axel’s head a little dizzy, but that was okay because you felt it too. This was strange and new. But… not unwelcome….

“So, uh, what’s this whole business about the planet dying? I’m just curious because we brought it up and never came back to it. And we just watched someone die,” Demyx said, ending the moment between you and Axel. Well sort of. Now that you were aware of it, you couldn’t not feel the connection, but now the two of you weren’t so intensely focused on each other.

“We should go to the temple,” you said, turning to the chief who gave you a nod, admittedly taking everything that had been discussed in stride. Though he was a chief that believed all things happened for a reason no matter how strange, even your less than safe arrival and your friends’ sudden appearance.

Your group walked through the village, while you prattled on about life there, noticing the cautious yet excited stares of the people on them. You had all but ignored them, used to just being another person here.

You looked like it too, Axel had noticed. Your hair was braided like the other people here, beads woven throughout in intricate designs on the crowns of their heads. You wore a red dress that hung loosely from your shoulders and showed quite a bit of your chest. The bottom of the dress stopped just above your knees. Two slits ran up the sides that stopped at the top of your hips, showing off your legs. The slits stopped where they met a beaded belt that ran the length of your waist and cinched the dress tightly to you. You looked nice.

You eventually led them to a large boat that sat in the river tethered to a dock.

It was large enough to walk around in and was shaded by a canopy. There were a few benches to sit in, and you hopped right into the boat and took a seat on one of them, secretly hoping Axel would want to sit next to you but content if someone else did.

He did sit next to you, and you did a little celebratory dance in your head. Your feelings for him had not dwindled even a little while you were here – if anything they’d only gotten stronger.

You offered him a bright smile with sparkling eyes that made him feel warm. He missed you. A lot. The chief untethered the boat and sat at the back near the steering mechanism. Ludwig and Dreamfinder stood near him so they could ask questions, and Namine and Demyx sat on a bench not far from you and Axel.

The boat began to slowly drift forward, and a cool breeze blew on your face. You took in a deep breath, taking in the smell of the river and plant life around you and listening to the chirp of birds.

“Two months,” Axel mused after a while. He seemed upset.

“Two months,” you repeated.

“I should have been here sooner. Should have never left you alone.”

“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen to me when I left. It’s not your fault, Axel.”

But it kind of was his fault. If he had just told you about Vanitas and the Organization, then maybe you would have been more careful and would’ve seen Vanitas coming. Or maybe you wouldn’t have gone at all and he could keep you safe.

He wanted to tell you this. That you were safe for now, but they always ran the risk of danger. But then you grabbed his hand and you looked at him with all the sympathy in your eyes that he missed seeing so much, and he felt the push and pull of comfort in whatever parts of his heart existed and found he couldn’t do it. Though he knew he needed to.

He let out a sigh, looking away from you. He was disappointed in himself. You felt bad you couldn’t comfort him, but maybe he just needed time.

Your eyes drifted to the river. The sides were lined with the occasional tiki masks. You’d been down the river before and knew they would become more frequent. The boat drifted through a wider section of river. And more birds would fly overhead, and a few would land on the boat.

You recognized them.

“I missed you,” you said finally, trying to lighten Axel’s mood, “And I really meant what I said in that dream. I was going to find you. It’s funny. I felt bad for being gone so long, and now you’re beating yourself up over it.”

Of course, that wasn’t the main problem, but Axel couldn’t tell you that.

“I missed you too,” he said after a long moment. You gave him another smile and this one he returned, “So how did you manage out here for so long?”

Demyx and Namine tuned in to listen as well.

“It wasn’t easy,” you began before launching into the story of your survival.

Meanwhile Dreamfinder and Ludwig had numerous questions about the planet and its people dying. Ludwig knew about planets falling to darkness though usually it happened quite suddenly and without warning like it had on Spaceship Earth. Planets did not fall slowly unless they were tampered with like Kelewenya had been in its slow corruption and fall.

“So you know about keyblade wielders?” Dreamfinder began, starting with the basics.

“We all do,” the chief admitted, “For a while they were considered myth and legend, and their legacy and the knowledge of other worlds was something only the royal families knew to be truth. This is because we had not had a keyblade wielder amongst our people in generations. The arrival of the Guardian was a blessing to us all.”

“So you know about Kelewenya, then?” Dreamfinder continued.

“I do,” he nodded, “Kelewenya is sister to Chinyama.”

“Did you know it fell to darkness twenty years ago?”

The chief’s expression turned grave.

“I had not known. The dying of our planet makes more sense now. I had suspected something had happened, but I had wished it were not so. My father also suspected as much because if Kelewenya had fallen, then our home would follow.”

 “I’ve traveled to many worlds and have known several to fall to darkness,” Ludwig interjected, “I’d like to ask exactly how the people became linked to the planet. I understand ________ said the planet was dying, but I’ve never seen people die with them.”

“It is because of the Tree of Life,” the chief said, gesturing to the great tree in the distance. “Long ago a lowly ant planted a seed and made a wish to the gods. He asked for a tree to grow – a tree so large all of the animals could find shelter beneath it. The ant’s wish came true and up sprouted a tree so mountainous all of the animals could find room beneath its limbs. On the tree images of the animals appeared along its trunk, branches, and roots. And on the top of the tree sprung up the leaves of the people. With each person born, a new leaf sprouts forth. However, the opposite is also true. When a person dies, their leaf falls from the tree. Though nowadays, the tree’s leaves fall long before the end of anyone’s life, and the person dies with it. That is why the tree called the Guardian here. That is why we need ________.”

Ludwig felt guilt. He knew why the tree was dying and why the people were dying with it. And apparently you knew too and said nothing.

“Is there anything I or my companions might do to help?” he asked after a moment of absorbing all of this information. “I know a bit about the hearts of worlds. I can theorize that with the destruction of one, this one may be suffering from corruption before its fall.”

A slow and painful death for everyone.

“I cannot be sure. All I know is what is written in the temple. All I know is that whatever help you may be able to offer, it will be ________ who keeps the darkness in all of its forms from us.”

Ludwig looked to you where you were talking animatedly about something. He prayed you would be able to fix one of the many aftereffects of his mistake.

Axel looked at you like you were a new person. You had survived the wilderness for a long time by yourself. You were self-sufficient. It was impressive. He was still worried about you, of course, and hardly wanted to let you out of his sight.

You stood up to stretch, arching your back and spreading your fingers as you lifted your hands high above your head. You stood up on your toes and held for a moment, and Axel took a moment to notice that you were a bit leaner now that when he last saw you. No doubt the endless training you spoke of and limited diet you’d had in the jungle contributed to it.

He stood and stretched himself. You smiled at him and walked to the edge of the boat near the front, giving him a look that told him to follow. He did.

The two of you leaned on the sides of the boat, gazing out at the river. You were passing by elephants who bathed each other in the water, spraying each other with their trunks to keep cool in the humidity.

“I would’ve killed for that before,” you said, joking about your waterfall showers.

“I mean I could wash your back if you really want to.”

“Axel, what the hell!” you laughed.

“Yeah, I know, I heard it as I was saying it. Sorry,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly but smiling all the same. You laughed again, and he looked at you, taking in your expression. He’d missed your strange laugh and your smile.

He was still staring.

You watched him stare for a moment. You began to feel uncomfortable. Then something clicked in your mind. You remembered reading something – or hearing about it, it didn’t really matter – that if someone stared at you for extended amount of time that usually meant one of two things. They wanted to kill you or fuck you.

Well, there was no doubt in your mind that Axel certainly did not want to kill you. And while you were also certain he didn’t want to fuck you, you took in the softness of his expression, the fondness in his eyes, and the soft smile on his face.

Axel liked you.

You couldn’t tell how much and if this were the kind of thing where he’d romantically pursue you, but you could see that he did hold at least some interest in you.

You bit your lip to keep that goofy smile off of your face.

“You’re staring,” you pointed out after a long moment. He seemed surprised, blinking and looking away quickly, a blush quickly spreading over his face. You just smiled softly to yourself as your heart fluttered in your chest.

“Sorry,” he apologized.

“It’s fine,” you said as you stared back out at the river, “I don’t mind.”

Axel couldn’t be sure, but he thought he felt the tiniest stir in his chest.

Chapter Text

You stepped off the boat at the foot of large set of stairs. They led up to a stone temple that looked as if it had seen better days.

It had three levels to it. You could only see the first, and the others descended below the ground.

Your group ascended the stairs, each lost in their own thoughts. Namine and Demyx in awe at the structure before them; Ludwig and Dreamfinder mulling over possible solutions to perhaps slow the tree from dying until you were able to permanently fix the problem; Axel running through the current situation of having to make sure saving the planet didn’t kill you, realizing about the same time you did that he had a bit of a thing for you, and knowing that none of those feelings mattered if he didn’t tell you about the Organization that had just tried to assassinate you and how he was tied to it – and had been for years now. You were still lost in your hormonal, lovestruck haze at your revelation about Axel but coherent enough to understand that you needed to get serious for the task at hand.

A red parrot landed on the chief’s shoulder as he marched ahead of you up the stairs.

A yellow parrot with blue and green tipped wings and bright red head alighted on your shoulder as well. You turned and smiled at him, offering a brief hello. He nodded then turned his head to observe your companions as they climbed behind you, some of them eyeing the parrot casually riding on your shoulder. Then they noticed there were quite a few tropical birds about. Not too many to be unnatural but a few.

The front of the temple had a large round door on it with a ba relief carving of Uh-Oa etched on to it. She stood there in a fighting stance, holding two dual headed spears in two of her four arms. One was lit with fire, the other searing with lightning.

“Guardian, if you would,” the chief said, stepping to the side. You summoned your keyblade and pointed at the door, concentrating as you felt for the lock before you. Light burst forth from your blade and you heard a satisfying click as an invisible lock gave way. The door pushed forward and rolled to the side.

You grabbed one of the torches from a sconce near the door and lit it. The chief grabbed another and you shared the flame from yours. Then you began your trek through the temple. The walls were lined with tiki masks, some with eyes that watched your approach and continued to watch as you moved through the temple. Their eyes glowed in the dim light.

Namine felt a chill run up her spine. This place was creepy. Demyx was practically hiding behind her as he tried to watch practically every mask in the room for any sudden movements. Ludwig tried to keep a brave face, but he was warily watching all of the masks too and sweating nervously.

“How are none of you creeped out by this?” Demyx asked, referring to Axel, Dreamfinder, Figment, and yourself. You looked around at the tiki masks. You supposed they were a tad creepy, but visions of the horrors you’d seen in your father’s mind flicked through your mind too. Then the masks were hardly a problem.

“We’ve seen worse,” you muttered. Demyx couldn’t know what it meant, but the horrors you’d seen before far outweighed a few glowing masks. Demyx took it at face value. He didn’t know what you’d seen, but he could assume it would have to be pretty jarring to not find any of this the least bit worrisome.

The chief descended the stairs before you, and you hurried after.

“Watch your step,” you cautioned, “The stairs are slippery here.”

They were slick with water and wet moss. As you went lower, the walls dripped with moisture, and the further into the temple you moved, the more masks appeared. You could hear the distant sound of rustling and many voices conversing deep within.

“So what’s down here that we’re going to look at anyway?” Demyx said, noting the eerie way the voices drifted up from below. But if you weren’t cowering in fear, then there was probably nothing to worry about. Then again, you were much braver than he.

“In the farthest reaches of the temple is the prophecy. Well it’s not so much a prophecy so much as an answer to long awaited questions.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Demyx said, as he continued to nervously glance around from his safe place behind Namine who had significantly calmed down much more than he had.

“Surprise, surprise,” someone muttered quietly. You glanced at the bird on your shoulder, giving him a warning look.

“The prophecy speaks of keyblade wielders of old in their service to the goddess Uh-Oa,” the chief further elaborated.

“So… where are all these keyblade wielders?” Demyx asked, “And why don’t they just take care of the whole planet dying thing?”

You could almost feel the bird on your shoulder rolling its eyes.

Your group came to a dead end just then. There were two large ornately carved doors depicting keys on each one. The stone wall surrounding it depicted several birds all facing in their direction.

“You can ask them yourself,” the chief said with a mischievous smile as pressed open the two large doors. Inside were roughly a few hundred birds all sitting in various places amongst the stone and perched upon tiki totems that stood proudly amongst rest of the tikis hanging from the ceiling or the walls.

“All I see are a bunch of dumb birds,” Demyx remarked dryly. You rolled your eyes this time, allowing the yellow parrot to walk on to your arm.

“And these are the friends you said were so wise and brave?” the bird asked you, giving you as much skepticism as its bird face could manage.

“I swear they’re braver when they’re actually facing the danger,” you assured, “But would it kill you to be nice, José?”

José fluffed his feathers a bit, glancing at your friends who looked at the bird with mild shock written on their faces.

“Well I hope their smarter than that one,” José said as he pointed a wing at Demyx before flying off to find a new perch to rest on.

“They talk…” Demyx said numbly.

“So does my uncle,” you said dryly, “It’s not like you’ve never seen a talking bird.”

“Yeah, but Ludwig a cartoon character! These are ACTUAL birds!!” Demyx argued. The bird on the chief’s shoulder laughed. You giggled as well.

“What exactly is this place anyway?” Axel asked as he looked around the room. What wasn’t covered in moss depicted birds, people, and keys.

“It doesn’t have an official name,” the chief answered.

“I’ve been calling it the Enchanted Tiki Room,” you said with a little smile.

“That sounds weird,” Axel said, giving you a dry look. You just smiled back.

“We like it,” José said from his new perch, preening his feathers, “We made up a song for it. Maybe we’ll sing it for you later.”

Namine held out her hand as a red, white, and blue bird flew nearby. It landed on her wrist.

Bonjour,” he greeted, “_________, you didn’t say your friends would be so attractive.”

You groaned.

“Pierre, no,” you warned, noting the mild look of amusement on Namine’s face. She also looked partially disturbed.

“They all have different accents,” Axel noted, looking at all of the different birds.

“They’re from everywhere,” you explained, “They’ve come from all over this planet. Some are from other worlds but chose to stay here when they were alive.”

Demyx finally put two and two together.

“Wait. They’re the keyblade wielders?” he nearly shouted.

“Oh now he gets it,” Fritz said from the chief’s shoulder.

“But why are they birds?!” Demyx continued, flinching as a green and white feathered bird landed on his head.

“We chose this form. We were once keyblade wielders like your friend there,” Michael said, nestling into Demyx’s hair, much to Demyx’s chagrin, “But when we died we chose to stay and protect this world and its heart. That’s become a bit of a problem recently.”

“What’s the problem?” Dreamfinder asked as he moved out of the way of a bird flying passed, Figment shooing them away from the shoulder he himself was perched on.

“The main protector of the tree is the goddess born from it. She is the tree as much as the tree is her, and right now she’s the main attacker of the tree.”

José perched back on your arm.

“Your guardian friend here,” José continued, picking up where Michael left off, “Is the only one who can bring her back down to herself. We’ve sworn to protect her, so we cannot act against her – even if it’s for her own good.”

“The prophecy explains it better than we can,” Fritz says, bobbing his head towards a doorway on the other side of the room.

You and the rest of your little troupe moved to the door which led to more stairs. Fritz, Pierre, Michael, and José tagged along, riding on shoulders and Demyx’s hair.

“I can guess the redhead is Axel, yes?” Pierre asked from Namine’s shoulder, eyeing the tall redhead from where he walked in front of him.

“How did you know?” Axel asked casting a glance over his shoulder to look at the bird.

Pierre chuckled a bit knowingly.

“Lucky guess,” he chortled out and the other birds chuckled as well. You felt your heart racing. You had told them about all of your friends, but you hadn’t guessed that they had picked up on how you felt about Axel.

José whispered into your ear.

“He does have pretty eyes.”

You almost swatted him away. He was lucky you held such a deep respect for him and all of the former keyblade wielders.

You stopped at the foot of the stairs, automatically summoning your keyblade and pointing it at the door that now blocked your path. This wall was not ornately decorated like any of the previous doors you went through. It was just a plain slab of stone that looked like a dead end. The floor was also covered in a few inches of water.

Your keyblade lit the room as you unlocked the door, and the stone slid up into the ceiling and revealed a pitch-black room. Had you not been carrying a torch, you’d have panicked. The dark terrified you. The birds flew into the room, and little sparks of magic flew from them, lighting the torches that lined the walls and the large brazier in the middle of the room.

You stepped into the room, the water sloshing about your ankles. Axel noted that you were not reacting as you had on the beach, but he knew you also had to push passed such a fear in order to fish and bathe in the waterfall. He wished he’d been there so you would not have to face such a fear alone.

A whistle sounded next to his ear as Michael landed on his shoulder.

“Hey, lover boy, I know she’s very pretty, but pay attention. This next part is important,” he said, gesturing as best he could with his wing to the long wall in front of you that was split into three separate depictions. You glanced briefly at Axel, feeling your heart flutter before you refocused yourself. Now was not the time.

The first segment of the wall before you portrayed several keyblade wielders kneeling to the Tree of Life and to the goddess Uh-Oa. The second depicted the goddess holding the people in one hand, the Tree of Life in another, and her spear in her remaining two hands. The third depicted a keyblade wielder pointing their keyblade at Uh-Oa’s heart. There was a connection between the two, but whether they were attacking or joining her was a mystery. But one thing was clear.

Whatever had to be done, you had to be the one to do it.

“Now the first part depicts our job to Uh-Oa and the tree. We are the protectors and informants. We’ve sworn our lives to her and have chose to do so even in death as her eyes around the world and protectors of the tree,” Michael explained.

“The second part,” Fritz continued, “Is the balance. Uh-Oa, goddess of chaos and balance, keeps everything in a healthy cycle. Peace and ruin; Order and disorder; She keeps the whole of the world together.”

“Lastly,” José concluded, “Is the bond between keyblade wielders and Uh-Oa. Keyblade wielders are not gods by any means but they possess great power to keep or upset the balance of worlds they visit. Here is where ________ comes in. She needs to restore the balance to Uh-Oa. Even if that means killing her. We will not survive without a keyblade wielder’s help and neither will the planet.”

“But we can survive without a goddess provided the heart of the world is put back into balance, and all keyblade wielders have the ability to purge, cleanse, and balance the light and darkness within hearts that are open to them,” Pierre spoke.

“So how do you know Uh-Oa will be open to it?” Namine questioned, eyeing the last panel of the wall. You couldn’t blame her. If you could not balance the goddess, you’d have to kill her. And could a goddess really be killed.

“We don’t,” Michael answered, “But if she can weaken her heart, she can force it open. Some part of our goddess yet lives in her, but it is buried beneath corruption and rot. The darkness you will have to force open, but that part of her heart will be willing. And Uh-Oa will either be brought back to us or destroy herself in a last attempt to save us.”

“This is a lot to absorb,” Dreamfinder admitted. He as well as everyone was unsure of the plan. But what could they do? Say no?

Just as well, if this world fell, there was no telling if they could even bring Kelewenya back when its sister world would have also fallen to darkness.

“I’m going too,” Axel announced. There was no way he was going to let you fight a goddess by yourself. Sora technically did it when he was fifteen – if the memory he’d seen about Olympus in Castle Oblivion was true. Those titans were nothing to sneeze at either.

You looked at Axel with surprise. He smirked.

“You don’t think after everything I’ve been through looking for you, I’m going to just let you go fight a goddess by yourself do you?”

You giggled a little behind your hand.

“No, I guess that wouldn’t be you if you weren’t always protecting me,” you joked.

“I’ll go too,” Demyx said, actively surprising you, “I can’t just let my friends go on a crazy epic adventure and take all the glory for themselves.”

You all shared a laugh that time.

“And if it’s alright with you,” Namine chimed in, “I’d like to look at the tree and see if there’s anything I can do to help here on the ground.”

“Precisely what I was thinking,” Dreamfinder added. He was very glad to have picked Namine as his apprentice.

Ludwig was still silent.

“I’ll have the village prepare for your journey upon our return,” the chief said with a proud smile on his face, “We should head back now that we’ve discussed all of the important things.”

Everyone seemed to agree, but something was nagging at Axel that he needed to take care of.

He grabbed your hand before you could go. You looked up at him with bright, inquisitive eyes.

“You guys go on ahead,” he said to the rest of the group, “I need to talk to ________.”

Everyone blinked in surprise, looking at each other then repeatedly between you and Axel and where your hands were joined.

“Of course! Of course,” José crowed, “Come along everyone! We’ll sing you the song we wrote while you wait!” The other birds fluttered with excitement, flying ahead and eager to perform.

Axel waited until everyone was out of earshot before turning to you. You waited with a mostly neutral expression on your face, your soft smile the only hint of your emotions.

“Is something wrong?” you asked. Axel gave you a troubled look, and your smile faded and was replaced with concern. You looked at him all over as if he’d just suffered some form of physical injury he hadn’t told you about. He wished you stop worrying over him. You were making this harder than it needed to be.

“I know who tried to kill you,” he said before he could back out of the conversation.

Your eyes widened, and there was a small spark of realization in your eyes.

“Is he a part of the Organization?” you asked. Axel blinked at you in surprise. Demyx or Namine must have told you. That made things both easier and significantly harder.

“How did you…?”

“Sora told me,” you said looking away from him.

“What else did he tell you?” There was an edge to Axel’s voice. You hadn’t really heard it before. It sounded dangerous, and suddenly the thought of Axel being a part of a murderous group of nobodies didn’t seem impossible.

“He told me the Organization takes hearts. And I know you kinda of lied about the robe. It’s true about using them as protection, but the Organization uses them as a uniform. Just like you,” you wanted your voice to sound sturdier and surer, but the venom in Axel’s tone seemed to shake you to your core just a bit.

“It’s true, and I’m sorry about that. I really am.” He sounded warmer now. “I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want you to change around me. Didn’t want to hurt our relationship.”

You were silent, not looking at his eyes. He wasn’t sure that was worse than if you could stand to look at him. What would that look like? Hate? Sorrow?

“I joined the Organization to get my heart back. Everyone who’s in it did. It seemed like the only way we could be whole again. So we did bad things and hurt people. It was easy when I couldn’t feel anything. Right. Wrong. Didn’t matter. I just wanted to be able to be who I was before everything happened.”

You finally looked up at him, and your expression was a mix of sadness and confusion.

“You hurt people.”

“I did. Even after we met.”

You looked shocked now. You were searching his face for something. He didn’t know what.

“What did you do?” Your voice was quiet and scared. That hurt more than the disappointment he’d expected. To dislike his actions was one thing. To be afraid of him was another. He didn’t want that. He wanted to take it all back. But he needed you to hear him out – needed to tell you everything.

“I kidnapped someone,” he said bluntly, ripping it off like a Band-Aid. He looked away that time, didn’t want to see the look you’d give him then. “A girl. Her name is Kairi. She’s Sora’s best friend. And maybe a little more.”

“Why would you do something like that?!”

He flinched. You sounded scared and horrified. And you were.

“For Roxas,” he blurted. He could see you freeze out of the corner of his eye. But he still couldn’t meet your gaze. “Roxas was my best friend. I didn’t protect him like I should have. Wasn’t there for him when he needed me. And he was destroyed because of it.”

“By Sora?”

“Sort of. Roxas was Sora’s nobody. He needed Roxas in order to be recompleted. But Roxas was also my best friend. I… At the time… I wanted….”

What was he supposed to say? He wanted to kill someone to bring back his best friend?

“You wanted to bring Roxas back,” you finished. You didn’t sound angry or disappointed. When he looked at you, you looked neutral, calculating, eyes cast down to your feet where the water continued to gently rise and fall around your ankles.

“Yeah,” he sighed out. You nodded.

“And what about the person sent to kill me?” you asked, changing the subject. You’d heard enough about that.

“Vanitas. He was sent to kill you because I didn’t.”

Now you looked shocked. You were looking at him like he was a stranger.

“I was supposed to kill you and didn’t,” he admitted.

“Why?” Your voice was barley above a whisper at this point as you studied his face.

“At first, it was because I pitied you. You’d never seen the moon or stars. You never knew sunsets or sunrises. Even the flowers on Hollow Bastion seemed like a novelty to you. I felt bad. So I let you experience things. I hadn’t expected to be friends with you. But every moment I spent with you made it harder to do my job. And eventually I didn’t want to do it anymore. So I started protecting you. And I’d like to keep doing that if you’ll let me,” he said. You didn’t respond yet.

A moment of quiet passed between the two of you.

“Those few weeks you were gone, where were you?”

Changing the subject again.

“I figured out that Vanitas was following me. He was hoping I’d lead him to you. So I left. When you called that day you went missing, I was acting casual, but I wanted to be with you in case he found you. I’d fought him not long before that. He said he knew where you were. So when you didn’t come back the next day, I assumed the worst. But I didn’t want to believe it. I keep thinking that if I had told you, you would have been safer – would have known to take measures to avoid capture or worse. I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” you sighed.

“Okay?”

“I need a moment to think about all of this,” you said as you brushed passed him, not making eye contact.

Axel didn’t know how to react. You weren’t screaming at him or yelling. You didn’t say you never wanted to see him again.

“I’m not that person anymore, ________,” he called after you. You paused at the door then kept walking. And Axel didn’t know what to do. So he followed silently, giving you space.

You could hear the birds as you climbed the stairs. You wanted to be out of this moment. You didn’t want to think Axel was who he was – even if he said he wasn’t that person anymore. You didn’t want to think he was that person ever.

In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

All the birds sing words and the flowers croon

In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room

The birds were finishing up their final chorus when you finally walked back into the room. Your friends, excluding Ludwig, and the chief gave light applause while the birds bowed from their perches around the room.

“________!” Fritz called, “You missed our song!”

“She doesn’t look so good,” Michael said in what he imagined might have been a hushed voice. You grimaced a little.

“Her boyfriend isn’t looking too good either,” Fritz mentioned, noting Axel’s facial expression.

“A lovers’ quarrel perhaps?” José asked no one in particular.

You ignored them, moving across the room silently to go up the stairs and exit the temple. Your friends and the chief followed. You were silent even on the boat, keeping to yourself and talking to no one while Axel gazed at you worriedly.

You were stuck in your thoughts. You knew you couldn’t under any circumstances overlook Axel’s actions, but you at the very least understood them. You remembered how you felt after you lost Genki. You would be willing to throw yourself down that hole just to bring him back. But would you be willing to kill anyone else?

Sora more or less killed Roxas hadn’t he?

That would drive anyone over the edge. You didn’t think you’d take it lying down either if someone killed your friends. Especially if killing them meant bringing back your friend.

It still wasn’t okay. But you could see why someone might do that.

You could also see why someone would join the Organization if they lost their heart. They don’t have any emotion. How much of their self – their true self – is left after something like that? Does it change how you feel about what’s right and what’s wrong?

Probably considering right and wrong are entirely based in your emotions and sense of self. Something that had been ripped from Axel forcibly. At least until he met Roxas. And, remembering what Namine told you about relationships, he had started forming a new heart. A heart that you remembered was now connected to yours.

Axel had done bad things.

But you had seen light in him. He had protected you and gone against the people who promised him a heart to protect you.

You felt for your connection to him. You knew the connection didn’t allow you to feel his every emotion or he yours, but maybe you could feel through that connection. See how he really felt.

You closed your eyes, testing it. It felt like being pushed and pulled like being caught in the tide. You could feel guilt and remorse. You could feel hurt. So at least he meant what he’d said. He wasn’t that person anymore. He wasn’t the Axel you knew either.

But he wasn’t bad either.

He was a victim of circumstance in the beginning. And some of his actions after that fact were not a direct result of that, and you could no more overlook them than you could any of his good deeds.

But you could understand them. You could offer understanding. He was doing better. And he was willing to tell you – albeit a little late in the game – about what he’d done in an effort to be honest and keep your trust. He did bad things and made mistakes.

But he was your friend. And you didn’t want anything else to change between you.

You weren’t the only person silently contemplating your actions. Ludwig sat in a corner of the boat in a fetal position, rocking back and forth. His hair was frazzled, and he looked like he’d seen better days. Namine and Dreamfinder were doing their best to comfort him.

“Come now, Luddy, it isn’t all bad,” Dreamfinder said, moving to pat his friend on the shoulder. Ludwig hissed, and Dreamfinder withdrew his hand.

“I did this. I could have said something to Ansem, threat or no threat. How many people have suffered for my inaction? I thought I could make it right by building Spaceship Earth, but there’s just been another world still suffering the whole time!”

Namine and Dreamfinder looked at each other.

“We’ll figure something out, Professor,” Namine said in a soothing voice, “When they go up the tree to find Uh-Oa, we’ll be on the ground keeping everything together for them.”

Ludwig took very little comfort in it, but he took comfort all the same.

“Yes, yes, you’re right. I let Beastly Kingdom fall, and I’ll be damned if I let Animal Kingdom fall too.”

~

By the time you’d arrived back at the village, the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, and the village was decorated brightly and beautifully and smelled of hot, delicious food.

“What’s all this?” Demyx asked as he stepped off of the boat.

“The village is celebrating,” you answered, “It’s because tomorrow I go up the tree and face Uh-Oa and maybe fix all the damage caused.”

“Sweet!” Demyx said, bounding over to the nearest table with food. You waited by the edge of the boat as your friends and family each hopped off one by one. Then Axel stepped up. He hopped off the boat and looked at you. You were obviously waiting for him.

“I’ve thought about it,” you began. “I know you’re not a bad person. I know you did what you felt you had to. And while that’s not an excuse, I think I understand your reasons behind your actions. And if you want, I still want to be your friend.”

You lightly took his hand, looking up at him with a smile and a look of sympathy in your eyes. It was different from all the one he’d received before, but this one was somehow better – perhaps because now you knew him better.

He smiled, holding your hand more firmly. You both just looked at each other for a moment, enjoying each other’s company and the way the evening felt, your heart still fluttering even with your view of him changed.

That was when Amaya came bounding up to the two of you with a bright smile on her face.

“This is Amaya,” you explained to Axel as she looked between the two of you, “She’s one who told the village about me.”

“Is this Axel?” she asked, looking at him with lively eyes to match her smile. Axel blinked in surprise.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Because ________ said you were really cute!”

Amaya!

Chapter Text

You try to remember the last time you’d been to a party, and it all feels fuzzy. Had it really been so long? Didn’t matter now. You were going to enjoy this.

The center of the village was alive with people, dancing, eating, drinking. Even Daealla, who always maintained an air of motherly calm about her, was partying like it was her last night alive.

Demyx was trying his best to charm a few of the village girls into thinking he was incredibly brave and strong, doing a few tricks with his sitar to their many oohs and ahhs. This, of course, was when he wasn’t stuffing his face with food.

Your uncle had relaxed only a bit with the aura of the party giving an infectious calming flow with its mirth and laughter. He drank a bit, not a lot, instead nursing one steady cup of alcohol for the whole of the night.

Dreamfinder was even more conservative with his drinks. They kept offering them to him, but he wasn’t a fan of the taste. So he kept giving them to Figment who was drunk off his ass before the party really had a chance to get under way.

You sat on one of the many benches near the open square with Axel and Namine. You were glad she was there. You needed a buffer friend to diffuse the awkwardness you felt since Amaya spelled out your feelings for Axel. Well, sort of. He knew. And you knew he knew. And he knew you knew he knew. Your feelings were obvious before, and they hadn’t gotten any less obvious apparently. Though if you knew the object of your affections was going to meet the people to whom you spilled your heart, you probably wouldn’t have been so open about it. Specifically about how cute and sweet he was. And his eyes. Ugh, you could live in those eyes of his, and damn near everyone who asked you about your life before knew it.

Namine wasn’t touching any alcohol though she thoroughly enjoyed the food. You knew not to drink since you had a big day tomorrow, but you needed a cup to take the edge off. Maybe you could kick your awkwardness a bit and act like how you normally did. Axel was also having a cup, but he barely touched it.

“You’ve hardly eaten anything, _________,” Namine pointed out after a while, “Is something wrong?”

“Ah, just nerves I guess,” you said, sipping your drink and staring deeply into your cup. It was sweet with a strange savory after taste. Not bad, but not your favorite either. You didn’t do much drinking back home anyway. Only at parties and even then just a few sips of beer. You’d never been more than tipsy, except once after a several glasses of champagne at a New Years party when your mom let you drink.

You decided promptly that you didn’t like being drunk. Not enough control of your body and you felt nauseous the whole time. No, drunk wasn’t for you, but tipsy you could handle. Not like it mattered. You weren’t aiming for any of that tonight. You doubt you would have even touched the stuff were it not for your nerves.

“I know you’ll do fine tomorrow,” she said, laying a comforting hand on your shoulder. You just smiled. She couldn’t have known that you meant how you felt about Axel. Of course, boys were also the least of your worries, but the heart wants what it blah blah blah….

“So what did the two of you need to talk about earlier?” Namine asked innocently enough, sipping a non-alcoholic juice. You stiffened, taking another quick sip of your own drink. You felt like you needed it. You could see Axel sip his own rather hurriedly too. Was he feeling awkward too? Did you incidentally make things weird by entrusting an eight-year-old with your secret-not-so-secret crush?

“They weren’t talking!” Demyx slurred as he half-walked, half-stumbled over to your little group. “They were making out!” He started making mock kissing noises at you and Axel. You downed another portion of your drink. Where was that mother fucking buzz when you needed it?

“We were not making out!” Axel snapped at him. He did not need to revisit that moment right now. Not when you were all supposed to be enjoying your time here.

“I don’t know, Demyx. They looked upset when they came back,” Namine countered.

“That’s just cause Axel’s a bad kisser. I would know,” he said with a smirk. You and Namine snapped your heads over in Axel’s direction with wide-eyed looks. Axel rolled his eyes.

“He would not know!” he defended. “And I’m not a bad kisser! Not that, you know, I’m tryna to get kissed or anything! Not saying I don’t want to either! I mean! Ugh! Shut your drunk ass up, Demyx!”

Demyx laughed then cried then laughed some more. You were worried about him and his drunk ass but not enough to care. You were still stuck on, “Not saying I don’t want to either.” You sipped some more of your drink trying to calm your thirsty ass down.

“Well maybe I don’t know, but ________ sure does!” Demyx said leaning on you.

“I don’t,” you said dryly, downing the last of your drink.

“But I bet you wished you did,” he said, poking you in the cheek. You moved to bite him, but he pulled his finger out of the way at the last second.

He was right though.

“________!” someone called. You looked to the square to see several of the warriors standing there, bearing their spears. One of the warriors, Nym, beckoned you over with an eager smile on his face. You could already hear the drums starting up for a dance you loved oh so much. Nym knew it was your favorite.

The warriors lit their spears one by one, bright red and orange flames dancing on the ends of their weapons. You stood from your spot, letting Demyx fall into the space you once occupied. You summoned your own spear, lighting it aflame with your own azure blaze.

Your friends looked on in mild surprise. You certainly hadn’t been able to do that before. They knew you could summon a spear and control your fire from your tales of survival, but a combination of the two was a creative twist on the weapon. You were becoming quite the warrior.

Dreamfinder, Figment, and Ludwig walked over to where Axel, Namine, and Demyx sat. Daealla joined them to watch you with an eager smile.

“What are they doing?” Namine asked as she watched you and the other warriors get into position.

“They’re dancing,” Daealla responded, eyes never leaving you, “This is a dance that was created in honor of Uh-Oa which is why only the spear-bearers do it.”

The drums began to pick up their beat, signaling to the dancers that it was time to start. Your hips began to sway, and you lifted your spear above your head. The dance always started slow, and you loved the way it picked up. It felt like your heart taking off. You twirled your spear around, spinning on your toes and striking defensive and offensive poses alike. Your spear and your flame were an extension of you, and you danced with both with all the grace you could muster looking like an ethereal warrior – something both beautiful yet destructive; perilous and celestial alike.

And Axel was in awe. He knew you were graceful, and he’d seen you grow powerful. But you were something new now. And he couldn’t think of how to describe it. He just sat there with his eyes slightly widened, taking you in as you danced, the light of your beautiful, blue flames shimmering in your eyes and the glass beads in your hair.

You were radiant.

You glanced at your friends out of the corner of your eyes seeing their happy, and wowed expressions. Then you saw Axel. That was very much the look of someone who liked what they were seeing, and you were feeling bold – one might even say flirty. And so you tossed him a wink.

He ignited, a bright red flame, coursing over his body. He quickly got it back under control before he could burn anything down but not before Ludwig’s feathers caught fire a bit. He quickly patted it out before glaring at Axel who gave him a quick apology, blushing as he did so. He found himself doing that a lot lately. Or at least found himself trying very hard to with every time you managed to catch him off guard like this. You were kind of driving him crazy.

He couldn’t feel bad too long though because he was once again caught up in your dance, watching your every lithe step and spin as you handled your spear with all the care of an expert.

Daealla looked on with pride. Namine, Dreamfinder, Figment and Demyx looked on with light amazement. Ludwig was more worried than anything. If anything happened to you, your mother would kill him – and you just had to be dancing with a weapon that was on fire. Why was no one else worried about this?

Well it didn’t matter because soon the dance came to an end. You, panting and exhilarated, de-summoned your weapon, your flames fizzling out in a flash of smoke and glowing cinders.

You bounded back over to your friends.

“I’ve taught you well. You looked amazing out there,” Daealla said with no small amount of pride in her voice, “And I’m not the only one that thought so.” Her eye somewhat subtly flicked to Axel and back to you with a knowing smile not unlike your mother’s. At least someone in this world knew how to be subtle about your feelings.

“I know Axel thought so,” Demyx teased, and even Namine giggled.

“You were okay,” he said with a smirk. You smiled but looked away nervously.

“You set me on fire,” Ludwig said dryly. You couldn’t help but giddily giggle. “Don’t giggle giddily at that!”

“Yeah, he thinks you’re hot stuff,” Dreamfinder added with a nudge.

“And don’t nudge me!” Ludwig snapped.

Your heart was beating rapidly in your chest, happily but nervously. You cast a glance at Axel who was blushing and trying to act like he wasn’t.

You couldn’t help the giggle that escaped you again. He looked at you. And you giggled a bit more, albeit more nervously. Could everyone hear how loudly your heart was beating?!

“What’re you laughing at?” he challenged with a smirk.

“You’re cute when you blush,” you blurted – that alcohol must have been catching up to you. He looked surprised, blinking at you before looking away again.

“You’re cute when you dance,” he said. Your heart is either beating so fast that it’s a steady vibration that feels like nothing or it stopped altogether. Both of these things seem plausible. Obviously one was true because not enough blood or oxygen was making its way to your brain because even though you were probably going to humiliate yourself in some way, you sat next to him.

“Thank you,” you said softly, with a light smile. He looked in your eyes, and this time you found you couldn’t look away. No matter how much it made that stupid grin pop up on your face or made your heart beat to the point you thought it might explode, you didn’t want to look away and leave this moment with him. He found himself stuck in a similar trance.

The others took the hint and left the two of you alone.

The two of you didn’t do as much flirting after that, preferring to just talk and get to know more about each other. You told him more of your life before, and he told you stories of being with Roxas when the two weren’t running jobs for the Organization.

You were in the middle of a story about accidentally knocking your uncle’s beak off and how it had taken two days to staple it back to his face when you heard one of your favorite songs cue up. It wasn’t warrior specific and had no designated dance for it, but you loved dancing to it regardless. Your eyes lit up, and Axel knew what you were going to ask before you even asked it. And he was prepared to turn you down too, but then you gave him this look of absolute bliss when you heard the drums tapping out a beat that a flute-like instrument matched, and he forgot how to say no.

“Wanna dance?” you asked, already hopping up to your feet. You were obviously going to dance with or without him, but you also very obviously wanted him to dance with you.

“I’m not really much of a dancer,” he said, scratching the back of his head. You were already pulling him to his feet. He couldn’t say no.

“This song is simple,” you said, swiveling your hips as you pulled him close. You put his hands on your hips and you leaned into him, hands reaching up to his shoulders. He stumbled a bit, but eventually fell into a natural rhythm with you. You didn’t break it or push your moves too far. You wanted him to be comfortable in this. The two of you continued to do your slow rhythmic dance until the two of you were pressed rather close to each other – you lean into him even more and he pulls your hips flush against his own.

You felt warm like this. Really warm. But pleasantly so. You couldn’t take your eyes off of his, his eyes seemingly darker now as he gazed at you. You also felt like you were going to fall into them. Your body felt like it was soaked in searing heat building to a crescendo.

And just like that you ignited, body enveloped in bright blue flame.

Axel blinked in surprise, looking down at your own wide eyes which had been, a second ago, enamored with his own. He had to admit that he liked dancing with you. He liked you. And he liked feeling your body move with his own. He probably shouldn’t considering it was just a dance, but the way you were looking at him made him want far more than he ought to.

And the next thing he knew, you had caught fire. Apparently you were feeling it too. He snapped out of his surprise relatively quickly, allowing a red flame to consume him too so you wouldn’t be alone or embarrassed about having lost control for a moment, and then you continued your dance, the two colors of flame dancing around each other just as you did now.

You both shared a light laugh at the situation, letting the music take you away again until a low rumble of thunder rolled overhead. A moment later a downpour came to rain out the party. Just as well, it was getting late. The rain felt cleansing and cool, and you stepped away from Axel to revel in the feel of it, smoke rising off of your body as the flames extinguished and sizzled against your burning skin.

You sighed in contentment, turning to head inside.

Axel followed you trying not let his eyes linger on your outfit which had begun to cling to your body, and the way it drooped lower on your chest when heavy with rainwater – and how it moved with the graceful sway of your body.

He shook his head. He absolutely should NOT be thinking about you like that. He should absolutely NOT be desperately trying to keep his pants from getting tighter which they absolutely should NOT have been doing in the first place in reaction to his best friend. Though he’d been shaking those thoughts off since the first time he’d seen you in your armor – which he’d been denying to himself until more recently that you looked good in… maybe more than good. Maybe so good he actively had to think about keeping it in his pants.

Ugh. He was a mess.

~

This was awkward. No this was just cruel.

You were both acting like you were busy, taking your time getting ready for bed when in actuality this was a really big problem. You had agreed that it was no big deal and you were adults perfectly capable of handling this situation that should not have been that big of a deal. Yet here you were acting like sharing a bed with Axel was totally normal.

It was an honest mistake that had been made anyway. Daealla and the chief had assumed the two of you were together and would want to share a room, and with your friends occupying all the other rooms in their large home, there was no extra one for Axel. So you both just accepted and told them it was no trouble while acting like you were mature enough to handle this. And you were. It’s just severely more awkward when a few moments ago you were dancing with each other and pressed so closely together that you created literal sparks, and now you had to share a bed.

It wasn’t like you hadn’t been in bed with a boy before.  You’d made out with a few on their beds and some on your own, and you and Genki slept side by side all the time – with him on top of the covers with his own blanket of course. And this situation was no different than that one. You were just two friends sleeping on different layers of bed with absolutely no sexual overtones whatsoever.

So why was letting him sleep in your bed so fucking awkward?!

You let out a quiet groan for the umpteenth time that night as you ran your hands down your face. You were in your pajamas, a night gown that was moderately modest. It didn’t look like something you’d seduce somebody in, outside of the fact that it was extremely short. It almost resembled a t-shirt with its loose fit and capped sleeves.

You’d take care not to do any bending over and there you have it – totally normal, unsexy pajamas.

You splashed some water on to your face and dried it before walking back into your room. It was dark except for the bright moonlight that shown into the window, illuminating everything in a pearly blue glow.

Axel had already taken off his boots and was in the process of taking his coat off. You don’t think he heard you come out of the bathroom, and you were glad he didn’t hear you gasp as you watched him slide the wet garment from his shoulders.

He was muscular but lean. Years of working for the Organization did not do him wrong. But he was scarred too. A lot. They were all over, tiny little cuts that crisscrossed and zigzagged over each other. But there was one large, dark one that cut him from shoulder to hip. Unlike the other scars he had which were raised and jagged, this one was smooth with clean edges.

He had been through a lot. But despite the scars, he was kind of beautiful.

You tried not to let your eyes linger for two long, casting one last long glance at his frame as he folded up his coat. Your bed was pressed up against the wall in one corner of the room, and you hopped in and under the covers, quickly scrambling as close to the wall as the bed would allow so he wouldn’t have to look at your exposed legs as some strange attempt to seduce him.

You’re that paranoid.

“Oh, you’re back,” he said, a deer in headlights look about him.

“Yep,” you said, looking anywhere but at him. Your heart was beating even faster now. It was going to fly into your throat at this rate. Then it started skipping every other beat when he began walking to the bed. He climbed on top of it, not looking at you. Not that you’d have noticed because you weren’t looking at him.

And you were both just staring up at the ceiling awkwardly. Waiting to fall asleep. Which was taking way too long. You let out a long sigh. You felt ridiculous.

You tried to think about anything else, but all of your thoughts drifted to Axel. And those thoughts would remind you that there was a shirtless Axel lying right next to you, and you would ignore the thrill of nervousness and excitement that would run through you as best you could.

You closed your eyes and tried to think of a memory you could focus on instead of the moment you were in – thoughts finally drifting to the ones before Axel. Before all of this. When things were simple.

Axel was in a similar predicament. He was trying to pinpoint exactly when it was that he started to develop feelings for you. When had your noble bullheadedness turned into something to admire? When did he go from thinking you weren’t cute to having to shake thoughts of attraction from his head every time you walked into his line of vision? And when had his flirting to get a reaction out of you turned into real flirting because he liked it when you flirted back? How much of this was just mounting sexual tension and active romantic feelings?

“Thank you,” you blurted suddenly but quietly, startling Axel out of his thoughts, “For the shell you got me. I never got a chance to thank you for it. It’s really pretty.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. He didn’t know what else to say after that. Should he try to start a conversation? “Maybe we’ll go again sometime.”

“I’d like that,” you said after a moment, wringing your hands over the cover as your heart fluttered again. Ugh... When had you fallen so hard for him that a simple invitation to the beach was driving you insane? “And thank you for dancing with me earlier. I was afraid you’d back out of it.”

“I liked dancing with you.” More than he wanted to admit.

“Me too,” you said, then with a giggle you added, “In case my setting myself on fire didn’t tell you.”

He let out a light chuckle. The two of you were certainly something out there. Neither of you had even noticed the village gazing at you and your beautiful display. You were too wrapped up in each other’s eyes and the movement of feeling your bodies pressed so snugly together and the searing heat that surrounded the two of you – you also quietly marveling at the fact that Axel’s fire didn’t burn you or yours him.

“I mean I’d already set myself on fire earlier that night,” he half-joked. You giggled.

“And that was when my performance was just ‘okay,’” you added with little air quotes. He chuckled again.

“Maybe you were a little more than okay,” he admitted. You felt yourself relaxing around him, and he felt calmer too. Now that you weren’t so wound up, exhaustion began to pull at you. It had been a long day. You’d been reunited with your friends and family, your crush maybe kinda sorta liked you, and tomorrow you’d start your journey up the tree.

“You’re a little more than okay too,” you said quietly. Did that count as a confession? Or were you too tired to think straight anymore? Axel wasn’t sure either, but he was tired. Maybe he hadn’t even heard you right.

Your eyes drifted shut, and within a few minutes you were snoring lightly. Axel had fallen asleep too.

~

You were on the Destiny Islands again, your feet standing on wet said, the warm water coming up and lapping at your ankles before retreating again.

Axel was with you, and you both gazed out at the two contrasting blues of the sky and the ocean where they met on the horizon. You turned and smiled at him. He smiled back. The two of you waded deeper into the water, soaking up the warmth of the sun when you got a mischievous look on your face.

He knew where this was going – knew it as soon as you bent over to scoop some water up. And he was just a bit faster, splashing you in the face with warm, salty water. You spluttered while he laughed at you. You splashed back. Then he looked predatory, but playfully so. You ran, sloshing through the water as best you could to get back to shore, but when you looked back he was gone.

You turned around to see him stepping out of a corridor, and you were running too fast to stop now. He caught you, lifting you up into his arms and you let out a peal of laughter. He set you down immediately afterwards and the two of you returned to the edge of the wet sand right where the ocean came up to meet your toes and retreat.

Your heart was going crazy, and the part of his that existed was too. This was nice. It made you feel warmth radiate throughout your body. You looked for shells and he found a pale pink one with turquoise streaks going through it that he gave you. You held it close and sat on the sand, patting the spot next to you so he would too.

The two of you admired the view of the sun sparkling on the water before you felt his hand brush over yours. You looked at your hands and then at him. He was looking at you, his eyes soft and inviting. You grabbed his hand, letting your fingers lace together.

Then he leaned forward. You leaned forward a bit too, eyes fluttering closed. A fraction of a second later his lips were on yours. It was short, sweet, only a half of a second of a kiss, and when you pulled back, the two of you looked at each other with a mix of wonder, giddy excitement, and nervousness. You let out a giggle, he chuckled out a breathless laugh. You were nervous, sure. But you weren’t nervous enough to let it overwhelm you because a moment later, the two of you were kissing again – this time longer, slower, sweeter.

Your heart felt like it was going to burst in your chest. You twisted your body around a bit so you were facing him more and he did the same, the two of you breaking apart for only the barest second before you were back on each other, one of your hands on the back of his neck and the other on his shoulder. Both of his hands were on either side of you, one eventually resting just above your knee on your thigh. It began to inch up a bit, stopping on your inner thigh.

Then Axel faltered. Was this alright? Was that too forward?

He began to pull his hand away, and you put it back, leaning towards him more and encouraging him to touch you more. Sweet fuck you needed this. You were resting on your knees now, and Axel pulled you forward until you were on his lap, nearly straddling him.

His hand left your thigh and was on your hip moving to the small of your back and lightly rubbing the skin beneath your shirt.

You broke away to take his gloves off and were back to kissing him again, reveling in the feeling of his skin on yours. Finally! And you scooched forward a bit more until you were straddling him, arching into him just a bit.

His other hand rubbed across your stomach just under your breasts.

You unzipped his coat, letting your hands run over his body too, and trailing them everywhere they could, and he seemed to appreciate the feeling of it. He took his lips off of yours, eyes half-lidded and needy. He rocked you back until you were lying on the ground with him over top of you. He trailed a few kisses up your neck and you panted before his lips were back on yours, and you were digging your hands into his hair, pulling him closer.

His hand that had run over your stomach before now crept up to your breast, and you arched into his touch, feeling him explore parts of your body as if he was trying to learn you. You brought your own hands back to his chest and lightly scratched down his back, feeling all of the rough scarring with patches of smooth flawless skin between. His hips lightly bucked into yours, telling you what he wanted, and you began to trail your fingertips over his hips, never trailing lower.

While you teased him, only just barely brushing over where he really wanted to be touched, he reached his hands beneath your arched back and under your shirt, beginning to fiddle with the clasp of your bra. Just as he had figured out how to undo it, your hand began to trail down to the bulge in his pants and you were about to touch him….

~

Axel blearily blinked his eyes open. He was uncomfortable. Painfully so. When he looked down he realized why that was. He was cuddling you – or rather spooning you as best he could through the blankets on the bed, and you were pressed snugly against him. He was just thankful you couldn’t feel his erection – which was painfully pushing against his pants in a desperate attempt at freedom – pressing into your ass through the blankets. He felt like he was about to erupt, pulling away from your body and out of the dream just in time. Fuck only knows what would have happened if you had actually managed to touch him in that dream. Also he was on fire. Something he hoped wouldn’t be a frequent occurrence every time he was mildly aroused by dreams.

He should not have been dreaming that. He should not be thinking about you so sexually, and he felt weird thinking that if he hadn’t woken up he’d have probably done much, much more in that dream. And woken up with an even more embarrassing situation to deal with. Especially if you woke up before him and saw it.

He groaned lowly as he shifted away from you before getting on the floor to sleep. He lay there awake for a bit, trying desperately to ignore the boner and his nearly unignorable urge to finish himself off that had yet to go away, but he refused to take care of it. And eventually he was able to ignore it enough, and it had softened enough to be ignored and he could sleep.

He didn’t have anymore dreams like that, thankfully.

~

You woke slowly, a gentle sunlight streaming in through your window. The air was pleasantly warm and comfortable. You turned to your side and noticed Axel was missing.

Maybe he had to use the bathroom?

You shrugged, stretching your limbs out and basking in the warmth the sun offered, feeling your bones pop here and there. You’d had a good night’s sleep and a very good dream about you and Axel. It ended before it got to the best part, but you could just imagine an ending later.

You bit your lip. You probably shouldn’t be thinking about him like that, but he drove you absolutely wild.

Then you noticed the markings on the bed. It looked like it had been torched to hell.

You swung your legs over the side of the bed and saw Axel on the floor not far from where you were. You blinked down at his sleeping form before creeping over to him, kneeling next to him – minding your short nightgown – and gently shaking his shoulder.

“Axel?”

Even on the uncomfortable floor he looked absolutely adorable sleeping. Ugh. You were lovestruck – crush-struck? Whatever you were. If you kept this up, you’d stab yourself in the gut from your own romance-y mind.

He stirred, blinking several times in the light of the room before taking in your form kneeling next to him, your eyes looking at him with mild concern.

What were you concerned about? Already he wanted to fix whatever it was. Then he realized it was probably because he decided to sleep on the floor. But you didn’t know that.

“Um, good morning?” you said with a small smile, “What are you doing on the floor?”

Keeping his inappropriate thoughts away from you – and the not so subtle reactions his body had to said thoughts.

“I fell out of the bed,” he answered, sitting up and rubbing the shoulder he slept on. You snorted a little, trying not to laugh at the fact that your friend had fallen in the middle of the night.

“You could have gotten back in?” you said with an amused smile and a little giggle in your voice.

“It had not occurred to me,” he said with a small smirk, standing up and offering you his hand. You took it, standing up and giving his hand a little squeeze. You giggled at his response.

“And what about the mattress? It looks like it’s seen better days,” you said, casting a wary glance towards it.

“It enraged me.”

You couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped you.

Chapter Text

You took in a deep breath. Your heart was already pounding in your chest.

You were… intimidated to say the least. You’d seen the mountains in the distance and the mountain-sized tree in the distance, but to be standing at the base of it was overwhelming. You’d never seen any of these things up close and in person before.

“You okay?” Axel asked, eyeing you warily.

“Yes, I’m fine,” you replied, taking another deep breath, “Can you tell I feel strange?”

“I can feel it,” he remarked, touching the spot where his heart would be – no, was forming. You hadn’t even realized you were sending out your emotions like that.

“Sorry,” you said quickly, “I didn’t realize I was doing that.”

You were trying to reign in your emotion, but it was proving to be easier said than done and every glance at the tree sent another wave of mild anxiety through you. You felt two warm hands rest on your shoulders. You looked up at Axel who was giving you a calm, steady gaze.

You felt better.

“Breathe,” he commanded, “Slowly.”

You took his advice, closing your eyes and taking in slow, deep breaths. You felt your heart calm slightly. You opened your eyes to look at Axel again. Oops. Your heart skipped a beat that time. But if he felt that too, he didn’t mention it.

“Thanks,” you said once you were more under control. “It’s just…  enormous.”

You looked at the Tree of Life again, feeling the similar feeling of awe and anxiousness creep up again but not nearly as bad as before with Axel grounding you. You could see shapes of the animals more clearly now. Some you could recognize or at least looked vaguely familiar. Others were lost on you, strange things you could only hope to hear about in fiction.

“What are you afraid of mountains?” Demyx lightly teased while Axel shot him a look. You laughed a bit anyway. Humor was nice. Humor got rid of the nerves.

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve just never seen one before. I mean, I’ve seen pictures but never stood next to one – let alone climbed one. And I’ve never seen a mountain that was a tree before either.”

“Hm. You got me there. I’m not familiar with mountain trees either,” he said as he eyed the tree. He didn’t look awed at all. Which was a marvel itself to you.

“We are all counting on you, Guardian,” the chief said as he walked up to you, handing each of you a pack of supplies, each stuffed to the brim. Axel would be carrying the tents, one for the boys and one for you. Demyx would be carrying food, fresh fruit and dried meats and animal skins full of water and juices. You would handle the first aid kits, potions, and sleeping bags. “And I understand that you all are magic users. If you would be so kind to respect our customs, I would ask that you refrain from using any dark magic on the tree.”

You each nodded. You didn’t know any dark magic, but you knew this meant no corridors of darkness from Axel or Demyx.

“You will be victorious. I know it,” Daealla said with a proud smile as she moved to hug you. You gave her a tight squeeze back, looking behind her at all of the proud and expectant faces of the village people who had come to see you off. Then you saw Amaya push through the crowd, running up to you to give you a goodbye hug as well. She all but fell into your arms, and you both shared a giggle. But then her laugh abruptly stopped, cutting off with a choking noise and a gurgle. She fell slack against you and you quickly turned her to face upwards. You saw her expression flicker between fear and peace.

“Amaya?!” you said with alarm. The eyes of Daealla and the chief snapped down to the two of you as you watched her fade away in your arms.

“No!” Daealla screeched as she lurched towards you, her child passing through her fingers. She let out a choked sob as she grasped at the air where her child had once been. When she registered that there was nothing to grab for she finally gripped your hands like a vice. You hardly noticed. Your head was down, and little gleaming tears fell like a silver waterfall from your eyes, your body shuddering.

Why her?

You felt a hand come down on your shoulder and looked up to see the chief. His own eyes brimmed with tears he wouldn’t let fall in front of his people. His face said that it was time to go. You nodded, swiping at your face, helping Daealla to her feet, while she leaned on you. She was quietly sobbing into your shoulder.

“You’ll bring her back,” Axel said, voice strong, supportive. You needed to hear that. “All of them.”

You nodded. Daealla seemed to also take comfort in this. Her tears never stopped, even as she backed away from you. Your tears hadn’t stopped either, and you turned to face the tree. All trace of your anxiety was gone in the face of your determination.

You raised your keyblade, pointing it at the invisible barrier around the tree and watched as a wave of light rippled around the enormous plant. The barrier fell and you, Axel, and Demyx strode towards it, as deathly silent as the crowd behind you.

They dispersed somberly, praying you would.

~

The chief led Namine, Dreamfinder, and Ludwig to the basement of his home. It started like a normal basement before it gave way to the damp, dark earth. It was dimly lit with oil lamps that cast an eerie glow in the space surrounding them.

“I hate to be a bother, but as you know, my people have grown weary and panicked in their wait for a solution to our problem. Have you discovered anything, anything at all, that will save our world?” the chief asked as he led them down the long, spiraling staircase deep below the earth.

“Well,” Dreamfinder began, “I’ve developed a few theories based on the hearts of two of our friends on their way to tangle with the goddess.

“You mean the guardian and her lover?”

This earned a giggle from Namine as she thought about the face the two of you would make to be called lovers.

“The very same!” Dreamfinder said with a chuckle. “You see one of them does not have the whole of his heart."

"Axel, correct?"

"Precisely! But he has been recompleting it via the strong relationship he's formed with ________. Well it was recently discovered that he actually shares an intimate connection with ________, and this connection allows them to share dreams and sometimes feel the emotions of the other when they’re particularly strong - all stemming from a moment of absolute emotional clarity and connection.”

“And what does this mean for us?”

“Well it means that maybe the heart of Kelewenya can be reconstructed. Maybe the world's binary heart can be recompleted in a sense. If the heart can be separated between memories and emotion as we've seen when Axel expresses emotion separate from ________ despite experiencing the same dream and memory, then maybe a heart can be separated like that as well. It would be an incredible discovery! An existing emotion with no specific memory or bias attached to it! I believe one could construct a heart using these raw emotions and allow it to grow based on personal experience. It would be something like an artificial heart or heart stem cells!”

“Tampering with the heart is not something one should take lightly,” the chief warned.

“I understand,” Dreamfinder continued, “But this could allow us to reconstruct a heart for Beastly Kingdom, so your world remains stable. However, it’s too early in this research to know if such is even truly possible. If nothing else, it allows people without hearts to have a chance at forming them.”

The walls of earth were now showing hints of roots that began to weave and tangle around them.

“If it will save my people,” the chief said hopefully, stopping and turning to them, “I will trust you to it. But I must ask that before each of you sees the heart of the Tree of Life, you give of yourself to the tree through an ancient ritual that our people partake of from the moment they are born.”

“What does this ritual entail exactly?” Namine questioned as the foundation of the house was now overcome by roots carved with animals the further down they went. It looked much like the trunk of the tree with each space taken up by an intricate animal carving.

“It is a simple blood ritual in which you will take one drop of your blood and offer it to the roots,” the chief said as he pulled out a small dagger and handed it to Ludwig.

“Oh well that sounds simple enough,” Ludwig stated, pricking his finger and wiping it on one of the roots of the tree. It absorbed it immediately. You’d have never known there was any blood there at all.

Dreamfinder and Namine did the same, watching as their blood was absorbed.

“Now that you each have your own leaves, I’ll escort you down to the heart,” the chief said turning and continuing down the long staircase.

“Our own what?” Dreamfinder exclaimed. Namine looked on with wide eyes at the chief’s retreating figure, and Ludwig fainted.

~

“What’s that one?” you asked for the umpteenth time. Demyx and Axel looked at the animal you pointed to this time. You were trying to keep the questions to a minimum, trying to only point out the truly bizarre ones, but you found yourself incredibly curious the more time went on and the more animals you saw.

There was a path up the tree that twisted and turned between branches, widening and thinning in areas like a mountain trail – though never so thin that you’d have to scooch against a wall. But sometimes thin enough that only one of you could pass at a time. Then sometimes so wide you could fit maybe one hundred people side by side on it.

“That’s a zebra,” Demyx answered. His annoyance with your questions grew as much as your fascination, but he kept his cool. Sometimes it was funny when you didn’t know basic animals. He thought it was weird.

You frowned at his answer.

“It looks like the naked unicorn we saw,” you commented, further inspecting the “zebra.” This was just a “horse” with stripes. Why did the markings change the species?

“It wasn’t naked, and it wasn’t a unicorn,” Demyx repeated, referring to your discovery of the horse, “Your planet just has weird mythical creatures on it.”

“They’re not mythical if they exist Demyx. And it’s hardly my fault your, ‘horse’ is missing a horn or wings. I mean that’s just weird. If something like that exists on my world it’s because poachers cut them off.”

Demyx grimaced at the image of a mutilated horse.

“Well it’s not my fault you don’t have normal animals! How do you get a planet of normal human beings and not normal ani –”

“A planet of what?” you asked, scrunching your face up in confusion. If this thing he spoke of was so normal, then why had you never heard of it?

“Human beings,” Demyx repeated with a dry, disbelieving look. Your face showed no realization of what he was talking about.

“He means whatever they call you on your world,” Axel clarified. He was curious now too. If you didn’t call yourselves humans, then what were you?

“Oh! Elves,” you replied. Demyx and Axel looked more surprised than before – with mild shock written on Demyx’s face.

“You are not elves,” Demyx said with a mild trace of annoyance to his tone, “You’re not short enough and your ears aren’t pointy enough and you don’t sing and make toys.”

“I don’t know what that last part is supposed to mean, but this isn’t, like, millions of years ago where our ears come out to here, Demyx,” you snarked back with a roll of your eyes pointing your finger a foot from where the tips of your own ears were  , “People got taller and ears didn’t need to be as big.”

Axel got closer to you, turning your head to the side to inspect your ears. You wouldn’t really notice if you weren’t looking for it – which no one ever really was – but there was just the slightest hint of a point at the ends of your ears.

“Huh,” Axel mused.

“What’s wrong?” you asked, moving back and rubbing your ear a bit.

“Nothing. Just elves are myths too, and you almost look exactly like a normal person,” Axel said as he watched Demyx inspect your ears much less gently and was met with annoyed swats to keep him at bay.

“My planet is not a myth, and I am normal you dicks!” you said with a little stamp of your foot. Axel held back a little laugh. You were obviously being serious, but… you were acting… kind of adorable really. He forced the thought to the back of his mind, however, when he remembered the dream he’d had. He needed to keep his distance if just watching you be frustrated was going to set his emotions – or his hormones in the case of his dream – off.

You huffed, folding your arms and continuing down the path. You’d been walking for hours and the midday sun was high in the sky. The village had shrunk considerably behind you to where it looked like a small overhead painting rather than something you’d been able to stand in just that morning.

This was about the time Figment stumbled out of Demyx’s head. You all blinked in surprise. He was holding his head, bed robe disheveled with one sleeve hanging off of his shoulder. He sipped from a coffee cup that said, “Mondays ain’t so bad.”

“Figment, what are you doing here?”

Figment blinked at you like you were the crazy one. Then he blearily looked around and took in his surroundings. Then he leaned over the edge of the pathway to see the village below. Then he fainted.

You sighed, picking him up in your arms and cradling him like a baby. He must have slipped into Demyx’s head the night before to sleep off his drunken stupor then woke up too late. Well, he was with you now. You weren’t about to carry him five to six hours back down the tree. When he awoke he could fly down his damn self.

“So,” Demyx began, “Are you guys like Tolkien elves and really tall, like, ya know living with the land and stuff?”

“I don’t know about living with the land or who or what ‘Tolkien’ is but, I mean, before the world imploded there were fossil fuels and cars. And like most people, we all have differing heights, and once again, I am a normal person,” you stressed, “I mean, you’re shorter than Axel! Are you a dwarf where you’re from?”

“Yeah, actually,” Axel joked.

“What?!” Demyx snapped.

~

It was only day two and things were off with your dynamic with Demyx and Axel. Or rather, Axel had been acting strangely. In that he was distant. He joked with you and Demyx sometimes but then it was like he remembered he wasn’t supposed to be and stopped. Well he stopped with you anyway. Demyx was still fair game apparently. And you’d be lying if you said you weren’t the least bit jealous about it, but like hell would you ever admit that you were jealous of Demyx of all people. Maybe he was going through something? Maybe he was pushing you away? Maybe he didn’t like you as much as you thought. And maybe Axel, friend that he was, didn’t want to lead you on or give you the wrong ideas.

Maybe it was your fault.

You’d flirted with him a bit the night before when you all were setting up camp, and he seemed okay with it initially, falling into an easy response before he backtracked severely and changed the subject.

You were caught off guard by it but not deterred. Maybe you should have been. You tried again and got an icier response. You stopped trying after that, ego and feelings thoroughly wounded.

Axel knew he hurt your feelings. He hadn’t meant to do it, but between his erratic feelings for you and his own inability to process them, he didn’t know what else to do. He obviously couldn’t handle flirting with you without relatively lewd thoughts sneaking their way into the innocent ones. And he very much did not want to lead you on romantically to only find out that maybe he just wanted to bang while still remaining close friends. That wouldn’t be fair to you who obviously did want to pursue him romantically.

So he didn’t apologize for so abruptly pushing you away despite the fact that he wanted to because he was incompetent when it came to potentially romantic feelings because these were things he’d never felt before.

Sure, he’d had a crush on a few people before he was a nobody, but he hadn’t felt them in such a long time, processing them was like a mind fuck that gave him a headache every time he tried. And these feelings were fairly new because they were either severely romantic or purely physical with a touch of friendship.

So that was how the two of you found each other almost always using Demyx as a buffer between you for the entirety of that day, talking to each other only when necessary – so basically anytime you were discussing the task at hand. So not very often.

You were admiring the tree again as you walked, hardly paying attention to whatever Demyx was prattling on about this time. The leaves in the mornings glittered like jewels when there was a dew on them, though the higher you, got the drier the air became. Now they had a translucent matte look about them that cast pretty, yellow-green light on everything. It reminded you of a dance you’d done back on Spaceship Earth in a recital as a tribute to nature – one you thought was rather ironic considering the circumstances.

Though you frequently found your thoughts interrupted by Demyx exclaiming something or by your own intrusive thoughts about the cold demeanor emanating from the object of your affections.

“You know, I feel like I’ve been carrying our conversations a lot lately,” Demyx said after he stopped his ten-minute rant about ________ and effectively interrupting your daydreaming.

“That’ll happen when you talk nonstop for ten minutes,” you answered dryly, looking around at all of the branches. You were beginning to notice more gaps in the trees canopy the further up you went, barren branches looking severely out of place amongst the full ones – a grim omen of what was to come.

“Well if I don’t talk, no one will,” Demyx said as he rolled his eyes, “You and Axel have barely said a word to me all day, and you haven’t spoken to each other at all.”

The four of you let this sink in before Demyx let out a big, dramatic gasp, eyes darting rapidly between you and Axel.

“Did something happen between the two of you?! You fucked didn’t you!”

“No!” you snapped, slapping him across the back of his head. “Nothing happened!”

“Then why aren’t you guys talking to each other? I mean, you’ll hardly look at each other.”

Figment glanced between the two of you from where he sat on top of Demyx’s head, trying to read the situation as best he could. Honestly, you both looked tired. Though you carried an air of sadness where Axel looked more frustrated than anything. He had decided to stay with your little group, but now he was rethinking that if he was going to be caught between your drama.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” you admitted, somewhat bitterly, glancing away from everyone and walking ahead. Axel inwardly cringed. He needed to fix this.

He sighed and walked forward, catching up to you and placing a hand on your shoulder. You didn’t stop, but you didn’t remove his hand either.

“________,” he began as the two of you walked, trying to figure out how to best say that he’d had a dream where he was pretty sure the two of you were gonna have sex while not sounding like a creep, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I know,” you admitted, “You always protect me. I didn’t think you were trying to hurt my feelings. I just thought I pushed you too far. You know how I feel. I thought….”

Your words trailed off as you approached a large cavernous hole in a part of the trunk of the tree. It stood in front of you like a gateway. It was intimidating and inviting. And also so very dark.

Your anxiety spiked. You could only think of your journey through the mind. Your heart began thumping so hard it was almost painful. Axel felt it too, your heart sending out a rush of fear called to him like a beacon and calling for help. It was then he realized you were afraid of the dark.

Demyx, ever oblivious, caught up to the two of you and tried to peer into the cave before asking you what the hold up was. Axel didn’t need to feel your heart to see the look of fear on your face.

Figment transformed into a flashlight that Demyx grabbed and began to shine into the cave. It illuminated a large chunk of it as the light bounced off and shown through what looked like crystals lining the walls of the cave. It cast opalescent blue-purple glows on everything. It made your heart calm somewhat. It was beautiful in a way, and for a brief second you felt like you could do this.

You gave a flick of your wrist, summoning a sizeable blue flame to act as a torch for you. Demyx stepped into the cave first. Darkness encroaching behind his retreating figure. Your bravery began to vanish. But you had to do this. You needed to do this.

As you continued to stare into the mouth of the cave, your hand began to tremble, and you swallowed thickly. You could hear the crying of the creature echoing in your mind. That was the only sound you could hear over the thump of your own heart.

Even Axel felt wary. He could not be afraid of the dark. Not when he’d experienced it so much already. But he could never shake the memory of all he’d seen in your father’s mind – the fear he might never leave, the thought that you would die, the nightmares he occasionally experienced.

But he needed to do this. And so did you. And you would do it together.

Axel grabbed your hand, a flame already flaring in his other one. He began to lead you through the cave, and you squeezed his hand tightly, afraid to let go. Afraid to be in the dark alone.

But he was there. Just like in the mind.

He was there.

“I’ve got you,” he said softly as the two of you walked, “And I’m sorry. That I’ve been distant. I’ve been thinking a lot about myself and my emotions and what they mean for you.”

You looked up at him in the dim, cool light of the fire and crystals. Now that there was a sizeable amount of light coming from the two of you, you could see the bright and sparkling crystals that jetted from the walls in every available space, bathing everything in a lustrous glow that made the non-crystalized floor you stood on gleam like opals and pearls.

“For me?” you asked, heart jumping into your throat as you stopped to look at him. Your eyes were bright and inquisitive, reflecting the glow and shimmer of the walls around you, and he felt his own heart jump into his throat.

He cleared his throat, glancing away so he’d have the nerve to say what he needed. When he opened his mouth to clarify, he was cut off by Demyx’s scream. The two of you rushed forward, the crystals and all of their light seeming to dance as your flames zipped by them. Your eyes scanned for him and Figment at a rapid pace, stopping only when Axel through his arm out to stop your sprint. The two of you skidded to a rough halt, stopping completely at a large crack in the ground. It spanned the length of the hall of the cavern you were in and was just small enough to jump over if you had a running start. Figment fluttered nearby, peering into the abyss below. You looked down into the hole too, stooping close to the edge and listening.

You shook memories of Genki from your mind. You couldn’t focus on that now. But the imagery you conjured of his bloody, broken body invaded your thoughts and now they were replaced with Demyx.

“Demyx!” you called down, an echo reverberating through the cavern. Your palms were sweaty, and you felt a chill of dread creep up your spine.

Silence.

“Demyx!” Axel called down, “Say something!”

He kneeled down to the hole too, brow creased with worry.

There was a heavy pause after that, and you began to worry for your friend. Was he even alive at this point? Or was he fine and just too far down to be heard? Or what if he was hurt just like you had been and waiting to die?

Your heart began to race, and you entered panic mode as you tried to gauge the best thing to do right then and how to rescue Demyx. If he could even be rescued.

“I’m okay,” Demyx called after a minute.

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?! You had me worried sick!”

“Sorry! I can’t see anything, and I have no idea where I am.”

“Are you hurt?”

Demyx was quiet for a moment.

“No. Everything seems to be in working order.”

You let out a sigh of relief. He was okay. Everyone was okay.

“Come on down! I think it’s safe.” Demyx called.

“Uh, okay,” you called before standing up straight.

Okay. You can do this. You can do this.

You.

Can.

Do.

This.

You groaned and paced nervously. You’ve done way scarier things than this. You faced a Lovecraftian faceless giant. You can jump in a hole.

You stood at the edge. Then you groaned lowly in your throat. Why did it have to be so dark in here?

“Okay. I’ll go on the count of three,” you said, mostly to yourself while Figment and Axel watched.

“One,” you started hesitantly. Then Figment pushed you down the hole.

You screamed as you fell through the darkness until you hit the hard but slick surface of the cave with a resounding, “oof.”

Air whipped passed your face as you slid, and you were terrified. You couldn’t see anything, and you didn’t know what awaited you at the end. What if Demyx only thought he was fine, but that was because he couldn’t see any danger? Panic and questions bombarded your mind endlessly for the short ride – though it felt like an eternity with your alarm-riddled mind. It was almost a relief when you crashed into Demyx’s back and you were no longer alone. You fell on top of him, and he let out a pained groan. You had your eyes shut tight and seeing the endless darkness did nothing to soothe you when you opened them.

You scrambled up, panicking in the dark, whirling this way and that looking for a source of light before igniting yourself in a large blue flame in a desperate attempt to keep the darkness at bay. You whirled around to see your surroundings.

Meanwhile, Axel gave Figment a dry, unamused look until he felt your panic. He looked back down the hole, wondering that if Demyx was fine, then what could have caused such a panic in you. Was something else down there?

“________?!” he called, an edge of worry in his voice. Then he heard you scream. Figment pushed Axel into the hole next before jumping after him. They both landed on Demyx who grumbled something about how people ought to look before they leap.

Axel looked for you almost in his own blind panic, spotting you relatively easily as you were on fire and showed no signs of putting yourself out. You were staring warily up at a perfectly preserved mammoth encased entirely in crystal.

“You should have seen her face,” Demyx wheezed from his spot on the floor, “Priceless.”

Axel ignored Demyx, breathing a sigh of relief. You were shaken but not in any danger. He got off of Demyx and approached you, lightly placing a hand on your shoulder. You instinctively stepped towards him.

“Are you alright?” he asked in a soft voice. You nodded, never taking your eyes from the beast in front of you. You hadn’t seen a carving for this animal on the tree. It was large with giant tusks and an angry looking face. It had no toes or paws from what you could see. In fact digits were absent entirely and it had a large bump on its head like the camel Demyx told you about when you’d first been scaling the tree. And why the tentacle in the middle of its face? It was… unnerving – like it was missing parts and trying to make up for it with parts that obviously didn’t belong to it.

“What the hell is that?” you asked, leaning minutely closer to the giant beast.

“It’s a mammoth. They’re like elephants that lived a long time ago only much larger and covered in hair.” You wrinkled your nose in confusion.

“Elephants?” you said, finally looking up at him.

“I’ll show you a picture later.”

You nodded again, absent-mindedly grabbing his hand like you had before.

As the four of you continued walking through the cave, you found there were more and more animals in the cave which prompted another session of, “What’s that one?” Though they didn’t have as many answers this time around. You hadn’t seen any of them on the tree, and these ones proved to be far more bizarre. And the further back you went, the more bizarre they became.

Some looked like animals you’d seen on the tree though they were severely larger than or much smaller than the versions you’d seen. They also seemed like they were different – mutated or misshapen. They looked like some of the animals yet not. Then you came across the dinosaurs.

These just looked like mismatched dragons to you with their large teeth and reptilian bodies.

“Are these this planet’s dragons?” you inquired.

“These are dinosaurs,” Demyx replied, staring at a triceratops with great fascination, “Don’t they have those where you’re from?”

“We have dinosaurs, but ours are extinct,” you said as you looked at a crystal with a feathered, bipedal dinosaur in it. It stood at roughly your height.

“I think all of the animals in here are extinct,” Axel concluded as he hadn’t seen a single one in the cave so far that he knew to be living.

“But why are they crystalized?” you asked, running your fingers over a small crystal containing a trilobite. It was cool and smooth beneath your touch.

“Maybe the planet preserves them,” he answered as he looked up to see several crystalized winged dinosaurs that looked as if they were posed midflight.

“Also did you mention dragons?” Demyx asked as he moved on to the next animal, “Are dragons like a common thing where you’re from? Do they breathe fire and shit?!” Demyx nearly shouted with a broad grin on his face. You smiled sadly.

“Not anymore. From what I know, dragons were hunted to extinction long ago. So I’ve never actually seen one – just pictures. And there are stories that they breathed fired and other things, but I can’t say if that’s true or not.”

Figment nudged you. You smiled with a roll of your eyes.

“Oh right. I’ve never seen any non-toon dragons that were native to Kelewenya. Though I guess if I count Figment, I’ve seen more dragons than most people in my world if not more than all of them.”

You continued on your journey, forgetting about any impending darkness to explore deeper in the caves, forging ahead of Axel, Demyx, and Figment.

You flipped your shit at the T-rex, walking backwards while still admiring it until you felt the sharp point of one of the crystals jab you in the back. You hissed in pain then whirled around to deliver a swift kick to the offending rock before you stopped short, a gasp leaving your lips.

Your hands flew to your mouth, tears welling up in your eyes. Your chest began to heave, and your shoulders shuddered. You couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the flame dying from your body. It was only when Axel noticed your dying light and walked over with his own flame in hand did he see what had caused such a strong reaction.

It was Amaya. She stood stock still frozen in a crystalline casing. Her eyes looked forward, glassy and unseeing. You kneeled next to her, hand brushing over the crystal she was in.

And it wasn’t just her. There were hundreds of people encased in the cave, a good few that you recognized from your time in the village – all with those same unseeing eyes staring forward, waiting for you to free them.

Chapter Text

As day two of your trek up the mountain ended, Axel began to notice that you, yourself, were distant. You seemed distracted, like your mind was in a faraway place fighting itself.

He noticed once you had recovered from seeing the villagers in the cave. You weren’t quite yourself after that. No one would be. Then when it seemed you had gotten better, renewed with a sense of determination and purpose, driving towards your goal and the top of the mountain, you seemed to be lost again. Then warring with yourself.

You were like this for several hours while all of you were walking. Demyx and Figment had written it off as more shit you needed to process. Demyx, chatty as he was and slightly more used to the horrors of the world thanks to the Organization, was quieter too. It was a lot for anyone to process.

And even though he was also disturbed, Axel couldn’t ignore the fact that something about how you were feeling went deeper than that. And he worried.

He noticed it in the cave, when you exited the cave, and when the four of you trekked for roughly three more hours up the mountain. You weren’t even admiring the scenery as you had been before you’d entered the cave.

Even now, while Axel helped Demyx set up their tent, you were off to yourself. Distracted.

Demyx was setting up the framing while Axel laid out the tarp when he noticed that your tent laid off to the side untouched. He looked around, eyes trailing the area until he saw you. You were sitting on the edge of the path, feet dangling over the drop below. Once he was sure Demyx could handle setting up the rest of the tent, he walked over to you, prepared to ask if you needed any help with your tent.

When he reached you, he realized you were gazing out into the distance, a beautiful sunset before you. But you weren’t really looking at it.

He could tell because your eyes held a vacant expression. You were lost in your own thoughts. Usually when you looked at any form of beauty in nature, your eyes took on that childlike look of wonder he’d seen since your first sunrise. But not now.

He sat next to you, observing you in silence for a few moments. He doubted you even knew he was there. Every now and again your eyebrows would dip into a frown then a look of worry would pass over then sadness then blank. You obviously had a lot on your mind and none of it good.

“Are you alright?” he finally asked. You blinked a few times before looking at him, eyes wide with surprise. You blinked again.

“I’m sorry,” you apologized, “What?” He chuckled at your expression.

“I asked if you were alright. Do you need help with your tent or anything?”

You gave him a sweet smile then turned back to the sunset, eyes still not registering its presence, before your smile dropped.

“I can handle it,” you said quietly, kicking your feet back and forth. You didn’t answer the other question.

“I don’t doubt that, but are you okay? You’ve been… distracted to say the least.”

“Well you too. What’s your deal?”

“I asked first,” he said with a smile and a playful nudge. You tried not to smile but did regardless, rolling your eyes at the playful gesture.

“I’m just… I think I have my priorities confused?”

“Priorities?”

“I’m supposed to know what I’m doing, and that should be at the forefront of my mind. And there’s no doubt about what I’m doing, I mean, I wouldn’t be climbing a mountain to fight a goddess if I didn’t know what I was here for, and yet I keep thinking about… other things…..”

Your voice dwindles out at the end of your sentence, and your eyes begin to cloud over yet you look more nervous than before.

“Does this… have anything to do with me and what we were going to talk about earlier or am I being conceited?”

You let out a short laugh.

“Both,” you say with an eyeroll, and Axel can’t help but chuckle a little, “I thought maybe there was a thing, but I feel like I pushed you too much, and I’m sorry. And I’ll back off.”

“It’s not that,” Axel said quickly. He let out a sigh. “It’s not that you pushed too much. It’s that I pushed you. Or at least I think I did.”

“I’m lost,” you admitted. He let out another sigh, this one deeper and more beleaguered. He was struggling with whatever he had to say next, and this made you a little nervous.

“Do you remember a couple nights ago where we spent the night together after the party?”

“Yes…,” you answered slowly.

“Do you, um, remember….”

He was blushing now. He had to ignore the nervousness. He needed to say this and fix the minor rift he created before it got any bigger.

“Do you remember any, uh, dreams you had that night?”

“Dreams like what?”

Axel coughed into his fist, looking away as his blush deepened. He didn’t look at you as he said the next part. He could not look you in the eye now.

“Uh, anything involving you and me?” he said, feeling himself heat up the more he thought about it – though more because of nervousness than arousal as it had been that night.

“Hmmm no, no, nope, wait….”

Axel watched the gears in your head start turning, the realization sparking in your eyes and the sheer mortification that followed after.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted, “I wasn’t thinking. I had completely forgotten that sometimes we share dreams, and I get that that’s not an excuse, but I feel really bad about it. And I’m sorr –”

“What? No! Axel, shut up!”

He stopped talking abruptly, searching your face for some confirmation that nothing was really wrong. Or maybe he was misreading you.

“You didn’t do anything wrong! I didn’t know we were sharing the dream either! I thought it was my dream!”

“So I didn’t push you to do anything you weren’t comfortable with?”

“No. I went with it. I wanted to do that,” you admitted, saying the last part a little more quietly. Axel studied you for a moment and you looked anywhere but at him. “I’m sorry if that was too much.”

“No,” he said softly, “I wanted it too.”

You looked at him, and for a moment, the two of you studied each other – trying to read everything between you.

“What do we do now?” you asked in a voice so low it was almost a whisper.

“I don’t know. I want to say that I feel something for you. I do. But I’m… confused more than anything by it,” he said as he looked away and out at the horizon. The sun was gone, replaced by the ever-bright moon. “I’ve had other friends. People who either should have helped start my recompletion or did. So… why didn’t I feel this way about any of them?”

“You mean like with Roxas?”

And Isa. But Axel didn’t feel like talking about him.

“Yeah, like with Roxas. I don’t feel half of the things for him that I do for you, and that confuses me. And then there’s things like the dream we shared. Does that play into it too? Do I like you as a friend but also find you sexually attractive, or is that just a part of it and I want more than just friendship from you?”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I think I want time to figure myself out. Answer these questions. Why you? But why not you? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of things to like about you. But there are things I’ve liked about other people, yet none of them have shown up in dirty fantasies.”

“I wouldn’t have called that dream dirty. That was pretty vanilla,” you muse.

“Yeah, if it had gone on for about five more minutes, I doubt you’d be saying that,” he says, giving you a devious look and a quick onceover.

You felt your fire magic welling up in you and quelled it down before you could ignite. Though you didn’t doubt that Axel felt that sudden rise in temperature. You just chuckled nervously and looked out at the moon. This time your eyes did sparkle with wonder and Axel turned his gaze to look at it too.

“The main reason I want time to figure it out is because when I first got here there were two things I felt. Relief because you were alive and unhurt. And the other was the feeling that I really, really wanted to kiss you. And I had never considered doing it before. It’s not to say that the idea ever repulsed me, but I had never looked at you like that to the extent of romantic interaction. I don’t know exactly what I want right now, but I’ll figure it out,” he said finally. You just smiled to yourself. He hadn’t said that he wanted to date you. But you were at least happy to have sorted some of this out. Also you’d be lying if you didn’t die a little of happiness because Axel admitted to wanting to kiss you at some point.

Little lights began to dance across the sky. Within a matter of seconds the sky was bathed in shimmering green that stretched on in ribbons that flowed out and into the distance. You’d seen something similar to it when you were on the train to Yen Sid’s tower. But this one was better. You sighed at the beauty of it, finally content with your own personal dilemma and free to focus on the task at hand.

But for right now you just wanted to live in this moment. Axel did too. But with you.

He placed his hand over yours, sliding his thumb under your palm in a pseudo-hand hold, never taking his eyes off of the iridescent lights above. You were surprised but happy, feeling your heart flutter rapidly in your chest. You smiled, eyes remaining glued to the sky, then you leaned on him a little and he let you, leaning back just slightly.

This was nice. You loved this. You hoped you’d have more moments like this one.

Demyx bounded over, chewing a piece of dried meat from your rations.

“Is that an aurora? Wow! Wait ‘til Namine hears about this,” he mused before he noticed you and Axel not really paying attention to him, eyes glued to the sky and smiling contentedly. He saw your joined hands and relaxed postures and realized that two of you were probably having a moment.

He gave Axel a thumbs up to which Axel didn’t respond, thoughts of you preoccupying his mind, so Demyx shrugged and went to Figment – who’d set up his own little Figment-sized tent – to tell him about the aurora borealis in the sky.

He peeled back the flap to peer in, and Figment was sitting in his little sleeping bag, reading glasses on the end of his snoot and a book in his hands.

“So there’s an aurora borealis out here,” Demyx said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Figment looked at him skeptically as if to say, “Aurora Borealis? At this time of day, at this time of year, in this kind of environment, localized entirely on top of this tree?”

And Demyx was prepared to defend this position but then he cast a glance back to where you and Axel were pseudo-snuggling and decided against it.

“You know what? Never mind. I lied.”

~

This time it was you who awoke to cuddling. Your head was resting on one of Axel’s arms with his other arm draped over your waist. It made your heart go crazy. Draped over you was both of your sleeping bags, unzipped to make makeshift blankets. You assumed Demyx had done that after the two of you fell asleep on each other.

You wanted to cuddle closer, enjoy this moment as you had last night with just the two of you enjoying the night and the beauty of the sky, but you knew that all romantic advances made needed to be on his end now. Regardless if last night was by far one of the most romantic things you’d ever experienced, if Axel needed to figure himself out, you’d let him.

But you still wanted to scream in happiness.

You closed your eyes again and let out a small sigh of contentment. That was about when Axel started to stir. You slowly opened your eyes to be met with his own. He blinked at you sleepily with a soft smile on his face.

“Morning,” he mumbled out, still blinking sleep out of his eyes.

“Hey,” you breathed, already moving to sit up. You stretched your legs out in front of you, pointing your toes and reaching for them. Romantic night or not, trees were not very comfortable and left your muscles aching and stiff.

Axel stood up, reaching up to the sky and stretching before offering you a hand to get up. You took his hand, being pulled to your feet and trying to ignore how close the pull had brought you before walking to the campsite where Demyx was already laying out the morning’s rations of little bags of dried fruits and pouring juice into cups from animal skin pouches. You all sat in a small semi-circle, three little cups sitting between all of you.

“So…,” Demyx began, eyes darting between the two of you with a sly smile on his face, “Anything interesting happen last night?”

“Saw an aurora borealis,” Axel mentioned casually as he sipped his drink.

“Nothing exciting?” Demyx pressed, leaning forward just ever so slightly.

“That’s pretty exciting,” you responded, casually eating fruit.

“________, you literally have not stopped smiling since you woke up this morning,” Demyx said dryly, hoping his rare moment of observance would trip you up. It didn’t – just served to make you a little giddier. Your smile broadened just slightly.

“Oh? I hadn’t noticed,” you said, casting a quick glance at Axel out of the corner of your eye. He was also looking you, a soft smile on his face.

Demyx glanced between the two of you again before letting out a big dramatic huff.

“You guys are boring,” he groaned, leaning back to stare up at the sky through the overhead branches. You giggled behind your hand, heart still doing as many flips as it could within 60 second span.

Figment just shook his head as he watched the exchange. You were both obviously twitterpated.

Breakfast was short but your joy and elation at having Axel’s romantic attention was not. You wanted to ask him if he had made any large revelations about his heart and emotions after you had fallen asleep on him. But you didn’t want to make him uncomfortable and knew these things took time. If he wanted to be with you, he’d say so. But, just based on his light hand holding last night, you kind of liked where he was headed with this.

You were floating on cloud 9 for most of the day.

Then the heartless appeared.

“That wasn’t too bad,” you huffed, taking your helmet off of your head and allowing it, but not the rest of your armor, to vanish. Best to keep this much on if you were running the risk of seeing more heartless.

“I was honestly wondering when we’d start seeing them,” Axel mused aloud.

“Well I know that they’re on the ground and creeping ever closer to the tree, so I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing a lot more,” you replied as you gazed up the path ahead. “Let’s keep going.”

Your voice took on a more authoritative tone that anyone only ever heard from you when ever you were placed into the role of leader.

“Yes, ma’am,” Demyx said with a mock salute to which you rolled your eyes and laughed lightly. Axel’s eyes lingered on your retreating form, eyes tracing your body. He couldn’t ignore that ever since you first summoned it, he thought your armor looked good on you. Though lately he’d found himself liking it more and more.

Now was no exception.

Then he felt a nudge on his side, and Axel looked at Demyx who was looking at him with a wide smirk. Figment just rolled his eyes. So long as he didn’t keep his eyes glued to your ass, Figment could moderately ignore that Axel was so blatantly checking out his niece.

You were making good time that day. Ten hours later and you were almost touching the sky. Well technically you already were, but the clouds, you noted, were significantly closer than when your journey started. You’d reach them by tomorrow around midday if you woke up at sunrise and hopefully breach them by the evening.

But that may have been wishful thinking.

Small groups of heartless kept appearing as you traveled – a few shadows every hour and a half to two hours. But around the six-hour mark of that day they stopped being simple shadows and were more complex heartless – similar to the ones you saw attacking Amaya the day you met. And they came in larger and larger droves the further up you went.

That was when the second problem arose. You hadn’t noticed it initially since you wore your helmet almost consistently now, now that the heartless were becoming a more regular problem, but soon you began to see Axel and Demyx panting more. They were having more and more trouble catching their breath, and when you took your helmet off, you noticed it was harder to breathe.

Your mind flashed back to Disney Town when Manny had intended to leave the atmosphere with Demyx, how the sky had grown darker as it was now the further up you moved, how his face had paled, dark circles began forming under his eyes, and how his lips began to turn blue.

They could not breathe. They could not continue.

“You need to go back down the mountain,” you said after a particularly straining battle where you did most of the work because Axel and Demyx couldn’t catch their breath.

“We’re heading back?” Axel questioned, “We’ve gotta at least be halfway there by now are you sure?”

“No, Axel, not me, you and Demyx.” Axel gave you a dry look – well as dry as could while he was hunched over and resting his hands on his knees to catch his breath.

“I’m serious,” you continued, “You can barely breathe. I have armor so it’s not a problem for me. I can move in the vacuum of space in this. But you and Demyx don’t have that, and if you get any further up the mountain you’re going to pass out. Maybe even suffocate.”

“But you can’t take on a goddess by yourself!” Axel snapped. He was getting kind of angry with you, but you knew he wasn’t actually angry. Just worried.

“I’ve been training for this for a while now. I’ve been training period. I survived the wilderness of an unknown planet for well over a month with no help, and I want you to come with me. I do. Nothing would give me more assurance in what I do if I could do it with my friends by my side. But you can’t do this, and I can’t ask you to.”

“You’re not asking,” Axel said, striding up to you and staring you down, “I’m going with you with or without your permission.”

“She’s right, Axel,” Demyx muttered from where he was laying on the ground. You both turned to look at him. He was only just now catching his breath, and even then he was still panting slightly. “I can’t keep this up. And you can’t either, and you know you can’t.”

“I’m fine,” Axel said, with a huff.

“You’re not fine, Axel. You know you’re not fine. And honestly, you’re being really stupid about this,” Demyx said, sitting up to glare at Axel. Axel ignited a bit at those words, but the flames could hardly stay up.

“Even your fire is starting to feel the effects of no air,” you said, nodding at the red flames flickering over his arms and shoulders. “And it won’t be long before Demyx’s ability to use water starts acting up on him. The temperature has already dropped. It’s only going to get lower from here.”

“I don’t want to leave you,” Axel finally said in a way that was almost a plea, and your heart ached for your friend. You didn’t want him to leave, but you didn’t want him to die even more. You weren’t sure what to say to that other than what you’d already said, opening and closing your mouth to find the words.

“She’ll die, Axel,” Demyx finally said, much more serious now than you’d ever seen him before.

Axel slowly turned to look at him, expression neutral but eyes heated.

“Think for a moment,” Demyx started, not backing down, “We’re struggling to stand up straight after a fight. We won’t be able to after a certain point up the mountain. She’ll spend her entire fight against the goddess trying to protect us and not even think about herself until she’s lying on the ground thinking in her dying moments about how she wasn’t strong enough to protect us.”

Everyone was silent for a moment.

Axel didn’t have anything to say, just looked away when he realized that Demyx was right. You were too reckless to try and protect others and yourself.

“I’ll be fine, Axel,” you said as you gently laid a hand on his arm. He looked at you, and his gaze almost burned with how intense it was.

“Promise me,” he said finally, “Promise me you’ll be fine. Promise me you’ll come back and that I’m not making a mistake by letting you go alone.”

“I promise, Axel. I’ll come home,” you said with a soft reassuring smile.

Axel brought you into a hug, Demyx and Figment joining in. And the four of you remained like that for a while. Despite your own confidence in yourself, you knew that there was still a chance that this was the last time you might see any of them – however slim you believed that chance to be.

You rationed out the food they’d need to get back down the mountain and for you to go up the rest of the way, ensuring them you wouldn’t need any for a return trip as you were going to fly as much as you could now that they wouldn’t be accompanying you, and you intended to fly all the way down as well.

Figment went with them to ensure their breathing didn’t become too labored, and you watched as they descended until you couldn’t see them anymore.

Then you turned, feeling more nervous than you had when you were at the base of the tree now that your support system had gone. But you didn’t have time for nervousness, so you pressed on, soaring past waves of heartless on your glider and fighting the few that could fly.

But even they were beginning to become too much. You started to see heartless similar to the ones you saw in your father’s mind, large, horned heartless that carried heavy swords.

Initially there were only a few of them, and you found that the heavy swings of their swords were not as unbearable as they had been in the mind. You were getting stronger, but they were still formidable one on one. So they were a challenge when they were coming at you all at once.

Amongst the flying heartless you also saw masks. Tiki masks like the ones you’d seen in the temple, though you had a sneaking suspicion that these masks were not there in remembrance of past keyblade wielders. They floated and watched you. And every few miles up the mountain you covered, more would appear. But you soon did not have time to focus on them as they never attacked you, but the heartless did. And they became more and more relentless in their attacks. And you grew wearier with each one. Every wave grew larger until you could hardly manage against them.

Your fire began to weaken no matter how much you put behind it, and eventually your stores of magic were gone altogether, and you knew it would be a while before you were casting it anymore.

Soon you were fighting them with just your sword and shield, and, eventually, you couldn’t even do that. It was as if the heartless began to notice this as they began to attack you even more fervidly as if they could not kill you fast enough, and you were forced to retreat.

You felt like you were losing your mind as the further you flew, the more heartless would appear, occasionally landing hits on you no matter how much you dodged, and more than once you almost fell from your glider. And more masks began to appear, all of them watching you with glowing, unblinking eyes.

Your eyes scanned the tree as you climbed, looking for a place to take refuge, somewhere the masks could not watch, somewhere the heartless did not search. And you spotted a large branch jutting up and near the pathway carved into the tree.

You flew as fast as you possibly could, trying to use what fire you could to give you a boost as you dove behind the branch which you could curl up next to for refuge.

Your curled in on yourself, forming a tight little ball to try and be as invisible as possible. You were panting and sweating, and you wanted to rip your helmet off of your head for more fresh air, but you knew if you did you wouldn’t be able to breathe with how high you had gotten.

But it hardly mattered now you realized.

Your vision blurred.

You felt lightheaded.

You wished Axel were here.

.

.

.

You weren’t sure you could do this.

Your vision faded to black, and you rested, curled up next to that branch praying you’d live to see the next day.

Chapter Text

“So…,” Demyx began, attempting to sound as casual as possible, “Did you tell her?”

“Tell who what?” Axel said, eyeing Demyx as they walked down the mountain path. Figment had gone back to be with you once he was sure Axel and Demyx would make it alright on their own.

“You know. How you feel? About her?”

“You were there, Demyx. You heard everything I had to say to her before we left.”

“No, not then. I meant that night the two of you were watching the aurora borealis. Like you tell her you had a thing for her. You know, something for her hear from you from your heart before she goes to fight a goddess because there’s always a chance she won’t come back.”

“She’ll come back,” Axel said rather gruffly, ignoring the pang of worry in his chest, “Besides I’m still figuring myself out.”

Demyx stopped in his tracks, staring disbelievingly at Axel as he continued onwards.

“Bullshit!”

Axel stopped and turned towards Demyx, a look of confusion on his face at his friend’s strange outburst. Demyx just looked more frustrated than anything.

“You know damn well how you feel!” Demyx continued, reigning in his frustration a little, “You very obviously have a thing for her, and she’s got a thing for you. Also I walked by your room that morning and saw one of you burnt the bed to hell. You wanna talk about that, Mr. I Light Myself on Fire When I Feel Really Strong Emotions? Did something happen between you two last night? Or more obviously, just you? Did you do something? To yourself?”

“What are you implying?”

Demyx rolled his eyes.

“DID YOU JACK OFF THAT NIGHT?”

Axel’s face lit up in a bright, hot blush.

“No, Demyx. No, I did not.” A moment of silence passed. “But I really, really wanted to.”

“Well shit I didn’t think I’d get a straight answer out of you,” he said, scratching the back of his head, “What happened? Was she like super flirty or something or, like, all up on you?”

“N-no. I just had a dream was all.”

“A wet dream?”

“Well… almost. I woke up before it got that far. I mean, we were spooning when I woke up, but I deflected that problem quick.”

“What did you do?”

“I slept on the floor.”

“I mean, you could’ve just jacked off in the bathroom and gone back to bed. You didn’t have to do all that.”

“I know, but it felt… wrong.”

“How so?”

“She’s my best friend, and it’s weird because only months ago I was supposed to kill her. It feels like I’d be taking advantage of her. Especially considering our friendship was built on a bunch of lies.”

“Well if you told her everything, then there shouldn’t be an issue. I’m assuming you did anyway. And she very clearly has a thing for you. A very big thing. I mean, she accepted you after you told her everything. She’s got it bad.”

“Well, I guess,” Axel said, nervously rubbing the back of his neck.

“Plus everyone saw the two of you dancing the other night. I mean, I’ve never seen you look at anyone the way you look at her – not even Roxas.”

“Well I wasn’t aroused by Roxas,” Axel said with a shrug.

“So you admit you’re aroused by ________?” Demyx asked, with a mischievous smirk.

“I already said that,” Axel said, rolling his eyes as he continued walking.

“I know,” Demyx said, jogging to catch up, “I just like that you’re actually admitting things to me. You’re never this open and genuine with anyone. Not even ________. And I didn’t just mean you looked at her like you wanted to fuck her. I mean, you looked at her like she was everything.”

“Well, I mean, if she’s the reason my heart’s being recompleted, I guess that means she kind of is everything to me.”

“Well there you go! You’ve figured it all out. So how do you feel about her?”

“I really, really like her. Romantically, not just sexually. But I like her sexually too,” he said blushing as he looked away.

“Then you should tell her when she comes back down the mountain,” Demyx said, putting careful emphasis on the positive chance of survival you had.

“I can’t.”

“What is it now?” Demyx nearly yelled with no small amount of irritation in his voice.

“I still have things I need to tell her. Personal things.”

“You don’t mean Organization things do you?”

Axel was silent.

“That was literally the whole conversation you were supposed to be having the other day! Before you started putting the moves on her at the party! Before you felt the uncontrollable urge to fuck her all damn day! Before you decided to leave the Organization to fight Vanitas for her sake. She should know all of this!”

“I told her everything she needed to know and that we left it all behind.”

“Even the part about how the Organization is looking for her uncle?”

“Well, no….”

“Or the part where the Organization is directly tied to her planet’s fall and that’s part of the reason they need her uncle in the first place?”

“No.”

Demyx gave Axel an exasperated look, Axel not meeting his eyes because he didn’t want to acknowledge that Demyx was right. Again.

“Well, shit, Axel! Did you even tell your real name?”

Axel was silent.

“Okay, so you like her, you’re considering the possibility of starting a relationship with her, and she doesn’t know anything about you?”

“She knows a few things about me, and I know plenty about her.”

“I know you do,” Demyx countered, “I do too. When we became friends, I asked her a million and one questions about her just because her whole fricking story is interesting from start to finish. But that’s not what’s important. She knows you used to be a part of an Organization – that tried to kill her by the way – that we left, yet she doesn’t know what they were planning that directly involved her and her uncle. She knows you ambled into her life and have made some strange vow to always protect her, but she doesn’t even know your actual name. She doesn’t know anything about you, just surface level things she could learn from anyone.”

“You know you were a part of this Organization too, so why didn’t you tell her?”

“I’m not the one trying to date her while harboring this information. She trusts you the most. You’re her best friend. You should be the one to tell her. Imagine how she’ll feel if I do it, and she finds out that you knew and didn’t say a damn thing.”

Axel let out a long sigh. Demyx was right. AGAIN. He had a lot to think about if Demyx was the one making sense out of the two of them.

“You’re right. I’m just nervous.”

“Would you shut up with that? ‘I’m just nervous,’” Demyx mimicked in a mocking tone, “You need to get over yourself and tell her the truth. Show some backbone and quit being a baby about it. You’re a grown ass man, so act like it. Because if she finds out and you didn’t tell her, your chances with her are shot.”

Axel looked at Demyx with mild shock. He’d never actually seen Demyx this serious (or correct) about anything.

“Why do you care so much, Demyx?”

“Because you’re my only friend in the Organization, and I’m trying to be a good friend. And then I became friends with _________, and I want to see her happy. And she’s close with Namine, and I like Namine. And I don’t want to see you fuck yourself, and by extension ________, over because of something so stupid as being nervous about a past she is currently willing to accept. You all are my friends, and we’re close, and I’d like to keep it that way. I swear Axel if you fuck this up….”

Axel stopped him in the middle of his sentence and gave him a tight hug. And Demyx felt himself tear up a little now. He liked that he had people who actually cared about him as no one in the Organization really had before this. He liked this little family that you all had built, and he’d like to see it through to the end.

~

You awoke to the sounds of feathers fluttering and birds shuffling in the branches around you.

You fluttered your eyes open. The sun was still up. No, wait, the light looked similar to early morning. You’d slept through the rest of yesterday.

“Look who’s up,” you heard a familiar voice say. You looked up to watch Fritz land in front of you. He cocked his head at you, and you could feel his smile even if his face couldn’t express it.

“Fritz? What are you doing here? What are all of you doing here?” You said looking around at the hundreds of birds surrounding you – watching over you.

“We came to ensure your safe passage to Uh-Oa. We could feel your heart growing weak. You’ve been out for two days now,” Michael said as he fluttered down next to Fritz, “halYou can’t allow your heart to grow weak from the heartless attacks and your own self-doubt.”

“You must be careful, Guardian,” Pierre said, taking a seat on your shoulder, “Having a weak heart will do you no good here or in your fight against Uh-Oa. We believe in you.”

José landed next to Fritz and Michael.

“If you were not fit for this task, she would not have chosen you.”

“She? You mean Uh-Oa?” you asked, eyeing the top of the mountain, which wouldn’t be far now. Maybe a little over a day’s journey?

The birds cackled just a bit.

“No, they mean me,” a feminine voice said. You looked around at all of the birds, unable to pick out any one bird that stood out. Then you saw it flying towards you. But it wasn’t a bird. It was akin to a dragon with bright scales. She landed in front of you, looking up at you with sharp eyes that seemed far too familiar to you.

“We’ll leave you to talk,” José said, “Meanwhile, we’ll take care of your heartless problem.”

A bright glow began to surround the birds. It grew to such an intensity, you had to look away. When you looked back, you were surrounded by ethereal bodies, keyblade wielders of every make and build standing around you, ghostly keyblades drawn to face the oncoming heartless.

“José and I will take the upper levels,” Michael said, pointing towards the upper branches of the tree, “Half of you come with me.”

They all mounted their other worldly gliders and flew to the upper levels of the tree.

“The rest of you will come with Pierre and I,” Fritz instructed, “We’ll take to the skies and keep them off of the tree and away from the guardian. Then we’ll clear the lower levels.”

They all mounted their own gliders before taking off. Before they left, Pierre stopped and turned to you.

“May your heart be your guiding key, and may it be ever strong,” he said before he flew off with the rest of them.

You turned back to the small dragon in front of you. She gazed up at you with intelligent eyes, reading you, gauging you. Then you could have sworn you saw her smile.

She then began to glow, and you found you couldn’t look at the blinding glow she gave off either. When you saw her again, she stood above you at a rather tall height, her ears narrow and pointed, eyes sharp. She had a very slender build, lined with muscles and scars from years of fighting in life. Her hair trailed down her back in an intricate, beaded braid similar to the styles here but not quite the same. She looked vaguely familiar and you tried to place where you’d seen her before.

But then as you gazed into her eyes, you realized they were your own. The longer you stared, and the more and more she resembled a much more feminine version of your father.

“I am your grandmother,” she said, “Well not exactly. I’m your ancestor on your father’s side from hundreds of years ago. I was the last guardian of Beastly Kingdom.”

“You were?” you asked dumbly, a bit dumbfounded to be looking at someone you of all people were related to.

“Well I was, until I bequeathed my blade and my armor to you,” she said, clasping her hands together, “Now you will finish what was started so long ago.”

“Long ago?”

“Yes. Long ago there stood a tree in Beastly Kingdom much like this one. The people did not give themselves to it, so it was weak to protect its heart, and it bore no leaves such as this one. One day, the orcs, a race of beasts made entirely of darkness, not unlike your heartless, led a war to remove the tree and plunge the world into darkness.”

“What happened?”

She gave you a soft, kind smile before taking a seat next to you.

“It is a long story.”

~

They threw him in there like an animal. He was chained around his wrists and ankles, and on his neck there was a collar of heavy metal bound to his wrists. He turned to them with a sneer on his face as they slammed the door shut behind him.

He let out an animalistic roar, banging his fists upon the metal. It creaked beneath the force of his blow but did not give. Three of the four guards drew their weapons, gleaming silver swords carved with elven designs. The last guard summoned forth their keyblade before stepping towards him.

“If you do not to wish to be slaughtered like a calf like the rest of your brethren, you’ll behave yourself, beast,” he sneered, pointing the keyblade through the bars and resting it against his throat where the collar did not obstruct it.

A low growl emanated from his throat. All four of his bright, yellow eyes stared down the keyblade wielder with all the defiance he could muster, but he did not move to attack. Nor did be step away from the blade being painfully pressed into his neck.

After a tense moment, the weapons were put away. The orc let out a low growl as he retreated further back into his cell, sitting in a corner and glaring down at the floor.

“He’s got some nerve,” one of the elves growled as they left the dungeon, “You’d think he’d be grateful to have been kept alive seeing as how we slaughtered the rest.”

“It was a successful battle, yes, but the war is almost unending. We need information, and he’s our best bet.”

“Him? He’s little more than a wild animal. They only respond to one thing. I mean, did you see the way he tried to attack through his cell. If it were up to me, I’d have him skinned alive. He’ll speak then. And, oh how he’ll scream,” the elf cackled, joined by the others who went with her.

~

Dara strode into the dungeon. The elf guarding the orc regarded her quietly, eyes trailing down to the food she held in her hands.

“We’re feeding it now?” the guard asked as he looked back up at her with amusement dancing behind wide dark eyes.

“It’s been two days,” she answered softly, “Living things must eat to survive.”

“Hardly deserving of it though. All he does is sit in his cell probably thinking of all the different ways he could kill us if only he could escape. That’s all they know how to do, those dark ones.”

She moved towards the cell. The orc did not move to acknowledge her. It did not look up to see the food she pushed through the bars of its cell.

“There is food if you want it,” she called, though she had the sneaking suspicion he knew what she’d done. There were no other noises in the dungeon, therefore he’d probably heard the conversation between the two elves.

“I do not want your filth,” the orc spat, voice gruff and low, coarse with dehydration.

“I’ll get you some water,” Dara replied patiently.

She returned a few minutes later, a cup brimming with water in her hands. She carefully placed it on the floor. She observed him for a few minutes when he did not move from his spot. He did not acknowledge her as he had not acknowledged any of the elves.

“You will die if you do not eat or drink soon,” she gently chided him.

“I’m not a fool, elven bitch,” he said lowly. Dara frowned.

The guard slammed his shield into the bars of the cell, a loud clang reverberating through the halls that made her ears ring.

“This is why we do not show them kindnesses,” the guard spat at the orc, though his words were directed at Dara “The beasts can barely comprehend basic decency without turning to vile behavior as a response.”

“Calm yourself, Onas,” Dara soothed, “If he won’t eat, then he only prolongs his own suffering. A little name calling can hardly hurt me more than he hurts himself.”

The food remained untouched until Dara came to collect the dirty dishes in the morning.

~

It was such a random thought to have.

Dara remembered a time when she was young and needed help. She had scraped her knee and it bled everywhere and when a boy, one she did not particularly get along with, brought her a bandage, she didn’t want to use it. Purely out of spite. The boy did not care either way. He left it there with her and left, and when he left she felt better about using it.

It was a random thought but quite possibly useful.

Perhaps the orc did not eat because he did not want to accept help from the people he hated so vehemently.

So she went down the next day, food and water in hand, sliding it through the bars as she had the previous day. She observed him for a few minutes longer then stood and turned to the guard that watched the orc that day – a young and somewhat lazy boy by the name of Gael.

She put on a mischievous smile, a little twinkle in her eye.

“Take a break, Gael. You look like you’re about to pass out,” she said in a feather light tone. Gael fell into it immediately, slouching his stiff posture, eyes coming alight once more. But then he paused, face twisting in confusion.

“But,” he began, tossing a glance at the orc who watched them from the corner of his eyes without turning towards them. Gael leaned in close to whisper rather loudly, “Who’ll watch the prisoner?”

Dara smiled slowly, calmly, putting at ease whatever major concerns Gael had to rest almost immediately. It never took much to convince him that leaving was an option and a very good one at that.

“I will,” she said slowly, putting about a lazy air of calm that Gael only further fell into, giving a slow, half-hearted shrug before ambling away. Dara waited to hear the groan and slam of the door to the dungeon entrance. Then she gave the orc one last look and approached the door herself.

She pulled open the heavy door and let it slam shut before her as she leaned on the wall next to it, listening to the rattle of chains as the orc finally moved. He noisily ate, chomping through his food loudly, and gulping down the water like his life depended on it. Which it did.

Dara smiled to herself.

Fifteen minutes after he’d finished eating and she heard his chains rattle back into their corner, she pulled open the door again as if returning from her own little trip.

She tried not to laugh at the state of the plate which almost looked as if it had been licked clean. There was no need to put him off from these meals. Though it was quite laughable the pettiness of it all. And to think he might have starved just because he didn’t want to be seen accepting aid from someone.

How childish.

What an odd thought. That a brutish, hulking orc that was little more than a beast could be childish.

“Not a fool” indeed.

~

Dara kept up this pattern as the days went on, bringing the orc food and convincing the guards to leave or accompany her or help her with something. More often than not it worked though not always – though those were the guards who were much harsher, sometimes kicking his food in the orc’s direction and spilling his water.

So it was almost like a break when it was finally her turn to guard him. No one to have to convince to leave him be. He would just be, and she could just leave.

It was a surprise though when she returned to see the food still sitting there. She looked at the orc and let out a tiny gasp of surprise to see him standing there much closer than she’d ever seen him before considering he was almost always hunched up in the far corner.

He was large. Not much larger than she had anticipated. She had fought his kind before. She’d seen them up close and personal as they had attempted to kill her just as she had to them.

He was broad and muscular, skin pitch black and almost blending into the shadows, leering down at her, all four of his eyes squinting in distrust as he eyed her up and down. In the center of his abdomen was a large hole shaped like a heart.

She steeled her face, showing no more surprise but not so much as to show distrust and unkindness towards him. He’d done her no wrong.

“Why?” he growled out, voice deep and commanding. It was almost a demand rather than a question.

“Why what?” she questioned back, annunciating each word.

“I am no fool. What is your game? What do you hope to gain from leaving your prisoner alone? My trust?” he scoffed.

“I don’t need your trust,” she stated firmly. He stepped closer to the gate, his form towering over her own and she stood at an even 6 feet tall. Yet her eyes went no higher than his collar bone. The large curved horns on the top of his head did not help, adding probably another seven or eight inches to his impressive height.

“Your bravado is nothing. Your cell is nothing. These chains do not hold me. You cannot chain darkness,” he said, letting one of the cuffs that bound his wrist fall through. His hand and wrist and turned into a fine, black, intangible mist. He reformed it as soon as the chain fell away, flexing his fingers and claws as he stared down at her.

She did not back down.

“Then why stay?” she asked calmly, reaching through the bars calmly the grasp the cuff as it dangled on the chain attached to his neck.

“I know I am no match for you all. I’d be struck down before I could leave this place where they hold me. But you are a fool just to assume I would not merely escape.”

She held up the chain, and he phased his hand back through.

“I knew you would not,” she said calmly as she stepped away from the bars and took her place next to them, smiling as she heard him begin to eat despite the fact that she was there to know he had accepted her help, “You are no fool.”

~

“What is it like where you live?” Dara asked as she sat next to the bars of the cell, legs folded beneath her as she sat across from him. He was taking a bite of his bread before he looked and eyed her like she was a bothersome child rather than his jailor.

“Dark,” he grunted around a full mouth. That was the end of it as far as he was concerned.

“Are the women as big as the men there?”

He looked at her with a look of confusion and annoyance. Why did it matter?

“None of us are big. Your kind are just puny,” he said, “Like ants.”

He had hoped to piss her off.

“Why are you a soldier?”

This question caught him off guard more than the others. She would normally ask questions. He would normally ignore them. He humored her once, and she did not leave him alone as expected. She continued to ask questions. He ignored them. She made up some stupid assumptions that he found idiotic at best.

“I did not choose. All men must fight. This is the way. This makes sense. You are a warrior are you not? You should know this. Or are you too stupid to figure it out?”

“I chose to be a warrior,” she stated evenly, “How sad that your kind cannot choose.”

He threw the rest of his food at her. She raised her arms to block most of it, bread and smashed vegetables splattering across her arms.

“How dare you assume any of my culture to be sad. You do not know! You cannot know! What gives you the right?!” He slammed his fists against the bars, breathing heavily.

Dara watched him as he calmed down before he stomped back over to his corner to sulk.

“You are right. I am sorry,” she said after a moment of consideration. She did not and could not know. She did not have the right to assume that his culture was lesser than hers because it was different. “That was ignorant of me.”

He did not speak to her for the rest of the day. She did not ask her questions.

~

He was a proud creature. She knew that much. She had known it when he refused to eat. She knew it better now that she had personally insulted him.

She brought him a tiny cake with his meal, setting it down on the tray once she had convinced the guard of the day to leave.

“What is this?” he sneered.

“A treat.”

He regarded her dully.

“Why?”

“It’s an apology. For what I said the other day.”

He kept looking at her, mild confusion, disbelief, and anger flickering over his face. Then he began to chuckle. At first it was a tiny little chuckle. Then it was full-blown uproarious laughter, loud and booming, filling every corner of the dungeon.

She looked shocked. She had never known him to show anything other than anger, aggression, or annoyance. This was new. But not unpleasant.

She began to laugh too, a light giggle more out of surprise than anything.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked abruptly.

“I’ve never seen an orc laugh before. I was unaware that you truly possessed emotions. Were you not born without hearts?”

“We are made of darkness. We have no hearts. This is true.”

“Then why are you laughing?”

“Because you are an idiot.”

~

“Do you need anything?” Dara asked with concern lacing her voice. The orc was hunched over, black dripping from his mouth and wounds on his body.

“Do not insult me. I bear wounds because I am loyal to my cause. I wear them with honor. I am no weakling.”

“I still wish they had not beaten you so harshly for information. Why did you not just give it to them to keep yourself safe?”

“Would you give up your people so easily?”

Dara was silent. She often found herself trying not to judge his odd behavior and customs simply because they did not make sense to her. And she’d all but abandoned assuming it was lesser than hers. But this… This was true. She would have done the same without question.

She wasn’t even sure why she would ask a question with such a blatantly obvious answer.

Perhaps she just did not enjoy seeing him hurt.

“What…,” she began hesitantly, not wanting to provoke him with her ignorance, “What is your cause?”

“To survive.”

“Is that why you attack the Tree of Life? You would see our people destroyed to help your own and claim our lands and plunge us all into darkness?”

“Your people are not our concern. We don’t care what happens to your people. Only ours. We will not survive without the darkness.”

“Why not inhabit the light as we do?”

“You’re still a fool, elf. The light hurts us. We could no more thrive in it than you could locked up down here and away from the light.”

“Then I am sorry that our causes have driven us to such extremes.”

“I don’t want your pity.”

“Then take it as a kindness.”

~

“I think we would have been friends in another life,” Dara mused.

The orc grunted around a mouth full of food, acknowledging her comment but neither confirming nor denying it.

“What is your name?” she asked after a few more minutes.

“Thorian.”

Dara hummed as she considered this, running the name through her head and committing it to memory. It was not as gruff sounding a name as she had expected. It was smoother than many of the elven names she had learned in her life. She had expected something similar to the rougher elven names for him – like Bramdur or Northrasit.

“Tell me, Dara,” Thorian said before sipping his drink, “What do you think of our cause?”

“Your cause? You mean the war?”

“No. Just the cause.”

“I think…. We are a lot alike, you and me. Our causes are the same. Our causes are just. We would see our people thrive.”

He was silent for a moment.

“You would compare your people to mine?”

“There was a time where I would not have, no. I would think you and your people little more than savages who only understand violence. But then I watched them drag you through the village and to the dungeon. You looked….”

She wanted to say vulnerable. She wanted to say that she felt immense pity to see him collared like a dog and dragged about like wild game, freshly hunted, writhing in pain as he was exposed to the light of the sun as it crept steadily into the sky that morning.

At the time she could not even remember that he was her enemy.

But he was too proud for that. And she did not want to insult him again.

“Say it,” he growled, rising to his full height to stare down at her, “Say I looked weak.”

“No. You looked… vulnerable. And that is not weakness. I had never seen an orc so unguarded. I could not even draw the comparison to the ferocious beasts who tried to fell me in battle. I saw a man who was being treated like an animal. And it never quite settled with me.”

“So you brought me food out of pity.”

A moment of quiet.

“Yes,” she said, barely above a whisper. “But not anymore.”

She reached her hand through the bars of the cell, resting her hand over where his heart would have been if he’d had one.

He looked reproachful but made no move to remove her hand.

“You and I are the same.”

~

“We are going out today,” Dara said as she passed a cloak through the bars of the cell.

“Out,” he said in a cross between disbelief and defensive, critical skepticism.

“I have made an appeal in your case. I have convinced the elders that a different approach may be necessary in persuading you to give us information.”

“You are an even greater fool than I imagined if you ever think I will bow to your will, elf,” he spat.

“I know you won’t. You are as loyal to your people as I am to mine.”

“Then why have you made such a foolish proposition.”

“So you may see more than just the inside of this dungeon.”

Dara unlocked the cell, stepping inside and closing it behind her. She held up a key to which he offered his arms. She smiled.

“Why are you smiling?”

“You’re allowing me to undo your chains rather than ridding yourself of them on your own. You trust me.”

“You are no threat to me.”

“It’s all the same to me,” she said as she unshackled his feet and moved to the collar around his neck, “Now put on your cloak.”

“What is this for?”

“To protect you from the light, of course,” Dara said with an eyeroll. He shrugged the cloak onto his large frame. It hung to his feet, almost touching the ground.

Then she placed a new cuff on his wrist and attached a much smaller one to her own.

“Your people do not trust me.”

“They do not. Any punishable thing you do will be my responsibility, and all crimes you commit will result in twice the punishment over for the both of us.”

“And you trust me to not rampage through your village despite the fact that this,” he said, raising his arm so the chain dangled in front of her face, “Means nothing.”

“I trust you too.”

~

The village was full of life. Though that seemed to all but vanish when Dara walked through the town with Thorian attached to her arm.

People watched with wary eyes. Mothers hid their children behind them or ushered them inside their homes. Men placed hands on their weapons in case the beast was ready to attack.

Thorian remained silent as Dara walked through the village as if nothing were wrong, waving to and greeting the people she’d called her friends and family all of her life even as they watched her with judgmental, sometimes betrayed, expressions etched across their faces.

He placed his hand in the light, hissing and jerking it back in place. He was aggravated. These people were annoying. The light was annoying. Even her casual demeanor was annoying.

“Did you bring me out her just so that I may be silently threatened and feared?” Thorian asked as he watched the people they passed.

Dara let out a light laugh.

“Of course not. This is exercise.”

“This is hardly exercise.”

“It’s better than pacing your cell I bet. Here let’s stop for lunch,” she said as she sidled up to a booth in the village square. A young, male elf stood behind it with fear written all over his face, eyes never leaving the tall figure in the cloak.

“Hello, Tam,” Dara greeted as if nothing were off. She reached down and grabbed a pouch strapped to a belt hanging loosely from her hips. She poured a few coins out onto the counter of his stall.

“I’ll have two meat pies, please.”

“Uh, am I allowed to serve it?” he asked as he eyed the orc. Thorian let a low growl rumble through his chest but remained still, arms at his sides.

“Well I’m paying aren’t I? Why wouldn’t you serve him?”

Tam’s eyes darted to Dara’s and back again. Poor thing looked as if he were going to wet himself. He quickly served up two meat pies, not even grabbing the money off of the counter before retreating to the back of his stall behind a curtain.

Dara picked up the pies and led Thorian to a bench so they could eat.

The orc frowned at the taste of his food.

“Is something the matter?” Dara asked. She knew Tam had done nothing wrong. She watched him prepare the pies right there in front of them. He didn’t spit in them, didn’t use any strange and unrecognizable ingredients.

“I thought the prison food was all the quality they were willing to serve me. Now I see that elven cooking is just shit.”

“Hey! I worked hard on those meals!”

You made them?!”

This was even funnier to him as he threw his head back laughing that loud, boisterous laugh. Several of the villagers flinched at the volume, glaring at him yet looking just as bewildered that he was showing any emotion at all – much less laughter.

“And what’s so funny about that?” Dara laughed along with him.

“You’re even more hopeless than I thought,” he chuckled out as he took another bite of his meat pie.

The two were silent for a while as they ate. Eventually the village was actually able to ignore them to some extent. Eyes were always trained on him, especially when people passed him, but they did not dart around him like he was prepped to explode at any moment and take out anyone who dared to be within the vicinity.

“I know you are a proud warrior,” Dara said as she watched the village try to move about as normal as if one of their sworn enemies were not invading their space, “But do you ever wish that you could have chosen to be anything else?”

Thorian was mildly offended but knew she meant no offense in her wording. She was just being curious again. She had a knack for asking questions about his life and culture – an annoying trait he’d come to appreciate given the interest the rest of her people took in him. Which was to assume that he and his people were savages and ask no questions whatsoever. So he took her questions in stride.

“I love being a warrior. I would not have wanted to be anything else.”

“Do you think you would have liked to have chosen it though?”

“Perhaps. But it hardly matters.”

Silence fell over them again.

“I admire that though,” he said suddenly. She looked at him.

“Admire what?”

“That you have chosen the life of a warrior. It is one thing to be born to it. It is another to have chosen it and all that it entails of one’s own free will.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly, smiling to herself.

~

After a few weeks of allowing Thorian to roam the village with Dara, she started trying to include him in conversation. Initially, it went nowhere. He would not contribute to conversation. It was hard when the people she spoke to could only stare at him in fear and anxiousness. Some she had previously called friend refused to speak to her entirely with or without the orc accompanying her.

Eventually, she could prompt him to give more than that – noncommittal grunts and tiny nods. He did not want to speak to these people.

Then there were children.

Most were not allowed near the big, scary orc. Though many children questioned why at this point. There were stories, of course, told to the children at night about orcs who stole away with children in the night who were bad. Yet this one had been here a while. And no children had gone missing. So it was only natural that the children eventually got curious.

Dara and Thorian pretended not to notice them getting a little closer to observe them every day. They would dare each other to see how close they could get each day – and each day getting almost within reaching distance. This was mostly the older boys and girls, however. True bravery always exists in the ones too young to know that danger exists.

So it was rather surprising when a young child, no more than four, ran up to them one day. He stopped directly in front of the orc, eyes wide and sparkling. Dara doubted he’d ever seen a creature so large that wasn’t an animal.

The orc stared down at him with mildly curious eyes. Dara observed silently, aware of all of the staring, cautious eyes and weapons trained on the orc for any sudden movements and her simply by association.

“Can I touch you?” the child asked. The orc seemed taken aback by his statement. Though he was also mildly impressed. This tiny child was more courageous than the adolescents of the village.

He kneeled down next to the child, watching the child’s eyes marvel as it darted to each of his eyes. Then he slowly, oh so slowly, offered his arm to the child, palm upturned and open, forearm exposed to the light though he ignored burn, the heavy cuff on his wrist glinting in the sun.

The child gaped in wonder that he was allowed to do such a thing. He grabbed the orc’s fingers, inspecting each one before turning the orc’s hand over this way and that. He trailed a finger along the pitch-black skin up to the metal cuff before letting it graze the edge of the metal.

“Does it hurt?” he asked, looking back up to the orc.

“Fenri!” a shrill voice ripped through the air. An elven woman with long hair marched up to the three of them, “Get away from it!”

She snatched her child away by his arm, and the child let out a yelp at the force of it.

“How dare you!” she said, rearing her arm back. That was when both Dara and Thorian noticed the rock in her hand. Just as she brought it down to strike the orc, Dara stepped in the way.

Thorian heard many of the elves gasp, including the children observing at a distance. Even the elven woman who dealt the blow let out a noise of surprise.

“Dara,” she breathed, looking at the elven woman she once called friend. They’d once been as close as sisters. She then snapped out of her stupor, settling a wavering glare on Dara with tears brimming in her eyes as she pulled her child away.

Dara turned back to Thorian, looking for any signs of injury on him despite the fact that she had taken every blow dealt. They both stood to their full height. Dara also had tears brimming in her eyes. There was a large cut above her eyebrow that was steadily dripping blood down her face.

“You are hurt,” Thorian observed.

“I once called her something like family.”

“You did not need to do that. I could have handled my own.”

“I know. But I would not have you hurt. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Thorian observed her for a few quiet moments before he lifted a hand to brush a tear from her cheek.

“It will scar,” he said moving his hand to lightly brush above the cut.

“I will wear it with honor,” she said firmly, looking up at him with a fierce determination in her eyes. Thorian’s hand stilled, watching her with wide eyes.

~

Thorian was a bit more restless the next time they stopped by Tam’s stall for food. He was agitated watching the elf move about his stall in a nervous frenzy picking up ingredients that would never do. They were fine by elven standards, but not his.

“Come on,” Thorian grunted, pulling on the chain that tethered him to Dara so they could move behind the stall.

“What are you doing?” she asked, bewildered but going along with it anyway.

Tam stilled in his movement. Thorian looked about the stall.

“Do you have any other spices?” he finally asked. Tam pointed a quivering finger towards the back, and Thorian moved back there with Dara in tow. He inspected the different little spice jars amongst the shelves, pulling down a few before moving back out of the stall.

Tam stood in the corner, having not moved from that spot since the two had disappeared. He looked as bewildered as scared now. But it hardly mattered. Thorian ignored him entirely as he began to move across the little cooking area. Dara eventually got tired of that and uncuffed herself.

Tam looked at her as if she were crazy, and she just shrugged, leaning against a counter near him.

“You can’t just let it do whatever it wants,” Tam hissed at her, eyes glancing nervously over to Thorian who was mixing spices and cubes of meat in a bowl.

“Are you going to stop him?” Dara asked casually, giving Tam a cool smile. Tam for once looked annoyed rather than scared. He didn’t answer, but they both knew he wouldn’t.

They watched Thorian as he cooked, observing him move with all the precision of a practiced chef who’d been doing this all of his life.

He made four meat pies, and he and Dara took two, leaving Tam with the leftovers. He watched as they walked to their usual spot on a bench not far from him.

Dara fidgeted with nervous excitement. She did not know how Thorian’s food would taste, but she was eager since all he ever did when they ate was complain about elven food.

She took a bite of the pie once it had cooled down enough to eat, and nearly wept. It was sweet and savory and spicy and every bit of amazing as she had hoped.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” she said around a mouthful of food.

“I know,” Thorian said casually, though she knew his head had to be swelling with pride.

Everyone who had watched the spectacle of an orc cooking kept an eye on the two afterward. Yet Dara showed no signs of being poisoned, just disappointment with other meals.

~

“Da-Dara!” Tam called as Dara and Thorian were passing that day.

She approached the stall. Tam seemed to have gotten something of a backbone considering he always looked as if he were about to die every time Dara and Thorian approached his stall. He looked at her with a smile, small though it was. When his eyes drifted to the orc, his smile drooped, and he looked more nervous though not as he had been before.

“I was wondering if you could give me that meat pie recipe you used from the other day,” he said, eyes cast downward where his fingers traced a pattern in the wood.

“It wasn’t my recipe,” Dara said, already smiling at the turn the conversation was taking. Tam gulped audibly, eyes sliding over to the orc who looked at him with patient, haughty eyes.

“Do… Do you think you might teach me?” Tam said in a rush before he lost his nerve. Thorian eyed him silently, scrutinizing him, before he looked to Dara who watched him with patient, expectant eyes.

“This is your call,” she said after a moment, “I will go with whatever you choose to do.”

Thorian let out a tiny chuckle.

“I might as well,” he said, “Otherwise no one in your village will ever know what good food tastes like.”

Dara let out a light laugh, and even Tam let out a disbelieving chuckle.

~

Eating food prepared by an orc had two very strong, very different opinions in the village initially.

In the beginning no one would touch it except for Dara, Tam, and Thorian himself. Tam would just follow the orc’s instructions on spice mixing and cooking different meals besides meat pies. He was just happy to receive the cooking instruction. He’d always had a passion for cooking.

But as time went on, the opinion on orc food was similar to the one of approaching him altogether – most of the intrigue lay in the adolescents and children who would dare each other to get close to watch the orc work with one of their own while Dara stood by and took a few notes of her own. Eventually the dares of watching turned to actually eating the food.

It was a 14-year-old girl.

She defiantly strode up to the stall, money clutched tightly in her hand, palms sweating more and more the closer she got to the stall, but she couldn’t back out now. Her friends were watching, and they’d all heard her say that she wasn’t afraid of anything – especially not wild beast who thought it could cook like the rest of them.

Her friends shuffled a bit closer, keeping a good distance from her.

She approached the counter and slammed her money down. Tam approached her with a friendly smile. Her eyes slid from him to the orc who had not even acknowledged her presence. He was large, much larger up close than when she had been standing behind a tree watching with her friends.

“Can I help you?” Tam asked, and her eyes darted back up to his familiar and somewhat calming face. She swallowed. Her throat felt dry.

“What’s on the menu?” she asked lowly, voice cracking as she feigned confidence. Dara held in a chuckle at the girl’s brave façade.

“Well meat pies are one of our specialties if you wanna try that?” he asked. The girl nodded quietly, nerves eating up her words no matter how much force she put behind her act.

Tam returned shortly with a fresh meat pie and placed it in front of her.

“Thank you!” the girl forced out, grabbing the food and darting back to her friends. They huddled behind some bushes looking at the food in her hands. It looked like any other meat pie. It didn’t have a weird look or smell about it that should have screamed poison. Then again that one elf who was always with the orc ate his food all the time and was never poisoned. Though she had also been branded a traitor by some of their parents – confused and crazy by the rest.

Orcs probably didn’t poison allies. Though Fenri had gone up to the orc a few weeks ago, and the orc didn’t hurt him or anything. If he was going to kill someone. He’d have done it by now, right?

“Are you gonna eat it already or what?” one her friends asked. She puffed out her cheeks in defiance. Now that the orc was not so near, her bravery had come back.

She took a large bite out of the meat pie.

~

Tam’s business had come back to him. Though most of the patrons were children, teenagers, and a few adults who trusted that if none of them had been poisoned yet, then Dara must have been keeping a good leash on her pet. It was good she was not a traitor.

It was after a few weeks of it that Dara started leaving. She didn’t go far initially. Maybe she would step into the back or visit a stall or booth that would still take her business that was not far away. And she got her desired results.

People hardly noticed. She always did her best to blend into the background, and now she was normalizing his socialization with the people. Granted they were still ignorant about him and his kind, and they still treated him like little more than an animal that Dara had to train, but it was a start.

It wasn’t until things had quieted down with the orcs a few weeks later that any true progress had been made.

It had been a long day at the booth with customers becoming more frequent. Dara was sure Thorian didn’t want to only cook with his time, but it was the only recreation he was allowed and the only time he was not shackled he had. So he bided his time with this small freedom, grateful to have something to do besides rot in a cell or walk around the village while those who still did not trust him, eyed him like a target.

By the time they officially closed up shop, the sun had set. Days like these were rare but among Thorian’s favorite. He liked the stars. And Dara liked them too. They liked looking at them as they returned to his cell, a small comfort before the next day when he would be allowed out again.

It was as they were walking, admiring the twinkling lights that they heard it. A sound like a horn. Dara’s eyes narrowed as she looked in the direction of the tree. Already she summoned her keyblade and armor.

Thorian watched her.

“Do you wish to come with me?” she asked, tone grave. They both knew he would see his kind slaughtered. It was something she wasn’t sure he would want to see, but he was not deterred.

He nodded and they sprinted off in the direction of the tree.

~

It was a deadlock by the time they reached the Tree of Life. The keyblade wielders at the forefront held a bulk of the attacking orcs back while many of the other soldiers would take down those that managed to break the line in front. But they weren’t making enough progress, and they couldn’t hold them off forever. Orcs’ resilience to most attacks was a point of difficulty for the elves.

Dara took her place next to the tree, guarding with her shield and cutting down orcs as they approached her. But she did not attack with all of her fervor. All she could see when she was attacking was Thorian. Of course, they didn’t look like him, but they could have been him. They were like him. They did not know they could be like him – that this world could be as much their home as it was the elves’ home.

She was not paying attention. An orc with a spear nearly ran her through until Thorian broke it before it could reach her, letting out a terrifying roar as he took the point of the broken spear and stabbed it through the orc’s neck.

Dara looked at him in shock. He’d killed his own.

“Thorian,” she choked out.

“Light,” he said simply, watching as the orcs began to surround them.

“What?” she said as she stood back to back with him, facing the other side of the semicircle of orcs.

“We are weak to light. If you wish to defeat them before they reach the tree, you will need to use light as the base of your attacks.”

Dara only knew one attack based in light. Summoning her all, she created a ring of light around the two of them before she sent it out in a burst of energy. It felled the orcs directly in front of them immediately, but only injured the ones further out as the wave of energy dispersed the further it got from her. The other warriors took note of this, using what little light magic they’d practiced in order to do similar damage.

She panted, stumbling a little in her stance but holding her blade and shield at the ready as more orcs approached. She imbued her keyblade with light magic as best she could and began to cut the orcs down with precision strikes while Thorian fought beside her, keeping the orcs from ganging up on her.

The battle continued until there were naught but a few heavily wounded orcs left. The soldiers began to make quick work of them until there were only bodies littering the ground – most of them orcs with black tendrils of darkness floating from their bodies as they vanished from existence and very few elves. Dara de-summoned her weapons and armor and was prepared to lead Thorian back to the village when a cough sounded at her feet.

She looked down to see a fading orc, coughing up a black, viscous substance. Something she’d seen drip from Thorian when he was injured. She grimaced.

The orc looked at her and then at Thorian. It spat in his direction.

“You’d leave behind your brethren for this. You’d see us all perish. You were given your duty, and you squandered your purpose in life,” he rasped from his place on the ground.

“I would not see you perish. Nor would I see this world destroyed by darkness. Not when I’ve learned that we could survive in it. I have not squandered my purpose in life. I have simply chosen a new one.”

The orc was fading more now. A sneer crossed his face.

“You’ve chosen,” he spat, “No. You’ve abandoned everything. You’re a coward and a fool, and when they turn on you, you’ll think of what little meaning your continued existence has garnered when you fade into oblivion like you’ve condemned me.”

With that, the orc faded completely, leaving nothing behind.

They returned to the village in silence. Dara was silent the rest of the way, brow furrowed in frustration.

“Are you going to say what’s on your mind or continue to stare at the ground until it catches fire?” Thorian’s deep rumble of a voice interrupted her thoughts.

She stopped walking to turn and look at him. Her face was one of concern and worry. She looked sad and angry.

“He was wrong. They won’t turn on you,” she said, voice firm but hardly directed at him. No, she was trying to convince herself.

“They might. I’ll always be an outsider here,” he said lowly.

“No!”

He was taken aback by her outburst.

“I won’t let them. They know you won’t hurt them.”

“Some do. We both know most do not. Do not fool yourself into thinking that because I am tolerated that I am accepted. You have accepted me. As has Tam. But it would take decades before I would truly be accepted into this community, and even then I would not be accepted by everyone. There will always be attempts on my life.”

“I will not let them!” Dara said, voice getting a bit louder, “I will protect you.”

He lets out one of his booming laughs. She frowns even more.

“I’m serious!” she says with a little stamp of her foot. His laughs quiet a little after though his smile does not leave his face.

“I know you are,” he says. He takes a knee in front of her, bowing his head to her.

“I will fight by your side. I vow this from here to the day I die that I will be by your side until the day my body leaves this world.”

Dara looks at him in surprise.

“You would fight for our cause now?” she asked, confusion lining her features.

“No,” he says as he stands back up to his full height, “I will fight for you. Nothing else. Whatever cause you support. Whatever trials you face. No matter how futile, trivial, or challenging. I will stand by you without faltering.”

Dara was at a loss for words. All she could do was throw her arms around his neck in a hug. He was caught off guard by the gesture but eventually wrapped his arms around her in a hug as well.

~

Keyblade wielders had a job. The fate of the universe was always more important than the fate of one world. But Dara could not very well abandon her home when it was threatened to be plunged into darkness. Even if there was a keyblade war raging in another part of the grand scheme of things.

Everyday more and more keyblade wielders left to join the cause. And this worried her to no end. They couldn’t all leave. But they were, and with each small battle waged against the orcs she feared they would notice – feared they would take advantage of their weakness.

Their non-keyblade wielding soldiers were formidable opponents against the orcs, but they could only do so much. It was thanks to the keyblade wielders that the tides seemed to turn in their favor at all. Light had become a well-practiced magic that was taught to every soldier, but keyblade wielders had more power and were not as limited in magic use as those who were not strengthened by their blades. As such, battles drew on longer and more people were lost. Orcs were able to retreat and recuperate and report on what they’d seen. Dara did not know how long they could keep this up.

But one thing was clear. The orcs were becoming bolder, and the final battle would soon be on the horizon. And with the keyblade wielders gone, more of their other soldiers would be lost. Their army was dwindling.

And Dara needed to seek council with the only one who may have any idea of what to do.

~

Thorian would never admit it, but… he was intimidated. He’d never seen a creature such as this. When Dara said they were going up the Tree of Life to meet its guardian, he did not know he’d be staring into the eyes of a dragon. His name was Mythiss.

Dara and Thorian kneeled before him, and Mythiss gave a huff of frustration.

“You may rise,” he said in a bored, almost annoyed, drawl and roll of his large ice blue eyes.

“Guardian,” Dara said as she stood, looking up at the dragon, “I grow fearful of the fate of our world.”

“You are referring to the detestable behavior of your fellow keyblade wielders are you not?” Mythiss growled out, mouth never moving but words spoken as clearly as a roll of thunder.

“I am,” Dara answered gravely.

“You should be,” he said with no hints of sympathy in his voice, “Your kind are meant to protect the world and the light that exists within it, yet they leave to fight in pointless war that can have no winner.”

His large eyes slid to Thorian.

“And you’ve brought darkness to the tree. Though…,” he leaned in close, his large muzzle close enough to touch Thorian though he did not flinch, “He does not fear the light.”

The dragon’s eyes flashed gold for a moment before disappearing, and Thorian couldn’t have been sure that he really saw it.

“He has a heart,” the dragon mused before looking at Dara again, “How has this happened?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly, “All I know is that he does. I know his heart.”

“And he has chosen to fight in the name of the light?”

“He has chosen to fight in my name.”

The dragon scoffed before looking at Thorian once more.

“Still a more just cause than the keyblade war. And you will not abandon her?”

“I will not,” Thorian answered firmly.

“And you will not abandon this world?” the dragon asked Dara.

“I will not.”

“Then if you wish to protect her,” he said redirecting his attention to Thorian once more, “You will protect this world alongside her. Hold out your hand.”

Thorian did as he was told and a keyblade materialized in his hand.

“Do not fail me.”

~

Thorian rolled off of Dara with a groan. She just lay there absolutely still outside of the heaving of her panting chest. She was exhausted. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to move again.

Thorian stood from the bed, walking over to the chair where he’d thrown his clothes. Dara watched his large muscular frame move, dazedly wondering how he still had the energy to do so after he had fucked her so thoroughly.

“What are you doing?” she mumbled out as she watched him dress.

“We still have training to do,” he answered simply.

She sat up, wincing at the pain of her lower half.

“Really? After all of that?”

“You’re tired?” he asked, an amused smile playing across his lips.

Yes,” she stressed out, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk again.”

He chuckled lowly before walking back over to the bed and picking her up like a bride and spinning her around. She clung to him, letting out little elated giggles before kissing him. She hummed in contentment as she snuggled into him before he set her down on the edge of the bed.

Her content was short lived.

“Something troubles you, my heart,” he said as he brushed some of her hair out of her face, thumb idly tracing the scar above her eyebrow.

“War is coming. I cannot ignore the signs anymore than you can,” she said gravely.

“I know,” he said, leaning his head against her own, “And we will face it together.”

She took a small comfort in that.

~

“Wait,” you interrupted, “So heartless can have sex? Like normal people?”

“Well the orcs could. They were… anatomically correct,” your ancestor answered.

“Yeah, I got that. You didn’t actually need to describe the sex to me by the way.”

~

Thorian cut through training dummies with ease. His brute strength was a great asset, and now that he was learning to put it behind his keyblade, he was almost an unstoppable force. It helped that he was built like a tank.

“Should we work on your form changes next?” Dara asked, walking up next to him where he stood amongst the dummies littered on the ground.

“Are you sure I’m ready?”

“I have every confidence you will master it in due time. We will be ready when the time comes.”

It had been roughly two years now since he’d gotten his keyblade, and he had quickly become something of a master. He trained relentlessly, protecting Dara and Ellaria being his only goal.

She stepped back and summoned her keyblade before melding with it, sprouting wings and scales and becoming an ethereal dragon of light. She took a deep breath, eyes flashing red as she let out a wave of fire that mowed down more targets before taking to the skies.

Thorian marveled at her for a moment, reminiscing that that same fighting spirit and fire was why he had married her in the first place.

He summoned his all in his form change, morphing into a pitch-black dragon. Dara landed next to him. Thorian stretched his wings experimentally. Then the form abruptly disappeared, and he was left panting on the ground.

Dara returned to her original form.

“It will get easier,” she said as she offered a hand to help him up.

“Working hard?” they heard a voice say. They turned to see Tam approaching with a warm smile on his face and a little bundle in his arms.

“As hard as we can,” Thorian assured, “Thank you again for babysitting.”

“It’s no problem. She slept the whole time.”

Dara smiled back, taking the bundle into her arms and smiling down at her beautiful daughter as she slept. She looked completely elven, the only trait she retained from her father being irises that were a bright golden yellow. Though this gave her an otherworldly beauty more than anything else.

Thorian came over as well to look at Ellaria’s sleeping face. Seeing it gave him peace.

“Have you heard from any of the others?” Tam asked, looking worriedly at Dara. Dara’s smile dropped as she shook her head. She feared the worst. It was most likely that all of their keyblade warriors who had gone to fight in the keyblade war were dead or dying. Regardless, she knew they were not coming back. And she and Thorian were the only keyblade wielders left.

~

Dara swallowed hard, but the lump in her throat wouldn’t leave. She moved sluggishly, putting together everything she thought her baby could possibly need or want. Thorian helped her take it over to Tam’s home. The last thing they would move would be Ellaria.

She was asleep.

Dara stood over the crib, taking a moment to watch her sleep. Thorian did the same, an arm around his wife’s shoulders. They stood there for what felt like ages, but it was only about five or so minutes. Her shoulders began to shake.

Tears rolled down her cheeks in fat drops.

Thorian held her closer, placing tender kisses along her forehead.

Dara gathered Ellaria in her arms, and the two departed for Tam’s home.

He met them at the door, a forlorn look on his face.

“Thank you for this,” Thorian said, his wife still too choked up to say anything. What could one say in a situation like this? Tam merely nodded.

“Do you remember what to do?”

“To go to the next village. Say I’m from anywhere else, that I used to be a drifter with my wife before she died. Now I’m looking to settle down and raise my child.”

Thorian nodded.

“And she can never know about us,” Dara croaked out, “She can never know where she comes from. If they knew… if anyone ever found out she was part orc, she’d never be accepted. As far as you or anyone else knows, she’s just an elf.”

“But that won’t be a problem when you come back,” Tam said reassuringly, though he hardly believed it himself.

“If…,” Dara started then shuddered with more tears. Thorian put his arm around her. “If we come back. We’ll come find you.”

Tam nodded.

“Maybe you’ll come back. Maybe we don’t have to go…,” Tam tried again, trying to stay positive.

“If we don’t and the orcs make it to the village, they’ll ravage it and set fire to everything. And you and our daughter will be killed,” Thorian said with a faraway look in his eyes. Dara held her daughter a little closer at the mention that anyone would try to kill her – angry and saddened.

She held her baby closely to her, and Thorian wrapped both of them up in a tight hug. He felt tears slip from his own eyes. His heart was heavy and breaking.

“You can still stay,” he said to Dara, “Our child needs a mother.”

She shook her head again. They’d had this conversation time and time again.

“I have a duty to do to ensure our daughter has a world to grow up in. No matter the cost.”

A horn sounded in the distance just as it had only an hour ago to signal the approaching army at their borders. They were almost upon the village now. Thorian and Dara were among several hundred leaving their families for battle.

Thorian and Dara each kissed their daughter before giving her to Tam. Tam hopped on his loaded cart full of supplies that would support his day’s journey to the next village. And Thorian and Dara watched with tears rolling down their faces as Tam and Ellaria rode away.

~

Rage fueled them as they strode onto the battlefield with the rest of the elven army at their backs. They were at the forefront. Between them and the tree stood 500 soldiers. On top of the Tree of Life the dragon gazed down below. He still resented the keyblade wielders who’d abandoned the world in its hour of need. But it hardly mattered now. He would not see it fall. Not while he still drew breath.

They were outnumbered and nothing short of a miracle would save them. Their meager army was facing one at least ten times its size, but they would give them hell. They would die for this world and its people.

The orc army charged with a great roar that rolled over the field like a wave. The elven army charged in a similar manner with Thorian and Dara at the front, keyblades ablaze with light that cut the orcs they met down to size almost immediately. The battle raged back and forth, the line between the two armies wavering as if being pulled on the ends by some invisible force. But the inevitable happened. The elven army began being pushed back as soldiers fell. Steadily back they went until they were nearly upon the tree.

Mythiss flew overhead, lighting the field in a blaze that stunned many of the orcs, but the darkness kept encroaching upon them. More and more orcs poured forth until it was clear that no amount of fighting would save the elves.

Soon there were only Thorian, Dara, and Mythiss left standing, and Thorian and Dara were already heavily wounded.

Mythiss erected a wall of fire around the two and the tree, which they stood next to. The orc army was surrounding the wall, waiting for its blaze to burn out, some charging foolhardy into it anyway, almost clearing the blaze before they succumb to the heat and flame. Soon the fire would not hold them off anymore. Soon they would charge through the blaze and attack. Soon they would reach the tree, and the world would be lost to darkness.

“This is the end,” Mythiss conceded, his long, draconic body curling around the two keyblade wielders like a shield, “We have failed this world.”

“All is lost,” Dara mourned. Thorian held her tightly to him and she held back.

“No,” Mythiss said with an eerie calm about him, “I will destroy it all. The tree and the orcs. But you must lend me some of your power and light. This will leave you weakened. You will probably not survive the attack, but the world will press on without us.”

There was not even a question in their minds about whether or not they should do this. It would mean that Ellaria would survive, and the world would continue, and they will have done their jobs as keyblade wielders.

They summoned their keyblades, pointing at the dragon and giving all of their power to him, every last bit of it they had.

“This world will not fall today,” Mythiss said as he closed his eyes and began to concentrate.

Mythiss began to glow so brightly, they could no longer look at him. They merely held each other, placing one last kiss on each other’s lips, thoughts of their time together and their daughter and their love rushing through their minds as oblivion overtook them. Though they held no fear.

Just as the orcs broke through the fire, Mythiss unleashed a magic of restoration that purged the darkness from the world and with it every orc in the army, Thorian, and Dara. His magic melded into the world, meshing with its own heart and will, concealing the heart that lay beneath the tree from the naked eye.

With every orc male extinguished the race eventually died out. Except for Ellaria who went on living without knowing any of her true heritage and nature. And that, as far as anyone knew, was the end of it. There was no more consistent threat to the world of Kelewenya, and all the keyblade wielders of that world perished.

All of the tales of the elf and her orc lover and keyblade wielders and the Tree of Life were mere legend.

~

“Until you, of course,” your grandmother finished, “Kelewenya lasted far longer than I thought it would, but it fell one day. And once there was talk of an artificial world, I knew it was only a matter of time before it too fell with no heart to balance and protect it. So I bequeathed my keyblade to you, and I think I chose right. You’re growing into quite the little hero.”

“Am I as good as you?” you asked cheekily. She laughed and patted your head.

“No. Not even close. You have far too much to learn, and you are far too impulsive for your own good. But you have a good heart, and that will take you far while you learn.”

“Also does this mean I’m part orc?”

“Yes. You’re part heartless.”

“But that’s such a small fraction now, right?”

“Yes and no. It’s true that it isn’t as big as Ellaria’s. She was half heartless, but the darkness that always lurks in people’s hearts has kept it from dwindling as most genes normally do. A rather large part of you is still heartless, but this does not define you. But you can become lost in it and to it.”

“Lost?”

“If you go through corridors of darkness too often with no protection, one day you may find that you’ve assimilated into it, and no part of you will be left. You will simply vanish.”

You gulped a little. You would always remember to wear your armor or cloak from here on out.

“There is something I want to give you,” she said softly before she lightly touched your head. Her fingertips began to glow dully then brightly in such a quick flash, you might have imagined it.

“What was that?” you asked, feeling no different.

“I’ve taught you a few things.”

“Like what?”

“The light spell I used on the orcs. You can imbue your weapon with it to better fight darkness and corruption. Also the restoration spell Mythiss used to purge the darkness from the world. It will not be nearly as powerful, but it can be used against Uh-Oa to cleanse her. Don’t use it too often though. It will take a lot out of you, and as you know from Mythiss’s sacrifice, it can kill you if you aren’t careful.  Also a fire spell I learned in my youth. It’s also quite powerful, so don’t use it until you’re well practiced with it.”

“Thank you,” you said, throwing your arms around her neck in a hug. She chuckled, hugging you back.

Thunder rumbled above you. Loud and intimidating. In the clouds which darkened the sky lightning flashed.

“The guardians before you have cleared a way. Uh-Oa knows this. She is waiting for you,” your grandmother spoke as she stood. You stood as well, gazing up at the sky as the clouds swirled menacingly in a vortex of dark gray. “I know you will do well, Dara. I will be with you, and those who came before you will support you. You will be backed by our hearts, and the strength of your heart will guide you to victory. And your friends will help too.”

Her eyes darted behind you and you looked to see Figment flying up to you with a big smile one his face. He saw all of the spirits fighting the heartless, and he wondered if this meant that you were in any trouble, so he was happy to see you were okay. He flew into your chest, arms spread in a hug, and you hugged back, just as happy to see them.

“Go now,” you grandmother instructed, “She’s waiting.”

With that she began to glow then faded away, and your armor began to glow. She wasn’t gone. She wasn’t your armor either. But she felt like a presence that gave you more courage.

You took a deep breath before mounting your glider with Figment clinging to your shoulder and flying up the mountain.

Chapter Text

You passed by many of the ethereal keyblade wielders on your way up. Some had resumed their forms and were birds once more, but others remained in their true form and shouted encouragement to you and telling you to let your heart be your guiding key.

And you felt better.

As you climbed the tree, blazing through the sky, the clouds around you grew ever darker. The storm Uh-Oa conjured grew more violent with whipping winds that made your glider harder to control and drops of rain that pelted your armor like tiny bullets as you flew against them.

The keyblade wielders watched over you until you were almost at the top. They continued to give encouragement but all you could hear was the storm raging above your head. But you felt their strength backing you, inspiring you.

You held no fear.

You decided to rest near the top, so you’d have all your strength in your battle against Uh-Oa the next day. The wind made putting up your tent near impossible, and it took an eternity to weigh down so it could not be blown away, but you managed.

You crawled into the tent, grateful to be out of the storm. But it was no quieter inside the tent. Your thoughts whipped around in your head, and you repeated the things your grandmother and the keyblade wielders said over and over again in your head like a mantra so you wouldn’t be discouraged. But it wasn’t enough. And you found yourself wishing your friends were with you.

Then you realized that they kind of were.

You used your heart to feel for your friends and family. You could feel their hearts, and that gave you a sense of peace you hadn’t had since the night of the aurora borealis. It was much easier now that they were closer, and you sent them pulses of love and courage. You sent them all strength and feelings of determination, and you felt them back in return.

All the while your grandmother’s words wrung strongly in your mind.

The strength of your heart will guide you to victory.

~

Axel and Demyx reached the bottom of the mountain just before you had your overwhelming run in with the swarms of heartless.

Needless to say, Dreamfinder, Namine, and Ludwig were all confused to see them back so soon without ________ or Figment in tow.

“What happened?” Namine said as she trotted up to them, looking at their faces for any negative emotion or sign that they were sad or hurt. “Where’s ________? Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. I think,” Demyx said. Axel just looked back to the mountain. “We couldn’t breathe the further up we went, but she has that armor, so she was fine and kept going.”

“Is Figment with her?” Dreamfinder asked, wringing his hands somewhat nervously.

“Yeah, he stayed with her.”

“Axel? Are you alright?” Namine asked as Axel continued to look at the mountain silently. Her eyes followed his gaze up the tree to where they could see a swirling vortex of dark clouds surrounding the top. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed and the shadow of Uh-Oa loomed over them all. She stood still except for her wings which occasionally flapped in time to the claps of thunder.

For a moment, Axel was frozen in fear. You hadn’t made it to her yet. If you had, he doubted Uh-Oa would just be standing there. No. But it was clear she was waiting. The rest of your friends and family felt similar rushes of fear and anxiety slip into them, making their blood run cold. They worried for you.

But then they felt you.

They felt you send love and affection, and this gave them a sense of hope that they needed. You gave them love and courage, and they sent you their strength and determination. You all needed each other more than ever before.

~

You barely managed to sleep that evening with the storm consistently waking you in the middle of the night. But you got the rest you so desperately needed and ate a decent breakfast. Then you exited your tent and gazed up at what little of the mountain was left. You wouldn’t be flying for more than an hour, and then you would be there.

Figment placed a hand on your shoulder in a comforting and encouraging gesture, and you looked at him, placing your own hand over his.

“This is it,” you acknowledged, “If things start going south, get back down the mountain and get as many people out of here as you can. Even if it’s just our friends and family.”

Figment gave you a stern look. You could hear him now if he could talk outside of the mind.

“That’s quitter’s talk.”

You gave a wry smile. You would do your best, but who were you in the face of a goddess?

~

As you approached the top of the tree on your glider, the limbs of the tree became more and more barren, and as you crested the top of the tree, the branches were completely bare. It was an open area, flat almost except for small rises and dips on its surface. But it was not unmanageable as far as walking goes.

At this point, all you could hear anymore was the storm. It drowned out all other noises – the pounding of your heart which you only knew was thumping so hard because of how it was undoubtedly bruising itself with every thump against your ribcage; your breathing which felt more shallow the longer you stood gazing at your makeshift arena as you waited for your opponent, even your thoughts; though you were too frazzled to form a coherent one so that may have been why you couldn’t hear them.

You summoned your keyblade, shield already braced on your other arm as you waited with bated breath for her to appear, and the longer you stood there, the more you wondered if she wasn’t sneaking up on you. But Figment would have done something to warn you. He was constantly turning this way and that as he nervously waited for her arrival.

Then the heartless came. Large waves of armed heartless appeared in the center of the arena as you waited, and you braced yourself for the onslaught.

Your mind briefly flitted to the last time you fought them. You couldn’t handle them. But then you remembered the courage and determination from your friends. And that steeled your resolve. You would not let these creatures defeat you. You would not let them take more innocent lives from the village. You would not let them reach your friends and family. You jumped into the fray almost immediately, fighting with all of your might and downing many of them with Figment doing his best to also keep them at bay, summoning a Figment-sized arsenal of weapons to push back the horde until you could get to them.

“Oh that’s hardly fair,” you heard a voice say, and you were immediately joined by many of the keyblade wielders in their spirit forms. They helped you take down most of the heartless until there were almost none left, and they could not reform quickly enough to overwhelm you anymore.

It was in the midst of this battle just as you were downing a heartless that you noticed something strange happening out of the corner of your eye. A vortex of clouds stretched down from the sky, whipping around at an alarming speed. You stood strong against the violent winds, watching as the vortex took on the vague shape of a person. This shape warped as it sprouted six wings and several faces.

Before you stood Uh-Oa in all her corruption. She had to be at least as tall as a two-floor house. Her skin was blackened and cracked in places with an eerie red glow emanating from the fissures. On her face was a blank mask and jutting out from her skin were three other masks that seemed melted into the flesh. They looked like warped and stretched versions of the masks they should have looked like with tentacles spewing forth like sickness from one of them, the jaw stretched unnaturally long on another as if it hand been forced open against its will and the last looking as if it were stretched beyond reason in a permanent, anguished scream.

She stepped forward, two of her four arms, armed with double-ended spears. The other arms ended in large scythe-like blades rather than hands. She looked at you, and despite the blank mask, her gaze was eerie and piercing.

You watched each other for a moment. It felt like everything went still despite the keyblade wielders and heartless fighting around you. Everything felt muted and you felt something like a warning. Like a sixth sense. You felt a tingle of electricity surround you, growing until it was a hardy buzz, and you dove out of the way as lightning struck where you were just standing.

You had to act fast. You remembered Axel telling you to think with your opponent’s next move in mind, and you knew that your dodge was the perfect opportunity to strike if there ever was one.

You brought your shield up as one of Uh-Oa’s spears moved to strike you. You were knocked back a several feet but were none the worse for wear. She had taken on a fighting stance now, brandishing her spears at you with a cold malice you’d only known darkness to produce – just as it had when you faced off against the heartless and the man with no face.

She took a single bounding step, closing the distance between the two of you instantly and swung at you again. You dodge beneath her, swiping at one of her legs with your blade. She quickly picked up her leg just as your keyblade swiped through it, spinning to face you. You turned back to her, picking up your shield to block whatever hit might land next before you realized you felt that familiar prickle of electricity again. You sloppily jumped out of the way again, hardly in a stance ready for attack by the time she was charging at you gain.

~

The heartless swarmed the village in droves, coming in from all parts of the jungle and covering everything like a plague of locusts. The chief ordered everyone who could not fight to get underground, and the warriors stood at the ready to hold back the army of heartless as best they could.

But that was about when everyone realized that the heartless weren’t just here for the village. Many of them were, succumbing to their baser instinct to take hearts from the people and subsequently flood it with even more heartless, but an even larger number were stampeding towards the tree.

Axel realized this, and he was prepared to stand in front of that tree and keep all of them from you by himself. Thankfully, he didn’t have to. Demyx and several other warriors had joined them, and they fought together. But they were going to be overwhelmed at the rate at which the heartless appeared.

That was when Namine joined in, much to the shock of everyone around her. Her wide, blue eyes scanned the area until she spotted a sword on a nearby weapons rack. She picked it up, brandishing it as she had once seen you do and began to fight the heartless alongside the others.

“Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!” Ludwig shouted as Dreamfinder barely managed to hold down a heartless while Ludwig proceeded to punch it as best he could. It wasn’t much, but it was help.

When the two of them had actually managed to damage it enough for it to disappear they realized something. Dreamfinder looked at his hand which had quite completely disappeared.

“Well that’s not good,” he mused much too calmly.

“No!” Ludwig wailed, “Take me instead!”

Ludwig looked at his own hand and noticed his fingertips disappearing.

“Ack! I was kidding! No! Please! The world can’t be without my genius!”

Namine looked at them with alarm in her wide eyes, then she examined herself. She wasn’t fading, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t start. She sent up a silent prayer that you were okay and close to fixing this mess.

~

You quickly stumbled to your feet, gasping and holding your middle. You had taken a really rough hit from the end of her spear. It felt like it had cut you even though your armor remained unpierced. Maybe your ribs were broken. Breathing was certainly harder but not impossible. Your vision was swimming.

Uh-Oa didn’t look like she’d taken much damage at all, still moving like she was unharmed despite the fact that you had struck her on the legs and arms many, many times.

But how do you fight darkness?!

Then you remembered what your grandmother had taught you. You searched within yourself. You searched for your own light. You could feel it burning within you. It swirled alongside your darkness which felt like ice in your soul, but you couldn’t focus on that now.

You grabbed onto that light. You clung to it for life and channeled it through your body. You felt it burn through your arms and into your sword and shield casting a white, opalescent glow over them.

You stood up straighter before charging towards Uh-Oa. She stabbed her blade-like hands at you, piercing the tree and shaking leaves loose with the force of it. The leaves fluttered and reattached themselves to her wings. At least now you knew where the souls of the people had gone. She swiped at you with her other spear and you only just barely managed to dodge it, swiping at the back of her ankle where you watched the area of darkness ignite in white flame and burn out, leaving a bright white cut that looked like you’d carved out a chunk of her flesh.

Uh-Oa stumbled, leaning heavily on her spears before standing up shakily. She turned slowly to face you, and you felt a cold, dark fury in her gaze that hadn’t been quite so intense as before.

She swept her spear low, sweeping across the ground, a trail of sparks and lightning trailing after it and lingering. You summoned your glider at the last moment as you realized the sparks weren’t leaving as quickly as a regular strike of lightning. Your chest ached as what few leaves were still on the top of the tree caught fire when the lightning managed to touch it.

You flew about Uh-Oa, defenseless as long as your keyblade was a glider. Well not totally defenseless.

You continued to brandish your shield though it didn’t do much in terms of helping you dodge her swings as she stood amongst the electricity crackling below her.

But….

.

.

.

Maybe you could use it?

You flew a distance away, and she watched you, flapping her enormous wings to follow you. She continued to summon lightning to strike you down as you flew in circles, gaining as much speed as you could before you flew towards her.

You dodge her strikes as she swung her spears at you before spinning to gain even more momentum as you approached her. Just when you thought you were at the right distance and going as fast as you could manage, you let your shield fly, sending it flying at her like an arrowhead.

You heard a sickening crack as Uh-Oa’s head flew back, bending her neck at an unnatural angle. She stilled for a moment, and you watched her in a dizzy haze before remembering that this was your opening and you should attack.

You re-summoned your shield, prepared to launch the attack again as long as she was standing there, but then you heard the sickening crack of her neck again as she righted herself.

There was a crack in her mask, large, black web-like lines streaking and tearing through the pure white of it. As she fixed her head, part of her mask fell, and you saw that where her face should have been was a hole.

You gazed into that hole. In it you could see the swirling blackened souls of the villagers moaning in agony as they cried to be released.

Uh-Oa struck you in your daze, and you fell back to the tree, rolling a way towards the edge of the tree, feeling as if you were on fire as you were bathed in the electricity that had yet to dissipate around you.

You screamed as you struggled to stand. It hurt. Everything hurt. You were burning and maybe dying. You couldn’t be sure.

~

Axel collapsed. He felt wrong. Very wrong. The world around him felt muffled even as he watched the battle rage before him. He felt like he was burning, but his fire had never hurt him before. But this felt minutely different. It didn’t quite feel like the fire was burning his skin so much as something was consuming him from the inside out.

“Axel, get up,” Demyx yelled, voice barely able to pierce through the haze in his mind. Demyx pulled him up by his elbow, and Axel did his best to fall back into the fray. He could worry about himself later. Right now he needed to be sure that whatever you faced, you would not have the heartless to deal with as well. You needed him, and he would not let you down again.

The heartless were reproducing too quickly. They couldn’t keep up. At this rate, they were holding off the inevitable and hoping you were going to end it all before they could be finished off themselves.

“Looks like you all could use a little help,” a familiar voice called. Axel looked around for the bird – Pierre he thought his name was. “We cleared out the heartless on the lower levels.”

Fritz turned to the other spirit keyblade wielders who had appeared.

“Do not let them reach the tree! Protect the guardian at all costs,” he instructed. The keyblade wielders descended into the battlefield in a blur of golden light, fighting back the heartless until the warriors began to reclaim ground lost to the heartless.

“Where’s ________?” Axel asked them, still feeling that burn that seared his very soul and just knowing it had something to do with you. He just hoped it meant you were okay. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if something happened to you.

“She’s fighting Uh-Oa, but that cannot be your main concern,” Pierre said sternly as he felled another of the heartless.

“Bullshit! Without her we don’t have anything,” he countered, fighting his own heartless.

“And that means a little more for you doesn’t it?” Pierre asked with a soft glare on his features. “Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way of what’s right. If nothing else, she needs you down here. Send her your strength through your heart, and she will be fine. But these people down here need you too.”

Axel didn’t want to let it go. His heart burned, and he needed to know you were alright. But what else could he do? He no more wanted anything to happen to you than he did to anyone else he was fighting for. But you were everything to him right now.

“Do it for her,” Pierre said, softly this time, “She needs this too.”

That made it a little better, and despite himself and his heart, Axel continued fighting, sending you what strength he could through your shared connection.

~

You stood though your body screamed not to. You stumbled forward with jerky movements.

Uh-Oa pounced.

She stabbed her spears into the ground one right after the other, jabbing at you with her blade-like hands too, and you dodged and rolled through the lightning, body feeling burned beyond belief in a searing heat you could hardly move in that sapped most if not all of your energy from you.

You imbued your keyblade with light once more before launching yourself at her wrist as she got close. You sliced your keyblade through it, and Uh-Oa jerked back, though not enough of her wrist was still there to remove her blade from the tree, so she pulled her wrist clean off, the place where it once was, dripping a black ooze onto the ground that seemed to rot the part of the tree it touched, turning it a sickly gray with gnarled veins running through it. Where your blade had gone through, it looked like her ankle where you’d cut it – pure white like a sheet of paper but glowing and pearly like the light your keyblade and shield shown with.

You breathed harshly, rasping out breaths that were jagged and shallow. You felt like you were going to pass out at this point. But you couldn’t.

You felt more determination flow through you. You could not give up now. You looked at Uh-Oa. You needed to end this soon.

She needs to restore the balance to Uh-Oa. Even if that means killing her.

José’s words rang through your head though they seemed so far away. Could you even kill Uh-Oa?

But…. Should you?

Your grandmother’s story also flitted through your head of how the planet had no guardian and eventually that led to its destruction when someone finally came tampering with it when there was no one and nothing to protect it.

Michael’s words rang through your head next.

Some part of our goddess yet lives in her, but it is buried beneath corruption and rot.

…that part of her heart will be willing….

Could your really reach Uh-Oa somewhere in this creature before you?

Would it be worth the risk if you couldn’t?

Would the potential consequences be something you could live with if you didn’t at least try to save her?

Memories of the horrors you saw the day Spaceship Earth fell flitted through your mind. If made your heart ache worse than any of the pain your body felt now. To risk inflicting that on anyone else…? You couldn’t think of it. Didn’t want to.

You summoned all of your light once more. It took everything you had. It felt like every part of your magic and being were lost somewhere in this fight. Like the patches of white on Uh-Oa were your own sense of self lost on her and exhausting you the longer you kept away from them and the more you gave up.

You charged for Uh-Oa again, dodging her erratic, furious swings as you slipped beneath her. You could not light fire for more than a split second at this altitude. Any and every attempt resulted in it flickering out almost immediately. So you needed to time this right. You didn’t think she’d let you try again if she knew the aim of your goal.

You changed your keyblade into a spear, aiming and throwing it as quickly as possible. It embedded itself in the crux of two of her wings. Summoning that fire buried deeply within yourself, pushing past all the limitation of your magic, you felt for your spear and with a yell of effort as you reached deeply for everything you had, your spear burst in an explosion of fire and light.

And Uh-Oa screamed. It was a sound so deafening, you fell to your knees and clutched your head. The storm briefly quieted and the lightning that littered the tree dispersed. The lack of lightning constantly burning you was just a bonus to what your true goal was. Her wings were charred and broken. She wouldn’t be flying anytime soon. But you had better finish this if you didn’t want her summoning anymore leaves and destroying anymore people.

~

The heartless stuttered around them, and everyone stilled. They stood there jittering as if they were glitching and unable to function.

Then they heard a scream. A great roar that rumbled down the mountain. They all looked to the top of the mountain, covering their ears as the sound grew in volume. The clouds had stilled – not like when they move so slow and you have to keep watching them to notice their slow movement. They had stopped entirely as if you were looking at a picture rather than the sky.

The heartless fell to the ground, some of them dissipating but most just lying immobile on the ground.

“The Guardian has struck a mighty blow against Uh-Oa,” Fritz announced, rallying the remaining warriors and boosting morale and lifting his keyblade above his head, “Keep fighting! We will not fail her!”

The warriors let out a rallying cry and charged the remaining heartless as they picked themselves up off the ground and restarted their attack although now physically much weaker than they had been.

Your friends all bolstered at the revelation that you were still alive and potentially winning your fight against the goddess.

“Hooray!” Dreamfinder’s head cheered from where it lay on the ground.

“I never doubted her for a second,” said Ludwig as he sat on the ground with his entire bottom half and left arm missing.

“Ludwig, I’ve got a question,” Dreamfinder began as his nose began to disappear, “How come everyone else who disappeared went quickly, but we’re taking such a long time?”

“Shhh,” Ludwig shushed, placing a finger on Dreamfinder’s lips.

~

Uh-Oa was on her hands and knees, and you sliced through the back of her other ankle to ensure she wouldn’t be standing up any time soon. She attempted desperately to crush you with her hands and stab you with her spears which she could no longer properly wield. You made quick work of her other blade and the hands with which she tried to crush you.

Then you charged for her face. You were going to end this.

But that’s when among the souls you saw a faint orange glow that quickly grew brighter and Uh-Oa unleashed a torrent of fire at you, a blaze so hot it burned white.

When the blaze dissipated, you were gone.

Uh-Oa began to attempt to stand, shifting to her knees and prepared to summon more leaves from the trees to heal her and repair her injuries.

Then she heard a scream.

Really it was more of a primal yell.

She looked up to see you falling with your spear brandished. With no time to react to your sudden attack she could only kneel weakly as you pierced her chest with your spear.

Then with everything in your being that you could spare that was left, you used Mythiss’s restoration spell, sending your light into Uh-Oa’s heart.

The world grew still, and you watched as the eerie red glow that lingered beneath her skin began to turn a bright white that shown through her black skin until every crevice and hole in her face was pouring out white light.

Then, in your exhaustion, your keyblade disappeared from her chest. And you fell from roughly the height of a second-floor window to the tree’s surface, landing roughly.

Your whole body ached, and the wind was knocked out of you. You coughed and you thought you tasted blood. You couldn’t be sure. You were almost certain you were dying this time.

Then you saw light. Blinding white light.

Chapter Text

It was dark by the time the battle on the ground halted. It stopped with the sound of an explosion. Everyone looked and saw the top of the tree engulfed in bright white light that they could scarcely look at without shielding their eyes.

The wave of light swept down the tree and over the ground, and as it reached the heartless, they vanished completely. Everyone was engulfed in a comforting warmth that put them at ease as well as healed their wounds and rejuvenated them. And all of the heartless who were once people began to reform their bodies, and they were the people they once were.

Gorgeous, bright, luminescent blooms covered the trees branches, forming large flowers that burst in a shower of petals, and where the blooms once were, leaves reappeared. And slowly but surely the village began to fill with all of its lost people.

There was a moment of quiet where everyone just looked on in astonishment. Quietly people exited their homes and hiding places in response to the sudden quiet, all sounds of a battle vanishing. Then, like a great wave of relief and joy, everyone rejoiced. Families were reunited. Lovers embraced and shared passionate kisses. Mothers and fathers held their children close with tears in their eyes.

The air was full of cries of joy and happy, whooping shouts as the village launched into impromptu celebration.

Amaya appeared, blinking about in confusion before realization dawned on her tiny face. She whirled around looking for her mother before her eyes landed on a tall, imposing figure with a stern face. But she knew that face. She ran up to him, embracing her father’s leg – something she had not done since the vanishing first began. His stern features broke into a joyous smile as he embraced his daughter. Then they were joined by his son and wife.

“Daealla, my love,” he said with tears tracing little rivers down his face, “What has happened? How is this possible?”

“The Guardian, my dearest,” she said as she looked up at the tree you had ascended, “She came to us and freed us all and saved our world.”

“Where is she?” he asked looking around. Amaya’s face stopped smiling and she gazed up at the tree as well. Then her eyes looked down to the few people not celebrating. The Guardian’s friends all stood near the tree, waiting for any sign that you were still alive up there. But it could be days before you came back – or at least close to an hour if you flew down with no trouble.

Axel continued to gaze at the mountain, his expression worried and far away. You had to be okay. You had to come back.

You promised.

~

“Kids never listen,” you heard a voice say in your haze. You were feeling better. Stronger. Though you were certain for a moment there you were going to die. “I told you. If you put too much behind that attack with no practice it would kill you. And it nearly did.”

Ah, your grandmother was scolding you. She stood over you, ghostly glow bright against the dark of the night.

“You’re lucky Uh-Oa saved you.”

“It was the least I could do considering she saved my life,” Uh-Oa conceded, “And she is the only one who can save my brother.”

You sat up slowly, vision still swimming slightly. But considering you were coughing up your own blood a moment ago and on the verge of death, you could feel worse. But you looked none the worse for wear. Any marks and indentations and cracks in your armor were gone. You didn’t feel as if you had been battered around endlessly like a ball in a game of tennis. Only your head was fuzzy, and you found that it was clearing up quite quickly.

Figment flew over to you immediately, happy you were still alive when it looked like it was all over for you for a second. You were so still. Too still, and your chest had stopped rising, giving out a shuddering breath you didn’t take back in again.

That was when Uh-Oa stepped in, and your body was surrounded in a pale green light with little glowing plants dancing around your form.

Then you took in a quick breath. Then a longer one. Then you were breathing normal again, and Figment had stopped holding his own breath.

You looked up at Uh-Oa, who seemed smaller than before. Still much, much larger than yourself but not as tall as house. She looked like a person now (sort of). She very clearly had a face now, four arms and no wings. But she looked as if she were made of wood. Her other masks were gone. Now there was only her face which looked imposing yet kind, the sclera her eyes glowing a warm yet eerie shade of orange, her dark pupils staring you down.

“Um, thank you, ma’am,” you said as you stood up. You felt like a unicorn that had just been born and was standing up for the first time. You stumbled just a bit, legs shaky and unsteady.

Uh-Oa nodded at your thanks.

“Um, who’s your brother?” you asked, already homing in on what was probably your next order of business as far as fixing other worlds of their problems was concerned.

“My brother is the Mythiss, the guardian of Beastly Kingdom,” Uh-Oa stated simply in a smooth voice that reminded you of a calm river.

“But… Mythiss died didn’t he?” you asked, looking between her and your grandmother, “I thought he gave his life to save the world.”

“Well he did,” your grandmother began, “But it is not as simple as all that.”

“My brother merged himself with Kelewenya. His will was the planet’s will. His heart was the planet’s heart. And when the world fell to darkness, it could not be brought back by simply reclaiming it from the darkness as all the other worlds had been. When the world died, so did he.”

But if he died then wasn’t he gone?

“And you ought to know better than anybody that it is possible to exist even after death,” your grandmother said with a grave look on her face.

Your eyes widened.

Mythiss was gone.

But his nobody and heartless were still very much out there somewhere, and by extension, so was Kelewenya’s.

“He’s a nobody,” you whispered. Uh-Oa nodded. How were you supposed to find that? How were you supposed to fix it?! You doubted it was so simple as helping Uh-Oa would be. For starters you had two targets. Secondly, they were likely to be the size of a planet or something close to it. Third, you hadn’t even begun your official training as a keyblade wielder, so how were you going to save an entire world?

“I know the task will not be simple,” Uh-Oa started, “But I beseech you, Guardian, your people and my brother need you.”

You nodded, heart thudding loudly in your ears.

“I know,” you said, throat dry. You looked up at her, her expression was soft and pleading. She was a far cry from the proud arrogance your grandmother had described Mythiss to have. “I’ll bring him back. I promise.”

She gave you a gentle smile.

“There is one more thing,” she said, “A gift that I hope you will find useful.”

She kneeled in front of you, still managing to tower over you, and offered you a hand. You put your tiny hand in hers, and she gripped it between her thumb and the edge of her finger. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and all that was left was the orange glow. She muttered something rapidly, lips moving in almost a blur. The orange of her eyes began to glow a bright, pale blue. Then a stray bolt of lightning enveloped the two of you, and it was exhilarating and strange and tingly. It ran through all of your being and into your soul, making your limbs feel as if they had pins and needles as they verged on numb and overstimulated.

Then it ended so abruptly you weren’t sure it happened at all. But she was still in front of you kneeling, so you couldn’t have imagined all of it.

She stood, and she and your grandmother both looked at you.

“Well,” your grandmother prompted, no small amount of giddy excitement in her voice, “Try out your new ability.”

You blinked. Ability?

You searched your heart and, indeed, you felt a new magic there. You pulsed it through your body like you did when you used fire magic and it ran down your arms and little sparks crackled over your fingertips.

“I have lightning powers now?!” you said excited, jumping up and down a bit. A larger streak of lightning sparked between your hands at your excitement.

Your grandmother and Uh-Oa let out hearty laughs at your childlike excitement.

“Use it wisely, Guardian, and remember. There is an entire world, an entire race of people, who depend on you. Your role is a very large one, and you should not at any point let your heart grow weak to doubt. You are more than the strength of your mind and your body. You are a keyblade wielder, and your duty, your life, are invaluable to those you protect.”

“Thank you,” you say, giving a deep bow.

“You should be going now,” your grandmother said, stepping up to you, “I will help you down.”

Your grandmother began to glow and meshed into your armor once more. Then two golden, ethereal, dragon wings, replacing the ones on your armor, sprouting from your back. You gave them an experimental flap.

This is the coolest day of your life.

Then you used them to fly, circling the top of the tree before descending down the side of it, the pictures of creatures on the tree blurring in your speed as you hurried to get to the bottom of it. Your heart beat wildly with exhilaration as you soared over the ground, the village coming into view mere minutes later. This was much faster than your glider. Then again you were battling heartless every minute on the way up – no doubt adding hours to a trip that should have taken mere minutes.

The people of the village looked up and pointed at you as you descended in a little clearing just on the edge of the gathering crowd. Near the base of the tree you saw the otherworldly glow of the keyblade wielders.

They applauded as you landed, and your grandmother appeared to you once again.

“I will be with you in your journey,” she said, preparing to fade away once more.

“Wait! Do I get to keep the wings?”

She chuckled.

“You’ll learn to summon them and the rest of your dragon form in time. May your heart be your guiding key.”

She disappeared into your armor, and you watched as the spiritual keyblade wielders gave approving looks and nods in your direction before they lifted their keyblades into the air and launched fireworks into the sky. You wanted to marvel at it. You really did, but you wanted something else more.

Your eyes scanned the crowd until they landed on someone, making their way through the throngs of people surrounding you.

“Axel,” you breathed. You felt warm cinders at your fingertips when you saw him. You began to step towards him as well, hastened steps turning into all but a sprint as blue flames enveloped and trailed behind you as you ran. He ran towards you too, his own body enveloped in a fiery, red.

You jumped into his arms, and he brought you in for a tight embrace, spinning you around. And just for a moment, a split second, your flames meshed together in a brilliant purple that caused those around you to gasp in astonishment at the display before they separated again into their separate blue and red, the two colors dancing around each other.

Axel set you back down, and all you could do was gaze at him. Your heart was beating fast in your chest. You didn’t realize how much you missed him. And he’d only been gone for a few days.

Then you realized you were staring and smiling and not saying anything, and you giggled, covering your mouth with your hand so you could hide that gigantic smile.

He chuckled too, letting an arm drape around your shoulders as the two of you watched the Tree of Life, glow an array of colors as it was bathed in light from the fireworks above. You’d never seen them in person before. They were louder than you though but oh so beautiful.

You leaned into Axel as you watched, content with everything about this moment and all the love and joy you felt. Your other friends ran up to embrace you as well, happy to see you alive and well.

“We were so worried about you,” Namine said as she pulled you into a bone crushing hug.

“You won’t be rid of me that easy,” you laugh, holding her tighter.

“Yes, yes, that’s all well and good now let’s go home,” Ludwig said as he pushed your little group along towards the ship near the back of the village.

You managed to convince Ludwig to let you say your goodbyes to the people who’d been willing to accommodate you as one of their own for the past few weeks, giving Amaya and Daealla big hugs and receiving thanks from the true chief and his son.

The village gave you a quilt of bright colors depicting Uh-Oa and your keyblade and several articles of clothing and food for the trip back home, all the while thanking you for what you’d done. You would miss this world. But you would definitely visit when your world was back.

The keyblade wielders returned to their bird forms, flying up the tree in a swirl of brightly colored feathers, and you watched at many of the carvings of the tree moved to create an open space in the center of the tree where it began to carve a new shape.

Your eyes widened as it depicted you, in your armor, sans helmet, keyblade raised above your head and your shield over your other arm. Tears sprung to your eyes as the gravity of what you’ve actually done settled on you.

You saved a world. You saved an entire world and all of its people. You are a keyblade wielder.

You continued reeling even as you boarded the ship with your friends and as you watched the planet descend beneath you.

You flopped back onto one of the beds in the back of the ship, Axel sitting next to you and Demyx and Namine sitting in the bunk across from you.

You let out a dreamy sigh.

“Something on your mind?” Axel asked as he looked down at you. You looked at him with bright, excited eyes.

“I fought a goddess,” you breathed, “And won.”

“You sure did,” he confirmed.

“I saved a planet,” you said, a bit louder this time, “I did a thing. Holy shit!”

Your friends laughed at you, but you couldn’t care.

“And I felt all of you,” you said, sitting up. “Every time you sent me strength or hope or courage, I could feel it. It helped me to keep going.”

“It was all we could do,” Namine said with a shrug, “But if we could have, we would have been up there fighting with you too.”

“You fight now?” you asked incredulously with a smile on your face.

Does she?” Demyx said with an excited smile, standing up abruptly from where he sat, “She was so cool. She picked up a sword and she was fighting like the rest of us! It was so bad ass and she –”

Demyx stopped short at the look you were giving him, a big, knowing smile with mischievous eyes. A blush covered his face.

“Keep going,” you encouraged, leaning forward, “I want to know more of what you think of Namine.”

Axel chuckled while Namine giggled behind her hand, a light pink dusting her own cheeks.

“I mean,” Demyx backtracked, scratching the back of his head and sitting back down, “I just thought it was cool was all.”

You giggled alongside Namine. Speaking of potential relationships….

You looked at Axel. He looked at you. You looked away quickly, unable to stop the giggle that bubbled out of your throat. When did you get so… twitterpated around him?

Axel chuckled at your reaction. You were cute. Having thought about how many times he’d denied that fact to himself was also pretty amusing, thinking of all the times Demyx called you cute and he would rather think about your bullheadedness instead – how he’d used just about every word to describe you but certainly not cute.

But now, looking up at him through your lashes, a demure smile playing across your lips, and a subtle glow about your demeanor, Axel couldn’t deny that you weren’t at least a little cute.

“What?” he asked you. Though he knew what. He knew damn well what. But he was enjoying your flustered nature.

“Nothing,” you giggled out. Then you looked at him again before looking away when you saw he was still looking at you with that cocky smirk that made him look so handsome.

What?” he asked again, feigning frustration as he nudged you with his arm. You let out a light laugh before leaning into him, your face hidden against his side – all but snuggling against him.

“You know what,” you laughed out. His posture stiffened, breath hitching in his throat, his heart skipping a beat – like it needed to do that with how little it functioned compared to a normal one.

“Get a room,” Demyx groaned with a roll of his eyes. You may have caught him when he was in his own feelings, but that didn’t mean he wanted to watch your shameless flirting with each other. You gasped, forgetting yourself briefly in your love-lined gaze.

Oh? Was that too much? He had said he needed to figure himself out. Maybe you were pushing it a bit too much.

You cleared your throat, scooching a little way away from him.

“Sorry,” you said, voice wavering slightly in your nervousness.

“I mean I didn’t mind,” he said, looking away a little bashfully. He liked having you that close if he was being totally honest with himself. He was about to put an arm around you before Demyx interrupted. He should probably tell you that he’d figured himself out and ask you out, but he wanted a better setting than this where Demyx was going to interrupt any semblance of romance between the two of you because he didn’t want to watch.

“I think it’s cute how close they are,” Namine said, scooting a little closer to Demyx and leaning on him a bit. Demyx’s face lit up in a hot blush that made him look almost as red as a tomato.

“Hey! Do you guys want snacks?!” he almost yelled as he stood up abruptly, “Because I’m going to go get snacks!”

“Yeah, actually,” you began before Demyx interrupted you.

“Yeah, that’s nice,” he said, stiffly walking away. He just walked to the front of the ship and leaned against the wall with his head on it, neck, ears, and face all still as red as a lobster.

You turned back to Namine, a mischievous smirk on your face.

“What was that?” you asked. Namine just shrugged with a soft smile on her face.

“I’m trying to be more assertive with what I want I guess,” she said, smile growing a little bit on her face.

“Really?” you said, scooching forward just a bit.

“Well, I mean, I wanted to start doing more which is why I took the apprenticeship with Dreamfinder, but you knew that. But then I realized I wanted it to be that way for everything. Not just moments where I want to feel useful.”

“And… you want Demyx?” you asked with a mildly giddy excitement at talking about your friend’s potential crush.

“Well, yeah. I like spending time with him, and we did that a lot when we weren’t hanging out with you and Axel. And I think he’s sweet, and he makes me laugh.”

“Aww,” you cooed.

“And anyway, I just decided that I wanted to be close to him the same way you’re close to Axel.”

You could feel Axel heat up a bit next to you at the mention of your relationship.

“Yeah, I intend to get really close,” you purred, dropping your voice to a more suggestive tone just to fuck with Axel a little bit. And it had the intended effect.

The temperature rose drastically next to you, and Axel stood up before he could set something on fire and walked to the front of the ship where Demyx still stood.

“I guess it’s just all us guys up here now,” Ludwig commented, “You manly men catch that sporting event last night?” he asked looking around at all of them.

“What sporting event?” Axel asked, “We weren’t even –”

“Yeah, it was pretty rad,” Ludwig said with a nod.

You and Namine shared a laugh and continued to chat a bit about other things.

“So what was your training like when you went to the institute?” you asked her. You hadn’t seen her since she left to train as Dreamfinder’s apprentice, and you were quite curious to know how all had gone for her.

“It went really well! I learned plenty about the heart and mind which added to my research on connections the heart makes which helped us to find you! But I’m basically an intern. But!” she reached into the pocket of her shorts, “It came with this cute little badge!”

She held up the little gold and silver badge that read, “Cranium Commando.”

About that time Demyx and Axel finally walked back over to you.

“Did you get those snacks, Demyx?” you asked as he sat down.

“Who said anything about snacks?” he said, a light blush reinstating itself on his face. You and Namine laughed.

“So what was it like up there on the tree?” Namine asked, changing the subject. Even Dreamfinder, Ludwig, and Figment tuned in to hear your story. You seemed renewed with giddy energy before launching into your tale of the cave of animals and the aurora borealis – minus the romantic aspects of it, of course, of endless swarms of heartless and passing out, of meeting your ancestor and her story, of being part heartless and of your world having a nobody and heartless, and of your new powers.

“So you mean to tell me,” Demyx said, taking in what you’ve said, “That you’re a heartless. But, like, you have a heart?”

“I’m technically only part heartless. I mean if we’re talking things with or without hearts being heartless then that definition makes you and Namine and Axel heartless too.”

“Yeah except my grandma didn’t have sex with a heartless,” he said, folding his arms. You just rolled your eyes.

“I’m more concerned with the fact that her world has a heartless and a nobody,” Dreamfinder chimed in. Ludwig nodded his agreement.

“I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. It’s unprecedented,” Ludwig mused more to himself than to anyone else, “Xehanort couldn’t have predicted that a world’s guardian would have meshed with the world itself. But he did hypothesize that a world’s will could linger after its destruction.”

“So he might actually know something about its heartless or nobody,” you reason, “But there’s no guarantee that he monitored the world after its destruction. Did he?”

You looked to Ludwig. He shook his head.

“I don’t know. By that time our main concern was Spaceship Earth and the evacuation of Kelewenya. If he wrote about it in the journals, I didn’t see it. Though perhaps wherever his base of operations is now, he might have more information.”

Axel looked at you. That same look of determination he’d become familiar with was already crossing your face. It reminded him most of when you wanted to go to Ansem’s castle to find answers for yourself but had no idea of what you were getting yourself into.

You had no idea now just as you did then. And now would be a good time to tell you what he knew about Xehanort and who he had become since then. But when he saw that look on your face, that look that said you were about to do something he wouldn’t be able to talk you out of, he backed out of it.

If you were going to rush into this with little to no thought at all, no way was he about to point you in the direction of it – especially knowing you were no match for many of the things waiting for you.

“Axel,” Namine called, “Are you alright?”

Axel looked from Namine to you again to find you looking at him with light worry, searching his face for any signs of distress.

“Yeah,” he said, looking away from you and unable to look Demyx in the eye. He didn’t want to look and see that look he knew Demyx was giving him that said, “Tell her.”

But… he couldn’t….

He looked at Namine. Ugh. Even she was looking between the two as if she knew what he hadn’t told her already. Though if you weren’t drawing any conclusions about information he, Namine, and Demyx already had, he could suppose that Namine had gathered that he hadn’t told you much about the leader of the Organization.

“Well it hardly matters right now,” you breathed in regard to your uncle’s statement, “If we don’t even know where the guy is, it isn’t like we can break down his door to find out.”

You leaned back onto your bunk.

“Besides,” you said as you snuggled into the mattress, “We need a break anyway. We’ll worm out where the coward is hiding sooner or later – assuming he’s still alive and someone else hasn’t killed him for tampering with shit he doesn’t understand.”

A tiny tendril of darkness flitted over your fingertips. You could feel it now. It was cold.

Axel almost flinched at the tone in your voice. Vengeance was not something he’d ever thought he’d hear pass through your lips. But you’d just very much implied you were going to kill someone if another person hadn’t already.

This tension was palpable to everyone. Though it went unnoticed by you who was still too focused on your thoughts of what you’d do to Xehanort if you ever crossed paths.

Demyx was fidgeting nervously, trying to think of anything else to say.

“So your uncle’s letting us stay at his mansion,” he announced.

“What?!” Ludwig shouted from the front at the same time you said, “That’s great!”

“Why didn’t I know about this?!” Ludwig continued, turning from where he sat at the driver’s seat to glare at the four of you on your bunks.

“Well I mean it had to have been a given considering they’d otherwise be living in a mansion with no heat or electricity and the water only runs cold,” you reasoned.

Ludwig was unamused.

“I’m unamused!” he said, “Why don’t they stay with you at the hotel?”

“Because that’s pricey. But that’s why my philanthropic and genius uncle let them stay at his home as an act of charity because located beneath all of that genius is a heart of gold and humanity,” you said, stroking his ego probably more than you ought to considering his ego was already plenty inflated.

“Yes, well,” Ludwig conceded, not ready to deny your words purely out of pride, “There better not be any funny business! And no parties! I have cameras everywhere, so don’t think you can get away with anything!”

“Thank you, Uncle Ludwig,” you chirped while he grumbled to himself.

Then a thought occurred to you.

Weren’t you supposed to meet up with that Riku guy?

~

Larxene stepped out of the corridor of darkness and into Marluxia’s room.

“Any sign of him?” he asked her, and she shook her head. Marluxia let out an exasperated huff. How long did that stupid duck intend to continue looking for your corpse? Or maybe Vanitas had given him a bum tip, and the duck didn’t actually intend to return to Disney Town as he’d said.

Maybe they ought to look elsewhere. But his main base of operations was there. Of that, Marluxia was sure. He had to return eventually.

“So when are we putting this grand plan of yours into action?” Larxene asked as she leaned against the wall, arms folded across her chest. She looked positively bored, an expression she rarely wore when Marluxia was involved. He was not blind to this.

He crossed the room to stand in front of her, a charming smile blossoming on his face that caused her expression to soften minutely.

“We need the duck as much as Xemnas does,” he stated leaning over her, arm pressed to the wall above her. Her breathing hitched just slightly. “All of your hard work will be paid off soon enough.”

Chapter Text

It was late in the evening when you arrived back at Disney Town. You yawned and stretched, happy to be off of the ship and ready to head to bed.

You were beyond exhausted. You had started nodding off when you were in the ship when your weird lucid dreams started kicking in like they had when you were on your way to Yen Sid’s place.

The nerve of your kind to think yourselves an authority in this world or the next. Who are you keyblade wielders to have such gall to believe yourselves worthy to deem what is dark and what is light?

You brushed it off as a nightmare you almost had but never quite fell asleep enough to fall into. And you were glad for it. Your nightmares were never pleasant in the least.

“Now, Dreamfinder and I will be conducting a few more bits of research on the heart regarding what we now know about your world and its heart being melded to its guardian. And perhaps a bit on the subject of sapient heartless considering your own situation.”

You nodded, letting out a long, slow yawn.

Axel opened a corridor for you, and you donned your armor before walking through and into the hallway that led to your hotel room. You both stopped outside your door and you turned to him, wrapping him up in a hug that he returned wholeheartedly.

“Thank you,” you said sleepily, “For everything. The rescue, the help, being there for me. All of it. You’re the best.”

He chuckled.

“Anytime, ________,” he said lowly, and you felt warmth radiate throughout you, “I’ll see you soon okay?”

You nodded, happy to think of the time you’d spend together.

He went back through the corridor, and you turned to face the door.

You opened it. Your mother sat on her bed reading but dropped the book when she saw you walk through the door. You both hugged, and she peppered your face with kisses. Then you both cried and hugged some more.

You were too tired to tell her the full story, but you promised you’d tell her all you could on her lunch break the next day when she had the time at work.

That night you dreamed of Axel. Holding hands and walking through town. Talking and laughing with each other. Your heart felt light.

~

You saw your friends the next day as they were getting settled into their new home with your uncle. Though most of your time was spent training in the holo-chamber they’d built for you. The rest of it was applauding Ludwig and Dreamfinder’s first artificial heart stem cells. They hadn’t yet transplanted them into anything as they needed a test subject, but it was a tremendous breakthrough.

That being said, they wanted to keep pushing through their research, meaning there was no time to train. And you were very happy to know you’d have the next two days off according to Ludwig while they ran a few more tests and searched for a guinea pig.

~

The next day you awoke to a somewhat gentle knocking on your door.

What time was it?

You blinked blearily at your phone screen. 12:18?

The knocking at the door started up once again and you rolled out of your bed, trudging over to the door and opening it. You blinked up at Axel who you honestly forgot was coming over in your sleep hazed mind.

“Oh, hey!” you said around a yawn.

“Did I wake you?”

“No, no it’s cool. I was about to wake up anyway,” you said as you moved aside to let him in the room. He moved inside and sat on your bed. You plopped down next to him before giving him a bright albeit somewhat still drowsy smile. “So what’s on the agenda for today?”

“Well your uncle said you had an unofficial vacation, so I thought we could hang out today.”

“Oh, cool. Are we meeting up with Namine and Demyx?”

“Uh, no,” he said, a light blush dusting his cheeks, “I thought it could just be me and you today.”

“Oh,” you said with a shrug. Then it dawned on you, “Oh. Cool! Uh, what, uh, exactly do you want to do?”

“Uh, well I actually wanted to ask….”

“Yeah?” you said, leaning forward a bit, heart thumping in your chest.

“If you maybe wanted to go dancing?”

Well your heart exploded. Probably. Point is you were obviously much too happy for it to go on functioning because Axel just asked you out on a date! Maybe. Because he could still be figuring things out, and this could just be a part of that process. Or it could be a date, and he was asking you out.

Or he could just want to be with his best friend?

“Yeah, that sounds amazing!” you responded after a quick debate of whether or not it was a date to which you produced no answer. You were practically bouncing where you sat at the prospect of dancing with Axel again.

“Great! I mean, I know you said you used to dance, and I thought you might like this.”

Aww! He was thinking of you? Well if your heart hadn’t exploded before it did now.

“Let me just get changed, and we can go,” you said, walking over to the closet and pulling out dress you thought was cute as well as the dancing shoes your mom bought you. You began to lift your t-shirt, stopping just under your breasts before you yanked it back down and looked at Axel who, at the same time, seemed to have the same realization you did, his face already heating up.

You couldn’t help but laugh at his embarrassed expression. Meanwhile he was looking at anything but you, his face getting almost as red as the bright red hair on his head. It was a far cry from the smooth and competent Axel who always had a cocky smirk on his face that you first met in Disney Town in what felt like forever ago at this point.

“Get outta here, you perv,” you joked.

“Right! Sorry! I’m going! Sorry!” he said as he briskly walked out of the door. You giggled to yourself as he shut it behind him before shaking your head and pulling your pajama top off.

Axel leaned against the door and sighed heavily. He honestly didn’t think twice about it until he saw your bare stomach and how closely you had come to showing him something he’d only once briefly thought about in the dream the two of you had shared. He was embarrassed. And, though he’d never admit this out loud, kind of disappointed.

~

You bounded out of the room a few minutes later with your hair and outfit done, a few extra flowers in your hair a little more attention put into your braids.

“You look cute,” Axel said as he saw you, smirking when he saw your eyes and smile brighten just a bit.

“Thank you,” you said giddily, practically bouncing on your toes, “So where we doin’ this?”

Axel opened a corridor, and you put on your armor to pass through safely, exiting in a large auditorium. You didn’t recognize it. You looked around, the stage was well lit, and from what you could tell the seats were empty.

“Where is this place?” you asked, armor vanishing. You looked about this way and that, fingers trailing over the pulled back, dark red velvet curtains.

“It’s a world I did recon at when I first got roped into the Organization. I thought you’d like to dance here for a bit. Figured you missed it.”

You were mildly disappointed that Axel wouldn’t be joining you but flattered he was thinking of you and your life before it turned into that of a YA novel.

“Hmm,” you hummed, stepping farther on the stage, “Well I did have a recital coming up before my home fell.”

Axel hopped off of the stage and into the front row, looking up at you, his form dimmed behind the bright lights shining on you. He took a seat.

“Well let’s see it,” he said, getting comfortable.

“Now?” you asked, suddenly feeling a bit nervous.

“Well, yeah,” he said with a smirk and a shrug, “I want to see the you that existed before all this.”

“Oh, uh okay!”

You pulled out your phone, switching to the song in your music library in a playlist filled with just songs from past recitals or practices. You hadn’t listened to it, let alone danced to it, since your time on Spaceship Earth. You kind of figured you wouldn’t ever be dancing to it again. It was kind of nice to think you’d be performing considering all the hard work you’d put into it before things became complicated.

You turned the volume up and hurried to center stage before the music could start, lifting to the tips of your toes. You briefly worried you wouldn’t remember the steps and that you’d mess up and have to stutter out some excuse as to why you weren’t performing something that should come so naturally to you, but as soon as the first few notes of the piano echoed in the empty space around you, your body flowed straight into the moves as if you’d practiced it every day.

Axel watched you, mildly mesmerized. You weren’t wielding a flaming spear this time, but you were still beautiful. This was somehow different from then or every time he’d watched you fight. You were moving with a dainty grace that belied your ability to fight or be fierce. In this you were simply a beautiful woman with an air of delicate fragility about you. It was like seeing the girl before she knew she was special – before she knew she would be dedicating her life to protecting others or fighting for the fates of worlds or losing everything she’d ever known and called home.

You were just ________.

And he loved that about you.

One song ended and went into the next and so on, and you continued dancing because even though it wasn’t a part of the recital, you hadn’t realized how much you missed just dancing. And for the next half an hour you just danced and forgot the world for a moment.

You were just ________.

And you were content with that, happy that some part of you from that life still existed.

When your playlist switched to the next one, you were momentarily caught off guard but continued to dance to the upbeat music just as well. It was just as fun to remember dancing in general and not just the parts you’d practiced.

Axel was taken off guard as well, noting that your new movements were closer to your fighting style.

“You know,” he called from the audience, and you flinched having forgotten he was even there for a brief moment, “You could fight like that.”

Like a dance fight? The thought amused you, but you weren’t entirely opposed to it.

“What?” you laughed, “Like hit ‘em with fire when I spin?”

“Well yes and no? Wait a minute,” he said, standing up and climbing on to the stage with you. He stood behind you, front pressing into your back, and you felt your body stiffen at the contact as he took your arms and directed you through a few moves he’d seen you use muttering instructions lowly in your ear and simultaneously and unintentionally driving you crazy. He instructed exactly when an attack would benefit you in the move as it worked as an offensive and evasive maneuver against opponents when fighting hand to hand or when using magic.

“Hey,” you began after a while of him directing you through different moves, “Do you want to dance with me?”

“Like train? Now?” he said, still guiding you through the routine.

“No, I mean like normally. Just dancing together. Like we did on Animal Kingdom or we could learn something different.”

“Different?”

You smiled and turned to face him.

“Well, yeah. I mean it was fun, and other kinds of dances are fun too.”

“Okay,” he said slowly, humoring you. It was very clearly something you wanted to do with him, and he felt nice that there was something you loved that you wanted to share with him. “So what should we do then?”

You took his hand and placed it on your waist just above your hip and placed your corresponding hand on his shoulder. With your other hand you grabbed his and held it at a little lower than your shoulder.

“I think we ought to start with the waltz. It’s simple enough, and it’ll be a good way for me to teach you how to lead and follow.”

You guided him through the simple steps, what foot to start with, how to signal your partner to move forward, back, or to the side. It was simple enough. He stumbled through a few times, and he moved stiffly when it was his turn to lead, stepping on your foot every now and again, but you were a patient teacher. So it wasn’t long before you were teaching him how to lead through turns and eventually how to dip.

“This is nice,” you said lowly as you leaned on him a bit more, feeling his hand drift from your waist to your back, your arm resting on his as he continued to lead you through the waltz.

“Yeah,” he said in a calm, low voice. It felt like you had invited him into that world where the first version of you existed. He got the feeling that dancing with you like this would always be something intimate. The two of you continued your slow waltz for a while, feeling your bodies warm gradually but not paying it any mind, not even when you watched the familiar red and blue flames appear over your bodies. You were too focused on the dance and holding each other close.

You did, however, pay attention when two flames didn’t just dance around each other as you’d always seen them do. They fell into each other, meshing into a dazzling purple that caused your eyes to widen in wonder. Even Axel had to stop to look. Then you both looked at each other, hearts thumping, before looking away and chuckling nervously. The two of you stepped apart, hands still holding each other.

What do you say when the guy of your dreams accidentally mixes his fire with yours? Does it mean anything? You hoped so. Maybe he’d figured out how he felt? It certainly looked like it. And he had taken you dancing and maybe inadvertently given you a part of yourself back that felt like it had been gone for far too long.

“You know,” you started quietly, heart still thudding in your chest, “We could do it together.”

“You mean dance? We were already dancing,” he said, looking back at you, still holding your hands, thumb idly running over the back of one of your hands.

“No. I mean, yeah. Like the dance fighting we were working on earlier. I’ve seen you fight. You’re lithe and balanced and quick. You picked up dancing with me really easily, but I really think that it’d be perfect for you. And, I mean, we could, you know, dance fight together.”

Axel was silent, his body warming up at what you may have been implying, causing the flames to flicker a smidge brighter. True, it was innocent enough to say you wanted to fight alongside him, but dancing with you meant the two of you would be close. Really close.

But what was so wrong with that? Hadn’t he wanted to be close to you after all this time? He’d gone for days without sleep just to search for you when you went missing, learning more about how his feelings for you went deeper than just endearment when he was faced with the possibility of never seeing you again. And he had resisted every urge in his body to kiss you when he finally had you with him again when they finally found you on Animal Kingdom. He all but abandoned a fight against heartless to opt to run up a mountain for days without rest to ensure you were okay when he thought you might have been hurt on Animal Kingdom even when he knew he physically couldn’t breathe. But that thought had hardly mattered at the time.

Being close to you didn’t sound bad at all. And the more he thought about it, the more he wanted it. The more he wanted you.

“It could make some pretty amazing power moves,” you continued, oblivious to his internal thought process and all the gears turning in his head.

“Power moves?” he chuckled.

“Well, yeah!” you said, getting a little excited at the prospect, “I mean, you said I could do it pretty well, so imagine what we could both do!”

“Hmm,” he hummed, considering your words before leading you into a sudden move that you quickly adapted to, moving into a semi-defensive position and a perfect stance for you to kick your leg out and send out a wave of blaze.

You briefly wondered if the purple fire would deal more damage than just your own regular fire. But as you were slowing to think of it, Axel quickly led you into another move. You again found opportunities for attack, as did he – little sparks and cinders of violet flitting from your feet and fingertips as you did.

Once you got into the rhythm of Axel’s movements, you began to focus on him as much as your dancing. And you had to admit, for someone who learned to lead a dance about half an hour ago, he was getting quite good at it.

And you were all but smitten.

In your distracted daze, you began to only focus on him, stumbling yourself and falling further into his arms. Your face was pressed against his chest, and his arms held you tight while you steadied yourself.

“Are you,” he began, but then you looked at him and his sentence nearly died in his throat seeing the lovestruck expression in your eyes amongst your otherwise embarrassed expression, “…okay?”

“Yes,” you all but whispered, heart thudding much harder than it was before.

The two of you stared at each other for a moment. One of Axel’s arms tightened around you, and his other hand came to rest on the back of your neck, so you were forced to continue looking up at him. Not that you would have stopped even if he hadn’t.

And then he started leaning down, his eyes closing, and your own fluttering shut as you pressed further into him.

“Oh my goodness! You’re on fire!” a new voice shouted, and your eyes as well as Axel’s snapped open. You both looked in the direction of the new voice in time to see a felt frog spray you with a fire extinguisher. But it just sprayed multi-colored streamers, the little ribbons now hanging from your head and shoulders. You and Axel extinguished your beautiful, purple flames to put the frog at ease.

“Are you okay?!”

This was ridiculous.

And you and Axel began to laugh.

“We’re fine! We’re fine!” you said, waving him off. He just looked between the two of you, wondering how you managed to be okay when you were very obviously engulfed in flame only a few moments ago.

“Hey, Kermit!” A fuzzy brown bear in a bowtie and hat waltzed on stage. “Have you seen my fire extinguisher?”

“Well, yeah,” the frog said as he turned to the bear, “It only spit out streamers when I tried to put out a fire. What happened to the real fire extinguisher?”

“Well that was the real fire extinguisher. But, you know, I was thinking to myself that we could really roll out the jokes with a gag fire extinguisher, so I emptied it out and rigged it to blow streamers instead!” The bear looked extremely proud of himself. The frog… didn’t know how to respond.

“Well, uh, okay. Well why don’t you go finish getting ready then, and I’ll just find a new fire extinguisher somehow before Gonzo’s brand new cannonball fireworks spectacular,” the frog stated. The bear just continued to smile and took the gag extinguisher backstage. Then the frog turned to you. “So, uh, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. We’ve got a show starting in like an hour, and we’ll need the stage.”

“Oh, Kermie, don’t ask them to leave! They’re young and in love! Let them dance!” A felt pig, who dressed quite well mind you, said walking up to them and pleading with the frog. You and Axel heated up a bit again at the mention of being in love, cinders flying from your fingertips, but keeping it together so as not to freak anyone out again.

“But, Piggy, we’ve got a show to do. I mean, two people can dance anywhere.”

“When’s the last time we danced anywhere, Kermit?” the pig said, suddenly seeming much terser about it than before.

The frog just looked at her, seeming to think it better to let her have her way than to answer. He let out a long sigh.

“Fine,” he said turning back to the two of you, “You can have another half hour or so but then we’ve really got to set up the stage.”

Then he turned and left to walk backstage. The pig turned to you.

“I just want to say that your dancing is quite beautiful,” she said, looking between the two of you but at you especially, “And you’re welcome to come perform with us anytime.”

She handed you a card before walking off stage in the same direction as the frog.

Ms. Piggy

Director, Actress, Singer, Producer, etc.

(555) 555-5553

“Well I guess I have a new dance space now,” you chuckled out. Axel hummed in acknowledgement. He really wished the two of them would have showed up maybe a minute later. Of course, he was just blaming them for interrupting when he could very much kiss you now. But he lost his nerve and couldn’t. So the next best thing he could do was blame them instead.

Then a shaggy brown dog with floppy ears played an arpeggio on the piano. He gave a wave to the two of you which you nodded back at, turning towards Axel.

“Shall we?” you offered, and he gave you a small smile and nodded, bringing you close all over again before leading you through a dance played to one of the most beautiful songs you’d ever heard. You let out a happy sigh as you danced a bit closer to Axel and he held you tighter.

A pair of green eyes gazed down from one of the balconies as the two of you danced. What a joke, to think that he really believed he could just leave for some girl and fall in love like he was better than any of the people he used to work with.

Though she’d say it was out of boredom rather than resentment if you ever asked her, Larxene summoned a small wave of dusks to attack, vanishing in a haze of black swirling tendrils to retreat back to The Castle That Never Was.

Your and Axel’s dance was interrupted by a scream and the abrupt halt of piano music. You whirled around to see the dog retreating as seven silver bodies writhed and wriggled towards the stage. You’d say at this point you were relatively familiar with dusks. These ones, however, were slightly different than what you were used to.

For one, they had fingers. Sure they’d already had them, but you’d never seen them unbound. These fingers were long and claw-like.

The second difference came when you saw their mouths move and rasping, whisper-like voices crackled out of their lips in a broken, haunted tone that sent chills running up your spine.

“We… destroy… you…,” one rasped out as they surrounded you on the stage. Axel and you already had your weapons drawn and at the ready, “We… take… your head… to him.”

The words were spoken like that of someone who had just recently gotten a grasp on language as a whole, but the threat was not lost on you.

“To who?” you asked, but they did not respond. They merely attacked, lunging at you in a flurry of swipes with their newly unleashed claws. Your shield was at the ready, and you tore into them just as Axel did. Though they showed yet two other differences that baffled you.

The third difference was that they bled. It was a deep red that was no different than your own, and that unnerved you. They were like people now in some strange way, and you didn’t like to think about it like that. Though if dusks were lesser nobodies, that very well may have been the case at one point. This further set you on edge.

The fourth difference which was just as unnerving to you as the first three was that the bodies didn’t dissipate and vanish as you had become accustomed to. They left behind mangled, bloody corpses that would no doubt be the next thing to haunt you in all of your nightmares.

By the end of it, both you and Axel were covered in blood, staring down at the silver and red bodies lying at your feet.

“What are they?” you asked.

“Well they look like dusks,” Axel said as he nudged one with his boot.

“Yeah, but… wrong.”

The green frog came back to the stage.

“Say, uh, there aren’t any more of those hanging around here are there?” he said, looking a little green. Uh, I mean, looking like he was going to be sick.

“I don’t know,” Axel said, considering the possibility that the Organization knew you were here now and the possibility that these were just scouts and their defeat meant that you were still dead as far as any Organization members were concerned. “I’ll check, but I’m going to take her home first.”

“Wait,” the frog stopped the two of you, “Should we, uh, call the police or something?”

“No, no!” you and Axel stated at the same time.

“I’ll handle it,” Axel continued.

“Well, uh, okay…,” the frog stated, looking unsure.

Axel opened a corridor, and you, in your armor, stepped through with him following close behind you. You stepped into the hallway just outside your door. Axel was about to step back through when you grabbed him by the arm. He looked back down at you with mild surprise on his face.

“You’ll be careful, right?” you asked, concern lining your features. Axel gave you a cocky smirk that made your heart skip a beat despite the seriousness of the situation.

“Of course,” he said, turning to face you, “I’ll be back. I promise.”

Then he leaned down and gave your cheek a quick peck before disappearing back through the corridor, leaving you there with a heart that had all but stopped.

When he stepped back through, there was a number of felt characters surrounding where the dusk corpses were. The two closest were a little felt human with no eyes, yellow-green skin, and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses perched on his nose and a more or less humanoid creature with a dramatically cut mouth, a bulbous orange nose, and a shock of red hair sitting upon his head. Both were in lab coats and carefully inspecting the dusks.

The one with glasses poked at them with a pencil and muttered something to the other which held a clipboard and began to quickly scribble notes down.

Then they both stood up and turned to the rest of the crowd.

“We have confirmed the existence of worlds other than our own!” said the one with glasses.

The crowd gasped.

“These creatures,” he said gesturing to the dusks, “Are not of our world!”

Well at least Axel was absolved of having to explain their presence (and how he literally opened up a literal portal made of literal darkness right literally in front of literal people literally).

“Do you know anything else about them?” the frog asked.

“Well we’ll have to run a few tests, but I don’t know how much we can figure out with our currently limited knowledge on other worlds and creatures of this sort specifically.”

“Could I grab a copy of whatever you come up with?” Axel asked, making his presence known to the rest of them, “They’re somewhat of a nuisance where I’m from, and any help you could offer would be invaluable.”

He didn’t mention that they were vastly different from the dusks he was used to, but best not to alarm them further.

“Of course,” the scientist agreed, adjusting his glasses, “Just give me a few hours, and I’ll tell you what I can.”

“Meep, meep,” the other scientist said, glancing between Axel and his friends.

“What’s that, Beaker?”

“Meep.”

“Don’t trust him because he created some sort of portal of darkness and is dressed like he shops at Hot Topic?”

The first scientist and the rest of the puppets turned to look at Axel who felt a smidge nervous at all of the attention directed at him – especially since they were currently his only hope of figuring out what was up with the dusks behaving the way they did and remaining as they were now.

“But he was here with a pretty girl earlier,” the brown bear from earlier spoke up, “And everybody knows that pretty people are trustworthy, so this guy must be alright.”

A murmur of agreement ran through the crowd, and Axel could feel himself relax a bit.

“Now you see, Beaker, don’t be so judgmental of new people… as long as they’re not ugly,” the first scientist scolded the second. Beaker just shook his head.

That worked for Axel. He continued to scout the nearby area while the scientists conducted their research, and he came back roughly three or so hours later, having found no more dusks. He was left to conclude that they were just scouts and stumbled upon you and himself by accident as opposed to a hit taken out on you by the Organization.

That was a relief. The longer they knew you were dead, the better.

“So what did you find out?” Axel asked, strolling into their lab.

“Well not much outside of that this blood is not very different from that of a human’s,” the scientist replied.

“Meep, meep, meep, meep,” the other scientist said, head going into his shirt for no particular reason. Axel just blinked.

“He said he has a copy of those notes you asked for. It’s all in this folder,” the other scientist said as the first handed him a manila folder containing whatever research they managed to hash out in such a short time period.

“Thanks,” he said before stepping through a corridor and back to the hotel you were staying at. He sent Ludwig a quick text before knocking on your door.

Axel: Something different is happening to the dusks. More information to come later.

He turned to the door and knocked, and it practically flew open mid-knock. You stood there in a tank top and shorts, hair wrapped up in a towel. You’d clearly just showered and were anxiously waiting for him to return. Relief washed over your features as you looked at him, a smile breaking across your face.

He chuckled.

“I told you I’d be back,” he said, stepping into the room, “And I brought this.”

He handed you the folder.

“It’s a copy of the notes their scientists took when they studied those dusks. Apparently, their blood is human-like, but that’s all they were really able to decipher,” Axel said with a shake of his head.

You were already opening the folder, glancing over the notes, a light frown appearing over your face.

“This just says ‘meep’ over and over,” you said a little dryly.

Axel looked at the notes over your shoulder.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

You let out a sigh.

“Well I know you tried your best,” you said, slumping on your bed.

“Oh!” he exclaimed suddenly, “I almost forgot!”

Axel opened another corridor and vanished through it. He was back in a matter of seconds holding a bouquet of peonies. He held them out to you, and you took them feeling a rush of pleasure and giddy excitement run through you.

“I meant to give them to you after you were done dancing. They do that at the ends of recitals right?”

“Well some people do,” you said, already burying your face in the flowers, “They aren’t a requirement though.”

“Well I figured you’d like them. Considering I first met you with your face buried in them.”

“You… remembered that? It was so long ago.”

“What can I say?” he said as he opened another corridor to go home and backing out with a cocky look on his face, “I’ve got it memorized.”

You rolled your eyes, but smiled nonetheless, heart jumping all around your ribcage as you thought about the tiny kiss he’d planted on your cheek, the beautiful flowers he remembered were your favorite, the dancing that brought you two so close, the beautiful violet hue of your flames when they meshed with Axel’s, and the almost kiss the two of you had shared when you were alone.

You might be in love.

~

“Tell me,” Marluxia began, voice calm but laced with anger, “Why you thought an attack with our brand-new projects would be a good idea.”

Larxene knew to pick her next words very carefully. But then Marluxia continued.

“We don’t have many, and any we have would be invaluable to our cause. But you seem to want to jeopardize that, and I’d like to know why.”

Marluxia gazed at her with cool eyes that held malevolent intent. Larxene swallowed her somewhat sarcastic remark.

“I was bored,” she said, a somewhat flippant tone still lilting about her words. “And who does Axel think he is anyway? He takes us out at Castle Oblivion and acts all chummy with the Organization then starts going rouge. Next thing you know a little know-nothing keyblade wielder has him wrapped around her little finger.”

“You were jealous?” Marluxia deduced, a small hint of condescending amusement in his tone. Larxene flinched but recovered quickly, a spark of annoyance in her gut.

No,” she stressed, “Bored.”

“You don’t like that Axel seemed to make it out of the Organization okay. That he turned on us and the Organization and still got something good out of it. Some illusion of emotion that lets him believe he can care about someone the same way they do for him. And some part of you wants that too.”

Larxene never liked it when he got like this. He was smart and underhanded and observant. He could read you across a room and know your thoughts and motivations better than you did by the time you crossed the room to get to him. And he was using that skill now and throwing her own weaknesses back in her own face – whether or not he intended to just to be sadistic was unbeknownst to her.

He was as good as masking his true intent as Axel was.

She didn’t respond to him, just narrowed her eyes like he was annoying her rather than needling her own insecurities into her forehead and making her squirm unpleasantly under his scrutinizing gaze.

“Relax, pet,” he said approaching her and letting a finger trace her jawline. Larxene held back all response to the touch, ignoring the pet name as well. She couldn’t even tell if it were endearing or not with the way he said it. “I’ll overlook your mistake. Plus there are droves of lesser nobodies to recruit.”

“How do you even know they’ll follow you?” she snarked, more at ease than she had been and happy to have the subject of herself and anything involving Axel put to rest.

Marluxia opened a corridor to Hollow Bastion, stepping out on to a ledge to peer down and see hundreds of heartless battling hundreds of nobodies – dusks specifically. Larxene followed, ready to see just where this was headed.

He then summoned two of his personal nobodies, modified just as the dusks had been that Larxene sent to attack you. They wore no hoods now, faces unobstructed to reveal a skull as black as night with tiny pinpricks of light to act as eyes.

Marluxia gestured down to where the battle raged below.

“Finish it,” he instructed, and the two reapers with all their newfound power descended to the battle below, obliterating most of the heartless in a few fell swoops and clearing the battlefield for the rest of the nobodies.

Marluxia appeared before them, and the field of nobodies immediately paid attention to him. Marluxia smirked. They knew who controlled them.

“I see I have your attention,” he said, smirk morphing into an amicable smile. “Today I’m going to do something for you that no one has ever done for you before.”

Silence.

“I’m going to ask for your opinion,” he stated simply. There was a rustle of interest amongst the crowd. “How would you like to stop having to serve under a cause for a man who has deemed you as expendable? We know how your journey ends. You’ll all undoubtedly come face to face with Sora at some point, and he’ll do all he can to dispose of you.

“It’s a waste. Really it is. But I have not only a way for you to choose what you will do with your life, but a way for you to live it to its fullest. Sentience. Freewill. Freedom. All of these at your fingertips. A chance to remove your shackles – hands unbound, eyes uncovered, lips unsewn. You can be free once more. And all I ask,” he paused for dramatic effect, “Is that you join me and build an army to bring down the one who started the era of your enslavement.”

Marluxia gestured to his nobodies, and they came to float by his side.

“Our Marluxia…,” it rasped in whispery, broken wheezes, “Has given us… our sight back.”

“Our Marluxia… has given us… a choice.”

“Our Marluxia… has… shown us… the way… and he will… break… your binds.”

Marluxia picked up where they left off.

“I’ll lead you to a new beginning. And together we’ll begin a new era of freedom where you decide your futures and live for a cause for yourself rather than die at the hands of a child because someone else has willed your life away.”

Marluxia opened a large corridor of darkness leading back to the World That Never Was. There was silence at first. It seemed none of the nobodies were going to move. Then slowly they began to trickle in, and steadily it increased until most of the hundreds of nobodies were clamoring to join. Marluxia opened up two more large corridors for them to go through before tossing a look up at Larxene.

She didn’t need to be next to him to know that the look was arrogant and smug as fuck.

Chapter Text

The next day was spent in the company of Axel, Demyx, and Namine. The three of you bummed it around Twilight Town’s woods as normal, then, feeling especially adventurous, took a few turns around Disney Town.

Dreamfinder and Ludwig were especially deep in their research – so much so that Namine was too inexperienced to help them and to the point where they hadn’t even left the lab.

But you knew this to be normal for your uncle, thinking of all the times he’d rather order food from your mother’s bakery on Spaceship Earth rather than leave to get food or make his own dinner. And if Dreamfinder were anything like him, and you hadn’t seen anything that made him especially unlike him (except for maybe his lack of a concept of personal space), you could assume he could go days working without a break as well.

They hadn’t responded to Axel’s text about the nobodies, and you reassured him that it was probably seen and taken into account, but they’d forgotten to respond. Your uncle was not averse to this behavior either.

You’d also received another letter from Master Yen Sid who was contacted by Ludwig the evening you all returned from Animal Kingdom.

He congratulated you on your first victory against the darkness and expressed an interest in the nature of your being (being part heartless). In a few days’ time, you be expected to go with and  train with Riku in your previously established location from all that time ago when you first visited him in his tower, but in the meantime you would take the next few days to recover from your, no doubt tiring, adventure. So at least you were still in the running for being a keyblade wielder, and he didn’t think you had ditched it all to back out of it.

Everything for the first time in a long time was calm and under control, and you were more than happy to act as if would be like this for a good long time even when you would be expected to go somewhere else quite soon – personally escorted this time according to Yen Sid’s letter.

The next day you and Axel showed up for training, but your uncle was nowhere to be found, no doubt locked away in his lab fast asleep face down in a book like you used to find him when you went on impromptu visits to check on him back home. So you and the others just bummed it around Disney Town.

The day after Axel visited you – alone just like when he took you dancing. You had hoped this would be a more romantic venture that didn’t end in peril as it had last time. The past few days had been quiet, and you’d like to keep it that way.

He leaned on the doorway to your room looking down at you with a soft smile on his lips and a playful glint in his green eyes they made you feel as if he were up to something.

“We’re going to the beach,” he announced.

“The beach?” you asked, as you stepped passed him and out into the hallway.

“Yeah, back on Destiny Island,” he said, already opening a corridor as you summoned your armor.

“Why there?”

He turned to you with a smirk, placing a finger over his lips.

“It’s a secret until we get there,” he said with a wink. Oh he was definitely up to something. You merely rolled your eyes but smiled. You were eager to see what exactly the beach could hold for you that would be so interesting. You found beaches to be beautiful sure, but it was just sand and water.

He stepped through the corridor, and you followed suit. But you didn’t see anything especially interesting about the beach at the moment – just sea and sand like you expected.

Hm.

Still pretty though, you thought as you gazed out at the sparkling blue ocean.

Axel ambled down the beach at a leisurely pace and you followed him, looking up at him as he gazed forward with a calm air about him, his hands shoved lazily into his pockets. The only thing betraying this demeanor were his eyes which were intensely focused ahead of him. You looked forward and saw a tree. Just a regular tree with no immediate abnormalities on it outside of the fact that it looked like a cross between a banana tree and a palm tree with its oddly shaped leav