Aeleus and Dilan each acknowledged him with a nod and let him through the castle doors with naught a word. Odd, considering the way they used to treat him during their Organization days, but Roxas was not about to start complaining, especially when avoiding them was dreadfully easy.
Of all those who lived and worked the castle, Ienzo, of all people, was the one Roxas found himself talking to the most. Ansem the Wise’s youngest apprentice kept him updated on the Naminé’s progress and was more than happy to explain the science of his work in layman’s terms.
And it was, ultimately, because of Ienzo that Roxas found himself back in Radiant Garden at all.
We’ve finished reconstructing her heart. The master doesn’t wish to disrupt your new life, but I think it’s best that there’s someone she trusts waiting for her when she wakes.
Roxas was no scientific genius, but he could read between the lines of Ienzo’s message: She still needs a “spark” to light her way home.
He had only gotten a little lost in the castle’s labyrinth hallways, before he arrived at the basement laboratory. Ienzo was squinting at a computer screen flashing zeros and ones while Ansem the Wise and Even stood behind him, talking quietly to each other as they examined the data Ienzo was putting together.
Roxas suppressed a groan. He liked Ienzo well enough, but the same could not be said for the two older scientists, repentant or not. While the long, winding, jargon-filled lecture about the Replica Program Roxas received when he made the mistake of asking Even about it mostly went in one ear and out the other, the cold, detached way the man spoke of Naminé and the potential complications of Kairi’s death may have on her restoration, as though both girls were nothing more than variables on a chart, was deeply infuriating.
On the other hand, Ansem the Wise was far more emphatic about the matter, but Roxas admitted to himself that he was still carrying much resentment towards DiZ. His desire to atone was genuine, Roxas gave him, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to forgive .
It was Ansem the Wise who noticed Roxas first, catching sight of him over Even’s shoulder, and his surprise subsequently alerting his apprentices. Ienzo raised a hand in greeting, but before any of the scientists could say anything, Roxas spoke first, decorum be damned. “Where is she?”
None of them seemed surprised by his question. Because, well, what other reason could Roxas have for visiting this place? “Right here,” Ansem replied, moving aside to reveal that a recliner chair had been set up on the opposite end of the study. “I must admit, Roxas, I wasn’t expecting…”
Roxas barely heard Ansem as he walked past. Nothing else in this room seemed to matter except for her .
She could have been simply fast asleep with the serene, but inscrutable look on her face. He reached out and took her hand. It seemed so small in his, but it was solid. Warm. If he hadn’t seen the empty replica himself, he never would have thought her body was synthetic.
Taking a deep breath, Roxas very softly said her name, trying to pour every thought he ever had of her and every feeling he ever felt for her in that singular word. Let Ansem, Even and Ienzo draw whatever conclusions they wanted. Roxas didn’t care.
For a moment, the entire world seemed to be holding its breath. Then the machines in the laboratory continued to beep and Naminé slept on.
Roxas let her hand slip from his. It dropped limply to her side, as listless as a doll.
“What a disappointment,” Even said, his discontent with this anticlimax deafening. Roxas really, really wanted to throw a keyblade in his face. “Naminé has always has been an irregularity, so perhaps she can’t-”
One more word and Roxas really would have thrown a keyblade in his face, but Ansem the Wise’s deep, authoritative voice rebuked his apprentice with a brutally firm, “That’s enough, Even.”
Even fell silent. Roxas faintly remembered that Ansem’s apprentices betrayed him in the past. And that was why he became obsessed with revenge as DiZ.
Ansem continued, “Even, Ienzo, we’ve been working for hours now. Perhaps it is time to adjourn for lunch. Scrooge McDuck’s nephews have opened an ice cream parlor in town. I’ve been meaning to pay a visit.”
Ienzo’s chair rolled over the floor as the youngest of the scientists rose to his feet. “Just like the old days,” he said, sounding absurdly chipper for all the tension that had befallen. “I wonder if they have Fabracadabra.”
Even muttered something under his breath, but followed his master and protegee out the door nonetheless. Roxas didn’t bother watching, keeping his eyes fixated on the spot on the corner just beyond Naminé’s shoulder.
At least until Ansem called out to him. “Roxas.”
He turned around, a polite refusal readied on his lips.
“If you could be so kind and lock up for us when you are finished here, I would greatly appreciate it.” The kind twinkle in the old man’s eyes conveyed what this gesture truly was: a private moment to himself.
Caught off guard by the man’s kindness, Roxas could only give a stiff nod in response. A tiny part of his mind grumbled about how he was trying to hold a grudge, thank you very much.
Once the footsteps have faded, Roxas looked back at Naminé’s sleeping face.
“Hey, Naminé.” Now that he was alone with her, there was no reason to hold back. “We won.” As soon as he said that, he winced, feeling like he just told her a lie. “Sometimes it feels like an empty victory, but Xehanort’s been defeated, at least. He got off too easily in my opinion, but the important thing is that he’s not around to hurt anyone anymore.”
She didn’t so much as twitch.
“Xion, Axel, and I have settled in Twilight Town. Me and Xion were supposed to start school today, but…” Roxas trailed off with a shrug. You were more important. “Saix - Isa, now - is living with us too. Xion and I aren’t too happy about it, really. He treated us pretty badly when we were in the Organization, but we’re trying to give him a chance, for Axel’s sake.” Even so, Roxas suppressed a snicker. “He helps with the rent at least. Axel is still trying to find a job.”
He looked down and immediately did a double take. Did she… Naminé just smile?
No… He probably just imagined it. After all, her smile was one of the things he missed most. So he kept talking.
“Terra, Aqua and Ventus have gone back home. We’ll see them again someday, I’m sure of it, but I’m fine with not seeing them all the time.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Sora is - was one thing, but Ventus… He and I look almost exactly alike. We sound almost exactly alike too..” Pause. Waiting for a reply he knew wasn’t coming. “I know, I know. He’s him and I’m me, but it’s still kind of awkward. And weird.
“Terra actually asked about you. Surprised pretty much everyone when he did. He said you helped him find Aqua when he was lost in darkness, that it was you who sent the Lingering Will to help the Guardians. He was looking forward to meeting you, Naminé. He wanted to thank you properly.”
Thank Naminé. Two little words in a cricket's empty journal.
“Xion wants to thank you too,” Roxas continued softly. “She said she asked you to look after me. I don’t know if you were able to remember her, but you did. Look after me, I mean. I would’ve been lost in those last days without you.” Xion also told him she thought Naminé had very lonely eyes and how she hoped that Roxas would look after her too.
“There’s so many people waiting for you to wake up. People who want to thank you. People who want to meet you. And people who… want to make things right with you. Ienzo told me about Castle Oblivion. He feels awful for never lifting a hand to help you back then.”
He had a sudden flash of insight.
“Is that why you still haven’t woken up yet, Naminé?” Roxas asked, “Ansem is DiZ and his apprentices were part of the first Organization. So was I, I suppose, but… It must seem like a cruel joke, doesn’t? The very people trying to bring you back now are the same people who just wanted to use you before.”
How did nobody else made this connection. Or if someone had, why they haven’t done something about it.
Ienzo did, Roxas realized a second later. That was why he went behind Ansem’s back and called Roxas here.
Pinching his the bridge of his nose, Roxas sighed, deeper this time. I was intrigued by the smile on your face and the sadness in your eyes, but I was too wrapped up with my own problems when I saw it. I never tried to find out why...
“I know it’s not my promise to keep and I would never dream of trying to replace the Riku Replica, but you don’t need to be afraid, Naminé. I’m here. I’ll protect you. Just…” He swallowed. “Just come back to me.”
Us. He’d meant to say us.
Naminé continued to sleep.
The cold creeping into the crevasses of his heart was something he’s felt before, but without the anger and rage that usually followed, this was the first time he recognized it for what it was: despair.
Maybe Even is right. Complete and perfect digitalization of the heart is impossible. You know this. Ienzo told you this. Maybe without Kairi… There really is no hope for Naminé.
Gently brushing a stray fringe away from her face, Roxas leaned down and laid a kiss against her forehead.
Well, what’d you think would happen? he berated. What compelled him to do that in the first place anyway?
Roxas closed his eyes and breathed . It was too much. To stand here and look at the replica bearing Naminé’s appearance knowing that without Kairi, she would just continue to sleep.
Turning away from her was painful, but he forced himself to do so. Dazed as he was, Roxas spent five seconds wondering how the hell Ansem the Wise was expecting him to lock up before remembering the keyblade.
And that was when he heard it: an intake of breath that was not his own.
No. It can’t be. He must be imagining things again, surely.
If he was, his imagination was better than he thought. It really sounded just like her.
“Is that really you?”
Slowly, Roxas turned around, preparing himself for disappointment only for his breath to catch in his throat. “Naminé?”
Blue eyes blinked slowly back at him and she nodded, just once.
That was enough. Roxas made a breathless sound that couldn’t decide if it was a laugh or a sob. She pushed herself up into a sitting position just in time for Roxas to nearly tackle her with a hug.
Naminé giggled softly into his neck. “Oof. Too tight, Roxas. Too tight.”
He quickly loosened his grip. “Sorry,” he replied, feeling lightheaded and airy in a way he never has before. He could look at her face forever. “How are you feeling?”
She wiggled a little in his arms before replying. “Strange, but not in a bad way.”
“Do you remember anything?”
“Just darkness. I could hear voices calling out to me, trying to lead me back. But they were all so faint and unfocused, it was hard to tell who they belonged to.” She smiled, as brilliant and beautiful as the moon. “But then I heard your voice Roxas, bringing the others’ together.”
“So I followed. And then I saw you.” Her fingers tightened on his jacket. “I was so afraid,” she said, sounding so fragile it nearly broke his heart. “I thought I’d be forgotten and left behind…”
“Never,” Roxas replied fiercely. “Not anymore, you hear me?”
“Yes.” She peered out around the laboratory. “Where are we anyway?”
“Ansem’s study. Ansem the Wise. You may know him as DiZ.”
“Oh.” So much uncertainty and confusion in a single syllable. “Where is he now?”
“Not here.” He didn’t know if she heard any of his rambling, but he wasn’t going to go back on his word. “C’mon, you wanna get out of here?”
“Is it okay though?”
Roxas briefly wondered how Ansem would react if he returned and found Naminé missing. He just as briefly decided a good scare was the least the old man deserved after things he’s done to the two of them. “You didn’t have a problem sneaking around under DiZ’s nose before.”
She slid delicately off the chair, her sandals touching the floor with a slight click . “Alright,” she said, her laughter a melody in his ear, “Then let’s go.”
Roxas nodded eagerly, suddenly flush with inspiration. The worlds were open to her now in a way they have never been before and many of them were worlds that he has never been to either. It can be an adventure. “Is there any place you’d like to be? Anywhere you want to go?”
The soft light in her eyes when she looked at him was everything.a
“There are a lot of places I want to be. But right now… I think I’d like to go home.”