Sora had been missing for the better part of two months already, and in those long 8 weeks since they last saw him, they had all worn themselves thin trying to piece together anything that could tell them where he was.
It was also the first time everyone could dare ever be in the same location.
The Tower had given them all their own rooms, in which they could decorate however they liked. Roxas, of course, had struggled with the idea. He had no clue how he would like his room to look, so for the first month, it went untouched.
But it hardly mattered, he rarely spent much time in his own room anyway outside of sleeping.
Of which, he didn't get much of it that night, spending much of the night previous tossing and turning. Upon arrival at the kitchen, it did not take long for him to realize that he may as well have been the last one to have woken that day. The kitchen had obviously been long cleared out, the lingering few seemed to already be on their way out. Kairi, ever the caring soul, noted Roxas' entrance, he himself was still half asleep.
"I take it you didn't sleep well either."
It wasn't a question, it was a statement. No, he hadn't slept well, and it showed apparently. Still groggy, he slowly slid into one of the now many empty chairs, eyes half-lidded, a yawn escaping his lips. That was apparently all Kairi needed for an answer, as she quietly shuffled around the kitchen, scraping together what was left of breakfast for him. He was easy to feed, Roxas remembered her saying back when they first started living together like this. She had remarked that he hardly ever complained about what he was fed, unlike some of the others who were a little pickier than he was.
'You really are Sora's Nobody.' was what Riku had said to him on several occasions since their first meeting.
Roxas hardly reacted when Kairi slid a plate in front of him. He didn't have to look at her to know the expression she wore; something between concern and sadness, with feelings than ran deeper than the ocean. He never quite understood it, the way she danced around talking about why she ever looked at him like that. Sure, maybe he reminded her of Sora, and he couldn't blame her if that were the case. Yeah, he was Sora's Nobody. Sure, but with what little similarities they really shared, he found himself dumbfounded.
"You really need to stop looking at me like that."
Kairi heaved a sigh before quietly taking a seat next to him. She didn't voice her concern but judging by the look on her face, she probably didn't need to. Roxas hadn't gotten much better at reading people, however, reading Kairi wasn't all that difficult. He couldn't blame her, couldn't fault her. Sora's influence was everywhere, and his presence had always been felt in every way, so his lack thereof had affected them all greatly. It was also the one thing Roxas had always wondered about Sora, something he couldn't quite grasp. Yet he somehow also understood it completely.
Sora had always been ridiculously loyal, and even more stupidly selfless. It was something he could say with ease that he didn't quite share with Sora. Sora was selfless for everyone he came across, Roxas was but never to that extent. Sora never minded playing the hero, Roxas could never. However, he fully understood Sora's desire to protect his friend, the way he would do absolutely anything for them. That was one thing he could say they shared.
"Oi, it's about time you woke up." Lea's voice was playful and amused, it also had a lot more energy than what Roxas had been feeling at that very moment. Kairi, now looking less melancholic than moments prior, smiled softly at Lea as he walked over to the fridge for whatever he suddenly craved at that very moment.
It was strange, he had thought as he picked at the pancakes he had left. They had all gotten used to each other's company, generally got along. Sure, they had their differences but what group of people didn't? The point was now that they were trying to figure out the situation with Sora, because they all knew they weren't going to let this go. Sora would've done the same for them, he was almost sure of it.
Roxas' thoughts didn't get much further as Lea walked over, and gave him a light punch. A glance at the tall redhead was enough to simultaneously give him an energy boost, all the while draining him. Roxas knew that look. Lea was either planning a training session with Isa and Namine, or perhaps planning an escapade to another world. He could never be sure anymore, Lea had always been very unpredictable to start with, but now with so many people around and only very few of them wanting to discourage him, his impulse control was left unchallenged. Which is to say, he still had more than Roxas in a tight situation, but in moments like these, he was known to act on a whim, making decisions on impulse.
Normally, Roxas could never complain. Any excuse to be out and doing something, distracted from the intrusive thoughts that his own mind often corrupted itself with, was a good excuse to him. But right now? At this moment? Roxas was barely awake enough to even form a coherent thought, let alone try to navigate another world. Even if he had been to said world dozens of times in the past.
Lea had immediately started choking on whatever he had in his mouth in surprise, which had Kairi giggling, probably at the fact that Roxas knew exactly what Lea was gonna ask without him even saying it out loud. The consequences of knowing each other so well, he supposed.
"I-, ahem, I didn't even get to say anything." Lea had said that with a pout but Roxas didn't need to look to know that. "C'mon, Roxas."
"I know what I said. Besides, I'm not even fully awake yet, can't it wait another hour?"
Lea moved, rather clumsily, around him and dropped into the seat on his other side, across from Kairi.
"Well- . . . Okay, yeah, I guess it could wait another hour but c'mon, you'll come with, right?"
Roxas continued picking at the last pancake sitting on his plate. He deliberated the idea, watching Lea closely. Something just was not sitting right with him.
"Have you asked Xion to come along?"
At this, Lea paused, suddenly ducking and not meeting his eyes. Roxas gave him a glare. It was funny to him now, that he had suddenly become known for his glares and general attitude. He hadn't meant to be like this but it wasn't difficult when the others just happened to do things that warranted it. Lea avoiding eye contact was one of those things that warranted his glare.
Of course, even he couldn't do much under Roxas' glare.
"Okay, yeah, I've asked her. She's not coming. Said something about promising Namine she'd do something with her today."
Roxas leaned back in his chair, tilting his head a little.
"I think Roxas' glare rivals Aqua's in intimidation, honestly," Kairi commented, amused at how easily Lea crumbled under it. Roxas snorted, easing up on his glare that he had unintentionally kept up until Kairi spoke up.
"Nah, Axel's just got a weak spot and can't really do shit against me anyway." At this, the redhead in question made an indignant noise, almost dramatically matching it in terms of reaction. "What's the point of us going anywhere today, anyway?"
"Ah, we promised Aqua, Terra, and Ven we'd go finding Vanitas. Why they'd want him around is beyond me, but I couldn't say no to the idea of having more help around."
Roxas hummed, slowly chewing as he thought about it. He was almost sure it was Ventus who had pushed for the idea, though he couldn't say that for certain with the way things seemed to work around here. He couldn't entirely say he was surprised either, Ven had always been much more forgiving than Roxas could ever be.
"I thought Vanitas disappeared?"
Lea and Kairi shared a look.
'Ah yes, another story that they've decided to not share publicly.'
"We actually don't know for sure if he's actually back or not, but Ventus says he could feel his presence," Kairi explained, looking as confused as he felt.
"Ventus can feel Vanitas' presence?" There was no response to this, none of them really knew how that really worked.
"Alright, give me at least an hour. I'll meet you out front."
Their destination for this trip would be the Keyblade Graveyard.
At least to start. Xion would not accompany them, as Lea had said earlier. Ventus, Aqua, and Riku, however, would be joining them instead.
The squad was always amused at the differences between Ventus and Roxas. Ventus was all smiles where Roxas was not. Roxas himself found it quite odd. Between himself, Sora, and Ventus, one would think that Ventus and Sora are much more alike than either of them compared to Roxas. Both Ventus and Sora were easy to be around, something about the way they carried themselves made them approachable and friendly. Roxas had been told that he was rather intimidating, Kairi's earlier comment about his glare being just as intimidating as Aqua's echoed in his head.
But that was the price you pay for being the counterpart to someone who was nothing less than sunshine incarnate.
They spent a good couple of minutes debating on the method of transportation, seeing as they had at least three they could use. Roxas couldn't care less, he just wanted to go. Eventually, his impatience got the best of him, tone coming out much sharper than he wanted it to.
"It doesn't really matter how we get there, can we just get going already? We'll never leave at this rate."
Lea snorted as he gave him an eye roll, then backing off. Aqua looked a little taken back, though tried her best to keep that under wraps. Roxas couldn't say she was doing a good job of hiding it from him but that's only because, surprisingly, he knew what to look for. Riku and Ven only gave him a look, a raised eyebrow that either meant his outburst was a surprise or something that elicited disbelief. He couldn't be bothered to figure out which one it was.
He couldn't blame their reactions really, they hadn't quite gotten used to this side of him. Despite having spent two months together, Roxas didn't actually speak much or show much emotion outside of exhaustion, general irritation, and the occasional amusement when they were all having fun together.
In the end, they settled on taking the Gummi Ship, opting to let Riku pilot. The ship they had now was modified from the original, now able to fit many more people as well as being much more spacious and much better suited for a long trip. Which this was, they were anticipating that since the gates have been acting up since Xehanort's defeat, this might take longer than the trips usually do. However, this would be the safest way as opposed to risking being torn apart or corroded by the other two methods they could've utilized.
The actual journey there was rather uneventful, as they had expected it to be. Roxas even managed to slip in a nap and woke just in time for their arrival at the Keyblade Graveyard. Judging by the looks of the others, they too likely woke up from naps, with the exception of Riku and Aqua, who were focusing on getting them all there in one piece.
"Are we sure he's here?" Roxas asked through a yawn, walking up into the cockpit behind Ventus. The boy in front stopped abruptly, which resulted in Roxas walking into him. Ven didn't seem to care nor was as annoyed by the fact as Roxas was, clearly.
"He is! I can feel it!" Roxas admired his confidence at least, it was almost enough to believe him.
"We're landing, you guys might wanna . . . " Riku's voice trailed off as they broke through the clouds.
Curiosity getting the better of them all, they all moved to peer out the window to see what had caught Riku so off guard. They needn't look very hard. Now, Roxas knew that the Keyblade Graveyard really lived up to its name, it was a desolate wasteland already as it is, a literal graveyard, the remnants of a battle so fiercely fought so long ago. It held scars from way back when, from the battle recently, it was a testament to how hard they apparently must fight to maintain balance.
But that had been well over two months ago at this point. It was as they were flying over that it really started to sink in that things can change drastically in the span of even two months. The Keyblade Graveyard was no longer the same desolate wasteland they had been at two months ago, it was much darker and much more sinister. The earth was cracked and splintered as if it were about to break apart and drift away. But more than that, the most noticeable change was the giant crack in the sky, mirroring the splintered earth beneath.
They flew underneath it, the crackling energy nearly enough to blow them out of the sky. They were lucky enough to land before anything bad could happen. Ventus, in a panic, all but flew out of the ship as soon as the doors were open. Everyone else rushed to catch up, just as panicked but for different reasons. They weren't about to let Ven run off on his own and face this alone.
Outside, they were met with the emptiness of the barren world, met with only spirits that haunted the place, of which they couldn't see. There were no Heartless to fight, no enemies, nothing they could see that posed an immediate threat. However, that was not the thing that spurred Ven's apparent panicked frenzy. Roxas hadn't noticed at first, much too occupied with the state of the place to notice much else. Somewhere, just further ahead, was a person.
They were on the ground, bent over and on their knees, dressed in all black. Roxas barely caught Ven calling for him over the sound of the energy storm above them, the wind whistling in his ears.
Vanitas, that was him. It wasn't until they got much closer that Roxas realized something was severely wrong with him.
Roxas would be the second person to reach him, just after Ventus. Ven had taken to trying to get the boy's attention, and to Roxas' surprise, Vanitas didn't fight him on it. In fact, he looked incredibly out of it, dazed, eyes locked onto something just beyond them. He was supposed to be dead, after all. One does not get brought back without consequence.
But the thing that really nailed in the fact that he wasn't the least bit okay?
People don't usually start puking up black liquid, right?