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Chapter 24

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Author: Kintora

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A/N: What's this? Another chapter up so soon after Deja Blue? I must really love you guys.

Let the reading commence. :)

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The room was so dark at first that Namine wasn't quite sure if she had opened her eyes or not. But before she could get up, there was a soft groan beside her. She froze suddenly, before realizing it was Roxas. However, knowing he was snuggled up against her didn't help the tenseness in her muscles. All she could think about was his strong arm wrapped around her middle, clutching her protectively to him.

She swallowed, her mouth parched. But that wasn't all. If she could see herself in a mirror now, she knew her skin would be bright pink from the shoulders up. Part of her wished he would just wake up and let her go, so she could get her rapidly beating heart under control again. But the better part of her wished they could lie together like that forever.

If only she could just stay there with him... Let his breath warm the back of her neck as he breathed in her light floral scent. Forever in his arms.

Safe. Warm.

They were feelings she rarely felt, and never in the magnitude she felt now.

His breaths were still even against the back of her neck, so she felt it was safe to put her hand over his. She was growing sleepy again when she realized it could very well be morning and she wouldn't know. The sinking feeling she normally felt returned full force, making her squeeze his hand subconsciously. Her skin turned cold and clammy again at the thought of facing Vexen.

She lied when she told him that she had gotten used to the painful experiments. Perhaps she had hoped to allay his mind when he found out Kairi had endured the same treatment. Namine didn't want to hurt him – would never want to hurt him. He loved Kairi so much. She couldn't bear being the one to tell him.

And yet she was the same girl who told him that he shouldn't exist. She was the same girl who helped keep him in the dark. No matter what she did, she hurt him.

The guilt and helplessness threatened to overwhelm her, but it was the thought that Roxas only cared about her because of Kairi that made her tears slip down her face and into his pillow.

Unknown to her, Roxas hadn't been sleeping at all. He had woken up about the same time as her, but had been content with just laying still. If he hadn't been so good at controlling his reactions, he might have jumped when she put her hand over his. But something was wrong the instant he felt her hand tighten. She was so quiet, he hadn't been quite sure what was going on.

After a few moments of just focusing on her, he knew she was crying. His mind debated whether or not he should quit the sleeping act and ask what was wrong. What if she were in pain? Why else would she be crying?

Just then, she tried to slip away discreetly without waking him up. She almost screamed when Roxas' arm just tightened and pulled her back against him.

"Roxas?" she asked, her voice coming out a little shaky from surprise.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice husky from sleep.

Namine shook her head, but realized he probably couldn't see her. "No, I'm fine. I was just... thinking about things."

He sensed her reluctance to talk about what was on her mind, so he decided to let her off the hook. "If you're sure." He let her go so she could sit up.

Namine swallowed again, "Yeah. I'm sure. What time is it? I should probably go."

Roxas wanted to groan, but he humored her, "It's probably around eight. You can check the clock on the wall."

"Umm..." She squinted through the darkness, "My eyes must be pretty bad."

The lights suddenly turned on and Namine had to blink a few times before her vision adjusted again. She rubbed her eyes in an effort to speed things up, but the instant she laid eyes on the clock, she almost thought her stomach would drop through the floor.

"Oh no!" Namine leapt to her feet, "It's already nine? I never sleep in!"

Roxas stretched before sitting up at a more leisure pace, "I thought you said Vexen doesn't get you until noon." He fought the grimace on his face as her ghastly bruises caught his eye.

"It's not Vexen I'm worried about right now. It's breakfast!"

"So?" Roxas fought down a yawn.

Namine felt exasperated, pacing the floor as she gnawed on her lip. There had to be a way down to the kitchen without any surveillance or anything. There had to be!

"Namine."

She suddenly felt his hands on her shoulders, stopping her from pacing a ditch into his floor. Somehow, Roxas had made it from his bed to her without her even noticing. The stealth he had was just unsettling, but not as unsettling as missing breakfast.

"Namine?" Roxas asked, "Why are you so worried about breakfast?"

"I'm so stupid!" Namine smacked her face. She was about to smack it again when Roxas caught her hand.

He growled, "Enough. I'll help you sneak downstairs already."

Keeping her hand in his, he tugged her over to the far side of his room. He pushed away the tall dresser before putting a hand against the seemingly blank wall. Namine gave a start when she saw the wall begin to split and crack into pieces. She almost jumped back, thinking the jagged marble would fall on their feet. But to her surprise, they just floated away from the wall, leaving a gapping opening that was just tall enough to let Roxas walk in without having to duck his head.

She was hesitant at first, but didn't dare stall as she hurried after him into the darkness. Just as she stepped in, the wall neatly sealed back up as if it never had a single crack. Namine looked behind her a few times, but the darkness made it impossible to see anything in any direction. If she stuck her hands out slightly, she could feel walls on both sides, closing them in. The further they walked, the more she realized that the passage was sloping downwards.

She couldn't hear Roxas ahead of her, for he moved like a wraith. For all she knew, he could be ten feet or ten inches in front of her and she wouldn't know either way. The silence was deafening, the air somewhat dead. It didn't feel creepy just... cramped and old.

"R-Roxas?"

"Right in front of you," he responded, a few feet ahead of her.

Namine breathed a sigh of relief, not really knowing she had been holding her breath. She hurried up to him, her hand reaching out in the darkness. When she felt the fabric of his shirt, her fingers quickly dug into it. Without much warning, he paused, letting her run into him. Her breath was coming in short little gasps as if she had been trying to outrun demons.

"Are you okay?" Roxas asked. He wanted to turn around and look at her, having no trouble seeing through the dark, but Namine was still pressed up against his back. Her head buried between his shoulder blades as she shook her head.

"Sorry," she struggled not to wheeze, "I should have told you that I don't handle small, dark spaces well."

Roxas stood still, just letting her lean against him. "Are you afraid of the dark?"

"No," she lied.

"Liar," Roxas said lightly. If Namine could see him, she could bet that he was amused. It annoyed her.

"It's doesn't matter," she pushed away from him, "Just never mind."

Roxas finally turned. "But I do mind. It's just strange that a nobody would be afraid of the darkness. We were all born in darkness, weren't we?"

"You're forgetting something," Namine said quietly, "I wasn't born from someone losing their heart to the darkness. I was born from the fragment of Kairi's heart. If anything, she's the complete opposite of darkness."

"So you're afraid of the dark because of Kairi," he deduced flatly, "Well that sounds perfectly logical."

"No!" Namine snapped defensively, feeling embarrassed, "It's because in the lab, Vexen sometimes stuffs me into–" Namine almost swallowed her tongue to stop herself.

Roxas struggled not to sound angry, "Into what?"

"Not now," she shivered, rubbing her goose flesh, "I don't want to think about it."

Without a word, Roxas grabbed her hand and led her further into the labyrinth. "Just stay close. The path starts branching off around here. You can get pretty lost if you don't know the way."

"Where is here?" Namine asked, fighting the urge to latch herself to his whole arm.

"You'd be surprised how old this castle is," Roxas told her as he trekked on, "Before Xemnas took over this place, it was just a big ruin. It's believed that this place is very close to the entrance of Kingdom Hearts. That's why he changed its appearance and strengthened it into a fortress, so he could make this place into Organization XIII's Head Quarters."

"So there aren't any cameras here, and members don't normally wander around these tunnels?" Namine asked.

Roxas shrugged, "I doubt anyone would want to use these passageways. There are too many tunnels to bug. And there's no point navigating around here if everyone can just use portals."

"Then how do you know where to go?"

"Let's just say I don't mind exploring different options."

Namine smiled slightly, finding it completely believable. If he didn't like finding other solutions, then he wouldn't have argued so much with her about leaving her behind.

"We're almost there, Namine," he told her, "Once I open the wall, you're going to have to find your own way back to the kitchen on your own. We can't be caught together."

"Where does it open up?"

"Just down the hallway from the kitchen. I used to sneak down here sometimes on my own."

She blinked. "How come I never saw you?"

"I don't know," he said, "I don't come down here frequently anyway."

He stopped, putting a hand against the dead end in front of them. Unlike the entrance in his room, the wall didn't crack into pieces. Namine couldn't see anything anyway, but allowed Roxas to pull her in front of him. He gave her hand a squeeze before letting go and pushing her forward against the wall.

She was about to protest at first as she felt her body press against its cold, stony surface. But to her surprise, the solidity of the wall was only temporary. The next thing she knew, the stone turned pliant and seemed to absorb her.

"Rox–!" she began, but the wall swallowed her up just like that.

She stumbled forward, the lit hall blinding her for a moment. Blinking rapidly, she turned behind her to look at the marble wall. There was no trace of anything out of the ordinary with it. Confused, Namine looked around before walking back to it and touching its surface.

It just stayed as hard as any stone. Nothing pliable there.

She could have spent more time checking it out, but she knew she had to go. Suppressing a shudder, Namine hurried down the hall to the kitchen. Knowing she had to see Vexen soon, she made sure to skip breakfast. But it wasn't Vexen she was afraid of right now. Slipping through the silent kitchen, Namine hurried on to the next room connected to it.

Roxas would have turned away and gone back to his room if he hadn't been so curious about what Namine was hiding. He wanted to know why she was in such a big hurry. But he was also curious about what Vexen was doing to her. The welts on her skin spoke volumes about the pain she was constantly enduring, but they didn't reveal any purpose. Was it merely torture?

His stomach dropped just thinking about it.

After she went into the kitchen, he followed her through the walls. He couldn't use dark powers to conjure a portal or window to spy on her unless he wanted to be caught, so he was forced to do the traditional snooping around. Luckily, out of all the Organization's XIII members, he had the best stealth. Most of the others couldn't detect him nearly as fast he could detect them. And from what he knew about Vexen, the effeminate nobody wasn't any better.

Roxas never had any reason to defy the Organization, until now. Now that he knew Namine existed, that Kairi had been there all this time without him finding out... that Xemnas was only planning on using him – he had to find answers for himself if he ever wanted to be anything more than a puppet.

So he followed her through the walls, knowing she couldn't have gone far from the kitchen. But instead of just staying in the kitchen like he originally thought she would, she continued on into one of the castles many dining rooms. Knowing the labyrinth walls didn't go any farther, he decided to backtrack. Using the same exit in the wall that Namine used, Roxas stepped into the hall and snuck into the kitchen.

He looked cautiously about him before edging closer to the door that she had disappeared through. But before he could get close enough to pick up on any voices, Roxas whirled around and grabbed the person sneaking up behind him around the throat.

Axel sputtered, knocking Roxas' hand away, "Oi, Roxas! What's the big idea? You trying to kill your best friend?"

"Don't sneak up on me then," Roxas scowled, "I don't have time to waste talking right now."

"Wait," Axel narrowed his eyes at his friend, "Am I missing something here?"

Roxas took one look at the door he was about to go through before turning back to answer him. "It's nothing."

Axel felt his brows shot up towards his hairline, "Oh yeah? If it was nothing, you wouldn't be snooping around in the kitchen with your pajamas on. Even Marluxia wouldn't be caught dead down here in his flower boxers."

Roxas chose to ignore him as he grabbed himself an apple. Axel shrugged walking over to his friend, "Hey, I'm just messing with you. You look like something's been bothering you."

"Like what?" Roxas asked half-heartily, as he was about to leave the room.

"Like why Namine's in the dining room right now, talking to Vexen and Xemnas."

Roxas froze, and turned around, "What?"

"I was right, wasn't I?" Axel said. He swung an arm around Roxas' shoulders, and pulled him forcefully from the kitchen, "I ain't supposed to tell you anything, but I suppose I've already broken that rule now. But trust me, you're not going to like what you hear."

Before long, Roxas and Axel were back in Roxas' room.

"First, I want to hear what possessed you to follow Namine around today. What if someone else caught you?" Axel rolled his eyes, "And don't tell me it's because you're falling for her."

"Shut up, it's nothing like that," Roxas grumbled sitting down on his bed as Axel leaned back against a wall.

"All right," Axel decided not to push him, "Then tell me what else you want to know."

"How did you know that Namine was meeting up with Vexen and Xemnas this morning?"

"That's easy," he snorted, "I do rank high in the food chain, you know? Before Kairi was taken away by the Shadows, Vexen spent a lot of time working on shock memory tests. It was a painful method, but showed a lot of promise. Vexen was able to extract some of Kairi's memories, but it didn't do much good in finding the other Princesses of Heart."

Roxas tried to ignore the feeling of his gut twisting around inside of him, "Then where does Namine come in to all of this?"

"She was an experiment gone wrong," Axel said matter-of-factly, "She was created not long after you were actually. So this dates back a while ago. Rather than trying to find the other Princesses, Xemnas tried using Kairi, the only known Princess at the time, to artificially create six duplicates of her. Namine was the only copy that survived. But even then, she wasn't a perfect clone, and therefore, she wasn't what Xemnas wanted."

"And you don't find this disturbing?" Roxas asked pointedly, anger flashing in his icy eyes.

"I do, but it's not like I could do anything. I didn't know her then, much less care about what was going on," Axel admitted, "Completing missions was the only thing that meant anything to me. I'm sure you can understand that much."

Roxas rubbed his temples, "This is giving me a headache."

"You asked for it, so listen up," Axel tapped his chin, "So after the cloning experiment failed, Vexen just kept her as something of a keepsake – like a doll. He worked meticulously on Kairi, and eventually came up with the shock memory theory. But just as we were assembling all the other Princesses together, Shadow Hearts interfered and stole Kairi."

"I just remember Xemnas sending us on a bunch of missions to find her. I always thought..." Roxas bowed his head, "I'm such a gullible idiot. I believed in every word he spoke and did anything he ever asked."

"Well don't go beating yourself up just yet," Axel said, a wicked grin spreading across his face, "As you probably know, our boss is P-I-S-S-E-D right now. At the moment, we have neither Kairi nor the other Princesses. Xemnas' plans won't come to fruition any time soon, which means, you still have time to make your great escape."

Roxas shook his head, "You're forgetting Namine. We're taking her with us too."

The grin on Axel's face faded a bit, "I was hoping you'd come to your senses and forget about her already. I can't be sure we'll be safe after we leave, and bringing Namine will just give them more of an incentive to chase us. Besides, the longer we wait..."

"I already promised her."

"What? Since when?" Axel exclaimed, doing a double take.

"Since last night," Roxas rolled his eyes, "It doesn't matter. I just want to know why she's so afraid of talking about Vexen's experiments. She hates talking about herself."

"Do you know what shock memory is, Roxy-boy?"

Roxas scowled at the name.

"Of course Namine wouldn't tell you. It's not pleasant. I don't know much, but I know it has a lot to do with wires, needles, and lots of electricity. You can put together the rest. You've seen her burns," Axel crossed his arms, "The stress and pain is somehow able to conjure memories from the subconscious. It's more of a truth experiment than anything else."

Roxas felt as if Axel just took a bucket of ice water and threw it over him.

Axel nodded, his expression turning more sympathetic. "That's right, buddy. Namine may do her best to hide her memories, but time's running out. Sooner or later, Vexen's going to find out about you and me. Then we'll be toast, because he'll just go tell Xemnas. So why don't you listen to me, and cut out the knight-in-shining armor crap."

"I told you, I already promised her," Roxas said quietly, "What will happen to Namine when they do find out?"

"I don't think I have to tell you," Axel said, his expression somber, "There's nothing we can do for her. She's meeting with Xemnas and Vexen right now, because Xemnas is checking up on Vexen's little project today."

"What for?" Roxas asked, his stomach turning.

"They're upping the ante. What else?"

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"Who's King Ansem?" Kairi asked, frowning.

"He's the King of Hollow Bastion," Aerith told her before Yuffie could answer, "We all came from there. But before that, we all came from other worlds. He's the one that rescued us from the war that tore our home worlds apart when we were children."

Yuffie chipped in, "King Ansem just wants the worlds to be at peace again."

"I hate to sound rude…" Kairi began, "But why would the 'real' Ansem want to restore balance to the worlds? What does any of this have to do with him?"

"Everything," Leon answered shortly.

Aerith shook her head sadly, "King Ansem believes it is his fault that the war is happening in the first place. You see, the Ansem of Shadow Hearts and Xemnas of Organization XIII used to work together – because they were once the same person, a man named Xehanort."

"Xehanort?" Kairi asked dubiously.

"Xehanort was once the beloved Crown Prince of Hollow Bastion," Yuffie offered helpfully.

Kairi put her head in her hands, and looked up between her fingers, "I'm so confused right now. Where are you guys going with this?"

"A long time ago, Xehanort and his father, King Ansem, worked to expand Hollow Bastion. That's when they stumbled upon the Legend of Kingdom Hearts," Aerith sighed, "It was believed that Kingdom Hearts granted enormous power for anyone who could find it and enter it. Perhaps even grant the power to absorb other worlds. But…"

"But?" Kairi pressed.

"King Ansem came to his senses and decided that it was too dangerous to pursue. But Xehanort wouldn't listen and took things into his own hands. He conducted an experiment that accidentally tore his heart and soul apart. That's how he became two different beings. Originally, they worked together to find Kingdom Hearts, but the darkness is a strong force," Aerith said gravely.

Yuffie continued for her, "That's when the two of them went separate ways and declared themselves independent of the other. Darkness took over from there, and now it's seeping its way into everything. King Ansem felt completely responsible, so he's assembled small factions like ours to work together and take down the evil he started – even if that means he has to destroy what's left of his only son."

Kairi thought her head was going to explode, but was able to absorb all of the new information. But at least she knew her friends were fighting on the side she thought was right – the side that she knew would stop the senseless suffering.

"I want to join you guys," Kairi looked up, her violet eyes lit up with determination, "I want this war to stop too."

Aerith and Yuffie sighed in relief, but Leon only straightened and walked over to the side of her bed. He towered over her for moment before he sat down beside her, "While having you join us is good, we need to ask you something."

"What's that?" Kairi asked, growing uneasy by the intense look in his steely gray eyes.

"You can't tell Sora the truth, because he's bound too deeply to the darkness. You know he would have to stop us," Leon responded evenly, "So could you fight against him if the situation called for it?"

Kairi felt as if someone had punched her in the gut. She suddenly felt torn between "yes" and "no." By the way Leon was looking at her; she knew there was no "maybe yes" or "maybe no." Aerith and Yuffie looked her with barely suppressed hope in their eyes. Even Kairi knew how much weight her decision would carry once she made it.

Why?

Why did it have to be this way?

Memories of the night before, when it was just she and Sora – confessing to each other in the dark… comforting each other in their sorrows… and sharing something so completely pure and wonderful…

Why her?

Why him?

"Ye… Yes," Kairi croaked, "I'll help."

Leon nodded, his eyes softening slightly, "I'm sorry, Kairi."

Kairi could only nod dumbly, trying not to imagine the betrayal in Sora's sky blue eyes.

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"ROXAS!" Axel yelled after his friend, "Wait man, are you nuts? You can't just go barging in like that!" He narrowly avoided the wall as it seal up behind him. "ROXAS!"

Roxas pulled his hood over his head, marching briskly down the dank corridors of the hidden labyrinth. He wished he could drown out Axel's panicked voice. A part of him knew he was acting rashly, but for the most part, he didn't give a flying fig. He could only remember the feeling of Namine trembling in his arms. Just thinking about her made a huge surge of protectiveness flood through him.

He never felt that way for anybody… for anything. Not even for Kairi – not to this extent.

Namine wasn't a ghost of a memory he chased. She was there with him. She'd always been there by his side. And now that she was so achingly close, he found it so hard to protect her.

He wanted to protect someone.

He wanted to protect her.

He wasn't sure why, but he wasn't about to deny the fact that he cared what happened to Namine.

"Wait!" Axel caught up to him and grabbed his arm.

Roxas shook Axel's grip off him roughly as he whirled around, "If I don't help her, who will?!" He grabbed the front of the redhead's coat and growled, "Namine doesn't deserve to disappear!"

Axel grabbed Roxas around the collar too and snarled back in his face, "You don't deserve to disappear either!"

They fumed at each other, before Roxas shoved Axel away and continued his trek down the passageway. He heard his friend follow him in stride. While neither spoke for a while, Roxas found himself worrying more and more about the time that had elapsed between the present and the last time he saw Namine. He had no doubt Vexen would get right to business when it came to working in his lab.

It just meant that time was running out.

"Roxas," Axel finally stopped, urging him to stop as well. There was something about the way Axel said his name that made him stay put.

"What?" Roxas snapped, itching to press on.

"Do you think Namine would want you to ruin everything she's done to protect you?"

Roxas grit his teeth and looked away. He knew that Namine would be angry. But that wasn't going to stop him from saving her if he could. He was about to continue on when Axel stopped him again.

"Listen, buddy. I want to make this very clear for you," he took a deep breath and let it out, pinching the bridge of his nose, "Vexen's lab is one of the most secured places in this compound. It won't be easy getting in and out even if you're one of the best nobodies in this snooping around business. I say we scout out the lab today, and then come up with a plan about what to do later."

"So you're suggesting we do nothing," Roxas replied hotly.

"I can't believe I'm the one who has to tell you to wait and think things through. You're supposed to be the sensible one. Not me," Axel rolled his green eyes, "I'm just saying we look before we leap. If we work together, we can figure out a fool-proof plan to rescue both our sorry asses and Namine's cute behind. It won't be easy for you, but it's the only way."

Roxas was silent for a second before he rammed his fist into the rock wall. Pieces of eroded rock splintered under his knuckles as he pulled his hand away. The pain helped him take his mind off Namine for a moment to weigh his options.

"Namine's a strong girl, Roxas," Axel told him, "She wouldn't have survived this long if she wasn't strong. Give her a little credit, will you?"

"Fine," Roxas muttered. He pressed a hand to his eyes, "So how do you suppose we go about this?"

Axel's cocky smirk returned, "Watch and learn, Roxy-boy."

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A/N: I don't know why, but this chapter feels pretty long. Anyhow, I really liked typing up the Roxas/Namine moment in the beginning. Their relationship is progressing a little faster than Sora's and Kairi's, but I hope it's still at a decent pace. It's not like they're making out just yet, though that will be the goal in one of the upcoming chapters.

For those who are waiting for more Sora/Kairi, give me some time please. I don't want this story to go all over the place between Sora/Kairi and Roxas/Namine.

All right guys, hit me up with 'em reviews. :) Your words mean a lot to me!

PS. DON'T FORGET TO ANSWER THE QUESTION OF THE CHAPTER BELOW! It's sort of like my way of getting to know you guys.

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Question(s) of the Chapter:

What is your favorite movie?

My Answer:

Right now, I'm obsessed with Firehouse Dog. And no, I'm not kidding. It's a great movie, in case you guys haven't seen it yet.

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Muchos gracias to my Chapter 23 reviewers: mUSIC4LiFE95 , CerberAsta , xPocKyxx , A Midsummer Night's Dream , Meep Forever , Hikoru Aniki , Swanna , Topaz Tsubasa , kitty-gurl1 , Zlegna120 , RoxasxLoverxDarius , Sora195 , Wint , kairitheseventhprincessofheart , KHGamegirl , LyricGirl16 , True-Light-San , elSarah , AonAllstars , divinerosekeeper , whyme55577 , XxkissyfishyxX , Nears Twin , NightmarishlyAesthetic , DRAGONFIRE563 , rikku247 , and Si-Sidera.

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