Author's Note: LOL. Okay, wow. I hope you'll all still talk to me, haha. It's a Saturday evening, early 2011, and I'm sitting down to take a stab at this story for the first time in around two years. I know that those of you who have been keeping up have seen my various author's notes—what with illness/death in the family, the insanity of junior year of college, diving headfirst into the cosplay community (hurr hurr), and in general a bit of disinterest with Kingdom Hearts (I didn't fall out of love, I promise! I only got distracted by other fandoms)—I just couldn't find the drive to continue the story. However, unlike my one LotR story that basically ended with no warning, this story is beyond special to me. I wouldn't ever leave this one unfinished.
So, without further ado, I really hope you'll enjoy the continuation of TTIF. To all of those just now discovering it…congrats, you just avoided an insanely long wait. xD To all of those who've been here since the beginning, or at least for a while, I hope you'll accept my apology. I love you guys!
To my dear Kikofreako, especially…even if we've lost touch, the fact that every once in a while I get a notification that "Espy" has updated is probably the main reason that I'm back now. You've been a great source of inspiration to me, and a freakin' wellspring of praise and encouragement in continuing, that I feel as if I have to dedicate the remainder of TTIF solely to you. It wouldn't be where it is now if it wasn't for your involvement in the story, and the fact you're still around. Cheers to you!
HEAVEN OR HELL, LET'S ROCK.
Chapter 29: Always On My Mind
"…come and get me."
Ha. If the Organization thought their newly engineered Neo-Shadows were any kind of improvement, they needed a reality check. Riku sliced his right foot through the air, feeling it connect with one of the creatures—it succumbed as quickly as if he'd swatted a fly. He followed the momentum and his left leg roundhoused with him. Three more. Too easy.
Ah, well. This was getting dull.
Out came Soul Eater, along with Oblivion, and seven more shadows melted into the rainwater beneath him. Plant. Swing. Jump. Dodge.
They were falling like the rain now, barely materializing before he destroyed them with lazy flicks of his wrists. The storm wasn't letting up, the noise rising in his ears until he was in an almost hypnotic state. Plant. Swing. Jump. Dodge.
The voice cracked the night like lightning. No one had spoken since they'd passed through the portal. The rain had risen to prominence in his head, and the word was so loud that he jumped. He whipped around.
A short, leather-clad figure was running toward him full-tilt, from the direction they'd come earlier.
"Riku! Wait a sec!"
He'd know that voice anywhere.
"We gotta scram, kiddo! What're ya doin' here, anyway?"
The Shadows were even less of a problem for Mickey. He didn't even break stride, just swept them aside like he was combing through high grass.
The presence of the two in the middle of the square seemed to make the Shadows think twice about approaching. Both appeared relaxed, but held their Keyblades akimbo to increase their radius of peace in the center of the chaos. The Shadows twitched and buzzed, clicked, giving them a wide berth, waiting for either to let their guard down to strike.
"I could ask you the same thing," Riku countered, relief dawning on his face.
"Well…that…" Mickey tried. "…we'll get to that, later. We gotta get our behinds outta here. What's the big idea, anyway?"
Riku jerked a thumb upward to the television on top of the tower. Mickey stared intently, thoughtfully, and seemed to understand.
"Will they be all right?"
"The way Roxas looked? They'd be stupid not to stay out of his way."
That seemed to satisfy Mickey. As if it were decided, he turned, making the Heartless start, and the berth widened. Riku stayed where he was.
After a moment, he turned.
"Where are we going?"
"Back to our friends. Y'know, Riku…we were the fools not to stay with them all along."
Riku stood rooted to the spot, expression unreadable. He'd gone pale.
Mickey squared himself before the boy again, putting his hands on his hips. "Y'know, Riku…the big difference between us, and them, is that even if you screwed up, no one's gonna punish you for what you've done, no matter how bad it is."
Riku's lip twitched.
"Do ya really think that your best friends in all the worlds combined, wouldn't take you back in a heartbeat?"
But the teenager was already plodding toward him, defeated.
"…I just suck at saying I'm sorry. And I've got a hell of a lot of that to do."
Mickey gave him an amiable pat on the arm when he caught up, and together they strode back toward the portal.
"Welcome back, old pal."
DiZ did not look as if Axel's sorry state was of any surprise to him.
"Hurry, upstairs," he motioned, hastening to Axel's other side to help Roxas heft him up into the library. Roxas was shocked that the old voice that emanated from the red wrappings belied such strength; with his help, Axel was easy to pull along, although his consciousness was drifting in and out by the time they reached the second stairwell up to the old mansion's main floor.
Namine was standing by the door, and Roxas saw her wince at the blood at Axel's mouth and in his own hair. She hurriedly beckoned them into the adjacent room, where they laid the injured man on a sofa covered hurriedly with an old sheet.
Roxas couldn't help but hover over the redhead. What if he'd wasted too much time with the Heartless below the skyscraper? What if they'd treated Axel worse because Roxas had somehow betrayed his switching-sides? What if he'd spent too long sparring with Demyx when he really should've grabbed Axel and ran-?
Axel let out a drawn-out groan then, making Roxas jump, but relief washed over him.
"Shiiiiit, I am…in some serious g-goddamn pain right now," he complained gruffly, gingerly lifting an arm as his eyes fluttered open. "Hey Red, you got anything that could knock me out for a while?"
"While I would love the chance to shut off that childish whining for a while to clear my own headache, I'm afraid we need you conscious for this," DiZ said stiffly, but Namine was already casting a small cure spell on him.
"That's so strange…the spell can't find any open wounds," Namine murmured. "What did they do to you…?"
"Heh. I can't even remember. Hurts like hell, in any event."
"Don't die," Roxas said, somewhat dumbly, frowning. His head was in a fog, and rather than trying to catch up with all that had happened the past several hours, he was finding himself getting more and more bitter and frustrated, for no reason he could put a finger on.
"I don't die that easily, but thanks for your concern, kid."
Namine looked at Roxas in concern. He avoided her gaze. Anger was bubbling up, hot and unpleasant, in his gut, and he had to get out before he exploded.
"This is stupid," Roxas groaned, standing up. "I'm turning myself in."
He strode decidedly past them toward the door in the ringing silence that followed. But as he reached for the doorknob, Axel's arm lashed out from the spot where he lay, and caught him across the ribs, holding him back.
"What are you doing?" Roxas asked, glaring at the redhead and trying to pry the arm off his front. "Let me go!"
"I can't do that, kid," Axel said, still wincing, but his voice laced with anger.
"Don't you get it, Axel?" Roxas said bitingly. "They're sunk either if I'm still around, or if they can't round up all the Princesses. One or the other. Since they seem to be doing a pretty good job at the princess thing, I can get them to stop by turning myself in."
DiZ stood up in a rustle of fabric.
"Roxas, you speak utter nonsense," he said imperiously.
"No, I don't!" the blonde retorted, tearing away from Axel and wheeling around. "Sora at least knows where the door is, doesn't he? We've got that much. And the Princesses are in danger. If they can get rid of me, they'll leave them alone-Kairi and the others."
DiZ then did something unexpected. He laughed.
Roxas bristled. "What's so funny?"
DiZ chuckled heartily, shaking his masked head.
"Roxas," he began, his voice losing its mirth. "Do you really consider yourself that immaterial? The Organization would not be satisfied with simply eliminating you...your death would mean nothing. Besides, now that enough information has emerged, they have been letting you go free because Sora cannot open either door without you."
"C'mon, kid," Axel said, a softness in his face Roxas had never seen before. "...why do you think the Organization left Hollow Bastion with you and me still there?"
Roxas opened his mouth to speak, but then looked blankly at the redhead.
"They'd figured out who you were by then. Sora's Nobody," Axel explained, the frown returning. "They were gonna get rid of you then and there. I convinced 'em to let you have one last hurrah and capture their Princess for them."
Roxas' face softened as he realized what Axel was about to say.
"I saved your life back there, kid. And...unfortunately, their asses too, but I didn't know it then."
Roxas glanced at DiZ, who nodded curtly, one golden eye surveying him.
"Why?" Roxas asked, feigning an emotionless tone.
"Because," Axel said, shrugging. "I told you I had your back, didn't I? Didn't want a nice kid like you to meet such a sticky end. And just now you were going to walk out that door and undo all the crap I went through to save you?"
The words hit Roxas so hard he nearly staggered. He looked to the floor, feeling his face burning up.
"...th-thanks," he said quietly. "Axel, you...you didn't have to do that."
"No, I did," Axel said, crossing his arms again. "It's common decency. And you're not too bad, kid."
He grinned. Roxas returned it sheepishly.
"Answer my original question, however, Roxas," DiZ said. "Do you honestly see yourself as immaterial to this war? An expendable commodity, something we could throw away if it became troublesome?"
Roxas was silent for a moment. He crossed his arms, avoiding the elder's eyes.
"...I'm just a Nobody, aren't I? A shell. No one would miss me."
For a change, Roxas sensed something other than stiff formality emnating from the man before him. It more resembled pity. Roxas didn't like it; a scowl twisted his face.
"...Roxas," DiZ began. "That may be, but the fact that you owe your existence to Sora is not relevant. We cannot control that. The boy made a sacrifice...brave, yes, but rather foolish...and from that act was born a body, his own, deprived of his heart. You."
Roxas jerked his head in annoyance. "I know."
"That act was a mark of greatness...proof the Keyblade chose a selfless hero to wield its power. Sora was a marked man from the beginning, even if the Keyblade passed to him when it was supposed to be Riku's burden-"
Roxas looked up. "Riku?" he repeated, incredulous.
"Yes, but it is beside the point," DiZ said, seating himself back down. "You are the remains, the literal, physical left-behind of a fourteen year old boy who acted beyond his years...a hero. You think your status as a Nobody removes you from the fact that you are, in essence, that person?"
Axel had closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, his arms crossed.
"...Sora is a boy marked with destiny. So why should you, of all people, his Nobody...not be marked with destiny too?"
Roxas looked like a lost child now, his eyes wide and attentive, looking up toward DiZ.
"...what are you saying?" he asked.
"I am saying, Roxas," DiZ replied, as if he had been expecting the question. "...that you have a part to play yet in this story. Losing half of Sora would be like losing all of him."
"What the old windbag here is trying to say, Roxas," Axel said, pushing off from the wall. "...is that even though you're just a shell, you're the Nobody of one hell of a kid. And that means you're just as much a bigshot as he is...you're going to save the worlds, just like he's destined to."
"You understand what is needed to close the door to darkness, do you not?" DiZ inquired, a gold eye flashing.
Roxas nodded. "I do."
"Well, kid," Axel said, grinning. "The same exact circumstances are required for the opening of the door to the light."
Roxas gaped, his eyes going round. "You mean..."
"A key on either side," DiZ answered his unspoken question. "Exactly."
"The lovely little world of Destiny Islands," Axel said, looking at Roxas pointedly. "Warm, sunny, unassuming...and you know, just so happens to house the Door to the Light."
Roxas said nothing, absorbing the words as he looked in shock at Axel's smug expression.
"So that means...that one of us has to go there, so we can open it from both sides?"
"That is exactly what it means," DiZ affirmed, sitting back down. "Which gives us the complication of moving beneath Organization XIII's radar. You see, Kairi is the seventh Princess of Heart, the one designated the Guardian of the Door to Light."
"Guardian?" Axel repeated, blinking.
"It was always foretold that the seven maidens with the power to open the door to darkness would have to elect one to be tasked with protecting the door to light," DiZ said, folding his hands and resting his chin on them. "Unfortunately, they were never brought together until the events almost two years ago, and Ansem had already taken the initiative to elect his own-when he sent Kairi to the Islands."
"Then he knew," Axel said suddenly, his crimson brows furrowing. "The bastard knew the door was there."
"No, he did not-if he had, there would be no reason to track down the Muse. He presumed if he had the boy fated to open the door, the rest would fall into place. Why do you think he went to all the trouble to draw Sora to the endless abyss?" DiZ intoned. "The Princesses had all been gathered in Hollow Bastion, and their power extracted by the sorceress Maleficent. The door to darkness had been opened, and all that remained was for Sora to travel to close it as soon as possible."
"He planned it?" Roxas said in awe. "He...he thought he was going to be able to use Sora..."
"A foolhardy decision, to be sure," DiZ said with a little chuckle. "Had Riku and his Majesty not been inside those doors, the light would never have been strong enough to escape and subdue him. Unfortunately, he took refuge the next best place-Riku's heart.
"Organization XIII had already been formed and was on the move, and was working on tracking down the Muse. You see, once Kingdom Hearts had opened and the Heartless flooded out, he planned to capture a defeated-but alive-Sora to open the Door to Light, as is the prophecy-and fulfill the dark purpose of the World Between, to use both doors to eradicate the other. He was going to hold him captive until such time as the Muse reasoned out the location. However, two pieces of Sora's heart were missing-you, Roxas, and the part of his heart that still now resides with Kairi, because of the sacrifice he made to restore her. So even if Ansem had been victorious, he would have forced Sora to find and open the Door to no avail. It would not have appeared no matter how badly he wanted it to."
"And who knows what he would have done with him then," Axel said, and Roxas was shocked to see a shudder pass briefly through his body. "That is one lucky kid."
"Indeed," DiZ said gruffly. "Now that we've had time to think and prepare, I do believe we have the knowledge to combat this fate."
"Well, Roxas...Sora can't open the Door without yours or Kairi's help. So, seeing as a hostile takeover of Destiny Islands is not within our best interest, she's going to have to go back there to protect the Door as best she can...and you're going to stay with her."
"I am? I…I am," Roxas said, swallowing hard.
"Namine," DiZ said, turning to the slight girl, who jumped at finally being addressed. "You need to go with Roxas to meet up with Sora and the others. They need a familiar face to explain this all to them. I'm sure his Majesty has taken care of at least some of it, but I think you'll be needed in any case."
"Right," she said, resolutely. She gave Roxas a small smile. He returned it tentatively.
"But…then, what will you two do?" Roxas asked.
Axel shot a look in DiZ's direction. The older man bowed his head slightly.
"Well. I'll see to it Axel gets back on his feet as soon as possible. We will hold down the fort here, should anyone from Organization XIII try to pass through. Even if all else fails, we should meet you at the final battleground."
Nothing about that sounded even vaguely promising, to Roxas. He was silent for a moment.
"…all right. I understand."
He turned to Axel. "Hey. I meant what I said. Don't die, okay?" He extended his hand to the redhead, who was now propped up on one elbow.
Axel grinned and reached to grasp Roxas' hand firmly, shaking it. "It's a promise, partner," he said. "Take care of Blondie there, all right?"
Namine glanced up at Roxas with that small smile again. Roxas tilted the corner of his mouth up in response, then let go of Axel's hand and pounded fists with him briefly. "You got it."
Donald and Goofy's exaggerated reaction satisfactorily conveyed the shockwave that went through the Green Room the moment the door had opened. Sora's stomach had dropped into his feet, he was fairly sure. He couldn't really be seeing what he was seeing.
"Hiya, fellas," the King said sheepishly, smiling and rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "Boy, I'm glad to see ya. Things've been so chaotic that I wasn't even sure I'd find all of you together."
Donald and Goofy had rushed at their friend before he could continue, and smothered him in a loud tangle of limbs and exclamations. The tussle broke the rest of them out of their shocked reverie.
"Wait," Sora said. "If the King is here, then does that mean-"
Kairi met his eyes. They were both thinking the same thing.
"-Riku?" they said in unison, and Mickey noticed, as Goofy put him back down on the ground.
"..yep. He's with me. He's, ah…" the King tried, looking uncertainly back toward the door.
Sora and Kairi had both gotten up at once, and before anyone could stop them, they had both disappeared out the door.
Leon looked at Mickey. "Well…I guess, whatever you've got to tell them, can wait. Your Majesty, would you mind filling in some of the blanks for us?"
Mickey heaved a great sigh, and gave the room a sad smile. "I only wish I was the bringer of good news, ya know? But the good part is…we've got everyone together now, and more friends are coming soon."
"What's next?" Yuffie outburst. "I'm sick of sitting here and waiting! These bastards deserve an ass-kicking, there's princesses to be tracked down, and if what Aerith says is true, we're about two seconds from freaking Armageddon if we don't do something, now!"
"Yuffie!" Aerith said in surprise, putting a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"I'm with her," Cid intoned from the corner, gripping his spear. "Just tell us where to go, Majesty, and we'll go with guns blazin'."
"What he said," Leon agreed.
"Your Majesty! We'll do whatever it takes!" Goofy said, snapping to a salute.
Mickey smiled broadly at everyone.
"Pack your bags, folks. We're moving this party to one heck of a spot."
They found Riku sitting by himself on the stairwell to the front lobby of the hotel.
He was no longer wearing the Organization's black jacket. Instead, he was in a pair of baggy faded jeans, a black turtleneck, and a white ski vest. If they didn't know their best friend so well, he would've blended in with any of the Traverse Town crowd.
Sora glanced at Kairi. They were still behind him, so he hadn't spotted them yet.
"What do we even say to him?" he whispered.
"I…" Kairi began, then faltered. "I don't know."
But Riku spoke then.
"Aw, c'mon, you guys. Stop trying to make this some dramatic sappy reunion."
He turned his head, his profile giving them a half-grin.
Sora let out a nervous little chuckle, and the two of them walked up and sat on either side of him on the stairwell, trying to stay out of the other patrons' ways.
They sat in silence for a little while. The babble of talk around them, the bustle of the town and the new arrivals drifting in, filled the void nicely, as the comfort of just being together again, for once, sank in.
"We know," Sora cut him off. "If it'll kill you to say it, don't sweat it. You don't ever have to explain anything to us."
Riku glanced at him then, and Sora flashed him the stupidest grin he could muster. The older boy couldn't keep his straight face, and suddenly the three of them were laughing so loud that people walking by were beginning to stare.
Kairi let her head drop down onto Riku's shoulder and put an arm around him. "It's good to have you back."
"Yeah," Riku replied, as Sora's hand came down heavily on his shoulder.
"…I'm home, I guess."
WHOO! That's a relief to finally have down! I hope you guys enjoyed a slightly longer-than-usual chapter as an apology for how long it took to update. I would love, love, love some reviews! Thanks so much for reading and for your patience with me. You guys rock.
To be continued soon!