Flesh and Blood

The empty bodies stand at rest, casualties of their own flesh.

The blade was shaking in his hand, no matter how hard he tried to steady it. He examined his bare wrist, stripped of black gloves and black sleeves. Beneath the thin layer of flesh he could almost see the blood running through the veins. He hated that blood. He hated that flesh. Because he knew that flesh and blood was all he was composed of. A hollow container.

He wanted to cut it. He wanted to strip away the skin and drain out all the blood and see if there was anything left. But the blade kept shaking, and he regretfully admitted to himself that he didn't have the courage to do it.

He flung the knife across the room and it clanged against the cold metal floor. Because everything was cold and metal in that horrible palace. Sometimes, alone in the dark he would create flames shaped like people and have them mill around in his room. They were faceless and nameless, and he would give them creative histories and write out their stories in his mind. And they were warm but the heat could never quite seep into his skin.

Once, and only once, Demyx walked in while Axel's fiery family were prancing about the room. They disappeared so quickly that he almost didn't catch a glimpse of one of them holding Axel in its flaming arms. Axel grinned and said something witty about knocking before going into someone else's room and pretended that Demyx had seen nothing more than some stupid experiment Axel was conducting with his own abilities.

And Demyx had laughed and went along with the charade. From that day on, Demyx always knocked.

But for all his power over fire, Axel constantly felt as if he were freezing. Thick clothes and even thicker blankets at night did nothing to help, and he again cursed his empty flesh. Why did it have to feel the cold? Why did it have to desire a warmth that even raging flames couldn't provide?

Between these walls and darkened halls, I've done my time. If I should die before I wake, then you'll know why.

Axel was tired of it. He was tired of the endless cold and the dark castle he called home because there was no other home for him and the growing hole inside his chest that desperately wanted something to fill it.

"I probably won't be here tomorrow," he said casually to Demyx, who looked at him strangely.

"But he's bringing the last tomorrow. He wants us all here to greet him."

Axel was sitting in what they had deemed the kitchen (though it was little more than a metal table surrounded by hard metal chairs and a big silver refrigerator and a meager silver stove and three metal cabinets) with his legs propped up on the table. Demyx was rummaging through one of the cabinets. "In fact," Axel began, "I probably won't be here the next day. Or the day after that."

Demyx stopped what he was doing and turned around. "Axel... what are you talking about?"

But before another word was uttered Vexen had walked into the room and Axel turned his attention swiftly to the glass of water on the table, a gesture Demyx understood, as he asked no more questions and gave no clue that they had been talking about anything to begin with.

Axel stood up then and left the kitchen, retreating down the lengthy, empty corridors and to his cold chambers. On a shelf, empty save for various small weapons that he rarely had reason to use, laid the shiny knife he had come to befriend. He picked it up again, and pulled back the sleeve.

This time, I have to do it, he thought. He closed his eyes. In his mind, he could envision a warm and sunny place, where the darkness couldn't reach and the cold could not touch. He didn't want to be trapped in that body any longer.

The knife was steady in his hands, and he told himself I don't exist anyway.

But the door had flung open and Axel had dropped the knife back onto the shelf.

Xemnas stood in the doorway, a rare sight for Axel, and there was something resembling a smile on his face. "Come to the main hall. I've brought him early."

Axel nodded wordlessly, a little surprised and yet disappointed. He didn't care about meeting the newest, and last, member of the Organization. He only wanted to escape. But he was already here now and Axel reasoned that it couldn't hurt to show up in the main hall and give the standard greeting before continuing his business.

He made his way somewhat slowly back through the hallway and down the metal steps to the entranceway of the castle. They were all gathered there, with their hoods tossed back and their faces a mixed bag of curiosity, disinterest, and skepticism, depending on who he looked at. But at the front of the room, standing beside a very satisfied-looking Xemnas was a small figure wearing their trademark black coat. He looked a little frightened, but seemed determined to face this group of strange and dangerous-looking people with his head held high.

Axel grinned broadly at him, thinking with great amusement how disappointed the boy would be to find out how boring and pathetic this group really was.

The boy, mistaking the amusement for some sort of friendly welcome, smiled back.

Axel blinked. Something in that smile wasn't quite... right. There was something different. Something that didn't belong in the smile of a nobody.

Warmth.

A stroke of luck or a gift from God? The hand of fate or devil's claws? From below or saints above? You came to me.

The knock at the door was soft, so Axel knew it was either Demyx or Roxas. He opened it to find the latter standing in the hallway. "Uh... I was wondering if I could ask you some stuff."

Axel crossed his arms over his chest. "Stuff?"

Roxas looked down. "I have a lot of questions and, well, no one else seems to have time to answer them."

Axel stepped aside and motioned for Roxas to come in. "Ask away. Not like I have anything better to do."

Roxas sat down on the edge of Axel's messy bed. "I don't remember anything. I mean, before I was in Hollow Bastion. Is that normal?"

Axel shrugged. "Nothing is normal for us."

"But do you remember anything? From before you were..."

"Before I was a nobody? Yeah, I remember a lot."

Roxas looked down again. "Then... I'm not normal."

Axel stared at him for a moment, then said "Maybe you're not normal, but you're lucky. Sometimes it's better not to remember what it was like."

Roxas looked up at him. "What what was like?"

Axel grinned, but looked utterly unhappy even as he did so. "What it was like to have a heart."

And Roxas had left the room even more confused than when he had entered. But Axel closed the door behind him and leaned his back against the door. And he suddenly realized that, for the first time since he had come to live in that awful place, his room was no longer cold.

As the days passed and the two lost boys became friends, the knife on Axel's shelf laid untouched.

For now we stand alone, the world is lost and blown. And we are flesh and blood disintegrate, with no more to hate.

Axel stood beside Roxas on the roof of the palace. Looking down, they could see countless dark streets and alleys, aligned with neon signs that gave the fake impression that the city was actually alive, lived in. But they knew better.

Roxas had come to understand the sort of life the Organization members lived, and Axel often wanted to ask if he found it as disgusting as he did. But his pride didn't allow that sort of question, and somewhere in his mind (Mind, not heart, he reminded himself), he felt as if questions and answers like those could go unspoken between them.

Roxas was obviously unsatisfied, just as Axel was. It was all there in the tilt of his head as he examined the moon or the way his voice would trail off when he spoke of the brief and random memories that came to him in dreams. And the way Roxas would look at Axel with a shared sadness (not pity, never pity) when his sarcastic facade would crack just a little.

But the cold, crisp night air seemed just a little less colder against Axel's skin. Their world was comprised of hard metal and dark passages and flesh and blood. It was a horrible world and they could never let themselves forget it. But together like this, standing side by side under the light of the moon and wordlessly exchanging thoughts so terrible that neither could properly articulate them, the harshness of that world dulled around them. They didn't have hearts and sometimes wondered if they even had souls. But Axel had found for himself a tiny ounce of warmth he never knew existed. Somehow, even the gaping hole where a heart might have, or even should have been, didn't feel quite so empty.

Axel had Roxas. And that was enough.

Ending Notes: The italicized lines are lyrics of various songs. The first line comes from the song "Bodies" by The Smashing Pumpkins. The second line comes from the song "My Lover's Box" by Garbage. The third line comes from the song "Stroke of Luck" by Garbage and the last line comes from the song "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" by The Smashing Pumpkins. Naturally, I don't own those songs or those lyrics. :D And of course, I don't own Kingdom Hearts or the characters either.