Disclaimer- Who owns what now?

Warnings- The beginning of the end.

A/N- Two chapters (including this one) and an epilogue to go. It's almost over.

Protecting Me

Chapter 21: Shiver

When the heaviness of sleep finally began to lift from his body, Roxas slowly cracked open his eyes. The room was no longer drafty and cool like it had been the last time he woke up, but now muggy and suffocating. The humid summer air that seemed to take over their lifeless world was dragging another storm in with it. The clouds that had loomed in the distance mere hours ago in Namine's room had finally descended upon the city. Rain pounded against Roxas's window in torrents as he lay immobilized and cushioned underneath his blanket.

It was as if it was the first time he had woken up in two weeks. Cocooned in the sanctuary of his covers, he felt awkward and small. Of course, it was completely expected of him, because at this point, he knew. He knew and he remembered everything that had taken place in the last two weeks.

He remembered the awful taste of that drink, and falling to the floor. He remembered waking in the middle of the night feeling sick to his stomach. He remembered stumbling out of bed, past a soundly sleeping Axel, towards the bathroom. And most of all, he remembered never making it to his destination Instead he fell to the ground right at his door, his stomach churning in unspeakable pain. That's when it happened-

From that moment on Roxas wasn't quite himself for two weeks, and in those two weeks, he was the closest he had ever been to his best friend.

His body felt... full. Almost like it was too much he was remembering all at once. Even more so than that, an overwhelming sense of loneliness was sitting in his chest. With his knees pulled to his body and his arms drawn tight around his shins, he curled into a safe little ball under his covers. He was small, vulnerable, and alone. More than anything he wanted the ashy scent of his best friend to fill his nose as it did while they slept pressed together in bed. He wanted his inexperience hands to lace around the nook of Axel's neck, and he wanted to be pulled close just like what he remembered.

A soft moan escaped his lips. He had such an urge to face Axel- to let the older man know what he finally knew. Acting solely on an instinct based on what seemed like a strange passing dream, Roxas pushed himself from bed with his elbows, rolling sideways until his feet hit the frigid marble floor.

Unlike that morning, he now felt so light. His muscles were loose and warm under his tanned skin. No longer was he flushed and sickly, just on the verge of losing the contents of his stomach. The sickness working through his body seemed to have been replaced with something else;

Longing. Loneliness. Desire. Want. Need...

He couldn't quite put a single defined word to what was pulsing through his body.

Small awkward steps carried him down the hall; his legs seemed too big for his body, too long. Everything seemed bigger, louder, more confusing than it had seemed when he fell asleep. With a soft hand pressed against the cold marble wall, he let his senses alone guide him down the staircase to the hallway where Axel's room was located.

The redhead's door was unlocked as always; it had always been open and inviting to Roxas. Like the summer winds drifting through the atmosphere outside the castle, the heat from Axel's room hit Roxas like a merciless ray of sunlight. It wrapped around Roxas's body like a blanket, tying itself tight around his shoulders and pulling him in. The room was empty and silent, just as his own had been. The hollowed heaviness that crept inside of Roxas's chest pulled him down into the snug comfort of Axel's bed where he buried his head, just as he had when he remembered being small.

Blindly, the blond reached out to twist his fingers into the blankets when his fingers came in contact with a soft, bulky figure. He lifted his head just enough to see what he was holding. Clasped tightly in his fist was a small bug eyed stuffed animal, staring at him with empty eyes. For a moment Roxas's body went cold, and just as fast an incredible warmth washed over him as he pulled the stuffed animal close to his body.

"Sora." He muttered into the ear of the lifeless doll. Wrapped in the warmth of a memory that didn't even seem real, he sank further into Axel's unoccupied bed, clutching desperately to the stuffed animal that saw and knew so much of what he had been through. A burning sensation stung at his eyes that he didn't quite understand, and he realized he was heaving in and out, shaky, uneasy, breaths.

A figure from the hallway just outside the room cast a long dark shadow between the crack where the door was slightly left ajar when Roxas squeezed in. An older, calloused hand knocked against the door to Axel's room before pushing to let the door swing open more.

"You're supposed to be on patrol flamesilocks, what're you still doin-"

Xigbar's voice bounced off the walls of the dark room, to which Roxas responded by sitting up quickly to wipe his face off with the back of his sleeve and compose himself.

"Oh, it's you kid."

"I was just leaving." Roxas hopped from the bed, flustered, and failed to realize he still had his stuffed animal pressed to his chest. Xigbar stood before him, eyebrow raised and one hand balancing a tray of food. "What are you doing here?"

"Making sure Axel is doing his job."

"What's with the food?" Roxas edged closer, the smell of the food from Xigbar's tray wafting into his nostrils. It was when his stomach rumbled at the mere thought of food that he remembered he hadn't eaten anything all day.

"If you wanted to eat you should have woken up for dinner. This food is for everyone down in the lab who couldn't make it. Speaking of which, everyone down there is probably starving by now."

Roxas muttered a dejected "oh" and watched as Xigbar turned, a disgruntled air about him, and headed down the hall. Staring down at the warm stuffed animal still cradled in his arms, Roxas stepped into the hall behind Xigbar, closing the door to Axel's room ever so silently.

"Hey," he called out after Xigbar as he sped up a little to trot beside the older man, "you mentioned Axel, do you know where he is?"

"Shit forgot the drinks-"

"What?" Roxas caught up to Xigbar just as he cursed under his breath.

"He'll be out for another hour or so on night patrol around the city." Xigbar muttered quickly, fidgitting impatiently as he balanced the tray carefully on one hand to summon a portal with the other, "Now look kid, as long as I'd love to stay and chit-chat, it's not in my schedule."

Roxas stepped back, submissive. "Yeah, I have things to do too."

The second Xigbar was out of sight, without even thinking Roxas threw his own hand in front of him. A swirling black vortex appeared before him, right where Xigbar's had just disappeared. He stood facing the gaping black hole. What was he doing? He huffed, cradling the stuffed animal before tucking it into his coat.


Outside the rain was merciless, but even the raging torrents did not stop the air from being stiff and smothering. It almost seemed as if the air wasn't moving at all, just standing still, hot and humid as ever.

Roxas pulled his hood over his tousled locks, cringing at how the leather of his cloak stuck to his skin. The rain, which seemed to be coming down harder by the minute, didn't help any; it fell from Roxas's cloak like water off pavement, falling into his boots and soaking his socks.

The night was particularly dark. The clouds, shadowy and swirling, completely covered the illuminating heart shaped moon that stood guard over the city. Roxas shivered as he walked alone down an empty alleyway. The reverberating sound of the rain pounding on the pavement mingled with the speedy click of his heels every time he took a step. The sound was unsettling, even more-so than that was the flash of light that burst from the sky that Roxas just happened to catch out of the corner of his eye. A shutter raced through his body, one that he didn't understand.

His arms were wrapped protectively around his torso, his eyes focused on the drops of rain splashing into the puddles on the ground. If Axel was right in front of him, he wouldn't have even seen him. His mind was so far away from him that even hearing the redheads voice would have bounced right off of him.

All he wanted was to see him though, just let him know. That's all. Just let him know. Maybe he could even apologized for how he acted that morning.

Another small flash. He shivered harder, legs growing weaker. He was certain that everything wasn't this dark just mere minutes ago. Just as he quickened his pace, desperate at this point to find Axel and get back inside the castle, a mighty boom erupted from the clouds. It shook the very ground beneath his feet, making him weak at the knees. And right there- right in the middle of the street, he collapsed to the ground, hands clasped tightly against his ears as he let out a desperate moan.

It was as if all the blood in his body suddenly ran cold, ice racing through his very veins. He didn't understand, he had never had a fear of storms before. He had always ignored the uneasy calm of a storm and went about his business. So why all of a sudden could he not move his legs at the mere sound of thunder?

Another clap of thunder made him feel almost as if he were being pulled back; he remembered the look on Axel's face, his eyes blazing with a fiery anger that he had never witnessed before. He remembered fire, and then, he remembered he ran until he couldn't possibly run anymore. That's when he was chased, and the thunder was ten times louder than it had been before.

A sharp pain shot through his leg, it was throbbing along the line of his scar. He was small, trapped underneath a prison of stone as thunder boomed and heartless surrounded him.

"Shit..." He mumbled.

He didn't know how much time passed from the point where he collapsed to the ground, to the point where he heard a set of footsteps echoing off the concrete just ahead of him.

Axel had been heading back from his assigned night patrol, hands shoved in his pockets and hood flattening his spiked hair. He had just caught the black huddled mass curled up on the ground out of the corner of his eye and was about to ignore it until it gave an unnatural twitch at the rumbling above.

Moving closer to the bundle of robes was of his own volition, seeing as his shift was done and anything else was the next guy's problem. But the closer he got, the more he recognized little things about whatever was frozen in the middle of the street; the cloak, the tiny hands, the scuffs on the boots, the whispered whimpers.

He stopped right at the foot of the figure. Lighting struck and the figure pressed his hands tighter to his ears.

"Roxas, what are you doing out here?" No one had to tell him twice who was hidden under that hood. Just as expected, Roxas lifted his head, letting the rain slide off his rounded cheeks. For a brief moment the blondes eyes lit up, it took every ounce of his self control to keep from jumping up into Axel's arms. The ground rumbled again, another shake of thunder and his head was back down with his hands pressed even tighter against his ears.

"What's the matter with you?" Axel was down by his side in a second, his hand under Roxas's chin, trying to get him to look him in the eye again.

"I don't know. I was only looking for you." Roxas muttered under his breath. "I-I can't... move."

Axel sighed, his eyes intensely focused on the sporadic blasts of lightning shooting from the sky.

"You shouldn't have come out here in the stor-"

"I know what happened." The words spilled from Roxas's mouth before he could contain himself. Axel paused, but Roxas didn't look up. He couldn't tell whether the silence was good or bad without a facial expression.

"You know what?" Axel finally asked after the heavy pause.

"About the experiment." He stated simply. Once again, silence greeted his ears. "I want to go home..."

Roxas was trembling beneath the veiled sky, small and helpless, seemingly put under a spell he could not possibly break on his own. Axel didn't need to think about his next move; his arms enveloped around the blondes smaller body, one arm behind his back and the other under his legs so that he could hoist him off the ground. Roxas was still frozen, unable to move an inch, but he was safe. His weight pushed into Axel's chest as his head buried in the crook of his neck. The same scent that filled his mind in what seemed like a dream was there once again. Smoke and ember filled his lungs, thrilling his senses. His hands gripped the loose fabric of Axel's cloak as he sank further into the redheads arms.

Roxas was carried without a fight, even going so far as to almost fall asleep a couple times on the way back.

Axel's mind filled with possible scenarios and dialogue for when they finally reached their destination.



The first thing that met Xigbar's ears when his portal let him out into the basement was Vexen's shrill scream towards Zexion, who jumped in his seat, almost dropping a flask he was observing.

Aside from that, the lab was quiet and still. Nothing but the constant clattering of glass and the scribble of pen against paper could be heard throughout the large underbelly of the castle. Vexen stood hovering over Zexion, the supreme authority in the castles basement laboratory. Lexaeus sat directly across from them, quietly and calmly separating himself from distractions that could hinder his work.

"What's all the yelling about down here?" Xigbar stood at the end of the lab table and slid the tray of food he'd been carrying across to where Zexion and Lexaeus were conducting research. Zexion, equipped with a marker, was busy labeling several flasks, and Lexaeus took notes on various experiments the organization had been working on.

"Ask Vexen, he almost made me drop an experiment." Zexion flipped a strand of hair away from his eyes, and gave Vexen a testy look.

"Well, it certainly wouldn't compare to the damage you've caused by mislabeling every single sample I have given you thus-far." Vexen replied in a matter of fact voice.

"What?" Zexion stood up immediately, setting the current sample he had been examining down very gently. His previous look of irritation had been replaced with an uneasy look of confusion. Grabbing the test tube rack in question, Zexion let his eyes scan over the labels on every one, frantically checking and double checking what he had written on all of them.

"No, this can't be right. I wouldn't get something like this wrong." He fell back in his chair, shoving a pair of reading glasses onto his face as he began flipping feverishly through his notebook to match the labels to his carefully compiled notes.

Another notebook, Vexen's tediously compiled notebook, was plopped on top of his own. A bony finger pointed to a diagram and then to a label on one of the test tubes resting in the rack, "Wrong."

"This is impossible..." Zexion set his glasses down on his notebook and massaged the bridge of his nose. Vexen was correct. The label in Vexen's notebook was completely different from that of Zexion's label (not to mention, completely correct). As a matter of fact, after Zexion checked them over they all appeared wrong.

"If you took your work more seriously and concerned yourself less with the happenings of the past two weeks perhaps you wouldn't be nothing but dead space now. Honestly Zexion-"

"Dead space." Zexion gave a snarky reply. "I've done more for this Organization than half of the members we've recruited!"

"Easy." Lexaeus's voice came out in a demanding boom of authority. With his massive hands he took the test tube rack, taking one tube out at a time to rip the labels off before he placed the rack back in front of Zexion. "It is a fixable problem, nothing to work yourselves up about."

"Don't go so easy on him Lexaeus. Even though he is a child, he is also a scientist."

"A child!"

Xigbar himself pulled a chair up beside Zexion, digging into his plate of food, not entertaining the disgusted look on Zexion's face. "You are exactly right Vexen. He's young, give the kid a break, will ya?"

"No matter his age, this experiment is vital. Mislabeling can be detrimental to the quality of this experiment." Vexen eyed Zexion with disappointment just as Xigbar, once again, intervened.

"Hey, before you burst a blood vessel it's time for a dinner break, why don't you go get us the drinks I forgot. It'll give you both a chance to cool down."

Vexen was hesitant to leave, almost as if his absence would only cause more destruction to everything precious to him, but finally he threw his hand back and left through a portal he created.

In his wake Zexion sat as stiff as a board at the lab bench, head in his hands and a look of sheer horror on his face. He was shocked and appalled. Work was serious and, for a lack of better words, he had fucked up one of the things he considered himself best at. He distinctly remembered carefully examining the samples before labeling them. Then again, he also distinctly remembered the overwhelming energy that pulsated through his hand when Demyx touched his. He couldn't, however, remember which he was thinking about first, or at what time.

"There is something on your mind." He suddenly found a plate of food pushed in front of him and the looming presence of a much taller man.

Zexion turned his head just slightly to see Lexaeus sitting in the other chair. "It's nothing. Please don't concern yourself with it."

"Please kid, We've known ya since you were no higher than my knee" Xigbar gave a short laugh, leaning back in his chair casually about to shove a spoonful of potatoes in his mouth, he nudged Lexaeus. "Remember when he got punched in the eye by that little girl in kindergarten, so he pulled his hair in front of the bruise to hide it from everyone? A week later he decided it was the best hairstyle to ever hit Radiant Garden."

"That was a long time ago, back when we had hearts, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk about that incident anyway." Zexion cautiously pulled his stray hairs back in front of his face. He almost forgot the origin of why he styled his hair in that particular way. To be honest, he hadn't talked about or tried to recall events from his past in a long time. Granted, the thought of how flustered he got over a little girl who clearly didn't know how to show her affection for him appropriately was pretty funny to look back on, but it was something that he considered gone and not coming back.

"That's not the point." Lexaeus interjected. "There is no hiding something from the people who helped raise you as a child."

"Not to mention that Vexen might just start getting gray hairs if there is one more mishap in the lab."

"He called me a child." Zexion pushed his work aside and took the food that Lexaeus was still pushing him to eat.

"You also forget that he raised you since you were a small child, and holds you to a higher standard." As much as Xigbar hated working while on a break, he took the test tube rack from the center of the table, crumbled labels littering the space around it, and started to sort out what they actually were. "Listen, if there is something on your mind that is hindering your work, you need to sort it out before you end up screwin' things up."

"I'm fine, I can work." Zexion made a quick grab for the rack, but Xigbar pulled it away from him just as quickly.

"I ain't sayin' it again kid. Go get some air. Just a quick walk outside. Clear your head. We'll fix your mess"

"You guys are terrible." Zexion stood up hesitantly, assuming if they weren't going to leave him alone, he might as well leave for a while.

"Whatever it takes half pint." Xigbar ruffled the teenagers hair, earning nothing but a disgruntled stare.

"Fine." Zexion turned quickly and stubbornly on his heel, creating a portal close to him leading to his room to pick up an umbrella. "When I get back, I'm getting straight to work."

A/N - You know what's funny? Before Birth by sleep even came out I guessed Zexion's background. For some reason Even raising Ienzo was always just a headcanon for me. I always assumed that because they were both scientist and Zexion was so young that they were connected in some father/son way. I also always imagined Zexion with a rough past. I LOVE that birth by sleep made my headcanon actual canon :'D

I also always imagine the rest of the others (Xigbar, Lexaeus, Xaldin, ect.) playing a role in raising Ienzo, or at least being there to see him grow up. That might still sort of be just a headcanon.