Axel turned, looking at me over his shoulder. "Yeah?"
We were on that same building, looking down just as we had days earlier. Weeks, maybe. It's hard to keep track in a world that doesn't exist.
"When we were here last…you said something."
Axel looked away again, over the dark city. "Did I?"
I frown. He's avoiding the question. Does that mean my suspicions are correct?
"You made that move…that suicide technique. You said that if you'd ever use it again, you planned on it killing you."
Axel didn't answer, cocking his head to look up into the black sky, as dark as the city below.
"Your exact words were 'To protect someone with my last breath'."
"I said that?" Axel asked coolly, looking over his shoulder with a collected grin.
"Axel, who were you talking about?"
He looks away again, making me even madder. To throw your life away like that is something I couldn't ever agree with. But even worse is to pretend like it's nothing.
"Axel," I say, more firmly this time.
"I think we both know who I'm talking about." And that's all he'd say, nothing more.
"No!" Roxas screamed, echoing through the room ten times louder and ten times longer by the time it reached his ears. The chimera landed on the ground, confused at the sudden disappearance of its prey. But it wasn't stopped for long.
Roxas watched the chimera approach, slow and calculating. All thoughts of the breath that had been knocked out of him were gone, all he saw was the chimera. He felt something build up inside of him, burning in his chest. An emotion that he could feel, just because he was complete. An emotion that so many others would never know. Pain. Horror. But most of all, rage.
He moved so fast it was as if his body was acting on its own. He didn't think, he didn't plan, he just struck at anything that moved. He felt blows sting his skin, but it was nothing. Not enough to slow him down. Not enough to make him stop. Finally, with a last powerful blow, he swung both of his blades downwards and onto the chimera's skull. There was a jolt, a heartbeat, and then the chimera was on the floor, still.
By the time the others reached him, Roxas was on his ground with his face buried in his hands, kneeling before the chimera. They hurried behind him, at a loss for words.
"What happened?" Namine asked finally, searching the back of Roxas' head as if the answer was there. There wasn't an answer at first, just silence. It took them a moment in the shadows to see that Roxas' shoulders were shaking.
"Are you…crying?" Yuri asked, taking a step forwards.
It hit Riku first. "Where's Rei?" he asked shakily, beginning to understand.
"…Twice." Roxas' voice was so quiet they barely heard it. Namine knelt behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"…What?" she asked, trying to get a look at his face.
"…Twice. Twice he's saved my life, but…." There was a second of silence, and when Roxas spoke again it was a yell that echoed through the halls almost as loud as before, a yell so harsh that it tore at his throat and heart. "I can't even help him once!"
"The door, here it is," Sora said, tracing his fingers along the etchings in an ancient, dusty door that looked as if it hadn't been opened in years. "At least, I think it is. Do you see anywhere to put the treasure?"
Riku held up the three treasures in his hand. The ruby, the emerald, and the sapphire. He stared at the sapphire for a moment, silent. It was still coated in blood, despite their efforts to get it all off. The chimera had been mangled and bloody after Roxas had been through with it. Afterwards he had been a wreck…so much that Sora had to take over because Roxas wasn't going to budge. Riku sighed. He couldn't help but to feel pity…. This entire journey had started because of Roxas, yet he was the only one who wasn't going to see it end the way he wanted….
"Here," Kairi said, reaching up and grazing the stone with her fingertips. "It looks like it's been engraved to put something here."
"That must be it. C'mon," Yuri said, motioning for Riku to come over. Riku stepped forwards, brushing cobwebs and dust out of the niches for the stones.
"Does it matter which goes where?"
"Probably not," Yuri said, peering at them. "But if so, then odds are they trigger booby traps."
"Wow…pressure," Riku muttered. Finally he resorted to just putting them in the order they found them. "Let's hope that works."
They waited for a long moment, but nothing happened.
"What, no rumbling? No flash of light?" Yuri scoffed. "Didn't the designers of this place ever play video games?"
Sora pressed his hands against the door, braced his feet, and shoved against it with all of his strength. The door budged, but was too heavy for Sora to move on his own.
"Give me a hand," Sora said, forcing himself against the door again. The others lined up beside him, throwing themselves into the heavy stone. The door ground against the floor, an awful grating sound filled their ears, but they could barely hear it as they struggled just to get the door open enough to get through.
The grating slowed to a stop as they looked over, peering into the darkness that emerged.
"Is that enough?" Kairi asked. Sora just nodded, not tearing his gaze away from the darkness to look at her. He stepped forwards tentatively, following the wall with his hands as if it was a lifeline. When he stepped into the dark he felt a chill rush up him from the feet up, as if it came through the floor and through his body. He paused, but forced himself forwards again.
"Do you see anything?" Riku asked quietly, right behind him. He was almost scared to raise his voice. It was obvious nothing was inside, it was so still and silent, but something about the room made his throat clench.
Sora stepped around a corner, still following the wall. He let out a small gasp.
"What is it?" Kairi asked, hurrying forward to look around his shoulder. What she saw made her gasp as well.
Catacombs. Possibly thousands, all set into coffin-like niches carved into the wall. All filled. Every single person that has been or was a Heartless slept in this room, still as death. Yuri walked beside one of the sleeping bodies set into the wall, reaching out hesitantly. The figure was a man, who's clothes looked like he must have once lived in Twilight Town. He let off a pale blue aura, as if a ghost. This person had been real once….
"Are they dead…?" he asked, grimacing, pulling his hand away.
"I don't know," Sora said, facing one of the other bodies on the other side of the wall. Kairi stepped forwards, heading towards a banister that looked down over a large room. She let out another gasp.
"Sora…Riku…Yuri…look at this," she said, such overwhelming dismay in her voice that it was impossible not to look.
Rows and rows, thousands and thousands. Millions. Maybe even more. So far the fog took over their sight before they could even see the far wall. An unimaginable amount of sleeping souls lay before them, so many that Yuri's strength failed him and he fell to his knees.
"That many…? Have the Heartless really taken those many hearts?"
"We have to wake them up," Sora said, his voice steady and unreadable. Riku looked over at him.
"Sora, this is worse than we thought. If Heartless can cause this much damage, this really isn't going to do enough to matter for anything."
Sora whirled on him. "Then what do we do? Just leave?"
Riku stared evenly into his eyes, not daunted by Sora's rage. He recognized that look in his friend's eyes. When he saw something he couldn't prevent…something he couldn't save…. Even something as small as an injured bird on Destiny Islands, to something as large as this. "That's not what I'm saying, Sora. You know that. We'll save these people, we have no choice but to. But you know this isn't what we thought it was. If Heartless can cause this much damage in so little time, this is barely going to put a dent in their strength."
Sora looked away again, his voice returning to emotionless. "Yeah…. Yeah, I know."
"So what do we do?" Kairi asked Sora, smiling, obviously trying to raise his spirits. "We'll do anything we can to help."
Yuri rose to his feet again, nodding.
Sora sighed, thinking. Riku shot him a glance as a thought hit him.
"The Keyblade. Keyblades send hearts to Kingdom Hearts, so they should be able to bring them back, right?"
Sora looked up at him. "Really? Do you think so?"
Riku nodded. "I can't think of any other way to save these people."
"And besides, it won't hurt to try."
The four started. "Namine?" Kairi asked, whirling to face her. Namine stood before them, letting out the blue aura as the other spirits did. Roxas was a few feet away, his gaze shifting from one soul to another, his eyes expressionless. Namine gave them a smile.
"This is where souls dwell; Heartless and Nobodies. Like in the World that Never Was, we can roam as we like." She smiled again. "Now c'mon, Sora, give it a shot."
Sora stepped back, his Keyblade materializing in his hand with a burst of light. He twirled it in his hand, gave it a sharp swing, and then drove the tip towards the sky. A burst of light erupted from the tip, shooting up to the ceiling. Then it exploded like fireworks, thousands and thousands of stars pouring from the ceiling. One landed on the spirit beside them, and the soul twitched. The group started, whirling to face her. The girl's eyes flickered open, she looked around her, and sat up.
"Where…?" she murmured, looking around the cavern.
"It worked," Yuri murmured, wide eyed. They all whirled to face the many sleeping spirits, and, sure enough, they were waking slowly from sleep and rising from where they lay. The group hurried explained to them what was going on, telling them to spread the word.
"We're...dead?" Roxas heard one boy say after he had heard what Namine had to tell him. But Namine shook her head.
"No, you're like me, see?" she said gently, holding out a hand, palm out. He put his hand against hers, and their transparent hands went straight through each other. "We don't look real, do we? Not like the others over there. But we are real. We're just part of something more. See that girl over there? Together, we're as whole as everyone else. That's what you have to do. Go out and look for what makes you whole."
"Look for my real self?" the boy asked, and Namine nodded with a smile.
Real self... Roxas cringed, looking away. Below him, on the floor below, countless faces stared at each other. Confused, bewildered, horrified, dismayed. He sighed as he looked down at them. How many had people left to go to? How many of those souls had already lost every part of themselves and would wander forever?
Suddenly Roxas felt a sudden cold and a rush of air. He stiffened, chills racing through every nerve in his body. There was a rush of pale blue as a spirit stepped through him, as if oblivious to the boy standing before him. Roxas turned, glaring at the obnoxious soul.
But he didn't see a back like he expected to see. Instead he was caught by bright green eyes, gleaming with smug pride.
Roxas' breath caught in his throat, unable to even think of forming words. It was as if he had come to a complete stop, his mind and body completely frozen.
"Now, now, Roxas. It's rude to stare."
Axel brushed back a strand of bright red hair, its radiant color slightly dulled by the pale blue. He flashed Roxas a grin, arrogance etched into every feature. "What, you're surprised to see me?"
"Axel...? How can you...?"
"This is where lost souls rest. The souls of the Nobodies and Heartless." Axel laughed. "What, you thought I was lost forever, just because of a few dusks? You know I can't be taken out that easy." He nodded to something behind Roxas, the pride in his stare softening in his expression and voice. "None of us can."
Roxas turned, finding himself face to face to eleven familiar faces.
"You're all still here?" Roxas asked, looking from face to face.
"More or less," Xigbar said with a shrug and a grin.
"Our spirits have been sleeping here," Zexion said, his hand wandering to his chin as it always did when he was explaining or solving something, "waiting to be sealed with our others. Our last chance at becoming whole."
"You didn't think you'd be rid of us that easy, did you?" Axel said, ruffling Roxas' hair, just because he hated it. "We won't forget about our hearts that quickly. But this time, we're trying it Sora's way. By sealing Heartless and Nobody together."
Roxas felt a pang. "Axel... Your Heartless..."
Axel heard the tone in his voice and his arrogance dropped completely. He looked up at the other Organization members, then back down at Roxas.
"Roxas, come with me," he said, motioning for them to walk a distance away, where it was less crowded.
They stepped through the mass of spirits, back to where it was quieter and where they weren't in the middle of everything. Axel scanned over the heads of the spirits, letting out a sigh.
"I think you misunderstood me, Roxas," he said. Roxas looked up at him with a start.
"What do you...?"
But Axel cut him off. "That keychain I made. You kept it, right?"
"Yeah," Roxas said, pulling it out of his pocket. He kept that one separate from the others, not with the rest of Sora's keychains. Axel took it gingerly from his hand, studied it for a moment, then crushed it in his fist. Roxas let out a cry.
"What did you...?" he tried again. But again he was interrupted.
"You misunderstood me," Axel repeated. "When made this for you, what was it for?"
"To hold your memories?"
Axel shook his head, like a teacher trying to inform a hopeless student, putting a hand on his hip and looking down at him. "Not my memories, Roxas. Just memories. I didn't want you do dedicate your life to trying to bring me back to life. I just wanted you to remember everything, not to forget again. I wanted you to keep those memories. But instead, you almost threw your life away trying to save mine."
"And what about you? How did you die, Axel?" Roxas retorted, voice rising. "How can you justify throwing your life away?"
Axel smiled again, this time a sad smile, empty of any pride or arrogance. "I guess I can't."
That shut Roxas up.
"I can't justify it, Roxas. But...I knew you had a life before you. You had a Somebody. You could have what we all wanted."
"That doesn't mean your life isn't worth anything," Roxas said quietly, still glaring up at him. Axel laughed.
"Yeah...maybe you're right," he said, ruffling Roxas' hair again.
But this time Roxas didn't glare in protest. A thought had just hit him. "Axel...you were killed, but now you're here."
"It sounds even weirder when you say it out loud," Axel murmured almost to himself, scratching his head. But Roxas ignored his comment.
"You're here. You're still here. So that means that Rei...your Heartless...?"
Axel blinked, a look of pure shock in his eyes. "You let Sora take out my Heartless?"
Then Axel's surprise subsided, replaced by the look of regret. "Roxas...we're only here because either the Keyblade, Heartless or Nobody took us from our bodies. How did my Heartless die?"
Roxas looked away, the truth hitting him. "A chimera..."
Axel gave him a sad smile. "Not exactly a Keyblade master, is it?" Roxas shook his head, still not looking at him. Axel hurridly continued. "But that doesn't mean all hope is lost, does it? You found this place, so that means there might be somewhere out there where the other souls go to, right?"
"Right," Roxas said, forcing a smile, looking back up at the soul of his friend. He knew Axel was just saying that to make him feel better... But in a way it did. Even after Roxas had failed, Axel still wanted nothing more than to see him happy, not to see his friend sad.
"Axel...one more thing," Roxas added. "Your Heartless...he seemed really unlike you. But in his last moments...the last thing he did... He died to protect me."
Axel raised an eyebrow. "Did he now? Well then...maybe that just proves that us Heartless and Nobodies aren't as different as everyone thinks."
With half a smile Axel bent over so Roxas and he were eye to eye. "And I'm pretty sure you know that I'm not one for long goodbyes."
Roxas nodded, his gaze sliding towards the floor. "Yeah...I know."
Axel put an arm around Roxas' shoulder, bending down farther to force the boy to look him in the face. "I'm glad to know you remember me so well that you're willing to dedicate your new life to helping me out."
Roxas couldn't help but to smile. "How couldn't I, after all you've done?" he said. "Make sure you come straight to Destiny Islands once you're whole again...right?"
"Of course," Axel said, ruffling Roxas' messy hair a final time. He shot him a smile, his devilish eyes glinting once more, vivid with color. "So long," he said with a snap of a wave.
"Goodbye," Roxas murmured as Axel turned, shadowed by the remaining Organization, striding from the catacombs and out into the tower where they were lost in the mass of spirits, all disappearing into the real world.
"It's quite alright
And goodbye for now.
Just look up to the stars and believe who you are
'Cuz it's quite alright
And so long
- Sum 41