This is for those looking for intellectual enjoyment as well as an entertaining read. I hope I can provide for either. .

There is no Yaoi, although there is realistic violence and non-sexual male/male themes. This chapter is relatively safe to read, although later chapters may get slightly more mature.

A brief word of caution: This story starts out a little roughly, and I'm still trying to work out the kinks in the opening paragraphs. The flow becomes MUCH smoother after about the first page and keeps that pace throughout. .

Visit http://8-13. for our other non-fanfiction works.


As the first faint breaths of air broke through the silence, something about the atmosphere of the room seemed to change. In that moment, the temperature regulation system turned on, pumping renewed and icy freshness into the stagnant laboratory, as the corner sink suddenly started dripping onto forgotten beakers and pipettes. Up above, one of the newly installed light bulbs flickered and died, its instrumental hours of life fading into black. It was as if the entire room was greeting the new inhabitant, darkness creeping in to show a welcome as time suddenly sprung back to its flow.

The sudden change was also annoying. Those light bulbs were meant to last forever.

Regardless, however, of the reason, the unexpected twilight set the proper mood for the frankensteinien experiment. It was now to a murky gloom that the semi-naked creature first blinked and opened its eyes, staring up into the artificial dusk before coming to settle upon a ragged, half-starved Vexen.

"I know you." The creature spoke, and the scientist smirked. His experiment seemed a success, and on the first try--a rare enough occurrence for this field of study. With all of the delicate intricacies involved in the construction of any heart, it was a miracle that there had been no complications thus far. That is, if he had been the sort of person to believe in miracles.

"Of course you do. We met in the lower halls not that long ago. Don't you remember?" A single eyebrow rose on the scientist's face, carefully, testing out the waters. A slender shafted pen was held tightly in his hand, poised for action.

"Yeah. You...I fought you!" It tried to sit up, and Vexen watched as the creature's blue-green eyes widened in the shock of finding itself completely deprived of energy. Struggling, it held out for a few seconds in its weakened state, until its limbs faltered. In mere moments, his experiment was laying prone on the cold lab table, once again.

The creature--a boy, silver-haired and lean-muscled, covered in blue and red ridges and emblemed almost as if he were an artificial heartless--was a spectacular specimen, a clone comprised of superior components to its original. Vexen had never duplicated a fully intact heart before, but the mechanics of it seemed simple enough to him by now, what with as many heartless as they had grown back in Radiant Garden. If his suspicions were correct, then in copying the intruder's copying Riku's heart and body, the creature should possess a good number of Riku's memories as well. Its soul, on the other hand...

Well, that was something the scientist intended to study. Certainly the boy before him could not have a copy of the original's soul - although given how far Vexen had come in his cloning experiments, perhaps anything was possible. This was completely new territory, and it was he that had the pleasure of breaking the ground--as much pleasure as he could obtain from it, at any rate.

"Why can't I move...what have you done to me?"

The creature's eyes narrowed at Vexen, uncertain spite forming behind them. It definitely had personality, if nothing else. And it didn't seem to be lacking in any of the standard psychological functions--so far. The scientist's hand was ready to take careful notes--eager for it--yet the pen remained still, almost as if it were afraid to touch the paper and disturb the reality of the moment by condensing it to facts. Beyond all previous experiments, this one was fascinating.

Heartless had been creatures of reaction; they would respond to various stimuli in often predictable ways, and, much like chemicals forming in a test tube, the results had been quantifyable and easily recorded. Even in dealings with the psychology of human beings, the notes he took were mere qualitative extensions of his thought, and his pen would fly almost faster than his mind could compose. Yet with this...

Vexen could feel a tightening in his chest where his heart ought to be. His inconveniently persistent senses were reminding him that moments such as these should be thrilling. The experiment was a success; it was functioning and reasoning and glaring at him with all the gusto of an annoyed young man who had gone too long without whacking someone over the head. For once it was distance the situation enough to write anything down.

"I have not done anything to you to cause you not to move, nor have I any care whether or not you do. As must be evident, you are not even strapped down. The most likely cause is that you are simply out of energy, seeing as that I've not yet given you any sustenance."

"Great. So you're starving me."

"I did not say..."

"Didn't I win the fight against you?"

Vexen blinked, carefully, put off by the interruption, but curious enough to continue the line of thought and test out how far this replica's memory extended.

"Yes..." He began. "But after that, what do you remember?"

Concentration, and then worry, quickly replaced the annoyance on the boy's face. "You left, and then...nothing." He growled in frustration. " did I end up here?"

"How indeed." Vexen let the conversation trail off into silence, letting the young creature muse upon its situation and surroundings. The room had grown darker, if that were possible, and in the sudden quiet, Vexen was becoming acutely more aware of his aching, overworked muscles and his exhausted brain. This experiment had consumed him from its conception, and he remained almost blissfully unaware of how long it had been since he had slept. Days, possibly. The dozens of pages of paperwork still lay strewn about the other tables, waiting patiently for him to come organize and add them to his ever-expanding journal. The test tube he had knocked over long ago still was in pieces on the concrete floor, but not one Dusk was to be allowed in for cleaning until there was nothing for it to possibly disturb.

"...where am I?" A question finally ended the silence, pulling Vexen back from his mental offshoot. With some mild discomfort, the scientist realized that he had started to fall asleep, slumping slowly back into his chair instead of conveying the perfect posture on which he had prided himself back at Ansem's residence. "Is this still Castle Oblivion?" The boy was looking away from Vexen, quietly examining the room. "...and am I some sort of prisoner?"

"No. It's better than that." Straightening up once more, Vexen leaned forward, his clipboard clattering off his lap where it had been forgotten. The noise startled them both, but the scientist covered his surprise with a wry smirk as his creature looked back towards him. "Would you like something to drink? I was about to brew a cup of tea. There are biscuits too, if I'm not mistaken."

"I don't get it. Answer some of my questions, already!" The annoyance was back in its voice, in its eyes, and the boy looked ready to leap up and head out regardless of its current physical capability. Perhaps he would even try to rid himself of his captor, although this boy in particular was less willing to kill on purpose than that friend his original had been trailing. Riku's own experiences with the Dark seemed to have made him more careful in judging others for their supposed crimes. He had doubtlessly learned that to be in darkness didn't mean that one was against the light. Which meant he had intelligence.

Vexen stood up, took one step forward, and gazed down at the young creature from above. Carefully, he removed one slender leather glove, and set it on the table next to a ridged arm. "I think it's more rewarding if you realize for yourself."

The scientist did not consider himself a cruel man. As one of the thirteen members of the Organization, he wasn't quite sure he was even capable of it. It was for purely scientific reasons, therefore, that he decided to attempt his first experiment now on his newest creation. He wasn't yet sure, after all, how his obedience programming would work on something that was not a heartless.

"...what are you say--"

And then the replica was silenced with a sharp intake of breath as Vexen simply placed a hand on its arm. The scientist could feel the young man literally shiver beneath his fingers, and its head quickly turned away as if it were trying to distance itself as much as possible from Vexen despite its inability to move. After a moment, however, of the icy touch lingering on its bare whatever-it-was-that-passed-for-skin, the creature looked back up, its eyes completely lost to confusion.

"You're cold." He whispered. "...but that's...not...really the surprising thing." Biting his lip, the Riku-clone swallowed, his vision darting back and forth in an indecision of whether to look at the man standing next to him or away, his pride warring with his fear. By the way the boy's motions were betraying him, Vexen suspected his new creation was starting to understand where it had come from. In fact, he was certain of that. There was not one part of the clone before him that Vexen hadn't brought into being with his own hard work. His determination, his sweat, his blood...

And what the replica's brain did not comprehend...what his memories could not account for, was how his heart responded to that single moment of contact. Every cell in his body was conditioned to know the touch of its creator, even if he did not yet quite fully comprehend why. And that lack of comprehension scared him.

"Let go of me."

Vexen chortled softly underneath his breath, and took his hand away. "As you wish."

Slyly, he added: "For now."

"What, are you going to touch me often?" The boy shuddered. "I won't put up with it."

A look of great distaste found its way onto Vexen's features as his mouth twisted into a scowl. "Don't mistake me! I only meant that I will let you have your way for now, and nothing more. I have no desire for contact with you any more than you'd wish it with a moldy piece of bread." He huffed, indignant that the creature would even conceive of such a notion. "I will take samples of your blood later to be certain that it still remains correctly balanced, and I intent to perform other tests to prevent your changed heart from slipping too far into the Dark, but I will do all of that with my gloves on if you please."

His experiment didn't seem entirely sure what to make of the tirade, but Vexen noticed a bit of a smirk curling the corner's of the boy's lips. Doubtless something about it had been amusing to him. It wouldn't be the first time his notions had been laughed at, and it only made his frown deepen more.

"As for your normal routine, you may try to run if you wish but seeing as that you are irrevocably mine you will likely find that it is impossible to hide from me. Dinner will be served at eight o'clock on Basement Level One daily, but any other victuals will be up to you to scavenge from the kitchen. Beyond that you are free to roam wherever you desire, although I would suggest you avoid the upper levels whenever you can as they tend to be a bit floral. Someone has been redecorating." Another scowl, although Vexen refused to give such a certain someone enough thought to even allow a name.

"I'm not yours."

Was the creature's only, stubborn reply.

"Of course you are." Eyes narrowed in equal stubborn-ness. "I made you."

"Yeah, well your mother made you, and I don't see you letting her stick needles where they aren't wanted."

Vexen, for once, found himself at a loss for words.

"...I'll find your tomorrow morning at ten." He spoke, finally, and turned away from the young man.

"If you want any of your energy back, I suggest you get a good night's sleep and avoid trying anything stupid."

There was nothing more to add, and so, without further flourish, Vexen headed for the door, leaving the boy to come to his own conclusions.

Once he felt the familiar coolness of his chambers, the scientist allowed himself to finally relax. The more that he learned about his replica, the more that one pleasant fact about his previous heartless experiments was becoming evidently clear: Heartless might have been boringly instinctive...but at least they didn't talk back.


Riku didn't try to run that first night, despite discomfort, hunger, sleeplessness, and a general unrelenting boredom. But the reasoning behind his staying was not due to comfort, by any means, but because there were still too many questions left unanswered. If he ran now, who knew when those would come back into play. The almost-gaunt, hollow-eyed man who had greeted him on awaking had frightened him, amused him, and piqued his curiosity beyond levels it was supposed to go to, but he had not satisfied him with any solution worth risking an escape for.

That was the most annoying part of all.

Mostly because he didn', he couldn't believe the cold scientist's claims. Or, at least, what he thought the scientist was claiming.

But he couldn't forget the crazy ideas that had entered into his mind at the man's touch, either. Riku shuddered.

It was humiliating enough to be captured, to be laid out on a bare metal table, and to have to listen to some lunatic with strange ulterior motives going on about concepts that weren't fully explained, but then to suddenly find himself being touched, and, what's worse...being betrayed by his body into wanting more of that touch...

Riku growled in frustration, and went to roll over on his side. He felt strange, and the wretched taste of Darkness had been souring his senses since awakening. It was everywhere in the room, it seemed, moving around him and moving through him and calling out to him...

But he was used to ignoring it, and now should have been no different. Curling his fingers, he moved slowly to bring an arm up underneath his head, frustrated at how even this simple of a motion sent shuddering protests up and down his body, like he had never moved before.

Yet the flash of red as his hand passed by in the dark quickly surpassed the discomfort in his mind, and he frowned.

No...damn this. It can't be...why would I be able to stay like this so long...?

His wiggling fingers in front of his own face confirmed it, however. Riku was definitely in the dark half of his physical self, and didn't seem about to switch back anytime soon. He tried to move his toes only to encounter the familiar heavy weight of ridged boots. Maybe if he concentrated, he could switch back...maybe...

But as soon as Riku closed his eyes, it was apparent how drained he actually was. Sleep was clawing at him like a ravenous animal, dragging at his eyelids and roaring in his head. If he was this lacking in energy, then he should have dropped out of his dark form long ago...

Except, suddenly, he was waking to the moist smell of orange and ginger.

In the corner of the room, his captor had taken residence at a half-cleared laboratory table, heating up a pot of water on a Bunsen burner while he appeared to write and sip a cup of tea. The dim murkiness that had been present earlier had been replaced by a suitable amount of lighting from a brand new bulb, but that was the only change in atmosphere. Riku was still laying on the table...and he was freezing.

Desperately trying not to let his teeth chatter, he slowly gathered the strength to sit up. His rest had given him a very small amount of renewed strength, although it disturbed him how deeply he must have been sleeping to have missed the scientist coming in and setting up.

And that smell...

His mouth was watering. It was almost unbearable, how hungry he found himself, and it was hard not to use what precious energy he had in leaping up and aiming for the unusual pastry sort of dish the man was nibbling on.

"I see you're awake. Did you sleep well?" With an uninterested glance, Riku's captor pulled out another teacup and plate and set them on the other side of the small lab table before he went back to his job.

"No." The pen in the scientist's hand kept scribbling away despite it all, not stopping for a single bite of breakfast nor a single uttered word. "It seems you're a pretty terrible host." At least the man could have given up a blanket.

"You're an experiment, not a guest."

"I'm not either." Riku started to protest, but was neatly cut off by a sharp laugh from the platinum-blonde.

"...if I really must show you again, I shall. But I certainly don't believe that is necessary. You are not Riku. In fact, if you insist, after breakfast I will show him to you. Now, do come have a seat. I brought you a croissant."

No matter how much he wanted to stay put just to spite his captor, Riku found his body moving almost of its own accord. He couldn't deny that he was starving, and the offer of food was enough to dispel any initial reservations. "Just what do you want from me, anyhow?"

He sat across the table from the man, watching as the Bunsen burner was turned off and steaming warm water was poured into a teacup. With an unceremonious plop, a small cloth bag was dropped into the liquid, and it was passed over along with what passed for an edible breakfast. Riku wasted no time in tearing the food apart.

"I plan on using you to the fullest of your abilities."

"Why?" The simple question was almost forgotten in mid-thought as he finished his croissant and looked around for another. It had been cold and slightly stale, but as far as Riku was concerned, after days of tasting little but Darkness, it was some strange small slice of heaven. Unfortunately, he felt no warmer, and the frozen memory of the metal lab table was still plaguing the muscles on his back.

"Don't you want to find out everything you're capable of?"

The scientist stirred his tea, and paused in writing for a moment to hear the answer.

Riku did not like the sudden corner he was backed into, however. It wasn't up to this mad-jailer to decide his fate. That was his job, and his alone.

"Yeah. I do. In my own way."

"Suit yourself" The response was duly recorded by the scientist, before the next stinger fell. "I can tell you're still refusing to let go of that ridiculous past your heart remembers."

Riku found himself bristling. "My past is not ridiculous! Yeah, I made a lot of mistakes, but that's not stopping me from trying to do the right thing. I'll make amends for what I caused..."

"You don't have to. You're not Riku."

"YES. I AM." His eyes narrowed, and, fueled by croissant, he rose from his seat. "My memories are Riku, my body is Riku...if I decide that I'm Riku, if that is the name that I chose, then I am. No matter what you say."

"Oh, so you plan to track down Sora, and stand before him like that?"

Suddenly, Riku found his anger cooled off, and he collapsed quietly back into his seat. Sora...

Sora wouldn't understand why he was back in this form. Sora...wouldn't trust him, in this form.

Across the table, the scientist's pen was once again flying across the paper. His reaction had become just another portion in the string of information he was sure was being written about him. He hated feeling like an object...hated feeling like a tool that never had a choice...

"I don't understand why you're doing this to yourself. You're only going to make it harder on that heart of yours. It's still susceptible until it's had long enough to adjust to its new conditions. If you worry yourself too much, it's going to kill you. That would be an extreme annoyance for me."

"Might make it a bad day for me, too. Not that you care." Riku rolled his eyes, and sat back down in his chair, reaching for the tea that had been steeping long enough. It felt so be sitting across from an enemy, sharing tea and pastries.

But the cup was warm. The first small bit of pleasure he had felt since...

Well, he didn't want to think about the last thing that had felt nice. The scientist's unwelcome touch had been a fluke, anyhow. Riku had been tired, and his body had been exhausted enough to betray him. That was all.

Nonetheless, the scientist carried on, almost oblivious to Riku's sigh of resignation.

"I don't care, but not for the same reasons you would think of." His captor looked almost amused at him, again, though it was the only emotion he seemed to show. Amusement, or disdain, or...nothing. It was like the guy didn't have any expressions at all, really. Fighting him had been the same way: when he hid behind that shield of his, Riku had found it difficult to gauge what the next move was going to be. The same unreadability was making conversation hell on him, now.

"You're not giving me a lot of credit."

"If you're my tool, what does it matter what credit you receive?"

"Having more information would extend my potential, wouldn't it? So if you intend to 'use me to my full abilities,' you'd want me to be as strong and smart as possible, right?" Riku leaned back into his chair, crossing his arms and observing the man right back even as he knew he was being observed. "The best way to react to a situation is to predict the outcome by knowing all the factors. In other words, stop hiding stuff from me if you expect me to listen to you."

Unexpectedly, his captor looked up from his paper and startling green eyes fixed intrusively on Riku. For a moment, something flashed within his memory. That same stare...that same face, frozen in concentration, watching him, prodding him, pulling him together from hundreds of abstract pieces through science and magic and sheer force of will.

"So you're more than just some mindless warrior who gave himself over to Darkness, aren't you now?" The man's voice came out in a dangerous whisper, full of wariness and curiosity. And all through it, those eyes kept holding him there, like they were stripping his thoughts open with cold precision, searching out the exact sequences they knew could bring Riku to his knees...

Which was something that would not be allowed. Too many times had he been forced into submission by someone more someone of immense power wanting to use him. There would not be another.

Hell, he was starting to get used to the feeling.

Except that, for some reason, there was something more to the scientist's gaze than the initial dominating sneer, something that warranted notice. He wasn't simply trying to obtain Riku's wanted Riku's cooperation. Utterly.

"...I am me. Mindless warrior or not. Will you answer my questions yet, Vexen?"

" I see you remember my name." The scientist pondered, leaning back and finally looking away. Riku noticed the vaguest sign of age creeping into the man's face as his frown returned. There were dark circles underneath his eyes, as if the sleep he had gotten the night before had not satisfied him. His hair was hanging limply, clean but lifeless, as if it had seen better days, and better shampoo. But despite all the hints that this man was starting to give in to whatever tired fate he had been given, his voice refused to suggest anything but a strong, cocky, learned tone, with the slightest hint of an accent. "I suppose so. But only..." His words stalled, weightily, conveying importance through the immense silence between each one. "If you believe me."


Riku wasn't certain what to make of that. Or if he should trust this man who seemed ready to break beneath the weight of the world but also ready to step forward and seize it.

"When you're ready, I'll explain whatever you'd like. But tell me this, boy. Say that you stupidly assume you are the only Riku. If this is so, you will need my help to return to your normal form. And if you aren't the only Riku..." His voice trailed off. " Then what happens when you meet your true form?"

Vexen stood, not expecting an answer, and cleared away the remaining dishes, discarding them into the sink.

"...Come. I'll take a little time to show you around."

Still holding the warm teacup between his cold fingers, Riku watched the man head for the doorway. If he was right...if there really was another Riku...then which one of them was real? Did it mean he'd have to forfeit any claims on what remained of the life he had been desperately fighting for? Would Sora then be meant for the other Riku to find and keep watch over like the old days? Would he ever even see Kairi again? The longer he thought on it, the more questions it raised...and there were already more than he could expect Vexen to answer.

The man was standing in the doorway, waiting for him.

It wasn't long afterwards that he followed.


It amazed Vexen, really, that his clone had not yet tried to escape from him. Maybe the Riku-copy believed the scientist's threat that he'd be easily tracked. Likely, there was another reason, and Vexen spent his days trying to work it out. He had countless notes about this experiment, but no empirical data since the boy had not yet given in to allowing blood samples to be taken. Vexen was still a patient man, however, and he bided his time. When the scientist had finally shown the real Riku fighting his way up the basement on the view screen, the copy had simply turned, and walked away.

The truth might hurt, but only to one who still had a heart to be wounded. Vexen continued to pay attention, and waited for the replica to finally understand. It belonged to Vexen, and the sooner it accepted that, the sooner the real experiments could begin. There would only be another two days before the trial period was past, and he could be certain that the creature was strong enough to start being modified without worry of the rejection of its Darkness.

Yet this time, when he stepped into the pitch-black lab and moved to turn on the lights, he realized that something was amiss. The switch refused to activate at his incessant flipping, and the air seemed thicker than it ought to be. The stark lighting from the halls made barely any headway into the darkness, and for a moment the shadows inside almost seemed like they had pale yellow eyes.

"Off with you!" Taking no chances, Vexen hissed at them, moving into his lab and feeling ice instinctively forming at his fingertips. The eyes seemed to take the hint, cringing from the temperature and the incoming light, and faded into nothing.

"Stay in the lower floors where you belong."

It would take an idiot to miss what they were after. There were few creatures at the moment in Castle Oblivion that had hearts, and only one that rested within Vexen's lab. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness, but he tried the light switch again just to be sure. Still nothing. Deeper within the room came his clone's steady breathing--he was safe, although Vexen had known there was nothing to fear.

Riku's heart essentially already controlled the lesser denizens of the Darkness. His dopleganger was no different.

But then the breathing faltered, and a soft whimper took its place, pained and short.

Vexen did not wait to hear more. Striding through the darkness, he found himself quickly at the metal slab the replica had come to occupy, his basic analysis equipment at his side. The boy lay there where he had been the night before, but now he seemed in distress, curled up tightly into a ball with his teeth clenched.

"Go away." He hissed at Vexen. "I'm not going to let you humiliate me by seeing me like this."

The boy's protests, however, were swiftly broken by a rough cry of pain, and he curled tighter in upon himself. The Darkness gathered around him in thick waves, keeping the light from the door far at bay and circling the young man like carrion birds waiting for the feast. There had only been one other man he had ever seen who the Darkness responded so consciously to, and that man had soon after lost his heart and stolen their master's name.

"As if you'd have any idea what is best for you." The scientist's eyes narrowed, and he reached through the Darkness, parting it with a gloved hand to get to the boy. If he couldn't get a little light, determining what the problem was would be quite difficult.

"What do you care...?! You could just make another one if I broke..."

"Shut up and be still. That would be a lot of work. It will be easier to patch you up..." His glove brushed against rigid flesh, and Vexen realized he felt...nothing. Nothing at all. Because he was wearing a damned glove. Pulling it off, he reached for the heart monitor, and shoved it against the boy's chest.

"Ha...ha...I get it. Too much of an inconvenience to you, and that's all my life is worth. Well, maybe I'd rather die than be your slave or guinea pig."

The monitor beeped in protest, and Vexen's worst concerns blossomed into life.

The extra Darkness he had forced into the replica's heart at its creation was eating away at him. Bit by bit it was consuming the young man. Normal tolerances had already been surpassed, and even if his heart was capable of containing that much Darkness, the boy could still fade if his will was not strong enough. Losing a perfect experiment, in Vexen's present state, would be a blow to his pride that he could not handle -- not in addition to the wound it took at being assigned here...not with everything else in Castle Oblivion that was already going wrong.

The Replica himself had to want his will intact, or it wouldn't just be an experiment that the next morning would find broken.

"It's so cold in here, Vexen." Another whimper, as the boy's voice broke through the scientist's worry. "Is my life always going to be this way? I've got to know. Vexen, you have to tell me: What's the point of living's always in the cold, and the dark? Always alone? That Riku...he doesn't know how lucky he really is, to get to keep living for his friends...him and his stupid, stupid friends. The only plus side here on this freezing table is that Ansem is finally leaving me alone. HA. Alone. Well, he can leave me alone in the next life, too. I wonder if it will be this cold..."

He was rambling, now, mumbling more and more about cold and friends and heartless and islands and probably every little secret that Riku's subconscious would want to offload if it thought it was going to die. Ironic that it wasn't even Riku spilling all of Riku's darkest secrets to the man that he likely felt no emotion towards except hate. "...RRiku."

Vexen could literally feel the hurt shudder of the boy in the darkness as he uttered that name. He had never called his experiment by name before. He had never thought to give him a name. "I'm not Riku!"

"RRiku, listen to me." Vexen spoke, softly, and gentler than he ever had in anyone's presence before. Calling him by a name, once more. He set the useless diagnostic monitor down, and reached to feel RRiku's forehead.

"I don't want to listen to anything...anymore. It's calling...and it promises to be gentle, and it promises to be warm. I just...want to be warm..." He whimpered again, his eyes screwed shut...

And suddenly gasped as Vexen's one ungloved hand found its target. The boy was freezing, and shivering...looking suddenly like a lost child trying to find its place in the world and failing. But to his touch, Rriku's eyes opened, and stared up at him, shocked even through all the pain he must have been experiencing.

"...somehow...I thought you'd be freezing, too."

"What rubbish." Vexen whispered, quietly removing his coat and wrapping it around the small, shivering form. "I'm as warm as any living being. It just happens that I can tolerate the cold." RRiku winced as the coat surrounded him, closing his eyes tightly, and then shivered once more, and lay eerily still. Too still.

Backing off in the remembrance of dread, Vexen got the horrid impression that he had somehow just killed the boy, until blue-green eyes blinked back open, and looked quietly up at him.

"...who am I. Really. If I'm not Riku, then...why do I have to have his memories? Why give me back his name?"

Vexen sighed, softly, and turned away.

He had never had to deal with this before...

Children were a whole new line of work, even if this RRiku was not really a child. But test tubes never asked questions, never demanded to know answers that the wisest men had sought after for their entire lives and failed to find.

Suddenly, with that thought in his grasp, Vexen's mind stirred.

He had never had to deal with this, it was true. Which meant he had never faced such a challenge. He never had been given such a wonderful opportunity to prove that his sciences could overcome even the greatest odds...that his brain truly was equal to any task. He could not back down, now. Especially when he already had the answers.

"That one is easy, RRiku. If I didn't give you his memories, then you'd always be learning from his same mistakes. Only through the eyes that you have now can you change your life for the better. Just because these memories are not yours, does not make yours any less valid. Take his name get the chance to be what he always wanted to be. You have the power to start over, even if it means you have to change what you thought you should be doing. And, if I may say so, you're getting the better half of the bargain."

"...who would want to chase after that stupid Sora, anyhow."

The replica suddenly laughed: a sharp, brittle, almost wavering sound.

"Then what do you want to do, RRiku?"

"I want to..." The boy pulled the coat closer around him, putting up the hood and hiding within the thick Darkness that was still surrounding him. It had changed, so subtly, from a desperate creature ready to feast into a nurturing companion intent only to obey. "I want to find out what I want. I want to define...what is me." The boy screwed his eyes shut again, and let what was left of the laughter out in a softer, quietly accepting tone. He was pulling his fate back into his hands, and he wasn't about to let go now.

"I can't let you win, after all. And no way am I going to let the Darkness take me! Why should I be afraid of it..."

He trailed off, and Vexen wanted nothing more than to sigh in relief.

No matter what the replica said, he had just won. His experiment hadn't succumbed to oblivion, he wasn't left a pathetic failure of a man, and suddenly, he had a challenge worthy of his time.

"You shouldn't, because you're better than that. You're more worthy of RRiku than the one who currently bears that name. Maybe you should take it back."

"You made me stronger, didn't you? So, you better show me how to use that strength, alright? I want to win against him. I'm going to prove my right to exist. This time, I'm not going to let anything stand in my way. Not Ansem, not any silly bonds like friendship. So don't hold back. I want to know everything, because...then...I can decide what I like to do."

"Your soul is your own, RRiku." Vexen retreated a ways, the cold air on his skin reminding him that his jacket was no longer comfortably shielding him. Still, after all that, the boy deserved a blanket in reward, and if his coat was all he had to give then so be it. "All it needed was a name."


It suddenly had become a game to stalk what RRriku liked to think of as the 'Real Thing.' He still remembered very clearly how he had fought his way up from the first few levels, and what Ansem had said to him about the Darkness, and about his heart. Even Maleficent's words still haunted him. But now he could watch from afar the way that his old self stumbled onwards in desperation and pursuit, fighting dangerously for control of his heart even as fear continued to grip him. Hell, he could sip tea and laugh remembering that not so very long ago, that had been him.

Other memories did not hold so well, however, when his heart simply didn't care anymore. He let thoughts of returning to the island slip from his mind, and dropped thinking about silly ideals of friendships that only held some sort of obligation, or some weary promise. Why should he bother to care, after all? It wasn't him that Sora wanted to laugh and run and rough-house on the beach with. It wasn't him that Kairi wanted to see back home.

The one thing, perhaps, he didn't forget about was the Darkness. He remembered how dependant he had been on it, when he first gave in to its alluring call. He also remembered how it felt to be consumed by it, to be wrapped up in it, to be in full command one moment and betrayed the next...

But it did not cause him fear.

Instead, it became a newfound drive for him. The Darkness could chose to abandon him, or try to devour him, but when he was at his strongest it never failed to listen to him. Without a doubt, if he could surpass the real Riku, he would have no reason to fear the Darkness, because it would mean his will was strong enough to overpower any challenge. He would be the one who had the right to exist.

It really didn't matter what became of the real Riku, then. He certainly didn't entertain any notions of taking Riku's life back as his own, because, honestly, it would be too ungratifying to track down Sora and return to what was normal and boring. It wasn't as if he found any lust for adventure like his old self had, back on the island, but he was driven by curiosity, nonetheless. His body and heart might have been roughly the same as Riku's, but he had his own soul. He was sure of it. And his soul had its own desires and its own fears and its own destiny. He wanted to know everything, to start out with. To formulate his own experiences and make his own new memories to replace the false ones he had inside. And then, after that, who knew. Maybe by then he'd know what he wanted to do with his life.

"Come here, RRiku. I want to take a blood sample."

Vexen had refused him breakfast that morning to get accurate readings, but in recompense had handed over a pillow to accompany the dark mass that used to be a coat. Having been unable to locate any extra blankets, Vexen had merely narrowed his eyes in thought, let the situation be, and shown up promptly the next morning in a new garment of the same caliber.

Strangely enough, RRiku had no protests about his makeshift bed. It wasn't comfortable, but the scientist at least had allowed the heat to be turned on briefly in his isolated laboratory, and so the worst he experienced was a mild soreness in whatever muscles he was unlucky enough to turn onto. The coat...was almost a different matter. RRiku struggled back and forth about it, half wanting to refuse it outright and half wanting to sleep on it, and then had surprised himself entirely by curling up in it unconsciously every evening. His body continued to betray him at every turn, when he least expected it, but if the faint traces of Vexen's scent across worn leather were going to help him sleep better in his harsh environment, then there was nothing that could be done.

So it was that when a Dusk had finally appeared with a real blanket, RRiku had refused. He was in this more deeply than even he had realized, until trying to let the garment go and failing. There would be no denying that he was Vexen's, now. Not without leaving the castle.

And that time would come, soon enough.

After he challenged the real Riku, and after he won, then he'd be off faster than a greased cat on a marble slide.

But while he could, he was going to milk the scientist for every last advantage he could get.

"You can take a blood sample, if you let me fight you this afternoon."

Vexen was quick to protest. "You're the experiment, and I'm the scientist. We shouldn't be making bargains. You should be standing still and I should be injecting things into you and writing long paragraphs about the particular way you squirm."

But RRiku was already learning how to push and pull. "How about writing paragraphs about whether I last as long in a fight as the Real Thing does. You still haven't gotten to test my stamina..." The scientist had particular ways he liked doing things, and a particular order in which his procedures should take place. However, RRiku had noticed that he didn't like having to force his subject into obeying, and that he craved a good debate now and then.

"You come here, and do exactly as I say for the next hour with no protest, and I'll fight with you once you've recovered." Vexen smirked. "But then you're going to let me poke and prod you later if your stamina is not up to par. Fair enough?"

And just like that, the scientist had provided him with another challenge.

"If I'm really good, do I get a bed-time story, too?"

"Only if I don't have to read it to you. You are literate at least, aren't you? One can never tell what comes out of those barbaric worlds these days..."

"I was kidding, Vexen. But I'd like to see what's in that journal you keep writing about me."

"That will have to wait until you win." Vexen seemed smug, certain of his own abilities, tapping his fingers on the table while he waited for RRiku to finalize their routine. Where he got the extra energy to also be impatiently tapping his foot, RRiku wasn't certain...but then again, the scientist did seem younger when he thought he was gaining the upper hand.

"Then you'd better get ready, old man. I want to see those journals tonight."

"Only if hell freezes over."

"Sometimes, Vexen, I wonder if that isn't exactly what you intend to do."

"If I have a notebook when I get to hell, you can be the first to see my thesis about improving its conditions."

"Guess then I'd better learn how to read."

The look on Vexen's face was more than worth the joke.

"Kidding, Vexen. I'm kidding."


"You haven't reported in to me in days." An overly gentle, deceptively melodic voice greeted Vexen as the scientist stepped, coatless and with a towel around his head, out of the washroom. "What have you been doing?"

Marluxia was waiting, smugly lounging in defiance of the uncomfortable wooden chair he sat in, idly twirling a stray strand of hair around a finger while he scrutinized the clean scientist. His gaze was enough to make the hairs on Vexen's damp neck stand straight on end, and, added to the insult of his personal chambers being unexpectedly breached, caused him to falter in response.

"Gathering data. As it is my job to do."

"Your job is whatever I say it is, Number Four." The flowery leader of Castle Oblivion's small team purred out the words, a smile resting on his face as if nothing was amiss. It was certain that Marluxia enjoyed calling Vexen by his number, lording over the fact that it had been reduced to nothing more than a meaningless numeral away from the World that Never Was. At best, the most that his treasured 'Four' could stand for, here, was a vague chronological placement of when he had lost his heart. After Xaldin, but before Lexaeus.

And certainly far before Marluxia.

"I might have been assigned to this castle, and you might have been assigned to oversee it, but that does not imply that I have to respect you or that I am subject to your beck and call any hour of the day. Now, if you would please remove yourself..."

Vexen headed for his closet, glad that he had never been the type to wander his rooms in only underwear. Being shirtless around anyone was unacceptable, and even if this was the second time that misfortune had befallen him this week, being pantsless would have warranted a swift removal of any intruder. Commander or not.

"Perhaps you do not believe you're one of my valuable subjects, but you have already acknowledged that this castle does belong to me, haven't you?" That plastered smile was still there, on the outside seeming for all the world to be friendly, but beneath embodying more of a fly-trap in wait. The faintest tendrils of some oddly-scented perfume were permeating through Vexen's room as far as his closet, where he was quickly clothing himself in his robe's familiar weight. Without meaning to, he sneezed. It would take days to air out the intrusive scent.

"Yes, yes, whatever you say, Marluxia. And you're implying...?"

He was fumbling with the zipper, annoyed, trying to fit the nub into the pull and blatantly not caring one whiff about anything Marluxia was saying. Whatever his point was, it had better be made quickly so that Vexen could get back to his work.

"That, technically, this is my room, seeing as it is in my castle. Although I did notice the change in its ambiance. Now It actually seems warm enough in here now for living things to survive."

"If I find one blossom, Number Eleven, heaven help it."

"My, my, Vexen, you wouldn't hurt an innocent flower, now would you? I know you have no heart but that doesn't mean you have to be cruel, you know."

Marluxia was enjoying this bantering, damn him. Vexen could see it in the subtle way his eyes were lighting up as he watched his prey moving around, in the way that his attentive finger kept right on twirling through his hair like vines curling up a windowsill. Perhaps he got his daily sustenance from making others feel inferior to himself. The scientist wondered for a moment if enjoyment should even be possible, but if Marluxia wasn't having a lovely jaunt at Vexen's expense then he was at least putting up a good show of one.

Finally feeling the zipper slide into place, Vexen sealed his jacket with a quick, jerking motion, and spared an unamused glance back to Castle Oblivion's keeper. "What is it you want from me, Marluxia?" Now that he was less exposed, his old confidence was slinking back. There was something about Marluxia he didn't trust, and, no matter what his orders from the real Superior had been, the real Superior wasn't standing here right now in this situation. Vexen would follow orders if he must, but this flowery warrior was going to explain himself, first.

"Surely you've noticed our quarry's presence in the castle. Since Sora is what we are supposed to be focusing on, I'm going to have daily meetings to monitor his progress. Zexion and Lexaeus are exempt, since I have put them in charge of the basement levels., Number Four, are not. I expect to see you this afternoon just before you take your break for tea. And please, Vexen...don't make me come looking for you."

"I'm quite well aware of the consequences." Vexen glared, and motioned towards the door. "Now out."

"If you were aware, you wouldn't be speaking so impolitely to me." But Marluxia stood, and glided slowly back to the entrance, smiling all the way. "After all, we do have the same goals, don't we? I think once you realize your place with us, then we'll get along splendidly."

"We shall see, Number Eleven."

The door closed behind the intruder, and Vexen was left, finally, alone.


RRiku sank into a corner in an unoccupied hallway of Castle Oblivion's basement, trying desperately to catch his breath. Underneath the dark skin of his chest, his heart was beating furiously, and he could still feel the scrapes and small slices up and down his arms, his legs, his torso, where the real Riku had broken through his guard. He had survived, and he had even managed to keep his pride in not running away, but his brain was still persistent in reminding him that a defeat was a defeat, no matter how well he managed to retreat from it.

He knew he should return to the lab, report in to Vexen, and let himself be patched up, especially since the state of his heart remained so uncertain. Yet despite the fact that the scientist had claimed RRiku's body ought to be stable from now on, that RRiku had passed the waiting period and was strong enough to face whatever might pursue him, the young replica still didn't trust his own condition. It had wounded his pride too much, laying on that cold table in the Darkness, feeling it eating away at him like a fire made out of ice.

So why was he in this wretched state, now?

Wasn't he supposed to be stronger than the original? Hadn't Vexen promised him that he would be better, faster, and more aware of his surroundings?

It was the Darkness alone that had saved him just now from that killing intent in the real Riku's eyes. To the Real Thing, RRiku didn't deserve to exist. He probably would give more thought to squashing an insect than he seemed to give towards disposing of his double.

Leaning up against the wall, RRiku pulled his knees up to his chest, and rested his chin upon them. Words he remembered the Darkness uttering...words Ansem had spoken to the Real Thing...were drifting back to him now, tormenting him. A weakling like you couldn't even defeat Sora, and you had Darkness on your side.

And now all the Darkness he could muster didn't begin to stop Riku.

He was at the bottom of the food chain--the last rung of the ladder. There was no way he was going to return back to the labs like this. Not until he had calmed down a little.

He was still new, after all. And he had been taking it easy, to make sure his heart was safe. All he had to do was just give it a little more time, and a lot more effort, and he would be able to defeat Riku for sure.

"Hey. Hey there. Hey, you."

RRiku looked up, suddenly, startled to hear a voice interrupting his internal musings. One of the black-coated Organization members was standing there, one slender eyebrow raised, staring down at him with both hands on his hips.

"I haven't seen a heartless like you before." The man nudged him with a leather boot, and tilted his head. "How'd you get in?"

"Through a test-tube."

RRiku wasn't sure what to think, or how much Vexen had told the others about him, and at this point he didn't really care to know. Whatever Organization XIII was planning, in RRiku's own plans, they mattered little. Once he had all the power that he needed...once he had enough strength to prove to that unfeeling Real Thing that he did have a right to exist, then the Organizers could do whatever they damned well pleased, without him as their pawn.

"...A test-tube..." A long-fingered hand was run through alizarin-hued hair as the man before him pondered the next move. "So you're Vexen's."

"Vexen made me. From Riku's data. But I'm my own."

To that, there was only an amused snort.

"Vexen wouldn't create anything he couldn't control. Though I've never seen a creature like you before. What's your name?"


"Hm. I'm Axel." The spindly man offered an arm up, and RRiku suddenly found himself back on his feet. "Don't forget it or anything." They both glanced off, an awkward silence forming between them. "So, was nice to meet you, there, little replica. Oh, hey, is he around, anywhere?"

It was getting hard to tell exactly who this Axel was referring to. Maybe if he would stop wiggling around for a moment...

His hands had gone from his hips to his hair to RRiku and now were crossed in front of his chest as he glanced about. "Or are you trying to run away?"

"I don't run. Vexen doesn't scare me."

"Well, then, that makes two of us." Axel smirked. "If you're not running, what are you doing down here?"


Having no reason to give a complete answer, RRiku said nothing more.

"Hookaay, well, you sure are a cheerful one." The man's damned hands were back in motion, spread out lightly to the sides of him as if to say 'I surrender.' "Drop me a line if you ever, you know, feel like being interesting." Axel started to turn, leaving RRiku unable to figure out what to make of him, but then paused and glanced back over his shoulder. "Okay, so maybe you /i are /i interesting. Where did you get all those cuts from?"

RRiku could only wince at the memory of it.

"From a fight I didn't win. There, are you happy?"

"What, happy? Of course not." Axel started laughing. "It's just not possible. But I am curious."

"You must be really damned bored, then."

"I haven't listened to anyone that still had the luxury of emotions in a while."

That statement puzzled RRiku, but he only shook his head. "Why not?"

Both of Axel's eyebrows raised, and he started walking down the hallway, beckoning the boy to follow. "You mean to tell me that even though you're Vexen's playtoy, he hasn't told you?"

"I'm not a playtoy." RRiku glared, but followed. "And what hasn't he told me?"

"All of us black-coats...we don't have hearts. Lost them a while ago, along with all of our emotions. No excitement, no happiness, no love...but no fear, or anger, or hatred, either. We're not living...we're just existing. Kind of like you. And we don't really deserve to do that, either."

"You haven't got a there is nothing to get in your way."

His body was aching in protest as they moved along towards the far end of the hall, where one of the large white doors was waiting. "But what's to stimulate you into doing anything, then? Where do you get your motivation if you have no emotion?"

"You'd be better off asking Vexen this."

"Vexen doesn't talk about himself to me."

"Really? Because he talks everyone else's ears off." Axel scratched his chin thoughtfully. "But I suppose you're right. He's normally talking about his experiments or his theories. Not about what he's feeling or thinks he should be feeling. He'd probably be a lot more fun, if he did."

"But you don't care one way or the other."

"No, not really. I can't!" Axel smirked. "So what about you. Why are you still squeaking by? If you're a copy of someone, what's the point?"

"The point is that I'm already alive, so I might as well keep living."

"You think it is as easy as that, hm? Well, I'm not going to let it be me to tell you otherwise."

He stopped, then, in front of the door, and slid both of his hands in his pockets, staring up at it boredly.

"If it's all the same to you, I'm going to prove my right to live." RRiku had avoided going through the large doors in his time at Castle Oblivion, but it was mostly because he couldn't get them open. Without the cards that his old self had been provided, those ways were shut, and he had been forced into using the Darkness. But that mode of travel was easier, anyhow.

"That's pretty rich, kid. Did you ever stop to think that, just maybe, you don't have a right to live?"

The question stumped RRiku for a moment, and he looked away from the door back to Axel.

"You're sort of like us. Not entirely light, and not entirely dark, and definitely not whole. You can't be your own person, because all the parts of you belong to someone else. Your heart belongs to Riku, and your body, like it or not, is probably wired by Vexen. The only thing you really have left is your soul, and even it is using a borrowed name." The man removed one hand from his pocket, rubbing the back of his head with it. "Guess that makes you worse off than us. We barely exist, and we're using you. Guess you had better hurry up and prove that you've got a life, before someone decides to take it."

RRiku suddenly found a small deck of cards being offered to him, and he looked up in surprise to Axel's smirk.

"'re giving these to me?"

"No. I'm letting you borrow them. Bring 'em back to me sometime. When you're strong enough. And then I'll tell you if you're ready to be real."

And with that, Axel stalked off, waving over his shoulder.

"Seems you need all the help you can get."


Vexen had watched RRiku leave early that afternoon without a word, knowing the intent of the departure. In a few hours, he would be have a great deal more data on the nature of the heart and how increased exposure to Darkness effected its field performance. He set his viewing monitor to record, and backed away. It would warn him immediately if RRiku was in danger, so that he could retrieve his experiment before irrevocably Losing something he might not be able to reproduce.

And that was all the preparation that he had time for, because, as the 'Lord' of Castle Oblivion had demanded, he was to report for a meeting. Although Vexen wasn't particularly thrilled at the prospect of sitting through some boring set of instructions or scheme bent on capturing a Keyblade bearer, he wasn't ready for any outright mutiny just yet. Not until his own collateral was secure.

If RRiku could win his fight this day, then Vexen would have many, many more uses for him, indeed. A young warrior of Darkness who, under the right circumstances, also proffered Keyblade potential would put Vexen in the favorable position that he had desperately been grasping for ever since he had lost the advantages of the old days.

Back at Ansem's castle, battle skills had been important, but intelligence was prized highest of all, and Even had excelled in that. For him, the loss of his heart had mixed blessings. There were no longer any ridiculous emotions to distract him from pursuing any task night or day, and no obligations towards anyone but a fellow colleague who understood the importance of carrying on research. But there had also come the realization that staying ahead and staying alive as a Nobody required a certain amount of physical prowess that Even simply had lacked. In Radiant Garden, he had been competing for head of the pack; in the Organization, he found himself struggling just to be acknowledged.

It was a wound to the memory of pride, and a wound to the part of him that still believed in self. There had always been whispers about Xehanort and his destiny, how fate must have brought him to the castle and about how polite he was and yet how strong and smart and good and on, and on, and on. When it should have been Even. Didn't Even have a destiny that was just as great? Didn't Even possess just as much brilliance, just as much a likelihood to change the course of their world?

Only now, he was on his way up to see a man that probably didn't have a degree in any sort of science. For all that Vexen knew, the neophyte probably didn't have a degree at all, and yet something had prompted Xemnas to give him an edge and let him have power where another...any other, would have done just as well. What made Marluxia so special?

But Vexen would prevail, when it all came down to it. He would weed out Marluxia along with that girl he was using, and expose the strange secrets that the man kept hidden away. He would show Xemnas, one way or another, that their numerical order did stand for something.

After all, if numbers meant nothing, then why did the Superior insist upon Number One?

It was an almost empty room that greeted him when he stepped out of the portal to where Marluxia and his followers normally could be found. The same cloying scent he remembered from earlier met his nostrils upon entry, and he had to restrain himself to prevent another sneeze from coming. His body patiently refused to accept that those without hearts shouldn't have to endure allergies, the same way that it refused to allow him to stop eating or taking showers. The only physical benefit to not officially existing was that time seemed content to let them alone, so that at least when Kingdom Hearts was finally theirs they could still be young enough to enjoy it.

Marluxia was standing alone, by a flower-topped pedestal, a watering can in one hand and a pH strip in the other. Carefully he poured water into the soil surrounding the flowers, and pressed a bare finger to the dirt to make sure it was moist enough.

The pH strip was the surprising part, and Vexen found himself unwilling to yet announce his presence, curious as to what the gardener was going to do. Perhaps he had misjudged the man, if Marluxia knew enough about acids and bases to test the soil.

Marluxia, on the other hand, refused to grant the scientist his obscurity.

"Ah, there you are. I've been waiting."

It became increasingly uncomfortable as Vexen grew aware that there was no one else in the room. "Am I late?" He queried, glancing back behind him to make sure that a pair consisting of an overzealous red-head and uptight blonde weren't poised to corner him. But the space behind him remained empty. "Where is everyone?"

"They left. Both of them came in early, and I saw no reason to keep them waiting when I could just as easily brief you later."

Vexen felt his eyes narrow out of habit, and he folded his arms into his sleeves, perturbed. "The least you could do if you're bothering to waste my time with your meetings is to hold your meetings, Marluxia."

"Shh, Vexen. You should keep your tone of voice pleasant. The flowers don't like it when the air is disturbed by quarreling."

"Then don't put your flowers in a room meant for holding debates! If you're going to be a gardener, dammit, be a bloody gardener, but not while you're trying to run this castle! It's enough that you're barely competent, but if I have to put up with your rude, nonsensical, childish demands then I'm leaving. No matter what Xemnas has to say."


The only warning the scientist had was a brief breath of moist air before he felt the wind knocked out of him and Marluxia's ungloved hands pinning him to the marble wall.

"When I am being the leader of this castle, then I am being the leader of this castle, and I will dictate what is to be done within its walls. But while I am gardening I am still included in the one-unit set of leader-of-this-castle, so I suggest you do as I say."

Surprise was still holding him as tightly in its grasp as Marluxia was, and neither seemed willing to relent. But Vexen's hands were both free, and with them he reached forward, calling forth the cold and ice that readily obeyed him.

The gardener could do nothing but gasp as freezing fingers took hold of his midsection, chilling all the way through layers of leather and cloth. Whatever the price was for insubordination, Vexen was willing to risk it to preserve his dignity, and to let Marluxia know that he was not going to be played with. Reasonable demands he would listen to, but this had gone beyond reasonable. He was being attacked.

His resistance might have met with success, too, if suddenly he didn't feel something rough and prickly wrapping its way around his wrists. Vines browned in protest as they contacted the wintery chill of his magic, but then solidified and pulled tight even as they died twining around him. The very walls were sprouting leaves, stalks, flowers, and thorns. Greens and reds and purples invaded the stark white of the room, and in front of him a haze of pink was smiling in grim satisfaction.

"I can see that you're not taking me seriously, Vexen." Marluxia's hands pushed harder against him, sliding him slowly down the wall and into a bed of grasses and thistles that had sprung up from the floor. "Did you honestly think there wasn't a perfectly logical reason behind my promotion to this state?" The light scent from moments ago had become overpowering--sweet and fragrant and choking and deadly. Vexen was Losing his way inside of it, while trying desperately to stay in charge. His head had to remain clear! If he gave into his body then everything was lost...

But then thorns started poking up on the vines that had entangled him, and hard twigs began pressing into his back. The pink-haired man in front of him was relentless, staring him down with his blue eyes and pushing Vexen hard into the emerging jungle. Suddenly he couldn't breathe anything but the smell of Marluxia, couldn't feel anything but the movement of vines and the sprouting of thorns, couldn't hear anything but the rustle of leaves and ripping of cloth. He could utter no words, create no magic in his defense.

The man who had prided himself upon his mind had lost everything to his overloaded senses, until there was nothing left to do but scream.

And so he did, before everything went black.



December 21, 2006:

Finally uploaded this onto For those coming here from Deviantart, sorry the last half of the chapter got cut off. . At this time Chapter 2 IS complete, and is going through final editing. Chapter 3 has already been started! Looks like this will be about 5 chapters long, possibly more.

I can't even begin to quote all the works of art that have influenced this story to some degree. I'd like to acknowledge 'Sorrow of Magpies,' 'Seven Stories For Fourteen Nobodies,' the art of psycrow and Silvestris on Deviantart, and to some strange extent 'Those Lacking Spines.' Also instrumental in the writing of this has been U-E, for bouncing thoughts around with me in the darkness.

Vexen uses more italics than I realized. x-x To re-format this for I had to Cntl-F all of the i . I hate my life. If anyone catches any that I missed, please do send me a message somehow. Or any other wierd formatting mistakes, for that matter. Helpful commenters often get rewarded. .


#1. For some reason, initially, Axel ended up asking RRiku back to his chambers for dinner. I do not know why he did this, as it was not in my story plans whatsoever. They 'chilled' around the fire, ate spaghetti, and told jokes about Vexen. Silly Axel.

#2. 'Greased Cat on a Marble slide.' Why is this in RRiku's vocabulary? Ask Pete. It must have occured while the real Riku was staying with Maleficent. The line was funny enough that it had to stay, despite its odd placement.

#3. RRiku. R-Riku. Riku Replica. Replica Riku. Rriku. The experiment. The creature. The boy. The young man. Riku's clone. Vexen's playtoy. . It would have been EASIER if he actually had a name! ;-;