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 probably the least work-safe that I will write, so proceed carefully. It's still nothing more than you'd see in a PG-13 movie, nonetheless.

Visit http://8-13. deviantart. com for our other non-fanfiction works. (And take out the spaces, yo.)

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It wasn't until he was back in the sanctuary of his lab that Vexen finally relaxed.

Everything within the room remained exactly as it had been the night before: blood still stained the floor, his gloves still graced the sink, and the empty potion bottle still rested where RRiku had left it on his lab table. The place was in the same horrible disarray from the previous nights encounter, yet it didn't nearly begin to hint at the disaster that had just occurred. Perhaps if he tidied up a bit, it might look the same way it had when he first came to the castle. A little more work, and it could look as if RRiku had never existed there at all.

Vexen scowled upon that thought, deeply.

Weeks of pain-staking observations had just been discarded in the hopes that he could preserve some vague remnant of his original experiment--along with his own life. He grimaced. When had that horrid vagrant of a red-haired Nobody even had the opportunity to encounter his RRiku? Why did it have to be that man instead of someone trustworthy? It might have been even beneficial for the boy to run across Zexion or Lexaeus, as either of their respective fields of study could have trained him. They already knew what his experiment had been up to, anyhow. But Axel?

Vexen wanted to curse, or pace, or storm about, even though he knew those actions would offer little relief from his not-anger. This was not the first time he had landed in such a bind, if the last few days were any indication of what was to come. Why, the fact that he was even at this castle must have been due to some fault in his own research. How many times, then, in the future, would his fate be to observe all that he might care about be taken away from him? It was not fair, and not having a heart didn't change the fact that he did not tolerate unfairness. He had half a mind to march himself, right then, via portal, all the way back to Superior and demand recompense for the injustices endured beneath Marluxia's 'command.'

Yet that would not end well.

Kingdom Hearts was the one encompassing goal in the Organization, and his situation, as unfortunate as it was, did not fall under the category of 'ensuring the Nobodies would reach their destiny.' Slowly, unclenching his stretched knuckles, Vexen headed for the closet. He simply had to carry on with the hand that had been given to him, no matter what poor cards he held.

Possessing bad cards in Castle Oblivion, unfortunately, often ended in a rather sudden death.

With a resigned sigh, Vexen could do naught but fetch a clean washcloth from the drawer to straighten up the mess around his lab. He was going to move on, and dwell upon the past no longer. Besides, the mere thought of having left unsterile surfaces to sit this long was appalling, and, until he received new orders or thought of what his next project might be, he certainly had the time to clean. Dusks never did it quite right, anyhow.

Thus decided, it wasn't long before blood stains were wiped up, glassware was scrubbed, boiled, polished, and all his supplies were replaced upon now rejuvenated shelves. He even procured a broom to sweep the recently accumulating dust out of the corners, before heading for the deep seclusion of his room. It already seemed brighter in his laboratory than it had for a long while, and still he was not done.

His sheets were replaced and shipped off with a Dusk for washing, and the tattered remains of his second Organization coat were sent towards the trash. Vexen enjoyed the mindless-ness of the work, as much as he could, letting himself get lost in the steady rhythm of his cleaning. Order in one's environment meant order in one's mind, and since he prized his mind so highly it was most important everything be clean.

And so it became.

With a pleased sigh he closed the door to his room, returning to the laboratory to take care of the one, last spot that remained. It was the spot that would take the most effort to erase: RRiku's lab table.

Vexen had avoided it for a reason.

Perhaps it was that he did not yet believe that his experiment was completely gone. He could let RRiku run around with his other self's memories for a while, let the Neophytes believe that he was harmless, let Marluxia have a laugh at Vexen's expense, and then, finally, when all was over, Vexen would bring RRiku back where he belonged.

Yet, even if the young man did came back, why would he want to stay? Why be near the person whom he once had trusted, and why trust that person again since he had been betrayed?

The scientist quietly picked up his washcloth and bottle of bleach, approaching the table with mixed apprehensions. There were memories associated with it now, even if his experiment did not return to him. If he wiped those memories away, would it mean he had rejected anything that he had felt towards his RRiku?

The mere notion of the thought derailed him, and he quickly started spraying down the surface.

Vexen was, the last time he had checked, a Nobody. It was therefore completely, utterly impossible that he had feltanything towards that boy. Completely. His washcloth met the counter with aggravation, smearing away bacterial residue with the gusto of somebody that did remember feelings, and who was trying to deny them.

He wasn't going to let himself think about the almost-elation he had experienced when RRiku had woke up on this table, or the almost-apprehension from when the boy had nearly died. He was going to ignore the memories that could no longer bring him any progress, or do him any good. Memories such as the way that RRiku stared into his eyes the night before; or that brief spark of total comprehension when he felt the potion pressed into his fingers, and knew...

"Go away." Vexen hissed, scrubbing harder.

But the memories still remained.

He kicked at the table, then, letting out a soft yelp when he realized he kicked too hard. But when he set his foot down, it came down on something soft and unfamiliar; something he had almost forgotten about completely. The first of his coats was resting on the floor, lying beside the lab-bench where RRiku must have dropped it--where RRiku would not be coming back for it.

And finally the memories were too much.

Vexen slumped over onto the bare metal, burying his head within his arms. The sharp odor of stale chlorine thickly greeted him, but still he did not move, breathing deeply like it didn't matter what he might inhale. Why was he like this? There was nothing in his chest to make him feel. The dull emptiness within him still remained, even despite all of the outward signs that it was filling up. This was not even like a memory of feeling loss, because in all his years at Radiant Garden, Vexen never had experienced such a thing. This was new, and intangible, and he was straining vainly to understand.

He cared that RRiku was gone. It upset him, somehow. Whether it was because RRiku was his creation or because RRiku meant something, somehow...it didn't matter, because there was still this...thing...to deal with, now. For any human, illogical emotional trouble would be attributed to the heart. He didn't have a heart so why was there this something clinging to his memories, now?

The answer, as it hit him, was painfully obvious.

He had simply never bothered to ask the question that would lead him there, before. Yet now, suddenly, floods of ideas sparked within his brain. What if the heart...wasn't the only thing that could feel?

What if, through RRiku's obedience programming, in making sure that RRiku's new heart would always obey him, Vexen had inadvertently connected something...more?

It was preposterous.

Absolutely absurd.

No one had ever done any experimenting along those lines, at all. If what he was starting to theorize was true, then...any number of possibilities could result. His own memories of RRiku were yet linked to something. But with no hearts to connect, must there exist some other form of connection? It had to be so. Was it RRiku's heart? Or could it even be their souls?

Could a soul feel?

Certainly it had to!

Vexen's head shot up from the table, his fingers flying for the nearest pen. Without even realizing, he had grabbed his RRiku-journal, and he flipped it to the back, scribbling down words as fast as he could postulate. Humanity had always believed in the existence of a soul, in one form or another. As Nobodies, they had more proof than ever before of its existence. Even a simple, basic Creeper was more than just a shell: it had personality, and desires, and an individual destiny. Intangible, unquantifyable things that were yet inevitably true. Didn't that fool Demyx still insist on playing his Sitar? Wasn't music chiefly fundamental to a human being...didn't music speak to the soul? And why did Luxord still play cards? Why did Xigbar still go surfing? Why did he, himself, still almost passionately pursue his intellectual endeavors? Because it made his soul complete. It satiated him. It...defied a word.

It was even a dull thrill that, at the base of it all, his conclusion was becoming clear to him.

Nobodies did not have the luxury of a heart to channel their emotions through. Anything basic that a human might feel was beyond the Organization's grasp - which meant they had to dig deeper to find true satisfaction. A Nobody had to reach all the way down into its core, where everything about them still remained. They didn't need a heart to keep existing. They didn't need a heart to be defined. They didn't need a heart to feel passion, and they didn't need a heart to find a soul-mate.

Vexen stopped, then, as his hand cramped up, and closed the journal. There were yet-untapped musings into the very nature of a Nobody, and the amount of research it was going to take to factually back his hypotheses seemed insurmountable. Yet, at the same time, he had the perfect case study. Of all the Nobodies for this to happen to, he was the last one he would have expected to take notice of the soul.

But he was the first one, he thought, ironically enough, to have someone real touch it.

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It meant, unfortunately, that RRiku was more valuable than even Marluxia could realize. This fact became even more unfortunate because Vexen, now possessed with theory, wished to be experimenting now. He had paced his way into his bedroom, logically understanding that there was nothing more that could be done this night, and even turned off all the lights and headed for his bed, before finding himself back on his feet and pacing yet again. Darkness only seemed to give more strength to his foundations, leaving a blank slate to write upon with the utensils of his mind.

It unearthed memories, too, for where better to store things lost...than in the darkness where they'd not be found? Not be found without eyes that were meant to see, at any rate, or pulled forth without a key that was meant to unlock...but that had been where RRiku had come in. Where RRiku should have come in.

Vexen sat upon the bed once more, laying back and trying to subdue his rampant thoughts, and his memories. There were too many fresh memories entwined within the thoughts...memories of a small beating heart within the darkness, and warm skin nestled in beside his own. Thoughts that were completely counter-productive and absurdly un-necessary, especially when one was trying to get some sleep.

It was into this state of mind that something out of place came forth. The air had gotten thicker, his sheets felt slightly moist, and, at the fringes of his hearing, a soft scraping sound was echoing from time to time.

He let a few more moments pass before he realized he was holding his breath, waiting once more for that perplexing noise. At least, for the time, all thoughts of RRiku and souls had come to a halt, leaving Vexen's brain to wander off to this new curiosity. His ever-so-logical mind was telling him there was nothing to be wary of right now, telling him to hold out for a moment as it analyzed the situation anew with every perceived hint, attributing his potential apprehension to the movements of the air or perhaps a small rodent infestation. But when he thought he felt something soft curl over his fingers, Vexen sat up straight, ignoring the logic. The hairs on the back of his neck were rising, and he reached out, uncertain, trying in vain to feel what had touched him, and finding nothing there.

"What is..."

"Shhhh. You're ruining the mood."

A melodic voice spoke into his ear. Firm arms wrapped around him, restricting him, and pulling him back towards the bed. Alarmed, Vexen resisted, steeling himself for the worst that was about to come.

He knew that voice.

"Marluxia. This..." He managed to get out, as he struggled against the intruder. "Is the second time you've invaded my chambers. Kindly leave." But the entrapping arms won out, as he was pulled up against a solid warm mass and held there, tightly. Squirm and wriggle as he might, it was to no avail. He had been caught, and in the very place he'd still thought safe. "...it's preposterous! Don't do this."

"Oh, but Vexen. Can't I come to show my gratitude?"

The voice was even closer now; so close that Vexen could feel warm breath on his skin and soft tendrils of hair tickling his neck. He froze, uncertain, waiting for the pain he knew was sure to follow. "For your gift?"

"I get the feeling you don't give everyone this kind of gratitude, number Eleven." Vexen hissed, quickly. "It is most unappreciated, in this regard." His struggle had ceased, for a time, unwilling to create any awkward motion that might risk bringing Marluxia's lips closer to his unprotected skin. The pink-haired man's 'gift' had to be referring to RRiku, in which case Vexen ought to carefully consider his next words. He would need luck now, to keep Marluxia from discovering his RRiku's real purpose.

"I know what you were trying to do, my clever little scientist."

Well, that was it. He had no luck.

The arms around his stomach tightened, pressing him further into the other man. Leather squeaked as it slid along leather in the darkness, and Vexen tensed, ready for the worst to come. He hated being trapped like this, but even more than that he hated having his back to anyone. So long as he could face an obstacle, he could overcome it, or shield himself from its attack. Yet his back was sensitive, for more reasons than one. He still remembered biting taunts from other children, from fellow students, from fellow apprentices that always took place when he was turned away. He was vulnerable from behind; he had lost his heart that way.

And now, startlingly, soft lips took advantage of his weakness, feeling their way down the back of his neck, parting his hair on both sides. Having been awaiting pain, his body shivered, without permission, at the unexpected onslaught. Marluxia was relentless in his attack, and excruciatingly slow, knowing exactly which spots to press deeper or which spots to lightly breathe upon, and Vexen did not understand the movements in this sort of battle sufficiently to formulate a counter.

"How insubordinate of you...trying to overthrow your superior. Although it was a very lovely method, I have to admit. You must have been very lonely, Vexen, to create a Somebody to be your friend. And what a beautiful creature! Was he loyal, Number Four? Did he follow your every wish? Your every command?" The hands that held him fast against Marluxia had parted ways, one finding the zipper on his coat, and sliding it slowly down his front. "So you're all alone again, aren't you, now that he is mine? Poor, poor Vexen." He could hear the mockery dripping from the gardener's tone, condescension thick within each fragrant word. "I guess I'll have to keep you company."

The scientist grimaced, struggling to keep floundering senses under his control. That was what had lost the battle last time, and his lesson had been learned. So long as he did not get overwhelmed by the overload of input, he could gain the upper hand. He could even outsmart Number Eleven, if his head was clear. Taking a deep breath, Vexen bit his lip, pulling his mind back into focus and trying to keep prepared. This encounter was already taking a turn he hadn't expected, and he couldn't let himself be caught off guard again. "Why? What is it you want from me?"

He tested his arms, checking to see if he could move them, and was surprised to find them bound behind his back, caught between him and the gardener and tangled hopelessly in leafy vines. The soft shuffling of plants sounded elsewhere around him...along the walls, over the floor, and Vexen realized with an increasing alarm what the scraping sounds from earlier must have been. Slowly, without him ever noticing, his room had transformed into a jungle, filled with impossible flora eager to obey their master's every whim.

"Loyalty. Devotion." The other man drew even closer, pressing his soft cheek roughly onto Vexen's own. Surprised by the words and the actions, he opened his mouth to protest but found himself silenced as Marluxia pressed on. "I want from you what should rightfully be mine as the keeper of this castle. Nothing more." A sharp knee was forced in between Vexen's legs, tangling his and Marluxia's in an incomprehensible array. His mind whirled at the onslaught, and he fought with it, trying to block out shocks of sensations he had never felt before. The hand that had been undoing his zipper had finally found its way inside his coat, and there it worked in tracing delicate swirls across his skin, while the other held him fast in its embrace. For every bit of pain he was dealt out equal, unwanted pleasure. Each wonderful discomfort was metered out with excruciating bliss. Vexen couldn't help but whimper, and relax, unable to stop his body from relenting to Marluxia's experienced demands. The pink-haired man knew far too well what he was doing.

"Can't you imagine how that boy must have felt around you, his attentive master? I bet he welcomed your guiding hand, looked forward to your enlightened word, or craved your gentle touch...I wonder how much you gave it to him."

"Marluxia, what are you..."

"Shh, Vexen. Let me do my work. I have my own Obedience Programming to impart upon you..."

The scientist's eyes widened at those words, pulling him out of his befuddlement. He tensed again, straining against fastly binding leaves and deceptively firm appendages, even more desperate to escape if there was any merit behind what he'd just been told. "Marluxia...! Stop...! Why are you doing this?"

"Pain obviously didn't teach you to submit to my command. I'm trying something better."

Before the scientist could even contemplate exactly what that line intended, Marluxia had caught up to him once more, pressing him down into the flower-covered mattress, much too easily shifting around him until he was trapped by the man's imposing form. The vines beneath them twisted, and curled, pinning Vexen's hands to where his pillow once had been. Shocked at how easily he had been puppeted, Vexen put all his strength into sitting up, quickly, trying to break free. Ice crackled, and leaves froze, and in the dim light of the room the scientist caught the puff of vapor as Marluxia breathed into the cold, and smirked, and suddenly attacked.

"Besides, dear Vexen...if this works on you, a scientist, a person who completely rejects physicality, then...who is left to stop me?"

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Riku woke, suddenly, and sat up straight in bed. The Darkness was still clawing at him from all sides, pulling at his skin and slipping in and out of him. His breath was coming heavily as his eyes struggled to focus, and the sheets were tangled fast around him, drenched in sweat and pulling him back towards the mattress like the webs of a spider drawing him down. Startled, he tore at them, and was even more surprised to find his hand still coated by the Darkness...no, his whole body, cloaked in that terrible suit that he was forced to wear. He didn't remember falling asleep under any covers, or in any bed, or surrounded by this wretched Darkness, and he didn't understand why it was he looked like this.

With a yelp he fell out of bed, and twisted, barely in time.

His feet hit the floor with the heavy thud of boots, and he staggered not to fall, before he was suddenly free of the mattress, and free of the sheets that he did not remember. Slowly, out of the corner of his eyes the shadows disappeared, the tattered remnants of his dream dropping back into his mind. There had been monsters, and demons, and he among them, running through the Darkness...sometimes killing his brethren, sometimes leaving them be...

And then a hand, reaching towards him, reaching to help him...blonde hair, green eyes...

Riku blinked, and the memory faded. Blonde hair...Namine?

But the eyes were wrong, and the feeling was wrong. This figure had been shrouded in Darkness, while the small frame of Namine was always sheltered by the light.

That damned light that always protected her, even better than he could.

Riku winced on that, and glanced down at his body, surprised to see that he hadn't yet changed back. Changing without being aware...changing while he was sleeping...that was bad. It was a sign, he feared, of how much the Darkness was starting to take over, of the fact that he couldn't yet be rid of Ansem. Maybe it was a sign of how unfit he was to care for her.

He closed his eyes, nonetheless, and willed it to go away. Willed his familiar yellow tank-top to appear, his familiar gloves, his familiar skin...and when he opened his eyes, it was with no small relief to see that he was back to normal. Namine had always accepted the darkness in him, even if he didn't, but he hated to think that he was really starting to lose control. If that ever happened...

Riku's stomach growled, sending a small shiver up and down his spine and banishing his thoughts of Darkness. His whole body felt strange, for that matter. Maybe changing in the night had thrown his equilibrium off, or messed with the balance of his nervous system or digestive system, or...something. Either way, he was hungry, and food was near.

But there were two doors in his room, and for the first time since he had started living there, he found he couldn't remember which one was the closet, and which one was the exit. The thought would have made him laugh, if it hadn't been so unnerving. He really was starting to lose his mind, if he couldn't even figure out the layout of his room.

He chose a door, at random, letting his feet pick their own way, and was more than a little relieved when it led back into his kitchen. There were still the dirty dishes in the sink that he had left there, and there was his small fridge filled with snacks...although why there were eight different brands of hot-sauce, he couldn't quite recall.

So he had his breakfast, before his stomach could protest once more. The dream really was disorienting him, to the point that whatever he had planned for the day had faded back into his mind somewhere. Everything just felt...surreal. Yeah. Surreal. That was the word.

Well, it was no big deal to make new plans. Maybe he could go have a talk with Namine, and see if Marluxia wouldn't let her go for a walk with him. She didn't get out very much, so she would enjoy it, and Riku knew that he'd feel better after seeing her. It wouldn't be long now before Marluxia forgot that he was even there, and then, when that happened, he and Namine could break out of Castle Oblivion, and leave it as just a dark chapter behind them. He'd take her back to the beach, and they could sit in the sand, and she'd draw all the birds and he'd catch fish for her...

Maybe Sora would have made it back by then, too.

Riku sighed, and added another few dishes to the sink, contemplating whether or not he wanted to clean them now or not. The tingling in his spine had spread into his chest, and breakfast hadn't made it go away. Maybe he had trained too hard, the day before...

That had to be it! And that would explain why he didn't remember falling asleep, and why he had been in his Dark Form when he had woken. He must have worked to the point of almost collapsing, and teleported straight back into his bed.

A small stretch confirmed it, as sore muscles cried out in dull protest. He didn't remember getting all the bruises that he had, and the sore spot over one of his ribs was even more perplexing, but that seemed to be the theme of the morning. Apparently falling asleep in Dark Mode did that to you...screwed with your memories, maybe. Gave you nightmares, for sure.

But when he tried to open a portal, twice, and failed, Riku began to wonder what other ill effects it had. His arms and legs were tingling, and it was spreading to his feet, like his whole BODY had fallen asleep on him and was just now waking up. In general it was annoying, but he wasn't going to let something small like that stop him. If it didn't go away, he'd go see Lexaeus.

The third portal-attempt fired to life, finally, and he stepped in, letting himself be engulfed by the thickness of familiar darkness. Maybe it would be good if his control over the Dark was slipping. Maybe then, he could start to ignore it, completely.

If it didn't consume him entirely, that was.

Riku smirked, wryly amused. Looking at it from the outside was funny, but the actual event probably wouldn't be all that pleasant. No, he needed to remain in control. It was, after all, all he had left...

There was only Darkness, to protect the ones he loved.

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Vexen let himself sleep in.

Almost purposely, in fact.

It was no small celebration of the fact that he was just alive, let alone unsullied. Well, for the most part. As with any battle there was ground lost, and ground gained, whether it was tangible or not. Vexen had not won, by any means, but neither had he lost, leaving the war to drag on for at least another day. A day he would be prepared for, this time.

Being at war, fortunately, meant that there needn't be any pretense about attending those ridiculous meetings, especially ones that would be held without him even if he chose to arrive. He was not much closer to figuring out exactly what Marluxia's next step was, but he had the gist of it. There weren't too many possibilities for quickly capturing a keyblade bearer who was already inside your fortress, especially when the keyblade bearer in question was the dull-witted islander named 'Sora.'

Which meant there would not be much time left before the Gardener succeeded, and he needed to be stopped. Even without being completely sure of what betrayals Marluxia intended, the fact that he had pursued Vexen to this high of a degree meant that he was up to something, and that, somehow, the scientist had become a threat.

With Vexen's key component out of the picture, however, interfering in those plans was going to be difficult. RRiku was no longer able to listen to him, and, without Namine's assistance, it would take months to restore the boy back to a useable state. Months that Vexen certainly did not have. He could not openly go to Sora, because that would be betraying Xemnas. For the same reasons, he could not openly attack Marluxia. The flowery nightmare of a man was prepared for such possibilities, at any rate. He had a three-strong army at his beck and call--the flamethrower, the lightning rod, and the witch. Even with Vexen's elemental advantage against Axel and Marluxia, they had a better physical aptitude and a more flowing knowledge of combat than his own rigidly defensive stance. Yet even should he try to appeal to their reasons, Larxene was too chaotic to approach, Axel was too cynical, and Namine...well, despite not having a heart, Namine was too afraid. The fact that she had already gained control of Sora to an extent only added another element to overcome.

Theoretically, Vexen might be able to enlist the help of Zexion and Lexaeus, if they even believed him, but that still was not enough to overthrow the threat. An all out battle between the numbers within Oblivion, should it come to that, might eliminate those who had done no real wrong, himself included. Besides, with only thirteen Nobodies to start off with, any losses of valuable members were unacceptable losses. Vexen either needed backup, and a lot of it, to ensure the traitors would be eliminated, or he needed to undermine Marluxia's own strategy, completely.

The scientist sighed, lying back into his pillow and blinking at the ceiling up above. Plotting war-games was not his strong point. He had enough of a mind to be political, but in that regard he mirrored Master Ansem: doing what was necessary to keep his kingdom strong in daylight, and escaping to his labs and to his teachings when his outward job was done. It was always where their mentor had wanted to be.

Yet that had only gotten him banished to the Darkness.

Vexen smirked, just a little. If Master Ansem had only known what was going on beneath his nose, they might still all be back in Radiant Garden, enjoying a cushiony life of learning and inventing. But then again, if Master Ansem had known, and the six of them hadn't finished the experiments, they would not have discovered all of what they did. They would not be coming so close to achieving perfection now, of creating a world all of their own. If Master Ansem had known, he would have stopped them.

So then...what would Xemnas do, Vexen wondered, if he knew what was going on at Castle Oblivion? Would he turn a blind eye towards the situation, or learn from his old Master's mistakes, correcting the problem before it had begun?

The thought circled in the Nobody's brain, looping endlessly. If Xemnas knew, he could take the necessary precautions. Vexen certainly wasn't looking forward to contacting their leader, as one never knew what sort of business one might interrupt, but it was worth the shot. If his timing was off, and Xemnas was deeply mired within some thought that had possessed him, or expanding upon some new philosophy the worlds had revealed to him, or helping Xaldin with some revolutionary tactic to undermine a Kingdom's political structure, then Vexen would stand no chance. But if things were how they were back at Radiant Garden, Even wouldn't have hesitated to consult with his fellow scientists if his own suppositions were failing him, and Xehanort would be more than willing to lend an ear. Sometimes, a second point of view was enough to solidify a theory.

And if not...well, Vexen would leave well enough alone. At least, then, he'd know that path was closed to him.

All he needed now was the courage to step out.

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"...Vexen." Xemnas actually looked surprised for once, or pretended to, as he glanced up from a pile of papers to watch as Vexen stepped inside his door. "It sounded like your knock, but I did not believe my ears."

"Do I knock differently?"

"Each one of you approaches me in a unique manner."

It was no surprise to see Xemnas at his desk, a library of books lined up on the towering wall behind him, an equally vaulted window to his side. It was as pristinely silver-white here as it was through most of the Organization's castle; Xemnas did not need to bother with purposefully molding his surroundings when they changed to suit his needs subconsciously. Perhaps that was why his bedroom doubled as his office: it was not for a lack of space as much as the fact that Xemnas simply didn't differentiate between work and relaxation. Whether he was planning what worlds to focus on or providing missions for their members, or sleeping, Xemnas was always moving towards his goal.

"How so, if I may be so bold?"

"Some enter my rooms with reverence, others with purpose. You, however, always knock...with a question."

He had changed, quite a bit, from the almost timid Xehanort whom Even had known. This man before him was a freight train, filled with power and momentum, unstoppable, unwavering, and relentless. "You always seem to have an answer, these days."

"Answers are easy to give. Choosing the right one is the difficult part."

Vexen almost smirked. Even with the control that Xemnas had gained, there were still things that were a little off about him. Answers, for example, were meant to be sought or discovered, not chosen randomly out of thin air, and yet solving problems had always been that way for Xemnas. Maybe it was truly how life worked, for him...a set of answers, waiting for his call. "Then I've got quite a conundrum for you."

"By all means, enlighten me."

Xemnas sat back in his chair and met Vexen's eyes directly, scientist-to-scientist instead of leader-to-disciple, at least for now. Which was exactly what Vexen needed, to begin.

"Let us say, theoretically, that an obstacle has been placed within your path to Kingdom Hearts. A very large boulder, perhaps, in this allegory. You would find a way to displace it, correct?"

"This is correct."

"Through what method?"

Xemnas crossed his hands together, glancing down to his table for the merest of moments, to think, before fixing his eyes back onto Vexen's. "...assuming that the boulder is much too heavy to be relocated, and that I was not in proximity to adequate tools, I would seek a different path."

"Would you try to destroy the boulder, if you had the means?" Raising an eyebrow, Vexen carefully listened for this next reply.

Xemnas was unwavering, and his answer took no thought, this time. "Provided that this 'boulder' is not a reference to Lexaeus, I would."

"No, it's not Lexaeus." Vexen nodded. "But this boulder does require your assistance to subvert."

"You're referring to Marluxia." Xemnas blinked, and stood. "Are you not?"

Now Vexen was surprised, wondering how he had been read so easily. He had certainly not expected that quick a leap to the conclusion, nor had he expected Xemnas to stand up, leaving him to wonder what the Superior's view of the situation actually was. But knowing as little as he did, Vexen could do nothing more than state the obvious: "Yes. I am."

"I see." Xemnas quietly left his desk, walking towards the towering window alone, leaving Vexen standing awkwardly in the center of the room. "But, Vexen. I have already sent someone capable of dealing with the problem. Has he not been performing as I expected?" The silver-haired man glanced back over his shoulder questioningly, and, without hesitation, Vexen followed.

"...I'm afraid I do not know which Nobody you speak of. Zexion and Lexaeus rarely leave the basement, and Marluxia has Axel and Larxene under his command--"

"You're forgetting someone."

"Surely you can't mean Namine?"

"No, Vexen. I'm referring to yourself."

Vexen stopped in his tracks, stunned, able to do nothing but watch his Superior step into the heartlight of their slowly growing moon.

"You are more than capable, and you are absolutely loyal to our goals...not derived necessarily from loyalty to me, but because you yourself also desire Kingdom Hearts. In specific, you wish for Kingdom Hearts to be a world ruled by logic and rationality, just as I do. You have kept your intentions pure from the start; this all is, even now, still one vast experiment to you. But there is more..." Xemnas put his hand up to the glass, looking out at the sky, his gaze vague and yet intent upon what hung there. He never seemed conscious of how theatrical his movements were, but that was partly what sent a shiver down Vexen's spine. It wasn't mere dramatics with Xemnas...each gesture had a purpose, a meaning...each held the weight of his entire self behind them.

"You have a careful mind, Vexen. Your intelligence stems from your diligence, your patience, and your precision. You do not have leaps of insight, but there are very intentional steps of genius. We were always most different, in this regard."

"I remember," Vexen whispered. "How furious I would become that your theories worked when mine failed, and that you had no documented evidence as to why."

"Yet each time this happened, you would lock yourself inside the lab until your results were equivalent to mine. The same conclusions were always reached, between us, and made stronger by your support."

"I began to believe your findings, without becoming as upset."

"And I started to rely on your backup. Do you see where I am going with this, Vexen?"

Xemnas glanced back to where the blonde was standing, his orange eyes made even more intense when shadowed by the moon.

"You trust me." Vexen replied, quietly, looking away. It gave him much to consider now about how close, in theory, their destinies might have been. "You need me." Folding his arms, Vexen realized Xemnas's implication. The reason that the scientist was now stationed at Castle Oblivion was not because Xemnas had been trying to keep him far away - rather, it was because that was where Vexen had to be, to keep an eye on things. Not just to keep an eye on things, either, but to make sure that the plans were proceeding as Xemnas would have envisioned them...because only Vexen knew exactly how that was...only Even had been that close to Xehanort, before.

"I do. And as such, I believe you will take care of any problems that arise."

"If you thought he might be a problem, then why did you put him in charge?"

Xemnas glanced away, finally, and took his hand off of the windowpane. "I..." He began, and then ceased, lapsing into silence and staring at his reflection in the glass. "...foresaw one of two possibilities." With a small shake of his head, he resumed. "That Marluxia's peculiar power would be used to all our benefits...or that it would turn sour, in time, and be used for something else."

He said no more, leaving an awkward moment between them, before Xemnas finally turned, and fully faced the other man.

"Marluxia must be stopped, before he has gone too far. In this circumstance, I cannot accept any failure, and I have no other resources to offer. I have put my trust in you, because I know that you are capable. Do not disappoint me, Vexen. I want to hear no more about this until it is complete."

"..." Vexen nodded, barely daring to breathe under the intensity of the Superior's gaze. There was something in Xemnas' eyes that spoke of more than what was apparent...that this had, somehow, became a sensitive matter...that Xemnas had not wanted to see Marluxia fall. He had dared to put his trust in something that did not pull through...

And, suddenly, Vexen realized that was why he was in this position now. Xemnas had to know who he could trust, and who was capable.

If Vexen was not able to solve this situation, then he would be no good to Xemnas. Vexen could not afford, now, to become useless.

"Do not fail." Xemnas stated, one final time...peering out at Vexen with a mixture of hope and uncertainty and longing, hiding beneath his immensity and yet there, not wanting to be betrayed. For a moment, it was like looking in the eyes of Xehanort...and then, for an even briefer moment, Vexen saw another pair of eyes mirrored there--younger, and blue-green, before the image was gone.

He had no option of failing.

There were two silver-haired boys counting on him, now.

With a wry smirk Vexen nodded, and bowed his head. "You think I can do it, so it shall be done. You won't hear about my failure." He turned, and headed for the door.

"Not from anyone."

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Notes:

September 16, 2007:

Never thought I'd get this one done, but here it is. As often seems the case, life interfered, and this got on the back-burner, only to be resurrected when the time was right. As a plus, however, it's had gads of time to be re-edited, and edited it has been, making it probably my best chapter yet. Hard to say at this point, though, since I've been staring at it far too long.

Chapter 4 is started, though it'll likely take a while. Not so long as this one, though, so stick around, and thanks so much for all of the reviews! Special thanks to Itavita for finding some italics that I missed, as well.

See you soon!

Bloopers:

3.1: "But with no hearts to connect, must there exist some other form of connection? If it was the soul, then where did RRiku's soul come from? Had Vexen made it? Was he...a god? It had to be so."

3.1: Deleted paragraph. "And, by his own means, to assure RRiku's utter cooperation, Vexen had connected i himself /i to RRiku. Their shared memories rested therein, even now. Yet RRiku's heart had been dismantled, and was inaccessible to either of them, now. It must have been something else...some other intangible organ. Which left only one other possibility. Their kidneys."

3.2: There are also some deleted scenes and additional commentary here, for those that wish to delve a little further into Vexen and Marluxia: http://community. livejournal. com/frostedflowers/57175. html (Remove spaces)