Braig turned over, wrapping himself further into his sheets, stirred by the soft voice coming out of the darkness. He was half convinced that he was dreaming, and half convinced he was hallucinating, but either way he wasn't ready to wake up. Sleep was too comfortable when he had just dealt with one long day of balancing impossible chemical equations. Chemistry was the worst, made even more so by how damned good at it Even was, or maybe because of that way he gloated when he had the answers and knew that Braig did not. For the fact alone that he hadn't tried to strangle the prissy bastard even once, Braig had earned this sleep.
But the voice would not shut up, and he blinked up into the darkness, staring vacantly at the drywall there.
"Hm..? Heh? What is it, Dilan?"
A small face came into view, tanned and framed by white locks of hair that didn't quite fall into place. Golden eyes blinked down at him, confused, filling Braig's vision where the ceiling just had been.
"You're not Dilan..." He muttered, softly, reaching with a sheet-tangled hand to poke a soft cheek.
Xehanort merely blinked, again, as Braig's fingers touched him and confirmed his presence. "Braig..."
The older apprentice sat up, suddenly, finally realizing his situation. "What are you doing here?"
No one was allowed in to his domain, except maybe Dilan, when the two of them were studying or copying notes. Dilan was the only one Braig could trust to not care if the place was messy while they worked, especially if the two of them were going to keep pace with Even or Ienzo. But beyond that, Braig's room was his alone. This was the first time that the newest member of the castle had tried anything so daring, and Braig was left completely stunned.
The young man looked away, uncertain, seeming to shrink before Braig's demand. He had that almost-frightened look in his eye, like one who had walked into a murky den and suddenly came face-to-face with its inhabitant. But there was a firm resolve, there, too, behind that fear, plus that ever-present curiosity Xehanort showed during the day. He had come in here for a reason, Braig knew.
Then maybe, he mused, if he wanted to coax out the secret, he ought to lend a helping hand.
And so Braig grinned, and reached out once more, ruffling the kid's hair. "Hey, go ahead. It can't be that embarrassing. And I won't laugh, either way."
Xehanort seemed to relax, greatly, stiff posture sighing into something that didn't make him look as if he were about to flee. "It's just that...I had a bad dream."
Well, that was unexpected. Although, when Braig tried to run through his head what other reasons the new apprentice might have for sneaking into anyone's room in the middle of the night, it made the most sense. Xehanort wasn't really -that- young...he was almost fifteen, if Master Ansem gauged it right. But given that he had been found barely over a year ago, and had no prior memories of his life before coming to the castle, no one quite knew what that put his mental age around. His insatiable drive to learn mimicked that of a child, while the leaps his mind made in the classroom rivaled those of a fully researched scientist. At least, that had been Elaeus's first assessment.
Still, that same 'scientist' was here now, standing by his bed, complaining about bad dreams.
"Alright. So tell me about it."
The young man stiffened, and his golden eyes flashed, for just a moment, in the almost-dark. "It wasn't pleasant, Braig..."
"Bad dreams usually aren't."
"If I say it out loud, that...almost makes it real."
The quiet words became lost in the vast expanse of air, barely whispered to begin with. Xehanort shivered, and his small hands tightened on Braig's bedsheets where they had been placed not long before. "I don't want this to be real."
Braig leaned back against his wall, running fingers through his hair while he watched the kid breath in, and out again, shallowly. Afraid.
"That bad, huh?"
After a moment, he sighed, and patted the spot next to him on the bed.
"Alright, alright. Come up here."
Xehanort wasn't really that young, but then again, neither was Braig. In fact,he was getting kind of old. Enough to make his gesture feel a little weird. He was nearly twenty, himself, inviting a teenager into bed with him. Fifteen and Twenty.
Then again, that wasn't so much difference...was it?
Xehanort certainly didn't seem to mind, as Braig watched the young man crawl up next to him. This was the last thing he expected to be doing tonight, and it was absolutely ridiculous. He would be laying next to the brain of a genius, the body of a teenager, and the mental development of a five-year-old. Well, maybe not that young...
"You can stay with me, tonight, if you think it will help. I can't promise anything, but...I know for a fact that bad dreams aren't allowed inside my room. So if one tries to get in here..."
He leaned off the wall, offering a blanket to Xehanort and going to lay down.
"It'll have to get through me."
Xehanort blinked, again, perplexed in a way that reminded Braig of androids in those shows that Dilan watched. Seeing everything...gathering information...processing it...but not necessarily coming to the right conclusion. Xehanort was just not on the same page as everybody else was. It was almost frightening, and kind of cool, at the same time.
The young man accepted the blanket, nonetheless.
"Have you ever had a bad dream, Braig?"
"Heh. Doesn't everyone?"
It was a little awkward, suddenly, trying to get comfortable with another body in the bed. His normal position wouldn't work at all, not without putting his arm over Xehanort's chest, and that would put the awkwardness to an extreme.
Except, oddly enough, Xehanort was taking that arm, almost as if he could read Braig's mind, and putting it around him, snuggling up next to the older apprentice as if he had done the same thing every day of his known life. It happened so smoothly, Braig barely even had time to register what was going on before there was a small warm body closely pressed against him, tucked in where it seemed to feel safe.
"Do they? What were yours about, Braig?"
Still stunned, Braig barely managed to get his bearings back in time to make any reply at all.
"Are...are you sure you want to hear that right now? So soon after you had one?"
The ivory mass of hair in front of him nodded, and snuggled deeper in.
"Because you said you'll keep away the nightmares. I trust you."
"There's gonna be sharks..."
"What's a shark, Braig?"
The older apprentice laughed, and pulled the blankets up around them with his free arm, going along with the strange turn of events in the only way he knew how--by accepting them. This was like having a little brother...and Braig liked that. His family hadn't been small, but he still had been the youngest. After his brothers had grown and gone out to sea, it was just him playing on the beach, alone.
"I'll tell you all about it, since those dreams are silly to me, now. But who knows...by the time you're my age...maybe yours will seem silly to you, too. And then, we can remember tonight, and laugh about them, together. Does that sound good?"
Xehanort sighed, contentedly, and nodded.
"Only we shouldn't laugh, Braig. Even years from now." His voice turned suddenly grave, as he shivered, one last time. "The Darkness doesn't like to be laughed at."
Braig puzzled over that one for hours, even long after the small form nestled next to him had gone to sleep.
Maybe, in the years to come, he'd understand.
Maybe, like so many other things Xehanort had started to talk about...he never would.
Braig woke, the next night, sitting up in bed, his neck hairs standing straight on end.
Something had just roused him, and unpleasantly, but despite all of his trying, he couldn't quite remember what it was. Vague remnants of dreams flittered through his mind, but they were jumbled and incomprehensible--nothing more than the memories from the day being sorted out inside his head, and definitely not the reason he had been disturbed.
The sound came again, however, and Braig identified it immediately as the one that had awoken him. It was a dull thump, like that of a corpse being dropped, echoing against the wall and sending chills across his spine. The noise reverberated through his room until it faded into nothing, leaving all as still as it had been. Nothing was out of place. No outside reactions of any kind could be heard to give proof to the eerie disruption. There was just the silence, and the night.
But when it hit again, through the wall just to his left, Braig leapt out of bed with a new sort of worry. That was Dilan's room, behind that wall. Dilan's bed was on the other side of it. If the noise was coming from in there, then something was wrong with Dilan.
Grabbing his slippers Braig hopped, one foot at a time, to his door, sliding them on one-handed as he went. He wasn't as smart as Even, as observant as Ienzo, as strong as Elaeus, or as insightful as Xehanort. For that matter, he wasn't just as generally capable as Dilan seemed to be. But he was fast, and he was stealthy, and those were the sorts of things one needed when sneaking around at night. Braig was out his door without making a noise, and down the hall before the thud could sound again. Dilan always locked his rooms before he slept, but he kept a spare key outside on the floor beside them, in the little niche where the ancient carpeting had started to come up. No one else had seen him put it there, but, then again, there had never been a need to break into Dilan's room.
But even when he stepped carefully inside the doorway, nothing seemed particularly amiss. He closed the door behind him, waiting for his eyes to compensate for the new darkness. Although both of them rarely shut their windows, Braig's curtain's were always drawn, letting in the light and warmth and life from the outside world. Dilan's had always left his closed, though, letting in only the wind. It ruffled the draperies softly, now, throwing splashes of light and darkness on the walls and making restless spirits out of dresser drawers. Even Braig had half a mind to flee from the creepy twilight: Dilan's room felt like an abandoned tomb.
And then the noise was back, causing Braig to jump. On the bed, a dark mass had shuddered, up against the wall, and now lay still. Logic would say that any Dilan-shaped lump on Dilan's bed would have to be Dilan, tossing and turning underneath his sheets, but Braig still approached as cautiously as any guy would when dealing with the strange unknown. With a gulp, he reached out towards it, aiming for what he could only hope was Dilan's shoulder...
Except, suddenly, a hand shot out from underneath the blankets, and caught the young man by the wrist. Braig yelped, in surprise, only to find another hand clamping down across his mouth to silence him. Faster than he was aware of, he had been pulled up onto the bed and shoved face down into the pillows, his arm twisted up behind his back.
What was meant to come out as 'it's me!' was sorely garbled, and Braig winced, feeling his muscles strain in unexpected ways.
But when he didn't struggle further, finally he felt the grip relax, and heard a heavy sigh. Dilan flopped back down onto the bed, letting go of Braig, glancing over and giving his 'assailant' a very cross stare.
"You shouldn't be sneaking up on me."
Slowly pulling himself up, rubbing sore spots and checking, truthfully, for broken bones, Braig grimaced. "Well, sorry if I was trying to save you, man."
"Save me? What the hell are you talking about?"
Braig could only smirk. "You know...from that monster that was sleeping in your bed."
With a roll of his eyes, Dilan turned over onto his side, facing away from the intruder. "Well, he's gone now, so why don't you go back to bed."
Obviously having been expecting some sort of quirky comeback, the dark-haired man glanced back to see why it never came.
"Is everything alright?"
Braig spoke gently, cautiously, but honestly. The other apprentice was the kind to never open up about his life, always moving forward with relentlessness that paralleled even Xehanort's drive. It was only in rare moments that Braig could crack his surface, and get a glimpse down to see the man who had a startling wit, a vast amount of talent, and a cynicism that could undo even the most certain of intellectual opponents. The glimpses were enough to keep Braig trying to see more, and, he half expected, were what allowed them to become friends. No matter how many walls Dilan built inside his mind, it was always Braig standing outside the gate and asking him to come and play.
Dilan eyed him for a moment more, before turning back to face the wall, leaving Braig shut out again. "Yeah."
"Alright." Braig sighed, finally, frustrated. If they were friends, he didn't understand why Dilan kept so much still hidden from him. But, at the same time, he knew when he could press a little deeper, and when to retreat. This was one of those latter times. Pushing Dilan never got anyone anywhere...it was like trying to push through a wall of air. He would always slip through anyone's fingers.
"But hey. You know where to find me if the monster comes back."
Even though Dilan's back was the only thing exposed, Braig still could feel him smirk.
But it wasn't until Braig had almost left the room, before Dilan offered a reply.
"...there are some things in life...that...no matter how you retell them...can't possibly live up to how they were. All I can say is that...once...I had something perfect." The brown-haired man stopped, and turned, to look at the other lying still upon the bed. "But I wasn't strong enough to hold it, and it got away. No matter what I go through, or how much I work now, that thing can never return to me, Braig. All I can do is become strong enough, to make sure it never happens again. Every night I am reminded."
"...you had a bad dream." Braig sighed, softly, able to understand. "Dude, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to barge in."
Dilan chuckled, rolling over onto his back and looking to where Braig stood inside the door. "Even in our dreams, we're helpless. When I wake I feel like I'm a kid again, but there is no one to run to, to tell me everything is going to be alright." Dilan took a deep breath, and shook his head. "I should be more grateful to you, Braig. You're the only one that seems to keep away my nightmares, when I think about you. I can almost be the man I thought I'd be, when you're around. I guess you make me forget, somehow, about what it is I've lost. I can only think about how good a friend I've found."
He smiled, then, and Braig was struck by how sincere it was. Dilan never smiled.
Maybe he had chased away the monster, after all...
"Dilan...thanks. From now on...you don't ever have to worry." He grinned. "No matter where you go, you can't lose me. We're friends, for life."
"Friends for life. I'll hold you to that, Braig."
"I hope you do."
Braig smiled, and turned away.
"Sweet dreams, okay?"
He closed the door, and was gone.
Not even a week had passed before he heard the door open to his room, and stirred, once more, within his sleep.
Xehanort had been back twice, often enough that Braig had almost begun to expect it, and when he heard the frightening 'thud' against his wall, he knew that Dilan needed just a reassuring 'knock' right back. His nightly adventures were starting to amuse him, enough so that when he glanced over to welcome Xehanort and found Even's grim visage mocking him instead, he almost fell right out of bed.
"Even! What on earth are you doing in my room?!"
Caught completely off guard, Braig found himself pulling his covers over his legs and chest without even realizing, trying to preserve some sort of modesty that his night-clothes had already been protecting.
"I had a bad dream," came the wry response, as Even smirked down to him. "Aren't you the one to come to?"
It took the darker-haired apprentice a moment to realize that the other man was kidding, and even then he barely managed to catch on.
"Well, I sure as hell hope you don't want me to cuddle up with you to stop it."
"No, not particularly. I can barely stomach seeing you in the classroom, much less seeing you in bed. Although it would seem I'm already guilty of that." Even frowned. "The state that you keep this room in is appalling."
"So you came all the way down the hall to critique my messy room?"
"Hardly. I came to talk with you because Xehanort visited me the other night when you were away."
"Oh? Uh...did he, now...?" Braig cursed his grogginess for making his words sound as fake as they really were.
"He informed me of what you two had been... 'doing,' together."
"..." Well, crap. It had been awkward enough sharing his bed with a fifteen year old, on principle alone. It was suddenly way more awkward, with Even being aware of it.
"He also most tactlessly informed me that I was much less accommodating than you were. Apparently I'm too thin and do not generate quite enough heat."
This statement was promptly followed by Braig actually falling out of bed. He didn't even entirely remember the experience, but the next thing he knew Even was staring down at him from above, his hands behind his back, one thin eyebrow raised.
"Comfortable down there?"
"As if." Braig looked up at him, before suddenly laughing as the situation struck home. Xehanort had somehow convinced Even to let him stay the night? Cold, unpersonable Even had shared his bed with the sleepless apprentice, as well? Unexpectedly, Braig had something in common with Even.
That thought was enough to stop his laughter.
After a moment of stony silence, the light-haired apprentice reached down, and offered Braig a hand.
"Are you finished, now?"
"Yeah." Braig sobered, staring at the hand in uncertainty, debating whether or not to accept it.
"...what is it that you really wanted, then?"
"How long has he been coming to see you? I want to know if I should be expecting him again."
"A few weeks." After a moment of debating which would be more likely: Even's hand being ice-cold, or being oversoaked in enough disinfectant to kill an army of germs and ten Braigs alike, the darker-haired apprentice finally accepted it.
"It's probably just a phase, then."
Even pulled, and Braig rocked forward, until both of them were standing in the uncomfortable stillness of his room. "That's all I wanted to know."
"Seriously?" Braig blinked, surprised, thinking that Even had gone through a lot of effort just to ask an easy question.
"Yes, of course." Raising an eyebrow to his surprise, Even nonetheless turned away. "Although, I do have something for you." The second hand which had been hiding behind Even's back was now visible to him, and it held up something that Braig didn't quite recognize. A wooden hoop dangled on a leather band, interlaced with sinew string, colorful beads, and long speckled feathers.
"Geeze, Even." Braig blinked, and smirked "What kind of kinky bondage-thing is that?"
"It's called a Dreamcatcher." That ever-present frown on Even's face had deepened. "I'm supposing in your backwater sea community you'd never hear of it, but I did a little research into what it was." He handed the strange hoop over, and Braig took it, his eyes tracing the woven path of string around its center.
"Supposedly, if folklore is correct, it is meant for trapping bad dreams in its webbing, and letting harmless ones pass through. I'll leave the details of its workings to your own research, but if it proves successful the peace while I'm asleep will let me know."
"Catches dreams, eh?" Braig pushed on one end of the hoop, watching it twirl around its band. "Why are you giving it up, then?"
"I found it in the attic while I was looking for Master Ansem's old research journals, so it's not as if it has any worth to me. As to why..." Even continued on his path to the door, carefully, stepping gingerly over the socks and shirts and paintballs strewn across the room.
"Let's just say I'm tired of small boys crawling underneath my covers and loud knocks on the walls at night. Who knows? Maybe you would start having bad dreams, too, and then I'd find a whole slew of near-grown men waiting in my bed each evening." Even rolled his eyes.
"...well, I don't know how to say this to you, but...thanks." Braig was still surprised, but pleasantly so, as he watched his guest departing through the doorway.
"No thanks is needed. Let us just hope this 'phase' of Xehanort's passes by us, soon."
With a soft chuckle, Braig nodded, and walked to his window to hang the strange device. He had never heard of it before, and didn't really believe in superstition...but...ever since coming to this castle he had seen enough strange things to know that magic did exist. Who was he to say that leather nets couldn't catch bad dreams?
It was worth a try, at any rate.
He watched it dangle, even as he crept back to his bed and crawled beneath his covers.
No bad dreams inside his room...he had made a promise to Xehanort about that.
No matter what happened...
There was a knock on his door, and Xigbar stirred, slightly, turning over beneath his bedsheets. Soft footsteps could be heard across the pristine marble floors, and when he glanced up, Xemnas' face was there to greet him.
"I had a bad dream." He spoke, emotionless but bothered, nonetheless.
"Care to tell me about it?" Xigbar smirked, just a bit, and scooted over to make room.
"No." Shaking his head, Xemnas sat beside him on the covers.
"Let us talk of sharks, and dreamcatchers, of hearts and friendships...and then, finally, when we're through, we can laugh about the Darkness."