The sky over Twilight Town was a rancid green between rips of soiled gauze and cloud. The song over Twilight Town lingered wicked and stirring, a joyful dirge ringing out from the hanging bells of the austere white tower made sacrifice to the sky. The sea twinkled many safe and steady miles from the effacement of Twilight Town. Twilight Town, where the last few colored shapes of blood and veins lingered before they touched the air. The sunset-red tinged and changed by the sickness of the sky caused the gaudy stain. The splotches of life dribble across worn stone, draining to the streets where they slipped away into the sewers, to be forgotten amongst the refuse and the secrets of the crawling underground.
And, all the while, he kept his eyes away from the ceiling.
He had not painted in months and he had not slept in weeks. Insomnia rolled like a playful animal in his brain, caressing lobes and vertebrae, dragging them down to sluggishness with affectionate malice. His eyes felt gummy and sandy all at once. He reached a trembling hand to pick the crusts from the corner of his eye, taking with him his cornea and several writhing eyelashes. He stared at what he held between his fingertips for a long time before his eyes shivered tiredly. The delusion disappeared.
And all the while he kept his eyes away from the ceiling.
The perfect white canvas of the ceiling, which made him think of hidden sketchbooks, kept in the very back of his sister's closet where she thought he would not see. He could see, he could see very well. He could see from here, could see her through the walls, could see her in her bed breathing raggedly through quiet masturbation while the sketchbooks their mother had left behind lay hidden and waiting in the back of her closet.
And all the while he kept his eyes away from the ceiling.
His eyeballs flickered in and out of their sockets, leaving behind slimy trails of grime and congealing fluid, like a slug's, as they rolled down the contours of his face, landing neatly at the junctures of his legs. There they stayed a long while until he rolled over violently, sending his weeping broken eyes to the floor where they disappeared somewhere into his own closet. Staring through the wooden baseboard at the hidden sketchbooks burning on coal and unholy effigies.
His sister's breath huffed through the vents and finally the eyes disappeared back into the safe confines of his head.
And all the while he kept his eyes away from the ceiling.
Where the shadows jumped like stroking paints along the silken flesh-lines of his aching cock. The achingly white ceiling: where the witch-fires roamed in the crystalline eyes of cats. Outside, the last of the sickly sunset hid itself beneath the skirts of the skyline. Darkness whitewashed his beautiful ceiling anew, while his sister's breath quieted and she shifted herself back into her underwear, rolling to her side and ignoring the breathless rustle of their mother's sketchbooks hidden in the back of her closet beneath her pretty white dresses and her flowered skirts.
He jittered awake in the morning to the feel of alarm clock abrasions and the vanilla smooth suction of Naminé's mouth wrapped around his cock. He whimpered and writhed and clenched his fist, bucking until he came. The effort drained him of what little energy he had failed to retain in the insomniac's sleep. He woke to strings of semen crawling slowly across the grace of his fingers. The color reminded him of his sister's hair. The alarm whinnied again. He reached out with trembling fingertips to caress and convince it off again. The ceiling stood stark and still on stilts above him. Whitewashed of all his horrors by the daylight trembling through slatted shutter's teeth. The shadows lingered at the closet's innards, crooking fingers to his shaken senses.
He collapsed back again for a little while, shutting his weary eyes and thanking the violent sunvoice for shooing away the dark bleeding terror which his hands so ached to paint.
Then she entered the room. Her pale cheeks flushed roseate-petal and her soft blond hair adorning her slim shoulders. Her skin raised the air to euphonious singing as she moved through it and…
"Breakfast," she trilled, picking cyan paint from beneath her short nails.
Roxas stared at her in silence, watching her breath, watching her shift her weight.
Her dress was a white summer dress, and the thin cotton rolled like waves with the roll of her muscles, the movement and shift and flex of her legs… He shut his eyes again and hated the demons hidden in the back of her closet, beneath those lovely dresses.
The sky over Twilight Town was a warming mucus yellow, oozing over the tissued rooftops. Roxas mixed paints quietly in his head until Naminé laughed at his strange behavior and went away.
His knuckles ached to clench a brush between his fingers.
His body shook, and he wished he had slept for more than a few intensely draining seconds. His wishes went unheard by the Sandman, and Roxas cursed darkly to the dead air of his room. It had died of loss as soon as Naminé had left. He sneered at its dramatics
Breakfast went by slowly, Roxas refusing to listen to the demons in the basement crying out to be released. Naminé couldn't hear them; their voices and Roxas knew, somewhere deep down inside him, the sounds were only his mother's vengeful spirits haunting him with the same demons she had once known so intimately as to paint and sketch. Roxas knew they—the growls and shrieks and calls—were only the reference Polaroids of those creatures, their unholy essences screaming out from within sheet film.
He smiled blithely and knew it was the insomnia.
Roxas put another dead baby chicken into his mouth and knew the insomnia was only because of—
Naminé laughed at him, pursing her lips around the edge of her glass.
He shuddered and pushed his plate away, rising in a hurry and wiping away any stray bits of breakfast from his uniform tie.
"Told the guys I would be on time today."
"Why don't you stay home?"
Delirium. Desire. Despair.
He made his way into town to take the train toward the western reaches, where a pretentious private school sat waiting upon a hill. He and Naminé could have gone together, they could have but he—(shuddered)—had to get there earlier.
Hayner marveled at his bloodshot eyes and Olette asked if he was doing drugs, while it was Pence who said,
"The cool kids don't talk about it."
"You been losing weight lately?" Hayner snapped back and went on with slinging his arm around Roxas's quivering shoulders. "Man, you gotta sleep."
And Roxas smiled blandly, the easiest expression to paint across his tired face, though it was still far too much effort to watercolor his eyes the same.
"Can't sleep," he laughed breathlessly. "Every time I sleep I see" (Naminé) "these" (monsters) "weird" (visions) "things". His hands gesticulated uselessly, still screaming to paint—(to paint, to paint)—but he hadn't been able to paint anything worthwhile for months, nothing put pallid scribbles on soiled pallets.
"Maybe you should see a doctor," Olette murmured, shifting in her skirt. It was a lot shorter than the dress Naminé had been wearing around the house, but it didn't look nearly so nice.
"Let me get this straight"—Roxas yawned—"you want me to take drugs?"
Olette gave him a perfunctory little scoff, leaning back and crossing her ankles, it said enough and Hayner took up voicing his opinions again. Roxas sure wasn't listening; he was too busy sneering at the church cross mounted on high faithless turrets, sliding past through the train windows, backlit on time and tide.
At school, teachers cornered him like they did every other day, threatening to call his father and promising him a trip to the nurse and to the councilors. Roxas smiled wanly and let them do as they pleased.
In art, he stared at a blank paper and wished he could draw something on it, his eyes went blurry and his hand quavered, twitching with suppressed desires. He licked his dry lips and raised the coal, poised and ready only to see…
The paper bled before him. A sharp sprig of flowers, broken from the bough at one end. A pair of stark black wings shooting forth out of a vortex of paper-white oblivion. Trickling waterfalls of raindrops down the paper's edge, pooling in the bottom corner. The wings beat furiously, ruffling the buds, sending a petal drifting down empty space to float atop the bleeding puddles.
He whimpered loudly, shaking his head against the phantasms of somnambulistic imagination.
White page, broken coal, concerned teacher staring him in the face.
"Go to the nurse."
The nurse called his father but received no answers. So, instead, she looked at him hesitantly. Taking stock of bloodshot whites and ringed eyes, asking him severely if he was doing drugs and when he denied it for the millionth time, she gave him some, assuaging herself all the while that it was a mild sedative that would do him no harm.
Warm and wet and pink.
He grabbed her hair and forced her farther, choking her.
He awoke with a retch and a shudder. The dreams were nothing new. He'd been having them since before he even understood sex.
He went home early.
The house was empty when he finally stumbled his way back through the door. His father was never around, never had been, Roxas could barely remember him at times. Their mother had died… was it only a year ago? Yes, a year, a few scant weeks before Roxas's birthday. She'd overdosed, or slit her wrists… or had she ingested her paints… Roxas couldn't remember—after the trauma of being the one to find—her well enough to say. All he really remembered were the monsters and the paintings and the (hidden) sketchbooks.
All Roxas really remembered of his beautiful mother was her promise. Art had always been something the whole family shared… maybe her was why that promise woke him screaming at night, before the had insomnia set in…
She'd promised it would take him too.
Her sharp, accusing smile.
"Fuck that witch for me, Roxas."
He stumbled, clawing his way blindly through the kitchen; he stumbled again and fell to the carpet of the living room. He vomited violently and he cried. Even then, as he felt darkness closing in upon his eyes, he could not sleep. Instead he lay, conscious and weary and hurting and convulsing, until all that was left was black.
He wanted to cry a little more, but the tears would not come.
His mother was dead, he knew that much for certain. The scene of her suicide (he couldn't quite remember) morphed before him. The only constant was easel looming up out of the black and the painting. The great hunkered beast with the sunken eyes, its iridescent white teeth glimmering out of the dark and its obsidian claws dripping with the blood of the moon-pale child at its enormous taloned feet.
For a few seconds at a time his mother would be floating in a bath of her own blood, in another her mouth was smeared with paint her eyes staring wide at him. Another… she looked peaceful but unnaturally ashen. In one, her brains lay smeared upon the wall. Shifting and writhing, the image taking form and then breaking down again in a million little pixels to reform into the next death.
This was different from the other nightmares, Roxas noted miserably.
In the others, he was hunted by the demons, pleasured by his sister.
Here was haunted. He missed the sulfur of the beasts. He missed the beautiful disgust in Naminé's mouth.
He cried out for them in his sleep.
And someone came to him.
The angel bled over him in long rivulets, and the halo of light over its head was soothing.
The angel draped a dark cloth over his body and Roxas wondered… if that meant he had died?
He felt nothing but warm and secure beneath the velvet covering. His eyes fluttered, but he forced them shut again, reaching out for sleep in deluded hope. Sleep did not come and, when he clenched his fist, his fingers cracked.
He raised his head from a pool of his own vomit.
And blinked at his sister's shining face.
He grimaced at her and shoved her aside.
She looked hurt, but did not say a word.
She wasn't speaking.
The voice came from the locked wooden door to the basement.
His mother's demons—Release me—wanted out.
He wondered where they had learned his name.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and went to his room.
He could not hear them anymore, he told himself.
Night spilled savagely across Twilight Town that evening. There was no quiet rainbow interlude for the town's namesake. Darkness ran rampant across the unprepared rooftops and quickly enveloped Roxas's room, swaddling it with silence for one stunned moment.
Then the walls broke into screams and wails.
His body ached and every muscle vibrated.
He lay on his back, entranced by the dance of shadows upon the ceiling.
The wings from the art room returned, this time enflamed, burning away the little peonies, evaporating the rainfall.
The shape expanded, feathers pulling apart and falling and coming back together again in a human form.
Roxas shuddered in his breath.
Begging it to stop.
He hated the Dreamlord for forsaking him to this.
He began to pray when the figure pulled itself free from the prison of the ceiling-wall.
Roxas scrambled upright, too weak to really run. Instead he rubbed vigorously at his eyes for quick, blessed waking relief.
When he blinked open his gummy eyes, the angel was there. Smiling at him imperceptibly from within its veils of light.
Roxas could have sobbed again, and resented the surge of emotions. He blamed the angel, he blamed the insomnia, he blamed the Sandman, and he blamed the demons. Yet, he blamed his mother—his beautiful mother whose death he could not remember—most of all.
Somewhere in the night, in that horribly ambivalent moment between death, resurrection, salvation and corruption, he began to paint. Where he found the ladder to reach the bleeding canvas of his ceiling, he did not know. His only awareness was the clutch of a brush at his fingers and the noxious fumes of the paints.
Fumes began to cloud in around him, beating at the sealed window for—Release me—release. They wanted escape from the nightmare beasts he painted. Far below, the once-white carpets fathered up his fallen paints in their synthetic fibers, taking on the appearance of a wasteland. Dribbled artistic identities… rotting.
Three days later, Roxas painted over the whole thing. He painted it black and began again with inversion. Naminé beat worriedly upon the door, her moaning voice calling for their father, who never came. Her whimpers damning their witch mother and her suicides.
His paints slathered the furniture. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Six days later he emerged for food, and to eye the forbidden door of the basement with speculation. He remained oblivious to his friends and sister sitting at the sun-soaked kitchen table. Then Naminé reached out, her red dress rippling across her body, and smacked him hard. He smiled at her blithely.
"Nami," he crooned, setting aside a handful of raw vegetables in order to catch her wrists and drag her in closer to his body. "I've been painting for hours, Nami. But it isn't working, Nami, it isn't working."
"Days!" She screamed, hitting him again with her little fists. Olette pulled her back while Pence restrained the seething Hayner and Roxas left, returning to his churning wake(1) of disjointed saturations. Naminé's cries echoed up after him like the coos of dying birds. "Roxas, it's been days!"
He toppled from the ladder to the floor, lying with his shoulder throbbing as he stared helplessly up at the ceiling.
He knew the insomnia was because—
And his mother answered in the dark echoing voice of the demons. "Abomination, look what you've done to the machine."
It bled into his eyes when he slept and when he rubbed at them they shook like he had cocaine jitters.
His eyes and fingertips.
The angel came from the ceiling, sustained in half memories and harpy screams.
He was covered in blood and black paint when he came to again.
The walls had been painted and the whole room smelled of licorice.
Roxas coughed, trying to vomit but instead splashing the palm of his hand with more blood.
His nose had been bleeding too.
He breathed out foreign words in a translated tongue.
To burn out, fried.
He wondered where he'd learned them.
They burst into the room with the help of a hatchet.
His friends gagged from the smell, but Naminé marched inside fearlessly, dripping wet paint splattering her sunlight hair. The air was too heavy to sing for her and Roxas was too far gone to do much more than stare down at her from atop the tilting ladder.
"Nami," he purred.
"Roxas," she hissed.
"How do you like my painting?" he murmured, motioning around the room, to the angel on the ceiling, to the bludgeoned, brutalized, blighted landscapes crawling up the walls with dark claws.
She looked, she looked and grew nervous. Black (plague) paint continued to rain down upon her. The emerald dress, her skin, and her hair: spattered and wholly stained.
"You're insane," she whispered.
Roxas cocked his head to the side, turning to stare at his own paintings. He was dizzy from the fumes and he wobbled. Olette shot forward and steadied his ladder, but she didn't say a word.
"It's your fault," Roxas shrugged after a moment. "Mom always said it was your fault."
Naminé shook with fury beneath him, shoving the ladder and very nearly toppling it but for Olette's hold.
Naminé growled up at him. "That crazy witch is dead! Don't forget who is with you now, Roxas! Don't abandon me!"
He watched her benignly and then began to paint, all the while humming,
"Who's a witch?"
The paint fumes could leave the room.
Roxas felt some sanity return, even if he still did not eat enough and still did not sleep enough, but sometimes Olette and Pence would come with food and drink he would take them graciously, looking in wonderment at the imperfection he was creating all around him.
"It still isn't right."
"Roxas, it's amazing," Pence would argue.
Roxas would scowl, heathen azure eyes seething as he looked around again critically.
"It isn't right. I need mother's help."
He was insane, Olette knew.
"Roxas, your mother is—"
"I know she isn't my… " He trailed off with a vague smile.
He didn't know what she wasn't, or even who she was.
He broke into Naminé's room shortly thereafter.
He needed the sketchbooks.
He needed to see, to replicate his mother's hand.
But as he flipped through, page after page, creature, monster, beast—bipedal, fleshy, all of them—after beast…
Useless to him.
For nearly a week he remained in his room, the splintered door wide open yet no one there to watch him as he painted, bringing out pint after pint of paint from their mother's abandoned studio.
He was nearly drained, he feared.
Roxas had waking dreams of Naminé as he worked.
Her body clothed in horrendously vibrant red orchids.
Her flesh pressed close to his, breathing sweet breath across his lips.
She said his named.
But his mother said it so much better.
Her voice called forth the demons and when the demons came…
He could finish the painting.
When his mother had still been alive, wild-blue eyed and genius and gentle, he'd never gone into the basement. She'd kept him away, telling him one day it would be his. When she'd died, his father would always appear, just in time, to stop him whenever he finally found the courage to touch that weathered brass doorknob.
Somehow, he knew his shadow father would make no such appearance now.
Though, Naminé did try, brandishing crayons and empty papers and tears.
He pushed her aside with disgust, even as his cock pulsed for her and she offered herself so willingly, calling after him as he descended down the creaking wooden stairs.
Down until his feet met soft dirt and he ducked his head beneath the stone supports.
The basement was dark and lightless, two separate entities, each clinging to separate aspects of the room. The dark huddled beneath the stairs, in the corners, above the rafters.The lightlessness lingered around the ancient well and the easels propped against the walls and covered in sheets. Roxas stalked them, circling for a time, and then unveiled each of them, one by one, exposing mephitic demons, hunched, snarling, yet blurred and unfinished, at the wrong resolution, discolored pixels.
Leaving only the well with its slatted wooden grate yet to be revealed, unmasked.
The smell coming up from its depths was fetid and horrible.
Roxas did not flinch, not even as splinters pricked his fingers in final defiance.
He lifted the grate and set the demons free.
They rushed over him, clawing and brutalizing, destroying easels, knocking them down and releasing a flurry of photographs burning with their visages.
They bit and tore.
Naminé screamed but the angel did not come and Roxas hurt everywhere.
He was hungry and tired, battered and bruised by the writhing monsters beating all around him. He made his way, blindly, out of the basement. He felt as if he had lost his eyes somewhere, probably to the starving mouth of a bloodthirsty creature. They stole further little nibbles of him as he went, but they, the monsters, let him pass.
To finish the painting.
He found his brushes in his room, knew the pattern of his torment perfectly—without foolish eyes—and with the last of his mother's colors he painted.
Naminé's curses ringing.
This one was the angel.
He must have finished it properly this time, Roxas surmised. Surveying his terrible work in his mind's eyes.
The shadowed hills, the broken moon, the faceless angel.
Blood and thorns and rain and heartless little shadows and mindless silver stars, hungry burning stars. Spiders, hearts, webs and skulls.
But the faceless angel on the tormenting ceiling cried out loudest of them all.
Shook most, shook best, till the plaster came loose and the room grew bright.
The house came down all around him.
Fire spreading, demons rampaging.
Until it came to a stuttered, clicking halt.
Roxas awoke to the angel's voice saying,
He forced himself awake.
And found he was not who he thought he was.
His body was the same, but where his blood should have run, as programmed, there was nothing.
He felt like nothing.
"Who am I."
"Sora." The angel replied, ruffling his hair.
Roxas looked up sharply.
The angel did have a face.
A long leonine face with crisp apple eyes and fiery red hair.
The angel smiled wanly. "I stayed to watch you and make sure—"
"Who are you?" Roxas interrupted with a woozy sigh, though he felt no pain nor hunger nor fatigue. As if the past months of insanity and delirium had never been.
"You know," the angel said.
"I don't," Roxas bleated fearfully, even though what he said was, "Axel."
Little dream world Roxas began to cry.
Axel frowned and gathered him up in his arms. He smelled of charcoal and lighter fluid, but one smell—one far fresher to little dream world Roxas's mind—overpowered those familiar scents.
Corpses. Rotting. Bleeding. Decaying.
He pushed back, hiccupping on tears, as he looked around.
He spotted the dead body with ease.
An old man in a regal burgundy robe dead upon the tiled floor, bathed in flickering blue paint.
"Who was he?"
"He wanted to give you back. I killed him for you."
"For me?" Roxas blinked, dreams wary; reality elated. "Such a good guardian angel," he cooed.
"I was going to leave you there," Axel said, Axel explained. "To be happy. You seemed happy with your family and friends." He glanced over his shoulder at the doorway, as if he expected someone to be there. Real Roxas knew that it was Naminé he waited for.
"Witch," he breathed out with angry serpentine breath.
Axel laughed. "She couldn't leave well enough alone."
"Help me." The blond boy's demand.
"I will, Roxas, I will."
"Kill her." A blue eyed claim.
"I will, Roxas, I will."
"She made me think she was my sister!"
"I know, Roxas, I know."
"And… my mother… " The insanity came creeping.
"Still dead, Roxas, still dead."
"Never existed!" The refuge wouldn't last.
"Still dead, Roxas, still dead."
"You're broken, Roxas, you're broken."
He felt at home, at last.
He—Axel and real Roxas and little dream world Roxas—would have killed her the next day, but pretty Naminé, with her white-gold hair and ice-blue eyes, ran away, too ashamed of what she'd done. Too frightened by the glitch she'd caused. Digitizing the data of a heart was more complicated than she or DiZ had ever predicted.
Her fault though, she hadn't drawn it well enough, hadn't put enough detail in Mother and Father. They'd grown too aware that they had no dimensions and they had railed against the barriers of mainframe and paper. The mother, with crayon-wax bloodlines, had grown to use her power, glitching DiZ's world and calling forth demons, making room for Axel's angel program to peak in, omnipotent. Naminé'd had no choice… she'd had to terminate the Mother, but there had not been enough detail for that epitaph… another discrepancy in her coding.
Truthfully, Naminé hadn't kept her hidden desires out of their family portrait either. It had obviously caused a number of errors… If she could try it over again, they'd be so much more than siblings. They would have been so much more than siblings, if she hadn't stressed the system, hadn't tried to work with the corrupt data of his nonexistent heart. It had fragmented his program—she'd driven him mad and that was all she had to—and the Mother virus had only inflamed the cracks.
Oh well, she thought as she convinced Saïx to take her back in with a long curving, crescent line. She'd miss her docile brother with his fabricated, forced-upon, filthy dreams. Real Roxas was such a traitor.
Hmph, she sighed. Oh well, she thought again, maybe Riku would succeed and save her from their wrath in the end.
1 a vigil held over a corpse the night before burial