Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Disney, and all that fun stuff.
A/N: Well, the last chapter is finally here and I hope you all like it. Friendship stories are always my favorites, and this one sort of just proves it. Now, as usual, please review! (It won't kill you, honest!) I'm sorry if you think this chapter is not up to my usual style, but I've been sick all week, so I was lacking some enthusiasm when I wrote it. I hope that doesn't stop everyone from liking it, though! And also, this chapter does make sense if you take some of the Final Mix cutscenes into account.
The Way to the Heart
Chapter 7: Axel's Parting Gift
The Usual Spot, Twilight Town
For a moment Roxas thought he must have misinterpreted Hayner's words, but then it dawned on him that the blond struggler was no longer looking at him like he was the enemy, and his mouth dropped open in shock. "Do you really mean that?"
Hayner handed the photo back to Sora and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess so. Besides, you were a pretty cool best friend. It would be practically impossible to replace you."
"You're such a jerk, Hayner!" Olette laughed, hugging the blond struggler tightly around the neck. "It's about time you finally came to your senses. If it had been the other way around, you know Roxas would have forgiven you."
"Don't you think I know that? I'm not stupid, Olette!"
"I never said you were. You're just way too stubborn for your own good."
"I am not!"
Even after everything I've done, he still wants to be my friend. I feel like I'm dreaming, but I know I'm not. This is real. This is really happening to me. I know Hayner, Pence, and Olette better than I know myself. How could I have ever thought they would turn their backs on me?
Roxas had not felt this happy since the very first time he had spoken to Sora, and his feelings were so strong, it felt like they were going to overwhelm him. He had been waiting for this moment ever since he had left Hayner, Pence, and Olette behind, and now that it had finally arrived, he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. Taking a deep breath, he placed his hand on Hayner's arm and gave his best friend a brilliant smile. "Thanks, Hayner, for...for believing in me. I...it means a lot to me, what you said."
Hayner looked at him, and the two of them stared at each other in silence. After what seemed like several minutes, though it was really only a few seconds, Hayner smiled in a teasing sort of way and raised his eyebrows. "Is Axel still your best friend, too? I know he's gone, but..."
"Axel will always be my best friend. He might have disappeared, but as long as I still remember him, he'll never really be gone. We were friends right up until the moment he sacrificed himself to open a portal to The World that Never Was, and nothing, not even the harsh world of reality, can ever take that away from me."
Hayner nodded approvingly and crossed his arms over his chest. "I knew you were going to say something like that."
"That explains why we wanted to be your friends in the first place," Pence said thoughtfully, almost to himself.
Roxas gazed self-consciously at his feet, and unable to stop himself, he blurted out the one question that had been bothering him for some time, but because of what the answer might be, he had been unable to voice it, until now. "Hayner, does it bother you that I still consider Axel to be one of my best friends?"
Roxas felt Hayner's arm go around his shoulders, and lifting his head, he found himself gazing into his best friend's dark eyes. Smirking slightly, Hayner scratched his blond head and poked himself in the chest. "I guess I can share, this time, but only because I like you so much. Besides, no one ever said you couldn't have more than one best friend. It's not like there's a law against it or something."
Roxas felt an enormous wave of relief wash over him, and sagging slightly under the weight of Hayner's arm, he managed a shaky smile. "I knew there was a reason why I wanted to hang out with you."
"I have to admit, compared to some of the other members of the Organization, Axel was a pretty decent guy."
Roxas nodded in agreement and smiled at the blond struggler. "You know what, Hayner? I think you would have gotten along really well with Axel."
"Is that supposed to be an insult or a compliment?" Riku said dryly, interrupting the conversation before Hayner could respond.
Hayner glared at Riku, but Roxas merely laughed and smiled at the blond struggler. "Definitely a compliment."
"You still miss Axel, though, don't you?" Olette said softly, a sad smile slipping across her face.
Roxas stared quietly at his hands for a moment and slowly nodded. "I'm always going to miss him. At first, I was really upset, but I'm fine with it now because, in the end, I got a chance to say goodbye, and to me that's the most important thing."
"Wait a minute, how could you have had a chance to say goodbye to Axel when you never spoke to him again after you merged with Sora?" Donald asked, crossing his arms.
Roxas ignored the suspicious look on the court wizard's face and turned to smile at Sora. "You know, don't you?"
Sora nodded and placed a hand against his heart. "The same place you used to tell Axel everything else that was on your mind. Station Tower."
"I told him I had to go. I said...I told him you were waiting for me."
Sora lowered his bright blue eyes to the floor and smiled sadly at his hands. "I know. I remember, though I didn't know what it meant, until now. I don't exactly know how it happened, but that memory of yours is really strong in my heart. It's almost like you and Axel were speaking together in your mind; in my mind. That memory only came to me pretty recently, but it's strong, and I'm glad you got to see Axel again. I...you know...you were waiting for me a lot longer than I had to wait for you."
Roxas put his hand on Sora's shoulder, and the Keyblade Master slowly turned to look at him. At first he didn't know what to say, but then the words suddenly came to him. It was almost as if his heart had been waiting for this exact moment because for the first time in his life, he knew exactly what to do. "Trust me, it was worth the wait. Axel understood. We both knew what I had to do, and he didn't try to stop me. If you had been anyone else, he might have put up more of a fight, but...he wanted you to help me find my heart. He never said it in so many words, but...like you, Sora, I think he believed I had a heart. On the outside, it may have seemed as if he only cared about saving his own skin, but he spent more time thinking about me and what would make me happy than he did about himself."
"Axel didn't want you to merge with me because he thought it meant he would never see you again," Sora said quietly, his gaze still focused on his hands. "How can I fault him for something like that? I probably would have felt the same way it I thought Riku was going to disappear."
Riku jerked his head up and stared at Sora in surprise, but the Keyblade Master refused to look at his best friend. Roxas smiled in amusement and nudged his other half in the ribs. "I should have known you would understand."
"I know Axel was afraid you would disappear, but I don't think it's because he didn't understand what would happen to you. Like Namine, he knew, but at that point I don't think he was ready to face the truth."
Silly, just because you have a next life...
Roxas had never forgotten Axel's words, and clearly that was one of the memories the Keyblade Master had managed to pick up on. "You know what, Sora? I think you might be right."
"Of course he is!" Kairi said cheerfully, beaming at the Keyblade Master.
Sora suddenly looked up, and Roxas was so startled by the Keyblade Master's sudden movement he nearly fell into Kairi's lap. Somehow he managed to straighten up, but before he could settle himself comfortably on the floor again, he found himself gazing into the Keyblade Master's deep blue eyes. Sora stared curiously at him for a moment and he felt his face turn red. "What?"
It's not like I tried to flatten Kairi on purpose!
Sora scratched his spiky hair and shrugged his shoulders. "It's nothing. I just wish...well...I never got to thank Axel for all of his help. In the end, he wanted the two of us to work together. He trusted me, and...I never got a chance to tell him how much that meant to me. He really believed in me, and it's almost like he knew you would find a way to be happy again."
"No, it's like he knew I would be happy with you."
Sora stared at him, and he quickly ducked his head to hide his embarrassment. Great, I'm getting as bad as he is! Riku's never going to let me forget this!
"Do you really think so?" Sora asked hopefully.
Roxas shrugged and managed a nervous smile. "Don't worry, Sora, he knew how you felt. I might not be sure about a lot of things, but I knew Axel better than I knew all of the other members of the Organization combined, and something tells me he understood exactly how you were feeling. You are me, after all, and sometimes I think he knew me better than I knew myself. I'm sure of it. He knew about you, didn't he? He knew a lot of things I didn't know."
"Does it bother you that Axel kept so many secrets from you?" Pence asked hesitantly.
Roxas smiled and shook his head. "Not really. He was only doing what the Organization wanted him to do. How can I be angry at him for that when at one point I was doing the exact same thing? We were all victims of Xemnas; of Xehanort. Marluxia, Larxene, Demyx, Zexion, Luxord, Xaldin...all of us, including Axel. If only things could have been different."
"Did you get along with any of the other Nobodies in the Organization besides Axel?" Hayner interrupted, curiosity sparkling in his dark eyes.
Roxas laughed and made a face. "I got along pretty well with Demyx. He was probably the one I liked best after Axel. Zexion hardly ever spoke to me, but when he did it was always respectful. He was pretty mysterious, but a lot of times I would look up and find him watching me as if I were a particularly interesting book he wanted to read. Larxene was always calling me a little kid, and I hated it with a passion. Then there's Marluxia. He was always trying to get friendly with me, but I never liked him much. The only reason he ever bothered to talk to me was because of Sora. All of the members of the Organization were interested in Sora, and what better way to learn more about the Keyblade Master and his weaknesses than by becoming friendly with his Nobody? Most of the time the rest of them didn't bother with me much. Like Larxene, I think they saw me as a kid who was more of a nuisance than a member of the Organization. Except Xemnas. I tried to avoid the Superior as much as possible. He creeped me out, and I hated the way he kept a close eye on me all the time. It's almost like he knew I would end up betraying them. Of course, the others couldn't disregard me completely, since they knew how important I was."
"Gawrsh, Roxas, it doesn't sound like you had very much fun in the Organization," Goofy said thoughtfully, twirling his shield absent-mindedly in his hands.
"Not really, no, unless Axel was with me."
"At least he knew how to have fun," Hayner agreed.
Roxas rolled his eyes and turning to Sora, he poked the Keyblade Master in the arm. "Hey, do you think Axel might be the reason why we were able to meet each other in person in the first place? I mean, do you think Axel had something to do with me being able to appear to you in The World that Never Was? That was when I discovered I could separate myself from your body, but I know for a fact I hadn't been able to do something like that before then because...well...I tried several times and it didn't work. I'll admit I didn't try very hard because I...I wasn't really ready to face you yet, but..."
Sora studied his face for a moment and slowly nodded. "I think so. Roxas, I was the one who brought you into existence by becoming a Heartless, but Axel was the one who made you real to me, and I made you real to everyone else. It makes sense, doesn't it? Axel triggered your appearance to me, and because of that I was finally able to see you and meet you. After that, everyone else started seeing you because I was making you real to them. I know it's kind of confusing, but-"
"No, it makes perfect sense. Thanks to Axel, we've been able to see each other ever since. "
He's done more for me than he'll ever know...
"Sora, do you remember when you first woke up and you thought you heard someone calling your name?" Roxas blurted out, before he could stop himself. "You asked who was there but no one answered. It was me. I was the one calling out your name after I merged with you. You needed to wake up. You needed to help your friends. You needed to stop the Organization...to...to save Kingdom Hearts..."
Sora's mouth fell open, and the Keyblade Master stared at him in shock. "That was you? I wondered about that, but I never knew for sure, until now. You know what, Roxas? I'm the lucky one."
Roxas stared at his feet and smiled softly to himself. "Thanks, Sora."
"This is how it was meant to be," Namine said quietly, her bright blue eyes sparkling happily in the sunshine streaming through the open door. "I wanted so badly for you to be happy, Roxas. I'm so glad everything worked out for you. Seeing you happy always makes me feel good."
Roxas blushed and gazed hopefully at the female Nobody. "Really? I feel the same way about you."
"And don't worry, Namine, we forgive you, just like we forgive Roxas," Olette said firmly, giving the other girl a quick hug. "You were a victim just as much as he was."
"We're honoured to have you in our group," Pence said enthusiastically. "You're a part of our gang just as much as Sora, Kairi, Riku, Donald, Goofy, and pretty much everyone else."
"As I always say, it never hurts to have too many friends," Hayner said nonchalantly, grinning at Namine.
Namine's sapphire eyes filled with tears and she beamed at everyone. "Thank you, all of you."
"Well, I guess that means everything is back to normal, if you can call all the weird stuff that's happened normal!" Olette laughed.
Roxas raised his eyebrows and tugged lightly on one of Olette's dark braids. "Easy for you to say. I'm still getting used to being friends with myself!"
The words had barely left his mouth when he felt Oblivion poke him sharply in the side. Turning, he glared at his other half and knocked the dark Keyblade aside with his hand. "What was that for?"
"Revenge! You poked me first!"
"Real mature, Sora," Olette snorted.
Kairi giggled and jumped quickly to her feet. "Who's up for some sea-salt ice cream?"
"Oh, boy! That's the best idea I've heard all day!" Donald shouted, jumping up and hitting Goofy over the head with his staff. "Come on, slowpoke, it's time to eat!"
"But...what about Namine and Roxas? They're transparent! They can't leave here looking like that, can they?" Pence asked hesitantly.
Hayner snorted and clapped his hand on the other boy's shoulder. "Sure they can. The people in this town have seen weirder things than Roxas and Namine. Take Donald for example. How many talking ducks are there in Twilight Town?"
"Hey!" Donald grumbled.
Hayner grinned at the court wizard and shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, I want to see the look on Seifer's face when he comes in contact with a 'ghost'!"
Laughing, Roxas got to his feet and followed the others out the door, Sora trailing along behind him. Kairi, Namine, and Olette were whispering to each other at the front of the group and every so often they would smile mysteriously over their shoulders and burst into sudden fits of laughter. Goofy and Donald were arguing loudly together in the middle of the group while Pence and Riku got into a discussion about Ansem the Wise.
Glancing at the others to make sure no one but Sora could overhear them, Roxas turned to Hayner and smiled weakly at the blond struggler. "Thanks for believing in me."
"Don't worry about it. You would have done the same for me. You'll come back and visit us a lot, won't you?"
"Of course he will," Sora said cheerfully, throwing his arms behind his head and stepping up next to them with a smile on his face.
Roxas put an arm around his other half and turned to smile at Hayner. "What he said."
"I knew there was a reason why I wanted you for a best friend."
"Roxas, you'd better visit us a lot!" Olette shouted over her shoulder.
So much for not being overheard.
Somehow Olette had ended up walking next to Riku, and for the first time since he had met the female resident of Twilight Town, Riku seemed to notice the way she was gazing at him. He looked surprised, and a little bit amused, but instead of mentioning it, he merely smiled at her and proceeded to ask some questions about Twilight Town.
Coming to a decision, Roxas leaned close to Sora and nodded his head towards Kairi. "Tell her how you feel. It'll be easier than you think."
"Just do it!"
Sora blushed, and after a slight hesitation, the Keyblade Master nodded slowly. "I'll do it, but only if you tell Namine you like her."
"What? Are you crazy? I'm not telling her that!"
"Hey, buddy, we're in this together! If you won't do it then I won't do it!"
"He's got you there!" Hayner smirked.
Roxas glanced at Namine, who smiled at him, and blushing slightly, he quickly turned back to Sora. "So...if I talk to Namine, you'll talk to Kairi?"
Sora beamed at him and crossed his arms over his chest. "That's right."
Roxas took a deep breath and glared at the Keyblade Master. "Fine, I'll do it, but if you back out on me-"
"I won't, I promise."
Hayner stared at them and shook his head. "Sora, you were right. Roxas is definitely your Nobody."
Sora looked a little bit confused about whether or not he should be insulted, but before the Keyblade Master could work out what Hayner had said, Roxas once again put an arm around his other half and suppressed a smile.
So this is what it feels like to be really, truly happy. Namine was right. I am whole again, in more ways than one. All of the best parts of my life and the best parts of Sora's life have come together, and it's made both of us complete. Hayner, Pence, Olette...they were here all along. All I had to do was find them again. In a way, it's all thanks to Axel. If it hadn't been for him. I might not have found a way to interact with Sora and none of this would have ever happened.
I wanted to see Roxas. He was the only one I liked. He made me feel...like I had a heart...
It's always closer than you think...
Riku was right.
Roxas looked up at the pale orange sky and smiled at the sun shining low in the distance. Even though Axel had disappeared, Roxas knew the red-haired Nobody was still out there watching over him, and as far as he was concerned, they would always be best friends. As long as Axel remained in his heart, the red-haired Nobody would never really be gone. Hayner, Pence, Olette, Sora, Namine, and all of his other friends were with him, but the one thing that made him the most happy was the fact that he just knew Axel was proud of him, and that made him proud to be a Nobody.
Besides, he's not gone forever. We'll see each other again. I know we will.
Smiling to himself, Roxas patted Sora's shoulder and gazed at the clock tower looming above Twilight Town. He had his friends, he had Sora and Namine, but most of all he had his heart, and that alone had made his journey through the darkness worth every bit of pain he had suffered.
As Sora once said: "The heart may be weak, and sometimes it may even give in, but I know, deep inside, there is a light that never goes out."
A light he knew would always burn bright within him.