Title: Where the Heart Is
Summary: Because Nobodies are drawn to their hearts. Even though he no longer feels emotions, Lexaeus is not ready to let go of the one thing that links him to his former self.
Coupling: Aeleus x Ienzo
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts belongs to Squeenix. I merely borrow, torment for a while, and return in (mostly) one piece.
Notes: … blame my essays? They're melting my brain, I swear. Or Zexion's prettiness. Because I am just that shallow.
And a warning that this fic is not beta-ed or even reread after I rewrote the thing. So I apologize beforehand for any moronic mistakes, although as of September 12, I got so irritated with some of the stupider typos that I finally bothered to correct and reupload this thing. Yargh.
It took him a month to find Ienzo.
The only one of their circle to have escaped the darkness whole, Ienzo had disappeared during the Heartless's rampage through Radiant Garden. But while the others thought him dead, killed by the Heartless without leaving behind so much as an empty shell as the rest of them had, Lexaeus believed—no, knew, without the least bit of doubt—otherwise. For even amongst the scattered citizens who had managed to survive the constant attacks of the darkness, Lexaeus could still perceive that one heart which had made him feel… different that time not so long ago (although it felt like a lifetime ago), when he still had his own.
He would never go so far as to say that Ienzo made him complete, as if he had been missing something before he had met Ansem's youngest apprentice. Aeleus had always been both independent and self-sufficient, but relationships did not always have to be built on need. Neither had needed the other, but things simply seemed better when they were together.
The same could not be said now, especially when need was all Nobodies could feel in lieu of real emotions. Lexaeus's need for a heart was of no exception. When once Aeleus could have been content in knowing that Ienzo was alive and presumably well, now he could only yearn for what was once his. Ienzo's heart was not the one that he had lost, but it was the closest thing he had to his former self. The result was that the mere presence of Ienzo in this world had the dual effect of calming and distressing the emptiness that threatened to consume him from the inside out.
So in-between his duties to Xemnas, he sought out the heart that made him feel like something more than nothingness. But it seemed that no matter where he looked—and in the ruins of Radiant Garden, there was both nowhere and too many places to hide—Ienzo was nowhere to be found. The constant failure was maddening, as he could clearly sense the boy. But it seemed that no matter what he did, he simply could not get close enough for it to matter.
Perhaps it is because he is being hidden, Vexen had suggested one day over tea and pickled daikon. Vexen was the only person of the other Nobodies who was willing to even consider the possibility that Ienzo was still alive, although Lexaeus knew that the academic was motivated by scientific curiosity than any lingering attachments.
He had shrugged at that, before pointing out the obvious, He doesn't know how. This was not to say that Ienzo wasn't intelligent because the boy knew far more than his years would suggest, but he had never been particularly interested in the intricate working of the heart, far preferring his puzzles and mind games.
But the heart had been Even's specialty, and Vexen did not even bat an eye as he said calmly, But Ansem the Wise does.
Ienzo moved to go to him, but his path was effectively blocked by Ansem. In response to the shocked look, the king said harshly, "Don't. That isn't him. It's just an empty shell."
It was strange, that Ienzo could look more hurt by the words than Lexaeus himself was—although he did have a slight advantage in his technical lack of emotions—but it would be a lie to say that he was not prepared for them. Ienzo might have been ready to overlook the differences between the Nobody and the man he once knew, but Ansem the Wise was nowhere near that easy to fool. His former master was glaring at him in both distaste and dread of what he had become, but neither mattered much to him anyway; his focus was on Aeleus's lover, not the man he had betrayed. Up close, the pull of Ienzo's heart was stronger than ever before, making him almost desperate to possess it for himself. Perhaps then the emptiness would be appeased, and he would no longer have to endure this constant need for completion. Perhaps then….
"What do you want?" Ansem's anger cut through his thoughts, although he did not look away from Ienzo. The boy also continued to stare at him, but not so much in happiness than quiet shock, as if he was a ghost come back to haunt him. Which, all things considered, was not a completely inaccurate description, although Lexaeus preferred to think of the Nobodies as something rather more substantial than specters.
"Why do you protect him?" he asked back, the epitome of calm. It was difficult to be anything else. "He betrayed you as well, did he not?"
Ienzo flinched, as if he had been slapped. It was a cruel thing to say, but it was also the truth, and Lexaeus saw no reason why he should need to hold that back. Ienzo, on the other hand, kept his usually quick tongue in check and said nothing in his defense, although what he could have said was a great unknown. There was no denying the obvious; Ienzo had, after all, been the one to convince Ansem the Wise to build the underground lab in the first place, and Aeleus had always suspected that it was through the boy's manipulations that the king had never caught onto what extent the experimentations had gone until it was far too late. Xehanort may have come up with the idea in the first place, but Ienzo was the one who had enabled the apprentices to act on them, perhaps making him more at fault than any of the others.
The fact that he had also been the only one to escape was slightly galling, and the full implications were apparently not lost on the boy. The past month had not been kind to him; never the most physically fit, Ienzo looked positively gaunt in comparison to the last time Aeleus had seen him, with the dark shadows beneath his eyes making him look both aged and younger than he truly was. Guilt did not suit Ienzo very well, but he chose to keep that thought to himself as he doubted it would be appreciated in the least.
"That no longer matters," Ansem replied, looking rather like he did not believe in his own words. "Leave him be."
Interesting that Ansem immediately assume that he was here for Ienzo rather than for the king. Considering how he was now lacking in a heart—something he was certain had not escaped Ansem's attention—he technically should have no personal attachments to the boy. In terms of threat, Ansem the Wise was most certainly the more dangerous person, but apparently that mattered as much to Ansem as it did to Lexaeus. No, he could care less that Ansem the Wise was still alive and well; his priority was the boy, despite his responsibilities to his fellow Nobodies. All the king was to him now was an obstacle keeping him from what he wanted, which was the only reason why he responded to the question.
"What authority do you have over us? The time has long passed that we had to obey your every word, Ansem the Wise." He stressed those last words, mocking in their meaningless title although his voice remained expressionless. Aeleus would never have spoken back like this, but Lexaeus was starting to feel… irritated. Ienzo was so close, his wholeness in front of him, but this exasperating old man who had never understood the powers he could have unlocked stood between them, as if convinced he was capable of doing anything still. He, the fool who had not been able to stop this tragedy from happening when it was occurring right under his nose, too busy being righteous and moralistic and blind to even notice.
It was close to anger, as close as he could get, and the closest he had gotten since becoming a Nobody. He had little interest in continuing the conversation further, so he quickly summoned his weapon. "Get out of the way."
Ansem stood firmly in place, refusing to give into the surprise as Ienzo gasped from behind him. "Why? So that you may turn him into one of you? A creature with no heart, no sense of morality, who will sacrifice his world for what he never should have lost in the first place? What is the point of all this destruction? Must you make this world empty like yourselves, to ease your pain with the knowledge that others are suffering alongside you? Will you take the last good thing you once had and make it like yourself? What is the point of this, Aeleus?"
"Aeleus is dead," he replied simply. "He no longer exists."
He was not sure who he was really addressing at this point, but at his words, Ienzo shook his head as if trying to deny the obvious truth before him. As if, perhaps, he could force this nightmare that had characterized his life for the past month to not exist through stubborn will and pure desperation. "No. No, I don't care what either of you say, but Aeleus isn't gone! You're standing right there, aren't you? You're-"
"I'm not him," he interrupted, but this did not seem to deter Ienzo in the least.
"And I don't believe you," Ienzo replied sharply, pushing past Ansem to stand before him. It was almost as if the boy was living again, instead of drowning in guilt and despair, looking at him with no fear in his eyes but something else instead. "You are different, yes, but you're still you! The darkness surrounds you but it cannot have changed you so completely that you cannot remember who you are. You are Aeleus, so why do you deny it? Why do you pretend to be someone else?!"
In a flash, he had the blade of his tomahawk at Ienzo's throat. One step closer and the boy would be bleeding to death on the ground, and the both of them knew it. He was not sure what prompted this action, but did not have time to think on it as he said, "Because I am not Aeleus."
The flicker of hope that he had not even recognized died as quickly as it had come, and Lexaeus wondered why he felt it necessary to antagonize the other like that. Why he was acting this way. But for a moment there, it had actually… mattered. What he was and what he lacked had been… significant. Because Ienzo was there, and Ienzo cared, and Ienzo wanted him to be that person who he no longer was. And he could feel the heart, the one Aeleus had once so coveted, the one that made Lexaeus feel like Aeleus except with the inescapable distinction that he was not, no matter how he tried to be that person. As much as a Nobody could feel, he had been both thrilled and infuriated by the feelings, and the combination of the two was so confusing that he… needed to push Ienzo away, so that he could think straight again. He could not do it himself but the threat of ham prompted Ansem to act again, the man quickly pulling Ienzo back. Lexaeus even moved his weapon back so that Ienzo would not be injured in the movement, but neither seemed to appreciate or even notice his consideration as Ansem said sharply, "Get back, Ienzo! Do not risk yourself for the likes of him."
But Ienzo did not seem to be listening, no longer even looking at Lexaeus as he instead stared dully at the ground. Could he really have been hurt that much in one statement?
It took him a moment to notice that Ansem was speaking to him, and he somehow managed to tear his look away from the boy as the king said, words barely audible even in the dead stillness of the world, "He mourned Aeleus once already. Will you force him to go through that again?"
The question almost made him flinch back, but he kept his composure. "I am not asking him for anything."
"Then leave him alone."
But he could not do that either. He needed Ienzo. He needed that heart, even though it made him feel strange and… almost divided, torn between wanting to be Aeleus again and rejecting that identity completely. Despite that though, it was still better than the constant emptiness, to the point that it did not matter how much the boy was hurt in the process. He would do anything to keep the incompletion away, do things that Aeleus would never have contemplated doing because of the damning constraints of morality and ethics, two things that had not mattered very much in the past month. And they did not matter now, when once Ienzo's well-being was one of the most important considerations in guiding his actions; now it meant nothing.
Everything about Ienzo—the love, the caring, the over-protectiveness that once made the boy sigh in exasperation although he never did anything to deter Aeleus's actions—that he had once felt when he was whole… none of it mattered anymore. The only thing that did was to keep him close; choice was not a matter of consideration in the grand scheme of things.
He was saved the trouble of articulating this out loud when Ansem suddenly fell, the gunshot's ringing echo taking a split-second longer to register than the old man collapsed and bleeding on the ground. Ienzo let out a sharp gasp of surprise, moving to go to the man—although what he could have done was a completely different story—but a hand held him back as Xaldin scowled at Lexaeus.
"Vexen informed us of your intentions. You should have waited for us," he growled. "The Superior won't be pleased that you went off on your own."
"What does it matter what I do with my own time?" he replied, his attention again on Ienzo instead of the other Nobody. This time Ienzo did not look as surprised as he had been when he had first been confronted with Lexaeus; perhaps the knowledge that one of the apprentices had survived prepared him for the possibility of the others surviving as well, although how much of an existence this was could be a matter open to debate. But he did not say anything to either Nobody, instead straining (and failing) against the grip on his shoulder so that he could go to Ansem.
"It matters when it concerns Ansem the Wise," Xaldin said, frowning at Ienzo and tightening his hold. "You know that."
He did not bother replying to that, and the silence that followed was broken only when Xigbar came into view, the Freeshooter humming and looking rather pleased with himself as he walked over. Ignoring both the Nobodies and the person he had just shot, Xigbar grinned at Ienzo who looked rather taken aback by his appearance—the eye patch and scars were definitely a new addition. Then again, it could have been the beaming smile, an expression known to terrify young children and old women. "Ah, young Ienzo. I must admit I'm surprised to see that you're still alive, but it seems that you share the sentiment. Surely you didn't think we would be done away with that easily?"
"But… the darkness…." Ienzo managed to get out as he looked from Xigbar to Xaldin. "It's supposed to leave nothing. How did you survive it?"
"We didn't," Xaldin replied coldly. "We are Nobodies now."
The boy blinked, either not understanding what that was supposed to mean or still trying to deny the evidence that was before his eyes, that the people who stood before him were no longer those he had once known. It was not a common trait in scientists, refusing to accept simple facts, but despite his intelligence Ienzo was still young, and naivety could make one blind even to the most obvious of truths. But Xaldin did not care to give further explanation, instead thrusting Ienzo at Lexaeus. "Take the boy back to the castle and report to the Superior what has happened. We'll deal with Ansem."
"No, don't-" Ienzo started, trying to move back towards Ansem only to be pulled back by Lexaeus. He turned pleading eyes to the Nobody, "Aeleus…."
"He no longer exists," he said quietly. "We are, as Xaldin said, Nobodies. You would do well to remember that."
And with that advice, he summoned one of the dark portals. Ienzo did not resist as he pulled the boy through, but he never stopped looking back either.
As Xaldin had predicted, Xemnas was indeed not very pleased with Lexaeus's actions. His displeasure was, however, mollified as he looked over Ienzo, who looked torn between clinging to Lexaeus or running from the both of them. The boy compromising by doing nothing, instead flinching back slightly when Xemnas took his chin and forced him to stare into empty orange eyes.
"It seems that you were correct in your suspicions," Xemnas said to Lexaeus, although he continued his careful inspection of Ienzo. "You feel different when you are near him?"
"Yes," he replied.
To this, Xemnas nodded absent-mindedly. "And you can distinguish his heart from the others?"
"Interesting." At this, Xemnas released Ienzo, allowing him to back away quickly. The boy had never been very comfortable around the other, even though he had been interested in his theories. But endorsing one's ideas was different from wanting to be in one's presence, and Ienzo had always preferred not to deal with Xehanort when he could avoid it. It had always struck Aeleus as contradictory behavior, but Ienzo would just glare at him if he tried to bring it up. "Well, if you have no objections, take him down to see Vexen. I believe he wants to perform some experiments to see how much a heart of a loved one affects us."
He felt a slight wave of annoyance at that. "Is that why he told you where I went?"
The Superior shrugged. "Who knows what Nobodies ever think, or anyone for that matter? I researched the human heart, not the mind. But this may bring us one step closer to retrieving our hearts and returning to our former selves. You will not begrudge us that, will you?"
It was difficult to tell who he was addressing with those last sentences. His eyes were on Lexaeus but the words seemed to be more for Ienzo, who had looked petrified (and rightfully so) at the thought of being one of Vexen's lab rats. Yet at those words, Ienzo seemed to straighten slightly, eyes glancing over at him. Judging by Xemnas's slight smile, this had been his intent—by appealing both to the guilt Ienzo felt for his role in their transformation, as well as the hope that he might be able to change things back to the way they were, Xemnas had gained his cooperation. He did not necessarily need it, but with a few casual sentences, Xemnas had given him a reason to do as much as possible to forward a cause that he was technically not a part of.
For some reason, this did not sit well with him. He frowned slightly, not even waiting for an actual dismissal before quickly taking Ienzo's wrist and steering him out of the room and towards Vexen's basement lab, Xemnas's smile following them out.
"So where's Ienzo? I'm surprised you're letting the guy out of your sight."
Braig had never possessed any concept of subtlety, and Xigbar did not likewise. Unlike Braig though, Xigbar's obvious attempts to get information were tainted with a hint of cheerful sadism that was never particularly appreciated by anybody who was unlucky enough to be a victim of his questioning. He was no exception to this rule, but despite his frown he eventually answered, "He is in Vexen's lab. What did you do with Ansem?"
"And you're not worried about the guy poking holes in him?" Xigbar asked incredulously, completely ignoring that second question. "Or doing something dirty to him with a pointy needle?"
"No," he replied, shooting the man a warning glare. Surprisingly enough, Xigbar got the message, raising his hands in a surrender position although the gesture was mocking in its very existence.
"We took care of Ansem. Sent him to the nothingness."
He blinked slowly. "You killed him?"
Xigbar gave him a slow, lazy cat-eating-a-canary smile. "Not exactly."
He decided to leave it at that, not only because he already had a pretty good idea of what Xigbar meant but also so that he could leave, and not have to continue this conversation further. Unfortunately, the Freeshooter didn't seem quite as prepared to let the previous thread drop, apparently expecting a more forthcoming answer since he had answered Lexaeus's question. "Seriously though, Ienzo? I thought you'd be clinging onto him right now, like a lecherous octopus. With more muscles, granted."
He raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing in the hope that silence might cause the Nobody to lose interest. This did not succeed, instead seeming to have the opposite effect as Xigbar awarded him with a shit-eating grin, "Or maybe you're just uncomfortable around him?"
"Why would I be uncomfortable?"
"I don't know, man. Why would you?"
He did his best not to summon his tomahawk and stick it in the man's skull. "What is your point, Xigbar?"
The Freeshooter shrugged, suddenly looking almost… serious as he eyed Lexaeus almost as if he was trying to figure something out. "Nothing much, really. Maybe I just like watching you squirm. But I guess that then begs the question of what you think my point is, since it seems your interpretation is quite a ways different from mine. But tell me… is there a reason why you're feeling so… defensive? Could it be that the boy is making you feel a little more jumpy than usual?"
"No, but you're making me irritable."
Xigbar did not get the hint. "Need feelings to be irritated, Silent Hero. Are you implying that you still care for him?"
"No." Of course he didn't. He couldn't.
He had not hesitated. He had not hesitated at all. But no one would have figured that if judging by Xigbar's sharp laugh.
When Ienzo was not cooped in the lab, he spent his time in his old room of the castle (stripped of most of its previous fixtures, except for the most basic of furniture) before the darkness had taken over. To Lexaeus's knowledge, Xemnas had given him permission to roam the castle as he wished, but either Ienzo did not want to or he did not quite believe the Superior's offer. He had a slight suspicion that it was more the latter, but he kept that opinion to himself. Either way, it made it all the more easier to find the boy when Vexen was done with him for the day.
He never bothered asking Ienzo what sort of experiments Vexen was conducting, fairly certain that he did not want to know. Because if he really had cared for an answer, he would not have had to ask—it would be a simple matter of simply going down to the labs and assisting the other Nobody. Vexen wouldn't be too pleased with the unwanted presence, but he wouldn't deny the additional help either. So the fact that he had not done so must have meant that he did not care enough to bother, preferring instead to wait for Ienzo in his room.
Ienzo had not looked very surprised the first time the boy had come back to his room, only to find Lexaeus already waiting there for him. Not like the first time Aeleus had waited there; back then, Ienzo had blushed and stammered awkward questions until Aeleus had quieted him in a way that made the questions go away but not the red coloring Ienzo's pale cheeks.
They had developed a pattern after that, although it took a while longer for the blush to go away completely. What they had now was less a repeat of history but more a continuation, one that Lexaeus constantly wondered why he was still participating in.
Particularly since Ienzo insisted on addressing him by name.
The wrong one.
He raised a warning eyebrow but Ienzo stubbornly ignored it, reiterating calmly, "Aeleus."
It was the only name he refused to let go of. Lexaeus was not even sure if Ienzo knew what he was called by now, although he doubted the boy could be that ignorant, seeing how quickly he had picked up on everyone else's new names. But while Ienzo was willing to use the Nobody names when it came to the others, he simply refused to do the same when it came to him. Lexaeus was really not sure what the point of that was, but it seemed to give Ienzo some measure of satisfaction to see him react to the name, even if the reaction was for the most part negative.
"Yes?" he finally responded, knowing that there was no way out of it. He had, on occasion, tried to give the boy the silent treatment, but it worked about as well as waving a red flag at a bull because Ienzo would simply try to push his buttons further each time. Hence the repeated use of his name, which when spoken always made him feel… strange, and not in a good way. It was his opinion that it was best to simply accept it now and move forward, although what he was referring to with that was open to interpretation.
Up to the point of seeing Ienzo again, Lexaeus had come to… accept, who he was. And he would have continued to do so if Ienzo did not continue trying to bring the past back up, as if convinced that doing so would make Aeleus return. But things were really not that simple, and no matter how much Ienzo refused to accept that Aeleus was no more and the Nobody that had taken his place no longer felt the same things towards him, the truth could not be changed so easily.
Yet Lexaeus did not really think that Ienzo was that blind to reality; it did not really fit what he remembered about the boy. Instead, he would say that it seemed like Ienzo was trying to coax something out of him, some sort of reaction, and a part of him rather wished that there was something to give. But there wasn't, and instead the name seemed to inspire nothing more than irritation, although that too, he kept to himself.
From this point, the pattern would begin to deviate, although still following some predictability. Sometimes Ienzo would complain about something Vexen had done, other times he would make an idle comment on the weather (dark and stormy, as it had been ever since Radiant Garden had been overrun by the Heartless with no sign of letting up) or an observation about one of the other Nobodies. Whatever he did say though, Lexaeus often had little response to give; he could do little about what Vexen chose to do as part of the experiments, and he could not care less about the conditions outside the castle. As for the other Nobodies, he could not explain his feelings when Ienzo spoke of them; the boy had never had much interest in them before the change, and he could not tell if remarks about the other four apprentices came out of scientific curiosity or a badly concealed attempt to make him react in jealousy. Especially since Ienzo never asked after him or spoke of anything Lexaeus had done; Ienzo used to always ask after Aeleus even though there was nothing he really needed to ask, but it seemed that even though the boy could not quite allow himself to distinguish between the two as separate people, there were some barriers that could no longer be crossed with Aeleus's shadow.
This time though, he found it rather more necessary to pay attention to Ienzo's words rather than his motivations when the boy said, "Vexen wishes to speak to you."
The words were tossed out so casually that Lexaeus almost missed them. That accounted for the silence that followed the statement before the sentence finally registered and he turned to face Ienzo with a questioning look in his eyes. "To this, Ienzo merely shrugged as he pulled his legs up to sit cross-legged, replying, "No, I do not know what about. But he said it was urgent."
"If it was urgent, he would have come up himself," he pointed out.
"You know his sense of urgency was always skewed."
He did not reply to that. Even had always been rather high-strung, and 'urgent' was practically a pet phrase. It had not taken very long for everyone to realize that when Even said an 'urgent' response was needed, it did not actually require immediate attention. At the beginning, Aeleus had dropped all work to respond to such missives only to discover Even tinkering over something new, too absorbed to deal with previous matters. Vexen too had inherited this trait from the person he once was, but Lexaeus stood to go anyway.
"I make you uncomfortable, don't I?" It was phrased as a question, but not really one when they both knew the answer to that. A rhetorical question then, but Ienzo had never put much stock in those.
He turned back to look at Ienzo, who was staring out the barred window (those were new), and found that he could not reply. After a moment of silence, the boy asked, "Why?"
He frowned at Ienzo, who did not return the look even when Lexaeus did not respond. But he did not know how, except to deny it, and then he would no longer be sure if he was lying or not. He had never liked to lie, even with the convenient disappearance of his morals, but habit was hard to break nevertheless.
"You remind me of who I used to be."
Ienzo flinched slightly at that, but somehow managed to keep his voice even, "And that is a problem? I thought that was what you wanted. I thought that was the entire point."
"Not like this," he replied, moving back so that he could get a better look at the boy. But he had moved to the wrong side; he could see little except Ienzo's nose with his hair covering the right side of his face like that. Could not see his eyes, which the romantics always said were the window to the soul… if he cared in the least, he would not have made that mistake, would he? "I do not feel anything for you. Not anymore."
"I find that terribly hard to believe, considering how you are running out of this place like the time Braig shot you in the arm for messing with one of his experiments. If that really is the case, why do you even bother coming in the first place? We barely talk, or at least you do not, so it cannot be for conversation purposes only."
He closed his eyes and shrugged, "I do not know. But this I do. I cannot be the person you want me to be. Not for you. Not even for myself."
For compared to the others, he had changed the most in respect to his former self. The others retained aspects of their previous lives, but he had preferred to cast it all aside. Yet at the same time, he was the only one that had this tie to his past, an anchor that refused to be silenced but preferred to constantly remind him of what he had lost. What he no longer was, no matter how Ienzo tried to make him that person through all his plotting.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not notice until it was too late that Ienzo had stood to come up behind him until the boy sighed, "Aeleus."
That hurt, the fact that Ienzo was still so stubborn, still so blind like the old man who allowed his world to be taken over by the darkness and was now lost in the nothingness for most likely the rest of eternity. He had not felt sorry for Ansem and he did not feel sorry for Aeleus, and he knew he would not be feeling sorry for Ienzo either. Because no matter how much Lexaeus rejected it, how much Lexaeus told him otherwise, Ienzo simply refused to accept that he was not the person that the boy had once loved. And Ienzo could continue to call him by that name as much as he wanted to, but it would not change the facts, the cold truths that scientists were supposed to accept without question. How could the boy still be so idealistic, when he was usually the first to demand data and numbers instead of useless, useless sentiments that meant nothing?
Before he knew what he was doing, before he could control himself, he had turned and grabbed Ienzo by the front of his shirt before slamming him against the wall. The boy bit back a yelp of pain when his head knocked against the cold stone, but Lexaeus did not care—Aeleus would have cared, Aeleus would have stopped, so wasn't this proof that he wasn't—as he practically snarled, "For the final time, I am not Aeleus!"
He had not meant to snap like that, to react in such a crude manner. It wasn't like him, and this wasn't either, leaning down to kiss Ienzo on the jaw, on the neck, on the thin and bony shoulders while making sure to linger where there was the still-healing puncture wound of a needle's bitter mark—anywhere but the lips so that Ienzo could stop him, so the boy could ask, demand, beg, say something to make him stop, to make sure his point had been proven. Because he would not have wanted this, not this way, not ever. A whimper, a choked sob… any such reaction would be enough to make him stop as his fingers moved familiar paths—but not his, just a memory, a fading one—down Ienzo's thighs, still trying to bring out the realization that Aeleus was gone, that he was not Aeleus, that he felt nothing for the boy because if he did he would not do this. He could not.
But Ienzo said nothing. He did nothing except stand there and take it, and Lexaeus was the one to break first, to abruptly pull back as he stared at the boy. But he could see nothing, not even anger or fear or the pain of betrayal behind those lidded eyes and long silver bangs, and he felt nothing himself except for a deep sense of disgust.
Who it was directed to, he could no longer tell, and did not wish to know.
He released Ienzo as if the boy was a poisonous viper, stepping back quickly. Ienzo did not look at him, not even when he said in as neutral a voice as he could muster, "I must go. I need to find Vexen."
"Yes. Yes, you should," Ienzo agreed, his voice strained. But he stayed where he was as Lexaeus moved past him to exit the room, and as the Nobody walked down the hall and towards the stairs that led to basement, the slam of the door echoed behind his heavy footsteps.
An argument was what had saved Ienzo the day Radiant Garden fell to the darkness. Ienzo did not… he did not quite have temper tantrums, but when he was angry he had a tendency to sulk like the petulant child that some accused him of being, and close himself off from the rest of the world until he cooled down. Not even the temptation of the scientific breakthrough was enough to extricate the boy from his room when he was angry, and Xehanort—or Ansem, as he had preferred to be called at the time—had finally shrugged and continued the final experiment without the presence of the youngest apprentice.
And then the world had ended for the five scientists, with only their shells to continue in their places.
"Does Xemnas know of your intentions?"
"Of course," Vexen sounded irritated, having—rightfully or not—interpreted the question as an accusation. "He told me that it would be your decision."
It occurred to Lexaeus again that Xemnas might never have truly forgiven any of them for their part in his undoing, no matter how loudly he espoused the values of darkness now. He scowled and began to speak, but was cut off when Vexen said, "There isn't much to decide on, frankly. The Heartless will get him either way. It's just a question of how long it will take."
"I know that," he replied stiffly. It was well-known that besides the Heartless, they were now the only living creatures that remained in this world. According to Xaldin, all the survivors had fled the world, scattered across the various worlds. And it had simply been a matter of time before they too would follow, seeing how there was little left here that would give them any incentive in remaining, especially with the constant attacks by the Heartless despite their distinct lack of hearts.
Well, except for one.
As the only person left with a heart in all of Radiant Garden, Ienzo's presence seemed to drive the creatures into a frenzy rather like the flurry of almost-emotions he himself felt when close to the boy.
But what Vexen was proposing….
"We could simply take him as he is," he pointed out. "There is no need to subject him to the Heartless. There is not even any guarantee that he will not simply disappear like most of the others, rather than turning into one of us."
"You cannot be worried that his heart is not strong enough, can you?" Vexen replied with a slight smirk.
"That isn't the point. I am simply saying that-"
"We can't take him along," the Chilly Academic interrupted, ice practically forming with each word. "He would not survive the journey. Just you bringing him to the castle through the dark portal had a very negative effect on him. And I know he did not show any signs," he said crossly, seeing Lexaeus open his mouth to argue, "but he did. As you would have known if you had bothered to stick around for the experiments after dumping the boy on me. But needless to say, he will not survive as long a journey as we plan to take. If you choose not to do this, we will have to leave him behind. And both you and I know that the only thing that is keeping the Heartless at bay right now is us. As soon as we are gone, they will take him, and most likely tear him to pieces in their mindless attempts to get his heart."
"There might be a way," he replied, glaring at the scientist. "You just want this so you can see if I react to him only because he has his heart still, not just because of who he is."
Vexen shrugged, "Haven't you wondered the same thing yourself?"
At this, Vexen raised an eyebrow. Apparently deciding that there was no need to point out the obvious, he said simply, "I freely admit that I have my reasons. And that is one of them. But that doesn't mean I am wrong either. You might be correct in thinking that there is a way, but I have better things to do with my time than figure out a way to save him when it would be in my interest not to. So either give him to the Heartless or leave him behind; the result will be the same no matter what you do. The only difference is whether his Nobody will join us, or rots here by himself. Whatever you decide to do though, do it soon. I do not believe Xemnas plans to linger here much longer, and he most certainly will not delay for your sake."
It was not that he cared one way or the other. He didn't, but he felt as if he… should, as if the last vestiges of his humanity were balking at the idea of subjecting Ienzo to his fate. But the pragmatic side of him, the cold scientific mind, agreed whole-heartedly with Vexen; there really was no choice to make.
He no longer loved the boy, that was certain. But he could still remember loving him, and that in itself was something. He could still remember the first time Aeleus had met Ienzo, recognized him as something other than what he seemed at first glance. While the other apprentices saw him as nothing more than a boy, a child who required more coddling than time they had to spare, Aeleus had seen what Ansem the Wise had—that burning intellect and desperate desire to learn, the combination making him an asset more than a burden. The others had come to recognize this as well, but Aeleus had been the first, and Ienzo had never forgotten that.
It did not take very long for the two to become friends, although when Ienzo had become Aeleus's lover, he could no longer remember. Once upon a time, it had been the most important event of his life, that moment when they had become something more. The changes were almost… subtle in their nature, but some of it had taken getting used to. Such as no longer waking up alone in the mornings after crawling into the spare bunk, whose sole purpose for being was to provide a sleeping place for apprentices who failed to keep track of the time. Ienzo never had that problem, what with always being aware of his surroundings, but Aeleus would nevertheless awaken with that small form huddled in his arms.
They never spoke of it. The words that were so easily tossed out in the trashy romance novels Dilan had secretly enjoyed (only to laugh at, he had snapped when confronted about this rather disturbing habit), words like 'love' and 'forever' went unsaid, but they did not need to be when both knew that it was there. Words were simply not needed.
It was a characteristic of their relationship, that lack of speech. They never needed words in order to communicate, so well-versed in each other's habits and various personality quirks to know and predict what their fellows could not. He might not remember the moment they fell in love—such things became so trivial when one had no emotions—but he never managed to forget this intimate knowledge, as if it was burned so deeply inside his mind that he could not forget even if he wanted to.
Did he want to?
Was the answer to that question the reason why he hesitated to do what needed to be done now? Because really, there seemed no point in pondering the situation. Vexen was right. Vexen was so right that he should not need to think about it at all, yet he stood here in front of Ienzo's door, unable to move forward but no longer capable of hiding in the past either. He could not stay here forever though; time would sweep them onward, whether he liked it or not. Sooner or later he would have to make this decision, but he was not sure how he would deal with the consequences yet.
He almost wished that he had not acted before, that he had not gone to find Ienzo. That Aeleus had not loved Ienzo so much that he could distinguished that heart from all the others that survived Radiant Garden's destruction, even though Aeleus was gone and Lexaeus was all that was left. Perhaps then the boy would have been spared, whisked off this world and to another without being the wiser of what Aeleus and the others had become. Then he would not have to decide how to destroy another life, one that actually meant something to him even without the feelings he once associated with the boy, and wonder why it made him feel something painfully similar to guilt.
He could always choose not to do anything, of course, for indecision was as much a choice as action. But he did not relish the idea of leaving Ienzo behind either, when he had no way of getting off this world, even ignoring the fact that the Heartless would likely tear him to ribbons in a matter of seconds. And it wasn't even that that stopped him, but more that… now that he did have the boy back, he wanted to keep him close. Was it the heart or the person that drove these feelings within him? That was what Vexen wanted to know, and he would be a fool to say that it did not matter to him as well. Would having the shadow of the boy Aeleus had loved be enough to sate this emptiness? Something was, after all, better than nothing, and a Nobody could still be considered something more than nothing even without a heart and the emotions that accompanied it.
It was selfish, he knew. The fact that the decision was really quite simple did not change that fact. He could have looked for the third option, forced the existence of one. But then, he knew that even if Ienzo could somehow survive this without having to resort to turning him into a Nobody just like the rest of them, Lexaeus might still choose this way. Because then Ienzo would be one of them, bound to this existence and the others and never capable of abandoning him again.
Ienzo would never leave him again; he would make certain of that.
For a Nobody would do anything to feel whole, as little difference as it would make.
Ienzo must have known that something was wrong when Lexaeus returned. Either that or he was still wary after that previous display, which was most certainly understandable but still not quite enough to explain how the boy seemed to stare at him as if he no longer quite recognized the person standing before him.
"Aeleus?" Ienzo asked cautiously. Lexaeus could not help but find it strange that the boy would still continue to call out for the person who would betray him, although he supposed that Ienzo did not know that yet. But by the tone of his voice, the way he spoke the name, Lexaeus wondered if perhaps, Ienzo did know. And if he did, why he did nothing except to repeat, sounding more his age—young and with a growing hint of panic—this time as he said, "Aeleus?"
He said nothing.
When Ienzo finally did start to stand, with the intent of going to him, he summoned his weapon and slammed it down blade first into the ground. The earth sprang in response to his action, the dead stone quickly shifting and pulling itself up to create a clumsy but effective barrier around the boy so that he had nowhere to go, no means of escape. It was just tall enough that Ienzo could not get over it, but low enough that he could see the look of terror sweep across Ienzo's face, the wretched name forming on his lips again. Or at least, he would have if he had bothered to look, but instead he closed his eyes and corrected for the first and final time, "Lexaeus."
Because Aeleus was gone, and this was the ultimate proof of it. With that single word, that final rejection of who he once was and a full acceptance of what he was now, he summoned the Heartless, who squirmed in confusion for a moment before quickly catching scent of that last remaining heart in all of Radiant Garden. He did not need to say anything—and what could he have said?—so instead he turned away and left the room.
He wondered why he felt so out of breath as he shut the door as quickly as he could, but the heavy wood and iron could not block out the screams.
Vexen found the boy sitting cross-legged on the desk—the bed and chairs were no longer standing, leaving only the desk still capable of holding any amount of weight—staring disinterestedly at the Heartless that were skittering about the floor in evident disappointment. Besides the various pieces of furniture lying scattered on the ground, the room was also littered with stone and rubble, with what was apparently a large barrier in the middle of the room now broken into pieces.
The boy did not bother turning towards him as he walked closer. After a moment of silence, Vexen asked, "How long have you been here?"
A shrug. Then, simply, "Get rid of those things."
He arched an eyebrow, "You seem perfectly capable of taking care of them yourself."
There was no reply. The boy simply continued to watch the Heartless, and after a moment Vexen apparently decided that there was no pushing the point further, choosing instead to summon his weapon and do as he was told. Once he was finished, the last wisps of darkness fading into nothingness, he turned back to the boy who was watching him with a bored expression.
"Do you plan on just sitting there?" he finally asked, feeling slightly exasperated at this behavior.
"Are you angry?"
Most people would have snorted, but the boy simply shrugged again and asked in what could have been sarcasm if there had been the slightest ounce of emotion in his voice, "How can I be angry?"
Vexen smiled coldly, sending his weapon away as he approached, "You catch on quickly."
"I always have." But the boy was not looking at him, instead addressing the person standing behind him in the doorway. Just from his shadow, Vexen could tell who it was, but he kept his silence in order to observe what happened next.
The response was cool, "It is Zexion, Lexaeus."
With that, Zexion finally jumped off the table, the tatters of his shirt falling off to leave him half-naked. He did not seem to mind though, barely even noticing as he swept by the both of them and exited the room, and it was not until the sound of his footsteps had faded away that Vexen turned to Lexaeus and asked with a cold smile, "Feel anything?"
He did not need an answer to the question, for he knew he would not get one. And the smile changed to a smirk. "If it is any consolation, I think the feeling is mutual."
I'm fairly certain that the existence of this story is violating canon about sixty ways already, but I did try to write it in a way so that it could be an alternative telling of how Radiant Garden fell to the Heartless. I don't know how well I succeeded, but then it was never really my original intent either. I was even planning on using Vincent (Final Fantasy VII) instead of Ansem, but I changed it 'cause I figured it would be an opportunity to explain how Ansem was dealt with by the Organization.
The fic kinda went to places I didn't really expect it to, so it's difficult for me to explain it now. I had a lot of issues with it because of that, especially since it didn't really end up in the place it was supposed to. I think what happened was that instead of Lexaeus trying to capture something of his old life by keeping Ienzo close, he ended up both being drawn and wanting to reject who Aeleus was. And for Ienzo… uh, guy was supposed to… not be around for the majority of the story. I think my original intent was to knock his brains out (but politely), but then he woke up and started wreaking hell on my brain. Little bastard.
Ienzo gave me kittens for this entire story. He kept wavering between being Zexion and a whiny, confused brat (which is understandable given his position, but horribly irritating all the same), and 100 percent 'I want to stab you now ARGH'. So yeah… that probably could have worked out better… eep.