» Τ ђ ε – Vίσιετ – Яσσм «

Sarehptar

and

DistortedGaze

o ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― o

Ĉħąρτεŕ I

Ρŗεłυđε – τ σ – ă – Ń ε ω – Ċσηċεŗŧσ :

Τ ђ ε – Ċσмρσśεŗ

o ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― o

I was Ienzo. I was Zexion. Now I am an impossible hybrid of the two: accepted once more among the Somebodies, carrying that name that is not an anagram. I bear the memory of that Other life and that non-existence, but I am neither the Shadow-walking Schemer nor the boy who followed in Ansem's footsteps.

I thought, in mockery of the Superior's goal, I had become complete by dying. By this logic-less rebirth, I thought I had become whole.

I was wrong. "Ienzo" had returned—but my heart had not.

o ― ― ― ― ― » Vίσιετ « ― ― ― ― ― o

"Hello Ienzo." The soft voice did not make him turn.

"Good morning Miss Aerith."

She shut the door behind herself, not flinching despite a sharp hiss from the automatic lock. Aerith's sigh was echo-like in the room, and she clicked on the harsh fluorescent ceiling light without asking Ienzo's permission—she did it every morning, and he had long since stopped complaining about the sudden switch from darkness to light. The hem of her pink scrub ghosted against the empty standard-issue hospital chair, starched fabric sticking to the sterile teal plastic arm. The chair's metal and vinyl back was pushed haphazardly against the wall, crooked and out of place. Ienzo had used it earlier this morning.

"How are you feeling today?" Aerith called as she wound her way around the low bed toward the far wall of the room. He was crouched near the baseboard, black marker idle in his hand.

"Miss Aerith, I am not capable of feeling."

Ienzo liked to say her name. Once upon a time, Aerith had thought it was simply to be polite (he was always careful with his words), but she'd come now to believe it served another purpose. If he called her, she had to acknowledge him. If she listened, his words had value. If she answered, he existed.

Ienzo had come to Rufus Memorial Hospital distant and cold, swearing that he was nothing—that he did not have a heart. It still made so little sense… All the records indicated he had lived a perfect life as a child; then that drastic change…

"You look tired," she said finally, folding her skirt to kneel down to him. The blue-haired boy did not turn to look at her, but his cobalt eyes were shadowed, dark purple rings beneath them making the odd color stand out only more vividly.

"I remembered something new." He did not elaborate, and Aerith did not strain to read the tiny letters scrawled, in flawlessly straight lines, across the smooth wall of his room. Ienzo, she thought, seemed to enjoy ruining hospital property. They had repainted his walls four times in the past two months.

"Is it still not ready?" Aerith inquired. He did not answer her. "Ienzo, would you please consider writing in the notebook I gave you? The maintenance staff—"

"Will you send them my apologies?" he murmured distractedly. "And you can dispose of that notebook." There was no justification for his demand. 'But why?' she wanted to ask; it wouldn't have done any good. Ienzo's measured replies always left her more questions and no answers.

"A journal isn't a final product. A story doesn't need to be perfect to be written down on paper." Aerith meant to sound comforting, but in the cold room, the words sounded shallow and small. The young psychiatrist traced a lacquered fingernail over the white-tiled floor, hoping to find at least one dust mote. Nothing. Ienzo's floor was as barren as the rest of the room.

"The page..." He looked up at her finally, blue-steel hair whispering across his pale cheeks. "On the wall, my story is the work of an insane man. On the page, wouldn't it look like fiction?" The marker flicked back and forth between his thin fingers in aggravated jerks.

"Is it more real to you if you don't write it on paper?"

"Real?" Something like the shadow of a sneer glinted in his eyes. "The only real one here is you, Miss Gainsborough."

"Ienzo…" She closed a delicate hand over his shoulder, the stark white cotton scratching at her palm. The cobalt-eyed boy did not flinch away or lean into her touch—as always, he was indifferent. And then all of the sudden he wasn't. He was still, harder, colder…

"Maybe I'd rather keep you all from analyzing it." He coughed a laugh that crept, caustic but quiet, through the room. The tip of the Sharpie pressed hard against the wall and his fingers clenched white around its thin gray body. Aerith did not know how to reply.

Ienzo knew. He knew that they had copied it all down off the walls, every sentence, everything he had never told them. He knew, she could tell from the narrowing of his eyes, the stiffness of his pale jaw. Are you feeling frustration?

"The shadow of it," he answered the thought she had not voiced. It wasn't surprising—he was a genius, undoubtedly, two steps ahead of her at any given moment. Aerith Gainsborough was a psychiatrist; it was her job to dissect the minds of her patients. With Ienzo, Aerith knew that she was the one being dissected. It left an unsettling taste in her mouth.

"Sometimes I swear you can read minds." Her hand on his slender shoulder patted congenially. Ienzo shifted away at last, something dark and unpleasant flickering in his eyes before dying so completely that Aerith was not sure it had ever been there to begin with.

"You're just too transparent," he replied, but there was an edge of something like fondness in his words.

"I have no reason to keep secrets Ienzo."

"And I am not allowed to keep them." It was an unexpected trap, a challenge—Ienzo had drawn her in and now she could not bow out of the conversation. Either way, she would be caught. He could spot a lie, but the truth was cruel.

"If… If you had really wanted to keep it a secret from us, you would never have written it anywhere, on the wall or in a journal," she tried to sound firm saying it. Ienzo did not look at her; his delicate jaw was a clenched line and Aerith worried if she had used the wrong choice of words.

"It's a massive amount of information—but you already knew that." He stared at her from the corner of his eye, cobalt gaze darker with what might have been another emotion he denied having. Something akin to guilt pressed hard in her stomach.

"I…" Aerith started, and then realized there was nothing she could say.

"I would forget everything if I did not get it out of my head." He looked away again, strands of blue-steel hair falling in his eyes. "I have to write it, but I didn't want you to read it. Do you think I'm insane?"

"I don't—" she stopped, her soft green eyes sliding closed. "I don't think you are insane Ienzo. You reality is just… different from mine."

He was sorely tempted to tell her that, as a non-existent being, he really didn't have "a reality" at all. Instead, he offered her a half-smile. "That sounds like a different definition for the same thing."

There was silence for a moment while she searched for some way to refute him. Finally, Ienzo went back to writing, black letters crowded, but neat and stark, against the dull yellow wall. Outside, a cloud passed over the sun, shadowing even the tepid light that leeched in closed slats of the window blinds.

"What do you think of my story Miss Aerith?" he murmured. There was an air of nonchalance to the question that did not match his wavering gaze.

Aerith caught and fretted her bottom lip between her teeth. "I…" She wanted to deny having read the chronicle. "I don't like it. I have a feeling it ends in tragedy."

"Oh no," Ienzo's voice was quietly mocking then, laced with some slithering undercurrent of irony. "My story has the perfect ending. Good really does always triumph."

"But that means death for Zexion."

"Yes," he laughed once, dryly, "that is what it means."

o ― ― ― ― ― » Vίσιετ « ― ― ― ― ― o

Aerith had retreated to Ienzo's plastic chair and plucked idly at a loose thread on her scrub. From here, across the shadowy hospital room, Ienzo looked too small. He was a shade of what he should have been: thin from spending too much time trapped in his room, pale… even his hair—such an odd shade—was dull from the cheap hospital shampoo.

She couldn't help but notice his hands were smudged with black residue from the marker and the wall. They were always like that; the stains were almost permanent now. Something about the smudges was endearing—but also painful. Black on Ienzo's hands… it was like a symbol of everything she had failed to achieve with him.

The brunette's smile shook but then grew stronger. "You have kitchen duty today." The only sign that Ienzo had acknowledged her was a momentary stilling of his marker.

"All right," he said finally.

"And you're not going to manipulate the older patients into doing your chore for you, right?" She tried hard to sound reproachful, but that tone really didn't suit her.

"I would never manipulate any of my fellow patients," Ienzo deadpanned. The Sharpie made a continual dull squeak as he traced it across the plastered drywall.

"You did, just last week when you tricked poor Marlene into cooking all the soup in your place." The green-eyed woman ran a soft hand across a free lock of her curled brown hair.

"Marlene volunteered. I would hardly call that manipulation." Ienzo's voice had a perpetually cold quality that took Aerith by surprise no matter how many times she heard him speak: the sharpness did not fit his thin frame. It bred an awkward fusion of detachment and fragility that cloaked Ienzo in the façade of someone teetering on an edge—of a teenager stuck in that frustrating state between boy and man.

If Ienzo's file hadn't confirmed that he was turning twenty-one in three months time, Aerith would never have believed it. Or maybe she would have. That voice, exuding superiority, could not ever have been confused for a child's. It had the sound of someone so much older, someone who had weathered years and seen more than she could ever hope to. Someone that—she stopped the thought before it led her onto dangerous ground.

Sometimes Ienzo's story seemed far more real than it had right to.

"It was canned soup," she struggled to pick up the vein of conversation again. "All you had to do was add water and stir it occasionally."

"Far be it from me to deprive Marlene her right to stir soup," he murmured as he pushed errant blue-steel strands of hair behind his ear.

"Ienzo," Aerith attempted to scold through the smile threatening to lift her lips, "you told her that learning to properly stir soup was an integral step to becoming a master chef."

"Isn't it?" He capped the marker and stood, flexing legs stiff from sitting idle for hours.

"That doesn't change the fact that you know Marlene's dream is to run her own bar and restaurant. You took advantage of the fact that she'd never turn down culinary practice." The green-eyed woman peeled herself from the chair, catching quiet snaps of static electricity as her clothing brushed against the plastic.

"I don't see why that bothers you."

"It doesn't," Aerith stated as she slid her clearance card through the door lock, letting out a breath when the bolt hissed open. She sometimes had nightmares about being trapped in the hospital rooms…

Aerith shook off familiar anxiety and strode into the hallway. "It doesn't bother me at all," she insisted, "except for the fact that Marlene got double kitchen duty, on top of her other responsibilities, and you managed to –once again– skip out on your only chore."

The hospital staff had given up on trying to get Ienzo to work. He was as slippery as a slice of butter when it came to cleaning and worse when it came to helping the nurses. The first time he was required to push the medicine cart for Doctor Shera, he conveniently misplaced a number of pill bottles. None of the bottles had ever turned up, even after the staff's desperate search—but more than the few of the patients had acted odd for weeks afterward. Needless to say, Ienzo was immediately deemed "too troubled" to even stand in the vicinity of sensitive materials.

Too troubled. Please, Aerith scoffed quietly to herself. Every move the blue-haired boy made was purposeful and measured for maximum result yield. He did not want to push carts around for hours, so he "misplaced" medicine. He did not want to clean, so he spilled chemicals in a sudden bout of clumsiness which never affected him at any other time.

The only chore he had not automatically shirked was kitchen duty. Aerith thought that might be because Ienzo actually enjoyed cooking. Getting him to admit something –anything– like that would be as difficult as pulling teeth, so she let it go. Liking or not liking the chore didn't seem to make much of a difference in the end anyway: he still skipped out as often as possible. He was actually, she smiled, sort of lazy.

Ienzo followed Aerith slowly out of his room, and in the half-light of the hallway, his ivory clothing looked luminous. The brunette doctor stalled for a moment, holding her place beside his door as if she was waiting for something—or someone.

Down the hall, the elevator chimed and slid open, releasing an ebony-haired man into the hall. His clothing was also black, pressed and stiff. Aerith sighed quietly, a sound that could have been called unhappy or pleased. Both feelings applied to the man coming toward them, shined black shoes clicking on the navy tile floor.

"Good morning Tseng," Aerith said, torn between trying to sound curt and being friendly.

"Good morning Doctor Gainsborough," the security guard said.

"I asked you to call me Aerith." The beginnings of a girlish pout swept over her face, and then were wiped away as Tseng remained blank.

"We are in a workplace—we should act like professionals." There was hint of warmth in the security guard's voice that momentarily relieved his uptight air. Then, as if it were a tiresome duty, Tseng turned his stern gaze on Ienzo, nodding a stiff greeting.

"Well," the blue-haired boy scowled, "good morning to you too, Warden."

Tseng Taak: the hospital's newest security guard and the man assigned to monitoring each and every one of Ienzo's movements. From the moment he was let out of his room in the morning to the end of his recreational hours, Ienzo was shadowed by the quiet but imposing man.

But Tseng Taak was also Aerith Gainsborough's oldest friend and protector. They had grown up together, and even before he had been an officer of the law, Tseng had kept by the brunette's side—through the death of her mother, through her struggle to get a Doctorate… Tseng had been unerringly faithful in his support of her, and Aerith could never, in any way, hate him. The things he did, however… the way he confined Ienzo… None of the other guards had been as strict, ever.

Aerith ran an anxious hand through the loose, curled strand of hair hanging over her shoulder. "Please Ienzo, Tseng, let's try to get along today."

"I don't feel obligated to get along with those who strive to upset the order of this hospital." The man's voice was sharp but quiet, mellow but hinting at something far more firm. "You seem to forget, Doctor Gainsborough, that Ienzo is not here to be rehabilitated. He is here by order of the court, and it is my responsibility to keep what happened before from happening ever again."

Aerith blinked her deep green eyes once, desperate for something to say in return. "But Tseng," she murmured, "he was just a child…"

"You may believe he has changed, but I harbor no such illusions," the black-haired man's calm voice struck a sour note in Ienzo.

"I wouldn't harm Miss Gainsborough." The words came automatically, even as some part of Ienzo, some voice in the back of his mind, wondered if he actually might harm her. If she was the only thing standing in his way... if there was something he could gain from it… what was to stop him from ripping her to shreds to achieve his own ends? It was not as if he would feel remorse…

"Ienzo will be late for kitchen duty," Aerith's soft voice echoed in the corridor. Purposely, she set off toward the elevator, refusing to even look back. It was like this every day between those two, though today had been especially tense. It was hard to be around them on mornings like these, when she did not know who to defend. Ienzo deserved so much more freedom than he was given; Tseng acted only in what he thought was her –and the hospital's– best interest.

The elevator doors rattled slowly to a close, blocking Aerith's view of the navy hallway, the surreal paintings, and the blinking red light on the lock that kept Ienzo their prisoner.

o ― ― ― ― ― » Vίσιετ « ― ― ― ― ― o

"Ienzo!" a choir of voices called as Aerith, Ienzo and Tseng pushed through the cafeteria doors. Aerith's green eyes were still squinted against the bright light streaming in through the windows, but Ienzo, though he spent far more time in darkness, did not seem bothered at all. A stampede of footsteps echoed throughout the room before Aerith's group was unceremoniously beset by a herd of the younger patients.

"Irritating little Dusks," she heard Ienzo mutter, but his attempts to push through them weren't very serious.

The children clambering for the blue-haired boy's attention were patients of every class and disorder. Most of them barely knew Ienzo and never saw him outside of the cafeteria—still, they flocked to him with every story they could think of, all their complaints, and more than a few biggest secrets. Ienzo didn't appreciate their presence in any manner: he crossed the cafeteria each day with a blatant scowl on his face, looking like he might throw the children out of his way at any moment.

It stunned her at first, considering Ienzo's obvious disinterest in the children's lives. Now, it seemed to make perfect sense. Ienzo was a voice of reason, one who was not a psychiatrist. He appeared to the children as a pinpoint of normalcy—just what most of them were lacking. But in a way, (Aerith smiled at the way they pushed to be closest to him) Ienzo was also still a child; just old enough to be considered wise, but young enough that the children thought he could relate to their problems. It was really no wonder they gravitated toward him, she thought.

Aerith trailed after him as Ienzo began to cut a path across the wide room. Tseng slid back to rest against the wall beside cafeteria doors. It was their routine again: the security guard would act as if he was there guarding the entire room—but his eyes would never lift their stare from Ienzo's back, and his hand would not stray far from the gun holster at his hip. Tseng would be silent, motionless… but a constant pressure nonetheless. She wondered how Ienzo could stand it; she wondered how Tseng could be that way.

Ienzo's blue-steel hair glinted in the sunlight streaming through the tall windows, and she suddenly noticed that he was a good deal ahead of her. He'd slipped through the narrow aisle between two rows of tables, hoping to limit at least the number of younger patients who could cling to his sides. Stepping a little more quickly, Aerith had almost caught up with her blue-eyed patient when he stopped dead, trapped by a petite, tugging hand.

"Ienzo," a tiny red-headed girl smiled up at him, "I drew a picture of you." She gingerly held the crayon-covered paper out to him. He took the paper and surveyed the blob-like form with only a fleeting look of disdain.

The indigo-eyed girl stared up at him eagerly. Ienzo gave her a smile, but it was empty and not at all warm. "It's very nice, Kairi."

The crayon-drawing didn't quite look like him, Aerith couldn't help but think. There was blue-purple hair covering one side of his circle face, and his body was nothing but a mass of black. A cool, evaluating look swept across Ienzo's face when he moved to look at Kairi again, as if he were staring through her. His lips formed a word but did not speak it, and he was still for a long moment. The red-head girl shifted nervously, as if she expected him to throw her picture away.

Then, just as quickly as that odd look had come, it was gone, replaced by his typical disinterest. He obviously couldn't care less about—Aerith blinked in surprise as he folded the picture carefully in quarters and put it in the pocket of his loose white pants. Something had just happened, something important… but Aerith wasn't sure what or even how it had happened.

"Ienzo, are you okay?" another little girl called. It was Marlene, who had gently elbowed her way to the front of the pack of children. Aerith couldn't help but smile at the shorter girl: Marlene had braided her mahogany hair and tied it with the bright pink ribbon she'd borrowed from Aerith last week. The imitation was heart-warming.

Even though Aerith wasn't Marlene's psychiatrist, the little girl was easily one of her favorite patients at Rufus Memorial. She was sweet but frank, and always said exactly what she meant to say. More than that, Marlene had an adorable habit of hero-worshipping. She drew all of her passions from the few individuals she loved, a select group of people Aerith was proud to be a part of.

For several months now, Marlene's dream had been to own and operate a restaurant.

The entire idea had begun with a passing comment—a passing comment made by Ienzo, no less. He had complimented the food on a day when Marlene helped in the kitchen, pointing out that someone with "such skill" could easily become a chef. Aerith knew exactly what he actually meant to do with the comment: he was hoping Marlene would become interested in cooking, thereby relieving him of kitchen duty.

The compliment had had far more effect than anyone could have expected. As if she had been waiting for direction, Marlene leapt on the idea of becoming a chef. Aerith held back a giggle. Only Ienzo could give someone a life goal completely by accident.

"You look sick," Marlene said, looking up at the shadows under Ienzo's eyes.

"You know," he sighed quietly, "I really have been feeling a bit run-down. But I have kitchen duty today…"

"Ew…" one of the boys, Aerith thought it was Denzel, whispered. "You can't cook if you're sick. Won't you… contaminate us?" Yes, definitely Denzel. The pale brunet boy suffered severe Mysophobia and had long believed himself infected by a disease he called Geostigma. They were still working with him.

"I'll cook for you!" Marlene smiled shyly. "I'm going to be the best cook ever, so I've got to practice lots." She ran off toward the kitchen before Aerith could stop her.

"Maybe you should rest?" Denzel murmured to Ienzo, blue-hazel eyes worried and wide. "What if you're contagious? I don't want to… get more sick." He frowned lightly, brushing cherry-brown hair off his freckled cheek. With another nervous glance at the blue-haired boy and at the other patients, Denzel turned and trotted after Marlene.

"Ienzo, I'm disappointed in you." The green-eyed psychiatrist couldn't stop her hands from planting firmly on her hips. "What you just did was not right."

"I don't have a heart Miss Aerith. Right and wrong never meant much to me." He pushed on through the crowd of children, which was slowly dissipating as the young patients went back to their own assigned seats. Few dared to linger near the "sick" man—they saw too many doctors already.

"You specifically did what I asked you not to," Aerith said.

"I did not. I followed your instructions to the word." He threw a cobalt stare over his shoulder at her. "You distinctly said 'you're not going to manipulate the older patients.' Marlene is… half my age?"

"Ienzo!" she huffed in exasperation.

o ― ― ― ― ― » Vίσιετ « ― ― ― ― ― o

"Are we all here?" a rusty-orange-haired man crowed, leaping up onto a plastic chair with abandon. He flopped down with a smile, crossing his green-pant-coated legs underneath himself.

"Yes Doctor Pan!" a choir of voices chimed as the rest of the patients hurried to their chairs. The smaller children were fidgeting already, fresh from their naps. Seating himself with a half-sigh, Ienzo hoped their counselor would get distracted—sometimes when the flighty young doctor got off on a tangent, he would tell stories through the entire session.

"We're gonna have a great time in Group today!" Doctor Pan's voice had this perpetually cheery caw to it that made him sound years younger than he really was. Something about the green-clad man's brilliant white grin seemed to guarantee that no, they were not going to "have a great time in Group today."

Not that Ienzo ever enjoyed Group. An excuse to clump patients together and encourage them to snivel about their problems before a sympathetic audience, group therapy had been a thorn in the steel-haired boy's side for more years than he preferred to count. The rust-haired doctor himself was a rather new addition to the hospital, but it hadn't taken Ienzo long to re-sort his mental hit list. Doctor Peter Pan, with his constant games and noise, was now quite high—and climbing.

All the younger patients' shouting and giggling was starting to give Ienzo a headache, one that did not subside even after everyone had settled into their uncomfortable classroom-styled chairs. The customary circle was a little lopsided from all the pushing going on today, but that didn't seem to bother Doctor Pan.

"Why don't we start by having everybody tell their favorite childhood memory?" The counselor's brown eyes were alight with mischief, to match the conspiratorial tone in his voice—Doctor Pan had the odd habit of speaking to his patients as if he were speaking to adventurous followers.

And the man's absolute obsession with youth was grating to no end. If someone got him started on the toils of growing up, Doctor Pan could chat up a record-breaking storm.

"Our bodies might grow up, but our hearts don't have to!"

If it weren't for Tseng, leaning silently against the door and filling the room with his sharp stare, Ienzo would have walked out long ago.

The blue-eyed boy surrendered with a sigh, pressing a hand against his temple. Memories… He had thousands of them—thrice as many as anyone else in the room, at least. But a favorite memory? Nothing from Zexion could fill that place; although there was the time… Ienzo smirked just thinking about it.

The lexicon was a complex weapon that revealed its mysteries slowly, one-by-one. Zexion had first learned the ability to trap people within its pages by practicing on Xigbar.

But that wasn't a childhood memory (though Number Two's reaction had been quite immature)… Was there a memory from this current life? Any number of mundane things would have worked. He'd won enough spelling bees as a child to count as an oral dictionary. He'd done absolutely normal things with his absolutely normal family.

Or how about the memory led me to mur—some dark look must have slipped across his face, because the girl next him, a brunette with hair that flipped almost impossibly upward at the ends, poked at his side.

"What's the matter?" she asked, with a smile. Selphie was her name, Ienzo was almost certain of that. He turned away without answering.

Not this life. None of it had any worth.

Doctor Pan had started with the patient on his right, all the way across the room from Ienzo. The steel-haired boy didn't even bother to listen, was too caught up in trying to find some part of any of his lives that he might have—at least once upon a time—appreciated.

"One…two…three…" Ienzo counted slowly, laying out each of the materials with care. There was a twinge in his shoulder where the strap of the heavy bag had pressed into it, but he was far too excited to care. "I've got enough right?"

"Kupo!" the Moogle agreed, nodding its head so its over-sized red ball antenna bounced wildly. Ienzo laughed, but the humor turned quickly into anxiousness as the little item-maker gathered up his synthesis materials.

The eight-year-old boy fiddled with his blue scarf, following the Moogle's back-and-forth fluttering with bright grey eyes. His bag felt overly light now that it was empty of the gems he'd spent months collecting. Rough material from the pack brushed under his fingers as he patted idly at his side. Above him, the tops of Radiant Garden's tall white buildings disappeared in a fog of falling snow.

"Kupo!" the Moogle waved a stumpy paw, bat-wings flapping erratically to stay level with Ienzo's rather short height.

"You finished already?" Ienzo held his hands out eagerly to see what the Moogle had produced. It dropped a black band into his palm and, with a flutter of its wings, climbed back to hovering height. It was immediately enveloped once more in soft green light, but Ienzo was too busy inspecting his new treasure to notice.

With a respectful nod to the Moogle, Ienzo took off through the brilliant and snow-coated streets of Radiant Garden.

"Mother!" He came dashing into the warm kitchen of their house, all attempts to be dignified forgotten. "Look what I got!"

"Oh?" The grey-eyed woman knelt down to examine his trinket and let out an (only slightly) exaggerated gasp. "You got the Moogle to make this?"

"Yes, from all the shards I gathered," there was a tinge of pride in Ienzo's voice that put a brilliant smile on his mother's face.

"Well!" She held the black band up the light and the charms rang when they brushed against each other. "This is very special. Your very first Moogle treasure—and a Midnight Anklet too!"

"Is that good?" He reached to try and take the band back from her, but she chuckled and held it just out of his reach. With her free hand the grey-eyed woman unwound his scarf and pulled the empty bag off his shoulder, patting the few lingering flakes of snow off his shoulders.

"It's… a ward against darkness," she said, pressing the band into his open hand slowly, as if it meant something different now.

"Darkness?" The anklet's ebony stones glimmered in the half-light of the room. Between round beads, diamond-shaped blue and red gems stabbed out, bursts of color against the black.

Ienzo straightened suddenly, realizing just how off his behavior had been. He stiffened into a stick-straight posture, ordering his excited face into a more somber expression, a proper expression. His mother's grey eyes changed as he did—until he wasn't sure who she was seeing. That distant, hesitant look was usually reserved for his father…

"I'm not afraid of the dark anymore Mother," the boy insisted, suddenly sounding much older than his eight years. "Only children are afraid of the dark."

"Of course," she stumbled over the words, "of course."

That memory wasn't his. No, it was his. The lines between that other Ienzo and the boy inside Rufus Memorial Hospital were so tattered and permeable that he was sometimes unsure where one life started and the other ended. It was all a part of him but wasn't and he'd driven himself to madness more than once just trying to decide who he was...

There was a dull murmur in his ears from the other patients telling their memories, but it sounded more like toneless ringing than words. Ienzo knew his turn was quickly approaching, and there weren't any words in his mouth. The memories he had once loved he could not tell, and everything else…

And then, very suddenly, it did not matter what he said. It did not matter what memory had ever been his favorite—because there was something so much more important pressing on him.

It was a memory, but not in his mind. The air in the room was barely moving, but there was a different scent lancing through it now, faint and coming from far away, but real nonetheless. It brushed against his sensitive nose, drawing a rattling breath free of his lungs.

The slinking smell was of brine and sand, and everything about it was so familiar that his mind lurched sharply, struggling to make the right connections. Who? Who? He knew the scent but who? Adrenaline hit his system in an overdose, making Ienzo's hands shake where he'd fisted them around the plastic sides of his chair.

There was no ocean in the world of Dawn City. There was no way that someone could smell like the sea—no way that this Ienzo should know what a sea smelled like.

There wasn't enough of the scent; it did not linger long enough for him to put a name to it. But knowledge, like a shock of icy water, had settled in the back of his mind. As the last threads of the salty smell faded away, a new sort of consciousness took its place.

Though it seemed impossible, the scent was a part of Zexion's memories.

"—zo? Ienzo!" Doctor Pan's voice jerked him abruptly out of his thoughts. The orange-haired man stared at him expectantly. "Your favorite memory?"

"I…" Ienzo wanted to throw a caustic and sarcastic comment back, but even his wit seemed to have been wiped away by the shock of that new-not-new smell—the scent that was entirely gone now, as if it had never been. "I…"

"I've got one!" Selphie waved her hand frantically, as if trying to catch a teacher's attention. Doctor Pan's inquisitive look darted off Ienzo, and the sprightly man was immediately wrapped up in Selphie's story, forgetting in a moment that Ienzo had not shared at all.

But his stumble had not gone unnoticed. Ienzo could feel Tseng's eyes boring into his back. It wasn't rage that tightened the steel-haired boy's fists around the edge of his seat. It wasn't rage that clenched his teeth. It was just something, another indefinable piece of himself that sharpened his focus on the silent security guard to a needle-fine point.

Tseng was once again an unmoving obstacle in his way, separating Ienzo from another piece of freedom—separating Ienzo from walking, breathing proof of non-existence.

o ― ― ― ― ― » Vίσιετ « ― ― ― ― ― o

Aerith's Gainsborough's office was only slightly less neat and ordered than the woman who worked in it. The room (with its pale green walls) was decorated by flowering plants in a plethora of pots and hanging fixtures. They were a brilliant splash of color and scent that seemed to walk hand-in-hand with Aerith's delicate sweetness. Sometimes in the spring the cacophony of flower pollens got to Ienzo's sensitive nose, and he spent their daily private appointments sniffling and irritable.

Despite that, Aerith's office still managed to be Ienzo's favorite room in the entire ward. Behind the plants and coating every open space on the desk were books. Not the infuriatingly simple children's books the staff left in the rec. rooms, but real books—thick, heavy tomes of psychological analysis, human nature, all the classic works of fiction… When Aerith didn't have any questions or advice, she let him read through their mandatory sessions.

But Ienzo would not get to read today, it seemed. The doctor had her neat notepad out, a pencil tucked behind her ear, and a curious, intrigued expression on her face. Shifting in his customary chair, a cushy pale-salmon confection (and the only free seat in the room), Ienzo resisted the urge to sigh. He reached across the empty space to pull the silver Collision Cradle toy off her desk. The tiny silver marbles fluttered wildly for a moment before he stilled them, pulling back the first sphere in the chain. It swung in a pendulum arc, descending to the strike the next in the line. In less than a second, the last marble in the chain absorbed the kinetic energy and flew upward, arcing back down to start the entire circle over again.

But even energy is not perpetual, he couldn't help but think. Each cycle caused more and more power to be lost, until there was nothing real left at all... Just fragments… Only the potential to be. Once he had been freed from Group, Ienzo had hunted the hall almost desperately, searching for even a trace of the strange and familiar ocean smell. There had been nothing, as if he'd imagined all of it; conjured it up from some distant memory. It had the potential to be, at least.

The brunette doctor cleared her throat softly to get his attention, setting the notepad to the side and smiling at him. It was a bracing smile, one that asked for his patience more than anything else.

"Could you tell me again," Aerith murmured, turning a bit to shift through a set of notes poised haphazardly on the side of her desk, "about your mother's reaction when you first told her you had no heart or emotions?"

"She asked if my girlfriend had broken up with me." Ienzo's voice was so flat and clinical that the brown-haired doctor couldn't stop herself from laughing. "It was a testament to how little attention she paid to my real actions. I was ten years old and had only recently discovered that girls did not automatically suffer from infectious diseases."

"So your perceptions of the world were changing. And it was around that time that you first began to refer to yourself as…" she sighed, "a Nobody."

"I know there is some connection there. As my world widened, memories of things I had certainly never seen came back to me… But why then? There was never a single sign of it before. I don't know…"

"We've been over that period several times. There were no significant events in your life. No traumatizing experiences. There was no reason for a delusion to begin then."

"Well, it's fortunate for the both of us that it's not a delusion." His voice was quiet, softer than normal; Aerith wondered how many times he had told himself the same thing.

Ienzo's cobalt eyes did not waver off the chipped spot of paint on the window frame behind her. "A lexicon," he muttered suddenly, meeting her eyes truly for the first time since their session had begun.

"An encyclopedia?"

"Yes," he shifted slightly, rigid now with something like anticipation. "Lately I have been thinking that in comes down to the lexicon."

"I'm sorry, I'm not following you." Aerith tilted her head slowly the side. His eyes were bright for the first time in a long time. She knew if she could see into his mind, it would be racing—catching on to something new and eye-opening. She couldn't see past the bright blue of his irises; she would have to wait and see if he would disclose it all to her.

"Around that time, I visited the public library and read a lexicon of modern psychological contributions. There was an article," his voice had sped up slightly with 'the shadow of excitement', "concerning the purpose of human hearts. The author stipulated that it is the mind that weighs morality and wants. That hearts, rather than acting as the cores of our beings, may act as grounds for production."

"So the mind is the source of personality, and the heart is an accessory. Go on," Aerith pulled the pencil from her behind her ear and took down his words carefully.

"No, not only an accessory. I think the mind is where all things are envisioned. Emotions, light, darkness… like dreams, these things are insubstantial, illusionary. Almost… shadows of what could be."

"Shadows of emotions…" Aerith muttered as she wrote faster, scribbling her own connections in the margins, suddenly finding correlations that she had never seen before.

"Yes. I believe our minds know what feelings are—but only hearts can truly feel. In a way, the heart gives birth to what the mind can only dream." His fingers were fisted in the white cotton knees of his pants, knuckles white and red with exertion. "Being a Somebody is, therefore, the very definition of solidity, reality… existence."

"So a Nobody, without a heart, would be trapped at the stage of illusions, the unreal. If what that article said about hearts was correct… a Nobody would be a nonexistent entity. They'd possess minds to analyze themselves, to dream, to imagine feeling, but would have no means of turning those thoughts into reality." Aerith turned her own words over and over in her head, searching for the flaw in their analyses. Nobodies, Somebodies… it was all part of a remarkably intricate fantasy—intricate but, in the end, always false. Ienzo's logic should never have been so… plausible.

"Exactly," his half-dead smile wavered. "When I first read the article, I remember thinking the author was a fool. How could anything possibly live without a heart, even in a metaphorical sense?" Aerith watched his pale hand as it slid to fist in that starkly white hospital shirt, twisting deep gouges into the material over his chest. "How could anything live without a heart?"

Silence beat against them both in the wake of his question. It wasn't a new question. She still didn't have an answer.

"I would like to find that article…" Aerith murmured after a long moment, almost afraid to break the tremulous quiet they had fallen into.

"As would I." Ienzo's constant, vague frown had reappeared; his hands crossed contentedly over his thin frame. And his voice is so hollow…

Aerith was shivering and didn't know why.

A black and sullied feeling crept up in the back of her mind, wrapping cold tendrils around her throat and down her spine. It was a sudden, inexplicable fear, coated over with determination she knew was hers yet could not explain.

They only pretend… they only pretend…

She couldn't describe the feeling, couldn't make it stop. The fine hairs on the backs of her arms stood on end, as if some current of electricity (or maybe something not so real) had passed through the room, filled her lungs with lead and clawed at her heart.

Ienzo was still and silent in his seat; his cobalt eyes bored into her own as if he was seeing into her very core—or as if he was seeing straight through her, through everything, into the invisible something (or nothing) that seemed to choke the air from the room.

Distantly, the clock tower bells began to toll.

"That… That means… our hour is over," she murmured, voice crushed and lost to the shadowy corners of the room.

He shifted suddenly, looked away… and the pressure in the room shattered like a pane of glass, lifting off her so quickly that she almost doubted it had ever been. The only trace of the oppressive feeling was a lingering film of discomfort. Aerith felt that, if she plucked at her skin now, a visible layer of something might slough off it.

Darkness was the word she was thinking but couldn't admit to, because darkness doesn't coat people and she's not afraid of the dark and don't even start thinking like that because it's his delusion, not real…

The sunlight from the window was just as strong, had never wavered, and it fell gold and heavy on his pale skin. Ienzo's face was marred by his typical disinterest, but he had not stood to leave and even as he leaned easily back in the chair—something seemed wrong.

The word darkness would not leave her mind until she forced it.

"I…" she grasped for something to say, disliking the lingering silence. "Oh, I almost forgot!" Aerith smiled, sudden relief coursing through her as the last traces of that strange tension fled the room.

"I didn't tell you about our new intern," the brunette continued, wondered why the subject hadn't come up before, but then sighed. The subject hadn't come up because Ienzo didn't care at all what went on in the hospital. "He'll be starting officially in a few days. But I think he was supposed to be here today for something?" She wondered aloud, tapping her pencil idly against her notepad.

She tried to the recall the intern's name but couldn't. Shaking off the sudden memory lapse, Aerith offered Ienzo another bracing smile. There was no way the blue-haired boy was going to like the rest of her news.

"Doctor Yen Sid said that our intern is interested in working with patients suffering from delusions," she said, "so he'll probably want to work closely with you. Is that all right?"

A contemplative look swept over Ienzo's face that the brunette doctor could not explain. His cobalt eyes were distant for a moment, and he lifted a finger to brush at the tip of his nose as if some strong scent was filtering in the room. At last, he muttered a quiet "hmm" that could have meant anything. She always had trouble placing his moods—but this look was new, and his answer was caught between intrigue and exasperation.

"And you'll treat him with respect?" she chided, one eyebrow lifted in what was meant to be an intimidating stare.

"Hnh." Not a yes or a no, Aerith noted. Hopefully the new intern had a strong constitution…

"By the way," Ienzo said while he climbed stiffly from the chair to leave; it was as if they hadn't been having a conversation at all, "I finished the fourth wall this morning. Could you please inform the maintenance staff that I'd like my room repainted by tomorrow? And," he added as an afterthought, "not that garish yellow again."

"What color would you prefer?" She opened the door to show him out. His cobalt eyes narrowed in thought for a few moments.

"Perhaps," he murmured at last, "a violet."

o ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― o

Τ ђ ε – Ċσмρσśεŗ : Ғίηίŧσ

o ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― ― o

Final Mix:
1) Incredible amounts of credit go to my amazing beta-reader Distorted Gaze! She puts up with so much from me...

2) A few notes on pairings: This story is Zemyx (Dexion, Myde/Ienzo, whatever), but I've never been one to write gratuitous lemons. (Believe it or not, sex scenes are not a requirement for fanfiction.) There are also a few rather unimportant side pairings involving Final Fantasy characters. All of this will develop slowly. Very slowly.

3) This is my first Kingdom Hearts fanfiction! (I'm a bit scared to post it!) So if you review-and please do-give me any constructive criticism you can! I have a lot to improve upon, I know.