Naminé cannot recall a winter, but of late that is what she draws. There is a pleasant order to that season's portrait, and she can easily slip into the rhythm of drawing: the division of horizon and snow, the back-dashed trees snatching at a pallid sky, twisting upwards with a denuded, sad kind of grace, like the sere austerity of an amputee. Sometimes she adds the icy disc of a lake or a small tired-looking yellow sun.
Naminé has never seen a winter, but of late it is all she knows.
Her room is pale and boxy, with a high ceiling. Its length takes her twelve steps to cross; its breadth likewise, although she might need to detour to avoid her bed. She has: the bed, the chair, the desk, the wardrobe full of identical limp white dresses, the pencils, the crayons, the paper, the eraser – these last things which are her wealth.
She does not have: a way out.
There is the door, of course, but that door is not hers. It belongs to them: her jailers / guardians / enemies / friends (?). As it is theirs, they make good and constant use of it.
Axel, Marluxia, Larxene.
Marluxia fills her small room up to the brim, with his lanky limbs and the heady cloying perfume of growing things and moisture which rolls off his skin and coat. He sprawls on the bed or the floor or evicts Naminé from her chair depending on his mood, and spreads out pinkish-ginger, in the same way that cats go slightly melted in the heat. Lately he brings in poinsettias, or holly, winter-growing plants which he shows pointedly to her. He has discovered the winter pictures and does not like them.
"You see, my dear," he drawls. "Try spicing up those drab landscapes with one or two of these. Have a care, though. They are both poisonous." Like you.
He leaves those flowers with her, the poinsettia bristling like an open wound. They both wither on her desk, untouched.
Larxene storms in, storms about, sparking. The savage nymph thinks that Naminé is jealous of her. Naminé is, but not for the reasons Larxene would suppose. The memory witch envies Larxene's sleek muscle, her laughing command of her element. Larxene could get away.
The last, Naminé thirsts for most of all.
"Get ready to work for your keep, little witch," Larxene laughs-snarls. "He's coming at last! Finally. We'll see what you're worth then."
The room is small. There is nowhere to safely withdraw. Larxene would flush her out easily, from beneath the bed, from tucked into the wardrobe.
Naminé sits very still instead, like a dove wishing away the attention of a hawk.
"Nothing to say to me, little witch?" Larxene whispers next to her ear, and the fine hair on the back of Naminé's neck is not standing up because of static electricity. That is Larxene's name for Naminé: little witch. "All right, keep your tongue. It's just as well. Do good work for us and – " - the woman leers - "you may yet see outside the castle."
When she leaves, the room smells of ozone and bitter hate.
Axel is incense and spice, and he's told the truth: Hell is cold. When he visits he brings in fiery radiance and a blue fug of smoke.
"Cheer up, princess," he tells her. "Hold out another week, so, and the worst will be over."
"I'll try," Naminé whispers. He is the only one she really dares speak to. "Mister Axel, I won't hurt anyone, right? I don't want to hurt anyone." She just wants to do her art, and live harmlessly, with paint under her fingernails and turpentine odious in the air.
He touches her hair lightly. It is fine as cornsilk and almost colorless, translucent, against his rich red and black. She wants to paint him in oils, with his spikes and his eidolon face; oil paints are all that could truly capture the near-transparency of his pale skin, the eldritch, aloof smirk he often wears. "Of course not, princess," he says, with a smile that – she must remember – might be a lie. "Just do as you're told and nothing can go wrong."
The time he can spare her melts away like a snowflake on her tongue. She must remember: every kindness hides a blade. Every kindness could be a blade.
Besides these distractions, she draws a little, eats, sleeps, dreams in a murky profusion. Sometimes she can dream herself escaped, although Marluxia tells her that the world is cruel, and she'd be lost out there, like a baby bird helpless and naked to the wind. Her dreams, like her drawings, are a lifeline; windows into a life that once was and is now forgotten. She welcomes them.
Naminé stumbles in a world full of snow. The primrose sky looks precarious, wafer-thin, as though it might crumble if struck. Statues crowd around her, without poise but not without a stark grace in the chilly air. They number in the thousands, birds and beasts in a profusion, and of types Naminé has never seen. And although slush slops into the light slippers she wears Naminé is infused with a gladness that warms her like a cordial. The statues are so beautiful, so well-formed, caught in the regular acts of grooming or feeding or running. They are so realistically made that it is almost life. Almost or truly, what does it matter, her art is devoted to mimicking life and these sculptures were made with someone who is likewise bent. They are good enough.
She flits around them, thankful and almost smiling.
"They have no memory," someone says to her with honeyed voice. "Frozen, without past or future to carry them along, they will remain here until someone offers them a path to lead them from their quiescent state. Will that be you, little witch?"
Naminé falters and glances wildly about. She had thought she walked alone, yet next to her prowls a lion, huge, one big enough nose to hindquarters to span her room. His paws could engulf her sketchbook, could smother her from chin to forehead, and tufts of fur protrude from between his toes. He takes one step to her four but paces beside her easily.
"W-where did you come from?" Naminé stammers. He must have seen her frolicking; his lapis eyes are amused. He is not tawny but gingery, and his profuse mane almost pink. A startling companion, fearsome, but not… unwelcome. The warm breath steaming from his muzzle is very real, and the smell of the jungle which clouds around him. "I had thought that nothing lived here," the little witch says, glancing helplessly from horizon to horizon and seeing only statues and the pallid sky. "What happened? Where's everyone… else?"
"You happened," purrs the lion. "You're looking at everyone else. These folk, they're your work, and all ripe to be led by anyone who cares to take the reins." There is an eerie, proprietary look in his blue cat-eyes. Naminé stumbles, dumbstruck, at the cruelty of the thought, and how unreal it is. She's an artist, not an enchantress. The transformation of flesh into stone is not her domain.
They are approaching a shrine together – how hadn't she seen it before? and the lion goes in with Naminé at his heels. She is no longer leading (though was she ever?) but is too appalled to give the reversal of roles much thought. "I could never," she says to the big cat's swaying shoulders, "I mean, I would never want to take memories, take everything, from people, and anyway, I only draw things. I don't..." She gestures, limply, helplessly, at their surroundings. "I don't do things like this."
"But you can," says the lion, with sweet malicious satisfaction. "And you did." He is leading her deeper into the building with obvious familiarity, his paws scuffing silently over the worn grey stone. Statues people these halls too, and they look vaguely familiar now. She'd know them if only she could focus but the cat's moving so quickly now, she has to keep up, and knowledge slides in filaments that don't make any sense, like aurora twining between her fingers – a beautiful girl with a short dress and a smile, a slender young man with sharp sweeps of hair falling over a blindfold, a girl with a jump-rope, a boy with duckling's-down hair and a long coat, a duck with a magician's cap and a dog with a shield and more and more but they're passing them so quickly and the girl and the lion walk into the inner sanctum together.
There's only one statue here, standing next to a silvery pool.
The boy is young, with a young wondrous face, and a spiky thatch of hair. He wears shorts and ridiculously large shoes and loosely he holds a strange – club – key – talisman –
Whatever it is, Naminé is lost studying it for a moment, recollection on the tip of her tongue, rising over her head and smothering her, in a pother of tastesmellsound and semaphore-flashes of color. But the lion is circling this statue, and speaking again. "The keyblade master," he says, and his voice rolls warmly from his mouth, syrupy and poisonous. "Mine at last. You've done your job and outlived your worth, my dear witch."
The cat opens his mouth and breathes over the statue, the air swirling and coalescing into a green-silvered cloud. Naminé watches, thinly nauseated, her hands bunched tightly in the light fabric of her dress. She takes a short harsh breath and spring, vanilla-sweet, coats the back of her throat – a tingling verdancy and lightness and cherry blossoms so cloying and strong and she nearly falls. And under that sweetness, the taste and intimation of rot.
The witch stumbles forward, scouring her knees bloody as she falls onto the stone and leans over the inscrutable pool. The statue – it isn't just her eyes, it isn't, it isn't – color warms his stone flesh. A flush of pink brushes across his smooth cheek. Stiffly, slowly, he begins to shift.
"Good fortune in your future endeavors," the lion purrs to her. "Such as they are left to you."
They are face to face and Naminé looks up into his eyes as blue and still as summer when the sun can kill. He places one giant paw on her chest and Naminé can feel the warning prick of claws in the snow-soft greenhouse-hot paw, knows he could swipe her open, collarbone to belly, easy.
The boy, living, breathing, turns his eyes to her and his fine lips part. An ivy leaf protrudes from his mouth like a tongue.
"What's your name?" Naminé whispers.
"You know it," says Marluxia, and pushes her backwards, down into the water.
For an instant she plunges, in the weightless deeps, a witch kicking, air rising in silver gobs from her open mouth. They used to punish her kind, this way, by drowning, and Naminé knows she is never going to surface again, she is going to have to breathe, her lungs spasming in agony - then water is air was always air and someone catches her hard on the wrist and is pulling her quickly away.
Larxene sprints at a savage pace, and hauls Naminé along. The nobody is moving much too quickly for Naminé to keep up but somehow she gets her feet under her and dashes breathlessly in tandem. "W-wait!" she stutters. "Larxene – "
"Keep up!" the lightning-woman shouts with a wild laugh. "Hurry up, witch! Don't fall behind!"
Astoundingly Naminé makes her legs work. Larxene's grip on her wrist tingles. Together they dash through mist, a pearly dizzying montage of sameness.
"But w-where are we going?" Naminé jolts out.
"Don't try to talk!" Larxene snaps, but she answers the witch's question anyway. "To a place we passed ten minutes ago."
"But," Naminé objects, silenced by the increase of pressure on her wrist.
"The world's a quick place, little witch," Larxene sings, high and taunting. "Even for things like us. To stay in the same place you've got to keep moving!"
"I don't understand," whimpers Naminé.
"You don't have to," Larxene says brutally. "Just do what you're told, and remember the rules."
"I didn't get told the rules-"
"Make up your own!" her companion roars joylessly, and plunges on.
"It's all right you're confused, princess," interrupts the lean cat perched on her shoulder. His ebony claws run stinging furrows into her skin. "It's all madness here, got it? Run either way, and you get back to the same place in the end."
"I'm not mad, and I don't want to live in madness-"
"Too bad," he says practically. "And too late besides. We're all mad here. You're in the company of madness. That's just the kind of luck you get in the world sometimes. Got it?"
"Here's your stop!" barks Larxene. The red cat dissolves in sparks, and the taller woman whips Naminé forward so her head slams. For two precious seconds she speeds like blizzard wind on her own two feet before she twists and flings and falls.
Naminé wakes up scalding like cocoa on the tongue, strangled in an avalanche of bedclothes and pillow. She can barely move and there is a stale dry path starting on her tongue and leading down her throat.
"I'm sick," whispers Naminé, which is only the truth.
The wardrobe is large and cool. She explored it in the preliminary days of her captivity and dismissed in just as quickly, but perhaps there is call for a reevaluation now… the thought makes sense, with a fever. Naminé shawls herself in sheets and leans her forehead against the wood grain. Sickness draws pictures in the texture of the wood: the screaming faces of the winds glare out at her, and convulsions of blowing snow.
She burns like a brand against this cold, cold castle; feels bigger and brighter than she ever has. It would not be surprising in the least if puddles rose around her ankles as the ice floor dissolved, or is she the snow maiden, melting away at last?
Naminé strains open the heavy wardrobe doors and crawls inside. Her other dresses brush gently over her face, faintly luminescent, like ectoplasm. There's a specter in here, ghosts young and younger, talking and wearing these other dresses. Ghosts: the girls who yesterday or last week were Naminé, ghosts from when she awoke and found herself a charge of the Organization, an inhabitant of Castle Oblivion. Ghosts from before she was sad, or cold, or feeling hopelessness close chilly fingers around her heart.
She shuffles on her knees to the back of the wardrobe, and scratches over the back panel with her slender fingers. Of course, nothing gives way. There is no passage into silent winter, or lamp-post, or lion's ground. Where had the idea come from?
The fathomless chambers of her time before memory, when she was whole. Naturally. The impulse is no longer relevant, or suitable, Vexen would say. The impulse is a vestigial remnant of once having a heart and craving one again. When did she get so good at talking like him? At talking like someone heartless?
Blindly she traces a seam
in the wood, tries to catch it with her nails, to no avail. Of course
there is no such escape. Of course.
Marluxia finds her in the morning, and puts her back in bed. He procures tea from somewhere. It is hot and lemony and utterly warming, like sunlight. Tea with honey and a pinch of cayenne, and it melts away the thickness in Naminé's head and the burn in her throat like the sun searing morning mist off the water. For a while, at least.
He piles up extra pillows behind her, and drags her chair over so he can lounge at her bedside. He crosses his ankles and props his feet on the edge of her bed, and then melts into position, looking as if he'd stick if anyone dared try to peel him away. Naminé can hardly stand him in such a solicitous mood; she keeps expecting to other foot to drop, heavy enough to break her neck.
"You must take better care of yourself, Naminé," he smiles. "I would hate to have you working at anything under peak condition."
Naminé stares at the steam rising from her tea. "I'm sorry," she whispers. Sorry for so many things, including herself and the fact that she was ever significant enough to in some way draw his notice. "I didn't know…"
"Oh, it's not a total loss," Marluxia says indifferently. "Vexen will be fascinated. I don't think a nobody's ever gotten sick before."
She is the first and probably will remain the last. "I'm sorry I've caused trouble," she says again.
"It hardly matters, really, Naminé," he says, waving a dismissive hand. "It's not as if it's time for you to begin yet. We have… a comfortable margin. Possibly this is the best time for this kind of thing, at that. Before anything is at stake."
"What… is… my work?" she asks. It's the first time she's ever had the courage to inquire; she can't have been taken in just to doodle in a tower, that's unimaginable. Ludicrous. Everything else is fearsome to contemplate. Naminé is no fighter.
Marluxia smiles like a shark contemplating a baby dolphin. "Just be the princess in the tower, my dear Naminé," he murmurs. "Draw your pictures and be what you are. And yet you may see the outside of this castle."
It can't be that easy, really. Naminé shivers under her covers and sips her tea again, drains it to the dregs. "May I have some more tea?" she asks meekly. Marluxia takes the cup from her without comment and fills it almost to the brim.
"Don't worry about the details," he continues, smiling thinly once she is settled again. "But do as I tell you and everything will run smoothly."
"I don't understand," Naminé says hesitantly. She isn't sure she wants to.
"My Naminé," smirks Marluxia. "I'll make sure you do, when the time comes. It will be quite clear." He blinks at her, limpidly, eyes as blue and hungrily empty as the sky. She recognizes the lion in them, and the black hole, and so much more.
Claws touching her skin and a sacred place full of frozen strangers.
Naminé swallows her bile and smiles, smiles.