Summary: (slight AU) Dreams always result in an awakening, and twilight always fades. What if Roxas had left Twilight Town with Axel? (AkuRoku, Riku/Sora, implied Zemyx)
Guh. Disclaimers depress me. Seriously.
There are lots of Heartless in this chapter, and I'm actually quite satisfied with the way they were written. :D I think encounters with Heartless are my favourite things to write in this fic—those and the meetings with Sora. I love those. :3
I don't like writing Roxas' dream sequences/streams of consciousness, by contrast. They frustrate me. D: Don't know why. They just do. They're so annoying. Sucks that they're necessary…
And I'm sorry if I got the geography wrong… :/ I was doing it by memory. I might've messed up the maps in my mind. It's been a while since I played the first game. :B
OMG, ROXASSSSSS!!!!!! I'm sorry I made you so hapless!!! D8
D'awww, this fic is over a year old, now!! D: That makes me strangely teary.
Thank you guys so much for being patient with me… I've been very busy with university applications and school and relationship strife. :/ Life has taken a random turn for the more complicated…

Started: September 30, 2008.
December 17, 2008.

x : creeping shadows

"This world has been connected. Tied to the—"

—darkness was closing in on him, pressing closer, deeper, from all sides. He coughed fruitlessly, trying to drive air into his lungs. It burned—

—magnificently, the flames twisting and turning, coiling and writhing around the single, long-stemmed rose held loosely between nimble fingers. His eyes lifted to meet those of the other, and he fought down the butterflies that—

"—flew. Wait 'til I tell Kai—"

"—is from one of those other worlds!" the Other Boy told him excitedly, aqua eyes wide with excitement. "Sora," he breathed, clasping the Boy's hands in his own and giving them an affectionate squeeze. "This is what we've been wait—"

"—ing for you," the Other Boy sneered, all warmth in his eyes having long froze over, leaving them empty and iced: completely unforgiving. "We've always been rivals, haven't we?" he mused, cold eyes sliding shut in what might have been bittersweet nostalgia. "You've always pushed me, as I've always—"

—pushed furiously at the door, but it just wouldn't budge. He had to close it. From within the darkness of the door, he could just make out the squirming black forms of the Heartless, each clambering to escape from the deep void.

"All hearts return to darkness."

His head hurt.

When Roxas awoke, he found that he simply couldn't bring himself to open his eyes. His head just ached too much. He had tried to crack his eyes open on more than one occasion, but each attempt led to nothing more than a wave of migraines. He had absolutely no desire to try shifting his body, either. His limbs were numb with fatigue and felt like lead.

In the end, Roxas had little choice other than to simply lie motionless in bed, exhausted and incredibly confused.

Exactly what had happened? Where was he?

He managed to feebly twitch his fingers, his horribly cold fingers, and felt what seemed to be a thick blanket and bedclothes.

Bedclothes? he thought vaguely, furrowing his brow with great effort. Am I just in bed? he asked himself.


The answer was spoken only in his mind, and yet Roxas knew it had not been an answer conceived by his own consciousness. Blind confusion welled up within him as he picked at the great blank spot in his memory, the void vast and unfathomable. Any sort of recollection was just too far away. He extended a small tendril of light into the depths of his mind, searching, searching…only to find nothing. Just black space and a peculiar sense of emptiness that was matched only by the presence of nothing.

Roxas frowned inwardly and pushed into his mind again. This time, he found something. It was a strange thing, to feel a physical manifestation in the depths of his mind, but there was something tangible there—a door.

He unconsciously pushed at it, but it refused to creak open. Locked.

Frustrated, Roxas did something illogical: he slipped into his mind, in a form no more or less physical than his surroundings, knelt down before the door, pressed one of his glowing blue eyes to the keyhole, and gazed in at what lay beyond the door.


Roxas jolted to life, convulsing and sitting up abruptly in his bed, gasping for air, sweat dripping down his face. His eyes were wide and his pupils dilated as his eyes frantically roved over the expanse of his surroundings. He was in a sparsely decorated bedroom. The only furniture in the room other than the bed was a large, overstuffed armchair that sat in the corner of the room, angled in such a way that it faced both the door and the bed Roxas was in. Taking a few uneven breaths, he weakly clawed at the sheets he was tangled in, struggling to free himself from the soft blue sheets and nearly toppling to the floor in his effort. His whole body was deadened and felt immensely heavy, and the prickling of a thousand invisible needles plagued him from all sides. A rough spasm spiked in him, starting in his calf and shooting to his head and he jerked again, this time tumbling forward and actually pitching himself to the ground. He landed in a crumpled heap and let out a low groan, his voice sounding nothing like it usually did—it was all scratchy and dry, like it hadn't been used for some time. He let out a hacking cough that grated his rough throat. His stomach convulsed and he retched painfully.

There was a sudden thumping of footsteps from the next room, and the door flew open, revealing a pair of worn, dark boots. "You took a long time to wake up. Go figure," a sarcastic male voice drawled. The boots made their way over to Roxas, who was fighting to keep his vision focused and his eyes open. Warm, gloved hands slipped under Roxas' weary form and easily hefted him from the floor and softly replaced the blond on top of the rumpled sheets. "Geez, Roxas," the voice murmured, almost fondly, "You're going to get yourself killed like this."

Roxas blinked, his vision swimming before his eyes. He coughed again and squinted up at the mess of shock red hovering above his face. Those careful hands were adjusting Roxas and the bedclothes, propping up the teenager against a few overstuffed pillows and pulling blankets over Roxas' trembling form. Who…?

The man sighed wearily and tugged on a single blond spike of Roxas' hair. "Kid, you're really in awful shape. That guy really didn't take care of you…" There was a muffled, unintelligible grunt and the sound of a glass bottle being uncorked. Roxas wrinkled his nose as a heavy medicinal odour propagated throughout the room, hanging in the air, pungent and thick. The man tilted Roxas' head back and gently coaxed the blond's chapped lips open. He hesitated and cautioned, "This'll taste pretty nasty."

A half-conscious hum of indifference was the only answer Roxas could give. He wasn't clear enough to really understand what was going on. He just wanted the world to stop spinning before his eyes.

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

Something searing fastened over Roxas' lips and all at once, a bitter, herbal liquid flooded Roxas' mouth, the fluid was warm and bubbling as it went down his throat, but it sent tremors of ice sailing through his body, the frost descending into his muscles before melting into throes of heat that radiated pleasantly. Roxas coughed violently. But then, just a moment after the drink had settled into his body, flowing into all his aches and pains, a strange sense of alleviation washed over the blond and he blinked, startled. His vision had defogged around the edges, and his laboured breathing had been eased to a dull wheeze.

There was an amused hum from the man, and from somewhere beside Roxas' face, he idly warned, "Here's the second dosage."

A second dose of the liquid sloshed into the blond's mouth and, this time, Roxas swallowed without hesitation, the medicine settled into his limbs again, leaving behind a comfortable glow and spreading warmth throughout his body. The teenager let out a soft, contented sigh and nestled down into his blankets and pillows, sleep tugging stubbornly at his eyelids. "'m tired," he mumbled as his eyes slid shut.

A hand absent-mindedly stroked Roxas' mussed hair. "Then sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."

Roxas let out a noncommittal sigh and drifted off to sleep.

His heart is returning. Doubtless he'll awaken soon.

There was something strange in the air when Roxas awoke. He was still slightly lightheaded from his powernap, but he was still lucid enough to feel the foreign chill tugging at the corner of his mind. Uneasy sapphire eyes surveyed the expanse of the dark room, searching vainly for the source of the apprehension hanging over Roxas' head. Like a child, he sank further into his blankets, a nagging sense of fear growing within his chest and his stomach turning somersaults.

What is that? Roxas wondered anxiously, eyes darting back and forth, hunting for the source of unrest. His eyes came to rest on the plush chair that sat in the corner of the room. In the dim light, he could just make out the contorted figure of his caretaker,—Axel. That's his name.—slouched in his seat, limbs dangling over the cushioned arms. The redhead's body was deceptively languid in its appearance, but Roxas could just make out a definite tick in Axel's right hand. Axel could feel something was off, too.

"…Axel," Roxas whispered, his voice feathery in the darkness.

Axel's fingers twitched slightly. "Yes?" he finally said, voice low.

Roxas licked his dry lips, eyes flickering over to the door. "There's something coming."

The redhead grunted in response. "You noticed, huh?" Axel shifted his position, sitting upright and popping a few vertebrae in the process. He sighed, lifted a weary hand, and snapped his fingers, sending sparks flying and a fire sputtering to life in the palm of his gloved hand. He raised the flame close to his face, so he could see Roxas properly. His lips were pulled into a grim line. "Roxas," he said as he got to his feet and approached the door. His emerald eyes reflected flecks of gold in the twisting flames. Axel cast a sideways glance at the blond, eyes stony. "Stay here," he advised. "I'll take care of whatever the disturbance is." The man extinguished the fire and seized the doorknob.

Something in Roxas wrenched painfully and he flinched, head jerking up and his eyes flashing. "W-wait!" he gasped, shoving his blankets aside and sliding off the bed and stumbling over to Axel. His legs were frail and shaky beneath him and the teenager nearly collapsed at Axel's feet, his fingers curling weakly in the smooth leather of the other's long coat. "I'm coming with you."

A strange expression akin to anguish rippled over Axel's face for the briefest of moments before vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared. He gazed down at Roxas, face carefully blank and stony. "You're not coming," he brusquely informed the blond. "You're in no condition to deal with possible enemies."

"Screw that," Roxas snapped, his hoarse voice grating roughly. He tightened his fragile grip on Axel's coat sleeve and glared up defiantly at the redhead. "I'm not staying in here by myself. I'm going with you."

Axel was silent for a moment, just observing Roxas. Finally, he released the doorknob and dragged a hand through his crimson spikes with an exasperated sigh. "Fine," he muttered through gritted teeth. He narrowed his eyes at the teenager. "Don't make me regret this," he warned, eyes glinting. Roxas merely nodded and righted himself, reluctantly relinquishing his grip on the other.

The redhead returned his hand to the doorknob and slowly opened the door, which swung open soundlessly. He took a few tentative steps out into the other room, Roxas quietly following.

Roxas' eyes drunk as much as he could about the dark room, making unconscious note of the large wood-burning stove that was standing in the back corner. Its fire was extinguished, and the room was drenched in almost complete darkness; the only source of light was a single candle that rested on a waxed, wooden table, cascading droplets of melted wax and spitting burnt ash. The candle's small flame faltered slightly when Axel and Roxas entered, wavering anxiously and causing shadows to spin, bouncing off the curtained window and the front door of the flat.

Roxas, who had become quite entranced with the twisting fire and the dancing shadows, unintentionally walked into the still Axel and balked in embarrassment. The redhead turned slightly to regard the mortified teen with a small, strained grin. "Watch your step," he said, a lilt of mock threading into his voice. Roxas scowled deeply, but stayed put.

Something outside the flat creaked ominously, and Roxas sucked in a tense gasp of air, his eyes darting up to watch Axel. "What was that?" Roxas hissed. There was a distinct chill in the air, melancholic in nature and mutable, shifting its shape and washing over the blond, bitter cold rippling out from its source and flowing into the air around Roxas, making him swim in gloom. Roxas gingerly touched a hand to his forehead. The peculiar sensation of watery sorrow was familiar. With each passing second, the numbness increased, coming closer and closer to submerging and drowning Roxas in its pith.

Axel distractedly shushed him, his shoulders stiffened and his two ring-like weapons materialised in his hands, appearing in rapid spirals of glowing combustion. He furrowed his brow and muttered, "There're two of them." He tightened his grip on his spiked weapons and stalked toward the door, poised for attack.

Roxas blinked heavily. Two? he thought. He squeezed his eyes shut and fought to discern a second presence in the midst of the—There it is! It was barely noticeable, almost muted by the swirling abyss. Cloaked in the sea of grief was a suppressed whirlwind of raw energy and emotion, radiating a spastic black heat as it ripped its way toward Roxas and Axel, approaching at an alarming rate.

Blue eyes snapped open in fearful understanding. The second presence is cloaking itself in the first. The raging black spiral was flying now, tearing through the world, rapidly becoming closer, closer, closer, closer, closer, closer—!!

Instinctually, Roxas reeled and sprinted for the redhead. "Axel!"

But it was too late.

The door burst open, nearly flying off its hinges, and Axel lunged, weapons spinning madly, flames crackling through the air as he released one, sending it flying into the doorway. Then, steadily, everything slowed to a gradual stop: Axel frozen mid-throw and his weapon suspended motionlessly in the air, halted in its assault. In this stage of stillness, all of Axel's flames had been extinguished.

…what…? Roxas himself froze as well, and from where he stood, he could just make out the small black, yellow-eyed creature that hovered silently in the doorway, its glowing eyes peering from over the edge of a thick, black leather-bound, silver embossed book. There was something uncannily intelligent and calculating about the creature's gaze and Roxas couldn't help but feel as if he was being scrutinised. The dark creature itself was not completely unlike the slinky white monsters Roxas had been fighting in Twilight Town—This certainly isn't Twilight Town. I guess Axel actually did get me out…whatever that means…—like those monsters, it was nonhuman, that much was certain. Yet, whereas the white monsters bore an unexplainable void of static and nothingness about them, this black creature that floated mutely in the doorway bore an essence that was a polar opposite: it was surrounded in a torrential field of conflicting emotions, its static screaming and laughing and crying all at once. Roxas was not sure which he preferred, the cacophony of noise or the dead silence.

A soft hum from behind the dark creature dragged Roxas back to his frozen reality. That was definitely human, Roxas thought, straining his peripherals to beyond Axel and the creature—to see what lurked behind the being. Another wave of ice splashed over Roxas' consciousness, the impact of the sensation had increased tenfold, and the blond realised that the source of the vexed emotion—the person who had hummed—was standing just outside the flat.

"Axel, I gotta say, I'm kinda surprised you made it over here so quickly… Did you give up?" The voice was youthful and oddly cheerful, contrasting vividly with the sombre aura he emanated. The black creature floated into the flat and a lanky youth with unruly, dirty-blond hair styled in a peculiar cross between a mullet and a mohawk sauntered in, his bottle green eyes bright as he took in the sight of the immobile Axel. Like Riku and Axel, he was dressed in the same garb: long, sweeping black leather coat and gloves and worn leather boots. He was drenched in water and he dripped small water droplets everywhere he went, leaving a trail of small puddles in his wake. He closed the door behind him and turned back to face Axel, only for his eyes to land on the paralysed Roxas. A gloved hand shot to his mouth and his eyes grew wide. "R-Roxas?" the youth sputtered incredulously, hurrying over to the smaller blond. He let out a strange choking sound and spun around to the black creature, who was also studying Roxas with what could only be described as intrigue. "Stop the magic," the green-eyed youth told it, and the creature merely blinked.

Roxas felt all control return to his limbs and he sagged, falling forward into the arms of the stranger and gasping as he felt air rush into his lungs and his head go light with dizziness. A few metres away, Axel let out an annoyed growl and made his weapons dissipate. "Demyx," the redhead snarled as he stormed over to Roxas and the stranger. "Why are you here?"

The stranger's blue-green eyes widened slightly and he tightened his hold on Roxas. "Geez, Axel," he muttered, looking miffed, "One would think you'd be happy to get some help…" He made a vague fluttering gesture with his hand toward the slumped Roxas. "And it's clear that you're not doing so hot with Roxas—what the hell happened to him, anyway?" he demanded, jerking his head at the hazy blond. "He disappears for, what, a week or something, and he ends up like this!" The cool aura that had been churning around the stranger spiked unexpectedly. "Just what happened?"

Axel's eyes flashed and a surge of volatile energy propagated from his being, sparking through the air and making the hair on the back of Roxas' neck stand on end. "DiZ happened," Axel spat.

Demyx raised a fine eyebrow and glanced down speculatively at the limp form of Roxas. "DiZ?" He frowned faintly and pursed his lips. "Who's that?"

"That is classified information," Axel returned coolly, folding his thin arms across his chest and raising his chin challengingly at the sandy-haired youth. He crossed the small room and easily pulled Roxas from Demyx's grip and hoisted the blond into his arms.

"Uh huh," Demyx said dryly, allowing the teenager to be taken from him. He put his hands on his hips and looked around inquisitively, water droplets flying from his body as he moved. "Where've you been keeping Roxas, anyway?" He cast a reproving look over at the collapsed blond before giving Axel a level stare. "He's really unwell, Axel."

"You think?" Axel snapped, clutching the gasping Roxas closer to his chest and backing away to the door that led to the bedroom.

"Well, geez," Demyx muttered, quirking an eyebrow. "No need to be so sensitive, Axel. I'm just concerned…" His lips tugged downward. "He's in horrible shape—I haven't seen him this bad since… Well, since he first joined the Organisation."

Roxas lifted his head a fraction from the warmth of Axel's chest, sick breath rattling in his lungs. The Organisation, Roxas hazily registered. This guy…Demyx…he knows about the Organisation. Blue eyes took in the soft, vaguely feminine form of Demyx. Is he a member, too? Like Axel? Like…like me?

Axel roughly stormed into the bedroom and, with surprising tenderness, laid Roxas down on the bed and tucked him in. He gave a last, cursory look at the blond teenager before turning to survey Demyx with a mildly disgruntled look. "So, what're you doing here?"

After assuming an annoyed look, Demyx took a minute step backward, edging away from Roxas and Axel and closer to his floating black companion. "Roxas is my friend, too," he said crossly. His irate expression faltered slightly as his eyes returned to the weary Roxas and his forehead creased in concern.

Roxas stared silently up at Demyx, guilt swelling in his chest at the worry in the other's eyes. "I…" Roxas began, voice reedy, "I'm really sorry," he mumbled, averting his gaze in shame. "I…I don't remember you…"

Demyx's verdant eyes widened. He's probably shocked, Roxas sullenly thought to himself as he nibbled distractedly on the inside of his cheeks. Axel looked pretty distressed when I didn't recognise him, too.

The teenager's prediction hadn't been incorrect; no sooner had Roxas admitted his lapse in memory did Demyx immediately turn to face Axel, disbelief plainly written across his features. "What exactly happened?" Demyx asked.

Axel sighed deeply, his shoulders slumping as he shook his head tiredly. "I really don't know," he confessed. "I thought it might have something to do with the brat—yes, that one—but I'm not so sure, now," he said. "The restoration's complete and I had infiltrated the enemy and had Naminé—long story…—fix and rewire his memories and stuff…" Axel's thin eyebrows knitted together as he ambled across the bedroom and sat down heavily in the armchair. He shook his head. "There's still something wrong, though."

"Is it health related?" Demyx persisted, bustling over to Roxas' bed and absentmindedly checking the teenager's temperature and pulse. The black creature followed a few paces behind Demyx, its large eyes examining the blond with keen interest.

"I really don't know," Axel said with a sigh, leaning backwards in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. I gave him two potions earlier, but they don't seem to be doing much…"

Demyx clicked his tongue and began rummaging in the deep pockets of his coat. "I don't think potions'll be very helpful," he said. He glanced over to his hovering companion and said, "Elixirs would be better, right?"

The creature's head eagerly bobbed up and down in reply and Axel raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "I've been meaning to ask," Axel said slowly as he watched Demyx fish out a small flask of glowing green liquid and present it to Roxas, who weakly uncorked it and drank the contents without complaint. Axel smiled softly as Roxas visibly brightened, some colour returning to his ashen cheeks.

"Ask what?" Demyx prodded, digging through his pockets once again.

"Well," Axel said, "What's with the Bookmaster?"

"Oh!" Demyx flushed slightly and coughed awkwardly. "Um…"

Roxas had sat up in his bed, feeling reasonably better. "What's a 'book master'?" he asked. The black creature looked strangely miffed and began flipping furiously through the pages of its thick tome. Roxas couldn't help but smile bemusedly at its antics.

"A Bookmaster is a type of Heartless," Axel explained. The Bookmaster had apparently found the page it was searching for and turned its book around to show Roxas a page crammed with minute, calligraphy handwriting and a detailed, moving illustration of the Bookmaster. Roxas strained his eyes to read some of the text and found that it was a comprehensive bestiary entry on the Bookmaster, woven with information on its strength with magic and observations on its behaviour. All details had been painstakingly made, and the diagram of the creature was labelled with meticulous side notes on the Heartless' anatomy and general physiology.

"Oh," Roxas said, jerking his head back to avoid having his nose clipped when the Bookmaster slammed its tome shut and huffily backed away to its place beside Demyx. "But what's a Heartless?" Roxas wanted to know.

"A Heartless is the physical manifestation of the darkness in a person's heart," Demyx said, matter-of-factly.

Axel seemed amused. "How very scholarly of you, Demyx," he snickered. "Been studying, lately?"

Demyx scowled and the Heartless' body shook for a brief moment. Was it just laughing? Roxas wondered.

"But, yeah," Axel said. "That's right. Now, back to my question: what's up with the Heartless, Demyx?" He rose to his feet and crossed the room, clearly intending to inspect the Heartless. The Bookmaster, however, seemed to want none of this and jerked away from the redhead's touch. Axel's eyebrows rose. "This one's feisty," he remarked, tucking his hands into his pockets. "And I don't think I've ever seen one quite like this…don't they usually wear green?"

The Heartless' dark body was swathed in silvery-purple satin with cobalt trim and violet gloves. A matching hat was perched on its head, but the hat must have been too big for the creature, because it kept tilting off its head at an angle, the brim sliding over the Bookmaster's right eye.

"He is a bit unusual," Demyx agreed, sheepishly scratching the back of his neck. "I found him wandering around Ansem's Library over in Hollow Bastion just a few days after that fiasco in Castle Oblivion, and, well…" Demyx shrugged helplessly. "I can't get him to leave me alone. He's been following me everywhere."

"Why don't you just destroy him, then?" Axel asked, smirking when the Bookmaster's eyes flashed resentfully.

Demyx coughed and shrugged. "He's useful," he said slowly. "I mean, you know that Stopga spell we used earlier? When we first arrived?"

Axel chuckled ruefully. "How could we forget?"

Roxas blinked. Stopga spell? Spell? Like magic? Was that magic? The Bookmaster seated itself on the bed beside Roxas and looked up at the blond with its large, bright eyes. It nudged the book into the teenager's lap, silently imploring him to read. Roxas glanced down at the page; it was the same entry on the Bookmaster that he had been looking at previously.

"Yup," Demyx said with a hearty nod. "That was all him. I did none of it."

Axel snorted. "That figures," he sniggered. "You were always pretty crappy at magic. It's about time you got someone to do all the dirty work for you!" Demyx swatted the redhead, sending water spraying from his sleeve, and Axel cracked up. "Geez, Demyx, you should definitely get this guy to join the Organisation—oh, wait, maybe not. It's a kind of racist group, isn't it? Nobodies only, eh?"

While the two older men bantered, Roxas continued to scrutinise the entry. He frowned. 'A great mage who can handle all three types of elemental magic', Roxas read. He sceptically eyed the Bookmaster sitting on his bed. Elemental, huh? I'm pretty sure freezing time isn't elemental magic. He turned back to the book and further poured over the page—Hey, what's this? He gave a last thoughtful look at the image of the Heartless, then closed the book and stared blankly at the solid, leather cover. "Demyx," he said loudly, the name rolling off his tongue in a vaguely familiar way. "The book is different."

"What do you mean?" Axel asked.

The blond pointed at the entwined silver-plated insignia melted into the hard, black leather: three spiked hearts overlapped, spires stretching outward from the centre of the cover. Beneath the symbols were two lines of painted silver text, inscribed in the same neat handwriting that the entry on the Bookmaster had been written in. "This," Roxas said, "is not the same book the picture has in it." He turned back to the entry. "The book in the picture is the Akashic Record," Roxas told them. He turned his gaze to the Heartless. "This guy isn't a typical Bookmaster." He looked up at Axel and furrowed his brow; the redhead's jaw had all but fallen open.

"That book…" Axel murmured, extending a hand to touch it—only for it to be slapped away by the Bookmaster. Axel blanched. "Zexion?"

Demyx laughed awkwardly. "Y-Yeah," he stammered, cheeks colouring. "I'm positive that's Zexion's Heartless. I mean, that's his Lexicon…"

Roxas cocked his head, confused. "Zexion?" he repeated.

"He was a member of the Organisation," Axel supplied.

Roxas blinked. "Was?"

Demyx stiffened and Axel, who merely cast a nonchalant look over at the youth, replied, "Long story."

Silence, traitor.

After spending some time in the company of both Axel and Demyx, Roxas had come to the conclusion that Axel, while he was outwardly cheerful and friendly around Demyx, honestly did not trust the other man. It also became clear that Demyx held similar sentiment toward the redhead. And though these would normally seem like conditions for a very awkward environment, the turnout was very different; Axel and Demyx had no difficulty in falling in beat with each other and played a very intricate game of avoiding questions and dancing around answers with guile. There was an intangible wall of suspicion between the two, and all occupants of the flat were aware of this—hell, the Bookmaster was probably aware, too. Everyone was lying to each other. Everyone except Roxas.

Roxas was the only person who couldn't quite keep up with the quick pace of deceit. He didn't know what else to do but tell the truth, in this scenario. It was a peculiar situation, he had somehow been torn from Twilight Town, and while he was still bitter at Axel, there wasn't much he could do about his current position. Plain and simple, he had no idea where he was. Worse still, no one seemed to have any interest in telling him.

He hadn't expected Axel to give him any information—After all, he's just so talented at forgetting to tell me important stuff…—but Roxas had been honestly surprised to find that Demyx, too, had no desire to sate his unending questions. The blond man had seemed like a much more forgiving figure…someone more sympathetic. But, no, when Roxas asked Demyx a simple question—"What's supposed to happen, now?"—the man had merely shrugged and raised his blue-green eyes to the ceiling. "You'll have to ask Axel," he had replied dolefully. "But he probably won't say. I know that he made all the rooms here impossible to infiltrate by portal, but still…it's not safe to discuss these things."

Gee. Thanks for the help.

As it was, Zexion the Heartless was the only one Roxas was getting on well with. The Bookmaster's silence was oddly comforting. It was better, Roxas thought, to have no answers rather than lies.

Interestingly, the Bookmaster seemed to be a source of further unspoken antagonism between Axel and Demyx. The Bookmaster itself didn't seem knowledgeable of the underlying cause of the schism, but it, like Roxas, was perfectly aware of its presence.

The bedroom was unofficially Roxas'. Where Demyx and the Bookmaster stayed at night, Roxas wasn't sure. Axel had made himself at home in the plush chair that faced the doorway, always keeping one piercing green eye focussed on the blond. As Roxas settled into the bed one night, he decidedly looked away from the redhead and shook his head with a sigh when he felt the eyes boring into the back of his skull. Paranoid is the only word for it, he thought with a snort. He finally raised his eyes to regard Axel with a wry smile. "Goodnight, Axel," he said as he kicked off his boots and buried himself in his sheets.


you had best see the truth for yourself.

Blue eyes snapped open and Roxas jerked up in bed. His head whipped around, eyes shifting nervously about the room. His gaze fell upon the plush chair; it was empty. Axel was gone.

Roxas slowly slid out of bed and he gingerly placed his feet on the ground and pulled his boots on, breath wheezing in his lungs and coming from his mouth in feathery puffs of chilled clouds. He tiptoed across the room to the door and turned the knob. He frowned. Locked.

Of course it's locked… Roxas sourly thought to himself. He furrowed his brows in irritation and stared down at the doorknob. A sudden idea came to him, and his fingers twitched restlessly at his sides as he peered thoughtfully at the keyhole in the door. I wonder… He licked his lips and allowed his eyes to slide shut in concentration, mentally willing the door to unlock itself. Roxas slowly let a hand rise, fingers clenching around a handle, smooth metal vibrating and humming within his grip. Keys unlock things.

The lock clicked.

Just as Roxas' eyes flew open and he gasped in shock, the door burst open and Axel barged in, nearly bowling the blond over. "Roxas!" Axel gasped, grabbing the boy firmly by the shoulders and sagging against him. "We've gotta get outta here," he said, words rushed and apprehensive. His pupils were dilated and his large, green eyes kept shifting wildly about the room like a feral beast, watching all the shadows with wariness and anxiety.

"Why? What's going on?" Roxas asked. His mind was hazy and he was still startled and confused by Axel's dramatic entrance. He could vaguely feel Axel's fingers digging painfully into his shoulders; embedded in the grip of the redhead's left hand was something small, metal, and carefully shaped. His gaze flickered down to see what the object was. A wave of disappointment washed over him as he realised that the object the man held was a thick, ornate silver key. The glowing metal grew hazy in Roxas' eyes and his vision began to fade unfaithfully.

"…artless are attacking," Axel's voice was clouded and slow in Roxas' head. The blond squinted at the man in front of him and shook his head in a childish attempt to alleviate the dizziness lingering about him. Axel's face swam into its surroundings, becoming a coloured blur with shining pinpricks of emerald.

"Wh…what?" he mumbled, blinking rapidly.

Axel's face suddenly came back into sharp detail. "The Heartless are attacking," Axel said again, his voice clear and his tone urgent. "They're coming into the district—Demyx left to hold them off—we've gotta get out now." He immediately spun around, encircling one of Roxas' wrists in his grip and roughly yanking the teenager out of the bedroom and into the main room of the flat. The wooden table was shoved askew into the far corner of the room, deep scratches gorged in its once-glossy surface; the half-melted candle lay forgotten on the floor, its cool wax surrounding it in a solid puddle of clouded white. Both the table and the surrounding walls were charred, glowing orange wood still smoking, and in one corner, a strange, inhuman silhouette was scorched into the floor, black soot outlining where a creature—a Heartless?—once stood.

Roxas' eyes hovered over the mess, wide and shocked. "What happened there?" Roxas gasped, his legs feeling boneless as he staggered into Axel's back. He turned to face the redhead, the colour had drained from Roxas' cheeks and the deep blue of his irises stood out vividly amidst the pallid skin and the whites of his eyes.

"A Heartless was trying to get you," Axel said brusquely, dragging Roxas over to the entryway of the house—or what was left of it. All that remained of the doorway was an unhinged door with deep scratches that matched those on the table. The damaged wood of the door was warped and soaked through with water. The pair paused before exiting, and Axel poked his head outside and took a quick glance at the surroundings before nodding to himself and telling Roxas to follow him as quietly as possible. Roxas nodded dumbly, still too thrown by their sudden flight to respond.

The sound of the heels of their boots clicked loudly against the tatty cobblestone roads of the town, their shadows stretching from their feet, thin and faint and elongated, scurrying comically across the stones. Axel had released Roxas from his grasp, but had insisted the blond stick close to his heels. Roxas' lungs burned dully from exertion and his chest ached. His vision was starting to waver, again, randomly cutting out the colourful, glowing signs and tasteful shop displays from his view and tunnelling so all he could see was Axel's shock of spiky crimson hair flying in front of him. They skidded to a stop in front of two heavy wooden doors. In between the two and their escape stood—or, more accurately, floated—a violet, six-piece suit of armour. Each piece of the armour was empty and wavered independently of the others in the air. The armour's head bobbled in a twitchy way and one of its gauntlets twirled itself. Its cauldron spun around once, and Roxas could see it was encrusted with a black and red heart insignia. Axel's face paled at the sight of the armour. "Shit," he breathed.

The armour, as if it heard his voice, tilted its helmet curiously, as if to try and hear him again. One of its black and violet feet shifted, taking a sluggish, clumsy step forward.

Axel took a cautious step back, extending an arm and catching Roxas by the bicep. "Roxas," he said, voice low and calculated, "Around the corner on the right is a flight of stairs—" The armour took another step forward; Roxas and Axel took another step backwards "—When I attack, I want you to get to those stairs and get down them as fast as you can. There's a house on the lower level—it's next to the building with the stained glass windows. Go there. It's always safe," Axel instructed him. He removed his hand from the blond and extended his arms, flames curling around the black leather of his coat before twisting down to his hands, the coils solidifying into his spiked, red and silver weapons.


"NOW!" Axel roared, springing forward and lashing out with his weapons. He sent one flying past the armour, just grazing the emblem on its cauldron. The armour, as if sensing it was under attack, reared back in indignation, spasming and writhing, its metal body clanking furiously as it prepared for attack. Axel's weapon whirled a loop around the armour before flying back into his hand with a loud slap! The man tore his eyes from the enemy to shout at Roxas, "What are you waiting for?! Go!!" One of the gauntlets surged forward, its fingers clenched in a fist, aimed straight for Axel.

Roxas didn't stick around to see what would happen, he spun around sharply on his heel and sprinted for the stairs, squeezing his eyes shut and forcibly trying to ignore the sickening cracking sound he heard behind him. He made a sharp turn around the corner and ran for the stairs down to the lower level of the town, dodging the squirming black Heartless that burst from the shadows and their slightly larger, armoured comrades that clanked by. Just when he was halfway down the steps, something collided sharply with his side and sent him sailing through the air and landing in a fountain. Roxas lay there for a second, dazed, letting the cold water trickle down his face and the golden lights to bounce around his eyes. When he jerked back to reality and his vision cleared, he abruptly clambered to his feet and stood in the calf-deep water of the fountain and gaped at the monster that swooped through the air in front of him.


A deep red, winged creature with the same heart symbol on its chest soared ominously over the lower level of the district, as it flew over Roxas, it let out an ethereal screech, revealing a mouth full of small, needle-sharp teeth. The dragon circled the clock tower that stood on the opposite side of the district, hovered over it for a brief second, then, in a split second, shot toward Roxas and the water fountain, its glowing yellow eyes flashing with hunger and its talons extended and ready. Fear gripped Roxas as he saw the creature come bolting for him and he quickly began sloshing for the edge of the fountain, tripping over his feet in his panic. He tumbled over the edge of the fountain onto the street just as the dragon came rocketing at him, leaving it to crash painfully into the wall and fall into the water. Roxas staggered to his feet and shakily made to cross the plaza of the district, only to skid to a stop when more Heartless came crawling from the shadows, slinking hungrily toward him, their eyes gleaming and leaving the boy completely surrounded: the dragon behind him and these shadows in front.

In a strange and unprecedented burst of instinct, Roxas blindly turned and made a mad dash to his left, nearly crashing into two wooden doors. He grabbed the heavy iron door handles, adrenalin pumping in his ears, and threw the doors open, tearing inside and letting the doors slam shut on the wriggling Heartless. The Heartless that weren't immediately killed by the impact continued to approach the blond, eying him eagerly. Roxas stared down at the ugly, malformed bodies before him and a dark expression spread across his face. He clenched his hands into shaking fists and stalked forward to face his enemies, resolution in his frown. When the Heartless reared up from the shadows to receive him, he raised his fists and mercilessly beat them to death.

When, at last, all the Heartless lay dead evaporated into black sludge and mist, crystalline red and pink hearts exploded from the carnage and fled the scene in flashes of silver sparkles and stars, flying to the sky. Roxas watched the hearts dance away, free. He slumped on the ground and leaned heavily against the wall of a building, his breath hard and laboured and uneven. His tired fists were bloodied around the knuckles and his waterlogged leather coat did little to ease his comfort. Roxas wearily checked his coat pockets, hoping to find something useful—Maybe I have some of those 'elixir' things Demyx was talking about… After a thorough search, all Roxas found was a pair of soft leather gloves.

Where is Demyx, anyway? Roxas wondered, furrowing his eyebrow at the thought. He distractedly picked at the drying blood on his hands as he peered around uneasily at his surroundings. Forget Demyx—where am I?

He seemed to be in a back alley, between the buildings of the district plaza and what appeared to be a very high, brick wall. On one side, there was a water gutter that led to some sort of drainage system that was barred off with a gate. The other side was blocked by a tall stack of crates. Roxas gazed at the crates with little enthusiasm. They looked pretty heavy.

Slowly rising to his feet, Roxas walked over to glance around the other corner of the alley. He frowned. There was another set of heavy doors, not unlike the ones he'd come through. He decided not to try passing through them. Something in his gut said it'd be a bad move. That in mind, he backed away from the door and blindly fell backwards into the gutter. He splashed erratically as he burst through the surface, spitting water and rubbing at his eyes. Roxas coughed a few times and waded over to the edge, tiredly heaving himself out of the water. As he sat wearily on the cement ground, he idly peered up and felt his stomach jolt with alarm. Hovering above his head were a good dozen Heartless with symbol emblazed green, red, blue, and yellow conical bodies with bright eyes peering out from beneath tall, pointed hats. The Heartless flew about the blond, as if contemplating exactly what the correct course of action was. Then, as if on a whim, a Heartless with a yellow body jerked unexpectedly and a crackling ball of golden lightening formed above its head. Roxas' eyes widened and he threw himself out of the way just as the lightning struck the place he'd sat in just seconds before. And just like that, all the other Heartless began to attack, orbs of ice, lightning, and fire materialising above the curls of their amber hats.

There are way too many of them, Roxas realised with a sinking feeling in his stomach as clambered to his feet, arms falling lifelessly at his sides as he looked up at his impending doom. There's no way I can dodge them all. I'm screwed.

"Dance, water, dance!"

A torrential cyclone of water suddenly burst out of nowhere and rocketed through the Heartless, sucking them in and obliterating them immediately, sending glittering pink hearts flying into the black sky. Then, just as unexpectedly as it appeared, it disintegrated, falling to the ground in an unceremonious splash! and sloshed into the gutters.

Roxas watched, mouth hanging agape. He twisted in the direction the water had come attacking from and gawked at the sight of Demyx crouching precariously at the top of the stacked crates, dripping wet as usual, and clutching a large blue stringed instrument to his chest for dear life. Demyx's bottle-green eyes looked abnormally large on his face, his lips were pulled down into a frightened grimace and his skin was ashen and had a smear of grime travelling from his left temple across his forehead, making some of his unruly hair stick to his skin. "Roxas!" he called down. "Are you all right?!"

For a moment, Roxas was too stunned to answer. Then he replied, "Sort of."

Demyx rose to his feet and jumped down from his perch into a puddle, somehow landing smoothly without kicking up any latent water. He quickly approached Roxas. His instrument melted from his fingers as he walked, dripping to the cement and cobblestones as water and completely vanishing from his hands. When he was a good foot away from the blue-eyed boy, Demyx set to circling Roxas like a hawk, searching meticulously for any signs of external injury. Finding none, save for a few odd scratches, Demyx laid a long fingered hand on Roxas' shoulder and let out a dramatic sigh. "It's been absolute hell," he told Roxas. "Thank goodness you're all right. There have been Heartless crawling everywhere…" Demyx rolled his eyes in an exasperated way that didn't fit the seriousness of the actual situation. "I can't even begin telling you how difficult it's been trying to find you and Axel—three districts leave a lot of room for possibility, you know. Not very helpful, really—Where is Axel, anyway?"

"We got separated," Roxas said, averting his eyes. "We were at this door, but we got attacked by this armour thing, and—"

"Wait," Demyx interrupted, eyes growing larger than they already were. "A Guard Armour attacked you guys at a door?" Demyx's face twisted into an unreadable expression. "Guard Armours never do that. Especially not by doors. They're rather sentient by nature. They generally stick to the plazas of the Second and Third Districts. Never the doors…" He looked troubled by this information.

"Yeah, well," Roxas muttered, furrowing his brow. "He told me to go ahead down the stairs through the plaza, but I got attacked by a dragon—"

"A wyvern," Demyx corrected, his eyebrows furrowing.

"—and I ended up here," Roxas finished lamely. Demyx looked upset.

"A wyvern?! Since when do wyverns come down from the rooftops?" he demanded, throwing his arms in the air and hitting Roxas with a few idle drops of water from the sleeves of his coat. He pointed a finger at the blond and said, "I'm telling you, something's going on. I was in the First District, right? I saw Heartless there!" He exclaimed, then paused, as if mulling over something and winced. "Well, okay, they were just small fry—Shadows and Soldiers—but still! The First District is supposed to be Heartless-free! And I ran into a Defender in the Second District! That never happens! Something is seriously wrong with this picture."

As if to accentuate the accurateness of this assertion, a short purple creature with a reedy body and a pointed violet wizard's cap appeared in front of them with a pop. Roxas stared at it blankly. "What is it?" he asked stupidly.

Not even bothering to take a closer look at the new Heartless, Demyx snatched Roxas' wrist and promptly dragged him around the corner. No sooner had the two turned the corner than a giant fireball shot past them and scorched a nearby wall. Roxas let out a yelp of shock. "What the hell was that?!" he shrieked.

"A Wizard," Demyx told him shortly, using his free hand to summon his watery weapon. Another fireball was fired at them and Demyx released his grip on Roxas to spin around and pluck a string on his instrument. A ghostly pillar of water rose from the ground and swallowed the Wizard's fireball before evaporating in a cloud of vapour. Demyx turned back to Roxas and urged him to pick up the pace.

"If it's attacking with fire," Roxas said as he narrowly avoided another fireball, "why don't you just stand here and fight it? I mean, obviously you specialise with water, and—"

A bolt of electricity flew past them and hit an innocent barrel, incinerating it in a second. Roxas nearly tripped over his feet at the sight. Demyx pushed him forward.

"Not a chance," he told Roxas testily as they fled. "That thing knows all elemental magic at the drop of a hat, and there's no possible way I can fight lightning and come out unscathed." He started studying the townhouses they were passing. "I don't like fighting, especially when it's a losing battle." He slid to a stop in front of a house and jimmied the doorknob, threw the door open and pushed Roxas inside before following. No sooner had the door clicked locked shut than a bolt of electricity struck the cobblestones they had stood on moments before.

Once inside, Demyx sank to the floor, back resting heavily against the door. "Phew," he sighed in relief. "Thank goodness that's over…"

Roxas frowned at his companion then turned to observe his surroundings, balking when he saw they weren't alone in the house. About twenty Dalmatian puppies were sprawled across the room, all forty of their eyes curiously watching Roxas and Demyx. "Um, Demyx," Roxas stammered, "Are you sure we'll be okay in here…?"

Demyx chuckled and ran a hand through his dirty-blond Mohawk. "Yeah, don't worry about it. Pongo and Perdita's place is protected by some wizard or the other, so it's always safe."

"I thought Wizards were bad…"

"No," Demyx laughed, "not a Wizard. A wizard—a person that uses magic to make a living. I heard there was a really powerful one living somewhere under Traverse Town…" He paused to peer down at his feet; a puppy with a spot over its left eye was chewing on his ankle.

A small smile pulled at Roxas' lips. "Demyx, I think that guy wants something from you."

Demyx frowned for a moment, and then chuckled, snapping his fingers with a cheery grin. "I forgot," he chortled, "I brought something for them!" A twist of bluish-black smoke formed near the ground, and when it dissipated, a gold-encrusted chest stood proudly in its place. "Here ya go!" Demyx nudged the chest with the toe of his boot, and, almost immediately, the lid swung open, revealing three yipping Dalmatian puppies. The puppies eagerly bounded out of the box and dove into a pile of their siblings, sniffing and barking excitedly. Demyx smiled brightly, his eyes crinkling shut in glee. "Welcome back," he said fondly.

Roxas watched the puppies' reunion, his smile slowly dwindling.

"I'm gonna go look for my friends. They're waiting for me."

The Bookmaster arrived shortly after Roxas and Demyx, startling Roxas with its sudden appearance from thin air. The Bookmaster seemed edgier than usual, its flight pattern moving uncertainly in the air, rather than the lofty hovering it had favoured back in the flat in the Second District. Roxas assumed this was a bad sign. And, judging by Demyx's face as he conversed—a one-sided conversation, really—with the Heartless, it certainly was a bad omen. The Bookmaster's spastic twitching and anxious made its book rock anxiously, pages fluttering noisily. It slowly made its way to the parlour's couch and, essentially, collapsed.

"What was that about?" Roxas quietly asked the other man. He didn't want to seem like a nuisance; the Bookmaster looked stressed, if that was possible. "What'd it say?"

Demyx looked uneasily at Roxas and said, "He went searching for the Boss of the Traverse Town—that's where we are, by the way—Heartless."


Demyx nodded. "Heartless are pretty unorganised creatures by nature, and they really don't get on well with each other—or with anything else—unless their united under something. Usually a more powerful Heartless. Or a person with a significant amount of darkness in his or her heart." He paused, as if considering something. "Or a Nobody." Demyx shrugged and continued, "So, he went looking for the Boss in the Third District, but he's had little luck." The Bookmaster made an odd hissing sound from its seat on the sofa, like an aggravated kitten. "In fact, he got jumped by a Large Body…those guys pack one helluva punch, too…"

Roxas frowned, his gaze flickering over to the exhausted Bookmaster. Its golden eyes seemed to be lacking the intelligent glimmer they'd held before. Now, the creature just looked weary. If he gets attacked enough, Roxas wondered slowly, grimly, will he disappear and evaporate like all the others? He lowered his wide eyes to his own hands, crusty with reddish-brown blood and pink with scratches. If I get attacked enough, will I vanish?

"Apparently there is only one Boss—he found out from a passing pack of Shadows—and the Boss is situated somewhere underground," Demyx continued, benignly oblivious to Roxas' state of morbid awe. "And the number of lower Heartless has been on the rise, so it sounds like this Boss is…well…" Demyx looked uncomfortable with what he was about to say. "Hungry."

"'Hungry'?" Roxas echoed, his voice far away and hollow. "Hungry for what?"

Demyx smiled thinly, the expression not reaching his darkened green eyes. "Hearts, of course. They feed on the hearts of others in order to live." His eyes slid shut and he shook his head. "They're always hungry…"

In the back of the parlour, the Bookmaster shifted in its seat and averted its golden gaze to the thick carpet, as if ashamed. Roxas stared. "If they just want hearts," he murmured, "why are they chasing us?"

The answer was a sympathetic smile. "They're curious," Demyx replied ambiguously, with a weak laugh. The laugh was humourless and drenched in darkness.

Frustrated with the lack of a substantial answer, Roxas opened his mouth to further breach the subject, only to say nothing when a peculiar chill shot up his spine. There was the sound of air being torn apart from behind him, and Demyx glanced over the teenager's shoulder and said, relief evident in his voice and eyes, "About time you showed up, Axel." Roxas mechanically spun around.

Axel stepped forward from the billowing void, looking haggard and covered in dirt and grime. "It's unbelievable," he groused, neglecting to greet his comrades. "There are Heartless everywhere! I have never seen it this bad." He shook his head, irritated. "I was attacked a good dozen times—I had to double back through the Third District to keep them from following me here. And that was hell. I can't even begin to tell you just how many Heartless are in the Third District as we speak! I swear, with numbers like this, at least half of Traverse Town's been killed in the past few hours."

Demyx paled. "It's that bad?" he whispered. His voice was tight and his clenched fists visibly shook at his sides.

The redhead nodded darkly. "This Boss is completely insane." He jerked his head at the Bookmaster. "Did that guy find anything useful?" he demanded.

"The Boss is a Heartless, not a person," Demyx reported. "And its somewhere underground. Probably in the sewage system."

"A Heartless?" Axel scowled. "A damn smart one, clearly."

"Unfortunately," Demyx said shortly. "It also seems to have unified the other Heartless of the World under its intentions, because there were still people moving around unharmed in the First District. The Boss must've gathered its forces while we were still in the flat."

Axel rubbed distractedly at his chin, smearing the dirt on his face. "It's unusual to see such organisation among Heartless," he observed. "Normally, this sort of guidance comes from people or Nobodies." He narrowed his eyes. "Is the Bookmaster positive this is a Heartless?"

"Yes," Demyx said curtly, his gaze unwavering and his chin held high. "Heartless have a sense that alerts them to each others' presences, and according to him," he inclined his head toward the Bookmaster, "there is something immensely powerful hiding underground."

"Does it know what the Boss' objectives are?" Roxas suddenly piped up. The two older men stared down at him, Axel with a vaguely nostalgic expression, Demyx with something unreadable.

Demyx licked his lips and widened his eyes slightly. "They're looking for something," he said warily. Roxas frowned at the evasion.

Axel's mouth thinned into a forbidding line. "'Something'?"

Bottle-green eyes widened a fraction more as they stared unblinkingly into wild emerald. "Something," Demyx repeated. Then, for the briefest of seconds, Demyx's eyes darted at Roxas.

And the colour drained from Axel's face.

All hearts to be one, one heart to encompass all.

The Afterword: Please don't kill me. This is mad overdue. I'm sorry!! ::hides::

Tell me what you liked!! :D