An Unreasonable Desire to Live
Pregame, sequel to 'Spare the Light.' Saix, Xemnas. Magpie!verse and Vagrant Story.

He wakes the first night with the sound of his sister's voice crying in his ears.

They give him a room that is easily twice the size of his former cell. His clothing is wet from rain. The sensation is strange -- he has not been washed by the sky for years, and the rags on his body are foreigners to the experience. His hair lacks the itchy nits that have sheltered in his scalp so long that he has begun to feel like nothing more than a carrier for his own parasites. Now, he is clean. He is empty.

The rain brought one other benefit with it: while running through the streets, he glimpsed his own reflection in a puddle. He'd been surprised by how tall he'd grown. Somehow, some part of him had continued to think of itself as fourteen years old, eternally a scrawny boy.

The surface filth is gone. Instead, his body feels as if it has been scoured in acid. He remembers cool hands on his chin, pale hair in silhouette -- but not Sydney, not the jailers. He has been captured by men who bear no insignia of the Church. They speak oddly, with inflections in the wrong places, and with all the sensibilities of a pack of crude farmhands. They ask what he is called, and pronounce it badly.

They give him a new first name, tell him to discard the last, and let him keep the room.

His new keepers dwell in a dark city. Saix does not know if these people are his owners, his captors, or his companions; he does not know what they expect of him. Always before, he could count on knowing his role. Even rejected, there was a place for him to belong.

But these people assign him nothing.

The braid-haired knight is the one who comes searching the first time that Saix goes missing. It is not a serious attempt at escape. Saix does not know his way around the foreign town, does not understand the garbled tongue that seems to be native to the region -- words which seem familiar but which are assembled in the wrong order, symbols that are backwards or upside-down. If Lea Monde's wrath has claimed the prison, then he has no home to return to either.

He flees from his chamber anyway, unable to sleep in a room whose door does not have open bars, in a space wide enough that he cannot stretch his arms and legs and touch both sides.

Open spaces both invite and disturb; he does want the empty void, he doesn't want it, he's not certain what he can tolerate. Everything is wrong.

Among the twisting corridors of the mansion, Saix finds a studio hall composed nearly entirely of windows. The light that shines through is brighter than he would like -- multicolored lamps in the streets and too many stars in the sky -- but he is grateful. Each glimmer is a tiny moon in the night. The brilliance still hurts his eyes, but he can tolerate it now.

When the knight catches up, there is a spear in each of his hands. More drift through the air like puppets on magickal strings. He strides through the double doors into the studio, and -- seeing how Saix has huddled in a corner, back against the wall -- comes to a halt.

"Just like an animal," the knight rasps, and Saix cannot discern what emotion might be in those words. He fumbles, expecting to be overwhelmed by contempt. Contempt or rage or anything, raw impulses battering down the barriers of Saix's brain to leave him writhing on the floor.

But for the first time Saix can remember, he can feel nothing buzzing around the corners of his mind, nothing at all.

"If you come near me," he asserts instead, "I will kill you."

This threat wins a smirk from the knight. "I'll remember that challenge for later," he says, leaning a lance back against his shoulder. "Xemnas was looking for you. I'll let him know where his stray dog has hidden."

It might have been hours between the knight's departure and the next time that the evening is interrupted. Outside, the stars shift and lanterns blossom and dim, but morning never comes. Saix drifts in and out of sleep while sitting upright, his body remembering the strictures of captivity.

He rouses himself to the scrape of the door, and Xemnas's voice.

"Fascinating." Xemnas looks caught between two worlds: a glass clipboard in his hands, a smudge of dirt on his temples, and interest in his eyes. "Even when freed, you still return to what you once knew, clinging to the mannerisms of your past."

The muddy-blond cleric at his side leans forward, resisting the room by degrees. "And doesn't that sound familiar," he chimes in. The twist of his mouth looks as if the words have wrestled themselves out, as if the utterance is an incantation that cannot be restrained. If not for the sourness, he could be Syndey's cousin.

Xemnas smiles. He is not distracted. He studies Saix, attention unwavering; the intensity could devour its target alive.

"Come out, come out," he calls softly. "Come to me."

When Saix obeys, Xemnas smiles wider. "He has the yellow Heartless ring around his pupils, Vexen," comes the observation. "Darkness does love its victims so."

"Like you?"

"Like me," Xemnas acknowledges, without flinching. "Like me."

Vexen scoffs.

At first Saix does not know which side has won in the war of souls: if it was the Dark that triumphed, or humanity. The conspiracy that has captured him -- or rescued him, he's still not sure which -- is led by a commander named Xemnas. The Order is composed of five others and countless white-clad servants. Saix assumes they must have come from the Cardinal. He does not know what happened to Sydney.

He is ignorant of how to address the commander, so he chooses the safest of titles one afternoon while the two of them are alone. "Father Superior," he says, kneeling, his tongue feeling rusty. He's not sure if that is the proper formality for a bishop or a duke or whatever rank Xemnas holds in the Church, but the safe route is best. "I wish a question."

The commander looks amused. "I'm no one's father."

"Superior, then. I apologize." Saix hesitates, then forges ahead. "What do you wish of me?"

Xemnas's mouth is curved sinister with mirth. "I'm... still thinking about that. Until then, just do your best."

That answer solves nothing. "Superior?"

But Xemnas waves his hand. Saix understands the dismissal.

He bows his head, and goes.

Do your best. A phrase impossible to build realistic expectations around, and Saix does not want to be found lacking a second time in his life. He applies himself awkwardly. He fails weapons practice with the long-braid knight, and is thrown out of the training yard one morning after being told his technique is too brutish for sparring. He understands the new tools of this world slowly enough that the blond cleric looks down his nose at him, muttering about mental deficiencies, and the shorter cleric smiles.

Unlike his companion, the blond cleric is a dour man, possessed of sparse humor. He wrinkles his nose at Saix with an aristocrat's disdain. All of them speak with familiarity to one another. It only surprises Saix a little when he finds out later that all six of the Order were vassals to a king: a fallen one, whose disgrace has left them wanting.

The first time he sees them all laugh together -- a cold and brittle clattering of tongues -- is when he asks them about the Dark, and if it remains a threat, and that's when Saix realizes he ended up on the wrong side.

There is something Saix knows about himself, and by extension, humanity: he knows the white madness that ebbs and flows in his body, the emotions which overcome and possess. He learned it growing up in the village; he learned it in the prisons of Lea Monde. He learned the weight of himself in solitary confinement, and just as easily, forgot it all each time he lost his mind to rage. He has thought about his own identity for so long in terms of his temper that it is strange to not have it anymore.

Life is different without his heart. Saix understands the surface reasons why. His heart is extinguished, his heart was taken, and all that is left behind is his inner self stripped bare. Gone is the overwhelming rage that once dominated him completely, the fury that refused control. The noise, the static of being alive; humans are savage by nature, and once, Saix had known that all too intimately.

Xemnas has told him that a new heart will be found someday -- found or made, the others of the Order constantly argue -- but one that is his. It is only a matter of time.

That time cannot come fast enough. Saix spends the first month waking up convinced he's frozen dead, because there's no rage to keep him hot and safe and alive. It's still possible to feel awful without a heart, he discovers: you're just a lot calmer about it. Calmer, and not sure why the world feels one step from breaking, when you're not angry and not sad and not upset. Nothing. Since trying to figure it out gives Saix a headache, he gives up and assumes it's because he doesn't have a heart. If he did, he'd be able to feel properly and thereby identify the sensation; until then, he is crippled, but at least he's not alone.

The one thing he does not like about his new situation is the prospect of being useless.

But the Order does not require any of his skills. They do not speak of seers or scrying, of divination or clairvoyance; they do not require him to stare into water and speak of portents within. They do not need his insight, do not need his stunted vision, and -- most importantly -- they have no use for the rage which once dwelled inside him and left him scarred.

The only way to overcome an irrational fear of dying is by an equally unreasonable desire to live, his sister whispers in his memory, and Saix turns the reminder over in his brain, letting the shape of it serve as a ward against the not-ache of loss.

Closing his eyes, he remembers: wet stone, damp mildew, and slime.

The night turns on what's left of Saix's instincts, like wildfire blossoming. The potential dangers of the Shadows mix with foreign streets, and the physical adrenaline rush taps something deep within his soul. He prefers the night; the moon is always facing away from the city, and Saix assumes she continues to provide him with her blessing.

At the same time, he continues to explore the sensations that have replaced his heart. Nothing seems to alleviate them, as if their source is far away and unreachable. He sits in his room, feeling the ache distantly, but unable to touch it. The feelings exist entirely independent of him, but not like his rage once did -- he has always been able to hold his anger before, to let it fill him up, but this refuses any contact.

He forces himself to learn even more to make up for the lack, to learn faster -- to become proficient with tools that seem like magick, and which come with the name of science attached instead. Vexen sneers often. Saix ignores it. He practices in the courtyards until his withered muscles become strong again, and Xaldin finally gives affirmation of his combat prowess with a nod.

He escapes his own ennui with limited triumph: after Xaldin introduces Saix to the dark portals, he's set loose with the instruction to show his new training to the clerics. He spends an hour in practice first, reluctant to demonstrate in front of anyone else until he's certain he can reliably open and close the magickal tunnels.

Vexen is in the middle of tea when Saix goes next looking for his unwilling tutors. Zexion is with him; they are both seated on one of the terraces with the rest of the Order, exposed to the endless night sky while they share a meal and conversation. Saix comes in halfway.

"There was an old story about people who would give their hearts to spirits, after falling in love with them. The creatures were called 'dharla-dhalara.'" The syllables are fluid off Zexion's tongue. "Some were kind, some were wicked. But inevitably, the dharla-dhalara would leave, and their mortal partner would be abandoned behind to go wandering for eternity, asking if anyone had seen their heart."

"I imagine it became quite the fashion among those people," Xemnas offers, rolling his eyes as he reaches for another pat of butter. "'Where is my dharla? Where is my heart?'"

"You're looking in storybooks for answers?" Vexen's scorn is remarkably realistic. He picks at a crumb.

Xemnas smoothes the butter over his muffin with wide, careless strokes. "Stories can show a hidden truth, Vexen. Every children's tale begins from somewhere."

"And you call me the fool."

"Don't be jealous," Xaldin speaks up, carefully studying his toast while he applies marmalade and sarcasm in equal force, "simply because Zexion has been making better progress than you in target evaluations."

Through it all, Saix remains silent. He doesn't know what to say in a group of six-plus-one; he is the newcomer, the oddity which is remarkable primarily because he lived. He has gathered enough information to realize that this came as a surprise to them all.

They had expected he would die.

"Are you experiencing any relapse of emotion?"


"Why not?"

Time does nothing to improve matters between Saix and the clerics -- namely, Vexen. Vexen constantly misspells magick and insists that Saix do the same; Vexen calls Saix primitive and uneducated and illiterate, as if experience with ink could be the whole summary of a man. Saix has already measured how the cleric moves, and has decided that, in a fight, he could best Vexen easily. All he needs is an excuse.

Vexen flips through the reports. He's halfway through his criticism; Saix knows from past experience that the diatribe can last for hours. "Xaldin tells me your elemental affinity remains low. Have you even spent any time working on it?"

"I." Saix opens his mouth, closes it again, and wonders if the Order can survive with only one cleric in residence. "I cannot summon elements, no." In his words, he can feel their commoner's accent slipping in, and struggles against it only briefly before accepting the inevitable.

The answer does not please Vexen, who rakes thin fingers through his hair, causing the strands to jut out like haystack flax. "Then what can you possibly contribute?" he barks. "Can't you even -- "


Saix turns away gratefully from the cleric's irritation, and is confronted by the double-ringed eyes of the Superior instead.

Xemnas is smiling. "Sorry for the interruption, Vexen. I thought I would come down to see how your research has been developing. Saix -- please leave us."

Obeying the chance at a reprieve, Saix pushes himself to his feet immediately. Vexen only hmphs. "Aren't you done tormenting that poor thing yet, Xemnas?"

"Is that what I'm doing?" is all that Saix hears, before the door shuts tight and leaves him on the outside.

Xemnas finds him afterwards in a study chamber, flipping through the pages of an old atlas of Ivalice. It's easier for Saix to handle books now that he's not unconsciously grasping for meaning out of them, for life. Words are like him: objects to be bandied about. There is no heart inside. No heart to trip him up and control him, to force him to submit; no heart to express information without words.

He suddenly does not know if this is the worst prison he has been in yet.

Xemnas crosses his arms. "You'll have to learn magick whether you like it or not," he announces, with a shake of his head that might be rueful or might be pitying; Saix can no longer tell. "Talk to Xaldin. He gives good pointers."

Saix lowers the book. His fingers hold the page. "I don't want to ask him," he replies softly, wondering if Xemnas can hear the message underneath: teach me yourself.

No discipline at his refusal comes. No encouragement either. When Xemnas steps forward, he does so with such little change in his expression that it almost seems as if the world itself has folded the room, and brought the Superior closer. "There must have been some strength in you to survive."

The book is growing heavier by the second. "My anger."

Xemnas's fingers are ungloved. He reaches out with them, touching the scars on Saix's face, the branded X of berserker. "You know, not all magicks revolve around simple elemental affinities. Some manifestations are more subtle. Xaldin and Vexen are biased because they have obvious spells. Others," and Xemnas's mouth quirks in private humor, "not so much."

"Superior," Saix begins, trying not to shrink away from the hot whisper of Xemnas's fingertips. Shrink away or toward; he isn't sure.

Mercifully enough, Xemnas drops his hand only a second later. He steps back, graceful and sleek. "Cast a spell for me. Weave your magicks. Prove yourself."

Saix draws in a deep breath. He looks for the breaking point inside him, he looks, but every time he thinks he can remember the way back, it slips out of his grasp. His fingers tremble; memory of rage parts his lips for him and quickens his breathing into shallow pants, but the emotion ebbs away the moment his attention begins to slip.

In the end, he is forced to shake his head. "I cannot."

"Then perhaps you are useless after all," Xemnas declares softly, and departs.

Do your best is a concept which Saix mulls over during his next mission: a tentative scouting trip, little better than a test of his own independence. He manages not to get himself killed, and not to be seen; both are sufficient marks of victory. As a bonus, he even discovered one of the larger Heartless lurking in a forest copse. The information is best served to the Superior directly. While there was little evidence of a more sinister invasion, it's not impractical to keep track of Heartless troop movement.

On his way back through the castle, his path is intersected by one of the test subjects. One of Vexen's Dusks is with her, trundling along in her wake, head lowered in obedience. Vexen never seemed to care particularly much about his personal servants, calling them Assistants or Technicians or Get-Out-Of-My-Ways -- and perhaps for that reason, the Dusks themselves remain nondescript, almost indistinguishable from their brethren.

Like the Dusks, the voices of the Order are all dead. There is no life when they speak -- no taste accompanying each word, although they make the proper facial expressions. Saix doesn't know if it's because they're lacking hearts or if he is, but it's probably a little bit of both. He's become accustomed to that. The prisoners they keep sound the same way. They scream, beg, plead, all with empty mouths, and he wonders how he could possibly think of them as living beings instead of objects.

The dark-haired child he has met has been with them the longest: a girl of middling age between child and adult. Saix has gathered that she was not qualified to be fed to the Shadows yet in hopes of a Nobody; like him, she had been found unsuitable by her jailers for a better purpose, but not worth the time of disposal either.

He does not like that parallel, and so ignores her when she falls into step beside him, two sullen soldiers trudging along in formation.

They turn three corners before she speaks. "I hope they get tired of you before me."

He's willing to humor her as a homage to pity. "What makes you think that?"

"They get tired of everything eventually," she scowls back.

"The Superior doesn't have time to waste on lesser beings," he informs her loftily and then lengthens his stride to leave her behind, aiming now with more purpose towards the study where the Dusks told him that Xemnas would be. He pushes open the door, already thinking about ways to best word his triumph. "Superior -- "

Xemnas glances up, an arched eyebrow, paperclips tucked into his mouth. One pen has been hooked behind his ear; the other in his hand, two different colors of ink so he can section off his notes in red and black.

"Yes?" the man tries to ask, but is interrupted by a paperclip dropping from his lips. He dives for it, narrowly missing a collision of his head with the table. The red pen falls next, victim to gravity while Xemnas is hunched over, and the Superior gives an inelegant curse as he gropes for it on the floor. "What is it, Saix?"

Saix realizes he has been staring, jaw slack.

"I..." He clears his throat, remembers formality. "There has been a sign of a Heartless infestation, Superior."

Xemnas straightens up, tucking one lock of hair behind his ear and adding another scribble to his notes. "Ah."

When no other reaction comes, Saix tries again. "The Heartless are capable of harvesting hearts. Would it be best that we seek an equal partnership with them?"

"No," Xemnas replies easily, and then glances up. "Just because something can hold a heart doesn't mean they understand the value of what they have," he lectures, with the same unyielding certainty of a master. "Anyone can touch a heart. People hold hearts, and never appreciate them until they've lost their own."

"That's disgustingly poetic," someone quips from across the room, and Saix suddenly realizes they're not alone.

Xigbar is there. Has been all along -- the soldier has one leg draped over the armrest of his chair, and the length of his ponytail twitches each time he flips another page in his book. "Can't we even go a single day without sounding like teenagers who've just been dumped?" he gripes.

"Hearts, hearts, heartsheartshearts," Xemnas retorts, harping the word over again until he's smiling too wide to even pretend to be serious. It must be an in-joke, because Xigbar's laughing and then Xemnas is too, both with the unspoken easy humor of old friends.

It's fake, Saix tells himself as he backs out of the room and closes the door. They're just pretending. True amusement can't occur once someone's lost their heart, and neither can contentment.

Exercise is one escape from his dilemma. Saix shadowboxes for hours outside the castle, in the alleyways and down the wide, abandoned streets. Most of the Shadows skitter away, uninterested in his presence without a heart to feed on; others can be goaded into attack. Their bodies rise and sink into the pavement like ticks going flat. Saix doesn't keep track of how many he kills; he knows they simply return to their source, and there are always more to take their place.

Sweat sticks his hair to his face, to his neck. His jacket is clammy. Another wave of wiggling Heartless rise from the mouth of the alleyway he has let himself become trapped down, and Saix turns towards them with his fists bunched. His sword is always nearby -- the one thing he can summon out of Nothingness -- but it is heavy, and he has been fighting for a long time.

The Heartless dissolve underneath his swings. Saix lets his momentum carry him along, ignoring the Shadows that fall away like the rind-peels of a fruit. As he wades through the crowd, he catches glimpses of a larger figure waiting behind the twisted hoblings: a knot of flesh that stands at human proportions, human shape. When it lifts its cowled skull, Saix recognizes the Superior.

He hits him anyway.

The impact feels remarkably good against Saix's knuckles. He skids to the right, expecting retaliation in the form of magick. There's no breath in his lungs to offer apology; he's been fighting so long that his muscles have a deep shiver running through them, turning them liquid and weak.

Xemnas wipes a dark trickle off his chin. "Lucky shot," he murmurs, grand despite the blood.

Saix straightens up warily. "Not luck at all," he lies. "I could sense you there."

This news gives Xemnas pause. "Your empathy is returning?"

Empathy, Saix thinks, and the word makes him smaller for a moment, like a flash of someone else's memory, a half-heard word through a prison door. Heart-Seer. "I knew it was you," he repeats, more firmly, in a hope of deflecting uncomfortable questions. "I knew."

Afterwards, when Xemnas has gone back to the castle and even the Shadows have fled the roads, Saix flexes his knuckles and wonders how much of what he said was untrue.

As the months pass, Saix builds a careful routine. He reminds himself of details when he wakes up, building his past on bare facts to keep it real. Everything seems surreal without his anger. Everything before his transition seems performed by another man, a creature who drowned in his own rage. Saix is different from Isa. He's not sure which is more real.

He savors each small acknowledgement of worth. Xigbar tests his reflexes one day with a barrage of silverware, stolen from the breakfast table. When Saix snatches them all out of the air with a growl, the gunner only grins. Xigbar is wilder than any Church-trained knight, roaming further in the stone-and-metal city; he must have been trained as a Riskbreaker, Saix decides, or close enough to one. Later, Xigbar offers to bring Saix on the next trip offworld, and Saix accepts without deliberation.

Xaldin keeps his own counsel, and seems as unwilling to speak as Saix is to familiarize himself with the knight.

The two clerics -- Zexion and Vexen -- continue to exist in their own private realm. When both of them are in the right mood for it, Saix cannot get away from their prodding. Zexion's riddling questions seem destined to trap minds inside their whirls. Vexen's tongue never stills with its bile. In a world where dying has just become much more complicated, and living even more, Saix's existence is his sole worth. He is their successful template for studying those who survive.

Lexaeus is a stalwart knight by the best of standards: a templar fine and true and utterly out of place in a world of darkness. The few times that he does cross paths with Saix, he always takes a moment to exchange polite words.

Through it all, Xemnas does nothing.

But he watches, occasionally, which is the only thing that keeps Saix from wondering if Xemnas picked him up strictly on a whim like a child's toy. In the midst of trying to figure out where he fits into this misshapen social circle, Saix looks up at times, and sees Xemnas there.

Xemnas is the only calm thing in the entire world.

That's what it feels like, even if Saix knows better. Zexion rarely shouts, but there's a wariness underneath every motion. Vexen is never relaxed. Lexaeus is more even-tempered than any of them -- yet even he is stern, and Xigbar demonstrates a noticeably frequent tendency to swing from casual to smug in no time flat.

But Xemnas watches Saix, with those red-gold burning eyes that say they know all about what it's like to be consumed by another passion and not be destroyed by it. Xemnas knows a secret inside his serene detachment, and it shows each time the man goes through his bouts of madness, and comes out unscathed. Xemnas lives on that edge, and has mastered it, and in him Saix can see his own salvation.

Saix has never cared for authority, but never before has authority come in such a fashion: so utterly controlled and lax at once, a paradox that ignores propriety altogether. It is whimsical and cruel and amused and careless; it is fascinating, and it reminds him of Sydney. Saix has never been tamed before, not even by his berserker's nature. The concept is repulsive. But he does understand power, and hierarchies, and the truth is that he is the newcomer. He is the lowest rank.

There are five other members of the Order, but for Saix, the only one that matters is the man who has taken everything away, and given back nothing in return.

The inequality is mirrored through Dusks. Saix's berserkers constantly lurk around him, eager to fulfill orders. Their servitude borders on love. That's as close as Saix can assume: he reminds them of what it was like to have a heart, to own anger, and they worship him for it. On the worlds he goes to, they flock behind him eagerly, dragging their swords like misshapen plows. They respond to madness even when he cannot. He finds the hidden memory of emotion and calls it to him, like a scryer calling silver out of water -- but they are the ones who go wild.

This, he understands, is the nature of his gift, this edge of lunacy -- and the irony is that it cost him the very source of his power to gain control over it.

The first time Saix kills someone off-world, he can't understand it. Always before, violence had come with trumpets in his brain, explosions of light and sensation and being and this? Is nothing. There is no reaction attached. Instead of spots of maddening agony spreading through his blood, there's only a hundred-plus pounds of raw meat in his hands, sliding to the ground like a lodestone to iron.

It's a woman. Barely past being a child. She has no weapons on her; she must have been an innocent.

Murder feels like nothing, and Saix spends the rest of the afternoon wondering about what death means now, if both life and the extinction of it are indistinguishable from one another.

Zexion is with him that day. "Don't," is all the acolyte says when the tenth corpse hits the floor. When Saix glances up, half-expecting a reprimand based upon morality, Zexion only adds, "We need the converted Nobodies. Let the Heartless do the dirty work."

"She wasn't." The sentence is malformed. Saix isn't sure what to say. He expected more blood. "It wasn't..."

But Zexion has moved on before Saix can really string the thoughts together, the dissonance of, she didn't feel real enough to be alive, and, she didn't feel real dying either.

The next job that he is assigned to, he goes alone. Zexion is not there to rein him in; no one is present to tell Saix what to do and what limits to obey, and Saix joins the battle directly when the Dusks encounter opposition.

Struggling with people who still possess their hearts is a strangely empty experience. Saix remembers the rush of fighting; he had been intoxicated by it once, drunk on violence. Now the euphoria remains, but there's something different, something detached, a part of his mind that is not overwhelmed by mere sensation. No matter how long he fights, Saix cannot hold onto that transitory rage for too long without a sense of calm kicking in, dragging him out of madness

What Saix ends up killing becomes particular targets: the fierce, the screaming, the desperate. It's not because he harbors a secret disdain for what he once was. Saix would never have noticed them at all, in fact, if they hadn't called attention to themselves -- fighting, roaring, bleeding, crying. They catch his dampened senses and make him remember what it was like to have shivering hands. They are his only mirror, so he removes them from the equation.

He is stable these days in a manner he never thought possible. When he tries, he can remember what it was like to sink into the ocean of madness; then he snaps out of it with a gasp, always returning to his senses, always sane once more.

It makes him feel different. Wrong. Saix does not think the same way he used to, but he still remembers his past. If he'd been born the day, the second that Darkness took him, then he might understand a little better what has happened, but instead there's a lifetime of memories distorted by anger, and a future of observational nothingness.

The members of the Order -- the Organization -- wish to reclaim their hearts, Saix knows. Too, he knows that his heart had been the source of many gifts. He might want it back someday, if only for that reason: for power, or simply because once he's known what it's like to live without, he'll be strong enough to control it when it returns to his hands.

This is a future he could choose to believe in.

He fights through a world of dying reptiles who sing in perfect pitch, and then returns back to the city.

The castle is in its night-cycle when he returns. The glow of the hall lights are dimmed, cool blues and greens rippling over the carpets, like underwater grottos. He ignores the guards along the corridor; he does not know what propels him forward, save that he is awake, and he is looking for Xemnas.

Once inside the Superior's personal quarters, some dram of rationality returns to his brain. The room is still and quiet. There are no lavish ornaments decorating the room; everything is plain and clean, with only the bare minimum needed to support life. The elongated windows have been left open, letting the gauzy curtains billow at whim.

Along the far wall, there is a bed, a desk, and Xemnas.

Xemnas sleeps half-tangled in his sheets. One hand is curled against his chest, as if he's protecting his physical heart from being taken as easily as his real one had been. Starlight plays tricks on reality; the Superior looks surprisingly vulnerable in this state, his face smooth of all drama or guile.

Saix sits on the edge of the bed. As the mattress sinks down, Xemnas rolls over automatically, that hand now searching for whatever had intruded into his peace. His fingers tuck themselves possessively into a fold of Saix's jacket. Whatever dreams might plague the man, that touch alone might be the anchor he seeks -- or simply a means of keeping the invader in place until Xemnas is ready to deal with them.

Saix does not pull away, but only sits there for the rest of the night, watching his Superior at rest.

In the morning -- the soft glow of the building lights powering on to simulate a dawn that never comes -- Xemnas stirs. To his credit, he does not startle at Saix's presence, only rolling on his back to yawn, as if he is accustomed to strange visitors at night or simply never thinks twice about it in the first place. "Yes, Saix?"

Saix inclines his head. "Superior."

They stare at one another for a moment, the cooler air of the room shifting about them as the castle gradually wakes. Then, on impulse, Saix lowers his head deeper in a respectful half-bow as he slides off the bed and stands at attention. "I wanted," a stumble, while his mouth does not know what it wants to say, "to check in on you. I returned late last night. I thought to confirm that you were well-guarded."

If Xemnas finds the explanation to be strange, he does not condemn it. "There are Dusks for that," he replies diffidently. His tongue is a pink flash as he yawns again. He rolls onto his hip and then up into a sitting position, scratching the side of his neck.

Saix does not move, stubborn. "Dusks are not sufficient guards."

"And you are?"

There is challenge there, beneath the smugness: challenge and curiosity in one. Saix does not wonder if it's a trick of his ears that lets him hear it, or if he's only fooling himself.

"I am very capable," he growls, narrowing his eyes. "I can prove it."

Xemnas completely ignores the tone. "If you insist," he drawls, and shakes out his tunic of wrinkles. "Get my jacket?"

The article in question is puddled across a nearby chair. At first Saix thinks to simply hand it over, but Xemnas makes a gesture with his fingers, a circling of his wrist, and Saix holds the coat up, uncertain.

With that, Xemnas turns and steps closer, sliding one arm through the sleeve in a luxurious stretch. The ruff of his hair brushes against Saix's face. It itches the skin. Saix holds himself perfectly still as a rock throughout, reactionless.

Then when the jacket has settled, on impulse, he reaches forward and collects Xemnas's hair, pulling it out from underneath the collar and letting it trickle over his fingers to fall down Xemnas's back. It is the act of a servant, and Saix knows it, but he can't help his own fascination. The boy he was would have howled to be regulated to such a role -- but he is no longer that boy, no longer chained by an out-of-control heart. He is no longer a creature cursed by Lea Monde. He is nothing now, nothing but what he makes of himself, and that freedom alone is dizzying.

Xemnas gives a light toss of his head, shaking the hairs once before finally stepping away. "Thank you," he murmurs, and Saix welcomes the sound, "for making yourself of use."