Disclaimer: I do not own Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts, nor am I making any money off this fanfiction. Seiya is © S.G. Smythe, and San is © J.E. Jones and S.G. Smythe. To use these characters without permission is illegal and will be punished by law.
New story, brought to you for the holidays. It's a short one, so no worries. Five chapters tops. I plan to have this done by Christmas. Hope everyone enjoys!
A Careful Remedy
A Deal With Death
Love is the most blinding, crippling force that exists in our world. No one, even if they block themselves away and coat their hearts in ice, is exempt from it. At one point or another, we are all given over to the hands of love. It does with us as it pleases. It either makes us the happiest on earth, or it crushes us and tears our souls from us until we're flat on the ground begging for mercy. Mercy. Please have mercy.
I thought that I was one of the fortunate ones. I thought that love nurtured my heart, made it grow, allowed it to breathe. For once, I wasn't suffocated by life, by a partner. Love grabbed me from the depths of the water I was drowning in and brought me with the utmost care to the surface. When I broke free of it, when I breathed in, I knew that it was a new beginning. For once in my miserable life, I could see.
But love is cruel.
And the wind, as I fall from the balcony to the snow below, does not cradle me. It tugs at me, pulls me close, until I slam into the frozen ground. There is a bright light that I reach for, and then—
"Sora… Oh, Sora…"
Crying. Someone is crying.
My eyes flutter open, taking in my nearest surroundings. There's nothing there but fog, so thick it's nearly tangible. I can see nothing through it, and when I try to touch it, it hastens away from my fingertips. Past the elusive fog, I can hear that crying. Who's crying for me? Who cares enough to cry for me? And sad—why are they sad?
I climb to my feet, only to stagger and fall back to my knees. I grit my teeth as pain sears up my legs, into my hips, suffusing me with it until I can hardly move. Jesus, what is this? Why can't I do anything? I'm stuck here, I know it. I'm helpless to stop that person's crying, and it's driving me crazy. Not because I'm annoyed by it—no, no. I just… don't want someone to cry for me.
"It's not worth it!" I yell, and I find enough strength to lift my hands to touch them to the fog. Fortunately, it doesn't retreat this time, instead smoothing itself into a glass-like surface. Roiling white mists part from it, and I peer in. Who's there? Who's so upset?
She's sitting in a pew, her face buried in her hands, her shoulders overcome by trembles. Desperate, I attempt to get a better look. There's a pearly sheen over everything, like I'm having to look through a haze of smoke. The fog must not have left completely, and this frustrates me. I want to see my mom. She looks so miserable and in pain. I haven't seen her for so long—five years?—and… finally getting to see her—but like this.
Who is cruel enough to show this to me?
"Mom," I whisper, "I'm right here."
Tears glisten on her wrist as they slide from it. More drip from her chin. I don't think I've ever seen my mother cry. At least not since I was a kid. I'm twenty-six now, and the last time was… over two decades ago. I don't even know what it was for then. Maybe my memory is just making this up as I search for a recollection, I don't know. I guess it doesn't matter. That was then, this is now.
"Mom," I whisper again. "Mom, look at me."
I close my eyes and lean my forehead against the glass. I pray that someone will hear me, hear my plea. There has to be someone out there. I can't be all alone in this fog, can I? I don't want to be. I want to be beside Mom. I want to make her feel better. I want to stop that pointless crying. There's no need to cry over me, I'm right here. See, Mom? I'm right… here…
"Seiya, shh, shh…"
I jerk my head up, only to discover that I'm not in the fog anymore. I'm standing right beside the pew my parents are seated in. Dad has his arm wrapped around Mom's shoulders, and he pulls her head forward to rest on his chest. She clutches at his crisp, black button-up with a hand that is still trembling. They're dressed so nice, but so somber. Black, all black. Mom hasn't worn that gown since—when?
Struggling to recall, I cast my gaze around. Mom and Dad aren't alone. There's plenty of other people here, and if they're not crying silently into tissue, they're gazing somberly ahead. Somber. Somberness everywhere. Just like all of that clothing. I hate it, and I want it to stop. Good grief, what's all this fuss about? Why's everyone so upset?
I'm right here!
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Dad shifting. He's pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, and he offers it to Mom. She uses it to dab over her face, smoothing it of tears, but it probably still feels sticky and wet. I've always hated that about crying, so I never did it often. A kind smile spreading on my lips, I step forward to tell her this. She'll laugh, she always laughed at my jokes, especially at times when she was down.
"Mom, I know it's been, like, five years, but… don't cry," I murmur, reaching forward to take her hand. "I'm right here."
Something is wrong. Something is incredibly, deeply, terrifyingly wrong.
I can't touch her. My fingers slide through hers, and then deeper, through the pew. I jerk my hand back with a gasp, staring at it, turning it over. Nothing. It looks fine. It is fine. But grasping for her hand again wields the same results as before—I disappear right through her.
I glance up to see if she's noticed. She hasn't, as if I'm not even there. She only spreads Dad's handkerchief out to trace her fingers over the patterns on its surface. Some patches of it are wet from her tears, and she touches those, too. A wistful smile touches the corners of her mouth but doesn't reach her eyes. "Oh, Sora," she whispers, but then her breath hitches, and she's crying again. Dad holds her close.
What is going on?
What the hell is going on?
"I just can't believe that he'd—he'd…" Mom begins, only to break off as a harsh sob escapes her throat. I stare at her, my eyes roaming over her face, and I try as hard as I can to make sense of that statement, but… nothing… only a dim—
Frozen water stings against my cheek, but I hardly notice. My immediate concern is the warmth cradling the base of my skull, chasing away more of the cold that tries to linger there. I stare up at the sky, which is painted with stars and a few low hanging clouds. It was supposed to snow tonight, but it hasn't yet. I wonder if it will. I wonder if I'll be covered in snow by the time anyone notices my absence.
Probably, I think. Probably.
The memory is harsh static in my ears, and I rub at them as they tingle. I shake my head. No, no, I don't want to remember that. No! It's too hard, too—wrong. Whatever it is, it hasn't happened. I'm me. I'm here. I'm here, so why doesn't anybody notice? Are they blind? Do they refuse to look at me? Does everyone hate me that much?
"Look at Riku. We should invite him to sit with us."
"I don't know—do you think he'd…?"
"Yeah, I think so. For today, let's just try to get along."
"You're right, San… I'm tired of fighting…"
I growl, whirling, searching for him. I find him sitting a few pews behind my parents, and I don't know how I overlooked him earlier. He's sitting there quietly, his head bowed like everybody else's, his eyes closed. There aren't any tears on his face, but then again, I'm not surprised. And anyway, he'd have to be freakin' sobbing uncontrollably before I'd be even slightly satisfied with him. Instead, the anger burns inside of me, fighting to the surface, and I'm not against letting it.
"What are you doing here?!" I scream, rage fueling the volume of my voice. "You have no right to be here! Get out! Get out, get out!"
Riku's oblivious. Of course he is. He never paid attention to me while I was—while I was—
I swallow. While I was what?
I'm afraid to answer the question, even if only to myself. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to remember it. I don't want to go back to that snow as it melts through my clothes and burns over my skin. No, no, that hasn't happened. It can't. It won't. I won't let it. Especially not so that Riku can sit here and look as if he's only trying to be sad. As if he's just putting on a face for everyone involved.
"I hate you!" I yell, swinging my fist forward. It glides through him. I want to see his face whip to the side with the blow, I want to see the silver strands of his hair follow the motion. I want those sea-green eyes to blaze back at me. They remain closed, and he reaches up to scratch at his cheek, where a barely visible patch of dry skin is.
"Damn it," I sob.
Something is rising within me, something hard and cold and unforgiving. The feeling starts in my stomach before it reaches my heart, pounding in time with it, swelling into panic. I clutch over it, dismayed to find my vision blurring. Oh, fuck. Why am I crying? Why am I bothering? He doesn't deserve my tears. I haven't cried since I was fifteen. And now, when it's—it's—when it's all over with, when I don't have to deal with him anymore, he's here. He's making me cry. I hate it.
I HATE IT.
I have to get away from him. Being near him is making it too hard to breathe.
Staggering away, away from him, away from my parents, away from the priest slowly making his way up the aisle, I head towards the front of this awful room. There's a casket there, and it's closed. What, was the death too gruesome? The body too mangled? Deep down, I already know the answer. I don't want to, but I do. God, this is awful. Why am I here? Why am I letting this happen? Why can't I do anything?
Smooth, unblemished wood, a brown so dark it's almost black. I run my fingertips over it as lightly as possible, knowing that I can't feel the glossiness and not caring.
This is mine, isn't it?
This is why everyone is here. This is why, after five years, my parents have finally come to see me. This is why Riku, after his intense betrayal that he doesn't even know I'm aware of, is boldly sitting here. This is why everyone is crying. This is why the priest is turning with the Good Book in his hands, a rosary dangling between his fingers. It's because I'm dead.
I'm dead, aren't I?
"Hey, you're not lookin' too good. Sucks being dead, don't it?"
I whirl around and hastily wipe at my tears so that I can see straight. There's a redhead in front of me, his hair so spiky it resembles a porcupine. His eyes are a deep, glowing green, piercing straight into my soul. None of this concerns me—what does is the black garb he's dressed in that hugs his slender frame and covers over his feet and a few good inches along the floor. In his hands he's holding a sickle, but it's a bit different than what I had always pictured it to look like. For one, it's hot pink.
"What…?" I breathe, again wiping at my face. "Who are you?"
He waves one finger at me. "Take a wild guess. Go on."
I sniffle. "Death?"
"Haha. So you're smart. That's good." The man's mouth stretches into a smirk that's almost evil, but at the same time, his eyes are twinkling good naturedly. I don't know what to make of this. I think I need to sit down, so I do. Heedless of my dizziness, my visitor continues, "So what's a smart boy like you wandering away from where you're supposed to be, huh? You should be in limbo right now."
"I'm—I don't know how I got here," I hear myself saying. I plant my face in my hands and bury my fingers in my hair. "I heard someone crying, so I came to look…"
"Ah. That's interesting. You must have strong ties to those that are here."
"My mother…" I whisper.
"Oh, now I get it! You know that one of the most powerful bonds is the one between mother and child? Your mother must have been really sad if she could call you from the planes of limbo."
Anger surfaces again, and I let my gaze carry the full heat of it. "Gee, I wonder why," I say crisply. "After all, I'm dead."
"Sheesh, sorry. Considering you killed yourself, I didn't think you'd be this bitter about it." Death scratches at his chin.
"No," I whisper, getting to my feet.
"Uhm—I'd have to say yeah, yeah you did." He pulls a slender black book from the inside of his robes and flips it open to the middle. "Shiozu Sora. Time of death, half past midnight, date of death, Christmas Eve, and finally—cause of death: leaps from balcony and kills self. See, the Book says it. It's confirmed."
"No, I mean—I'm not happy about this." I get back to my feet, gesturing at all the sad faces. "I never thought this many people would care that I'm here! I wouldn't have done this if—if I had known that I would hurt so many people! If I had known that so many people would miss me!"
Death tilts his head. "And that's my problem how?"
I stare. "What do you mean?"
"Look, bud, you killed yourself. It's done—it's over with." He holds out his hand after storing the Book away. "Come on, let's go. I've gotta take you back to limbo. If the Big Guy hears about this, I'm gonna be on the skillet, got it?"
His hand is slender, gloved by black, and foreboding. I swallow as I eye it, not sure if I should take it or not. Back to limbo? That's where that place of roiling fog was? It was so quiet there… so lonely… and kind of scary. I didn't want to go back there, and I tell the newcomer as much.
"Listen, you ain't got a choice. It's where you wait for judgment. Once judgment's ready, you go up to the pearly gates, and then it's decided where you're going to spend the rest of your eternity."
People are beginning to get up to pay their respects to my coffin. I move out of the way to avoid being walked through, uncomfortable with the feeling of being like a ghost here. Damn. How could I have been so fucking stupid? Killing myself. As if that would make all my problems go away. I half thought I'd be buried in the cold earth and that would be the end of it. Now I was here talking to Death, of all entities, about Judgment Day.
"The pearly gates?" I frown. "So I get to go to heaven?"
"Guess again, bucko." Death shakes his head, his eyes almost sad. I hate the pity in them—I hate it when anyone pities me. "You're Catholic, right? I mean, that's why the priest is here, after all."
I glance at Father Martsen. "Yeah, I'm Catholic." Father Martsen is old, and the sagging wrinkles on his bony fingers and around his eyes tell anyone as much. He's been around since the time I was a baby. He's the one who baptized me.
"Well, then you should know what happens to those who kill themselves."
Alarmed now, I return my attention to Death. The sadness in those eyes has intensified. "You mean I'm going to hell?"
"I'd have to say so, buddy."
"Wait, what does my religion have to do with anything?"
"Well, you imprint yourself with whatever religion you believed in before your death. It's too late to change it afterwards, and your afterlife is based on what you last associated yourself with. So since you're Catholic, the terms of your afterlife are based around that." Death shrugs as if it's simple arithmetic. Two plus two equals four, Sora.
"But what if Catholicism isn't the real thing?" I ask, finding all of this a tad unfair. "What if it's really Buddhism that's the real deal? Or what if the Baptists were the ones that got it right?"
"Who does have it right, then?" Now I'm just curious despite the situation.
"Oh, now, I can't go telling you that."
"Okay, fine. A better question. I killed myself—I technically shouldn't even be having a service provided by the Father." I frown. My gaze drifts to the back of the room, where everyone is congregating to tell my parents how sorry they are. Mom can hardly look at anyone, she's crying so hard. Dad's doing the honors of shaking everyone's hand, his nods solemn. Riku is with them, a sight I don't care to see.
"I guess your parents probably lied to cover it up—too much eggnog, eh? I really can't tell you, kid, I just have to deliver you back to limbo." Death holds out his hand again. He sounds less patient than before. "We need to go, time's a tickin'. I've got other people to attend to, ya know."
"Eh, just call me Axel. I'm still not used to the whole 'Death' title."
Death nods in acknowledgement.
"What's—going to happen to me if I don't get to go to heaven?" I wet my lips, nervous at the prospect of what hell will offer me. I've always been taught that hell is not the best way to go out with a bang. The devil is cold, ruthless, and the epitome of evil. Sinners like me don't get a bed of roses in the afterlife—we don't get to sing with the angels.
Axel places a hand on my shoulder. It's shocking, because I hadn't expected it to actually solidify. I guess Death and I are on the same plane than the one the rest of this room is, so it doesn't really matter. "Look, kid… I'm sorry. But I think you know the answer to that."
An eternity in hell, flames licking at my body as I burn and burn and burn—
I swallow loud enough that it echoes in the sudden silence.
"Sora—either you come with me now, or you pay the price for not doing so." Axel lifts his sickle—scythe?—and then lowers it. Rose petals scatter through the air as it makes contact with the ground again, and I raise my eyebrows at him. "Damn it," he says. "I really need to replace this thing."
"What do you mean?" I ask. "You say it like it hasn't always been yours."
"It hasn't," he admits. He rubs a hand over the back of his neck before shaking his head. "It belonged to the guy before me. He kind of worked some mumbo jumbo on this thing, and the results are its current state. I'm trying to petition to get a replacement, but so far no one's seeing my side."
"There's been more than you since the dawn of time?" Wow, that's kind of hard to wrap my mind around, and I'm grateful for the momentary distraction. I'm not exactly ready to hand myself over to the hands of Death just yet.
"Yeah, it's a pretty high position, you see. And it takes a few thousand years to retire from. The last guy got tired of it earlier than usual, so he just kind of quit."
"You can quit being death?"
Axel's expression is borderline murderous. I'm instantly sorry for asking. "Not without paying a horrible, horrible price," Axel says, his tone menacing. It rakes claws of cold down my spine, and I shiver despite myself. Holy hell.
His extends his hand again, his expression unchanging.
"Wait!" I cry. "I'm seriously not ready to go on yet! What about Mom? And Dad? Hell, what about Riku?" The fact that he's even here has to mean something, right? Even if it's just for appearances, he's still present at my viewing. "Axel, I wasn't prepared for this. I want to do something. I want to change this."
"They all do." He's raising his scythe.
I hold out my hand, but to stop him, not to take his proffered one. "I don't know what to tell you to make you believe me!" God, my eyes are tearing up again, and Axel's look isn't even growing sympathetic anymore. Have I really ruined Death's patience? Have I blown my chance at forgiveness? "I wouldn't have ever, ever killed myself if I thought that—that this would happen!"
Trying not to take too much hope in the relief that washes over me, I swallow and fight for the right words. I have a feeling that this is the only chance I'm going to get, and I have to take it now. "I swear to you. I'm telling the truth. Mom and Dad haven't talked to me in years. I'm kind of estranged from them. And Riku—we've had problems in our relationship lately. I don't even have many friends." It's hard to talk around the lump in my throat, but I press on. "I thought that everyone would be happy with me out of their lives. I didn't realize… I didn't realize…" My voice trails off in a whisper. "I didn't realize that it would make them so sad…"
My knees are turning to mush, so I sit down. I don't think my legs can hold my weight any longer, anyway. It had taken a lot to get that out of me—that whole speech. God, I don't know why it hurts so badly. Saying that… getting that off my chest—it's taken a lot out of me, and now I'm weary from the sudden loss of that weight.
All of it is true, though. I hadn't thought so many people cared about me enough to come to my funeral. I thought I'd be buried in that cold, hard, unforgiving earth, with no one to really care about it. I'd been expecting it so much in the last few years of my life, why—I'd resigned myself to it. My imminent death had almost been blissful.
But now… now…
A sob scratches at my throat. "I didn't know anyone still loved me." The whisper is broken, and I don't care. I don't care if Death still wants to take me after this. Fine. I'll suffer my punishment. It's my sin. It's no one's fault but my own.
I should have believed in my family.
"Aw, kid," Death suddenly says, "Get up. You look pathetic."
I oblige, but only because I've got nothing better to do now that everything is out in the open.
Axel looks kind of embarrassed, and he's not quite meeting my eyes. "I'm moved, ya know? I've only been at this job for two days, but that was a pretty powerful speech you had there. It's touching."
"Touching?" I repeat.
"Yeah. Hey, I'm not really allowed to do this, but—I think I'll make an exception for you." Axel taps his finger to his chin, tilting his head back as he closes his eyes in contemplation. "You want closure, I'm guessing?"
I nod. "Yeah…."
"Fine. Don't tell anyone I'm doing this for you, okay? You have to keep it an absolute secret unless you want me to cut this trip early."
Hope blossoms in my heart. I'm not even sure why, considering I haven't the faintest clue of what he's talking about. "Er, sure."
"Try to sound a little more grateful here!" Axel gestures. "You're going back in time—four days. Got it? That's enough time for you to clean up any mistakes you've made, clear the board, get in contact with long lost relatives, whatever. Once the four days are up, you'll find yourself back in front of that balcony. You jump, I take you to the pearly gates, it's over with. Comprende?"
I'm not so sure I comprehend, actually. "You're giving me a second chance?"
"Yeah, but you still gotta die. This way I won't get in so much trouble." He holds out his hand, slower than the previous times. "The minute you clasp my hand, the countdown starts. I'll probably check in every now and then to see how you're doing. You accept? You have to uphold your end of the bargain, though, Sora—no funny business. No trying to back out of your preordained death before it can happen."
I lick my lips. What if he's lying to me? What if he's just tricking me into taking his hand so that I can "move on"? There's no way to tell, but I'm desperate enough for this opportunity that I don't care. My hand slides into his, and we shake, and a rumble of thunder shakes its way through the background to add to the spark that ignites between our palms.
Everything is growing dark. The pews are fading, swallowed by shadows, and my family and casket are going along with for the ride. Panic resurfaces. Have I been tricked? Was I right not to trust him?
Axel's smirk is the last thing I see.
"Happy camping, kid. Good luck."