Disclaimer: Neither Kingdom Hearts nor Harry Potter belong to me, and I am not making any profit from this.
Other Information: Contains spoilers for HBP (does that still need to be warned for?) and original six backstory.
Credit/blame for the pairing goes entirely to Aiffe. not my fault rly! Also, reviews are muchly appreciated!
When Tom is three weeks into his fifth year, it is time to choose their study projects.
The projects are one of the ideas Dumbledore managed to get by Dippet in the past few years – something about "independent work" and "maturity" and "giving the older pupils an opportunity for research" and who knew what else. Tom thinks, cynically, that Dumbledore's real reasons had probably been far less for the benefit of the students and more to see how much influence he had over Dippet. Quite a lot, apparently; it is almost as if he is Headmaster already.
Only almost, luckily.
But save for Dumbledore, the teachers adore Tom – he is the perfect hero, the poor orphan halfblood who is the most brilliant student in the entire school – and with a bit of manipulation, he finds himself with quite a bit of leeway in the choice of his project.
Leeway he plans on using; if he is to spend several hours each day researching a topic, he would rather it were actually useful.
Still, when he tells Slughorn that he plans to write about Nobodies, he is almost worried he has gone too far. The man (probably his most fawning admirer among the staff) pales and asks whether he is sure, Tom, that's a very difficult topic you know, I thought you wanted to write about the use of powdered moonstone in rejuvenating potions? Tom finds that he spends nearly half an hour explaining how Nobodies are such a fascinating research topic and really far too little talked about, and had he read that paper by Bell and Hamming? It was what had convinced Tom to change his topic... until finally Slughorn says "oh well, you seem to have made up your mind," and reluctantly agrees to sign off on it.
It wasn't quite a lie; Bell and Hamming's paper about extraworldly Dark creatures had convinced Tom to change his topic. In particular, the mention of Nobodies being created from living human beings and of them being "considered functionally immortal" were what had piqued his interest. Powdered moonstone had been something of a long shot anyway, as the source who claimed this was a primary ingredient in the creation of the Philosopher's Stone could hardly have been called reliable even before Tom had questioned him. (He had hardly expected Flamel's apothecary to have such strong Occlumency shields; using the Cruciatus curse is deeply satisfying but he cannot help but doubt the accuracy of information so obtained. Nobodies are a much better lead to follow.)
It does not take much time for Tom to realise Slughorn's worries had been less about the type but more about the amount of information available. He had already known beforehand that Nobodies were not the most popular field of research, but he had still apparently been overestimating the amount of work done by quite a large margin; several hours of research have only turned up five items that even mentioned Nobodies, and only two in which the authors had devoted more than a paragraph to them. And the nature of it all...
"Rather one-sided, isn't it?"
Tom prides himself on not jumping, screaming or giving any sign of surprise other than a sudden jerk at the unexpected voice. Instead, he simply turns his head to survey the chair he knows was empty ten seconds ago.
The creature occupying it now is absorbed in flipping through Volanski's Treatyse on the Creatures from the Dark, which Tom had been sorely tempted to use for Unforgivable target practice. "'The Nobody is a creature born from death, and so death is all it can ever know. It is an emotionless husk without identity, yearning only to bring destruction to all other beings out of jealousy for their life, a life it may never own but which so closely echoes its memories...' the author apparently did not realise this contradicts itself twice in one sentence." It closes the book with a snap. "Inaccurate, exaggerated, more fiction than fact in both style and content – and masquerading as a scientific work, to boot. The state of research in this world is deplorable."
"I quite agree," Tom says smoothly, taking the opportunity to covertly eye his guest.
If it were human, Tom would say it was a boy a few years older than Tom himself, one surprisingly short for his age. He might wonder about the hair colour – unnatural enough that he would only expect to see it in very rebellious Gryffindors – and the choice of clothing, which was certainly not compliant with the Hogwarts uniform. But it is not human, and such details are secondary to the feeling of triumph, the realisation that he may yet learn something useful after all.
"I don't suppose you might have anything to... supplement such an inadequate excuse for research?" Tom asks, slyly.
"I may." The look the creature gives him is entirely devoid of emotion. Tom suspects it would frighten his (pathetic) classmates. "Although I am sure you are aware anecdotes are no substitute for real, measurable data."
"Of course not." The corners of Tom's mouth curve upwards of their own volition. "But it is a place to begin."
He had expected the creature would be fascinating, and is not disappointed. He had not expected that Zexion (as Tom learns the creature is called; he remembers the mention of husk without identity in Volanski, but the odd stress put on the name dissuades any questions) would be quite so congenial company. For a start, he (Tom does not quite remember when his pronoun use changed) is more intelligent than all of Tom's classmates put together. Tom does not think this is particularly unusual, but Zexion is also more intelligent than all of Tom's professors put together, which is refreshing. Indeed, Tom would estimate that Zexion is only slightly less brilliant than himself, and his commentary is cutting and almost disturbingly insightful - for the first time in years Tom has found himself genuinely challenged in a conversation. And moreover, Zexion's outlook is close enough to his own for him to be easy to talk to, yet different enough for their dialogues to be interesting and unpredictable; Tom cannot help but think this is probably the most intriguing person he has ever met.
Although technically, of course, Zexion isn't a person at all.
Zexion is surprisingly, almost suspiciously, willing to answer Tom's questions. Nobodies are created when a strong-willed person loses their heart, Tom learns. Further inquiries on the matter lead to a two-hour discussion of the nature of the heart as opposed to the soul, a truly fascinating distinction the wizarding world appears to have missed entirely. The heart can be lost both by Heartless attacks - another two hours' digression - and by its being consumed by the person's own darkness.
Tom tries to discern whether the look Zexion gives him at the last is any longer or more thoughtful than usual, to no avail. (He must learn to better read the Nobody). It is swept out of his mind when they reach the next topic.
Apparently, Nobodies do not age and are immune to physical damage as well as highly resistant to magic damage, with methods of circumventing even that.
"So, you're effectively immortal," Tom says, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice. It is difficult; this, after all, is what he has wanted to know ever since he first read the word "Nobody".
Zexion doesn't answer.
"Is there a way to kill you?" Tom asks, his voice becoming snappish despite his best efforts.
A raised eyebrow. "Why do you want to know?"
Satisfaction rises within him. Zexion has not answered him, no, but in refusing he has brought them back onto firm footing. Zexion's openness had been informative but this is what Tom is familiar with, the give-and-take, no answer freely given but wrested from the opponent.
Let the games begin.
Tom likes to think he is winning their little game of information-gathering. Minor things, all minor things at this stage in time, but he has managed to discover that although Zexion does not strictly speaking need to eat or drink, he is deeply fond of tea - most especially green tea - and still prefers to eat out of habit, although the food served at Hogwarts is quite strange to him. Working off a hunch, Tom asks one of the house-elves to prepare a - small, he stresses - meal in the style of China, and finds his efforts rewarded when he sees Zexion pick up the chopsticks with the ease of long practice.
On the other hand, he has managed to quite skilfully evade Zexion's questioning, whether on a serious matter such as his motivations or something apparently silly such as his favourite food (Yorkshire pudding, as made by the first cook at the orphanage, the one who died when he was six).
He does find himself vaguely curious about what Zexion does when he is away - with class, speaking to Slughorn, his prefect meetings and making a token appearance at his circle so that his classmates don't worry about him, his days are quite full. He wonders absently whether Zexion returns to wherever his - home? Base of operations? Place of origins? He has not asked about the Nobody's past yet - is, or whether he perhaps stays near the small room he and Tom use for their discussions.
In all his musings, he did not expect to one day see Zexion ghosting through the halls when heading back towards the Common Room after lunch.
A moment's pause, then he has seized Zexion by the shoulder and hustled him into an empty classroom.
"What on earth do you think you are doing?" Tom hisses.
Zexion looks up at him, expression empty as usual. He hasn't even tried to free his shoulder from Tom's grip yet. (It feels strange under Tom's hand, odd and wrong and fragile somehow, as if he only need press a bit harder and it will shatter under his grip. Can this truly be immortality?) "Exploring," he answers simply.
Tom isn't assuaged. "What if someone saw you?"
"I am not very much older than you, physically," Zexion says calmly, in the tone that Tom has learned to interpret as meaning you're being foolish. "And the coat does bear some resemblance to a Hogwarts uniform, especially if one does not look closely." He shrugs. "I fit in."
Zexion twists slightly, sinuously, and Tom's hand closes on empty air as the Nobody moves away.
There is something wrong about the way Zexion moves, he thinks; something strange, maybe graceful, and utterly inhuman - limbs shifting in a way that no muscles could produce, as if Zexion were controlling every part of his body by thought alone, without the limitations imposed by anatomy or physics. It is unnerving, but still better than the other option; during their talks, Zexion often sits unmoving in the chair he has claimed for his own and his posture always puts Tom uncomfortably in mind of a corpse.
"You fit in. Of course." Tom is not sure whether he was always so sarcastic.
"You are more perceptive than most." Tom is about to state that if someone takes Zexion for human, it is not a matter of lack of perception so much as of blindness, when the Nobody continues. "And besides, I have my own ways to deal with unwanted attention."
He doesn't elucidate, but the slight smirk on his face stays with Tom well into the night. (It is the first time he has seen Zexion smile.)
The next day, he returns to the room in the evening to find that Zexion has gotten food from the kitchens. Zexion's portion is some rice dish Tom doesn't recognise; his own is Yorkshire pudding, made in precisely the way he remembers it.
(Sometimes Tom wonders who is winning this game; it seems as if he cannot see half the pieces anymore.)
His curiosity about Nobodies only grows stronger as Zexion becomes more reluctant to answer.
He has managed to confirm some of what Zexion had stated as his abilities, although the sight of a sharp needle left lying where Zexion was sure to accidentally touch it going through his hand as if he were a ghost is decidedly disturbing. Similarly, a cursed quill pen appears to have no effect other than giving Zexion a moment's pause, and a tracking charm fails to register him at all. When Tom begins experiments with stunning spells, Zexion informs him acerbically that if Tom is planning to use him as target practice, he will just leave as there are people who have been waiting longer for the privilege.
Tom smiles, tucks the bit of information about Zexion's - home? - away to join the few others he has gleaned, and agrees to stop his experiments. He does not mind overly much; he has confirmed what he wanted to, after all.
It still makes him uneasy. Is this immortality? He is quite sure that Zexion's body would react the same to a bullet as to a needle, that an Avada Kedavra would have little more effect than the stunning spell. And if he doesn't age... isn't this what Tom has been looking for?
But then again, there is something about Zexion...
It is difficult to put his finger on what it actually is. It is not the inhuman movements, the disturbingly empty expressions. It is something far more subtle, the way he holds himself - carefully, as if simply existing takes a great deal of effort. The way the needle simply went through him, the tracking spell ignored him, as if Zexion were somehow not quite real enough to be affected by such things.
A Nobody does not truly exist; it is an abomination, and in forcing itself upon reality, it becomes less than a ghost, always a heartbeat away from being destroyed by the world which rejects it... he has been trying to forget Volanski.
Still, it is the closest he has ever come to his goal. Immortality or something close to it is nearly in his grasp; he will not be frightened away from it by what is probably just his imagination and the writings of a delusional old man.
"You want to become a Nobody?" It is not like Zexion to repeat something. A frisson of unease crawls up Tom's spine.
"I'm quite certain you heard me the first time," he snaps, and wishes he had learned to read Zexion; the other is eyeing him intently and Tom cannot quite make out his expression.
"You hate Muggles, correct?"
It is a rhetorical question - he knows he has mentioned it before - but Tom answers anyway. "Yes, of course. Why-"
"Would you be willing to give that up?" It's not like Zexion to interrupt. Tom cannot quite figure out what this portends.
"What do you mean?" he asks instead.
"Volanski was accurate enough in places," Zexion says. His voice has grown more distant than usual, and he seems to be staring at a spot on the wall just above Tom's shoulder. In this moment, he seems more alien than Tom has ever thought of him before. "Emotionless husks, he said." Zexion leans forward, eyes now fixed on Tom. "Your hatred of Muggles, it defines you. It gives you strength, and purpose. Imagine losing that. Imagine losing hatred, anger, grief, joy, fear - every feeling you have, until nothing remains but loss. Terrible loss," and as his voice shifts Tom realises Zexion is no longer talking about him. "The loss of everything you were, you are, the thing that makes you alive until there is nothing left but fragments, held together by will, and at your centre a void kept in check only by will. An empty existence, if it can be called an existence at all - and you cannot even grieve for what you have lost, because even that is no longer in your capabilities. Would you think this a fair trade for," and Zexion's voice grows slightly mocking, "immortality?"
Tom does not hesitate. "Yes," he answers, voice filled with determination. "Because immortality is worth anything."
Zexion's shoulders slump. "That only tells me you do not understand what I said."
"You're not usually so arrogant," Tom remarks dryly.
"It is not arrogance, it is fact." Zexion sighs. "Tom-"
"I have gathered that you think it is a bad idea," Tom snaps. "But I don't actually recall asking your opinion on the subject. I wanted to know whether it was possible - if I wanted to become a Nobody, how would I have to go about it? I would need to lose my heart, so I would need find Heartless-"
"That wouldn't be necessary." There is something defeated about Zexion's stance, and Tom remembers him explaining how it was possible for a person to lose their heart; through the attack of Heartless...
or through their own darkness.
The thought is... unpleasant, something Tom would rather not think about and he pushes it away.
"Do you really think mere endurance is preferable to life?" Zexion is asking.
Tom wants to protest that of course it is, infinite anything is preferable to a life so finite, so easily cut short, but the words do not make it past his lips. For a topic that he chose, the conversation has grown decidedly uncomfortable; he will need to think about what Zexion has said later.
For now, he would prefer a distraction.
"Is there any way to tell a Nobody from a human?" he asks flippantly, leaning back; it was the first thing that came into his head.
He fully expects Zexion to raise an eyebrow and answer in that bitingly sarcastic tone he uses for things he considers obviously foolish, perhaps something on the lines of why don't you tell me, but instead Zexion appears to contemplate the question seriously. Perhaps he wants to change the subject just as much as Tom.
"Well, there are obvious physiological differences, but those are not immediately apparent. I suppose you could try to devise a test using the physical immunity or magical resistance, but the latter may vary depending on Nobody and both can be compensated for if the Nobody wishes to - pass." Zexion pauses, picks up his cup to take a sip of tea. By his wince, it has probably grown cold. "Most obviously, there is always an emblem, rather like a tattoo, somewhere on the body. It is varying in size and black and grey, in the shape of a cross rising from a hollowed heart."
Tom studies Zexion, who seems to have calmed down and settled into a familiar, lecturing mode. He has almost gotten used to the Nobody's inhuman traits, the movement now more familiar than disquietening - with Zexion sitting like this, primly drinking tea, Tom could almost take him for a human.
A quite attractive human, at that.
He has been looking for a distraction.
"So," he says as he reaches over, slides a hand over Zexion's and feels the other still. "Where's yours?"
As it turns out, Zexion's tattoo is easy enough to find once one starts looking, situated as it is on the back of his right hand. Tom finds himself mildly disappointed, but he has always been of the opinion that a thing worth doing is worth doing properly and sees no reason to stop his explorations there.
Zexion's skin is uniformly pale, almost unnaturally so; superficially, the colour is simply that of a person who spends hardly any time in the sun and keeps his skin well-covered, but there is a strange cast to it that he has never seen in a human. It feels fragile somehow, like paper spun over a void, as though if Tom just presses a bit too hard it will tear and lay bare the emptiness within. He finds himself becoming unconsciously gentle, hands roaming lightly, lightly over Zexion's skin lest it rip.
It makes him oddly angry, and he forces himself to take things as he likes them. (Tom wonders if Zexion will have bruises in the morning, if he is even capable of such. He finds himself looking forward to finding out.)
Tom is no virgin; he is handsome and popular and charming and people are ever so easy to fool, to twist their beliefs until they think what Tom wants them to think and never realise the manipulation. To him, sex is just another game, one of kisses and trailing touches, of wresting reactions, confessions from the other while remaining aloof himself. Sometimes, rarely, sex is a game more violent, a fight for domination and control.
No matter the game, Tom always wins.
This is somehow different. Zexion is passive, allowing Tom his control from the very beginning, and he does react. Tom had worried, briefly, that Zexion would be completely nonresponsive; it was a possibility, given how Zexion usually acted, and unlike some of his classmates Tom has never found anything appealing in fucking a doll - but Zexion does respond, shivers and soft moans and sighs drawn forth by Tom's movements.
He should have won.
Yet there is something different about this; Zexion is too passive, his responses too at odds with his usual behaviour, and Tom cannot help but think that Zexion is allowing him this control, this win.
It is infuriating; Zexion is the one pinned beneath him, soft bluish-silver hair spread on the floor, gasping slightly as Tom pushes inside him - and Tom is the one who is unsure of who is winning or losing, or even what game is being played!
He leans down to kiss Zexion roughly, biting down on his lower lip.
Zexion does not flinch, does not properly respond and tastes of nothing at all.
(It is strange, but even wrapped around and buried deep inside Zexion as he is, it somehow still feels as if he is alone in the room.)
When he finishes, he collapses heavily at Zexion's side, languorous and satisfied and frustrated and entirely unsure of the outcome of this game. Zexion shifts against him and he snakes an arm around the Nobody; Zexion is small and slender and will not be able to free himself from the grip without a struggle.
He knows from observation - how Zexion carefully takes anything Tom gives him in such a way that their fingers do not brush, always makes sure to walk at least two steps away from him, and the one time Tom... accidentally... touched his shoulder and he flinched - that Zexion dislikes physical contact as a rule. Clearly, Zexion was able to ignore whatever it induces during their last game.
Tom finds himself curious as to what his reaction will be now, after its conclusion.
Zexion tries, briefly, to roll away but Tom tightens his hold, throws his other arm across Zexion's chest with a murmured "why leave so soon?" and the Nobody grows still, then finally relaxes until he is almost limp in Tom's arms. He hardly seems uncomfortable at all.
Tom finds himself toying with Zexion's hair in the silence; it is much softer than he had expected. He forgot to put an Everlight spell on the candles, and in the gloom the strands almost seem to glow.
Zexion sighs, breath surprisingly cool against Tom's neck.
One of the things Tom has found out is that Zexion doesn't, actually, need to breathe.
"Something you want to say?" Quietly, quietly, with not a hint of the triumph slowly flooding through him. (Not uncomfortable, but off-balance, enough so to volunteer information perhaps and Tom finally has the upper hand-)
"One day several years ago, I woke up." Zexion is equally quiet; although his head is currently pillowed on Tom's shoulder, Tom almost has to strain to hear him. "I woke up in a strange place, with my clothes torn and caked in blood from the Heartless attack, and in the first instant I was conscious the only thing I was aware of was the loss." Zexion's eyes are closed; were it not for the soft, steady stream of words pouring from his lips, Tom would almost think him asleep. "It is the most terrible feeling you can imagine, as if you had lost the most precious thing in the world when you never realised you had it in the first place. In a way, I suppose that is accurate."
Zexion's voice does not change. "The loss destroys us. A heart is the core of a living person. Nobody has ever survived the loss of a heart. What then are we? Nobodies. Nothings in the eyes of the world, abominations that need to force ourselves onto reality to exist, and we would do anything, anything to change that. To have our own existence, emotions, all the things living people do and take for granted. Hearts," he emphasises the word strangely, making it seem like something almost sacred, "of our own."
"We have gone over this before," Tom says, chidingly. "You may want to return to humanity," such an odd idea; he cannot help but feel his estimation of Zexion drop slightly, "but I do not agree."
"How can you disagree if you have never experienced it yourself?" Zexion asks. "However, that is not the point I was aiming to make." He turns his head slightly and the strands of his hair slip through Tom's fingers.
"I am not sure how much time it took until I could see past the loss," Zexion continues. "But when I did, I - remembered. I remembered being an apprentice, a scientist, in another world, one who had studied the dark and wound up being consumed by it." Zexion's eyes open. They are dark, pupils dilated, and fix Tom in their gaze. "A person who wasn't me."
The words fall like stones into Tom's mind; gone, but the ripples remain, spread out from the site of impact. And still Zexion continues. "I woke up in that place as a creature newly born, without name or identity, because the person I was before died when the Heartless attacked."
The word seems to echo in Tom's mind. Died. Died. No immortality, this - of course, how could he have missed it, the Nobody is a creature born from death, Volanski whispers mockingly.
He stands, abruptly, fingers mechanically reaching for his robes and wrapping them around him, and storms out of the room.
Zexion watches him go.
The next day, Tom thinks that it is probably more than time to focus on his other schoolwork for a bit. He actually hadn't known something Professor Dumbledore mentioned in last week's Transfiguration class, and his study group has expressed worry about how little they see him lately. "Working on my project" will not satisfy them forever, and it is best to keep up appearances.
Strangely enough, the others don't welcome his participation as they usually do. The teachers hardly call on him at all, and both at lunch and later in the library the conversation seems to die as soon as he tries to join. During the evening, Rosier even cautiously approaches him with the demeanour of a man walking to the gallows and asks him whether he is feeling all right. Tom smiles, tells him he is perfectly fine and watches with satisfaction as Rosier hurriedly backs away.
He's not angry, he tells himself. He doesn't feel furious or disappointed or betrayed in the least. It is just another dead end in a long line of dead ends, after all, and Zexion had tried to warn him off.
Perhaps that stings the most.
He only arrives in the small room long after dinner, hours after the time he would usually have gone there. It is pristine, all the papers neatly arranged, floor clean of dust with no hint of what passed there just a day ago.
There is no sign of Zexion.
It isn't really a surprise, he thinks, but the sight of the empty room still makes his stomach clench, brings up mingled feelings of anger and relief.
He isn't sure which of them bothers him more.
Tom shakes his head and turns to the table, vaguely thinking of looking if Zexion has left any notes behind. He is almost certain the other will have taken them with him, but it can hardly hurt to check.
(He fleetingly remembers the feel of Zexion's skin under his hands, wonders with an almost academic curiosity whether the Nobody has bruised by now. He supposes he won't be able to find out.)
There are no notes. Zexion's side of the table is completely (disturbingly) empty, save for a thick black leather-bound book which Tom cannot remember seeing before and a piece of parchment lying on top of it.
I believe you may find this useful, it says in Zexion's spiky handwriting.
Tom sets it aside slowly. His hands don't shake at all.
The book, titled "Anima et Cor: Spells of the Mind and Soul", turns out to be nothing short of fascinating. There is even quite a long discussion of Nobodies, comparing them with the results of certain curses.
Tom tells himself that this book is certainly not from the Hogwarts library and he cannot therefore use it for his project, so he is perfectly justified in skipping that section.
Besides, there is far more useful and interesting material in the other chapters.
He continues browsing the book long after he returns to his dormitory, long after he should have been asleep - there are entire spell families which he had no idea existed, chapters devoted to charms and curses no book he has read so far so much as mentions.
Finally, when it is starting to grow light out again and his eyes are nearly falling shut, he stumbles across something. A section in a chapter on spells that damage the soul.
Tom discovers quickly that he had been wrong in thinking Nobodies were difficult to find material on. In fact, Nobodies were positively well-researched, the library shelves nothing short of brimming with information... at least when compared to Horcruxes. He is beginning to doubt whether the book even comes from this world when he finds one lonely mention of "creating a Horcrux" as an offense worthy of life imprisonment in Azkaban.
It is apparently the only book in which the objects are so much as mentioned in the entire library.
Asking Slughorn is an act more of desperation than anything else - he doesn't think Slughorn is suspicious of him, but he thinks asking about obscure, dangerous Dark spells to split one's soul is probably the single best way to change that. He is in luck, however; Slughorn is not only not suspicious, he is a veritable fountain of information. It should be more than enough to create such a thing himself. Except-
Except that the description still doesn't make sense. Tom remembers long discussions with Zexion up until deep into the night regarding the nature of the soul as opposed to the heart, and no matter how many ways he turns it he cannot see how splitting the soul could possibly result in immortality.
It is a difficult problem, and he falls asleep with it weighing on his mind.
And sometimes he dreams that Zexion is there, in his usual chair in the library with a thick tome opened before him and a cup of tea growing cold beside his elbow or moving at a quick pace through the corridors with his boots making no sound on the stone floor - or in Tom's bed, unbruised skin as white as the sheets he lies on and it is soft movements and muffled sighs as Tom takes it slower and gentler than before and when they finish, they lie tangled together in silence.
The dreams annoy him.
This night, Zexion speaks. His voice is soft and Tom has to strain to hear it.
"Your world has never made the distinction between the heart and the soul. It makes all writings all the matter rather confused."
Tom wakes. His bed is empty, the sheets wrapped just as tightly around him as when he fell asleep. He is alone.
He knows what he has to do.
The project is handed in precisely on time, containing all the information Tom was able to find about Nobodies in the library and not one jot more. He faithfully copies the details he knows are wrong, the sweeping generalisations, the "facts" that flat-out contradict not only what Zexion has told him but what he has observed himself - leaves out everything he has learned from the Nobody, from Anima et Cor, all the conclusions he has drawn from hours upon hours of night-time discussion. It nets him an O.
Three days later, there is an outcry when a Mudblood is found mysteriously dead.
Tom thinks Zexion would approve.
It is dark when Zexion arrives in the World That Never Was, the only light given by the erratic flicker of neon from the deserted streets and a barely visible shimmer of pale gold from overhead (hope, his mind whispers). This is hardly an unusual state of affairs - but he has been too long in Hogwarts, with torchlight and spelled candles and lazy sunlight flooding through the windows and he is forced to stop and let his eyes adjust.
He has been away too long, and the world seems both familiar and strange as he makes his way towards the Castle. The streets look the same as always - dark and empty of life, shopfronts with signs in a language he cannot read and the only sound the soft splash of raindrops - but the configuration has changed yet again and there are more Dusks than he recalls, an eerie silver in the gloom as they flit past him, and some new types of Nobodies he has never seen before. Probably Demyx's; the bared skin and swaying movements put him in mind of the Nobody they had just found when he left, and although they smell sharp and unreal as all Nobodies, there is a note of - water?
Tom's scent was dark, cloying and entirely overpowering; despite that, Zexion managed to get used to it, and now the smells here seem faint and are hard to distinguish.
He pauses at the entrance to the Castle. Its configuration has changed as well, but this is familiar - Zexion would have found it more surprising if it had remained the same. It has, however, grown larger and there are several towers as well as what looks like a... pond? which he has never seen before.
A sudden new scent-
He manages to keep himself from jumping when the arm falls around his shoulders, but it is a near thing.
"Man." Xigbar's voice is far, far too close. "You are seriously off your game."
"I have no idea what you mean," Zexion says. He doesn't acknowledge the contact. (Quite a number of experiments have conclusively shown that asking Xigbar to let him go is pointless at best and counterproductive at worst, whereas if one simply ignores him there is a small chance he will become bored and leave.)
"Normally, you smell me coming at least in mid-leap if not before," Xigbar explains, shifting even closer.
"I was distracted. And you know it takes me a while to get acclimatised after a mission."
"Hmm." Xigbar sounds skeptical. The hand on Zexion's shoulder moves up into his hair, fingers twisting in the blue strands.
It reminds him of Tom.
"I've gotta admit, I'm surprised," Xigbar is saying. The tone of his voice makes the back of Zexion's neck itch - or maybe that's just the leather. "Everyone knows I skive off on missions, and Vexen gets sidetracked and winds up setting up some new experiment instead, but you?" Xigbar emphasises the word with a light shake. "Last I checked, 'turn this man into a Heartless' didn't mean 'stop him from losing his heart at all costs and give him what he needs to avoid it permanently'. Never knew you were so rebellious, Zexion."
"Does Xemnas know you've been spending your time spying on me?"
It's a rhetorical question, but Xigbar answers it anyway. "Hey, like I said. 'S not like everyone doesn't know I skive off. And someone needs to keep an eye on you so you don't get yourself in trouble." His tone is teasing, but Zexion finds himself rising to the bait anyway.
"I am perfectly capable of taking care of-"
"By the way, I should probably mention that, y'know, nothing against your lifestyle. Hey, everyone needs a distraction! But are you really sure charismatic evil geniuses are a good habit?"
"Xigbar," Zexion says.
"I mean, there are so many more healthy addictions to choose from. And," Xigbar's voice drops, "if you're letting your pets run wild and not fulfilling your missions because of some sort of theoretically-impossible-according-to-Vexen attachment, I'm not sure how long I can Xemnas from finding out. Or Vexen, come to think of it."
It is strange, being here, falling back into the old familiar habits of conversing with Xigbar half left over from someone else's life. Strange, feeling a body against him and knowing it doesn't belong to Tom, belongs to a Nobody just like him. Nothing to keep concealed, to watch for, to try to prevent.
Zexion isn't quite sure if he's capable of it anymore.
"Vexen's theory is still perfectly intact," he says quietly. "I merely decided he would make far too powerful both a Nobody and a Heartless. We really don't need another 'Ansem'. And I doubt," his voice grows dry, "that Xemnas would be any happier if the Nobody I came back with took over the Organization."
He still remembers that first conversation, senses reeling from the bombardment that was Tom's scent. Remembers realising, piece by piece, just how deep Tom's darkness goes and just how strong his will is. That Tom's Nobody might just prove stronger than Zexion, than Lexaeus, than Xigbar. Than Xemnas.
It had been a very disquietening experience.
"So I... arranged things," he concludes.
He notes, absently, that Xigbar has moved; the hand is still tangled in Zexion's hair, but Xigbar has shifted to stand in front of him. (He is still far too close for comfort, which means this still falls in the normal range of Xigbar behaviour.)
"Clever of you," Xigbar murmurs, single golden eye raking Zexion's form. (Tom's eyes are green.) "Probably not that easy, either."
"He needed some persuasion," Zexion explains. He can hear the skeptical note in Xigbar's voice but decides to ignore it.
He is so very tired.
Xigbar lifts his free hand to brush over Zexion's lips, lingering on the bite-marks Tom left, then lets his fingers trail down to just above Zexion's collarbone where he has already been feeling bruises forming. "That kid really didn't know how to treat you, did he." The smirk reminds Zexion, dimly, of Braig and Radiant Garden and another person's life. "C'mon inside. I'll get you fixed up."
With one of Xigbar's hands still knotted in his hair and the other now tangling itself in his hood (the grip is still light enough that he could move away if he needed - not like Tom) it isn't really as if he can refuse.
Zexion finds he can't quite bring himself to mind.