Title: The Flip Side

Summary: In Zexion's effort to eliminate Riku, he only unleashed a greater threat. Now former enemies must work together to survive, and in the process discover that they might not be so different after all. Even with only one heart between the two of them.

Warnings: Violence, non-graphic rape, language, and major screwing with canon.

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is the creation of Square Enix and Disney.

Notes: The story started out as a 'what if', looking at what could have happened if during the confrontation with Zexion, Riku had actually lost control of himself long enough for the Heartless Xehanort to take control over his body. Needless to say, nothing good for either him or Zexion, which is when the story became an exploration of the oft-quoted saying of 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'. But with a lot less emphasis on the 'friend' part.

The story itself is divided between Riku and Zexion's perspectives, exploring not only their 'partnership' but their respective dealings with the situation. As mentioned, the fic diverges from canon during the meeting between Riku and Zexion in the memory of Destiny Islands, and attempts to converge back into the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II without screwing up the storyline too much ('too much', being the operative phrase).

Act I: Light and Dark

I'm… fading….

Melodrama had never really been his style, but it was hard not to get caught up in it when it felt like he was dying. Maybe fading wasn't even the right way of putting it; no, it was more like… being ripped apart, piece by piece, a process that was as methodical as it was agonizingly painful.

Consumed by the light….

So maybe he was getting a little over the top, but he'd just blame that on the pain. Of course, some people would probably say that he should just fight through it… but he doubted they would be singing the same tune if they were in his current position.

It was easy to obsess because if he didn't, he wouldn't be able to stay coherent. Not when it felt like he getting burned clean through, and while he didn't want to make too many excuses—wasn't that how he had let things get out of control in the first place?—he just didn't see a way around it anymore.

Besides, was it really an excuse when in the process, he was pretty much admitting that he was just too weak? That by not fighting, by accepting what was happening to him, he was fully accepting the blame for the damage he had wreaked on countless innocent people?

In fact, looking at it from that point of view meant it wasn't even about the pain. Because if he looked at it with an unbiased eye, realized and accepted who he was and what he had become, he would accept that he was a danger. He had attacked one best friend, delivered another into the hands of evil, lost control of his own body and allowed a psychotic megalomaniac to take pot shots at a universe or two… hell, who in their right mind would let someone like that live, when he had proven so convincingly how weak he was?

Maybe that was why he didn't fight back. Sure, part of it was that he just didn't know how to fight back against the light; how were you supposed to battle against something that you usually fought for? But really, if he was honest, he knew a lot of it was that… well, he didn't really want to fight on. Granted, he didn't really want to die either, but that didn't exactly mean he deserved to go on living either.


Well, right or not, it kinda sucked because he would have liked to see Sora again. See the guy, tell him that he was sorry—sorry for being an idiot, sorry for being an arrogant asshole, sorry for everything—maybe remind him to stay out of trouble because Sora seemed to have a habit for getting into sticky situations. But he wouldn't have to tell him to not give into the darkness; there was no chance of that. Because Sora wasn't like him. Sora was different, and not just because he was the chosen Keyblade Master. More that… he was just a good guy. Who didn't try to destroy worlds out of boredom.

And Kairi. He would have liked to apologize to her too, except that he wasn't really sure where the hell to begin.

There were so many things to say, so many things he still wanted—needed—to do. But instead of having that motivate him into finding a way to fight through this and survive, he let it all go and moved on.

Most people would have called it giving in. Riku was not most people. In fact, if he was capable of moving right now, he would like to offer the middle finger to 'most people', and especially the implication that he was one of them. Because most people didn't destroy worlds because they had gotten bored with their lives. Most people found healthier outlets to vent their frustrations, like emo poetry or glazing pottery or maybe even jumping off of bridges with no parachutes. He should have been one of those people but he wasn't, and now he was paying the price for taking more than he was entitled to.

Huh. And to think that he'd once thought he had gotten over this self-pity stage. Guess not.

Pathetic, a familiar voice agreed. It took him a split-second to realize that it wasn't his brain, but that he—no matter how he tried to forget it—was no longer the only person in his mind. But by the time he remembered, it was too late, and anyway he wasn't sure that knowing would have prevented the blinding white light from being completely overtaken by the more familiar and terrifying darkness.

Riku turned sharply, but the movement was sluggish from the darkness that wrapped around him. It threatened to engulf him, but he refused to let it, instead forcing himself to move to avoid being completely enveloped. He might have been willing to give in only seconds before, but things were different now. Giving into the light was one thing, but the darkness? That was one hell of a different story.

Oddly enough, the pain was gone. It had been replaced by blind panic, which wasn't exactly an improvement but at least it was no longer about the burning blindness of the light. No, what he faced now was the pitch black of darkness, and while that was frightening, it was also in a bizarre way familiar. He had been here before, after all, and here, there was finally an enemy he could actually fight.

An enemy that wasn't himself, anyway.

"Ansem!" he yelled, but instead of echoing in vast emptiness the words were muffled at best. But he knew that coherency no longer really mattered because Ansem knew exactly what he was saying, even if he might not.

As if on cue, the Heartless began to laugh. Compared to his words, which seemed to fade into the darkness, the laugh echoed all too clearly. Judging by the sound, the Heartless was in complete control of the situation. No wonder he was being laughed at. Part of him wanted to cover up his ears as the laugh just continued on, increasing in volume, but the practical side of him pointed out that it probably wouldn't help anyway.

It was a little pessimistic, but after everything he had and was now going through, it was a little hard to stay upbeat.

And then the laughter finally stopped, although it continued to echo, but the words cut through it all as the voice—a voice that made ice run down his spine as he tried to deny its existence all over again—said, To think that you would be done in by a mere Nobody. I expected better of you, Riku.

"What the hell are you talking about?!" The words came out as a shout but faded instantly, as if they were disappearing as soon as they touched the darkness. But as frustrating as that was, he could not help but notice that odd inflection on the word nobody. As if it was supposed to mean something.

He found little time to dwell on that though as Ansem said with a mock sigh, It seems that you still understand nothing. But that is no longer of my concern.

He wanted to deny that, but found that he really… couldn't. Because it was hard to deny such an obvious truth. So instead, he twisted around, trying to see Ansem through the darkness, willing to settle for just seeing anything, but still there was only black nothingness. He couldn't sense anything either, and he didn't even know if there was anything to sense in the first place. Instead, he only had the voice to keep him company as again, that deep laugh echoed in what seemed like an increasingly smaller space.

You do not even understand the true nature of your enemies.

Riku felt almost like he was eight and getting scolded by the teacher for not understanding the math problems. Looking back, that teacher had been a real asshole, but nothing compared to his current enemy. "Yeah? Why don't you tell me all about it then?"

It was a little weird, how mad he felt right now considering how only minutes before he had been all too ready to just… die. But now, being confronted by Ansem, all he could do was resist. Except it was getting harder to keep his mind from giving into the pressure of the overwhelming darkness, and while the rage kept him focused, he didn't know how long he could sustain it.

He had to find a way out before he completely gave in. But how?

A creature with no hearts and no emotions. Rather like you will be, once I am through with you, Ansem said rather gleefully. Riku frowned and started to speak, but Ansem cut him off, The light has rejected you. Surely you felt it in the way you burned. And the darkness has no need for one such as you, Riku. Not when it has a more competent host.

Riku flinched at that. And while he knew that logically, Ansem was full of shit and he would be better off not listening to the voice, and anyway who the hell would want to be the host to darkness in the first place… it was hard not to recoil when the words so perfectly echoed his previous thoughts. Even though they were coming from the Heartless he knew was trying to destroy him inside-out, it didn't mean that the words were false either.

Unfortunately for the Heartless, Riku just wasn't that good at accepting the obvious.

"You're trying to trick me again," he said, as if saying the words out loud might convince him of their truth. Ha. If only. And even if he was right, and this was all just a trick… well, it was a damned good one. Because he might be trying to put up a brave front now, but he was still shaken by his experience with the burning light. Maybe it was stupid, but… it was almost like a confirmation of everything he had been scared of. That no matter how hard he tried, no matter what he did, he would never be forgiven. And maybe he didn't deserve forgiveness, but he wasn't really sure how he could live without being able to move on from what he had done, whether it was on his own terms or in the eyes of the rest of the world.

What if… what if after he managed to survive this, Sora and Kairi would still never look at him the same way again?

But that's not true. Because neither of them were the kind of people to just give up on him. Even after what he had done, he remembered Sora's face as the door had closed on him and King Mickey. No amount of determination could hide the immense regret in those eyes, and if that was really the case, then perhaps the only person left to forgive you is yourself.

He started. That voice. It was… well, it definitely wasn't Ansem's, and the reminder of that made him narrow his eyes. Ansem had been conspicuously silent for far longer than expected, and the presence he felt now was not just the Heartless's. No, there was… there was definitely someone else, someone familiar and yet different all the same. And it was trying to reach out to him with words that were not his but that he needed to hear. Riku-

Enough of that, Ansem suddenly snarled, and just like that, the presence was gone. He was alone again, alone with the demons—or was it just demon?—of his past, and he suddenly felt even more defenseless than he had before. The darkness was even more suffocating, pressing against him on all sides, crowding him in until he could not move. He opened his mouth to speak but that just seemed to invite the darkness in, and it nearly made him gag as it rushed into his very being. No, Riku. You are alone. Alone and weak and helpless, and unable to face what you have become. It is a gift, what the darkness has given you. But you fear it still.

And that will be your undoing.

Again, he tried to say something—although what, he didn't know; there wasn't any way to defend himself now, was there?—but the darkness held him tight. It was getting hard to breathe, and the overwhelming presence of the Heartless seemed to sink into his very subconscious.

He hadn't realized his eyes had closed until they flew open, but there was nothing to see. Yet the shock of the realization forced him to fight anew, ignoring how useless the actions would be. Because he knew now what the Heartless was trying to do, and he had sworn he would never let Ansem do that again.

He's trying to take me over.

Caught on quickly, haven't you? Ansem asked, but there was no anger. Only amusement that he had figured out the Heartless's goal, but it was too late and the words were laced with the easy triumph of someone who had already won.

Riku wanted to scream in protest, but his voice was already stolen away by the darkness. Stolen, along with every speak of individuality he had until he was simply trapped, with no way of controlling anything around him or within. The darkness pressed against him, threatening to crush him out of existence as thoroughly as the light had tried to burn him, and all the while in the distance….

You can't give in! The familiar-yet-not voice was louder now, increasing to almost shrill desperation as it tried to get through to him. But even as it became more insistent it continued still to fade into the background, until he could barely understand what the hell it was saying, let alone remember what it had said before. Because now the only thing he could focus on was trying to keep a hold on himself, and the only way he could do that was by concentrating on the Heartless that he knew stood before him, laughing at him as he continued to fight a losing battle.

It was over. They both knew it. And even though Riku would be the first to admit that he was a master of the time-honored custom of denial, nothing he told himself could explain away the darkness that was consuming him piece by piece.



But it was not Kairi, not really. There was something strange about that voice… it wasn't hers, not really. Someone else's. But who's? Who could be so similar and yet not? And who would care about him like this when he was just a failure, a failure who could never be of any use but would only bring tragedy to people who were stupid enough to care about him? People like Sora and Kairi who deserved so much better. What would happen to them now? Would they be okay?

And all the while, she called to him. Tried one last time to reach through, but then she was completely forced out and all that was left was Ansem.

You make this far too easy.

He barely had time to think of an appropriate response when suddenly, there was—


As soon as he realized what was happening—and it did not take a genius to realize, only basic observation skills—Zexion did not bother to wait around for what he knew was to come. Instead, with a nervousness he masked with grim calm, he quickly extended a hand to summon the dark corridor.

But before he could step through, a cold laugh echoed through the room.

"Oh, is that any way to treat an old colleague?"

The darkness twisted and shrank as quickly as he had called it, and before he could think to throw calm and caution to the wind and just run, large hands grabbed his shoulder and forced him to turn. He had barely focused on the Heartless when a second hand—this one with long fingers made of inky darkness—clamped onto his neck and listed him clear off the ground.

"I thought you would have learned your lesson by now, Ienzo," the man he thought he would never have to see again said with feigned sadness as he choked and gasped in his struggle to breathe, his own hands scrabbling desperately in an attempt to gain some leverage. But there was little of that to be had as his fingers sank into the dark flesh, offering him little reprieve as merciless orange eyes fixed on him.

Xehanort was smiling. "Running will get you nowhere."

His eyes narrowed, and he would have let loose a scathing remark if circumstances had permitted it. But as it was, he did not have enough breath to say much of anything. Although given his current situation, that might have been for the best as survival was of decidedly higher priority than whatever 'grudge' he might still bear against his former… colleague.

Unfortunately, survival was easier said than done. The dark creature that was holding him presented little means of support, and Xehanort did not seem overly inclined to release him. Indeed, the Heartless seemed more than content to mock his current predicament, if that expression—half amusement, half curiosity, but all of it deriding and potentially fatal—was of any indication. "Nothing to say, Ienzo?"

Perhaps he should have been grateful for the hand that was threatening to snap his neck. Deadly as the grip was, it at least saved him the trouble of having to come up with something to say. More importantly, it kept him from tempting a less gentle reaction to the biting response that itched to be spoken out loud, regardless of the consequences. Ienzo had never quite possessed the self-preservationist tendencies that might have prevented any of this from happening, but in a place such as Radiant Garden—well, as it used to be before, at least—it was not quite necessary. That was not much of an excuse, but at least it explained more than he would have honestly liked to admit.

Not that honesty was considered a high priority when it came to Nobodies.

"Ah. Perhaps you are simply too surprised by what is happening to think of a proper response," Xehanort suggested cruelly, reaching out to give him an indulgent pat on the head as if he was a favorite student who had just made a silly mistake. "That is perfectly understandable. After all, I do recall that you always did have a habit of… biting off more than you can chew." The smile that accompanied this thinly concealed insult showed off a set of very white—and disturbingly sharp—teeth.

His only response to this was to struggle weakly against the grip, although his fight was more for air than for the right to speak. He had nothing to say to the Heartless; in fact, he had little desire to be anywhere near the being he had once had the distinct displeasure of knowing when they still had hearts.

"But perhaps I should not be so harsh. After all, it is that particular failing that I have to thank for my return," Xehanort said thoughtfully, drawing his hand back. "And no good deed should go unrewarded. Tell me, Ienzo. What should I gift you with, for helping me return to this plane of existence?"

Letting him get as far away as possible from the Heartless would be an excellent start, but again, he chose to keep that thought to himself. Yet although he had not voiced his opinion, Xehanort seemed to sense his distinct lack of gratitude as the grip around his neck tightened painfully. The smile went from amused to outright malicious, and if he had been less self-possessed, he would have wanted nothing more than to claw the bastard's face off.

Unfortunately, even if he was willing to give into such crude desires, he was completely incapable of acting on it. The most he could do was to continue to maintain the façade of perfect calm, but again, it was difficult to manage that when he was choking. His vision was starting to go black, and he was suddenly struck with a painful sense of déjà vu. The only difference from the first time was the lack of pulsing as his heart tried desperately to send what little oxygen was left to keep his body alive; no, this time there was no heart to beat. He could not breathe, but even as he struggled to survive the scholar's part of his mind could only wonder if it was even necessary.

And yet he continued to cling to the monster's arm, trying not to lose what precious hold he had somehow managed to get. The last thing he needed was to end up in a position that was worse than his already precarious perch.

"Ah. A simple enough request. Put him down." The last of these words were directed at the dark creature, who with little flourish opened his hand so that Zexion could drop bonelessly to the ground. Even if he had been prepared for the sudden descent, he did not think he would have possessed the energy to land on his feet. Besides, it was not as if he could feel shame at the sorry sight he made, with his body so pathetically incapable of standing as he could only lie there struggling for breath. It hurt, almost burning-like as the air went down his abused throat. The pain made him gag, which really just hurt all the more, but there was nothing he could do about that as he tried to regain some sense of composure.

Of course, he knew that it did not really matter. Because Xehanort had been watching him all this time, and no amount of posing could erase what had just happened.

"Funny," Xehanort suddenly said, and he paused in his recovery efforts to give the Heartless a baleful look. Xehanort just smirked back, continuing, "I did not think you would need to breathe still. After all, you have no heart to circulate it through your body. I would have imagined that because of that, Nobodies would have evolved past that particular dependency. Or deficiency, if you like."

Again, he bit back a potentially dangerous retort. He had little interest in inviting any more pain than what he was already going through. But the lack of action annoyed him all the same, so he forced himself to stand. Immediately he found himself swaying dangerously on the spot. Apparently, he had misjudged his abilities once again.

A hand reached out to steady him—a human hand, this time, or at least closer to human that that limb of inky darkness. He did not bother to give thanks, as it took all his willpower not to recoil from the proffered help. Because when it came to Xehanort, no good deed came without a greater cost.

"You are quiet," Xehanort observed. "The Ienzo I knew would never be this silent."

That was because Ienzo had died at the hands of the Heartless, and the near-strangulation from moments before did not make him any happier to be reminded of those events from Radiant Garden. But Xehanort seemed to have conveniently forgotten both points, and Zexion knew better than to point either out. It simply was not worth it.

Instead, he forced himself to move again, preferably away from the Heartless. Except as soon as he started to pull away, the hand that had meant to steady him quickly tightened, becoming a gesture of restraint.

It seemed that he would not be getting away so easily. He looked up at the Heartless, and realized with no little apathy that even after all this time, the man was still completely and utterly insane.

"That is because there is nothing to say," he said finally, the words hoarse. It hurt to speak, but he knew he would be worse off in the long run if he did not.

"Surely that cannot be," Xehanort replied, still sounding amused. "I do recall that we used to have the most intriguing conversations.

"You had something to teach then. The same cannot be said now."

Xehanort chuckled, a deep rumble of a sound. Its lowness reminded him almost of Lexaeus's laugh, the few times the other Nobody had chosen to indulge in such pointless gestures. But unlike this one, the Silent Hero's laugh had never caused him to fear for his very existence. "You have changed since losing yourself to the darkness."

"As have you."

"Do you really think so?" Xehanort actually sounded surprised, although his expression was as serene as ever. "I personally do not see it. Perhaps you have been spending too much time with my Nobody."

He had actually not been expecting the Heartless to bring up its Nobody counterpart so readily; the feeling of incompletion had always been a sore spot for the Nobodies, but it seemed that was not quite applicable for the being before him. Even if he was capable of it, he did not think he would have been too surprised; Xehanort always did seem to react to situations differently than one would have expected. As if he was completely separate from the rest of humanity. "You speak of him as if he is not even a part of you."

"That is because he isn't. What use do I have for a shell?" Xehanort asked, and then smiled humorlessly as Zexion stiffened, the reaction involuntary but unavoidable. Even worse, the Heartless seemed to guess what that was about as he continued, in an almost soothing voice, "Not that I mean you, of course."

"Of course," he repeated, the words dry although he felt cold. Already he could feel the fingers at his throat, and it was not a pleasant memory. "If you had no use for me, I would not still be alive."

"Clever as always." It was not a compliment. "Of course I would expect nothing less from my fellow apprentice."

He ignored that. "But what I do not understand," Zexion said, keeping his gaze steady (showing fear would incite the being further, he knew), "is what compels you to believe that I would have any interest in helping you?"

Xehanort's lips pulled back in a smile that resembled the snarl of a wild animal ready to attack. He was already disturbed enough as it was, but the next words still managed to make him feel worse, "What makes you think that I am giving you a choice?"

That was the question he had been hoping to avoid, but he was not foolish enough to ever think that there was any other possibility as he just glared back. "You cannot hold me forever." Not that the Heartless needed to.

"True enough," Xehanort conceded gracefully. "I will not bother to do so once I have what I need. Then it will be no problem to me to get rid of you. But tell me; are you truly that eager to die?"

Of course not. The very insinuation was insulting, but he continued to keep his tongue in check. As much as it irritated him, he saw no benefit in informing Xehanort of that fact. Doubtless the Heartless would just find a way to use that information against him, even though it was a reasonable feeling for most people. But then, Nobodies were not 'most people', and he knew Xehanort would use that as an excuse for treating him like some sort of abomination for wanting to continue existing. Because even this pitiful excuse of a half-life was better than being…


But at this rate, was there really any way for him to avoid such a fate? He could not, unfortunately, answer the question himself, and he doubted that the one person who could would be at all forthcoming with an answer. Besides, there was the matter of what Xehanort… needed. That was a question he was certain he wouldn't want the answer to, and he was not sure who he was speaking to when he said simply, "Unfortunately, at this point I see no way around it."

Once again, Xehanort seemed to find this response much more amusing than it actually was. But Zexion could not be surprised; Xehanort had always been quite good at misunderstanding the obvious, and it appeared that the interceding years—and not to mention the loss of a heart—had not managed to cure the man of that particular deficiency.

Ienzo had always believed that nothing short of death would take care of that personality flaw, and it seemed that he had not been quite correct.

"Ah, the emotionless logic of a Nobody," Xehanort laughed. Zexion did not see what was so amusing, his eyes narrowing as the Heartless continued, "Not to imply that logic is not all very well and good, but it is not the only deciding factor in the world. Surely even you have realized this by now, Ienzo."

"And surely you did not claw your way back to this realm in order to lecture me," he snapped back. It seemed that death had also failed to cure Xehanort's irritating habit of treating him like a child, even though he had already been of age when turned to a Nobody. And how many more years had passed since then? "For if you have, I can think of better ways to spend your existence, especially if that is what it takes to get you to stop wasting my time."

There was a silence as Xehanort looked him over. While the amusement in his eyes was gone, the expression flat, the dark being at his back made no effort to hide its murderous intent. "Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps you truly do wish to die."

That was not quite where he had wanted the conversation to go. He did not want Xehanort to involve him in the Heartless's plans, but even more importantly, he did not want to be seen as a threat or nuisance… or anything that needed to be rid of. It was a fine line to walk; to not give Xehanort reason to keep him, nor to eliminate him. He was not sure if even he knew how to do that, but he had to keep talking. "No, I do not. But right now it is the only choice I see before me."

It was a good response, as it seemed to pacify the Heartless. Let the creature thim him weak; what did he care? Xehanort blinked, and in a moment the dark semblance of anger returned to thinly veiled amusement as Xehanort said in that low, falsely soothing voice, "But it does not have to be that way, Ienzo. I could spare you, if you help me freely."

Help him freely. He made it sound so easy, as if to mock Zexion's refusal to agree. But even if he was not already wary of whatever Xehanort had to say, there was the matter of the Heartless's motives. Nothing he had seen nor heard so far explained what the Heartless was trying to accomplish by offering him something as simple as his continued life. Whatever Xehanort's motivations, he knew it did not have anything to do with the thanks Xehanort had spoken of before. There was no gratitude for the completely accidental favor Zexion had given him, and it made him even less likely to trust Xehanort.

"A generous offer, especially coming from one like you," he conceded. "But just because you can does not mean you will. What guarantee do I have that you will uphold your part of the bargain?" Which only begged the question of what the bargain was to begin with.

"You do not trust me?" But the words did not show any anger; it seemed his prior question had not caused Xehanort any insult, but he had not thought it would. It was more that he was asking what Xehanort was waiting for him to say. Annoying, to play into the creature's game, but necessary.

"Trusting you is what landed me in this situation in the first place."

Xehanort shrugged, "As I recall, you were as fascinated by the secrets of the heart as I."

"Be that as it may, it has no bearing on the present. I do not trust you any longer, and especially not with my life."

"You call your current existence a life?"

No. No, of course not. Not this cursed half-existence of want and need, where nothing seemed to change and nothing seemed to happen. The only thing that remained a constant was the lack of progress and of course, the ever-present, all-consuming want for something he perhaps already knew was impossible to ever attain. Except even knowing that did not stop the want. Some Nobodies, in a desperate attempt to make that want be something more, might have called it hope. Hope that a heart was still possible, that Kingdom Hearts would be their ultimate salvation.

But… perhaps he had been in this existence long enough to know the truth.

Not that he was about to let Xehanort know any of that though. The Heartless did not need any more ammunition than he already had.

"It is more than you would allow me to have, should I agree to assist you," he finally replied.

And Xehanort just continued to smile, as if he was a silly child who did not understand grown-up affairs. And even if he was willing to grant that Ienzo had been exactly that, he was Ienzo with nine years to exist as a creature of nothing. Nine years was a long time to exist in such a way, nearly half of the lifetime Ienzo had possessed. Except there had been no time to grow up, as he was instead thrust into a life he had not been prepared for. And he had learned to accept it, if only because the alternative was to truly be nothing instead of the embodiment of it.

"Then don't trust me. That is of no detriment to me," Xehanort said. "But you know, nothing you have said means that it will not still be to your advantage to help me."

He frowned, "We seem to be at odds. I see no benefits to myself to get caught up in your lies again."

"I can give you a heart."

The words seemed to come out as a hiss, and for a split-second… the world seemed to stop. Because Xehanort knew, of course, that a heart—not just a heart, but that feeling of completion, the chance to remove the gnawing hole in his existence that seemed to eat away at everything until there was nothing else that mattered; not the past or present or even the future because what was any of that compared to the all-consuming emptiness?—was the only thing that a Nobody would jump at, no questions asked.

Or at least, it should have been.

It was surprisingly easy to fight back the surge of anticipation, the sudden upwelling of desire for the only that he wanted… needed. If it had been anyone else, he would not have had to. But this was Xehanort, and if it was not for Xehanort he would not have lost his heart in the first place. They would not even be in this situation. And Xehanort might have called him bitter, but it was more than that. Having been so close to that man when they were still whole, he was now capable of looking back on those times with clear and unbiased perception. And from that, he knew that the chance Xehanort would keep his promise was negligible at best, while the odds of betrayal were… well.

"It is a generous offer, I know," he said finally, the words quiet. "But there is nothing to keep you from going back on your promise." Again. "What advantage would you have to keep your word and do that for me?"

"What disadvantage would it pose?"

He had always... well, he could not hate anymore, but it had always frustrated him when Xehanort did that. Justification through the lack of a purpose. It was completely ridiculous. "Switching the words around does not make it an appropriate answer. I still see no reason to cooperate."

"You will." Zexion recognized this, and if he'd had a heart it would have sunk. The conversation was over. Xehanort had no interest in pushing this any further, simply because he did not need to. After all, Zexion would eventually have to give in—they both knew this, considering how Xehanort had been in complete and utter control of this situation from the very beginning. Any amusement Xehanort might have had was now gone; the Heartless had run out of patience and had no interest in prolonging the conversation. Zexion had failed to accomplish what he had needed to do, and now it was too late. There would be no further manipulation through words. Perhaps he had lost from the very beginning, especially when the man knew all of his tricks already. "Eventually, you will concede this."

But right now, all he wanted to do was deny it. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out, not even when Xehanort reached out to summon the dark corridor. And then all he could do was allow himself to be pulled through, still unable to speak as he was dragged to Kingdom Hearts knew where.

End Notes:

A note on updating. I have no set updating schedule, but mostly plan on updating whenever I finish a chapter. As of now I have three more chapters already written, but I would prefer to keep them as a buffer in case my writing slows down, as it tends to do over the summer. So far each chapter has been taking me about two to three weeks to finish, and I hope I can keep with that schedule. But I'm not going to promise anything at this point.

Upcoming Chapter Excerpt:

They looked at each other. He refused to blink, or to flinch back from the emptiness in those dark blue eyes, even though they were almost… disturbing. In a way he wasn't sure how to describe. "Why should I trust you, after you tried to kill me?"

"What other choice do you have?" was the cool reply.

"That isn't enough."

"Interesting. Explain it to me, Riku. What exactly is it about that reason that is insufficient to convince you that your options are restricted to this single one?"