Author: Akane Arihyoshi

Disclaimer: If you think I own this, then I bet you also think that Larxene is cuddly. I bet you probably think that Saix is a cat, that Xemnas wears pink bows in his hair, and that Roxas is actually quite cheerful. You probably think that Luxord can't play poker, that Xaldin has a fear of needles, and that Xigbar is afraid of heights. You're most likely convinced that Lexaeus is talkative, that Demyx is emo, and that Zexion can't read. Most likely you believe that Axel absolutely adores water, and goes swimming every day. You might think that Marluxia is a girl.

Except, you might be right on that last one.


Zexion opened the door to his room, falling on his bed without even removing his clothing. He was exhausted. As uncomfortable as it was, his body stayed in the exact same position it had landed in, unwilling to move.

The mission had been terrible. This was an example of why Zexion normally refused to battle. The exercise itself exhibited a disregard for life. Zexion thought back to town he had rescued from the heartless.

It was funny, he thought idly, how much a human's emotions could change in the course of an hour. When Zexion had arrived in the small village, everyone, from the bravest man to the smallest child, had been fearful of him. They saw his black cloak, saw his expressionless face, and immediately saw him for what he was. A nobody. His very existence (or lack thereof) was a sin in the eyes of these people.

Then he had saved their very lives.

Irony had come into play, and now these people owed their lives to the very man they had previously despised. Suddenly there was an excitement running through the air, and Zexion found that the hateful glares that had once been directed at him had turned to smiles of gratitude. Men who had rushed their families indoors at the sight of him suddenly came up and shook his hand. People who had pulled out weapons in a silent threat on his entrance to the village came and declared him a hero.

Zexion didn't know the exact moment she arrived. He didn't know she was there until she pushed through the crowd that Zexion was calmly fending off to stand in front of him. Her presence astonished him so much that he ceased all movement.

He recognized her as one of the children of the village, one of the children who had retreated to his behind their mothers in fear. Even now, she looked slightly distrusting, but there was a smile on her face. The girl seemed to examine Zexion for a moment, and then she tugged on the sleeve of his cloak, whispering a small 'thank you'.

It was her he thought of now, as he waited for the peace of sleep to befall him. She reminded him so much of himself, in a way. Or, no, that wasn't the way to describe it. She didn't remind him of himself, with her happy smile and her happiness. As far as Zexion was concerned, he had never felt an actual emotion in his entire time as a nobody. Nobodies weren't supposed to feel. They had no hearts to feel with. A smile was just a convenient façade to hide behind. That girl's smile was genuine and innocent. It wasn't himself he was reminded of.

It was Ienzo.

Zexion felt himself exhale in a sigh. There was no reason that the little child should have reminded him of his somebody. But…there was. Her innocence, her joy…just like Ienzo had been, long ago. Zexion gave up and allowed the memories to overwhelm him, forgetting all thoughts of sleep.

-.:.-.:.-.:.-.:.-.:.-.:.-.:.-

Ienzo. The curious child. For years he had been the youngest in his group of friends. By the time he had turned fourteen, he was completely used to spending his time with adults, some who were much older than him. At first, he was like the younger brother of the entire group. Part of the group, yet painfully close to being left behind by the face pace. Over time, he had come to exceedtheir expectations, and they had learned to respect him. Ienzo, like the rest, was an orphan, and the truth of it was that they were each others' family.

Xehanort, Braig, Dilan, Even, and Elaeus. All of them in their thirties, or late twenties, and yet his friends. Perhaps they would never have even met, had they not had a common interest in science and general knowledge.

Then they met Ansem the Wise. He taught them all about his studies on the human heart, or, rather, on the spirit that the heart represented. Under him they learned so much. He called them his apprentices, even young Ienzo. How proud the boy was, when he heard himself called that for the first time. He was even prouder when he was recognized as such by the townspeople. He was someone to be respected, finally, no longer the orphaned boy who refused to socialize with those his own age. People looked up to him.

He owed Ansem so much for this. He figured he also owed his friends, without them, none of this could have happened.

So the sixteen year old Ienzo didn't argue when Xehanort came up with that fateful idea. They had all learned so much about the heartless, about the human heart and spirit, and about nobodies, in the two years they had spent there. Xehanort insisted that the only way to receive accurate data was to become heartless themselves. He opened a portal of darkness, and, before stepping through it, told them that they would go down in history for this, that Ansem would be proud of their sacrifice. He told them that by this act, by this huge sacrifice, they would be part of the greatest experiment in history. And then he was gone.

Braig was the first of the others to go. It only took him a second to declare that he had never had much of anything to look forward to in that life anyway. He had always been the most rash of the group. Braig stepped forward, ruffling Ienzo's hair affectionately, before stepping into the darkness. Dilan went next, without a word, seconds after Braig had gone. The remaining three stood silent for a few minutes.

Even looked up from the spot he had been staring at on the floor. "I don't see what choice we have, really," he said sadly. Ienzo stood in disbelief. Even had always been the most intelligent of all of Ansem's apprentices. Surely he, of all people, knew the consequences of such an action. Ienzo wasn't stupid, he knew that Ansem would never forgive them for this. By doing this, they would exile themselves from this place forever. He opened his mouth to protest, by Even shook his head, silencing him. "Don't," he commanded. "It will just make it worse."

And he was gone. Only Elaeus and Ienzo were left. The two youngest apprentices.

Elaeus opened his mouth to speak, which surprised Ienzo. He had only ever heard Elaeus speak once. "The choice has been made for us, now."

Ienzo stared at him. "No, no it hasn't. It can't have been."

Elaeus chuckled. "Don't fool yourself, kid. They're the closest thing we have to family. Are you telling me you can live without them?" he asked, "Because I sure can't."

Ienzo felt a tear run down his cheek. "No…" he whispered. Elaeus looked sympathetic.

"Maybe this willbe the greatest experiment of our lives," Elaeus said wistfully. He looked at the darkness apprehensively. "We can only hope. In the end, not all choices are the right choices, I guess, but the outcome of a bad choice can sometimes be just as good as it would have been if the better choice was made. It just takes a little more time."

Elaeus stepped towards the darkness, stopping in front of it. "Sometimes…the best design is done by damage, right Ienzo?" he said thoughtfully, turning back to look at him. "It's your choice. It's always your choice. But I wonder…could you live without your family?"

Ienzo sobbed as Elaeus left. He was truly alone, and it felt terrible. He wondered if he was strong enough to leave, to just turn back and tell Ansem what had happened. He knew he wasn't, but for a moment, just for a moment, he pretended he was. He rose from where he had fallen to his knees in grief, and turned to head back, but he just stood there, looking back at his old home. He stared at it, burning the image in his mind. He knew he would never come back. He wondered if he would ever even remember his time here. He hoped he would. With all his heart, he hoped he would.

He put his hand over his chest and felt his beating heart. It was beating faster than usual, presumably from his horror and fear. He savored the feeling. His last memory of being alive. His last memory of really, truly, having a heart. Ienzo dried his eyes and turned to look at the portal of darkness.

A few minutes passed, and then Ienzo heard his name being called. He turned in shock to see Ansem himself, walking towards him. In horror, he watched as Ansem, his guide and his friend, realized what had happened.

"Ienzo! No! Don't do this, you have no idea what this will do to you!" Ansem shouted, running full out now in his attempt to stop the boy. Ienzo felt a fresh wave of tears fall down his face.

"They're gone!" he yelled, furious. Furious at himself for letting them go, furious at Ansem for not being there to stop them. Furious at the entire universe for leaving him alone like this.

Ansem had reached him now. "No, don't do this…please, no…"

Ienzo laughed hysterically. "I don't have a choice! They were my family. My family is where my loyalties are. I suppose in any other way, our loyalty to each other would be admirable. Now look where it's getting us? Look where we're going now. Where I'm going. They're already gone. Every last one of them.

"We were always there for each other, you know? Always, no exceptions. Who am I to change that? Who am I to stay behind? Me especially! Always tagging along behind them, a child in a group of intelligent adults. Yet, I was always welcome with them. They deserve my loyalty. Even if this is their stupidest mistake yet, even if I know that by doing this, I'm ruining my own life.

"It stopped being my choice when Xehanort left through the darkness he created. I feel terrible for doing this to you, Ansem. I respect too much to want to hurt you, but don't you see? This was the only way. Always the only way."

Ienzo turned his back to Ansem. Walking slowly to the darkness, he smiled suddenly. "I was never strong enough to be by myself. In the end, maybe that isn't a weakness. At least, that's what I'd like to think."

Then he was gone.


Author's Note: I'm sorry for writing another angsty fic...but I was wondering about this. How is it that Ienzo, who is about ten years younger than anyone else in the original six, came to be Ansem's apprentice? And then I thought about why the people in the original six were numbered the way they were. I don't think it was age, because Vexen seems like the oldest. So I figured that it must have been in the order that they gave up their lives. Xehanort first, the rash Braig, then Dilan, who had nothing better to do, then Even because in the end, he knew he had no choice, then Elaeus due to strong loyalty to everyone. But I also wondered how Ansem would have found out about their betrayal. So I figured that, since Ienzo would have been the last to go, he must have doubted it, and Ansem came in time to see him go, and Ienzo explained it all to him and apologized profusely, because in the end, they really had no choice after Xehanort.

Elaeus's speech is my way of giving him a big role in something. I just got kinda mad that he was the least known Organization member. In my past couple stories, I've tried to give him a part, and I've tried to make it a nice part. Plus, he seems like the only guy in the original six who would say something like that. Like, sweet, but at the same time totally serious and deep. I think the people that portray him as being this monster are totally wrong. He's always silent, and so I always wonder what he'd be thinking about. I guess he's just a lot smarter than most people assume he is. How else would he have gotten to be Ansem the Wise's apprentice?

I'm ranting now...I've got about five more pages worth of this rant, so I'll spare you. If you actually want to hear my opinion on this, leave a review saying so, but if not, just review anyway saying what you thought about this fic.

Review, please. I work hard on my stories, and I'd like to see them appreciated.

Akane