PLEASE NOTE: This story is already complete. There are 6 chapters and I will be getting them all posted here over the next few days after I get all the formatting fixed. So--just don't make the mistake of thinking "Holy crap she updates super-fast!" because I don't. It was finished before being posted. Got it? We cool? We're cool. Onward!

Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts. I do, however, own a Roxas action figure, which brandishes ice cream at me regularly.

Warnings: Language, violence, boy/boy situations (up to and including sex), spoilers for KH, KH2 and probably CoM as well.

Pairings: Axel/Roxas, with some Riku/Roxas that is really Riku/Sora, and also some actual Riku/Sora. Par for the course.

Casey would like you to note: I think this might be substantial proof that Roxas really is my favorite character. Watch as I cease attempting to deny it.

I'm aware that some of this doesn't line up with canon, particularly the parts revealed by Final Mix. I made this discovery after the fic was in progress and I already had the whole thing worked out. It concerned me for a while, but ultimately I decided to stick with the story as I originally envisioned it. Changing it would have compromised the integrity of the story, and that should become clear once you've read it. It just wouldn't have been the same. So—please forgive my willful ignorance.

"...I say to you that she loves you more truly than me; for you she loves and knows; but in me she loves only a shadow and a thought: a hope of glory and great deeds, and lands far beyond."

J.R.R. Tolkien


He came into existence, despite the circumstances, in much the same way as any other human being in the universe did: naked and screaming.

Naked, mostly because when the golden specks of matter that had been floating in the air like so many dust motes a moment before converged back onto themselves to reform into something approaching the mold they had been in previously, they did not consider trivialities such as clothing. Creating a full and complete being out of nothing was difficult and energy-consuming enough without attending to fabric vanities in addition to building vast and complex cellular structures, carefully balanced organ systems, neuropathways and taste buds.

Screaming, mostly, because existence hurt. Screaming because in one uncharted second one hundred trillion cells started moving and splitting and dying, six hundred and forty muscles flexed and relaxed, twenty-one internal organs began working and one hundred billion nerve receptors came to life and shot one hundred billion messages to a newly-formed brain, which scrambled to process this and to process just exactly what feeling was and what was hot as opposed to cold and furthermore why it and the rest of the body it occupied was there, when a second ago it hadn't been.

His first thought was: What the fuck?

His second thought was longer and more complicated and involved questioning his understanding of language, his sense of self, and knowledge of the difference between a word and an epithet, and his knowledge of the spelling and pronunciation of several of the latter.

Something made him think that he hadn't learned all of this on his own, and his third thought was even longer and more complicated and involved wondering who he was, what he was, where he was and how he'd gotten there, and why he existed when he hadn't been anything mere seconds before now.

The only response he had for himself for each of these questions was: I don't know.

The first emotion he felt was fear.

Fear, he decided, was not very pleasant. It coiled in his stomach and snaked tendrils up his spine to wrap around his throat until he felt very much like he wanted to just remain here, curled up tightly around himself on whatever cold, hard surface he had been inexplicably born onto. And yet, at the same time, the fear felt strangely dull. Almost like he wasn't fully connected with it.

This was the first of many things he would yet discover that were decidedly Wrong.

He opened his eyes for the first time to a world that shifted and blurred. He watched it carefully, heavy lidded as it righted itself and consolidated into a single image. He blinked slowly, twice, and listened cautiously to the space around him, silent with the shifting of air now that the screaming was gone. He drew in a breath and felt his lungs adjusting to the steady pull and release of oxygen. He swallowed the soreness from his throat and shifted his tongue forward to wet his lips.

He thought this was the first time he had done any of this, and yet it wasn't strange. He thought he knew the names and ideas for all of these things, but how he knew them escaped him. He just did. He just was.

He decided this: that whatever the reason, he was very much living, and cold on a rough stone floor and seeing and hearing and breathing the world around him, and therefore he was.

The fear retreated after a moment, back into the deep pit of his stomach and coiled in the darkness to wait.

He tried moving, next. He started by sliding his hands beneath the surface under his cheek, then bent both his elbows to push himself up. Muscles trembled and ached from having never been used before, and yet he could tell they were already developed and strong. He could feel it, could see it in the way they shifted and flexed under his skin.

He held himself there, hands planted on the ground and arms straight and locked, hovering over the floor and staring down at his fingers, until he stopped shaking. And once he had, he looked up.

He was lying at the center of what looked like a shallow crater in a wide, circular floor of reddish-brown rock. Looming before and over and completely enveloping the space stretching feet upon feet above him were twisting and bulging copper pipes, curling around stone and themselves and arching up into something shaped like... like...

And in the center of the behemoth structure was an opening, some kind of doorway, something gigantic and looming and shifting chaotically like smoke and oil over the surface in red and green and blue. Some kind of...


He sat up, legs curled beneath him and shaking. He could feel it, bone-deep and certain--the things behind that doorway. He could feel them moving and shuffling and laughing softly in the darkness. He could feel the darkness itself, soft as a caress, like a whisper.

This is where you belong.

His legs wavered when he stumbled to his feet, knees trembling and wanting to buckle beneath him, the feel of his own weight dragging him back down to the blown-out floor. He struggled with it, straightening, forcing his bones and muscles to strengthen and hold him upright, to obey his commands, dammit. And when they did, and when he was standing solidly on both feet, he stumbled and scrambled away, tripping and skidding on the uneven surface, away from that door and the shifting colors and the things beyond it and the whispers for him to come. Come through, come join us, come fall with us...

But something, something he knew without knowing how, told him to get far, far away from the door and never come back.

For the first day, he wandered aimlessly.

He was inside some kind of large structure, and how large he couldn't deduce because no matter whether he went up or down or left or right it seemed to continue on forever and ever with no way to exit. He started to think that maybe this building, whatever it was, was in fact the entirety of the universe.

There was a ragged and dusty and off-kilter bit of fabric hanging from a pedestal he passed by soon after escaping the room with the strange warping door. He tugged it down and shook it until it wasn't gritty anymore, then wrapped it around his shoulders. It was rather thin and rough and only hung down to his knees, but it was better than nothing at all. It covered the important parts and took the edge off the cold that this place seemed to be permeated with.

Sometimes while he walked he would hear voices, or commotions, or the footsteps of people aside from himself. When this happened, he would double back the way he had come until the rooms and stairs and corridors surrounding him were silent again.

Sometimes while he walked he would find these... things. He knew instinctively that they were not like him, and not like the people he heard occasionally in the other rooms and stairs and corridors. The things were strange and misshapen versions of people, some were bent and withered and some were gigantic and round, and some flew and some floated and all of them had that mark on them--that mark shaped like the doorway he'd run from. All of them felt the same, like the things he'd felt behind that doorway.

He knew what they were called. He knew it but he couldn't find the word, couldn't wrap his mouth around the sound.

He would look at them, and they would stop. He would say, "Go away," and they would slink or stumble or stomp or float off to some other room, some other place, to do whatever it was that strange misshapen things did in a place like this.

Sometimes while he walked he would wonder why. If there was some purpose for him being here or if he would just continue existing like this, skittering around in a strange, gigantic building by himself, not really knowing why or what to do next. He thought that there ought to be some reason for his sudden existence, but there was no one to explain it to him, and anything prior to that moment when he stopped being Nothing and became Something was a long grayish blank in his attempted memory. Like a line that had been erased until it smeared.

Sometimes while he walked he would feel his stomach tightening, but it wasn't because of the fear. Although that was still curled somewhere behind it and still present, though quiet, the tightening was something else. The more he walked, the tighter it became, and eventually it was joined by gurgling and grumbling.

He couldn't identify this, although it was becoming distinctly uncomfortable and irritating, at least until he stepped into a corridor and smelled something in the air. Something pleasant and warm that made the growling louder.

Food, his brain supplied.

The door he followed the scent to was ajar, and beyond it was a small room with a small table and a few chairs pulled out in skewed positions around it. On the table were plates and bowls and dishes, most of them containing a medley of unfinished food items. Someone, or several someones, rather, had been enjoying dinner here--and not too long ago, as one of the bowls was still steaming.

He backed out into the hall cautiously and looked up and down. It was deserted, but somewhere at the far end he could hear the echoes of something. Some sort of commotion, the sort he usually turned and hurried away from. Maybe the people had gone down there... maybe it had something to do with those things.

He slipped back into the room and pulled the door until it was nearly shut, then surveyed his surroundings. There was another door to his left, opening into a small kitchen, and within that a third door, closed. Alternate escape route, possibly.

He wondered where he'd learned to think that way.

The first thing he ate was a half-full bowl of some kind of soup, still hot and thick and absolutely delicious. He ate a small roll, split and buttered, after that, then started on the vegetables still remaining on the plate in front of him. Then took a long drink from a cold glass of water.

Eating, he decided, was fantastic. A bit too much so, because he realized that there were voices approaching down the hallway, and he hadn't heard them in time to escape.

He darted from the chair he'd picked at random to fall into and raced into the kitchen, skidding to a halt to quietly open the third door and slip past it, pulling it shut behind him. The room was dark and shadowy, lit only by the strip of light underneath the door, but after a moment he could make out the shapes around him.

It was a pantry, rows of shelves holding cans and boxes and some lumpy bags, larger burlap sacks piled on the floor and in the back was a stack of wooden crates. And just beside them, on the wall and embedded in the stone, was a large square of slitted metal. Some kind of grate; a covering, maybe, for the building's ventilation.

When the voices arrived in the room behind him he hurried over to it, pried the cover open and slipped inside.

The space was small and dark, dusty from years of life and probably crawling with all kinds of unpleasant things, but he didn't think about that. He listened to the voices coming from the dining room while he crawled along, echoing through another grate that opened to the dining room, light falling through it in long strips, and down the small tunnel into his ears.

"I can't believe it! Right in the middle of dinner!"

"Stop complaining."

"He's right, you know, if we don't go out and fight them they'll take over the place again."

"But there's so damn many and--hey! Who ate my food?"

"You did, probably."

"Nuh-uh, I still had almost all my soup left! And you know I don't eat my vegetables!"

"Shut up, Yuffie."

"But someone ate my food! While we were out fighting!"

"Calm down, I'm sure you just forgot. And there's plenty more, so don't worry about it."


"Can it."


He didn't hear whether the female voice was able to argue her case any further, as he found a vent leading to an adjoining corridor and slipped through it, dusting grit and spiders off of his hair and bit of fabric before continuing with his wandering.

He curled up in a small closet that night, when his eyes didn't want to stay open anymore, and snuggled into a nest of old cloaks or something that had fallen onto the ground. They smelled like dust and mothballs and time, but he was too tired to care.

He slept. And in his sleep he would see things and hear and feel things that hadn't been there before. They would fade in and out in a steady beat, rhythmically teasing him with glimpses of something incomplete. A lock of red hair. A hand. The edge of a breath. A boy's voice around a half-formed word. A woman humming. A brush against his shoulder. An expanse of blue. The smell of salt. The brief taste of something he had no concept to relate to. A yellow star.

On the second day, he mapped.

He explored the ventilation shaft a bit further, finding the quickest and least spider-laden route between his closet and the vents leading into the pantry and the dining room. Survival required food, and therefore if he wanted to continue to exist, he would need access to sustenance. The people who walked through the Castle (it was probably a castle, he had decided, and he needed to call it something) had food, and though it probably wasn't very fair to take it from them--he knew there was a word for that, too, but it escaped him--he needed it. And so he would, anyway.

He thought that maybe in exchange he would try to tell the things to not bother the people. Although there were a lot of them, and he wasn't entirely sure they were capable of listening to instructions more complex than "Go away."

He ripped a bit of fabric off the edge of his makeshift cloak and tied it to the doorknob of his closet as a marker, then explored some of the stairways and corridors nearby so he was certain of where his 'home' was. He wandered until he was tired and then crawled back into the vents and waited for the people to leave their dining room so he could sneak into the kitchen for something to eat. The Female Voice was still complaining about how her dinner had vanished the night before. The other voices were still not listening. He watched their feet through the slits in the dining room vent, light shining in bars across his face.

On the third day, he found the room.

It was two flights of stairs up and three hallways to the left from the corridor his closet was in. It was a corner room, with windows that reached to the high ceiling and thick red carpet on the floor, warm under his feet. There was a large, elegant four-poster bed with curtains hanging around the sides, the same red as the carpet and trailing on the ground. There was a desk, with paper and a quill pen still scattered across it, and an armoire hanging open but empty, and a large square mirror on the wall to one side, next to a door. There was a small, plush chair near the bed, and over and under and scattered around this chair were some clothes. Small clothes, not big enough, certainly, for the people who lived in the Castle. Small enough, maybe, for himself.

He closed the door behind him and let his bit of fabric fall away and hurried over to try them on. They certainly had to be more comfortable than keeping a rag wrapped around himself all day long. There were shoes, too, and warm stockings to keep his feet away from the freezing cold floors.

He wondered, while pulling on pants that were a bit too big, but not too badly so, and socks and shoes, if maybe this room was meant for him, somehow. As he'd been thinking before, about his purpose for existing and being here. Maybe he was supposed to find this room, for some reason. Maybe this was the beginning of Why.

He lifted the shirt to pull it on, and stopped.

He held it closer to his face. He breathed in deeply. That... that smell...

He knew it.

Pausing, he drew away for a moment and fingered the yellow fabric. Yellow.

Something flitted across his mind's eye and vanished. He scowled and grit his teeth--he knew it, dammit!--and brought the shirt close again, breathing in and out. Deeply, inhaling the smell, and the coil of fear in the pit of his stomach retreated until it vanished in a small puff of nothing.

The second emotion he felt was something he couldn't identify. It was warm and comforting, it wrapped around him like the sunlight streaming through the windows, it made him relax and want to crawl onto the giant bed and lie there cradled within it. And--

That something flickered through his mind again and he caught it, tugging while it struggled and kicked and tried to escape, tried to pull it forward so he could see. Things flashed past him too fast to grasp or process, the ideas of things, warmth and silver and a hand... a hand...

The memory squirmed away from him, skittering back into the gray nothing and vanishing, leaving him only with a yellow shirt and the dull feeling the scent had given him. And he was sure, in that moment, that something was very Wrong.

He pulled the shirt on and ran his hands down his sides, hugging the fabric against himself as though he could feel that place again, the deep warm comfort, but it only wavered on the edge of his perception. He could feel his body operating itself beneath his skin, a feeling he'd grown accustomed to since he began to exist. His stomach was happily processing the food he'd eaten an hour before. Up a little further his ribs were shifting while his lungs pushed air in and out. Up a little further under his chest his--


Nothing. There was nothing, there was nothing and there should be something, there should be a beat and a pulse, there should be a--

There should be a--


Heart. No heart. There was nothing, a great hollow void under his hand, under his skin, in the small cavity in his chest where it ought to be. It was empty. Nothing.


No. Nonononono, that wasn't right--couldn't be right, Heartless were those things, the misshapen lumps of darkness that slithered and crawled and attacked without impunity anything and everything that had a heart to rip it out and devour it. He wasn't that. He'd been in the Castle, walked down the halls, been close enough to the people there that he could have attacked them, had he wanted to, but he always stayed away. He hid and he watched and the only thing he wanted to devour was the soup that the Other Female Voice made. Heartless didn't eat anything but hearts. Right? did he know all of this, dammit? How? How could he know without knowing and how did he get here and how the hell could anyone or anything exist and go on living without a HEART?

The third emotion he felt was anger, and he knew it like he knew the scent on his shirt.

His hands balled into fists and slammed down on the chair before him, raising dust motes and the lingering smell of the room's former owner, though he was pretty sure that whoever it was wasn't coming back. He was on his knees on the floor without knowing it and slamming his knuckles into the carpet, plush but unyielding and bruising and he didn't care.

"What the hell is going on?" He screamed the words without really hearing them, without really caring if someone else were to hear them and discover him. "Why? Why am I here? WHY AM I HERE?"

His voice sounded Wrong in his ears.

On the fourth day he woke up on the floor of the same room. He vaguely remembered having a one-sided fistfight with the carpet that had lasted until he was sore and bruised and exhausted. His dreams had been full of yellow stars and small white stars and stars that streaked through blackness and fell and fell and fell until they were out of sight, and stars that just... vanished. When he pushed himself up he could feel the texture the carpet had imprinted on his cheek.

That scent was still on his clothes, and in the room all around him, but it was cloying and teasing and danced over his senses without giving him any answers. He decided to leave the room and never come back.

On the way out, he saw the mirror.

He only stared at himself for a moment, covered now in the familiar-smelling and slightly-too-big clothes in blue and yellow. He leaned closer and examined the lines of his face. The color of his eyes. He reached up and ran his fingers through his hair and felt the way the blond locks spiked up and to the side, and in every direction otherwise. He stared at his mouth and the way it was flat and straight and displeased.

It was Wrong. All of it, everything about himself was just Wrong and he didn't know why.

He picked up the chair and threw it against the mirror and watched the shards of it rain down over the carpet in a thousand reflections of himself. He closed the door behind him when he left.

On the fifth day he found the platform.

It was wide and flat and made of brick, and the wind swept across it in chilly gusts. Standing on it, he could feel sunlight on his shoulders for the first time, breathe untainted air and as he looked out, past the edge and across, he could see the spread of blue sky and the horizon, the curves of hills and the haze of buildings somewhere far in the distance.

He stood there for a while, a step or two from the platform's edge, arms limp at his sides, and stared until the sky began to pink with sunset.

There were no steps, no ladder, nothing leading down aside from a sheer drop over the side into free air. Somewhere hundreds of feet below he thought he saw the tops of trees or bushes, something like ground, but he knew that if he were to attempt to jump that his already brief life would come to a messy end.

He looked back up and out at the horizon, straining to see further and wondering just how far it went. What else might be out there, past that hill or that cloud, what might exist in the universe outside the Castle.

The fourth emotion he felt made his eyes prickle and his throat swell, but somehow he knew that he couldn't express it.

That night he waited in the vents until the lights in the dining room turned out and the people's voices faded away into the distance. He waited until his eyes and his mind and his stomach told him that it was night, that it was late, and that he wanted to sleep soon. When he couldn't bear the tightness in his belly any longer, he carefully pushed the vent cover open.

A hand fell on his wrist and wrapped around it, tightly.

Distantly, behind the sound of his own shriek and the sound of his captor's growl, he was aware that this was the first time he'd been touched.

"You're the one who's been stealing our food," the person outside the vent said, and he recognized it as the Male Voice, the one that was always deep and short and curt. "Come on out. You're Maleficent's little brat, right? Figured you'd be miles from here by now."

"Let me go!" He pushed against the side of the shaft, propped one foot against it, leverage to tug his hand back. And his free hand was reaching out, curling around empty air, grasping for something that just--wouldn't appear and--

His voice made the man pause. "Wait, you're not--"

"Let me GO!" he shrieked again, tugging with all his might, but the hand pulled him forward and into the frame of the vent, face to face with the man beyond.

The man was frowning, he noted, not scowling in anger. The man had a scar on his face and lanky hair around his ears. The man opened his mouth and his eyes were confused, and his grip loosened slightly, and he said, "S--"

But he didn't hear whatever word would have come, because he kicked the man squarely through the vent and scrambled away, ignoring the yells that followed him. The man was too big to crawl after him, at least not quickly, and the man didn't know the vents the way that he did.

When he slept that night, he dreamed about red wings scrawled on leather, and three hands in a pile atop each other, and about falling. Falling... and falling...

On the sixth day, he was hungry.

He wedged himself behind a pillar in one of the large ballrooms the Castle had several of, hugging his knees against his chest and fighting down the pulling and gurgling in his stomach. He didn't dare try to return to the kitchen; the man with the long hair and the serious eyes would probably be waiting for him to come back, waiting to capture him and drag him into the light and--

Somehow, he knew that the man would know.

He didn't dare go back, but he thought about ways that he might sneak back in. The Heartless seemed to listen to him, maybe he could send some of the weaker ones to keep the people busy long enough that he could slip into the pantry and sneak enough food out to last him for a while, hide it in his closet and maybe do the same later, when it ran out. He wouldn't get to eat the Other Female Voice's soup anymore, which was too bad--it was really, really good--but it would work, for a while.

Although, he'd heard them talking the night before, while he was crouched in the vents and waiting, about leaving. Something about there just being too many Heartless. Something about a small town nearby where they could settle in, clear it out and make it safe for others to come and then whittle away at the Castle when they had time.

He wondered what would happen if they left. How he'd find food. If there would be any food. If he'd be able to follow them.

He wondered if maybe it wouldn't be better to show himself. To give up and go to them and try to say something. Try to explain himself, maybe. He didn't think they'd hate him, even though he'd been taking their food. He wondered if they'd hate him when they found out he didn't have a heart.

But the people--they understood the world. They knew how to live in it. They knew how to cook food and eat at tables, they slept in beds and used closets for hanging coats. They walked down hallways instead of sneaking through vents. They might even know something about the Why of all of this.

And that soup was really, really good.

He wavered on the edge of deciding. He leaned forward and pillowed his head on his knees, staring down at his borrowed shoes and the floor beneath them. He felt like...

He felt like there was a path before him. Like he was standing at a place where the road split, where he had to take one route or the other and whichever he did, whatever way he went, he would never be able to return to that junction and change his mind. It was torturous, looking from one to the other, staring at the haze they disappeared into, not knowing what might be at the end of either of them. Knowing that if he didn't decide, that sooner or later one or both would vanish and all opportunity would be gone.

He could not be expected to understand, being only six days old, that this was what it meant to be human.

And sitting there behind the pillar, unable to decide or know why he had to, teeth grit and hands tugging at his shins, was when he heard the sound. A twist and a warp like metal bending, a thick pop and then a retreat. A feeling like goosebumps crawling across his arms.

"Ugh, man. What happened to this place?"

The voice came so suddenly that he nearly jumped and cried out, but he'd been wrapped up in himself so tightly that he didn't move or make a sound. There had been no footsteps, no sound of approach, but the voice came from behind him in rough and easy tones, and as the skin prickled on the back of his neck he knew there was more than one.

"I guess hordes of crawling darkness will do that, right?" The second voice was higher, more amused with itself, almost melodic. It chuckled.

The first voice joined in the laugh, more of a rough guffaw. "Well, whatever. Where's the new guy?"

"Um... wait, wait." The second voice was followed by a shuffle, rustle of fabric and then the crackle of paper. "'Hollow Bastion,' that's what it says. And these are the coordinates the Superior wrote down. Which is right here." Tap of a foot against the floor. "I think. Isn't it?"

Sound of shrugging fabric, followed by the first voice. "Looks right to me."

Behind the pillar, he tensed and waited. The people who had appeared suddenly, after that strange noise--they weren't like the Castle's people. In fact, he could almost feel it when he licked his lips and tasted the air... they were Wrong.

They were Wrong in the same way that he was Wrong.

"So... I guess we look for him?"

The first voice made a noise of derision. "What, do we wander around calling, 'Here, nobody nobody nobody!' This place is huge."

Silence for a moment, then the second voice coughed a laugh. "Oh, I get it! Like a kitty."

The first voice sighed in resignation. "Yes, Demyx, like a kitty." The first voice paused, and its owner took a few steps, and when it spoke again it was slightly closer. He curled up tighter around himself. "Well, you know, the Superior is pretty accurate. He's probably around here somewhere. Come on."

For a moment, in the ballroom beyond the pillar, there were a series of strange noises. First a shuffling, and then some rapid whispers, and the sound of fabric moving as though wide gestures were being made. And then the second voice rose with an, "Ooooooh, okay," of agreement, and then the sound of footsteps leading away.

He only relaxed when it had been silent for several minutes and he was pretty sure the two voices had left and gone to find whoever it was they were looking for. He wondered who it was. Who they were. What the hell they had been talking about. He rubbed a hand through the spikes against his forehead.

"S'up, kid?"

And he had never, ever jumped that high in his (very brief) life.

Dimly, he was aware that his back was against the wall and he was pressing against it quite insistently, as though if he did so hard enough he would sink into the stone and escape. And his hand was at his side again, reaching and clasping at the air and he knew, he knew that something was supposed to be there for him to curl his fingers around. Something he could use to defend himself.

"Hey, hey!" The figure in black at his side waved its hands in supplication, reaching up to push back the deep hood hiding its face. "Cool it. We're not gonna hurt you."

He had time to take in the eyepatch, the lined face and the streaks of gray hair before the second voice popped up at his side.

"Hi!" The second person's hood was already drawn back, and the guy had the most insane hair he had ever seen (which was admittedly not saying much), but was grinning and waving one hand. "Oh man, Xig, he's tiny."

He made a soft sound in his throat, something between fear and defeat, looking back and forth between the two and noting that they were each taking up all the space between the pillar and the wall, effectively locking him in.

In his stomach, the fear snapped at him, but stayed put.

"Anyhow," the one with the crazy hair said, still grinning as though this would make him seem harmless, "hi there, I'm Demyx. And that guy is Xigbar." He made a gesture towards the one with the eyepatch, who nodded and held out a hand as though to shake, which went ignored. "So... what's your name?"

He swallowed, rubbing sweaty palms against the wall behind him. His name was-- "I..."

But Demyx was already waving this away. "That's okay, never mind. No one remembers at first."

He looked back and forth between them, noting the relaxed postures and friendly expressions, like they didn't expect him to be able to escape, even if he wanted to. He closed his gaping mouth and scowled. His name was-- "What do you want?"

Xigbar shrugged, so he looked at him first. "We came to pick you up."

"Took six days to find you," Demyx added, nodding. "Sorry about the wait, but the Superior--"

"Don't worry about that." Xigbar waved a hand in dismissal, gesturing more to Demyx, who looked confused for a moment before his eyes widened and he nodded in understanding. "They'll explain everything later. What's important is, we have food."

"You're hungry, right? That's how we found you back here."

"And you probably don't want to stay in this funky old place forever, right?"

His stomach chose this moment to growl and betray him.

He looked back and forth again. These two were Wrong, he knew that. He could feel it, almost like a kinship although the fear in his gut still told him to be wary. They didn't expect him to know his name. They didn't expect him to understand anything but maybe they could explain it later.

But most importantly, they had known, somehow, that he was going to be here.

"Do you..." He turned again from one to the other, noting again how casual they were and he thought, cautiously, that maybe they really were just being friendly. "Do either of you know... Why?"

"Oh, that's a tough one." Xigbar intoned, but he nodded as though he knew what the question meant.

Demyx tapped his chin. "Well, I think some of us might have an idea. But that's better than nothing, right?"

He swallowed hard and moved a little bit away from the wall. He opened his mouth. His name was-- "My name is..." he said slowly, staring down at his right hand, still curled around the air that wouldn't solidify and turn to metal against his palm. "S--"

His mouth tried to form around the word, but it wouldn't come.

"Don't worry about it, kid."

"It'll come to you sooner or later." Demyx grinned again and motioned for him to follow him out from behind the pillar. That sound was forming again, the slow warp and when he stepped out into the ballroom there was a ring of darkness standing free in the middle, ink-black depths swirling away into nothing.

"Through there?"

Demyx nodded cheerfully. "Yeah, it's totally creepy at first, but you get used to it." He held out one arm, almost dramatically, gesturing for him to go first.

He swallowed and squared his shoulders, and thought that this was the closest he might ever get to Why. He saw the paths he had been offered and knew that he could probably say no, that he could probably leave and go find the Castle's people and see if they knew anything about Why.

He didn't think they would. They still had their hearts, and the two men standing behind him--they didn't.

He stepped forward into the darkness, and he thought for the second he was within it and wrapped in its embrace, that he felt it caress his cheek and whisper in his ear.

Welcome home, Roxas.

But he couldn't be sure.