AN: Well guys, you asked and I delivered! One new chapter, almost three years too late!
I'd like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to those people who were looking forward to this and were constantly disappointed by my lack of updates, and thank the people who held on this long. I never thought this story would be that loved, and I'm going to try my hardest in the future not to put you through that again.
That being said, my writing style has changed quite a bit since I stopped updating. I'd like to rewrite the earlier chapters, but that will have to come later, unfortunately. I will, however, let you know when I do.
So, will this new chapter live up to everyone's expectations? I guess we'll find out. Enjoy!
Roxas probably shouldn't have been so surprised when Sora pretended nothing had happened the next day. Well, technically, nothing had happened. Hell, he still wasn't really sure if he wanted something to happen. This situation was more than a little messed up; he wished he had someone who could help him. For the first time he could remember since leaving the Organization, he missed Axel.
"Hey…" Roxas' faltering syllable hung in the air as they dressed. Sora glanced briefly in his direction, the closest he'd come to meeting his eyes all morning. He had to say something about the awkwardness or it would crush him.
Roxas faltered at the look Sora gave him, as if they were complete strangers. All his resolve drained away. "I was just wondering…where we're going next?"
The brunet shrugged. "Wherever the Gummi ship takes us, I guess." Then he was gone, out the door to their small room, and Roxas was left alone.
He didn't understand why his other half was treating him this way. Sure, nothing had really happened, but he'd thought there was at least some progress. He'd thought they had become at least a little closer after last night. It felt like they'd taken a huge step forward, only to end up right back at the beginning again. No, worse than the beginning…Sora had at least looked at him then, and treated him like a friend. This was like if he found out Roxas was a Nobody.
He couldn't have…could he? How would he have found out? Did Belle tell him? Could Xaldin have come back and said something? If Sora knew, why not simply confront him about it? Maybe he was waiting for the opportune time to strike and take him out. If that was the case, he couldn't stay here. He didn't make it this far just to get killed. He didn't know what he'd do now, but every instinct was screaming at him to run as far away as he could an never look back.
Roxas pulled on the rest of his clothes quickly and patted his pockets to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. His pouch of money was still there, along with his Cure orb and the Fire orb Sora had given him. He felt a little bad just taking that, but he might need it and he didn't want to just leave it behind in case Sora didn't come back for it.
He moved to the door and opened it to leave, but was shocked to find Goofy already standing there, hand raised as if he were going to knock. Did he already know? Was he here to keep him in one place while the others came to kill him? He liked Goofy, but if it came down to a fight, he wouldn't hold back.
"Oh…g'mornin, Roxas." He smiled toothily at the blond boy and Roxas relaxed just the slightest bit. It didn't seem like he knew. Maybe he had a chance after all.
"Good morning," he replied, forcing a smile. He glanced around Goofy to the empty foyer. Now or never. "Look, I'm kinda in a hurry. Can we talk later?"
"You goin' after Sora?" Before Roxas could even answer, Goofy continued, "He's been actin' real distant today. Don't take it too much ta heart, Sora's just like that sometimes. When he's thinkin' about somethin' real hard, ya can't get his attention for nothin'."
He wasn't sure if it was comforting or not that Sora was thinking so hard about him being a Nobody. A faint hope rose in him that the other boy perhaps didn't want to destroy him after all. But it was too slim a chance for him to lean all his hopes on. He had to do what was best for him, and what was best was getting the hell out of there before he ended up a shadowy wisp.
"Anyway, we're 'bout ta head off," Goofy said. Roxas started as he realized the dog-man had been speaking the whole time and he hadn't heard a word of it. "Thought I'd come an' fetch ya so ya didn't miss the ship." Goofy laughed his silly guffawing laugh and wrapped an arm tightly around Roxas' shoulders, leading him away. He struggled, but Goofy had a surprisingly strong grip and soon he found himself being all but shoved onto the Gummi ship.
His breath caught as the door hatch closed and the ship took off. This was it. He was trapped, completely at their mercy. Donald's suspicious glares, though no different than yesterday's, suddenly seemed to have new meaning as he practically hyperventilated in the middle of the ship. He took his seat when he started feeling lightheaded. Sora didn't notice, staring out the window with a blank look on his face. Only Goofy seemed concerned.
"You okay back there?" he asked, when Roxas looked as if he would pass out in his chair. The blond nodded, but he honestly felt like he was going to throw up. After a few minutes, he got up on shaky legs and made his way back to the small bedroom.
He sat on one of the thin cots and took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. At this rate, he'd kill himself before they even had a chance to strike. He tried to comfort himself with the thought that they would probably not kill him in the Gummi ship. They'd probably wait until at least the next world to do it, and even then they'd be distracted by Heartless. He could escape there, plan his next move. He'd be lying if he said he wouldn't miss traveling with Sora, but there was little alternative.
He tried to sleep a little, but his eyes kept popping open at every little sound. He hadn't been this jumpy since his time at the Organization, when he'd been a new member and had no idea what was going on. Then again, he didn't really think he could compare not knowing what was happening to waiting to be killed. Two very different fears, and two very different situations.
It seemed like hours later when they touched down. It could have been the most barren, desolate world in the universe and it would have been the Promised Land to Roxas. His nerves were on edge as he exited the room, preparing for the worst…but there was nobody left in the cockpit. They must have already left the ship. That was good news for the blond. All the easier to sneak away.
All things considered, it was incredibly easy to escape. He had expected a guard, or at least for some sort of alarm to trip. Instead, he found himself in a dark and dingy cavern without another soul in sight. Not wanting to push his luck, he had made a mad dash for the first cave he saw, but he might as well have meandered over without a care in the world. Wherever Sora and the others had gone, they clearly weren't coming back anytime soon. He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself as he made his way through the suddenly very foggy cave.
"Ahh!" Roxas cried out as his foot met air and he went tumbling down underneath the thick mist that he had previously thought was on the floor.
"Ouch," he groaned, sitting up slowly and trying to figure out which way was up. His head ached horribly, but other than that, he seemed to be okay. A cursory check revealed no broken limbs, at least, and nothing hurt when he stood. He raised his hand to his head and hissed in pain at the lump he found growing there. That was going to sting for a while.
His eyes swept the misty cavern, darker underneath the white blanket. At first, it seemed completely normal, dozens of caverns branching off from the larger one and going in who knew how many directions. All he had to do was pick one and be off.
But then he noticed that in the middle of the large cavern was a strangely shaped rock. It was too clean-cut, too precise to have been accidentally placed there. As he crept closer, he noticed almost perfectly square grey sides polished to a mirror shine. Carved on the very top, the only break in the pure, almost marble, stone, were the words: "To atone for my sins, I shall sleep for a hundred years."
Roxas ran his hand along the very edge of the stone and found that there was a very slight break: enough, in fact, to wedge his fingers underneath and pry the top off. He grunted as the stone slab came loose, pushing it up and over and wincing as it landed on the hard ground with a loud "wham!"
Shaking with either cold or fear, Roxas couldn't quite tell which one, he peeked over the edge of the opening he created. He felt his mouth grow dry at the sight of a man dressed in black clothing, with long black hair to match. He wasn't scared, not really, just sort of surprised. He'd never actually seen a dead body before. Nobodies didn't leave them behind.
Roxas stared at the body inside. It was almost fascinating, in that morbid sort of way where he couldn't look away. The man's face was so pale that his lips stood out in stark contrast, though they barely had any color themselves. His hands were covered in black gloves that looked like they were made of the same material as the rest of his outfit. Other than his clothing, he looked like one would expect a dead person to look.
That is, until his eyes opened.
Roxas let out a yell and would have run if his legs hadn't decided to tangle under him and send him sprawling to the ground. Now he was scared. He may not have been an expert on the subject, but he was pretty sure corpses didn't open their eyes. Or sit up inside the coffin. Or fix him with a dark stare that made him sure he was going to burst into flames at any minute.
The man looked no more alive than he had a few minutes ago, but here he was, looking around like he didn't have a care in the world. Roxas eyed the far tunnel, wondering if he could make it before the man decided to come after him. Before he could move, however, the man spoke.
"Who are you?" he asked in a low, gravelly voice that sounded like it hadn't been used in years. The blonde gaped up at him, his voice lost somewhere in his throat.
"Are you a resident of this world?" The man's voice was slow, patient, as if Roxas had no more intelligence than a teaspoon of salt. The blonde scowled at that, fear temporarily forgotten.
"My name is Roxas," he said. "And no, I don't live here." The man simply nodded as if he didn't care one way or another and glanced around the cavern. His eyes fell on the heavy stone lid laying a mere foot away.
"Why did you wake me up?" he asked without looking at the blonde. Roxas wasn't sure, but he could have sworn he heard a touch of sadness in the man's voice, as if he hadn't wanted to be released.
"You were sleeping?" he asked with a frown. "It looked more like you were dead."
The man chuckled, and this time Roxas was sure he heard the sadness in his voice. "That is probably a more accurate description...and much more than I deserve."
Roxas slowly rose to his feet and approached the stone coffin. The man turned and fixed him with a dark yet gentle stare, his brown eyes soft and questioning.
"What's your name?" the blonde asked.
The man frowned, as if trying to remember. "My name is...Vincent. Vincent Valentine."
"How long have you been here, Vincent?"
The man chuckled, only a touch of humor gracing the gesture. "It is impossible to tell...maybe a few days, maybe a hundred years."
"A hundred years?" Roxas exclaimed without thinking. "How could you lay here for a hundred years and not know it?"
Vincent didn't answer, instead laying back in his coffin and crossing his arms over his chest. "It matters not. Please, leave here and let me sleep."
"But...I don't understand." Roxas grasped at straws desperately, questions buzzing around his brain like so many angry bees. "How did you get here? Where are you from? You're not really dead, right? That would be...insane. I mean, dead men don't just get up and start talking like a normal person, right?"
Vincent stared up at him with those soft brown eyes. "Do you know a man named Cid Highwind?"
The question took him aback. "Wait...what?"
"Please, I must know if he is alive."
Cid Highwind...Roxas racked his memory. "I don't think...wait! Is he blonde, kinda scruffy, always smoking?"
"Yes." Vincent sat upright again, something akin to hope in his eyes. "So he has made it from our world? You have seen him?"
"Yeah, I think so...if it's the guy I'm thinking of." Roxas shrugged. "I don't know about making it off any worlds, but last I saw he was fine."
"That is good." Vincent sighed in relief. "That is a weight taken off my shoulders. Now I can sleep more peacefully."
"Wait!" Roxas put a hand on his shoulder before the other man could lay back down. "How do you know Cid? Did you two come from the same world?"
For a moment, it looked like Vincent would ignore him and simply go back to sleep. But then the other man opened his mouth and told him the whole story.
"Cid and I were both born on our world, though at different times. Our paths crossed by a twist of fate that most people know as...Sephiroth." Just the name sent shivers up Roxas' spine. He desperately wanted to ask who this Sephiroth person was, but he didn't want to interrupt Vincent now that he was finally getting some answers. The man continued:
"Cid and I were part of a team that was hell-bent on bringing Sephiroth down. He wanted to do horrible things to innocent people. In the end, he nearly succeeded, until another twist of fate was thrust upon our world.
"The Heartless had always been a part of our world, though most people just thought they were simple monsters and ignored them. Our ignoring them turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, for when Sephiroth was poised to destroy our world and we could do nothing to stop him, they chose that moment to strike.
"We could do nothing to stop the Heartless; they were too strong and we were still far too weak. Our only comfort is that Sephiroth was swallowed up along with our world. Unfortunately, so was I...but not without helping my comrades to safety. Cid was the only one whose fate I was unsure of...and I am glad that he has found his own way to safety."
"What world did you live on?" Roxas asked unable to keep from blurting out the question.
"We knew it only as 'The Planet.' It does not matter anyway...any trace of it is surely long gone by now." A small smile graced Vincent's face as he lay back down in his coffin. "I will have good dreams now that I know that only I was sacrificed in the destruction of our planet."
"Wait, please! Why don't...why don't you come with me?" Roxas had so many more questions, he was burning with them. But he couldn't stay here much longer and risk being found. Besides, he felt a sort of kinship with this man who seemed so lost. He didn't want to just leave him behind in this horrible place.
"I do not belong amongst the living anymore."
"But...but you could see Cid again!" Roxas was grasping at straws now, desperate to get Vincent to see reason. "Don't you want to see him with your own eyes, to know he's really alive?"
"I do not sense dishonesty within you. I trust that what you say is true."
"Roxas," Vincent said softly, his eyes still closed, "Please. There is no way for me to leave this place now. I am neither dead nor alive, and do not belong in either world. Please do not try to force me to become a part of it."
Roxas wanted to argue, to convince this man to leave with him. He would have, too, would have spent hours at that coffin trying to get him to see reason, had he not heard voice coming from the cavern entrance.
He couldn't quite make them out, but something inside told him it was Sora. He couldn't wait around here any longer. He had to go. With one last sad glance at the stone coffin where Vincent lay so peacefully, the blonde took off down one of the corridors as fast as his legs would take him.