take you away from that empty apartment
you stay and forget where the heart is
someday, if you ever loved me, you'd say
it's okay…

Zexion couldn't count how many times he called, but time and again all he got was the machine. He was really starting to get worried. Why wasn't Vexen picking up? Zexion knew he paid no heed to the phone when anyone else called -- hell, he'd witnessed Vexen ignore his own mother. But Vexen promised (explicitly and sincerely) that he would always pick up when Zexion called, always. A small part of Zexion suspected it was because Vexen knew a lot, if not too much, about his condition, but still, it had always been a comfort, and Vexen always fulfilled his promise. Why didn't he pick up?

And then the calls stopped getting through altogether. Vexen must have unplugged the telephone, and Zexion couldn't call his cell phone because he didn't own one. Zexion's heart twisted and for five days (one hundred and twenty hours) he was in agony. Finally, he couldn't stand any more and, urged on by Lexaeus, Zexion finally went to visit Vexen and demand what the hell was going on.

Zexion pounded on the door. He never liked the apartment building, but Vexen just told him he was too picky ("It's not that bad, Zexion, it is clean and well-managed; you are too attatched to luxury"). What he never understood was why Vexen settled for living on such a high floor. The elevator ride up to floor eighteen took too long. Vexen could have easily afforded something better, but, Vexen being Vexen, he preferred to spend his money on his research.

The door opened and there Vexen stood, wearing simple faded jeans and a brown long sleeve. Zexion stared, though not because of the clothing. It was clear Vexen hadn't been taking care of himself; crow's feet made their mark under his eyes, his skin was nearly sickly pale, his hair was unwashed and unkempt, and it looked like he had lost weight. Vexen stared back at Zexion with mild emotions (surprise, confusion, worry) shifting across his face.

"Zexion? What are you doing here?"

Responses flooded Zexion's mind so quickly that he thought his head would explode. He hesitated, but finally, he grumbled, "You look horrible."

Vexen pretended not to notice the remark and, after a pause, he moved aside in the doorway.

"I suppose you'll be wanting to come in?" When Zexion said nothing, he continued. "I apologize for the mess; I haven't had half a mind to stay organized."

"Obviously." But Zexion moved inside anyway, and Vexen closed the door behind him.

Zexion glanced around the room. The apartment was messier than he had seen it in a long time. Papers and books were scattered everywhere, the occasional dish sat in need of cleaning, and, indeed, the telephone had been carelessly tossed in the far corner, unplugged and forlorn. There were papers taped all over the glass doors leading out to the balcony, and judging by the scrawling handwriting Zexion could make out on them, Vexen wrote them hurriedly. It all lead to one explanation.

Slowly, Zexion turned to look at Vexen. "… You've been working on something."

"Yes, I have." Vexen's eyes lit up with a furor Zexion had not seen in months. "I believe I've made a breakthrough in the alignment of the Heart's energies -- "

"I tried to get a hold of you all last week, Vexen. We have not spoken in two weeks."

Vexen's expression fell. "Truly?"

"… Yes."

Blankly, Vexen looked across the room at the discarded telephone and put two and two together. An awkward silence filled the air.

"… Ah," said Vexen softly.

Zexion said nothing. He crossed to the balcony doors and stared out through the glass between the papers. He could feel Vexen's eyes on him, but he couldn't bring himself to turn around and meet them.

"I am so sorry, Zexion."

"It is all right," Zexion said, with more emotion showing in his voice than he intended. "You were working. I know how you become when you become engrossed. You did not mean harm."

Quietly, Vexen crossed over and stood close next to Zexion. The side of Zexion nearest to him prickled and tingled. Zexion took a deep breath and let it out. After an awkwardly silent pause, Vexen reached above Zexion and tapped one of the papers taped to the door.

"My hypothesis," he said quietly, "is that it is possible to change the alignment of the Heart's energies by bringing them into line with the energies of another Heart. The work on that door," he gestured with his other hand, "is how to line the energies up, but this one features all the possibilities this research could provide, should my hypothesis be correct."

Zexion didn't say anything; despite himself, his mind began to wander, lost in Vexen's familiar deep voice. He closed his eyes and for a moment felt he was falling though he stood quite still. His heart gave an odd jolt and he opened his eyes quickly.

"What would you hope to gain if you are correct?" he managed to mutter.

Vexen glanced at him, his eyes lingering for a moment before returning to the paper. "The result I am most focused on…" he said after a pause, "is the stabilizing of the light and darkness in Hearts. Imagine: criminals could be turned around, impure Hearts could be strengthened… It is endless."

Zexion said nothing, thinking. It had truly been a long time since Vexen was so passionate about a project. It must be important to him, and Zexion assumed it would continue to be so. He wasn't about to allow it to make Vexen distant again. Zexion's heart fluttered wildly against his chest. "It… It could be viewed as altering a person's identity, possibly against their will. Opponents would also argue that this technology could easily be used for ill use; it would provide a new form of brainwashing, for example, or…"

Vexen looked at Zexion, and he fell silent. Neither said anything for a long time. Zexion didn't immediately meet Vexen's eyes, and did so almost reluctantly.

What is that look for? Zexion thought with a frown. We used to do this all the time. We would develop hypotheses by bouncing ideas off one another like this, until we… until…

Zexion's heart gave another twinge and suddenly he understood.

"Ah," he said quietly, and Vexen looked away.

"It has been twelve years since the city's Heart was locked," Vexen said after a moment. "Fifteen since my father's death, fourteen since the loss of your family. And still, tricomposition is not studied as extensively as it should be."

"… There has been more insight into just the Heart, rather than the Heart's interactions with the Body and Soul. It is understandable, considering the Heartless -- "

"They are not looking at the whole picture," muttered Vexen. "Just the study of the Heart is not enough. Nothing can be accomplished by studying only one of the three parts."

Zexion looked at Vexen for a long time. With his heart twisting insecurely, he asked quietly, "And just what are you trying to accomplish, Vexen?"

Vexen said nothing, but he stared out the glass. Zexion took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He didn't want to speak the conclusion his mind jumped to, not without some kind of confirmation that he was right.

Trying to stay casual, he said, "How long ago was it that I told you about my condition?"

"… About six years ago, in high school."

"I…" Zexion hesitated and tried to organize his words. "I know you have always been interested in science, but… You were originally most attatched to alchemy. When did your interests turn to tricomposition?"

Zexion chanced a glance at Vexen. He somehow seemed even more pale than he did before. "About six years ago," whispered Vexen.

Ah, thought Zexion. Gently, almost shyly, he threaded his fingers through Vexen's. Vexen looked down at him, but Zexion didn't look up. His face burned as he stared through the door.

"Vexen, you fool. You've been pushing yourself too hard."

Vexen blinked. Zexion said nothing for a moment, but opened one of the doors and stepped out onto the balcony. Vexen allowed himself to be pulled along after him.

The wind was colder than Zexion remembered and he frowned. He leaned back against Vexen, and after a pause, Vexen rested his chin on Zexion's head. Zexion pulled Vexen's arms around him for warmth.

"… I…" Vexen hesitated, organizing his words. "I sincerely do apologize for our lack of communication. I made a promise to you."

"You always forget such things when you are working. You cut out the world, do not take care of yourself, and once you finally slow down after achieving your results, you get sick. It is a predictable cycle."

"Hmph."

"I do not appreciate that you suffer for my sake."

Though Vexen didn't immediately respond, Zexion thought he could feel Vexen's heart quicken. Zexion closed his eyes.

At last, Vexen managed, "I… do not believe I understand what you mean."

Zexion hesitated and opened his eyes. He suddenly felt foolish; what if he was just making an assumption? If he was wrong, then… God, he didn't even want to imagine the consequences. Without realizing it, he grasped Vexen's hand. "You… You would not be doing this if I had not told you about my condition… Correct?"

Vexen said nothing for a long time, and Zexion suffered a pain in his chest. Vexen inhaled deeply and sighed, his eyes closed. "Mm," he murmured at last. "It seems I've underestimated how observant you are."

The pain vanished and was replaced by disbelief. Zexion pulled away to look at Vexen, but Vexen didn't meet his eyes. Zexion's mind began churning, and he tried to force down the assumptions that sprang forth, but he still found himself gripping Vexen's arms and saying rapidly, distantly,

"That was years ago. You would not have changed your interests so easily, you are not the type -- Your obsession with tricomposition did not start until -- You would not have remained on this path for so long for no reason, you would not have if you did not -- " Zexion's breath stuck in his throat. He couldn't bring himself to say it. That was one assumption he refused to speak. Faintly, almost whispering, he said, "You can't… you…"

In all the time they had been together, it was clear that Zexion interacted with physical contact more than Vexen did. Zexion started most, if not all, of the contact, and Vexen never, never initiated a kiss. So when Vexen leaned forward and kissed Zexion deeply, it was all Zexion could do not to dissolve into the wind that no longer chilled his skin.

When Zexion looked back afterward, he struggled to recall the exact events. He didn't remember returning inside, or getting across the room to the bed, or any words spoken on the way. He remembered the heat, the desire, the feeling of another heart hammering against his, the sheer emotion they felt as they moved as one (me you mine mine yours yours always).

He never forgot that, despite his racing pulse, he never felt more stable in all his life.

Later, when they lay together with their legs tangled and fingers intertwined, they murmured promises that each knew the other would not forget, regardless of the mayhem of day-to-day living. Vexen leaned his cheek on Zexion's hair, his eyes lulling closed. Zexion sighed and rested his head on Vexen's chest and struggled not to fall asleep, overwhelmed by the warmth and the comfort. Absent-mindedly, he ran his thumbs along the backs of Vexen's hands and hummed something similar to a song from his childhood. As he finally drifted to sleep, he thought Vexen whispered three words (i… you; i and you, you and i?), but he dismissed them as a dream.

Together, they slept, wrapped in dreams of words left supposedly unsaid.

let the sun fall down all around you
let the night surround you in a blanket of starlight
i'll whisper you a lullaby
let the sun fall down…