Word Count: 7627
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters herein contained. I only own the plot.
Warning: None to speak of--not to speak of, there's homosexuality, language, and violence.
Author's Note, Pt. II: Finally, the conclusion! Much drama and writer's block (concerning the psychiatrist discussions, actually--as small as they are, they've given me the most trouble.) later, I can finally post this. I hope you guys aren't disappointed. This chapter gets pretty crazy, so you might want to be on your guard. I know it came up behind me and hit me up for all the cash I had on me.
Other Note: It was brought to my attention that the story should be a higher rating. Oops, sorry if anyone looking for a low-rated story got tricked...if you guys think it should be even higher (ie. M) please tell me. I'm really bad about these kinds of things.
Other, Other Note: This is not a happy story. Seriously. There are happy moments, but not overall. It's about broken people, insane people. And while I enjoy reading about such things, if you don't, you've been warned.
Edited Note: I fixed the line spacing. Hope it's better this way.
I'd taken to sleeping next to Axel—we'd pushed our beds together to make one large one to make it easier—when I realized his nightmares weren't going to stop. He rarely screamed, but I knew he still had them. It comforted him to wake up in my arms, whether or not he'd admit it. I stopped sleeping as much, preferring to stay awake and study the face of the male that was normally so active. He never looked restful in sleep the way you'd expect—his brows furrowed and his lips pursed, and sometimes he mouthed words—but he was still interesting to watch. When I knew he was deep enough in sleep, I'd stroke his hair idly, something that I'd noticed tended to keep the nightmares away. Once I was sure he was going to be fine, I'd settle down close to him, one arm thrown over his waist, ignoring the something in the pit of my stomach.
"Are you having nightmares anymore, Roxas?"
"Nah, I don't think so."
"You don't think so?"
"Well, I can't really remember. They'd all blend together anyway."
"All the nightmares I've had since I got here, all the nights I woke up in the middle of, sweating."
"How often is that?"
"Like I said, I don't really know. I don't worry about it, if I can help it."
I knew when I opened my eyes that something was wrong. The lighting in the room was orange, with a strange quality I couldn't place. Flickering, I realized with a start. The room was flickering. Fire. I scrambled out of bed, yanking harshly at the sheets when they tangled around my ankles. I was almost panting in fear, sure that I was going to suffer a death even worse than Axel's parents. They, at least, had died in their sleep. And then I remembered. Axel. I tore at the remaining blankets, looking for the familiar lanky frame frantically. He rolled away from me, pulling the comforter over his head again.
"Axel," I half-hissed in horror. He shot up, looking at me. "We have to leave, now. Come on!" I cried, pulling on his arm. He didn't move, just looked at me, and I tugged harder.
"Roxas," he rasped quietly, "what's wrong?"
"You can't see that the fucking building's on fire? Come on, we have to go or we'll die!" I yelled, pulling harder still on his arm. He gave me a concerned look before moving towards me and crawling off of the bed.
"Okay," he said, "lead the way." I nodded, moving to clasp his hand as I dragged him out of the hallway was even worse, filled with that terrible light but also with thick smoke. I choked immediately, then got down on my hands and knees, pulling Axel with me. We'd crawled half the length of the hallway when the nurse came running up, unbothered by the smoke. I looked at her, but couldn't spare any worry for her.
"Roxas, Axel, what are you doing out of bed?" she asked patiently. I realized she was one of the few genuinely sweet nurses here and took pity on her, though I didn't stop crawling.
"We have to get away from the fire. Come on," I said, over the roar. She looked concerned, just like Axel had, but didn't look as ready as he had to follow me.
"If you want to die, that's your business, but we're leaving," I said shortly. She grabbed my other arm, crouching down to my level. Finally, I thought, relieved, we can get out of—
"Roxas, the building isn't on fire. You're perfectly safe." I felt a chill run down into my stomach.
"Yes there is, I can see the—"
"Roxas, there isn't a fire. Everything's okay. It's fine."
"No, it's not! We have to—"
"Come on!" I yelled, trying to yank my arm from her grasp. She just held on.
"Let go of me!" I shouted, frantically. We were all going to die if we stayed here. "You can't make me stay! I won't die!"
"What is going on out here?!" An older nurse asked sharply, coming down the hallway.
"He's hallucinating. He thinks the building's on fire." The nurse told the newcomer. I watched her face change with realization. I took the pause to try and get free again. I kicked at the nurse holding my arm, pulling at the same time. She saw my movement, though, and got out of the way without letting go.
"Come on!" I yelled again, desperately. The older nurse looked worried and hurried off. She was back a second later, approaching me like someone would a wild animal. I scratched and bit at the one still holding onto me. I barely felt the prick, and it was only after I saw the syringe that I realized I was being sedated. I struggled more, trying to hold off the darkness, but it still rushed forward, swallowing me.
"Are you afraid of fire?"
"Not really. Just dying in a fire. House fires are enough to scare anybody. I bet even you're afraid of house fires."
"Yes, I suppose you're right. Are you afraid of anything else?"
"I used to be afraid of drowning when I was a kid. That whole slow death thing."
"I see. That's understandable. In fact, that is one of the top fears in children."
"So maybe I wasn't so screwed up as I thought."
Waking up from the sedative was difficult, and getting to be too familiar a sensation for comfort. I wasn't too surprised to find myself restrained, thought my wrist was getting chafed (my left arm was still in a cast). It took a moment more to remember why I'd had to be sedated. I felt my eyes sting, and I blinked rapidly to try and keep them at bay. I nearly managed to calm down when I realized that I really was crazy. I couldn't deny it anymore, not after such a massive episode. I didn't want anything to be wrong with me. I really didn't. The thought lodged and festered, repeating in my head. I cried, sometimes struggling, but thankfully no one came in to quiet me. When I didn't have anything left but heavy dry sobs, I fell asleep.
"Do the episodes bother you?"
"Do you resent them, or are you afraid of them? Maybe they make you angry?"
"Not really. I learned a long time ago not to fight the inevitable. It's like punching a brick wall. You end up with broken knuckles and the wall is fine."
"Sure I wish I was in control of my own mind. But it's my mind. What would I control it with?"
Axel didn't mention my episode when I woke up for a second time (thankfully minus the restraints, though not without supervision). He just smiled and came to sit on my bed (the nurses had pushed our beds apart again).
"You know, you missed a really good dinner. We had turkey and mashed potatoes. Like, real potatoes. And gravy. My god, the gravy."
"Sounds like fun," I said hoarsely. He looked distant for a moment, and turned away. When he looked back at me, he was smiling again.
"What?" I croaked. He became serious at once, the grin falling off his face.
"I don't know if you want to hear it."
"What?" I asked again, dreading what he was going to say. I quickly ran through everything he could tell me as he paused. Thanksgiving was coming up—wait, Thanksgiving. My mom was going to come, everybody's relatives were. Oh. "My mom showed up, didn't she?" Axel's face confirmed my fears.
"Yeah, she—well, she was really upset. She left—she looked really bad. I—"
"Don't you dare say you're sorry, Axel. I—you're not sorry."
"I wish I was, Rox, I really do."
"It's okay, Axel. I—you can't feel sorry for somebody who has what you want most."
"Rox—" I cut him off by hugging him hard. I inhaled heavily to keep from crying. The idea that Axel cared enough about me to lie, to pretend, was enough to bring me to tears. I hid my face in his chest, hoping he couldn't feel my sobs or tears.
"Do you feel protective of your mother?"
"Yeah, I guess I do."
"Well, she's fragile. She always has been, as long as I can remember. I never liked seeing her cry, so I started protecting her from things that would make her cry, but that was pretty much everything."
"Do you resent her for that?"
"There were times, I guess, when I wanted her to protect me for once. But there's not a lot I could do about it, so it stopped mattering."
I talked to my mom the next day—Axel was right, she did sound terrible. I expected her to start crying while talking to me, but she held it together. I hung up right after she told me the doctors said I should be looking into a long-term stay here. It was just further confirmation of something I didn't want to know, didn't want to acknowledge. Axel appeared almost immediately after I hung up, making me think he'd been listening in, but he didn't mention it. It was only after we collapsed in bed after a full day of Axel dragging me through every activity available to us that I realized he'd been distracting me.
I woke up on Axel's chest. My first thought was to move, but I could feel that his breathing was still the calm steady rate of sleep, so I stayed for a while more. It was warm with the heat from Axel bare chest, since he refused to wear shirts at night, and I could feel the sun on my face. I snuggled just a bit closer to Axel and sighed happily. I woke up again a while later. Axel was gently stroking my hair, and I looked up to see a smile on his face.
"Good morning," I croaked.
"'Morning, sleepyhead. Your hair's sticking up on one side," he grinned tenderly.
"It always does that," I retorted, smiling too. He looked at me for another moment, still stroking my hair with light fingers. The moment was unspeakably perfect, one of the few you ever see in your life, and I suddenly knew what I wanted. I leaned up and kissed him carefully. He sighed, the barest exhalation of breath, but enough to show his happiness. I pulled away smiling, getting up.
"Come on, it's time for breakfast," I said, pulling gently at his arm. He grinned and followed me.
"How do you feel about a long-term stay here, Roxas?"
"I don't know."
"Are you avoiding the question?"
"No, I just haven't thought about it. It's not so bad here."
"You like it, then?"
"Yeah. I do."
"Then what's your objection to staying?"
"What it would mean, I guess. That I'm seriously sick. Worse than even most people that come in here."
"Do you think we're ever going to get out of here?" I asked, staring at the ceiling above my bed.
"No," Axel said, smoking carefully out the window of our room.
"Yeah, but don't you think we're going to get better?"
"What is the Baltic Sea." I looked around the living room as Zexion answered the question. Demyx was sprawled over the chair looking rapturously at Zexion. Axel was staring at the TV, looking incredulous.
"No fucking way. What is the Black Sea," he shot at Zexion, gaze still on the TV. Zexion shot him a disbelieving look then turned his attention back to Jeopardy. They both slumped back as the TV announced that the correct answer was the Red Sea.
"Oh, bad luck Zexy," Demyx consoled. Zexion just looked at him, surprised he'd been wrong. I patted Axel's arm, smiling.
"Maybe next time."
"What, next time you get put in here? You'd have to get out for that to work, which is the whole problem."
"Rox, are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
"Yeah. That's what I heard someone else call it, somewhere."
"Can you explain?"
"Well, I was talking to Axel, but suddenly I was in the living room watching Jeopardy without getting up and moving there."
"And then I was back to talking to Axel again."
"Is this the first time this has happened?"
"Recently, yeah. It means I'm getting worse again, doesn't it?"
"It might. Or, it could be an isolated incident."
"As much as anything I see is an isolated incident."
It was Christmas before I realized it was December. I didn't know whether it was because I was getting worse or just that December sped by. I wasn't expecting any presents—I told my mom that her paying for my stay here was enough. Those of us staying really couldn't get each other anything, so we didn't expect any presents at all from each other. The actual day was a visitor's day, but we were allowed to be in our rooms in the spirit of the occasion. Mom only stayed for a while before she had to go back to work. She brought me new notebooks and pens, gave me a hug, and left. I was pretty sure it unnerved her to have Axel around, but I wasn't about to kick him out. Axel and I headed out to find food after she left, then brought it back to our room. We had roast chicken and potatoes and carrots, with cider and sea salt ice cream. I gave the ice cream to Axel, feeling like I should give him something. He smiled happily, then handed his to me. I grinned back at him and licked to melting drops off of my fingers.
"Thanks." He just responded by licking his ice cream provocatively. I smiled and shook my head, imitating him. He swallowed heavily and looked out the window. I moved over to him, turning his face back to me. I smiled at him gently, looking into his eyes deeply. He looked back steadily, a smile also on his face. I leaned in slowly kissing him tenderly. It was the best Christmas I could remember.
"What were Christmases like as a child?"
"Well, I guess they were okay. My mom would work constantly for all of December just for a few presents for me. It was never much, but I was happy enough, I guess."
"Did you celebrate just the two of you?"
"Yeah. We don't have any relatives."
"I always liked it that way, though. Just the two of us. It was closer, better, somehow."
Demyx left on New Year's day. They said he'd gotten better, so we believed them. We hadn't even known what was wrong with him to begin with. It took a while to get used to his absence, but eventually the quiet became natural again. Axel seemed pretty disappointed for a few days, but he got over it very quickly. He was used to people leaving. The only surprising reaction was Zexion's. He stormed into our room at six in the evening the day Demyx had left demanding to know where the blond had gone. He'd had a psychiatrist appointment, and when he'd come back, Demyx had been gone.
"Where is he?" he asked icily. Axel continued reading—Catcher in the Rye, actually, he'd borrowed it from Riku—so I answered Zexion.
"He left, Zexion. He was released—they said he could go home." Zexion looked even colder, then spun around and stormed back out the door. I heard banging and clattering and crashes as Zexion broke everything he could find. I listened for the running of nurses and was rewarded a moment later, then the sounds as they struggled to restrain a furious Zexion. I noticed that even Axel was listening as Zexion shouted and the nurses and orderlies spoke quickly. The sudden silence was deafening—I didn't know if I'd ever known what that phrase meant until that moment. It was still quiet—the quiet after a storm—when I turned over to go to sleep.
"Do you miss Demyx?"
"Of course. He was my friend."
"Then do you resent him for leaving you here? For getting better?"
"Not really. I never really thought he belonged here, anyway. Didn't even know what he had."
"I'm not going to tell you, Roxas. That's for Demyx to do."
"I didn't really expect you to. Just wondering aloud."
Zexion sulked and brooded and snapped for over a month. When it became obvious that he wasn't going to stop, I sat down with him at dinner to talk.
"Hey," I said carefully. He gave me a cold glance before returning to pick at his food. He was careful to eat just enough that he wouldn't be force-fed by the nurses, but only that little amount.
"Are you okay?" I asked. I didn't really expect an answer.
"What do you think?" he sneered. I paused, collecting my thoughts.
"Demyx sent a letter. He's really happy and settling in—"
"What do you want, Roxas?" Zexion asked, tone icy.
"I just—look, never mind." I took the hint and got up. He didn't look up as I left.
"Are you worried for Zexion?"
"Maybe a little."
"He's perfectly safe, Roxas."
"I know that. I'm just worried that the little bit of humanity that was growing in him is disappearing."
It's funny how it took Demyx's absence for me to realize how important he'd been. I'd liked him, but I hadn't realized how much he'd burrowed into my life, how much of an impact he'd had. Suddenly the asylum was really an asylum—Zexion was really going crazy, Axel was pulling into himself no matter how often I told him I wouldn't leave too—and not a haven. The life was gone, the happiness and light had vanished. I took to wandering the halls aimlessly, looking. I didn't know what I was searching for—maybe a replacement for Demyx, maybe something else—but I never found it. I took up smoking too, sitting in the window seat in the common room when I wasn't pacing around the halls. It didn't help.
"So you feel as if all your happiness here was pinned on Demyx?"
"No, not really."
"Then help me understand what you mean."
"Well, not my happiness. But I think Zexion's did, and Axel just lost his best friend."
"So their unhappiness makes you unhappy."
"Well, there's no point in being happy alone."
Demyx came back on Valentine 's Day. We were all watching Jeopardy again, though we weren't talking. He walked in looking sort of dazed.
"Hi guys," he said confusedly. Axel nodded and I looked at him steadily. Zexion kept his gaze on the TV.
"Hi, Zexy," Demyx murmured, hurt creeping into his eyes. He looked at the ground for a moment. "Well, I'm, uh, going to go unpack—" Zexion moved. It was almost too fast to follow. One moment Zexion was on the couch and before I could blink he was squeezing Demyx desperately. Demyx wheezed before a brilliant grin spread across his face and his gaze down at Zexion softened.
"I was—distressed by your leaving. I—I missed you," Zexion murmured haltingly, looking bewildered.
"I missed you too," Demyx said softly into Zexion's hair. Zexion turned his face up and Demyx moved down until their lips met. I looked away, the moment suddenly becoming too private. Axel slipped silently off the couch and out of the room. I gave one glance backward before following him.
"How do you feel about Demyx returning?"
"Well, maybe he wasn't as normal as I thought."
"His return is a sign of failure?"
"Well, maybe he just wasn't ready to live out there alone."
Everything returned to normal faster than I thought possible. We began watching jeopardy more often again. We laughed more, got used to being happy again. Axel and I got closer again. It was funny how different things could be with the addition of just one person. Days bled into each other, filled with contentment. Time passed.
Demyx left again in July. We were sorry to see him go, but the transition this time wasn't as hard. He'd been telling us that he was going to leave: we were prepared for it. I knew somehow that I'd never see him again. I think he sensed it too, because when he hugged me goodbye, he whispered in my ear. His words rang in my ears, filling my thoughts long after he was gone.
Zexion didn't go crazy this time. He acted like it didn't matter at all, really, just kissing Demyx goodbye when the nurse's back was turned and then going back into his room and scribbling away in his notebook. I watched him for days, waiting for his reaction, but it never came. I was just beginning to think he might be a true sociopath after all when the nurse brought him back from therapy one day grinning broadly. She told us that they'd seen real improvement and Zexion would be leaving soon to start his own life. I suddenly understood what Zexion had been doing. I went to talk to him in his room after the announcement, wanting to say goodbye.
"Hey, congrats on getting out," I said, sitting on Demyx's old bed.
"Yes, thank you," he murmured, fastidiously folding his shirts.
"Do you guys have an apartment yet?" I asked, testing my theory. He paused for a moment in surprise, then continued folding without looking at me.
"Yes, Demyx found one last week."
"That's good. I'm happy for you two."
"Have you and Axel moved forward yet?" I stared at his back in shock.
"How did you know?"
"I didn't--that's why I was asking."
"No, I meant that we'd gotten together."
"Axel's been nearly in love with you for a year. I had to listen to it. He stopped about the same time you started looking at him differently. Simple deduction."
"Oh." He stopped again and turned to look at me.
"Don't worry. You complement each other well." He turned back to his shirts. I nodded and got up.
"Good luck, Zexion."
"You too, Roxas."
I never saw him again.
"Are you worried about both Demyx and Zexion leaving?"
"Nah. They have each other. They'll be fine."
"What about you? Will you be fine?"
"Oh. Well, I think so. Take away Axel and Riku, and that's when I won't be fine."
"You know, Roxas, if you love someone you should tell them."
"Thank you, Sora, I don't care."
"Come on. You love him, Roxas."
"Maybe. I don't know. I'm not confessing just because you think I should."
"Sora, leave me alone."
"Okay, okay." I looked up to make sure he was gone. I was alone again.
I only realized it was Visitor's Day when I walked into the living room when I saw Axel in a chair, smoking angrily and Riku leaning against the wall next the window, staring outside with his arms crossed. I slumped down on the couch, waiting. Sora slumped down next to me, looking around with interest. I ignored him until he gasped in surprise, getting up to stand next to Riku.
"Riku!" he exclaimed, looking dumbfounded. I watched him survey the other boy, who still hadn't moved.
"Riku, I know you can't see me, but—I have so much I want to tell you. Please, hear me. Please." I felt sorry as he seemed to break down. "Riku," I called, getting up. He turned to look at me, a curious look on his face. We weren't really friends, just talked occasionally.
"Yeah?" I walked over to him casually, leaning against the wall next to him.
"If I were to tell you that the people I see are real, what would you say?"
"I'd ask how you know, given where we are."
"They say they come from another world. One that we—you and me, Axel, Demyx, Zexion—really belong in."
"And? I should believe you?"
"I know that you feel the same as I do. We don't belong here, Riku. We've always been outcasts." Riku stared at me for a moment, then dropped his eyes.
"He—Sora—wants to say something to you." Riku raised an eyebrow at me, but gestured for me to go on.
"Tell him that I love him," Sora said, staring at Riku desperately. I looked at him in shock.
"He's my—my soulmate, I guess. I love him with everything that I am." I paused, thinking of how to tell him.
"Do you remember when you said you didn't think your soulmate existed? Well, he says—" I looked again at Sora, who nodded, "He says he's your soulmate. He loves you." Riku's head was down, his hair covering his eyes. I jumped when he started laughing. It was a hysterical laugh, maniacally sad, in a way.
"That's just great. Great. I really am a freak. Destined to be alone. You know what, fuck it. Fuck it!" he yelled angrily, getting progressively louder. "You—why me? Why not you? Fuck you, Roxas. Fuck you, and fuck everyone!" His eyes became unfocused and he started clawing at himself. Axel came up to stand next to me, and Riku grabbed me and held me against the wall by my throat.
"Come on, Riku, calm down." Riku snarled and hit Axel, who was pushed back. Things got immeasurably worse in the next moment when someone called out from behind us.
"Riku?" Kairi stepped forward a few steps tentatively, a nurse by her side.
"I'm not Riku," Riku growled, becoming very still. "I'm Ansem!" He let me go, and Axel started forward at the same time, grabbing one of his arms.
"Riku, please listen. Please listen to me! Calm down!" I grabbed Riku's other arm and looked at Sora, who was just staring at Riku with tears in his eyes.
"Not helping, Sora!" I shouted, trying to hold onto the struggling Riku. He pulled his arm from my grip and managed to backhand me across the cheek. I was dazed for a second, then reached back for his arm when Axel called my name. A group of orderlies and nurses rushed forward, managing to subdue Riku. Axel and I stumbled back, watching as Riku's limp form was taken out of the room. Sora watched him with us, a stricken expression on his face. Kairi sniffed behind us, and I turned to see her watching with tears running down her face. I went over to her and put my hand on her arm, trying to lend what comfort I could
"Kairi," I heard Sora choke out. "I—she was my best friend." I just looked at him. We stood like that until others began filing in, residents and visitors alike. Sora disappeared suddenly.
"C'mon," I murmured into Kairi's ear, pulling her to a corner where we sat down.
"I—is he always like that?" she asked softly. I shook my head.
"No, not always. Just sometimes."
"Oh," she whispered sadly. "Will he be okay?"
"Yeah." She leaned over and lay her head on my chest. I stroked her hair as she cried. Eventually she fell asleep, her breathing evening out and the tears drying. I didn't move, just curled my arm around her waist and pulled her closer. I heard Axel sigh heavily before he slid down the wall to sit next to me.
"Yeah," I sighed.
"He'll be fine."
"Was there ever any doubt?"
"No, I guess not." He got out a cigarette and lit it casually.
"Is she okay?"
"Probably." We sat in silence for a long time, just watching the people in the room.
"How does Riku's breakdown make you feel?"
"Pretty fucking sore, actually. I have nine new bruises, including the lovely ones around my neck."
"I don't really feel anything. He's fucked up, but then again, so are we all. His breakdown is no different from my hallucinations and Axel's...well, Axel's whatever."
Kairi stirred about midafternoon, blinking gently.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed, bolting off my chest and looking horrified. I looked at her for a moment and gave her a reassuring smile before turning back to the room.
"It's fine." I noticed Axel looking resolutely not at Kairi. She seemed kind of put off at this treatment, but fixed a determined look on her face as she opened her mouth.
"How have you been, Axel?" Axel tensed in surprise and flicked a brief glance her way.
"Alright." She looked sad. There was a pause as she steeled herself for another try.
"I missed you, Axel."
"It wasn't your fault! No one could blame you!"
"How many times did they tell me not to play with fire, huh, Kairi?! Do you even remember? How could it not be my fault?!" He ran his hand through his hair furiously. Kairi grabbed his wrist.
"Axel. It was not your fault," she said seriously.
"What do you know," he sneered, jerking out of her grasp. She looked hurt, but gathered herself.
"Fine. But if it was your fault, you took my parents from me. Don't take my brother too. Please—" She broke off with a sob, clutching both hands over her face. I watched Axel hesitate, then put his hand out hesitantly to rest on her head. She rushed to hug him, still sobbing. I looked at Axel's face and had to turn my face away to hide my smile at his shocked expression. I got up to go, not wanting to intrude any more, but Axel's hand shot out to grab my wrist. I took pity on his alarmed gaze and sat down closer to him. I let Kairi continue to hug him for another minute before I cleared my throat.
"I think the kitchen's open if we want to get an early dinner."
"That sounds like a good idea," Axel said with slightly too much enthusiasm. I nudged him in the ribs, then got up and helped Kairi stand. I put my arm around Axel's waist as we walked, comforting him. Kairi seemed unsure of what she should say or do, so I tried again.
"So, Kairi, are you still in high school?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm not graduating for another year."
"So…" I made a last attempt, "what subjects are you taking?"
"Just the normal—trigonometry, biology, literature, foreign language, history. You know. But I like biology best—I think I want to be a doctor. I want to help people."
"That's very noble of you," I commented when it became apparent Axel wasn't going to. She laughed.
"Oh, I don't mean to be noble. I just like biology and people."
"Do you know what kind of doctor?"
"I was toying with the idea of being a pediatrician, but now I think I might prefer to be an obstetrician instead." Axel choked on his cigarette and looked at her incredulously.
"What, does that make you uncomfortable, Axel?" I asked. He looked at me as though I'd betrayed him and I laughed.
"It's a natural thing, Axel. Women give birth all the time."
"That doesn't mean I want my little sister to tell me about it," he declared. I exchanged smiles with Kairi. Conversation flowed a little more easily after that, and Axel seemed to relax. Kairi was practically ecstatic at finally talking to her brother again, and I felt satisfied. It was good to see the two reunited after such a long time.
"Is Kairi your friend too?"
"Not really. She's nice and all, but we just don't relate."
"What about Axel? Do you think he's happy to be talking to her again?"
"You know, I think he is. And I'm glad to see him happy."
"Wait, Rox, hold still. And…there." Axel held out the fingers he'd just touched my face with. A small black hair was clinging to one of them.
"I'm not going to wish on it, Axel."
"Come on, Roxy, you have to. It'll come true." He pushed the fingers toward my face insistently.
"No, it won't Axel. I've tried every kind of wish and they never come true. Ever. Give it up."
"Maybe you were just wishing for things that were too big."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure that's it."
"Here, see. I'll prove it to you." He brought his fingers close to his face and closed his eyes. After a moment he blew lightly, sending the small eyelash flying.
"What'd you wish for?" I asked, curious despite myself.
"Nuh uh, Roxy, you'll have to wait and see." I sighed and looked away, trying not to show how much I wanted to know. There was something about Axel that made you believe him, no matter how ridiculous his claims.
"Lunch time, guys," a cheerful nurse called out, sticking her head into our room. I groaned.
"Great. Sandwich day." Axel just hummed. I was astonished, though, to walk into the kitchen to see not sandwiches but hamburgers and french fries.
"What—what's going on?"
"You see, Roxas? Wishes do work," Axel told me smugly. I just looked at him in wonder.
"Do you believe in wishes coming true, Roxas?"
"I'm not that crazy. But sometimes you've gotta wonder."
"It's a nice thing to believe, if you can. That everything you want is one lucky instance away--a stray eyelash, one passing of 11:11, a shooting star."
"It is nice."
"I wish I could believe."
Riku remained sedated nearly constantly for a week. Sometime when he woke up, we could hear him screaming in the deep hoarse voice of Ansem. The first time we saw him was the next visitor's day, two weeks later, with a constant orderly escort. He seemed sadder, more fragile. I felt guilt burn in my stomach at what I'd reduced him to. When Kairi came into the room, he just got a resigned look on his face. He tried to smile at her, but it was wan and pathetic. She hugged him hard, tears in her eyes. He whispered in her ear, something I didn't catch. Her eyes widened and a look of horror crossed her face. I saw her mouth form the word 'no', but then Riku was whispering again and her face became blank. I watched one tear brim over and trace a path down her cheek. She pulled away and nodded, kissing him on the cheek and then walking to sit next to Axel and I on the couch. She didn't say anything and I didn't ask what he'd told her. I never found out. Riku was dead two days later.
"How are you holding up, Roxas?"
"Suicide. It was suicide, we all know it."
"Suicide, then. Riku's suicide must have hit you hard."
"Not really. He's probably at least happier now, even if he isn't in a better place."
"Is that what you think?"
"Yeah. He'll be fine."
"This is goodbye, Roxas."
"Yeah. I can't come around anymore. I have to go find Riku. Make sure he finds his way to the right place this time." Sora kept his gaze on his shoes, scuffing the ground with the toe of one.
"Oh." I wasn't really sure what to say. "Well, good luck."
"I hope you guys are happy."
"Oh, we will be. I'll make sure of it this time." He looked at me, eyes determined.
"Yeah." I looked around, trying to think of anything else to add.
"I hope you and Axel are happy." I didn't answer, just looked to the side. I wasn't sure that we would be—not as sure as he was. It seemed pathetic to say anything after his determined attitude about Riku.
"Naminé'll escort you when you're ready."
"When will that be?" I asked, looking up to meet his gaze.
"Whenever you decide. It's all up to you, Roxas." I nodded. "One last thing, Roxas."
"What?" I asked cautiously.
"A gift, I guess. Hold on," he said, rustling in his pockets. He came up empty-handed, but still seeming satisfied. He moved behind me, then suddenly covered my eyes. I raised my hands to ply his hands off, but thought better of it, and instead just placed my hands over his.
"Let's see, then…" Sora murmured, then pulled his hands away. I lowered my hands as well, surprised to see a thin red string tied around my left pinky.
"Did it work?" Sora asked, pushing his head over my shoulder to look at my face.
"I think so."
"You see the strings?"
"Strings?" I asked, then looked around. There were several in the hallway, floating in the air, beginning somewhere I couldn't see and continuing past the edge of the doorframe. "What are they?" I asked curiously, turning to face Sora. I noted that he had one tied around his pinky finger as well.
"Well, they connect you and your soulmate, Roxas. Mine leads to Riku, for example," he said, raising his left hand to demonstrate.
"I see," I murmured, looking down at my left hand again. After wrapping around my pinky two or three times, the string trailed out the door and down the hallway. I was curious if it led where I thought it did.
"Well, that's my last gift to you, Roxas. I hope we meet under happier circumstances next time."
"Yeah," I said, turning back to him.
"Good bye," Sora cried sorrowfully, throwing his arms around me. I hugged him back hesitantly.
"Bye." And then he was gone.
I tracked the string into the living room, not looking where I was going until I saw it tied a very familiar pinky.
"Axel," I said wonderingly.
"Yeah?" he asked, looking away from the soap opera he'd taken to watching religiously after Demyx left.
"Nothing," I murmured distractedly. I walked back to our room, collapsing on the bed, feeling all the pieces coming together. Eventually Axel came back, fuming about how the episode had ended.
"I mean, seriously," he growled, "she wasn't supposed to be having his baby." I smiled at the scowl on his face as he threw himself onto the bed next to me, laying on his back with his arms behind his head.
"Of course she was Axel. It's a soap," I told him, curling up against his side.
"But still," he grumbled.
"Shut up," I said, leaning up to kiss him softly. He sighed happily, suddenly complacent. I smiled at his change in demeanor, then turned my head to gaze at the ceiling with him. We were silent for a long time before he broke the silence.
"I have something to say to you," he announced softly.
"I love you, Rox." I nodded.
"I know." I could feel his gaze on me, staring. I smiled to myself, twisting so he wouldn't see. I could sense him growing impatient, but I waited until he said something.
"Do you have something to say to me?" he sounded anxious and irritated.
"I love you too, Axel. Never doubt that." I turned back to him, looking him straight in the eyes. He smiled and kissed me, making a soft noise of happiness.
"New hallucinations, Roxas?"
"Well, maybe. But I stopped seeing Sora, so the appearance of one is cancelled out by the disappearance of another, right?"
"It doesn't work that way, and you know it, Roxas."
"Have you ever noticed you only use my name when you're annoyed with me?"
"Are you changing the subject because it makes you uncomfortable?"
"We already all knew I was crazy. It's neither new nor exciting. I don't really care."
It was weird, sometimes, that Riku was gone. I'd wander into his room, expecting to see him, and he wouldn't be there. There was just a stiff aura of something unfinished and the battered copy of Catcher in the Rye. I wasn't ever sure that he was really dead; most times it seemed like he'd just left without giving a forwarding address. It was the same way when the nurses told me that my mom had died in a car accident, coming to visit me. It was surreal, so much so that I was never sure whether or not it had really happened, afterward. I didn't expect her to show up as much as I expected to see Riku, though. I wondered if they'd seen each other, out wherever they were. I hoped Sora would help my mom get to where she was supposed to be as well. And then when Axel disappeared as well, I didn't know anything anymore. It was sobering to feel so alone, so left behind. Over time that I couldn't keep track of, the ward was filled again, the empty spaces sealed up. The newcomers carried with them a sense of the unfamiliar, of strangeness. Fights broke out more often between them, ending only after one had managed to claw and bite and punch and kick submission out of the other. My roommate left me alone, though he featured in the strange memory—"Please, I'm sorry, don't hurt me anymore," he begged, tears leaking out of swollen eyes and down a battered face—I had from a time I couldn't remember. I was afraid that maybe the doctor was tampering with my brain.
"Are you sure Sora's gone? Is he in the room?"
"No, he's not in the fucking room with us! Why would you say something like that?"
"Roxas, calm down."
"I am calm."
"Mm. So Sora isn't in the room. Do you still see him ever?"
"No. He left with Riku. They're happy now. I've told you that."
Lucidity was not something I could hold on to, as the weeks wore on into dreary months and each moment and memory bled into the next. Sometimes I would wake up next to Axel, both of us crammed in my tiny twin bed. Most times, though, I was alone, solitary from even the others. I remembered reading Catcher in the Rye, struggling to retain each moment, memory, so that I could be closer to both Riku and Axel. When I finished, though, I felt nothing—no closer to each of them, no saner than when I started, nothing. I stuffed the book under my mattress, hoping that maybe Axel's essence was contained in the object itself, instead of the words. But after I finished, it was as though I'd wasted all my clear minutes on the book. Everything was contained in small snippets of memory, snapshots of experience that I lacked the logic to decode, to put in order. The shrink telling me that I'd been on a placebo, whatever that was. The orderly sedating me as I stood over a strange battered boy. A burning match.
"Roxas, are the episodes--"
"Roxas, why did you fight with your roommate?"
"We're taking you out of the clinical study--"
"--need to concentrate--"
It took all of my willpower to bring myself all together and stay that way for longer than a few minutes, but I managed it eventually. I forgot my purpose several times, but I fought against myself and managed to regain it. It was night in the ward, dark but for a few nightlights in the hallway so the nurses wouldn't trip while checking up on us. I lay still until one did her rounds, then wedged a chair under the door knob and got out my matches. I had some rubbing alcohol from the nurses' station which I'd asked for to clean out a scrape. I poured it on my bed, then carefully lit a match and set the bed on fire. It caught immediately, spreading outward and burning. I watched as the blanket caught as well, and then the sheets and mattress and pillow. I kicked my roommate to wake him up, wanting to start setting fire to his side of the room. He was groggy at first and then terrified. He must have thought that I was trying to kill him because he started screaming, but I just ignored him, concentrating on setting the flames. After I set his bed on fire, I worked on spreading the flames to my dresser and nightstand. It was difficult, but eventually I managed it by catching a shirt on fire, first, and putting it next to the wood. The door rattled and my roommate raced over to it, wrenching at it desperately. He got it partially open, but the chair ended up wedged even more tightly, and he couldn't do anything more. I kicked at the chair until it gave, then walked calmly out of the room and into the living room. I ignored the nurses who questioned me, and they lost interest as my roommate started screaming again and running down the hall to the main entrance and stairs. I had the couch on fire by the time the alarm went off, a shrill noise that I tuned out. The end tables caught fire admirably well, and I stood back to admire my handiwork. The flames burned brightly, beautifully, spreading where they could. The thin lace curtains caught of their own accord, and soon the wall was burning merrily. I looked up to see a stampede happening; nurses and orderlies and patients ran around like ants in an anthill on fire, shouting and screaming and crying. I turned back to the flames, watching them instead, focusing on their beauty. I didn't notice the others leaving until I was alone, the only sound the roar of the fire. I saw Namine waiting patiently over by the window.
"I'm ready," I said to her. She nodded and motioned for me to follow. I remembered Demyx's last words to me then, and muttered them to myself as we walked away, leaving behind my body on the rug.
"Not all of us can be happy in this world—not all of us belong. Sometimes you have to leave it to find where you're supposed to be." They echoed in my mind as I stood there, and were still echoing when I fell.
where you're supposed to be…
supposed to be…
End Note: So that's the end. I thought about making a happy ending, as a companion, for people to choose, but I just didn't have the energy. If you guys want me to write one and post it, I can try. I just couldn't really see any other end being feasible, personally. Things I feel need explaining: Axel's disappearance. Axel dies—I didn't really think about how. Lung cancer, suicide, freak accident. Take your pick. But that's it. And Roxas knows that he's gone to (to be terribly cliché) a better place. And Roxas and Axel kiss more than I felt like writing out, not just the three times, if anyone's wondering. I know the end seems sudden, but Roxas's main psychological break came when Axel died, and then he subconsciously blocked it out, so I left that out of the story. Even allowing for that, though, it's sudden. Kind of shoddy, I think, but overall, still good writing. Finally, Sora, Namine, the strings, etc, were all real in the story. Kind of like ghosts, I guess. Roxas's schizophrenia make him more sensitive to the supernatural, so that's why he can see them. And that, my friends, is finally finally finally it.