Chapter 14: The Dark King
"W-Who said I was h-human?" my voice warbled, pathetically unconvincing. I was dead. I was stupid for coming and now I would be dead before my disease killed me.
Genesis guffawed. "Your scent more than gives you away, boy. All of you humans have that same putrid smell. Why the Queen would allow such a craven creature to desecrate our lands with its presence is beyond me—" His snake-like eyes flicked back to Naminé and a cruel smirk began to stretch his lips, "but luckily for her highness, your unwanted existence can be easily disposed of."
Naminé started to growl, but the sound was quickly muted as Genesis curled his fingers into a fist and a sudden, searing pain tore through my body. The strength in my legs shattered, bringing my frame tumbling to the ground like a marionette cut from its strings.
My flesh still clung to my body, but felt as though it should be melting off of my bones. If I had been more sentient, I would have checked for a puddle of skin, but the pain—this fiery darkness—was all-consuming.
I wasn't even sure how long it lasted. It could have been a century, and I wouldn't have known. All I could hear outside of the flames crackling within my body was the distinct, albeit mangled, snarl that ripped itself from the back of Naminé's throat.
Then, a hot light broke its way past the dark spots swimming across my vision, and I could see Naminé, now a white wolf, literally leap onto Genesis' chest; the auburn-haired man was startled by the assault and groaned as Naminé's claws dug deeper into his ruby cloak, creating trails of dark blood along his torso.
"Weak body, that one has," Genesis coughed, a twisted smirk replacing the expression of agony, "but a strong light. It will be…interesting to see which destroys him first…"
"What are you…?" Naminé's feminine voice was somehow in my head, ringing with angry confusion. I knew she was about to sink her teeth into his neck. I would have too; the guy was insane.
But she didn't because a dark, swirling corridor opened up beneath his bleeding frame and would have swallowed Naminé with it, if she hadn't moved.
"Farewell, for now, my love," Genesis crooned. The dark tendrils captured his body and pulled him further into their empty abyss until only his face was visible. "Legend shall speak...Of sacrifice at world's end…The wind sails over the water's surface…Quietly, but surely…"
The last syllable was little more than a whisper, consumed by the insatiable pit before it closed and left us in a silent tension for the next few moments.
"Are you sure he's alright?"
I hadn't passed out, but Naminé insisted on bringing me to Serah, who was apparently the clan's main medic in between soothing a crying newborn.
Serah giggled as she applied another wet piece of cloth onto my head, Naminé watching my reaction to the cool substance as though prepared to rip it off of my forehead if it caused me pain. I closed my eyes and tried to keep the muscles in my face from twitching.
"He'll be fine, your highness," Serah assured, "Just a little shocked I'm sure. Not many people meet the Dark King and live to tell the tale, let alone resist his magic."
Naminé still bristled. "Asshole."
"How do you really feel?" I joked with a wry smile. My eyes started to droop, but I maintained my consciousness by sheer will.
Naminé stopped looking at Serah and jabbed an accusing finger at me. "And you! What did you think you were doing spying on me like that? I thought we had already established a no eavesdropping rule."
"We did," I agreed sheepishly, "but…I didn't think it applied when it came to your safety. I mean…this Genesis guy is a nut. I couldn't just let you confront him on your own."
"Because you don't believe that I'm strong enough to face him alone?" Naminé snapped; but her hands gently adjusted the cloth on my forehead.
"No…" I coughed and shook my head. The light from the torches on the cavern walls outlined Naminé's face in a ring of gold. I resisted the urge to touch her face and test the warmth of the halo. She was still mad at me. "You're like the Lara Croft of shape-shifters, but I…We're supposed to be m-mates, right? I thought we handled forces of evil side-by-side…"
"Your heart was in the right place, but Roxas, you still lack the proper training to be fighting the battles I must face as Queen, and you're human. Genesis has great power that even I can barely stand against. So, I won't deliberately put you in the front lines when I know it's only suicide," Naminé countered, and the remaining ice in her eyes melted, softening her features.
I couldn't help but scoff in annoyance. "So, my training is for nothing?"
"Typical human," Naminé growled quietly, "you're taking this the wrong way. Our seeress believes you to be an important part of the prophecy, but that doesn't mean you can storm the battlefield ill-equipped and without a strategy. Genesis could have killed you, you know that, don't you?" Naminé's voice grew louder again, but the sharpness didn't reach her eyes as she took my face into her hands. Despite the icy skin, the flush in my face only grew warmer. "And what would I have done? My kind mates for life. We don't get second chances in love—not the way you humans do."
I nearly vomited from the onslaught of guilt and couldn't stand to look her in eyes any longer. I was a grenade, waiting to explode. I should be honest. I should tell her the truth, but I was also too damn selfish. Too caught up in the adventure to slow down and resign myself to that inevitable death bed waiting for me in room 0013.
The words felt hollow leaving my lips, but I quickly shoved the hypocrisy to the back of my mind. I would come back to it closer to my actual expiration date.
"It's not fine, but just try to think a little less like a human next time and save me some grief." Naminé released my face, her lip quirking upwards into a playful smirk. From the corner of my eye, I could see Serah's mirthful smile as she pretended to busy herself with arranging the leftover medical supplies.
"No promises," I replied, "but I'll try."
Pushing myself up from the cot, I staggered to my feet. The ground shifted underneath me and created a wave of dizziness only surpassed by the monsoon of sick I normally experienced after laying out in the heat for a few hours.
Naminé steadied me and held onto my eyes with palpable concern. "…You are alright, aren't you? I don't want you going home if you're still—"
"I can't worry my parents," I said, shrugging both her hands and words away with what I hoped was a nonchalant tone in my voice.
"You were nearly killed by the Dark King and the thing you're most worried about is how your parents will react if you're late?"
I wanted to answer her incredulous expression with a blasé response. Something like: 'Trust me, the Dark King has nothing on my Mom when she's pissed' or 'All I need is for my parents to think that their dying son met his grave ahead of schedule.'
I bit the inside of my cheek, instead and remained silent.
Naminé rolled her eyes, but gently looped her arm through mine. "At least let me walk home with you. I know you're a guy, but as your mate—" She made sure to accentuate the one-syllabic word, "this is something I need to do, especially since you're hurt."
"And human," I added, resigned. Not like I needed an encore of Genesis or any of his cronies before I made it home. My body was banged up enough as it was.
"Now you're getting it," Naminé teased before pressing her lips lightly onto mine. I smiled, but the lump of guilt stuck in my chest.
I was home before my parents noticed, but despite it being Saturday, Mom still freaked that I wasn't conscious before noon. Dad wasn't happy either, though he didn't verbally let me know. I didn't think it was abnormal for a teenage boy to sleep in so late (Sora rarely woke up before noon during the summer), but apparently being terminally ill made even teenage customs a source for alarm.
"I don't need to go to the hospital today," I complained and walked slowly with the hope that my parents would turn around and take me home. "I'm fine, just tired."
"Still," Dad countered, "you shouldn't be so exhausted all the time, especially before even taking your meds."
Mom agreed. "We just need to understand why you're losing so much energy all of a sudden."
I rolled my eyes, the sarcasm leaping off my tongue before I could stop it. "Yeah, because cancer is totally supposed to energize its victims. Makes sense to me."
Dad's eyes darkened and I sobered, an apology trying to untangle itself from my lips, but the damage was already done.
Mom broke into a series of harsh sobs.
"Mom, I'm…I didn't mean to…," I sputtered but a coherent sentence was still far from my reach. The only thing I could manage was a bony hug. Luckily, she returned it, but the guilt was a raw wound bleeding against my chest.
She ran her fingers through my hair again and again until the shaking of her hands stopped. I'm sure we looked bizarre standing outside the hospital. People never ceased to filter through the automatic doors, but if any of them cared, it didn't show. Only a passing glance was spared to our spectacle as families, lovers, and friends hurried to the bed-bound individuals anxiously awaiting their arrival.
"We should probably check in," Dad interrupted, touching Mom's shoulder with a light squeeze.
After a few more seconds, Mom finally released me and brushed the bangs from my eyes with a leftover sniffle. "Your father is right. You can't be late for your appointment."
I nodded and dropped my hand into my Mom's. She smiled and used her spare hand to capture Dad's. The sun winked hopefully down at us as we passed beneath the blue-tinted sky, but I knew better. It never mattered what the weather was. Going to the hospital always sucked.
Yuffie, my overtly chipper nurse, welcomed us back almost immediately. A part of me was grateful that this visit wouldn't be prolonged with pointless staring contests with the hospital's fish, but another part of me wanted to wait. My appetite had increased, but training was brutal and my recent rendezvous with the Dark King couldn't have been a huge help to my already deteriorating health.
I delayed sucking in the sterilized air when we entered the exam room, but succumbed to my body's natural needs once I plopped down onto my usual sheet-covered pedestal. The paper crinkled as I wriggled for a comfortable position.
"So," Yuffie chirped, "just here for a physical?"
I watched as she snapped a pair of rubber gloves on and unsheathed a long, spindly needle, but didn't answer. Dad did.
"We're just a little worried about the…" Dad, watching Mom's glassy gaze carefully, stumbled with his words, "…progression of the disease. Roxas has been completely exhausted lately, but it's not even Christmas yet."
Yuffie nodded, eyebrows furrowed as she absentmindedly rolled up my sleeve to pick the vein most visible for the needle to prick. I almost gasped aloud at the sight, but Mom beat me to it; she nearly toppled Yuffie over as she hastily stumbled to my side. Dad stood up slowly to join us, but his face was ashen.
I knew having any type of cancer meant that my body was likely to bruise ten times easier, and that Lightning wasn't exactly the gentlest trainer, but even I was surprised at the visible damage my body had taken on.
All along my arm splotches of blue, purple, and black stained my skin like tattoos. Cuts scratched the surface of my skin, leaving angry red lines where translucent white should be. They weren't bleeding. Naminé always made sure Serah patched me up before I could go home, but even with that aid, the appearance was still gruesome.
How hadn't I ever noticed? Was I just too tired? Or had this started happening only a few weeks ago—the day I really committed to my training?
"R-Roxas," Dad stuttered, "H-How…?"
"My baby!" Mom cried and tears started to spill from her irises again. She tried embracing me, but this time her grip was too tight and I winced aloud.
Without asking for permission, Mom lifted my shirt until my abdomen was exposed. I willed for there to be nothing wrong, but my parents' horrified gasps shattered any hope. I didn't want to look down, but reflexively, I did.
I nearly threw up at the sight.
It was as if I was looking at a mangled corpse; one that has been brutally beaten until eventually skin and veins had become nearly indistinguishable from bruise and cut.
I searched the room for Yuffie, hoping that she could somehow calm my parents (especially my mother) down, but she must have hustled out for assistance because less than a minute later she rushed into the room behind a stony-faced Dr. Valentine.
Dr. Valentine only examined his clipboard once before dismissing Yuffie and promptly prodding at my multi-colored limbs with a variety of instruments. He didn't breathe a word during the examination, but after a few minutes, he broke the silence with one of his usual dry remarks.
"Did you get run over by a semi since I've last seen you or is this the result of malfunctioning stairs?"
"Dr. Valentine—" Mom started indignantly, but Dr. Valentine held up a wintry hand.
"I mean no harm with my remarks, Mrs. Strife, but I do not feel that dramatizing the current situation would serve either yourself or your son any good. There is no doubting that damage has been done, but I do not perceive it to be any sort of danger for the progression of your son's disease. It is not liable to help, but the only severe injury I can find is a pair of cracked ribs—something that must heal on its own without medical intervention."
My eyes darted from Dr. Valentine to my parents. "So…I'm not dying…faster?"
"No," Dr. Valentine assured, "but it would probably be in your best interest to stop doing…" he paused to gesture at my colorful body, "whatever it is you're doing in the near future—or at least tone it down a little. Your body enjoys exercise, but cancer does not. Chemo or no chemo, your body is taking more than just a little hit with every activity you do."
"We'll keep him home whenever we can," Dad said sternly, placing a hand on my shoulder.
I glared at floor, a protest springing from my lips. "But I've been feeling perfectly fine before. Better than I feel when I'm stuck just watching TV at home."
"Roxas—" Dad started to admonish as Mom's voice overlapped his.
"We can do other things too, sweetie. Just not—"
"I'm not saying keep him chained to the bed or even at home," Dr. Valentine interrupted in his typical curt voice, "All I'm advising is that whatever physical activity he's found should be lightened."
"But he's not even signed up for any physical activities," Mom argued before shifting a pointed gaze to me.
I swallowed back the truth and lied smoothly. "I've been skateboarding again. I know I shouldn't since it's not exactly the safest sport, but I've really missed it."
And I did. I wasn't the athlete of the family like Sora, but skateboarding had become the one sport I enjoyed—and one of the many activities I had been promptly banned from participating in.
Mom pursed her lips, wiping away any straggling tears that still clung to her cheeks. "Your father and I told you that you couldn't skateboard anymore. It was already dangerous when you were well, but…" she sniffed and dabbed at her moistening eyes. "but now…and I know you miss it, but…but…"
"Your mother can't afford to lose any of the time we have left with you," Dad finished and it was his hand that shakily wove through my hair this time. "We want you to indulge yourself in the things you enjoy, but...not at the cost of your own life. What if you had damaged an internal organ or broken a bone? Your mother and I…we can't do anything to make what's going on inside of you better." Dad moved his hand from my head to my chest and Mom placed her own hand on top of his. "But we can at least try to prevent anything from happening to you on the outside."
"Your father's right, sweetie," Mom agreed with an audible sniffle, "We do want you to enjoy yourself, but losing you any sooner…please, we can't handle that."
In my mind, I was receiving the award for the worst son in the world. I needed to help Naminé. I couldn't let her down with a creep like Genesis on the loose, but maybe my family needed me more than I thought? Maybe I should lighten up on the training?
I burrowed my head into my Mom's shoulder and grasped her neck like I did as a child. "I'm sorry."
And I meant it this time.
At my parents' request, I promptly fell onto the couch and began watching Criminal Minds. My muscles were sore anyway, and the thought of more training made me want to vomit—that and my parents were now watching me like a pair of hawks.
The figures across the screen occasionally fizzled into incoherent shapes as my consciousness dropped into a peaceful doze, but I watched at least twenty consecutive minutes (commercials included) of the crime drama before Sora practically busted into the living room.
"Done with blitzball practice?" I yawned, but didn't move my eyes from the screen.
"You went to the hospital today." Sora's words were blunt but lacked the sharp edge I had expected. He sat down on the opposite side of me, eyes intent on my face for a reaction. "Why didn't you tell me you weren't feeling good?"
I laughed dryly. "I never feel good anymore, Sora. Plus, it was just a check-up. It's not like I was going in for surgery."
"Then what was up with all those cuts and bruises?" The sharpness tinged with desperation returned to his voice. "Dammit, Roxas. You gave your skateboard to that neighbor kid the week we found out. I was with you! So, how the hell did you really get hurt? Does it have something to do with Naminé? Like…a vindictive ex?"
If I had been less lazy and achy, I would have dramatically stormed off to my room and slammed the door. Instead, I was merely sarcastic. "Yes, obviously I have no means at all to buy myself another skateboard. Every skateboard in Twilight Town has been either sold or burned just so I can't own one. And Naminé is somehow the ringleader of this entire operation." I added the last bit as an afterthought and almost giggled at the idea of Naminé being a skateboard smuggling queen.
Sora growled and his eyes darkened. "Don't think I don't know you're lying to me. We're twins, Roxas, and sooner or later, I'll find out what's really going on."
"Well, I prefer later."
My brother deserved an explanation, but I was pretty sure exposing the clan to an outsider would be some sort of a breach in whatever code they had established.
I watched briefly as Sora stalked off and grumbled angrily to himself about my lack of cooperation, but then shifted my attention to a less stressful hobby: channel surfing.
Images flickered past my eyes—a beach, celebrities underwater, Tinkerbell, pasta, kissing couples, screaming children, a news anchor wading through recent debris along the edge of Naminé's forest, puppies…Wait, what?
I flipped back a channel.
"…Police have yet to discover the perpetrators behind this mess, but animal patrol and investigators have at least been able to confirm that the damage was human-induced."
A close-up of a tree raked by incredibly sharp fingernails followed the reporter's voice, and I found myself gaping as the camera zoomed out again to show a panoramic view of the location. Trails of blood, fallen tree trunks, and fresh animal carcasses all littered the once pristine landscape. I could only imagine how angry Naminé was about this right now.
Maybe I should go and see…
My consciousness started to wane at the thought, and I mentally cursed myself as the darkness I was slowly drifting into finally swallowed me whole.
Sometimes my random bouts of narcolepsy were a blessing. Other times, it was just annoying.
I woke up in my own bed hours later—around midnight. Feeling a flush throughout my body, I opened the window nearest my bed and leaned against the pane as a soft wind brushed into the room.
The moon was a slender silver sliver tonight, casting bleached light along the backyard fence so that the metal wire looked almost white. I blinked.
The tree adjacent to my room rustled, a flurry of leftover leaves floating into a pile of frost stained grass. A stray owl flew off after, hooting disdainfully at the sudden lack of foliage.
Abruptly, my phone started to buzz onto the night side table before flopping onto the carpet with a muffled thud. Closing the window, I swiped my phone from the floor and fell back onto my bed.
A shot of energy filled my veins. "Naminé? Are you okay?"
"Wasn't I just the one who asked if you were alright?" A sigh entered her voice, "I didn't mean to call so late, but…I don't know. I just couldn't shake this feeling that something was wrong, and I would have come over to see if everything was okay, but I thought you seeing me outside your window might come off a little…"
"Creepy?" I finished and a smile crept into my voice.
"Yeah, like Edward watching Bella sleep creepy—so I decided to call."
I chuckled and forced the unease to slip from my voice. "Wise choice, but I'm fine. Tired from training but fine."
I pulled the phone away from my ear to check that the call hadn't randomly ended. The numbers recoding the length of the call didn't pause.
There was another sigh on her end before any words left her lips. "Why do I feel like you're always hiding something from me, Roxas?"
Holding the phone tighter, I tried to slow down my heartbeat while keeping my voice steady. "What…what are you talking about? Training with Lightning isn't exactly a picnic and—"
"Your aura has been dimmer lately," Naminé interrupted in a murmur.
"All creatures have auras visible to those with the sight. It signifies your life force and overall demeanor," Naminé explained. "Yours is normally a bright gold, but it's been dimming. I tried passing it off as some sort of weird human trait, but today…it was much harder to see. Not impossible, but abnormally difficult."
Panic started to build in my chest until I was sure my heart would explode from the pressure. "I'm fine," I snapped hastily, "the aura thing was probably just some side-effect from my encounter with Genesis."
"Roxas," Naminé's voice dipped, hurt. "This has been happening for the past few weeks. I know training with Lightning isn't the easiest, but none of this should be happening. Please, if there's something going on with you, let me help."
I exhaled my words sharply. "There's nothing you can do."
"How can I know that if you won't tell me what's going on?" Naminé cried angrily.
"This isn't something I want to…" I paused to rub my forehead, exasperated, "Discuss over the phone, Naminé."
The female voice on the other end bit back with an audible snarl. "Stop using excuses, Roxas. Tell me: what is going on?"
I was tempted to hang up, but I didn't. I was tired, angry, and sick of lying about everything; the truth bubbled from my mouth before my finger could even twitch towards the 'end call' button.
"Cancer," I spat out the word, hating the way my lips pushed out the syllables and also hating how easily I could say it now, "I have cancer."
Naminé was silent on the other end; I hung up this time.
Big Thank You to my lovely beta, Gengajupite, for catching those silly mistakes of mine.
If you can, you should all check out his fics. There's a RokuNami one in there:)
A/N: I don't know why I enjoy being so dramatic with these cliffhangers, but I figured this would be a good place to stop. I hadn't intended to drop the bomb on her already, but realistically, how would a secret like this be maintained without cutting off all communication? The sicker he gets, the more visible the disease will be-plus, it will be interesting to see how Roxas can still fit into the battle against Genesis with this revelation out in the open.
It wouldn't be tradition, if I didn't apologize for the ridiculously long update wait '-_-. Summer makes it easier to write since there's no school, but now I have work instead, which means less writing time again. It'll get done-just at a slower pace than I would like.
-The 'celebrities underwater' bit was a tribute to a Nickelodeon show that aired some years back, do you know it?
-Tinkerbell is more obvious since Jesse McCartney provided the voice for Terrance, Tinkerbell's friend and potential love interest.
-Can you guess who/what kinds of people did the damage to Namine's forest? It's nothing supernatural, but actually draws itself from a book series (it hasn't been turned into a movie or TV show).
-I hope the reveal itself didn't come super duper abrupt. I wanted it to be a surprise, but also make sense in terms of what's been happening earlier.
-Sora's majorly suspicious...do you think he'll find out? Do you want him to?
-How will Namine react? How would you react?
Thank You SO much for all the reviews, favorites, and alerts!
Each one continues to push me towards finishing this fic, even when I'm not too keen on my writing abilities.
I update regardless of how well a goal has been 'met,' but I really do appreciate your feedback as a writer. Compliments, constructive criticism...everything helps.