I think that's what they call it.
Sickening churning of the stomach, tossing and turning in your sleep, stress making you more tired. The lack of sleep increasing relatively high stress levels, sickness – worry. Missions continuously loose progression, falling behind, not pulling your weight in the organisation because you're too overworked, too stressed – too worried.
I rolled onto my side, onto my back and onto my side again, unable to sleep without seeing their faces. It didn't help the mattress seemed to be made out of stone, either and these walls – so white, they glared at me, but I couldn't even muster the energy to shut off the light. I didn't have the will to, either. I just wanted to lie and sleep – and I couldn't even do that. What was the use at all?
All these people sit and complain about not having a heart, forcing me to kill heartless to create 'kingdom hearts'. Apparently, we will all be whole again – we will finally regain a sense of self-awareness, be able to feel... I don't have a heart, so why can I still feel like this? Unable to concentrate without my thoughts lingering on their well-being.
Is this normal? Am I supposed to be able to feel this? Perhaps they're echoes from my Somebody; perhaps these aren't my feelings but are misplaced onto something else. Or maybe, I'm a defect. Saix always said from day one I had only one use – Larxene was quick to add how incompetent I was. Maybe they knew something I didn't – they knew more than I would ever come to know, not that I wanted to know. The more I knew, the less I seemed to know. It's all just a day's work for me; waking up, following orders and catching a few winks if I'm lucky, though lately luck didn't seem to be on my side.
The knock on my door echoed in dull silence. I leant up on my elbows and cleared my throat to answer –
The door swung open before I had the chance to speak. Saix drifted into my room, a look of disgust in his eyes when he caught sight of me lazing about. "Double the shifts. You'll be paired with Xigbar today. We've heard of a disturbance in the Agrabah. Your mission is to investigate– "
"And terminate heartless," I interjected tiredly, dragging myself to my feet.
"Xigbar's already waiting for you. His patience is thinning, so I would hurry if I were you," he continued icily. His blue eyes narrowed to near slits. "Something troubling you, thirteen?"
I shook my head and put on my boots, already drained of energy.
"Well, whatever it is had best not distract you from your mission. You need to put in extra effort since those terminated in castle oblivion" – I flinched – "have put us behind schedule. We need as many hearts as we can get. We're counting on you."
He was right. Marluxia was gone. Vexen was gone. Larxene terminated. Zexion disappeared. Axel... gone forever. Dead. No more sharing sea salt ice creams on top of the clock tower after missions, my first friend... gone.
I nodded, unable to force myself to speak. I'd used it too much in the past, questioning Saix about Castle Oblivion and what had become of the others there, yet he failed to tell me. He just said it was 'none of my concern' and that I should 'put more energy into concentrating on my duties'. I had tried to follow his commands, but it was hard to shunt their faces from my mind. The fact that I would never see them again, or hear his voice bothered me more than it apparently should, gradually wearing me down until I couldn't cope.
I was on edge.
At least it was Xigbar I was paired with on this mission. He was nice enough to talk to, a little rough around the edges in some places, yet still pretty down-to-earth.
"Chin up, kiddo," he said, patting me on the back. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we RTC."
RTC meant returning to the castle. That meant more time to sit and think about him, his face; his vivid green eyes... time wasted moping around. Even more time wasted trying to get to sleep.
More worry. More stress. Less sleep.
I completed the mission soon enough, stabbing those ruthless heartless right where it hurt. It didn't bother me how they seemed to get bigger, or increase in strength, because no matter how weak I was, when I was fighting I felt this sudden surge of strength, throwing the keyblade around like a feather. It was weightless, powerful and got the job done, no problem. Xigbar noticed my aim had improved and tossed me some potions he was keeping 'just in case'. Not much of a gift – it meant there'd be plenty more missions ahead – but I thanked him politely anyways.
"Not just any potion. Mega potions! Got to love 'em," he said. "Work like a charm."
I frowned. "Love? What's that?"
"You don't need to worry about that, kiddo."
"But I would like to know," I persisted.
He chuckled, knocking his fist into my cheek. "It's just an expression, don't worry about it."
I looked up and him, with wide eyes. "But that word... it sounds familiar. Is it... a feeling?"
Xigbar looked surprised, and then looked around him to see if anyone was around. "Yes, it is. How to describe it? It's... it's sort of like when you 'like' something. Like Demyx and his sitar, he likes it very much. He likes too much." He looked disgusted. "Love is a stronger version of like. If you have a heart, you can feel love. We're nobodies and don't have a heart, so it doesn't matter to us. We can't feel it anyway. But I hear it's pretty nice."
"A stronger version of like," I repeated to myself.
So that was love. I wonder what it felt like, loving someone. It sounded nice – beautiful even. I wish I could feel something like that... it would be a lot better than this constant worrying.
I thought about trying to get to the castle, to see for myself if he was really gone. I thought about that a lot, actually, but I wouldn't dare disobey orders. The organisation, if anything, was all I had left. It was a part of me – the only part I knew. I had no memories before here, so what else would I do if I suddenly left?
Again, I worry. I think about my dark, desolate future robotically hunting down the heartless in an attempt to regain some wholeness – to fill the void. Sometimes I forget the voids there, but then I hear his voice and I can feel the coldness seeping in. Like acid it erodes all the sense of resolve I manage to muster up – not that it was much to begin with. Still, it narrowed my progress. I think the other member noticed, too. Demyx visited me in here sometimes, playing his sitar. He understood our closeness – he believed our friendship was real, unlike the other members who laughed in our faces.
When I got back to the World that Never was I find the new member, Xion, is my next partner. She's nice enough – quiet, but we make a good team. It helps that she can use the keyblade, too – double the amount of hearts we collect. I try speaking to her, but she remains quiet – kind of like how I was in my first few days in the organisation. After a while, though, she started speaking, gradually taking my mind off him. I even took her to our place at the top of clock tower and introduced her to sea salt ice cream. It wasn't the same atmosphere as with him and me, but it was comfortable – relaxing. I felt my eyes drift whilst I watched the sunset.
The skies were blood red, surrounding a giant orange ball. The sun was gradually slinking behind the hills in the distance, leaving a giant colourful streak in its wake.
Do you know why red is the first colour we see in the sunset?
My heart clenched at the sound of his voice.
It's because red travels the fastest.
Xion touched my arm comfortingly – when I looked she quickly removed it, as if she'd overstepped a boundary. The look of confusion on her face confirmed it.
"It's okay," I said.
"You're thinking about that person?" she asked, unsure.
I nodded, licking my ice-cream. "He was my first friend."
She twiddled her thumbs. "A friend? That sounds... nice."
"What do friends do?" she said suddenly. Her bright colbaly eyes were as wide as saucers, begging for information.
I sat and thought for a moment, thinking of what he would have said. I pictured all our missions together and all the time we came up here to just sit and talk. How we worked as a team in all our missions – he'd take all the hits instead of me, claiming he was a 'big boy' and could handle it better than I could. He was a good friend.
Shaking my head, I turned to face her. "Friends are... They look out for each other and eat ice cream together."
She paused, looking at her ice cream and towards me pointedly. "Are we friends?"
"Sure, we are," I laughed. She laughed, too.
For a while I didn't worry so much. I managed to sleep – though not a lot, but it was an improvement. I still couldn't forget him as much as I tried, the more I thought about forgetting, the harder it was to forget. But do friends forget each other?
I don't even understand what I'm meant to do.
Am I meant to think about him all the time?
Am I meant to... What's the word? What's the word when you want something? When a part of you is gone, and you need it back to become whole. There's a word for it. I know it somewhere; it's on the tip of my tongue.
That's it isn't it? I miss him. What do you do when you miss someone? I can't ask anyone, they would probably laugh at my stupidity, at these imaginary emotions that shouldn't exist. I dismiss it, but inwardly I can feel my thoughts shifting towards that direction, like a magnet attracting my conscious. Though even when I sleep, I can feel him there, in my dreams, alive and well again. But those dreams don't last for long, and reality hits like a cold shower. It stings.
Sleep evades me once again. I'm sent on a mission to rid Twilight Town of all the heartless. It doesn't take me long to track them down and terminate them. I inwardly winced at the word, feeling badly healed wounds cut deeper.
After the hard work is done, I go to the clock tower alone. Xion doesn't come today, which I find strange. It's just me and my ice cream for company. Still, I have her ice-cream right here in my hand. If she doesn't come I guess I'll just eat it, or take it back to her. Voices sound from below – its Hayner and his gang. They're playing around with some bat and a ball. It's a stupid game – what's the point in hitting a ball with a bat? Yet, I feel something stir inside me; I wanted to play. I want to be their friend to have fun and laugh like them – I want to smile.
Footsteps echo dully behind me; I don't turn, instead hold out another sea salt ice-cream. As expected Xion takes it and sits down beside me, dangling her legs over the edge of the wall – pretty long legs. When did they get longer than mine?
"This is a better homecoming than I expected," a low voice said.
A low voice I recognised.
"Axel," I gasped, almost falling over the edge. There he was, alive and as healthy as ever. I steadied myself. "I thought you were terminated along with the others."
Axel ruffled his spikes, grinning. The familiar movement sent butterflies fluttering around my stomach. I felt the urge to wrap my arms around him, but I didn't know why, instead gripping the walls edge.
"Gee, Roxas," he said. "Glad to know you have so much faith in me. A real pal."
"Saix said you were gone," I continued. "Everyone said everyone was gone... I thought... I thought you weren't coming back." I looked at my hands, feeling my eyes prickling.
They felt itchy and wetter than usual. I could feel my face straining, struggling to push the wetness back, but I failed. They pooled along my cheeks, cold and damp. I felt ashamed, like I knew they were a bad sign, and hid my face from him as best I could. But my shoulders started shaking and my breathing hitched, suddenly a lot heavier.
He sighed. "It's true they were all terminated. I'm the only one who survived. But whatever you thought doesn't matter, because that's in the past - and clearly didn't happen!" He grabbed my hand and placed it on his very real chest. "There see? Still here."
I nodded, unable to stop the smile sliding onto my face. "I worried, you know."
"That's what friends do," he said softly. "You're getting pretty good at this friend business."
I nodded again, wiping my face. The wetness melted along my mouth – it was salty, but bitter unlike the ice-cream.
"Tears," he said, noticing my confusion. "Those are tears."
"What does it mean?" They made my face cold and sticky.
"It means," he paused and ruffled my hair, "you're a pretty good friend, Roxas. The best friend, in fact."
I laughed and pushed his arm away. "I guess, you're the best friend, too, Axel."
"You guess?" he snorted, licking his ice-cream. "You'd be lost without your old buddy."
"I probably would."
For some reason, I thought about that word Xigbar told me about 'love'. That warm, happy feeling that fills the void when you love something – and I pictured Axel's face at the same time.
I almost choked on my ice-cream.
"What's up?" Axel asked, sounding worried.
"I'm your friend, you can tell me."
I looked up at him uneasily. "Have you ever heard of 'love'?"
It was Axel's turn to choke. "How do you know about that? Did someone tell you?"
"Answer the question," I demanded.
His eyebrows rose. "Touché... well, it's not exactly secret, Roxas. Love is everywhere."
"Xi – someone," I corrected quickly, "said it's when you really, really like something."
Axel nodded. "Yeah, that sounds about right. It's a stronger version of like."
"But Nobodies can't feel it?"
"I know it wasn't Demyx who told you then." True, Demyx was in denial and thought he had a heart.
"I think I can feel it," I said slowly. "I know I really, really like this ice cream. Does that mean I love it?"
He laughed and hit me on the arm. "Whatever floats your boat." When he stopped, his smile faded and he became more serious. "But generally, when people say they love something, it's usually a person. Like a family..." he hesitated, "or a friend."
I perked up, wide-eyed. "You can love your friends?"
"Sure," he said, looking away. "You can love anyone you want as long and you really, really like them. It's not a word you can just throw out there. You have to mean it."
I understood now, why I kept picturing his face over and over in my mind. I was worried, worried because not only was he my friend – but I liked him. I really, really liked him. Just as Xigbar had said, love is just a strong version of like. I think that's how I felt towards Axel. But Xigbar also said the feeling was nice... and whenever I thought about Axel dead, the sickening churns of my stomach was far from pleasent. In fact it was horrible. I had even felt the prickling in my eyes, just like now. Was that not love?
"But love... isn't always nice?"
"No, it's not," he sighed. "Sometimes it can hurt. It can hurt because sometimes when you love a person, they might not love you back. What's worse is when you lose someone; all that love that needs returning can't be returned... so it hurts. The more you love someone, the more it hurts."
I nodded; that made perfect sense. I had thought I would never see him again, so all that aching in my chest must have been because of how much I cared for him. It hurt that I would never see his face, or hear his voice again.
It hurt so much I cried tears.
"Why do you want to know?" Axel seemed amused, asparagus eyes smirking at me. "What's buggin' ya?"
"Nothing, I'm just curious. You seem to know a lot," I commented, twiddling my thumbs. "Have you ever loved someone?"
"I don't know," he replied sadly, looking careworn. "I think I might have."
"I think I might have, too."
He looked up anxiously. "Do you remember?"
"I think I do. I think I remember... you said it's when you really, really like something."
He nodded, encouraging me to continue.
"And when you lose them in hurts."
He nodded again.
"And it can be a friend?"
Axel seemed to calculate it in his mind. "Yes, you can love someone like that."
There, he'd confirmed it.
"Then I guess I love you," I told him, shrugging.
Axel mouth swung open, his green eyes lighting up. For a moment he just stared at me in amazement, as if waiting for me to tell him it was a joke, and then quickly turned towards the sunset. I couldn't quite see his face hidden beneath a mass of red spikes, but I could see his cheeks raised slightly - like he was smiling. And on each cheek - whether it was light reflecting from the sunset or not - was a bright glowing patch of embarrassment.
When he spoke, his voice was hard, and little forced. "Shut up and eat your ice-cream, idiot."