Even yawned as he wandered down the hall to where the young boy lay sobbing in his room. Ever since Ienzo had arrived here he'd had nightmares, every night. And the boy was placed under Even's care, which meant nights of broken sleep for the older man…

He was surprised to find Ienzo's bedroom door already slightly ajar; a soft male voice was already soothing the young boy, whose sobs had quieted to hiccups. Seated on the boy's bed was the huge figure Even recognized as Aeleus.

It was rarely that the soldier apprentices interacted with the scholarly ones. They didn't even have the same sleeping quarters, so what was Aeleus doing here? Even had been so lost in his musing that he hadn't realized that Aeleus had noticed him, "Even?"

The older apprentice jumped slightly before responding with a tired sounding yawn, "Yes?"

"You can go back to sleep now. I can take care of him tonight. I've noticed you yawning during the day. You could use the sleep." Aeleus explained, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I wasn't aware you were paying attention," Even yawned once more. How many times had he just passed Aeleus by without a thought as to his well-being? And now to discover that Aeleus had been paying attention to him… was quite… humbling, "I appreciate this, Aeleus, but what are you doing so far from your sleeping quarters so late at night?"

Aeleus laughed slightly, as if Even should know the answer before explaining himself, "I'm running the nightly rounds this week. I was patrolling the hallway when I heard him crying… I couldn't just let him cry alone."

"You're a good man, Aeleus," Even smiled, putting a hand on the larger man's shoulder before turning to go, but Ienzo gave a whine. Even sighed and came back over and knelt at the side of Ienzo's bed, "Good night, little one. Aeleus will guard your sleep tonight." The blond ruffled the boy's hair and headed out the door.

~-~

It was one of the hottest summers the Gardens had seen in many years, and Aeleus was assigned to guard the gate that afternoon. Rivulets of sweat ran from his brow and he'd only been standing out for an hour… He still had three more hours of this…

He was rather surprised to see Even and Ienzo come out of the castle. It was well known that Even, being an ice mage, loathed the heat. It lead Aeleus to wonder what Ienzo had threatened him with to get him outside. The two walked out of Aeleus' line of sight.

The reason for their quick jaunt outside was revealed upon their return. The two of them clutched sea-salt ice cream pops, Ienzo eagerly licking at his. Even, however, hadn't touched the one in his own hand.

They stopped so that Aeleus could open the door for them, which he did quite promptly, and Even offered up a rare smile, "It's rather hot out today."

"Mmmm," Aeleus hummed with a nod. Even continued to smile and held out the pop.

"This is for you, my friend." Aeleus blinked but took the pop, a small smile appearing on his own face.

"When did we become friends?"

"When our hearts crossed paths." With that Even followed Ienzo inside.

~-~

When Xehanort first displayed the darkness to his fellow apprentices, Even's reaction had surprised both his friends; he approached it without fear.

"Absolutely fascinating…" They had nearly lost Even to it then and there. It had only been the hand on his shoulder and the hand wrapped in his own that gave him pause.

"Caution, Even," Aeleus advised and Ienzo gave a squeeze to the ice mage's hand to enforce it.

Even blinked, looking to Aeleus, then Ienzo, and gave a nod, "O-of course."

~-~

And then things went horribly, terribly wrong.

The whole lab was coated in smoke and Shadows; they had lost track of Dilan and Braig in the chaos. They fled down the hallway and yet they could hear the Heartless pursuing them, no matter how fast they ran.

Even fell behind first, as both the oldest and the one in the worst shape, he didn't have the stamina to run fast long… The younger man and the boy paused but Even shook his head, "This is my fault. I'll hold them off as best I can; you warn the townsfolk."

"Even," Ienzo spoke up softly and started to approach him, when Even cut him off with a wall of ice.

"GO! Aeleus, take him and run!" Even shouted and they could hear a shatter of the ice the mage had conjured in front of him. Aeleus nodded, grabbing Ienzo around the middle and hefting the boy over his shoulder ignoring the normally quiet boy's screams of "EVEN!!"

They reached the end of the underground concourse and Aeleus was just charging up the steps when they heard their friend's bone chilling scream… "Even…" Aeleus hung his head a moment before putting Ienzo down, "Go."

"Not you too, Aeleus…" Ienzo shook his head, tears flowing freely now, "No. Not you too…"

"Ienzo, please. It is my duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves." Aeleus sighed, folding his arms, "Let me guard you, as I used to guard your sleep in that time that seems so long ago now."

"But… but…" Ienzo wiped his eyes but there was no point to it, as the tears had not stopped flowing.

"You're young, Ienzo; you still have so much to live for." Aeleus tilted his head; they both could hear the movement again, "Someone has to warn the villagers. Go."

Ienzo nodded, turned on his heel and never looked back. Unfortunately, in his panic, he fled to the library instead of the gates. He sat in the library, catching his breath, and letting himself cry again.

His sorrow melted, though, in the heat of his newfound anger, at the injustice of it all. Those monsters stole his friends, and he could do nothing. Just hide in this library like a coward.

They hadn't been cowards; why should he be any less courageous than them? He got up from his chair and went to the door, preparing to throw it open and charge those beasts. Never mind that he knew no magic or that he carried no weapon; he would make them pay.

He threw open the door and was immediately was tackled by the mob. He hadn't even had the chance to fight back when he felt the sharp pain in his chest, and watched his heart flutter away…

~-~

Words, names, numbers floated in his head. "Ienzo… Zexion… Nobodies… Number Six…" The voices were familiar, and yet… different than he remembered… Then again… who was he?

~-~

"It's been nearly a week," The newly named Vexen frowned, looking at the standing shell of his young friend, "And yet he shows no sign of sentience…"

"He was young, his soul has less of a foundation. We are very set in our ways as adults, hence we would recover more swiftly from this, we have a strong foundation," Lexaeus folded his arms, yet his eyebrows too were knitted in worry.

"Aeleus?" The shell spoke up, turning to look at Lexaeus.

"Not quite," Lexaeus shook his head, putting a hand on the shell's shoulder while Vexen rushed in front of it.

"Ie-Zexion," Vexen began, "What do you remember?"

"Even? But you're both…? Oh… I am too… of course." Zexion hung his head slightly.

"Zexion, we are alive… in a manner of speaking…" Lexaeus began, "We no longer have hearts… and yet still we live on. Our ability to feel emotions has been removed from us."

"But that's… but I feel… sad…" Zexion frowned, and yet he seemed confused and his eyes widened in shock… "I… I…"

"And this is how we will spend the rest of our lives." Lexaeus sighed taking a seat in a chair.

"Not necessarily. Xemnas-" Vexen began but was cut off by Zexion.

"Who is that?"

"Xehanort… sort of. As I was saying… Xemnas has informed me that we may have some hope yet. If we can gather-"

"I don't trust Xemnas," Lexaeus folded his arms, "Kingdom Hearts would never allow him to do what he wishes."

"… At least we're together again." Zexion mumbled, silencing Vexen's counter argument, "We can figure all this out together."

"Yes. Together." Lexaeus nodded and Vexen, too, nodded after a moment.