Entitled: Recycle After Use
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts I, II, CoM, 358/2 Days
Length: 9,800 words. [5/5]
Disclaimer: We don't own Kingdom Hearts.
Notes: Originally in a five-part format, now compressed into a single document to make it more printer-friendly. This story is a collaboration between songs and snappleducated.
It happened on a Saturday.
The first Saturday of spring break, and still cool enough for a sweater, even on a tropical island. Lots of kids were out, going places they shouldn't have.
Except for Roxas, anyway.
"I really gotta pee."
Roxas glowered. Sora hopped from one foot to the other, as obvious as he'd always been.
"The bathroom's right there," Roxas pointed out, eyebrows up. Sora bit his lip, still doing his little dance.
"Yeah. But the last time you said that, you stranded me."
"What, do you need me to hold your hand or something?"
Sora grumbled, kicked once at the bench leg, and then turned quickly, arms pumping stiffly as he high-tailed it to the bathroom. Roxas watched him go, thinking of nothing. He felt oddly tired. His eyes dragged.
The outdoor mall was crowded, but nobody tried to share a bench with Roxas. Didn't know him well enough. And it was too cold to sit outside chatting, anyways.
A sudden breeze made his eyes sting. When he'd cleared them, Sora was standing just in front of him.
"Hey, twin. Looks like you missed me!"
"Heehee," Sora grinned at him, the tip of his nose red and his hands shoved as far down as his pockets would allow, "You're so sensitive, Roxas."
Roxas opened his mouth to retort, but Sora had already turned away from him, and was instead looking far over Roxas' shoulder, "Hey, it's Kairi!"
Roxas half-turned his head, catching himself before he went the full distance. It wasn't like he knew her, or anything. Just went to the same school. Just enough to recognize her. Not knowing, like Sora did. But then, Sora knew everyone.
And sure enough, his idiot twin was flapping his hands at her and grinning like a lunatic. "I'm gonna go say hi, okay? Okay. Be back in a sec!"
And he darted off before Roxas had even opened his mouth to reply, shooting towards the alley between the two buildings. He moved into Roxas' blind spot, and Roxas slumped further into his bench, annoyed.
"Hey, Kairi!" He heard Sora yell, "What's up?"
And then Roxas felt his insides twist.
His head turned, and he'd vaulted over the back of the bench before he'd even bothered to stand. There was Sora, half way down the alley. Broad daylight. And that girl, Kairi, the one Sora liked, she was looking up and half-smiling but for just a second she—she looked straight at Roxas.
And that was when it happened.
Someone in a black, hooded trench coat stepped out from behind the dumpster. Not a quick step, just a confident one. Their hands looked tense, half hooked.
"Sora!" Roxas yelled, watched his twin skid a little, veering to avoid collision, "Sora, wait!"
Sora's head turned, and he looked back.
That was when the stranger put their hand into Sora's chest. Like it was easy. Like skin and muscle and ribs and arteries and whatever it was that made up a human didn't even matter to them. Might as well have been air.
Sora's eyes widened for a second, though he was still staring straight at Roxas, and he gave a funny little jerk. His mouth opened, as though he were surprised, or even amused.
And then the stranger pulled his brother's heart out, and held it easily in one strong, gloved hand while the other picked away the arteries and pulmonary veins. Sora's messy body caved in, and splayed out to be stepped on. The stranger shifted, seemed to look over their shoulder for a moment, back at Kairi. The look shifted into something longer.
Roxas wasn't running anymore. He was just standing there, blinking, while that sick feeling inside of him crawled up his throat. He watched Sora's fingers stiffened, imagined he could see the first cloudy strands of mist crossing his brother's eyes.
Then Kairi screamed, and Roxas looked up, looked at her. She looked back at him with her indigo eyes, still screaming, still drawing the crowd, and took a half-step back.
The stranger didn't hesitate, only reversed their advance. They ran straight at Roxas, crowding him, black hand raising up to chest-level, ready to scoop out a matching set.
Roxas stumbled back, smacking away the bloody leather as he gave an instinctive shout, his head swimming and confused and...and Sora. Sora.
"You'd be better dead than living as a bomb," the stranger hissed, and stepped over him. Roxas didn't even try to process this. He gripped his fists. He'd touched that man. Touched him. And if Roxas could touch him, that meant Roxas could hurt him.
He started to rise, but the fear which had left his brain had travelled to his legs instead. They shook. Everything shook. So did Kairi, when she crouched down at his brother's corpse, her cheeks wet and cold-looking.
The background noise was climbing to a roar, and the light and shapes made no sense to him. Like Sora, who had been fluid when he was alive but now looked like a sequence of triangles and squares and the building blocks of a human.
Roxas squeezed his eyes shut.
"Honey, you this boy's brother?"
"Well, come on then. Come on. We're gonna take care of you now. Just tell us what happened and we'll take care of everything. Come on. No, don't look."
Roxas opened his eyes, looked down.
They watched the stretcher go past. All that white cloth. His stomach turned.
"But it's not even dark out," Kairi whispered, "It's not even...not Sora...Why'd it..."
He didn't know, and couldn't find it within himself to answer her. Nor did she seem to require it of him. They stood for a moment.
"Someone gonna get these kids out of here?"
"Right, yes. Sorry. Sorry, ma'am. Sorry. This way, please..."
They were led to different cars, and they parted without a word to each other, though Kairi reached out and brushed his arm briefly as she passed him. Roxas climbed into the cramped back-seat, and started to look out through the rear windshield, to make sure Kairi got in her car okay too.
He stopped himself halfway. It wasn't like he knew her, or anything.
It all swept past Kairi in a blur.
One moment, she was standing right beside him, Sora, the boy she had liked for years on end. All she had to do was extend her arm a bit; they'd have been touching.
He was going on about how glad he was to see her, how much of a bore his brother was being. At that, she managed a glimpse in the other boy's direction. Roxas; the name was unfamiliar, faint in her mind, something she didn't expect herself to remember. Roxas.
He began to stand, suddenly, his face painted with an expression of horror. She found herself turning back to Sora, who had been smiling, laughing, breathing, just a second ago, and then, just as suddenly…wasn't.
Kairi swallowed thinly, shifting uncomfortably in her seat as the policewoman asked another question. She strained herself to answer properly, ignoring the oncoming tears and nausea that threatened to overwhelm her.
"I…I was so close when it happened." she rasped, still shaken by the memory. Her mind wandered even further than her words; close enough to stop it. "But…I didn't feel like I was there. It was like I was watching from behind a glass wall. I couldn't d-do anything when…when he…to Sora…" it took all of her will not to break down then and there.
The policewoman gave her a sympathetic look, but didn't relent. "I know, honey, it hurts." she said, in an empty, almost memorized tone. "But, do you remember what the killer looked like?"
She nodded shakily, "He w-wore black. Everywhere. He even had on black gloves…" On the hands that ripped out Sora's heart.
The officer gave an impatient sigh, asking only a few more questions (Did you know Sora well? Did he have any enemies?), all of which made her stomach twist, before finally releasing her.
Which left her in the present, standing outside of the police station, half-heartedly dialing her father's number, not really expecting him to pick up.
The moment Roxas stepped into the police car, it roared into motion, throwing him harshly into the lap of his seat.
"Hey!" he snarled, searching for his seatbelt as he began to sit up. "What the hell was that? Aren't you supposed to be a cop?"
Green eyes glimmered mischievously from the rear-view mirror. "Is that any way to be speaking to your bestie, Roxas?" The grin could be heard in his tone, and Roxas resisted the urge to shout.
"Yeah, it sure is, especially if you to kill me—" he stopped himself in the midst of his words, suddenly going quiet. He didn't find the need to explain himself, and Axel didn't ask him to. There really wasn't much room for trivialities when your brother was dead.
Axel shot him a sympathetic look from the mirror, before finally saying. "I'm sorry, Rox." More than you know.
"It's not your fault." he replied flatly, because, really, what else was he supposed to say? Thank you?
From there, their short-lived conversation lapsed into silence. Neither said a word until Axel filed into the station's parking lot. Roxas was ready to leap out of the suffocating car, but the redheaded cop stopped him.
"Roxas." he began, his voice low, unusually serious. "After you go in for questioning…there's something I need you to do."
Roxas felt slightly wary of the request, but nodded anyway. "What is it?"
Axel didn't miss a beat. "It's pretty simple. Easy to commit to memory." had it not been for the situation, Roxas would've groaned over the annoying line. "Just check up on that girl and make sure she's alright." the way he said it made it obvious that he was hiding something.
He blinked, slowly processing the orders, before he found himself fumbling for words. "You mean Kairi?" he sputtered; Axel nodded, raised an eyebrow at his strange antics. "Why would I do that? I don't know her and she doesn't know me." He wasn't about to go and piss on Sora's memory, seek out the girl that may as well have been his dead brother's unofficial girlfriend.
"Jesus, Roxas, do you have to take everything there?" Axel rolled his eyes knowingly, before the more somber expression returned. "I'm not asking you to do anything dirty." Roxas scoffed at this, but the cop went on. "All that I can tell you is that she's in danger. I need you to make sure she gets out of her house by tonight. I've found somewhere safe for her to hide. And don't give me that look, I'm not messing around."
And with that, Axel swung his door open and stepped out, not bothering to hear what his friend had to say. For a while, Roxas just sat there, open-mouthed and silent, almost immobile, until Axel's normal pestering resumed.
"You coming or not?" Are you going to do it or not?
"…Yeah. Just give me a second."
The police ended up having to lend her a ride home. She'd had to inform them that her father wasn't there, which wasn't really a lie at all; upon her arrival, she caught sight of the usual note, dangling from the fridge:
Out on a business trip for the week.
Kairi didn't bother lingering on it; instead, she hollowly made her way up the stairs. She just didn't have it in her to be angry at him. It had become something to be expected of him rather than something to cry over. Trivial. Trifling, in the grand scheme of things.
She imagined Roxas had it much worse. She didn't know much about the twins' home life besides the fact that they had lived alone; their parents had died in a car crash a few years back. The depressing notion, paired along with the memory of the day's events just set her off the edge; tired of holding it all in, she slumped onto her bed and started to sob.
"Why is it that I always get the icky jobs?" the man muttered to himself, plucking imaginary-dust from his black cloak. "They've already got Sora…don't see why they need to get that girl all mixed up with this, too."
Absently, he began to flick the lighter in his palm, on and off, on and off, a sly smile forming on his lips as he watched the flame.
"Sometimes, you've got to take matters into your own hands."
Roxas, I'm counting on you.
Kairi awoke with a start, the sound of screeching glass jolting her from her slumber. She shrugged it off at first, before the sound came again. Tiredly, she got up, wondering just what was going on.
And everything came crashing down.
The day's memories surged through her mind, leaving her with a sick feeling inside. Her senses over-alert, she moved towards the window, where the sounds were coming from.
What if someone is trying to break in? she couldn't shake the thought off; hurriedly, she grabbed for the nearest object, in hopes of finding a weapon; it was a lava lamp. Her eyes screwed shut, she turned to the window, ready to open it and attack, only no one was there.
Her shoulders sagged in relief, but part of her wasn't convinced. Gingerly, she pressed her forehead to the window-pane, peering into the night. Sure enough to make her shiver, there was a silhouetted figure on her lawn; she resisted the urge to scream, instead fumbling for her phone, ready to call the police—
The figure's arm stretched back, before sending something flying to her window. Her mind went blank with fear, that was, until, she a faint clink reached her ears.
Pebbles— the stranger was tossing pebbles.
"Kairi!" her eyes widened at the sound of the voice; she quickly fumbled with the lock on the window, opened it. "It's me, Roxas."
Her eyes bulged, the uneasy feeling dissipating, yet still there. "Roxas?" she hissed, dipping her head out the window. His face was illuminated by the streetlights; from what she could tell, he looked panicked. "What…what are you doing here? And why didn't you use the door?"
His fearful expression dropped for a moment; he scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, an embarrassed smile painting his features. "I…uh. I wasn't thinking— okay?" he stammered, clearly nervous. "C-can you just hear me out? This is serious."
The action reminded her, suddenly, of Sora. The very thought of the him was a break-down in the making, so she forced herself to glare at him, if only to cloud the memory from her mind.
"Serious enough for you to come to my house— at two in the morning, no less— and throw rocks at my window?" she snapped back. "What if it had been open? What if it wasn't my room? What then, oh night-crawling, Boy Wonder?"
She knew that she was being unnecessarily mean, but frankly, it was either tearing down anyone in her path or just falling apart on the spot. She wasn't angry; no, she felt more empty than anything, but this, at least, made her feel just the slightest bit normal.
Roxas' voice snapped her from her reverie. "You're in danger, Kairi—jeez, you think I'd come to your house in the middle of the night for me? 'Cause if I'd known you'd be like this, I wouldn't have come all the way out here to save your ass." he almost added an I have no clue what my brother saw in you. for good measure, but, once the moonlight caught the broken look in her eyes, he thought better of it.
Her heart all but stopped, a stammer lodging itself into her words. "I'm…i-in danger?" her vision began to blur; she clutched the side of her head, weakly. "Is it the one…the man who had the black gloves…?" she couldn't bring herself to say it, and Roxas couldn't blame her.
"I don't know." was his honest reply, because really, he didn't. "Just trust me, okay?"
Kairi couldn't help it; she crossed her arms, before asking indignantly, "W-why should I? I don't even know you, Roxas."
The boy groaned at her attitude, before he decided to drop the bomb, "You knew Sora." He didn't look up as he spoke. "And he would've wanted you to be safe. I'm not about to go against his wishes."
She stared at him from two stories above, giving a cold, calculating look before releasing a defeated sigh. "I don't want to go with you," she finally said. "But…I don't really have a say in the matter, do I?" Just like Sora didn't have a say in dying—the thought made her cringe outwardly; quickly, she swiped at her eyes.
"Wait out there," she told him, before turning back into her room.
Kairi dragged the duffel-bag out of the closet, and for a while, just stared at it. What exactly was she supposed to bring? Instinctively, she tossed in a few articles of clothing, her cell-phone, and then…nothing. After minutes of debating, she decided she had kept Roxas waiting long enough.
Trying to keep from trembling, she exited the house, locking the door behind he. She squinted around in the darkness before noticing Roxas' figure, and, slowly, she made her way towards him.
"Got everything?" he asked, although it seemed more forced than anything. She only nodded in reply. "Okay. Let's get to the car."
He was gentler with her now, she noticed, as he held her bag for her, placed it in the trunk. Like his brother, a voice whispered in her mind, but she managed to hush the thought.
Wordlessly, she slipped into the passenger seat, waited as he, too, got in. It was only when he started the ignition and pulled out of her driveway that she found it in herself to ask: "Where are we—"
The question died on her lips in an instant; from the corner of her eye, she caught sight of several hazy flames, trailing along the side of her house. Horrified, she watched on as the embers continued to lick along the wooden structure, devouring it whole, moving quicker than she could have imagined.
Roxas, at her sudden silence, traced her gaze. Upon spotting the growing fire, he swore under his breath. Hurriedly, he slammed his foot on the gas, speeding in the opposite direction.
"My house…" Kairi whispered, her blood running cold. "…They burned it down." She turned to Roxas, a pleading look in her indigo eyes. "Why?"
He didn't have any answers to give, and so settled for silence.
By the time they had arrived at the destination Axel had given him, Kairi was fast asleep. The moonlight began to melt into dawn, highlighting her gentle features. A wave of guilt nearly drowned him when he noticed the tear stains on her face.
Softly, hesitantly, he brushed his hand over her arm. "Kairi, wake up. We're here." She only moaned tiredly in reply; he sighed, tried again, his voice louder. "Kairi."
Her eyes chose to snap open at that moment, with his face nearly breaths away. But she didn't pull back, shying from his touch. The two remained like that, frozen in place, before Roxas hurriedly turned away, quickly apologizing.
She didn't seem to mind, however, which surprised him; instead, she only asked. "Where are we?"
It took a few seconds for him to wrack his brain for the name Axel had given him. He turned to the imposing, night-hued house, before it came to him.
"His name's Riku." he answered slowly, gaze flickering to the girl beside him. "We'll be hiding with him."
"Riku?" Kairi repeated, "But I know him!"
Roxas blinked at her. She stared at him in shock, "Didn't Sora ever mention him?"
"No..." Roxas trailed off, looking uncertain. But then he stopped. The name did seem sort of familiar. "Weren't he and Sora friends a while ago?"
Kairi blinked, "You say that like—"
The front door had suddenly opened, and both of them fell silent, before hastily scrambling out of the car. Kairi rushed forwards to greet the boy coming out of the house, while Roxas hung back.
Kairi hugged Riku, clinging onto him with obvious relief. Roxas approached them as slowly as he was able without actually dragging his feet. Riku, who had been speaking quietly to Kairi, broke off as Roxas drew upon them and glanced towards him with a frosty, assessing gaze.
But Riku's cold welcome was nothing compared the sight of the man emerging from the door behind him. Imposing, dark skinned, and almost covered from head to toe in cloth. A single, burning eye stared out at Roxas, at Kairi, and then at Riku.
"They'll be staying with you then," he intoned, voice grave. Kairi jumped. Riku still had his arms around her—it sort of bothered Roxas, actually.
"Yeah." Riku jerked his chin at the street, "I'll talk to you later."
Roxas stepped hastily out of the way as the dark man swept past, headed into the dark night. They all watched him go in silence.
"Riku," Kairi said suddenly, and then took a breath to collect herself, "Sora's been—he's dead." She stopped. Riku didn't even flinch. After a moment Kairi seemed to realize that he wasn't going to say anything, and so continued. Her voice was remarkably even, "They just...it happened so fast. He was walking over to me, and then—just ripped his heart out, I mean—and he just sort of...just sort of fell."
Riku looked off to the side. Roxas tried not to listen.
"That's his brother," Kairi added, gesturing towards Roxas, "I can't believe you guys haven't met."
"You should come inside," Riku said quietly, pushing her to the door, "Go on. I'll get your bags."
She hesitated briefly, looking back towards Roxas. Mute, he followed her in.
He thought Riku might have been staring at him.
Riku was remarkably calm as they explained. It poured out of them—or Kairi, at least. How Sora had died, how they'd been interrogated, how her house had been burned down just minutes after she'd left it, and how Axel had sent to Riku for his protection. So they could lie low.
But the most important question, the one Roxas still couldn't figure out, was why. Why Sora'd had to die. Why Kairi's house had been burned down. Why people who they'd never met were suddenly coming after them.
Riku looked off to the side as Kairi voiced Riku's questions. "They're harvesting."
Riku smiled in a strange, sort of frightening way, "Harvesting. They're after your hearts. It's why they took Sora's."
"But why?" Roxas exploded, "Why Sora?"
Kairi looked at him in alarm, but turned expectantly towards Riku just the same.
"Because they needed it," Riku explained quietly, "It was stronger. A rare mutation. Only shows up in twins."
Roxas' stomach twisted, wonder if this had somehow all been his fault. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning the person who killed Sora was like you," Riku's eyes narrowed for a second, "The weaker twin. Their heart was giving out and the only way to fix something like that is to get a new one. From their own twin is would be the best match, but..." he shrugged, "It's a rare disorder. The only way they'd have known about it would be if they had access to medical records."
"How do you know all of this?" Roxas snapped, "And if you knew—if you knew, why didn't you warn him?"
"Roxas!" Kairi cut in, and he looked over at her. She looked angry, even a little defensive, "How was he supposed to know this was going to happen?"
Roxas had no answer, but he glared at Riku just the same. Whether Kairi was right or not didn't change the fact that Riku knew something so personal about Sora—something Roxas doubted Sora himself had known.
Another thought occurred to him, and he massaged his chest subconsciously. A weaker heart.
Did that mean he was dying too?
Judging from the expression on Riku's face, he'd already guessed what Roxas was thinking. Kairi, who hadn't seen the gesture, was already changing the conversation's course.
"But what about me? Why should I be in danger? I don't have a twin."
Riku looked at her for a second. "Are you sure?" he asked softly. She looked stricken, and he shook his head.
"You should go to bed. It's almost morning. There's a spare room at the end of the hall.
Kairi looked towards him gratefully, and stooped to gather her things. Roxas did the same, his mind a seething mess.
"How do you know?" he asked, "About Sora? Were you guys even that close? He hadn't mentioned you for like a year."
"Hah," Riku crossed his arms, "No, he wouldn't have."
Roxas waited. He wasn't about to let Riku dodge the question again.
Riku finally looked back at him, something funny and uncomfortable in his gaze. Something rather dangerous. "I've heard about these people, okay? I've got connections. And there aren't many people who go around ripping out people's hearts, you know?"
They spent nearly a week at Riku's.
Kairi couldn't seem to stand being alone. Not that Roxas blamed her—she'd been through a lot. So had he. It was sort of nice to have her around, actually. Something that reminded him of Sora. He learned a lot about her in that week. Her favorite foods and fashions, what she liked to do in her spare time, how long she could spend staring at a television, how quiet she could be when she woke up crying. What she dreamed of. Why she'd liked Sora—what they'd done together.
They talked about Sora a lot, actually. Which wasn't all that great, actually, since Roxas was doing his best not to think about it even while Kairi sought closure.
And then there was Riku.
Riku made Roxas uneasy for reasons he could not fully explain nor even attempted to understand. But he was gentle enough around Kairi, no one seemed to have found their hiding place yet, and so Roxas resolved to consider himself grateful.
And he would have been, if he wasn't so bored.
Kairi would be safe without him, he rationalized. She had Riku, and no one would come looking for her here. Others might not be so lucky. He owed it to his friends, at the very least, to check up on them. Make sure they weren't dead. Show that he wasn't either.
It'd only take him an hour, tops.
And he was dying anyways, if Riku was to be believed. They probably didn't even want him. Probably just going after Kairi. He was only hiding with her out of a sense of solidarity—because she shouldn't be left alone. But she'd be okay for an hour. Just an hour.
Roxas waited until he thought she wasn't looking, then slid carefully out the back door.
He only made it to the end of the street.
"Man, Roxas," a familiar voice drawled, "What do I gotta do, tie you up?"
Roxas flinched, then grimaced. "You watching us?"
"Duh," Axel stalked forwards, hands slung into his pockets. He'd taken off his uniform, and the car he'd climbed out of was too nice for a cop. "It's not like I was watching the fire hydrant for a week." He snapped his fingers into a gun, mock-shot. Black leather gloves.
And there was a girl in the passenger seat of the car, pale all over. She smiled at him delicately before climbing out and backing a few steps away. Roxas eyed her for another moment, then looked away.
"Hey, Axel," Roxas narrowed his eyes, "You're kinda sketchy, you know?"
"Don't sweat it, kid."
Roxas filed that away, but let the topic slide off and away. The girl had turned, and begun mincing away from them. Roxas dropped his voice, "Who's that?"
Axel's smile tightened, "Naminé."
The name stirred something within him. There was—something he was forgetting—
"What do you care?" Axel interrupted him loftily. Roxas supposed he didn't. He shrugged.
"Since you're here and all, you want to give me a ride?"
"I think I can do better than you," Axel leered, leaning with his back against the car, long legs stretching before him. But as Roxas made to move past him he made an impatient noise, "Hey, come on. Get in the car."
Roxas thought of making a smart retort, and decided not to. He circled and climbed into the passenger seat. Axel started the engine. Roxas narrowed his eyes as the older man made a sharp right at the stop sign. "Aren't you going to ask me where I'm going?"
"Your friends, right? Wanna check in? They're fine, by the way." Axel flipped down the sun visor, though it was cloudy out. Roxas rapped his fingers against the door.
"None of them live down this way."
"Yeah well," Axel checked over his shoulder, switched lanes without using his indicator, sped through the last of a yellow light, "I never said I'd take you there, did I?"
Roxas processed this, the glanced moodily out the window, watching houses crawl by. They changed as Axel drove further. They weren't seedy, exactly, though he had the impression that people didn't live in them.
Flatly, he broke the silence, "I'm gonna die soon anyways."
"We'll see about that," Axel muttered, and parked at the curb. Roxas examined the building they'd stopped in front of. Tall, definitely. Kind of imposing.
"Are you one of them? One of the organization members?"
"Like that matters," Axel narrowed his eyes, "Listen, Roxas. There's someone in there who can save you."
"Who? Some kind of unlicensed-but-brilliant doctor?"
Axel smirked, "Just trust me."
Roxas didn't. "Kairi's gone, by the way. You'll never find her. You or that girl."
Axel pursed his lips. He shifted to check over Roxas' shoulder, which is when Roxas noticed the nervous twitch Axel's fingers seemed to have acquired. "I told you to trust me, didn't I? We need to go now, Roxas. They're coming."
"Who? Who's coming?"
Axel snapped the door handle open and kicked his way out, "Who do you think?" He slammed the door shut and stalked around the hood. Roxas snapped down the door's lock and stayed parked in his seat.
"I'm not an idiot," Roxas glared.
"That remains to be seen," Axel drawled, jangling the car keys for Roxas to see. He laid one long-fingered hand against the car's window and dropped his voice. "Listen, you. Getting a new best friend is a pain in the ass. Get out of the car or I make you get out—"
He broke off suddenly, mouth still half open. His hand squeaked down the window as he fell forwards, angular body collapsing into awkward points.
A tall, darkly-clothed man met his eyes with a dead-eyed stare. "So good of you to join us."
Kairi was staring absently at the ceiling, tiredly creasing the pages of the unread book in her lap. Riku was upstairs, keeping to himself as he usually did, and Roxas had…left, minutes ago. She didn't understand why she was so bitter over him going out; he was coming back, after all.
It felt strange to admit that, despite only knowing him for a week, she had grown attached to Roxas. At first, he was only a stranger, one with Sora's face and something painfully close to his smile. A piece of him. And then…and then she caught how his expressions would strain at the mention of his brother, how he would dip right back into his shell, as if he was being reminded of something, put into his place.
And suddenly it wasn't Sora she'd wake up crying to…it was Roxas. His brother. His twin.
"Twin, huh?" she murmured; something about the word didn't seem to settle right. "Sora's twin…"
It only took a few more moments of pondering before the memory resurfaced; Riku and Roxas, the atmosphere tense as the information was relayed. "His weaker twin…"
It all seemed to dawn on her, then. How had Roxas known she was in danger, come to her home? Just what did she know about him? That he was a good listener, and then…nothing, really. She had more or less poured out half her heart to him over the past week, while he remained not much more than a blank canvas, who would let a handful of thoughts or memories slip on occasion.
Part of her didn't want to believe any of it, but the rest had gone numb. What if he had known all this was coming? What if…what if he wasn't on her side?
Her head blared with the unanswered questions. Suddenly dizzy, she placed a hand on the side of her temple, eyes darting fearfully around the room. She had half a mind to grab her things, search for anything suspicious-
Instead, she found herself twisting open the front-door and rushing out.
She hadn't even been walking for a minute before she spotted the unlikely group; Roxas was there, on he end of the street, speaking with a man with hair the shade of flames. The image of her house burning beneath the sea of greedy embers instantly shot through her mind; a shudder crept down her spine.
Fating another glance towards them, she noticed a girl standing there, as well, a little off to the side. Her skin was a map of moonshine, almost translucent beneath the white sundress she wore. Kairi must have been staring for a while; without warning, the girl shot a knowing look at her. She expected her to inform the other two; instead, she slipped away from the pair, who happened to be filing into the car.
Suddenly nervous, Kairi began debating if confronting this girl was a good idea or not; she didn't have much time to think it over, however, before she was standing right in front of her, a kind smile on her pale features.
"My name is Naminé," were her only words. She held out an ashen hand.
The other girl recoiled somewhat, a wave of unease washing over her as she studied the ready palm. She wasn't so willing to give her trust away so quickly; Naminé, sensing this, only laughed. "It's not like I'm going to hurt you." There was a glint in her eyes that seemed to betray the notion.
Though slightly reluctant, she took the hand, an hesitant smile on her lips. "Oh, no…it's not like that. Just-it's just nice to meet you. I'm Kairi, by the—"
"Mm, I know. I wanted to meet you at least once."
Her hand stiffened in the blonde's grasp, but she didn't say anything aloud.
Naminé's expression seemed to slip; she gave her a gentle look of understanding. "I'm sure you have lots of questions, don't you?"
Kairi could only nod in return. "Yeah," she agreed, before gritting out, "I do."
"Come with me, then," was all Naminé said, before, gracefully, turning around, heading down the remainder of the street. She gestured for Kairi to follow before continuing, craning her neck so that she could face her. "And I'll give you answers."
They ended up calling a cab; a car with a choppy yellow paint-job pulled up to the curb, only moments after Naminé let out a single, prim whistle.
The blonde whispered the directions, which didn't sit well with Kairi, but, despite her suspicions, she slid into her seat, leaning back in silence for the most of the ride.
Her thoughts darted from Riku, who was probably worrying over her back at his house, along with her dad, who may or may not have been frightened out of his right mind over her disappearance, she realized guiltily, to Sora, which made her stomach twist, to-to his brother.
Roxas…just who are you?
It took her a moment to realize that she had spoken out loud. Naminé gave her gave an even look, but didn't say anything in return.
Kairi decided that she didn't know, either.
They were in what could have been the middle of nowhere when Naminé told the driver to stop.
"Drop us off here." she instructed. He instantly complied, beaming as she handed him a stack of bills. "Is this enough?"
While the driver continued to thank the girl for the generous tip, Kairi felt her blood run cold. Just where had she allowed herself to be taken? Boneless, she skimmed out of the car, trailing wordlessly behind Naminé.
They were walking for around ten minutes before Naminé finally sighed, "The Organization's headquarters is only a short way off; I couldn't lead the guy right to them, so I hope you understand."
I don't, she wanted to scream. Just what on earth are you people hiding?
Restraining herself, she nodded.
It didn't take long before they arrived.
The dark, stately building was stories high; Kairi felt her head spin just looking at it. Her companion, however, after a moment of thought, lead her to what seemed to be the back door.
"We can't enter from the front; if anyone's in, they'll see you." Naminé informed, before plucking out a silver, winking object from the white-lace pouch in her hand. "But, lucky for us, I've got a key to the back, where the lab is. It's a Saturday, so no one should be there."
Kairi, however, stopped hearing everything after the word 'lab'. "What do you mean by lab?"
When they made it inside, Kairi wished that she didn't.
Several beds circulated the dingy room. Hesitantly, upon Naminé's beckoning, she neared the closest one to the door, and nearly screamed herself hoarse at the sight.
A girl. Beneath the covers was a girl, not much older than her, hooked up to IV's and meters and blood bags and oh god, Kairi felt her heart twine into her throat as the realization hit; there wasn't any life to the unconscious features. Her skin was a map of transparent porcelain, veins apparent, small rivers bending down her cheeks. Light filtered throughout the room and suddenly all of the moon-faces were visible, stringy, graying hair fallen on their pillows.
"What…" Kairi took a step back, shrinking with fear. She swallowed in horror, but her voice remained lost on her. "Who…?"
"The Princesses of Heart," a smile had etched it's way onto Naminé's lips. "Don't worry, now, they're alive. They're of no use if they're not."
"Their hearts are pure," she replied simply, shrugging her bony shoulders. "The Organization is made up of people with weak, dying hearts. It only makes sense that the blood of those with stronger hearts works to reverse the process somewhat."
Kairi felt sick; unbelievably so. Her insides were writing and her vision was clouding; she almost couldn't feel Naminé curl her fingers around her wrist, drag her towards the bed in the center of the room.
"You, too, have a strong heart, Kairi," she was saying. "But he, he has the strongest one of all."
Numbly, she turned to the figure in the bed, and, once her eyes glossed over him, time seemed to halt.
"N-no…" she whispered. "I-it can't be…he…"
"Don't doubt yourself. It's him."
Kairi extended her hand hesitantly, her eyes kept firmly open, as if the boy would disappear if she blinked.
She didn't know what to say; she couldn't say anything.
So Naminé spoke for her. "This is Sora."
It wasn't even a moment later that the two were jolted back to reality; voices swept into the room as the door creaked open. Naminé hurriedly clasped Kairi's arm, pulled her away from the figure's line of vision. He was young and small, not much older than herself, Kairi realized. A mop of dark hair obscured part of his face, a white coat hanging from his narrow shoulders. He was wheeling in a bed.
Naminé put a finger to her lips. "Ssh. That's Zexion, the Organization's surgeon; don't let him hear you."
She obeyed fearfully, watching on as Zexion placed the bed next to Sora's. He muttered something about supplies and trudged irritably out of the room.
"I wonder who that could be."
Kairi was too terrified to be disgusted by the girl's lack of empathy. Squinting slightly, she caught sight of unruly blond spikes peering through the covers. The patient's identity was confirmed.
It took hours.
Double open-heart surgery, and only one man performing it all. Anesthesia, sanitation, monitoring the machines, cutting the patients open. Kairi and Naminé watched it all, peering from their hiding place. Kairi had to turn away when Zexion pulled out the saw and cracked Roxas' chest cavity open. The worst part of it was the smell.
"What's he doing?" she whispered to Naminé when she felt it was safe, "Why is he cutting both of them open?"
Naminé didn't answer her.
And the other mystery, "How can Sora be alive?"
For even as she said it, there was a grating flat line, and she watched as Zexion reached into Sora's chest and pulled out the heart that shouldn't have been there. He set it on ice, then hooked Sora up to some machines.
He did the same to Roxas and then, inexplicably, switched their hearts, and began sealing the two back up.
The door opened just as he was sealing their skin closed with staples. Naminé and Kairi pressed themselves back into the closet, hardly breathing.
"Yo," Kairi head a man's voice drawl, "You finished already?"
There was a scrape, like something metal had been tossed onto the operation tray, and then a different voice, Zexion's, answered, "You're contaminating everything."
"Yeah, yeah," the first voice scoffed, "Everything went well, though?"
"Great," there was genuine relief hiding under the mocking tone, "What're we doing with the other one?"
"Hmm." Kari could hear the steady plug of staples resume, "Don't you have a plan?"
"Roxas will want to have him put back."
"What makes you so sure Sora won't come after his brother?"
"In his condition, he's only got a few months, right?"
"I suppose. What happened to your face?"
Pause. Staple. "I thought you said he'd agreed."
"Yeah, well. I took too long. You know how he is."
Kairi glanced towards Naminé, to see if she was following any of this. The pale girl's face was pinched at the corners, giving away nothing.
"And you're sure he'll join us?"
"I told you, I know him."
"Fine," Zexion drawled, and for a moment moved into Kairi's line of sight. There was a steady calculation running behind his eyes, "I'm not going to get involved with any of this."
There was the sudden splatter of water as he rinsed his hands.
"Go on," Zexion called, "He'll be out for another hour, and it's going to hurt like hell when he wakes up. I didn't want to give him too much anesthesia."
"Nah," the other voice said, "I'll wait."
Kairi shrank back as brisk footsteps approached, but Zexion passed their hiding place without pausing, and she heard the door shut firmly behind him.
Then there was only the sound of heart monitors.
A snarp-angled man edged into her line of sight, bending to examine first Roxas, then Sora, then Roxas again, "Damn, Roxas. You were almost out of time. Thought you looked tired."
Kairi's hands clenched.
Roxas strained to awaken, then flinched as he felt the pain. It felt as though the insides of his lungs were bleeding.
"Hey, Roxas. Still not a morning person?"
Roxas pushed his eyes open, though he hardly needed them to identify the man slouching at the end of his bed.
"Got you kidnapped, sorry bud. Meant to do it myself, but, well. Best laid plans."
Roxas tried to struggle onto his elbows and abandoned the attempt quickly, stifling a gasp. Axel made no move to help or restrain him, only watching with his hard, narrow stare.
"You...?" Roxas trailed off, catching sight of what lay in the bed next to him. The heart monitor trilled.
"Whoa, man. Calm down."
"He's—" Roxas swallowed, "Why's...is he okay?"
"...Yes," Axel said, with an evasiveness Roxas didn't like. He gritted his teeth.
"Sora was alive? All this time and—you knew. No, wait. It was you, wasn't it?"
"Me?" Axel's mouth slanted to the side, "Which part?"
"That day—Saturday," Roxas panted, "Was that you?"
Axel paused, and then frowned. His head cocked to the side. "Satur—oh. The day of the murder."
"Was it you?" Roxas demanded, expression fierce. Axel's laughed.
"Wait, wait. Hang on. Just what do you think is going on here, anyway?"
Roxas grit his teeth at Axel's casual tone and tried to drag himself upright again, "I don't know. You killed Sora. Or something like it. And then you brought him here and switched our hearts."
"Huh," Axel raised his eyebrows, "I thought you said Sora died 'cause someone ripped out his heart?"
Roxas opened his mouth, and then closed it. Axel half-grinned.
"The kid on the table next to you is the real Sora."
Roxas glanced over, and then looked quickly away before he felt anything. "The real Sora?"
"You never noticed?" Axel shrugged, "That's cold, man."
"Come on, Roxas," Axel leered abruptly, an unhappy sort of smile, and he circled Roxas' bedside so he could yank him up into a sitting position. Roxas gasped. "Put it together. Two Sora's, and here we are with lots and lots of sneaky lab-crap. What do you think happened?"
"This is a load of crap," a girl's voice suddenly seethed from behind Axel. They both turned to look, and Roxas' heart sank. Kairi glared at the pair of them, her jaw thrust forwards. "How many times are you going to kill Sora, anyway?"
Roxas began to answer when she shook her head, eyes furious and...hurt, "Don't lie to me. I saw him die. I know Sora, alright? Do you expect me to believe you could fool me, fool his brother, with...with some imposter?"
"Huh," Axel stared, "You...certainly came out of no where." he hung a searching glance over her shoulder, towards a pale girl still half-hidden.
"You seem to be confused about something—Kairi, right? Anyway, I didn't kill anyone."
Kairi's furious expression flickered for a second.
"Oh, right," Axel laughed crooked, "Right. The dark get-up. Forgot I was wearing it. Yeah, you're right. But I still didn't do it, and no one else is fessing up. Want to know why? 'Cause we needed that copy to keep living."
"Xion," Naminé said softly, startling everyone. They had nearly forgotten her. "It's name was Xion."
Axel nodded impatiently, "Yeah, well. We were trying to copy Sora's heart, and then...Xion happened. So we did a swap. Didn't want anyone to notice Sora was gone."
"I wrote the program," Naminé said in that same quiet, controlled tone. "Half machine. It was easy. I built a human." she stopped, and swallowed, looking at Kairi pleadingly, "I thought..."
"How long." Roxas interrupted her, staring instead at Axel, "How long have you had him?"
"A year," said another familiar voice, and the door clicked shut. Roxas struggled to turn on his side.
Riku paced deliberately forwards, looking at Roxas carefully, "I noticed," he said lowly, "You didn't, but I noticed."
He was swathed in dark clothes.
It clicked for Roxas the same time it did for Axel, judging by the way his sharp knuckles clenched. Riku hesitated only once, glancing at Kairi.
"I didn't want to do this in front of you," he said quietly, then looked down at Roxas. His face was hard around the mouth, "You've got something that doesn't belong to you," he said, and pulled a gun from his pocket, pointing it to the space between Roxas' eyes.
Roxas' insides knotted, and he heard Kairi gasp.
"Get out of here," Riku growled, glancing from Kairi, to Axel, and then back, "Or I'll shoot him."
"You traitorous son of a bitch—" Axel hissed, looking as though he almost longed to throw himself on Riku, but the hard stare Riku returned to him made him take a step back, and then another. Kairi didn't move. She was simply staring at Riku, looking as though she couldn't believe what she was seeing."
"Give it up," Axel said suddenly, harshly, "What are you going to do, switch them back again? You can't. They just had their chests ripped open a few hours ago, and you want to do it again?"
"Sora's tough," Riku said coldly, "He can take it."
Roxas thought, then, about dying in a stolen hospital bed.
And then Kairi rushed forwards, slapping herself against Riku and wrestling with him, yelling something angry and scared and then there was a sudden, explosive noise and Roxas squeezed his eyes shut and waited to feel dead.
It didn't happen, and after a moment of silence, he heard a soft whimper, and then a rushed, collapsing rustle, and when he opened his eyes Riku had Kairi cradled to his chest, and there was a lot of thick red water running out of...running out of everywhere, it seemed like, there was so much of it.
"Kairi!" Riku was gasping, "Kairi, what'd you do? Why'd you—?"
He suddenly snatched the gun and spun it on Roxas, glaring at Axel with wild eyes, "Get out!"
Axel took a half-step back.
"Get out and get your surgeon!" Riku snarled, "Do it! NOW!"
Axel's lip curled as he edged slowly towards the door. "What're you going to do now, Riku? Cut his heart in half?"
Roxas saw Riku swallow. He shifted his grip on Kairi, who was still bleeding out, her eyes fluttering and lips mumbling wet words. Axel pressed his hand flat against the door, and backed his way out. Roxas ignored him. Kairi looked white under all the blood.
"You shot her," he whispered, and then, "She's going to die."
"She won't," Riku whispered, and added in an even softer voice, "Please."
Roxas didn't ask who the plea was meant for. It echoed within himself.
"Would it save her?"
Riku looked up, "What?"
"Sora's heart!" Riku yelled, "Would it be enough to save her?"
"He'd have wanted her to live," Roxas snapped, "I know my brother. He would have picked her."
"Riku," said a soft voice, and Naminé came forwards, tired eyes fixed on Kairi, "You can have it back now."
"Have what back?" Roxas asked the sudden silence. Riku was staring at Naminé very intently, his mouth thin.
"Didn't you wonder where Xion's heart went?" Naminé said at last, and glanced almost apologetically towards him, "It was meant for you. I took it. I'm...I'm so sorry." she looked back towards Riku, wiping her hands against her thighs, "It's fine, Riku. I was never meant to exist, anyways," she had a sad little smile on her face now, "They only wanted one."
Roxas' chest burned.
"You have to promise me," he hissed, even though the door was opening now, and Riku couldn't seem to decide who he wanted to threaten, "You have to promise me that you'll save them."
Riku swallowed. "The organization won't want them anymore. Kairi's heart is gone. It's all pointless now. Pointless."
"Her first?" Zexion cut in with a singly, cold look towards Riku. "She'll be dead in a minute if you don't want to."
"Yes," Naminé murmured, walking forwards to touch Kairi's hand. She smiled at Roxas. "They don't have to know, right?"
Something about her ached within him. He looked once more at Kairi, and thought he understood something important.
"No, they don't."
Kairi opened her eyes muggily.
A gaggle of sickly young women beamed tiredly at her. She shifted, catching sight of the man Roxas had been talking to early, now sitting with his back against the wall, face hidden by his hands.
Her heart leapt into her throat, and she turned with a sharp cut of pain.
At her other side, Sora grinned at her.
"But..." she stammered, gingerly running her hands up her sides. She felt as though she'd frozen from the inside, "What happened? Where's..."
She stopped suddenly, confused, and drawing a blank. A curious young blonde blinked ather. "Where's who?"
"I don't..." Kairi trailed off uncertainly. Why did she hurt so much? Why was Sora here? And where were they, anyways?
"We should go home now," Riku's voice said, and then suddenly, they were moving. Bumping and rattling along as he pushed them out of that dark place, a gaggle of girls trailing behind them. None of them could walk very well.
"Kairi, you alright?"
Kairi blinked, looking over to Sora. She could hardly see him in the flash of sunlight they were moving towards, "Why?"
Sora frowned at her, his eyes streaming, "You're crying."