Heartless Tin Soldier
It starts with the clock, striking midnight, the moonbeams ghosting across a dark floor. The curtains float on a windless breeze and the second hand stills while the shadows march. Starlight freezes into thin silver bands and the toys
The jerk of a shoulder and the blink of an eye. And the whirr of ancient clockworks grinding away.
"It's so dusty," Pence grieves, his terry-cloth brown fur puffing up dust. His ribbon trails on the ground, undone, the silk worn to thinness. One worn ear flops like a boneless arm, stitched on badly with inexpert fingers.
"How long has it been?" Olette stretches, flapping her soft denim pinafore free of the thin layer of silver-dust. She uses the end of yarn braids to dust off the shelf space around her, long, raggedy legs draped over the edge of their shelf.
"Ten, twenty moons. Maybe more. The magic is fading." The voice is distant and quiet.
Pence and Olette do not hear and do not speak.
And then, beside them, Roxas wakes.
Tiny tin boots thud against the wooden shelving and Olette shies away.
If Roxas notices, he doesn't say. He stands ramrod straight at attention in the pallid light, all dust-dulled fine clothes and shiny buttons, resistant to the wear of time.
"We have no time," he whispers, and places a hand over the perfectly shaped hole where his heart had been.
The clock isn't moving, but there is no time. Not enough; not enough.
Hysterical giggles bubbles from the bedside table, glass pawns tinkling against each other on the chessboard just beside, and there, the stained white frills and bedraggled blonde curls of Namine singing to herself in off-key. The words are inane, the broken repetitions of children's games.
"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down, we all fall down, my fair lady, who killed the robin, running away with the spoon... "
"Don't!" Olette calls out desperately, "you'll wake Him!"
But Namine doesn't hear. The jagged edges of her porcelain leg stump glint in the dim light. In her arms she cradles a stub of crayon twice as wide as her hourglass waist. The white painted wood beneath her is covered with awkward scrawls like a child's, black and white shapes like her lost sheep. But where she stands, tiny red drops like enamel fleck the perfect white, dripping down in a scarlet line from her bleeding heart.
Roxas slides down, his hollow body barely making a sound on the carpet floor.
"Are you really looking for your heart?"
But Roxas ignores that voice as easily as the others do.
"Looking for something tin-boy?" And that is the Knave of Spades on an old deck of cards, stroking his beard and condescending.
"How long do you think it's been?" the Pirate chips in lazily from his lofty perch above. The parrot on his shoulder squawks and cackles about lost polly-olivers, wings beating against the gold-painted hoops in its master's ears.
"Poor, poor, tin-soldier-boy, you'll never get it back, that thing he stole, the jack-in-the-box," another titters.
The other tin soldiers on the table, perched on cardboard and paste, all swivel to look and see.
"Alas and alack, alas and alack," they sing-song in chorus. "Alas and a lack! The soldier without his tin heart!"
Against the farthest nook, a brightly painted wooden box shudders, a lever starting to turn.
"I'll find it," the tin soldier insists. He climbs onto a chair and slides back down into an open dresser, dark and musty and filled with crayons like broken logs.
"Not here, not here," the penguins chatter above.
"I'll find it," the tin soldier repeats, sliding down a string of plastic pearls and walking past the glass-window gems of a tiara and climbing up the heavy body of a dinosaur, looking from its back.
"Not here," the Dinosaur rumbles, like the path of an avalanche.
"Not here," the Frog croaks, with a felt and cotton lily pad stitched to its seat and the button of recorded music in its belly.
Jumping down, Roxas passes by a cut-away castle of a dollhouse, the tiny Maid doll who was a little too small for the castle briskly cleaning out smooth plastic sofas and wiping down tiny silverware.
"Have you seen my heart?" Roxas asks the Stable Boy, but he shrugs and looks at the white Pony whose purple-green mane he'd been brushing.
"Not here, not here," they murmur.
The Lynx figure watches from the upper shelf, laughing in a hyena's voice, deep blue eyes glinting in the dark.
"And here comes the steadfast tin soldier, missing another part. But there's nothing left of your tin heart. Nothing left at all. Just a tin lump and a streak of charcoal," she laughs.
"No, I will find it."
The Lynx laughs and purrs, turning back to her lofty perch while the servant dolls and the others murmur a litany of woe. "Alas and alack, alas and alack," they sing-song in chorus. "Alas and a lack! The soldier without his tin heart!"
The box and the lever start to shudder, the music tinkling like haunted chimes. And then it springs, the wooden lid popping, revealing the sneering painted face of the jack in the box, woken from his slumber.
"Tin soldier, tin soldier, have you learned nothing at all?"
Roxas picks up a broken lollipop stick and levels it at the Jack, keeping well away from that painted, tattooed face.
The Jack laughs and leans in close, accordion-neck arcing like a poisonous snake. "Where's your tin rifle, tin soldier, with the bayonet of foil? Ah, wait, but of course, it was destroyed in the fire."
Green eyes flash and harden, at odds with the too-wide grin of amusement. "Like your tin heart, soldier-boy."
"No," Roxas whispers, "that isn't true."
"Alas and alack, alas and alack," the Jack chants mockingly. "Alas and a lack! The soldier without his tin heart, forever more!"
And then the Jack springs up, bumping a nearby shelf and sending a cascade of knickknacks crashing down onto the carpet. Jackstones scattered like sharp candy stars, the heavy ball bounding away.
The tin soldier falls, bowled over by a ball of crochet yarn, lying still with the needle stuck through the hole in his chest.
"There is no fire in the fireplace tonight, tin soldier. Take comfort in it with the heart you no longer have." And the wooden lid snaps shut, the song finished at last.
Roxas pushes at the ball of yarn, stiffly, standing up with the long gleaming silver of the needle still thrust through where his heart no longer is.
"Are you still looking for your heart, tin soldier?"
Roxas looks into the shadows and finds that he still is. "Yes." For as many nights until the last night, if he must. Though there may never be any more besides this. He takes the needle out.
"Follow that and I will give it to you."
The tin soldier looks at the needle in his hand, the glossy silk twine leading away like a trail of candy-stones. The thread meanders away from the Jack's corner, past a chair and the fireplace where he had died, ducking under the Grandfather Clock, ticking time away.
Slowly rolling the thread onto the needle in his hand, Roxas walks up to the Clock, straight to where the back meets the wall. And there, he wedges himself into the narrow space, small and slight and hollow, body caving in and denting the more he forces it to go inside.
And in that narrowness there is a broken hand, strung to a body of birch, and a pair of jewel-bright painted eyes on a painstakingly carved face.
Roxas squeezes further inside, until the tin of his body gives. And finally there is space. A hollow at the back of clock where gears did not reach.
Walking up to the broken toy, he picks up the strings of twine and tugs. "I found you."
Silver hair like a waterfall shifts, and the puppet sits up.
"Where is it?" Roxas asks. "Where?"
Slowly, slowly, wooden fingers uncurl, and in it there is a piece, like a thick cookie made out of tin, beating, beating, and moonlit-glowing,
And just as slowly, those fingers reach up and slot it into Roxas' chest, a jigsaw puzzle piece snicking into place.
Roxas falls onto his knees and utters a wordless scream.
The Jack-In-the Box rattles and the toy room fall into deathly silence, the shadows growing lighter as the moon starts to wane.
And Roxas is
"Whole," the tin soldier breathes, wondering and euphoric. Heart and body fitting together at last.
"Whole," the ghost-doll echoes, like a nostalgic memory, and his back leans against a wooden cross as pale as his skin, silver strings dangling from the wood. His hands are clasped over his chest, tightly, tightly grasping, his eyes downcast. Like a prayer or a plea.
"Who are you?" Roxas asks suddenly.
"I've forgotten," the doll replies and goes still.
His limbs freeze into wood, fine grain blooming across the surface of his skin. The silver-glow dulls into pallor, and hairline cracks appear on his joints. His hands swing down, limp. His eyes go gray, blank and dumb. His lips freeze into chisel-curve.
And through the heart-shaped hole in his birchwood chest, that silverwood chest, dulled into tin, Roxas can see the wooden puppetmaster's cross.
The puppet who was lost and never found, naught but a voice in the ever-dark.
For the puppet is forgotten and dead; gone in the dark.
The magic, like its beating heart, is gone.
Roxas' hands fly to his chest, and there, there, there.
Where the tin had been cut out. Silver wood smoothly joins, merged into one. And underneath it the beat of a once-puppet's heart.
This took inspiration from the fairytale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier (look it up if you like. I very vaguely remember watching a cartoon of it when I was younger- back when cartoons were actually beautiful instead of slapstick ooze-brains gross-comedy. The show was the one where two kids would go up to a magic attic daily- where the contents of the attic changed to reflect the fairytale of the episode, and start reading fairytales aloud—and sceneshift to cartoon.)
After some deliberation, I decided to scrap the happy ending. : B-because it wouldn't turn out happy at all. Neutral at best. This fairytale never had a happy ending either. Bittersweet was the soldier and ballerina's end.
Alas and alack (sorrow and regret).
I think the casting was fairly obvious. Hope you had fun pseudo-guessing who was what in the toybox.
Here's some background info, though.
Sora was the tin soldier who had a tin heart. After he and the ballerina (Kairi) were thrown into the fire, Kairi, being made of paper, didn't survive, but tin melts slightly slower and they recast him into a mold- but could not find enough tin to make him a heart. That heart was gone, cut away and melted into nothing by the green-eyed (jealous) Jack/Conjuror. And that was how Roxas came to be. I used Axel for the Jack because I thought it fit his personality well, relationships aside. His jealousy was probably from the fact that Sora and Kairi did have hearts and loved eachother- a love that the Jack In the Box can never hope to have.