I'd never really had a problem with Darksides. In game, they were big, strong, but predictable and easy to defeat.

When you're not playing an athletic fourteen-year-old, however, it's not quite the same. In fact, I was having a damned hard time with the two big fuckers that the others couldn't spare attention to defeat.

Remember what I'd said about being a silent fighter, before? I was apparently wrong—I was only quiet while fighting lesser enemies. As it was, with the Darksides, I was screaming with every near-hit as their hands flattened the ground just behind or next to me.

They weren't terribly intelligent, but at the same time there was no real rhythm or timing to their actions—I had to beat on their hands when the opportunity presented itself, and then I had to clear the fuck out before the other one could smash me.

It wasn't easy, but it worked, nerve-wracking as it was to narrowly avoid being crushed. Over, and over, and over.

Everyone else—well, the three Nobodies currently in the area with me—were faring better, if only from experience fighting these things. I wanted to see how they were doing it, for my own sake—maybe if I watched them take down a couple, I'd have a better idea of what to do.

But I couldn't risk taking my eyes off of the two nearest to me. I would be in deep shit if I stopped paying attention to them—they were out for blood (or rather my heart); this was not a tutorial level. I'd rather liken it to a Boss. Maybe a mid-game boss.

We'd beat these, and move on.

But what would happen, then? Darksides weren't usual.

There would probably be more. There would always be more. Heartless would destroy humanity; consume our hearts, until there was nothing left. This wasn't a video game, this was real, and humanity was too arrogant to last.

It was kind of like a zombie apocalypse, but not as ugly. Instead of being after brains, these "zombies" were after hearts. Humans were possible even more weak to Heartless than they were to zombies. And God, I could understand. Already dread and despair were creeping in, wrapping their ugly tendrils around my heart like a noose around my neck.

I wanted to stand still under that hand coming down at me. I wanted desperately to just go to sleep and never wake up.

I stumbled a few feet to the side anyway, exhausted and burning legs buckling as the ground shook when the Darkside's hand struck the earth so close to my feet. I landed so hard my glasses flipped off of my face, and the wind was knocked out of me. I felt like I was screaming, but I heard no sound and I was too winded to do anything but gasp.

Gravity hugged me close to the ground, and vertigo pinned me. No matter how I elbowed at it or tried to shove my body from it, the Earth refused to let me up. I was nauseous, I felt like I wasn't in my own skin. I was trapped, being dragged down and—

I was literally sinking. I hadn't noticed it till a tendril—a literal tendril, not just a metaphorical one this time—wrapped around the wrist of my reaching hand, and I couldn't hold it up anymore. I turned my head and saw darkness pooled beneath me, felt the coolness of it against my cheek.

I shut my near-useless eyes to hide from the black blurs, and found that the realization of what was being done to me made me feel a bit less weak. Physically, at least—it wasn't that I couldn't move my own limbs, it was that I was being pulled down by a force stronger than all of humanity.

This was what Riku had let take him away. This was what Sora hadn't been able to fight free from. This was what Suna had sunk into at the end of his time, and he had come to me. The darkness had brought that wonderful, strong boy to my world and given him a second chance.

I wouldn't let it take me away from him. Not without a fight.

I bared my teeth, lurched upward away from it even if it was a futile effort. I snarled and clawed at the darkness, at myself, like an angry feral thing. No, no, I wouldn't let the darkness have my heart. The darkness was my driving force, I'd fucking owned it; I wouldn't be stabbed in the back like this by my own element.

This darkness was strange and wrong, though, it wasn't the darkness that was inside of me. The darkness inside of me didn't feel like the burn of anxiety and the chill of depression anymore, it felt like anger and strength and the will to fight and outlast. This was someone else's darkness. Everyone else's darkness. This was humanity, broken down and relentlessly cruel in its intentions to destroy. The deeper it pulled me, the closer I was to being submerged, the more I could feel and understand. There was so much terror, so much agony and anger. Emptiness, too, it all felt empty, unfulfilled and it sought to complete itself by dragging other hearts in.

I said a name, called for help, but I was hoarse and tired and so, so quiet. Like I always was. I would always be a quiet person. I hated raising my voice, even when I desperately wanted to be heard.

So I thought, instead, I thought of options, ideas, people that I cared about and people that I'd never met. I thought again of Suna, of his love and respect for me, two things I didn't know I was deserving of before he'd shown them to me. I thought of my mother, of my sister, and our strained but happy relationship, of the way I would always fight to protect them. I thought of Xemnas, who I thought I knew so well but he could still surprise me so easily. I thought of how happy he made me, of how pleased I was when he seemed proud of me.

I clutched at my aching, pounding heart through my coat, and thought of him happy. Of how I could feel when he was happy, and when he was sad or in distress. I thought of his smile and the softness of his hair, and the youthful look about him when he slept.

I thought of the heart he was still convinced he didn't have.

And I clawed into myself and pulled the fractured pieces of it from my body, and could barely stand to open my eyes to look at the light that surrounded them. I clutched them tightly in my fingers as I brought my heart close to my face, reveled in the warmth and energy buzzing from it. I knew, then, that the pieces would not fall apart if I let go, and I felt like smiling, even if I no longer had the physical energy to do so.

There, I thought with an air of finality as I let it go.

As I let myself go.

There, you can have it.

The darkness swallowed what was left of me when I closed my eyes, and I didn't mind because it had stopped hurting.

As my head went under, it felt like someone was holding my hand, and I felt loved.

I

Belatedly, I thought about Leah. She'd probably shake her head and tell everyone she always knew I was the self-sacrificing type, and the thought made me smile, but it felt hollow.

I felt hollow. And numb.

It was so dark where I was that I couldn't even see my hands when I pressed them toward my face close enough to bump my nose.

And I could not move from my place. I was stuck floating in the abyss, unable to gain any sort of traction. Or maybe I was drifting, and just couldn't tell. There was no wind.

There was nothing.

There might not even have been me.

I

I wondered how I would be remembered. Would they consider me a hero? I hadn't done anything useful, so no. Would they consider my death tragic? Yeah, and probably overdramatic.

But then again, I wasn't dead. If I was dead, I would be with my grandmother instead of all alone. There would be tons of family pets greeting me.

I wondered, was this part of God's plan? If there was a divine power? Was this what they wanted to happen, or was this a flaw in their design? A break in reality?

Had humanity brought this on themselves?

Had I?

Was this all my fault?

No, it wasn't. Of course not. My power was nothing compared to what had consumed me. If anyone had caused this, it was everyone. Not just me. How silly, how arrogant to think I was any more than a blip in the dark.

That's all I was. That's all I'd ever been, all I would amount to. All I had amounted to. Just a tiny little fading blip of a light, and I'd blinked out of existence. But…I still did exist. Somewhere, I was something. Or I wouldn't be conscious. Or was I dreaming? Either way, I existed. "I think, therefor I am," or something.

And as it so happened, I couldn't stop thinking. I was thinking myself in circles.

All my past homes, all the friends I missed, all those conversations I'd ever had that went embarrassingly bad and what I should have said instead of what I did say.

All the conversations that never had, but should have.

I fantasized about having those conversations. I thought about Xemnas the most, of course, and any sort of reaction he could have to my love confession. But I also thought about greeting Zexion with a hug and telling him, "hey, man, you're one of my best friends." I thought about telling Xaldin that he was pretty fucking cool, and telling him how ridiculous I felt for thinking he was stalking me. I wanted to shake Marluxia and tell him, really, it was fine, he could have spoken to me from the start. Maybe Larxene would tell me why she seemed so settled.

My fantasies and wishes became less realistic as eternities passed me by; I went from wanting to finish what I started in bringing Xemnas out of his shell to wanting to stop the shell from happening in the first place.

Back when he still used the name Xehanort, when he still had Terra's baby face and those defensive, angry eyes, I thought I might be able to reach him. Maybe he just needed someone who understood. A guiding hand to keep him within sight of the light.

But I knew, deep down, that it would be easier to talk to Terra and teach him how to safely handle darkness, than it would be to talk Xehanort out of experimenting with…what was it, the Door to Darkness?

It had been so long, and I'd completely wasted all the opportunities to ask Xemnas about his research. I was willing to bet it would've been fascinating, if he could break it down from numbers into words for me. He would have, if I had asked.

Xemnas and I had a relationship. An awkward, tense friendship, but it was ours and he was the same person as he was before he lost his heart—the same memories and feelings—but he'd grown.

Terra, though, he was different. I didn't know Terra like I knew Xemnas. I wanted to know him. So sometimes I thought about talking to him, and ignored the guilt of stopping Xemnas from existing.

Terra's naïveté frustrated me almost as much as Sora's ignorance, but he was sweeter, more mature, so I thought we'd be able to understand each other. I could explain the darkness to him. I could save him from Master Xehanort.

Of course, I knew it was too late now. And I just wanted to hug him, mostly.

I wanted to hug a lot of people.

I'd settle for a hug from anyone.

I

Sometimes, I would sing. I wasn't fantastic, and I might not even have actually been singing. I might have been thinking the songs. Getting them out into the air was better than trying not to let them get stuck in my head.

It didn't occupy me for that long. There was nothing to really occupy myself with, so I just thought some more when I forgot the words or otherwise gave up my singing.

I thought a lot, for a long time.

My fantasies became depressingly ordinary things, instead of extraordinary, exciting things. I started to think about going home and hugging mom, my sister, of curling up in bed for a nap. Petting dogs and playing with cats. The sounds of the parakeets chirping.

Sunshine, trees.

Solid ground beneath my feet.

Food.

Anything.

Anything, anything, anything but the endless dark space I was trapped in.