A/N: Miss me? I know I've been AWOL for a while, mostly due to the fact that this site and my computer couldn't be friends. But to make up for it, I have this delightful new story! Basically it explains what happens to Axel in KH2 between the Roxas fight and when he next shows up to kidnap Kairi. This chapter opens maybe 3 months before the begining of 'Unlucky 13'...I haven't quite figured out a time scale. Enjoy!

Twilight Town

In DiZ's underground lair, a dark portal swelled to life. In the blink of an eye, the strands of dark energy disintegrated, leaving a black-coated figure in their wake. Axel pushed back his hood, giving the room a cursory and contemptuous glance-over. A "secret base" under a mansion? Who did DiZ think he was, a "caped crusader" out to right the Organization's wrongs?

Speaking of DiZ, he didn't seem to be around. And that was precisely what Axel had come to verify. If DiZ wasn't camped out in front of the computer, that meant no one would be monitoring the virtual Twilight Town, leaving him just enough time for one more snatch and grab attempt with Roxas, since DiZ had so rudely interrupted his attempt just minutes before…

Axel allowed himself a sharp sigh of annoyance as he opened another portal that would take him back into the data world, where Roxas remained imprisoned. Though really, the only thing keeping Number Thirteen imprisoned was his own stubbornness.

"I don't believe this," Axel sighed, pausing a second to reminisce as he stared at the swirling vortex before him without really seeing it. Why had he even accepted this mission in the first place? Oh, right—Xemnas had threatened him with the ultimate punishment—being turned into a weak and mindless Dusk—if he refused, and Xaldin had added the not-so-subtle threat of slinging a lance at his head. His orders were to locate Roxas and make one final attempt to bring him back to the Organization—or, if Number Thirteen wouldn't come willingly, to eliminate him.

He wasn't sure if he had it in him to go so far as to eliminate his friend, but part of him had to admit that he was looking forward to the "aggressive negotiations" that this meeting would most likely entail. Roxas deserved a thrashing for all the trouble he'd caused Axel. He'd warned the blonde what leaving the Organization would mean, but no, it all had to be about Sora

But enough reminiscing. He was short on time. When DiZ had frozen the data world, thereby thwarting Axel's kidnapping attempt-in-the-making of Roxas, Axel hadn't been able to move, but he could still hear, loud and clear, the old geezer urging Roxas to go to the mansion. That meant that he should already be here somewhere…and now it was up to Axel to find him before DiZ did.

Axel stepped into the portal, re-emerging almost immediately into DiZ's data replica of Twilight Town. Glancing around at his surroundings through narrowed eyes, he could guess by the stark gray walls that he was still somewhere within DiZ's lair—or at least, the data version of it. Other than that, he had no idea where he was, so he might as well just pick a direction and start walking… Banishing his chakrams, he turned left, away from the sleeping pods, and headed down the corridor. He soon found himself confronted with a closed door that, when he drew near enough, opened with a hiss. Tense, he stepped through, ready for anything, to see…an empty room. Well, that was anticlimactic. Suddenly, a door on the other side of the room hissed open. Axel pressed himself against the wall, in the deepest shadows, waiting to see who it was before he tipped his hand and revealed his presence.

Roxas walked in, unarmed, looking around warily. Bingo. Axel smiled, but the expression was far from friendly. So, he'd chosen to heed DiZ's instructions and come here. He'd chosen to listen to an enemy of the Organization rather than trust his "best friend"…though clearly that title held no meaning for Roxas anyway. Axel had been feeling sorry for his friend-it really wasn't his fault that whatever DiZ had done to him had turned his memory to Swiss cheese, scrambling his mind until he didn't know who to trust. But then, Roxas had tried to use his few snatches of true memory as a manipulation, a bargaining chip to get Axel to put his guard down and give Roxas time to slip away. That was unforgiveable.

Axel cleared his mind, giving it a mental shake. For a Nobody, he was coming dangerously close to indulging in self-pity. Time to return to the task at hand…and give Roxas a little warm-up before the main event.

Roxas's eyes widened as a semicircle of Dusks popped into being around him, bouncing up and down. As their zipper-mouths opened, despite their lack of eyes, there was a definite hunger in the way they watched him. And below them, almost unnoticeable save for the ripple they caused when they breached the surface of the floor, Assassins circled like hungry sharks. Then, blue eyes narrowed in determination—funfny how much he looked like his Other in that moment—Roxas summoned his Keyblade.

"Sic 'em." Axel mouthed the words even as his thoughts gave the lesser Nobodies the green light to attack. Roxas made short work of the threat—though he'd expected nothing less from the Nobody of the Keyblade master. Really, though Axel couldn't even admit it fully to himself, it had been to dull Number Thirteen's formidable fighting edge just a little. And, even as it stood, there was a good chance Axel wouldn't be able to best his friend. He might not walk away from this fight, this utterly stupid fight that destiny and the Organization were driving him into, victorious…or at all…

Still, it wouldn't do to lose face. He was the Flurry of Dancing Flames, after all! Hot-tempered, like his element, ready to plunge into a fight without a second thought, and ready to go out with a blaze of glory if the situation called for it. Fire didn't know the meaning of the word 'cowardice,' and neither did he. And so, giving Roxas a mocking round of applause as he stepped out of hiding, he hailed his friend.

"Simply amazing, Roxas…"

How had…the runt…gotten so strong? Axel wondered as his chakrams sagged—his arms no longer had the energy to hold them up. The ring of fire he'd rustled up to prevent Roxas from escaping—not that the blonde had ever run from a fight—faded, leaving only a few last gasps of smoke that all too quickly vanished from view themselves. Roxas had defeated him, seemingly without even trying. To think that this had once been the Organization's resident zombie, in need of big brother Axel to teach him the ropes about his power and existence in general…clearly, the pupil had outstripped the master.

And maybe that wasn't so bad. Maybe this was the way it was meant to be. After all, what could he have done if he'd won? Dragged Roxas back to the Organization? Never. Even if Xemnas somehow proved "merciful" enough not to turn the blonde into a Dusk, Saïx would no doubt come up with some "fitting" and devastatingly painful punishment, and he couldn't subject Roxas to that. But if he let Roxas walk away, it would be his own hide on the line. Yes, maybe it was better this way…

Doubled over, panting with the exertion of battle, he glanced up to see how Roxas was taking his victory. The blonde just stared back impassively, looking as zombie-like as when he'd first joined the Organization—but then something flashed across his face. Sadness? Regret?

Clearly another piece of the memory DiZ had scrambled was unlocking itself; Axel could almost see the gears turning in Roxas's mind. Too bad it had required an egregious loss to restore this bit of his friend's memory. He would definitely be feeling this in the morning…

"Axel…" His train of thought derailed as Roxas said his name. The blonde's wistful tone said that perhaps he'd finally remembered who he was dealing with. Too little, too late. This fight had just sealed Axel's fate. He would either have to slink back to the Organization with his tail between his legs—not an attractive option—or go rogue, out on his own among the worlds, until the Organization caught up with him and eliminated his existence. Either way, it would be out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Pasting on a smile for Roxas's sake—no need to upset the kid in what would be his final hours, if he was really determined to reunite with Sora. And while Axel's mind still rebelled at the idea, he would have to let the blonde decide his own course from now on. He'd done all he could for his friend. And besides, maybe Roxas's plan wasn't such a bad idea, considering what a crock the Organization was turning out to be—he declared, "Let's meet again, in the next life."

Roxas smiled at that. "Yeah…"

Axel fought the urge to roll his eyes at the blonde's naivete. Clearly the Roxas he'd known and liked was finally in control again. Didn't he know that next lives were for people with hearts? At least if Roxas reunited with Sora, he could have that comfort. "Silly," he chided, as the beginnings of a dark portal swirled up around his legs. A portal that he hadn't intended to open. Maybe this was what fading was like. Somehow he couldn't find it in himself to care. If this was death, at least he had his one friend by his side. "Just because you have a next life…"

He held Roxas's gaze until the darkness obscured even that, closing around him gently, taking him to who knew where….

Once the dark energy collapsed around him, Axel found himself standing in one of the corridors that ran between the worlds: a portal. So, Roxas hadn't finished him off after all. Good. Now that he was away from Roxas and out of range of his friend's power—somehow, like his Other, Roxas had a strange sway over people's hearts and emotions, even to the point where he could reawaken the shadows of feelings in Nobodies, and in Axel himself—his good sense was returning. The sappy emotions that he'd felt upon beholding his friend were draining away, leaving him his normal soulless self. What had he been thinking? Fading after a battle with Roxas would have been…pathetic. Trite. An ending unworthy of the Flurry of Dancing Flames. And besides, he wasn't ready for his story to be over yet.

Axel staggered forward, the mists of the realm between worlds seeming to pull at his boots like mud. First things first: to go anywhere, he'd have to get back to one of the real worlds. This data trap of DiZ's didn't exist, really, and so wasn't connected to any other point but Twilight Town. He would have to start there.

What next? Neither of the options on his plate looked particularly attractive. Option one: go back to the Organization and hope for "mercy" from Xemnas for failing in his mission to retrieve Roxas. Option two: leave the Organization, and try to strike out on his own. Neither one felt doable at the moment. Either way, he'd wind up with a fight on his hands—Xemnas wasn't known to be particularly forgiving of failure—and right now, he didn't feel up to the challenge of taking out a Shadow, much less one of his "colleagues" in the Organization.

Opening a portal out onto the real Twilight Town, Axel stumbled into the "real" version of the room he'd just fought Roxas in. He braced himself against the wall with one forearm, panting as he tried to catch his breath.

A faint, whooshing sound, almost like the opening of a portal, caught his attention. Axel looked up sharply to see a hooded figure in an Organization coat standing before him, brandishing an odd-looking sword, the tip of which was leveled at Axel's chest.

"You," the new arrival greeted him in a deep voice, eerily similar to the Superior's, dripping with disdain.

Axel gave the stranger his hardest smile. "I know you, and you know me, but I don't think we've ever been formally introduced. The name's Axel. Got it memorized…'Ansem?'" He asked, putting a hand to his chin in a thinking pose as he pretended to have a hard time recalling the alias. "That is what you're calling yourself these days, right?" he asked, dropping his arms to his sides as a chakram appeared in each hand. "Now that the pleasantries are over—why don't we get to business?"

"You're not fooling anyone. You can barely stand," 'Ansem' pointed out.

Axel snorted. "Yeah, well, maybe I've got enough juice left to take on a punk like you. Want to find out?" He gave the hooded man a hard smile.

Almost before he could blink, 'Ansem' had forced aside his chakrams with that accursed sword and dealt him a hard smack in the ribs with the flat of his blade. Axel doubled over, gasping for breath, and ended up losing his balance and sprawling in an undignified heap.

"Now." 'Ansem' suddenly sounded a lot more menacing. "I can take you prisoner, or I can eliminate you. Your choice."

Axel considered for a second. What choice did he have, really? He wasn't about to let 'Ansem' take him out just for a pointless display of loyalty to the Organization—especially since he wasn't feeling particularly loyal to them at the moment. "Not much of a choice, is it?" he inquired aloud, letting his chakrams vanish as he climbed to his feet.

'Ansem' didn't answer. Nor did he lower the weapon. "Oh, I get it. So this is the part where you go ahead and eliminate me anyway. After all, I'm just a Nobody. I'm disposable, right?" Axel spread his hands, giving the black-coated man a hard smile.

'Ansem' took a moment to respond. "You're wrong. I'm not like you," he said, tone heavy with disgust.

"Touché," Axel replied simply, not offended in the least. He would have no qualm with killing someone seconds after promising them clemency, not even now that being around Roxas had mellowed him. "So, now what?"

Instead of replying, 'Ansem' opened a portal. "Let me guess. Me first?" Axel asked sarcastically, stepping into the portal without waiting for a response. Almost instantly, 'Ansem' followed him into the corridor between worlds. A short walk later, with the tip of 'Ansem's' blade prodding him in the back all the way, Axel found himself in his new prison.

The first thing he noticed was the whiteness of it. For a second, he even found himself wondering if they'd ended up in Castle Oblivion. But…no. Castle Oblivion's rooms had been unadorned, save for the ridiculous sculptures of flowers Marluxia had strewn about—reminders that the castle was his domain. This room, now that he looked closer, did have some color. Pictures covered most of the walls, simple sketches done in bright colors. Pictures that looked very much like the ones drawn by…

"Hello, Naminé," he greeted the blonde girl seated at the table in the center of the room, who gasped audibly upon seeing him. "Long time, no see."

Judging from Namine's silent look of horror, obviously the time hadn't been long enough on her end. Not that he blamed her. He had threatened to dispose of her in order to get to Marluxia…and it hadn't been an empty bluff. He would eliminated the memory witch without batting an eyelash, had Sora not shown up.

"Naminé." Ansem spoke up. Did he detect a note of sympathy inside that deep, hollow voice? Axel wondered, giving the hooded man a sidelong glance. "Watch the prisoner for me. I have to go report to DiZ."

"But—" Naminé bit her lip, but her hands tightened on the sketchpad she held until her knuckles turned white.

"Will you be all right?" 'Ansem' asked in a low voice.

Naminé nodded, looking determined. 'Ansem' hesitated a moment, then vanished into a portal.

Axel began to pace the perimeter of the room, with the slow, cocky step of a predator on the prowl, glancing at the sketches Naminé had plastered all over the walls as he did so. Clearly she'd been using this hideout—and assisting DiZ—for a while. He'd wondered where she'd got to after the C.O. debacle, but he hadn't been curious enough to go digging.

"Relax, Nami," he advised after he'd made it halfway around the room. "I don't bite. Much," he added, just to unsettle her, giving her a hard smile. It was true that Naminé couldn't fight for herself. He could easily overpower her and escape. But that would surely send 'Ansem' in hot pursuit…and he was still a far cry from battle-ready at this point. Better to wait it out and save his strength for when he really needed it.

"Axel." Naminé's tone and eyes held reproach as she looked up at him. "Why are you here?"

"To see a friend," Axel replied, keeping his tone light and offhand.

"Roxas." The certainty in the memory witch's tone made Axel throw her a sharp look. "I got to meet him once," she explained calmly. "DiZ didn't let me talk to him for long." She glanced down at her sketchbook. "But I could see that he was special. He's got this…light…around him."

"If you think he's so special, then why help DiZ?" Axel couldn't help letting a little venom slip into his tone. The fact that his friend would subordinate his existence to become part of the Keyblade master, and that this was mostly DiZ's fault, was still a raw wound. "If Roxas does what you ask of him, he'll only disappear. Apparently I'm the only one that seems to have a problem with that," he added in a lower voice, tone turning glum again as he looked away, pretending to study the sketches on the bit of wall closest to him.

"He won't disappear!" Naminé said, banging the table with one small fist for emphasis. "He'll become whole!"

Axel's face contorted into a snarl, and his hands balled into fists, as he turned on her. "You," he snarled, tone full of rage, but upon beholding her determined expression his face smoothed out into an expression of bemused wonder. "You really believe that, don't you?" he asked quietly, taking a few steps closer so that he could get a better look at her face. Then, realizing how vulnerable that made him sound, he threw in a gibe for good measure. "Man. DiZ has really got you eating out of his hand."

Naminé didn't say anything, letting her gaze slip back to her sketchbook. So, the mention of DiZ had shut her up…there might be something there, Axel noted absently. But back to the matter at hand. Finding out about Roxas was more important. And Naminé sounded so certain of her convictions. Maybe she knew something about this whole process of reuniting a Nobody with his Other that the Organization hadn't managed to pick up—or at least, hadn't disseminated to its members. Besides, she was the Nobody of a Princess of Heart, a being with no darkness in her. It shouldn't be in her to lie. So…could she really be telling the truth? Could reuniting with Sora really be what was best for Roxas?

Walking over to stand beside Naminé's chair, he rested a hand on its back absently as he stared down at the memory witch. "So, you really think it's best for him," he said seriously.

"Once he found out the truth, Roxas would never be happy staying the way he was: only half a person," Naminé said. "You know that, Axel."

He couldn't decide what irked him more, the certainty in her tone or the sadness in her eyes. "Don't talk about him that way!" He shouted, throwing up his hands. "In the past tense. Like he's…like it's already over," he ended awkwardly. But the witch did have a point. It was all over. In losing the fight, he'd lost his best friend…"And what do you know about Roxas?" he snarled, regaining his tone of self-righteous fury. "What do you know about what he would have wanted?"

For a few seconds, Naminé just stared at him with a deer-caught- in-the-headlights expression. Axel glared down at her, panting with the effort of getting his point across.

"Axel. You've changed," she said finally. "You really do care about what happens to Roxas…don't you?"

"Of course I do!" he snapped. "We're….best friends…" Roxas's words from a short while earlier, in the Back Alley, echoed mockingly inside his skull. "We're…best friends…right?"

Naminé was saying something; he tuned back in. "I didn't want it happen this way," she said sadly, glancing down at her sketchbook. "Roxas wanted to know more about what it would be like to reconnect with Sora. He said he had a right to know. But DiZ wouldn't let me explain—"

"Let me guess. A Nobody doesn't have right to be, right?" Axel cut in, tone heavy with bitterness. Then he zeroed in on the last part of her sentence. "So, Naminé. What does happen when a Nobody rejoins their light half?"

"We become whole again," she replied.

"So you said. And that's just dandy for Sora. But what about Roxas?" he asked, a hint of frustration creeping into his tone.

"I can't know, for sure. Not until it happens to me. But…Roxas may not remember being Roxas," Naminé admitted.

"What?" Axel demanded sharply. "And you call that being whole?" he sneered. "That's not being whole—that's being absorbed into another personality!"

"No!" Naminé got to her feet, hands balling into fists. "Roxas is still there. He'll live on inside Sora! And you will meet him again. He may not know it's you, but you'll know it's him—"

"And somehow that'll be enough?" Axel cut in, tone savage as he finished her sentence. "Well, I've got news for you. It's not!" He took a calming breath, aware that he was coming dangerously close to venting his rage on Naminé. That would be impolitic from the standpoint that if he harmed a hair on the memory witch's head, 'Ansem' would take it out of his hide. But he was also beginning to feel a weird sort of kinship with the petite blonde. Aside from him, she might be the only one who felt any genuine sadness over Roxas's coming reunion with his Other.

Still, it would be good once this strange bonding moment had passed. Then he could return to his usual heartless self, the self that would cheerfully kill Naminé without a thought.

"We shouldn't end up…like that," he finished, looking away from her as he ran a hand through his hair. "We didn't ask to be like this…"

"What choice do we have?" Naminé asked, sounding sad as she resumed her seat.

"None," Axel told her flatly. "If you're determined to sit around and be DiZ's sheep." He paused a moment to let that sink in. "I'm not like you and Roxas. My Other's long gone. But, if it was me, I'd go out fighting instead of letting them force me down a road I didn't want to follow."

"Axel…" Naminé sounded wary, unsure of what he was leading up to.

"But then, I guess I was always meant to go down in flames," he quipped, summoning his chakrams in a flash of flame to demonstrate. Naminé froze the instant they appeared. After spinning them idly once or twice, he let them vanish again.

"Axel, what are you doing?" she asked flatly, now that the threat of immediate attack was gone.

"If we don't like the path that DiZ has laid out for us to follow, then what can we do?"Naminé stared blankly back at him. A bit annoyed that she couldn't grasp his innuendo, Axel decided on the direct approach. "What's to stop us from walking out of here right now?"

"I…don't understand." Naminé rose from her chair again, backing away a few steps.

"We both know that it would be easy for me to overpower you and make my escape. But I'd hate to do that," he drawled. Given their experiences in Castle Oblivion, she would know that for a bald-faced lie. Good. Let her waste time trying to figure out his reasoning. "So…why don't you come with me?" He offered her a hand.

"I…I can't. I have to stay here. To—"

"To help rebuild Sora?" Axel waved a dismissive hand. "He's rebuilt. Roxas was the last missing piece. So what's worth sticking around here for?"

At that moment, a portal whooshed open behind him. "Uh-oh," Axel muttered, pivoting and summoning his chakrams.

'Ansem' stood there, holding his sword. "So, what? Now you're defending her from me?" he demanded, sounding condescending.

"Nah. I just make it a point to be ready for a fight at all times," Axel shot back, annoyed that it had to be 'Ansem' of all people who witnessed that misguided impulse. "So. What's the verdict? The gallows at dawn? A firing squad? Do make it something creative," he jeered.

Naminé gasped. "You mean you're going to…eliminate him?"

'Ansem' didn't respond for a second, and the hesitation was telling. "I'm here for you, Naminé. Our work is in the final stages. DiZ needs you."

Axel's eyes narrowed. 'Final stages'….that had to mean…"What are you doing to him?" he demanded, slicing through the air with a chakram.

"It's already done," 'Ansem' informed him, sounding weary rather than angry at Axel's display of defiance. "Sora is whole. He just…needs some help waking up." He opened a portal with a flick of the hand that wasn't holding his sword. "Naminé. Go!"

Nodding, expression resolute, the blonde dashed into the portal. "Now you," 'Ansem' ordered, tone turning menacing as he gave Axel a glare that the redhead could feel, rather than see, emanating out from under the hood.

Axel's face contorted into a snarl, and he even brought one chakram back in preparation to sling it at 'Ansem,' but at the last second he slumped, letting his chakrams dangle in his hands. Fighting 'Ansem' wouldn't solve his problem. For one thing, Roxas was already gone, and for another, Number Thirteen had brought his end on himself. He'd chosen it, no matter how many times Axel had tried to talk him out of it. The issue wasn't worth fighting over anymore.

Expression closed off, he stepped into the portal without a word. 'Ansem' followed, equally silent. A few seconds later, they caught up with Naminé. 'Ansem' opened a portal out, and the trio stepped out into DiZ's computer room.

The geezer himself stood there, hands on his hips, oozing smugness. "Naminé. Good," he said crisply. "Your work is nearly finished. But you're needed in the pod room."

Naminé took off at a sprint to wherever the pod room was. DiZ turned his attention to 'Ansem'—and that was when he noticed Axel. "What is this?" he demanded.

"A prisoner," 'Ansem' replied. "I caught him sneaking around."

"A Nobody," DiZ said, tone filled with as much distaste as if he'd just named some type of vermin. "Here to attempt some ineffectual rescue, no doubt." He paused. "Dispose of it."

"I'm not an it," Axel snarled, summoning his chakrams. "And you had better watch your tongue, old man—"

Before he could blink, Soul Eater stretched across his vision, as 'Ansem' blocked both his chakrams. DiZ burst out into slow, mocking laughter.

"The arrogance is amazing," he remarked. "Nobodies don't even have a right to be, let alone a right to be respected." He dismissed Axel, fixing his yellow gaze on 'Ansem.' "My orders remain the same. You know what to do."

'Ansem' nodded slowly, but he didn't seem to happy about this relationship.

"Well, this puts a damper on the mood," Axel began, tone deceptively light. Before he could continue, Naminé came running back in.

"It's over. He's awake!" she reported breathlessly.

"Good. Good," DiZ murmured fervently, looking lost in his own thoughts. A moment later, he glanced up to give 'Ansem' a sharp look. "Why are you still here? You have your orders."

'Ansem' opened a portal wordlessly.

"Ah. And take Naminé with you," DiZ added, seemingly as an afterthought.

"But—" Ansem began, protesting. Before he could say anything further, DiZ had left the room. After a moment, the black-coated man collected himself. "All right. Let's go."

"Do pick somewhere nice for my execution," Axel sneered, unable to resist throwing in one final gibe.

"You mean—" Naminé's eyes widened. "You wouldn't—"

"I have my orders," he replied. "Besides, it's not like it would be much of a loss," he added, shooting Axel a hard look.

"Take note, Naminé," Axel advised, giving the blonde a serious look over his shoulder. "This is how DiZ treats Nobodies. Shouldn't you be wondering when it will be your turn?"

Naminé tried to look unaffected, but the way that her eyes darted quickly to 'Ansem' showed that his words were having the desired effect. Good. At this rate, he would make a turncoat out of her in no time.

"Naminé, don't listen to him!" 'Ansem' cut in firmly. "It's time to go."

"Go where?" Naminé asked, unable to keep a slight tremor of fear out of her voice.

"Yes, go where?" Axel echoed, giving 'Ansem' a mocking smile that was calculated to send his blood pressure skyrocketing.

"No more questions!" 'Ansem' snapped, chopping his blade through the air in front of him for emphasis. He opened a portal. "Through there. Now," he growled.

Naminé obeyed without further protest, racing into the portal. Axel followed at a slower pace, not banishing his weapons, alert for an attack from the rear. Just because 'Ansem' acted all high and mighty, and claimed to take the moral high road, didn't mean that he wouldn't suspend all of that to help his best friend. And even if he did stick to the high road, that just left more room on the low road for Axel to pull something underhanded and effect an escape.

A fairly short walk later, 'Ansem' opened a portal out. "You first, Naminé," he ordered.

Naminé nodded, hurrying out of the portal. Axel followed, moving before he gave 'Ansem' an excuse to jab him in the back with his sword.

"Sunset Hill, eh?" Axel asked, planting his hands on his hips, after finding himself on the grassy hilltop. "Isn't it a bit public for this sort of thing?" he asked, glancing back over his shoulder to give 'Ansem' a hard smile.

"Shut up," Behind the rudeness –and evasiveness—'Ansem' sounded distinctly nervous…it would do nothing to allay Naminé's fears that DiZ had reached the point where he was ready to dispose of her. Axel had begun planting them just to manipulate the memory witch into helping him escape. But now, it looked like he'd inadvertently guessed DiZ's plans.

Axel snorted to himself. And DiZ accused Nobodies of being unfeeling and cold-blooded! He would fit right in with the Organization.

Naminé walked over to sit on one of the benches scattered about the hilltop. "So, what now?" she asked, a nervous quaver clear in her high voice.

"We wait for Sora to get safely underway. Without any interference from him," 'Ansem' added, keeping his gaze on Naminé while extending Soul Eater to point at Axel.

"Interference?" Axel repeated with a sneer. Then, more somberly, "Why bother? That ship's sailed." And it had…for now. He was through trying to force Roxas to change his (idiotic) decision to reunite with the Keyblade master, true enough. But that didn't mean that he couldn't try to split Sora back into his two subordinate parts—a Heartless, and Roxas. Obviously, DiZ and 'Ansem' expected him to try something like that immediately. But if the Organization had taught him anything, it was patience. He would need to wait for the right time to spring his trap, and right now, with 'Ansem' eyeing him like a hawk, definitely wasn't it.

"You'll understand if I don't take your word for it," 'Ansem' replied.

"Suit yourself," Axel replied.

Half an hour later, Axel paced the hilltop, bored out of his skull, as 'Ansem' and Naminé looked on. This had to be the most boring time in his entire existence. 'Ansem' was just adding insult to injury, dragging out the time before the inevitable had to occur. 'The inevitable' meaning the execution he felt sure was coming. And he had to admit that he wasn't certain he could fight 'Ansem' off.

Still, going out in battle would at least be interesting. The only thing to do here was to gaze at the beauty of the just-beginning sunset in the sky—a view that only irritated him further, reminding him of all the sunsets he and Roxas had watched together from the top of the Clock Tower—or to watch the grass grow. And he had no use for plants, unless it was setting them on fire to annoy Marluxia.

"Well?" What are you waiting for?" he demanded, turning to glare at 'Ansem,' holding his hands akimbo as he waited for an explanation.

The black-coated man didn't answer for a moment. As Axel waited impatiently, considering trying to throttle an explanation out of his captor, an ominous rumbling began underfoot.

"That," 'Ansem' replied, sounding unconcerned.

Axel sauntered over to the observation area at the edge of the hilltop, propping his elbows on the top of the fence as he gazed over to see what was causing the commotion. A blue train spangled with stars and moons chugged out from the tunnel that must cut through the hill, clouds of smoke puffing merrily from its smokestack. If 'Ansem' was so interested in that train, then he knew what cargo it must contain: Sora.

"He's gone," he observed, a note of melancholy entering into his voice. Not for Sora, but for Roxas. If Sora was underway, it meant that DiZ really had forced his friend to combine with his lighter half. Except, DiZ hadn't forced Roxas into this. In the end, Number Thirteen had chosen his end himself. And that made the knowledge sting all the more.

"Axel." Upon hearing Naminé say his name, he glanced over at her in surprise. "About what you said earlier…" her expression turned resolute. "I accept. Let's go now."

"But where?" Axel spread his hands. "It's not like you have a place to go, right? Or a home to go back to. Such things don't exist for Nobodies."

The petite blonde's expression turned sad. "You're right. There is no place for me." Her tone quickly became resolute once more, a note of hope entering into it. "Still…I have some places I want to go. I have some people I want to see."

Axel's lip curled. For a moment, her seemingly unquenchable optimism and faith reminded him of none other than Sora. He could cheerfully have punched her in that instant, but instead, he regained control. "Same here," he agreed.

Turning to 'Ansem', Axel spread his hands. "So, why don't you just let us go?"

'Ansem ' just stared back impassively. "The old guy told you to get rid of us, right?" Axel pressed him with a hard smile.

Naminé gasped audibly. "He…did?" she asked in a small voice, eyes huge as she stared at the man who she'd thought was her ally.

'Ansem' remained silent for a long moment. Then, he turned his face away. "Go!" he ordered, pointing with an outstretched arm.

"Don't tell me you're going soft?" Axel goaded, partially to vent some of the ire that still remained over the loss of his best friend, but partially to test 'Ansem's ' resolution of purpose. People with hearts normally adopted the idiotic doctrine of being bound by their words, but to protect Sora, who knew what 'Ansem' would stoop to? "We're just Nobodies, after all. Shouldn't you just accomplish your task right here?"

"I owe you two," 'Ansem' said flatly, looking at Axel. "I don't like owing a debt. Especially to the likes of you," he added, tone dripping with disgust.

"What do you mean, you owe us?" Naminé asked, sounding perplexed. Axel threw her a sharp look. Why ruin a good thing?

"For Castle Oblivion," 'Ansem' said, as though it should be obvious.

"All right. I guess I should thank you…" Axel began slowly, taking a few steps back from 'Ansem' to give himself plenty of room to open up a portal. He gestured with one arm, and one flared up before him, tongues of dark energy licking the air as it opened. "But I won't," he finished, giving 'Ansem' a hard smile. "You coming?" he demanded of Naminé.

The memory witch gave 'Ansem' a long look. "I'm sorry," she whispered, before dashing into the portal Axel had opened. With a mocking salute, Axel followed her. As the corridor of darkness closed behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief. That had been a close one.

"Axel." A few feet ahead of him, Naminé stood, gazing at him with a perceptible glimmer of fear in her eyes. Oh, right. He was saddled with the memory witch now. The brief sensation of kinship he'd felt to her in the White Room had almost completely evaporated, leaving him with only one goal: to get rid of the ball and chain as soon as possible.

"So, Naminé. You're a free woman now. What are these places that you want to see?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest, cocking his head at her.

"You…you'll really help me?" She stammered, sounding surprised.

"Come now, Naminé. Surely you remember from Castle Oblivion…I always keep my word." He gave her a hard smile, but decided to cut through the tension he'd purposefully created before she got too panicked. He didn't want her reduced to a quivering heap, just impressed with the knowledge that she would do well to get out of his presence as soon as possible. "And besides, I didn't sign up to be your chauffer throughout the worlds. I have places to be too, you know. This is a one-way ticket I'm giving you." He held up an index finger for emphasis. "So choose your destination carefully."

He paused for a moment, letting her deliberate. She did so very seriously, chin cupped in one small hand, brow furrowed in thought. After a long pause, she looked up, expression decisive. "I want to go to the Destiny Islands," she announced.

"And what would you do there?" Axel asked suspiciously. It most likely wasn't coincidence that the Destiny Islands were Sora's homeworld…and now that he'd been reassembled, he would most likely take the express route home, after being gone for so long. Perhaps she had some reason for wanting to be near the Keyblade master. Some reason that might conflict with Axel's still rather tenuous plan to somehow turn the situation around and get Roxas back.

"I don't know," Naminé replied, sounding surprised. "I've only seen it in Sora's memories. Even then it was beautiful. Now I want to see it for real."

Most likely she was sincere, but…old habits died hard, as the saying went. And the Organzation had taught him to be suspicious of even the most innocent- and coincidental-seeming things. "No can do," Axel said smoothly. "Anywhere else?"

"But why-?" Naminé began, lower lip jutting out in a stubborn pout, before she remembered who she was dealing with. Delicate shoulders heaving in a sigh, she capitulated quickly, before Axel could get testy. "All right. Then I want to go to Hollow Bastion."

Axel ran a hand through his spiky locks, considering. "You mean, the world the witch took over? What's a nice girl like you want with a place like that?"

"After working with Sora's memories, I know that world is very important to him. And to…others," she stammered.

"Others?" Axel raised an eyebrow.

"Anyway, I want to see it!" Naminé said, the bite in her tone surprising.

"I suppose it is on my way," Axel conceded. "So." He raised a hand to point down the corridor of darkness with an extended pointer finger. "Get moving, short stuff. We've got a lot of ground to cover."