These are the things Roxas knows:
He doesn't have a heart. That means, categorically, inescapably, that he is incapable of feeling.
He has some friends and being with them makes ice-cream taste even more delicious.
He's the keyblade's master, though he doesn't know why.
He also knows was a hero once and he had a lot more friends than this. But that one's less of a thing that he knows. That one is, for want of a better word, more of a feeling.
So, he thinks, maybe he's a hero still, somewhere on the other side of the stars. On occasion he feels like he's really out there – or at least somewhere other than here.
burning, dying – no – fading away of course -
There's Vexen's screams and Axel's grin, the sharp cracking click of his fingers, and his own mouth forming the words, horrified terrified sick- what are you people? as the sound of Vexen's nonexistence dies away.
Roxas thinks these are strange daydreams.
Anyway, he can't fathom Axel doing something like that. Roxas knows he couldn't kill them. They're his comrades. Hearts or not, they must be nice people even Saix though he seems kinda like a jerk. Roxas couldn't kill the Organization –
– unless he had to.
Larxene gasps, looking terrified, and he feels sick to his stomach as he stands frozen, still, trying not to let Donald and Goofy see that….well. She seems so real, bravado gone, frightened and – like - like a real person, not a heartless or anything. But then he reminds himself of what she did, and he promises himself that next time, he won't feel a thing as he strikes the final blow.
Roxas doesn't know what the dreams mean because he doesn't think his comrades can die. They're too strong for that.
He is running through a castle with thirteen floors but it seems like thirteen hundred, the way his legs ache.
And he's done it. The dying thing reaches out for help – from something, anything – but he's nothing. And Sora doesn't care because he said he wouldn't care, this time, and he had to do it, and it doesn't matter anyway because Marluxia wasn't a real person and Sora knows that, because if he was a real person Sora wouldn't have killed him.
His friends. He wants his friends.
So then he walks away with a face like stone, the keyblade's weight sending shooting pains up his arm, and he does his best not to feel.
Roxas doesn't even have to try.
Well, at last it's time for him to rest. He fades into the blank gleaming white and he thinks he hasn't felt so peaceful since the world ended all that time ago-
And then he doesn't get the dreams anymore, just memories.
Roxas wonders if now it's him creating dreams, sending them to his other self. He wonders who Sora is, but soon forgets his name, like it was mentioned only in a dream.
He gets a shudder down his spine when he learns they're all dead, but it doesn't seem like sadness, though he thinks that's how he should act here. Maybe it's triumph. He realises that out of all of them he only cares whether Axel survived.
He shouldn't be able to, should he?
Over time he realises his comrades aren't very nice, not at all. They take him out on missions sometimes and tell him things but they're missing something. They don't care about anything. He wonders if some of them even want hearts at all. He wonders why they're doing this.
All he wants to do, really, is be with his friends. But Saix doesn't like Xion. Roxas wonders why.
Roxas once thought he would never kill the Organization, unless he had right now, he would. He hates them. He hates them, every last one of them, even himself. Especially himself.
The white shimmering pieces of his best friend float past. He feels the gentle pressure of a hand on his face and something hot and cold trickling down from his eyes and he's trying his best to hold onto something that's drifting out of his grasp.
He hates this, so much. He hates his futile nonexistence and everyone he was forced to share it with. He wants out. He wants a heart. He wants his friends.
(a boy with a smirking grin and a wooden sword, and a girl, a girl like her, with hair of the reddest red ever)
Roxas decides he's only willing to forgive one person from this whole mess.
He feels Xion's trembling feather-light touch slip away and then she does too – she slips away from everything, still with a faint smile on her face that just grows fainter, disappearing, so she's nothing at all, and there's not even the faintest trace of her, until she was never ever anything and he can't hold on – and then -
He wonders who there is to forgive.
Oh, but that's easy. His friend, of course.
He wonders how he can hate if he doesn't have a heart, and decides that this hate, in all its sick burning, must only be a shade of the real thing and that when he gets one he'll do it properly.
(He had to kill her. He really had to. And next time he won't care, because he'll have to – and better yet, he'll want to.)
He remembers a lot of things now, and he wishes he didn't. It's strange, because he thought he felt so angry. But that doesn't matter anymore, because he's home, and the anger melts away as soon as he lays eyes on Sora's face.
He looks at his other self from across the room and marvels at how just it's like looking at him. Funny, that. Roxas' own face has never really felt like his. Whenever he sees himself in a mirror it's like something jerks, shifts, and then reality folds over the truth.
This, here, is the real truth - and Roxas knows this is where he's always been. Wandering around through the empty worlds never felt real because it wasn't. He was just a projection, a shell.
He was a hero once - now he can be one again. He'll fix everything, Sora will fix everything, because he's him.
He wonders if he'll care about Namine anymore when he has a heart and hopes he does, because he's cared about her before, hasn't he? He wonders if he'll recognise Axel. He's been through that recently though and he was still himself, whoever himself is, so that should be okay.
In the end, though, he just really really hopes he'll remember all this - all this – this thisness. All this nothing, this misery, the pain and emptiness this long year…it has to have been for something, right? He half remembers a time when he felt nothing but optimism and longs for it to come again. He'll really fight for it this time. He'll do whatever it takes to win back his future and his friends and his home, in all their bright warmth and splendour.
And, of course, he has to continue the fight. He has to hunt down the Organization one by one and he has to kill them.
The light folds over him and reaches inside him and he nearly cries out in delight because he's whole again, and he wonders if he'll see her now, and it's strange but it's like the world is brighter, it's like he's waking up at last—
-and then he's –
A whole year shivers in the back of his mind like a bad taste. He doesn't like it and the memories in it, so he puts it away, buries it all, shakes it off like a fading nightmare. He'll save the angst for later. Right now, there's energy bubbling up in him and he feels real, whole, like he hasn't since he plunged that awful keyblade into his chest.
No, part of him says, you can't forget that – if you'll do that you'll never remember what you need to - no, don't—remember me, remember me, remember who you were –
What's his name again? He remembers telling someone about it, rather recently.
Oh yeah, that was it.
Starts with an S, right?
These are the things Sora knows:
He has a heart, and the sheer strength of it won his keyblade back and kept him going when nothing else could.
He has many, many friends but he's looking for the ones who are the most dear to him and he'll do anything, anything at all to find them again.
He's the keyblade's master, because it chose him that fateful night on that dark beach, and again in Hollow Bastion. He's earned the right to hold it.
He's a hero. That's why he has to do what he has to do. And even when things are tough and there's darkness whispering and flickering and calling, he's always cheerful because that's something he's very, very good at. He can't bear the alternative. He thinks he has the faintest idea of what it would be like to spend a year without it- his heart, his friends, all of that – and it didn't turn out well. That's what keeps him going.
Right. No hearts, he thinks. Every emotion they show is a fake. Don't let them trick you. As Sora looks at Demyx he imagines a silver shade writhing voicelessly in his place. That's all this guy really is. Not a person. Not real and that's why this is okay.
He doesn't know if it's sadder that he thinks this, or that he's right.(The thought seems born out the bitterness and the emptiness of the year that never happened to him, the year that always lingers somewhere out of sight out of mind.)
For some reason he's got this impression that Demyx won't be a threat. The guy slacks off. He's a lazy, spineless wimp, and a coward. Sora is hit with a sick surge of revulsion. Then he thinks of Kairi, or someone like her, and the feeling of her slipping out of his grasp - and he hates.
It terrifies him and he doesn't like it but he kind of does because he hates Organization XIII. He hates what they do, he hates what they did, and if he doesn't really know what that is, it doesn't matter, because all that matters is that they die.
This is new.
He grins a sharp dazzling grin, full of light and steel, and dashes forward to face the foe. It's harder to win than he expected it would be. But in the end that doesn't matter either.
The thing called Demyx fades away. Sora breathes heavily. His fingers flex around the keyblade.
"Anyone from the Organization who'd like to be next?" he growls, eyes wild. He's going to kill them.
He's ashamed when Donald chastises him. He said that before he thought of going to look for his friends. That's just wrong.
But when Saix tells him they have Kairi and they're not going to give her back, he almost forgets about her and what she'd want. He forgets about that time when she told him never to change.
I hate you I hate you I hate you! He has a heart and he can feel this properly now, like he couldn't before – when – he doesn't know. He thinks of someone who is Kairi but isn't and is also him, too, except he can't remember her face or her voice or her name because –
I HATE YOU, he growls in his head.
Then he learns he's nothing but another pawn in the Organization's plan – again? – and he doesn't know if he can bear it.
"Kingdom Hearts." And Xaldin's eyes are a bright hard blue as he smiles. "When Kingdom Hearts is ours, we can exist fully and completely."
Kingdom Hearts. That's what Ansem – no, Xehanort's heartless - wanted. Sora wonders if he's lying about why they're trying to find it, but it feels like a truth. Still, Xaldin doesn't seem like he believes it.
I want you to do me a favour.
All those hearts that I've captured –
All those hearts Sora is capturing, slashing and slicing and sending them spiralling into who knows where –
Set them free.
He lunges forward, strikes the final blow with his friends at his side, and as Xaldin flickers away he doesn't care. The funny thing is, he knows that Xaldin doesn't either.
It's strange, he thinks, that he doesn't hate Axel quite as much as the rest of them. When the guy shows up to fight beside them, Sora feels like there's an old groove to settle into, a pattern of being at each other's back when they need it. There's a ghost of a grin on his face.
He took Kairi, Sora reminds himself. He didn't give a damn what she felt about being taken away from her home. To Axel she was more of a piece in a game than a person. All he cared about was making Sora follow him, making Sora angry.
But…wait. Nobodies can't care.
So then what made Axel do this?
"He was the only one I liked," Axel says. The hate has drained out of Sora and left him empty. He looks down at Axel's too-pale face, and realises that the answer is what it always is. Friendship. He was looking for his friend, and that's something Sora can relate to.
How can you have friends if you can't even feel? He doesn't know any simple answers to that, but he thinks he might remember a complicated one. The absence of a heart creates feelings in itself, like loneliness.
Don't forget who I was. Don't forget who you were, Sora.
Axel fades away and Sora says his name again but it doesn't bring him back and it doesn't stop the sadness. Something inside him feels like it's crying, screaming, tearing away.
I said I'd remember, says the hissing in the back of his mind. I said it wouldn't all be for nothing.
This dark city with its buildings and streets filled with darkness and nothing, with the horrible pale looming castle up in the sky – it feels like home, and Sora feels like he's returning, and that kind of terrifies him.
Why won't you remember me? Everything I did, everything that was sacrificed to bring us together again, to bring down the Organization and make them pay…what was it all for–
Suddenly he's not in that dark street anymore, and there's someone attacking him.
There's darkness all around and he slips a little on the stained glass floor. He squints at the pattern on it for a moment – is that his old shoe? – but his attention is diverted by someone
The attacker is a hooded boy wearing a black cloak like the Organization, about his size, carrying keyblades that belong to Sora. And he's very, very good.
On reflection, it's kind of like fighting himself. Sora really isn't used to losing. Disconcerted by the strength of the attacker's crushing blows, in a moment of weakness his knees buckle and his keyblade is knocked away. He falls to the ground.
He looks up, into the obscured face of the Organization member. Who is he? He's in the Organization, so – he must be Sora's enemy. He hates the Organization, because they were cruel to her –
hair of the reddest redblackred
– and they screw around with things that shouldn't be screwed with, and they made Sora imprison hearts – and he just hates them, damn it! They're not real! He has to do what he has to do!
He can't lose. Not now. Not after all this.
He stretches out a hand. The trick here, he thinks, is not to hope or pray or even to expect that it will come. You've just got to know.
And Sora knows. He's the keyblade's master, so when he feels the familiar weight return to his hand, he doesn't hesitate. He grips, raises, slashes down and across.
As his attacker's keyblades fall to the ground, Sora flexes his hands uncomfortably.
"You make a good other," the boy in the black cloak says, and Sora can't reply because he can feel the words tingling off his throat in his mouth off his lips like they're his own, just said in another place.
Sora shakes off the heartless trying to drown him through sheer force of will, and stares up at the balcony. There's a girl up there, cutting at the heartless with clumsy strokes of her sword made of flowers and sand and sea, and her hair is of the reddest red ever. She knew him. She said his name. It's Kairi. She's safe, if fighting off swarms of heartless can be called safe – but what is she doing there? He should have known she'd get through this, he supposes. But who's that man? He squints. Xehanort's heartless?
"What's going on?" Sora growls.
Xigbar appears out of the dark, and his teeth glint in the pale grey light.
Just like the last time he saw him, Sora feels like he recognises him – from a long, long time ago. This nobody is old and battered, but familiar. Sora hates this one more than the others, except maybe Saix. And then Xigbar calls him Roxas, and Sora grits his teeth. He hates the Organization, because they screw around with things that shouldn't be screwed with, and one of those things is him.
"All I'm trying to tell you, traitor," Xigbar says, "is that your time is up."
The nobody leaps down, and Sora's ready. He's going to beat this guy and then he's going to storm the castle and beat them all and then he can go home, with his friends because Riku's here, he has to be.
"You really shouldn't have betrayed us, you know," Xigbar says as Sora rushes at him, and as the world shifts and then the man isn't there – he's -
"When did I ever work for you," Sora snarls under his breath, and dodges Xigbar's white-hot salvos as they graze uncomfortably close to his limbs. The man's trying to kill him. He doesn't have a choice, once again.
As Xigbar dies Sora's only regret is that he couldn't find out what he wanted to know. So then he forges on.
Kairi. We're on our way.
"How could you, Roxas?" Luxord gasps.
After all, there's only one him, and that's himself.
It's not his fault the Organization keep blocking his path. They keep getting in his way! They keep screwing everything up and he's tired of their games. He's on a roll, now. He's going to win this thing.
(They've hurt him enough, in that year he worked for them. He's reaping his reward.)
The cards fold away into nothing and Kairi's there. Riku, too, and Donald, and Goofy. His friends.
"You okay?" Kairi asks.
"Yeah," Sora says, and grins. "Let's keep moving." Let's move on. Let's not look back, because then he doesn't know what he'd do.
He did not just kill someone because if it was a real person Sora wouldn't have killed him.
"Different name," Saix hisses, eyes gleaming with malice as he tightens his grip on his claymore, "same fate."
So, Sora thinks, in the end, this is what it comes to. Again. He feels a surge of disgust. They kidnapped Kairi, screwed up the worlds, reduced him to nothing more than a pawn, and now that they don't need him anymore they are trying to kill him.
Sora's doing what he has to do. He's doing this to survive. He's doing this to save everyone, to fix things. He's doing this because he hates them. These are all true, but he doesn't know which one really is.
"All shall be lost to you!" Saix cries.
Not a chance, Sora thinks. And then he wonders – should he let Saix live? For a moment he's almost tempted. The nobody seems nearly desperate.
But no. This is to the death. If Sora doesn't kill Saix, Saix will kill Sora, and then what will he do? Losing isn't an option and Sora realises that's the trap that's been keeping him prisoner all this time, every time one of these people has stepped forward and drawn a weapon, every time they've picked a fight.
But not now, Sora thinks, not today. He's not going to lose.
So he spins and slices and stabs just there. And Saix collapses, panting, and Sora realises that he really doesn't care, and he doesn't even have to try.
Saix was the worst of them. He cheated and lied and tormented (and he didn't care at all about her). Sora watches impassively, with a touch of nauseating pity, as Saix reaches up feebly like he thinks he can touch the moon.
Too late. You wanted sympathy? You should have earned it.
And, well, it's settled now. His name is Sora, even if he once he was someone else. He shouldn't have to fight to the death just to prove that simple fact.
He can see a face, a boy's face. This is him. It's Roxas.
His nobody has bright blue eyes and unkempt yellow hair, all angular chin and mouth. When Sora looks at him, it's like there's a jerk, a shift, and reality folds over the truth.
Then Roxas becomes him once again and this time, he remembers everything. Castle Oblivion, Namine – and the year Sora spent as a shade with a different name and without a heart, working in the Organization as a full-time pawn.
So it wasn't…it wasn't all for nothing, then?
It doesn't all come flooding in, the memories flooring him with their weight. It just feels like a door has opened.
"There's more to a heart than just anger or hate," Sora tells Xemnas. "It's full of all kinds of feelings. Don't you remember?"
"Unfortunately," the nobody says, "I don't."
It's sad, all these feelings he's forgotten – like forgiveness, and empathy, and compassion. Love and mercy, hope and regret. That's what it means to have a heart. A nobody would want a heart so they could hate more strongly. But that's not what it's for at all, is it?
Sora realises he's still clutching the keyblade that killed Xemnas, but it's okay now, he can let go because the Organization is gone. It's all okay. He can go home with his friends. He rushes towards the portal and he doesn't care it's made of flickering hissing darkness, because right now he'd jump in anything if it meant he'd get home –
But then Xemnas comes back, and that future is wiped away. Sora has no mercy left for him.
But he's with his friend now, a friend he hasn't seen for far too long. So it should all turn out okay in the end.
Sora doesn't have a choice, and he's doing what he has to do. Because Xemnas is the last one left, and Sora hates the Organization, and the Organization hurt the worlds, used Sora and Roxas and Namine and that other him without a name, it took Kairi and did all this – but as Xemnas fades away, Sora feels sick to his stomach because he remembers the first time he saw an Organization member die, and he remembers wondering how it was they could kill one of their own like that.
They were going to kill him and they were hurting the worlds and he didn't have a choice, so he doesn't have to care. They weren't real people and Sora had to save the world, because he's a hero, even if that does get awfully tiring sometimes.
He doesn't know what's worse – the fact he thinks this or the fact that he's right.
Sora must be happy, now that it's all over, because of course there's no anger left, no hate, no driving need to fight for his friends. He must be happy because he's him.
He's done his duty but his heart feels curiously empty, drained. Is the darkness getting to him, finally? It was only a matter of time, he supposes.
So he sits on the beach with Riku in the cool quiet darkness, there on the sand listening to the quiet lapping of the waves. The wind blows through the twisted wet rock and it sounds like a song, and Sora thinks that staying here might be okay because it feels kind of like home used to.