Phantasms Chapter Three: Memories

My eyes opened slowly, like I was just barely waking up from a very long sleep. I couldn't help but stare at the boy sitting beside me, watching him as he poked the coals in front of him. As soon as he scraped the stick into them, the bright crimson stones burst into life again and the flames flared up into his hands.

Somehow... even though I knew they should hurt, his hands stayed okay. They're not burned, not hurt, not hurt at all. They didn't catch on fire, they just stayed the same... The flames curled around his fingers, playing into his hands with the same sort of way that a pet might play with his master's hands, that same sort of... I blinked slowly, looking up at him in confusion. The flames on his knuckles sparked with a loud noise, even though sparks shouldn't be able to make a sound like that at all. The boy looked at his hands for a moment, staring at them in mild surprise before he turned his gaze towards me.

His eyes were a dark green, the same color as the leaves up on the trees when it was that warn time of year. They were full of something... full of something funny... Is it hurt?

"Hmmm? Are you awake now?" He asked me softly, reaching out with his free hand to pet me on the head. The gesture seemed strange to me and I winced at him, pulling away from that oddly gentle touch. A strange smile appeared on his lips and he turned back to the flames. I stared at him, moving away from him as he keeps poking the fire. No hurt, no hurt, I didn't want any hurt. "Hmm. You still don't trust me. Even after carrying you all this way? If this is how you show your appreciation... Geez, next time thanks... but no thanks." He said to me in a teasing sort of voice, shaking his head in grim amusement. I blinked at him for a moment before looking at the boy's hands again. They looked like they were soft.

They looked very soft and very warm.

Noticing where my eyes fell, the boy gave me a smile. This smile is sad, not full of happiness like the other one had been. This one is sad, so very sad, as if he had remembered something. I wonder what he remembered...? "Don't worry... I'll be the one to protect you." He informed me quietly, once more putting his hand on my head. This time, I closed my eyes and let him.

This time... there is no hurt at all.


"Xion...?"

My eyes open slowly as I wake up, and my body twitches as I begin to feel my surroundings around me. I take in a deep breath, inhaling the harsh scent of industrial-grade disinfectant and the stench of others' disease and blood. My tongue flickers out, tasting the blood on my own lips, and I feel so sleepy, just so sleepy... the scents in the air are comforting for some reason, like a familiar old lullaby that I had forgotten from when I was little. They were making me so sleepy though... would it be okay if I went back to sleep...? I begin to close my eyes again, my body falling back into the deep breathing pattern of sleep.

They make me so sleepy...

"Xion!"

My eyes snap open again, my breathing accelerating from the sheer shock of the sudden yell in my ear. Automatically, I turn my head to the side, having to check what the noise was, even if it was something bizarre. With the same feeling of a little kid peering under her bed to check for monster, I look toward the person who had shouted my name. A smile crosses my lips. As if in response, the same warm smile appears on that man's face and he reaches out toward me, putting his hand on my head, patting my hair fondly. I close my eyes, leaning my body in his direction.

Axel... had come for me...?

A low growl sounds out through the air and I feel his body lean into the bed I was lying on. It creaks loudly with his weight and I feel his hand move to my head, turning it up toward him. "Hey. Hey. What the hell? Wake up!" I jump as he screams in my ear, howling with all of his might. He shakes me hard before slipping his arm under my legs, quickly picking me up. I bury my face in his chest sleepily, blinking hard to try to wake up. There's this intense heat inside of his chest, almost like flames were trapped there and were burning out of control. He was angry. Axel was very angry.

Was he upset because I had gotten hurt...?

"Sir? You can't take her! She's very sick!" Someone protests in alarm, grabbing at his arms. I look up at Axel and see his smirk was already in place; it's the look he always has when he beats people up, it's a very familiar look... Axel cradles my body closer to his, his eyes going dark. "Make me leave her." He warns in a soft voice, savage malice dripping from each of his four words. I can hear his low chuckle inside of his chest, like a bellows stroking up the fire.

I can feel the heat of the flames threatening to come out, just like they do whenever he gets mad.

He clutches me closer, staring at the doctor (or nurse? Maybe he's a nurse...) calmly. He smiles again, looking at me calmly before chuckling softly. The vibration buzzes through my head, making me wince and smile at the same time. "Sorry, Xi. Looks like I'm breaking my promise." He tells me, stroking my cheek with his free hand.

All I can do is fall asleep as the bellows inside of his chest stoke up the flames.

Axel quietly carries his little girl down the streets, rapidly picking up the pace or slowing down whenever he hears something strange behind him. He knows he's being paranoid, but after ten years of running, he really couldn't help it. He also had to concentrate on how he carried Xion, to make sure he didn't drop her or anything. She already had one head injury after all, she didn't need a busted arm on top of that. That would actually require them to come to a hospital, to get the cast on and to get it off later when she was healed.

He couldn't do that. No one could know where they were.

Behind him, the hospital continues to burn, the flurry of flames dancing over the tops of the multistory buildings eagerly. He can feels the flames calling to him, like a tug in his stomach, begging him to come back and help them destroy the place. He ignores the crackles of the burning wood, of the splintering bricks tumbling from their mortar.

Xion moans softly in his arms, burying her face even deeper into his chest. Automatically, he strokes her bangs away from her closed eyes and he looks back at the hospital. He can hear the screams of panicking people inside, the patients, the nurses... He looks down at Xion and smiles at her, pressing his head against hers for a moment, like he was gathering strength from the unconscious girl.

Without saying a word, he lifts his hand in the air, purposely spreading his fingers apart. For a moment, his clawed fingers look like they're cradling the hospital itself. He exhales softly, before sucking in a deep breath. His hand slams closed, his fingers folding into a fist.

The flames sputter out of existence as the man walks away, holding the little girl closer to his chest.

On a desk within the hospital, deep within the emergency room, the papers with Xion's name on them spontenously combust. The ashes tumble away from the desk, blowing away with the faint breeze that had accompanied the fire.

Everything else on that nurse's desk is untouched.

Even before I open my eyes, I know that I'm back home. The smell of Axel's cooking and the smell of my room with its perfumed air of flowers from the backyard buries deep into the very center of my being, making me smile as I lie there on something warm. Axel had brought me home. I snuggle deeper into the blankets that covered me, wincing as a heavy hand pats my head gently. I lean into it, smiling as Axel speaks to me quietly and wraps his index finger with the short hairs of my fringe. He's warm, Axel is warm. "Rest up, squirt. You've had a hell of a day, you know." He pulls the blanket a little more over me, putting another pillow between us so I could rest my head-

'Even if your head is gone, even if we take your arms, you won't-!'

I sit up, staring blankly at the TV screen, panting heavily as the air seems to evaporate out of my lungs. My head... I grab at it, quickly making sure that everything was there. Axel jumps as I run my fingers around my face. Eyes, ears, mouth, tiny button nose... I check my hair, making sure that it hadn't been burned off while I was passed out.

Everything's there. Nothing's missing. I'm all there.

I sigh, leaning back into the couch pillows and Axel's arm. I relax slightly as Axel's arms gently wrap around me, pulling me into his body carefully. He takes a great deal of care in handling my injured head, which I can already feel is covered in bandages. He looks at me curiously, obviously asking why the hell I just jumped like that and why I had freaked out. I give him a weak smile before glancing over to the corner thoughtfully, sighing softly.

That memory... I close my eyes again, trying to remember what I had seen in the ambulance. The boy... An image of a grinning teenager comes to mind, his long red hair tucked messily into a pony tail, the way he had used to wear it when I was still a toddler. I chuckle softly, remembering. Axel. The boy had been Axel, when he was younger. Before he became an adult.

Back when we were both in the orphanage.

Axel pats my head, and from the way his body is positioned against mine, I can feel that he's looking down at me. I stick out my tongue, immediately being satisfied with the amused chuckle above me. Inside of him, the flames of his heart rumble slightly, as if they were laughing along with him. I snuggle in closer to my pseudo-father/brother, smiling brightly as he adjusts the blanket over the both of us slightly.

As we lie there, Axel being completely silent as he checks over my head wound and me being quiet from trying to remember. "You don't have to go to school tomorrow. I can make an excuse note." He tells me quietly as he runs a hand through my short hair, carefully pulling out a bit of dried blood from the tangled locks. I shake my head, sighing as he crumples the maroon bit of me in his fingers. He raises an eyebrow.

"Axel, it's fine. You know that I have to go to school anyway... you're going to heal me in a little bit. There's no point in staying home." I say softly, my voice slightly hoarse for some reason. I glance up at him, wondering curiously if he had in fact broken his promise. He couldn't have. He couldn't have broken his promise, Axel totally owed me. Coughing into my hand, I wipe a small bit of ash from my lips.

My eyes widen and I look up at him sharply. He did not. Not this again!

The moment I do so, Axel looks away, trying to look innocent. "It was an emergency." He informs me in a scolding voice, glaring at me as I smirk and try not to giggle. As much as he tried to be a dad, Axel could never quite pull it off. I nod solemnly, wincing slightly as the movement rubs the bandages against the wound. I guess I could forgive him just this once... the flames in his chest flare up again, the whooshing sound near his heart making the begging noise that all of his fire did. They were begging to be let out. To be let out and cause havoc, like they once were able to when we were younger.

Immediately, Brother places his hand onto the wound, sighing softly. He whispers the word quietly, trying to make it so I couldn't remember it and use it myself. He doesn't like to use our powers, especially when we had just settled into a new place. But in times like these, he always made sure to never say the words to me, the words that made a lot of them work. He doesn't trust me but I lean into his hand, letting him say the words of power over me because I trust him.

Ever since I could remember, we've had these weird abilities. And as far as I remember, no one else has had them. Axel says they're a gift, something that God gave us to make us survive better on our own. We've always been on our own and we've always had these powers. Axel says that they're a gift for us, something special. That we're special. … But... Being special just means we're different. That we're not normal.

He doesn't want to admit that.

He lifts his hand from my head, sighing as he flexes his fingers idly. I open my eyes. "Alright, it's done. Try not to bang yourself there again, though." He tells me, patting my head gently again. I nod, feeling nothing from my head except the slightest twinge of pain. Axel smiles at me as I flex my head around in several directions, as if making sure that it was alright. I nod yes, I shake it no, I move it like an invisible barber was preparing me to get a hair cut, feeling no pain as I move. Axel had done it again. He cured my busted head.

He hugs me again when I settle back into him, allowing me to snuggle into him, a privilege he doesn't let a lot of people have. Heck, even his girlfriends haven't been allowed to lie here with him and I'm only his younger sister. He strokes my hair gently, humming to himself as he flips through the channels, looking for something to watch that wouldn't bug me too much as I sleep.

'You can't wake up this time. I won't let you.'

I sit up, panting softly as the little girl stares at me accusingly from the corner of the room, her dark blue eyes flashing angrily. Her lips curl up into a twisted little smile as she mockingly waves at me, looking at Axel sharply. For once, there is a strange longing in her expression, one of true sorrow as she looks at my brother.

It was as if she missed him, as if she had known him in life and was now mourning him in death.

Her gaze turns back toward mine and she giggles softly, walking toward the couch cautiously. It was like she was scared, but defiantly trying to cover it up. I tremble violently, shrinking back into Axel in fear.

She was going to hurt me. She was going to hurt me again, I didn't want to go back to the hospital with all of those sharp things and monsters and doctors and all of those screams and cries -

Around Axel, a sudden burning smell starts to waft through the room, freezing the little girl in her tracks. Her horrified expression is only matched by Axel's sheer rage. He smirks viciously, holding out a hand toward her. The flames literally trickle down his fingers, like it was water he was carrying rather than thousand degree fire. I immediately relax into him, clinging to him as his eyes scan the empty room. He had noticed. He knew that she was back. I bury my face in my hands, allowing him to pull me back a little so he could get up. Axel stands up and chuckles softly, staring at the spot where the girl was standing as if he could see her.

He couldn't, but that didn't stop him.

"Well? You want to come here, short stuff?" He demands furiously, wiggling his fingers in a violent threat against the little girl. Her eyes drop to his hands and she backs away from him, her anger and sorrow being replaced by fear. She was afraid of the fire but I didn't know why. She takes a step back, her entire body shaking as Axel takes a step forward. Her little pink lips form words, mouthing them to me as if she thought I could hear her.

I can't hear her. I've never been able to hear her.

The little girl looks up at me and snarls for a moment, pointing a trembling finger back at Axel. She then jabs it in my direction, mouthing something again to me. I shake my head like I have so many times before, pressing my hands to my ears in emphasis before dropping them back into my lap. I can't hear her. She's never been able to speak. Axel looks back at me before nodding in the direction of the child, his grim frown asking if she was gone yet. I shake my head at him again just as the girl opens her mouth and begins to scream.

I slam my hands back onto my ears, feeling the vibration of the silent shriek fly through the air around me, the resonance jarring everything in sight even though she wasn't making a sound. The coffee table jumps about three feet in the air from the impact of the screams, sending cups and plates and forks tumbling to the floor in a loud jumble of tinkling metal and the crash of breaking plates.

"Axel! She's yelling, she's yelling!" I yelp as the little girl immediately rushes forward, reaching out for me with a pale little hand. She almost makes it to the couch before Axel takes a swipe at her with a savage backhand that swings just over her head, making her freeze in her tracks. He had somehow managed to nearly hit her, despite the fact that he couldn't see her. She glares at him and then back at me before dropping to her knees, screeching even harder as tendrils of black smoke begin to crawl up her body.

I grab at Axel's hand, crying as the little girl clutches at her face. I could see white drops of water tumble from her eyes as she screams, her little white fingers squeezing tightly around her blond hair as she struggles to get up, to get away from the black smoke that was beginning to engulf her. Tufts of baby down hair floats away from her fingers as she is swallowed up by the darkness, her silent screams falling on deaf ears. She looks at me with those big scared blue eyes, begging me to help her, begging me to not let her die again. She hates me but she still begs me for help.

But that's not what I do.

I bury my face into Axel as he scoops me up, pressing it back into his stomach as he holds me. The little girl reaches for me, her hands grabbing at my school socks in fear. She doesn't want to die. She doesn't want to die but there isn't anything I can do. Her hands are cold against my feet but I don't pull away, feeling the icy fingers claw at my skin. Drops of blood, my blood, warm her fingers for a moment as she slowly disappears. Her entire body is covered in darkness, leaving only her face exposed to me.

She's so small. She is so small and I realize that for the first time in so many years. All the years that had passed and I was finally bigger than she was.

Rage flits across her features as the tendrils snake onto her face, the black ink staining her cheek as her fingers fade away into oblivion. Her fingers, still clutching at my ankles, loosen and drop away as the smoke eats at them, decaying them within itself. I don't know how I know what the smoke does. Little streams of it float up away from the girl and with it, I could see chunks of flesh being carried away with it. An ear, a finger, little bits of her skin. White, gold, blue, all of it being dragged away as the last of the smoke starts slipping into her eyes, obscuring them and painting them black as ink. She keeps screaming, her hands clawing at my legs as Axel drags me up onto the couch, swinging my entire body into his lap as the drops of blood trickle down them.

I close my eyes.

"Is she gone?" I hear a low voice demand and my brother's hands tighten around my waist.

I open them again and look at the empty space where the little girl had been. There is nothing there anymore, nothing but a few drops of the now congealing blood from my ankles. There is no trace of the little girl that had been trying to attack me and there is no trace of the black smoke that swallowed her up.

Axel had told me a theory he had about the smoke back when I first described it to him. He said that maybe it was a way to drag her back to wherever the hell she came from originally. My brother, the religious nut.

I nod to him and Axel takes my hand, briefly pressing it to his lips before simply dropping his head onto my shoulder. It wasn't a kiss. More like 'I'm glad you're not in the Other Place.' We don't know what this Other Place is beyond giving it a name. But we both know we don't want to go there. I lean against him and close my eyes again, feeling the sticky hot tears beginning to trickle down my face. For a moment, I am five years old again and there is a sanctuary in Axel's arms. The entire world can't hurt me, I don't have a head injury, and the one lie that every parent tells their children still counts.

Everything is going to be okay.

"Xion?" Axel says again, jarring me out of my thoughts as he picks up the remote from the floor and dusts a few ceramic shards off of it. I raise an eyebrow, smiling as he turns the TV back on and settles into the couch. He scoops up a handful of trail mix off of the floor, probably from the bowl I had left on the coffee table a week ago when Olette came over to watch a movie marathon with me, and shovels it into his mouth.

"What is it, Axel?"

"Next time you go off to school, how about we don't end the day with you in the hospital and a crazy fucking murderous ghost in our apartment?"

"... No promises."