Essentially, from that point onwards Sora was placed on 'house arrest'. He wasn't permitted to go beyond Twilight Town, touch the gummi ship, anything along those lines until he had a firm grip on his darkness. Not only was he now in a prime position to become one of Xehanort's thirteen darknesses, everyone was wary of the fact Vanitas had once been Xehanort's apprentice. Riku knew, and Sora conveniently didn't tell anyone, but in their connected mind's eye this made Sora his apprentice, too.
But with the situation as it was, they couldn't just have everyone loitering around the Mysterious Tower doing nothing, even if everyone was worried about the brunette. Master Yen Sid had finally ended up calling a meeting and announcing that everyone besides Sora and Riku would be routinely leaving. Lea and Kairi were restricted to short missions, and Ven was travelling with Goofy and Donald instead, though he'd been told he had to check in regularly. Roxas was a dangerous fighter in his own right, but not dangerous in the same sense Vanitas was.
Kairi had been reluctant to leave at first, but to Sora's horror and Vanitas's sadistic glee she'd managed to run into the 'pair' while Vanitas was out for his 'stretch'. Which lasted all of ten minutes most days, so the wine-haired girl had most definitely timed it badly.
She'd been storming down the stairs, yelling a bit at Lea about the situation and how she didn't understand what was going on, when the raven had heard her voice.
"Oho~" he cooed, mischief playing in his amber eyes.
You stay the heck away from Kairi!
Vanitas ignored him completely, heading up the stairs. They'd agreed that avoiding the dark suit was in both their best interests, so he was just clad in Sora's clothing, the definitive difference lying, as per usual, in hair and eye colour.
"Why won't you tell me anything?!" Kairi said, tugging on Lea's arm as he tried to get away from her. The raven was peering out from behind a wall and hadn't been noticed by either of them.
"It's not up to me to tell you, Kairi" Lea said, looking frustrated. "Look, can you drop it for now? Please?"
The shorter red-head was so stunned by the politeness that it gave the other the perfect opportunity to dash down the stairs at rocket speed.
Demyx would be proud.
The raven snorted a bit at Sora' recollection, before returning his attention to Kairi. She was fuming, her arms folded and a frustrated pout on her face.
Vanitas smirked widely. No better time than the present to introduce himself, right?
He stepped out from behind the wall and Kairi looked up, her face immediately relaxing for a second before tensing up again as she took in the entirety of his appearance.
He grinned again. "Not quite."
She swallowed, looking a bit frightened, trying to go backwards up the stairs. The raven chuckled a bit at this; she was like a terrified little bird, really. He could feel Sora getting riled up, but so far Vanitas hadn't done anything serious and they'd agreed he wasn't allowed to step in unless it was justifiable, or else Vanitas would do the same thing.
The threat was enough that the brunette stayed his hand, though he materialized behind the raven, looking disgruntled.
"Hurt her and there will be consequences" he hissed in the raven's ear.
As it turned out they didn't have to be visibly present; in fact Vanitas and Sora preferred to stay invisible whenever the other was around. Roxas wasn't always lingering around Ven, either, so it seemed to be a common choice. The curious thing was that Ven didn't seem to be able to see Vanitas the same way Sora could see Roxas; perhaps the raven had figured out how to hide himself, or maybe there was a difference between Sora and Ven the brunette hadn't picked up on.
"Then, who are you?" she said, her hand hovering by her side, looking prepared to summon her Keyblade. What a joke.
"Vanitas" he said calmly. "Or is the question a roundabout way of asking what I am?"
She looked a bit disgruntled at his even tone, annoyance sparkling in her eyes. "What are you?"
"Sora's dark side" he said, walking up the stairs so he was on a higher step than her, putting his hands in his pockets. "No better way to put it."
"Sora doesn't have a dark side" she hissed, and Vanitas burst out laughing while Sora put his head in his hand, shaking it slowly.
"You're naïve" he said, grinning widely, malice sparkling in his eyes. "It'd be almost cute, if it wasn't completely sickening."
"You're nothing like Sora, so cut the act and tell me who you really are!" she shouted, jumping away from him and summoning her Keyblade.
"This is hilarious" he said, chuckling to himself. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. You've seen Sora fight, right? Well, I'm ten times more threatening."
She hesitated, getting the exact reaction he wanted. He walked around the steps a bit more, never taking his amber eyes away from her.
"I am Sora's dark side" he repeated, keeping his face completely straight. "I'm everything he pretends he isn't."
Kairi glared at him. "So you're saying Sora's secretly a jerk? Yeah, not buying it."
"Ouch" said Vanitas. "I don't think I deserved that. You're the one being mean, Kairi."
"Don't say my name" she said, pointing her Keyblade at him, her expression fierce. "Don't say my name with his voice."
Vanitas grinned, though annoyance was now lurking in his eyes. "Now I'm just going to make a point of saying it, Kairi. You exposed one of your weaknesses."
She clenched her teeth, but Vanitas just shrugged, rocking on the balls of his feet. "Seriously, Kairi. Do you need some examples? I have a really good one."
"…No example you can give me will convince me you're Sora's dark side" she said coldly, and Vanitas chuckled again.
"Challenge accepted, dear Kairi" he cooed, stepping towards her and beginning to circle her, like a predator watching its prey. The girl's hand stayed firmly gripped to her Keyblade, never taking her eyes from him. "Example: Power-hungry. The strength to overcome everything and anything, to get what I want no matter what. No matter who stands in my way."
"Sora's not like that" she said firmly.
"Wrong" said Vanitas sharply. "Even from the very beginning, Sora's focus was power. He just pretends it isn't. Sora likes being powerful. He's a narcissistic, too, so he likes to display said power, but that's not the example I'm making."
"Sora's strong because he's determined to protect others."
"Sora's powerful because he wants to be. The protecting others is a convenient side-effect. Who was he trying to protect every time he raced or sparred against Riku? No-one, he was trying to assert that he was stronger than him, even if he continually failed miserably. Sora's first choice when he was to receive the Keyblade? The path of the warrior, despite being warned it was a power of terrible destruction*. He kept using his clothing's Drive abilities even though he'd regularly be sucked into darkness because of it, because it made him powerful. He could've gone his entire adventure without it."
Kairi was slowly looking more and more nervous, and the brunette standing beside Vanitas was looking more and more frustrated. The raven was enjoying razzing the both of them up, honestly.
"Did he ever tell you about that one time he tried to worm himself into being the King of somewhere? They told him they didn't have the right stuff. I'd say it's because he's a power-hungry narcissist but they spared him that take on the reason."
"Be quiet" Kairi whispered, her voice full of pain. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"I think you're telling me that because it's pretty clear I know exactly what I'm talking about" said Vanitas quietly. "You just want to keep wearing your precious rose-coloured glasses and ignore the fact your friend's shadows are so dark. Like I said, naïve. I'll convince you eventually, Kairi. I'm going to be hanging around this Tower for a while."
"Why?! Why are you here?! Where's Sora?!" she shouted, grabbing the edges of his jacket.
"Oh? You want to see him? Well, why didn't you say so?" he said evilly, and Sora stared in surprise as Vanitas shoved him into control. His eyes turned blue, and the black faded out of his hair as Kairi stared in shock.
"Sora" she whispered. The brunette swallowed, as Vanitas cackled madly from beside him.
She stared for a few seconds longer, before running down the stairs.
"Kairi! Wait!" Sora shouted, going to run after her but stopping, swallowing thickly. What could he say? Sorry he told you those things? Lie to her, and say he wasn't like that? Vanitas saw his actions through a different perspective, but that didn't make them any less true. Sorry, I like being powerful and able to take down anything that challenges me? Sorry, I get a kick out of it?
Sorry, there are things about me I don't just tell other people?
"You just lost your stretch privilege for tomorrow" the brunette said coldly, giving Vanitas a dark stare.
"Oh, wow, you really are secretly a jerk" the raven said with an eye roll. If he'd been corporeal, Sora would've shoved him, but the brunette simply ignored him and stalked up the stairs, the raven dematerializing from his side.
Of course he wasn't entirely paying attention and ended up smacking straight into someone.
"Hey, are you ok?"
The brunette looked up to see Riku, who was giving him a concerned look.
"Vanitas just met Kairi" Sora said shortly, and Riku's eyes widened. "He decided to point out that I'm power-hungry and generally act like himself."
"…What did she say?"
"She ran the moment she realized we're occupying the same body" Sora muttered, folding his arms.
Riku sighed. "I'll go talk to her. You should probably go to your room."
"Yeah" murmured Sora, rubbing his hair. Riku left, and Sora returned to his room, throwing himself onto the bed. Vanitas reappeared, sitting on the edge of it.
"Is this where I should feel guilty?" he asked.
"Yes!" shouted Sora, throwing a pillow at him, which phased right through. "You really don't get it, do you?!"
"I get that you're a giant liar."
Sora glared at him. "I'm not a liar, I just don't actually go around pointing that stuff out."
"Ok, so you're a liar by omission. That still counts, idiot."
Sora clenched his fists, looking for something else to throw. He wondered if he could actually hit him if he threw the Keyblade, and thus summoned up Void Gear and hurled it through the air. To both their surprise, rather than hitting him or phasing through, Vanitas caught it.
"Finally, my arm is complete" he said, sprawling back on the bed and swishing the Keyblade through the air.
"To other people, would that be floating in midair?" Sora asked, and Vanitas looked at it for a few seconds.
"I dunno" he eventually said, shrugging. Sora exhaled.
"Seriously, Vanitas. Just because you know these things doesn't mean you have to go around telling people. They're better off not knowing."
"…So you'd rather they see you for the mask you wear rather than who you are?" he asked.
"It's not who I am, you're digging up my absolute worst aspects and acting as though they're the only thing about me. People don't notice them because my good aspects are the parts I act on most of the time."
"So if I acted like a good person people wouldn't keep trying to kill me?"
"That's the general idea!"
Vanitas rubbed his chin, thinking about it. "So…if I'm always grumpy, but I rescue a cat out of a tree…"
"People would focus on the cat."
"What if I then kicked the cat?"
"Then they'd focus on the fact you kicked the cat."
"But what if the cat bit me?"
"You still did something worse back."
Vanitas's eyebrows furrowed. "Ok, so how do you get away with destroying everyone who attacks you?"
Sora spluttered indignantly. "I do not!"
Vanitas just raised his eyebrows at him, and the brunette let out a frustrated hiss. "Every example you could bring up was trying to kill me."
"That…I'm not talking about that" Sora muttered, fetching the pillow before throwing himself back onto the bed and covering his head with it.
Vanitas sighed, rubbing his own hair before sitting back, leaning against the wall. "You know, this probably isn't the best time, but we're going to have to start darkness training eventually."
"I don't want to" Sora retorted, his voice muffled.
"Ok, let your heart get consumed by darkness, see if I care" snorted Vanitas, waving his hand dismissively.
Sora looked up at this. "Oh, but you do care" he said snidely. "'Cause if you didn't, you wouldn't be bringing it up."
Vanitas smirked. "Snarky."
"I learnt from the best" he retorted sharply. Sora could almost visibly see the raven's ego inflate from the comment. Sora sighed, running his fingers back and forth through his hair and mussing up the spikes even more. He was really disliking how easy it was to twist his once-considered noble actions into something darker. Perhaps that's what the voice meant, all those years ago. The brighter he shined, the darker his shadows were.
"Vanitas" said Sora suddenly, his gaze flicking over to him. "How long have you been 'aware'?"
The raven raised his eyebrows at him, looking a little taken aback by the question. "What do you mean by aware?" he asked sharply.
"Awake, aware, however you want to put it" the brunette said, rolling over on the bed. "I mean, what did you see as you? You can see a bunch of my memories, but I can see yours, too, and I didn't see those."
"Oh" said Vanitas, suddenly realizing. "Well…on and off, since you got the Keyblade."
Sora sat bolt-right up, staring. "You're kidding?"
"Sora, seriously" Vanitas drawled, waving the Keyblade around before making it vanish. "Why do you think they call it a 'Darkside'?"
Sora's jaw went slack at this, and he pointed. "You- you were that big black thing?!"
Well. Thinking about it, it made sense. What had become the Darkside had originally been his own shadow.
"So, that's it?"
Vanitas rolled his eyes. "Like I said, on and off. There've been fleeting moments. When you became a Heartless, I was fully awake for that. I am technically your Anti-Form, but I wasn't coherent. There were a few moments here and there during your second adventure besides that, too. Oh…and I was awake for rather large chunks during your adventure in the sleeping worlds, but I'm pretty sure you can figure out why."
Sora's lips puckered. Generally, when he and Riku set out on 'adventures', it was Riku who ended up getting the short end of the stick. That was definitely not the case then, or now, even. Vanitas was most definitely the shortest straw. And with how short the straw had been then, he wasn't surprised Vanitas had been awake.
"But I have kinda always been here, y'know. I'm pretty much literally your shadow; and every light source casts a shadow. Every time you let your cocky attitude get the better of you, that's me crawling through the cracks."
Sora sighed into the bed sheets. "So, does that mean I don't really have like…negative emotions? They're all you?"
"Kind of. You suppress it, so it comes to me. That tendency is probably why it ended up taking physical shape during my time."
"…What?" said Sora, looking up a bit.
"My emotions. Irritance, anger, sentiment. They took physical shape as things called 'Unversed', creatures who would do my bidding."
Sora raised his eyebrows. "An army of fledgling emotions at your command, huh?"
"And no matter how many times they destroyed them, the negativity flowed right back into me."
The brunette blinked. "They never stood a chance against you."
Vanitas chuckled, deciding not to clue Sora into the fact they'd basically just quoted some of his last words to Ventus, word for word.
"It'd be helpful to have that kind of power when the Heartless get numerous" Sora murmured, and Vanitas actually looked a little annoyed.
"I felt it every time one was destroyed, though. Think about the amount of Heartless there are normally, and that's how many Unversed I unleashed."
Sora said nothing, not quite sure what he could say. Ouch? There wasn't really any words that could spell comfort in that sense. Sora didn't understand it.
…But he could. Just as Vanitas loved to play around and sort through Sora's own experiences, Sora had access to Vanitas's. He just refused to touch them, knowing what Vanitas had done by word of mouth and what he couldn't properly filter out, the memories from his last moments.
And honestly, the curiosity was overwhelming, as dangerous as the curiosity was. If Vanitas had really started out as him, with his personality, what had it taken to drive him and mold him into the cruel and sadistic person sitting across from him? Even if he wasn't acting like it, and rarely did when they were alone or around Riku, it didn't change the fact it was there.
"Oi" said Sora, deciding that unlike the raven, he had some courtesy. "I'm gonna rifle through your memories."
Vanitas raised his eyebrows, before grimacing. "No asking for permission?"
"Like you do" Sora said sharply. "I'm just giving you a head's up."
"You're not going to like what you find" the raven said with a shrug, before vanishing into thin air.
Sora swallowed, but he'd made up his mind already. He rolled over onto his side, kicking down his blankets and then throwing his shoes off, before pulling the covers back up and snuggling into them. He closed his eyes, and carefully reached toward the darkened memories that sat in his mind; memories that were both his own and not. They belonged to him and yet they weren't his to have, he had lived them and yet he had not.
The first thing Sora realized, peering into Vanitas's existence, was that feeling of loneliness he'd gotten earlier was merely a sliver. The real thing was overwhelming and choked him, like tar had replaced his blood and filled his throat and lungs. And it was his, it felt like his. It made him cold and vulnerable, made crisp tears bead in his eyes.
He stopped, his blue eyes blinking open again, his cheeks wet. No wonder Vanitas so eagerly delved into Sora's memories. In them, while he sought back to remember, it wasn't like peering through a window into someone else's life. He was remembering. For Vanitas, this would've been the greatest gift he'd ever received- the ability to feel the friendship of others as his own, to feel the light as his own, the exhilaration and positivity Sora experienced so often.
But for Sora, touching those memories felt like a dark scar he was intent on forgetting. A suppressed set of memories full of loneliness and pain that filled him to the very core and threatened to consume him whole. Outside of them he could see them as Vanitas's, view them objectively and remind himself he was Sora and they weren't his. But crossing that line between their memories blurred his existence. There wasn't one cruel and sadistic dark half or one cheerful and outgoing light half, just one existence.
"I told you, didn't I?" Vanitas murmured.
Sora exhaled, bunching up the covers in his hand and pulling them up further, snuggling his cheek into the covers.
"We don't feel distinct in them" Sora murmured out loud, and Sora could feel Vanitas shaking his head.
"No, we don't."
"So while you're in my memories, your name is Sora?"
Vanitas's chuckle echoed around his mind.
"I'll let you in on a little secret, Sora.
Xehanort- he was the one who dubbed me 'Vanitas', and that's what everyone came to call me. I never introduced myself by that name. I always knew it wasn't my real one."
Although he was warm under his blankets, Sora shivered a bit. He could feel those memories beckoning to him, enticing him to recall his thoughts. Because he remembered thinking it. Remembered the sneer gracing his features whenever someone would say the name, whenever Xehanort would call him. Hidden under the helmet, who cared what faces he made at them? He might've eventually just went with it, taken on the name as his moniker and begun using it as his own, but deep down the thought still rested, as clear as the first moment he thought it, when the light had shone brightly and granted him a face and someone else's personality, not Ventus'.
"I'm not Vanitas.
My name is Sora."
A/N: *In 358/2 Days, Sora's 'special' weapon is the Dream Sword, which is considered to say that despite it being a 'choice' on the player's part, Sora canonically picked it. I dunno what he gave up (my munny's on the Staff, eh?)
H/C for answers given is: Afraid of: Either being different or getting old, Wants out of Life: To Be Strong, Most Important: Friendship. Both combinations would make him level up normally.
Did I just imply Vanitas thought he was Sora the whole time? I actually didn't see that coming.
Also Kairi has more screen time in this fic than the entirety of the last three Kingdom Hearts games! Yay! *sarcasm*