A/N: We interrupt this Efreeti broadcast with some standard issue Kirby Despair and Angst. Can you imagine? As for Efreeti, he will be back soon – most likely next chapter, but it may be the one after the next. It's a surprise even for me.

Also, I'm pleased to announce that there is now a Spanish translation of this fic in the works! It can be found on archiveofourown or the website Amor-Yaoi, both under the same title of Lethe. The translation is done by Balderouge.

[Oops, made some last minute edits after posting hehehe. This chapter now contains more Kirby thoughts.]

Chapter 22

"Do you think it was my fault?"

Silence.

Only ever silence.

That had been a selfish question, anyway.

"Was there something I could have done differently?"

Silence, still.

Kirby paused and tried again, "do you miss him?"

And that was a dumb question. Maybe. He wasn't sure about Galaxia's capacity for human emotion. Meta Knight had never made that part clear.

Years and years ago, he'd sat Kirby down, and he talked about the sword – he said that there were many objects in the universe that had been granted sentience, either by individuals or the cosmos themselves. Galaxia was one of those very objects.

The sword could provide counsel and aid, and even act on its own volition when it desired. Kirby had not seen a single of these attributes demonstrated in the weapon - not while it was in Meta Knight's possession, and certainly not after coming into his own.

Galaxia was selective when choosing those to impart knowledge and assistance upon.

"It is a feat alone to wield Galaxia," Meta Knight had said. "The sword will try to harm those of ill intent and corrupt spirit."

So Kirby fell somewhere between worthy and unworthy in Galaxia's eyes: that was all he could deduce.

Galaxia didn't think him evil enough to hurt. But the sword also never spoke to him or shared wisdom, despite how desperately Kirby needed it.

"I understand why," Kirby said quietly. Currently, the Dreamlander sat on his favorite hillock in Aroa, ringed by deep green trees, and capped by an enormous clear blue sky. The day felt too perfect for his mood.

"I… know I haven't…" Words caught in his throat, "my choices haven't been…" Again, he struggled. "I'm trying to do the best I can. But I don't know what I'm supposed to do, or where I'm supposed to go. If I had just a bit of guidance…" He hated the strain in his voice, but could do nothing to stifle it. He was desperate, he was at the end of his rope. He needed help.

"Please," Kirby supplied. "Even just a hint… Anything. Or – or tell me if I'm making a mistake. I want to do what's right."

The sword was silent as death.

"It's just, I don't know what else – I mean, I don't have a ship, I don't have – I couldn't even fly one if I did. And – and they seem to know where they're going, Magolor and Marx… They know a whole lot more about my destiny than I do… I need – I mean, Magolor owns the ship, I need him, and I need…" his mouth went dry.

A spark of frustration flared. "This didn't come with a guidebook," Kirby snapped. "Just one hint – some sign that I'm not screwing everything up!"

Yet again, no response.

Kirby slammed his fists on the grass and snarled, "Stop judging me! You, and Meta Knight – you both expected me to be the hero, but you've given me nothing to prepare! No instructions, no hints, not even the smallest sign of how I'm supposed to defeat one of the strongest creatures in the universe!"

If the sword had any opinion on those words, it withheld them.

Kirby's fists loosened. His body went slack, like all his flesh and meat hung limply from his curved spine. Hair fell over his eyes.

"Please…" he whispered. "Please understand. I – I want to be worthy. What can I do?"

Kirby's breath hitched. He wasn't the slightest bit surprised when no voice answered his plea.

The sword would never speak to him. Not after everything he'd done – everything he'd let happen. He was lucky enough that it tolerated his presence.

"Kirbs?"

Flinching, Kirby slung a glance over his shoulder. He slumped in relief when he saw it was only Magolor. "Is Marx coming?" he asked.

"Oh, he's back at the Lor." Magolor plopped down beside Kirby. "Still haven't told him about Galaxia, then?"

"I'm worried about how he'll respond."

"Probably steal it," Magolor remarked. "Honestly, if I didn't think the blade was fairly yours, I'd take it! Not much of a sword-fighter myself, but… I can recognize power when I see it And hey, maybe it would give me some fighting tips, right?"

The thought of either Marx or Magolor being in possession of Galaxia made his stomach churn. Then Magolor's words fully caught up to him. "Wait… what about Galaxia giving you advice?"

"Eh? Do you not know it's a powerful sentient entity all on its own? That it can speak?"

"Well…. Yes, but how did you know?"

"Marx," Magolor replied cheerily, "As soon as I saw the blade, I knew there was something special about it. And if you didn't know, I just love tracking down these kinds of objects; I'm a bit of a collector, if you could say that. So I asked Marx about it as soon as I could, and it turns out he knows quite a bit. From him, I learned that it repels people it doesn't like. So I figured it'd be best to keep my distance, you know?"

With every word Kirby's unease grew. "How does Marx know all that?"

"He learned it all from Meta Knight, of course."

Kirby recoiled. "What? Meta Knight wouldn't tell him that."

"Ah? Oh dear… I didn't mean to unsettle you." Magolor rubbed his palms together nervously.

"Why would Meta Knight give that information – to, to Marx?"

"They weren't always enemies, Kirbs – come on now, has he never told you that?"

"No."

"Oh. Huh, well I guess he decided it wasn't too important. That was a long time ago, anyway."

"I don't understand." Kirby gripped Galaxia's handle tightly, nervously. "When was that? How long ago?"

"Hey, easy. It's not a big deal; you were just a kid at the time – and so was Marx, really. I don't really know all the details, so you'd be better off asking Marx."

Kirby shook his head. "I can't ask him that. He'll get suspicious; he'll figure it out. That I've got the sword, I mean."

"Hmm, well, I can't blame you for trying to keep your secrecy about it."

"Yeah."

Pause. "It sure is a scary blade, though, isn't it?"

"Huh?"

"The spikes and all." Magolor waved his hand nonspecifically. "You'd never guess that it had some agenda about 'worthy' and 'unworthy.'"

"I… Guess." Truthfully, the blade was intimidating, now that Kirby thought to observe it in that light. But he had always seen it at Meta Knight's side, wielded with nothing but justice. The idea that Galaxia could appear frightening was foreign.

But to Magolor, it made sense, didn't it?

He had deliberately betrayed Meta Knight, and would have faced the sword himself if Marx had not intervened.

Kirby curled around Galaxia, unsettled. How could he have forgotten that? Magolor always appeared so disarming, that even despite the weight of his betrayal, Kirby could feel comfortable and relaxed in his presence. It was so absolutely different from Marx, who carried with him an air of instability, of madness.

"I'm going back to the Halberd," Kirby whispered.

"Huh, already?" Magolor said, cheerful as ever, expression delicately puzzled as if he couldn't fathom why a person wouldn't want to be in his presence.

"Yeah. I'm not really getting any training done anyway. So…"

"Hey, you skipped breakfast too, didn't you?" Magolor shook his head like a chastising mother. "Yeesh, Kirbster, don't you know you have to keep your strength up?"

"For fighting Zero, yeah." Kirby stood and placed Galaxia back in its sheath – as usual, it reverted back to electricity in order to fit into the small, easily concealable sheath.

Magolor saluted and reclined against the hill.

Kirby trudged back to the Lor, disheartened by Galaxia's stoicism and the new things he had learned.

Meta Knight had known Marx before him, Kirby knew. But no one had ever told him that they actually got along. Enough for Meta Knight to reveal secrets to Marx, secrets that Kirby thought only he was privy to.

Then again, when did I ever really understand Meta Knight… The knight had failed entirely to tell him his eventual destiny.

When was he going to tell me? When he felt I was ready? But despite Meta Knight's insistence on learning how to sword-fight, it didn't feel like any of the training had prepared Kirby for facing someone like Zero Two… whatever Zero Two was even like.

Not even the serene walk back to the ship could soothe the weight on his heart.

He entered the cool, unfeeling blue interior of the Lor Starcutter, feeling entirely apart from reality, as if the very metal beneath his feet was not truly there.

Kirby shook his head. No, he had to keep grounded. Maybe – maybe he just needed food. Magolor was right. He hadn't eaten before he headed out this morning – he needed food; that was all.

He entered the kitchen, mind miles away, only for Marx's grating voice to interrupt –

"Kaaay! Back from training already?"

Of course – Marx was sprawled in a chair with his legs reclining on the kitchen table. He had a glittering grin on his face.

"Yes…"

"You look tired!"

"Thanks…" Kirby shuffled disinterestedly to the cabinets. He didn't have an appetite for anything…

"Hey hey, why the frowns?" With an unpleasant scrape of wood on tile, Marx leapt up from the chair.

"Nothing, I'm fine."

"It's cute that you try to lie, Kirby, but haven't I told you? You aren't any good at it."

"It's – it's not lying –" That sour unpleasant word…

"Oho, you can tell yourself what you want, but I see right through you. Here, hungry?" Marx held out an apple.

"Um. Thanks." Kirby took it. "This isn't poisoned or anything is it?"

"Kay, I'd never do something like that! An upstanding moral citizen, that's me."

Kirby set aside the apple, stomach churning. "I think I'm gonna go to bed."

"It's the afternoon."

"For a nap."

"Wait." Marx's hand shot out and gripped his wrist hard enough to hurt.

Kirby tensed. Had he found out-?

Then Marx's fingers linked with his.

Oh. Kirby swallowed hard.

"Y-yes?"

"I get it," Marx whispered lowly. "It's because of Zero, isn't it? We told you you have to fight him, and now you're scared."

"That's…" part of it.

"I get it," Marx whispered, quieter now. "I met him. I met Zero; you know that, right? And I get it."

Kirby was lost about how exactly this was supposed to be helping.

"But you'll defeat him. You don't know it yet, and you're scared, but you'll defeat him."

Right. These strange attempts at comfort had largely become the new norm for Marx. Ever since admitting he actually cared in some capacity about Kirby, Marx had made visible efforts to be nicer – or at least, less deliberately sadistic.

On the surface, that sounded nice. But in reality, it translated into extremely awkward interactions. Marx simply did not know how to handle himself without 'arrogant maniac' being his default attitude.

Even simple activities, like eating breakfast, had become confusing and tense affairs – which frankly, was part of the reason Kirby had entirely skipped breakfast this morning.

Marx had lost whatever quasi-confidence he once possessed.

He looked at Kirby as afraid of saying something wrong; he touched him as if waiting for reprimand, and his conversation had largely been reduced to stilted, confusingly domestic drivel.

Kirby could clearly see that he was trying hard to be kinder, but in that endeavor had become entirely self-conscious and almost timid. It put a further strain on their already tenuous relationship, and unsettled Kirby in a way that he found difficult to describe.

"Thanks… but I need to go to bed…" Kirby said quietly. If he took a nap, he wouldn't have to think about these things anymore. About Marx, or Meta Knight, about Galaxia or Zero Two.

"No," Marx said, without any authority whatsoever. His purple eyes flitted nervously between Kirby's eyes, back and forth, back and forth. "I'm…" he struggled to form words, then, "concerned. For you."

That. That kind of stuff was unsettling. It shouldn't be. It wouldn't be, if another person had said it, but because it was Marx…

Kirby tried to tug his wrist away, but Marx clung tight. "I told you I liked you," Marx said, firmer this time.

"Yes," Kirby replied stiffly.

"Back with Khayla, reme-"

"Yes, I remember."

Marx licked his lips and his eyes darted. "So…?"

"So?"

"We haven't talked." Marx's nails were beginning to dig into Kirby's wrist, but Kirby didn't think the jester noticed. "Shouldn't we talk?"

"I… what would we talk about?"

"Well, that's what normal people do, right?" Marx said. "They talk? But you've been avoiding me. Shouldn't we talk?"

"L-look, we should talk later…" Kirby really didn't have the mental fortitude to deal with this right now on top of everything else. How could he have time to work out whatever sick thing was between him and Marx when apparently the fate of the universe rested on his shoulders?

"No, it's been days," Marx insisted. "Or – or is it something else you want?"

Kirby's lower back bumped against the kitchen counter as Marx slunk closer. "We could do other things," Marx continued, the insinuation obvious in his voice. "I've missed those other things."

"I-I can't." He hadn't returned Galaxia yet. The sword was still strapped to his hip, hidden beneath his shirt.

"Didn't you say you liked it when I was gentle?" Marx splayed his spidery hand over Kirby's belly. He was inches, inches away from Galaxia's sheath. Kirby's muscles jumped nervously.

"I-I need to go!" Kirby wriggled away from Marx, but the jester's hands shot out to grab him back – one hand brushed over the sheath, and Kirby froze.

"What is that?" At first, simply confused.

"Nothing," Kirby said swiftly.

A lie. And Marx knew it. "What is it?" he repeated, this time with fear touching the edges of his words.

"Nothing." Kirby tried to jerk away, but Marx grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back.

"You're hiding something from me."

"N-no, I'm not, I-"

"I don't understand," Marx whispered. "You don't do things like that. You don't hide things. You can't lie. You're terrible at it. You – that isn't like you. You can't do that."

"I'm sorry-"

"Tell me what it is."

"I can't-"

Marx's hand lashed towards his hip, and Kirby grasped his wrist to stop him. "Please, no-"

"What the hell is it, Kirby?"

"N-Nothing, please-" Bizarrely, the overwhelming urge to cry overtook him, along with a crushing wave of helplessness. He'd messed up. He should have put the sword away immediately. Now Marx was going to destroy it.

His backbone crumbled and he would have sat on the kitchen floor right then and there if Marx didn't grip his shirt and drag him up.

"You're lying to me. Look at me."

Kirby couldn't look. His eyes stayed screwed shut because he was absolutely certain he did not want to see the expression on Marx's face right now.

"Look at me – please!"

Trembling, Kirby looked.

There were no jagged lines of anger. No manic furious energy. His eyes were hurt and afraid. "Show me what it is," he said in a high, strained voice.

Kirby couldn't breathe. His throat closed up and his mouth worked uselessly but he couldn't – he couldn't breathe –

"Show me, now."

A hoarse whimper. No words.

"Fine!" Marx yet again darted in to snatch the sword.

Yet again, Kirby instinctively grabbed his wrist.

Now the anger was setting in. "Let. Go."

Kirby whined.

"You give it to me!" Marx ripped his wrist away and scrambled to reach the sheath with new fervor.

"NO!" Something coiled tight in Kirby's chest exploded outward; the invisible force sent Marx violently sprawling onto the kitchen tile into a mess of gangly limbs.

His skull thudded against the table leg. Pain contorted his silent expression and he half-curled, clutching his hatless head.

Kirby nearly bit through his own lip, stricken by terror. I – I attacked him. He was torn between a desire to run, a desire to help, and a third sinister sort of desire that he was terrified to acknowledge.

Marx rolled in fetal position, nine fingers gripping his scalp tightly. A hoarse "oowww," slipped from his lips.

Kirby backed up until his lower back struck the counter. "D-don't try to tuh-take it, or I'll – I'll hurt you!"

Slowly, Marx tilted his violet eyes up.

Silence.

Kirby's heart thudded in his ears.

"So that's the kind of person you are now, huh, Kirby?" Marx drawled. "Keeping secrets, making threats…" Then he laughed.

Sitting there on the tile floor, legs akimbo, he laughed. Kirby could do nothing but tremble. He didn't know exactly what he had inspired in Marx, but he knew whatever it was, it wasn't good. Because in the past, Marx's worst behavior had often come after his most manically gleeful moods.

Marx's laughter came to a fumbling, gradual halt. "Hey, hey, I get it," he said lowly, deceptively soft. "We all have secrets, Kay. If you want to keep that one, then…" His shoulders raised in a lethargic shrug, his palms turning upwards to the ceiling. "Not much I can do. You are stronger than me after all, aren't you?"

Kirby took one delicate step towards the door, contemplating the merits of completely running for it. Everything about this screamed danger and he did not know exactly when Marx intended to strike - only that he would.

"I just thought," Marx continued, "being that we're friends and all, maybe you'd wanna share, eh?"

"I'm sorry," Kirby whispered, and backed another step.

"Naah, don't get all worked up." Letting out a heavy exhale, Marx staggered up to his feet and wavered in place. "It's not worth getting worked up over. Isn't that right?"

"Y-yeah, that's right." No no no something was very wrong and he was no longer safe here. Kirby concealing something - that messed with the jester's sense of who Kirby was, or - or messed with his reality, or something. Whatever it was, it was bad. And Kirby had only made it worse by attacking him to keep the sword secret.

Marx stalked closer with nothing short of predatory intent. But Kirby couldn't move. A whimper emerged from his throat. "I-I-I'm s-sorry f-for a-attacking you-"

"Bygones," Marx murmured. His stale breath washed over Kirby's lips, and he twined his fingers lovingly in Kirby's hair.

"M-Marx, p-pl-"

Marx slammed his skull against the cabinets, and spots exploded across his vision. Kirby crumpled to the floor, a deep throbbing emanating from the back of his head, and his mind whirling nauseously, scrambling to make sense of what had just happened.

Marx's fingers to buried themselves in his hair again.

Kirby had a fraction of a second to realize what was going to happen before there was a wet crunch and his nose broke on the tiled floor.

His face felt swollen, blood-clogged, and his watering eyes closed in a silent cry. There was no time to think, to recover.

Marx's booted foot thudded against his jaw and Kirby felt something knocked loose in his mouth. Hot blood poured over his tongue and dribbled from his lips to the floor. Stop stop stop

The world tilted and swayed; Kirby felt as though he'd been plucked up by a string and was now revolving dizzily in circles. The kitchen tiles were splattered with blood, its metallic scent nauseating.

Kirby closed his mouth to suppress the urge to vomit, and jabbing pain raked along his gums. Ah, that was the loose tooth. He spit it onto the tile.

"Whoa whoa Marx, what's going on here?"

Kirby shut his swollen eyelids. Shit. Shit. Magolor knew what he was hiding. He knew about Galaxia. If he told Marx...

"Oh, nothing!" Marx said airily. A kick connected with Kirby's ribs. "Kirby and I are having some fun!"

"Hey, easy – it looks like you already did a number on him."

"Huh, does it?" His booted foot slammed down between Kirby's shoulder blades and all the air whooshed out of his lungs. Kirby heaved in vain for air, tears comingling with the blood from his lips.

"Marx, hey – whoa, take a break for a moment, okay?"

Shifting fabric; a small hand touched his shoulder. "Hey, Kirbs, you breathing okay there?"

"Oh, go away," Marx grumbled. "This kind of treatment is long overdue, honestly! I forgot how great it is to mess him up."

"Easy…" Magolor said in a low, mollifying voice. "How about you tell me what's up, Marx?"

Kirby's throbbing skull picked up every footstep of his pacing like a klaxon. "See, there wasn't a problem at all. We were all close. But then it turns out Kay is hiding something, so I just had to lay it on him!"

Kirby quivered. Slowly he curved his eyes up towards Magolor, swollen lips slack and freely dripping blood. Please, he pleaded silently. Please don't tell. Galaxia was the only thing he still could cling to, even as impossibly silent and disdainful as the sword was.

"Ah, is that what you're worried about?" Magolor said. "Well, what's he hiding?"

"Oh, I'm being a good boyfriend. I'm not demanding that he let me know."

"So you don't know what it is?"

No no no please don't tell.

Marx stopped his pacing; Kirby heard the abrupt freezing of his gait. "Well, obviously not." A thoughtful pause. Then, "Nice conversation, Mags! I think I'm just going to keep hurting him for fun."

"Whoa, whoa! Marx, he's our only chance at defeating Zero – we can't compromise his chances!"

"I won't break anything important."

"I think you should take some time to cool off. No matter what you do, it could affect the outcome of the battle. You don't want Zero to kill him, do you? I mean – boy, it's all tomato tomahto to me if he lives or not, but I know you sort of got a thing for him, so I'm looking out for your own interests here."

"What about what he's hiding?"

Magolor laughed, and Kirby hoped Marx didn't hear how nervous it sounded. "Look, I'm not too worried if he's hiding something or not."

He's not gonna tell Marx. The relief was tangible; Kirby slumped and nearly rested his cheek against the cool kitchen floor, ignoring the splotches of blood.

For now, Galaxia is safe.

But in the future…?

Magolor continued, "He's Kirby of the Stars. The kid is way too innocent to be hiding anything important. Psh, it's probably just something insignificant and silly, if it's anything at all."

Okay, Magolor could be a little less demeaning, but at least he was standing up for Kirby.

"Well, obviously he's not hiding anything important. Obviously, I don't really care. But it's the principle of the thing!"

While it seemed safest to remain on the floor, Kirby was getting a bit tired of hearing an endless stream of dehumanizing comments. Fighting off the dizziness and nausea, Kirby slowly gathered his legs beneath him and rocked to his feet. Ugh… blood on his shirt. He gripped the counter tightly for balance.

"Hey, you're topside!" Magolor grinned. "Your face looks like a trainwreck, though."

Magolor's high pitched voice rang unpleasantly in his ears and the world was swaying again.

"He looks good like this. Makes me all warm and fluttery inside. Just like when Meta Knight died."

Bile stung at Kirby's throat. His disoriented vision glimpsed Marx's fangs; not two of them, but dozens, filling his hazy sight entirely.

"Do you need first aid?" Magolor asked, the words coming as if through a tunnel.

Marx cupped Kirby's swollen cheek with his four-fingered hand. Smiling, he murmured, "You can keep your secret, Kirby, but you know it's just a matter of time until I find out, right? Tick…. Tock… tick…tock…"

Kirby's eyes fled his sadistic gaze.

Tick… tock… tick…

"First aid," Magolor said, more insistently.

Marx rolled his eyes and dropped his hand. "All right, fine, take Kay-re. Get it, Kirby? Do you get it?"

Kirby dizzily followed Magolor out of the kitchen.

Tick… tock…

Marx was right, though. It was only a matter of time. He would find out - about Galaxia, first. Then about Fumu. He'd find out, though. That was how Marx was. If he really wanted something, he'd get it.

As Magolor rummaged for first aid supplies, Kirby touched Galaxia's sheath through his shirt.

If I just had a bit of guidance, he had pleaded at the sword.

Tell me if I'm making a mistake, he had begged.

"Between you and Marx, I swear," Magolor muttered. "I wasn't cut out to be a nurse, you know that? But it's a steep learning curve when I've got you two as traveling companions. Here, hold this to your jaw. We're lucky it's not broken."

Kirby quietly accepted the cold cloth and pressed it to his swollen cheek.

He attacked me again.

But he hadn't in so long.

It was so fast. On some level he'd known it would happen, as soon as Marx started laughing, but... Kirby shuddered. He hadn't attacked him like that since... since...

Dreamland. Burning the castle. Fumu. And that... that had all started because...?

Kirby wracked his brain, unsure why he was suddenly so fixated on this, but nonetheless determined to remember details that had, disturbingly, become foggy.

Wait. Right. It was because Kirby had asked why Marx wanted to eat people. That, that was how easily he could turn from friendly to murderous.

Tell me if I'm making a mistake.

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, but his expression remained slack, apathetic. Magolor shuffled about him, fussing over him, and Kirby barely noticed.

Tell me... if I'm making a mistake.

Marx hadn't changed at all, not really. The tears flowed down Kirby's cheeks openly. He hadn't changed. Despite everything. The compromise. Saving Khayla. Even through his attempts to be gentle. The supposed change of plans, the plans where instead of offering up Kirby as a sacrifice, Kirby would fight Zero Two and save the world and everyone would be happy.

Kirby closed his eyes. No. He couldn't do this anymore. This was... it. He wasn't going to fight Zero. He wasn't going to save anybody. He wasn't going to fix Marx.

He clenched Galaxia's handle. He was going to run away.