Xion had escaped the Organization. It was what Xemnas had concluded in one of the rare occasions when everyone gathered in the conference room. The reflection of the mirrors looked crowded with everyone sitting around the table, but Saïx was the only one who seemed bothered by it.
Saïx had glanced over at Axel during the meeting. They hadn't talked since Xion broke down. Axel had been difficult to cross paths with. In the mornings, Axel walked up to him, snatched his mission card and went on his way without a word. Saïx had wanted to let him know that there was no need to worry about Xion's fate within the Organization, it had all been taken care of. At least there hadn't been anything to worry about until it became known that she had escaped.
Roxas had been the only one to speak up at hearing the news. He was the only one who insisted that they should search for her and bring her back. It was ironic considering that Xion could easily become Roxas's downfall.
Saïx didn't really care about what they did or which one of them survived. He thought he wouldn't have to care, but after the meeting, as he walked into his office, he was surprised to see Xigbar sitting in his chair, waiting for him.
"Chuckles, you've really gone and done it this time," he said with a sigh. He leaned his head against his hand and pulled his shoulders up high in a dramatic shrug. "To be honest with ya, there's really only one way for you to fix this."
"What are you talking about?"
"What am I talking about? Man, you sure have a selective memory. Who recently decided that Xion wasn't a problem, huh? Who basically told us to ignore her in favor of whatever the hell Axel promised you?"
"If, if Xion escaping is a problem, why aren't we looking?" Saïx tried to keep calm at realizing his mistake of meddling in affairs that weren't his to meddle in, but he had stuttered, and Xigbar could smell his fear.
Xigbar got out of the chair and flashed Saïx a condescending smile.
"Chuckles," Xigbar began. "The problem isn't that Xion escaped. The problem is how and with what she escaped. See, we try to run a pretty tight ship here, but it's difficult when Xion, in this case, is granted access to every piece of classified information she can come across as if this was some goddamn library. Do you see the problem, Chuckles, or ain't the dots close enough for ya?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"That's more like it," Xigbar said and gave Saïx a pat on the shoulder. "Your only mission is to keep Axel and the kid from finding her. We'll have to get to her first. You think you can handle that, Chuckles?"
"Yes." Saïx lowered his head slightly, absentmindedly fidgeting with the corner of a loose page of a notebook on the side of the desk he was standing by.
"Alright. I'm gonna trust you on this, Chuckles. But know that you've messed up bad. So to make sure you follow through, we have to make you part of a punishment game. You understand, don't you?" Xigbar tried to sound concerned, but his attempt only made him laugh at himself.
"A tiny bird whispered in my ear that you don't like rain. Now, you're as weird as they come so I'm ready to take this bird's word for it, and pay close attention now, Chuckles, 'cause this concerns you." Xigbar walked up close and waited for Saïx to look up at him. "Mess up, and you'll be left out in the rain until I can't hear any bones crack. Are we clear?"
"Excellent. See, this is what I like about you, Chuckles. You're quick to get it. We're gonna get along great. You'll see."
Xigbar didn't bother with the door. He opened a portal of darkness and disappeared with a wave.
Axel hurried down the corridor, each step echoing as he buried his heel into the floor. He looked back when he heard someone else hurry up behind him, and he clearly couldn't hold back a snort at the sight of Saïx.
"Axel! Axel, wait. I need to talk to you." Saïx reached for Axel's wrist, but his fingers needed only to brush against Axel for him to pull his arm away as if Saïx's fingers had burned him. "It'll only take a second."
"What do you want now?" Axel asked, clenching his hands into fists almost as a reflex.
"Don't look for Xion. You won't benefit from it at all. Just listen to orders and stand back. Xemnas has everything under control."
"I won't benefit from it? Are you serious?" Axel gritted his teeth. His hands were quick to grab Saïx by his collar and shove him against the nearest wall. Whatever fear he might have had for the power Saïx once held, was far gone and had been replaced by anger for the hurt that Saïx had caused those Axel considered friends.
"I know that it doesn't make sense now, but...just promise me that you won't look for her."
"'Her'? So you can only acknowledge her existence like a decent human being when there's something in it for you?" His grip around the collar of Saïx's black coat tightened, and he pushed his other hand onto Saïx's upper ribcage hard, his eyes crazed with anger. "You knew all along, didn't you? About what Xion was and what would happen to her and Roxas? You knew all of it and never once thought about telling me? I can't even look Roxas in the eye anymore. How do you suppose I tell him, huh? How do I tell him that Xion might disappear?"
"I'll help you figure that out if you promise not to look for her." Saïx paused before he reluctantly added, "Please."
Axel released his grip, staring Saïx down, looking for an ounce of honesty in the eyes he avoided making contact with on principle.
"And you'll tell me everything," Axel said.
"You'll tell me everything or you can forget it. I can't deal with any more half-truths. It's all or nothing."
"Fine...I'll tell you everything I know. Promise that you won't look for Xion."
"Axel," Saïx tried to keep his voice firm, but it trembled slightly when he got caught in Axel's glare. "Promise me."
"Okay." Saïx gave a quick nod and took a step from the wall. "You're dismissed."
The raindrops in the city were much bigger than those from the world of color. They fell from much greater heights, from clouds that were darker and had an infinite amount of water. It seemed that the clouds came straight from the Heart Station because it never stopped raining. There were moments when it seemed like it would stop, it seemed like the clouds would disperse and reveal a big and empty black sky, but instead the sky laughed in the form of thunder and lightning.
At that point they knew. God was real and He was still upset with those that had been born as Lucids, even as they were stuck in an afterlife where there weren't any strings binding them to the half that would make them whole.
It had been difficult to keep track of who he was when all he could think of was the pain of having the drops drill into every bone in his body until they snapped and spread fractures across the remains. He was certain that he had been Saïx at first when the raindrops ran off his coat and into small puddles around him, but by the time his ribcage collapsed he was Isa. The pained whimpers in between the ragged gasps for air would never come from an armor.
In the end, it didn't matter whether he was Isa or Saïx, neither ever lost consciousness. At times they saw a blur frame their vision, and it promised to take them to a place where the rain couldn't reach them. They made the mistake of believing that promise too, only to later find out that the blur had been a concussion.
Time was a concept lost on him. He just knew that 'a long time' didn't quite cut it, and it was far from over, even as he was brought inside.
"I think the rain cleaned you up nicely, Chuckles. Definitely gave you some colors. You like colors, don't you? Hey, Xaldin, how about giving that nose a fix? Look at him. How am I supposed to make a point if I can't even hear myself think with that wheezing? Throw in a lung too."
Even through everything else, Isa managed to feel grateful as Xaldin cast a healing spell that fixed the areas Xigbar had requested. Isa had been kept at the edge. Always functioning enough to experience his punishment. This wasn't any different. Xigbar didn't mind Isa's constant trembling or occasional whimper and labored breathing. It all seemed like music in Xigbar's ears.
"Can I ask you something, Chuckles? When you told Axel to promise to follow orders, did you make sure that it was a pinky promise? 'Cause that's where they always getcha. It's the fine print that counts, Chuckles. You oughta know that by now." Xigbar sat down on a chair and pulled himself closer to the stretcher where they had put Isa. "Please tell me that you've got rain in your eyes." Xigbar laughed as he leaned in for closer inspection.
Isa tried to respond, but his reply was barely audible.
"Can't hear you, Chuckles. You gotta speak up." Xigbar leaned his ear closer when Isa tried again. "'Sorry'? You're sorry? Well, I'd be sorry too in your shoes. This is what the punishment game is for, Chuckles. It makes it easier for people to realize their mistakes and come clean with them. It's a spiritual thing, and you know that we're here to help you, right? We're here to help. If we weren't, would we have put you on a stretcher instead of a chair? Before you answer that question, remember that your spine is probably as messed up as your face. If that's not help, I don't know what is."
"I should start healing him now, unless we want permanent damage," Xaldin cut in from where he stood by the feet of the stretcher.
"No permanent damage today. Don't worry, Chuckles. This was just a small lesson, that's all. To show you that you still have the Organization's trust, I'm gonna give you a mission. It's very easy, but also very important. Now that Xion is back, we're in a bit of a struggle. If both Roxas and Xion stay, they'll knock each other out. We can't have that. We need one Keyblade-wielder to succeed with our mission. Your task is to confront Axel and make him choose one for us. Once he's made the choice, one will beat the other with his help and everything will be merry again."
"Xigbar..." Xaldin urged.
"If you fail, Chuckles, that's it for you. You'll be turned into a Dusk and killed by your very own Nobodies, and that would be a shame. We've worked very hard on you, Chuckles. You can't fail us now."
Xaldin chose that moment to start healing him. Isa lit up with a luminescent green with the amount of spells thrown at him. The light wrapped around every broken, smashed and fractured part of him. He had foolishly hoped for relief, but the healing process turned out to be more painful than the punishment. He could feel his bones grow back and how the ends of his torn nerves were stretched and reattached with the rest. The first impulses of electricity that decided to travel down the newly regenerated nerves left Isa burning with pain. He screamed as soon as he could, gasping for air through petrified sobs as soon as he heard Xaldin mumble the spell again.
And it was just about the funniest thing Xigbar had ever seen.
It had been difficult to look at Axel when he had asked him to make a decision; Roxas or Xion. Axel had seemed torn, maybe even angry with him for making him choose. Roxas and Xion were both important to him, but only one of them was real. The other was a puppet made in a lab. It didn't have a real past, it had an illusion of a present, and a dark future. Ending Xion's short life would be an act of mercy at this point, but Axel wanted to keep and save them both.
Isa had tried to reach out to him. He feared who might be eavesdropping on their conversation, and the only way he could think of reminding Axel of his commitment to Isa was by using a name that hadn't passed his lips in forever.
"There's too much on the line, Lea."
It didn't have the desired effect. Axel only looked at him tiredly, as if hearing him speak was enough to drain him of energy. Axel didn't talk back that day. What Isa or Saïx said had no importance to him anymore. Both were just annoying background noise that he could've done without if it didn't occasionally say something that he could use. The look in Axel's eyes before he turned to walk away, told Saïx that Axel was going to use this information to protect his friends in whichever way he knew how.
It was the first time Isa doubted his persistence in fighting for Lea's heart when maybe it would just be easier to admit defeat and not have to deal with the constant pain and reminders of failure.
Xemnas's plans were back on track, and they needed to be kept on track. Saïx had been ordered to finish the devices that would be needed to complete the plan. He wasn't sure what he was working on, only that he needed to finish it on time. Xigbar dropped by occasionally to make sure that everything was running smoothly, and to remind Saïx of what little influence he had on Axel.
Saïx tried to convince himself that he didn't care. Axel was going to do what he wanted, and it would be easier to roll with the punches if Saïx simply stayed out of it and accepted what was and what would be. It turned out that he didn't even listen to himself. He had the need to remind Axel that they only needed one of the Keyblade-wielders. Just one. And don't meddle. Don't meddle or Xigbar will come after you next. With what armor can I protect you then?
Isa had insisted on being on the send-off the day Xigbar decided that there would be a special three-man mission to a world that wasn't particularly crowded with Heartless. It was obvious what the mission was for. Axel was taking too long in making a decision, so Xigbar was going to help him along the way by showing him how it was done.
Isa had drawn a sigh of relief when he learned that Xion would go with them. The mission wasn't a punishment game for Axel, it was Xion's execution, and in a choice between the two, Isa would easily pick Axel.
Roxas had shown up, but he wasn't given much attention. All he needed to do was to recuperate and start slaying Heartless. That was his purpose and his function. With Xion taken care of, everything would go back to normal, and all focus would finally go to where it should have been all along; finishing the Moon and getting their hearts back.
The mission seemed easy enough, but Xion got away. Axel let her go and blamed it on her strength. It would've been a believable lie – she had been too strong for Xigbar, too – but Axel's small flinch when Roxas hurried up to them told the truth Saïx didn't really need to know.
He didn't want to care, but there was a searing burning in his veins that felt as if they were suffocating him muscle by muscle. It would only go away in one of two ways; either he was going to get hurt or he'd end up hurting someone else, and by the way things were now, he wanted nothing more than to hear the agonizing scream of someone that wasn't him.
Fact said that they were all without hearts; Nobodies, a species that shouldn't be but that was, abominations born in the margins of darkness and light. As such, they were born without strings of fate. They were fated to be incomplete until they regained the hearts they had lost, some out of carelessness, others out of need. It's what Isa had been fed for eternities, it was what he repeated like a mantra to those who questioned these facts, and in a sense it had become the fundamental truth upon which he acted on.
Axel was the same as him. At a point in time they had been bound by Isa's lies that had taken the shape of a string of fate, and that string had been enough to make them both fall into an abyss of darkness that Isa desperately wanted to get them out of. Why was it then that it seemed like the string of fate binding Axel to Roxas and Xion had survived the transition? They only needed to tug it to have the other follow. They didn't need to voice their need for help, their distress seemed to find its way through the red string and tug at Axel in a way that made him understand that he was needed.
It wasn't fair.
How many times had Isa laid broken on the ground, calling for Lea through gasps in hopes that he'd come? How many times had Isa stood close in hopes that Axel would see through his armor and notice Isa pleas for help with his burdens? He knew he didn't have a right to be angry. Lea had never been bound to Isa by choice. He had always searched for those he belonged with. Both Lea and Axel could hear them call through time, and he'd find a way to be there for them.
Saïx knew that, but it wasn't any less crushing to witness, and he did what he could to cushion the blow.
The Dusks' rumblings had increased as of late. They moved from room to room like bubbles and whispered of events not meant to reach Saïx's ears.
There were a lot of things he was kept in the dark about. Xemnas, Xigbar, Axel, they all fed him enough information to keep him going and dig for missing pieces. It skewed his perception of the reality he had gotten used to. He knew better than to trust his ability to glue the pieces together correctly, instead he relied on the Dusks to tell him what no one else would.
In turn, as a thank you, Saïx fed them as often as he could. It was a task that he had made his early on, but he had never thought that the Dusks or any of the lesser Nobodies had preferences when it came to food. Keeping a list of favorite meals kept Saïx occupied when he'd much rather slam a fist through a wall, but even repeating the long list in his mind wasn't enough to settle the anger when the Dusks whispered messages about Axel and his possible future plans.
There had been tension between Axel, Roxas and Xion.
It had seemed like their friendship would come to an end, and with the truths Axel had been withholding from them coming to light, the Dusks whispered of strained strings about to snap. Saïx thought that maybe Axel's tie to Roxas and Xion was made out of polyester; it would break and fall to the ground without protest, its ends slowly coming undone. But it seemed that the strain was that of an unbreakable elastic string; if any of them were to fall off the edge, they'd bounce back, and always toward each other.
There were murmurs about Roxas leaving, just like Xion.
Roxas was tugging the red string that bound him to Axel. He wasn't doing it on purpose, but Axel would follow. Saïx couldn't let either of them leave. His mantra was wearing thin, he couldn't find much comfort in the explanation for his emptiness, but knowing that Axel would be there, albeit unwillingly, filled out the void that threatened to drown Saïx, and by extension, Isa too.
When Saïx started to run low on things to break in the small space that was his, the hurt started to ebb away. It didn't disappear. It only transformed into something else that gave him strength to stand and move forward: Fury.
He was standing by the entrance to Oblivion when he heard the approaching steps down the stairs. Roxas was going to leave through the front door just to show how indifferent he was about the mess he'd leave behind. The consequences were nothing to him when he had the power of the Keyblade at the tip of his fingers.
"You've got a lot of nerve thinking we'll just let you leave."
"I don't need your permission. Get out of my way!"
The Keyblade materialized in Roxas's hand as soon as he reached out for it. There was no doubt in his mind that he would have to fight his way out of Oblivion to gain the freedom he wanted, and Saïx was too eager to put Roxas in his place to even consider talking him out of leaving.
Saïx's claymore materialized in his hand, its weight a comfort and assurance for all the harm he could cause with it.
The first hit landed and echoed in the empty lobby. Roxas had run up to him, quick as a weasel, with the Keyblade high above his head. Saïx had thought that there would be more strategy behind Roxas's attacks; that maybe it was something a weapon as exclusive as the Keyblade would require, but Roxas fought with anger and trusted that the lightness of his weapon and the speed with which he moved would be sufficient to beat his enemy.
Unfortunately for Roxas, Saïx didn't have to land many hits to throw him off his feet. The speed Roxas had relied on failed him too when Saïx saw him move as if he was pushing through water. The Keyblade swooshed right by Saïx's face and he grabbed the weapon with one hand and lanced his claymore at Roxas with his other. Roxas flew to the ground with the power of the impact when the claymore hit his side. He clenched his hands around the handle of the Keyblade, mentally ordering his body to move despite the shock from the hit.
"How did you think fighting me would work out when Xion is absorbing all of your power? You're weak and you're wasting away because of Xion."
Roxas frowned and glared at Saïx from where he lay.
"Wh...what did you say?"
"You're wasting away because of Xion. She's absorbing your power and everything you think you are. Given time, you two would have become one entity, but there were interferences in the plan."
Saïx walked up to him, dragging his claymore against the floor and letting the metallic screech of it send Roxas into panic. For a split moment there was fear in Roxas's blue eyes. He could only watch as Saïx reached for him and pulled him up by his collar.
"Axel interfered. To save you, that puppet, and the abomination you call friendship."
The material of the coat cut against Roxas' throat when Saïx held him high with one hand. Roxas's feet dangled in the air. He was light and small, far too easy to lift up for someone who could destroy everything they had been working for.
"You don't know what friendship is," Saïx hissed, his hands clenching tighter around the fabric in his hand. "It's something you'll never be able to feel − you need to have a heart to feel."
Roxas scratched and tugged at Saïx's wrist to get out of his choking grip. It wasn't until Saïx noticed Roxas's lips turning blue that he tossed him against the nearest wall. Nothing good would come out of ending Roxas's pitiful life here. He was still needed to complete the plan.
Saïx took a deep breath and glared at Roxas.
"You don't have memories or a heart. You didn't even have a name before you were taken in by the Organization. Do you think the outside world will welcome you with open arms? The Organization gave you everything you are, and there is no one else that will tolerate your existence."
Roxas stumbled up onto his feet and leaned against his Keyblade for support.
"I may not have memories or a heart, but I know what I feel. And that's all I need. I accept my feelings and I won't have you or anyone else tell me what they are!"
Saïx just barely managed to block a hit. Roxas had come flying at him, hitting hard enough for Saïx's knees to buckle slightly.
"Why do you persist? You're alone, Roxas. Xion left you for dead and you can't trust Axel."
"Because we made a promise!" Roxas said angrily. "We're going to the beach!"
There was suddenly a blinding light. The Keyblade transformed before them both with a shrilling sound that filled the empty lobby and paralyzed Saïx as Roxas saw his chance and lifted the Keyblade to land one hit while he still could.
The Keyblade tore through the claymore as if the claymore had been made of dirt. The searing light radiating from the Keyblade burned through the fabric of Saïx's coat when it hit him on the shoulder. His collarbone snapped. The burn expanded and made it feel as if his skin had caught fire.
Saïx fell onto his knees. He put his hand over his wound instinctively, fearing that Isa would pour out of it.
"You'll regret this," he breathed. "You have nowhere to go but to the puppet that'll send you to your death."
"That's fine with me," Roxas said. His anger seemed to wash off at seeing Saïx beaten and firing shots in the dark when he couldn't admit defeat. "At least your plans will be ruined."
Roxas walked past him, completely unafraid. The dark clouds rumbled with the threat of rain, but Roxas continued forward, walking out through the main entrance to a freedom that would cost Saïx his chance of regaining his heart and life.
Saïx wanted to get up and continue the fight. This couldn't be the end of it. He couldn't be this weak after all of these years.
"We're stronger than this," he mumbled and tried to get up, but he caught a glimpse of his shattered claymore on the floor.
The burning on his shoulder started to spread like wildfire, causing cracks throughout him that grew to rifts, and before he knew it, he was shattering into pieces next to his claymore until Isa was forced out of deep slumber where had been wrapped, not only in darkness, but in layers of suffocating anger.