[KH] Desperate Reflections 10

Chapter Seven – Forgotten Life

Time passed, as it was known to do, and quickly Vincent and Axel settled into a routine, all prior arguments seemingly forgotten. They would work as they were supposed to do and in their free time discuss plans for getting off of Gaia’s Grotto. Their options were limited but both men were determined to find a way, even if it only held the smallest inkling of hope. And sometimes, the two just talked, or Axel spoke and Vincent listened. Axel endured Reno’s attempts to encourage him to push for more, but was quite happy with the things were.

The scarlet-haired man quickly learned that Vincent was prone to moments of dark, broody thought and knew when to leave well enough alone. But he also learned the times when Vincent was overly garrulous, letting things slip that he would normally keep hidden. It also became plain to him that the longer they were on Gaia’s Grotto, the harder it would be for them to remember. Axel could see it in Vincent’s eyes. There were some days that the winged man forgot who he was prior to being Ceran.

Axel tried to resist adapting to life on this new world. He griped and groaned about the never changing time of day, about the grayness of the sky, and the general uninteresting way of life, but it did him no good. With the way his schedule worked, he rarely watched time go by and soon, he was caught up in the same dull routine, slowly but surely losing himself to the grey monotony of conformity and prescribed decision.

Before he knew it, two months had gone by… at least by his own count. But that was when she arrived. Axel had been lying in his room, propped up against the bed and perusing some sort of science text that was boring the shit out of him, but he hoped to find out something pertaining to a method of escape. He was just about to throw the book across the room in frustration, after discovering the sixth word that he didn’t know, when he heard the front door slam open and the sound of someone stumbling inside.

He raised a brow in curiosity, snapping the book shut and dropping it to the bed before rising and peeking out of his room. The sound of grunting floated his direction before emerald eyes widened to find Vincent awkwardly carrying someone in his arms and heading down the hall towards him.

“Move,” the winged man ordered succinctly, face flushed and breathing heavily. Glancing once at the bloodied and torn up body in his arms, Axel was quick to obey, shifting aside so that Vincent could pass. He trailed after the older man as they went into Vincent’s room and the bloodied mess was dropped carefully onto the bed, moaning slightly as its head turned to the side.

It was a woman… one of the few that Axel had ever seen, and she didn’t look too well.

“What the hell?” questioned Axel, gaze flickering to Vincent who was rummaging about for bandages. “What is this?”

Crimson eyes shot him a look. “She remembers,” he answered simply. “And the beasts nearly got her.”

The fire starter blanched, remembering his own brush with the creatures. If it hadn’t been for Vincent, he would have died as well. That explained why Vincent hadn’t taken her to the Center then. If she remembered something, anything, not only could she be of help to them, but Vincent wouldn’t let them take away her memories. Not without giving her a chance.

Clawed hands worked diligently at the woman’s clothing, pulling it away without a care for her nudity as he gingerly uncovered bloody slash marks in cream-colored skin. Axel didn’t know what else to do, so he silently watched, taking in the woman’s golden blond hair and strange clothing. Her eyelids fluttered and he caught a glimpse of startling bright ocean-colored eyes, almost the same as Roxas’, causing a stab of purely emotional pain to strike him so quickly that he gasped.

“Don’t just stand there,” snapped Vincent, looking at Axel over his shoulder. “Go get me some cloths and water.”

“Irvine…” murmured the woman on the edge of a moan, her head tossing from side to side as empty hands grasped at the comforter. “Don’t… no…”

“Axel!”

The redhead blinked in sudden understanding, nodding quickly before he rushed to do as Vincent asked. Two months and this was the first time he had actually seen someone emerge in Gaia’s Grotto with their memories. They were few and far between, most people having already given up on their past lives.

He grabbed a few towels from the bathroom, depositing them in the bedroom before heading into the kitchen and filling a bowl with warm tap water. Back in Vincent’s room, he was working quickly to seal up the claw marks on the woman’s right shoulder and left thigh.

“Will she live?” questioned Axel, slightly breathless from his mad dash around the apartment.

Vincent frowned, nimble hands gently cleaning away the trickling blood and leftover saliva from the beasts bite marks. “Yes. But whether or not she remembers is entirely up to her.” He returned his attention back to the blonde. She twitched under his touch, mouth moving in silent speech but hadn’t awakened. “You can return to your book now.”

Emerald eyes rolled as Axel waved a hand of dismissal. “That shit was boring as hell. This is far more interesting.” He sighed when Vincent shot him a look, clearly expecting him to vacate the premises. He held up his hands in a vague sort of surrender. “All right, I get the picture. I’ll make myself scarce.” He grumbled under his breath as he turned on his heels and left the room, leaving the door wide open behind him to purposefully annoy Vincent.

Thoughts of returning to the dry science text made his head hurt, so the fire starter made a beeline for the kitchen, determined to attempt to find something to eat without accidentally burning the apartment down. He kept his ears carefully tuned for any sort of sound however, insanely curious about the woman in the next room as he poked through the refrigerator and stuck his nose in every cabinet, of course finding nothing of interest.

He mused idly to himself as he fruitlessly searched around. Things hadn’t really changed between he and Vincent. They never really talked about the things that Vincent was keeping from him and it seemed that awkward fight had been pushed under the rug, so to speak. Though he was insanely curious about everything, he refrained from questioning. For some reason, he trusted Vincent.

Maybe it was because he recognized the same sorrow in crimson eyes that reflected in his own. After that argument, the next time he had managed to run into Vincent, there was a moment of pure tense silence between them. Vincent had been tired, excessively so and his shoulders slumped visibly. A grey cloud seemed to hang over his head and it was then and there that Axel had made his decision. He didn’t know how long Vincent had been on Gaia’s Grotto but he was beginning to understand.

After that, they became friends and everything was fine. Little by little truths were revealed as Axel clung to his memories and research was made. Now he had two purposes: to find a way to get off Gaia’s Grotto and to somehow save Roxas without killing Sora in the process. It was hard to keep his selfish tendencies when faced with people like Reno and Vincent. He didn’t want to force that mournful emotion on anyone if he could help it.

Footsteps echoed in the hall, boots that Vincent still hadn’t time to remove, and Axel looked up to see the winged man entering into the kitchen, clawed hands spattered with blood just like his clothes. Heavy bags made crimson eyes sunken in pale skin. Vincent treaded towards the sink and began to wash his hands, wings twitching behind him.

“Will she live?” asked Axel, finally selecting a box of semi-edible crackers and plopping down at the table. He popped a few of the half-stale things in his mouth, grimacing when they mushed instead of crunched. They were terrible. He resisted the urge to spit them out like a child and instead set the box on the table, glaring intently at the “ultimate cheese-fest of crunchy galore!”.

At the sink, Vincent turned off the water with a squeak before turning back towards Axel, carefully peeling off his blood-soaked shirt as he did so. “She won’t be dying,” answered the crimson-eyed man carefully, frowning intently at the few rips and stains in his shirt. “The rest is up to her.”

“Who is she?” questioned Axel, clearly interested.

Vincent eyed him. “I don’t know. And I won’t until she wakes up.” He eased gracefully into a chair, adjusting his wings so that they wouldn’t be injured as he relaxed. He seemed unusually somber, a strange emotion reflecting in his eyes.

Axel furrowed his brow. “Did you think you…. recognized her?” he questioned somewhat hesitantly, doubting that the other man would even answer him. Come two steps close to Vincent’s past and he clammed up faster than a … clam. He leaned against the table, hearing his stomach growl audibly and hoping that his cooking-inclined roommate would take the hint.

For a moment, the winged man was silent, eyes downcast at the table in thought. “No,” he finally replied after the tense quiet became uncomfortable. “But she did remind me of someone.” He sighed and leaned forward across the table, grabbing Axel’s discarded box of crackers. “When I found her, she was attempting to fight off the beasts with some type of chain whip but there were far too many.” He popped a few of the crackers in his mouth, frowning thoughtfully. “More than I’ve ever seen attacking one person.” Then his face turned to one of disgust as he eyed the box of crackers. “How long have I had these?”

“Too long,” Axel muttered, his stomach growling again. “Has that been happening a lot lately?” he questioned, realizing that it happened to be one of Vincent’s more gregarious times. He was going to milk it for all it was worth.

Vincent nodded, rising to toss the box into the wastebasket before rifling in the refrigerator for something to cook. “Strangely yes. And I am baffled as to why. It is not very reassuring. Lately, the Gatherers have been pairing up.” He pulled out some noodles and meat, figuring if nothing else, a stir fry would suffice. He tried not to think about how late in the night it was.

“Will you be taking her to the Cleanser tomorrow?” Axel questioned, inwardly grinning as he realized that Vincent was going to cook. And knowing the other man, he would unconsciously make enough for two. Axel wouldn’t be forced to starve. There were few pleasures to be found on Gaia’s Grotto and Vincent’s cooking was one of them.

The winged man shrugged. “If she wakes up by then, I suppose. I will have to wait and see.” He turned and eyed Axel disbelievingly over his shoulder. “Don’t think you’re getting any of this, by the way,” he commented, pointing with a spatula to the sizzling food in the pan in front of him.

Axel’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “Aw, c’mon Vincent.” He patted his belly, feigning complete starvation. “You can’t expect me to survive on stale crackers,” he begged.

“I highly doubt you will suffer for long,” commented Vincent dryly, turning back towards the stove. His wings flexed as he stood, and Axel couldn’t help but admire the play of muscles beneath Vincent’s pale skin. The man was gorgeous no doubt about that. Enough to make something inside of him stir at the sight.

He swallowed thickly, trying to think up another line of conversation to turn his stray thoughts back somewhere safe. He had been listening to far too much of Reno’s suggestions if he was starting to think erotic thoughts about his roommate. Not that Vincent didn’t have droolworthy ivory skin and dangerously soft black hair… gah! Treacherous thoughts! Treacherous thoughts!

“You never know,” he countered, attempting a nonchalant position as he propped one boot up on the table. “I might.”

Vincent snorted. “Remove your feet from my table before I remove them for you,” he threatened, turning around to shake his oil-spattered spatula at Axel.

The firestarter burst out laughing at that. “It’s hard to take you serious when you threaten me with silverware,” he pointed out, giving Vincent a baleful stare.

Any response that the gunslinger might have made was lost when a somewhat timid sound had them both turning towards the doorway of the kitchen, eyes widening in surprise. “Umm, excuse me?” The blonde that Vincent had saved was standing there, wringing her hands nervously as blue eyes darted between them.

Both men were silent, seemingly froze in place until Axel blinked and rose from his chair, still grinning. He gently took her arm as he steered her towards the table. “Have a seat,” he suggested soothingly, noting that her body shook. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered, stammering a bit as she gingerly eased herself down into a chair. “I just… I don’t know what to…”

“It’s okay,” Vincent assured her in a calm voice, turning to lay a plate in front of her on the table. “We understand. Just take your time.”

She nodded, taking a deep breath. “Okay.” Her eyes darted around, taking in his odd appearance and Axel’s grinning exterior. She frowned, confused. “Where am I?”

Axel laughed. “That is not a simple question,” he answered, moving to return to his seat. “Try this, what do you last remember?”

Vincent glared at him. “Axel,” he growled warningly.

The firestarter waved a hand of dismissal. “Relax. I got this. I’ve been there before, remember?” Turning his attention back on the woman, he gestured towards here. “Continue.”

Her hands twisted in her lap as she stared at the table, gaze beginning to swim with tears. “Fighting, I think, at my home. There were these creatures, I… I don’t know what they were but they appeared out of nowhere. They killed my Irvine and then… they came after me.” Her voice hitched at the last as she struggled to keep a hold on herself. She took another deep breath and blinked before managing to look up at them with pure determination. “Please, tell me where I am and who you are.”

“I’m Axel,” grinned the redhead immediately, gesturing to himself. “Got it memorized?”

Vincent sighed and shot the firestarter a glare. “For now it will suffice if you call me Vincent,” he explained. “You have the eyes of a fighter.”

She nodded. “I am… was… a mercenary, is I suppose the best word for it. We both were.” She shot the winged man a grateful look when he set a glass of water down in front of her before returning to his stir fry, which was getting close to being finished. “Which is why I suppose you’re strange appearance does not… frighten me. It’s nothing compared to either of those things… the shadows or the white wolves.”

Axel raised a brow. “Well, that is all well and good but we still don’t know who you are.” He wondered if she even knew. She seemed to have kept her memories remarkably well. He barely knew his own name when he arrived at Gaia’s Grotto but she remembered her past life, her position, her lover/boyfriend/husband/brother whatever ‘Irvine’ was, seemingly everything.

The blonde blushed slightly, a brief tinge spreading across her fair cheeks. “Forgive me,” she replied hastily. “I am Quistis. Quistis Trepe.”

Vincent and Axel exchanged glances over her head, both of them thinking the same thing. Perhaps they had found a new comrade.

For the rest of the night, they explained what they could do her. Quistis seemed to take it well, aside from the occasional tear. Vincent gave details on the Cleanser and what she would have to go through. How she would have to cling to a memory. The female seemed to take it well, only looking slightly afraid. After a while, Axel had to retire to his own room and climb into bed, leaving Vincent to divulge the rest. At least, he had gotten a meal out of it.

With the all the excitement, it was no wonder that he dreamed.

The World that Never Was always seemed perpetually dark, a thick overcast of impenetrable black that cloaked everything in shadow. Even the most optimistic and cheerful felt their hearts, if they had them, tainted by the misery and sorrow. But being that mostly Nobodies and Heartless thrived in this world, it didn’t really have any effect on its residents.

The castle belonged to Xemnas, all pompous and silver though he was, it actually managed to hold a certain level of class with its austere lines and white and grey colors literally on every floor. Axel himself would have preferred a little color but since it wasn’t up to him, he had to suffer the boringness. Though he did manage to spice it up every once in awhile with the occasional ‘anonymous’ fire… just to piss his favorite flamboyant asshole, Marluxia, off.

At the moment, Axel snickered quietly to himself as he moved swiftly through the corridors, hiding, as it were, from an enraged Marluxia. He didn’t really have a destination in mind, more or less wandering, when he came across his favorite person, Roxas. The blond was on one of the outer stairs, leaning on the railing and looking out on the city below, all bathed in hungry, dark shadows with the lovely glow of Xemnas’ fake Kingdom Hearts above them. What a stupid plan.

“Hey, Rox’. What’s up?” he questioned, jumping over a railing as he eased up beside the keyblade wielder, nearly mimicking his stance exactly.

Roxas, predictably, scowled at the shortening of his name, turning to give Axel only the most cursory glance. “Who did you set fire to this time?”

Axel smirked, flexing the fingers of his right hand. “Is it that obvious?”

The blond snorted, waving a hand at him. “When you grin like that? Yeah.”

He laughed, turning to lean against the railing with his back to the scenery. He kicked up one leg, feigning boredom as Roxas continued to stare solemnly down below them. Out of the corner of his eye, he admired sun-kissed hair seemingly bright despite the gloomy atmosphere and thoughtful ocean-blue eyes. Watching his friend was quickly becoming an obsession of his.

“What are you doing? There isn’t anything interesting down there, unless you’re looking to fight some heartless,” commented Axel, poking at Roxas in the side with a gloved finger. “We could go together. I think Demyx is on shift. I got the perfect prank.”

Roxas shook his head, looking down at something that he was turning over and over in his hand. Axel caught glimpses of bright yellow and pink along with the glint of metal. “You ever think about before?” he questioned.

Axel sighed, long and annoyed. “Not this again,” he grumbled, raking a hand through his hair. “There isn’t a point in it. We can’t go back so we might as well try and live now.”

Metal jingled in a gloved hand. “Xemnas wants something from me,” responded Roxas, completely changing the line of conversation. His voice was sharp and bitter, filled with a loathing that the both of them held for their ‘Superior’. Along with that loathing, however, came a healthy dose of fear. Of their Organization, Xemnas was by far the most powerful. One did not cross him lightly.

Axel waved a hand of dismissal as he scoffed. “Yeah, and?” he countered, raising a brow. “He wants something from all of us. That’s why he found us and brought us here.” A grin spread across his features. “Probably big plans for world domination. At least, when he found me, he said, ‘Take back what was stolen, get your heart, blah, blah, blah.’”

“No,” Roxas denied shaking his head. He tossed the item in his hand up in the air before pitching it to Axel. “It’s different for me. He’s got a plan for me and… I’m not sure I want to be a part of it,” he responded as Axel deftly caught the item, turning it over in his own grip. He recognized it immediately under the pale light of the yellow-orange heart-shaped moon.

It was the key chain for Oathkeeper, gaudy and colorful thing that it was. Axel frowned as he looked down at his shorter best friend. “What do you mean?” It wasn’t the first time they had had a similar conversation. Lately Roxas had been more withdrawn and moody, if things without emotions could have moods.

“I don’t know who I was,” replied Roxas. “I’m different from all of you. I can’t remember the before. For me, there’s always been now.” His voice picked up in tension as he continued, ocean blue eyes flickering with distress. “What was I? What am I? Why?”

Axel held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa, calm down,” he soothed. “What are you talking about?”

The blond shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. None of you do.” He paused, taking in a deep breath that seemed to do nothing for calming him down. “I want to know, Axel. I want to find the answers that no one seems willing to give. I want to know why I was chosen to be the Keybearer and why I’m being used.”

Axel’s lips pulled into a frown, real concern beginning to take over his emotions. Roxas was really upset about this, apparently, far more than he had realized before and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. “We’re all being used, Rox’,” he replied. “But as we are, it’s rather difficult to stand up to Xemnas.”

“I’m not afraid.”

The fire starter scoffed, raising a reddish brow. “Psh, neither am I. But I kinda like living, eh? Much better than dying, especially since we’re nothing, ya know?”

Ocean blue eyes narrowed immediately as Roxas whipped around to glare at Axel. “We’re not ‘nothing’,” he snarled. “You can’t really believe that, can you? If we were nothing, we wouldn’t exist.” He poked Axel in the chest, his gaze flashing with something that resembled emotion… anger. “I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you and you wouldn’t be standing here with me. That’s fact. That’s how I know Xemnas is lying to us in some way. Nothings don’t exist. We exist. It’s as simple as that.”

Axel held up his hands. “Roxas, calm down. I’m not the enemy here. If I had the answers, I would give them to you. But the only one Xemnas lets in on his little plans is Saix. I’m just as much in the dark as you.” He scowled, emerald eyes darkening with his own righteous anger. “If I had the chance, I’d burn the both of them.”

Roxas sighed, holding up a hand to his forehead as he shielded his expression from Axel’s gaze. A tense silence passed between them when suddenly Axel’s neck prickled and his senses flared. It didn’t take a genius to determine that the eerie feeling meant they were being watched, and not by a friend either. He and Roxas had scarce few of those. Emerald eyes flared in sudden realization. Their conversation had attracted an audience, if it hadn’t already been there before, observing.

He gently laid his hand on Roxas’ shoulder, guiding him away from the railing. They had to get out of there. “Let’s go bug Demyx, ne?” he suggested. “It might cheer you up.” He kept his tone light and positive as he surreptitiously glanced around them, mood darkening further when he caught sight of a dark form just around the corner, watching them with interested green eyes. That smug bastard….

Roxas didn’t respond but Axel was used to wordless replies and plastered a grin on his face before shooting a glare towards the corner, calling up a portal to take he and Roxas down below because they were both far too lazy to walk. Behind them he knew Vexen was watching.

He didn’t know why the ‘Chilly Academic’ was watching them but he did know that Vexen was a coward. Undoubtedly, he would run off to Xemnas the first chance he got spilling all that he had seen and heard. And he was certain that Vexen wasn’t there to observe him. Roxas was Xemnas’ favorite pet.

They spent the rest of the night keeping Demyx company on his patrol and taking out their frustration on the hordes of heartless that seemed to infest the lower levels of the city. Demyx made corny jokes, Axel threatened to burn everything down several times, but he didn’t fail to notice the somewhat haunted look to Roxas’ eyes even when he laughed.

It was a week later when the blond finally abandoned everything and left, becoming a renegade.

0o0o0

When Axel returned to the apartment after work the next day, he found it empty. Unsurprised, he set about changing into something relatively more comfortable and scrounging about in the still empty kitchen. He found a plate of leftovers from the night before and popped them in the microwave, idly musing on his dream from the night before.

Roxas… the blond that seemed to occupy all this thoughts. There was hardly a minute that went by that he didn’t think about him. He lived to find him again and every day he thought about throwing caution to the wind and using his portal, damn the consequences. There had to be a way to separate Roxas and Sora, there had to be.

He couldn’t deny that he found himself missing Roxas. The blond might not have been the most amusing of people, Demyx was more the comedian, but he was more than a match for Axel when it came to wits and strength. And there was a quiet calm to Roxas that helped to perfectly balance Axel’s more chaotic and fiery nature. He missed those sarcastic remarks and that all-knowing smirk.

He heard the front door open then and turned towards the hallway to greet Vincent, frowning when his ears registered the slow and laborious tread of Vincent’s boots on the floor. He leaned in the doorway, emerald eyes locked on the sorrowful form of his roommate, even webbed wings drooping noticeably. He distinctly perceived the lack of Quistis as well. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened.

“She did not make it through the Cleansing,” he commented, feeling as if a lead weight had dropped into his stomach. The thought alone was enough to make him sick. He hadn’t known her for long but a certain kinship developed among those with memories on Gaia’s Grotto. They were like a family.

Vincent shook his head, visibly quiet. “No, she did not,” he affirmed, pulling off his cloak and thigh holster to hang them on the pegs near the door.

Axel frowned. “I don’t get it. Why did you take her so early when you made me sit around here and contemplate it for at least two days?”

“She insisted,” the winged male replied, heading down the hallway towards his room. Axel and his curiosity were compelled to follow. “I had hoped she was strong enough. She certainly seemed to care for Irvine.” He pushed open his door with an audible squeak, entering into the darkly decorated bedroom and heading straight for the closet.

Axel paused in the doorway, watching Vincent’s movements with confusion. What was the man doing? He observed silently as Vincent pulled open the closet, searching with sharp crimson eyes before pulling down a box from the top shelf. It wasn’t overly large, probably about the size of a tennis shoe box. Something rattled within as Vincent held it, the sound of metal striking metal as well as a few bells chiming. Curiouser and curiouser.

Vincent backed towards his bed, sitting gracefully on it as he set the box down in front of him. “What’s that?” questioned the fire starter, insanely curious.

“Forgotten memories, too weak to last,” murmured the winged man, hand disappearing into his pants pocket, apparently searching for something.

Axel rolled his eyes. “Great, going poetic on me again,” he sniped. “That explains everything.”

Crimson eyes glared as Vincent eyed him with irritation. “Come see for yourself,” he replied shortly before lifting the top off the box, looking down into it as a wave of sorrow washed over his features.

Intrigued, Axel stepped into the room, standing behind Vincent and looking over his shoulder into the box. It was filled with oddities, many different items of conflicting shapes, colors, and sizes. He caught sight of a large necklace, formed from crystal and shaped like a falcon’s claw. There was a ring with what appeared to be a wolf’s head adorning it. There was a bracelet of jewels imbedded in silver. Vincent dropped something else into the box, a few engraved bullets with the letters ‘I.K.’ They clanged against the necklace, knocking it aside and revealing something beneath that immediately caught Axel’s attention.

“There are those that I have saved that didn’t last the Cleanser,” Vincent explained, his voice soft. “These are all the remnants of their memories. Items that no longer matter since they have forgotten who they were.” A clawed finger poked through the objects, stirring them about as he touched one at a time. The digit fell on the wolf ring. “This belonged to someone I knew. He loved wolves, said they were the elite of all carnivores.”

Axel sucked in a breath, moving around Vincent to plop down on the bed. “These are all someone elses’ mementos?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes. Your key chain would have joined the box had you succumbed to the Cleanser.”

“There are a lot,” Axel commented, reaching into the box to grab the item that had caught his interest. His fingers wrapped a simple gold band; the type men wore as wedding rings. “I know this one.”

The winged male raised a brow. “That’s impossible, Axel. That one was left behind over half a year ago.” He peered at the gold ring, trying to remember whom it had belonged to.

Axel made a noncommittal sound in his throat, eyes locked on the simple band. Without thought, he put it on his ring finger, seemingly trapped in a memory that only he could see. But not something from his time as a Nobody, but before that, when he was someone other than Axel. Bright laughter, a ruby smile, sparkling grey eyes… A life he had nearly completely forgotten because he was no longer that person anymore.

He rarely, if ever, thought about his life when he was ‘Lae’ simply because, of his memories, they were easiest forgotten. He wasn’t that person anymore; he wasn’t a part of Lae despite sharing the man’s memories. Things were too complicated for a former Nobody. He preferred to only concentrate on what he experienced as ‘Axel,’ such as Roxas.

But the ring… he couldn’t deny that it felt so familiar on his finger. That meant that Lae, as a heartless, must have been destroyed and probably not long after Axel was born. His former other half was somewhere on Gaia’s Grotto, if he wasn’t already dead.

“Axel?”

Emerald eyes blinked as Axel pulled off the ring and tossed it back into the box, running a shaky hand through his hair. “Some things are better left forgotten,” he commented, shooting an uncertain look towards his roommate.

Vincent nodded. “Yes, they are,” he agreed, shutting the lid to the box as he rose to his feet. “That is why many choose to forget. They believe that what they left behind isn’t worth saving. Those that were considered ‘evil’ or ‘the bad guys’ are usually happy for the second chance.” He slid the box back onto the top shelf, shifting some more items until they obscured the memento carton. His voice was somber, tired, definitely lacking in its usual impassivity. “Still, it doesn’t get any easier watching someone lose their chance.”

– – – – –

A few nights later…

The sound of the front door opening awoke him from his sleep, but why he was not certain. Axel blinked, blearily glancing at the luminescent clock on his wall, briefly realizing that he had unintentionally fallen asleep while reading. It was late, but around the time that Vincent would be getting off his shift. He shifted in his position on the bed, the book lying on his chest falling to the floor as his gaze fell on his bedroom door hanging half open. He usually didn’t bother to close it.

He could hear Vincent shuffling about in the outer room, a strange feeling of foreboding creeping down his spine. Frowning against the darkness, Axel threw back the covers and slipped out of bed, padding over to the door. He pulled it open all the way and peered down the hall, finding Vincent hanging the holster for his gun on the hook by the door before heading down the hall.

The winged male looked much the worst for wear. His normally immaculate clothing was torn and spattered with blood, some of the crimson fluid sprinkled across Vincent’s pale face. A shadow of a bruise was beginning to form on the flesh of an exposed collarbone and he walked slightly belabored, as if he had twisted his ankle or been struck in the leg.

Axel furrowed his brow, leaning on the doorframe and regarding Vincent with curious emerald eyes as the older man passed him. “Vincent?” he questioned, concern beginning to well inside of him. The winged male did not look well at all. He had never seen Vincent, in the short time that they had been living together, with either that look on or his face or exhibiting this sort of strange behavior.

Crimson eyes shifted towards him for only a moment, looking haunted and lifeless before they returned to the hall. Vincent went straight to the bathroom. “Go to sleep, Axel,” he brushed him off in a dead voice before disappearing inside, the door closing behind him with a barely audible click.

Axel watched as the light flickered on inside, a thin strip of pale luminescence appearing beneath the door, briefly blocked by a shadow. Slightly annoyed at the rebuff, the redhead pushed down his concern and slipped back into his room, shutting the door to his bedroom with a bit more force than he intended. Okay, perhaps he was more than slightly annoyed but really irritated. He had thought that in the past two months, he and Vincent had gotten beyond that “it’s my business” stage. Sure they both had their secrets but still… it irked him.

The tattooed man plopped back down on the bed, folding his arms behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling. Sleep was already trying to tug him back and he was more than willing to comply. It seemed that the memory beasts were being a lot more active lately and he and Reno had to fend off more attacks than usual which seemed to coincide with Vincent’s story. He was so tired he hadn’t even been able to get any research done. Emerald eyes closed as his body slowly relaxed, drifting into a hazy sleep.

Crash! His eyes popped upon once more as he sat up swiftly in surprise.

Crash, crash! The noise of something breaking reverberated all around him, seeming to come from the bathroom where Vincent was. It sounded like glass shattering, which was probably the mirror. Axel frowned, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, determined to check on his roommate. There was something wrong, he was certain of it.

Pulling open his door, Axel peered into the hallway, the slim line of light still beamed from the bottom of the bathroom. Steeling himself, he crossed the hall and listened intently at the door, but heard nothing within except perhaps the sound of harsh breathing. After a moment, he lifted his fist and knocked.

“Go away,” was the low and sullen response. Vincent’s voice was hoarse; however, and the note of annoyance in his tone was enough to cause Axel to recoil.

“No,” responded the red-haired man, jiggling the knob only to find that the door was locked. He had expected that. “What’s wrong?”

A moment of silence. He heard rustling, the shifting of something, than the sound of feet stepping on cracked and broken glass. “Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

Axel grit his teeth, eyes narrowing to thin emerald slits. “Dammit, Vincent,” he snapped, banging a fist on the door. “Don’t shut me out. What the hell is wrong with you?”

The door swung open in a vicious, sharp movement, Vincent appearing like a crimson and black shadow. Axel couldn’t see his face; the bathroom light shining in his eyes but those strange scarlet eyes seemed to glow in an eerie fashion. “I am fine,” hissed the older male. “You have to work early tomorrow, Axel. Go to sleep,” he ordered before pulling the door shut behind him and stalking towards his room. His condition had not improved, that much Axel could tell. His clothes ragged, his leg still limping and the acrid, bitter smell of blood was light on the air.

Pursing his lips, Axel bit back a sharp retort, furious with the abrupt dismissal. He risked a glance into the bathroom, seeing the broken mirror on the floor but ignoring it.

“Fine,” he muttered to himself, whirling on his heels and heading towards his room. “He wants to act like a prissy bitch, I have no problem with that,” he continued, snarling as he yanked open his door again, slamming it shut so hard that the pictures on his wall rattled. One even lost its battle against gravity and crashed to the floor, miraculously managing not to break. He barely cast the object a cursory glance before making his way back to his bed and flopping down on it without care.

He heard the faint sounds of Vincent preparing for bed but shoved a pillow over his head, feigning apathy. Axel planned on confronting the winged man the next day, perhaps when he wasn’t so angry and tired. Not to mention someone had to clean up the glass and he’d be damned if he’d do it since he wasn’t the one to make the mess. But what had happened to cause Vincent to act in such a way? Something related to the past? Or perhaps his job? Axel couldn’t be sure.

He did know; however, that him worrying about it at one in the morning served no purpose. With that in mind, he pulled the edge of a coverlet briefly over his body, buried his head beneath the pillow and attempted to return to sleep. He was not disappointed.

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