Interlude Four – Realizations
~ Part One ~
He spent most of his cognizant time observing Riku and Sora. He watched how they interacted; he felt everything Sora felt. It was both weird and yet… strangely revealing as well. He could not distinguish between his own emotions and Sora’s yet, but there was something that rang true inside of him. Something that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was his and his alone.
Maybe what he had always wanted when he looked into emerald eyes and felt a strange twinge, was the same thing that Riku and Sora shared. Friendship was simply not enough and even though he knew it was impossible, that Axel was dead and gone, there was a part of him that still dared to hope.
The foolish, foolish beat of his heart.
There had always been something undeniably gravitating about Axel. He pushed his way into Roxas’ life without permission and without apology. He was arrogant and he was rude, he was fire to Roxas’ ice and never took no for an answer. In many ways, he was the perfect balance for everything Roxas was.
Roxas had tried to push him away at first. Too consumed by his own concerns, such as his identity and his purpose. He had been wrapped up in the feeling of aching inside of him, the longing for something, even if he didn’t know or couldn’t remember what it was. He always felt unwhole, incomplete, as if he was constantly searching for a piece of something that had been forgotten.
But Axel never took no for an answer. That was they type of guy he was. He would lug Roxas out of his misery and broody thoughts, and into the world, often times dragging Demyx along for the ride. Axel was nothing if not persistent and Roxas had learned quickly that as much as he considered himself stubborn, Axel had him beat. He stopped trying to run Axel off and started accepting his presence.
It wasn’t until it was much too late that he realized the only time the aching faded was when he was with Axel. The firestarter was spontaneous and fun, he was the very epitome of his element and he was very nearly fearless. He didn’t care what others thought about him and he had his own goals, his own designs.
Roxas could still remember the night Axel told him about wanting to find a way to leave Xemnas and the others, to exist somewhere on their own. He had been idealistic like that, thinking that a part of them truly did exist and that there was something better out there for nothings like them.
Watching Riku and Sora together, experiencing everything even though he didn’t want to… it gave him ideas. He wondered what it would have been like to kiss Axel. Would the flavors be the same? Would Axel have soft lips, would it be like trying to tame an inferno? He had to admit to himself that he wanted to find out. There were times he cursed himself for being too rash and never taking the chance before he left.
He wondered if Axel would have returned his feelings, or if he only ever considered them as friends. But now, it was much too late, and he would never get the chance to find out.
Axel was dead and he was trapped within Sora, alive and yet not. Forever bonded to his other half and slowly losing himself as their minds melded into one. He couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it would last. How long it would take before his thoughts wouldn’t be his own anymore.
What would be the last thing on his mind before everything that made him ‘Roxas’ faded away?
He wondered why he even bothered to care when there was nothing left for him in the world anyways, other than freedom. He wasn’t like Axel; he didn’t have those ideals, those hopes. He preferred to cling to what was rational, what was right before his eyes, and what was plausible.
He didn’t dare hope for fear that his fragile dream would shatter.
Wishes had been broken, left into shambles and he didn’t even bother to make them anymore. He stopped looking at the stars, even when Sora’s eyes were watching them with his own special brand of hope and happiness. He stopped reminding himself of things that could have been or should have been, stopped berating himself for mistakes that he had made since it was likely he wouldn’t remember there had ever been a person that quasi-existed to make them.
Namine was right after all. There really wasn’t anything left for him to look for. Not with his best friend dead and gone.
Why bother trying to find his own heart when he had no one left to give it to?
~ Part Two ~
It woke him up in the middle of the night, knocking in his chest and sending him gasping for breath. It wasn’t a scary feeling, or one of worry, like the world was coming to an end sometime soon. No, it was more of a pressing matter, or an urgent, desperate desire to be somewhere else but his bed in Destiny Island.
Riku hadn’t woken up at first, murmuring something intelligible and mumbling back into his pillow. His hands had groped at empty air, as if missing Sora’s body but he seemed oblivious to his lover’s plight. To the strange urgings that wracked Sora so badly he couldn’t even sleep.
He couldn’t explain, he wasn’t sure he could even try. Something was resonating inside of him, calling strangely, and it was similar to what he had experienced nearly a year ago. When he’d had that strange dream.
Sora rolled out of the bed, feet taking him automatically to the window where he threw open the two panes. He sucked in gulping breaths of the fresh air, smelling of seawater as always, but it couldn’t ease the knocking deep inside of him. There was longing there. And urgency. And a desire to leave.
He suddenly wondered how Leon was doing. The want to travel fluttered strongly in his belly; a desire to jump into his carefully hidden gummi ship and go immediately to Radiant Garden, despite the fact that school was scheduled to begin in just a few weeks. He didn’t know how to explain it. It wasn’t the flaring instincts of battle, nor did he believe that the heartless had returned, but still…
Hands slid around his waist from behind as Riku set his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder, concern etched into his features. “You couldn’t sleep,” he murmured softly, gazing past him at the darkened night sky, the moon reflecting off the ocean’s water.
The brunet didn’t speak, however, as he continued to breathe raggedly, one hand still clutched onto the filmy curtains.
Riku’s brow furrowed in worry. He stroked a thumb over his lover’s exposed belly, trying to capture his attention. His boyfriend had been acting strangely lately and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. And there were times he looked into Sora’s eyes and swore someone else was staring back at him. Enough that it sent chills down his spine.
Ocean-blue eyes blinked, as if coming out of a dream. “We need to go,” he said softly, a strange timbre to his voice as he stared out the window. A brief breeze fluttered through, ruffling sleep-limp brown spikes.
“Go?” Riku repeated, slightly confused.
Sora nodded, the tips of his hair brushing against Riku’s face. “To Radiant Garden. I don’t know why but,” he paused, sucking in a deep breath before turning to face his boyfriend. “Something inside me tells me that something is waiting for us there.”
Riku tilted his head in thought before nodding slowly. “Okay,” he agreed unhurriedly, hands unconsciously tightening around Sora’s waist. He didn’t know why, but a strange fear that something… difficult was coming suddenly attacked him and he didn’t want to let go. He didn’t know how to explain it, but he had the terrible notion that everything odd that had been occurring recently was about to explained. He had the feeling he wasn’t going to like it in the slightest.
“You know I trust your instincts. When?”
A smile broke out on his lover’s face, the familiar joyful grin that he was used to as Sora leaned in for a quick kiss. “As soon as possible,” Sora murmured, his lips brushing across Riku’s as his eyes sparkled with the familiar Sora glow.
Inwardly, the silver-haired boy sighed with relief. He was never quite sure how to act when Sora was in one of his strangely behaving moods. “Can we go back to sleep first?” he returned jokingly, nipping gently on Sora’s bottom lip in retaliation.
Curious, questing hands slid to the band of Riku’s sleeping shorts, giving them a none-too-subtle tug. “You sure you want to sleep?”
The sudden change in personality, from dark contemplation to playful seduction would have startled Riku if he hadn’t already been getting used to Sora’s strange behavior. He just accepted the return to Normal Sora with as much grace as he could muster and smiled wickedly, yanking their bodies together. His eyes darted to the clock, a little after three in the morning. Eh, who needed sleep anyways?
“I’m sure you could convince me otherwise,” Riku muttered, dipping his head to run his tongue up a bare expanse of tanned neck.
Sora shuddered in his hold, the slight moan that escaped his mouth enough to send a warming shiver straight down Riku’s spine and all his blood rushing downwards. It spurred him onwards, causing him to forget for the time being of the foreboding that hung over his head or the odd feeling of standing on a precipice, simply waiting for something to happen.
Instead of considering all of those stressful things he pushed his boyfriend forwards with gentle movements to the window seat, his mouth devouring inches and inches of summer-tanned skin. For people like him, keybladers with a constant task of saving the world, Riku was one to take every moment he could get.
Even if he would be leaving in a few hours to do it all over again.
~ Part Three ~
He didn’t think it would be easy.
But he never thought it would be this hard either.
He was so close, within an arm’s reach, and yet, Vincent couldn’t touch him. He could look, but his clawed fingers remained firmly at his side. He could stare with hungry eyes and an aching heart, he could long with every inch of his being but in the end, it didn’t really matter because he had been forgotten.
Eleven years. Only a little under eleven years had passed for Cid while Vincent had wallowed in depression and struggled to live for almost sixteen. It made him feel as if there was some cruel god out there that truly hated him and his existence. Because surely, no man deserved as much as he had been forced to suffer.
And yet, Cid looked well, he was glad for that. In his absence, the gummi ship builder had stopped smoking cigarettes and had gotten in shape. He did look more tired, but that could be due to all the troubles that had wracked the world. Cid and Leon were working hard together to restore everything that Ansem in his curiosity had destroyed.
Everyone blamed Ansem, Vincent had noticed… but no one seemed to remember the mad scientist who had led Ansem on his path. Everyone had forgotten the man and the woman that had started it all. Vincent was the only one who remembered the truth and he had the proof on his body, the wings and the claws and the fangs that would never fade.
Lucrecia had been the one to ask him to take part in the experiment. He had been interested by what they had explained to him. He had thought he was benefiting mankind.
He hadn’t known that Hojo held an irrational hatred for him.
He should have listened to Zack and Cid when he had the chance. But Lucrecia had been his best friend. They had grown up next to each other their entire lives and she was like a sister to him. For the good of everybody, what was his time but a small price to pay? He hadn’t known that he would have to give up his humanity as well.
To the outside world, Vincent had simply gone missing. They didn’t know that it wasn’t by choice. True he had not wanted to return out of fear for their responses to the changes, but even more important was that he hadn’t been allowed to leave. When Hojo and Lucrecia disappeared not but three weeks after Xehanort started his secret experimentation, he started making his plans for escape.
But it had been too little, too late.
Not long after their world had been swallowed by the Heartless and in his rush to return home, desperate to be sure that his brother and lover were safe, some citizen had struck him from behind. In the panic and the confusion, it was easy enough to understand why he had been taken for a Heartless. He didn’t blame the civilian. No, his hatred rested with the missing Hojo, a man whom he strongly suspected was part of the power behind the new council on Gaia’s Grotto. He had no proof other than the cold shudder that raced down his spine every time he heard the man’s voice.
Either way, it was his connection to Hojo and Ansem that gave him access to so much information regarding keyblades, Nobodies, Heartless, everything. It was through listening to one of Hojo’s many rants while wallowing in the misery of his situation that he had learned of the properties of the keyblades. How there were four different types, the keyblade of light which could purify a heart, the keyblade of dark which could separate a heart, the keyblade of dawn that walked the path of in-between and the keyblade of twilight, which no one had yet seen. The properties of the twilight were still unknown.
He sincerely hoped that Axel would find a way to Roxas. If one good thing managed to come out of their escape, then Vincent could consider his existence a worthwhile venture. It was hard to accept that the very reason that had driven him forward no longer remembered his name.
He knew that Axel didn’t understand why he didn’t just come right out and tell everybody whom he was. There was the risk that they still wouldn’t remember if he did so, which would hurt even more. But the pain of that wasn’t what he feared. The rejection in those startlingly bright sky blue eyes. The subtle recoiling of the only man he had ever loved. They were things he knew he couldn’t bear.
Sometimes love wasn’t enough. He had learned that from watching his parents.
Axel considered him a coward, and perhaps the boy was right in some way. He had a point in that if Vincent didn’t take the chance, then he would forever hate himself for doing so. He was probably right, but that didn’t make it any easier for him to speak the words or even allow Axel to do so. Not to mention that there was always the risk that if Cid was reminded before his mind was ready to accept the return of the memories, it would cause his mind to shut down, possibly forever.
No, he preferred that Cid remember on his own. Perhaps it was selfish of him to want that. After all he had suffered to find his way back home, clinging to nightmares and tortures because they helped him remember and pretending to be an emotionless being… he felt somewhat cheated. That while he had endured the distance between them, endured being without Cid’s touch, Cid had forgotten about him.
He’d had it easy.
Vincent didn’t want to admit it, but it was the truth. A part of him was angry with Cid. Angry that the man he loved didn’t seem to hold the same depth of love for him in return. Or maybe he was underestimating the power of whatever magic held Gaia’s Grotto in thrall. But he had wanted to believe that Cid wouldn’t forget him, that when he came home, there would be arms there to welcome him.
Only there hadn’t been. He had been greeted with weapons and expressions of hatred for his appearance.
It was strange, he had escaped from Gaia’s Grotto but he was left essentially in the same position. Clinging to memories of what had been and hoping for what might be, if he ever found the courage or if those eyes ever turned to him in recognition. He remembered calloused hands sliding over his body, murmured words in his ear late at night, laughter over a hastily cooked breakfast… talk of building their own house together on the edge of Radiant Garden.
He even remembered the promise. Which was odd. Because despite not remembering him, Cid had stopped smoking. He had kept his part of the bargain subconsciously, and it was that which Vincent clung to. That hope that maybe, somewhere buried deep beneath and inside Cid, he remembered his lover.
That Cid remembered the boy he had saved and helped turn into a man.
So Vincent watched from a distance, watched as Axel failed time and time again to remind Cid of his past without directly telling him. And with every failure, he died a little more inside.
Hope was a fragile dream, at best and he couldn’t help but wonder how long he had the strength to cling to it.
He wondered how long it would take for him to fall.
~ Part Four ~
Leon sighed as he looked out the window, watching Axel valiantly stroll determinedly after a very annoyed and equally determined Cid, the two of them heading towards the gummi ship hangars. Axel still hadn’t won over the other man, and Leon wasn’t entirely too sure that he was trying particularly hard. As it seemed, Axel was focused on asking Cid strange questions that tended to make the blond even surlier than usual.
He had accidentally eavesdropped on one such instance, when Axel had doggedly questioned Cid about the abandoned gun shop in town. It had been boarded up since they had returned since no one came to claim it. And strangely, no one could quite remember who had owned it either. Leon thought he might have recalled someone, on the edge of his memory. But it was all too fleeting and he couldn’t grasp hold of the face.
Not that it mattered. It wasn’t high on his list of importance.
A frown flitted across Leon’s face as Cid and Axel disappeared over a rise in the road and he idly wondered where Ceran was. The winged man had taken to hiding in his room, or within some darkened corner, often refusing to come out and speak to anyone. Aeris could usually coax him into conversation if she tried and Merlin was particularly gifted at convincing him to join the others for civilized meals at the table. But otherwise, Ceran kept to himself.
Leon still wasn’t sure what he thought about his guests and their rather abrupt appearance into his life. Merlin said to trust them and Aeris, usually the most intuitive of them when it came to others, seemed to believe that there was something to trust in them as well. But he couldn’t deny that Ceran gave him odd echoes of familiarity, despite the fact that he couldn’t place the man’s face. Not to mention his similarity to a Heartless.
How did a human come to possess wings and claws? He was certain there was a story in it, not that Ceran was being particularly forthcoming with the information. Honestly, the other man was downright surly when anyone asked. It was about the only time he showed emotion. Other than when he was staring at Cid with a look that Leon almost believed was longing.
Axel was a different story. He was rude and annoying, pressing when he had no right and seemed to take great pleasure in pushing Leon’s buttons, much like Yuffie. He was startlingly perceptive and just one look into those sharp emerald eyes made Leon feel as if he was silently being appraised and found wanting. There was something familiar about Axel as well. Not the man himself, just his… presence, for lack of a better word. It was hard to explain to anyone, so he refrained from doing so, but Leon was bothered by what Axel wanted.
He still didn’t trust that the red-haired man was not going to hurt Sora. There was something alluringly dangerous about Axel and it was that which kept Leon constantly on edge yet he had no real proof.
It made him half-wish that Cloud was there. The blond always had a different way of looking at things, a strange way of evaluating people. Leon couldn’t help but wonder what the missing man would have thought of the strangers. Often times he had relied on Cloud’s senses rather than his own and it was with a slight frown that he realized he wished Cloud was there with him. It simply didn’t seem fair.
He always did such things, rushing off into battle with no thought as to what or whom he was leaving behind. Leon didn’t understand, especially since Cloud never thought to explain anything. Sephiroth was his darkness; Cloud was searching for his light. It was ludicrous. Everyone knew that the silver-haired man was only baiting Cloud, trying to draw him into his vicious and seductive little web but the only one that couldn’t see it was Cloud himself.
He was blind to the so-called light that had always been standing right in front of him.
Leon wasn’t about to reveal the truth to anyone else, but he did miss Cloud and probably wished stronger than any of the others that the blond would return. Without Ansem, without a king, there was no one left to lead the people of Radiant Garden and Leon had been thrust into that position without his permission. He was left tottering on booted feet, wondering how the hell he was going to feed and protect everyone. How the hell he was going to make sure that everyone had clothes and rebuild homes. It was tiring, it was depressing… and it was lonely.
While the others were very good support and very dear to him, there was still that element of connection that was missing. Aeris was like an older sister to him, Yuffie the younger sister that annoyed him. Cid was the gruff uncle and perhaps the one Leon was closest to while Merlin was like a matronly grandfather to their entire lot. Cloud had always been different for him, even if Leon never told him, which was probably his biggest mistake.
Perhaps if he had, Cloud would have been more inclined to stay.
Behind him, the door swung open with a very loud creak only to slam against the wall, announcing the presence of someone. With very little options, Leon could only assume it was Yuffie and heaved an insufferable sigh. He really wasn’t in the mood to put up with her antics at the present moment. Not that anything he would have said would have deterred her in the slightest.
“Leon,” she chirped happily, strolling into his bedroom as if it were hers and not, in fact, his. “Whatcha doin’?” Her query floated towards him as she stepped up beside him, her brown eyes gazing out the same window as he.
He grunted and shot her a look, hoping that his wordless reply would be enough to send her away. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. It was a gamble either time.
The silence lasted for all of a minute before she bouncily pulled her body onto the window seat and perched there comfortably, a strange look on her face. “Cid’s even grumpier than usual,” she announced, as if there was nothing more important in the world.
“So I’ve noticed,” he responded dryly.
“You’re not worried?”
Leon shook his head, turning away from the window. “Cid’s crankiness is none of my business.”
She eyed him curiously. “Even if it has something to do with Ceran and Axel?”
“Especially because of that.” He paused as he stood in front of his dresser, eyes inexplicably falling on an old picture. So old it was from before King Ansem discovered the Heartless. It was a miracle he had found it in his old home, completely unharmed. The picture itself was really nothing special. Most of them weren’t even looking at the camera, yet they were all there and it was the expressions in their faces, in their bodies, that told the tale.
Yuffie clinging to his leg, Leon trying to get away from her and looking towards Cloud in exasperation, who was laughing, generally more carefree than the sulky and depressed man he was now. Aeris was sitting beneath a tree, painting a picture. Cid was in an argument with someone off camera. Leon cocked his head to the side in sudden question. Why it hadn’t occurred to him before, he wasn’t sure. But he realized that he didn’t even know who it was that took the picture.
“You miss him, huh?”
He was startled as Yuffie’s voice appeared right at his side. He jerked, turning to find her standing right next to him as her eyes raked over the picture. Leon’s hand came out before he knew what he was doing, slapping the frame so that it was face down. He winced as it snapped loudly and hoped that the glass didn’t crack.
“Didn’t Aeris tell you to help her make dinner?” he muttered, shifting away from the self-proclaimed ninja to head to the door.
Behind him, Yuffie humphed as she followed. “It’s noon, Squeon. Not quite time to start dinner just yet.” She was right on his heels as he headed down the stairs, boots clomping loudly on the uncarpeted wood. “Why won’t you just admit it?”
“Admit what?” he mumbled, only half-listening to her.
She rolled her eyes at him. “You males are impossible,” she grumbled before abruptly reaching up and smacking him across the back of his head. “Cloud, of course, Leon. You miss him. We all see it so stop trying to hide it.”
He rubbed his head, shooting her one of his potent, icy cold glares.
Yuffie, predictably, was unperturbed as she frowned and planted her hands on her hips. “I’m young but I’m not stupid. Maybe if you tried giving him a reason, Cloud would give up on Sephiroth and come back,” she reprimanded him in a tone that eerily reminded him of Aeris. Perhaps the two females had been spending too much time together.
“But I know that won’t happen,” she continued as she whirled on her heel and began stalking towards the kitchen. “You’re a coward and hard-headed to boot,” she threw over her shoulder with a departing snort.
He watched her go with mixed feelings of relief and unease. She was right in many ways. Were it not for his fear of rejection, he would have said something to Cloud a long time ago. Instead his feelings had grown silently and steadily stronger as he longed from afar, always acting the part of the broody, fragile man.
With a sigh, Leon rubbed a few fingers across his forehead before heading out the front door. There was work to be done; he hadn’t the time for idle thoughts of things that could have been. All he had was the future and with any small measure of hope, he believed that he still had a chance.
Even men like him were allowed to dream.