My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 20

The blow never comes.

For what feels like an eternity, Roxas stays crouched here he is, Sora curled into him; Roxas cloak covering them both, rippling shadows.

Was Xemnas waiting for them to look up? Was it that he wanted them to see it coming?

Roxas refuses. He will not lift his gaze. He won't give Xemnas the satisfaction of seeing the terror on their faces.

His thoughts, those that will surely be their last, goes to Sora and his efforts to save Sora.

With Zexion lifting the curse from him, Roxas devised a plan to use the rock to his advantage. If there's one of few things Roxas can do, it's think on his feet. He tried to use Xemnas to crack the boulder enough that it will tip, but gave little thought at which way it would fall, let alone if it would crush him and Sora in the process. He had tried to protect Sora and failed. Tears sting his eyes as he tightens his grip on Sora, who doesn't say a word even though Roxas knows his grip is probably too tight.

Sora curls into Roxas' chest, gripping his wound to try and stop the bleeding in his already spreading pool of blood. The scent of crimson is everywhere, like putting a copper penny in his mouth when he was a kid. And yet . . . he's happy. Sora is actually happy. Whatever horror he's been through, whatever torture and death he had brought with him, here, in this moment, Roxas tried to protect him.

Sora shifts his eyes in the direction of his brother next to him. Roxas' hair is ruffled messily, small tips dipped with blood and his bangs plastered to his forehead with sweat. His eyes are squeezed shut, a small stream of blood coming from his nose. His face bruised and already turning purple and blue.

Sora can for once feel their brotherly connection. For the first time.

Roxas with cuts and scars, a wound that's been reopened in his shoulder is starting to dry, burned flesh wafting to Sora's nose. A cut just above his temple streams blood down his face, mixing with what looks like tears.

Sora with his ribs pouring blood, cuts along his wrists and bruising patterning his arms and neck; the slight stinging of cuts on his face.

All the pain and truth, they will wear like battle wounds. They are broken and bruised.

But they are warriors. Survivors. They have thicker skin, stronger than they've ever been.

They're survivors in more ways than anyone will know.

Finally Roxas decides to look up and finds Xemnas gone. He slowly releases Sora, who slowly blooms from Roxas' cloak. They both look around, the deep blue darkness has since lightened, evidenced that the dawn is doing its best to push back the curtain of night.

The stone obelisk that Zexion had projected cracked and tipped over forward. The top of it is a foot from Roxas' head. One would expect a wave of nausea to wash over the boys at the sight they soon find, but nothing happened.

Blood has splattered everywhere, minimal drops on the boys, but it blossoms out like a rose in bloom from beneath the obelisk. A few pieces of it cracked to where Sora and Roxas can make out Xemnas' body. Or at least what they can, the only thing that lives to see the daylight is an arm with his blade limp at his side.

Sora lightly scooches back carefully, but still a few pebbles and rocks roll and fall off the obelisk and go to cover the rest of his body. His grip tight on Roxas tunic, Sora leans into Roxas, and he feels Roxas' hand rest between his shoulder blades.

As Roxas is about to speak in what feels like forever, he suddenly feels Sora slack in his arms. "Sora? Sora?!"

Roxas holds the brunette in his arms, and feels his blood run cold at the sight of how pale his skin is slowly becoming. Small droplet of blood poke through the corner of his lips and his eyes begin to roll to the back of his head.

"Sora!" Roxas screams.

Sora begins to cough and make a choking noise that shivers Roxas. He looks down and finds them in a puddle of Sora's blood. Roxas feels his body numb. He remembers from a lesson with Vexen that if a pool of blood reaches a certain size, there's no going back. It hasn't reached that size yet, but it's close.

"No. No, no, no. Sora!" Roxas screams. "Axel! Demyx!"

Demyx comes forth, but Axel is still nowhere to be seen. Zexion comes up behind him, his book slung on his belt across his waist. Several men still struggle to their feet, the King standing aside, as if keeping his distance from a pair of lion cubs.

Axel suddenly comes up from behind Demyx and Zexion. He has smudged marks on his face, he smells of singed hair and he carries nearly three times the supplies from before. Something's happened, and Roxas would question him, but is too focused on his brother dying in his arms.

"Zexion!" Roxas squeals. "Help him! Please! You can heal him!"

Zexion's eye widens in surprise, his eyebrow furrowing in worry. He looks to Demyx who only offers an urgent look.

"Please! Please help him!" Roxas begs.

Roxas can see the wounds where the blood is leaking. Sora's one hand slacking on its job of covering the gash. Zexion brushes his hair out of his eye, only to have it sweep back seconds later as he kneels down next to Sora. For a moment, as Zexion peels off his gloves, Roxas is hesitant to even let him near Sora; seeing as how he could easily use a spell to kill Sora. But seeing as how he had betrayed Xemnas in battle, Roxas decides to trust him. Besides, with Sora's life on the line, and his knowledge of magic so little, Roxas doesn't have a choice.

The book's spine makes a soft creaking noise as he pulls it open all the way. It goes easily, as though the pages send more time being pinned apart than clamped together.

Purple writing covers every inch of white paper. What was Zexion's deal with purple ink anyway? But it is the most beautiful handwriting Roxas has ever seen. Each loop and every curl connects cleanly to make the writing itself appear as perfect and uniform as a stamp font. It always baffled Roxas how Zexion could sit and take his time to perform letters so meticulously.

In some places there are big spaces where he has written around drawings. There are more like loose sketches, actually, the lines never certain but nevertheless making pictures. They are strange sketches too. People with heads chopped off and whole pieces of their faces missing, like they are made of glass.

Roxas continuously pats Sora's cheek, his eyes fluttering every time and moaning in almost annoyance. "Come on, Sora. Stay with me. Come on."

Sora only moans in reply. When Zexion flips to the desired page, he sets the book aside and presses his palms together as if in prayer. His eyes then glow a soft heavenly white, his hair billowing out around his head as if he is submerged underwater. As he drags his hands apart, there's a long streaming mist-like strand that spreads out around Sora's body like ropes.

"Retnia ocart, oh-heara verbs refedlia tear." Zexion mumbles as the ropes start to glow brightly. Roxas clutches Sora carefully as Zexion closes his eyes and begins to wave his hand over Sora's body.

Starting at the legs, Zexion maneuvers and weaves his hands over Sora and rotates his hands in circles over Sora; his eyes that continuous glow of white.

After about a minute, Zexion's eyes go normal, and his face hardens.

Roxas feels his body grow cold as the dead.

"Zexion?" he whimpers.

Zexion casts his eyes to the ground and shakes his head. "Something's, not right."

"What? I don't understand, what is it?!"

"I wish I knew."

"What do you mean you don't know?!" Roxas barks. "You can't help him?!"

"Perhaps his wounds were too great."

Roxas begins to heave breathes and starts having the symptoms of a panic attack. "No." he breathes. "No, no, no."

Roxas, of whom Axel has never seen cry before, has tears in his eyes. This astounds Axel. Even when Roxas was a boy, training with man's weapons, witnessing horrors that would scar even the most strong-willed of men, not once has a single tear or sign of remorse and regret has pierced through. Though now with his past in shambles and a new one looking bleak, it is enough to make even the coldest of men shatter their icy silence.

Axel gazes around at the clearing. Bodies scattered around, but still his eyes manage to find the bodies of his former teammates. He expects there to be some form of grief and sadness, but there is nothing.

It still shocks him, despite his many years of watching him train, that Roxas nearly single-handedly took down the entire organization. Blades embedded in chests, blood spilling from open wounds.

In a sense, Roxas has literally destroyed his own past. There's nothing left for him.

Nothing.

Then again, the underworld has no mercy. Knows no peace. And fears no man.

Roxas pulls Sora into his chest and nuzzles into the crown of Sora's head. He feels a gentle hand suddenly brush his arm. Roxas looks down at Sora, his eyes barely open.

"Roxas." His voice barely above a whisper. Blood still dropping from the corner of his mouth.

"Sora." Roxas weeps back. "I'm so sorry. I did this to you." Roxas sniffs. "To us."

Sora leans his head into Roxas' chest and hears his heartbeat, warm and steady beneath his cheek.

"I'm so sorry." Roxas repeats. "I should have believed you. I should have protected you better."

The sun peeks over the horizon and its rays cast over the clearing, wielding away the shadows of the night. Bits catch on the silver of their necklaces and they wink at Roxas, the light barely permeating his eyelids.

"I want you back. I want you back . . . brother."

Sora's hand goes limp.

A tear streams down Roxas' face and drips onto Sora's cheek.

"I love you."

With the warmth of the sun casting over them, the men back up as the King dares approach. Riku not far behind him. Zexion doesn't get up from his position next to the boys. Demyx stands behind him, placing a hand on his shoulder. Roxas can feel his tears

Suddenly, a golden light pokes through Sora's wound in his ribs. Everyone looks as it glows brighter and brighter, slowly starting to wrap around Sora's injuries, a warm buttery glow from within them as if they had their own burning ember inside.

Sora's body lifts slightly out of Roxas' arms and hovers for a moment. The gold enveloping him and after a brief flash of a calming light, he descends back down and there's a faint ringing in the sky, like the sound of trumpets. A tendril swoops by Roxas, and he can feel the gash above his temple beginning to dry. Their necklaces glow a piercing a bright, fluttering at the softest breeze.

Roxas holds Sora, his color seeing to seep back into his face. He carefully pats Sora's shoulder, and the brunette takes a breath.

Sora's flutter eyes open wide, their sky-blue piercing under the gold ring around his pupil.

"Sora?!" Roxas exclaims.

Without waiting for a response, Roxas grips Sora in a deep bear hug.

Sora laughs through a breath and mumbles. "Roxas."

Roxas releases him, his hands holding Sora's forearms until they drift to his hands. He laughs, almost manically as he helps haul Sora to his feet.

"I, I don't understand. Y-You fought Xemnas, stood up against your own father and his men. You basically sacrificed yourself for me." Roxas stutters. "Why?"

Sora laugh at the ground for a moment. "Roxas, you're my brother. I love you."

Roxas' eyes soften, and glisten with moisture as he laughs and looks as Axel's the first to approach the brothers. He holds open one arm and Roxas instantly walks into it, his one hand still holding Sora's. When Axel releases him, Demyx comes over and ruffles his hair, laughing.

He then does the same for Sora, and Sora laughs smacking his hand aside. "Thank you. Thank you both."

"Your brother is yours once more." Axel smiles.

"Thanks to your and your help." Sora bows in respect.

"It was our honor . . ." Demyx grins. "Your majesties."

Demyx and Axel bow in return. Sora looks to Roxas, a smile, as genuine as the sun's light in day, crosses his lips. When Roxas catches him looking, Sora wants to look away, but his lips betray him in goofily smiling, and Roxas once again envelops him in a hug.

Sora laughs. "I thought you weren't a hugger," he teases.

Roxas pulls back and happily smiles. "That was the old me." he states.

He reaches back and brings forth his dagger. It's a menacing thing with a clip-point blade with a serrated edge and smeared with blood. Whether it's from now or years prior, it's obvious the thing has been through its years of blood, battle on hell on earth. The hilt has worn spots from constant grips and faded zirconium gems.

Roxas remembers that Xemnas gave it to him as he was entering his young teen years and he had decided to finally give him a weapon. Despite Roxas wanting to throw away everything having to do with his past, it has value; even if not entirely sentimental.

Still, Roxas spins the blade out, fisting the hilt. After a slight hesitation, he chucks it to the ground and the blade stabs into the grass.

"This is the new me." he says.

Sora smiles and Roxas smiles back, and quickly it's gone as his gaze shifts over Sora's shoulder. Sora looks and finds his father approaching. His face registers blank shock, eyes glassy. He stares, concentrated on Roxas as he carefully comes up to the boys.

Roxas takes a hesitant step back, but Sora takes Roxas' wrist and gives him a gentle and perhaps amused smile and a nod. Roxas lets Sora pull him level with him.

The King walks up, Roxas taking a few brave steps towards him. Sora steps aside as his father is a couple feet in front of Roxas. The King outstretches his hand, carefully as if afraid to touch Roxas; it hovers out in front of him, and Roxas can see it is shaking.

Roxas leans forward and feels the King, his father's fingers brush across his cheek. Involuntarily, his eyes flutter shut and his lip quivers. Roxas would have flinched, but after seeing the deep regret cutting its way through the King's eyes, he manages to fight against it. When he opens them, his father's eyes spill tears and he folds his lips in, as if to try and attempt to suppress the sob the easily breaks through.

"My . . . my son." His lips quiver to say as they struggle between a grin and a frown. "I . . . I'm so sorry . . ."

Roxas can feel he is about to sob, and feels his own emotions beginning to swell and rise from his depths. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be Roxas. But he knows that playing the blame game will solve nothing, so he decides to give in to the one feeling that's been knowing at him since the King saw him for who he is.

Roxas nuzzles into the King's palm and it feels callus, years of hard work thickening the skin, toughening it and yet to Roxas it's the softest and warmest presence he's felt.

Roxas' feet then act without his consent, and he's suddenly steps forward, launching himself into the King's . . . into his father's arms, and begins to sob.

He feels his father's arm embrace him before the sound of the first of many sobs can escape his lips. Roxas can feel the warmth of his father's lips on his head and gently stroking the back of his head. Burying his face into his chest, Roxas blubbers, not even caring who watches.

The feeling of love seeps into his system; ripples, low, soft – like the hushed crackling of an old-fashioned record player just before the music starts. Quieting the tangled mesh of his thoughts, it numbs Roxas like a drug.

"I've missed you . . . father." Roxas manages to put together.

He sniffles and sobs as his father repeatedly alternates between stroking and kissing Roxas' head. How long this goes on, Roxas doesn't know, and doesn't care.

Finally when he releases him, the King keeps one hand on Roxas' shoulder while Sora walks up and he places his other on Sora's shoulder.

"My boys." He speaks, his voice quaking with happiness and excitement. "You're together."

The boys both feel their shoulders squeezed and in unison, they walk into their father and embrace one another. The King sniffles.

"My boys." He speaks. He lifts his head and suddenly shouts. "My boys. My sons. My sons!"

The men erupt in cheers and hollers, punching their fists in the air.

Roxas can see Riku not far from the group and feels his heart sink. He steps away from Sora and his father and carefully walks to Riku. His sudden approach surprises Riku as he raises his eyebrows in curiosity as Roxas approaches.

"Your majesty." Roxas says, his head hanging low. "Riku." Roxas bows to one knee and lowers his head. "My Lord, I've come before you to throw myself upon your mercy and to accept responsibility for my treason." he pleads. "What I have done, is truly unforgivable and deserving of rightful punishment."

There's a moment of silence as Riku gazes down at Roxas with slightly wide-eyes. Sora keeps his gaze on Riku, face worried with his father and Riku both eagerly watching as Roxas has placed the decision up to water.

Riku blinks a couples times before his gaze softens. "Rise, Roxas." He speaks.

Roxas obeys, and wearily lifts his head to face Riku.

"What you did, it is not your fault. You were manipulated against your will, and blinded by the honeyed words of a man who claimed honor mean nothing when having others in the grasp of fear." Riku starts. "But what you did tonight, you showed everyone where your loyalties truly lie, even after so many years of blind allegiance, your origin remains true. And by annihilating Xemnas and his men, you have avenged my father; and in turn, I lift you of your burden. May you no longer feel shame or regret, and may the gods spare you the flames of the Abyss, for you are a hero and belong in the halls of the honored. My brother."

Riku extends out a hand, and after flicking his gaze from the hand to Riku, Roxas takes it and with a firm grip shakes it and smiles.

Sora pats Roxas' shoulder and gives him a shake and the brothers laugh.

Axel thinks now this is the time to approach with his armfuls of extra gear. Roxas is the first to notice and before asking, takes his familiar belt of daggers and hunting bows. He then notices the satchel draped over Axel torso.

"So, what happened?" he softly asks. Axel hands Roxas the satchel and holding it with one arm, Roxas open the flap with his free hand and rummage around through it.

"What's in it?" Sora asks.

Roxas is about to reply, but Axel beats him to it. "Everything I think he's need."

This sentence causes Roxas unease. "What do you mean?" Roxas asks.

Axel looks to him, a little pained, but tells him. "The mansion. I . . . I burned it."

Despite a small kernel of shock and disbelief burrowing in the soil of his sadness, Roxas feels no anger. Perhaps it's because his valuables are here, safe, or because deep down he can't say he'll miss it. "What?"

"I had to, Roxas. Xemans took so much for us. Turned us, you into these monsters nobody care about." Axel slowly says, his voice trying to steady a tremor. "After all, no one would care about a few forgotten murderers."

"Not like there' be anybody to go back to it." Roxas says, casting a glance over his shoulder at the dead members of the organization.

"I hope you understand." Sora suddenly interjects. Roxas looks to him. "I sent him there. And I hope that, you understand why I did."

"I do." Roxas replies.

He continues to dig through the satchel and finds all his old logbooks, including one on poisonous plants and proper stances for weapon handling. There's old clothes unceremoniously stuffed at the bottom, including one of Luxord's old black leather jackets and a deck of his playing cards.

Roxas smiles as he twirls the deck between his fingers, like Luxord showed him how.

"Roxas," Zexion's soft voice speaks. "I hope, that you will forgive me for what I did. I . . . won't make excuses, but just know that I regret it."

He turns to find Zenxion standing ridig, arms plastered to his side, and as he speaks, he lowers his head to bow. Roxas smiles softly. "All is forgiven. Just as I have, you've proven where your loyalties lie, Zexion. And for your aid have my thanks."

Luxord.

King Ansem.

Their debts have been paid, and an easy relief glides over Roxas.

"Shall we head home, brother?" Sora asks with a gentle hand on Roxas' shoulder.

"Not yet." He speaks.

This causes curiosity for Sora and their father. "May I ask why, my son?" his father asks.

"The organization perhaps, isn't truly gone."

"What?"

Roxas chuckles at Sora's face. "Not like that, but it's just that . . . they were my mentors, they each taught me something that gathers into everything that I know."

Each of the members contributed something to Roxas to make him the near perfect assassin. He has the strength of Lexaeus, the cunning of Marluxia, the skill of Xemnas. The smarts of Zexion, the sharp eye of Xigbar and the deception of Luxord.

Roxas can't pretend that their lessons aren't branded into the fibers of his being.

"And despite everything that's happened, I'm . . . sad."

"I'd be worried if you weren't." Sora replies. Roxas looks to him, surprised. "You have a good heart, Roxas. And even despite the years falsehoods, it is the only thing that has remained untarnished by layers of blood and betrayal. Like a piece of grit worried into a peal."

Roxas smiles. "I wish to see the house. Perhaps it'll offer something like closure. And I can have the consent of moving forward."

"A final goodbye." Axel rephrases.

"Yes."

"Very well." Their father chirps. "Men, head back to the kingdom. We shall go to the mansion. Axel, Demyx and Zexion. Come with us, please."

"We would be honored, your majesty." Axel replies with a bow.

Sora smiles. "Shall we?" he ushers to Roxas.

"Yes. I'll lead."

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