My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 21

Roxas stares down at his boots, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the piano Demyx had taught Roxas how to play music stood. Up ahead would be the stairs. Over down to the right is where the long plush carpet would lead to the kitchen. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could Roxas orient himself in this sea of gray?

Almost nothing remains of the mansion. While Xemnas was away, Sora had ordered Axel to return to the mansion and burn it to the ground; as a way for Xemnas to have no where else to go or to permanently destroy his reputation and existence in the kingdoms. At first Roxas didn't recognize it because besides it being a large mound of black rubble, his room, the highest point in the home had collapsed into the lower levels.

Cold black flakes cling to his boots as if trying to hold him back. His boots grind the sooty embers beneath him to dust as he crosses the scorched ground. The blackened earth stretches throughout the fifty-yard perimeter of the foundation of the mansion. The ashes cling to him as he sinks down to sit where the kitchen table used to be.

"Roxas, are you okay?" he hears Axel ask.

Roxas realizes that he been drawn to his knees, his fingers dug into the ash; letting the silky texture cling to him like a scar he'll wear the rest of his life.

He half-expects start crying, but no tears come, despite his force. Perhaps it's because he's glad to see it gone; as if a form of freeing himself. It hasn't always been this way. There were brighter days.

Before the dark ones came. Stole his mind. Wrapped his soul in chains.

Roxas pushes up, breathing slowly so not to inhale any ash. He cups a small handful, and the wind tugs gently at the ash he holds it and it floats away like bits of silver. Roxas stands still for a moment as if expecting the dead to rise and drag him under.

"I'm fine."

He begins to move away from the living room area and towards where the library once stood.

There has been little to no disturbance since Axel set the fire hours ago. There shifts here and there, in reaction to his footsteps.

He stands motionless, still waiting for tears to come. He can't deny that the home held a place in his heart. He grew up there his whole life, learned from his members. Even past the façade it still pricks his heart.

The house is a carcass of ash and bone. Hollowed out. Every vestige of life burned into silence.

They understand each other.

The icy silence that's been embedded in his core since Luxord's death swallows the loss. Roxas fists his hands. He had thought the silence within him had ceased the moment he was reunited. But he can still feel it there, radiating its own aura forged in anger and grief.

He needs to let it go.

Is something still unfinished?

Yes, he realizes. Him.

Xemnas raised him. He has a piece of every member locked away inside him. Branded into the fibers of his being are his teammates and their lessons and techniques. All their fighting styles, their skills.

He is the only living remnant of Xemnas and his cruelty. As long as he lives, so does Xemnas and his teachings. His reputation.

Roxas wants to scream. He refuses to be the only example of what Xemnas represents, but how can he escape himself?

A faint cry escapes him. It grows into a yell, which transforms into a scream, and then he's wailing until his throat burns. He fists his hands, his nails digging into his palms and tears seep from his eyes. None fall on his cheeks, but still when he stops, her eyes are watery and his palms have deep crescent shapes. The shadows seem to curl off Roxas' body like the mist off a pond. It is as if his emotions fueled them.

Roxas collapses, bracing his head between his hands. He realize she must be on the verge of a breakdown, but he doesn't change his position. He digs his fingers into the ash once more, his nails chipping and he flinches as the images of Luxord and King Ansem's deaths collide, searing themselves into his mind.

There are things in this world we can't unsee. Things we can't unhear.

A heap of rubble replaces Roxas' room. He can barely make out the picture since his bed, dresser, wardrobe and chairs have all been switched and blacked. Vaulting over a bookshelf, he nearly slips on the soot. He walks over and finds his wardrobe.

He hovers his hand over the metal handle of the wardrobe, feeling for signs of heat. The knob is warm enough that Roxas can grip it barehanded.

Pulling open the door, he coughs as clouds of ash billow up around him. Inside, he finds a mostly spared sheath of arrows he rarely ever used, and a bow with the string broken, but still mildly usable. He picks it up and examines its state. Then with a simple bend to test quality, the bow snaps in half. Useless.

Roxas sighs and slings the sheath over his back. His cloak ripples at his feet, seemingly not disturbing the ash at his feet. He decides to rummage through the rubble for anything as Sora and his father roam around.

"Wow." Sora breathes. "You barely recognize it."

"You did your job a little too well, Axel." Demyx jokes as Zexion follows behind him.

Axel walks over to Roxas as he scours the ruins of his room. He watches as the blonde plucks a picture frame from a small pile beside an armchair. Roxas brushes and blows off the dust and finds it's a picture of him and Xion. Axel's heart jars in his chest.

"Roxas, I . . . I'm so sorry I didn't see that."

"Don't feel bad. I hid it." Roxas admits.

"Why?"

Roxas sighs, leaning against the dresser. "Because it reminds me of happier times for her." He speaks. "She may be young, but she can, sense what's going on. I haven't seen her smile much around the mansion."

"Well that could be because she spends so much time with you." Axel amuses.

Roxas gives him a smirk and shakes his head. "Makes me wish I could turn back time to the happier days when her smile was as impulsive and honest as she is."

He hears Axel softly chuckles. "You know, I was just thinking the same thing about you." Roxas looks to him with tentative eyes. "I'm sorry you had to experience so much darkness. Sorry I didn't do something sooner as I watched Xemnas steal your light, your compassion."

"You know I used to think that, nothing kind or solace lived inside me." Roxas starts. "But, I've realized that, kindness is kind of like hope. It's not entirely gone. If you let it go, it's almost like you're giving up. And I'm not one to give up. It doesn't go away, more like it's, dimmed. And all you need is a little spark to reignite it."

Roxas first looks up to Axel and smiles, then his gaze flicks over his shoulder to Sora and his father. Sora smiles and trots over to Roxas.

"Are you all set?" he asks.

Roxas sighs. "Yeah, I think so. I can't say I won't miss this place, but I'm more than ready to start anew."

"Come on, there's still one more person you need to see." Sora smiles as he wraps an arm around Roxas' shoulder.

"I don't know if I can do this." Roxas says as he nervously paces back and forth across the outer balcony that overlooks the village. Sora says that it's the same balcony where their parents launched the fireworks into the air when they were born.

Sora leans his waist against the railing, arms crossed and laughs. "You just faced off against, and I remind defeated your entire organization, and you're worried about meeting our mother?" Sora teases with a tickling of Roxas' sideburns.

Roxas smacks his hand away and begins to fidget with his fingers. "That was different."

"How?"

"I don't know."

When they returned to the castle that afternoon, their father had recommend that Roxas wears his hood. He used some rather pathetic excuse that he wanted to surprise the citizens. With so many years of using his hood to hide behind, Roxas wanted to protest, but a small part of him did want to create a sort of big entrance. Perhaps Sora's luxuries have rubbed off on him.

"You'll be fine. She's going to die when she sees you." says Sora.

Roxas shoots him a glare and Sora raises his hands. "Okay, bad choice of words. Let me rephrase that."

"Not what you expected?" he asks.

Roxas walks up and leans like Sora against the railing. "I admit it's a little weird being, people I was told were my enemies. But I can get used to it."

Inside the library of the castle, the Queen is on the second level, looking out the window that gazes out to the eastern side of the village. With it being on the ground level, the library expands all across the walls. The forty-foot high ceiling makes you feel like you've shrunk. The crystal stain glass dome allows an expanse of natural light to brighten the room. An expanse of plush couches and loveseats and armchairs are scattered across the floor and on the upper level. They're around fireplaces and near windows so one can enjoy their novel in the upmost comfort. The shelves on the floor level are a least twenty feet tall, and to get to the second floor you have to take a metal spiral staircase. Sora's parents only here visit on a rainy weekend.

The Queen hears the doors open and in barges her husband. She lean over the railing and smiles instantly. Hurrying down the steps, she picks up the skirt of her gown and when she reaches the floor, flings herself into her husband's arms.

"Oh, my dear, thank goodness you're all right." She stutters into his chest. "I was so worried, I didn't get word from the guards talking about Xemnas and where's Sora . . .?!"

"Darling, darling. Relax." The King coos to her. "Everything is fine. Xemnas if vanquished, and Sora is safe."

"Well, then where is he?" she asks, her eyes unwilling to heave their concern until they've seen him home and safe.

"He's outside. Come." The King urges has he takes his beloved's hands.

"What, wait!" she exclaims through a giggle. They hurry down the hallway, the King smiling and laughing as he ushers his wife along. All the time she's trying to be serious, but her laughter counters it, amused at her husband's rather childish behavior. He leads her through the halls all the way to the foyer before she finally decides to say something. "Honey, honey. What is going on? What are you so happy about?"

"Sora has something to show you." He speaks.

For a moment, he can see the sparkle of hope ignite in her eyes but it quickly diminishes with something like realization, and he has to force himself not to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that her hope is true.

"Come." He takes her hand gently this time. "Sora's outside."

"What are you thinking?" Sora asks.

"Not about that fruit tureen I ate on the way here." Roxas answers.

The double oak doors open.

Sora and Roxas jerk their heads up in unison, and standing in the doorway, is their father, and their mother.

At first, the Queen's eyes go directly to Sora. They sparkle with happiness at him, and then they slowly drift to the figure next to him.

Immediately, his mother's eyes widen. She looks back to her husband who only smiles and nods his head towards Roxas. Their eyes meet and like before, Roxas takes a few steps towards her. He can feel his hands shaking as she stares at him.

The Queen takes the three steps down and carefully approaches Roxas. She has the similarities of Sora. Brown hair, doe eyes and a soft face. All the while her eyes are scanning up and down Roxas.

As she comes closer, he realizes he's taller than her by a head. Carefully she extends out her arm, her fingers brushing along Roxas' jawline before cupping his cheek. He sees her eyes flick to his shoulder and Roxas shifts.

His movement causes her hand to leave and Roxas goes to lift up the sleeve of his tunic.

The crown-shaped birthmark is revealed.

And the Queen suddenly sighs heavily. Roxas look up to her, realizing his gaze had shifted away.

The Queen has tears in her eyes and she begins to laugh. Then her arms reach out and wrap around Roxas' neck. Roxas envelops her in his arms, taking in her sweet scent that he can only describe as reminding him of spring. She sobs into his shoulder and Roxas nuzzles next to her ear.

"I missed you mother." Roxas mutters.

Tears sting his eyes as he hears her begin to sob more and stroke the back of his head. Out of the corner of his left eye, he sees Sora come out from behind them and begin to rub his mother's back. She retracts and hugs Sora for a moment, his eyes glassy.

"It's okay, mom." Sora laughs.

Letting go, she steps back and gazes at the two boys together, and covers her mouth with both hands, though her eyes squint tight with glee.

Their father places a hand on her shoulder and she looks to him and embraces him too.

"Oh my goodness." She sobs with joy.

She embraces Roxas once again and this time Roxas can feel Sora hug him from behind. Then their father gathers them all together and they stay like this.

Roxas can feel their warmth seeping into him, spreading out from his back, to his arms, legs and feet.

The icy silence within him, that gaping hole of darkness within him since Luxord's death shatters, and Roxas can feel his light rejuvenating, breathing and thriving as he hugs his family tighter.

His family.

Real, warm and loving without daggers and poisons and blood.

Roxas knows he can never undo what he did in the past, but he's more than willing to make a better furture.

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