Disclaimer: not mine

Chapter 4

Vanitas slowly made his way around the apartment, Sora's arms around his shoulders, legs dragging. He was healing, but obviously frustrated by how slow it was. He was managing to hold on though, Vanitas keeping a firm grip on him as well. Sora was trying to use his legs, Vani could tell, but there was barely a twitch.

"Enough?" he asked after another circuit.

"Hmmm," Sora answered, so Vanitas moved back to the mattress and carefully lowered him onto it, leaning him against the wall.

He could feel Sora watching him as he moved to the tiny kitchen space, making up some food before bringing it to Sora. He spooned it into Sora's mouth, happy he could now chew since it meant he'd stopped losing so much weight. Speech and movement were definitely works in progress but there was slow improvement. And Sora was definitely aware every time his eyes opened, truly awake. His wounds had healed, becoming scars, adding to those he'd gained fighting over the years. So, shouldn't he have been better already?


Kairi held a cold, limp hand in hers, talking softly to him even knowing he couldn't hear her. She knew she should be sleeping but she hadn't seen Riku in ages. The fighting was somehow getting even worse and they were all exhausted.

"Kai…ri?" a voice slurred, and she jumped.

She looked around and then got up, carefully setting Riku's hand down. "Roxas?" She moved to the other bed and sure enough, sleepy blue eyes blinked up at her. "You're awake!" she smiled at him, he really was awake, his eyes focused even if he looked sleepy still. "I'll get one of the others," she told him, moving to call one of the apprentices.


Lea burst into the lab to find Ienzo and Even examining Roxas…who was sitting up on the table. He wasn't in the back ward anymore, wasn't sleeping so deeply no one could wake him. "Roxas," he whispered, and confused blue eyes met his.

"Hey," the teen croaked, and Lea moved to his side, seconds before Xion ran in.

"Roxas!" she called in relief.

Soon they had Roxas squished between them in a hug. Roxas was awake! He was back with them and they were not losing him again. Lea hated it that they kept leaving him, but not this time.

"How…how long was I out?" Roxas asked, bewildered.

"It's been a while," Xion admitted softly.

Lea sighed. "Coming up on five months," he clarified, seeing Roxas pale.

"And I didn't imagine things, Riku's in there? What happened?"

"Side effect of being Sora's Dream Eater," Lea admitted. "He, uh…he's becoming a Nightmare. The only way to stop it was to put him into a coma but not sleep."


Roxas swallowed as he listened to how long he'd been out…to what was happening to Riku. He'd hated him once but after returning to Sora and then everything with the war...he didn't hate him anymore. He vaguely remembered Sora's time stuck in the Sleeping Worlds, being drawn deeper and deeper, Riku fighting desperately to make Sora wake up. To become a Nightmare…

He couldn't believe he'd been asleep for so long, the last thing he remembered was…Sora, Sora was really gone now…wasn't he?


Sora rested against the wall, watching Vanitas as he worked to keep the apartment habitable. Not something he ever would have imagined him doing, not the angry being of Darkness that had attacked him. But this wasn't that Vanitas. How…how had no one realised there was another Heart in his? Had Ventus and Vanitas' presences overlapped or something since they'd once been one person?

This Vanitas cared about him, called him brother but not mockingly like the other had. He had spent months caring for him, healing him, even scaring his old boss for information to help heal him. He didn't understand why it was taking so long, if he had hit his heart then it either should have killed him or Vanitas' magic had healed it and kept him from bleeding out internally. But why would a healed wound to his physical heart have left him like this? The infection?

Vanitas was sure he'd burnt it all out, but what if he hadn't, what if he'd only slowed it? Was that why Sora felt so cold and empty? Was he going to end up like them eventually, just take longer?


"Sora?" he turned from his work; red eyes narrowed in concern. He walked over and knelt beside him.


"Can't what?" he carefully brushed Sora's hair back from his face.

"Ff…" he took a deep breath, needing to make him understand. "F...eel…"

That got a frown and then Vanitas touched his leg. "You can't feel your legs?"

That would explain why they wouldn't move, even when Vanitas was holding him up, but it wasn't what he meant, and he managed a weak shake of his head. He focused and slowly his hand twitched and then he managed to lift his shaking arm, touching his chest. "Fe…el…"

Vanitas' eyes went wide. "Sora…are you saying you can't feel anything like emotion?" he asked carefully, and Sora jerked another nod. Vanitas swore softly, placing his own hand over Sora's heart. "Let me in?" he asked softly.

Sora didn't hesitate, he had no reason to, not like he could make things worse.


He couldn't feel?! Had Vanitas messed up somehow? The idea of Sora unable to feel was just…wrong. Vanitas placed his hand over Sora's heart and closed his eyes, focusing, reaching for his Heart. It couldn't be the Darkness he used to fight the infection, that didn't stop anyone from feeling emotion, only losing their Heart would but Sora hadn't lost his, Vanitas would have sensed that.


Sora stared at the ceiling, able to feel the trickle of Dark power reaching for his Heart and then he jolted, mouth open as he gasped. He jerked again, hands weakly scrambling at the blankets. It felt like a wall…a block…he was distantly aware of the sound of screaming…


Vanitas found it, a solid block of something inside Sora physically and not, something he'd never seen anything like. How had he missed it before? Or had it formed since his last check? He pushed against it, pouring power through, he had to break it. He hit it again, feeling it shatter, felt Sora's Heart and then he blinked, hearing Sora scream. He opened his eyes to find Sora jerking on the bed, eyes rolled back in his head, as he screamed in pain.

Vanitas pulled Sora into his arms, holding him still. "Easy, it's okay." He didn't know what else to do.

Finally, Sora went limp in his hold, breathing heavily. Vanitas reached out for the cup of water kept beside the bed, holding it to Sora's lips, happy when he drank. Sora was trembling ever so slightly but Vanitas watched as he moved, weakly, but he moved, turning to curl into him.


"Mmmm," he mumbled. Sora lifted his head and looked at him, he looked exhausted, but he was alert enough.

Vanitas was shocked but pleased to see the slightest tint of red in blue eyes, signs of his kind of Darkness in Sora. Not whatever those things here were or Xehanort, but his. If either of his brothers were going to be touched by Darkness then it should be the kind he wielded. But that wasn't what he focused on, no…it was the tears in his eyes.


Mickey sighed as he went over the reports, he hated being away from the fight but he was still healing. Thankfully, Roxas was back on his feet and able to fight but it was a losing battle. Those Worlds with current or former Princesses of Heart were faring the best but others were succumbing, some slower than others but there seemed to be no stopping it. Xehanort had planned the fall of Worlds and Maleficent had been seeking the Princesses, so there'd been a pattern. But this? It all seemed so…random.

A hand rested on his shoulder and he looked up at his wife, clasping her hand in his.

"You should get some sleep," she chided.

"I will," he promised.


Aqua sighed and reshelved the book, nothing, just like every other book. They simply didn't have enough evidence of what was going on to even guess the cause. Had the years of turmoil simply tipped the balance?

She ached, a constant dull thing, her magic always at the edge of exhaustion just like the rest of her. They were all worn out, worn thin…

She spun, Keyblade appearing as a Corridor formed, but then the figure within held their hands up.

"It's me!" the blond yelped.


"Sorry! Even said the phones aren't working, sent me to tell you guys," he babbled, and she frowned, pulling out her phone to find a blank screen.

"Does he know why they aren't working?"

Demyx shrugged awkwardly, shifting in place. She knew the Nobody had a growing Heart, but that didn't make her feel comfortable around him. "Attacks are increasing in Radiant Garden, the security system's struggling. And, well, not confirmed, but a few people have claimed to have seen someone in a black hooded coat…and it's not me. Don't wear that thing anymore, too likely to end up the wrong end of friendly fire."

"Someone…all of the Organisation members except you were destroyed, but some of their real identities were unknown. Do you think, restored to themselves, that they'd do anything like this?"

Demyx seemed to think about it. "Xig…I mean Braig, maybe or Marluxia. Larxene was more of a follower, she'd do what Marluxia wanted. Luxord's a wildcard but...he liked Sora and he wasn't fond of fighting."

"Alright, I'll spread the word to the others, if you could tell the King?" she asked, and he nodded.

"Okay, bye!" and he darted back into the Darkness.


Vanitas held Sora as he shook, every night since he'd broken the block was the same. He was clinging on as tight as he currently could, Vanitas' arms locked tight to keep him from clawing at his own skin. He wished Sora could speak properly, could fully explain what was happening to him every night. It didn't feel quite like fear of the ones that had hurt him, and Sora knew those specific ones were dead too. Had the infection…had it gone far enough that Sora was…drawn to them?

"Stay with me, little brother," he whispered in Sora's ear, and he moaned in response, thrashing weakly.

The sooner he could get Sora away from this World, the better. But Sora had no magic, it was like it had been yanked out of his body by someone or something, and there was no Keyblade connection either. Even non-Keyblade wielders could use magic if they had the gift for it, like Donald and others Sora had met in his travels. Could he take him through a Corridor, even into the Realm of Darkness, without any magic to keep him safe?

He knew the Ceremony, could he perform it with Sora? He'd proven over and over that he was worthy of the Keyblade after all. Surely that would also give Sora back his magic since all Keyblade wielders had magic.

Vanitas relaxed as the weak daylight began to illuminate the room through the gaps in the sheet that served as a curtain, Sora going limp. "That's it, all over."

"Hurts," Sora whimpered.

Vanitas stroked sweaty hair back from his face. "It'll be okay, you're getting stronger every day. Once you're strong enough, we'll leave this World behind," he promised. Even if it was a short hop to the closest World, anywhere had to be better for Sora than here.

Sora whined softly and then sobbed as someone banged on the door, hiding his face against Vanitas.

"It's alright, I'll deal with it, you're safe." He summoned a Flood and it lay down with Sora, letting him curl around it.

Vanitas got up and went to the door, glancing out, frowning as he saw the group out there. Wonderful.


Roxas ducked, rolling away, coming back to his feet as pillars of Light blasted the Heartless around him. He glanced around but it seemed quiet, for the moment. "That it?" he called.

"Looks like it," Lea answered as he leapt over the low wall in the massive garden.

It was instinct to look for Xion, but she wasn't with them, she was with Kairi at the moment. There weren't enough of them to work in trios, it was hard enough to cover things in pairs but also too dangerous to work alone. With Sora and Riku…gone, Xion was the best match with Kairi so it made sense to pair them up.

"Let's get out of here." Lea checked his phone and grimaced.

The network must be out again. Between Ienzo, Cid, Chip and Dale they'd managed to get the phones running again but it was intermittent. Some Worlds they were totally dead, others they would work for calls only or Kingstagram alone. They didn't know if it was because of the growing Darkness and its influence on the Worlds, or a move by this new enemy. The figure in black had been spotted in Corona and Terra had confirmed it was a coat like the Organisation wore, but as "DiZ", Riku and even the King had proved, you didn't have to be a member to get your hands on one.

If there was one thing he missed, it was being able to use Dark Corridors, so much faster than Gummi ships.


Sora hung off Vanitas, doing his best to try and walk, but his feet mostly dragged. He felt sick, terrified, and he hated being scared but in his current state he had no way to defend himself.

"Here we go," Vanitas murmured, and Sora was lowered to the ground, leaning against a wall.

Looked like an old office building, maybe? Abandoned. He watched as Vanitas worked to make it safe, using the Unversed for security. Houses, apartments, anything residential was safe but an abandoned office building?

It'd be night soon and he dreaded it. He hated the pain, the cold…the draw…they…they called to him. They knew he should be one of them and wanted him. And now they were stuck in an abandoned building because it was leave or Vanitas having to kill a lot of people, he couldn't be the cause of that.

Vanitas sat beside him and held a mug up for him, Sora drinking the soup, chewing on bits of meat and vegetable in it. The stronger he got, the easier eating was, but the more food his body wanted and without money…how was Vanitas even getting what they had? Not like he had a job for money.

"Okay?" Vanitas asked, and Sora nodded.

Vanitas kept telling him he was improving, and Sora wanted to believe that, but even if he was, how could he make a trip to another World? They had no ship and even if Vanitas could open a Corridor, could Sora use it? His magic was gone, what would the trip do to him? He wanted to go home, to lie on the beach in the sun, to see Riku and Kairi, Roxas, Ven…everyone.

"Home," he mumbled without realising, but Vanitas heard him.


Yen Sid stared out at the stars, lost in thought. The sighting of the figure in the black coat deeply worried him, and yet no one could get close enough to attempt to speak with them or find out who they were.

Sometimes he wondered if he had done the right thing when it came to Sora. He had pushed the boy because he had thought it the right way to guide him but…perhaps he had been too hard on him? Pushed him towards an impossible perfect standard and so he thought he had to save Kairi alone and immediately. He knew some of the wielders believed it.

Sora, with his powers restored, had been powerful and unorthodox, something Yen Sid had not liked but it had worked. And it was something they could have used now.

Losing Riku as well…he should have realised that the link between them could be detrimental to Riku should anything happen to Sora. There just hadn't been enough time after their exam and before the war to research their bond and what it meant for Riku to be a Dream Eater. He was doing what he could now, trying to find a way to save Riku, but so far there was nothing.

It wasn't easy finding time though; this war was getting worse. Two more Worlds had fallen to Darkness. Traverse Town had returned six days after Kairi returned and the first World fell. It was up to five districts now and was likely to grow even further. At least it was mostly safe, only a standard smattering of Heartless and the various wielders would run patrols through every few weeks to clear them out.

He had tried searching for Sora but had come up with nothing only for him to die. If they knew the World he had died on…but would it be right to attempt to bring the boy back after all he'd sacrificed? And there were no guarantees with those magics, even if they could somehow convince Hades to help.


Vanitas smirked as Sora's foot slowly moved across the concrete, it wasn't a lot, but it was a step! His recovery had suffered a setback since leaving the apartment, his nights worse and not helped by the continuous attacks. It made him even more certain they had to leave as soon as possible; those things were after Sora. No matter how many he or his Unversed killed. Somehow, they could sense Sora? That wasn't a good sign but he hadn't been able to find any sign of infection left in him.

Being gentle with Sora, kind, it was so easy. Would it be that easy with Ventus after everything that had happened between them? He hoped so but he doubted it. Everyone else, especially here…he'd kill them all to keep Sora safe. But Sora wouldn't want him to wipe out the whole World for him, no matter how much better it'd make Vanitas feel. He might have…softened but he was still a creature made of Darkness.


Mickey stepped up on the stool and looked at Riku. He'd become very pale and despite whatever they were doing to help him, he'd lost weight and muscle. He wished there was something else they could do for him but so far, nothing had been found that could save him beyond Sora's miraculous return from the dead.

Today was Sora's seventeenth birthday, Riku would be eighteen in two months. Kairi's birthday had passed with a very small celebration in the Land of Departure, all of them who could had at least stopped by briefly to give their best wishes and gifts. By the laws of most Worlds, Riku would be an adult once he turned eighteen. Minnie had agreed, they'd been going to offer…even if Riku was eighteen they'd still ask…if he could ever wake up.