Written 20 December 2006
Warning for NCS, dark stuff.
“You have sought to deceive Death through your arrogance and avarice,”
said the gods to Sisyphus. “Henceforth you shall spend an eternity
struggling with the stone, and though you may see the light you shall
never reach it. Nor shall your hunger be satiated, your thirst
slaked, or the weariness gone from your body.”
The fallen rainwater was an oily thing that clung to his traitor’s coat, his gloves, his skin. The ground was rough and cold beneath his cheek, but the keyblade at the back of his neck was infinitely harder, like the hollow smirk of its bearer.
If he closed his eyes (just like this) he could hear Sora’s voice behind that too-wrong anger and cynicism; perverted, twisted, yes, but it was Sora and Holy it hurt. He could feel the Heartless pressing close, feel their mindless hunger and desperation, and he could feel the Nobodies, worse still in that they felt nothingnothingnothing, through the Darkness that lay just beneath his skin and gripped his heart.
Arms shaking, body heavy, Riku tried to lift himself to his feet (at least off the ground, because he had sworn never to fall at another’s whim again), but the frigid edge of the keyblade pressed just so and he froze. He understood too well the inhumanity that pervaded these Nobodies, the malice that came through their cold rationale—and in this one, small and golden-haired and eyes too blue, perhaps most of all.
Softly amused laughter. Braced low on his hands, Riku’s breath stopped
oh fuck no
and strong iron hands seized his shoulders, pulling him upright before he could fight the paralysis that had stiffened his limbs (rather like rigor mortis—maybe it was, and this was just the last fading dream before he found oblivion).
Roxas had stepped back, both keyblades deceptively relaxed in his grip and a nothing-expression on his face, so unlike the emotion that perpetually animated his Other’s.
“Aw, man, I told you that was a bad idea.” The flash of a neon sign against the wet surface of a sitar.
“Not cool, dude.” The smell of gunpowder, strong even under the stench of rainwater and asphalt and Darkness.
“Fool.” The quiet, muffled clink of coins in a pocket.
“Idiot boy.” The rustle of lances, held lovingly by their master.
“Traitor.” The near-silent step of a dancer, of an assassin.
“Poor, weak little songbird.” The hiss of cold against his ear, the silky brush of blue-white hair against his neck, the tightening of the hands on his shoulders until the bones grated.
weak little child
He used to tease Sora for being afraid of the dark, but now he felt his own heart thumpingthumpingthumping because for the first time in a long time he could see it too, could see the dark and the things with claws and sick smiles that lived inside of it.
“You did well, Roxas.”
Xemnas’ smile was just like his Heartless’, but somehow worse, because it was entirely cold and emotionless, devoid even of mockery or disdain, which would have given Riku something to defy. He was not an enemy that had been caught through trickery or even his own folly, merely an object that warranted little more than a thought of minor irritation.
His steps were slow and measured, purposeful like the man himself, and for a moment Riku was seeing another with darker skin but the same pale hair and the same shrewd eyes, and the hand that slid over his cheek (Riku’s face was rather gaunt, from the cold and melancholia) was the same hand that had once offered him power for the price of his soul.
“I have seen many with hearts like yours,” the Nobody murmured, and even the tone of scientific detachment and disinterested curiosity was intimately familiar, “hearts that are proud to the point of blindness. Hearts that are inherently weak for their overconfidence.”
Riku spat at his face.
Ignoring the soft laughter from his inferiors, Xemnas calmly wiped the saliva away with a gloved hand, his half-lidded eyes betraying no hint of surprise or anger.
“Those that try so hard to define their own existence must do so to deny the flaw of their design, for it only takes a properly applied force—“
The hand that had lain against Riku’s cheek, the thumb brushing gently over the too-sharp bone, pulled away slightly so that only leather-tipped fingers touched his skin. They trailed down to his lips, bloodless from the rain, and when Riku opened his mouth to snarl the fingers slipped between his teeth, catching his tongue gently but firmly.
“—to induce a reaction to the original causality—“
Saix’s grip tightened further and Riku bit back the hiss of pain at the increased grinding against his clavicles, at the same time catching the invasive fingers with his teeth. Xemnas did not feel the pain, or if he did, he gave no outward indication save the dry, perfunctory smile of someone who had seen what he expected.
“—and break down the complex into its most basic algorithms.”
Riku thought of the time he and another (Sora, it was always for Sora) were swimming in the ocean, and he had dived too far on a dare. When a particularly swollen wave broke directly over him, he had been shoved downwards into the sandy floor, where the kelp wrapped itself tightly around his flailing limbs until he forgot which way was up or down and his whole world had narrowed into the mindless terror of mortality. Now, it was not flora but black-gloved hands that gripped his arms to hold him in place, grasped his hair to pull his head back and bare his throat. He cursed and tried to twist a forearm, bend an elbow, roll his shoulders; every technique he had learned as a child to try and break the holds, but he could do little more than squirm as he heard the whisper of the zipper on his coat and the resulting cold that raised chills on his skin.
“The boy has spirit,” someone murmured, and it did not really matter who, not when the heavy coat slipped from his shoulders to catch around his elbows and the silver beads on the hood’s ties chimed merrily.
(Sora had a necklace that made the same sound.)
The neon lights were an empty facsimile in the abandoned city, illusions of life reflected in the rain and water-mirrored surfaces except where the black coats of the Nobodies blocked them out as patches of darkness. The rain blurred Riku’s sight—because he refused to believe that it might have been tears, which he had forgotten a long time ago—and it was like he was back on Destiny Islands during that night, the faint lights of the city dimly twinkling far from the docks as the Darkness wrapped itself like a lover around him and swallowed.
Riku may not have been wise, but he was certainly clever, and possessed a highly developed sense of determination. The rain made his skin slick and he twisted from Saix’s hold, ducking beneath other grasping hands and lashing out with powerful kicks that would have snapped ribs had the Nobodies not danced just out of reach—and for a moment he tasted freedom, and Riku reached out to unweave a hole in the Darkness and escape—
—but there was a flash of pale hair and suddenly Roxas’ blank face was in front of his own, a vague smirk on the lips that were like Sora’s, and Riku felt his feet swept out from beneath him.
His grip on the Darkness lost, he fell backwards with a surprised sound that did not quite block out the smattering of laughter around him. There was cruel amusement on Roxas’ (Sora’s) face and for a moment time slowed, until it was all Riku could see (Sora had only ever smiled, or pouted, at him, and even when Riku had pushed him off the edge of the dock he had just sputtered in outrage before dissolving into laughter) before something dark and silky slid over his eyes. He yelled, and spat, and cursed, feeling the hated fear well up in his heart and turn into adrenaline as his world turned dark.
“With classical conditioning, the subject learns to exhibit certain behaviors at a particular stimulus. Stylized fighting is one such behavior, but even the strictest discipline can be lost to extinction and the return of basic instinct after the passage of time—or when the stimulus proves to be too much.”
Xemnas seemed to be talking both to himself and to Riku, though his voice never rose beyond a placid murmur. Riku growled and snapped until he tasted blood, not his own, on his tongue, but still cold fingers slid down his chest, his abdomen, until he could feel the rain where his coat should have been and he realized, then, that he could no longer feel its weight on his limbs.
“The deprivation of one sense heightens the others until they become hyper-aware…”
Deceptively soft lips were on his throat, and he did not know whose they were except that they were not his (because he knew that Nobody’s Other better than he knew himself, which still was not saying much) and they were not his (because he had felt That Man’s lips before and they had never bothered faking emotion). His hands were held tightly behind his back, so that he was forced to bend backwards just enough to keep his bones from breaking, and the ground was cold beneath feet he had not realized were bare. Something warm and wet trailed up from his navel and bit down the protrusion of his lowest ribs, making him hiss, but when he tried to kick out blindly once more his legs were held down with unnatural strength.
“When a subject reacts in an unfavorable manner, there are two courses the researcher may take; negative reinforcement, or punishment. For the latter to be effective, several factors must be in order, including understanding on the part of the subject which behavior was unsatisfactory and why.”
Riku struggled, and writhed, and finally let his body collapse into dead-weight so that his captors were suddenly unable to hold him up. His knees struck the wet concrete harshly, wrenching his right leg, but immediately his muscles bunched and tightened as he fought to get away—to get away from the hands that would not stop touching him, the weight of larger, heavier bodies pressing against him until he thought his lungs would freeze from the cold pressure. But it was like trying to throw off heavy chains that gave him just enough freedom of movement to remind him that he was irrevocably bound.
Heavy breathing pounded in his ears, and he was not entirely sure it was his own.
His hair was gripped and yanked, forcing his head back so far that it was difficult to draw breath, and hot words were insinuated into his ear, “Is this truly anything you have not known before?”
Shame, pure fury and black hatred, and Riku’s scream of inarticulate emotion made the Darkness that swelled beneath his skin shiver deliciously.
Saix (and Riku knew it was Saix, because the man had never fully relinquished his hold on the boy’s shoulders, nor his taste for causing despair) whispered smoothly, “Is he worth it?”
Riku hated himself, because for a brief moment, he despised Sora—that Sora had been accepted by the Light, that Sora had found such wonderful friends in the King’s idiotic, untalented lackeys, that Sora had never known what it was like to have his mind and his body and his soul possessed by the cruelty of another. Sora had never known to what depths Riku had fallen to protect him, and he never would…and now, Riku had nothing left to give.
“It has been shown that the state of the body often reflects the state of the mind. Break the body, and the subject will live to see another day; break the mind, and nothing will remain but a hollow shell of base flesh and blood. The organic body is the only algorithm that fails without the unpredictability of human will.”
His hair was released and his body pulled backwards, and his body fought without him being fully cognizant of it. He dimly heard the sound of another zipper.
“Perhaps we should show your Keyblade Master what he is truly fighting against.”
(sora, on the ground, pinned and spread like a butterfly)
Saix’s body could have been made of stone, for he was colder than was human for the rain, and when Riku’s legs were parted from behind and he was forced to move down until his own body rested on frighteningly strong thighs, he said nothing though his lips and his legs parted soundlessly. The pain was as powerful as he remembered, a burning, breath-catching agony that froze his spine into a permanent bow-shape, and was impossible to become used to. A mouth was on his own, all sharp teeth and huffed laughter, and another’s hands clawed and scraped at his chest, and yet another’s stroked his thighs and the soft creases of his joints. The bones in his wrist ground together. It felt like his hips would break apart. His heart was being forced into his throat.
Riku wished he could see the stars. It had been a long time since he had last done so, but his eyes were covered and he could see nothing past the blackness.
Then his body was pulled down once more, and he inhaled sharply.
Then he was released, just for a moment, and he exhaled.
(His mother had once told him that the rain was the tears of angels. She failed in killing herself the next day.)
“Human personality is estimated to be predictable by genetics by up to fifty-eight percent. It is no longer nature versus nurture, but something much more insidious and complex.”
“It is strange,” Saix’s flat voice mused as his body paused, “that something the human body was solely designed to do can produce dramatically different results based purely on context.”
“We should alter the dependent variable,” Xaldin’s voice replied.
“His heart is flawed, and his sight no longer available to differentiate changes in his environment,” Xemnas concluded thoughtfully. A gunpowder-voice said something, to which an arrogant gambler-voice answered, and both were followed by fiery laughter with an undertone of watery amusement.
Suddenly hands that were a little too small were sliding down his flesh, touching very lightly, and Riku jerked back against the chest behind him. His heart was thumpingthumpingthumping and he knew whose hands they were, whose hands they should have been, and Holy but he could not stop that little part of himself that loved it. There was no leather hiding the skin that would have been pale, if Riku could see, and those hands were calloused the way Riku’s were from wielding the Keyblade. When a sly little tongue flickered over his flesh, Riku could not stop the hoarse cry, or the shudder that ran through his body, but the slight movement reminded him of where and what was happening—and then it was not him (oh holy sora i’m sorry), no matter how similar they may have seemed, and there was no salvation from this.
This was a world that had been left behind, the kind of world reflected behind the mirror and catching all the imperfections, where the shadows of long-dead souls lived in a numb, all-consuming hunger. It was a boy that was not so young, not anymore, and was too tired to keep fighting against the pain, and the rape, and the breaking, and for whom the nightmares were very familiar companions in a never-ending twilight.
And so Riku let his mind drift far away inside itself, where the rain became angels’ tears and the stars were still there, and if he let himself wait he could catch glimpses of a blue sky that came up with the moon and went on forever. There, he had learned to take everything that made him Riku, and wrap it all up into a tidy little ball that could be tucked away into the tiny corner of his heart that the Darkness had never quite touched.
His head fell forward until the silver hair not caught in the black silk blindfold slid over his face. His body felt the finishing spasms of the invasive flesh that penetrated him, and his palms were scraped as his arms automatically caught himself before someone else could push his face into the concrete. Copper was still on his tongue, and it was a living, earthy taste (strange that those whose very existence should have been impossible could still bleed like the living) that was far preferable to the taste of thick, salt-laden fluid. But he was only aware of this as though he were watching through a window that the rain was running down—detached, disinterested, entirely removed. He turned way from the window to curl up in that particular corner of his heart, holding the little ball of Riku close to himself and closing off the rest of the world.
But not forgetting. Riku never forgot a wrong, and had learned to bide his time. Even when his captors eventually grew bored and left him lying in the rain on the concrete, naked, bruises spreading like orchid blossoms over his pale skin and the blood streaking his lower body, he would remember.
And one other remained, staring down at Riku’s broken-doll body with blue eyes that should not have been so haunted—
“Is he really worth it?”
—nor speaking with a voice that might have sounded deadpan, if not for the undertone of uncertainty, of wonder. It was an undertone that Riku knew intimately, because it demanded answers for questions that could not be asked.
He is worth everything, Riku mouthed because his throat had been too damaged to manage speech, and after a long silence he was left alone.
“Insanity is performing the same action again and again, and always expecting different results.”
And Riku would eventually pull himself back to his feet, let the Darkness regain its hold over his heart (which it had never really lost), and fight once more with the desperation of someone who never really expected to win.