Roxas wasn't sure what was real anymore. Girls who could stop time, shadows who leapt from walls, creatures who could not be caught, and men who played with fire. Some imperceivable force had shifted, and the world he thought he knew was no longer. It had begun with the dreams, which had at first only been glimpses of a strange boy in equally strange worlds. Upside-down rooms and grinning cats, ancient gods who rose from the dead to challenge the living, water that defied gravity and beasts that talked. Amazing and surreal, but as fictional as the fantasy movies Pence liked so much. But lately, the dreams were different, more realistic and vivid, and seen through his eyes as though half-forgotten memories.
And then he met the black-coated man. Not Axel, whose wolfish face he felt sure he'd seen before, but the other man, whose face he had never seen and who haunted him in his sleep. The man had grabbed him at the train station and spoken to him, though he could not remember the words, and then disappeared as suddenly as he'd come. His friends had said they had not seen a man, so at first he'd thought either they were lying or he was going crazy. So much was happening lately that he couldn't be sure if anyone had really been there or not. And yet, he'd seen this man before, accidentally hit him with a stick, and he remembered being confused when the man had just walked away. Roxas wondered what he had been after. Surely he hadn't been interested in entering the tournament. His clothes were like Axel's, of a kind he had never seen before. He wished he knew what the black-coated men wanted with him. He was just a normal fifteen-year-old boy. He wasn't special in any way; his friends were better than him at everything. Roxas was beginning to wonder if greater things than himself were involved, somehow. He wished he could have no part of it. He wished things could be back to normal, joking with his friends and keeping up the rivalry with Seifer and his gang.
But fate had no need for his wishes.
The sanity of Roxas's world lay on the edge of a knife, and time didn't seem to work the usual way. So it was that later, when Roxas lay sweating in his bed at night unable to sleep, he thought maybe what happened in the sewer was only in his mind.
The Sunset Station Tunnel was as old as the town itself, a forgotten maze of crisscrossing brick pathways. It was really only a sewer, but nothing in Twilight Town was ugly. The myth of the tunnel ghost was well-known among the town's youth. Pence sent him inside alone, with the objective of finding out just who or what made those ghostly calls. He was ambushed by a group of the strange gray creatures who seemed to stalk his every footstep. Once again the key-shaped blade appeared in his grasp, and he wasted no time trying to figure out how it had gotten there. He was used to the impossible becoming real. He destroyed the creatures, and then encountered the young boy who followed Seifer's gang. His search for the ghost had ended in disappointment, like the rest of the mysteries.
He stood there for a moment after Vivi had gone, staring at the blade in his hand. He noticed a crown-shaped silver charm hanging from the handle and touched it with his hand. Slightly cool, and definitely solid. For the hundredth time, he wondered who it had belonged to (for he could not be the first to inherit such a thing) and why it had come to him.
"You fought the Dusks well, but there will always be more." A voice echoed in the tunnel behind him. He turned sharply, surprised. He'd heard no footsteps as the figure in black approached.
He could tell from the man's shape that he was the same one who had spoken to him so earnestly at the station. "Who are you?" He clenched his fists as he realized his voice was shaking.
The man laughed, a deep sound like a growl, and walked forward a few steps. Roxas raised the blade in defense, not trusting the tall man or his intentions. "I am the answer to all your questions, Roxas. You might call me Ansem."
"Why does everyone know my name? Where do you people come from?" Roxas asked, trying to make his voice forceful. If only he wasn't so afraid.
The man called Ansem raised a hand gloved in black leather. "I know all about you, Roxas. Some things even you don't know yourself. Some things you wouldn't want to know." Roxas stepped back, his pulse thumping in his ears. This man, Ansem, and the red-haired Axel had both acted as though there was a secret part of himself he didn't know about, a past he couldn't remember.
"I just want to understand," he whispered. He looked at the man's hooded face and thought he saw a flash of golden eyes. His own were dry from the thick sewer air, and he blinked to clear them.
"I'm just--so tired." He looked at his feet, his shoulders slumping. "I want it to stop. I just want to go to school and hang out at the beach and eat ice cream. I don't want--this." He gestured at the walls around them, though it was something else he was seeing. "I'm sick of wondering if I'm going crazy, not knowing what's real and what's not. I wish I'd never dreamed about Sora.
"So you do know his name," Ansem said, crossing his arms. "Right now Sora sleeps, and he dreams about the things he left behind." His voice had gone quiet. "Right now you can see his thoughts. Tell me what he most desires." Roxas realized that the man was beseeching him, almost pleading.
"Show me your face," he said. Something in him wanted to see this man, look him in the eyes. He forgot his own anxiety for a moment as he discovered that the one who had sought him out was also in pain, and had come to him for answers, not to give them.
The man called Ansem lowered his hood, and his face was piercing eyes and a cruel mouth and dark skin. But something in Roxas longed to reach out to him in the darkness. And his fingertips were against the man's face. Ansem's eyes closed, his breath hitched, and suddenly the face beneath his hand was pale and young and vulnerable.
His hand was slapped away. The boy took a step back, and Roxas was surprised to see he was shaking. "Those--those feelings aren't... But how, why would he--?"
Roxas closed the space between them, and looked up into the boy's eyes. They were blue-green, the color of the sea, and they were scared.
He wasn't sure of so many things. Men became boys and dreams became reality. But one thing he was sure of. "This is real," he said, and then he was kissing the silver-haired boy, and the boy was kissing him back after a moment's hesitation, and then he was pushed against the wall, and his fingers were twined in Riku's hair. And he stopped thinking of it all for that moment. This is real, this is real, this is real...
His world narrowed to the passion in the other boy's lips, their mingled breathing, muscles under tough fabric, and hair brushing against his eyes. And that was enough.
The other boy broke away first, but as he moved to turn away Roxas grabbed his arm. "Riku," he said, remembering the boy from his dreams. Riku took a deep breath and covered his face with his hood again. He walked away in silence a few steps, then stopped and said, "You're not Sora." Disappointment and guilt tinged his voice. The next moment, he was gone.
Roxas ran a hand through his blond hair, his mind grasping for reality again. "But he's the one who wants you," he whispered in reply, though no one was there to hear. "And you're not the one I want."
That night, he dreamed of fire.