They're going to die here.
Roxas is pretty damn sure of it.
Nevermind that he's survived what counts as being damn near the end of the world, took over a replica body and became a person through what could honestly be described as sheer willpower, and has eaten Xion's cooking and lived to tell the tale. (Because he loves that girl with everything he has in him but she isn't allowed in the kitchen for a reason.)
And this is still gonna be what does him in. And it's pretty damn frustrating because it's not even his own damn fault.
It's the fault of the other blond he has tucked under his arm like a football as he 'strategically retreats' - or more aptly, runs like hell.
The world they're in is a Sleeping World, one known as the Seonee Jungle, where Heartless resembling monkeys had driven the world into darkness. The Heartless here are ones they've seen before- Bouncywilds, Powerwilds, Sniperwilds, a few other fun variants- but they're all much stronger and more resilient than their cousins that try to terrorize the world of light. These Heartless are brutally powerful, each wielding fire, the same fire that had apparently been the catalyst to drive the world to ruin. As a matter of fact, the 'Red Flower' that fueled their world had been what corrupted the monkeys there, turning them into the flame beasts that had charred their world to mere cinders. The broken world hung precariously in the universal balance- just barely clinging to the scraps of light Kingdom Hearts tried to provide, but too overrun to to claim it on it's own.
Of course, that was where a Keyblader stepped in. And so they did, ready to tackle the dark world head on. None of them had been properly prepared.
Roxas is just booking it, tearing up the ground beneath his feet as he vaults felled logs, twists around boulders, leaps across gaps in the terrain, occasionally launching haphazard Water spells behind him, all while carrying another being under his arm. Roxas is much stronger than he looks, and his cargo is lighter than he looks, so it balances out. It didn't matter if it didn't- Roxas would drag the reckless idiot by the neck if he had to.
And they're going to die because the idiot he's carrying has broken an arm, has what is likely a head wound and an accompanying nasty concussion based on the blood going down his face and how his pupils struggle to focus, but is somehow still screaming insults at the monster horde right at their heels.
Roxas would be impressed if he weren't so incredibly angry that Ven was going to get them both killed.
Granted, Ven sustained those injuries both fighting like a hellcat and defending Roxas. Ven can't summon Barriers like the rest can,and has always lacked the sort of bulk and defense the others carry- but his dodge roll is second to none in speed. Ven is a prime lesson in 'you can't hurt what you can't hit.'
So why Ven threw himself in front of a blow meant for Roxas baffles him. He could have taken it. Would have, and would have struck back with double the ferocity, double the anger, because he's learned to harness his rage and turn it into overwhelming force.
It still flashes in front of his eyes in slow motion if he tries to think about it, makes him look his mistake in the eyes all over again. The huge monkey Heartless, swinging it's massive mace tail, the feeling of dread as he turned too slow from the gang of Bouncywilds he now in hindsight realizes was a distraction. (He really hates how smart they've been getting, hates that tactics and strategy seems to be a thing the Powerwild and Bouncywild Heartless waves are getting down pat.)
Watching the mace tail come flying towards him. Knowing he'd be just seconds too late to pull up his Barrier. The feeling of something slamming into his side with the force of a small truck , knocking the breath out of him and sending him flying to the side-
And watching Ven- Ven who is his height but feels like half his weight, so willowy and slim and always seems so damn breakable- take the strike head-on made his heart (his heart, nobody else's, not anymore and never again) stutter. Made it stop entirely when Ven flew across the battlefield, struck a boulder, and crumpled into a too small and too quiet and too bloodied heap.
Made it start up again full of rage and drowning worry when Ven didn't get back up. Because Roxas will fault Ven for many things, because he's never seen Ventus as this small helpless baby seal who needs defending like the others sometimes do, no matter how much he can resemble it when he pulls his puppy eyes- but he's never been able to fault him for how resilient he is, how he always gets back up and eats his hits as well as he gives them. Ven's pain tolerance rivals his own, and that's really saying something considering Roxas has, without flinching, dislocated his own shoulder.
(By hand. On purpose.)
Seeing Ven fall and not get back put a shock of very cold and very real fear that Roxas had nearly forgotten, coursing through his veins like ice water. One that was too familiar once it reared its ugly head.
The realization that a friend could possibly die.
The next few moments were a bit of a blur. Roxas vaguely remembers casting a Areo spell to scatter the Heartless looking to pounce on his downed friend. Remembers taking the time while his foes were stunned to race to Ven, scoop him up, and take off. They were both already too battered and beaten to try to make a comeback, and had long already exhausted their second wind.
The only option that
seem to lead to a horrible death of blood and flames is retreat.
Roxas is still learning to summon gates at will, especially when wound up into a panic like this- corridors were his method before and were his method now, but he's not wearing his black cloak to protect himself. Ven's armour only responds to him, so Roxas can't summon it for him. And unlike the Lanes, the Heartless could follow them through the Corridors. And they simply can't risk leading these powerful Heartless off that World, setting them loose upon other unsuspecting and unprepared Worlds- the Heartless that kept a Sleeping World steeped in darkness were a different breed of dangerous.
So he's left with his only option. Which is legging it to the portal they entered from and hope to the Light Above that they make it.
He's pretty sure Ven is actively sabotaging him.
"That's right, come and get us! Bet you can't even touch us!"
"Shut up, shut up, shut up why are you still antagonizing them?!"
Roxas is putting too much effort into keeping his idiot friend alive to wring his neck, but damn does he want to. Maybe just enough to knock him back out. It would be better than leaving him awake to spit and scream insults at the Heartless entourage after that Roxas knows for a fact are spitting mad and out for blood. Their blood.
(Roxas might hate Ven a little.)
Ven twists to grin at him, and it's nothing like his sunny and bright grins that are full of warmth and love, the sunniness that just seems to go hand in hand with Ven's name alone. This one is sharp, calculating, and strangely fierce with the blood over his teeth. It's the Ven Roxas knows a little better than the others do.
Where everyone else saw fragility, Roxas saw somebody who learned how to make the cracked parts of him into a weapon. Somebody who held the pieces that'd broken off of him in one clenched hand in lieu of blade and could do damage just as great.
It made him think of something feral. Something untamed.
It made him think of himself .
He's pretty sure that's why they get along so well.
"You've noticed, right? That these ones are smarter. That they've been planning against us more often. I've noticed," Ven’s voice is a little strained, because yeah, he's definitely riding the concussion train but he's still strangely focused.
Roxas glares at him for only a second before he looks back up to sharply round another corner. He better be going somewhere with this.
Ven looks at the mob behind them.
"They taunt us when we fight- I figured we could do the same! Look. They're all angry. They're not planning. They're just after us. No tactics, no plan. Which means..."
"That we can lead them into a trap."
The smart little bastard.
(Roxas might love Ven a little.)
Roxas grins, and it mirrors Ven's sharp smile so closely that it makes him a little dizzy.
"You got a plan?"
"Tell me where to go and what to do. I'll back you!"
The plan doesn't work.
It's a ramshackle plan that was made on the fly and therefore executes like a ramshackle plan made on the fly.
Roxas has never seen the spell Mine Square before today, but he knows for sure he's gonna harass both Ven and Aqua until they teach it to him too.
(Espcially Aqua. Because Ven mentioned off hand that she knew a more complicated variant called Seeker Mines that would actually home in on their target and explode. That sounds fantastic. Roxas wants that.)
He's also never seen the Zero Gravity spell Ven casts either. He's not nearly as impressed by that one, but he's still going to learn it, because it's useful utility, and he now knows a great way to use it as set up.
The plan is meant to go something like this:
Ven goes right back to yelling insults at the Heartless, and Roxas joins in- and the mob re-doubles their efforts to catch the two as they weave and bob through the burning forest.
Ven had spotted a clearing early on as they passed through, and it was where he'd lead Roxas back to to execute their plan. It would be a hair trigger sort of plan, skin-of-their-teeth sort of plan, but Roxas didn't doubt that it would work. It was sound enough on paper.
The plan was to lead them into the clearing, where Ven would set a few layers of Mine Square down to stun as soon as they stepped into range. As soon as that was completed, Ven would cast Zero Gravity to lift them into the air and hold them there. It didn't need to be too strong to capture a stunned collective.
And then it was up to Roxas to cast his frighteningly powerful Thundaza Shot and fell them all at once.
It's sound in practice.
But Roxas forgets that Murphy's Law is still a very powerful force in his life, so it executes a little more like this:
Roxas comes blazing into the clearing, Ven still under his arm like a particularly loud football as the monkey mob comes barreling after them, screeching and throwing very ineffective bits of flaming rock. Ven's casting fast, orange lights blooming under Roxas's feet as he runs to the ring of trees on the other side.
And then the boss (which he later learns are called Crusherwilds and isn't that just fitting) leaps over the entire mob and lands dead center into the Mine Square trap and sets them all off at once.
That is Roxas's sign that everything is about to go off the rails. And off the rails it goes. Very violently and very rapidly.
The Crusherwild is out of the way- because landing on a set of literal mines meant for at least 20 Heartless point-blank was a death sentence no matter how you looked at it- but that means there's no Mine trap to stun the horde of Bouncy and Powerwilds Heartless that come swarming in, shrieking and chattering and still out for blood. Roxas barely has the two seconds he needs to set Ven on his feet before they're overtaken.
Even with one arm out of commission Ven is still swinging and striking, Wayward Wind cutting down Heartless left and right as he dances around Roxas. Roxas twirls and spins with Ventus, letting the faster wielder cover his back as he, the stronger one, cuts down and through the swarm. Ventus’ innate wind magic is keeping the fire from licking at their heels, creating a neat circle around them, but does little to push back the smoke threatening to choke them. Ven staggers behind him, leaning his weight on Roxas's shoulder for a just a second before lashing out again with an angered snarl. A half frozen Powerwild goes flying. Roxas smacks another two together before kicking them away from him.
But for every two they cut down, four more seem to swarm forth. He's not sure where the hell they're coming from in such quantities, but he does know he's wearing down. His arms ache and burn with every swipe, his reaction time is slowing down with every passing second. He's overheating with the force of the flames bearing down on them, making him slow, sluggish. Ven behind him is panting harshly, staggering slightly and bumping into Roxas's back.
There will be a moment where they just won't react fast enough.
That moment comes very soon.
Ven lets out a sharp cry of pain from behind him, from a Powerwild tripping him with it's tail and landing right on his broken arm. Roxas turns and is promptly backhanded so hard that he staggers away from his downed comrade. He surges forward with an angered cry, Blizzarding the Powerwild about to pounce on Ven as he struggled back up. He charges Keyblade out, and a sharp swing to the side shatters it into snow. Roxas feels almost dizzy. They've been fighting for what feels like ages, and he's so physically drained that his mana is recharging at a distressingly sluggish rate.
Suddenly, the mobs changes. They pull back, almost as a collective.
The horde sways, shrieks , and charges as one inferno.
" Zero Graviza !"
As soon as Ven calls the spell out, Roxas feels the air around him shudder and change, charged with some sort of energy. And then that energy yanks, abruptly pulls up and drags everything that isn't damn near nailed into the ground with it. Roxas even stumbles, but manages to keep his footing. The Heartless go tumbling into the air, scrambling as they try to regain their orientation. But Roxas doesn't focus on that- instead he staggers over to Ven, who's on one knee and breathing hard, Wayward Wind driven into the dirt to support himself.
With all the Heartless in the air it's easier to see their numbers. There is still a solid thirty or so to take out.
Roxas doesn't have thirty or so energy.
Not alone, he doesn't.
"Ven. Scorched earth."
The other blond's head snaps up.
The terms have been met: too many Heartless to take alone, too weak to keep fighting, not enough magic to keep casting like fiends, but enough magic for a last ditch effort.
Ven swallows. Sure, they've discussed it, but they've never actually tried it before- sheerly because of how dangerous it would be to even attempt it. He glances up at the Heartless floating in the air, to the darkened sky above, to the fire encircling then like a dome. His gaze hardens, and he tightens his grip on his Keyblade before nodding at Roxas.
He and Ven shift together, until they're back to back again, Light pouring off of them in waves. Roxas raises Oblivion to the sky as Ven's eyes go ghostly blue, and the ethereal blades come to life floating around him.
They've got one shot at this. The Graviza spell is weakening.
And when Roxas lets the Light magic burst forth and come crashing down, Ven promptly drives the circle of blades down into the ground.
The result is immediate and effective.
The combined energy of Magic Hour and Wingblade is incredibly powerful, staggeringly powerful, so much so that Roxas is entirely unprepared for the way it surges through him. He seizes as the light magic tears through him, white hot and painful, making his arms lock together as he holds onto Oblivion to keep the spell going, but also holding on for dear life. He only vaguely feels the pressure of Ven leaning against him, also holding on hard to the blades of light he's driving into the ground to pump out as much power as he possibly can.
Light engulfs the battlefield, coming down in massive pillars, even bigger shockwaves, tearing up absolutely everything as it comes down in a utter storm of sheer destruction. Heartless are blasted into nothing, tossed left and right, the ground is torn straight through. Rocks are shattered apart and pieces go flying, and Roxas feels the distant pain of a rather large piece colliding directly with his chest.. He can't hear past the shrill screech of magic tearing up it's surroundings.
It's also indescribably painful.
The final blast of Light feels like getting shocked through by a top tier Thundaza spell, and Roxas only briefly feels the pain intensifying in a way he didn't even know was possible, like lava searing through his veins-
Before everything goes dark.
When Roxas wakes up, he's aware of three things.
Roxas is pretty sure even his teeth hurt.
He's familiar enough with his own body and getting injured to know he's got at least one broken rib, something wrong with his ankle, and one hell of a crick in his neck. Everything else is just bruised to all hell. He feels wrung out to dry, drained of every drop of energy he could possibly supply. He normally feels something like that after performing Magic Hour- it's a Limit Break for a reason- but the kind of ache he feels now is far beyond that. He's entirely sure it's because of Wingblade's combined energy. He's always been aware of how strong Ven's Light magic is, but he's never actually felt it so intimately.
He reminds himself to never piss Ventus off.
(More than usual.)
The second thing that he's aware of is that Ven is beside him, laid on his back. He's already awake, just staring at the sky. Roxas makes to turn towards him, and then immediately abandons that venture when his neck screams at him. He groans and decides to just stare at the sky as well.
The third is that the fire is gone, no longer overbearing and practically choking him with it's heat and smoke. He gulps in air the moment he notices, grateful for actual oxygen.
"It's ok," Ven murmurs softly while Roxas drinks in air. "I already called Chirithy. She's gonna go let the others know and come for extraction. ETA about ten minutes."
"How long were we out?"
"No idea. But look at the sky. We did it."
He hadn't really been paying attention before- too busy cataloging everything that hurt and enjoying oxygen- but sure enough, the sky overhead is trying to clear, the darkness making way for Kingdom Hearts to bathe the world in it's light, to free it and start anew. Roxas resists the urge to laugh.
"Another world saved. All in a day's work, yeah?"
Ven laughs instead, soft and low. It's more of a harsh exhale than anything, and Roxas is pretty sure it's because anything other type of action would require some sort of movement and right now movement hurts more than anything else.
"....we should probably never do that again. Like, ever. I think we almost died."
Roxas snuffles, because he knows they almost died. He's never felt so close to actual death before in his life.
"We really did. Scorched Earth was a really dumb idea. If I had used my stronger Limit Break variant-"
"Wait wait, what? You have a stronger variant of that?!" Ven stares at him, eyes wide, and Roxas almost wants to laugh at the expression on his face. He's too tired though, so he just manages a smile.
"Yeah. I would need both Keyblades to pull it off though, and Oathkeeper's been real finicky lately. Light wielders or not the combined magic would have probably overcharged us and like. Stopped our hearts or something."
Silence stretches between them for a few long moments.
"Remind me to never piss you off."
Roxas does laugh at that, a short bark of a sound that echoes off into the empty world despite how it makes his aching body protest.
"More than you already do?"
The others arrive in seven minutes, but Roxas is already drifting in and out of consciousness by the time they arrive. Ven had succumbed to his injuries again shortly after their conversation, and it was all Roxas could do to ignore his screaming muscles and reach out to gently lay his hand across Ven's chest. The gentle rise and fall is reassuring that he's still alive, helps Roxas bite back the panic of losing another beloved friend.
His eyes are closed when they arrive, but he knows they're there at the feeling of warmth in his heart and their harsh, horrified noises. He cracks an eye open to see Xion crouching near him, hands hovering over him like she's terrified to touch him, tears in her eyes.
"Hi, Xion," he greets placidly. "How's it going? I'd get up and hug you but I can't really feel my legs."
He reaches up to caress her cheek. She blinks watery eyes at him, shimmering blue and sad, and all he wants to do is wipe the pain away. He knows it kills her to see him hurt. This, at least, is the most comfort he can offer right now. It's enough; she leans into his touch, one hand reaching up to cover his own.
They sit there quietly, just drinking in the others warmth, the comfort of their closeness, just reveling in being alive, for what seems like only a few seconds and an eternity long. It still feels too short when Aqua comes over, and Xion pulls away to let her get a look at him. Roxas holds perfectly still as her hands roam over him. He's still not super big on being touched, but he's slowly getting used to it with how helplessly tactile most of the Guardians are. Especially Sora and Ventus.
"You're in a bit better shape than Ven, but I still would rather get you back to the Mysterious Tower for more extensive healing. I don't really recommend a full field repair right now. But I can give you something for the pain."
Her hands glow a cooling green, and magic sinks into his body. Torn skin knits together, blood flushes from bruises, the ringing in his head fades a little. It isn't much in the grand scheme of his hurt, but even the little bit of relief to his ache is more than appreciated. He breathes.
"Thanks," he mumbles, feeling inexplicably drowsy- and realizes that Aqua had mixed a bit of Sleep in her Cure. Probably to make transport easier on his battered body. He'll fuss at her later for spelling him without his consent, something he has repeatedly made his discomfort with clear, but for now, he embraces the dark that promises to wash away the pain.
Roxas wakes for a second time to the bright lights and antiseptic smell of the Mysterious Tower's medbay, chest wrapped tight in canvas bandages and leg elevated to keep weight off his (apparently) shattered ankle. He doesn't feel nearly as bad as before, the worst of the pain having dulled to a low, throbbing ache. It's nothing he can't handle, with his level of pain tolerance, but he knows better than to attempt to put weight on his still healing ankle. If his ankle hadn't been repaired by the Good Fairies with magic, then it was a rather serious break- the Good Fairies claimed that certain grievous injuries were best healed by the body naturally, and would refuse to use major healing magic to expedite the process. Roxas had no desire to stress his ankle and possibly cause permanent damage- it's a little annoying but he'll live.
He notices, as he blinks sleep out of his eyes, that it's clear that the other Guardians have been by. His bedside table is filled with cards and flowers, candies (‘ salt water taffies! Yum’) , and trinkets, and even a large stuffed bear.
Most notably though, is the pictures.
Hayner, Sora, and Olette at the town square, skating together now that Roxas has been teaching them, having the time of their lives. Lea at the beach, asleep in the sand as Terra and Namine build a rather impressive sandcastle atop him. Aqua and Riku, joking as they spar, their smiles stunning. One of himself, arms thrown around Xion and Ven's shoulders, Xion startled and mouth wide with a smile, Ven with his head thrown back in laughter and in danger of dropping his ice cream- Hunnybunny, Roxas thinks it was called.
They're all his favorite pictures from home. The ones he kept on his nightstand near his bed, the ones he'd admitted to the others meant more than the world to him, so much so that he kept the negatives under his floorboards to never lose them.
And they brought them here to be there when he woke. To make the medbay where he's bound to be tied up in for a few weeks a little more like home. To make him comfortable.
The warmth that floods Roxas at the thoughtfulness almost chokes him, makes tears spring to his eyes as he sucks in a breath. A wobbly smile makes its way on his face.
Those guys .
He loves them more than he can say.
Roxas moves to sit up, wincing just a bit as the ache arcs through him. He's near the windows he notes, and he's got a simply lovely view of the galaxy night sky outside, with a nice breeze coming through. He sighs.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.”
Roxas squeaks, startling hard and nearly toppling off his bed. He only saves himself by banging his hand down on his nightstand, rattling his treasure grove of gifts, but miraculously not knocking everything over.
He blinks rapidly.
To his right, the same voice bursts into laughter- and Roxas knows that giggly mess of a voice. He turns to scowl at Ven, who's lying back on his pillows. His own bedside stand is equally stuffed with flowers and cards and a comically large giraffe. He's put a hand over his mouth as he giggles. He's got bandages around his neck to wrap down to his collarbone and disappear into his shirt. His right arm is in a bright green cast that is obviously scrawled all over by the other Guardians, and only his fingers peek through. His right eye has a bandage over it as well. Roxas inhales. Ven hadn't been facing him when they spoke back inthe Seonee Jungle- hadn't noticed anything wrong with his eye before.
“Took a rock to it. ‘s fine though! Just a little sensitive to light right now.” Ven flashes a lopsided grin. “Glad to see you up. You were out for some time.”
Ven hums. “Hard to tell here sometimes; it's always night. Hm. Like...maybe a day and a half? Not too long.” He shrugs. Without hesitation, he reaches out, and Roxas lifts his own arm to grip Ven's hand. They place their fingers together, and immediately they can feel their hearts thrumming in time with one another, sharing their light back and forth. Physical contact initiates their heart bond best, and it always has a soothing effect.
Roxas breathes, and leans back against his pillows. Not too long at all. That's good, at least. But something is still gnawing at his stomach, a question he needs answered.
“Glad you're ok, Ven. Was worried about you. Why did you...why did you get in the way?”
Ven tilts his head like a baffled puppy. “‘In the way’?”
“In the way of that attack, by the big one with the mace. I could have taken it. Why did you put yourself in the way? Like...” Roxas waves his hand awkwardly. “You're like a hundred pounds soaking wet.”
Ven looks put out. “I'm 120, thanks very much. And it wasn't like I was really thinking. I just...I couldn't let it hit you.” He breathes. Squeezes Roxas's hand. “I knew I could get you out of the way in time. So I didn't think. I just moved.”
Roxas frowns- but he gets it. He can't even count the amount of times he's casted on autopilot, not even looking as he throws a spell to cover a teammate's back. How many times he's had that done to him. They’re all like that, always watching their friends back as well as their watch their own fronts. He huffs.
“Just...try to keep that to a minimum. I don't think my heart could take seeing that a second time. Light above.”
Ven barks out a laugh. Squeezes their fingers, and Roxas can't help but crack a smile too.
“Yeah, yeah… no promises.”