He hears the sound of sand crunching beneath heavy boots and sighs. He knows exactly who it is. This is not the first time they’ve met here, but he still has no explanation as to why he keeps coming to see him. It’s not a coincidence anymore; this is intentional and purposeful.
The soft crunching grows louder and slower as the figure comes to a stop beside him. He doesn’t have to look at him to know that he’s slightly hunched over with his arms tucked neatly behind his back. He doesn’t have to look at him for any reason at all. He’ll be gone in the next five minutes anyway.
They sit and stand respectively in the peaceful silence. There’s no telling how long this peace will last before they start to bicker, or before the demon tide returns, but it’s peace nonetheless. Truth be told, he would rather not be left alone with his thoughts anyway. Bad company is better than no company.
As if he even has the right to call anyone bad company after everything he’s done.
“Can I bother you for a question?”
He keeps his eyes fixed on the full moon ahead. “Is there ever a time where you don’t?” he retorts. And he tries his best to not sound as if he’s complaining. He expected conversation.
Beside him, there’s a chuckle. “Fair,” Xehanort says softly. They sit through a couple more seconds of silence before he speaks again. “What does remorse feel like?”
He peeks at the man from the corner of his eye, and he swears he can see a sad smile. He turns his head to get a better look, but there is only a frown. He must have been mistaken. “Do you think you’re starting to feel bad for what you’ve done to them?”
Xehanort’s face remains perfectly still and calm. If it wasn’t for the frown on his lips, it would have been completely blank. “It had to be done. It is the same as your experiments—”
“The worlds would have been better off had I discontinued my research before you arrived and ruined everything.”
“At least you can finally acknowledge your own wrongdoing. Now, can you do it without pointing fingers at others?”
He grits his teeth and turns his head back to the moon. He knows he was wrong. Why isn’t that enough? “Why must you always throw my failures in my face?”
“Why must you make yourself a victim?” Xehanort bites back.
“Why do you never acknowledge your own role in all that’s happened”
Xehanort laughs. “Acknowledge my role?” he says, voice dripping with condescension. “I’m proud of what I’ve done. I did what was required when no one else would. I tried and I failed, and there is nothing beyond that. But you?” He laughs again. “You whine like a child who doesn’t want to endure his punishment alone. How many decades have you sat here trying to convince yourself that you should be forgiven because it’s not all your fault? Have you even made a proper apology?”
He stays silent. There’s no use in trying to explain it to him again. He’s tried to apologize and no one would accept it. He’s done all that he could in an attempt to make it right and it wasn’t enough.
“You think that because you’ve done a couple of grand gestures for those kids after having a hand in ruining their lives, it is enough to be forgiven. You can’t accept the fact that even if you do deserve forgiveness, no one is obligated to give that to you, Ansem—”
“Why are you here?” Ansem growls between clenched teeth.
“Why are you?”
He shuts his eyes and lowers his head. They couldn’t hold a simple conversation if someone put a keyblade to their heads. “I’m going to be the bigger man and end this conversation before one of us says something we don’t mean.”
“Fool. We have nothing left to lose here. Speak your piece.”
Ansem stays silent. He meant exactly what he’d said: this conversation is finished. There’s no use in attempting to talk to him if he’s going to act like he’s somehow superior to him. They didn’t end up here without reason. They’ve both done things that were wrong.
He slowly unclenches his jaw. He has done so many things wrong. There was a point in time where, just as Xehanort does, he felt justified in his actions. He went above and beyond to reach his goals and refused to listen to anything else. Xehanort played a big role in everything, but he cannot be blamed for his own poor decisions.
Where had his sense of responsibility gone? Since when has Xehanort become his voice of reason?
“I have nowhere else to go, Ansem,” he says softly. “This is where people like us end up when we do the things we’ve done. This is where the damned go to watch their hope of salvation slowly sink into the abyss. This is where we will lose our minds.”
Ansem knows this. He doesn’t want to be reminded of it. He can already feel himself teetering on the edge of sanity, and his balance slips a little more each second. “And you are okay with this?”
“I was aware of the consequences long before I started my journey and I was prepared to deal with them. It would appear that you were not.”
He wasn’t. He was so sure that he was doing the right thing, so he went all in and banked on the age old trope that good will triumph over evil. And it did, fortunately. He just didn’t expect to be blown away with the chaff.
“Remorse is...the voice in your head that never stops telling you that you shouldn’t have done that. It is the ache in your chest that tells you that you don’t deserve to come back from it. It is the pinpricks in your skin that remind you of your shame, and it is the heat of embarrassment on your cheeks. The more you focus on it, the longer it stays; the more you try to think of other things, the more it makes itself known.” He takes in a slow, deep breath. “Even if they were to forgive me...it would never stop.”
The sand begins to crunch again, and Ansem listens as Xehanort takes a seat on the rock beside him. “Ah...so that is what I’ve been feeling.”
Ansem turns to him in shock. He’s surprised to see such a genuine look of guilt in his warm, amber eyes. And the sad smile he thought he’d seen earlier is there.
“I hope they can forgive me one day. Not for me, but for themselves. It won’t do them any good to carry all of that anger in their hearts.”
His face softens as he stares at Xehanort. If a man like this can still find it in his heart to think of others while he sits here and rots in the Realm of Darkness, what does that say about him?
“You’re a good man, Xehanort.”
“No, I am not. I feel no remorse for what I’ve done. I only hate that I hurt them while doing it. I deserve to be here.”
“It takes a good person to admit that he has done something wrong,” Ansem argues.
“You are wrong again. You tend to see things in either black or white, but both the heart and the mind are different shades of gray. Good people are capable of doing bad things. Bad people are capable of doing good things. You cannot define a person so easily.”
There’s a lot of truth in his words. He hates that it’s taken him until now to do so, but he finally understands. “If the heart and mind are “shades of gray” the same can be said for the people that they...belong...to.”
At the sight of Xehanort’s smirk, he knows that this is what he’s been trying to get him to understand the entire time. He truly is a fool.
Ansem laughs from his belly. It’s the first time in a very long time that he’s felt genuine amusement. “It’s taken you how many years to get to the point?”
“It’s taken you how many years to understand my point?”
The two men laugh together. So, they’re stuck here until all of the worlds fall to ruin. Maybe that won’t be so awful after all. They both deserve to be here with one another, and they will eventually fall apart together.