It was like magic. It always had been.
Demy gave a particularly hard flip of his fin, propelling himself up and out of the water in a back flip, the sensation of cool evening air on his skin entirely different from the warmth of the shallow water. The sun reflected light off the scales of his fin with a series of blue and green sparks, shimmering through the moving surface of the water.
"Show off," Felicia muttered, crossing her arms over her chest. Demy just smirked, swimming in a quick circle around her.
"You should try it! It's fun," he said, and she frowned.
"No. Last time I tried it you pulled on my fin and made me belly-flop."
"That's what big brothers are for, right?"
Felicia smacked him with her light blue fin, and he swam a bit further away, trying to keep out of range of his sister's wicked 'back-fin'. Instead, he hopped up on a rock that jutted out of the water, basking in the light of the setting sun. Felicia joined him after only a few seconds, her fin smacking against the wet stone as she jumped on it from the water.
"I don't see how the humans can spend all that time outside of the water," she said softly. "It's nice, once in a while, but then my fin feels all cracked and dry."
Demy shrugged, leaning back on the rock and looking up at the sky. His mother taught him about the constellations up there, when he was small. He could see the lion now, arching across the sky in a series of bright dots.
"Maybe they just don't like water. I mean, have you seen them try to swim? They look like a fish that's missing a fin," he said softly.
"Better than us. We can't even stand up on dry ground."
"It's probably better that way. You know what Dad said about the humans and their world."
Felicia laid back on the rock, looking over at her older brother curiously, her blonde hair splaying on the rock below her head. "You believe what he said about the humans?"
"I try not to think about it. It's not like I'll ever end up dealing with them much, anyway," Demy said. "You worry too much, sis. You're too young to be worrying about all that."
Felicia paused, and then frowned. "Did you hear that?"
Felicia didn't answer. Instead, she dove back under the water, and Demy rolled his eyes and followed. That was when he heard something odd, though- a scream. It sounded like it came from the town.
"Stay here," he said to Felicia, who protested loudly as he swam away at top speed toward the deeper water. He knew she wouldn't listen, but it wasn't as if he could tie her fin to the nearest shipwreck. Knowing her, if he tried, she'd feed him to a shark. Or just bite him herself.
As he got closer to the small town that he called home, the first thing he noticed was that everyone was fleeing. Fins frantically pumped away from the houses, and crashes could be heard from inside the dwellings.
Demy swam into the maze of houses, looking frantically among the panicked fish and mer-people for his mother. That was when he saw what everyone was swimming away from.
Small black creatures with yellow eyes were forming out of the sea floor, leaping about as if they were on dry land. They were attacking anything that moved, and attempts to fight them off weren't working in the least.
Demy dodged one of the creatures as it jumped at him, twisting through a narrow pathway toward his house. Then, he heard a scream behind him, and he turned around.
He powered back toward his sister, who'd been cornered by three of the creatures. No time to try and fight them- he swam in front of her as they leapt.
He heard Felicia scream, then nothing but pain. Nothing. He saw blood in the water, and then everything went dark.
"I would like you two to pick up something for me."
Zexion glanced at Axel, who looked mildly annoyed at the idea of being sent off on an errand. The redhead crossed his arms and lifted his chin. "What are we pickin' up?"
"I've been informed of the existence of a new Nobody. Newly formed. It is imperative that you reach him before he awakens."
"Why is that?" Zexion asked, but Xemnas's only answer to that was to open a portal in front of the pair.
Axel scowled, but he obviously wasn't in the mood to argue. He stepped through the portal, and Zexion followed moments later.
They found themselves on a deserted beach, the sun setting low on the horizon, and the sand pristine and untouched by anything other than shells and driftwood. Zexion could smell it in the air- death. And another smell, a young man, but…not quite the smell he'd expected.
"Down there," Axel said, pointing down the beach. In the sand was a figure, nude and soaking wet, as if he'd washed up from the ocean. Maybe he had.
Then again, he'd have drowned out there.
"Come on," Axel said, approaching the young man in the sand. As Zexion stepped closer, though, the blonde shifted and moaned. Axel grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to his feet- and almost immediately, the boy collapsed completely.
"He's weak. Just carry him," Zexion said, glancing out at the ocean again as Axel lifted the boy into his arms.
That was what felt so wrong about this.
The young man smelled like a fish.
When Demy woke up, there was no pain…but he'd rather have felt pain than what he did feel. He was dry, completely dried out. He needed water, he needed it now.
He sat up with a start, realizing that something was horribly wrong. It felt wrong. His fin…
"Hey, relax, kid," a voice said, then a hand was pushing him back down to the bed. He resisted, looking up to see a redhead with piercing green eyes. A human.
Demy let out a choked cry and slapped his hand away, and then shoved the blanket down and off his fin.
Legs, not fin. He had legs. They were covered in black cloth, what the humans wore on their legs.
"No…no!" he shrieked, shaking his head and closing his eyes, trying to wish away this new discovery.
"Relax! You're okay!" the redhead insisted. Demy didn't listen; he had to find water, had to get back to the ocean, back to his sister. He tried to swing his legs off the bed like he would've his fin, then hastily attempted to stand up.
He was on the floor before the first step.
"Whoa! What's the rush?" the other man asked, kneeling next to Demy. "Just relax, okay? Take a second. Breathe."
"No, no, I have to go back!"
"Back…to that beach?"
"No, to the ocean, to my sister! She's still out there with those…those things."
"Was she…on a boat?"
Demy gave him an incredulous look. "We don't use boats. Boats are for humans."
The man smirked. "You are human."
"I'm not human! I'm not!"
"Okay, so you're a Nobody. Essentially, human. Basically."
Another man stepped in the room, this one with silver hair. Both men wore the same strange black robes.
"Xemnas wants to see him, Axel," the newcomer said passively. Axel scowled.
"He can't even walk yet."
"He won't be able to until we teach him how," the man in the doorway said. "He's always had fins, not legs."
"Fins?" Axel repeated, turning to look back at Demy. "Fins? You're one of those fish people?"
Demy was about to correct Axel, but the other man interrupted. "Come on, Axel. Bring him. You know the Superior hates to be kept waiting."
The other man disappeared. Axel wrapped an arm around Demy's waist, helping him to his feet.
"Will this Xemnas guy take me back to the ocean? Will he be able to give me back my fin?" Demy asked, leaning heavily on Axel and staring at the other man's feet. He had to observe, if he wanted to learn how to walk on his own to get back to the ocean.
"No. Listen, tuna boy, you're dead."
"I'm not dead. I'm right-"
Axel suddenly stopped, and then he looked Demy right in the eye.
"Stop for a second. Don't think. Don't talk. Just…wait."
Demy was too confused to argue. He did as he was told, and moments later, he could feel it. An emptiness. Something else wasn't right. It wasn't just his fin that was missing.
"No heart. You're a Nobody. You died."
Axel shrugged, tugging Demy forward again. "Suit yourself."
It took nearly ten minutes to make it down the hallway and around the corner. Demy simply couldn't understand how he was supposed to walk like this, balance on these two…things. Feet? Maybe.
Axel knocked hard on the large doors at the end of the hallway. "Superior, I've brought the fish kid."
"Send him in," a voice said from inside. "You wait by the door, Number Eight."
Axel didn't seem too happy about this. Nonetheless, he opened the door, shoved Demy in, and closed it again. Demy stumbled and fell, hitting the floor with a grunt.
"Get up and walk to me."
Demy looked up. A man with long silver hair stood on the other side of the room, wearing the same robe as the other two.
"Why?" Demy asked, not yet trying to get up. The man, who he assumed was Xemnas, narrowed his eyes.
"Do it, or I will deal you a fate worse than death."
That was good enough for Demy. He tried to stand, and fell once before making it unsteadily to his feet.
"Good. Now walk," Xemnas said. Demy tried to do so, but one or two steps was enough to send him right back to the floor, leaving his with bleeding knees and reddened hands from catching his falls.
"Pitiful," Xemnas said after what felt like the sixtieth fall. "I expected better from you."
"How do you know me?" Demy asked, his voice hoarse. "Why was I brought here? Why can't I go back?"
"You are a Nobody," Xemnas said slowly, his voice still calm. "You cannot go back because you are dead. You have no heart. Our Organization is devoted to returning to Nobodies their hearts."
Demy shook his head. "I don't believe you."
"You know what is missing within you. You cannot deny what you do not feel. The emotions you are expressing are mere memories of feeling, a guide of how you should react."
"It's not true!"
"Believe what you will," Xemnas said, taking a few steps forward to stand beside Demy. "I will be disposing of you as it is. I do not believe you have the strength to fight for our cause."
Demy sighed heavily. "I just want to go back to my family."
"Without a heart, you cannot. With a heart…"
Demy lifted his head. "If I help you get us hearts…I could go back?"
"I make no guarantees, but there are many possibilities."
Demy didn't even have to consider. He pushed himself slowly to his feet once again, looking Xemnas right in the eye, despite being shorter.
"If it means I can go back…I'll help you. I'm strong enough."
Xemnas smirked. "Prove it to me," he said, and then he punched Demy in the face. Demy felt rage flash through his, and he didn't even consider that it might be a memory of anger. It felt real enough to him.
Rain began to fall. Demy thought nothing of it as he fought his way back to his feet, but Xemnas looked at the sky and nodded.
"Good. You will do, I suppose."
"From now on, you are no longer Demy. To this Organization, you are Demyx, Number Nine. Your unwritten contract begins immediately," Xemnas said. "You will obey my every order until such time that our goal has been achieved. Axel, come remove him!"
Demyx didn't even get a chance to ask another question. Within moments Axel had grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back toward the door.
What have I done?
"What is the name of Shiva are you eating?"
Demyx looked up from his plate at Xaldin, who sat across the table from him. Luckily, he'd met all these men at least once prior to this dinner meeting- and he'd had two days to work on walking. He was still slow at it, and he fell a lot, but he could at least get around on his own now.
"Fish," he said, lifting the scaled creature and taking a bite of it. Xaldin's face turned an interesting shade of green.
Demyx blinked. "Yeah? And?"
"You're eating a fish, raw."
"Enough," Xemnas said, ignoring Xaldin's dry heaving as Demyx took another bite out of the fish. Zexion stopped eating long enough to grab Demyx's fork, stuff it in the blonde's hand, and then quickly demonstrate how to use it. Demyx frowned, but tried his best to mimic the movements.
Saix suddenly stormed in, his fury practically electrifying the air in the room. "Who was in my room!"
Xemnas sighed. "You're late, Number-"
"Someone took one of my fish!"
All eyes turned to Demyx, who had the most innocent, wide-eyed look that had ever been seen in this castle.
"I thought you were keeping them to eat," he said, and Saix took one look at his plate before rushing out of the room. The sounds of him throwing up could be heard shortly after.
"As I was saying before you all decided to act like chidren," Xemnas continued, "I wished to inform you through this meeting that each one of you will be taking shifts training Number Nine in movement, combat, and magic. His element is water, and it should be used to the highest efficiency."
"As long as you make him eat his meals separate from the rest of us," Xigbar muttered, trying to avoid looking as Demyx took another bite of raw, bloody fish guts.
"No arguments. I want him able to fight as well as any of us within the month."
Vexen stood up, unaffected by the gruesome display across the table. "If that's the case, I need to run some tests on him today to prepare. Demyx, would you come with me?"
Demyx hesitated, and then shrugged and stood, and Vexen led him out of the room. There was a short silence before Xemnas spoke again.
"Once his training is complete, Vexen will be erasing Number Nine's memories completely," he said, and Axel practically choked on his food.
"He is much too influenced by his Somebody's life. He cannot be affected by what he cannot remember."
"I doubt it will have the intended effect, sir," Zexion said. "The effects of the subconscious are just as strong as the active memories, and impressions on the subconscious from a former life cannot be erased, even with-"
"I did not ask your opinion. I told you what my plan is, and it will be carried out," Xemnas said, standing up. "Train him. As soon as a majority of you believe he is ready, Vexen will carry out the procedure."
Axel caught Zexion's eye from across the table, communicating without saying a word. Neither of them liked this one bit.
Demyx was unpredictable. In his efforts to convince himself that he still had a heart, he managed to exaggerate his emotions to the point of seeming bipolar. One second he was incredibly happy, optimistic, and naïve, and in the next moment he was unleashing a water attack on someone in the hallway for even looking at him wrong.
Axel, being in the room next to him, could hear the water mage playing his sitar at all hours of the day and night. Ever since he'd learned to summon his instrument, he'd become attached to it like a father to a child, and had even become reluctant to allow it to disappear when he wasn't using it.
Axel knew the time was drawing near. But despite the mood swings, despite the musician's habit of eating raw fish at every meal (now provided by a separate tank from Saix's), Axel had become increasingly fond of the newcomer.
He was different than the others, and Xemnas was going to take that away. Demyx remembered a life where he was happy, where he had a family who loved him, and that was more than most of them had, to Axel's knowledge.
Once those memories were gone, who knew what would happen?
That was how Axel found himself back on that beach with Zexion and Demyx. Demyx looked out at the ocean, his breathing short as he leaned into the wind, toward the water.
"Don't tell Xemnas we brought you here," Axel said softly.
"You'll have two hours," Zexion added. "You aren't to go near anyone who might recognize you. If you're seen, there could be trouble. Do you understand?"
Demyx looked between the two of them, a smile growing on his face. "Are you saying…"
Zexion concentrated his own shapeshifting powers on Demyx, and soon a blue-green light began twisting around his legs, blocking them from view. Axel was ready to catch him when he fell- he held Demyx up as the light faded, and a beautiful, smoothly scaled fin had appeared in place of his clumsy human legs.
"Two hours. Don't make us come after you," Zexion reminded him, and then Axel gave him a good shove out into the water. A flash of fin, and Demyx was gone into the water.
"Do it," Axel said with a sigh, and Zexion concentrated his powers one again. Axel felt something shift in his throat, his mouth, his lungs, and then the same light encased his legs. Just before he lost his feet, he leapt into the water.
He struggled for a moment, forcing himself to take in a breath of water, the sensation making him shudder as water coursed through his lungs and back out, air filtered from it just as if he had gills. He gave an experimental flick of his fin, realized how much easier this was than conventional swimming with two legs, and then he took off after Demyx.
He knew Demyx would've come back, but Zexion insisted on keeping an eye on him anyway.
Axel could barely keep up. Demyx zipped through the water with powerful strokes of his fin. Occasionally he would propel himself up and out of the water, doing elaborate flips in the air.
Axel was seeing an entirely different person. A different Nobody, anyway. Demyx was truly at home here, in his element, weaving an elaborate dance through coral and shipwrecks.
But when he got close to a small town, Axel kept closer watch. Demyx was being careful, observing the people in the town, and ducking when they passed close. Axel did the same, hidden from Demyx's view as well.
When a small blonde mermaid passed, black seashells draped around her forehead and twisted in her pale hair, Axel couldn't miss the expression of anguish on Demyx's face.
She looked like him. Same blonde hair, pale, flawless skin, and expressive blue eyes.
It was time to go back. Axel waited until Demyx had traveled away from the town, finding him sitting on a rock that jutted out of the water. He was looking up at the sky; the stars were just beginning to appear in the evening light.
Axel broke the surface and leaned on the rock, and Demyx smirked.
"You aren't very good at following people, you know."
Axel grinned. "Just keepin' an eye on you. It's time to go, Demyx."
Demyx sighed. "I know."
When they returned, Vexen, Xigbar, and Xaldin approached the trio.
"Come with me, Demyx," Vexen said, and Demyx froze. He could tell something wasn't right about this.
Axel looked away. Xigbar and Xaldin grabbed onto Demyx, who immediately began to struggle.
"No! Zexion! What are they doing?"
Zexion didn't answer either. Demyx started to cast a water spell, but a quick blow to the head left him disoriented, unable to do so as they dragged him off.
Zexion had been right.
Axel was so tempted to walk up to Xemnas and say 'I told you so'. Erasing Demyx's memories had only served to worsen the mood swings. He was even more unpredictable than before.
He ate normal food now, but couldn't keep it down. No one had the heart to tell him what kind of food he was raised to eat, the kind of food his system could actually digest. Eventually they managed to get him drinking water and eating various kinds of baked fish, but never much. He dropped weight dramatically even as his strength increased.
He withdrew into his music. When Demyx was sent on missions and Axel was at the castle, he would miss the haunting melodies of the sitar.
Demyx always went outside when it rained. He made a point of stepping in the puddles on the street. He even went as far as to fill up his bathtub and sleep in it, sometimes completely submerged. He assumed it was his powers that gave him the ability to breathe underwater.
One night, when Demyx returned from a mission, Axel found him on the roof, staring at the sky. Axel stepped over to him, tilting his head.
"What are you looking at?" he asked, and Demyx sighed.
"There's something in those stars that I'm supposed to see."