Real Things
Pre-CoM, a Demyx and Xaldin short.

Part of the problem with a million worlds is that everything's the same. Only -- not really. People talk the same, or close enough, or they talk mostly the same -- or close enough -- so the important thing is that Demyx can get understood whenever it's important. Which is all that matters. In a million worlds, the fact that everyone's so similar is a lucky break.

Exact perfection is a luxury. The Organization takes what it can get.

So Demyx is pretty much okay with a hundred similarities, because the alternative would be too crazy to navigate. People are basically people-shaped, even if that definition includes giant talking rabbits, or merfolk, or singing red monkeys that get really creepy when they start taking parts of their own bodies off and tossing them around. Demyx has seen things that he wouldn't even start to classify as human, but they speak the right language and they act in the right ways, and they usually accept Demyx's presence as native with only a minimum of fuss.

No matter what a world looks like, its inhabitants all eat, sleep and breathe, in their own ways.

They also -- in their own ways -- bleed and die.

So where there's life, there's death; where there's death, there are ways for people to try and avoid it. Herbs used to be big on Demyx's home world. Back then -- back when he was Somebody instead of Nobody, and he didn't have to worry about people killing him at the drop of a hat -- Demyx was used to mixing leaves with robin's broth and adding seedpods to his tea. Steeping roots and leaves and berries created various curatives. Herbs were simple. Herbs made sense.

He still remembers which plants can be combined to help counteract major poisons. He can recognize the one that cures hiccups from fifty paces away, walking. But herbs are just a small variation out there. What one world calls tonics is the same as potions on another, which is the same as elixirs on a third.

When Demyx first arrived in the City That Isn't One And Has Really Weird Capitalization, the only examination room had been barely larger than a closet. It had been stolen from Vexen's labs -- a fact that the scientist was still bitter about, grumbling at the drop of a hat -- and promptly equipped in haste. Dusks had been assigned to steal medical supplies willy-nilly from various physicians, but they didn't always remember to bring back instructions or ingredient labels for some of the bottles.

The result was a storage room that had been stuffed with mismatched boxes and machinery. The only light came from a single bulb overhead, which managed to shine brightly enough to illuminate the drabness of the surroundings. Any available shelves had been crammed with supplies. Bottles were segregated carefully by the appropriate world. All the plants were isolated in jars -- even the roots -- and several of them floated in liquids that had separated out into layers, the denser fluids settling to the bottom to congeal in darkening colors.

He'd been given warnings before ever seeing the room itself. Don't move things, don't mix random medications, don't experiment just to see what happens. Strongest among the instructions was the rule that he was never to take anything from the infirmary without consulting Zexion or Lexaeus beforehand. Also, he was to report any adverse symptoms immediately, including -- but not limited to -- rashes, bumps, purple spots, dizziness, vomiting, and death.

Demyx had wondered, at the time, why there was such a need for separation. Medicine was medicine was medicine. Right?

It had been Lexaeus who'd explained the reasons to him. Not all of the Nobodies came from the same world, and while such things as language and even physical similarities had their mirror partners, there were some differences. Allergies to certain chemicals could be fatal when a person was already wounded. Infections could be worsened. Some medicines could be too potent; others, not strong enough, and with so few members in the Organization, no risk was tolerable.

"I didn't know that Lexaeus's Other was a doctor," he'd half-joked, half-marveled the first time he'd been brought to the infirmary for his checkup.

Xigbar had given him a look like he'd just suggested black was red. "He wasn't. We just had to learn some things since becoming Nobodies, and Lexaeus was the most willing out of all of us. Anyway," the gunner added, clearing his throat as he leaned back in his chair, "he's only an imitation of a doctor, not a real one, so don't go breaking parts of yourself to see what he can fix. Now stick out your tongue."

Are we able to get sick? Demyx had tried to ask around the wooden stick shoved inelegantly into his mouth, but it only came out as a mumble, which quickly turned into a choking noise when Xigbar gave the stick a shove to keep him quiet.

Eventually, the gunner finished his hemming and hawing and threw away the tongue depressor in the vague direction of the wastebasket. It missed; Xigbar was keen enough to shoot it a glance, and the wooden stick flipped around in midair and made a neat arc into the trash. "You're not plagued." He sounded disappointed. "Not even with something cool, like yellow pickle spots or Marlboro fungus. Go on, get out of here. I need to get back to my patrols," he added, gathering up his guns with the same sort of affront of a frog that'd just been told to change lillypads. "Don't end up back here until you catch something entertaining."

And that was the last that Demyx saw of the infirmary for months. He took the advice seriously, or as seriously as he could manage; the Superior liked to send people out to the strangest places, most of them full of creatures with teeth as long as Demyx's arm. It was hard to keep from getting chewed up under those conditions, but water magics and a highly-developed sense of caution left Demyx's skin intact.

Somewhere in the infirmary, he knew, there was a rack with his name on it, ninth down the list. Demyx, the Melodious Nocturne. Iodine tolerant. Every now and then, he got potions packed in with his mission supplies, but he didn't have to go down there in person, and Lexaeus hadn't sent anything fatal yet.

The presence of crazed mystics had not made it into the survey reports before Luxord and Xaldin discovered it for themselves during one extended mission; Demyx had been there when they returned from Facinaturu, swearing and stumbling and checking themselves to make certain their blood was still red. Xaldin had taken the worst of the damage between the two, holding the line of defense as Luxord fought to break through the dozens of ciphers that protected the vaults of Lord Orlouge. Despite their best efforts, one of the stasis cantrips went haywire just as the gambler was opening the final door. Xaldin had been the one struck by the worst of the explosion that billowed out, lacing the room with energy shrapnel.

Afterwards, they both were shuffled down to the infirmary, escorted by a few of the senior members. Zexion and Lexaeus argued about treatment options while the Superior drifted along behind, presenting occasional questions about the nature of the mystics.

Without anything else to contribute, Demyx satisfied himself with conjuring tiny rainclouds on the carpets to help clean away the bloodstains, watching as the Dusks wriggled about with washcloths. A successful mission meant that no one had to return to Facinaturu, particularly if the threat there was not deemed worth any further benefits. File closed, job complete.

He registered the heavy footstep of Lexaeus beside him before the man came into sight, accompanied by the smell of chicken. "Can you carry these down to the infirmary?"

Two dinner trays clattered as they were shoved into his hands.

Demyx stared down at the contents with dismay. "You don't want a Dusk to bring it?"

Lexaeus shook his head, tearing open a packet to sprinkle what smelled like orange powder into one glass of water, stirring it with a spoon until the flecks dissolved. "Luxord's mobile, but Xaldin's confined to bedrest. He'll need help eating. I doubt he wants to depend on a Dusk's coordination." Tearing open a second packet, Lexaeus added the dose to the other tray. "There. Don't let him sit up. And remember -- no magic."

Teleporting down to the infirmary directly sounded like a great idea, but startling two wounded Organization members didn't, so Demyx took the long way. The soup smelled strongly of chicken and salt; the bread was fresh, and made his stomach think desperately of jam and butter. A fresh garlic bulb had been simmered in oil and set aside on a saucer on each tray, their tops severed to present each clove waiting for consumption.

Luxord's voice drifted towards him as he walked down the spiraling stairs and along the hall. "Look, I'll keep you company at least, that should make it up."

A disdainful snort answered, low and gravely. "You cheat at blackjack. I ended up with all your chores last time. I won't make the same mistake again."

"Well," the gambler offered, "we could play a group game instead. I'm sure my Dusks would be willing to sit in for a few rounds. Though, I'm not sure you're in the mood for Bridge."

"What would you suggest?"

There was a brief pause. "How about a rousing game of Hearts?"

Demyx turned the corner in time to see Luxord ducking out of the infirmary, laughing as a string of curses followed. One of his arms was still in a sling. The gambler's eyes lit up as he noticed Demyx there; grinning madly, Luxord scooped up one of the trays from the musician's hands, balancing it masterfully on his uninjured palm as he whirled about with a dramatic flourish. One boot drove firmly into Demyx's hip, propelling the Nocturne into the room. "Don't worry," Luxord called out merrily. "Demyx is here to kiss it and make it all better."

Panicked at the sound of jostling bowls, Demyx stumbled forward, grabbing the surviving tray with both hands to keep it from flying to the ground. Only when he was certain that nothing would suddenly topple off did he look up to meet Xaldin's cold stare. "Um. Hi."

The examination room had grown since the last time Demyx had visited. He remembered a cramped closet; now, the infirmary had expanded to fit two beds with a window at the far end to let in fresh air and starlight. Trays stood beside each bed, stocked with metal tools that had been draped over with white linen, so that only their outlines were visible underneath the fabric like corpses under shrouds. Strange mechanical equipment had been arranged along the walls of the room. A few display stands kept the time with obedient, constant beeps.

Xaldin was lying on his stomach on the nearest bed, watching him impassively.

White sheets had been drawn up to Xaldin's waist, covering him from the hips-down. His back was spotted with thick bandages. Lengths of tape and gauze had been set across his spine and along his ribs. The blood had been cleaned from his wounds, replaced by neat, methodical butterfly bandages peeking out beneath the pale wrappings. Bundled together into a thick clump, Xaldin's braided locks were draped over the pillow like a black rope, mimicking the clear fluids tube that had been run into the crook of the lancer's left arm.

The smell of eucalyptus and iodine was on the air, lazily winding through the room and drifting into the hall.

Suddenly faced with uncertainty, Demyx cleared his throat. "Luxord didn't really mean I should, you know, ki -- "


It was an awkward moment, standing there. The nearest chair held Xaldin's coat; the jacket had been carefully draped across the armrests, and though the gore had been cleaned away, the gashes that had been rent in the leather had not been fully repaired. Not wanting to move it away left Demyx with the conundrum of having nowhere to sit, unless he planned on scooting the second bed through a tangle of medical equipment.

"I, um. Lexaeus sent down some food."

Xaldin closed his eyes in what looked like a long-suffering prayer. "Bring it over."

Crossing the room was easy enough. Once closer to the bed, however, Demyx found himself hovering uneasily near the lancer. "Do you want me to, uh, feed you?" he asked, even as he tried to banish all thoughts of what disasters might erupt from chicken soup and spilling it all over the sheets.

Xaldin sighed. "Sit."

Demyx sank to the floor, curious if he was supposed to help Xaldin climb out of bed or not. Instead, the lancer only pushed his weight closer to the edge of the mattress, jaw clenched, fighting down small groans against the pain of moving. Untangling a hand from the sheets, the lancer reached down with careful deliberation to pick up the spoon, navigating it towards the soup bowl.

Demyx lifted the tray hurriedly, bumping it against Xaldin's fingers; lowering it just as fast, he accidentally swooped the bowl away before Xaldin could dip his spoon into the broth. Finally, elevating the tray only by tiny fractions as the lancer kept his hand curved in beckoning, Demyx waited until Xaldin made the motion to halt before freezing obediently in place.

The whole position seemed incredibly awkward. "Can't you use magic?" he blurted. "For anything?"

"Some things, rest is needed." Xaldin took a slow bite of the soup, balancing it carefully so that it would not drip. "If a simple potion fixed all wounds, then we'd have no need for doctors. If tragedy could be averted by a tuft of feathers plucked from a chicken's arse, then no one would die, and we'd all live forever." Another scoop of broth, and Xaldin swallowed faster, making a passing grimace at the heat of the liquid. "If I want fewer complications, Zexion and Lexaeus say that I'm not supposed to use magic. Which means I get to lie here, and listen to you prattle."

Taking the hint, Demyx diverted his attention, letting it stray into the rest of the room. New shelves had been added, each one lining up underneath each other in proper order, with Xemnas at the top. Each label had the numbers and names listed; Zexion's shelf was stuffed with bottles, and Axel's section looked like it contained clumps of dried peppers.

The lowest shelf was different from all the rest. Half of XIII's medicines were marked with the sign for poison scrawled on half of them: rows of jaunty, cartoon skulls with crosses for eyes, and occasional mustaches added.

"What's up with Roxas's shelf?" he found himself asking, the question leaking out before he could remember to be quiet.

Thankfully, Xaldin seemed to tolerate the inquiry. "Those elixirs marked as toxic come from worlds where Light is used in healing -- Light, or holy powers, or whatever you want to call them. They're generally off-limits, but the Key drinks them like candy." There was a mirthless pause, and then a thin smile appeared on the lancer's face. "Care to try one?"

Curiosity was one thing, but since becoming a Nobody, risky action seemed a lot less interesting to Demyx. Ingesting something that was supposed to kill him was not the best thing he heard all day, and that included Axel's suggestion that he go fly kites during Larxene's target practice. Maybe Roxas didn't mind, but Roxas was known to be bizarre: a Nobody that could use Keyblades was about as logical as a sunny midnight, or a hot popsicle, or a nice Saix. "I'm good. I'll, uh. Pass."

Xaldin had switched to working on the bulb of garlic, using the tiny fork to spear a clove and scoop it out of its wrapping. Drops of olive oil slid off the tines like ripe amber jewels, and the lancer deftly turned his wrist to catch one on the edge of the tray, before it would have spattered on Demyx's knee.

Inspiration drew the words out of Demyx's mouth before he could stop them, as shamelessly honest as the resonator of his sitar. "You know, I've only seen you fight a couple of times, but it always reminds me of dancing."

The observation stopped Xaldin's hand in midair. "What?"

"It's elegant." Demyx hesitated for a minute, but Xaldin was technically in recovery, so the best time to ask was while the lancer couldn't do anything about it. "Were there many wars, on your world?"

The past was a topic that Demyx had learned best not to ask about; in the case of the six founding members, however, their shared history was like a black hole that was impossible to ignore. Even if you didn't look at it directly, the nearby mass sucked you in regardless, forcing you to orbit around it in hopes that it wouldn't crush you. Demyx had tried asking occasionally, in roundabout inquiries each time, but he'd always been rebuffed. Glared at, too.

This time wasn't much different -- Xaldin had turned a suspicious eye upon him, but didn't lapse into silence. "No. We were a world at peace, with no rivaling kingdoms in strife. We still trained a military, though. Mostly ceremonial. I mean," and Xaldin's words turned into grumbles, heavy with old memory, old complaints, "gunswords, not even Xigbar uses those. Too impractical."

For a moment, Demyx thought that Xaldin would ramble longer, and then the lancer's voice sharpened. "Dancing. That's not a compliment."

"Not everyone can dance."

"A fact which fails to comfort me during my time of need."

"No, look, look," Demyx pled. He was talking too fast; he knew he was talking too fast, but it was an old habit and everything they were supposed to be was habit anyway, so it was okay. "In some places, war became ceremonial. Either because the death count was too high, or their populations were too low, or they just got out of the habit of fighting directly. That's how dancing became so popular -- to tell stories, to compete with each other, to replace war. To make it into a creative art, rather than a destructive one."

"So your idea of hospice care is to give me a cultural lecture." Xaldin dropped the tiny fork onto the saucer with a tink. He gathered his arm back up in slow degrees, tucking it alongside his torso, his fingers crabbed on the sheets. "I should have asked Luxord to stay after all."

Muscles whining in relief as he lowered the tray to the ground, Demyx flexed a wrist that felt like it had been locked in position for too long. "Wait, listen." The plea came out weaker than he wanted, and he struggled to find the right words. "It's especially important to us, since we're Nobodies. At what point does the imitation become just as good as the real thing?"

Xaldin yawned long, shifting his weight just enough that he could lay his head back on the mattress. His eyes closed. "Why don't you check the heart you don't have," came his soft reply, "and then tell me."