(A/N): This may be my last submission for a little bit, because life chose this week to kick the door in and bitch-slap me. Inconsiderate prick. I'll still be working on new material though. And reviews make me warm and fuzzy.
Disclaimer: I tried to buy the characters, but I only had $1.94 in my bank account. Maybe if the execs had actually died laughing things would've gone differently, but currently all I own is a single copy of the game.
"You and I both miss someone we care about." – Axel, Destiny Islands
Demyx strode through the silent halls of the Castle That Never Was, ticking off a mental list of the Organization members.
The Superior was locked in his office doing…whatever it was he did. Demyx had long ago given up trying to figure out what sort of work Xemnas was engaged in behind closed doors – he could only assume it had something to do with the Keybearer and Kingdom Hearts.
Xaldin was off trying to turn a strong-hearted beast into a Heartless, Xigbar was attempting to infiltrate the Land of Dragons, Luxord was causing problems in Port Royal, and Axel was still in Twilight Town. Saix – well, Demyx didn't know where the Luna Diviner was, but knowing the Berserker's disposition, Demyx was fairly confident he'd have the room to himself.
So he was surprised when he entered the Proof of Existence and found the Flurry of Dancing Flames standing over one of the glowing stones, his posture almost painfully tense.
"Oh, hey Axel," Demyx called, a little taken aback, hiding the pale blossom he held gripped in his fingers behind his back. "When did you get back?"
Axel flinched at his voice, whirling around to face him as the chakram flamed to life in his hands. Demyx took a step back at the look Axel fixed him with – eyes narrowed, lips pulled back in a silent snarl. For a second he thought Axel was going to fling his weapons at his head, but the Flurry of Dancing Flames slumped forward, the chakram fading back into nothing.
"Oh," he murmured dispiritedly. "It's you." The redhead turned away from him, back to the glowing stone that Demyx now recognized as Roxas's. The Key of Destiny's stone still glowed blue.
"So did everything go ok?" he asked cautiously, coming to stand beside Axel. Axel's fists clenched as he spit out his reply.
"No Demyx, everything did not go ok," he grated harshly. Demyx shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably. The Flurry of Dancing Flames' temper could be volatile, and Demyx had never been quite comfortable talking to him without Roxas there to moderate the redhead's mood swings.
"Have you seen the Superior yet?" he asked, searching desperately for a neutral topic. It was the wrong question.
Axel's face screwed into an expression of contempt – he threw back his head as a small bark of laughter escaped his throat.
"The Superior," Axel sneered, threading his gloved fingers through his hair. "No, Demyx, I haven't seen the Superior and I don't plan to." He turned away from the sitarist with a harsh laugh that sounded perilously close to a sob. "I shouldn't have checked," he murmured brokenly, almost to himself.
Demyx couldn't keep himself from taking a step toward the distraught redhead. Something was bothering Axel deeply, and the contemptuous way he'd spoken about Xemnas caused a small ache of dread to form in the pit of the sitarist's stomach.
Axel threw a glance over his shoulder, a ghost of his usual smirk crossing his features.
"Hey Demyx, I know we were never exactly friends, but could you do me a favor? Don't…don't tell anyone I was here, ok? Don't tell them you saw me."
"Why?" Demyx demanded, feeling his stomach twist in on itself.
"Just…just don't, ok?" Axel sighed, and his tone frightened Demyx – he sounded as if he was one step away from begging, and the thought of Axel begging for anything was too foreign, too dangerous for him to contemplate.
"Axel, please," he whispered, surprised at how distraught his own voice sounded. "What's going on?"
Before Axel could respond, they both heard Xemnas's and Saix's voices from the hall, drawing closer. Axel's eyes widened.
"Oh, shit," he cursed desperately, but he didn't move. He stared at the door with such hopelessness that Demyx felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for the other Nobody. He didn't know what was going on, but it was clear Axel hadn't planned on anyone finding him – and he definitely didn't want to see the Superior.
Demyx darted forward and placed the pale flower on a glowing red stone. Ignoring Axel's raised eyebrow, he turned and opened a portal to the darkness.
"Come on," he muttered, gesturing for the redhead to follow him. The two Nobodies stepped into the shadowed corridor and Demyx let the portal fade behind them.
Axel followed him silently, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes looking somewhere Demyx couldn't follow. Demyx didn't know if he should be grateful for the silence or unnerved. Things were happening too quickly – Axel's behavior was so erratic, so unlike his usual self that Demyx felt he was adrift in a hostile sea without even the benefit of a compass.
What had happened in Twilight Town?
Demyx opened a door out of the darkness and couldn't help the smile that spread across his face as the salt-laced breeze washed over him. Letting Axel follow at his own pace, he sprang forward and flung his arms out at the sight of the glittering ocean spread before him.
"Isn't it great?" he called over his shoulder, twirling back on his heel to face the Flurry of Dancing Flames.
Axel was standing just outside the dark portal, eyeing the expanse of water narrowly. Demyx clapped a hand to his forehead as realization washed over him.
"Oh man, Axel, I'm sorry – I forgot you're not crazy about water… Um, we could – "
"It's fine," Axel interrupted sharply, still eyeing the ocean warily. "I'll just stay here." Demyx shook his head emphatically.
"No, it's ok," he insisted. "C'mon, I know a better place not so close…" Without waiting for the redhead to answer, Demyx herded the Flurry of Dancing Flames back into the darkness, ignoring Axel's annoyed scowl.
He opened another door and stepped out onto a rocky cliff, high above the ocean breaking itself on the rocks below. He turned back to Axel, grinning.
"Better?" he asked. Axel gave him a sour look, but he didn't hesitate to step out of the darkness and onto the dark rock.
Demyx laughed happily and settled himself on the edge of the cliff, staring out over the water. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Axel come to stand behind his right shoulder, arms still crossed over his chest, eyes pointedly averted from the ocean.
"The Organization never comes here," Demyx told him, keeping his face turned to the water. "I don't know what's going on, but they won't find you here." Axel's head jerked around and he looked at Demyx warily.
He opened his mouth, closed it again, shook his head, and finally spoke. "How do you know that?" he asked. Demyx had a feeling that wasn't what Axel had been going to say. He shrugged, a small smile flitting across his face.
"I always come here when I need to get away for a while, y'know?" he said quietly, leaning back on his hands. "No one's ever been able to figure it out." Axel snorted.
"That's because they're idiots," he smirked. "Anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention would know this is where you always slink off to."
Demyx whipped his head around to regard the older Nobody with open-mouthed amazement.
"Y – you knew?" he sputtered. Axel looked at him out of the corner of his eye, lips quirking. He shrugged.
"Of course," he replied languidly. "You're about as devious as a newborn, Demyx. We both knew – " His voice suddenly tightened and faded away, his throat working furiously as he turned his face away from the Melodious Nocturne.
Demyx desperately wanted to ask Axel what was wrong, but he suspected that if he pushed the redhead too hard, Axel would simply leave. He turned his face back to the sea, hunching his shoulders as he pretended he couldn't hear Axel trying to wrestle himself back under control.
"Roxas is gone."
Axel's tone was flat and almost devoid of emotion, but Demyx could sense the awful emptiness that lay behind those words. He glanced at the Flurry of Dancing Flames out of the corner of his eye. Axel was staring straight ahead, posture tense, hands wrapped tightly around his own arms.
Demyx blinked, uncomfortable at how fragile Axel looked in that moment. Axel was a lot of things, but he was not weak. Something terrible had happened, and Demyx suddenly almost didn't want to ask, didn't want to invite another upheaval into his world.
"But the Proof of Existence…" He trailed off hesitantly, brows drawing together as he tried to remember. Roxas's stone had still been blue – he was certain of that.
"I know what the Proof of Existence says," Axel all but snarled, hands tightening into fists. "I was there – Roxas merged with Sora. That stupid bastard DiZ…" He trailed off again, eyes still fixed on some point on the distant horizon.
"But his stone," Demyx insisted, turning and facing the Flurry of Dancing Flames. "His stone says he's still alive. I mean, even if he did merge with Sora, his stone – "
"I know what the damn stone means," Axel muttered, turning away from the ocean, threading his fingers through his hair wearily. "He's still alive in there somewhere."
Demyx felt something cold uncurl itself in his chest. "You – you're not coming back, are you?" he asked quietly. "Ever. That's why you didn't want to see Xemnas or Saix. If I hadn't walked in…"
"He's still in there," Axel said harshly. "I had to be sure, and now I am. I can't leave him trapped like that. I'm going to get him back. I have to."
Demyx stood on legs that were suddenly unsteady. Axel kept his back to him, his shoulders held almost painfully straight. A million things ran through Demyx's mind, but when he opened his mouth, only one came out.
"I envy you, Axel."
Axel snorted, keeping his back to him, but Demyx ignored him and pushed on.
"I really do. You're so strong – I could never be like that. I tried once, you know. I did."
Axel turned and looked at him, expression blank. Demyx gave a small laugh.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" he said softly. "I'm the one everyone makes fun of for believing in what we're doing, for believing we'll get our hearts back. But you two were the only ones strong enough to feel." He voice wavered on the last word, and he ducked his head, swallowing against the sudden constriction in his throat.
"I miss him," he said softly, lifting his eyes to meet Axel's. Axel frowned in confusion, but Demyx didn't give the redhead a chance to speak. "I do miss him, but not the way I should. I should've tried to stop him, but I didn't. I should hate you for what you did to him, but I don't. I just…can't feel enough. And it's wrong."
Axel's eyes widened as his arms slipped to his sides, suddenly limp. "Zexion's stone," he murmured softly. "The flower…" He flinched away from Demyx's gaze, but Demyx lunged forward and grabbed his arm.
"It wasn't like that," he said rapidly, ignoring the way Axel tensed at his touch. "It wasn't anything close to what you and Roxas shared. But he'd listen to me, you know? Sometimes for hours. He wouldn't make fun of me for believing we'd get our hearts back, or tell me I was being stupid. He'd even try to explain some of his experiments to me, knowing I couldn't understand half of what he was saying. And it was enough. It didn't make me feel complete, but I didn't feel so empty."
He stepped back from Axel, holding the Flurry of Dancing Flames' gaze with his own.
"I didn't even say good-bye when he left for Castle Oblivion," he said quietly. "And I didn't feel anything when you were the only one to return."
The silence stretched between them for what seemed like an eternity.
"I won't tell anyone I saw you," Demyx said at last, smiling thinly. "I hope…" He took a deep breath, the smile gaining strength until he didn't have to force the expression. "I really hope you can bring him back. Because you deserve it. Both of you."
"You don't have to stay," Axel said suddenly. "Xemnas doesn't care about us anymore – you have to know that. You don't have to stay." Demyx laughed shakily, running his fingers through his fair hair.
"Where would I go?" he asked quietly. "I'm not like you and Roxas, Axel. Even if I can't feel anything for them, I need the others around me. I wouldn't be able to exist by myself."
Axel stared back silently for another moment, then turned and called up a portal of darkness. He paused, keeping his back to Demyx.
"You're not weak," he said roughly. "And you're not empty. You visit the Proof of Existence every day, don't you?" Demyx jumped and colored slightly, ducking his head. "Because you're visiting him," Axel continued. "Somebodies call that mourning." He threw a brief glance over his shoulder, a cocky grin on his face. "You can't mourn if you don't feel anything for that person, Demyx."
Axel stepped through the portal and vanished.
Demyx swallowed around the lump in his throat, staring at the place Axel had been standing.
"I…feel…?" he murmured softly.
He sank onto a small boulder, gazing out at the expanse of water spread below him. He had never stopped to think why he visited Zexion's stone every day – it was just something he did, as much a part of his daily routine as waking.
He summoned his sitar into his hands, eyes still fixed on the ocean. With fingers that shook slightly, he began to play a soft melody, one that Zexion had always enjoyed. The sun reflected brightly off the water as it sank toward the horizon. The sea breeze caressed his face. And as the music swelled around him, Demyx smiled.