(A/N): For Suzaka, with much love, because she writes some of the loveliest Zemyx fics I've ever read, because she inspired this oneshot, and because when I asked to borrow the premise behind Wanderer, she immediately said yes. Hope you like it.

Disclaimer: I never have and never will own these characters.

Rhythmic Heartbeat

Zexion's not sure what draws him to the café – it's indistinguishable from the others lining the main street that leads to the campus, full of laughing college students and high school kids waiting to be college students, noise and bright colors spilling over onto the sidewalk and the open-air tables. He almost turns away to search out a more subdued eatery, but the day is warm, and his stomach is growling. With an almost imperceptible frown, he takes a seat at one of the tables, empty because it's on the edge and provides no shade from the relentless sun.

He barely glances at the waitress who materializes to take his order. Letting his bangs fall over his face, he leans one elbow on the table and stares out at the traffic flashing past in the street until she leaves with a promise that his food will be right out.

The first thing he becomes aware of is the scent – subtle, but undeniably there. It reminds Zexion of wind over open water, and he cuts his eyes to the side as a young man with dark blond hair settles himself on the low wall that separates the café from the one next door. The stranger carefully lays a guitar case next to him, flicking open the clasps with nimble fingers and lifting the instrument with a small, unconscious grin. Tucking one leg underneath him, the musician slips the guitar's strap over his shoulders and strums a few chords, fiddling with one of the tuners until he's satisfied. He glances up, gaze sweeping over the café's patrons, his eyes settling briefly on Zexion before he smiles and begins to play.

Zexion's eyes widen just slightly, because the notes spilling from the musician's fingers are more than simply music, more than chords with a melody to bind them together – and then the stranger begins to sing. Other people are noticing the guitarist, and while there are a few catcalls, there are mostly murmurs of approval and shouted requests from the tables behind him. The musician smiles brightly as he launches into a new song, his voice clear and strong, and Zexion jumps when the waitress comes back with his food.

As people rise to leave, the guitarist pauses, cocking his head to the side and grinning at the curious looks he draws before he points at the box at his feet – a box that Zexion hadn't noticed before. There is a sign taped to it that reads Donations in messy red script. Laughing, a few people step forward and drop money into the box, and the musician nods at each of them in appreciation as he picks out the melody for another song.

He stays for three hours. Zexion knows, because he stays, too, nursing cup after cup of coffee as he listens to the songs that spill from the blond's lips, fascinated. Finally, when the shadows are growing long, the musician slips the guitar strap over his head and sets the instrument carefully into its case, bending and retrieving the box of money – it is nearly overflowing. The stranger dumps the money into a backpack he pulls from behind the low wall, throwing the box in as well before he throws the backpack over his shoulder, grabs up the guitar case, and walks off, pausing to exchange pleasantries with those who stop to speak with him. Zexion watches him go silently, setting down a tip before he glances at his watch, shocked when he realizes he's missed two classes.

It doesn't stop him from coming back the next day. Or the day after that. The musician's always there, one leg tucked underneath him and the box reading Donations at his feet – it's always close to overflowing by the time the man packs up, but Zexion never drops any money in.

And then, one day, the musician isn't there. Zexion waits until the shadows deepen into twilight, but the blond stranger never comes. The noise of the customers' conversation is loud and atonal in his ears, and the stench of car exhaust fills his nostrils. Zexion doesn't go back the next day.


Three days later, Zexion sees the blond musician again – he's got his backpack slung over his shoulder and his thumb out at the side of the road, his guitar case and an overnight bag resting against his leg. Zexion stares in disbelief, blinking in case he's seeing incorrectly. He can't believe the man is stupid enough to hitchhike. The only thing stupider would be if Zexion were to pull over.

His tires bite into the gravel at the side of the road.

Watching the stranger jog toward the car in the rearview mirror, Zexion has time to tell himself how foolish this is, how he's asking for nothing but trouble. He still has time to pull away, he tells himself sternly.

And then the musician is pulling the passenger-side door open, peering in at Zexion with a tentative smile.

"Get in."

The blond's smile widens as he moves to put his guitar in the back seat, pausing before he ducks down and studies Zexion's face. "Really?"

Zexion frowns and nods. "Yes, really," he sighs, his irritation easing a little at the way the musician's face lights up as he shoves his things in the back seat. Collapsing into the front seat, the stranger pulls the door closed and regards Zexion with a cheerful expression.

"Thanks, man."

Zexion only nods, pulling back into traffic. Silence settles around them, and the musician taps his fingers against his knees as he stares out at the scenery flashing by. Ducking his head, he peers at Zexion out of the corner of his eye. "D'you mind if we listen to some music?" Zexion shrugs, and the blond leans forward and starts fiddling with the tuner, snippets of songs and commercials rolling across Zexion's brain in disjointed rhythm.

"Pick a station," Zexion instructs, glancing over his shoulder before he changes lanes. The musician ducks his head with an abashed grin.

"Sorry."

Zexion grunts as the man settles on what sounds like a rock station, the blond's face splitting into a wide smile as he drums the beat against his knees. Zexion lets the music fill the silence for another couple miles before he speaks.

"Where are you going?"

The musician shrugs. "Hollow Bastion. You don't have to drive me the entire way," he adds, picking at his nails. Zexion frowns – it's at least another hour to Hollow Bastion, and the idea of the musician hitchhiking in the dark is disquieting.

"I'll take you," he mutters, his frown deepening when the blond turns to regard him with open-mouthed amazement. Zexion pulls his bangs forward, letting his hair shield him from the musician's grateful smile. "This isn't very smart, you know."

"What?"

"Hitchhiking," Zexion says severely, turning his head to glance at the musician. "For all you know, I might be a psychopathic serial killer." The man blinks at him, his lips twisting as he stifles a laugh, leaning his head back and waving Zexion's statement off.

"You're not a serial killer," he scoffs, fingers drumming against his chest.

"You don't know that," Zexion grumbles, a little miffed at the musician's casual dismissal of his concern.

"Yeah, I do," the blond sighs, closing his eyes.

"How?"

The other man shrugs, a small smile curling his lips. "I just do," he murmurs.

"You don't even know my name," Zexion points out. The musician swings his head around to face him, smile still in place.

"Okay, so what's your name?"

Zexion hesitates before he sighs, a wry grin stealing across his face for a second. "Zexion."

"Demyx. I'd shake your hand, but you're driving and all," Demyx grins, fingers still moving in constant rhythm. He straightens in his seat, his face lighting up. "I love this song!" he cries. He glances at Zexion. "D'you mind if I…"

Zexion shrugs, and Demyx turns up the volume until Zexion thinks his eardrums might burst – but he can still hear Demyx's voice, the musician belting out the lyrics as he drums enthusiastically on the dashboard. When the song's over, Zexion's ears are ringing, but he thinks he can live with it when Demyx smiles brightly at him as he turns the volume back down.

"Thanks," Demyx grins, sighing as he leans back into his seat. Zexion nods, the barest trace of a smile on his face.

"You have a good voice," he says quietly, concentrating on the road when Demyx's face splits into another wide grin.

"Really? You think so?" Zexion nods again, and Demyx's grin gentles into a pleased smile. "Thanks."


It's well after dark by the time Zexion pulls over to let Demyx out. The musician pauses, his hand on the door handle as he nibbles at his lower lip. "So…thanks," he mutters, a gentle smile crossing his lips. "For everything." Zexion nods silently, and there's a moment of comfortable silence before Demyx pushes himself up and out of the car, retrieving his bags and guitar from the backseat before he bends back down and flashes the brightest smile Zexion's seen from him yet. "So…I'll see you around, Zexion."

"Yeah." Zexion watches him walk away, waiting until he turns the corner and disappears to pull away.


Three weeks later, Zexion's driving back from the outreaches of Radiant Garden when he spies a familiar figure on the side of the road, thumb out. With a muttered curse at the blond's stupidity, Zexion pulls over, waiting until Demyx leans down and his face lights up to let the scowl manifest itself on his face. "I thought I told you hitchhiking is stupid and dangerous," he frowns. Demyx laughs as he throws his belongings in the back seat.

"Cheapest way to get around," he replies, throwing himself into the front seat. Zexion frowns, but he doesn't answer, glancing over his shoulder before he pulls back onto the road.

"Where are you going?" Demyx shrugs, glancing out the window.

"Up around RGU."

"The university?"

"Yeah."

Zexion falls silent, debating with himself, but before he can speak Demyx's stomach growls loudly. Zexion glances over to find Demyx sinking down in the seat, flushing with embarrassment. Zexion lifts an eyebrow at the expression on the blond's face. "Are you hungry?" he asks dryly. Demyx's stomach growls again, and the musician crosses his arms as he gazes out the window, refusing to meet Zexion's eyes.

Stifling a sigh, Zexion turns his attention back to the road, letting the silence settle between them. Eventually, Demyx straightens, turning to him with a furrowed brow. "This isn't the way to the university." Zexion nods dispassionately.

"This is why you shouldn't hitchhike," he tells Demyx blandly. "People can do horrible things – like kidnap you." Demyx fixes him with an incredulous stare.

"You're kidnapping me?" Zexion glances at the clock – he's already missed his first evening class, what's one more?

"For the rest of the evening, yes," he replies, the barest trace of a smile gracing his face for a second.

Demyx's eyes widen as Zexion pulls up to the Sunrise Diner, and Zexion can practically see the musician begin to salivate. Still, he doesn't move. "I don't have any money."

"I thought so," Zexion mutters, nodding. Demyx flashes him a wary look, and Zexion sighs as he leans his head back. "Look, I don't expect anything from you, all right? You're hungry – let me buy you dinner." Demyx's stomach growls again, louder, and the musician flushes as he glances at the floor.

"All right," he mumbles.

Zexion leads Demyx inside, the blond hanging back and staring around curiously until Zexion motions him forward. Zexion waits until they're seated and the waitress has left to bring them their drinks before locking eyes with Demyx.

"What happened?"

Demyx frowns and glances away, rubbing absently at his shoulder. "I got robbed," he mutters. Zexion closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to stave off a headache.

"When?"

"Last night," Demyx mumbles, staring at the table. "They got all my cash." He glances up, a forced smile on his face. "You don't have to worry about it, I've been in tight spots before." Zexion stares back, crossing his arms over his chest.

"And where will you sleep tonight?" he asks evenly. Demyx shrugs and glances away again.

"Wherever," he mutters.

"That's what I thought," Zexion frowns. Demyx stares at him as Zexion nods to himself. "You can stay at my apartment if you want. Just for tonight, until you earn some money back."

"It's fine," Demyx mutters. "You don't have to –"

"Demyx." Demyx frowns at his tone and glances away. Neither of them speaks again until their drinks arrive and the waitress leaves with their orders – Demyx's eyes light up again at the prospect of food, and Zexion can't help the way his lips twitch at the expression on the other man's face. "Why do you do it?"

Demyx glances up in surprise, a small smile spreading across his lips as he cocks his head to the side and considers the question. "I dunno," he replies absently. He shrugs and scratches the back of his head. "'Cause I do. It's what I like." Zexion stares at him as he turns the answer over in his mind.

"Why don't you stay in one place for longer than a couple of weeks?"

Demyx shrugs again. "People stop paying if you stay in one place for too long – it's gotta be fresh, you know? People get bored after a while, so I leave."

"You're going back to the university," Zexion points out, accepting a warm plate from the waitress. Demyx grins, but Zexion can't tell whether it's because of his comment or the food.

"Yeah, well, people have short memories," Demyx chuckles, attacking his pancakes with vigor. Zexion falls silent, watching Demyx devour his food with a detached sort of amazement that the musician doesn't choke. Demyx finally leans back with a heavy sigh, a large grin on his face as he pats his stomach. "Thanks, Zexion."

Zexion nods, lips quirking as he waits for the check.


"This is your apartment?" Demyx stands just inside the door, glancing around with a disbelieving grin, his bags resting at his feet. Zexion shrugs uncomfortably and moves past the blond, pulling the door closed.

"My dad pays for it," he mutters. Perhaps sensing his discomfort, Demyx only nods before he grabs up his bags and shuffles further into the room. "There's no guest bedroom," Zexion tells him, hanging his keys on the pegboard next to the phone. "Do you mind sleeping on the couch?"

"Yeah, it's fine," Demyx assures him, dropping his backpack to the floor and resting his overnight bag at the end of the couch. "Do you mind if I use your bathroom?" Zexion shrugs, and Demyx grins before he scratches at the back of his head. "Where is your bathroom?" he asks sheepishly. Zexion feels his lips quirking again as he points down the hall, and Demyx moves past him with a muttered "Thanks."

Zexion blows out a breath of air that's almost a sigh, pulling his hair back from his face as he surveys the small mess Demyx has left around the couch. Shaking his head, he moves into the kitchen and places his leftovers in the fridge – Demyx didn't have any. When he enters the living room again, he finds Demyx has already curled up on the couch, pulling a worn blanket and a lumpy pillow from somewhere and lacing his fingers behind his head. The blond glances up at him, smiling. "So are you a student or something? At the university, I mean." Zexion nods, moving to sit in the armchair adjacent to the couch.

"It's my last year."

"What's your major?" Zexion lifts an eyebrow, and Demyx grins and lets his gaze wander back to the ceiling. "Sorry, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"Psychology." Demyx grins at the ceiling before he laughs softly.

"Deep thoughts, huh?" He glances at Zexion again, face lit by a warm grin. "Never was my strong point." Zexion doesn't know what to say to that, so he just nods. Demyx snuggles down a little further underneath the old blanket, his eyes sliding closed even as the smile stays on his face. "Night, Zexion." Zexion ducks his head before he pushes himself out of the chair.

"Good night."


Demyx is gone when Zexion gets up the next day. He stares at the couch for a minute before he shakes his head with a small chuckle and heads for the shower. Twenty minutes later he's dressed and wandering around the edges of campus. He smells the faint hint of a salty breeze a split second before the music reaches him; turning, he's not surprised to find Demyx perched in front of a hardware store, guitar resting in his lap as he plucks beautiful music from the strings. The musician glances up as Zexion comes to stand in front of him.

"You didn't have to leave that early, you know." Demyx shrugs and grins.

"Didn't want to be a burden," he replies, still strumming a simple melody. Zexion hesitates before he takes a deep breath and meets Demyx's eyes.

"How long are you staying?" Demyx cocks his head to the side, fingers stilling as he stares at Zexion.

"A while," he replies at last, shrugging. "Until I feel like leaving." Zexion hesitates again, unconsciously pulling his hair free and letting it cascade over his face.

"Listen," he says tentatively, "if you're ever around Radiant Garden, and you need a lift…" His brows contract as he thinks of something. "Do you have a cell phone?" Demyx grins and nods, digging a beat-up cell phone out of his front pocket and holding it out to Zexion. Zexion takes it and begins programming in his own number. "Just…it's safer than hitchhiking," he mutters.

Demyx smiles softly as Zexion hands the phone back to him, clutching it tightly before he tucks it back into his pocket. "Thanks." Zexion clears his throat, eyes drifting to rest on the sidewalk.

"Do you have a place to stay tonight?" Demyx hums distractedly as he begins playing again.

"I might make enough for a room by the end of the day," he muses. Zexion takes a deep breath, steeling himself as he raises his eyes back to Demyx's face.

"If you need a place to stay…" Demyx nods, smiling at him, and Zexion ducks his head before he turns and walks away, listening to the music fade behind him.


He's not surprised when Demyx shows up at his door that night, and he gladly loans the musician his couch. He's not surprised when Demyx is gone the next day, either.


Months pass, and Demyx falls in and out of his life every few weeks. Zexion comes to expect the last minute phone call, the sudden knock at his door late at night, and the sense of calm that pervades him when Demyx is around. Demyx always takes the couch, and he's always gone when Zexion wakes up the next morning.

Until one morning in late January, when Zexion finds him huddled under his worn blanket, flushed and feverish.

"Sorry," Demyx wheezes, succumbing to a hacking cough before he can continue. "Came out of nowhere."

"It's fine," Zexion assures him, settling a hand against Demyx's fever-damp brow; internally, he's berating the musician for hitchhiking in the middle of winter without a proper jacket. "Have you been feeling all right?" Demyx burrows further beneath his blanket, pulling it up around his shoulders.

"I've had a cold for a little while," he mutters, and his voice sounds raw. "But not like this." Zexion bites at his lip, eyes wandering uselessly around the living room.

"Do you want me to take you to a doctor?" Demyx shakes his head as his body's wracked by another violent fit of coughing.

"No doctor," he gasps out. "No insurance." Zexion curses internally – he hadn't considered that.

"What do you want me to do?" he asks quietly, smoothing damp hair back from Demyx's forehead. Demyx manages a weak smile.

"Don't worry about it," he mumbles, eyes already fluttering closed. "It'll go away."

But it doesn't. Three days later Demyx is still coughing, his voice reduced to a raw whisper, and Zexion cringes every time the musician tries to speak. After a morning of listening to the blond groan and wheeze, Zexion wraps the shaking man in a warm blanket and bundles him into the car. When Demyx tries to protest, he overrides him with a fierce glare. "I'm taking you to the free clinic downtown," he says sternly, and Demyx lets his head fall weakly against the window as his eyes slide closed.

A few hours later, they're returning to the apartment with a diagnosis of walking pneumonia and a prescription for something Zexion can't pronounce. Demyx is slumped over in the passenger seat, fingers curled tightly in the blanket Zexion draped over his shoulders. "I'll get out of your hair in a few days," he mumbles. "As soon as the antibiotics kick in." Zexion's jaw clenches.

"Don't be an idiot," he mutters harshly, glaring briefly at Demyx when the musician regards him with wide eyes. "Where will you go? How will you make money? Your voice is still shot to hell, Demyx." He takes a deep breath as he fights himself back under control. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "But you're sick, Demyx. You can't sing – you can't make money. I won't let you leave just so you can let yourself die on the street."

Demyx stares at the dashboard, a small, disbelieving smile curling his lips before he closes his eyes and sighs. "Okay."


Two weeks later, Demyx is undeniably cured – Zexion heard his voice, strong and clear once again, echoing from the bathroom when the blond was in the shower. They're sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, and Demyx is smiling down into a cup of honey-laced tea.

"You don't have to leave, you know." Zexion wants to snatch the words back the minute they leave his mouth, but all he can do is swallow thickly and not look away when Demyx glances up at him, surprised. A gentle grin spreads over Demyx's face as he drops his eyes back to the table, and his fingers tighten around the cup in his hands.

"I know," he says softly. There is a long silence, and Zexion wants it to go on forever, because if they don't speak, Demyx can't tell him he's leaving again. Demyx finally meets Zexion's eyes, and Zexion has to clench his jaw because Demyx's face is radiant in its serene happiness. "Thank you, Zexion."

He's gone when Zexion wakes up.


Five weeks later, Zexion's growing used to Demyx's absence in his life, though there are still times he finds himself turning to relate something he thinks the blond would find amusing, or talking to himself in the kitchen as he holds a conversation with a person who isn't there. Sometimes, if he lies on the couch and tilts his head just right, he can still catch a whiff of wind blowing over open water.

The end of the semester's drawing close, and Zexion loses himself in studying and coursework, spending almost every available hour in the library, buried behind stacks of books intimidating enough to frighten away even the most scholarly. When he pauses on street corners, he tells himself he's not listening for the faint strains of a guitar.

The knock on the door catches him unprepared – he simply stares at Demyx in his doorway, crooked smile making his eyes scrunch at the corners and beat-up bags piled around his feet. Finally, Zexion's neurons begin firing again, and he feels his lips quirk just slightly. "How long are you staying?" Demyx tilts his head to the side as he considers the question.

"A while," he responds at last, smile widening when Zexion reaches down and grabs his backpack.

"Do you have a place to stay?" Demyx shrugs, stepping forward and bringing his face close to Zexion's.

"Can you recommend one?" Zexion can't help the small smile that sneaks its way across his face as he lets out a breath that's almost a sigh.

"I can think of one, yeah."


It takes another three weeks for Demyx to begin leaving his things behind for Zexion to find at odd times – his toothpaste, a stray guitar pick, a sheet of scribbled lyrics. It takes another five before Demyx moves from the couch and begins to share Zexion's bed. There are still mornings Zexion wakes up alone – but Demyx always comes back, and for Zexion, it's just like coming home.