Knock knock knock knock knock.
Roxas groaned, rolled over, and looked at his clock. "It's 6:00 in the morning; whoever you are, you'd better have an awfully good reason for waking me up right now."
"I wouldn't be up this early if I didn't have a good reason, got it memorized?"
Roxas pulled the blankets back over his head. "Insulin is a good reason."
Pause. "I got an insulin pump, remember?"
Roxas grumbled under his breath, but rolled out of bed and opened the door. "All right, Axel, what's your good reason?"
Axel looked comically hurt. "Oh, no, Roxas, don't tell me you don't remember what day it is!"
The light came on slowly. "Oh, yeah!"
"Oh yeah! Right! It's Demyx's birthday! And I need your help getting a surprise ready! Come on, before he wakes up!" Axel grabbed Roxas by the arm and dragged him to his own room, which was right next door to Demyx's.
"Why a surprise? Why not wait until he's awake?"
"Because Demyx is one of those bizarre people who does nice things for other people and just looks confused when you ask him why. I think it's time someone returned the favor. Besides, the look on his face is gonna be priceless. I don't think he was really expecting more than me and maybe you to remember. Or was that you and maybe me?"
"...I left his present in my room, because somebody nearly yanked my arm off all of a sudden."
Axel blinked, as if the idea had just occurred to him. "Um...go get it, then?" Roxas rolled his eyes and ran back to his room to retrieve the aforementioned present.
"What is that?" Axel asked when he returned.
Roxas held up a small tank containing a fiery red fish with long fins and a huge half-moon tail. "It's a betta -a Siamese fighting fish. Haven't you ever seen that little empty fish tank Demyx has in his room? It's full of CDs right now; I thought he might like an actual fish."
"A fighting fish?"
"They're supposed to be super-aggressive - so aggressive you can't keep two in a tank. You can't even keep them next to a mirror, or they'll keep trying to attack their own reflection."
Axel nodded slowly. "A fish...you know, that makes so much sense I'm surprised everyone in the Organization didn't get Demyx a fish. Does it have a name?"
Roxas nodded. "I call it Axel." That got a double-take out of the redhead.
"Cute, real cute. Well, anyway, help me move this stuff into his room." There was a small bathroom between Axel's and Demyx's rooms, and Axel had opened both doors, allowing free passage between them.
"I thought he slept with his hearing aids in."
"It's about 50-50 whether he'll sleep with them in or take them out...but I checked; they're on his bedside table. We could send elephants dancing through here and he wouldn't notice if they didn't shake too much." Axel picked up a portrait-size picture frame. "Oh, that's tight."
Roxas leaned over to admire the translucent beach glass frame with its delicate seashell motif. "That's beautiful. Who's that from?"
Axel thought for a moment. "I think that one's from Vexen."
Roxas set the betta down somewhere safe and picked up two books - one a collection of photographs of the most beautiful beaches in different worlds, the other a biography of Beethoven. "I guess these are from Zexion?"
Axel glanced over. "Uh, no, those are from Xigbar, actually. Whatever Zexion got him, it fits in a manila envelope that says 'DO NOT FOLD, BEND, SPINDLE, IGNITE, OR OTHERWISE MUTILATE' in big letters and is probably meant to go in Vexen's picture frame. It's probably a real embarrassing picture of Demyx." He took the picture frame and envelope and set them down quietly in Demyx's room. Roxas followed with the books.
Back in Axel's room, he picked up what looked like an incredibly skilled relief carving of a spiral shell, one that carefully followed the natural markings in the palm-sized stone. "This is cool...who got him this?"
"Oh, the fossil? Give it your best guess."
"Oh, it's a fossil...hmm, I'll give it a wild stab and say - Lexaeus. And that tropical-looking wall clock is probably from Luxord."
"Right on both. Xaldin's providing a cake, too."
Roxas smiled and went back to work. "Hmm, trio of water lilies, individually, um, bucketed...I'm gonna guess Marluxia. Gahh, these are heavy."
"Aren't they just. I'm kinda surprised Marly got him anything; I thought he was a pill, but I guess he kind of needs Demyx to take care of his garden when he's gone on a long mission or something." Axel took the fossil carving and wall clock into Demyx's room, leaving Roxas to struggle with the heavy buckets.
"You carry that last bucket. I'm going to rest my arms," he told Axel, and sat down on Axel's bed. He looked around. "That's not everyone accounted for."
"Well, you almost sat on these." Axel held up two books of blank staff paper. "These are from Naminé. That's weird - she almost never gets any of us anything, but I guess she sees some connection between her drawing and his composing. And - soundtrack from Phantom of the Opera, I think is from Larxene. Knowing her, it's kind of a backhanded compliment. Or she just likes how creepy and macabre it is. Xemnas always gets us a lovely impersonal card, wonder why he bothers. And I guess Saïx is just going to not kill him and drink his blood today."
Roxas looked sideways at Axel. "Add in the betta, and it still only gets us to twelve. There's still one missing. Didn't you get him anything, or did you just collect everyone else's presents so you could get the credit?"
Axel grinned. "Ah-hah-hah. Do not doubt the Man, got it memorized? I have managed to acquire, for Demyx's enjoyment and probably my own eventual humiliation, a copy of Guitar Hero III, complete with guitar, which has only been available for a very short time and which I know Demyx does not yet own and would trade a hearing aid for. It is under my bed. Probably directly under you."
Roxas reached under the bed. "Oh - yeah - here it is!"
"Excellent! You shall be the first to witness Demyx kicking my face into the dust the way he knows best!"
Roxas rolled his eyes. "You're not that bad at Guitar Hero."
Axel raised an eyebrow. "Correction. I'm not that bad at Guitar Hero when I'm up against anyone but Demyx. Compared to Demyx, everyone is that bad at Guitar Hero. Now bring the rest of this stuff in. Including the fish."
While Roxas started moving CDs out of Demyx's old fish tank, Axel arranged the Organization's presents in front of Demyx's stereo, with the Guitar Hero III box front and center. "Perfect. Now should we wake him up, or wait until he wakes up on -" He suddenly stopped dead. "Roxas?"
Roxas looked up in confusion. "Yeah?"
"There is something warm and wet dripping down the back of my head. Now, either my scalp is bleeding fairly profusely and I never realized it until now, or Demyx is already awake. Please tell me which it is."
Roxas leaned over to look at the back of Axel's head and gasped. "You're bleeding!"
"Gyah!" Axel yelled and grabbed his head. His hands came away wet, but definitely not bloody. "What the - hey!" He turned around to see Demyx and Roxas laughing their heads off.
Demyx gave Roxas a high-five. "I'm sorry, Axel, but the look on your face -" He was laughing too hard to finish the sentence on the first try. "Kingdom Hearts - it's just priceless!"
"Hey -" Axel protested. "I'm supposed to be punking you here - not the other way around!"
Demyx shook his head. Tears of mirth were rolling down his cheeks. "I'm sorry, but I woke up and saw you two in here and - I couldn't resist. Had to put my hearing aids on first so I could hear it all, but - that was great. And Roxas? That was perfect. That was awesome."
"Well, happy birthday to you, idiot." Axel was starting to crack a smile.
"Thanks, moron." Demyx calmed down enough to stand up without falling over laughing. "I wanna see that little fish - who's that from?"
Roxas grinned. "I got you that one."
Demyx knelt so he was eye level with the betta. "Sweet. It's a little Axel fish." Roxas howled with laughter, and Axel stuck his tongue out. "That's so cool - I gotta clean out my fish tank now - no, you already did. Thanks." Water swirled around the inside of the empty tank, washing away accumulated dust and debris, and disappeared, leaving the tank spotless. Demyx dipped a finger into Axel the betta's current residence, testing the water, and the other tank started to fill on its own. "There. It's gonna be just perfect for you."
Axel the Nobody turned to Roxas. "He likes the fish."
"Yes, Axel Nobody, I like Axel fish. The fish is cool." Demyx carefully scooped the betta into its new home before relocating the rocks and plants from its old tank. "Is there any food for it, or do I have to feed it table scraps?"
"Oh, yeah - it's still in my room." Roxas quickly teleported away to retrieve a container of freeze-dried brine shrimp. Demyx seemed to know just the right amount of food to add to the tank. Axelfish gobbled it up. Axel threw his hands in the air.
"All right, Roxas wins the cool present award, I'm gonna take this copy of Guitar Hero III back...or not - stop with the water already!"
"Don't even threaten that." Demyx stood up. "No, I wanna see everything else first, because once I open the Guitar Hero box I'll forget the rest exists." He picked up the fossil carving and traced the spiraling shell with a finger. "This is cool...I can't believe everyone remembered. I...wasn't really expecting..."
Axel slapped him on the shoulder. "You are the one perpetually nice guy in the Organization, doofus. And the rest of us aren't all jerks."
"A little ironic coming from someone who likes to give him a black eye whenever he gets mad," Roxas muttered.
"Shut up. Xaldin's offered a cake, you might want to know. But he's out for most of the day, so it'll be late...actually, I think well over half of us are going to be out or busy. You wouldn't believe what it took to arrange it so Rox and I had the day off."
"Five or six abnormally long hours of poker lessons with Luxord, followed by poker with Xigbar with mission assignments as the stakes?"
"...You've done it before, haven't you. Well, we're pretty much going to be on our own all day, and, you know, since it's your birthday, we figured you could kind of call the shots for the day."
Demyx grinned and muttered something that sounded like "as long as the kitchen's gonna be empty all day...". Obviously he already had a good idea of what he was going to do. "Well, you two are invited to join me...just warning you, you might not necessarily like it...What's in the envelope?"
Roxas handed him the envelope from Zexion. "We don't know; we haven't looked inside yet. Since it's from Zexion, we're figuring blackmail material - nudity, drunkenness, embarrassing situations, maybe even something digitally altered."
Demyx cringed. "Ooh. Eek. Axel, stand by to burn it if it's something that shouldn't be seen." He opened the envelope warily and withdrew the contents. "Oh...that's...not so bad...I actually like that picture." He held it up for the other two to see - it was a picture of the three of them in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, sporting glittering masks - Roxas in gold and silver, Demyx in blue and silver, and Axel in red and gold. Demyx grinned, just like he did in the picture. "Yeah, I think I could put this in that frame."
Roxas nodded appreciatively. "Yeah, that is a nice one. And no drunkenness on your part, at least." He glanced meaningfully at Axel, who looked affronted.
"Hey, I only had a few, remember?"
"Maybe at the time this picture was taken, you'd only had a few...but you just kept charming drinks out of people...by midnight, Demyx and I had to carry you back because you were too wasted to stand upright."
Demyx laughed softly. "Good times roll...you know, I still have that mask in a drawer somewhere."
"...I still have mine, too," Roxas said. Axel disappeared into his room and returned wearing the same flame-colored mask he had in the picture.
Roxas and Demyx looked at each other and shrugged. Demyx immediately started going through his drawers while Roxas teleported back to his room.
"The Devil bowed his head because he knew that he'd been beat, and he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet. Johnny said, 'Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again - I told you once, you son of a...I'm the best that's ever been!"
Axel and Roxas were reduced to staring in awe. At that moment, if the Devil had walked into the room with a golden sitar and challenged Demyx to a playoff, they'd have bet everything they owned on the Melodious Nocturne without a second thought.
"You beat it," Axel murmured. "You beat it before lunch." His voice grew louder. "You beat Guitar Hero III in its entirety before lunch, and you didn't have any breakfast either."
Demyx was grinning widely under his blue-and-silver domino. "The masks must be good luck. One more song to go, and then I'll get something to eat."
"'Through the Fire and Flames"...you're going to try it on Hard?! Are you nuts?!"
"Well, I don't think I can do it on Expert yet..."
Roxas shook his head. "You're gonna break both wrists."
"You're gonna fail, man. Fail! Got it memorized?"
"Axel, if I win, you're going to try some ceviche."
"...What is ceviche?"
Demyx smiled. "My lunch. I might tell you more after we find out whether or not you get to eat any."
"What if you lose?"
"I'll go around without my hearing aids for the rest of the day. Now hush."
"You're pretty conf-"
"Hush." In the blink of an eye, the musician was all business. He played the introduction with a grand total of one missed note.
"On a cold winter morning, in the time before the light, in the flames of death's eternal reign we ride towards the fight..."
Seven minutes later, as the imaginary crowd cheered Demyx's 93 percent score, Axel fell on his face in front of him. "Roxas, we are in the presence of a Rock. God. Bow before him." Demyx snapped out of his music-induced trance and blushed self-consciously.
"Don't try that I'm-not-special routine with us, Demyx, we know you too well." Roxas was tempted to do as Axel said. "That was incredible. Don't your hands hurt now?"
Demyx peeled off his mask and signed a response. If my hearing aids both conked out at this exact moment, I'd still be able to talk to you two, so no. Now, I'm hungry. It's lunchtime.
Axel sat up and scratched his head, remembering the bet. "So...what was that you were going to make?"
Demyx was checking his guitar over for damage. "Ceviche. It's a seafood dish."
"Which doesn't surprise me, but what is in it, besides seafood?"
"It's gonna depend on what I find in the kitchen. If I have to go out and buy my own ingredients, I'm gonna do it the right way, but if I can do it for free, I will."
Axel looked at Roxas. "Do you think I should be afraid?"
Roxas looked at Demyx. "This may seem like a stupid question, because I don't know what ceviche is either, but are you going to cook the seafood ingredients?"
Demyx paused. "I...it depends what you mean by cook."
Roxas turned back to Axel. "Yes, I think you should be afraid."
"Eating raw fish is wrong, got it memorized? It's wrong on so many levels I can't even begin to describe them all!" Axel's diatribe was doing something Roxas would have thought impossible - making Demyx lose his temper.
"Roxas, do me a favor - either shut him up or squeeze some limes for me."
Roxas promptly stood up and went over to where Demyx was working. "Limes seem easier." Demyx paused from slicing trout long enough to switch knives, slice several limes in half, and point Roxas to the juicer.
Axel shook his fist. "Traitor!"
"He has the culinary horizons of a three-year-old, I swear," Demyx muttered.
"I heard that! And it's pretty rich for a guy who eats raw fish to whine about my food choices!"
Roxas rolled his eyes and flicked a lime peel at Axel. A moment later, the kitchen filled with the scent of burning citrus. "How do you even know what this stuff is, much less how to make it? Is it from your homeworld or something?"
Demyx shrugged. "No, I didn't pick this up until after I got here. Some of us consider any and all missions to be nothing but an obstacle and an irritation between stretches of free time. I, personally, see them - or at least some of them - as a chance to go visit new places and, you know, live a little. Maybe learn something new, that I wouldn't have had the chance to learn otherwise."
"Well, there's no better teacher than failure, is there!"
Demyx set his knife down and took a deep breath. "Axel, if I hear one word from you concerning ceviche, fish, my cooking skills, my intelligence, my sanity, my mission success rate, my appearance, my personality, my athletic ability, or my musical ability, I swear to Kingdom Hearts that I will drown you where you sit. Got it memorized?" He went back to slicing the last of the fish as if nothing had happened. Axel and Roxas were both staring at him as though he'd just grown another head. "Roxas, are you about done with those limes?"
Roxas snapped out of it and squeezed the juice out of the last few lime halves. Demyx poured the juice into a bowl and let the sliced fish soak in it while he chopped up an onion and a chile pepper. "Just mix these in, add a little salt, and it'll be more-or-less done."
"Except for cook-"
"Drowned where you sit, Axel." Surprisingly enough, Axel shut up. Demyx dumped the chopped vegetables in with the fish and lime juice and mixed them up with a pinch of salt. "Roxas, you wanna try some?"
Roxas blinked. It was Demyx's birthday, and he seemed pretty proud of his ceviche, but - well, raw fish. "I'm gonna have to think about that."
Demyx muttered as he dished some up for himself, and a tiny little bowl for Axel. "It's Axel's influence, I swear...wish I had some canchita or sweet potato to go with this, but, oh well, not worth a trip to Lima if the tollo wasn't..." He took a bite and grinned. "Yeah, that's what I was missing. You know, normally this is served with a glass of the lime juice marinade the fish was soaking in, but since Axel seems pretty bound and determined to not like this, I want him not to throw up until after he's actually had a bite." Axel responded in sign language. "Same to you, firecrotch. Roxas, you should really try this. Prove you're above his bad influence."
Roxas looked back and forth between Axel and Demyx. "Will it stop you two giving each other grief?"
"It might," Demyx said around another mouthful of ceviche.
"Then I'll try some." Roxas picked up a fork and lifted a small piece of fish out of the mixing bowl. He chewed thoughtfully. "It's... actually, it's pretty good."
Demyx presented Axel his little bowl of ceviche with mock ceremony. "Roxas said he liked it. Can't get a higher recommendation than that."
Axel stabbed the smallest piece of fish he could find and examined it critically. He didn't look like he was in serious danger of throwing up, but he certainly didn't look eager to actually eat it.
Roxas took another bite, trying not to laugh. "Axel, it's way too late for the fish to bite you. Now eat it before it goes bad."
Axel came to a decision. He pointed at the little piece of fish, and a jet of fire spurted out of his finger, temporarily enveloping it in flames. "There. Now it's edible." He put the no-longer-raw fish in his mouth and chewed. "You're right. It is good."
Demyx covered his eyes. "And he says I'm a wuss..."
Fin. Happy birthday, doofus, got it memorized?
AN: I started this on my birthday. Guitar Hero III just came out. "Ceviche" is a funny word, and it sounded like something Demyx would like. And I keep writing these oneshots when I should be working on a multi-chapter story. Bad author. Bad.
From Wikipedia: "Ceviche (also spelled as cebiche, seviche or cevice) is a form of citrus marinated seafood salad that originated in its current form somewhere in the coastal part of Peru...In its classic form, ceviche is composed of chunks of raw fish, with lime or lemon juice though sometimes bitter orange (naranja agria), sliced onion, minced Peruvian ají limo, and sometimes Andean rocoto." In Lima, it's usually prepared with tollo, or shark (trout is more common around Cuzco, and I figured Xaldin was more likely to have trout on hand than shark), and served with corn on the cob or canchita (toasted maize kernels) and a glass of leche de tigre (the lime juice marinade). And it really is only marinated for a few minutes. Apparently Demyx's missions have led him to the Peruvian coastline a time or two.
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and its associated characters belong to Square Enix and Disney. Guitar Hero III belongs to Activision and RedOctane. The version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" in Guitar Hero III is performed by Steve Ouimette. "Through the Fire and Flames" belongs to DragonForce.