How was that? Demyx signed to Roxas.

I think I liked it better the other way.

But you said you didn't like that very much. Demyx frowned. There must be some better way to do it, then.

Learning a whole new way to talk, with his hands instead of his voice, had come more easily than even Demyx had expected - it probably helped that Axel and Roxas had been right there learning with him, at their own insistence. And in a way, he'd been speaking with his hands all along, as they plied the strings of his sitar. Since Axel and Roxas were the ones he talked to the most, he didn't mind that the two of them, along with Zexion, who'd taught all three, were now the only ones he could talk to at all. The total lack of ambient sound - he'd grown used to that even before his hearing had faded entirely; he didn't exactly miss it now.

It was not being able to hear music that kept Demyx lying awake nights wondering if he could actually be feeling his sanity ticking away.

Sure, Axel's discovery that he could feel powerful beats and rhythms through his speakers was a blessing - in fact, it had probably been the only thing that carried him through those first nightmarish days. But it couldn't carry him through forever - it couldn't entirely replace having that beautiful sound ringing in his ears, flowing through his mind and down to fill the empty hole in his chest with something truly wonderful that he desperately needed. His fingers picked idly at the sitar strings, playing notes that he'd joyfully put his eyes out to hear, but were lost to him forever.

Roxas tapped him on the shoulder. Play it like that again. Demyx, who'd been lost in his own thoughts, blinked in confusion. I want to hear it that way again.

Ah...Demyx tried to recall and repeat the notes he'd picked out moments ago. Was that it?

That was perfect. Demyx smiled faintly and transcribed the notes onto the sheet of staff paper he'd been working on. If he concentrated, he could almost hear them as he read them, or played them. Almost.

Roxas was shaking his head in amazement. I can't believe it. You're deaf as a post, you have no heart, and you're a gifted composer, even if you have to rely on my ears. Demyx blushed a little. Don't give me that I'm-not-special act. How do you do it?

If I didn't, I'd die. While Roxas puzzled over the only honest answer Demyx could give, Demyx read through his current work in progress, savoring the memory of the sweet music echoing through his mind. His powers over water kept any stray tears from damaging the paper.

For now, this was - just barely - enough. He didn't want to think about when "for now" ran out.

Demyx always slept wrapped in towels now. The first few times his room had been accidentally flooded, Axel had been remarkably patient, even sympathetic, although the flooding must have been especially irritating to a fire elementalist. But relying on Axel's patience was a lot like dancing on a frozen river, as far as good ideas went. Most of the time, he didn't have any. And Demyx kept waking up late at night, crying inconsolably.

And drenched. Don't forget drenched. Which was what the towels were for.

Demyx struggled with the saturated towels. It's been a month; you'd think I'd stop doing this eventually. Eventually, he just stood up and let the wet, heavy towels fall down by themselves, then stepped away from them. That worked well, until he caught his foot and landed flat on his face. He was still trying to disentangle himself when Axel tapped him on the shoulder.

I suppose you have no idea how much noise you're making, but it sounds like the towels are kicking your ass left, right, and center.

Demyx sighed heavily and quit struggling with the towels. Suddenly, it didn't seem worth the effort to free himself just to get back into bed, when it would be easier to just sleep on the floor with wet towels wrapped around his leg. Sorry, he signed. Go back to bed.

Axel looked at him oddly. Are you going to be okay?

No, I expect the towels will overwhelm and kill me as soon as you go back to your own room.

Axel rolled his eyes, but leaned over and freed Demyx from the mass of wet towels. What are the towels for anyway?

So I'd stop flooding your room.

Axel stared at him with an unreadable expression. You're an idiot.

I know. Go back to bed. Axel returned to his own room, glancing over his shoulder as he went. Demyx never did go back to bed; he spent the rest of the night wide awake on a pile of wet towels, which is how Axel found him the next morning when he came in wondering why he'd missed breakfast.

(Apparently it's going to be our responsibility to keep this head case from starving himself to death,) Axel said.

Demyx immediately turned to look at Roxas. (The head case is probably reading our lips,) Roxas replied. Demyx nodded and turned back to Axel, who was slowly turning red. He covered his mouth before answering Roxas.

Not fair, Demyx signed.

Axel shook his head. You going deaf is not fair. But I don't want to get started on that.

Demyx shrugged. So, I'm a head case now?

Axel just stared carefully into space, as if he really didn't want to answer. Roxas tapped him on the shoulder. You have to admit you haven't been yourself recently.

Haven't been myself - there's days I wake up and I don't even know what I am, much less who! Demyx sighed and revised that thought before he signed anything. That's true.

We're worried about you. Roxas was signing to him, but his eyes were directed over Demyx's shoulder - at Axel. Terrific. They're talking about me behind my back while I'm in the room with them. Demyx stared morosely at the kitchen table, letting them talk without looking in.

What are they saying about me? Talking about how I used to be? Wondering just how bad this has really hit me? Wondering what's going on in my head - would they be surprised to know I'm wondering what they're saying? Wishing there was some way to help - there isn't, unless they can make me hear again. Or maybe they're deciding I'm just not worth the trouble denying I've turned into an absolute rain cloud; I wouldn't blame them if they just gave up on me...

His line of sight was suddenly blocked by an empty cereal bowl. He looked up. Every box of cereal in the kitchen was lined up in front of him. I wouldn't feed my worst enemy any of my cooking, Axel signed. However, not even I can wreck a bowl of cereal. Take your pick.

For the first time in a long time, Demyx laughed.

Roxas looked out the window. It's raining again. Demyx shrugged. You know, for about an hour this morning, it actually stopped raining for the first time in I don't know how long.

I'm sorry.

Roxas shook his head. What's going on in there? You've made more progress on that song since lunch than you have in the last three days I've been around to help you. But you're so gloomy. There's something I never thought I'd say to you.

I bet if you had, you'd have thought you'd actually say it, not sign it.

Roxas looked away for a moment. I know this is hard on you - I can't even imagine how hard. It must be as bad as losing your heart. No one should expect you to get over this in a hurry.

But you do, Demyx mouthed silently. He could still tell whether he was speaking or not, even if he'd already heard his own voice for the last time. You're missing the way I used to be, don't you, he signed. Roxas didn't answer. Go ahead, say yes. So do I.

I didn't want to say that, but I'm kind of forced to admit - it's true. Roxas sighed. You avoid everyone, you almost never smile or laugh anymore, and you only eat two meals a day. It's like someone's turned the lights out in your mind.

Demyx smiled wanly. They didn't turn the lights out, they broke the speakers. Just give me a while, and I'll be all right. Roxas pretended to believe him, and Demyx pretended it was true.

Roxas had made one miscall. When either Axel or Roxas was around, they could bully, wheedle, or coerce Demyx into eating at least two meals a day. When they both happened to be gone on a mission for the day, as had happened today, Demyx wouldn't necessarily eat at all, unless they dragged him down to breakfast before they left or came back in time to drag him to dinner. Axel had left so early, he'd eaten breakfast by himself ahead of the rest of the Organization, and while Roxas had stopped by and shoved a couple Pop-Tarts into his hands before he raced off, he had no way to know whether Demyx would eat them or set them down and forget them.

Demyx stared at the little frosted pastries with no appetite whatsoever. Gotta not want. He forced himself to eat one, just because he knew Axel and Roxas would be mad at him if they thought he hadn't eaten all day, and set the other one aside uneaten before summoning his sitar and preparing to spend the entire day alone with his instrument. He started by playing the piece he and Roxas had been working on all week, letting his memory fill the dead silence with the echoes of notes he'd played long, long ago - months and years ago, before he'd ever started to lose his hearing, when the music still rang pure and clear and the worlds around him were still full of undistorted sound.

He shook his head. Something was wrong. Not just that he couldn't hear anything - that was wrong, had been wrong for a month already, and as far as he knew, would be wrong forever. It was something about the song - the music his memory provided just wasn't right, somehow. He kept playing it over and over, rehearsing the full length of the song endlessly until his mind started to spin and his fingers started to throb. And it was still - just - not - right.

I haven't made a bit of progress. All I've made is a mess. It's garbage. I can't even hear it and I can tell it's garbage. Demyx crumpled up the sheets of music he'd been working on one by one and flung them at the garbage can. Not a one of them made it in. Lovely. One more way for me to fail.

He sighed. Maybe I'm forgetting what music really sounds like.

The heavy sitar slid out of his hands, but he made no move to catch it. The rain outside nearly doubled in intensity, but he couldn't have cared less if he'd tried. Demyx just curled up on the floor, alone with that awful thought, oblivious to time's passage and the world around him, not to mention the fact that he'd flood Axel's room again if he didn't snap out of it.

Suddenly falling eight feet and landing painfully on the ceiling was a little harder to ignore.

Demyx shook his now-aching head and looked around. (Sorry if that was a little rough, dude, but it seemed like the only good way to get your attention,) Xigbar said.

Put me back on the floor! Demyx signed angrily. Xigbar just looked confused. Demyx sighed and pointed up at the floor. The world suddenly reoriented itself - no painful landings this time - but he didn't have enough time to reorient himself before Xigbar grabbed him by the hood and towed him out of the room. Demyx found himself being dragged down the hallway, kicking and screaming, by the Freeshooter.

"Damn it, put me down and leave me the hell alone, you bastard!" Demyx had no idea if he was even comprehensible - he'd been informed by those who would know that his speaking voice was a little slurred and garbled from where it had been. But kicks in the shins and elbows in the gut should have carried more-or-less the same message, or would have, if Xigbar hadn't been so good at dodging. Eventually, he gave up and held still - struggling wasn't helping his headache. He closed his eyes, as well, after a while, and blindly let Xigbar drag him off to wherever.

Eventually, he was dropped into a chair. Demyx opened his eyes - he was in the kitchen. Xigbar dropped a sandwich in front of him and sat down across from him. (Sorry for the rough handling, dude, but it's pretty common knowledge that when your friends aren't around, you stop eating. So far today, you've skipped breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which doesn't leave much. And you're not allowed to starve to death. So, as your superior, I hereby order you to eat that sandwich.)

Demyx poked at it unenthusiastically. "Why do you care? It's not like I'm a valuable member..."

(Dude. Sandwich. Eat the sandwich.)

Not wanting to push it until he was forced to eat at gunpoint, Demyx picked up the sandwich and took a bite. It didn't have much to recommend it, but it was edible, and despite his aching head, he was somehow hungry.

Unfortunately, food and a dose of aspirin didn't do much for Demyx's mental state. He turned the stereo on and leaned against a speaker, trying to match the vibrations on his skin to the songs he remembered. He wasn't having much success.

A sudden movement caught his eye - Axel was leaning in the door, finally back from his mission. Evening, Eight, Demyx signed - he didn't like having to refer to even his friends by their number, but it was easier than spelling out their names all the time. Mind telling me what song I'm feeling right now? I've been trying to guess, but I haven't been doing very well.

"Seven Deadly Sins" by Flogging Molly.

Demyx shrugged. I guessed "Salty Dog". I was close.

Axel sat down across from him, leaning on the bed. Has - he made a sign Demyx didn't recognize - been through here?

Demyx blinked in confusion. What does - he repeated the unknown sign - mean?

Axel grinned. Simple. R - he crossed his fingers - and light - he held his hand in front of his mouth and flicked his thumb and middle finger outwards - put together - he combined the gestures into the new sign - crossed fingers, flicking his ring finger instead.

R - and light...ROXAS? Demyx spelled the name out just to be sure.

Axel nodded. Right first try. If you'd prefer that to calling him "Thirteen" all the time...

Are you kidding? I feel stupid calling him Thirteen...Axel. That one was almost intuitive - sign for A with one hand, sign for fire with the other. Why didn't we come up with this earlier?

I don't know, because it's a damn good has Roxas been through?

Demyx shook his head. I thought he was going to be gone overnight.

Axel thought for a moment. ...You're right and I feel a little stupid now. So, did you manage to get any food today or were you too busy to eat? He tried to smile, but it was blatantly fake.

Demyx sighed. Yes, I did get some food, and I have witnesses. Roxas made sure I got some breakfast and - the letter X flowed into the sign for a gun - made very sure I got some dinner.

Axel paused. X - gun - I think I know who you're talking about.

Good... The song changed; Demyx could feel the rhythm slow and intensify. What's playing now?

There was a faint, sad, but genuine smile on Axel's face. He didn't sign a response; he apparently sang along instead. (And the light of a fading star is what you were - is what you are. Like the glow that christens the moon, you shone too soon, you shone too soon.) Axel shook his head. The irony of your situation is just nauseating, when you think about it.

That's why I try not to. I don't usually succeed, though. Demyx half-smiled - "Light of a Fading Star" was one of his favorites, and the music flowed easily through his memory, almost as if he could really hear the song playing a few rooms away. "But if there's a reason, I don't need to know right now..."

Roxas didn't return until late the next morning, looking like he'd gotten hardly any sleep, but Axel dragged him and Demyx to lunch anyhow. Demyx kept a careful eye on them as he ate and they talked. (Almost like his old self,) Axel was saying. Roxas had his back to Demyx, so he couldn't see his response. Whatever he'd said, it made Axel smile a little. (He was singing along to the music - I'll be damned if I know how he could do that, because he had to ask me what song was playing. Oh, and your name is now -) he made the R-light gesture they'd decided would stand for Roxas. (Got it memorized?) Another pause while Roxas responded. (Yeah, we spent half the night coming up with signs for everyone's names. I can show you all of them after lunch.) Pause. (Though you might want to take a nap first.)

(- little tired,) Roxas said as he turned in Demyx's direction. He waved. Good morning.

Hello, Roxas. Looks like you've had a long night.

Roxas nodded. That wasn't all that hard, but it took a long time. I didn't get much sleep.

I believe it. You look wiped out.

I feel wiped out. How's the song coming?

Demyx looked away briefly in embarrassment. I scrapped it. I played the whole thing through a few times and decided it wasn't even good enough to be worth improving.

Roxas looked confused and a little saddened. But I thought it was going pretty well.

Demyx shrugged. I don't know. Maybe I'm just being a fussy artist.

What, one of those kooks who dresses like an explosion in a used-clothing store and thinks if you don't suffer for your art, you don't even know what art is?

Demyx just stared blankly at Roxas until the blond started to get the idea he'd said something wrong. I think I have suffered for my art, he signed slowly. In truth, no one knew exactly why his hearing had slowly faded away to nothing. But one of the last times he'd actually heard Vexen's voice well enough to understand him without reading his lips - though he was already practicing that skill - the Chilly Academic had suggested, in a less-than-kind manner, that the cause was constant exposure to loud noise - namely music. Whenever he tried to think of what Vexen sounded like, that was what he remembered - that it was the music's fault.

It hurt to contemplate. It hurt worse to think it could be true.

Demyx spent the rest of the meal carefully avoiding eye contact while Roxas wondered how he was going to apologize for this one.

Axel never knocked before entering anymore, or maybe he did; it didn't make any difference to Demyx anymore. The redhead just opened the door and walked in. Roxas says he's sorry for opening his mouth too wide. He looked at the crumpled and unfolded papers Demyx was playing from. I thought you'd given up on that.

I did. For about 24 hours. Demyx sighed. There's no reason I should keep going. I'd put my eyes out to hear it even as it is, but I never will.

Axel looked at him oddly. That's a little worrying.

Get out of paranoid mode. I don't intend to put my eyes out anytime soon.

I meant when you said there was no reason you should keep going -

On the song, idiot. Demyx threw a pillow at Axel.

Axel caught it and threw it back. Touchy, are you?

Some days you seem hell-bent on proving I intend to do something incredibly stupid.

This, coming from a guy who only eats five days a week.

Get out of here... Demyx threw the pillow back with more force. Why are you bugging me?

I'm trying to find out what's going on in that not-nearly-so-empty-as-it's-supposed-to-be head of yours.

Right now I'm trying to decide whether or not to waste another pillow on you. What do you really want to find out?

Axel sat down next to him, suddenly serious. Yesterday was the first day in a long time you smiled twice in a day. You used to smile all the time. Demyx sighed, expecting another long Demyx-you've-changed speech. What I want to know is - how bad is it on your end?

Demyx turned slowly to face him. You really want to know? Axel nodded.'s like having your heart in a jar you can't open. You can look at it, you can pick up the jar and carry it around with you if you want, you can even feel it beating through the glass, but you can't feel it beating in your chest. And other people can open the jar and take the heart out, but they can't actually give it to you, no matter how hard they try or how much they want to. And you look up in the sky and you know that even if Kingdom Hearts turns out to be the miracle everyone else has been waiting for, it won't come through for you. It can't give you what you really need. Did any of that make sense to you?

Axel nodded very slowly. I think...I don't want to say that I understand, but I think I understand better. I'll leave you alone now. He stood up slowly and went back to his own room.

Demyx stared out the window, willing the clouds to clear away and let him see the heart-shaped moon. Kingdom Hearts...I don't want my heart so much anymore. Give me back my hearing!

Demyx woke up reluctantly the next morning. Very reluctantly.

I think I can safely say I have no reason to get up this morning. I'm not hungry, I know I won't have a mission, and I can't think why anybody would want me for anything, he signed to Axel, before pulling the blankets over his head.

Axel peeled the blankets back. I outrank you and I told you to get up. Now do it or I'll set your sheets on fire.

Go soak your head. Demyx ensured Axel took his advice. Axel wiped water out of his eyes and glared at him. Demyx retreated under the blankets again.

And clung to the bedsheets as he started sliding off the bed, blankets and all.

Unfortunately, all that did was ensure the bedsheets went with him as Axel tugged him off the bed and onto the floor. It took him three minutes to free his head and arms enough to talk. Thanks a lot, asshole. I can't catch a break with a net, can I?

I don't even want to start that discussion. Axel continued to tug on the blankets until Demyx was loose. Breakfast time.

Does "I'm not hungry" mean something different to you than it does to me, or do you just not understand the idea?

Then don't eat. Just show up and grab a cup of coffee or something and prove you're still alive.

The two-day-old lump on Demyx's head seemed to have grown. I hate coffee.

Then get something else. I don't care. Though if you want hot chocolate, you'll have to make it yourself, and endure a certain amount of mockery on the side.

Axel...Demyx sighed heavily. Please stop trying to make me act normally.

Axel shook his head sadly. You've probably had it up to here with Roxas and I complaining about how you're not the same anymore. Normal's changed. I just want to keep you alive, got it memorized?

If I'm not the same, why do you care?

Axel just stared at him speechlessly for a long moment, then shook his head and vanished through a dark portal. No answer. Guess he just figured out he doesn't. Demyx curled up on the heap of blankets and closed his eyes. He'd almost moped himself back to sleep when something suddenly grabbed his arms and hauled him upright.

He opened his eyes. Axel was holding on to one arm, Roxas was holding on to the other. Roxas released his arm long enough to sign. You haven't totally changed - Demyx will probably always be surprised that someone cares. Silly of him.

For the second time that week, Demyx found himself being dragged to the kitchen. The presence of two abductors this time gave him less opportunity for kicking and screaming.

He sighed heavily. It had taken him a long time to win a little privacy - Axel and Roxas had refused to leave him alone - and now that he had it, he didn't know for the life of him what to do with it. Listen to music? Play his sitar? Ha.

But it was almost inevitable - give Demyx long enough with nothing to do, and the sitar would come out. He started playing the composition he'd been working on for a week and a half now - he'd spent as much of yesterday as he could on it, and he still thought his original decision to scrap it was the right one. No matter how much effort he invested in it, something just refused to click.

Fine. Forget how it is. How should it be?

He set the sheets of music aside, closed his eyes, and let his hands run freely over the strings, not caring how it would actually sound to someone who could hear, only about the music in his head. He didn't give a damn what the audience he didn't have might think - he thought it was beautiful this way. Beautiful in a sad, lost, broken way - but that was only appropriate, wasn't it...

As the last few notes echoed through his mind and faded away, he opened his eyes.

Oh. I do have an audience.

Roxas was trying to hold back tears, with only limited success. Axel shook his head, looking stunned. I think I understand now, he signed. Even Zexion looked shaken.

Wait - Zexion? Did you want something? Demyx signed to the silver-haired Nobody.

Zexion slid the tape recorder back in his pocket and nodded. Four wants to see you at your earliest convenience.

When isn't convenient? It's not like I have anything better to do...though I do get a little tired of him messing with my ears all the time...

Demyx missed the look that passed between the other three Nobodies.

Why do I still put up with this? Haven't we already established that nothing will help?

Because losing your hearing doesn't seem to have completely cured you of that insidious condition "hope".

Well, last time he wanted to make molds of my ears - what's he got planned for this session? Surgery?

The normally solemn Zexion was working to suppress a grin. For some reason, that irked Demyx. Rest assured, it will not come to that today.

So you're going to keep me in suspense...and leave open the possibility that it might sometime later.

It depends... Vexen tapped Demyx on the shoulder and handed him an odd little device. Put that on your ear, Zexion explained. No, the other ear.

"- could save her, and that was the end of sweet Molly Malone, now her ghost wheels a barrow...think he's coming around now." Axel grinned, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to slide a supporting arm around Demyx's shoulders. "Way to faint, idiot."

I fainted? What? Demyx signed.

He could hear Roxas giggling behind him. "You don't need to sign anymore - talk!"

"And you may wish to put the other hearing aid on," Vexen added dryly, handing it to him. Demyx reached up to do so, but his hands were shaking so badly he nearly dropped it. Axel had to help him.

"Yeah, you fainted - according to Zexion, as soon as you got that hearing aid in and heard me singing, your face went white and your eyes got huge for a second, and then you just went limp. I was behind you the whole time, so I couldn't see your face, but I saw you just sag and topple over. If Vexen hadn't caught you, you'd have fallen right off the table. And - sorry about that song, but I just couldn't resist, no matter how awful my voice is." Axel thought for a moment. "Did you pass out just from the shock of being able to hear or from the sheer awfulness of my singing?"

Demyx took a deep breath. "Axel - your singing voice is not that bad. And right then, it was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard."

Axel grinned again. "Thanks a look like you just walked into a lifetime's worth of surprise birthday parties being held in a cave full of treasure. It's priceless. I wish I had a picture."

A camera shutter clicked. "Wish granted."

"Rox, where'd you get the camera?...So how is it?"

Demyx was still dizzy and lightheaded from shock and joy. "I can hear," he whispered. "That's all I can think. I can hear." It wasn't quite the same as before - his voice sounded funny, for one thing, and the hearing aids hadn't restored his hearing completely. But it was so much better than absolute - dead - silence, there wasn't even a basis for comparison. "I...I...give me a second." He reached into the air and summoned his instrument.

And for the next several minutes, it was like he was alone in the room - nothing but him and his sitar and the music.

It was just like he remembered.

Fin. The one time you figure there's no light at the end of the tunnel...
AN: I had to write this sometime. I just wonder why it took so long.

In case anyone wondered, Demyx's hearing aids are the behind-the-ear kind - they're more powerful in general than smaller in-the-ear and in-the-canal hearing aids. Yes, I researched hearing aids for this story. Is that impressive or sad?

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and its associated characters belong to Square Enix and Disney. "Light of a Fading Star", "Seven Deadly Sins", and "Salty Dog" belong to Flogging Molly. "Molly Malone", as far as I know, is in the public domain, so really didn't need to be mentioned here...