Knock knock knock! "Hey, Demyx, you in there?"
Knocking on Demyx's door was never guaranteed to get a response even if he was in his room. The sound of his sitar wasn't necessarily a clue; he'd been known to play without his hearing aids on. But Roxas was lucky enough to get a response this time. Demyx opened the door, with his sitar still in hand. "Hi, Roxas. What's up?"
"Axel's gone and I'm bored...you weren't busy, were you?"
"Depends what you wanted me for. If you're looking for someone to play video games with, yes, I was. If you want to sit around and talk and learn how to tune a sitar, then, no, I wasn't."
"Sitting and talking sounds better than watching my brain evaporate...and I've always kind of wondered about that sitar." Roxas suddenly looked at it as if seeing it for the first time. "Wait a second...how many strings does that thing have?!"
"Twenty-one." Demyx grinned. "I don't play all of them, though. I dunno how many details I can go into without giving you a full lecture on sitar anatomy, but you see the strings running over the frets - they're the ones that might actually get played. The ones that run under the frets are just there to vibrate. Actually, most of the actual playing gets done on just the one string -" he plucked the string in question. "- the only playing string that's made of steel. The resonating string under it is steel too. Still have to tune them all, though." He sat down on one of several large pillows scattered across his floor and arranged himself in proper playing position. "It takes a while."
Roxas scratched his head. "How often do you have to re-tune it?"
"Every time I want to play something different." Demyx turned his focus back to the instrument, and Roxas watched in silence for a while.
"How long does it take to learn to play sitar?" he finally asked.
"I dunno. A lifetime, I guess. I'm not really done learning yet."
"Well, when'd you start?"
"My Other started learning to play sitar almost as soon as he was old enough to hold one properly. So it's been a long time."
Roxas blinked. "I guess it has...how old were y- was your Other?"
Demyx shrugged. "Four. Maybe five. By the time I was eight years old, my grandmother - who'd been teaching me in the first place - said I was already better than she'd ever be and it would be a damned shame if I didn't make my life's work out of it. She's actually the one responsible for the haircut - I was seven years old and showed her a magazine picture of some rockstar or another and said 'Hey, Grandma, I want hair like that', and she gave me a haircut just like it as soon as she could. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever." He didn't seem to care that he was referring to his Other as himself, and Roxas didn't feel like correcting him.
Roxas smiled a little, anticipating some story about a glamorous career as a professional musician - Luxord was willing to share tales of his days as a Vegas high-roller to all and sundry, no matter how often his audience had heard them, and Marluxia wasn't exactly shy about his past as an Elven prince. "So how'd that turn out?"
Demyx sighed regretfully, pretty well dashing Roxas's hopes. "Rox, how old are you? Fifteen?"
"I have no way to know for sure, but I'll go with that."
"When my Other was fifteen, he froze to death under a bridge, still clinging to his now-deceased grandmother's sitar."
Roxas didn't know what to say to that to save his life. A simple "Oh...that's too bad" seemed to redefine inadequate.
"Actually, as far as possible deaths go, freezing isn't too bad. Towards the end, you stop realizing how cold and miserable and close to dying you are, and you start hallucinating about being safe and warm and happy. When the Heartless started closing in, I thought it was a cat."
"But...how'd you even get into that situation?"
"It involves being alone and homeless. Once you get to that point - and after my grandmother died, it wasn't very far - the rest kind of takes care of itself. You're out there in the middle of winter because there's nowhere for you to go. You hide under a bridge because street trash like you aren't welcome any place most people would willingly go, and the bridge is at least somewhat sheltered. You freeze to death down there because it's cold and you don't have nearly enough warm clothes or warm blankets or food in your stomach and you've never actually been healthy a day in your life. That's a whole other story, though."
Roxas shivered a little. "Sounds pretty bad to me."
"As far as an actual life goes, it wasn't bad, at least the first two-thirds or so. It was just short."
Roxas shook his head. "Only you, Demyx."
"Only me what?"
"Never mind. Go back to tuning your sitar. I'll watch and listen."
Demyx shrugged and turned his attention back to his instrument. After a while he spoke up again. "I bet you didn't know my Other was even human, did you."
"Um...I have to say I didn't know for sure, but I strongly suspected it."
"Well, someone started a rumor a while back saying that my Other was actually a merman. Or even the long-lost only son of King Triton. I suspected Axel, but if you never heard it, maybe it wasn't him." Pause, during which Demyx continued tuning his sitar. "That would have been kind of cool, though, I think."
Roxas continued to watch in silence as Demyx finally got his sitar tuned to his satisfaction and started improvising something that sounded sad but comforting. "How hard is it to play?" he asked after a while, hoping for a more comfortable topic of conversation than death.
"Well...over time, I've learned to play just about anything that has strings, except a piano, and I don't think pianos really count. And I've gotta say the sitar is the toughest of them all. Look at this -" Demyx stopped and tugged the wire plectra off the first two fingers of his right hand, revealing hard calluses and black grooves dug into his fingertips through long wear. "A guitar won't do that to your fingers, but a sitar will. That takes a very long time - and a lot of dedication. It's how you can recognize a sitar player."
Roxas winced. "It must hurt a ton when you're starting out."
"It always hurts a little. But it gets easier once you start developing some callus." Demyx replaced the plectra and went back to playing. "Compared to this, learning guitar was a breeze. But I don't think a guitar sounds nearly as beautiful. Besides, the sitar was the first instrument I learned to play." He smiled. "I guess you could say it was my first real love."
"...Coming from you, I believe it."
"Well, thanks...I think." Demyx played a little more. "You know, a lot of experienced guitar players think their experience on guitar will make learning sitar a cinch. It almost always ends up kicking their asses. Just look at the number of strings alone. And guitars don't have anything like chikari, you only play sitar with two fingers of your left hand - definitely no way to get your thumb around the neck like you can with a guitar, you can't see what your hands are doing all that well, you have to learn just by listening without seeing what you're playing...I dunno how much I can explain without giving you a headache."
"You know, for a while, I had thought about asking you to teach me to play, but..."
Demyx laughed. "I tried teaching Axel once. The end result was he went through aspirin like candy for two weeks before giving up." He shrugged. "Technically, I suppose I'm not a qualified teacher. There's some who'd say I'm not even a qualified player, because I didn't learn to play from an authentic Indian Classical guru. Years of independent lessons notwithstanding." He snorted. "Purists. I swear, the worst thing that can possibly happen to music is having a bunch of people get together and say 'if it's not played the way we play it, it's not music and you're not a musician'." The tune changed subtly; now it seemed almost - curious, as if the notes were swirling around the room and investigating everything.
Roxas shook his head. "I wish I knew how you did that."
"...I don't know if I can explain it without having to teach you to play first. I just...improvise. Based on what I'm feeling. The funny part is...well, it's not really funny...but sitar music is supposed to come from the heart more than any other instrument."
"...Okay, so explain how you're still able to play at all, let alone with feeling."
"I...don't know. I never actually thought about it before, but however it works, I'm damn grateful I can."
"Maybe it really comes from the soul instead."
"Maybe. But...I have to say, losing my hearing made a lot more difference than losing my heart, even though losing my heart should have made it impossible for me to even play." The notes sank sadly, as if they'd found something depressing. "Even with hearing aids, I still can't really hear everything normally. There's a few notes in the top ranges I can't hear at all." Demyx sighed. "There's nothing I can do about it - and being able to hear most of it is just infinitely better than not being able to hear any of it. But I miss it, sometimes." His face remained calm, but the music wept softly for him.
Roxas ran his fingers through his hair - as if that would straighten it out. "Are you sure you can't feel emotions?"
"Well, if I don't have a heart, how could I?"
Roxas half-smiled. "Are you sure you don't have a heart?" he asked jokingly.
Demyx snorted. "Actually, yes, despite being a Nobody and not having a pulse to prove it, I do have one. I keep it hidden in here." He tapped the large resonating chamber at the bottom of his sitar. "Seemed like a good place to store it."
Roxas laughed briefly, but... "That didn't sound as ridiculous as it probably should have."
"What, keeping my heart in my sitar?" The music turned thoughtful. "I...don't know...maybe I do, in a way. Okay, now that sounded ridiculous." Demyx shook his head. "I can't explain without feeling stupid. I don't know how I can play from the heart I don't have with emotions I shouldn't have. But I can." The sad music developed a sort of deep, undefinable strength, which rippled outwards until the sadness was eventually washed away, and the musician was smiling softly. "Better." He looked up as if seeing Roxas for the first time. "You like that?"
Roxas nodded. "So far, I think I like everything you've played. I just like the sound of it all."
"Great, I've got a fan..." Demyx smiled, but it was a little sad. "Rest assured, I don't hit it out of the park every time. Some days, all I can come up with is junk. Sometimes...I end up playing something that not even I want to hear." The music trembled a little, like a memory of torment and despair. Then it brightened up. "Enough about me - you sure you don't want to learn how to play? I can at least teach you correct posture and position and such in one lesson..."
Roxas gave in. "All right...I can at least give it a shot. If this doesn't work out, maybe you can teach me to play guitar."
Demyx grinned. "Sweet. Pick a pillow, any pillow. And take your shoes and socks off; it's a lot easier to hold this thing in place if you're barefoot, believe me..."
Fin. And if the universe is really held together by vibrating strings...
AN: So this time, I looked up sitars. And, damn. I've learned a new respect for sitar players. I have no idea how Demyx actually manages to play it in combat, though, clearly, he's good at improvising. There's tons of information that I wanted Demyx to explain but he never had a chance to, so he told me to tell you to check Wikipedia.
Demyx's past went through about a dozen different versions, the one constant being that he learned to play sitar from his grandmother. But I never did quite click with the "Demyx was originally a merman" idea (I think it's a bit overdone anyway).
Someday, I will explain Axel's past. He might even run into Demyx's Other, though if that happens, it'll probably be just a chance encounter.
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and all associated characters belong to Square Enix and Disney.