This is soooo late in coming and I'm very sorry to all of those who may still be interested. I'm not dead. Hopefully I've awoken from my slumber at last. Thanks for all the reviews guys! I hope this is going in a direction that you'll enjoy as much as I enjoy writing it. I know there's not a lot of romance as of yet, but don't worry, it'll come when it's ready. Apologies for the terribly cliché band name, by the way.
Disclaimer: I've already said I don't own Kingdom Hearts, but I also don't own Explosions in the Sky.
Chapter Five – Vamp Intro
"Demyx shut it off!" someone groaned from across the room.
Demyx sighed a little at Tidus who had his hands clasped tightly over his ears. The pouting blonde pushed a button on the keyboard in front of him, turning off the terrible screeching that had been issuing from it. When the offending noise finally echoed away, the other band members hesitantly removed the hands, fingers, and, in Axel's case, pillows from their ears. Three pairs of sharp eyes turned in Demyx's direction and he held his hands up in defeat.
"All right, maybe feedback isn't the best idea for our aesthetic," he ventured, one hand going up to rake through his hair.
Axel scoffed loudly, "Yeah, no shit. You have any other awesome ideas, Dem?"
Demyx blushed under the harsh scrutiny of his friends. "Noo..." When Wakka threw a drumstick at his face he yelped and ducked swiftly. "Ok, I have a couple more ideas! But none of them are that bad, I promise! I was listening to a lot of experimental stuff over the summer and I just thought--"
Demyx pouted again. Naturally his ideas about adding feedback or other synthesized noises into their band's act did not go over well. As much as he himself loved to experiment, his other bandmates were less than enthusiastic about change. They were comfortable playing the same-old covers and writing songs with the same-old flavor over and over again. It was hard for Demyx to stay content, but there was no way that he'd argue the point any further.
The four young men were hanging out in Wakka and Lulu's jointly rented apartment, discussing their musical prospects for the coming school year. A lot of other campus bands had been springing up, apparently, and there was already a show scheduled the first week of September that they hadn't even known about. If the Blitzball Nobodies wanted to stay on top, they would need to be prepared for some serious competition.
Axel threw himself down on the couch, his tall body stretching nearly the entire length of the cushions, and sighed, "So anybody as starving as I am?"
At the mere thought of food, all four boys' stomachs grumbled in perfect unison. They grimaced and looked to Wakka hopefully. The orange-haired boy in question rolled his eyes at their beggar-like behavior and climbed to his feet, entering the kitchen in a few long strides. The others could hear him begging in turn for foodstuffs from Lulu, who apparently told him to fend for himself. Wakka returned with four cans of soda balanced precariously on top of one another and a family-size bag of potato chips. After passing around the drinks and ripping open the bag, the four settled in for some serious munching.
That is, until Lulu loomed from the kitchen doorway and spoke in her quiet, but utterly commanding way, "Napkins. Coasters," then walked away.
Wincing a little, all four of the young men gingerly picked up their already sweating cans and placed them on the readily available coasters on the tables, reaching for a stack of napkins also. They relaxed again when Lulu didn't seem to be coming back any time soon.
"So that Roxas kid is pretty hot," Axel stated, ignoring the loud groans from his friends. He'd been opening practically every conversation for the past week with those exact words. "I was talking to Riku yesterday and he said maybe–"
"Maybe you're a little obsessive, ya?"
"Save it, Axel," Tidus ordered, smacking a pillow into his unprotected stomach. "The kid's made it pretty damn clear he wants nothing to do with you."
Axel tossed the pillow back and said heatedly, "Shut the fuck up! You don't even know, Tidus…" He crunched a chip unhappily, glaring at the ceiling. So far, his attempts at wooing said Roxas had gone completely unrewarded.
Demyx was really starting to feel bad for his best friend. No matter what Axel did, Roxas just wasn't willing to be persuaded into anything, not even a casual friendship with the redhead. Granted, there hadn't been much time between Axel's initial star-struck advances and his current persistent and no-less subtle ones. Demyx was starting to like Roxas less and less, despite Riku's assurances that deep down he really was a pretty okay guy. Just a tad paranoid. And susceptible to fits of rage if provoked, which was clearly what Axel seemed to do every time he and Roxas crossed paths. No, Demyx did not particularly like Roxas at all.
Always the conflict diverter, Demyx promptly changed the subject: "Axel, your roommate last year was a guy named Zexion, right?"
Axel's bright jade eyes shifted from their unwavering study of the ceiling to look at Demyx. "Yeah, and he was a little bitch, why? Do you know him?"
Demyx laughed at the irony of the question and replied, "Um, in a manner of speaking." When Axel proceeded to waggle his eyebrows, Demyx blushed, not having realized how suggestive his comment had sounded. "No, no, I mean, he's my roommate this year!"
Axel pouted, looking resoundly disappointed, and said, "That's too bad, he could probably do with a good fucking." He rolled onto his side and continued, "Is he being mean to you or anything? 'Cause I can totally beat him up if you need me to."
"No, that's okay!" Demyx said hurriedly. 'Though I don't think I'd stop you if you tried…' "It's just, I was wondering how you dealt with him being so… you know… antisocial?" Demyx blushed again as Axel snorted derisively.
"Antisocial? That doesn't even begin to describe him, Dem. Honestly, I just tried to keep stuff clean for his anal-retentive sensibilities and clear out of the room whenever he was working on some 'big project.' By the end I was doing shit just to try and piss him off. I told you about the toaster, right?"
Demyx nodded as Tidus and Wakka laughed, remembering the story of the smoldering toaster and co-eds, in pajamas soaked by the sprinkler system, fleeing a residence hall late one night. Suffice to say toasters were no longer allowed in dorm rooms.
Axel rolled back to his original position and threw a long arm over his forehead, his slender wrist sporting a braided bracelet with two brightly colored beads. "I think all-in-all he hated me a lot more than I hated him. Actually, I think the biggest thing I did that bothered him was bringing people back to the room for…" he smirked. "Nocturnal exercises. Not that you would have that problem, Dem," he teased. "He told me one time that he had a boyfriend, a huge monster of a guy too, but he never brought him over and as far as I know he never spent a night out of the room. Then again, I was out of the room so many nights I shouldn't even be talking…"
Demyx was listening intently, chin propped on his fist, looking contemplative. "His boyfriend broke up with him the first day back."
"Ouch," Tidus commented. "That's major suckage."
Axel glanced over again. "Yeah that really does suck. But in all seriousness, Dem, is he being a total asshat?" His protection reflex over Demyx was kicking in big time, since he knew just how sensitive the guy could be and how much he absolutely abhorred conflict.
Demyx considered his words carefully before speaking, "The first day was really bad, but not entirely his fault." He blushed. "I kind of hit him in the face with a door. But after that he seemed a bit more polite. It's just like most of the time I want to talk, but I'm scared he's gonna bite my head off. He doesn't seem to be interested in anything except his work, least of all making friends with me." Demyx was slowly becoming acutely aware of how whiny he sounded as he kept talking. He wanted to be friends with Zexion, he really did, and it was hard for him to accept the possibility that Zexion did not want to be his friend in return.
His bandmates all looked at him sympathetically. They were among the few who really understood how important friendship was to Demyx. Of all of them, he had the biggest heart, but also the most fragile one. Whether it came from his artistic view of the world, or his deep-rooted fear of conflict, Demyx would always be more emotional than the rest of them.
Wakka spoke up hesitantly, "If you wanna be friends, why don't you ask him to hang out or something, ya? You could invite him to eat with us one night…"
"Yeah," Tidus agreed. "Or maybe you could ask him to come to a Blitzball game with you. Or better yet, one of our shows!"
Demyx looked reluctant and his misgivings were echoed when Axel interrupted, "He won't do it." He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his spiky locks. "I tried all of those things. He politely declined every time." He sat up suddenly and sharply met Demyx's surprised sea-blue eyes with his. "If you want to be friends with Zexion, you have to do it on his terms. Books, academics, language. Music won't help you this time, believe me, he doesn't know a thing about it. If you want to get buddy-buddy with that bitch, be my guest. Good luck, because you're really gonna need it."
Demyx frowned severely at Axel. 'Somehow I just know that he's not completely right.' "How many times have I said that music is the great equalizer, Axel? I will be friends with Zexion. On my terms, not yours." He had no idea where this sudden rush of confidence was coming from; it felt as if every fiber of his being was tingling with the desire to show Axel that he was wrong and that he, Demyx Strife, did not have to always take his advice. He could stand up for himself, just like he'd done when he'd found Zexion's flash drive. He was friendly, goddamn it, and soon he would have a new friend to show for it.
Quickly, Demyx stood and gathered up his synthesizer and lyric notebook, along with his laptop case and battered iPod. "I'll see you guys at dinner, I have some business to attend to," he said as he strode toward the door. Not forgetting his manners he called, "Thank you Lulu, for putting up with us!" The door closed smartly behind him and he hurried in the direction of his residence hall.
Left on the other side of the door were three surprised, and thoroughly baffled young men, with not the slightest clue as to what had just happened.
Finally, after a few moments of them staring at one another, Axel ventured, "Um, was it something I said?"
Zexion had begun his Saturday rather calmly, waking at promptly 7 A.M. as usual, and proceeding to drink a bottle of water and eat a granola bar before beginning work on his Heartless Anatomy assignment. Demyx had still been asleep, but had surprised Zexion by rising not too much later and leaving, cheerfully calling to Zexion to have a nice day and that he'd be back late afternoon. Zexion had hoped to remove himself from the room, work successfully completed, before that happened. Unfortunately, his assignment was proving much more impossible than he'd anticipated.
As he grumbled to himself, eyes straining from staring at his laptop screen for the past five hours, he considered the possibility of dropping the class. He'd never done anything so drastic before, but Professor Xemnas clearly did not like him and with that fact on top of his already 18-credit semester, Zexion wasn't sure he'd be able to keep up. Never before in his academic life had he been faced with such a dire predicament.
So what was more important: his GPA or his pride?
Briefly, Zexion rested his head on his desk and stared into space. It was a just a simple report. A report on the basic physiological differences between Emblem and Pureblood Heartless. At first glance, Zexion hadn't thought much of his topic, given to him specifically by the professor. He'd imagined it would be a simple accounting of the differences, beginning with the most obvious: the presence, or lack thereof, of an emblem. As his research had quickly pointed out to him, the differences were so simple and practically common knowledge that nearly anything he wrote would be a copy of someone else's work. Not to mention there was a conspicuous lack of current research, since the study of heartless had largely died out long ago anyway.
The door to the room flew open with Demyx's typical carelessness and lack of grace. Zexion picked his head up from the desk with difficulty, his mild headache returning threefold.
"Hey, Zexion!" Demyx greeted, his smile as cheerful as the radiant sun shining through the blinds.
Zexion, rather than ignoring as he was in the habit of doing, grunted in reply, turning his head away from his screen and glancing over his shoulder at his roommate. Anything to distract himself. Just then, the most palatable scent came wafting to his nose; and just like Pavlov's dog, Zexion felt his mouth water.
Demyx held up a plastic bag with a red snaking dragon on the front. "I picked up some Chinese take-out… if you want some…" He smiled a little shyly, really not sure if this plan of his would help get Zexion to open up. "I figured you would still be working, and you probably hadn't eaten."
'Food. He brought me food. That was… surprisingly thoughtful of him…' Zexion mused as he saved his mediocre report and closed his laptop. He stood from his uncomfortable wooden chair and stretched, legs aching from sitting for so long and spine cracking in multiple places.
"Food would be fabulous, actually."
Demyx beamed and began unloading the bag onto his own desk. "I wasn't sure what you liked, so I got a whole bunch of stuff. We can always save it for later. Let's see…" As he took out each little white box, he explained what it was and Zexion's mouth dampened further. White rice, fried rice, General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork, spring rolls; a delectable spread of crave-able dishes specifically designed to make Zexion's stomach set free a most unseemly rumble. While Zexion pretended not to blush, Demyx pretended not to hear, though the corner of his mouth tugged up just a little while his back was to him.
Zexion pulled out couple of plastic bowls adorned with the names of famous literary figures his mother had seen fit to give him, and handed one to Demyx. He felt the need to share, not because it was polite, but because it seemed a fit repayment of being provided with food. Demyx took the bowl with another smile and Zexion wasn't entirely sure why his face still felt warm.
When he'd gotten his food, Demyx plopped on his bed and broke his chopsticks (which had unfortunately been the only thing the restaurant had to offer), starting to shovel food into his mouth at light speed. Chips and soda had definitely not been enough to satisfy his appetite. Besides, he wasn't exactly a pro at chopsticks and if anything stayed on them for longer than a few seconds, it usually fell off.
Zexion however, perched on the very edge of his bed (so no crumbs would get on it) and ate with the grace of someone who used chopsticks every day of his life. He could even pick up the white rice, even though it wasn't sticky.
"So—" Demyx began, but was cut off.
"Thank you." Zexion cleared his throat delicately. "Thank you for the food. I can pay you back."
Demyx grinned and shook his head. "I told you I'd teach you some manners! No, seriously, it's on me. I figured it could be a real peace offering. After all, hitting you and teasing you and calling you weird names wasn't exactly nice of me."
The corner of Zexion's mouth quirked just barely and he raised another bite of rice to his lips. "Are we turning over a new leaf, so to speak?"
"If that's what you want." Demyx was going to leave this conversation as open as possible. He definitely didn't want to back Zexion into a corner.
Zexion considered for a moment as he twirled a chopstick between his fingers deftly. He prided himself on being able to keep himself above the typical bumps in social interaction. His experience with Demyx thus far had proven highly unrewarding, but at the same time it had certainly provided more excitement than he was typically accustomed to. In other words, pursuing a friendship (well, perhaps not so far as that) with Demyx would be beneficial to his general attitude toward his living arrangement. Perhaps.
"My name is Zexion Ienzo, I am from Traverse Town, and I am currently studying English Literature and Linguistics. It is a pleasure to meet you." He offered a vague smile, hoping Demyx wouldn't find it as fake as it felt.
Demyx grinned, a battle won, and said, "I'm Demyx Strife, I'm from Atlantica – top side, that is – and I'm gonna be a Composition major. Though truth be told I'd much rather be a performance major. I'd really just never be able to pick an instrument to specialize in. Everyone always told me I should do violin, but I really love trumpet too, and sitar, though really that's just a hobby…" Demyx smiled almost coyly and took the hint, closing his mouth as Zexion's eyebrow raised sharply at him.
Zexion finished his bowl of take-out and stood, tossing his chopsticks in the trash and rinsing out his bowl thoroughly in their tiny sink. As pleasant as this little distraction had been, it was certainly time to get back to work, despite the apparent futility.
Demyx followed Zexion's example and gave the bowl back when he was finished. So far so good. "I was wondering," he began, then hesitated, not really sure what he'd been wondering at all. It had just seemed like a good way to start a conversation.
Zexion raised an eyebrow at Demyx once more as he reopened his laptop and pulled out his desk chair. Typically he was not one for procrastination, but at the moment anything seemed more attractive than working on this damn report. When Demyx did nothing but laugh nervously and scratch the back of his head, Zexion was almost disappointed. He turned away and sat, cracking his knuckles before setting them atop the keys.
"What are you working on?" Demyx blurted, not able to come up with anything better off the top of his head. He really wasn't really good at improvisation; he'd never been a particularly good jazz player.
Zexion rolled his eyes and cracked his neck. 'I really hope that doesn't turn into a twitch,' he mused. "A report," he replied shortly. "For Heartless Anatomy."
Demyx made an 'ooh' sort of noise and sat on his bed, folding his legs. "Is it going well?"
"No." Zexion wasn't entirely sure why, but he wanted to… talk about this with someone. Since he was still not on speaking terms with Lexaeus, Demyx was really the only one readily available that was less likely to make fun of him than Xigbar or Xaldin. "It's going very badly, actually."
Demyx frowned, surprised. Wasn't Zexion supposed to be this, like, uber genius or something? The thought that something, anything, academic could be difficult for him was practically unthinkable. "Well… can I do anything to help you?" he offered.
"Can you tell me one scientist who has done significant research on Heartless in the past 30 years? Anyone at all? Because I do not believe such a person exists. The existing research on Heartless has been constant for approximately three decades because no one cares. Heartless are pests, nothing more; there hasn't even been a sighting of anything more dangerous than a Shadow in a very long time. The differences between Pureblood and Emblem Heartless have been documented so thoroughly, any report on my part would be blatant plagiarism. So, Demyx, do you have any brilliant ideas to offer?" Zexion took a deep breath after his outburst and glanced at Demyx one more time. He wasn't desperate, definitely not desperate.
"Uh… huh?" When Zexion scoffed disgustedly, Demyx looked sheepish. "I'm sorry, I just don't know anything about Heartless, really!" He looked around the room, his bright blue eyes searching for any source of inspiration. If he could help Zexion with this, maybe it would serve as a springboard into a more solid friendship. Hey, a guy could dream, right? Suddenly, a stroke of brilliance hit him like lightning bolt. He rummaged around in his pocket for a moment, pulling forth his well-loved iPod. "Have you tried music?" he asked, excitement weaving its way into his voice.
Zexion turned his upper body around in his chair, resting his forearm on the back. His brow was furrowed in absolute confusion. "No. What does music have anything to do with Heartless?"
"Nothing at all! Here, just listen to this. It's what I always listen to when I'm doing homework. It makes me feel more productive." He plugged his iPod into some equally battered speakers and hit play.
It took a moment for the song to truly start. The first dozen seconds were nothing but a single guitar string being plucked, then a deep, pulsating bass drum entered like a heartbeat. Another guitar, snares, and cymbals, and a bass guitar, all weaving and lacing together to create something melodious. At first it was gentle, but like a relentless ocean wave, it built and built into something invigorating.
Zexion's blue-gray eyes widened in shock. Was that… music? Not possible, it couldn't be. Where were the whining vocals, the teeny-bopping rhythms and lyrics? Where was the usual overall irritation and headache he'd had earlier? Music was always something he'd considered himself above: superfluous in both its repetition and the industry it had spawned. This was something altogether different. It was as if the notes were in his head, spiraling upward and twining together, giving life to half-formed ideas. Suddenly he knew exactly where to go with his paper, he wasn't even sure why he'd even been having trouble in the first place.
"What is that?" he breathed, as if fearful of missing a single beat.
"Explosions in the Sky," Demyx replied, voice equally soft. There was something happening here, he knew it, he just wasn't quite sure what yet. He didn't know if Zexion was about to tell him the shut it off or turn it up.
Demyx grinned. Finally, after a disastrous meeting and an extremely tense first week, things were shaping up. Axel wasn't right after all. Zexion had some serious potential to love music; he just didn't know it yet. Demyx studied his attractively hidden face and saw something of a blend of not-quite rapture and peace, as well as the look of a genius cheerfully working out a difficult math problem in his head. "Tell me, Zexion, what's your favorite type of music?"
Zexion frowned vaguely at his listening being interrupted, but, instead of responding, he spun in his chair and began to type furiously. He was honestly afraid that this sudden revelation and burst of insight was something temporary, fleeting, like a butterfly perched delicately on a flower. If even slightly disturbed, it would be gone.
"I don't have one," he snapped, typing like his life depended on it, which, to him, it did.
Demyx looked absolutely horrified and leapt off his bed, leaning over his roommate's shoulder. "You don't have one? What do you mean, you don't like a particular band, or group, or singer? Is that what you mean?"
Zexion nearly growled low in his throat before replying, "No. I do not like music. Demyx, if you please, I've suddenly gained some inspiration. Would you leave me alone?"
Demyx went very still for a moment. Music was what he lived and breathed, and Zexion didn't even like it. Was this another opportunity for peace, or was it just another difference that they could never come to a compromise on?
Demyx took a deep breath and tried the springboard, hoping he didn't fall flat on his face. "You know, it's the music giving you the inspiration, right? You feel it, don't you? It's inside you now and you won't be able to get rid of it. The more you listen, the more you learn. You like learning, right?"
He looked hopeful when Zexion's cold eyes met his.
A/N: Review please! I'll love you so much!