"So, you're finally back - how'd it go?"
Demyx sighed and shuddered a little. "That - was an extremely weird world."
Axel blinked. "When you say weird, you mean - "
"I have no idea how to explain it. Just - something - about it - it was like it was put together all wrong, somehow." Demyx shuddered again. "I'm very glad I got that mission over and done with, and I'm very glad I'm out of there, and I never want to go back."
"It wasn't one of those worlds that - changes your appearance or something, was it?"
"No...at least it didn't do that. But it was honestly weird." Demyx brushed himself off almost unconsciously, as if he was afraid some essence of that world was clinging to him still.
Axel looked warily at him. "It's definitely got you freaked out. And you can't explain what was so weird about it?"
"No...you'd just better hope you never get sent there. I'm going to bed - maybe I'll feel better tomorrow."
"Good night, then." After Demyx left, Axel started to feel a tiny bit anxious for no good reason, as if Demyx really had brushed off some essence of weirdness and he'd gotten some on him.
Axel had better reason to be anxious the next morning, when he'd yet to see or hear a trace of Demyx by breakfast. They lived right next door to each other, and Demyx's room was almost never silent as long as he was in it and awake. Maybe he's just sleeping way late. Maybe he's sick...or maybe that weird world he got sent to yesterday had a delayed effect. After breakfast, he tried to get into Demyx's room the usual way, but both his hallway door and his bathroom door were locked, and knocking on them had no effect. Fuck...I didn't want to have to do this, but if that idiot's not responding any other way... Axel sighed and teleported into the dark room.
Sitting on Demyx's bed was a small child in a scaled-down version of the standard Organization robes, hugging a killer whale plushie. The little boy looked up at Axel anxiously. "Hi, Axel."
There was only one explanation for the kid's presence. Just going by the hairstyle alone. "...Demyx?!" The boy nodded. "What the hell happened to you?!"
Demyx shrugged and hugged his killer whale even tighter. "I dunno."
"You don't." Axel got the sense that maybe Demyx's mind had regressed as much as his body had. "Demyx...how old are you?"
"Five." That was about fourteen years short of where Axel thought he should be.
"How do you spell my name?"
"A-X-E-L." Demyx grinned. Well, of course, Axel made sure everybody he met memorized it...
"What's eight divided by two?" Demyx didn't like math and wasn't very good at it, but even he could figure out a simple problem like that in a second. The kid just looked helpless. "Agh..." Axel went and flicked the light switch. He looked back at little Demyx and did a double-take. "Demyx...you look different." Very different; his skin color had suddenly darkened to a few shades lighter than hot chocolate.
Demyx looked down at himself. "No, I don't."
"Try taking your gloves off."
Demyx did so, and examined his hands. "My hands don't look different." Apparently, he wasn't finding anything strange about his skin color. He looked back at Axel. "What's wrong?"
Oh, nothing, except you're less than half the size and a quarter the age you should be, not to mention a whole different color... "Wait...you don't have hearing aids on. Can you hear me okay?"
"What are hearing aids?"
"Never mind." Axel rubbed his forehead, trying to remember everything Demyx might have ever told him about his Other, Edmy. Half-Indian, with a piebald look - blond hair, blue eyes, brown skin. Well, that about fit his current description. Started learning to play sitar at four, or maybe five - so the kid would know what to do with a sitar, but probably wouldn't be a very good musician yet. Well, if Demyx had suddenly turned into his very young Other...
He put his hand on the boy's throat, gently. "What are you doing?"
"Checking your heartbeat."
Demyx giggled. "I don't have a heartbeat, silly. You need a heart to have a heartbeat."
Axel raised an eyebrow. "And you don't have a heart?" Demyx shook his head emphatically. Well, Axel wasn't finding a pulse, so...
He picked little Demyx up and cradled him comfortably. "Where are we going?" Demyx asked.
"I thought we could go see Roxas, and maybe figure out what to do with you." Axel smiled, so the kid wouldn't get the wrong impression.
Demyx smiled right back. "Okay. I like Roxas."
Axel knocked on Roxas's door and coughed nervously. "Hey, Roxas...I have a little problem..."
Roxas opened the door and stared at the boy Axel was carrying, who was now humming to himself. "...Okay, he's too old to be Demyx's son, but the resemblance is obvious."
Roxas's jaw dropped. "You have got to be kidding me."
Demyx shook his head. "Hi, Roxas!"
"Dear, sweet Kingdom Hearts!" Demyx flinched and hugged his whale plushie. "What happened to him?!"
"I don't know, but - not so loud," Axel cautioned Roxas. "He really is just a kid."
Roxas shook his head. "That's seriously him, just in miniature? He's not even the right color."
"His Other had dark skin. And, you may notice, he can hear just fine." Demyx nodded. "See?"
"He hasn't...turned back into his Other or something, has he?"
Axel shook his head. "No heart. Besides, he still answers to Demyx." Demyx squirmed a little. "Hey, hold still; I don't wanna drop you by accident or something."
"Sorry." Demyx held still, but he looked unhappy.
Axel was going into protective big-brother mode. "Are you okay? Do you feel sick or something?"
Demyx shook his head and leaned on Axel's shoulder. "Is there something wrong with me?"
"No, no, no, we're just a little...surprised to see you like this."
"What do you mean?" Demyx was looking at him with wide, frightened eyes.
"Well, yesterday you were older than Roxas."
Demyx blinked at him in surprise, then he laughed. "No, I wasn't. You're being silly." Axel tickled his ribs gently, and he laughed even harder.
"You'd be a good father."
Axel looked up at Roxas in surprise. "Huh?"
"Never mind...how much does he still know about what's going on?" Demyx calmed down and listened intently.
"Well, he knows his name and our names, and he knows he's not supposed to have a heart, but he doesn't know how old he's supposed to be, or what color...other than that, I'm not sure."
Demyx looked at his hands, then at Axel and Roxas. A tear trickled down his face. "You mean I'm the wrong color?"
"I didn't say that..."
"But it's true, isn't it? I'm not the same color as you two..."
"That doesn't mean you're the wrong color. You're just a different color. Different doesn't mean wrong, got it memorized?" Demyx nodded and wrapped his arms around Axel's neck, holding his killer whale by the tail.
"Have you taken him to see Vexen yet?"
Axel shook his head. "Never occurred to me, I gotta admit."
Roxas rolled his eyes. "Well, I'd think Vexen would be as good a bet as any, as far as finding out what happened to him goes and maybe getting him back to normal..."
Demyx buried his face in Axel's shoulder. Axel looked at him and sighed.
The look on Vexen's face when Axel walked into the lab carrying a five-year-old Demyx was worth munny to see. "Eight...you'd better have an excellent explanation."
"I really think I do...you might know this kid. His name's Demyx." The slack-jawed stare was priceless.
"That...that child...is Nine?" Demyx turned his head to look at Vexen and nodded.
"Before you ask, I have no idea what happened to him, and if he does, he can't tell me. Apparently he just woke up like this."
Vexen shook his head, apparently trying to clear it. "Has his mental age changed to match his physical age?"
Axel looked down at Demyx, who was silently hugging his stuffed killer whale and sucking his index finger. "Yes, I'd say it has. He knows his own name, and our names, and apparently he recognizes at least his own number, and he knows he doesn't have a heart, but he doesn't know there's anything...strange about his situation. He thinks he's been this age all along." Demyx squirmed again. "You want me to put you down?"
"Not in my laboratory. I will not have a small child running amok in here."
"That's a shame, 'cause my arms are getting tired..." Demyx pouted, but held still. "You know, though, he seems to be a pretty well-behaved kid." Demyx looked up at him and grinned.
"Have his powers been affected at all? They may be reduced, or they may have vanished entirely."
"I have no idea; I never thought about that. But..." Axel shifted his grip so he was supporting Demyx with one arm and summoned a little fireball in the other.
"Just hold on, keep your hair on for a second...so, Demyx, what are you going to do about this fire?"
"Put it out," Demyx said matter-of-factly.
"And how are you going to do that?"
Axel suddenly found himself with a handful of cold water. "Like that."
Axel let the water spill onto the floor. Demyx collected it into a little ball and played with it. "Powers still work."
"His skin color...is there a valid explanation -"
"That's what his Other looked like."
"And I note it seems his hearing has been restored."
Demyx looked up and blinked at Vexen. "Huh?"
"And I note I don't think he knows what you're talking about." Demyx suddenly put the water ball up to his mouth and inhaled. It vanished, but a moment later there were two dark wet spots on his robe, one on either side of his rib cage. "Hey, you're all wet now!"
"Apparently his gills are still functioning," Vexen commented dryly.
"Gills? Man, you are just full of surprises, aren't you, kid..."
Demyx started playing with Axel's hair. "What's that mean?"
"Hey, leave my hair alone, okay?" Demyx put his hands down, looking chastened. "I dunno...I might actually like him better in miniature..."
"Will the Superior?"
"Ooh. Good point. Probably not."
"Why wouldn't the Superior like me?"
"Because he's anal and doesn't like anyone," Axel muttered. Vexen coughed. "It's not that he wouldn't like you, it's just that he'd like you better if you were bigger."
"Because you'd be a better fighter if you were bigger."
Demyx leaned on Axel's shoulder. "Then I don't wanna get bigger. I don't like fighting."
"Well...what do you like to do?"
Demyx brightened up a little. "Play sitar."
"Well, I bet you'll be a better sitar player when you get bigger, too." Demyx smiled and gave Axel a hug.
"Touching...I can see child care won't be as important an issue as it might otherwise be, until he can be restored to his true age. In the meantime, I'd like to conduct a basic physical examination, to establish new baselines and perhaps find hints to his condition that may otherwise have gone unnoticed."
"What's that mean?"
If Vexen had ever known how to talk to a small child, he'd apparently forgotten. Axel picked up the cue. "He wants to take a look at you to make sure you're still healthy."
"Why? What does he mean, my 'condition'? There is something wrong with me, isn't there?" Demyx looked like he might cry again.
"Not wrong, just strange...if you behave, I'll get you some ice cream later, how's that sound?" There's probably never been a child born who wouldn't respond well to that bribe.
The Castle that Never Was wasn't equipped with a whole lot of booster seats, so Demyx ended up sitting on the kitchen table to eat his ice cream. Enthusiastic as he'd been about the prospect of receiving it earlier, he wasn't very enthusiastic about eating it. "You don't seem to be enjoying that ice cream," Axel commented.
Axel finished his own ice cream and burned the stick. "Scared? What are you scared of?"
"There is something wrong with me. I know there is. Everyone talks about me like I'm weird. Even you."
"No, no, no, there's nothing wrong with you, got it memorized? There's just something...weird going on...I don't know how to explain it to you."
"You just don't wanna tell me." Demyx sniffled.
"Demyx, if I could tell you and have you believe it..." Axel thought for a moment. "Come on. Let's go back to your room." They walked there, instead of teleporting, with Demyx clinging to Axel's hand all the way. Axel sat him down on the bed and took a framed picture off the wall. "See this picture?"
Demyx looked closely at it. "Yeah. It's you and Roxas. But you got masks on."
Axel nodded. "Right. And who's the guy in the middle?"
Demyx hesitated. "I dunno," he said softly. "He's got a mask on too."
Axel ducked into the bathroom and got a hand mirror. He held it in front of Demyx. "Does he look familiar?"
Demyx nodded warily. "He looks kinda like me."
"That is you."
Demyx shook his head vehemently. "No he isn't. He's too big. And his skin is...the wrong...color..." He wavered in sudden doubt.
Axel sighed. "Demyx, this is your room, right?" Demyx nodded. "No one else has ever lived here, right?" Demyx nodded again. "Then everything in here must be yours, right?"
"Well, then..." Axel went to the closet and started pulling out adult-sized robes, adult-sized shirts, adult-sized pants, adult-sized boots - Demyx's normal wardrobe, far too large for the child he suddenly was. "I guess this stuff is all yours too."
Demyx shook his head. "It can't be. It's all too big."
Axel wasn't sure if Demyx could still read or not, but he held up one of the shirts and showed him the name written on the inside of the collar in permanent marker: DEMYX.
Demyx still recognized his own name. His eyes widened for a moment, then clouded with tears. Axel picked him up and gave him a comforting hug while he waited for the sobbing child to cry himself out.
AN: I done been attacked by the child!Orgmember plot bunny. I hope I at least sound original. And it's about time I did something with chapters.
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and all its associated characters belong to Square Enix and Disney.