AN: Whatever happens, promise me you'll keep reading...
"Wake up, Axel."
Axel blinked, squinted, tried to yawn, and realized his breathing was being restricted by the heavy weight on his chest. "Demyx, get off me..." Demyx rolled off of Axel's chest and plopped onto the floor, taking Axel's sheets and blankets with him. "Huh? Where'd you go?"
Demyx giggled and poked his head over the side of the bed. "I'm down here, silly."
Axel looked over at him. "Oh, there you are. Can I have my blankets back?"
Demyx shook his head and wrapped himself in a blanket cocoon. "Mine now."
"But I need those blankets..." Axel scratched his head in mock bewilderment. "Hmm. I can't reach your ribs to tickle them." He pretended to think hard. "Hey, I know what I'll do!" He reached down and grabbed Demyx's ankles. "I think I'll tickle your feet!"
Demyx giggled and squealed uncontrollably, rolling around until the blankets started coming loose. "Ax - Axel - hee hee! Stop it!"
Axel did stop, and while Demyx was still recovering from his giggling fit, he recovered the blankets. "All right, now that's settled...I'm gonna go shower and get us some breakfast."
"I want a muffin. If there are muffins, can you bring me one?"
Axel grinned at Demyx's innocent smile. "If Roxas and Luxord don't eat them all, sure."
"Good. I like the blueberry ones."
"Oh, great, that's Roxas's favorite too..."
"Axel, is there a good reason you just snatched the muffin out of my hand?" Roxas's tone and expression suggested Axel had better have an excellent reason.
"Demyx specifically asked for a blueberry muffin." Axel quickly hid the muffin in question in his lap, out of reach.
"So your response is to steal the one I was about to eat?" Roxas groused, as he grabbed another muffin out of the basket.
"I can't reach the basket."
"See, if you'd just mentioned that earlier, I could have moved it over to where you could reach it, but no, you had to just snitch the muffin I'd already claimed..."
"It was handy..."
"Don't make me start a food fight." Axel reached for Roxas's second muffin, with the intent of doing just that, but Roxas kept it out of reach. "Ax...I swear, hanging around Demyx has robbed you of your own maturity."
"Maybe so, but I've also discovered life can be a little more fun when you don't let maturity get in the way too much."
"You're a bad example. You should lose custody of him."
"And who would you give him to? Larxene?" The Savage Nymph glanced over and snorted, eyeing Axel suspiciously. "Or maybe Xigbar, in thanks for running his mouth off..."
"It would have been just perfect if that sentence had been punctuated by the sound of someone taking the safety off."
"And, finally, per your request..." Axel produced the hotly contested baked treat with a flourish. "A blueberry muffin."
Demyx grinned eagerly and grabbed it, eating it more neatly than he had the spaghetti. "Thanksh, Asshel."
"Don't talk with your mouth full." Axel tried not to laugh as Demyx devoured the cupcake and licked his face and fingers clean. "You enjoyed that, didn't you."
Demyx nodded eagerly. "Yup." Then he looked out the window. "It's raining," he announced.
Axel turned around and looked for himself. "Well, so it is."
"I wanna go play in the rain."
"And I assume that means you want me to take you outside?" Demyx nodded eagerly. Axel sighed. "Demyx, you know I hate rain..."
Demyx pouted. "Aww. But I like it, and I don't get to play in it very much."
"Just this once? Please?"
Those pleading aqua eyes were too much to resist. "All right...I'll take you outside. But just for a few minutes."
Demyx cheered. "Yay!" Axel went searching for an umbrella in his room. Demyx, being Demyx, would neither need nor want an umbrella. "Hurry up, slowpoke!"
"I'm not a slowpoke, I'm cautious...come on, outside." Axel summoned a portal out to the street. Moments later, he was standing under a protected overhang while Demyx danced and splashed gleefully. "Careful you don't wander away," he said, not in a hurry to chase Demyx all through the city, in the rain.
Demyx did a neat little pirouette, directly under a rainspout. It hadn't taken him long to get soaked to the bone. "Come dance with me, Axel!"
Axel shook his head. "I don't like getting wet...and I don't want to have to chase you all over the city, got it memorized?"
Demyx ignored him completely, dancing to a tune only he could hear. Soon, he danced around a corner and disappeared.
"Dammit..." Axel muttered, leaving the shelter of the overhang in pursuit. "I told you not to wander away," he said as he stepped around the corner. Demyx wasn't there.
"Demyx?" Axel called. "Where'd you get to?" No response. "Demyx? Come on, seriously. Get back here." Still nothing. "Demyx, I'm getting a little annoyed..." The only sound was the faint hiss of steam as the rain evaporated off his robes. "Demyx!" There was no answer.
Axel had left annoyed behind and was getting worried. He summoned a small flame, continually feeding power into it so the rain wouldn't put it out. "Demyx, can you hear me?" The flame brightened, and Axel used it to light his way as he searched. "Come on, you can't be too far away, you're not that fast...Demyx!" He lit up an eight-foot drop that in a normal city would have led to a loading dock. "Kingdom Hearts..."
Axel teleported himself to the bottom. Demyx lay there motionless, with his eyes closed; they flickered open when Axel knelt to touch his face. "Axel, I can't move," he whispered.
Dear, sweet Kingdom Hearts...he's broken his neck. Axel knew it was a stupid idea to pick him up, but he did anyway; the ground was filthy down there and Demyx didn't need to spend any more time on it than he already had. "I told you not to wander away..." he whispered. I should never have let him come out here...Please, Demyx, don't go...
"I know...I was following the music..." Demyx's eyelids wavered as Axel gently brushed a strand of hair out of his face.
"Following the music...?" Don't go, Demyx...it can't be over already...I don't want to never wake up to sitar music again...
"Can't you hear it?" Axel shook his head. "It's so pretty..."
Axel listened closely to the rain, ignoring how it was evaporating off his face as little puffs of steam - just like tears. "I can't hear anything," he whispered, giving Demyx a little kiss on the cheek. This wasn't supposed to happen...you were supposed to find your heart and go back to normal - not just normal age and size, but really normal...
"That's too bad." Demyx frowned a little. "I thought...maybe...it'd make me bigger again..."
"Why would you think that?" Don't go...!
"'Cause...the music...it's...my...heart..." Demyx smiled faintly, closed his eyes, and sighed.
"Your heart?" Axel looked down at Demyx and realized that sigh had been his last breath. The cold, bleak World that Never Was had never been colder or bleaker.
If I could...
I would have...
Died for him...
But it's too late.
Tears and rain rolled down Axel's face and vaporized as he watched the child Demyx slowly fade away in his arms.
Fingers and toes...
Hands and feet...
Legs and arms...
Head and torso...
He was gone.
Axel spun around so fast he nearly knocked himself over. Demyx - nineteen-year-old, pale-skinned, non-asthmatic, presumably deaf-as-a-post Demyx - was sitting on the edge of the concrete, rubbing his head as if he had a massive headache. Axel...what am I doing here? he signed. What happened? And where are my hearing aids?
"Axel...what the hell's going on?"
Axel blinked. He was in his own room, lying on his bed. Demyx was sitting next to him, fully grown and sporting hearing aids. For one brief moment, he wondered if the past five days were nothing but a bizarre dream. Then he saw the inhaler Demyx was turning over and over in his hands, and the stuffed killer whale in his lap. "...Are you for real?"
"As real as any of us, I guess...why?"
"Take your shirt off. I wanna see your shoulder."
Demyx rolled his eyes, but peeled his robe off and removed his shirt far enough to expose his right shoulderblade and a jagged white line across it - a scar left over from a practice fight gone memorably wrong. "Scar's still there, isn't it."
Axel nodded warily as Demyx replaced his clothing. "Okay, you're real."
"Real enough to haul you back here after you passed out at the sight of me."
Axel groaned. "Well, if I passed out at the sight of you, it's because you'd died in my arms of a broken neck fifteen seconds earlier."
Demyx spent a lot longer than fifteen seconds staring at him in disbelief. "...You must have hit your head pretty hard. Or you're drunk."
Axel didn't even bother to respond to that. He just nodded at the inhaler. "What's that and where'd you get it?"
Demyx shook his head in bewilderment. "It's a fast-acting inhaler...used in case of an asthma attack. My Other had asthma - he used to carry one of these around - but I never needed one. I just...found it in my pocket. I don't know where it came from."
Axel nodded understandingly. "Vexen gave it to you four days ago."
"...Why? And how do you know?"
"I was there. Now before I continue, I'd like to establish that I'm not drunk, I didn't hit my head, my blood sugar isn't spiraling out of control in either direction, I'm not otherwise insane, and I have several reliable witnesses. And you were five years old at the time."
That went over about as well as he'd expected. "...What?!"
"You were a very cute kid. Real sweet. Very happy and affectionate - very huggy. The asthma part was pretty scary, though."
Demyx shook his head, staring at the inhaler. "If it weren't for this, I'd think I'd just gotten drunk and blacked out and you were trying to fill in the blank with a bunch of crap. But...I don't think I ever told you before that my Other had asthma. And...Benji...the whale...that's just not the sort of thing you share with anyone. Even if I talked too much under the influence, I don't think you'd go out and buy props just to get me to believe a bunch of bullshit."
"Nope. Vexen gave you that inhaler after your first attack. I don't know where the whale come from. It just - showed up out of nowhere when you randomly turned into a little boy."
"Okay, well, I'm sure you're not bullshitting me, but only the whale and the inhaler are convincing me you might not have just lost your final marble."
"Well, ask Zexion. Ask Vexen. Ask Roxas. Hell, Roxas has pictures."
"...You know what? I think I will." Demyx portaled out of the room, taking the inhaler and stuffed whale as evidence and leaving a deeply confused Axel.
How the hell did that happen?! I thought it only wore off after five hundred heartbeats, and since I really don't think he has a heart now, I really don't think he had a heart at the time...maybe falling and breaking his neck short-circuited something...made the enchantment wear off or whatever...
But...the last think he said before he - died - was "The music...it's my heart"...maybe...it really is his heart...in a way...
Okay, that's ridiculous. No, that's too stupid to even qualify as ridiculous. That's fuckin' insane.
Demyx teleported back into the room, followed by a very pale and stunned-looking Roxas. Demyx himself looked like he'd been hit with a brick. "This is getting a little harder to disbelieve."
"I thought you said the only way he'd change back was to get his heart back!" Roxas said.
"Well...yeah...I...thought so...but..." Axel gulped. "The last thing he did before changing back was fall down and break his neck. Maybe that did something."
Roxas staggered. "What?!"
"I'm serious! He died in my arms! I was standing there, holding him, watching him fade, and a few seconds later, he's sitting there full-size!"
"Axel...do you have any idea how disturbing it is listening to you talking about me dying?"
"Well, sorry, but it's kinda true!"
"If I died, what the hell am I doing here?!"
Axel shook his head. "I wanna know too, but I think if I think about it too much, I'm gonna have a stroke. I might have a stroke anyway."
Demyx sat down, looking like he had the worst headache ever imagined. "I might beat you to it...Rox, what was that you said about me getting my heart back?"
Roxas took a deep breath. "Well...this is secondhand from Zexion by way of Axel, but...supposedly the...whatever enchantment or something you were under wore off by itself after five hundred heartbeats, meaning that for it to ever wear off of you, you'd need to get your heart back first. I'm glad we didn't have that long to wait, but I'm just as confused as you two. Even more so, because I have no clear idea what either of you are talking about."
Just going by his expression, Demyx hadn't heard those last two sentences. He was lost in his own thoughts. "Five hundred heartbeats," he repeated softly. Then he stood up and stared out the window at the rain, gently tapping his fingers against the windowsill to a beat only he could hear. If you paid attention, it sounded almost like a heartbeat.
Axel suddenly got the impression that Demyx knew a hell of a lot more about what happened than he was letting on. "Aspirin...I need aspirin..."
Fin. Look inside and find the part that's leading you, 'cause that's the beat of a heart...
AN: Hokay. I feel like a heel now. Just bear in mind - this ending is older than chapters 7 or 8. Yes, I cried while writing this, and I knew Demyx wasn't really dead. Don't say I didn't warn you. I'm sorry. I feel like I've been yanking your chains like a malicious dogwalker. Keep tragihappy ending I've worked so hard on and like so much and piss off and possibly alienate readers, or write something less tragic and likely to alienate readers and hate it myself?
And if you've read "Regnerische Nachtmusik", you know exactly what Demyx does and Axel doesn't. I tried to hint at it...strongly...I didn't blow it, did I? I did so like the count-up.
No, Demyx didn't really break his neck and die. D: I don't like that idea any more than Demyx does. But the part of Zexion's book that described the actual transformation was all blurred out and illegible. Besides - shh - Axel's not supposed to know...something important, so I had to disguise it somehow...I set up a suspicious-looking scene and let Axel draw his own conclusions.
A scar left over from a practice fight gone memorably wrong: Actually a ref-forward to my next oneshot. :D
Most of the key elements of this chapter, including Demyx's heart and how to find it, are referring back to "Regnerische Nachtmusik".
Axel: Wait, Demyx's what?
Demyx: Dance, water, dance!
Axel: (swears and tries to dodge)
Xanrivash: Harp, I said. Harp.
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, got it memorized? I don't own "That's the Beat of a Heart" either; that belongs to Sara Evans and the Warren brothers. Demyx, go get Axel an aspirin, would you? And a towel.