I don't understand how it went so wrong so fast...

A cart rattled its way through the rutted, filthy streets of Port Royal.

It was just the four of us getting away for a few drinks like we did sometimes...

Its cargo - a prisoner, bound for the gallows.

Maybe it started to fall apart when the fight began. Whenever Luxord hauls us to Port Royal, whatever tavern we end up in, there's always a fight, though most of the time we're not involved.

A condemned man on the wagon could always expect a certain amount of abuse from bystanders - thrown insults, eggs, rotten fruits and vegetables.

Just - when Axel's had a few drinks, he can't keep himself out of a fight. Comes with being a fiery redhead and all, I guess. Normally all that happens is he collects a few bruises and we laugh at him when he sobers up, but this time...this time someone pulled a knife on him.

They weren't just throwing produce at this man - they were throwing sticks, bricks, and rocks. One well-aimed stone bounced off his forehead, leaving a bloody trail. It was just as well he couldn't hear the insults they were throwing at him too.

He'd have been stabbed in the back if Xigbar hadn't seen the blade. And - I guess you can't really blame him - he shot the guy. The fight ended with soldiers charging in, and Luxord yelling at us to run for it. Or maybe that was me. I wouldn't be shocked if it was; it's the kind of thing I'd do.

"Demon." "Heartless bastard." "Inhuman creature." "Abomination." "Monster." "Nobody."

I was the only one they caught. Since I obviously didn't have a gun on me, I wasn't expecting more than the sort of treatment they give ordinary troublemakers. Right up until someone found out I don't have a heart.

As the cart arrived at its destination and the prisoner was led away, he had to be surrounded by guards to keep the enraged crowd away from him. "Mama, he doesn't look evil, he looks sad," said a little child. His mother promptly smacked him and began lecturing him about the evil creatures called Nobodies - those heartless beasts in human form.

The first thing they did was smash my hearing aids - they had no idea what they were for. That kind of didn't help when they tried questioning me - they didn't know I'm deaf, and whenever I didn't understand what they were asking, which was every time they asked me anything, they just hit me and probably yelled louder. They broke at least three teeth that first night. I'll never know what they wanted to know; the light was so bad I couldn't read their lips at all - probably asking where the other three were. If I knew that was what they were asking, I wouldn't have told them anyway...

The near-total lack of emotion on the condemned man's face only riled the assembled crowd further. So it was true that Nobodies couldn't feel, they said to each other. They didn't understand that he was trying his hardest to be brave for the first time in his existence.

And when I actually tried to fight back...when I summoned my sitar, they snatched it and beat me with it until it broke.

If anyone had seen those sea-colored eyes cloud with tears for a moment, they would have called it fear - or a trick of the light, since it wasn't possible for a Nobody to grieve. Especially over a heap of painted wooden splinters and broken strings that had been the most precious thing in his nonlife, even while it was being used to break his bones and his spirit.

I can't cry. Not here. Not now.

He took a deep breath, ignoring the pain from his broken ribs. After all, his broken arm and broken teeth hurt just as much, and there wasn't anything he could do about them. And...compared to the pain of seeing his sitar destroyed, broken bones were nothing.

It's probably just as well I wasn't allowed to testify at my trial, if you can call that a trial...I'd have made a royal fool of myself, not being able to hear any of the questions...

While the noose was readied and the charges were being read, the prisoner stared blankly into the middle distance. Almost all the charges were pure invention, but he couldn't hear them anyway. Nor could he see the noose - he kept seeing blue wooden splinters.

I can see them. Though I'm probably just imagining things. There's Xigbar, leaning against the wall, pretending he doesn't give a damn what's going on - probably fooling the rest of them, but not me. That eye is too watchful. Luxord - your outfit looks ridiculous, even if it is the height of fashion here. Guess your powers didn't keep you from getting here too late - assuming you're really there at all. It's probably just some random dandy who looks like you, but his outfit looks ridiculous anyway. Wish I could see Axel, but there aren't enough people in Port Royal with his hair color for me to hallucinate one of them is him, I guess. Is that Roxas? He looks terrified...

The words "May God have mercy on your soul" were conspicuously absent from the ceremony. After all, Nobodies had no hearts, therefore no souls. The condemned man couldn't hear the drumroll, but he could feel it faintly through the wooden platform.

Well, whether any of you are here or not, this is it...sorry it ended up like this...wish I had a little more time, but...maybe I'll see you all in the next life...if I have a next life...

The noose was slipped around his neck and tightened.

I wasn't done with this one...I am so afraid...I don't want to die...

The drumroll stopped. The hangman threw the lever. The trapdoor sprang open.

Goodbye -

Demyx hit the ground with a painful, jarring impact. The burnt end of the rope snaked down on top of him.

What the fuck just happened?!

A pair of lean, scarred hands suddenly grabbed his shoulder. Soldiers were charging towards them them, in slow motion - Luxord's work, it had to be.

I'm not dead I'm not dead holy shit I'm not dead!

He looked up at Xigbar in disbelief. (What are we gonna have to rescue your sorry ass from next, dude?) the Freeshooter said, right before the world blurred and went dark.

Something tapped Demyx's forehead, right where the rock had hit earlier. He flinched and opened his eyes. Way to faint, idiot, Axel signed. His face was ghostly white. For a second, I thought I'd blown it and we'd have to ask Luxord for a do-over.

Demyx squinted up at him - they were back in the white hallways of the Castle that Never Was, suddenly - and discovered his hands were still tied together and there was still a rope around his neck. Axel smacked his forehead and let him free. Gotta love those blindingly stupid spur-of-the-moment rescue plans that somehow work out anyway. We'd better get you to Vexen. Demyx nodded weakly as everything started to go dark again. The next time he came to, he found himself lying in a bed in the medical wing, with a pleasant sort of floaty feeling. He blinked, trying to make the world come into better focus.

A hand waved over his face, and he tried to focus on the hand and its owner - Roxas. Nice to see you lived through that, Roxas signed. Don't try to sign anything; your arm's in a cast. And you probably shouldn't talk either. Kingdom Hearts, they gave you a thorough working-over. Demyx nodded weakly, which was about all he could do. What did they do to you? Wait, sorry, you...Demyx?

Demyx suddenly broke down, as he remembered the awful sensation of something giving way on impact, inside and out, and seeing the ground suddenly littered with little blue splinters. What did they do to me? I wish I could tell you... In his mind's eye, he could still see the broken pieces he'd recalled to his hands, instants before they were snatched away and smashed completely, right in front of him. The life he'd been so desperate to keep during those last few seconds on the gallows didn't seem so appealing anymore. His broken ribs hurt agonizingly with every sob, but they'd heal sooner or later - his wonderful sitar, the best thing in his universe, was shattered beyond all hope of repair. Replace it? Impossible. It would be just as easy to replace his ears.

Something touched his shoulder, and he looked up through a veil of tears. Axel was standing there, eyes full of concern and anger. Demyx, what did they do to you? They beat you, obviously, but did they...hurt you in other ways? Not just physically?

Demyx glanced at him nervously. If he got an answer he didn't like, Axel would go back and burn down large sections of Port Royal; that was inevitable as the tides. And, unable to speak or sign, he didn't have many good ways to get his message across anyway. Not knowing what else to do, he reached into the air with his good arm and tried to summon his sitar, or what was left of it. The room was suddenly covered in wooden splinters, fragments of the resonating chamber, broken and twisted frets, broken strings, and the occasional lonely tuning peg.

Axel and Roxas stared openmouthed at the devastation. I think I get the picture, Axel signed, as Roxas combed a coiled string out of his hair. No wonder you couldn't get out of there by yourself. Demyx nodded miserably; every injury he'd suffered over the last three days - and there were more of them than he'd thought - seemed to hurt at once. That's going to take almost as long to fix itself as your arm.

The room spun for a second. "...What?" Demyx whispered, heedless of the pain.

Axel stared at him blankly for a moment, then a lightbulb seemed to come on. You've never broken your weapon before, have you. Demyx shook his head. Well, the rest of us tend to break ours on a fairly regular basis, some more often than others. And when they break, they always magically put themselves back together sooner or later. In your case - Axel looked critically at the shattered fragments - I'm guessing later. What did they do, beat you with it until it broke? Demyx nodded miserably. Axel cursed and made a rude gesture at the distant abusers. That was harsh. That was beyond harsh. And they say we're evil.

"...You're going to burn the city, aren't you." Now his broken teeth hurt. A lot.

I'm tempted. I am well and truly tempted.

I'd help him, Roxas added. Why would they do something like that? You of all people don't exactly go out of your way to make trouble for anyone - why in Kingdom Hearts would they want to kill you so badly?

Demyx swallowed hard. Some emotions had been easier to remember than others, came back faster after he'd lost his heart. Joy, when he'd discovered he could summon his sitar at will. Fear - probably the first time he'd had to fight. Irritation, when Xigbar made snarky comments about his hairstyle. Grief had been one of the last to come back, when he'd started to lose his hearing. But there was still one that hadn't returned, one he'd never missed, and had almost forgotten about. One he'd just seen from too many sides, and in too many eyes - and on too many lips - to ever forget again.

(Heartless beast.) (Inhuman monster.) (Heart-snatcher.) (Soulless demon.) (You're an insult to all that is holy.) (Your kind are a plague.) (Thank God there'll be one less of you by sunset.) (See you in Hell - Nobody.)


AN: Wow, I seem to be on a beat-up-Demyx kick. Vexen better hurry with his new hearing aids.

This did come to me in a dream - Demyx was on the gallows at Port Royal, about to hang for who-knows-what - probably wrongly accused, seeing as he's Demyx and all - and when they pulled the lever, he dropped straight to the ground, because Axel had burned through the rope at the last second. And then I made a story to go with it. The idea that Axel, Demyx, Luxord, and Xigbar sometimes get together in Port Royal for drinks is from a much older story idea that I eventually decided would work much better as a comic strip than a story, if only I could draw.

Why did I make hatred the motivating factor? Just going by what I know of human nature, it's pretty easy to get people to hate other people who are different from them, and Nobodies are different from everybody, in a decidedly creepy way. If simply being gay can inspire scum and asshats to beat the shit out of you and leave you tied to a fence to die in this supposedly enlightened day and age, what would not having a heart inspire in the uneducated masses of a much less enlightened day and age? Violence, brutality, and eventually, a legalized lynching.

There will be chapters. Do not doubt this now. And Axel will burn things, got it memorized?

Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, got it memorized?