-1They'd only just recently claimed an eleventh member--a charismatic man with pink hair, yielding power of over flora and such. Carrying a scythe bigger than he, eleven certainly took flack from no man.

Nine could not vouch the same for himself.

Still without powers, Demyx had resigned to hide himself away to avoid persecution under Xigbar's sharp tongue and Vexen's knowing smirk.

Demyx refused to fight. He refused to try and tap into the darkness to port. He refused to have anything to do with the others... But this decision came understandably, seeing as Xigbar had long given up on training Demyx, instead, chose to ridicule him for his failures.

Much bolder than nine, ten and eleven spoke freely with Xigbar and criticized his methods.

"Xigbar, really--" Luxord always dealt, as no one else could shuffle as fast as he. Thus the position was always his. "--your methods in training are like tossing children off of docks to teach them to swim."

Xigbar frowned at his first card; a four. "As if! They work! You turned out fine last I checked."

Marluxia chuckled, his hand left face down. "Recall not everyone catches as quickly as Luxord or myself. Like with plants, not all will grow in direct sun."

"Then prune the dud, for all I care! " Xigbar huffed. His next card wasn't any good either. "He's wasting our effort and our resources, just sitting around and moping. 'pisses me off."

"You'd make a horrible horticulturist." Marluxia smirked. He glanced across the table to Saix and watched the berserker examine his own set of cards. "--but I will concede, you do a wonderful job leading missions."

"Kiss-up." Xigbar glared, then turned to Luxord. "Hit me."

Luxord passed him another card, doing the same for Saix when asked. Since their last game, Saix had made tremendous progress. At the very least, he'd stopped punching people.

Saix grinned, "Twenty one, anyone care to match me?"

"I bust." the sniper groaned as he tossed his cards in. "Twenty three. I hate this game."

Marluxia shook his head. "Nineteen. And at any rate, Xigbar, was it really necessary to confine the boy here? I'm sure being stuck within the castle must be horribly stifling."

Luxord laid down his hand. "Nineteen-- Saix wins this round."

Xigbar glared, watching Seven pull the small pile of munny his way. Beginners' luck, he kept telling himself. "Now look--if we have to keep him, I don't even want that cockroach going out on patrol, or anywhere else for that matter, until he can defend himself! If he comes back torn to shreds, all we're going to be doing is riling up the heartless out there and wasting potions!"

"We can hear you well enough Xigbar--no need to yell." The assassin chuckled, tossing in a few munny and receiving his cards promptly. "Are you in?"

"No--I'm out--screw this." Xigbar growled, "I've gotta blow off some steam. I'll be on top of Memory's Skyscraper sniping shit if you dudes need me." Xigbar blinked out, there one moment and gone the next.

Saix turned to Luxord, his expression of calm curiosity. "Will the game continue?"

"Not with my dealing, luv--not now." The gambler smirked as he recalled all card back for one last shuffle. "--I think I've more pressing matters to attend to, though--" he passed the deck to Marluxia. "You and Marly see if Xaldin and the lot in the basement want to play a round. Alright?"

Saix nodded and Marluxia stood, "It sounds perfect. I think I'll do that. Saix, would you accompany me?" Vexen, of course, would not throw Marluxia out on his ass if he had backup. But with everyone leaving, Luxord could pursue what tickled his curiosity; Demyx.

Luxord saw little of Demyx, spare for the one and only dinner the boy had attended. That night...had not ended well.

That had been the night Xemnas had fed the boy to the proverbial sharks, not speaking a word all dinner, and allowing everyone to pick at Demyx as they pleased. With a nod, Xemnas gave permission to Vexen to test Demyx as he saw fit, in an attempt to reveal the secrets of why the boy's powers never manifested. Xigbar and Xaldin offered little help to nine as well, both throwing snarky comments, branding Demyx as a freeloading failure to the organization. And the self-appointed big-brother to those downtrodden, there was little Lexaeus could do to back Demyx up--not with two and three dogging on him. No, it hadn't been a good night for the boy at all.

"Demyx-- you there?" Luxord knocked twice on Demyx's door and pretended not to hear the his surprised and frighten gasp. "Open up, or I come in regardless--" he chuckled, meant only as a tease.

Demyx however, remained wary and cracked the door open only a sliver. "What do you want?"

"Fieldtrip, luv. Front and center please."

The door promptly shut in Luxord's face. "I'm no going out. I can't. Xigbar'll yell at me. M'not supposed to leave." Demyx's voice kept nearby--obviously up against the other side of the door.

"Direct superior or not, I'm not taking no for an answer. Now open the door." The gambler insisted, palm against the door, ready to open a portal through if Demyx remained as stubborn as he was.

But the door did open, revealing a sad looking blond, dressed in nothing but a pair of black pajama pants.

"I'm not your superior." Demyx replied quietly, head down with eyes trained on the ground. "I'm no one's superior."

"Poppycock--" Luxord invited himself on in. "--you're nine, aren't you? Simple logic, I'm ten."

The young man didn't look convinced at all. "And Marluxia's eleven. What's your point? You two can do stuff. You have titles. I can't. I don't."

"Depressing little chap, aren't you?"

Demyx flinched.

Luxord sighed. "Let me get something from my room. You're just about my size, if not skinnier. You'll need warmer clothes where we're going."

Demyx did not reply that time--instead, sinking back into silence, leaving Luxord to his own musings. This was going to be harder than he'd thought.

"Alright then. Keep put. I'll be back in a quick moment."

In the end, it was more like a few moments--but Luxord returned regardless. He opened Demyx's bedroom door without a knock this time and strode in with a bundle of clothes under an arm. "Here--" he laid it all out on Demyx's bed and ushered the other blond over for a better look. "Warm socks, some nice boots, pants, a shirt, and a jacket. It should all fit--if not, I've a belt you can use."

They barely stood shoulder to shoulder, and Demyx was already unbearably tense, not saying a word. It was so puzzling how he could be so wary of anything--Luxord hadn't even touched the boy, and he looked as if he could up and run any moment! What all had Xigbar said to him?

"...Demyx?"

"Why are you doing this?" The younger whispered, shying a glance over to Luxord. "I'm not one of you. I'm the dud--the failure, remember?"

Luxord sighed and put an arm around Dem--who flinched again. Luxord immediately drew back. It wouldn't do him any good to sit there and force sociability down Demyx's throat. Then he'd be no better off than Xigbar...

"You're slow to learn, but that's really no reason to call you a failure. Now dress up before I start taking those early words of yours into consideration and I do order you."

Demyx ducked his head and did as told. And as foretold, Luxord's clothes fit him, though, were a bit big in the chest and shoulders. As well, the pants were roomy, but stayed up on his hips. Good enough.

"Why do I have to wear this?" Demyx asked, zipping up the loaned jacket.

Luxord shed his black uniform coat and grinned. He was dressed similarly--the both of them done up quite casually. "Because," he replied. "No man goes running into the public eye wearing something so conspicuous unless they want to make a scene. Our goal is to blend in." he noted, summoning up a dark portal behind him, offering Demyx a hand. "Shall we?" --but no such luck. Demyx kept close, but never actually touched Luxord.

"--Aah!" Demyx bumped his nose against the other's back as the darkness faded away and Luxord stopped in his tracks. Luxord cast a glance back over his shoulder, and Dem skittered back a few paces.

"Settle down, now. We're here."

And by -here-, he meant a whole other world.

"Where's here?" Demyx tugged his jacket closet to him. It was positively freezing.

"Keep pace--" Luxord chuckled as he head out of the alley they'd ported into and out into a busy street. Demyx's eyes went wide and the gambler smirked. "Welcome to Traverse Town."

People were everywhere, hurried about to the stores, in and out and on their way.

"Where are they all going?"

"Shopping most likely."

It was a chore to speak up over the bustle of the crowd. The adults were loud enough--they talked on and on, greeted one another, and shouted. Bundled up children ran about their parents heels, laughing and playing in the street.

"Luxord--" came a quiet, but no less astonished voice. "What...what's falling from the sky? That's not rain..."

Luxord blinked and rubbed his nose (already cold), and gave a look up. "Surprise, surprise." he chuckled, a grin upon his lips. "It's snowing."

"Snowing?"

Demyx had obviously never seen it, but to never heard of it either... It never snowed in the World that Never Was. It only rained. But really--what place had never even heard of snow? How backwater had the boy been?

"Snow, luv. Frozen fluffy rain. Happens some places come Christmas time."

A wide-eyed confused look followed suite his words.

"Christmas, Dem...you know, peace on earth. Good will towards men. --the sort of stuff we upset on a daily basis. Christmas--" he nodded as a family passed them by, their smallest child at the rear, wearing a scarf that covered half his face.

"--Christmas--" Luxord continued. "...with gingerbread, snowmen, and Santa Claus..."

Demyx gave him back a load of silence, spare for a soft chuckle as he watched a few children chuck snowballs back and forth between themselves.

This just could not be. Though not offended, Luxord was quite confused. He knew the stories by heart! --it didn't mean he believe in them, but he knew them! "Oh come now-- Even Zexion and Saix know about Santa."

Demyx had knelt down, watching the children's antics from their level. "Nope." he replied, looking back up to Luxord. "No idea. Who is he?"

"Stand up, we're moving again."

Dem scrambled after the other and nearly slipped on the icy pavement as he tried to keep up.

"People from all different worlds know of the man. 'leaves presents for all good boys a girls..." Luxord noted, keeping a brisk pace, parting the crowd quite easily.

"Must be why we don't get any." Demyx replied quietly as he followed in Luxord's wake. He reached out to snag the bottom of gambler's jacket twice and coming up short just as many. "Xigbar keeps scaring Santa off."

Luxord chuckled and continued his route down the street, only stopping once they'd reached a street corner. "Over there..." he pointed across the way to a lavishly decorated and lit department store. When Demyx replied only with a soft and confused whine, Luxord gave him a bit more direction to go on. "Third window over, pet--over by the tree. Do you see him?"

Demyx squinted. "The skinny one with the green--"

"No, no. Next to him. That's an elf. Santa Claus is the man in the red...the round one with the beard and the hat. Do you see?"

Demyx nodded quietly as he watched the red-dressed man from afar. Everyone inside the store certainly looked happy enough, especially those around the Santa-man. But then again, Demyx concluded, they were probably people who were good at things... Parents could work and support their children. Children could bring home good grades to make their parents proud.

But what did Demyx have?

He didn't know how to fight. He couldn't hold his ground in sparring with any of the others, and he certainly couldn't talk science with the original six. Chemistry...physics...biology... it was all Greek to him. What could he do?

"Luxord..." Demyx murmured, shoulders hunched and hands buried in his jacket pockets. "Santa--he gives presents to all the good people, right?"

"Of course."

"And he just...gives them things? Anything?"

"Most children send him in letters." Luxord nodded, watching the crowd across the street. "Others visit him here. S'how he knows what to bring."

Demyx lifted blue eyes up from their place gazing down at the snow-covered sidewalk. "Can we go closer?"

"We really shouldn't."

"Oh..." Demyx shifted, looking rather downtrodden and overall uncomfortable. Luxord chuckled softly and turned back.

"Best be on our way, luv."

"I guess..." Demyx followed without question, in slow step behind the other.

They returned to a rather jarring confrontation in the World that Never Was... Not long after they'd left, Xigbar had returned to speak to Luxord, only to find that the man was gone. Consulting the castle's living bloodhound; Zexion, he found out that Demyx had disappeared about the same time. The man was furious.

Luxord was one of the few in the Organization that Xigbar could actually name as a friend. And he'd gone against Xigbar's rules and completely made a mess of the freeshooter's authority about the castle. The troublemakers had only been three steps into the main hall when a tremendous pressure had forced both Luxord and Demyx to the ground--Demyx falling over and Luxord dropping into a painfully abrupt kneel.

"Where the hell have you been?!" Xigbar snarled, appearing not but an arm's length ahead of the two.

Demyx immediately set into panic, having never had a good experience in Xigbar's company. He really had no reason to believe this would be an exception. "We were only--"

Luxord cut him off before either the young man or their superior could act rashly. "Forgive me. It was my fault."

"'cuse you?" Xigbar replied curtly, not looking an ounce convinced.

Luxord explained, head bowed. "Nine was not out of his free will." Like any good card player, Luxord knew when to hold out and when to fold. He wanted to see Demyx grow to succeed and that would never come to pass if Xigbar kicked the boy around any more.

The stakes were obvious. Luxord was placing his bets and upping the ante.

"I brought him out of my own volition."

Xigbar upped as well. "You knew my fucking rule, Ten."

"I did." Luxord struggled with keeping his footing as the invisible weight pulled against him. Any man who manipulated gravity was a force to be reckoned down. "I thought we'd be back before anyone noticed."

"You'd make a shitty thief, Ten."

"The fault is mine."

"You're going to get your ass handed to you."

Demyx let out a strangled whimper and shot a horrified look to Luxord.

"Teach me a lesson, would you?" The gambler smirked. "Going to make sure I never do it again?"

Xigbar snorted and crossed his arms. The pressure over the two blondes eased up. "Cocky bastard. Get up. And Demyx--back to your room. I don't want to see your fucking face for a week."

Luxord wouldn't look at him. Demyx couldn't say no.

That whole night, sleep evaded Demyx. More than once, he'd heard a scream reverberate through the castle. He knew it was Luxord, and every time, he curled up tighter in his blankets.

It wasn't fair, Demyx reasoned. Luxord may have been a Nobody--but he was something at least. He was talented in word and deed. Everyone liked him. No one liked Demyx...

He saw Luxord the next morning in the halls while on his way to try to and sneak his breakfast from kitchen before the rest of the castle awoke.

The gambler's lip was split and he wore a darkened circle under an eye. And judging by the way he walked with hesitation in every other step, he was hiding much worse damage under his coat. They crossed gazes once, and Demyx hid.

The second night, he could hear another in the room next to his. A hushed and reprimanding tone scolded Luxord and his carelessness while traveling worlds. It told Luxord that he was a bother and a nuisance--calling him out at this hour. That any self-respecting Nobody--Neophytes especially, should always carry extra potions on themselves and stop wasting his own. Luxord would shrug the words off with a cocky chuckle and a dismissive tone.

The third night fell to silence. Left in the dark to his own thoughts, Demyx found himself trapped against the guilt that shouldn't have been.

The clothes Luxord had lent him laid rumpled in the corner of his room, fallen off from the top of a full laundry hamper.

The boots were still a size too big, remedied only by two pairs of socks. The shirt still slipped a bit to and fro on his frame, but it kept well as the pants stayed at his hips without a belt--just as it had before.

Dressed in selflessness from days prior, Demyx trembled, hands pressed firmly against his bedroom wall--sweet blue eyes shut tightly.

"I want out..." he whispered to no one. "Please... I just want..."

Wisps of black slipped out from under his palms and licked across the wall and spreading out farther and farther. When he gathered the courage to look--sure to find another failure set ahead of him, Demyx found himself faced with inky darkness. A portal.

He swallowed and fidgeted...and then put one foot forward...then another. Then ran.

The city streets of Traverse Town were just as festive as he'd last seen them. Snow still fell and colorful lights still decorated the buildings and lampposts. The only difference tonight was the time. As it was later, the businesses began to snuff their lights and employees readied themselves to leave for home.

Demyx ran down the snow and ice-slicked sideway, intent of making his mark on time. The man--the one in red to gave things away! He had to still be there! He couldn't have left!

Only...he had. Demyx found the department store dark and locked up, not a single sign of life within.

"But he--this can't..." Demyx slumped forward with forehead pressed against the glass doors and rubbed his nose against the sleeve of his shirt. He couldn't write a letter. He wouldn't know where to send it, and he certainly wasn't about to ask anyone in the castle.

"I just needed to..."

People walked past him, boots crunching against the snow.

"Man, today was so unreal. I though they'd never stop streaming in!" a young man groused, his voice full of amusement.

"That's the holidays for you--" chuckled an older gentleman.

"Ahh--whatever. See you tomorrow Chris! Gotta get ready for the last minute rush, huh?" The young man dashed off into the night and still with dull gaze turned towards the insides of the locked shop, Demyx hiccupped.

"Young man...?"

The young Nobody jumped at the feeling of a hand against his shoulder. He whirled around, ready to bolt...only to find he had no need.

It was the man in red. The one with the coat and the beard and the hat. This was the man who could make everything better.

"Young man, are you alright?"

Demyx sobbed.

The others in the organization would have argued that Demyx shouldn't be able too--that any emotion so obvious could only be fake. But perhaps he could because he felt so utterly empty--so shallow and fake. The mere idea was enough to drive any person to tears--true emotion or not.

"I'm horrible--a no-good nothing!" Demyx plead his case with head bowed, as tears slipped down his cold cheeks. "I can't do anything right! All I do is get in the way and--and--hurt people! Please--" he beseeched the man-in-red. "I was good for so long, and I want to make things better, so please…! It's my only wish…

"Let me disappear."