Summary: After a slightly traumatising encounter, Demyx fears his gaydar to be broken. So he comes up with a new way of identifying gay people. By selling perfume. Zemyx. ONESHOT.
Disclaimer: D: I do not own Kingdom Hearts or "How to Succeed". The blurb before the start of the last 'section' is from the musical, and is not the product of my insanity. Sadly.
I also received much help with creating the name of the line of colognes from Bloody Days of Dust. :D Without her aid at 2:30 in the morning, I'd be crushed. XD
Notes: It's kind of sad, but this story was inspired by my father. XD See, what happens in the fic is a (massively altered) story from his university days. :0 Amazing, eh?
Anyway, in defence of my father, coming from a very traditional, developing country, he had very little experience—NO, not THAT kind of experience, you effing pervs!!—with gay people. And as such, had no idea that they even existed. They were something of an urban myth in his community. XD (And the eunuchs didn't count. They were completely different, according to him.)
And with regards to the title. Well, I'm sure a number of you are familiar with oh-so-wonderful musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"… :3 So, my school did that for our musical last year—I was in crew :D—and I happened to be wearing the production shirt today while over at my father's sister's house. My uncle—that is, my father's elder brother—happened to be there as well, and he sort of glanced at the huge title splayed on the neon green shirt and chuckled, "It should really be 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying'." And hence, the title of the fic. C:
WIP Rant: May I just say that I can't write Zexion? I wrote him like I would write myself. :shot: Simply because I have an overly complicated thought process, and my speech is a bit indicative of this. D: I couldn't find any other model for his speech, so I just used myself. Hopefully my lameness has come in handy…
So, Zexion's speech is my own. Or some of it, anyways. I'm 3 percent eloquence and 97 percent bullshit. XD All you need to convince people that you're smart is a higher vocabulary and the ability to form complex sentences. :cackles:
There are a lot of jokes and general details of geography that have carried over from "It's Like Hell" to this fic. The Squeenix (Kleenix) tissues, for example.
Started: July 22, 2008.
Completed: August 25, 2008.
H¤w ₮o Su¢₡eed i₦ ฿usiness
(₩ithout Rea£₤y €r¥ing)
I. Dear Reader
This little book is designed to tell you everything you need to know about the science of getting ahead. Now, let us assume you are young, healthy, clear-eyed, and eager. Anxious to rise quickly and easily to the top of the business world. You can. If you have education and intelligence and ability, so much the better. But remember that thousands have reached the top without any of these qualities. Just have courage. And memorise the simple rules of the chapters that follow.
If you truly wish to be among the lucky golden few, you can.
Let it be said that Demyx was not the type to be particularly enraptured by the happenings of the corporate world. He wasn't interested in stock dividends, wavering bank accounts, subliminal advertisements, plummeting sales, bouncing credit, or the further degradation of human society via the market. Hell, he didn't even understand what half of those things were. Business and economy had always been one subject he had never even attempted to understand. To him, a 'hostile takeover' was some sort of radical coup. To him, 'target' was just that one really expensive department store. To him, 'going public' meant to come out of the proverbial closet—something that, he thought, everyone ought to do.
(As he put it, "Closets are for clothes. Really fabulous clothes.")
To put it quite simply, business went just a couple hundred thousand miles over Demyx's head at the speed of light. It wasn't that he was stupid. He was just corporately challenged. He'd much rather act and sing and artistically express his artistic self through artistic ways. (He was a student at Atlantica School of Music, for crying out loud! Asking him to do otherwise was an injustice!! A heresy!!)
But, as his tuition-paying father was, as the title suggests, paying his tuition, Demyx had little choice but to comply when said tuition-paying father demanded that his son take a 'more productive' course for once.
And so, Demyx reluctantly signed up for Business and Marketing one-oh-one.
II. Coffee Break
The summer assignment preceding his dreaded course seemed simple enough: Create a product that will appeal to the masses. Demyx imagined this to be a menial task. Surely it wouldn't be that much different than the lemonade sales he had as a child. (A juvenile, yet effective way of receiving funds towards those Sitar Hero video games he'd had his eyes on.)
In fact, those lemonade stands he'd held had been so successful, that he figured he would cheat, as it were, on his assignment and simply offer lemonade—at a semi-scandalous price, of course—to the dehydrated population of Destiny Islands. After all, with summer being as inhospitable as it was in the Islands, who could resist the temptation of stir-in, "lemon"-flavoured sugar in water?
With this confidence, Demyx decided to unleash his great scheme to sell lemonade at the next major public event: the Gay Pride Parade.
Now, there are many individuals that might feel…uncomfortable in such settings. Perhaps it would be the scantily clad men doing explicit acts on top of floats that would do it. Or, perhaps, it would be the massive amount of different condoms collected that would do it. Or, it could simply be the general blow (no pun intended) to one's masculinity that would serve as the main deterrent from this event.
Demyx was not the sort of person to feel awkward in such a colourful setting. To be honest, the Pride Parade was easily his favourite parade. (Not that there was much competition. Moogle Appreciation Day was always a bit dry. He could never understand what those blasted creatures were saying—although he was fairly sure that one had cursed him out.) He enjoyed the overall excitement and thrived in seeing such prideful displays of, well, gay pride.
It would also be good to mention that Demyx was gay. Very gay.
And being as the parade signified a sort of mass migration of all homosexual folk in the United Kingdoms of Hahrtz to Destiny Islands, Demyx was confident that all of his sympathetic gay community would be willing to purchase a single glass of lemonade for his cause.
And so, Demyx found himself seated behind a poorly erected lemonade stand, bearing a messily made sign in front of him reading, Poor Gay Youth Trying to Make it in Business to Please Stingy Parent. Lemonade for Sale! 50Mu/Glass.
The sales weren't going phenomenally, but it could have been much worse. The weather had reached a scorching temperature of about 40° Celsius, and people who hadn't possessed the foresight to bring bottled water were crawling to his stand, begging for nourishment, despite the steep price. All in all, it was going fairly well, until a young man clothed in a cleanly-pressed, white oxford shirt and a black tie rather irritably demanded that Demyx remove his hastily-built establishment from his front doorstep.
In normal settings, Demyx took every opportunity to dodge confrontation; however, as this was a matter of a university grade, he had to hold his ground firm.
"What do you mean, 'no'?" the youth muttered waspishly, brushing some silvery blue hair away from his eyes and folding his arms across his chest. His unusually coloured hair fell back into place, the side fringe concealing the right side of his face. A single, piercing cobalt blue eye stood out contrastingly against the man's pale skin, the heat appearing to have no visible effect on him other than the light dusting of pink in his cheeks. He was toting a rather large suitcase and his black messenger bag bore a patch of the deep blue Gaian flag, betraying that the young man was from the highly industrialised province, and not like Demyx, who was from, the admittedly homely, province of Spira. If anything, this young man looked to be the sort that would retire to the Spiran islands for vacation—he certainly looked like he could afford it.
"Uh," Demyx mumbled awkwardly, running a hand through his unruly, dirty-blond hair. "Can't you just, like, walk around me? I mean, it's not like I'm vandalising your property or anything…" He licked his lips nervously and peered up at the young man, slowly rising to his feet. He felt at a disadvantage arguing while sitting, and once he'd stood at his full height, he realised that the scowling man was about half a head shorter than him, despite his rigidly perfect posture.
"Excuse me, but your presence takes up the entire doorstep," the youth said flatly, tilting his head to the side. "Even without the burden of my baggage, there is no way for me to get through."
Demyx gave the man a dubious look and cast a sideways glance up at the bright, lemon yellow bricked townhouse that he'd set shop on. It was bedecked in rainbow flags and streamers. He turned his bottle green eyes back on the young man—he couldn't have been more than a year out of high school—and raised an eyebrow. "You live here?" The question seemed rude, but Demyx just found the whole thing rather difficult to swallow. This young man—the epitome and definition of 'heterosexual UKH future businessman/politician/scientist/leader of the world'—lived here? In this fruity little house?
The youth seemed to catch the undertones to Demyx's question and his eyes narrowed in annoyance. "I'm living with my mother," he replied, voice frigid. "She is the one who decorated the house," he added matter-of-factly. "I only live here during vacations. I go to school in Balamb Garden."
Demyx repressed a small grin. It was like he didn't want anything to do with the house. "Are you guys big on the Pride Parade?" he asked, hoping to make pleasant conversation with the youth so as to avoid the topic of being 'evicted.'
"I really hate it, actually."
"Really?" Demyx blinked. "Why?"
The man sniffed haughtily. "It's not that I hate it in the homophobic way. I just hate any event where so many people are in such close proximity."
"Claustrophobic?" Demyx guessed.
"No. It's the smell that gets me. They all smell terrible." He scowled. "You would think that people would use better colognes and perfumes… Anyway, all the scents clash together in the most ghastly way imaginable, and it ends up being a cacophony of torture on my olfactory nerves."
Demyx didn't understand anything that the man had just said, so he diverted the subject slightly. "Well, what about your mom?" he asked curiously. "Does she like the parade?"
To his surprise, the youth snorted. "I'd be surprised if Mother even knows what it is," he said blandly, making a vague gesture towards the sky. "My mother is scatterbrained, at best."
"That's kind of mean to say, don't you think?"
The man blinked. "Not when it's true," he said evenly. "Mother probably thought the colours were appealing or something along those lines." He sighed heavily, arms falling to his sides. "In any case," he glanced back up at Demyx, "as much as I would love—" Demyx winced at the sarcasm "—to continue this little banter you set up with hopes of diverting my attention, I must insist that you remove your…" He paused and surveyed Demyx's stand with an expression akin to boredom. He raised an eyebrow and said, quite deliberately, "What exactly is this?"
Almost immediately, Demyx shifted into his best salesperson impersonation. "I'm selling lemonade!" he proudly told the man as he presented him with a plastic cup filled with the pink drink.
"I can see that," the man said shortly as he daintily accepted the cup and sniffed it. His nose wrinkled. His single visible eye rose to fix Demyx with a poisonous glare. "You said you're selling lemonade…" He set the cup back on the stand and pulled out a bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted a liberal amount onto an open palm before vigorously scrubbing it into his skin, the bitter smell of alcohol punctuating the humid air. Once he'd replaced the bottle, he frostily said, "What you are selling is not lemonade."
Demyx stared. "Yes, it is," he protested. "It said so on the container."
The youth sighed. "That's my point," he said, annunciating each word slowly and clearly, as if speaking to a very stupid child. "This…concoction…was mad from one of those vile, carcinogenic powders."
"What of it?" Demyx asked testily, crossing his arms.
"That's not lemonade. Real lemonade has lemons. This does not have lemons. Ergo, this is not lemonade." The man eyed the stand again, his eyes falling onto the sign. He scoffed. "You're charging 50 munny for a cup of this repulsive excuse for a drink?" He rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and gave Demyx a deprecating look. "You have yet to cease astonishing me with your utter lack of common sense," he told Demyx rather plainly. "This is abominably overpriced, you realise. A cup of this would cost less than 15 munny—at most. Certainly, overpricing is a valid business technique, but only one that works on complete simpletons." He picked up the cup again and swirled around its contents with the approach and technique of a skilled chemist. After a moment, he set the cup down and repeated his sanitizing procedure, all the while staring unblinkingly at Demyx.
"There is next to zero nutritional value in this drink," he informed the green-eyed youth as he pocketed the bottle of hand sanitizer. "And the amount of sodium in it will simply lead to an even greater sense of thirst in the drinker, which will, unfortunately, most likely result in he or she coming back for more of your…'lemonade'." He folded his arms again and closed his eyes contemplatively. "This doesn't particularly increase the breadth of your consumers, but it insures you a microscopic place in the scheme of things." He nodded to himself, all but ignoring Demyx. "Most likely, you'll be grossly outdone by more…legitimate establishments. Carts selling brand name drinks. Lifestream, for example. More appealing forms of empty calories. What's more, you probably spent about 350 munny on that large tub of flavoured sugar crystals and another 275 on those plastic cups. Which means you began by spending 625 munny, not including tax." His eyes passed over the stacks of plastic cups, and Demyx could almost see the crazy mathematical processes flashing through his head. "Judging from the amount of cups you have now, I'd say you've sold about eight cups. How long have you been sitting here?"
The question came out of nowhere and Demyx was nearly caught off guard by it. "Uh, um, like three hours?" he hazarded a guess, and the corners of the young man's lips twitched downward.
"That's not very productive," he said disapprovingly, and Demyx felt himself sink slightly, mortified. Ignoring him, the youth continued on blithely, "If you keep up to your current rate of business, this means that you're making approximately 133 munny per hour—not very impressive. And, as it is already one o'clock, the parade will be concluding in another, what, seven hours?" He shrugged. "Following your rate, this suggests that you will make a grand total of 931 munny overall—this estimate is made under the assumption that your rate remains constant and that the slow decline in temperature does not affect your sales. Now, if we subtract the beginning deficit of 625 from this total—"
"Wait!" Demyx yelped, all the numbers spinning around his head. "I'm confused! Where did this -625 munny come from?!"
The man gave him a deceptively vacant look—the same look Demyx's math teacher used to give him on a daily basis. "It's from buying your wares," he explained patiently. "You have to break even on this number so you can begin on zero, and from there, all other incoming cash is profit."
Demyx scratched the back of his neck. He hadn't put enough sunscreen and the hints of sunburn were beginning to make themselves blaringly apparent. That growing itch, along with the incessant reprimanding of the blue-haired man, was driving him bonkers. And the worst part of it was, seeing as Demyx was a submissive person at heart, there was little to no chance of him actually summing up the gall to kindly put an end to the man's rant with a well aimed fist. Demyx felt his eyes watering slightly. Why was he so painfully boring? Was this some sort of secret technique designed to get Demyx to evacuate the premises? Demyx furrowed his brow as he watched the pale-haired man continue to work his jaw without actually moving his lips.
If it was a method to get rid of him, Demyx decided, it just might be working.
In any case, the young man blathered on impassively, seemingly unaware of the mental frustration Demyx was suffering. "So, taking into account your, shall we say, debt, you have come up with a total profit of 306 munny." He paused to lick his lips. "And this sum is highly disappointing. It's quite a bit less than the weekly allowance of the average twelve-year-old," he concluded.
Demyx stared blankly at the man in front of him. Was this guy for real? "How old are you?" he finally asked, if only to stifle some of the ruder things he'd like to ask/threaten.
The young man didn't bat an eyelash. "I just celebrated my nineteenth birthday last Tuesday."
Demyx's jaw hit the ground. "You're only nineteen?!" he choked out, shocked and slightly pissed that a man—man? HA! He was hardly more than a boy!—one year his junior had managed to dissect and (most likely) accurately predict the future for his little lemonade establishment. Pretentious little snot… Why did everything he said have to sound valid?!
The young man casually ignored Demyx's strife and continued on to say, "I'll take it that you are either entering your second or third year of university with a major in an artistic field or something else with an equally low success rate." When he saw the look of gaping disbelief on Demyx's face, he elaborated, "I find that most parents won't go interfering too much in their child's first year of university. They seem much more concerned with the separation and ensuring that said child is comfortable in the new environment. The same goes for the final year: they just want the child to enjoy himself or herself before entering the wonderful world of taxes." He cast a disdainful look down at the sign. "This sign also screams of a parent who's waking up to realise that his son has no real 'fallback' occupation. Clearly, your father is, shall we say, meddling in your life so as to ensure that you don't get completely blindsided by the financial world." He sniffed and folded his arms again. "It's for your own good, really. And I'd take this course seriously, if I were you." He backed away and wrapped his long, pale fingers around the retractable handle of his suitcase and gave Demyx a look that held thinly-veiled impatience. "Move," he ordered. "I have tired of this pointlessness."
Demyx snapped to life from his angst-filled daze and quickly hurried around his table, making a rather acrobatic leap onto the stone banister and sliding off so he was right in front of the young man. Then he promptly dropped to his knees, his hands clasped together and held high over his head. "Sir," Demyx shamefully pleaded, despite all the uproar of utter rage and violation taking place in his head. "I'm begging you, just let me sit here and sell my lemonade… I really need to succeed in business, and this is the only sort of business I know." Demyx looked up, blue-green eyes wide and near-desperate. "Please!"
The man raised a silvery blue eyebrow, but had no further reactions. Finally, he closed his eyes and sighed, "You're pathetic."
Demyx's face crumpled in on itself and he slowly rose to his feet in defeat, turning to start cleaning up his stand. The young man watched him silently for a moment, dark eyes expressionless, then said, "I'll make a deal with you."
Demyx spun around, eyes lighting up. "You will? Really?!" He paused, eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Wait…you don't want a cut of the profits, do you?"
The man snorted. "I'd make more munny digging for change in my couch," he said disdainfully. "No. Here's the deal: I want you to go off into the crowd and pick one—only one—person, make him or her willing to drink your 'lemonade,' and bring him or her back. I'll wait here and watch your stand." He looked strangely satisfied, for whatever reason. "If you can properly advertise this drink to one person, I'll let you continue your stand. If not, you'll pack up and leave."
"Only one person?" Demyx asked warily. "That's it?" It seemed too easy.
An eerie glint shone from the man's only visible eye. "Simple, isn't it?"
Ignoring the glint, Demyx nodded energetically and hurried off into the massive horde of people, shouting over his shoulder, "You can count on me!"
Once immersed in the crowd, Demyx looked around in distress, surrounded by a wall of screaming people. He pushed and squeezed through the bodies, feverishly trying to ignore the thick odour of sweat that permeated the air. Seriously, didn't anyone use deodorant anymore?! And with the stereotype of gay people being what it is, Demyx would have thought the crowd to, well, smell a little better.
After a lot of pushing and shoving, Demyx found himself ejected from the larger crowd and staggering into a much sturdier young man with carefully styled, coffee-coloured hair and the most peculiar eyes: a deep sapphire with a very fine ring of molten gold near the pupil.
"I'm sorry!" Demyx wailed, arms waving around erratically. "I didn't mean to bump into you!! It's just—the crowd!—business—jerk—pink lemonade!!—fell—I'M SO SORRY!!"
The man's strange eyes were very large and he uncertainly took a step back. "Uh, don't worry about it… It's always crazy here… Just, y'know, chill."
Demyx nodded emphatically, taking the man's advice and breathing deeply to calm himself. After he felt considerably less light-headed, he took a good look at the person he had crashed into. He was reasonably attractive, even though his face was rather common. It was definitely his eyes that made all the difference. They stood out, the gold almost glowing in the afternoon sun. He was probably a centimetre shorter than Demyx, but his solid build held lithe muscles, and they looked positively delicious… Demyx felt it necessary to make an obligatory check with his faithful gaydar. Yup. Definitely gay.
The dark-haired man didn't seem to notice the intense scrutiny he was under. Good. They were much more fun when they were unassuming. Inner-Demyx bared his fangs and threw all notions of business out the window. His prey had been selected.
"So, I'm Demyx Sangster." He held out a hand and smiled in a way reminiscent of a hungry crocodile. Introductions were always a good place to start.
The man grinned and firmly shook his hand. "Terra Fair. Pleased to meet'cha."
Demyx's smile widened. STRIKE!
Terra withdrew his hand—but not without a bit of effort; Demyx had one hell of a death grip. "Have you ever been to the parade before?" he asked.
"Every year since I was twelve," Demyx responded, not even trying to conceal the predatory leer on his face. "You?"
Terra shrugged and started squinting into the crowd, as if looking for something. "My best friend took me against my own will when we were fourteen," he told Demyx, a small frown tugging at the corner of his mouth. Then he shrugged it off and grinned. "But, I've been coming along by my own free will ever since, so I guess it's okay."
Demyx sniggered. "And I'm sure you'll be cumming quite often in the future…" he said slyly.
Terra nodded cheerfully, blissfully unaware of Demyx's perverse intentions. "Yeah!" he said brightly. "I hope so!"
Inner-Demyx threw his head back and laughed.
"It's convenient that it always takes place in Destiny Islands," Terra said, "since I live on Treasure Island. But there's just one problem with the islands…" He gestured towards the crammed streets. "Sydney's our only big city, but it's nowhere near big enough to house all the gay people in the UKH." He shrugged and his unusual eyes flickered back over to Demyx. "What about you? You a local, too?"
"Sort of," Demyx said. "I'm originally from the Green Lake Settlement."
Terra nodded appreciatively. "Ah, so you're a mainland Spiran," he mused. "That must've been quite a long drive…then to catch a ferry…"
"I'm actually living on Atlantica," Demyx clarified, taking the bait to go on a tangent. He needed to come up with a plan to get this guy to go along with him. "I go to school at ASM."
"ASM?" Terra's eyes widened slightly. "That's impressive."
Demyx felt his ego grow. "Yeah," he agreed unabashedly. "It kinda is."
"So, you obviously are a music student," Terra said thoughtfully before chuckling. "I mean, it's not like people go there to learn business, right?" he laughed.
Demyx laughed along with him. "Haha, who would want to learn something like busine—"
His eyes widened as his purpose for being here came back and hit him with the force of a tonne of bricks. He'd completely forgotten about his deal. Shit.
Green eyes carefully surveyed Terra. The man looked like the type that was conscious about maintaining a stable pH in his bloodstream. He'd probably go for some lemonade.
"Hey, um, Terra," Demyx slowly wrapped a hand around Terra's wrist. "It's kinda hot out here, isn't it?"
Terra shrugged. "It's Destiny Islands," he replied neutrally. "It's always pretty warm over here."
"Yeah," Demyx muttered through gritted teeth, frustrated with the situation. "I know." He forced a pleasant smile on his face and asked in his most accommodating voice, "Hey, here's an idea. Why don't we ditch the parade for a bit and go off and get something to drink…?"
There, Demyx thought, satisfied. That sounded reasonable. If anything, he was killing two birds with one stone.
"Uh…" Terra didn't seem to think so. If anything, he looked like he was torn between nausea and horror, his eyes widening and the colour draining from his face in a matter of seconds. "L-look," he choked, voice wavering as he began frantically working to pry Demyx's iron grip from his wrist. "I c-can't… I mean, no offence, you're…you're great and everything, but I'm not…" His voice died away and he started shaking madly.
"'Not'?" Demyx stared, feeling the ground fall beneath his feet. Not what? Not gay?
Terra started clawing at Demyx's hand, babbling incoherently as he fought to remove the green-eyed man from his arm. "I can't! Get away from me! Someone could see!" He looked up at Demyx, and Demyx could swear he saw the gold ring around Terra's pupil contract wildly and expand.
And Terra ripped Demyx's hand off him and all but threw the blond back into the crowd, which promptly carried him away.
Demyx found himself in a sort of daze as the people of the crowd pushed and shoved him around, before he finally got shoved back to where he'd started, in front of his lemonade stand. The young man with the silvery blue hair was still there, leaning casually against the stone banister, eyes half-lidded and clouded with ennui. When he finally noticed Demyx, he blinked, and all the mist vanished from his dark eyes.
"I take it you were unsuccessful?" he guessed, although, the way he'd said it, it seemed more like an observation than anything else.
Demyx, still stunned stupid, ambled over to the table and wordlessly began cleaning up the stand. "I just can't believe it," he said at last, leaning heavily on the table, hanging his head.
The young man looked mildly interested. "What?" he asked.
Demyx shook his head. "I could have sworn to the Big Lesbian Goddess that that guy was gay." He let out a weary sigh and raised his eyes to the painfully clear sky. "I guess my gaydar's really out of wack."
The man snorted. "You actually believe in the myth of gaydars?"
"If you were gay, you'd understand," Demyx whined petulantly, a pout forming on his face. He let out a long-suffering bawl and buried his face in his arms. "I think mine just broke!!" he blubbered. "Oh, my God!! It's broken, isn't it?!"
Something stirred in the depths of the man's cobalt eyes and he sighed, reaching a hand inside his messenger bag and pulling out a pack of Squeenix tissues. "Stop snivelling," he muttered, offering a tissue to the blond. "It's pitiful."
Demyx tearfully accepted the tissue and loudly blew his nose. "Shut up," he sniffled. "I feel like I've lost a child or something."
"Something, indeed," the man huffed as he handed Demyx another tissue.
"Thanks," Demyx mumbled, wiping away his tears into the new tissue. He looked up at the blue-eyed man and gave him a rather watery smile. "I'm Demyx Sangster, by the way." He extended a hand and the man lightly shook it before whipping out his hand sanitizer and all but soaking his palm. Demyx fought the urge to scream.
The man opened his mouth to say something, but froze, when a woman's loud voice exclaimed, "Zexion!"
Demyx nearly snapped his neck whipping his head around to look up at the house, just catching a glimpse of blue hair in a window lined with curtains printed with colourful fish. Then the front door burst open and a middle-aged woman wearing a yellow-striped, navy blue shirt with long yellow sleeves literally flew out the door and into the cobalt-eyed man, burying his face in the crook of her neck, tears of joy streaming down her face.
"Zexion! Zexion! My sweet Zexion!!" she cried hysterically, spinning around in circles. "My sweet baby boy has returned!!"
The young man pushed the woman away with a growl of, "Mother, get off!" He turned to eyeball Demyx, scowling darkly when he saw the blond was smirking.
The woman, who had apparently gotten a hold of herself, finally noticed Demyx, and eagerly took the initiative to seize captive one of his hands and nearly ripped his arm out of its socket with her enthusiastic handshake. "Hullo, mister!" she said happily. "Are you Zexion's friend?" she asked curiously, inclining her head slightly towards her son—Zexion.
Zexion cleared his throat and gently removed his mother's hands from Demyx's. "Mother," he said softly, "this is Demyx Sangster. He's…an acquaintance."
The woman's wide magenta eyes grew even wider. "Ohhh…" she said. A giddy smile pulled at her lips and she giggled, brushing some of her sapphire-blue hair out of her eyes. "Well, Mister…" her face suddenly became blank. She looked sheepishly at Demyx and Zexion let out a soft sigh. "I'm sorry," she said bashfully, "I've forgotten your name…"
Demyx blinked. "Oh, it's not a problem… I'm Demyx."
Zexion's mother nodded gaily. "Oh, right! Anyway, it's so nice to meet one of Zexy's friends!"
"He's not my friend," Zexion muttered. His mother apparently didn't hear him.
"I'm Zexion's mother," she said. "My name is Dory Oroitz. It's a pleasure to meet you, Myde—"
"Demyx," Zexion corrected absentmindedly.
"Demyx," Dory said with a nod, smile unfaltering. "So, what brings you to…"
"Sydney," Zexion said.
"Right!" Dory pointed dramatically at her son. "Sydney! That's it. So, what brings you to Sydney?"
"Uh, well, I'm a student at Atlantica School of Music," Demyx began. "And for my summer assignment, I'm supposed to succeed in business."
Dory's eyes widened. "Ooh," she said, entranced. "How's it going?"
Demyx winced. "Not so well," he admitted. "And I think my gaydar broke…"
Dory didn't seem too concerned about the latter bit. "Just buy a new one!" she said logically. Hearing this, Zexion muttered something unintelligible and started dragging his suitcase up the stairs and into the house.
"I don't think it works like that," Demyx mumbled, starting to understand what Zexion had meant when he'd spoken about his mother.
"You know," Dory said randomly, waving a hand towards a passing float bearing a number of male dancers in little more than tights, "I've been hiding in my house all day," she told Demyx. "There've been all these strangers running around town, today. It's been very confusing. I wanted to get leave for some reason—can't remember why—but when I opened my door, I almost got run over by all these really flexible people, and…" She paused and gave Demyx a long look before frowning. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Mother, this is Demyx," Zexion said as he walked back outside to join them. Dory's large magenta eyes lit up and she threw herself at her son.
"Zexion!" she exclaimed tearfully, "You've come back to me from school! How was third grade?"
Zexion's eyes hardened. "I just finished grade thirteen, Mother."
Dory released her son and gasped dramatically. "When did that happen?!"
"Just recently," Zexion said shortly. "I got accepted into university, too. I'm going to have a double major in cosmology and engineering."
Demyx looked up. "Where'd you get accepted to?" he wondered aloud, genuinely curious. Zexion seemed like an intelligent person. He probably got into a good school.
Zexion glanced over at the blond. "Hollow Bastion University," he replied, short and simple and to the point. And Demyx couldn't help but gawk.
"F-for real?!" he stammered. "That's amazing!"
He'd realised that Zexion was smart, but to have made it into the Paopu League was amazing. HBU was arguably the best institute for higher learning in the entire United Kingdoms of Hahrtz, and it was a member of the Group of Thirteen—one of the leading schools in science and research. Hell, the famed scientist Ansem Weiss had gone to Hollow Bastion University. Demyx couldn't ever hope to get into a school like that.
Zexion shrugged modestly in response, humbly accepting the praise raining down on him from his mother. ("AW!! Zexy!! Mummy's so proud of you! I can't believe this! This is wonderful! I always knew you had it in you, kiddo! I'm so proud! Y'know, I never got into HBU. I got into…uhh…oh, dear…what was it…")
"But, wait," Demyx said, "You're not doing business?"
Zexion raised an eyebrow. "No," he replied easily. "It doesn't interest me."
"But you know how it works inside and out!" Demyx exclaimed. "You could totally rule some humongous corporation if you wanted!"
"I don't see your point."
"But you can help me!"
"Say!" Dory suddenly exclaimed, pointing excitedly at Demyx. "Mister Screechyface!" She bounced over to him and seized his hands in her own. "When life's got'cha down, y'know what'cha gotta do?" she sang, eyes glowing as a toothy grin threatened to break her face.
"No…" Demyx said slowly, trying to inch away. "What?"
Zexion let out a soft groan as his mother started dancing around, tugging on Demyx's arms. "Just keep swimming," she chanted. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…"
"Demyx," Zexion said, raising his voice to be heard over his mother. ("What do we do? We swim! Swim!") He quickly shooed his mother back inside the house with the promise of taking her to visit her friend, Flounder or Anchor or something aquatic like that. Then, when he and Demyx had quiet, he silently held out a book to the blond.
"What's this?" Demyx asked as he accepted the beaten paperback. He stared at the title. "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying?" he read. He looked up and gave Zexion a look of disbelief. "Are you serious?"
Zexion nodded vaguely. "My father swears by it," he said lightly. "And, seeing as my father is doing quite well in the Balamb Garden branch of Shinra Company, I'd say that there's something worth exploring in this book." He paused, and a touch of irony filtered into his normally passive voice. "Although, I don't think it would do anything to mend your broken gaydar."
Demyx laughed, thanked Zexion and left the property, busying himself with trying to concoct ways of fixing both his gaydar and his business strategy, working to bury the humiliation he'd felt with his 'Terra Tragedy.'
But, little did Demyx know, if he'd lingered around for a minute longer to see what became of Terra, he would have been treated to the sight of Twilight Town's most famous Struggler, Setzer, being pummelled into an unrecognisable, senseless pulp.
Terra anxiously toed the man in the side. He was treading the line between consciousness and unconsciousness. Terra sincerely hoped he would be all right. He turned and looked over at the smaller blond next to him. "You really didn't have to go that crazy on him, Ven," he muttered, turning his attention back to the crumpled man.
"Don't be soft," the blond growled, blue eyes flashing dangerously as he wiped the blood off his fists and cracked his knuckles. "That bastard was asking for it. Did you see how he was drooling all over you?! Fucking pervert! He got off lucky. I should have splattered his brains on the sidewalk…" A crazed look passed over Ven's face, as if he were contemplating doing such.
Terra recognised that look and quickly led his boyfriend away before he got any more illegal ideas. "You're so possessive," he muttered, fondly mussing the blond spikes, smiling slightly when his hand was batted away. "It's kinda cute, actually."
"I am not cute," Ven snapped, crossing his arms and sulking, his lower lip sticking out in the most endearing way.
Terra chuckled and enveloped Ven into a bear hug. "Yes, you are."
Ven groaned, but his eyes were bright and laughing. He gently shoved Terra away, his face becoming more severe. "But, seriously," he said, eyes narrowing with vindictiveness. "You know that I will rip apart anyone who even looks at you the wrong way." He gritted his teeth. "I'll fucking kill them."
Terra laughed nervously and awkwardly patted the blond on the back, thanking the Big Lesbian Goddess that that kid Demyx had gotten away before Ven had returned.
III. The Company Way
Having consulted the book, Demyx decided that the safest route to establishing himself in the corporate world was through a larger, already successful company. He settled for a lower job in a major department store in Sydney, working at a kiosk in the perfume section.
It wasn't exactly the most glamorous job, and it was probably far from what the professor had meant by "succeed", but it was currently all Demyx had. Unfortunately, although the book had instructed him to make his time in the 'mailroom' brief, Demyx was finding it rather difficult to leave the little kiosk—in more ways than one. But, Demyx being Demyx, he had yet to realise his apparent corporate funk. And it wasn't until Zexion—in all the glory of his oxford shirt and tie—happened upon him that his lack of success came to light.
"Do I even want to know why you're selling cologne?" the slate-haired youth drawled as he peered at Demyx through the corner of his cobalt eyes. In his hand was a delicate crystal bottle of a thin, black-coloured liquid—one of their products: Deep Dive.
Demyx glowered at Zexion as he scanned the price of the cologne and punched a few keys in the cash register. "Shut up," he said, almost sulkily. "I happen to like this brand."
Zexion nodded vaguely and gave Demyx a thick wad of munny. "I obviously like it, too. Very fragrant," he said flippantly as he accepted his change. "Still, I fail to see how working at Enigmatic Man is supposed to get you credit in your business course." He quirked an eyebrow. "This is basically the mailroom of a company, you realise."
"Well, what do you suggest, then?" Demyx snapped as he all but shoved the bagged purchase at Zexion.
"Did you actually read the book I gave you?" Zexion asked dryly, idly picking up a bottle of a recent scent, Silent Hero, and glancing over at the clouded amber liquid in mild interest, spraying a small amount and sniffing experimentally. His eyes flickered back over to Demyx and he replaced the bottle. "If you actually read it, then you should be a bit concerned—and rightfully so." He blinked. "So, did you read it?"
A sheepish grin formed on Demyx's lips and he blushed abashedly. "Uh…"
Zexion snorted. "I should have known," he muttered with a small sigh. Demyx frowned, feeling insulted. Zexion shook his head and lifted a wrist, turning it over and revealing the smooth, faintly-veined skin of his inner-arm. It took Demyx a moment to realise that the youth had been checking his watch—he was the sort that wore it with the face tucked into the heel of his palm and his wrist, the buckle exposed along the back of his hand. Zexion's dark eyes lifted back to Demyx's face. "It's a quarter to twelve," he informed the blond. "Do you think you can take a lunch break now?"
Demyx blanched, green eyes large and incredulous. "Wh-what for?!" he sputtered.
Zexion gave him a rather annoyed look. "I'm going to give you business advice," he said, almost snootily. "Maybe then we can find a way to get you out of this mess…"
And that was how Demyx found himself sitting at the local Stone Table—a popular Narnian restaurant—sharing a plate of Turkish Delight with a very bemused Zexion. The slate-haired youth primly touched a napkin to the corner of his mouth and cleared his throat.
"To begin with," he said, "it is essential that you manage to get yourself promoted."
Demyx looked up, pausing in the middle of stuffing his face. "How do I do that?" he asked, sugar spraying from his mouth. Zexion wrinkled his nose in disgust and Demyx smiled sheepishly. "Sorry…"
Zexion waved him off and sipped some of his tea. "Well," he said, staring down contemplatively into his mug, "Since you have been required to create a product, I suggest you do just that."
Demyx stared. "Yeah. Right." The sarcasm was thick in his voice. "And how do I do that?"
"Well, seeing as you're working for Enigmatic Man, I suggest you come up with a product that caters to its market. Namely colognes and the like." Zexion shrugged and helped himself to another Turkish Delight. "Use your imagination."
"So, what, I just come up with a really nice smell and suggest that they sell it?" Demyx asked as he added yet another packet of brown sugar into his tea. He took a small sip and frowned. It was still too bitter.
A silvery-blue eyebrow rose. "Not like that, no." Zexion said with a snort. "You need to have reasoning behind your product—it can't just be something for the sake of making something. There needs to be an appeal." Zexion paused, taking another languid sip of his tea. "Furthermore, you cannot just come forth from the darkness with this idea. You need to seem as legitimate as you can…" He paused again, and his eyes passed over Demyx, clearly unimpressed. He lifted his napkin to his lips and made a strange coughing sound that may have been concealed laughter. "Well," he said at last, lowering the napkin, his eyes half-lidded, "you need to seem as legitimate as you can—within reason, anyway. This means, I imagine, that you won't need to be very legitimate at all, lest you want to arouse suspicion."
Demyx pouted at the admonishment, but chose to let it slide. "Well, what should I do?" he asked reasonably. "Should I, like, learn about their products and stuff?"
Zexion's eyebrows knitted together and his eyes drifted out over the rest of the restaurant, passing over the other people. He slouched slightly, tilting his head back in thought, his eyes still roving over the surrounding citizens. Demyx uneasily watched the youth, unconsciously noting how Zexion's silvery hair shone a vivid shade of bright blue in the light, and exactly how pale his skin was in contrast.
Then the whole serenity of the moment was shattered when a rather portly and rotund man who reeked of body odour toddled by, the rancid smell seemingly propagating through the air and goddamn hanging in a noxious cloud over the pair's heads. Zexion let out a hacking cough and all but slapped his napkin over his nose and mouth in an attempt to shield himself from the unbidden nasal assault. Even Demyx, who wasn't usually bothered by smells, followed suit, clapping his hands over his face, green eyes wide and bugging out of their sockets. This man's body odour was positively repulsive. It screamed of a being that had never seen a bar of soap and had never even considered the notion of personal hygiene.
"That!!" Zexion hissed from behind his napkin, his usually blank eyes flashing with contempt. "That is what you need to make yourself familiar with! The population. The masses. The sickening filth that is in desperate need of your product! You have to make it a must-have. You need to know the consumers and the competition. You need to have an edge to your product that cements it a place in the lives of UKH!"
A slight tick had developed in Zexion's right eye, and it was slightly disconcerting to Demyx. The pungent smog cloud of B.O. had all but dissipated, yet there was Zexion, napkin still glued to his air passages like a lifeline. And still, in spite of his ridiculous state, he continued blathering about business. "That man, for example, is a revolting example of the population of the United Kingdoms of Hahrtz that may not be persuaded to buy your product. It is clear that although there are countless options of cologne, shampoo, soap, and, for heaven's sake, deodorant that he could use, he chooses to remain a disgusting, unattractive slob."
The man was on the other side of the restaurant now—a rather harried-looking waitress had shepherded him outside, and Demyx could see that half of the restaurant's occupants were shooting dirty looks at the putrid man. He felt a bit of pity well up inside himself. He chanced a sideways glance at Zexion, and saw that the blue-eyed youth clearly had no intentions of feeling any sense of mercy for the man.
"But what about other people?" Demyx finally asked. "People who use different brands of cologne?"
Zexion looked like he wanted to say something, but they were interrupted by a young, lightly freckled, dark-haired waiter. "We're very sorry about that, sirs," he said softly, his refined Narnian accent betraying his ethnicity. "We keep telling Pete that he cannot return until he adopts some conventional hygiene, but…" his voice trailed off and he rolled his eyes.
"It's really all right," Demyx said hastily, waving his hands about animatedly. "I mean, it wasn't really that bothersome…"
The lanky, teenaged waiter, whose nametag read 'Edmund', raised a single dark eyebrow at Demyx, amusement plain on his face. "If you say so," he said with a small grin. He turned to regard Zexion, and blinked in confusion at the blue-eyed man's antics. If anything, it appeared that Zexion was sniffing Edmund. "Err," Edmund spluttered, clearly thrown, "May I help you, sir?"
Zexion glanced up—the napkin had been stowed away when no one had been looking. "Yes, actually," he said slowly, eyes scrutinising the Narnian. "I was wondering what cologne you were wearing."
Demyx and Edmund both looked rather dumbstruck by this peculiar request, but Edmund recovered first and took it in stride, replying, "I'm wearing Dawn Treader. My brother Peter gave it to me for my birthday." A slightly disgruntled look passed over Edmund's face. "He always has good taste in what's vogue, I suppose. If any of those girls he always has swooning over him is any indication of that…" Edmund looked deeply annoyed by his assertion, his nose crinkling slightly and his dark eyebrows knitting together.
"It is a very good cologne," Zexion agreed loftily, leaning back slightly in his seat. "Very light—it's got a sort of rustic, ocean-scent to it. The brand is Narnian, I take it?"
"That's right. Sons of Adam." Edmund gave Zexion an appraising look. "You into fragrances and that lot, sir?"
A shrug was the only reply, and Edmund seemed unbothered by this. "I honestly haven't the slightest bit of sense in fashion or whatever," he admitted unabashedly. "I'd walk around in sweats and a pair of ratty old Chucks all day, if I were allowed. I'm really not one for colognes, either."
Zexion hummed quietly. "That's what I assumed," he said flatly. "I was surprised to smell it on you—I almost missed it at first, actually. Its scent is almost watered down."
Edmund nodded. "That's the only reason why I even bothered," he told Zexion. "Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything Peter gave me, but—" He froze mid-sentence when a large hand cuffed him around the neck. A well-built young man with fairer hair, albeit a darker complexion stood behind Edmund, and Demyx, following Zexion's lead, took an experimental sniff of the air and was immediately hit with the wafting scent of an earthy, almost herbal cologne. It was a bit like inhaling a pine forest. Next to the blond man, Edmund's faint sea-air scent was completely overshadowed.
"Ed," the blond-haired man said patiently, "Don't you think you should leave these two gentlemen to their food?"
The brunet let out an irritated sputter of protest, a hot, angry flush blossoming on his face and on the tips of his ears.
Demyx was quick to jump to Edmund's rescue. "It's really all right…" His eyes quickly scanned the nametag of the man. "…Peter… He was just talking to us about colognes…"
Peter's eyebrows rose to the point where they were in danger of vanishing into his hairline. "Ed? Talking about cologne?" He gave a wide-eyed look at Edmund, taken aback. "Since when?" he asked earnestly, an almost wicked grin working its way onto his face. He gave Edmund a painful looking noogie. "This little bugger wouldn't know the difference between Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve!"
"I would too!" Edmund barked. "Daughters of Eve is a perfume brand! It's for girls!"
"That didn't stop you from wearing it!"
Edmund's face turned scarlet. "That's because you forced me to!"
A soft cough from Zexion silenced the bickering siblings and brought their eyes to rest on him. "Excuse me," he said to Peter, "what is the name of your cologne?"
"Wolfsbane," Peter replied without missing a beat. "As made by Sons of Adam."
Zexion nodded. "Thank you." An awkward silence fell over the table, and Demyx hastily told Peter and Edmund that they were doing quite well, thank you, and that they needn't worry about them. Shortly after refilling Zexion's mug with fresh tea, the two disappeared to attend to other people.
"You see," Zexion said at last after taking a long drink of his tea. "That Peter is an example of a customer that might consider jumping ships if you come up with a smell that is to his liking. He obviously is a bit more of a peacock than his brother Edmund, and if you intend on winning over his national pride, you'll need a scent that is more…robust."
Demyx nodded slowly. "So, basically I need to know who I'm gonna market the product to and how to angle it?"
Zexion nodded. "Your market doesn't even need to be all that big—you just need to ensure that it will be bought. For example, by creating something under the name of Enigmatic Man, you're already guaranteeing that consumers that purchase other products from your brand will come and take a poke around. All you need to do for them is make sure that they will find something that piques their interests. You need to create something that they will need in their everyday lives."
"How do I do that?"
"By understanding what they like and their interests," Zexion said solemnly. "You, for example—"
Demyx nearly fell over. "Me?!"
Zexion rolled his eyes a little. "The first time I met you, you were wearing Under the Sea. This is a fairly popular cologne, and if you find something that is appealing to you, chances are that these people might like it, too."
Demyx stared. "You were sniffing me when we met at the Pride Parade?" he asked, slightly disturbed.
Zexion narrowed his eyes. "Can I help it if I have acute olfactory nerves?" he asked snidely, taking another sip of tea. "Besides, your cologne was a godsend. A good third of the people at that blasted parade stunk of sweat…" He paused, as if remembering something. "Speaking of the Pride Parade," he said slowly, curious, "did you ever manage to salvage your gaydar?"
A sour look was the answer, and Zexion merely blinked. "Did someone else turn you down?" he asked, not backing down.
"No," Demyx admitted, sinking in his seat and glowering at his reflection in the smooth, polished stone of their table. "I've been too afraid to try again."
Zexion snorted. "You might as well give it a shot, though," he said lightly. "You'll never know until you try." His eyes slid over to regard the restaurant's occupants before turning back to Demyx. "There are a good sixty people in here," he said. "At least one of them is bound to be gay."
Demyx chewed his lower lip thoughtfully, glancing around. "Yeah," he said finally. He gave Zexion an edgy smile. "I mean, the statistic is 10 percent, right? Maybe I'll get lucky…"
Zexion gave him a bored look. "Sometimes, it feels like Hahrtz is the anomaly to that statistic—it always feels like a good 35 percent of the country is gay."
Demyx chose to ignore this and rose to his feet, wandering tentatively around the restaurant, trying to find a person that gave off a relatively pink vibe. He settled at last on a man a few years older than him: attractive in a somewhat simple way with spiked charcoal-dark hair, vivid blue eyes, and a build befitting of SOLDIER. Demyx strolled up to him and gave him a winning smile.
"Hey," he said pleasantly, offering a handshake, "I'm Demyx Sangster."
The man seemed unperturbed by the random introduction and heartily accepted the handshake. "Hullo!" he said, grinning brightly. "I'm Zack Fair."
Demyx's smile cracked.
"'Fair'?" he echoed, feeling the world become smaller beneath his feet and the air become hot and heavy in his lungs. "As in 'Terra Fair'?" he asked hoarsely as the room began to spin around him.
Zack nodded jovially, eyes lighting up. "That's right!" he exclaimed, thumping Demyx on the back. "Terra's my cousin. D'you know him?"
Demyx smiled weakly, almost sure he was going to throw up in a minute. "In a manner of speaking," he said, voice cracking. He slowly turned around and stumbled away back to Zexion, collapsing listlessly in his seat. "It happened again," he moaned to an entertained Zexion. "It's official, Zexion. My gaydar is broken."
"Well, what did you expect?" Zexion asked nonchalantly, helping himself to another Turkish Delight. "You selected a person who wears Living Legacy. That's a blatantly heterosexual scent. Very masculine."
Demyx lifted his eyes to meet Zexion, incredulity written across his face. "You could smell him from all the way over here?"
Zexion shrugged modestly. "It's a strong cologne. Mostly used by members of SOLDIER—they have to smother the smell of their sweat, after all." He took a pensive sip of tea before continuing, "Try going for someone wearing a more…fragrant cologne—not something so musky. Avoid Fenrir's Fury and Materia Musk and scents like that—basically anything made by LOVELESS. It's a terribly boring brand, all their colognes smell the same, and no self-respecting homosexual man would be caught dead wearing any of that. Go for Magical Mystery, Lazy Afternoons…Gearing Up…" He shrugged, glancing up at Demyx from behind his mug. "Even people wearing Deep Dive are worth a shot," he added as an afterthought.
"Y'know," Demyx said after a moment of gazing stupidly at Zexion. "For a straight guy, you know an awful lot about gay people," he commented.
"Typically, straight men are less inclined to worry about how they smell," Zexion dead-panned, rolling his eyes with an exasperated sniff.
"I guess that's true," Demyx conceded with a tired sigh. He slumped in his seat, all but throwing himself across their table. "I wish I had a nose like yours, Zexion. It must be mad easy identifying who's gay and who isn't."
Zexion nodded sagely. "It is useful," he agreed. "And I imagine it would be especially helpful if one's gaydar is defunct."
Demyx let out a bark of laughter. "No kidding! Geez. I wish all gay people would wear a special cologne. Y'know? So we could all tell who's who and save ourselves the embarrassment of hitting on someone who's strai—" Demyx's voice trailed away and his eyes widened. His mouth fell open into a round 'o'. He gaped, "…dude…"
A small smile crept onto Zexion's face and he idly stirred his tea, eyes unmoving and focused on Demyx. "Oh?" he murmured. "Have we figured out an angle, then?"
Demyx's eyes grew even wider and his expression of shock melted into one of extreme satisfaction. "Yes, Zexion," he said, grinning widely. "I believe we have."
IV. A Secretary is Not a Toy
"Are you sure your friend is all right with this?" Demyx asked Zexion anxiously even as he allowed himself to be led farther and farther down a winding staircase into a deep basement.
Zexion looked completely devoid of interest and mildly irritated with Demyx's apprehension and nodded astutely. "I'm sure Vexen will be pleased that I've brought him a challenge. If anything, he should be thankful we're coming to him at all," he said, almost conceitedly, as he adjusted the weight of his indigo knapsack. "And besides, finding the cheapest labour possible is all part of business."
Demyx was unconvinced. "I dunno…" he mumbled as the staircase finally came to an end, opening up to a narrow hallway lined with grimy metal doors adorned with faded painted numbers. Zexion led him to the door labelled 4 and rang the doorbell once. There was no movement from inside the apartment. Demyx nervously shifted his weight from foot to foot, completely uncomfortable with the entire situation. What kind of person has an apartment that's thirteen floors underground?! he wondered feverishly, half panicked and half horrified by whatever 'friend' Zexion was taking him to. He shot the blue-eyed man a fearful look. "This is such a bad idea," he whined.
Zexion cast him a sideways look that relayed a trace of his signature boredom. "Stop complaining," he scolded, sounding horribly like Demyx's father. "It'll be fine. He'll have no choice. He owes me a favour." He rang the doorbell two more times and when there was no further response, a small frown appeared on his face. He raised a slightly curled hand to his face and pressed the side of his bent index finger to his lips, looking thoughtful.
"Looks like no one's here!" Demyx announced, voice caught between elation and hysteria. He quickly spun around on his heel to leave. "I guess we better think up a Plan B!"
Zexion snapped a hand out and seized Demyx by the back of his hooded graffiti'd CAT t-shirt, preventing his escape. "Wait a minute," he said shortly, still staring intently at the rust-tinged metal door. He made a peculiar half-coughing sound, like he'd just barely swallowed a laugh. His eyes glinted as he turned to face Demyx. "There's one more thing I'd like to try…" He balled his free hand into a fist and began relentlessly banging away at the metal door, creating a resounding metallic din that echoed throughout the hallway. "Vexen!" Zexion barked through the door.
A noisy crash was heard from behind the door, followed by a mad scramble of curses and the shrill sound of shattering glass. Demyx couldn't help but wince. Zexion continued to appear unconcerned, the extent of his reaction being a sigh that could only be described as exasperated. Finally, the metal door swung open, slamming against the wall of the apartment with a dull clang, and a pallid man with long, ashy blond hair and bloodshot eyes stood in the doorway, shoulders hunched and his face pulled into a fuming grimace, his spindly arms ending in trembling fists. The incensed scowl he wore only deepened when he saw Zexion, and he growled through gritted teeth, "Zexion…"
"Ah, Vexen," Zexion greeted blithely, completely ignoring the other man's rage. Demyx felt the unconscious urge to back away from the blond. "I believe your doorbell is broken," he said, the slightest hint of sarcasm dripping from his voice.
Vexen did not appear to appreciate the dry humour. In fact, he looked like he wanted nothing more than to strangle Zexion. A visible tick developed in Vexen's left eye as he stared down at the slighter man. "It's not broken," he snarled. "I disconnected it."
Zexion cocked his head to the left, bemused. "Why would you do that?"
An ugly look spread over Vexen's ashen face. "It was distracting," he sneered, the dark pupils in his diseased green eyes rapidly dilating and contracting. "I can never get any work done with people coming and ringing that infernal bell…" He shook his head, his matted hair flying wildly. "That bell would always make my experiments go wrong," he complained petulantly. "It would always ring at the most critical moments, and explosions would happen…" He pushed some of his stringy, dirty-blond hair away from his eyes. "It's much better without that disruption."
Zexion's eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into his hairline. "And having the more persistent customers break your door down is more convenient?" he drawled.
Vexen's face turned a vile shade of fuchsia and he bared his teeth. "Normally they have the etiquette to leave a phone call after I don't open the door, rather than smash it like some sort of Neanderthal." The jibe was blatant.
"Perhaps," Zexion amended, looking unperturbed. "And this would be a practical thing to do if you had actually set up a message machine."
Demyx snorted softly at this, but Vexen noticed the noise, swinging his head around to face the youth, his stained lab coat flapping around his thin form as he moved.
Vexen scrutinised Demyx for a brief moment, as if unsure of why he was there. "What are you?" he demanded snidely, peering down his hooked nose at the quavering blond.
"This is Demyx Sangster," Zexion put in, averting Vexen's attention back to himself. "He's your new client." He nudged Demyx forward a step.
"Client?" Vexen looked unconvinced.
Demyx nodded apprehensively, his head bobbing loosely on his neck. "I need your help to develop colognes," he squeaked.
Vexen's eyes widened comically and his mouth twisted unpleasantly. "Are you kidding me?" he growled. He rounded a hawk-like glare on Zexion. "Is this your idea of a joke?" he griped.
Zexion shifted his position slightly, folding his arms defiantly across his chest. "No," he said simply, expressionlessly.
"Then I'm afraid you've come to the wrong person," Vexen replied prissily, turning his nose up. "I won't help you."
Demyx was prepared to give up without a fight and leave, but Zexion didn't seem so easily deterred. "Yes, you will," he corrected, cobalt eyes carefully blank. "You owe me a favour."
Vexen fidgeted uneasily, shoving his bony hands deep in his lab coat's pockets. "I owe you nothing," he said, though his voice cracked slightly.
"Shall I help you remember?" Zexion asked quietly, his voice low and ominous, sending a strange chill over Demyx. Zexion took a challenging step forward, head held high and his eyes coldly determined. "I seem to recall a New Year's party in which someone had a bit too much elixir and putting on a shockingly explicit show for a camera with a rather large test-tube. It's very odd that such a video hasn't found its way onto j00tube, yet…" His voice trailed away and Vexen paled horribly. Demyx had the appearance of one watching a train crash into a major landmark, eyes nearly falling out of their sockets and his jaw making a cliché beeline to the ground. Zexion did not seem to notice either of their reactions and went on to drone, "To quote said person, 'Is that a test-tube in your pocket, or are your electrons in the excited state?'"
And although Demyx didn't know enough science to fully understand the technicalities of the joke, he knew a sexual innuendo when he heard one, and felt slightly troubled to hear one—especially such an…intelligent sounding one—come out of Zexion's mouth with such ease. It was…strange. Demyx imagined that out of anyone else's mouth, it'd just seem pretentious and plain on nerdy. But from Zexion, it seemed to fit, in a bizarre, geeky, yet still weirdly sexy way. It was an oddly foreign thought to associate Zexion with the word 'sexy'. It seemed almost too crude for him. Like the word to describe his appeal had to be more sophisticated sounding. Demyx boggled inwardly as he tried to think of the right word.
In any case, it was clear that Zexion's parroted pick up line had an entirely different meaning to Vexen than it did to Demyx. If anything, this clinched it. He begrudgingly backed away from the doorway and let Demyx and Zexion enter his apartment. Zexion had a very faint trace of a smirk on his face as he bowed his head and shuffled in, muttering a quiet, cocky "I knew you'd understand" beneath his breath as he led Demyx into a cramped living room area complete with a ratty couch and chair, a coffee table covered with papers filled with chemistry formulas, a television that looked like it hadn't been used since 1985, and a greying carpet that probably used to be white and probably hadn't been vacuumed since 1962.
"So, what do you want?" Vexen asked waspishly as he collapsed into the worn armchair with a faded floral print, his tired eyes looking slightly jaundiced in the dim lighting. Demyx took notice that Vexen didn't offer them anything to drink.
"I believe I already told you that we require your services to develop a few colognes," Zexion said, seating himself on the couch and staring Vexen down in the eye. When he noticed Demyx standing awkwardly on the side, he extended a hand and tugged the blond down onto the couch. Demyx could almost swear the couch groaned unfaithfully with the addition of his weight.
Vexen looked perplexed by Zexion's request. "Perfume?" he said, as if he didn't quite believe it. "Whatever for?"
Zexion turned expectantly to Demyx, clearly wanting him to speak for himself. "Uhh," Demyx stumbled, "Well, see, I have this project for business class, and I was thinking I could make a cologne brand that was used only by the gay community." He scratched his head nervously. It sounded a lot stupider out loud. He chewed on his lower lip and awaited Vexen's inevitable criticism…
…only to get the shock of his life when it never came.
"Is this meant to serve as an indicator of sexuality?" Vexen asked unexpectedly, moving to lean forward, his eyes focused intently on Demyx.
Demyx, still shocked by Vexen's lack of disdain, could only muster a weak nod.
Vexen was silent for a moment before shaking his head, his thin face sagging slightly. "It's a good idea," he amended, awed, as he gazed at Demyx.
Zexion seemed very pleased by this change of attitude. "I'm glad you see it our way," he said crisply. He removed his knapsack and quickly unzipped it, pulling open the indigo cloth and taking out a thin, binder notebook and handing it over to Vexen. "I already took Demyx to receive the patent on the idea—a copy of it is included inside—and we have compiled a brief list of scent themes that encompass the majority of popular fragrances. For your sake, I've included their chemical formulas and noted significant similarities in base scents and ingredients. Demyx has selected ten or eleven that he is particularly keen on and would like you to replicate and improve."
Vexen accepted the notebook and began to leaf through it, forehead creased in contemplation. He looked up at Demyx and Zexion, green eyes glowing readily. "I'll have them done in three days."
Zexion nodded resolutely, though his eyes looked incredibly satisfied. "We'll hold you to that."
Demyx felt like fainting.
V. Been a Long Day
Ever since Zexion had all but forcefully included himself in Demyx's business project, its progress had gone skyrocketing through the roof. Vexen, true to his word, had completed the colognes on schedule, and after they had been approved by both Zexion and Demyx, the pair took the prototype scents and their formulas and ran for the office of Enigmatic Man. The company itself was run by a verbose, slow-speaking man named Xemnas, and though he seemed intrigued by the concept of a strictly homosexual cologne, he was wary of how it would be accepted and how the public would react to its release under his label.
Zexion, once again proving his proficiency in the art of marketing, easily dissuaded these concerns and reassured Xemnas that in light of the Pride Parade, there was still a large number of the UKH's gay population vacationing in the islands, and that since the island Downunder was the only metropolitan island and Sydney its largest city, the chances of homosexual shoppers passing through Enigmatic Stores were promising. "In fact," Zexion had added, "this is a great opportunity for Enigmatic Man to strike up good PR with the gay populace. Just think: the homosexual population finally has colognes to call their own. They'll be thrilled. Everyone knows that part of marketing is empowering a group of people with a product that others can't have. This is the ultimate product of exclusion."
Needless to say, Xemnas and the superiors of Enigmatic Man had been very impressed. And completely sold. And very upset to find that Zexion wanted to go into the sciences rather than business. Zexion seemed to take personal offence to the fact that everyone thought he'd make a good businessman.
("It's a profession laden with deceit and underhand manipulation," he'd grumpily told Demyx on their way out of the building. "If I wanted to make lying my career, I'd be studying politics.")
Enigmatic Man had set it up such that Demyx would be permitted to market the new product from the kiosk he already worked at. It was a convenient setup, and Demyx was thrilled at how things seemed to be actually working in his favour. He had arranged the new display of gay colognes in a tasteful manner, not going completely overboard with the rainbows—Zexion had advised him against coming on too strong with his customers, and Demyx had immediately misinterpreted this as a sexual innuendo and nearly fell over laughing.
Each bottle was swathed in a different coloured satin cloth and strewn in an artistically casual way across the glass counter. The way Demyx had set it up, every cologne had been given its own signature colour, and the scent-testing palates had been colour coded to match its given cologne.
The presentation was fresh and eye-catching without being overtly flamboyant, and Demyx was very pleased with the arrangement. What pleased him even more, however, was the number of people that were showing interest in the product line—which had been appropriately named Rapports Anaux.
At least…it seemed like the people flocking to his kiosk were interested in the cologne… A lot were asking for his phone number, too…
(Not that that's a problem, Demyx thought to himself with a somewhat lecherous giggle.)
A case in which it was a problem would be that one painfully flamboyant man who claimed to be some sort of famous athlete or something in a half-assed attempt to impress Demyx. (Demyx wasn't buying it. He'd been watching Struggle just a day before the Pride Parade, and Setzer did not look like an abused prisoner of war.) Demyx was not a malicious person at heart, and really didn't have the mean-streak required to tell the guy to either buy some damn cologne or get out of his face. And this was very unfortunate, because this perv wanted something—and it certainly wasn't any cologne.
"Sir," Demyx said feebly, all but cowering behind the counter. "If you're not interested in anything, I'll have to ask you to leave…" The man in question—the alleged Struggle champion Setzer—had a rather unsightly mess of bruises scattered across his face, and with all the bandages coating his nose, he could have easily been mistaken as a mummy. Or a victim of assault.
Yet, in spite of his deformities, 'Setzer' seemed quite oblivious to his ugliness and continued pestering Demyx, wiggling the silvery-purple eyebrows above his bruised eyes and tossing his meticulously layered and gelled hair. "Oh, I want something, all right," he drawled in what he must have thought to be a seductive tone.
Demyx visibly cringed and shrunk back a little more. "Sir, we've recently received stock on a new brand of cologne, and perhaps one of them will be to your liking…" he babbled, green eyes wide and slightly fearful.
'Setzer' gave him a smile that would be charming if not for his hideously swollen lip and the few missing teeth he flashed. "All right," he said winningly, pretending to examine the array of colognes. He picked up the bottle that had been nestled in the hot pink cloth, and smirked as he read over its label. "I like the sound of this one," he said with a wide, predatory grin as he handed it over to Demyx.
Demyx took the bottle and paled. Graceful ASS/ASS/IN. He attempted a smile, but it ended up looking more like a grimace. "Are you sure?" he asked weakly, his voice cracking as he spoke, still trying to maintain the helpful employee façade. "It tends to be a rather feminine selection—it has rose oil as a base scent…" He turned helplessly to the other employee that shared his shift—a young man with pale pink hair and an elegant build and air about him. "M-Marluxia," he stammered to his co-worker, who merely looked on in amusement.
"Yes?" he asked innocently, fingers idly playing with a strand of his carefully styled hair.
"You've recently taken to wearing this brand, right?" Demyx asked, trying to remain calm.
Marluxia nodded perkily as he slipped away to the other side of the circular counter. "I have."
Demyx turned back to face 'Setzer' and forced a smile on his face. "Maybe you should consult the implications of this particular brand with Marluxia and consider if that's the kind of image you want to give off…" He quickly averted his eyes to the counter and reached for the cologne wrapped in the orange cloth. "Something more masculine might be better suited…Lingering Sentiment, maybe? It's got a sort of rustic class to it, and…" Demyx's voice died away when he looked up to find that 'Setzer' had vanished, and in his place stood a rather petite teenaged boy with spiked blond hair and clear blue eyes.
"Uh…" Demyx looked around stupidly before finally settling his gaze on the bemused teenager in front of him. "Did you see where my customer went?" he asked, feeling silly.
The boy shrugged aimlessly. "No," he replied shortly, sounding slightly sheepish. "See, I was heading over to check out what was on sale—really eye-catching display you guys have going over here—and I happened to see your customer." He smiled awkwardly. "He looked pretty beaten up, so I asked him if he was okay, and he took one look at me…" The teenager scratched the back of his neck, raising his eyes to the ceiling, his blond eyebrows knitted together in confusion. He sighed and looked back at Demyx before continuing. "Anyway, he took one look at me and went off sprinting." He shook his head. "I just don't understand it. It's like I scared the crap out of him—he just went flying!"
Demyx stared, saying nothing, and the blond coughed nervously. "Um," he said awkwardly, cheeks colouring as he toed the ground with his chequered Chucks. "So…like…I'm really sorry for scaring off your customer…" He offered Demyx a brittle, tentative smile.
Instead of behaving like the typical, prissy fragrance department employee and bitching about how the teenager had cost him a commission, Demyx practically flew across the counter as he enveloped the teenager in a bear hug. "Thank you!" he grovelled, burying his face in the crook of the blond's neck and sobbing. "You saved me from being the next raped and slashed Joe Shmoe on the six o'clock news! Thank you so much!"
The teenager chuckled, strangely at ease, and gently removed Demyx from himself. "No problem," he said with a friendly grin as he smoothed out his shirt and adjusted its collar. He held out a hand, "I'm Roxas Strife."
Demyx happily shook his hand, tears still leaking from his eyes. "Demyx Sangster," he sniffled through a watery smile.
"Nice to meet you, Demyx," Roxas said brightly as he ended the handshake and started looking questioningly at the display of colognes. "So, what kind of stuff is on the market, today?" he asked as he plucked the bottle of Luna Diviner out of its yellow cloth cocoon, sprayed some onto its matching yellow palate, and sniffed it inquisitively. His nose wrinkled slightly and he glanced up at Demyx. "That's a strange combination," he commented, nose still scrunched. "Kinda like bath oils or those scented candles mixed with grass." He grinned. "Sorta like sex outdoors."
Demyx smiled uncomfortably, not wanting to possibly risk scarring the youth's mind by explaining that 'sex outdoors' had kind of been the smell they'd been going for. "That's an interesting interpretation," he said instead.
Roxas shrugged and replaced the bottle. "I guess," he said neutrally, still looking around at the other new bottles. He looked back up at Demyx, who stood a good head taller than him. "So, what's with the new line of colognes?" he asked curiously. "I mean, Silent Hero just came out a few weeks ago…"
"Um," Demyx gave a plastic smile and hoped he wouldn't destroy Roxas' world with the answer. "Well, we thought it would be interesting to create a line of colognes specifically for the gay population." There. He'd said it. He tensed his shoulders and waited for Roxas' inevitable homophobic explosion.
"Really?! That's awesome!" Roxas exclaimed, his eyes lighting up as he all but jumped on another bottle of cologne. He turned to Demyx, blue eyes shining excitedly. "This is so cool! We always get forgotten about, and that's really lame, because we're, like, the only minority that doesn't have its own cologne—even the frigging Gongagans have their own stuff! This is awesome!" His grin was so wide, it threatened to split his face in two. "Demyx, isn't this great? We get some representation!"
Instead of answering in an equally jovial tone that the new fragrance development was swell, or 'FUCK YES, REPRESENT!', Demyx could only gawp at the very happy, very excited, and, apparently, very gay Roxas.
"You're gay?" Demyx asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Roxas gave him a surprised look. "Of course!" he said, as if him being anything otherwise was ludicrous. He raised an eyebrow. "Couldn't you tell?" he asked, almost patronisingly.
To be honest, Demyx had assumed him to be straight. Roxas looked like the average, boob-loving type—albeit a very fashionable one, what with the loose, grey cargo pants, the black wristbands, and the chequered t-shirt layered over the crimson oxford shirt. If there was anything remotely suspicious about his appearance, it was the fact that his shirt and shoes matched—the laces and stitching of his shoes were red, too. But, just the same, Roxas had the general appearance of the kind of kid that wouldn't be without a girlfriend.
Roxas seemed to be alert enough to understand the gist of the general mind-fuckery that was hovering ominously over Demyx's head (NO!! My gaydar is eternally busted!), and was sympathetic enough to let the topic drop. He took the new bottle and sprayed a small amount of cologne on the minty-green palate and waved it around to let the scent become more pronounced. He smelled the air and pursed his lips together in contemplation. "This is aimed at slightly older men," he observed. "People heading into their thirties, probably. It's a bit more blatantly artificial in smell, and definitely more masculine." He checked the label. "Mako Mystique, eh?" He smirked. "That's a very contrary name. Kinda misleading."
Demyx nodded, finally deciding to engage himself like a proper salesperson. "It's modelled after Enigmatic Man's more subtly masculine scents, such as Vim and Vigour," he said, parroting the spiel Zexion had given him regarding the cologne. "It's made to empower the wearer with a sense of slyness. To allow him to 'top from the bottom', so to speak," Demyx continued on blithely, not realising that Roxas had already moved on to another bottle of cologne.
A grin tugged at Roxas' lips when he saw the label on the bottle he held. "What about this one?" he asked Demyx, silencing the tirade on Mako Mystique. His eyes were all but sparkling with enthusiasm. "How does it smell?" he asked eagerly.
Demyx couldn't help but smile a little at Roxas' fervour. "Try it out," he said encouragingly. Roxas was a bit like the younger, gay brother that Demyx didn't have.
No sooner had Roxas sprayed the cologne on the bright red palate when an explosion of spicy cinnamon and sandalwood-like fragrances shot through the air, zinging through Demyx's senses and leaving a pleasantly buzzed feeling as the scent faded to a soft background smell after the initial kick. Roxas looked elated. "This is perfect," he told Demyx breathlessly.
"For what?" Demyx asked, still mildly hazy from the flare of perfume.
"My boyfriend," Roxas explained as he put the small bottle of amber liquid down on the counter, replaced its shock-red cap, and started digging in his pockets for his wallet. He started shelling out munny as he spoke, "See, Axel's kind of a prick when it comes to how he smells. He never wears cologne or whatever, and it really sucks, 'cause he works at this 'exotic' restaurant—maybe you've heard of it? Slimy But Satisfying? They serve the ethnic foods of the Pridelands—and he works their barbeque and always smells like charcoal and smoke and stuff." He wrinkled his nose, as if imagining the odour of fire and roasting insects. Demyx's nose crinkled too, but more so at the idea of eating bugs.
"Yeah," Roxas said vaguely as Demyx started ringing up the cologne. "But, he'll definitely wear this. It's totally Axel. It's all overbearing and stuff." He grinned ruefully. "Plus, he'll just die laughing when he sees what it's called!"
Demyx was inclined to agree with this. The cologne had been dubbed Flurry of Dancing Flames—only for the HARDCORE FLAMERS!
He carefully wrapped the bottle up and put it in a paper bag for Roxas. "Anything else?" he asked distractedly as he started putting munny in the cash register.
"Sure," Roxas said, returning to messing with the bottles. "I'm running out of cologne myself." He glanced up hopefully at Demyx. "I generally use The Other Promise," he added. "Do you have something like that? Except gay?"
The Other Promise was a fragrance by Enigmatic Man, but a widely unpopular one. It was a bizarre scent that tended to make people either very confused or sleepy. No one was really sure why it had that sort of effect.
"Well," Demyx plucked a bottle with a white cap and presented it to Roxas, "this is a pretty close smell to The Other Promise. The effect of drowsiness isn't really there, though… Here," he sprayed it and waved the palate.
Roxas inhaled and hummed thoughtfully. "Yeah," he said with a nod. "This one is definitely pretty similar. The faint trace of vanilla is still there, too."
Demyx nodded. "The only major difference is the inclusion of honey rather than mint. Other than that, they're pretty similar."
Roxas nodded again. "Yeah, I did notice the honey," he agreed. "It's a nice touch, though. It makes it…warmer, I guess." He smiled. "I'll go for it. Ring me up." He pulled out the amount munny and handed it over. "What's it called?" he asked.
"Lock and Key," Demyx replied with a laugh. "Guaranteed to find the PERFECT FIT!"
Roxas looked like Christmas had come early.
VI. How to Handle a Disaster
And this was generally how the next two weeks or so progressed. There were few incidents, but the few that there were had been quickly dispelled by another employee named Larxene, a scarily aggressive female acquaintance of Zexion's with slicked back blonde hair and electric blue eyes. But the business of Rapports Anaux itself was going surprisingly well—it was a huge success, in fact. Zexion and Demyx had been meeting each other every day for lunch since the initial launch of the cologne, and Demyx had been enjoying these encounters. Zexion would always come pick Demyx up from his shift, and although they generally haunted the same Stone Table that the infamous idea had been born in, they had spent quite a bit of time at Zexion's house, planning advertisements and listening to Dory's illogical (and probably fictitious) stories about her trips with her best friend Marlin.
It was a little before noon, and Zexion would be coming to pick him up soon for their daily 'business meeting', and Demyx was tending to his last customer before he turned control of the kiosk over to Lumière, a light-haired man from the French district of EPCOT.
"How may I help you, sir?" Demyx politely inquired the teenager in front of him.
The teenager nodded, brushing his silver fringe away from his vivid aqua-coloured eyes. "My boyfriend recommended I come here," he said casually, his eyes roving curiously over the vibrant display of cologne. "He bought something from your Rapports Anaux line, recently, and now swears by it…Treasured Memories, I think it's called?"
Demyx nodded heartily. "That's right." He had a good idea of who the youth in front of him was referring to. Just three days ago, a brunet named Sora Strife—the brother of Roxas, interestingly—had purchased a bottle of Treasured Memories, proclaiming that he generally hated colognes, but that this bottle alone would be one he would always stand faithfully by. He also later promised Demyx that he'd make sure his boyfriend would drop by, even if Sora had to drag him in by his hair. "Would you be Riku, then?" Demyx asked him, just for the hell of it.
Riku smirked. "So, you're the one who converted him to colognes," he playfully admonished.
"Guilty." Demyx grinned. "So, what can I do for you, Riku?"
"I normally use Deep Dive," Riku supplied. "Something similar would be really wonderful."
"We've got a few that follow the same trend as Deep Dive, since it's a pretty popular brand," Demyx said as he pulled out three bottles: What Lies Beneath, Another Side, and Cloaked Schemer. "The purpose of this was to try and emphasise the different qualities of Deep Dive, as it is a very compact scent, and to allow men the choice of which attribute they'd prefer to showcase." He sprayed each one of the colognes on its respective colour palate and handed Riku the sample of the silver What Lies Beneath. "This one is more of an earthy fragrance than Deep Dive," Demyx said. "It smells a bit thick, too…sort of like mineral water and sage."
Riku sniffed the palate a few times before shaking his head. Demyx, unconcerned, handed him the black palate of Another Side. "This one is probably the more masculine of the three," he said as Riku waved it in the air. "It's a bit muskier and it has more of a…smoky quality to it than, say, Cloaked Schemer, which is made to be more unobtrusive and watery."
"This one is nice," Riku agreed. "It's a lot like Deep Dive, actually." He reached for the last one, the purple Cloaked Schemer, and furrowed his brow. "This one is really unnoticeable," he commented.
Demyx nodded. "It's meant to be more subtle. It's an elegant fragrance, there's a hint of lavender in it, too, actually…"
"I think I'll have to go with Another Side," Riku said resolutely, handing over his munny, and Demyx nodded and started ringing it up. When he looked back up, he was surprised to see both Riku and Zexion—When did he get there?—standing at the counter, facing each other. Riku had a slightly amused look on his face, whereas Zexion looked mildly irritated.
Demyx's eyes flickered from one to the other. "Uhh…"
Riku looked away from Zexion and smiled when he saw his bagged purchase. He accepted it. "Thank you," he said cheerily. Then, as an afterthought, he said, "By the way, your cologne is very nice. A little too tropical for my tastes, mind you…"
Demyx flushed. "Oh, I'm just using Melodious Nocturne," he said bashfully, motioning to the bottle swathed in blue satin.
Riku nodded, expression unreadable, and he turned to leave, only to pause and smirk widely at Zexion, "You have a nice cologne, too," he murmured as he swept away and out of sight.
Zexion scowled while Demyx looked on in confusion.
"What was that?" Demyx asked, eyebrows raised as he made to leave with Zexion for his lunch break.
"Nothing," Zexion muttered, sounding annoyed. "He was just taunting me."
"Never mind," Zexion said brusquely, folding his arms across his chest. "Let's just hurry up and get lunch…"
They ended up sitting at the very same booth they'd been in the first time, and Demyx was greatly touched by this, saying it was divine intervention or something equally ridiculous. Zexion dryly pointed out that it was just due to convenience—all the other tables were occupied or dirty, and it wasn't like they were going to be seated at a table suited for six people. Demyx chose to ignore this stab of reality.
"So, congratulations," Zexion said softly after they placed their orders to a young, chipper waitress named Lucy. "Your cologne idea appears to be going very successfully." He spared the smallest smile from over his mug of steaming tea. "You must be very happy about this development."
Truthfully, Demyx enjoyed these little outings of theirs much more than the apparent success. He liked spending time with Zexion. In spite of the youth's rather formal and proper etiquette, he was terribly sarcastic, and his dry humour was something that Demyx had grown fond of. If anything, Demyx just wished their encounters weren't only strictly related to business, and the notion that they'd probably fall out of contact after summer finished was lingering uncomfortably in the back of Demyx's mind, almost like a pungent odour.
But, because he didn't want to damage the still tentative friendship they had, he said none of this and just smiled thinly. "Yeah," he said weakly, fiddling with his napkin. This was a level of awkwardness he'd never experienced, least of all with someone like Zexion. "It's pretty nice…and…" He nervously sipped at some of his water and cleared his throat. "And I couldn't have done it without your help," he said at last, lifting his eyes to meet Zexion's. "Thank you."
Zexion's cobalt eyes widened a fraction and he slowly lifted his mug back to his lips and took another long sip, as if playing for time. He let out a gradual exhale, almost a sigh, and fixed Demyx with an earnest expression. "It really wasn't a problem," he said shortly. "I…I enjoyed doing it."
Demyx smiled feebly. "I did, too…" He lowered his eyes back down to his napkin—he'd tied it into knots.
Zexion awkwardly cleared his throat. "I've been thinking about your assignment." He said vaguely, "It's simply a summer assignment, isn't it?" There was a hint of something like remorse tainting his voice as he spoke.
"Um, yes," Demyx mumbled, refusing to look up.
"Hm…" Zexion exhaled slowly. "I suppose that you'll turn over the business to Enigmatic Man, then?"
"I guess," Demyx mused. He hadn't really thought about it. "I think Xemnas said that their partner in perfume wanted to make an expansion on our idea—make something for lesbians…Savage Nymph, I think." Demyx lifted his head and frowned slightly as he stared at the youth in front of him. There was something different about Zexion today, but he just couldn't quite figure out what it was.
Zexion nodded sombrely in response, completely unaware of Demyx's scrutiny. "That would be a smart move," he said monotonously. "They can expand the market while still maintaining a monopoly…"
Demyx nodded, no longer paying attention to what the other man was saying. What was it? he wondered. There definitely was something… Demyx sniffed grumpily, ready to give up.
It was faint, just barely noticeable, but permeating from Zexion was the faint scent of lavender.
Demyx's mouth fell open. "Oh, my God," he breathed. It was unmistakable. He'd smelt it on a daily basis for the past few weeks—Zexion was wearing Cloaked Schemer.
"What?" Zexion's eyes became more guarded and he stiffened slightly in his seat. "Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked sharply.
"You…" Demyx's eyes widened. "You're gay?"
Zexion's nose wrinkled. "Is this a problem?" he muttered, cold. "I thought you were aware of this…" His voice was a thousand times more defensive than he'd ever been the past few weeks.
"N-no," Demyx stammered. "It's just that…I never thought…"
"Right." Zexion smiled bitterly. "Your 'gaydar' is 'broken'." He sank back against his seat, arms wrapped tightly around himself, fingers digging into the cloth of his trademark oxford shirt. He sighed, suddenly looking much more tired. "Well," he muttered, eyes half-lidded, "this was unexpected." He lifted a pale hand and wearily rubbed his forehead. "I thought you would have realised by now…especially since we've essentially been going out for the past month…" He shook his head and muttered something unintelligible.
Demyx was still staring, dismayed. "I didn't realise that's what you felt…"
Zexion let out a snort. "Felt?" he said caustically. "Please. Let's not board that train of thought." He waved a hand dismissively, carelessly. "I have no idea why I've been going along with you and helping you with your homework—it's idiotic and you're just short of a complete imbecile." Demyx frowned, but didn't interrupt. "This has never been about some ridiculous paper grade to me. To be honest, I could care less if you passed or failed your assignment. I have neither reason nor substantial motivation to involve myself with you, but I just do." Zexion's eyes slid shut, his teeth gritted in frustration. "I can't understand it at all. We have nothing in common, bar sexuality, but I can't help it—for whatever inane reason, I like being with you." He shook his head again with a resigned sort of finality, sighing heavily. "Just…what I'm trying to say is that…I like you."
No. way. Demyx felt his heart stop in his chest. "Wh-what?"
"You heard me," Zexion said curtly, his startling cobalt eyes opening to fix Demyx with a searing gaze. "I. like. you." He winced slightly and sank further down in his seat. "And I don't know why… I just do…"
"I…" Demyx's eyes were wide. "I don't know what to say…" It was the truth.
Zexion gave him a long, withering look before shaking his head and rising to his feet. "Then I think I'm done here," he said roughly, shelling some munny out of his pocket and turning on his heel and stalking away.
VII. Cinderella, Darling
When Demyx really thought about how his and Zexion's relationship had gone spiralling down the path of no return, he always dejectedly realised that it hadn't been Zexion's confession that had caused the actual 'break up', but his own reaction—or lack thereof.
His silence had clearly hurt Zexion, and, almost childishly, Zexion had relinquished all contact between the two of them. It wasn't even that they were pretending the whole conversation had never happened; it was that they were pretending their whole quasi-friendship had never happened. They had basically continued life under the guise that they had never met.
And as just this was making Demyx painfully sad, he couldn't even imagine what Zexion must have been going through.
The guy had confessed that he had feelings for him! And Demyx had just watched, more or less, impassively, neither reciprocating nor rejecting Zexion's emotions.
That has to sting, Demyx thought guiltily. He hadn't known Zexion for very long—just a little over a month, to be honest—but the two of them had grown exponentially close in that time. Demyx had grown so accustomed to hanging out with the blue-eyed youth each day that the lack of his presence was pronounced like an empty throb deep within his chest.
And it wasn't even like Demyx had flat-out rejected Zexion, either. Only a complete moron would do that. Zexion was a wonderful person. He was quirky and brutally honest, but he was witty and intelligent and helpful and clever and reliable and…and…and…
And Demyx was a complete moron.
VIII. Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm
Zexion was bored. He had finished his summer homework even before class had finished, and his entire summer vacation thus far had been centred on Demyx and helping him with his cologne project. Now that he and Demyx had annihilated all communication, he had nothing better to do than vegetate at home and waste away the rest of the holiday.
Even his mother, who was not the most observant person in the worlds by any accounts, had noticed her son's sudden lack of energy. It puzzled her. He had been so active the past month or so, always racing out of the house at the first thing in the morning, just after his shower. He had always been in such a hurry; in his haste, he'd often forgotten to eat his breakfast.
So, when Dory had stumbled down the stairs one morning ("Who put those there?!") to find a homemade, balanced breakfast already cooked and waiting for her on the set table, Zexion idly watching some documentary on the Temple of the Ancients, she was concerned.
Zexion's lethargic behaviour had proceeded for a good week before she decided to finally talk to him. She had discussed his sudden change in personality with her friend Marlin Grumpygyllz, who had a young son named…well, she couldn't quite recall his name, and Marlin had advised her to be patient with Zexion. Maybe his depression would pass in a few days—boys at his age were always a whirlwind of activity and emotions, who knew what was going on with him? But, at the end of the week, when Dory tripped down the stairs one morning ("Seriously! Those were not there yesterday!") to find breakfast, once again, prepared and waiting for her and her son watching some Disney movie from the living room's yellow shag carpet, she finally decided it was time to find out what was going on with Zexion.
"ZzzzzeeeeeeEEEeeeXXXXionnnnn!" she garbled, throwing her voice to extreme highs and lows in pitch. "WwwhhhhhhyyYYYyy arrrrrrrrreee yOOOOOOOuuuu sssssssssoooooOo ddddddddOOOOOOOOwwwnnNNNNNn?"
Zexion slowly turned his head to regard his mother with what could only be described as exhaustion. "Mother," he said, slowly and agitatedly, "I've told you time and again. I don't speak Wayle."
Dory squinted suspiciously at her son. Was he joking? Since when did he not know how to speak Wayle? Wayle had been his first language!! …or had that been hers?
"I don't believe you," she said, hands on her hips as her magenta eyes peered down sceptically at Zexion.
Zexion sighed, but said nothing. And this worried Dory, because if there had ever been one thing about Zexion that she remembered—and it very well might have been the only one thing she remembered—it was that he always wanted to have the last word. For him to have just let her ruling fly right over his head unblocked was unorthodox and just plain freaky.
She was very concerned, now, and she knelt down in front of her son, looking at him kindly. "Zexion," she said, "You're beating yourself up for no reason, kiddo… I hope you know that you don't have to go through anything by yourself."
Zexion glanced up at her. It was the most parental thing she'd ever said. Dory smiled encouragingly at him. "You can always talk to me," she told him as she fondly stroked his silvery hair. "Me, your dad, your sister, Marlin, and Elmo are always gonna be there for you, kiddo," she told him compassionately, wrapping her arms around him.
Zexion was silent for a moment. Then he gave her a small smile and chuckled quietly, "Mother, Marlin's kid's name is Nemo, not Elmo."
Dory stared. "You're kidding!" she exclaimed. "Since when?!"
Zexion just shook his head and gave his mother a firm hug. Dory rubbed her son's back soothingly, her sapphire blue brows knitted together as she strained her memory. She was forgetting something important. Her eyes lit up. "Say," she said, wanting to hurry and say what needed to be said before she forgot again. She pulled back and raised her eyebrows at Zexion. "Whatever happened to that friend of yours?" she asked, hazily recalling a pair of green eyes and a frazzled voice. "What was his name? …Dyem? …Medy?" She scratched her head. "Ryan?"
Zexion's eyes darkened. "Demyx." His voice was frigid, and Dory winced.
"Well," Dory said, pulling her son back into a hug so she wouldn't have to see that unhappy expression on his face. "Why haven't you two hung out lately?" she asked. "You two were practically glued at the hip…" her voice trailed away and she tightened her hold on Zexion. "Did you two have a fight?"
"No," Zexion said truthfully, his chest clenching uncomfortably as he remembered. He lowered his eyes and buried his face in the crook of his mother's neck. "I just said something stupid…" he mumbled into her hair.
Dory frowned. "It couldn't have been that bad," she said reasonably, "right?" Zexion's silence wasn't particularly reassuring, so she hurriedly continued, "And, even if it was, Demikkusu—"
"Demyx," Zexion corrected before he could stop himself.
"Demyx," Dory amended, "seems like a sensible kid. So, even if it was something that was kinda…alarming…I'm sure he'll find it in himself to take it in stride." She smiled to herself. "You two were always having such a nice time with each other," she said wistfully. "And I don't think that you should let a few words should come between you two." She affectionately squeezed Zexion. "Besides," she said warmly, "I've never seen you smile as much as you have with Kenichi."
Zexion's breathing slowed at this, and, fighting the strange bursting feeling in his heart, he clenched his eyes shut and hugged his mother fiercely. "Mom, his name is Demyx," he corrected softly as he melted into Dory's embrace.
IX. How to Succeed
The next morning found Zexion vainly scrutinising himself in his washroom mirror, making sure his tie wasn't crooked and that his silvery-blue hair was tamed. Having finally worked out his insecurities with how he felt—he liked Demyx, damn it—he had decided to go and storm the Enigmatic Man kiosk and resolve this silly dispute today. As his mother had pointed out, he was killing himself by just letting this unsettled matter loom over his head and his heart. He wouldn't gain anything by being depressed and he certainly wouldn't salvage anything by burying his friendship with Demyx.
He really missed the blond, actually, and, despite the somewhat grim reasoning behind Zexion's intended meeting with him, just beneath the composed and placid surface, Zexion was bursting with excitement to see him after so long.
After giving himself a nod of approval, he headed down the stairs and straight for the front door, walking right past Dory and the breakfast she'd laid out. Her bright eyes watched him hurry down the hallway and she smiled knowingly.
Zexion had just grabbed his keychain off its hook when the doorbell rang. He paused in the middle of his action and raised an eyebrow. "Mother," he called down the hallway, "Are you expecting company?" When Dory replied with a negative—or, rather, an "I don't remember"—Zexion simply shrugged, pocketed his keys and headed over to the door to open it and see who it was.
He unlocked the door and pulled it open, ready to send the visitor packing so he could hurry up and go meet Demyx. "May I help…you…" Zexion's voice faded as he stared dumbly at the blond standing uneasily in his doorway, hands behind his back and his green eyes apologetic and just a bit hopeful. "Demyx," Zexion managed to choke out, eyes wide. "This is…a surprise."
Demyx coloured slightly and averted his eyes to his left. "Yeah, well," he said sheepishly, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "I've been thinking, and I've decided that I really wasn't fair to you the other day…and…"
Zexion folded his arms slowly across his chest and tilted his head to the side, curious. "And?" he pressed.
Demyx looked back at Zexion and offered him an uncertain smile. "And you deserve to have some sort of a response to laying your heart out on the table like that, and I plan to give you one…but…" He paused and licked his lips. "But first there's one thing I've got to ask you."
Zexion raised his eyebrows. "And that is?"
Demyx's grin shined through at full power as he revealed his hands to Zexion. In his hands were two small plastic cups and a full pitcher. He flashed Zexion a toothy grin and politely asked, "Would you like some lemonade?"
The Afterword: Oh. My. God. D8 That was one BEAST of a oneshot. XD And I got it done within a month—and just in time for one of my buddy's birthday! I'm so amazed!
Seriously, though… I actually kinda like this. o.O; Is that weird?
Like, I had lots of fun with it—especially in the beginning. The end…not as much. I had severe retardation with How to Handle a Disaster, like you don't want to know. I was deliberating it for days…
But, in the end, I'm pretty satisfied with the final product. :D I enjoyed writing it, and I loved the characters—especially Dory! I'm so happy with her! XD
D8 Now, I just have to finish the fourth chapter of "It's Like Hell"…
ONE MORE THING!! I have a poll regarding your favourite Cloud pairings!! 8D Please vote in it! I need it for…research… (My sister/beta-reader says: "Vote for Zack!!")