Thank you guys SO SO MUCH for all the reviews, follows, and favorites! I feel like this story gets more and more attention every week, and it makes me so happy to know you guys are enjoying it! I'm on vacation, but all your reviews made me so happy that I just had to finish this chapter anyway so I didn't keep you all waiting :)
Also I think it's really interesting to see your guys' opinions on Aila's relationships with other characters; you guys are like, split down the middle about Aila and Demyx it seems, which is just how I wanted it – I gotta keep you all guessing~!
Speaking of Aila and Demyx, let's find out what's going on with them, shall we? Onward!
"Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out."
― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
Chapter 29: The Inner Workings of Hearts
Aila awoke the next morning feeling more rested than she had in months. The boys had been right – the food on this world was really good, and Aila had left last night's feast feeling blissfully sleepy and warm, swimming almost on autopilot back to her room and falling asleep as soon as she'd reached the bed. This was officially her favorite world ever. She was so glad the boys had insisted they come here!
"G'mornin', Aila!" Goofy called as Aila swam into the dining hall, hoping there'd be some sort of breakfast something in there. She wasn't disappointed – the table was filled with all kinds of exotic foods ready for her consumption. The boys were already there, greedily eating their fill, and Aila quickly joined them.
"How'd ya sleep?" Goofy asked.
"Amazingly," Aila sighed with a stretch. "Who knew sleeping underwater would be so relaxing?"
"It'sh pre-hee greah," Sora agreed with a nod, wolfing down some greens with some sort of purplish sauce on top.
"Don' talk wih youah mouh fuh!" Donald scolded, though his mouth was just as full as Sora's. Aila rolled her eyes.
"What is this?" Aila asked, indicating the sauce on Sora's clamshell plate. Sora shrugged, swallowing his mouthful of food.
"Who cares? It's awesome," he said with a grin, passing a bowl of the stuff her way. "You can put it on anything!"
Aila laughed and loaded her plate with whatever she could get her hands on, taking Sora's advice and pouring the purple sauce on almost everything. She honestly had no idea what most of this stuff was, but it was all so delicious that she didn't really care. It had crossed her mind that she maybe didn't want to know what some of it was anyway – a mermaid's diet likely consisted of things that she in her human form would find pretty gross…
"Hey guys!" Flounder greeted, swimming up to the group.
"Hey!" they all greeted back.
"Have any of you seen Ariel around?" the little fish asked, cocking his head to the side curiously. Aila and the boys all shook their heads no. "Aw," Flounder sighed. "I wonder where she's gone off to now…"
"I'm sure she'll show up at rehearsal," Donald said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Seems like she's always wandering off who knows where unless she's rehearsing."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Flounder said with a smile. "Did Sebastian show you guys the new song yet? It's really complicated."
"New song?" Goofy asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah! Apparently he composed it at King Triton's request," Flounder said with a nod. "I kinda don't think Ariel will like it that much…"
Aila chewed her food slowly, her guess about what the song could be making her feel all giddy inside. She was totally going to get to perform one of her favorite Disney songs of all time, wasn't she? It was all she could do not to dissolve into a fit of giggles. Yes, this was definitely her favorite world.
"I guess we should get going," Sora said with a stretch. "You need some more time to eat, Aila?"
"Nah," Aila said, pushing her plate of half eaten food away with a contented sigh. "I think I'm actually still kinda full from everything I ate last night…"
"Me too," Goofy agreed with a chuckle.
"Not me!" Donald said, grabbing a few seaweed wraps for the road.
"How can someone so small eat so much…?" Aila mused, watching the duck with fascination.
Donald glared at her. "I'm not that small…" Aila just smirked at him.
Unfortunately for Flounder, Donald's prediction seemed to have been off base – it was at least fifteen minutes past when their rehearsal had been meant to start, and Ariel was still missing in action.
"Gwarsh, maybe she forgot what time it was?" Goofy pondered aloud.
"It wouldn't be the first time," Flounder replied, though he seemed worried.
Sebastian was practically pulling his shell off in his frustration at the redhead's failure to show up. "Ohhhh what are we gonna do?!" he fretted. "Dat girl is going to be da death of me, I just know it!"
"I'll sing her part!" Donald said, puffing out his chest proudly.
"No way! Not a chance!" Sora shot back, shaking his head furiously.
"What?! Why not?!"
"Aw, I think Aila would sing her parts, seein' how the notes were written for a girl 'n all," Goofy said, nodding his head.
"Shouldn't we give her a little more time before we go recasting her?" Aila asked, raising an eyebrow. "We still have like a week until the performance after all. It's not like she'll be gone that whole time… er… although, actually…"
"Maybe we should look for her again…?" Sora suggested with a shrug.
"No!" Sebastian said, his face suddenly resolute. "All we do is search for dat flakey teenager! No no, we might as well start witout her… I'm worried dis song might be too complicated for you lot anyway…"
"Aw c'mon! How hard can it be?" Sora asked confidently. As an answer, Sebastian handed them the sheet music to look at. The boys' eyes all widened nervously at the sheer amount of complicated looking notes littering the page. Aila, on the other hand, couldn't contain herself any longer.
"Yes!" she cheered, pumping a fist excitedly. The song Sebastian had written was none other than "Under The Sea", one of her favorite songs of all time. The boys all looked at her curiously, and she chuckled. "Uh… I think it looks super fun, don't you? No? Just me? Okay then…"
"Tank you for your entusiasm, Aila," Sebastian said with a sigh. "I was hoping dat gettin' Ariel to sing someting fun about how good we have it down here might get her to stop tinking about de surface, but… dat would only work if she'd bother to show up to rehearsal!"
"Well…" Sora said, putting a finger to his chin, "what if we performed it for her, then? Maybe just hearing it would remind her of how good she has it down here."
Sebastian thought for a minute. "Hmm… I suppose dat is gonna have to do. Okay den! Let's get started!"
They all turned to see Ariel swimming toward them, and Sebastian nearly fainted in his relief.
"Ariel!" he gushed. "You're here! Perfect! Quickly, I'll get you some sheet music and –"
"No thanks, Sebastian," Ariel said dismissively. The crab's mouth dropped.
"No tanks?!" he gasped. "What do you mean, 'no tanks'?!"
"I'm just here to grab Aila," Ariel said, swimming up to the younger girl.
"Huh?" Aila asked, confused. "Grab me for what?"
"I promised to show you around today, remember?" Ariel said slowly, imploring the other girl to play along. Aila blinked. Was this Ariel's attempt to get her away from the boys so she could meet up with Demyx…?
"NOW?!" Sebastian bellowed. "We are supposed ta be rehearsing!"
"Aw, Aila catches on quick," Ariel said, grabbing Aila's hand and beginning to pull her away from the group. "We'll only be gone for a few hours, and then she can join in again."
"And what about you?" Sebastian asked with a frown.
Ariel shrugged. "I don't really feel like it today." Sebastian faceplamed. Or uh, faceclawed.
"I wanna come too!" Flounder said excitedly. "Oh, can I Ariel?"
"I don't see why not!" Ariel said with a grin. She then turned to the rest of the guys. "You guys have fun rehearsing! See you!"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Sora began, but Aila was already being pulled away at an alarming rate. She swiveled around so she was looking at the boys and shrugged at them.
"Uh… see you guys in a while, I guess!" she called, their confused faces the last thing she saw before she was pulled around a corner.
"Well that went well!" Ariel whispered excitedly, letting go of Aila's hand at last.
"What went well?" Flounder asked curiously.
"Getting Aila away from the boys!" Ariel said, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"What?" Flounder asked, looking at Aila. "Do you not like them or something?"
"No no no!" Aila said quickly. "I love them! They just uh… wouldn't approve of what I'm gonna do…"
"Oooh," Flounder said, sounding both intrigued and worried. "Um, we're not gonna do um, anything… dangerous… are we?"
"Oh Flounder, you're such a guppy," Ariel teased, rolling her eyes.
"I am not!" Flounder pouted.
"And don't worry, it's nothing dangerous," Ariel continued.
"Hopefully not…" Aila muttered under her breath.
"Aila's just gonna meet a friend of hers!" She leaned in close to the little fish. "A boy. They kissed yesterday."
Flounder's eyes went wide, and Aila blanched. "No we didn't! He kissed me on the forehead, on the forehead!"
"Oh whatever," Ariel said dismissively. "The point is, we're Aila's undercover agents in her quest to meet her potential true love."
"You're not really listening to me, are you," Aila deadpanned.
Ariel grinned. "It's just so much more romantic this way!"
"It's best not to argue when she gets like this," Flounder advised. Ariel gave him a playful noogie.
"Anyway, where are you supposed to meet him, Aila?"
"Uh…" Aila began. It was then that she realized that the location had been left out of Demyx's invitation, and she frowned. "I… don't know…"
"Hm. This just got harder," Ariel said, furrowing her brow. She snapped her fingers, her eyes lighting up. "Maybe it'll be in the same place you guys met yesterday!"
"I guess that's a good place to start," Aila said with a shrug. She was feeling significantly less enthused about this meeting than Ariel was, it seemed. In fact, just thinking about seeing Demyx after the interaction she'd had with him yesterday filled her stomach with butterflies. She wasn't sure whether the butterflies were due to the excited anticipation of seeing him again, or the dread of how terribly awkward things might be after his confusing behavior the day before. And what was it he had been trying to tell her…?
"Okay then, let's go!" Flounder cheered. It seemed like he was into the plan almost as much as Ariel was now, and Aila had no choice but to surrender to their enthusiasm.
The three of them made their way back to the big rock where Aila had run into Demyx yesterday, Aila growing more and more nervous with every swish of her tail. She couldn't pinpoint what exactly she was so nervous about – scenarios ran through her mind, most of them involving Demyx confessing his love to her or something like that. What would she say?! She would have to turn him down, of course, but… is that what she wanted to do? She clenched her teeth, mentally kicking herself. Of course that was what she wanted to do! She didn't like him like that! They were just friends! That's it!
"Gee Aila, you're looking kinda green," Flounder pointed out.
"Oh, don't be nervous," Ariel cooed. "Everything's going to go swimmingly! Just be yourself, and don't be afraid to trust him!"
"If you say so…" Aila said. She thought she felt Celina straining herself not to chime in.
"Okay," Ariel said when they finally arrived. "Flounder and I are gonna run interference and make sure no one followed us." The mermaid seemed absolutely giddy, and Aila bit her lip. "We'll see you later, okay?" She quickly fixed a strand or two in Aila's hairdo, which amazingly hadn't fallen out during the night, and then began swimming off with Flounder in tow.
"Good luck, Aila!" Flounder called with a wave.
Aila waved back half-heartedly. "Uh… thanks…"
The minutes passed, and Aila continued to grow more and more anxious. She paced (in a swimming sense of the word) back and forth in front of the rock, talking to herself as she tried to calm down.
"Okay Aila, be cool. You're overthinking this. He just wanted to hang out as friends, and whatever he wanted to tell you… it's probably totally unrelated! And it's definitely not anything bad. It's probably something like, uh… 'Yo Aila, did you hear? Luxord totally lost to Xaldin in poker the other day! Can you believe it?'"
"No way! Really?!"
"AH!" Aila yelped, and she was sure if she'd had feet she would have promptly tripped over herself. She spun around to see Demyx right in front of her face, his eyes wide as he implored her for information.
"Luxord really lost to Xaldin?!" he asked, and it took Aila a good ten seconds to get her brain moving enough again to answer him.
"Um… n-no… I was just… making things up…"
"Aw," Demyx pouted. "I was hoping it was true. If Xaldin could beat Luxord, then I could totally win my munny back!" Aila laughed nervously, and Demyx cocked his head to the side. "You okay? Your heart is going crazy fast!"
"I-is it?" Aila stuttered, feeling her face flush red with embarrassment.
"Yeah, see?" Demyx grabbed Aila's hand and pressed it against her own chest, thinking that might help her better feel its rapid-fire badum-bump-bumps. He watched her face closely for her reaction, and Aila had to look away to hide her nervousness.
"Oh uh… you're right," she answered awkwardly. "Weird…"
Demyx laughed. He seemed to be in a much better mood today. "So, how're you liking this world?"
"I love it," Aila said, smiling a little.
"I thought you would," Demyx beamed. "Have you gotten a chance to explore and stuff?"
"Uh, well I've seen like, all of the castle…"
"No no no! The castle's cool I guess, but the best stuff is out there!" Demyx said, gesturing toward the open waters that stretched away from the castle. "Don't tell me you haven't seen any of that!"
"Er… I saw a sunken ship?"
Demyx grabbed Aila's arm, and before she knew it, she was being dragged along through the water toward the open sea. "Oh man, I've got the perfect places to show you then! Nobody else will come to this world with me so I haven't been able to show anyone around, but this world has got such cool things to explore! You're gonna love it!"
"Uh… a-aren't there sh-sharks out there and stuff?" Aila stuttered.
"Please, like they'd be any match for us! …You'd do most of the fighting though, right?"
"Aila…" Celina warned. It seemed she couldn't help herself. Aila almost answered aloud, but thought better of it and decided to try and think back a response.
'I know, I know,' she thought. 'It's probably a stupid idea to allow myself to be dragged away by an Organization member, right?'
"…Just be on your guard," Celina said slowly, and then was silent. It seemed that was all she was going to say on the matter for now.
But Aila had other things on her mind. Why hadn't Demyx mentioned anything about what he'd wanted to tell her yet? Was this really just a social visit? She had to say something about it.
"Uh, D-Demyx?" she called.
"Yeah?" the Nobody asked, glancing back as he continued to pull the girl along.
"Um, so… what was it you wanted to tell me?" Demyx furrowed his brow in confusion. "…You know, yesterday? You uh… said you had something to tell me…?"
Demyx looked forward once again and was silent for a while. Aila really wished she could see his face… but after a moment, he looked back at her again, his usual carefree smile plastered on his face. "Oh, that was nothing," he laughed. "I was having a weird day yesterday is all. Sorry if it freaked you out!"
Aila frowned. Something wasn't right here. "Okay, well uh…" she bit her lip. "I just wanted to um, tell you… you're a good friend, you know? So thanks."
Something flashed behind Demyx's eyes, and Aila thought he looked rather upset. She kicked herself, hoping that she hadn't just said something wrong, but Demyx's face was back to normal so fast that she wondered if she'd imagined that look in his eye. "You're a good friend too, Aila! That's why I wanted to spend time with you!"
"Oh," Aila breathed, feeling both relieved and… a little disappointed? She shook her head lightly and grinned. "Great!"
Things were significantly less awkward after that, and the two spent the next half hour of their journey catching up with one another. It really was like they were old friends, and Aila felt her heart swell happily as they talked. As terrible as it had been to be a prisoner of the Organization, she had really missed getting to hang out with Demyx. He was so easy to talk to, and she found herself laughing with him again just like old times. It was nice, and before Aila knew it all of her worries had melted away. Not even Celina's clear discomfort with the situation, which Aila could somehow sense resonating in her own mind, could deter her. In fact, when Aila really thought about it, she realized that Demyx had become one of her closest friends since she'd left her world, as odd as that was. She wished she could spend more time with him than just these chance meetings on various worlds allowed her…
Demyx showed her all his favorite spots – an oceanic meadow filled with dozens of exotic plants that withdrew when Aila touched them, an underwater geyser that tickled when they swam through it, and Aila's favorite:
"I give you, the underwater crystal garden!"
"Whoa," Aila breathed, her eyes wide as she examined the glittering crystals that lined the walls surrounding her. The light from the surface refracted through some of the crystals, creating little rainbows that danced over Aila's skin when she got close. It was a gorgeous sight.
"Like it?" Demyx asked, smiling at Aila's expression.
"I love it!" Aila gushed, gently touching one of the crystals jutting out from the rocky wall. "I had no idea this kind of thing would be down here."
"That's why you gotta explore worlds like this!" Demyx said proudly. "See? Aren't you glad I showed you things outside the castle now?"
"Ooh hey, look!" Demyx dove down to the sandy floor and snatched something up, zooming back up to Aila. He held out his hand, revealing a crystal that had broken off of the wall. "What does that look like to you?"
Aila looked a little closer and smiled. "A heart."
"Yeah!" Demyx exclaimed, beaming at the little crystal. It had broken off in just the right way so that it really did look like a little crystal heart, no bigger than Aila's palm. Demyx held the crystal up to his chest and grinned at Aila. "How does it look?"
Aila smiled a little wider. "Like it was meant to be there all along."
"Aw, you're just sayin' that," Demyx joked, but he looked thrilled with her response nonetheless. He pressed the crystal against his skin, as if trying to get it to stick. He let go after a few seconds, the little crystal heart immediately floating down toward its original resting place upon the sea floor. "Darn, it doesn't want to stay," Demyx whined, snatching it up once again. He studied it for a moment longer and then held it out to Aila. "Why don't you hold on to it? You'll probably take better care of it than I would."
"Um, sure," Aila giggled, taking the little heart from him. It was quite beautiful.
"You'd better not break my heart, okay?" Demyx teased, wagging his finger at her. She laughed.
Demyx fell silent after that, which caught Aila by surprise. His usual smile was suddenly gone, and he seemed to be lost in thought about something. Aila, unsure of what to do, busied herself with admiring the crystal in her hand, angling it just right between her fingers so it would cast rainbows on her arm. Finally, Demyx spoke.
"I confused you yesterday, didn't I."
Aila blinked. "…Um…"
"When I kissed you."
Aila felt her face grow hot at the memory. "U-uh… I mean… I… I guess…"
Demyx smiled a tight, rather forced looking smile. "Yeah, sorry about that…" His face then broke into a genuine grin and he chuckled. "Did you think I was gonna confess my love to you today or something?"
"What?! No!" Aila flailed, feeling more and more embarrassed by the second. "I-I didn't! Um I mean Ariel did but uh… I mean… you're not… right?"
Demyx ran his fingers idly through his hair. "How can I love someone if I don't have a heart?"
The statement struck Aila like lightning. "…I… don't know…"
"Me neither," Demyx said, looking up toward the surface. He was silent again, but this time it was much more awkward, like there was an elephant seal in the room that was suffocating Aila more and more with each second that passed.
"Do you… I mean, can you feel… anything?" she asked slowly. The minnow's story popped into her mind and she felt her stomach drop as she imagined Demyx's blank, expressionless face…
"That's the question, isn't it?" Demyx said, casting her a wry look. "Sometimes I think I can, but then other times…" He sighed. "I guess the line between reality and pretend can get blurred sometimes… but I just want to—!" He stopped midsentence and looked at Aila, as if studying her for a second. Aila suddenly felt very exposed and looked away. "Hey, I'm gonna try something, okay? Don't freak out."
"What are you…?" Aila began, but before she had finished her thought Demyx was pulling her toward him. His lips met hers, and her eyes went wide in shock. It must have only been for a second, but it felt like an eternity to her as her mind struggled to begin moving again. Finally, her instincts kicked in, and she pushed Demyx away. "Wh-what the hell?!" she gasped, her face feeling so hot it amazed her that the water surrounding it hadn't started to boil. Her hands raced to her cheeks and she stared at the Nobody in shock, trying to remember how to make her mouth say anything else.
"See? That's the reaction I want," Demyx said, gesturing to her frustratedly. "You really felt something, right?"
"…Confusion, mostly!" Aila squeaked out.
"But I just… I just don't know!" He turned away angrily, crossing his arms in a huff. Aila put a hand to her chest, trying to calm her heart down and decide how angry she was with Demyx for violating her space.
"Demyx, you… you can't just go around kissing people without any warning!" she scolded.
"I said don't freak out," Demyx pouted, sounding very upset. His tone gave Aila pause, and after considering her next move for a few seconds, she slowly swam around the Nobody so they were facing one another again.
"You look upset," she said, crossing her arms in front of her. She had a slight urge to punch her friend in the head, but luckily for him his depressed expression was causing that urge to fade rather quickly.
"Yeah," Demyx huffed, refusing to meet her gaze.
"Well… that counts as feeling something, doesn't it? A heart makes you feel sad and angry and disappointed too."
"Yeah but…" Demyx sighed heavily, before continuing in a whisper, "those aren't the emotions I want to feel…"
Aila frowned. "Well you can't only have the good stuff. Having a heart means you take the good with the bad. Sometimes hearts make you do really stupid things and it's… unpleasant."
"I know," Demyx said. He looked her in the eye now, and Aila felt her breath catch in her throat. He just looked so… what was it… sad? Or something else? For some reason she just couldn't put her finger on it.
In the blink of an eye, Demyx was back to normal, his usual grin spread across his face. "I guess we should probably get you back, huh? We've been gone a long time!"
"Yeah, I guess so," Aila said slowly. She clutched the little crystal heart tightly in her hand, and then glared at him. "Don't go experimenting on me by kissing me or whatever again! My heart and I don't appreciate it!"
"Okay, okay," Demyx laughed, patting her on the head. "Your reactions are just too much fun though!"
Aila swam most of the way back in silence, with Demyx babbling on about all the amazing things they'd seen and how funny it had been that he'd made her face so red (he seemed rather proud about that last part). She hmm'd her responses to him here and there, but she was feeling too flustered to really hold any sort of conversation. Her heart was telling her that something was wrong with Demyx, that he wasn't telling her something important, and it worried her. His actions were all over the place, and Aila just couldn't seem to figure him out. Celina seemed relieved that Aila had her guard up, but Aila wanted to tell her that she wasn't worried for herself…
It was Demyx she was worried about.
"Demyx," she said softly. He stopped talking and looked at her curiously, waiting for her to continue. "I know we talked about this already, but… I can't leave you without asking you one more time." She looked into his eyes pleadingly. "Please… why don't you leave the Organization?" Demyx frowned, but said nothing, so Aila continued. "You don't belong with them… you're not like them."
"I'm a Nobody, Aila," Demyx said softly, looking away.
"Maybe so, but… you're not the same as they are. You told me before that you're not happy there… You know they're hurting people, don't you? You don't need to help them do that in order to get a heart… there's gotta be some other way."
Demyx sighed. "Aila… I have been thinking about it…"
"Really?!" Aila exclaimed, feeling hopeful. Maybe there was still time to change his fate…
"You've seen how dangerous that can be, Aila," Celina warned. Aila shook her head in an attempt to make Celina be quiet. She didn't want to think about the potential ramifications of meddling right now – all she wanted to think about was saving Demyx. What could be the harm in that?
Demyx bit his lip. "Yeah… look, how about next time we meet, we can talk about it again. I mean really talk about it."
Aila's eyes lit up. "Okay!" she agreed eagerly. "I think I should be on this world all week, I'm sure Ariel would help me figure out how to—"
"I uh, actually can't meet again this week," Demyx mumbled, rubbing the back of his head. "I've got some stuff I need to take care of… where're you going next?"
"Twilight Town," Aila told him. "Right after the concert here, we're heading straight there. Unless we get side tracked again…"
"Okay," Demyx said, smiling. Aila thought his smile looked a little guarded, but she didn't put much thought into it. "Why don't I meet you there then? I promise I'll tell you my decision once and for all in Twilight Town."
"Yes!" Aila celebrated. This was the closest she'd gotten to a positive answer on the matter from Demyx, and she was gonna take it! "Think really, really hard about it, okay?"
"Yeah… I will," Demyx said slowly. Aila took that moment to look around, and she blinked in confusion.
"Hey, where are we…?"
"Oh, I wanted to take a different route," Demyx said, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. "So you could see a little more of the ocean before you head back to the castle grounds, y'know?"
"Um, thanks I guess," Aila said slowly. "We're not like… lost though, right?"
"Psh, please Aila! Would I get you lost?" Demyx asked, mock offended.
"I would hope not, but you know, I'm really not sure…"
"Whoa! Aila, look at this!"
Demyx rushed off, and Aila had to swim as fast as she could to keep up.
"Demyx, what the heck are you… doing…?" she trailed off, coming to a stop next to Demyx. They were floating above a giant chasm that was so deep and dark that Aila imagined it might go on forever.
"Hello!" Demyx called into the chasm, his voice echoing back to them a few times. He chuckled. "Cool."
"Uh yeah, I guess," Aila said, inching away from the darkness. "Okay, let's go."
"You don't wanna see what's down there?!" Demyx chided, raising an eyebrow at her.
"I can see what's down there. Darkness."
"There's gotta be more than that," Demyx said, rolling his eyes. "Come on, let's check it out!" He began swimming down into the chasm and then turned, crossing his arms as he looked at Aila. "You're not gonna make me go all by myself, are ya?"
"Ummm maybe…" Aila said warily. There could be anything lurking down there… not to mention the mere fact that it was so dark was enough on its own to give Aila the willies.
"Aw come onnnnn," Demyx whined. "What kind of friend lets their friend venture into danger like this?!"
"Good point, get outta there," Aila demanded, putting on her best in-charge voice.
Demyx grinned mischievously. "You'll have to pull me out yourself!" And with that, he zipped down into the darkness.
"Demyx, wait!" Aila cried, but he was gone. She bit her lip, looking back and forth as if she might discover something to remedy the situation floating nearby. Of course she did not, and she sighed in annoyance. "This is a bad idea."
"Yes. It is." Celina sounded absolutely livid, making Aila wince.
"Well I can't just… leave him," Aila said slowly.
Celina sighed heavily. "Just find him and get out. Quickly. And keep your guard up."
"Aye aye," Aila whispered, gulping nervously. She took a deep breath, trying to build up her courage, and then bolted down, down, down into the darkness. "Demyx?" she called, her voice echoing all around her. The light faded extremely quickly until she could barely see a foot in front of herself, and she had to slow down for fear of crashing into something.
"Over here!" Demyx called from somewhere nearby. Aila squinted, trying her best to see, when she felt her vision sharpen.
"Aila," Celina scolded softly, the light from Aila's eyes now illuminating much more of her surroundings for her.
"Sorry," Aila said, remembering Celina's warning about not using her powers. "What other option do I have though?"
"Hmm," Celina hummed, sounding wary, but she didn't argue. Aila really didn't have a choice right now.
"I don't see you," Aila called into the darkness, searching for her friend. She could see jagged rocks jutting out from the chasm walls, but there didn't seem to be much else in here. Of course, she had no clue how much farther down this thing went…
"This way!" Demyx called again, and Aila turned, following the sound of his voice. Finally, she saw his silhouette up ahead. She sighed in relief, picking up speed until she was by his side.
"What the heck were you thinking?!" Aila scolded, smacking Demyx on the arm when she reached him.
"Ow! What?! …Neat eye trick, by the way," Demyx said, looking at Aila curiously.
"Thanks," Aila mumbled. "Now come on, let's go."
"Wait!" Demyx protested, pointing to something in front of him. "Look at this."
Aila's eyes followed where his finger directed them to and she furrowed her brow. There in front of them was something round and squishy looking, with very faint, lightly glowing designs scribbled all over it. It was pulsing, almost like it was… breathing or something.
"What d'you think that is?" Demyx whispered curiously.
"…I have no clue," Aila whispered back. She was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by the thing, and she couldn't quite tear her eyes away.
"…Dare you to touch it," Demyx whispered.
"What?!" Aila gasped, looking at Demyx like he had five heads. "No way!"
"Aw come on," Demyx goaded, leaning in toward her a little. "Just touch it."
"Touch it touch it touch it touch it!"
"Demyx, cut it out!" Aila cried, going to push him away. He darted away at the last second, and Aila found herself flailing forward unexpectedly. "Wah!" she cried, thrusting her hands out in front of herself as an instinctual move. Her open hand, the one not holding the crystal, made contact with something that was definitely not Demyx. It was the squishy thing.
In an instant, light erupted from Aila's hand, flooding into the markings on the thing she'd made contact with. The light continued along hidden crevices that branched away from the thing and ran down a giant rock it was resting on, disappearing into the darkness below and then doubling back up along the walls on either side of Aila. The tendrils of light connected with many strange coral plants that lined the wall and they all immediately lit up in a brilliant, colorful display. Some of the plants began to produce tiny glowing spores that spilled out into the chasm, looking to Aila like fireflies, blinking and twinkling against their now illuminated surroundings.
"Wow," Aila breathed, her hand still on the strange, orb-shaped object.
"So… it's true then…" Demyx murmured, seeming awestruck, but with a layer of distraught hidden somewhere underneath. "You really are…"
"Huh?" Aila asked, not really listening to him as she admired the lights all around her. It was the most amazing sight she'd ever seen. In fact, this whole place almost seemed… familiar.
"Nothing," Demyx answered softly. "Don't worry about it."
Aila's first kiss had happened when she was twelve years old.
It was a drizzly September morning, one of the first of the school year, and she was nervous about a Pre-Algebra test that was coming up in first period.
"Jeez Aila, you're gonna give yourself an ulcer," her best friend Melody was chastising as Aila went over some formulas for the tenth time that morning.
"Good, then I'll get sent home and can take this dumb test later," Aila moaned, her nose buried in her text book as the girls walked through their school's front gates and began cutting across the lawn.
"Why are you so freaked out anyway?"
"I fell asleep before I could study last night and now I don't know anything!"
"I'm sure you know some things," Melody soothed, her short blonde hair poking out from underneath the purple beanie she'd decided was her most recent ultra cool accessory. 'Punk chic' she called it, though Aila was certain that there was no such fashion category.
"No. I know nothing," Aila whined. "Why why why did I fall asleep?!"
"I dunno, why did you?" Melody asked, wiping some of the moisture condensing on her eyelashes away with the palm of her hand.
"I have no idea! One second I was getting ready to study, and the next it was morning."
"You're a mess," Melody chuckled. "You realize that seems to happen to you like, all the time, right?"
"Not helping, Mel."
"Sorry, sorry," Melody said, holding up her hands peaceably. "So, what're you gonna do?"
"Maybe I can say I'm sick…" Aila mused frantically. "Quick, do I look green?!"
"You look kinda pale I guess," Melody said, her brown eyes appraising Aila's face closely. "But I think that's just from you freaking out."
"I AM NOT FREAKING OUT!" Aila cried, much shriller than she'd intended to.
The girls turned to see Kyle Calderone standing behind them, a bemuse look on his face as he watched their conversation. He was a scrawny boy with big, round glasses that made his eyes look two times too big and a face so full of freckles that you had to squint to make sure it wasn't just covered in dirt. Aila didn't really know him that well, and didn't really have an opinion one way or another about him. He tended to keep to himself, and she doubted he had an opinion one way or another about her either.
"Wow, eavesdrop much?" Melody scoffed. Kyle chuckled.
"Aila, you know you can have a notecard as a cheat sheet, don't you?" he asked. Aila's jaw dropped.
"What?! When did that happen?!"
"Last week," Kyle said, shaking his head at her. "You were probably daydreaming again when it was announced…"
Aila groaned, exasperated. Melody shrugged. "As your best friend I'm tempted to defend your honor here, but… he's probably right, so I'm torn."
"What am I gonna do?!" Aila wailed. "I don't even have a blank notecard!"
"Here," Kyle said, digging into his backpack and pulling something out. He passed the object to Aila, who gasped.
"You're giving me yours?!" she asked, unable to believe it. In her hand was a cheat sheet all ready for use, tiny formulas scrawled on both sides of the card in Kyle's sloppy handwriting.
"No way," Kyle said, shaking his head firmly. "I'm giving you my extra."
"Your extra?" Melody asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I always make two, just in case something happens to one," Kyle said with a shrug. "You can have that one, unless something happens to mine."
"What do you think's gonna happen, it's gonna spontaneously combust or something?" Melody scoffed. She clearly couldn't fathom why anyone would do twice the workload for a reason as stupid as Kyle's. Kyle just shrugged.
"Oh my gosh," Aila gasped, relief flooding through her veins. "Thank you sooo much! You totally saved me!"
"It's nothing," Kyle said with a shrug.
"No, seriously, thank you!" Aila gushed. She rushed forward with the intention of hugging him when her klutziness decided to take things in another direction. She slipped on a wet patch of grass and went tumbling into Kyle, both of them crashing onto the damp lawn. "Ow," she groaned, laying on top of something rather squishy and warm. It took her a moment to realize that the squishy warm thing was Kyle's body, but when she finally did she gasped, immediately grasping at the ground to try and push herself up. "I'm s-so sorry!" she stuttered, her face bright red in embarrassment as she looked down at Kyle, his glasses askew and his freckled face now splotched with real mud and dirt.
"It's cool," Kyle said, sounding rather dazed. "Uh… can you um… get off me though?"
It was then Aila realized that she was straddling the poor boy, who's face was looking just about as red as hers felt. She yelped and pushed herself onto her knees so they were no longer touching, her face moving forward with the motion just as Kyle went to sit up and, because the universe apparently didn't think she'd had enough embarrassment for one morning, those little, seemingly insignificant movements resulted in one very significant conclusion. Their lips collided, and in Aila's shock she felt her mouth open ever so slightly and something slimy slip inside. Melody would claim later that Kyle slipped her the tongue on purpose, that it was his master plan all along, but the look on Kyle's face at the time told another story; the force of the collision had most likely caused his tongue to be thrust forward without any assistance on his part. Whatever had really happened, there they were, interlocked in a full on, tongue in mouth kiss on the muddy lawn in front of the school.
In a flash Aila was on her feet. "Um… Th-thanks for the notecard," she squeaked before practically sprinting off into the school, Melody cackling and squealing behind her.
Aila got a C- on that test.
Kyle got an A+.
They had arrived at the rock now, and Demyx pulled Aila into a quick hug, which she returned.
"See you soon then?" Aila asked into his shoulder.
"Yeah… see you soon," he said quietly. He'd been quiet even since they'd left the chasm, but Aila hadn't really taken much notice; she was too busy staring at her hand, trying to figure out exactly what had gone on down there. Celina said that the things in there were ancient, that they had reacted to her power and that she needed to be more careful, but… Aila didn't want to be careful. If her power was going to create beautiful things like that with just a touch, why should she hide it? It had been absolutely amazing. Celina had been doing her best to talk Aila down after she'd caught her thinking such things, to implore the girl to listen to her. It was dangerous to think that way, she said. In the end Aila conceded that it was probably best to tread carefully for now, and Celina had relaxed. Still, Aila couldn't quite get the sight of all those lights out of her head…
Demyx lingered for another moment before letting her go. Without another word, he turned fin and swam away, leaving Aila watching him go. She felt a slight pang in her heart and furrowed her brow, wondering what that could be about. Like he'd said, they'd see each other soon, in Twilight Town. Maybe she was sad that their adventures had come to an end today. She shrugged it off, clenching the heart crystal she still held firmly in one hand, and began to swim in the direction she'd seen Ariel and Flounder head in earlier that morning.
"Ariel?" she called when she was a little ways out. "Flounder? You guys around?"
"Aila!" Flounder called, swimming up to her excitedly. "How'd it go? Did you guys kiss?!"
"No… well actually yes, but—"
"You did?!" Ariel gasped, bolting over to Aila as well. "Oh I just knew you two would fall in love! Tell me everything!"
"We're not in love," Aila said quickly. "He kissed me but it was weird, and it wasn't like… for romantic purposes."
"What other purposes does a kiss have?" Flounder asked, genuinely curious.
"It's… a long story," Aila sighed, wincing.
"So… you're not together, then?" Ariel asked, sounding distraught.
"Nope," Aila said with a smile. "Sorry." Ariel sighed.
"Hey, what's that?" Flounder asked, pointing to Aila's hand. She held up the little heart crystal. "Ooh, pretty!"
"Yeah! Demyx found it," Aila said with a grin. "He said I should keep it, but I don't really know where to put it for now…"
"He gave it to you?" Ariel asked, perking up once again. "Well, that's better than nothing! Lemme see it." She took the little crystal from Aila and examined it for a moment. "Here, it'll look great like this," she gushed, securing it at the top of Aila's new hairdo. "There we go. That should hold."
"Thanks," Aila said with a grin. "But seriously, he and I are not gonna be a thing, so I'd get it out of your head if I were you."
"Fiiine," Ariel sighed with a pout.
The three of them swam back toward the rehearsal space, Flounder regaling Aila with how he and Ariel had been super stealthy about making sure Aila hadn't been seen sneaking around with Demyx. Aila rolled her eyes at the little fish's intensity, but smiled nonetheless. It had been really nice of Ariel and Flounder to keep her secret, after all.
They began to hear the jaunty tune of "Under The Sea" playing a ways ahead of them and Aila started to get excited. She was itching to sing this song!
"Well, I'm gonna head out," Ariel said, getting Aila's attention. "Sorry Aila, I'd accompany you all the way back, but if I show up Sebastian is just gonna give me a hard time about not singing."
"Oh, sure," Aila said with a nod. "I understand."
"What're we gonna do now?" Flounder asked his redheaded friend.
Ariel looked up at the surface longingly. "Let's go see if he's on the beach," she whispered, clearly talking about Eric.
Flounder rolled his eyes. "Yay. Fun."
"Oh come on Flounder," Ariel said with a giggle. "Bye Aila, sorry it didn't work out with you and your 'just friend'."
"It did work out," Aila said with a giggle. "We're just friends, which is just fine."
"Sure," Ariel said with a roll of her eyes.
"Have fun at rehearsal, Aila!" Flounder called as he and Ariel swam away, disappearing up toward the surface. Aila shook her head, smiling as she watched the little mermaid leave.
"Dat one is a boatload o' trouble," she said in her best Sebastian impersonation. She chuckled to herself before swimming off toward the rehearsal space to join the boys.
"No no no!" Sebastian was saying when she arrived. "Try it again, and dis time, put a little feeling behind it! From de chorus! One and two and!"
"Under the sea," the boys sang, sounding like they were struggling to remember the notes. "Under the sea… Darling it's better down where it's wetter…"
"Take it from me!" Aila sang, swimming enthusiastically into the fray. She just couldn't help herself. Hey, she'd seen the music before she'd left, if only briefly, so she figured no one would think twice about her chiming in.
"Aila!" the boys called happily, and Aila grinned at them.
"Oh, so you came back, did you?" Sebastian scoffed, the music stopping at his command. "And where is Ariel?"
"Uh she… had things to do?" Aila offered with a shrug. Sebastian moaned as if he was in physical pain. "So, how's it goin'?" Aila asked the guys.
"This song is hard," Sora whined.
"Psh, it's totally easy," Aila said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
"Well I'm glad you tink so," Sebastian said, swimming up and getting right in the girl's face, "because since you decided to play hooky, I'm giving you all o' de harmonies in de second verse!"
"Score!" Aila cheered, pumping her fist.
"You really like this song, huh?" Donald asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
"You caught me," Aila said with a giggle.
"Well den, I expect noting less dan perfection from you, Miss Aila," Sebastian sniffed, swimming back to his conductor's spot. "Are you ready?"
Aila smirked. "Hit it."
I feel like that meeting between Aila and Demyx wasn't what most of you (or possibly all of you) were expecting it to be, but it's probably their most important interaction thus far, so stay with me! I wonder what's gonna happen when Aila gets to Twilight Town… hmmmmmmmmmm… ;)
I HATED this chapter for like, all of last week, but then I finally got Aila and Demyx's meeting figured out and now I really like the chapter… so I hope you guys did too! Next chapter should be REALLY fun, I've been looking forward to writing it for like a month, so hopefully it'll be up super quick. I'll do my best!
Please leave a review to let me know your thoughts! I read every single one (and save every single one in my email!), so don't be shy~ Thanks so much for reading!