"You may find it reassuring to know your injury is merely a flesh wound, and I can find no trace of bullet residue still embedded - which, given the location of the injury, is very fortunate indeed. A little further one way, and it would have torn through the femoral artery; a little further the other, and it might have shattered your knee completely, which could have required amputation. However, I would advise you to stay off that leg for at least two weeks. The other injuries are minor - at most, they require only a stitch or two each."

"That's nice to know," Demyx muttered through clenched teeth. "I really, really wanted a pair of crutches for Christmas." The lidocaine Vexen had just injected was taking its dear sweet time kicking in, and his leg hurt like hell.

Axel rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. "You shouldn't have even been out..."

Demyx fought the temptation to sock him. "In case it slipped your incredible memory, I volunteered for this mission."

Xigbar held up a hand defensively. "Don't even get started on me, Red. I told him it was a potentially dangerous world and that we really didn't need to send anyone there right away and we could afford to wait a few days until more people were free..."

"I wanted to get out of the castle, though," Demyx grumbled as Vexen started stitching up his leg. "It's Christmas Eve; you all know pretty well how much I like Christmas, and since that's all anyone else wanted anything to do with, I was ready for any excuse."

Xigbar shook his head. "Want that excuse so bad now?"

Demyx gritted his teeth again. Dammit, that still hurt - was he becoming immune to the effects of lidocaine or what? "...No. Not so bad anymore."

"What the hell even happened?" Axel demanded.

Demyx sighed. "I dunno if I wanna go into it just yet..."

Xigbar fixed him with a laserlike stare. "Dude. Spill."


Demyx had been curled up under an improvised blanket of burlap sacks when he heard them. They all knew that war zones were usually hotbeds of Heartless activity, and they tended to hunt certain groups of people more than others - the homeless, the dispossessed, the physically and mentally wounded, the brokenhearted, the lost, the desperate. Demyx was all too familiar with sleeping outside, even in the winter, and at least his Organization uniform provided more warmth and comfort than the rags and castoffs he'd been used to as a child. Since his orders were to first find out whether or not there actually were any Heartless in this world and to kill as many as he could in five hours without getting himself killed, he decided the easiest thing to do was just set himself up as bait. If there were any Heartless in the world, they'd be immediately attracted to a homeless man sleeping outside in the rubble of what just might have been his home, possibly where his entire family had been buried by a bomb, and they'd figure out too late that he had no heart to steal. They'd be well within range.

Not only had he grown too used to sleeping in a bed to get comfortable, the knowledge that he was trying to curl up in what used to be someone's house, and might very well be someone's grave, thoroughly ruined any chance that he might accidentally fall asleep. That was really a good thing, especially given how bad his hearing was; his discomfort and unease kept him fully alert, watching for telltale deeper shadows within shadows, brief flickers that might be glowing yellow eyes, listening for faint pattering footsteps that might signal a Heartless coming to investigate potential prey...or really big, loud footsteps that were either really big Heartless or approaching soldiers. Either way, he didn't want to be in the area when they showed up. He sat up quickly, throwing aside the bags he'd been using for blankets...and someone shouted, and he heard gunshots.

I just wanted out of the castle for Christmas Eve. I didn't want to get shot.

Without even stopping to think too hard about what he was doing, he bolted, barely catching a glimpse of a troop of men in grey camo not nearly far enough away - getting a good look at them didn't matter nearly as much as not letting them get a good shot at him. He fled from the ruined neighborhood he'd been camped out in, tearing down whatever streets and alleyways were still navigable, the soldiers in hot pursuit. Years of experience at running for his life were coming in damn handy now; the soldiers' bootsteps were growing fainter and more distant; he was losing them...and then he rounded a corner and almost ran straight into another troop. They shouted and ran for him, only to start slipping and falling and cursing the ice vociferously. Demyx just kept running in a different direction, endlessly grateful that he'd unfrozen quickly enough to soak the ground and make it too slick for normal people to run on easily.

Too bad the soldiers recovered quickly. Now he had both troops running after him.

Praying to whatever gods might listen to him for an escape, he kept running at top speed, darting and dodging to make himself as difficult a target as possible, hoping to find some sort of hiding place before he exhausted himself completely. He figured he'd need divine intervention; the bullets whizzing past him weren't doing his thought processes any favors. Finally, just when he thought he'd collapse if he didn't stop, he ran into the first completely intact rows of buildings he'd seen in this world. Blessing his luck, he ducked between and behind buildings, fleeing down narrow, convoluted streets, until he could no longer hear footsteps behind him - finally, thank whatever god had deigned to hear his prayers, he'd lost them. Stumbling and wheezing with exhaustion, he found a building whose door was already broken down and sneaked in, hoping whoever he found inside would be understanding of his plight.

There was no one inside, and there didn't seem to have been for a good, long time, which was possibly the best outcome - certainly, no one was going to call the soldiers and hand him over. Smiling weakly to himself, he staggered up the stairs, all the way to the third floor, in search of a good lookout point, then flopped into a dusty armchair and passed out. If his hearing aid batteries had died then, he would have as well.

He woke up to the sound of aircraft engines. Jumping out of the chair to look out the window, he saw several planes flying low, heading towards the building he was hiding in - heading towards him. Bombers. They had to be. He hadn't lost the soldiers, they just hadn't followed him - because they knew this area was scheduled for destruction.

Even as he watched, what looked like tiny black snowflakes started falling from those bombers - except they didn't drift; they fell too steadily to be snowflakes - and as they reached the ground, the entire building shook, and large plumes of smoke started rising several blocks away - a few blocks away - he tore himself away from the window and raced headlong down the stairs - the building shook even more violently; that impact couldn't have been more than a block away - he bolted out the back door, back towards where he'd last seen the soldiers, just as long as it was away from -

And the building he'd just fled from exploded, pelting his back with debris. The searing heat from the massive inferno the building had just become was enough to singe his hair and scorch his clothing. He slowed unthinkingly - if I hadn't heard the bombers' engines, or I'd just been a little bit slower, I'd have died in there, he thought.

"There he is!"

Demyx promptly reversed course as another hail of bullets whizzed past him, wondering where the hell he could run to now. Fuck it all, he should have just gone the hell home when he had a little breathing space. Too late now - dammit, where the hell were the other soldiers, was he about to run into them again - how was he going to get away from them this time - there, that way, more buildings - they looked inhabited, but maybe if he could hide out for just long enough to make a portal - if he could find someone sympathetic - maybe - just maybe - and a burst of intense pain seared through his leg, and he tumbled to the ground, unable to stand. Looking back at his leg, Demyx could see a spreading red stain on the snow.

Really clever, dipshit. You were so desperate to get the hell out of the castle tonight you just got yourself killed.

Fuck it all, I get to die on Christmas Eve two lives in a row.

If I manage to leave this world alive, I swear, I will never give Axel a batch of shit about Christmas again.

Demyx watched helplessly as the soldiers approached, waiting for one of them to put another bullet through his head or chest and finish him off - but none of them did. In fact, they were slowing down - well, no need to hurry, when he was down with a bad leg. Demyx wondered why they didn't just finish him off anyway, and what they wanted if it wasn't to kill him...were they going to arrest him or something? Interrogate him? Something about their postures was bothering him, nagging at some unpleasant memories...then one of them shifted his grip on his gun, holding it more like a club, and Demyx realized they had no intention of keeping him alive for anything. Instead of just shooting him and killing him neatly and quickly, they were going to take the time to beat him to death, as long as he couldn't resist. Slowly and painfully, probably hoping he'd scream for mercy the whole time.

"No," Demyx whispered, and suddenly, miraculously, he was up and running again, wounded leg and all. No matter how hopeless his situation looked, he was not going to die slowly and painfully for someone else's amusement if he could help it. More bullets whizzed past, one leaving a hole in his clothing; he ignored them. With every agonizing step he took, the snow was stained red behind him, and one boot was starting to fill with blood; he could feel it squishing as he ran, but he ignored that too. The pain was hellish, unbearable; it felt like the pain alone could kill him, but he kept running. The blood loss was starting to take its toll; he was feeling weaker and dizzier with every step, like he might simply collapse if he didn't stop. He didn't stop. He preferred to bleed to death still running than let the soldiers catch him. He felt so weak, though...so tired, so drained...he would bleed to death still running...his only slim hope was getting away from the soldiers, hiding, resting...but he couldn't get away...he stumbled a little, and more blood spattered over the dirty snow...how could he hide, leaving a trail of blood like he was...he might as well give up...just force all the blood out of his body and drop dead...

...Wait...maybe...there...a building...the door open...maybe...shelter...safety...maybe...if...he could just...keep going...fifty more yards...forty-five...forty...his leg...hurt so much...he stumbled again, too dizzy to keep moving in a straight line...focus...he had to focus...blood was mostly water...he didn't have to bleed to death...thirty-five...oh, hell, it was a church...he couldn't hide in a church...thirty...not on Christmas Eve...it would be full of people...twenty-five...Kingdom Hearts, his leg...would he survive this world just to lose it...twenty...another bullet whizzed past him...the soldiers kept shouting at him, cursing and taunting...fifteen...they were right...he should just give himself up...ten...he was so weak...so exhausted...they were almost on top of him...he couldn't make it...five...as long as he was still breathing, there was still...some...hope...left...

With the last of his strength, Demyx half-ran, half-fell through the open doors of the church. The doors slammed loudly behind him as he went sprawling on the floor. As he lay there, gasping for breath and sick with pain and blood loss, he realized that all that was going to happen now was that the soldiers were going to burst through those doors and catch up to him here...he'd wasted his effort...there was nothing left he could do to save himself; he was going to die...the doors rattled, as if someone was trying to shove them open, but they remained closed. They rattled again and again, under what must have been repeated assaults from the soldiers, but never budged an inch. Dimly, Demyx realized that not only had they somehow closed themselves behind him, they'd also locked themselves behind him. That was the last thing he was aware of for some time.

He came around on a bed in a clean, comfortable room, which surprised him - he hadn't expected to come around at all, and on the off chance he did, he'd expected to come around either in a prison cell or still on the floor of the church, or maybe in a snowbank where they'd pitched him out and left him for dead. His robe, complete with two bullet holes from near misses, was hanging on a coatrack, and his boots were on the floor next to the bed. He tried to sit up, wondering where he was, but a hand on his shoulder kept him down. "You'd better rest while you can," someone advised. "The soldiers won't be back today, but no denying you've had a narrow scrape."

Demyx blinked at the plump, balding man in black sitting next to the bed. "Where am I?" he murmured.

"The Church of St. Jude, in whose front entrance you managed to collapse..." The man checked the clock on the wall. "About three hours ago. And very fortunately for you; even the most fanatic - or especially the most fanatic - of Her Majesty's soldiers are reluctant to try too hard to violate the sanctuary of a church, no matter who just fled inside. Doubly so, I suspect, if the doors mysteriously close and lock behind them with no human action. That last was a particular surprise to me; I didn't even realize the doors could be locked at all."

Demyx nodded distantly, recalling the last moments of his desperate flight - had it really only been three hours ago? It felt like a day or more... "That is kinda strange," he croaked.

The man - the priest, most likely - nodded. "So...I wonder, what about you had their blood up? You don't look like one of the, ah, 'cursed infidels' that 'urgently require purging' - too pale for that - but you might be one of those ingrates who can't see what a huge favor Her Imperial Majesty has done for us by upsetting hundreds of years of peace, taking over our lands, and killing our neighbors - or us, when we fight back or protest...but I'm just idly speculating. As far as I know, or need to, you're an unfortunate young man who happened to stumble into the church with an injured leg. And it was no more than my duty to my fellow man to bind your leg and give you a place to rest as long as you needed one."

Demyx knew he ought to say something, but he couldn't think of anything to say, except "Thank you. You saved my life."

The old priest chuckled. "You're welcome. Now, far be it from me to even contemplate breaking Her Majesty's laws against sheltering fugitives, rebels, or 'infidels', but it may be worth pointing out that if you need a place to stay until your leg heals, it really can't be this room. You might be safe here for a few days yet, during which I can make some careful inquiries about other, more long-term arrangements, but -"

Demyx shook his head. "Don't worry too much about me. All I need is a little rest, get some strength back...I can be safely out of here well before dawn, before my friends even start worrying about me too much. I'll be safe with them, and I suspect you'll be safer without me around."

The priest nodded, abruptly looking grave and drawn. "Will you be able to make it, with that leg?"

Demyx nodded confidently. "I'll be able to make it as far as I need to." Well, without a doubt; all he needed to do was open a portal and drag himself through it. "If and when the soldiers come back, there'll be no sign I was ever here."

The priest nodded again. "If you're sure...all right, then; whoever you are, God be with you and see you safely back to your friends, and may you all have as happy a Christmas as can be expected under these circumstances. I'll be up and around for another hour or so, in case you need anything."

"...So I just took another nap for an hour or so, and then, when I was awake and absolutely sure he'd gone to bed, I grabbed my robe and boots and just portaled out of there. I thought about leaving him a note, but I decided it was too risky. For him, I mean."

Axel rubbed his forehead again; he was the only listener left that hadn't been pulled away by something or other. "...Okay, wow. Just wow. I dunno if you're the luckiest or unluckiest bastard in the world. You should have died how many times tonight? And you're still here how?"

Demyx shrugged listlessly. "I dunno. Four or five. And...fuck, I dunno. I shouldn't be. I'm just glad I am."

Axel shook his head, then unexpectedly hugged him tightly. "Damn good thing it was Christmas Eve. Otherwise I dunno how you could have come up with enough miracles to get out of all that."

Demyx just stared at him. "...Okay, what?"

Axel shrugged, looking helpless. "I mean, only one bullet out of all of them they shot at you actually hit, and not in a life-threatening or life-altering place, you heard the bombers in time to get out of the building before it was leveled even with your bad ears, you managed to get up and get running away even with a bum leg, you coincidentally ran into a church to hide from a bunch of religious fanatics - which building they'd be really reluctant to drag you out of, lest they risk the wrath of God - the church was empty of parishioners at the time, even though it was Christmas Eve, so no one was going to throw you out to the soldiers, and the priest was sympathetic to what he thought was your cause and offered to help and hide you instead of turn you in. That's too many coincidences for there to not to be even a little miracle involved."

Demyx rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Axel, I'm a Nobody, remember?"

Axel held up a finger, cutting him off. "Yes, but you are apparently a very special Nobody. You cheat death like Luxord cheats his poker partners."

"But -" What does it being Christmas Eve have to do with anything? Demyx started to ask, then hesitated. If I manage to leave this world alive, I swear, I will never give Axel a batch of shit about Christmas again, he remembered thinking to himself as he lay bleeding on the ground while the soldiers came at him - well, he'd left that world alive; time to make good on his vow and at least not say anything negative. "I dunno, Ax - it's been a long and way too interesting day...I just need a rest. Somewhere where I can be sure no soldiers are gonna break in and beat me to death."

Axel nodded. "All right...it is pretty damn late...want some help getting back to your room?"

"Since Vexen says I'm not supposed to stand on my leg and I don't think I could if I tried anyway...yeah. I could use some help." Demyx slid over to the edge of the table, and Axel helped him onto his feet - well, his good foot - and out into the hall. His injured leg was left suspended in midair. "By the way, Ax..." Dammit, how the hell was he ever going to say this? The words felt so strange, so foreign... "Merry Christmas."

Axel stopped dead, almost letting Demyx fall. "Sorry - but - did you seriously just say that?!"

Demyx sighed. "Yes, Axel. I did seriously just say that."

The hall rang with Axel's laughter. "Now there's a Christmas miracle for ya!"

AN: I know there are a zillion other things I should be writing. But I wrote this instead. This is what happened when I tried to write a songfic for a purely instrumental song - namely "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" (aka "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo") by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which song inspired the whole mess, or at least from when Demyx was trying to bait the Heartless to when the church doors locked behind him. (Try listening to the song while reading the fic!) I don't know what world Demyx was actually in, but I'm sure shit like that goes on in many of them.

Yes, Demyx has/had issues with Christmas. Go read chapters 6-9 of "Nobody Died" for a more complete explanation.

I will update "Stronger than Whiskey" soon. I promise.

Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, got it memorized? And "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" belongs to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.