"Forget this. We gotta at least get out of this wind."
Demyx was shouting his words - well, that was the only way Roxas could have possibly heard him just then. The wind was howling worse than anything Roxas had ever experienced before - loud as hell and twice as cold. His face was burning somehow, and he could barely feel his hands and feet. "Where can we go?"
"Think I see a building up ahead," Demyx called back. "Maybe it's a house. At least..." Demyx seemed to gasp suddenly, as if the wind had stolen the breath from his lungs. "If we can break in, we can hide out. Warm up."
"Great..." Roxas grabbed Demyx's arm and clung tightly, and Demyx forged through the drifting snow towards the building, trying to shield Roxas from the biting storm wind with his own body. "How close?"
"Not close enough! But I think we can make it!"
Roxas nodded and let Demyx tow him along, thinking about the total unpredictability of weather in general and how easily it could screw one over in particular. When they'd arrived, the weather had been absolutely beautiful, if cold. If it had been raining torrentially, Demyx could have done something about it, at least. Instead, they'd walked into a damn blizzard. Frankly, Roxas wouldn't have minded too much if Demyx had simply called the mission and gone home; you couldn't kill Heartless in a blizzard. You couldn't very easily kill anything but yourself in a blizzard.
If only we hadn't been given a stupid quota, we could have been home yesterday...why the hell were they expecting that many Heartless to be hanging around where there weren't any hearts to steal? Unless the Heartless are now going for fox and rabbit hearts too? And even if they are, why would we be?
Glancing up, and casting just enough light to see by, Roxas suddenly noticed that Demyx looked like he was trying not to cry. "Demyx? Are you all right?"
Demyx gritted his teeth. "I lost my heart when I froze to death...this is bringing back some bad memories. Sorry." He pulled Roxas a little closer, as if to shield him better, or simply to make sure they didn't get separated. "...Can you make that any brighter?"
Roxas brightened the little beam of light he'd created until it was more like a powerful flashlight, but they could still barely see more than ten yards in front of them. Even so, the building-shaped lump Demyx was heading for was now visible to Roxas, which was encouraging. He needed every bit of encouragement he could get.
"They're only one day late. Normally, you wouldn't even be worried by now, since the mission was supposed to last five."
Xaldin had to be addressing Xigbar - considering who he was talking about, there was no way Axel wouldn't worry even if they were five minutes late. "Normally, no," Xigbar said as if he was trying to explain it to a little kid. "But the weather in that world is really unpredictable, and they were out scouring the comparative back end of nowhere. I'm not in a hurry to repeat the New Orleans debacle."
"There's two of them. I can't imagine them both draining themselves dry."
"Remember what happened the last time Roxas randomly disappeared?"
Axel shuddered violently - he remembered entirely too well, and the thought of his friends falling into the clutches of another Malenisa made him feel sick. "What are the odds of that happening again, really?" Xaldin asked. "I'd think that if we'd picked up on anything like that in Centralia, you wouldn't have sent Nine and Thirteen."
Xigbar snorted. "If we'd picked up on anything that fucked up, I wouldn't have sent anyone. I don't think they've been kidnapped by any sadistic magicians this time. Like I mentioned before, I'm afraid they got caught by nasty weather."
Xaldin sighed. "Xigbar, I don't imagine Nine is going to be in any great danger from a rainstorm, or Thirteen, if he's with him."
"I know he wouldn't be," Xigbar said in an exaggerated talking-to-the-special-ed-class voice. "It's not rainstorms I'm worried about. It's motherfucking blizzards."
"Fucking shit," Axel muttered involuntarily. He hated the very idea of blizzards, and he knew Demyx didn't react too well to the cold either. "That's like New Orleans five times as bad."
"And considering how sparsely populated the area they were searching is, the odds that they might find shelter somewhere seems awfully damn slim."
Xaldin seemed to be doing some very hard thinking all of a sudden. "That...does put an entirely different picture on the situation." Xigbar just gave him a look. "Eight, what exactly are you doing here?"
All sorts of witty, sarcastic, disrespectful, snide, and downright insulting responses crossed Axel's mind. "Worrying, mostly," was what actually came out of his mouth.
"Awesome," Xigbar said, opening a portal. He jerked back and closed it almost immediately. "Holy shit. Ax, I was about to ask you to pop over and take a look at what the weather in northwestern Centralia was doing, but...that's no longer necessary. I could feel how damn cold it was just through the portal." Axel swallowed hard - at least Xigbar wasn't in a wait-and-see mood right then. "At least I got two volunteers for the rescue mission handy. Bundle up, guys."
"They d-d-didn't even l-l-leave a little st-t-t-traw," Demyx grumbled, searching the long-abandoned barn for anything that could possibly help keep him and Roxas any warmer than they already were. The ragged horse blanket Roxas had found wouldn't do any good; it was already frozen stiff. They'd spend more body heat trying to thaw it out than they would conserve by trying to wrap up in it once it was thawed. And the straw Demyx had been hoping to find, that could have provided some insulation whatever shape it was in and maybe even some tinder if they found some way to start a fire, was nowhere in evidence.
"W-w-what h-happened here?" Roxas stammered, hugging himself for warmth.
"W-w-well...w-what I h-h-heard was, th-this used t-t-to be a b-b-big f-farming area, exc-c-cept th-there was a d-drought..." Demyx hugged Roxas close to him, trying to conserve their body heat by sharing it. He could feel the younger boy shivering fiercely. "N-n-now it's ab-b-bandoned, e-even though the d-drought's l-l-long over..." Fuck, his hands were totally numb; hopefully severe frostbite wasn't setting in. Eight fingers were just barely enough to play sitar; he couldn't afford to lose any more.
This storm cannot possibly blow over fast enough, he thought as the wind howled ever louder through the warped and occasionally missing planks. At least the bottom four feet of the walls were solid concrete, but their faces were still as good as exposed.
"R-Rox...w-where's that b-b-blanket you found?"
"'S right w-where I l-left it..."
"W-well, l-let's go g-g-get it...a l-l-little help is b-better than n-n-none..."
The two of them went together to retrieve the blanket, neither one wanting to abandon the other's warmth. Once they relocated the blanket, Demyx spread it out on the floor, bending it so that part of it was against the wall, then sat down on it, gesturing for Roxas to sit down next to him. "B-blanket won't chill us out as f-f-fast as bare st-tone, and 's l-l-less drafty d-down here..." he murmured.
Roxas sat down next to him, and the two of them snuggled up to each other, not wanting to waste a single bit of body heat. "H-how long d-d-do you think its g-g-gonna last?" Roxas asked, shivering in Demyx's arms.
"Too damn," Demyx muttered through gritted teeth. Privately, he was wondering if Heartless could freeze to death and, if they did, whether they could count storm-kills towards their quota. He was guessing no.
"Thanks for killing the wind, but can't you do anything about the snow?" Axel grumbled. The effort of trying to melt their way through it all was starting to wear on him, and he was growing increasingly frustrated. And the damn shit kept falling.
Xaldin just gave him a poisonous look. "Do I look like Vexen?"
"Stuff it, you two," Xigbar growled, not looking any happier than either of them. "If it turns out those two slipped back home while we were stumbling around here looking for them, I'm gonna kick their asses."
Axel turned around just long enough to glare at him. "Don't even fucking joke about that, okay?" He was dizzy with anxiety already - they hadn't passed a single building yet that was intact enough to offer even a hope of shelter, and he really doubted Demyx and Roxas had gone home since the three of them had left. Logically, they were probably still out there somewhere. "Fuck it all, why didn't we bring Zexion along..."
"With all the snow and wind? How much good would he do?"
Xaldin had a point, but Axel couldn't bring himself to admit it. Instead, he went back to melting a path through the snow, based on Xigbar's vague and rather unreliable maps. All was going as well as could reasonably expected, given that they were all cold and miserable and had not the faintest clue where in this or any other world Demyx and Roxas might be, when suddenly -
"Aaaagh! Motherfucking son of a bitch...!"
Axel and Xaldin both whipped around. Xigbar was now sitting in the snow, clutching his ankle and swearing to beat the band. "What the hell? What happened?"
"Think I stepped in a hole or something," Xigbar ground out. "Fucked up my ankle...shit, that hurts...!"
Xaldin sighed and shook his head. "Do you have a hope in hell of standing on it?"
"Yeah...just give me a hand..." Axel and Xaldin helped Xigbar back to his feet; the Freeshooter managed to stay upright for about half a second before falling right back down again. "Ow...fuck...maybe not."
Axel sighed. "Well, fuck...you better go home."
Xigbar shook his head. "No, I'll be fine in a second...I can keep going..."
Axel looked at Xaldin. Xaldin made a prompt executive decision, albeit one that was technically insubordinate. He opened a portal with one hand, grabbed Xigbar by the collar with the other, and shoved him through. "Go see Vexen, you idiot," he said as he closed the portal.
Axel just stared at him. "You know, he's gonna skin you for that when we get back."
"He wouldn't dare," Xaldin said in an offhanded way that made Axel believe him one hundred percent.
Roxas had noticed his companion had stopped shivering several minutes ago, which he hoped was a good sign - he just wished he could stop shivering too. "Y-yeah?" he murmured weakly - shivering all by itself was really taking it out of him; he was exhausted. He'd really love to just fall asleep, except Demyx had warned him that could be fatal.
"Roxas...I'm fallin' asleep."
"...What?" Roxas twisted around to look at Demyx. The older boy's eyes were half-closed and unfocused, and he was breathing only slowly. "I th-thought you s-s-said we c-couldn't f-fall as-s-sleep...'c-c-cause if we d-did, we m-m-might n-never wake up-p..."
Demyx nodded slowly. "I know," he said in a faint, slurred voice. "But...once y' stop shivering...doesn't take long. Soon...I jus'...won' be able t' stay awake." Even as he spoke, his eyelids were drooping even further.
Roxas shook his head in disbelief - to think he'd assumed Demyx had stopped shivering because he was finally getting warm. "D-Demyx...n-no...y-you c-c-can't fall as-sleep..." Not knowing what else to do, he crawled into Demyx's lap and curled up, trying to share as much of his body heat as possible.
Demyx slowly wrapped his arms around him, as if he was having trouble moving. "'M sorry, Rox," he murmured faintly. "If I start t' fade...get my clothes, quick, before they fade too. You'll need all th' warmth y' can get..."
Roxas shook his head again. "D-Demyx...n-no..."
Demyx sighed and closed his eyes, and Roxas thought he was gone. Then he smiled faintly and opened his eyes again. "You're a good kid," he murmured. "Don't worry 'bout me...'s not s' bad...doesn't hurt...an' this time...I can see 't coming...jus'...when y' get home...think of me sometimes...'kay?..."
...No. He couldn't let this happen. Even if he couldn't think of a way he could possibly prevent it, at this point, Roxas just couldn't bear the thought of Demyx fading away while he was still clinging to him. This was just so horribly wrong - it had been such a simple mission; if they'd just been able to find more Heartless faster, they would be back safely at the castle already...they should have been home by now...
The inside of the abandoned barn suddenly lit up brightly, a beacon for anyone who might possibly be able to see. Demyx blinked dully in surprise, then smiled a little without saying anything. There didn't seem to be anything left to say.
"What the hell..." A light seemed to suddenly flare in the distance, despite all the snow between wherever it was and wherever Axel and Xaldin were. It was so far away, in fact, that Axel glanced back at Xaldin before proceeding, just to make sure his senior thought it was worth his while.
Xaldin just gave him an are-you-really-that-dumb look. "It's our best chance. Even if it's not them, it could be someone who might have seen them. If it's a building, they may have taken shelter in it. There aren't any other possibilities."
"...Right." There wasn't a hell of a lot Axel could say or do in response, other than start melting a path through the snow towards the light. He had not the faintest clue what it could be - he was just hoping it was something. If they went all that way - it looked like miles, and felt like light-years as he struggled through the snow - and it turned out to be nothing at all, just a freak moonbeam on a piece of scrap metal or something - God, he was so damn tired, how could he keep melting this shit, all Xaldin had to do was kill the damn wind, not spend tons of effort whipping it up - if that stupid little light was nothing, he didn't know what he'd do... "...I think that's a building..."
"Good," Xaldin said with what almost sounded like relief. "Better hurry - if they're hiding in there, the less time they spend there, the better.
Axel tried. He really wanted to hurry. He was entirely too aware that his best friends might have been caught in this blizzard since it started, and that light could easily be Roxas trying to signal for help. But he just couldn't. He'd been melting his way through too damn much snow tonight. He kept going slower and slower, as the flame he conjured burned lower and lower, and his hands began to shake with exhaustion... "I can't," he said finally, stopping in his tracks. "I'm beat. I'm about to burn out."
He fully expected Xaldin would not take that well. He expected to get yelled at, maybe criticized for being a wimp, maybe smacked upside the head, possibly forced to keep going until either they got there or he burned himself out completely and had to be sent home. He hadn't really expected Xaldin to move in front of him and start blowing the snow out of the way. "Rest up as much as you can, but stay close," the older man warned.
"All right," Axel croaked. He stumbled along behind Xaldin, trying to ignore the icy backdraft from the wind as it blew them a clear path to the building. It just seemed so cold, though...and he was already so exhausted...it felt like they'd been stumbling around in this mess for hours...and if they never found Roxas or Demyx in this shit anyway...he couldn't even see the light as well anymore; either it was dimming or his eyes were freezing over...the building was so far away...his boots felt like they were about soaked through...his feet were starting to kill him...they'd been struggling towards it for hours, and the building wasn't getting any closer...he just wanted to drop in his tracks for a nap, even though the cold couldn't possibly be affecting him...he was just so damn tired...why didn't they just try to portal to the building, and then give up when that didn't work, because it wouldn't...screw it, they might as well go home...they'd been trudging all night, and they were never gonna get there...
And suddenly, they were there.
Axel stared blankly at the decrepit old barn that seemed to be glowing dully from the inside, as if not quite believing that they'd actually reached their destination. Xaldin, who was less worn out and better at working through exhaustion anyway, was busy trying to find a way in. "Someone's used this door since the storm started," he called. "If you have any body heat left, get in here."
Someone had been in the barn since the storm started? That meant that whoever they were, if they had a brain cell in their head, was still in there...with a sudden burst of energy, Axel darted over to the open door and inside. Xaldin was already bending over a dark figure on the floor against the wall. "...Is...is that..." He held off the rest of his question as Xaldin motioned him over urgently. The dark figure turned out to be Demyx and Roxas, curled up together as if trying to share their last bit of body heat. Both of them were an unhealthy bluish shade, and neither of them seemed to be moving. Roxas's eyes opened a little as he approached, but Demyx gave no response at all; his eyes remained closed, as if frozen shut. Squeezing tears from his eyes, Axel extracted Roxas from Demyx's lifeless embrace and hugged him tightly, trying to warm him up some. "Dammit," he whispered. "If only we'd been a little faster..."
Xaldin gently picked Demyx up off the floor, leaning close to his face. "He's still breathing," he said tensely. "Just barely, but he's breathing. We have to take them home now." With no further comment, he disappeared through a portal with Demyx, leaving Axel to follow with Roxas.
He found himself in the hospital wing, in a very warm room. Vexen looked rather pained - he didn't like heat - but he was already checking Demyx's temperature, and shaking his head. "Dangerous - very dangerous," he muttered, apparently to himself, as he attached some sort of breathing mask to Demyx's face. "If his temperature drops even a fraction of a degree, it could be fatal...Eight, is Thirteen at all responsive?"
Axel looked down at the boy he was still hugging tightly - Roxas's eyes were open wider now, and he'd turned his head to look at Vexen, but he hadn't moved otherwise. "...Just barely, I think."
Vexen sighed and shook his head as he draped a heavy wool blanket over Demyx's body, then handed one to Axel to wrap around Roxas. The blanket was warmer than expected - it must have been prewarmed. "Stay close, then...if he rouses more, let me know. I'm not willing to risk giving him anything to drink unless I can be certain he's awake and aware enough to swallow, and I only have one rewarming inhaler. When Fifteen gets here, we can start extracorporeal rewarming." Not really knowing what Vexen was talking about, Axel nodded and sat down, holding Roxas closer than ever, just praying they hadn't been too late.
Demyx smiled a little bit - wherever he was now, presumably the in-between zone between lives, it was bright and warm, a vast improvement on the dark, cold barn he'd just died in. They'd even given him a nice, warm blanket to sleep under until he was ready to start his next life. Well, he was awake now, but he still felt so drowsy and weak...surely it wouldn't hurt to just stay here for a few more minutes...
Eventually, he realized there was a breathing mask on his face. Right about then, he started to shiver violently.
"He's shivering. He just started shivering."
"Good...he should be aware enough to drink now." The breathing mask was removed, and someone with very warm hands forced him to sit up, and someone else held a cup of hot something to his lips. "Drink that slowly," they commanded. Since he didn't know what else to do or why he shouldn't do as asked, Demyx drank obediently. It turned out to be hot chocolate. When the hot chocolate was gone, he was shivering a little less violently, and he was more able to look around and see where he was and what was going on. He was in the hospital wing back at the castle, not the afterlife, much to his surprise. Axel was helping him sit up, and Vexen was still holding the empty mug.
"I...I'm h-home?" If he hadn't been shivering so much, Demyx would have been sure he was hallucinating. "H-h-how did I...g-get here?" he whispered, pulling the very real blanket a little closer.
Axel grinned and hugged him a little closer. "You're home because Xigbar, bless his remaining eye, had a remarkably accurate hunch. He had the sudden idea that you and Roxas were out trapped in a blizzard somewhere...and it's a damn good thing Xaldin and I found you, because you were."
"You're very fortunate not to have suffered any permanent damage," Vexen added. "Your body temperature on arrival was almost terminally low. You could have lost limbs."
"..." The explanation seemed to sail right over Demyx's head; he was still pretty chilled, and thinking slowly. "W-where's R-Roxas?" he asked, as it seemed the most important of the zillion questions he wanted to ask.
"O-over h-here." Demyx turned, and saw Roxas sitting on a different bed, wrapped up in his own blanket and sipping hot chocolate. They couldn't help but smile at each other. "W-woke up b-b-before y-you did."
Demyx smiled again as his eyelids drooped - he was still feeling awfully drowsy, and wanted to go back to sleep. This time, he was pretty sure he'd wake up again later. "W-well...w-when you s-s-see Xigbar and X-Xaldin again, t-t-tell them I s-said th-thanks..."
"We're right here. You can tell us yourself."
Demyx looked at the door, and discovered Xigbar and Xaldin standing there, apparently checking up on him and Roxas. "Don't ask about the crutches, okay?" Xigbar asked wryly, as if he'd been reading Demyx's mind. "We're just happy to see you still with us."
Demyx grinned sleepily, pulling the blanket still closer. "Th-thank you."
"You're welcome, dude. Just...next time you get caught in a blizzard, screw your quota, come the hell home, okay? That was bad. And it could have been a hell of a lot worse."
Demyx nodded, fighting back a yawn. He was only shivering a little now. "Mmhmm...n-no place like h-home...I g-guess..."
Axel snorted. "What the hell was that? Quoting 'Wizard of Oz'?" There was no answer; Demyx had fallen asleep, lulled by the warmth and comfort of home.
AN: I started it a while ago, but I only just finished it. No specific inspiration but the weather.
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts, got it memorized?