"Axel, what in Kingdom Hearts's name is that?"
"This is a laptop computer, Roxas," Axel declared with a note of smug pride as he settled himself down on Roxas's desk chair and opened the laptop in question. "Memory problems notwithstanding, I'd think you'd recognize one on sight."
"I know what it is," Roxas said, fighting the temptation to take it and clobber his older friend with it. "What I'm really wondering is why you have it and where it came from."
"That only answers half my question."
"I saved up for it," Axel said proudly, holding it up to show off. "I would love to tell you all about its top-of-the-line hardware and mind-boggling capabilities and its awesome software. Alas, I cannot, because I don't like lying to you and I didn't have the budget for a top-end machine. It does, however, have a decently large hard drive and an adequate CD/DVD drive and burner and it came with a printer. Probably a crappy printer, but a printer is a printer. Sadly, it has very little in the way of awesome software. I downloaded some pretty cool free software earlier, though. Back when I was still on a world with an Internet."
Roxas regarded the smallish screen and the puny keyboard thoughtfully - Axel's long fingers were going to have an awfully hard time on those tiny keys. "So...this is going to be your mobile porn stash from now on, I take it?"
Axel blinked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then gave him a poisonous glare. "Oh, bite me, Rox. I was honestly thinking mobile gaming platform. Except I need to buy some games for it; right now all it has is Minesweeper and Solitaire and cruddy shit like that. Even the word processor is more fun than that."
"Have fun with the word processor, then," Roxas said, giving Axel's smug look right back, and settled back to continue the book he'd been reading when Axel barged in. Secretly, he kept an eye on the screen, just to see what Axel was going to do. To his surprise, Axel did open up the word-processing program, and stared blankly at it for several long moments. Roxas was about to make some crack about trying to write a novel when Axel started typing - and what he typed did look like the title of a book, or at least an essay. "HOW TO BUILD A POTATO CANNON," Roxas read off the screen. "Axel, what in Kingdom Hearts's name is a potato cannon?"
"Exactly what it sounds like," Axel replied, gazing at the screen as if contemplating what to write next. "A large gun made out of PVC pipes, fueled by hairspray, triggered by a basic ignition switch, projectile of choice is potatoes. Yams will do in a pinch. I actually got the instructions from Xigbar. Built it, too. Couldn't get it to work right, though. I guess I never put in enough hairspray." Shaking his head slightly, he erased those words and replaced them with THE BASICS OF TRASH-CAN BURNING.
Roxas stared like he thought Axel had lost his mind. In truth, he might not have gone quite that far, but he was pretty sure Axel wasn't using the best judgment ever, especially if he was really going to write an essay on burning trash cans. "Um, if you're going to write an article for publication, I'd suggest you stick to legal activities," he said wryly. "I'm sure Arsonist Weekly has enough tips-for-amateurs articles in its daily mail. Modern Pyromaniac too."
"Bite me, Roxas," Axel said evenly as he highlighted that title and stared at it, as if considering what to type in next. After a moment, he replaced it with THE CARE AND KEEPING OF NOBODIES.
Roxas laughed out loud at that one. "Which Nobodies?" he asked, setting the book down and leaning on the back of the chair so he was looking over Axel's shoulder. "I mean, the care and keeping of Dusks is boring...and I think the care and keeping of Assassins is entirely different from the care and keeping of Dancers from the care and keeping of Beserkers. You can't get away with an essay; you'd have to write a multichapter book. With everyone's input. At least, those of us who can control Lessers."
"I was actually thinking about us," Axel admitted as he contemplated the screen, as if working on the next joke title.
"The two of us, or the sixteen of us?"
"The fifteen of us. With a special chapter for Namine or something."
"Oh, good. He didn't forget her completely. He still has some redeeming value."
"Bite me, Rox..." Axel said in a warning tone, turning his head to glare at him.
"Hey, don't let me cramp your style," Roxas said lightly. "You've got the title down already; there's only fifteen chapters to go. Sixteen, if you include the one on Namine. You'd better get cracking." Axel glared at him some more, then turned back to the computer, highlighted only the last word of the title, and changed it to THE CARE AND KEEPING OF DEMYX. "I always knew you liked him better than me," Roxas said conversationally when he saw that.
"Roxas, if I have to say 'bite me' one more time, I am going to bite you, very literally," Axel said, in a voice that could raise blisters on a brick. "I picked him mostly because he's not in the room."
"Like I said, don't let me cramp your style," Roxas teased, backing off a bit just in case. Axel continued to glare at him for a moment before turning back to the screen. After a moment's thought, he added the first line under the title - Congratulations! You are now the proud parent of your very own Demyx! - and Roxas cracked up and almost fell off the bed. Encouraged, Axel kept writing. We hope you enjoy many happy, healthy, wonderful years with your new Demyx, and wish you every possible success in this great undertaking you are about to embark on. Roxas rolled over onto the bed, lying on his back and holding his stomach, trying not to howl. Raising a Demyx is both a delight and a trial, which is why we've published this guide to help you get through the trials and find as much delight in every day as possible. Roxas's stomach was starting to hurt from all the contained laughter. Remember, a Demyx isn't just for Christmas (though it's unlikely he'll celebrate the holiday anyway) - he's for life. Roxas couldn't help it anymore - he nearly busted a gut laughing.
Axel set the laptop on the desk, stood up, turned around, and bowed like a star performer, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "Thank you, thank you. I do my best to entertain."
"Keep writing," Roxas said, fighting to calm down enough to breathe. "I just gotta know how to raise my very own Demyx..." Saying that all by itself was enough to set him off again, and he nearly fell flat on his face laughing. "Sweet adorable generous humble obsessive little headcase..."
"Now, now, Roxas, don't be ungenerous," Axel lectured, wagging a finger at him. "I aim to provide a balanced and at least somewhat objective look at the advantages and disadvantages of raising a Demyx, as well as his various charms and...less charming qualities..." He sputtered and dissolved into laughter. "And hope and pray he never reads it." Turning back to the computer, he added Sadly, far too many people, more enthusiastic than prepared for the responsibility that lies ahead, decide to bring a Demyx into their home without thinking about how much work will be required of them, and many Demyxes are turned in to orphanages and adoption agencies or, tragically, left on the streets to fend for themselves. A Demyx might survive on the street, but he will never thrive, and even if he is eventually taken in by a loving home, a street-Demyx will carry the scars of poverty, desperation, and neglect for a long time to come. Not all scars are physical.
Roxas stopped laughing as he read that. Those last few lines were hitting a bit close to home. "He wasn't actually abandoned, was he?" he asked carefully. "I mean...well, yeah, as far as anyone knows, his mother shoved him off on her mother, but his grandmother certainly didn't abandon him...she raised him as best she could on her own, and he only ended up on the street after she died..."
Axel leaned back and looked at the screen, looking more serious himself. "Well...I was kind of going by what someone might write for THE CARE AND KEEPING OF PUPPIES, except heavily tweaked so it was specific for Demyx," he admitted candidly. "By the way, even if he does read this sometime, don't ever tell him about the puppy thing. He'd drown me." That said, he sat up straight once more and added A word to the wise: Make provisions in your will for the care of your Demyx, just in case. The last thing a responsible Demyx owner would want is for their beloved Demyx to be packed off to an orphanage after their death, or worse yet, thrown out into the street. Don't trust your friends and relatives to think of your Demyx themselves; they may not. He pondered those words carefully, then put a horizontal line after that first paragraph and moved all the way down to the next page. "All right...table of contents. Help me out here, Rox..."
"A typical Demyx will eat anything you put in front of him, provided it's well-prepared. This includes all manner of fowl, all manner of fish and shellfish (particularly shrimp and lobster), lamb, pork, most wild game, just about any vegetable, and even insects. The one exception is beef. Demyxes cannot eat beef and will not eat beef. Don't try to offer your Demyx beef in the hope that he'll acquire a taste for it; you'll only waste your time. Besides, he'll eat so many other more economical foods that it's not even worth the effort."
Axel tilted his chair back, pondering those words, then nodded and sat back up, though he didn't start typing right away. "One question - what do you mean 'provided it's well-prepared'?"
Roxas shrugged and looked up at the ceiling, as if searching for words. "Well, you know how he always comes down on greasy fast-food crap. Offer him a limp, sickly french fry and he'll act like you offered him something you found in a litter box. If something doesn't come up to his standards, he'd rather throw it away and go hungry than eat it. I'll grant that his standards for fast food aren't precisely exacting, but he has some. Which is more than you can say."
Axel glowered at him malevolently. "Is this about the burritos again?"
"Heck yes it's about the burritos. After I got my stomach back in line, I took Demyx back to that taco stand, and he took one look at the place and turned his back on it. Said he wouldn't feed anything it served to a sick dog to put it down; it would be too cruel."
Axel held his hands up in surrender. "Okay, okay, I get what you're getting at. Just don't come down too hard on me; the burritos didn't do me any favors either." Turning back to the computer, he wrote down what Roxas had suggested earlier, word for word barring a few edits and additions of his own. With his memory, he didn't need Roxas to repeat it. "Okay, how does this sound: A typical Demyx will eat anything you put in front of him, provided it's decently prepared; his food has to come up to a certain standard of quality, and if it doesn't meet it, he won't eat it. Fortunately, this standard should be easy for even a beginner cook to attain, as long as they don't serve anything horribly burnt, disgustingly greasy, or badly undercooked. Demyxes will generally eat all manner of fowl, all manner of fish and shellfish (Demyxes are usually great connoisseurs of sushi and sashimi), lamb, pork, most wild game, just about any vegetable, and so on and so forth and all that stuff about beef. At the end: As a general rule, Demyxes are very fond of ethnic cuisine, particularly Asian and Indian recipes. No matter how fond you are of Grandma's chicken pot pie, you'd better learn at least one good curry recipe and work on your stir-fry technique."
"That was a clever addition about ethnic food," Roxas said after a moment's thought. "Though you could have really specified Indian food and how much he likes to cook for himself. I think the part about standards was a bit too long, though. And it didn't really say anything. I mean, no one eats anything that's horribly burned, disgustingly greasy, or badly undercooked. Except you."
"Roxas, remember what I said about having to say 'bite me' again? Either can it or get out of reach." Axel glared at the keyboard for a moment before going back and editing that line. "How does this suit Your Highness? A typical Demyx will eat anything you put in front of him, provided it meets his standard of quality. Fortunately, this standard should be fairly easy for even a beginner cook to attain, as long as they don't serve anything too burnt, greasy, or undercooked. Demyxes are by nature forgiving, but where food is concerned, their forgiveness has limits. You may have a hard time getting them to eat fast food." Tilting his chair back again, he looked over at Roxas, mentally judging his striking range just in case he literally had to bite him.
"We approve of your edited version, though somewhat less than wholeheartedly," Roxas began in a haughty tone, and stopped when Axel snapped his teeth at him. "...It sounds better that way," he said hastily, in lieu of being bitten.
"Well, I'm damn flattered that Your Royal Highness approves," Axel said in a tone a bit too close to snide for comfort. "Shall I include a list of favorite foods, or would Your Highness prefer to continue on to the next topic?"
"...Bite me, Axel." That took Axel by surprise, more than it probably should have, on reflection. "What would the next topic be, anyway? Teaching/training, right?"
"Yeah..." Since Roxas hadn't said anything about the list of favorite foods, Axel went down, made the next header, and got started. "It is imperative that you begin music lessons and swimming lessons as early as possible," he read aloud as he wrote. "Your normally shy, retiring Demyx will suddenly turn into a little shark when he gets in the water, and a little maestro with an instrument in his hands. Stringed instruments are preferred, but a young Demyx can and will learn to play any instrument he can get his hands on, barring piano, which somehow always presents difficulties for them. If you can't afford an instrument, go for singing lessons."
"I'm sure Demyx could learn piano even with eight fingers, if he just had one to practice with on a regular basis," Roxas said complacently, lying back on his bed. "But otherwise, that's a good start..." He sat up suddenly with a thoughtful frown. "We didn't do the section on personality yet, did we? That should have been the first one, now that I think of it."
"Good point..." Axel went all the way back up to before the current first section, made room for a new one, and frowned. "This is gonna be a doozy to write. It's gonna sound like I have a crush on him."
"I wonder sometimes, Axel." Axel turned back and snapped at Roxas again. "I'm just saying!"
"Try just not saying sometimes," Axel grumbled as he stared at the screen, trying to think up something to write. A properly raised Demyx will be loving, caring, gentle, kind, generous, courteous, sweet-tempered, peaceable, devoted, intelligent, talented to the point of genius, sociable, fun-loving, determined, fiercely loyal, courageous, strong, self-sacrificing, and surprisingly modest, was what he came up with first. "Told you it would sound like I had a crush on him."
"Keep writing," Roxas said in a level tone. "You and I both know he's not the angel you make him out to be so far."
Axel sighed and continued. Unfortunately, he will also be intensely self-critical, fatalistic, prone to depression, occasionally obsessive, often withdrawn, generally sedentary, thin-skinned, timid, insecure, retiring, sometimes cowardly, lacking confidence and self-esteem, and frequently moody as the tides. Also, Demyxes have a bad habit of not speaking up when in trouble, so that no one else becomes aware of it until it's already reached a crisis point. He read that passage aloud to Roxas and glanced over to him for an opinion. "Did I leave anything out?"
"Throw 'creative' into the positive list, and 'lives in a world of his own' into the negatives. And cut either 'sociable' or 'retiring'; the two kind of don't go together. And cut out the 'cowardly' one. Just in case Demyx ever reads it. You'll crush him."
"Well, that proves what I said about 'thin-skinned'..." Axel muttered as he made Roxas's suggested corrections.
"He's also mentally unstable. Or did 'obsessive' cover that?"
"I was thinking of his ability to go without food or sleep for days on end just to finish a composition. And I don't think a real publication would mention that he has a history of eating disorders and suicide attempts. Not if they were trying to get people to adopt a Demyx."
"Well, I was just going back to that 'puppy' comparison you mentioned earlier," Roxas said offhandedly, seeming to bury his nose in a book. "Any responsible breeder writing THE CARE AND KEEPING OF GREAT DANES would be sure to put in any serious health problems the breed was prone to so prospective owners would know right off the bat, instead of being surprised by 'em when their puppy is already a dog. And Demyx is...well, he's a different breed of Nobody."
"No shit," Axel said eloquently, then went back to pondering the paragraph. After a moment, he added If your Demyx begins to show worrying behavior, such as abnormal secretiveness or a prolonged moody spell, DON'T brush it off as typical adolescent moodiness. Demyxes are tragically prone to self-destructive behavior, including eating disorders and suicide attempts, and it's better to err on the side of caution when a little extra care and concern on your part can prevent a tragedy. Better yet, take a hand in bolstering his naturally low self-esteem from an early age and make him feel more secure. It may not be an easy task, but the reward in the end is going to be worth every last second of work when your confident, secure Demyx truly comes into his own.
Roxas was now peering over his shoulder, reading along as he wrote. "Well...how old was Demyx when he joined the Organization?" he asked with a frown. "He couldn't have been much younger than I am, was he? I know you've told me more than once he was just a kid, but he can't have been that much of a kid, even if he did join right after you..."
Axel nodded vaguely. "Fifteen. Your point?"
"How can you give advice on how to raise him and such when you didn't meet him until he was halfway through his teens?"
"...Remember when he turned into a five-year-old that one time...?"
"That didn't even last a full week. That's not very much experience, no matter how memorable it was." Axel glowered darkly at Roxas, but Roxas seemed unconcerned. "Besides, that part about bolstering his self-esteem is apt to make him feel bad about himself. This may surprise you, but he is fully aware that he is neither confident nor secure."
Axel gritted his teeth and growled a bit. "Not anymore, or haven't you noticed yet?" Without waiting for an answer, he added The phrase "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" applies particularly strongly to Demyx. You may notice that after some life-threatening or life-altering crisis, your Demyx may initially seem to fall apart (which isn't a given), but once he pulls himself together, he'll be tougher than ever before. If there's one thing a Demyx can be absolutely relied on to do, it's come through in the crunch, and surviving a serious crisis will give him all manner of confidence.
Roxas peered over his shoulder to read that. "Now it sounds like you're crushing on him," he commented.
"Kiss my ass!"
"...Can I bite you instead?"
"Okay, read through everything in the teaching and training section."
Axel took a long drink from his bottle of water, cleared his throat, and started reading aloud. "It is imperative that you begin music lessons and swimming lessons as early as possible. Your normally shy, retiring Demyx will suddenly turn into a little shark when he gets in the water, and a little maestro with an instrument in his hands.
"Second paragraph: Demyxes are made for music. If you yourself do not love or at least appreciate music, adopt a different Nobody, period. All Demyxes must have some form of musical training, which is every bit as vital to them as learning how to dress and feed themselves. A Demyx with no formal training will find some way to teach himself, sooner or later; a Demyx whose musical ambitions are actively discouraged will either revolt or waste away. It may be possible to turn their creative impulses to some other outlet, such as drawing or writing, but highly inadvisable. Stringed instruments are preferred, at least for starters, but a young Demyx can and will learn to play any instrument he can get his hands on, barring piano, which somehow always presents difficulties for them. If you can't afford an instrument, go for singing lessons. As with all children just learning music, be prepared to put up with some less than masterful early attempts for a while, but with Demyxes, this period will be short. Demyxes usually have perfect pitch and will be dissatisfied by their own early attempts, but they will only work all the harder to master their instrument quickly. No matter how hard on the ears they are at first, don't discourage them from practicing! Soon enough, you'll be asking them to play for guests - which may be a difficult task, given how shy Demyxes typically are, but once they get used to playing for an audience, they love it. Don't be surprised if your Demyx asks your guests for requests after a while."
"I can't imagine Demyx ever playing anything badly," Roxas commented. "Even when he was five years old and could barely hold a sitar. Somehow, I always kind of pictured him as mastering it right off the bat."
"Remember when he turned into a little kid temporarily?" Axel pointed out. "He wasn't very good at playing sitar then, or did you never get to hear him?"
"I never did get to hear him," Roxas said thoughtfully. "I take it his skills regressed with the rest of him?"
"Put it this way. He was worse than you are."
"...You've never heard me play!"
"What's that have to do with anything?" Roxas pointedly turned his back on Axel. "All right, all right, don't get huffy with me. You want me to keep reading?"
"Go ahead," Roxas answered without turning around. "I haven't finished nitpicking your grammar and word choices yet."
Axel rolled his eyes and shook his head. "I knew I should have asked Zexion for help instead. All right, third paragraph: As a general rule, Demyxes have little interest in competitive sports besides swimming, diving, and/or surfing, being as much at home in the water as on land, though they may play soccer or tennis for recreation and may be talked into trying out for the track team. You may want to encourage your Demyx to learn some form of martial arts, for defensive purposes; he may or may not be interested enough to stick with it, and no harm done if he isn't. Kung fu is your best bet."
"I still think you're reading a lot into a few mentions of wanting to learn kung fu. I never got why it even appealed to him."
"You will have to ask him for the complete answer, but...I would blame Lung Qin Xiang for that. I swear, he's been half-Chinese ever since then..."
"...That would make him half-Chinese, half-Indian, and half-Australian. Which would make him a person and a half."
"Well, he always kind of leaves the Australian part out anyway, so let's say that that's the half person he keeps under the bed. Some days, I could swear he's embarrassed to admit he's half-white...anyway."
"He was raised all-Indian, I guess, so..."
"Anyway. Continuing from where I left off." Axel took another long drink before continuing. "Hell, I should make you read this before I kill my throat... Demyxes are generally more interested in mental exercise than physical, and as such can seem a bit lazy. The one form of exercise guaranteed to catch their interest, besides swimming, is dance. To encourage your Demyx into any other sort of exercise, including physical training, you will probably have to convince him that it will help him become a better swimmer, dancer, or martial artist (if he's into martial arts). Fourth paragraph: Demyxes are not noted scholars. They may be highly intelligent, but they have little interest in academics, and usually regard school as more of an unpleasant chore than anything. Music is the only subject guaranteed to interest them, followed by foreign languages, literature, history, communication, science, and mathematics. Be patient, and try to encourage your Demyx's interest in his least-preferred subjects. Use real-world problems, practical examples, and hands-on experiments as much as possible; where you can, make a game out of it. If possible, home-school him, as the typical school environment will most likely only make him even more disenchanted with subjects he doesn't like to begin with. Otherwise, do your homework on local schools well before he's ready to start, and try to find the one that best suits his needs - namely, one with interested, involved teachers and a hands-on, interactive approach to learning, as opposed to one where the teachers spend their days counting down to their retirement and reciting dry facts for students to memorize. If the best school for him turns out to be a private school, it's well worth the cost if you can afford it at all - your choice of elementary school may be the difference between him getting a college degree or dropping out of high school." He had to stop for more water. "Fifth paragraph: Once your Demyx is admitted to a college or university, if he wants to major in Music Theory or something along those lines, don't, by all that is holy, try to encourage him into some more 'practical' field. Never, ever try to discourage a Demyx's musical ambitions. The best you can hope to accomplish is to encourage him to take a more 'practical' minor; at worst, you'll make him resent you bitterly and/or force him into a field of study and eventual career he hates. Besides, given his incredible native talent, there is absolutely no reason a grown Demyx can't support himself as a musician. Encourage him to study what he loves and he could be the next Eric Clapton. All right, I give; my throat can't take any more." With that, he handed the laptop over to Roxas and let him read for himself.
"I'm still wondering where you got that crap about home-schooling and private schools from," Roxas muttered as he read over the next section or two. "Oh, good. Housing. That's a short one. At need, a Demyx can live just about anywhere, though it would take a particularly inhumane caretaker to extend 'anywhere' to a cardboard box. Assume the minimum standard to be 'roof over his head'. However, just because a Demyx can survive in a spartan environment doesn't mean he prefers to live that way; quite the contrary. He has an open love of comfort and luxury unique to one who knows just how lucky he is to have any. Most Demyxes have a special fondness for plush carpets, soft beds, warm blankets, and lots of pillows, and they like to bury themselves in them, especially on cold days or when they're not feeling well. They often show remarkable decorating skills for their age group, so let yours have a hand in decorating his own room. Be prepared to see lots of blue; underwater themes are popular. Some sort of music player in their room is an absolute necessity, whether it's a basic CD player or a top-of-"
A sudden, loud knock on the door made him jump and nearly drop the laptop. "Are you two in there?" Demyx asked impatiently as Roxas scrambled to save their progress, close the document, and hide the computer. "If so, what the hell have you been doing all day? You apparently missed lunch and you're about to miss dinner!"
Axel and Roxas just stared at each other - had they been in here that long? Granted, the fact that they'd had to keep raiding Roxas's desk drawers for granola bars had kind of implied they'd been there for a few hours, at least, but...long enough to miss lunch and involved enough to not even know it? "Vexen's gonna have my balls for this," Axel muttered to himself as he hid the laptop behind Roxas's PS3. "All right, you go answer the door. We're safe, I think."
Roxas opened the door hastily to find Demyx standing there with an uncharacteristic scowl on his face. "Hi, Demyx," he said, hoping his nervous speech didn't give him away. "I thought you were going to be gone all day."
"All day? That was a basic scouting mission, and you knew it - and you know how long they last," Demyx said, his eyes narrowed. "I was back by 2:30. I thought, when no one showed up to meet me, that you two had left the castle or something, but Fori says you've been in here all day. Where are you going?" he added, grabbing Axel's arm as the redhead tried to slip past him out the open door.
"Um...I'm...going to check my blood sugar?" Axel said, his nervousness at almost being caught turning the statement into a question by accident.
"Well, if you skipped lunch, it should be low enough to leave you stumbling like a drunk," Demyx shot back, clearly unimpressed. "If Vexen finds out about this, he's going to have your balls."
"I know that," Axel mumbled in an undertone, looking down at his feet.
Demyx didn't seem to hear him. "So what the hell were you two doing in here by yourselves all day that wasn't worth interrupting even for meals?" he demanded in a voice that clearly said they'd better have a good answer.
Unfortunately, not only was the real answer of dubious quality, they couldn't exactly share it with him. "Playing Halo," Roxas said instead, fully aware that that answer probably wasn't very good either, but it was the first thing that came to mind and it at least had the excuse of being something they did all the time. It wasn't until Demyx's eyes narrowed even further that he remembered, too late, they played Halo on Axel's Xbox.
Suffice to say, dinner that evening was an awkward affair. Demyx was obviously well aware he'd been lied to, and refused to say a word to either of them, including "pass the basket of rolls" or "can I have the gravy?". Axel and Roxas didn't say a word to each other either, but they were both scheming hard for ways to get themselves back into the Nocturne's good graces without having to confess. Finally, as everyone was standing up and leaving their dishes by the sink, Axel dared to say a word to Demyx. "Hey...you want to go into Twilight Town and catch a movie with us? 9 just opened today, and it sounds pretty good, for an animated -"
"Not tonight," Demyx said, breaking his silence with a very curt response. "I have a headache. I'm going to bed. You two have fun." Before either of them could say a word, he'd summoned a portal and disappeared.
Axel and Roxas were left in the kitchen, staring blankly at each other. "Well. Um," Axel finally said, after a prolonged silence. "As long as he's doing that, um...why don't we go get that...thing finished up so we don't have to work on it again?"
Is he still so pissed he won't even knock on the bathroom door as long as he knows I'm in here? Even if I deliberately took long enough getting dressed to leave him plenty of time to shower if he'd wanted to? Axel wondered to himself as he wiped a last bit of shaving cream out of his ear. Demyx's room had been unnaturally silent this morning; Demyx was normally awake and playing something by the time the alarm went off, even if it was just his stereo. And he normally took the first shower; Axel had deliberately waited ten minutes before starting his, in case he was just being a little slow this morning, but he hadn't moved at all, so far as Axel could tell. Either he was royally pissed or royally slow, or there was something else going on.
Fear warred with concern for a few moments, and eventually gave way as Axel tried to open Demyx's bathroom door and discovered it was locked. Undeterred now that he'd decided on a course of action, he went out to the hallway and tried Demyx's door, but that was locked as well. Knocking produced no result but an unhappy-sounding groan. As a last resort, Axel portaled into Demyx's room, to discover the bed was piled high with so many blankets that Demyx had all but disappeared under them. Only his face was visible, and he did not look very happy or healthy. "What's up? Are you all right?" Axel asked, unthinkingly putting a hand to Demyx's forehead. As he'd feared, he was running a fever.
Demyx grunted faintly at him. "I feel rotten," he complained weakly as he pulled the blankets a little closer - he must have stacked three or four extras on top of what he usually slept with. Axel would be amazed if he wasn't roasting, fever or no fever.
Axel couldn't help but shake his head over his friend's state. "Man...you'd better go see Vexen."
"Don't want to," Demyx whined, closing his eyes as if trying to shut the world out. "I don't wanna move."
"Well, you're gonna have to sooner or later," Axel said with a touch of impatience. "Maybe if you're lucky, he'll unfreeze enough for a house call or whatever, but you will have to see him." The only response that got was a grunt, and everything but the top of Demyx's head disappearing under the blankets. "All right, fine," he sighed. "I'll let him know over breakfast, and maybe he'll come see you instead of ordering you out of bed to come see him. But I wouldn't bet on it."
Axel shook his head again and sighed. "All right. See you after breakfast - you don't have anything like an appetite, do you?"
"Feel sick to your stomach?"
"All right. I just won't bring you anything to eat, then." Axel returned to his own room, pulled his neglected boots on, gave himself a bolus of insulin from his pump, and headed down to breakfast alone.
Roxas was already down there, idly kicking his feet and drumming his fingers on the table while waiting for him, and he didn't look happy that Axel had come down alone. "Don't tell me that Demyx is still so angry he's willing to skip breakfast so he doesn't have to put up with us," he said gloomily.
"He's not angry, he's sick," Axel said, flopping into the chair next to him. "On the plus side, he is willing to be something vaguely like civil now; on the minus side, he's not getting out of bed without the assistance of dynamite. If we both end up with the day off, we really should do something nice for the poor guy...oh, the pancakes. You want some pancakes?"
Roxas rolled his eyes at how easily Axel was distracted by food. "'We really should do something nice for the poor guy...ooh, pancakes! Yay, pancakes!'" he said in a mocking imitation of Axel's voice. "You and pancakes, honestly."
"Just for that, you can dish up your own," Axel said, affronted. "But as I was saying. Now that he's not being so cranky with us, this is the perfect time to make amends before he recovers enough to go back to being cranky. We can make him tea or something."
"Or at least turn his stereo on for him and change CDs on request..." Roxas suddenly started to laugh. "That's what it said to do in The Care and Keeping of Demyx, wasn't it?"
Axel couldn't help but laugh himself at the reminder. "Hey, don't need to tell me that. I wrote the book on him, got it memorized?" Pause. "Hell, you cowrote it."
"Well, you did most of the actual writing; what I mostly did was proofreading and giving a few suggestions...um, Axel? Are you listening? Come in, Axel, do you copy?"
Without even thinking about it, Axel held up a hand for silence. "Don't disturb me, Roxas; I just had a great idea. My laptop is still in your room, right? I'm gonna go talk to Vexen about Demyx, and hopefully talk him into paying a personal visit, and while he's in Demyx's room, I want you to bring the laptop up to my room..."
Much as he appreciated Vexen unbending enough to pay a "house call" - though it wasn't like he even had to leave the building to do so; convoluted though the inside of the castle might be, it couldn't have been so much as a quarter-mile from the hospital wing to his room, and less than that distance if Vexen had been starting from his lab or the kitchen - Demyx would have really liked the appointment to be postponed until the next day, or that afternoon, or some time when he might be more amenable to getting his brain picked. The most intellectually strenuous pursuit he felt up to right then was reading, preferably something that didn't require very much thought. Sleeping also sounded good, the more so the longer Vexen stuck around. At least he got to stay bundled up in blankets, he reflected in search of the bright side, and didn't have to drag himself to the hospital wing. And when Vexen was done with him, he could just go back to sleep...and by the time the Chilly Academic started packing his supplies, rattling off something about difficulty breathing, prolonged coughing spells, or severe weight loss, he was more than ready to do just that. Almost as soon as Vexen closed the door behind him, he let his eyes sag closed, perfectly prepared to spend his entire illness fast asleep.
He had no idea how much time he actually spent asleep, just that when he opened his eyes again, Axel and Roxas were standing around watching him, as if they'd just been waiting for him to wake up. "...The fuck?" he croaked, trying to sit up a little bit. "Do you have any idea how creepy it is to have someone watching you sleep?"
Axel and Roxas looked helplessly at each other and shrugged. "We're just here to pamper you and cater to your every whim, or at least that's what Axel said," Roxas answered. "Besides, you can't sleep all day."
Demyx groaned, let himself drop, and pulled the blankets a little closer. "Try me," he grumbled. "Besides, you two are not my favorite people in the worlds right now, so the first thing you can do is either explain how to play an Xbox game on a PS3 or tell me exactly what you two were doing all day yesterday. And get me a cup of tea or something."
"We shall go you one better," Axel declared proudly. "We shall show you exactly what we were doing all day yesterday, and most of this morning while you were still asleep. Roxas, go get the man some tea." While Roxas glowered at him but left obediently, he forced Demyx into a sitting position, stuffing pillows behind him until he didn't have to support himself in that position, and tucked the blankets up to his neck again. "I'm not going to show you what we were working on until Roxas gets back with the tea, but I will advise you that you're probably going to want at least your hands free, so if you can find them under all those blankets..." Demyx reluctantly worked his hands out from under the blankets, resisting the temptation to flip Axel off. "Excellent. Be back shortly."
As Axel disappeared back into his own room, Demyx let his eyes close again - sleep seemed more interesting than whatever mischief those two had been up to. He opened his eyes again as someone nudged him gently. "Wakey, wakey, Demyx. Your tea is here. Man, you could sleep on a clothesline, couldn't you?"
Demyx glared at the teacup Roxas was holding and motioned vaguely for him to set it down on the bedside table. "In case it's not blatantly obvious, Rox, I'm not feeling particularly well, and sleep is about the most fun thing I can do right now."
"Just wait until Axel gets his laptop booted up," Roxas said with authority. "Then you'll either have the biggest laugh of your life or want to drown us both."
Demyx just stared at him for a very long time. "...What the hell have you two been doing?" he asked finally, not sure he wanted to know the answer.
"Well, Axel has his laptop booted up, and is bringing it in right now," Axel announced as he came back in with the open computer resting on one arm and the cord wrapped around his shoulder. Shrugging the cord off, he set the computer down on Demyx's lap, then went to plug it in, leaving Demyx staring blankly at the screen. "I hesitate to say 'read it and weep', for fear you might do exactly that, but...well, read it."
Demyx read it, or tried to, but he didn't even get beyond the title before looking over at Axel and Roxas and demanding "What the hell is this?"
"Keep reading," Axel insisted. "Don't drown us until you finish it, at least."
Demyx shook his head in disbelief, but kept reading, wondering what in Kingdom Hearts's name the two of them had been smoking as they cowrote this. It had to have been some pretty powerful stuff...but he read more and more, and the more he read, the more impressed he was. These two knew him inside and out - his distaste for lousy fast food, his struggles with math, his sort-of secret interest in kung fu, his preference for board games over video games, even his reluctance to celebrate Christmas. The parts referring to his rough childhood brought carefully-suppressed tears to his eyes; the numerous mentions of his love for music made him feel warm inside; more than one passage managed to tease a chuckle out of him, especially the part about a college-educated Demyx possibly becoming the next Eric Clapton. Finally, he came to the last part, which made his jaw fall open.
ADOPTING A FORMER STREET-DEMYX
When you announce your intention to adopt a former street-Demyx, your friends and family may do their best to change your mind. A Demyx who's been living on the streets for a long period of time will be too surly and cold to ever be manageable, so they might say, or too neurotic to settle into a regular home. A street-Demyx is a tragedy in the making, a suicide waiting to happen. You'd be much better off adopting a baby Demyx, or a very young Demyx who's never lived on the streets; a Demyx still young enough to truly raise as your own, without the scars of poverty and homelessness, is much easier to raise with an even greater reward, whereas a street-Demyx will only break your heart.
If you ignore them and adopt a former street-Demyx anyway, you are to be congratulated. All of the above is, of course, completely false; there is no such thing as a street-Demyx past saving, no matter how old he is or how rough a life he's led. That being said, you have opened yourself up to a much greater challenge than you would have by adopting a baby Demyx, requiring much greater commitment on your part, but the reward is, if anything, greater still. The one rule to keep in mind when dealing with your street-Demyx, first and foremost is: Love him. Even when he won't say more than three words to you, even when he treats you with nothing but suspicion and hostility, even when you know he's keeping secrets from you, even when he hates you for interfering with his self-destructive behavior. You have decided to make this Demyx part of your family, and you can't take family back.
He couldn't keep reading. He looked up at his friends, his eyes blurred with tears. "Guys..." he started, then found himself unable to continue. He swallowed and tried again. "Guys..." That was all the further he got before he burst into tears.
Roxas fell on him almost immediately and gave him a huge hug. Axel took the time to move the laptop to safety first, then joined them. "See, Roxas, that's what I was afraid of," he mumbled, even though he was grinning like an idiot. "He read it and wept."
Roxas reached over and gave the redhead a light cuff. "Don't you recognize tears of joy when you see them, you idiot? At least, I hope that's what those are."
"Guys..." Demyx still found himself unable to get past that one word. The best he could do was hug them both back tightly. "Guys...I..."
"Don't know what to say?" Axel suggested cheekily. "Love you too? Will get you for this? Wonder what the hell you were smoking when you wrote this? Got it memorized? I dunno; I'm grasping at straws here..."
"Guys, I..." All of the above and then some, except maybe "Got it memorized", but the words wouldn't come out. "...Why?!"
Axel and Roxas looked over at each other thoughtfully. "It started out as a joke, didn't it?" Roxas said. "And a pretty dumb joke, at that, until Axel wrote that part about responsible people taking proper care of their Demyx and not letting him wind up in an orphanage or on the streets." He reached out and ruffled Demyx's hair. "No offense to your grandmother. But it got less funny then."
"It was pretty damn fun to write," Axel mused reflectively. "Originally, you were never supposed to see it, which is why we panicked and hid the evidence when you came knocking on Roxas's door last night. And you got all pissed and wouldn't speak to us, and then you woke up sick this morning, so over breakfast we were talking about coming up and pampering you, and Roxas made some crack about 'like it said in The Care and Keeping of Demyx'..."
"And Axel decided maybe we should show it to you to make you feel better," Roxas concluded. "While Vexen was in here, looking at you, we were in Axel's room, racing to put the finishing touches on it. We actually wrote that last part while you were sleeping."
Demyx shook his head faintly, trying to keep reading, but unable to continue past where he'd left off. This document wasn't a joke anymore, not to him; it was almost a biography, written by those who knew him best and...and loved him anyway. "My brothers," he whispered, half to himself, as tears clouded his eyes once more. "What are friends but family you choose..." He swallowed hard, forcing himself to ask a tough question. "Have you ever...wished it was different? Wished...I was different? Less neurotic, less...issue-ridden, I guess?"
"What would be the point?" Roxas asked pragmatically. "You're family. You can't take family back."
"God, we're being gushy enough to make Larxene spew," Axel declared cheerfully. "But love is supposed to be excellent medicine, second only to laughter. Come, baby brother; let us get this invalid back on his feet. By the way, Demyx, you're not going to write The Care and Keeping of Axel now, are you? Or The Care and Keeping of Roxas?...That enigmatic but mischievous smile means yes, doesn't it?..."
AN: I had this sitting half-completed on my hard drive for ages. Only as Demyx-day approached did I get the impetus to actually finish it, because it was easier than starting something new. Anyway, happy Demyx day.