"So...think you're ready to do this, dude?"

"Absolutely not," Demyx replied without a moment of hesitation. "From everything I've heard, Jedi were supposed to start their Force training in infancy, and I've had a three-week crash course. Largely from illegal educational materials of dubious accuracy, supplemented by educated guessing and a heavy dose of Eastern philosophy. I feel like I'm being sent out to fly the Concorde after a few days playing an online flight sim geared towards a 747." He sighed heavily, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "And please, by all the gods, don't tell me that I'm the only man for this job; I know that. Xemnas made that abundantly clear when he gave me the mission."

"Sad but true, kid," Xigbar said, shaking his head slightly as he did a final preflight visual check of the engines. "All right, technically Roxas and Lexaeus each have a bare smidgen, but for all practical purposes, that's nothing. You and Zexion are the only ones with enough power to really count. And..." He took a step back, shrugging as he looked over a bunch of tubes and wiring Demyx couldn't identify, let alone make sense of. "I think you can draw your own conclusions from there."

"Yeah. I kind of already had." Demyx kicked at the floor of the hangar in frustration, consciously keeping his hand away from the heavy weight in his pocket - even after only a three-week crash course, he knew enough about the Galaxy Far, Far Away to know that being caught with a lightsaber, in current political conditions, was next best to suicide, even in a fairly backwater sub-world such as this. "I never thought I'd ever so much as think this, let alone say it, but...Zexion is an idiot."

"Can't argue with that, especially right now. This is about the dumbest shit he could have pulled, short of selling us out." Xigbar sighed heavily, abandoning the engine and sauntering over to the gangplank that led into the little spacecraft. To Demyx's mind, it looked like nothing so much as a rather squat, rusty frog, but if it flew, it flew, and if it didn't fly, hopefully they could portal to safety before incinerating in a giant fireball or something. "All right, I think we're ready to fly, depending on what ground control has to say."

"Joy," Demyx grunted sarcastically. The absolute last thing he wanted was to actually get started - he couldn't remember ever dreading a mission so much. Dragging his heels all the way, he followed Xigbar onto the ship, wishing that someone, anyone else, could be the only other member of the Organization besides Zexion who could use the Force to a meaningful degree. Someone stronger. Someone smarter. Someone who knew what they were doing with it. Someone who wasn't so fucking terrified. Though, frankly, he'd be happy if Zexion just hadn't been so stupid...

Calm. Calm. Angry and afraid is not the emotional state you want to be in when you go at this. Relax. Find yourself a happy place and go meditate in it or something.

Demyx closed his eyes as he sat down and strapped himself in, trying to breathe deeply and evenly and flush all the negative emotions out of his system. They wouldn't be anything but a hindrance when it came to the crunch; in fact, as he recalled, they could get him in even deeper trouble. Not just losing self-control and making stupid mistakes - he could cause himself real, irreversible damage. And not physical damage either. No amount of physical damage could be that frightening, no matter how much power could be gained in exchange...this was an inner damage, warping the mind and corroding the soul until you either couldn't tell right from wrong or simply didn't care, because the concepts had been replaced by "what benefits me" and "what doesn't benefit me".

And Zexion actually sought that out?

Silently praying that the damage wasn't that irreversible and that Zexion hadn't been falling into that trap long enough to be that badly affected, Demyx resumed his deep breathing exercises, trying to calm himself and clear his mind as much as possible for as long as possible. He could almost feel himself beginning to slide into "the Zone", where he felt both hyperaware and uniquely detached from himself - not like the aura before a seizure, but more like he was playing himself in a video game, except that this was a game he was actually good at. He was feeling calm, relaxed, confident, assured -

"So, um...have you...seen...anything about how this is gonna turn out?"

Demyx fell out of his inner sanctuary and landed hard in the seat he'd strapped himself into thirty seconds ago, otherwise known as "the real world". He knew by the emphasis Xigbar had put on the word "seen" what he was talking about, and he didn't really want to answer very badly. Every time he'd come to this world since Zexion's disappearance, starting with the beginning of actual lightsaber practice as opposed to stickfighting in the arena, he'd been getting vague hints, sensations, hunches, even brief images too short to be called real visions - but nothing he could make real, honest sense of, and what little he could make sense of was all contradictory. "I...what haven't I seen?" he sighed, trying to slip back into "the Zone" in the hopes that just maybe he could see something clearly in there. Nothing doing. "I...I can see us catching him, and I can see him escaping. I can see someone else catching him before we do, which is...bad. I can see him surrendering without a fight, and I can see us battling it out. I can...I can see him killing me, and...I can see myself having to kill him. I can see everything, but I don't know what's going to happen. So...please don't ask me again."

Closing his eyes, he started breathing deeply again, trying to let himself relax completely - he should have known by now that he couldn't will himself into the Zone, and that was where he needed to be right now. That was it - breathe deeply, let the mind go completely blank - peace. Peace. Peace. He couldn't make room for fear and uncertainty now; it could get him killed or worse. Just peace, control, focus, peace...he could kind of sense everything in this sub-world going on around him, and the universe at large, kind of like being in a vaguely misty room...of course, Xigbar was right there and obvious, and there were dimmer "hotspots" around everyone in the hangar, kind of like coalescing drops of energy...his hearing aids were picking up on the radio conversation Xigbar was having with the control tower, but the messages didn't seem to be getting from his ears to his brain...there was some great darkness off over there somewhere, near the center of the galaxy, that Demyx quickly decided he didn't even want to look at closely, lest it somehow find him...somewhere out there, on one of these thousands of habitable worlds, was the single life he was looking for...

"So, any idea where to start?"

The words filtered through hazily, as if Demyx was dreaming, but somehow, he just knew how to respond without even having to come out of the Zone. "Carkhet," he said, somehow knowing that it was the right answer. Where Carkhet was in this whole vast galaxy, Demyx had no idea, but as long as Xigbar could plug it into the navigation system and come up with a safe route there, it was all good. Everything would work out...he hoped...assuming he wasn't making a wild guess and chasing a figment of his imagination...calm, calm, all thoughts out of head...

"Okay, back to the real world, dude. You are zonin' out right and left - is this your way of prepping, or are you just really, really sleep-deprived?"

...All right, Demyx really did not like being jarred out of the Zone like that. "This is how I intend to keep myself sane and focused until we catch up with Zexion," he said, a little more sharply than he'd meant to, and reminded himself that he had to keep his attitude in line. "So, yes, call it prepping."

"Well, you might wanna stay with it for a bit, 'cause we just got cleared to take off." Before Demyx could process what that meant, Xigbar pushed a button on the console - the engines roared all of a sudden - he pushed another button - the ship started to quiver slightly as the roof overhead slid back, exposing a sky as clear and blue as any on Earth - he pulled back on a lever - the engines roared even louder - there was a moment's pause, and suddenly the ungainly-looking craft rose into the air, out of the hangar, into the blue sky, deeper and deeper, as if they were sinking into the ocean until they were down where light wouldn't reach and the blue went black - and suddenly, they were floating above the planet they'd just left, among an ocean of stars. It wasn't until Demyx started to get a little dizzy that he realized he'd forgotten to breathe. "Fun, ain't it?" Xigbar laughed, reaching over to punch Demyx in the shoulder. "Just glad you're not Axel. He would have been spewing all over the place."

Demyx nodded distantly - that had been so awesome, he could hardly believe that it had only taken a few seconds. "That was cool," he finally said, still a bit breathless. "I can't get over the fact that you can actually fly this stupid thing." He paused for a moment of thought. "...Actually, how does a one-eyed man safely pilot anything that moves in three dimensions? I mean, no depth perception?"

"You just have to be this awesome," Xigbar said as he started punching numbers into a keypad. "All right, time to do what I do best..."

"Shoot things?"

"Play cute games with the fabric of space-time." Xigbar finished entering his numbers, pulled back on another lever, and suddenly the stars lengthened and blurred into glowing lines, as they shot forward at impossible speeds into an impossible place that Demyx didn't think he could fully comprehend, let alone explain or define. "Welcome to hyperspace, kid. Next stop, Carkhet."

As it turned out, even hyperspace travel and faster-than-light drives couldn't eliminate all the boredom from interstellar travel. Carkhet turned out to be a good third of the way across the galaxy from the world they'd started on, whatever its name was, and while days were ever so much shorter than centuries...it was still pretty boring, especially since the view of hyperspace outside was enough to give Demyx a touch of vertigo. He spent as much time as possible in the windowless little back chamber, meditating or practicing with his lightsaber to the very limited extent possible, or simply sleeping. Right then, he was stretched out on the single tiny bunk he and Xigbar had to alternate stretches in - someone had to watch the controls at all times, though the most Demyx could do if something went wrong on his shift was go wake Xigbar up and make him deal with it. When he wasn't on watch, he'd rather be sleeping than doing anything else - it felt like the only time he wasn't worrying about anything was in the Zone or when he was asleep, and sleep took less spiritual effort. And it was ever so much more restful...

"Hey, wakey wakey, kid. We're almost there."

Reminding himself that killing Xigbar would compromise him spiritually and leave him stranded in hyperspace in a ship he couldn't operate, Demyx rolled off the bed, rubbing his hair into some sort of vague order and flattening out his clothes as best he could. "Are we out of hyperspace yet?" he grumbled, not sure how much more he could take of that endless spinning blue vortex. It was almost enough to make him motion-sick, and he'd never been motion-sick a day in his life.

"Not quite, but give me ten...nine...eight...seven..." Xigbar darted back to the controls, Demyx close behind, counting down and watching the instruments carefully, then pushed forward on the same lever he'd pulled back to launch them into hyperspace - and the endless blue vortex disappeared, and the view turned black with bright streaks of light, and the streaks of light shortened into pinpoint stars, with one big green-and-blue ball below the ship. "So...there's Carkhet for ya, kid," Xigbar said, gesturing expansively at the steadily growing planet. "He still down there? 'Cause if he made tracks for a whole different planet while we were in hyperspace..."

Demyx closed his eyes, trying to sense what was going on down there with the powers he barely knew how to use. He could sense a handful of moderately large settlements on the far side of the planet, out of their sight, and no small amount of plant life, but the one source of life energy he was looking for in particular... "...He's down there," he breathed, then jerked back at the sudden sensation of something striking out at him. Or someone. "He's there, and he knows we're here," he choked, shaking his head and quickly pulling back. "He knows I've found him, though I'm not sure he knows it's me." Even as he spoke, he could feel something probing at his mind, something with hostile intent, and he squeezed his eyes tight shut, picturing an impenetrable wall of Force-energy encasing his brain and protecting his thoughts and identity. The probing ceased, but he didn't know whether it was because his impromptu attempt at a shield had foiled it or because whoever it was - Zexion - had found what he needed to know.

Nine. This is almost insulting.

Demyx instantly broke out in a cold sweat - he knew that voice that was suddenly speaking directly into his mind. So - Zexion had found who he was, and presumably why he was here, and oh, was he ever not happy about it. Demyx could feel more smoldering anger in those five words than he'd known Zexion to express in five years. Was Zexion simply that angry that the Organization wasn't going to leave him alone here until his "research" was finished, or was that the Dark Side at work...? How powerful was Zexion, anyway...? Demyx didn't even know how to reply in kind... Sorry, but everyone else was busy, he thought, deliberately focusing on Zexion as he did so. I happened to be the only one free.

Zexion started; Demyx could feel it from outside the planet's atmosphere. ...Go back and tell the Superior that I cannot leave this universe until I finish the research I have been pursuing here, he answered, sounding...wary, almost afraid, unless Demyx was fooling himself. Believe me, this is for the benefit of the Organization.

That line of logic didn't strike Demyx as being very sincere; it sounded like an excuse with a heavy undertone of Go away and leave me alone or I'll hurt you. Xemnas knows, and Xemnas doesn't care, he responded, trying to carry on a mental conversation and clear his mind of all unnecessary or unpleasant emotions at the same time. You're coming back to the castle with me, no matter what state your research is in. While he had some sort of mental connection going, he tried to get some sort of glimpse of Zexion's surroundings, some kind of idea where on that world he was hiding...somewhere on this side, but he needed to know exactly...

Perhaps I should send the Superior my condolences in advance on the loss of a load of dead weight. On that friendly note - Demyx could have picked up on the implied threat in that in a coma - the connection was severed. Demyx's eyes flew open on their own, and he was almost surprised to find himself still on board the little spaceship, staring out at the planet that was now taking up almost the whole view, soaked in sweat and gasping for breath. It took him a moment to figure out Xigbar was staring at him, and longer to work out how to form words. "I...I'm all right," he said, wiping his forehead and trying to flush all this stress and distress out of his system because was he ever going to need to start out in the Zone today. "He and I were just...having a conversation. He as good as threatened to kill me if I came after him. In his...oblique way."

Xigbar cursed, hearing that. "Man...what the fuck is this place doing to his brain? Sapping fifty IQ points a week, or did it just give him rabies?"

"It's the research he's doing," Demyx felt compelled to say. "The same research Xemnas wants him to leave off and come home already. He's found something very dark and very powerful...maybe he thought it would be useful to us in general when he started, but it's corrupting him. If I can't bring him back now, it will destroy him, or what we knew as him..."

Demyx's eyes remained locked on the green surface below, but he could sense Xigbar's distress and displeasure, almost as keenly as his own. "...Bites to be the point man in all this, doesn't it," he said solemnly. "But remember...your orders aren't 'bring him back alive by any means necessary'. They're 'bring him back alive if reasonably possible'. If it comes down to you or him...it better be you comin' back."

"I know," Demyx murmured softly. "That's not comforting." Biting his lip, he traced a finger over the map of the world on the panel display, trying to find just where Zexion was. "...Land there," he said finally, his finger on the spot that felt just right, then strapped himself in and closed his eyes in search of the Zone. It felt like an impossible quest all of a sudden, between the shaking and bumping from reentering the atmosphere and the churning well of fear and anxiety that seemed to have developed spontaneously where his heart used to be. Zexion was going to try to kill him, he knew it as well as he knew his own name. Knowing that his own survival took priority over Zexion's, if it came to that, was no help at all - even if he was strong enough to kill Zexion if he had to, he didn't want to. But if he went into this as frightened and anxious as he felt right now, he would die...or, if he let that fear turn to anger, and let that anger control his actions, even worse would happen...

He had to get his mind off of that. He couldn't think about any of that right now - just empty his mind and let his subconscious part ways with his conscious briefly. Let go of the fear. Let go of the worries. Just let go...just let go...

"We're here, kid. Oh, for fuck's sake, not the stupor again. This is not the right time to zone out."

"Yes it is," Demyx said, his eyes opening suddenly onto a darkening sky and a long-abandoned industrial-looking building that was already half-reclaimed by the native plant life. He hadn't even noticed when the ship touched down, but not because he was that far into the Zone. He didn't feel like he was in the Zone at all. He just knew that Zexion was in there, waiting for him, and that he was about to walk off this nice safe spaceship and into the most intense battle of his life. He did not want to do this, not at all, and a sharp dart of anger from Zexion, like a physical attack, made him feel even worse. It wasn't like he wanted to do this or anything. All he really wanted was for Zexion to regrow a brain stem and give up and go home on his own.

But if I can't succeed...no one will.

"...Let me off the ship."

Demyx could sense without looking that Xigbar was staring at him, but he didn't care overmuch; all he needed to know was that the gangplank was being lowered and the airlock opened. "Are you all right, kid?"

"Does that even matter?" Demyx answered softly, unbuckling himself and standing up as if he was sleepwalking. "I have a mission to complete. And I don't think I'm going to get any readier for it by sitting here."

"All right, then." Xigbar looked more serious and solemn than Demyx had ever known him to be, which he somehow knew even though he still wasn't looking at him. "Good luck, kid...and come back alive. I would really hate to have to explain to certain people just why you're not coming home with me, and those certain people aren't all Xemnas."

Demyx's chest felt hollow all of a sudden. Blessed Gods, what if Zexion did manage to kill him? Axel and Roxas didn't even know what he was doing or what he'd been training for; Xemnas had been keeping Zexion's betrayal as secret as possible, letting everyone who didn't need to know otherwise think that he'd been gone this long with permission. What would his friends do if they found out just how and why he'd died...?

"I'm not going to die." A promise spoken as much to himself as to Xigbar, as Demyx stepped off the ship and onto the oddly bluish-toned grass. He kept his eyes focused on the decaying building ahead of him, and his thoughts on what was ahead of him.

Inside the abandoned factory, the atmosphere was almost peaceful, in a rather sad way, if you weren't sensitive to the roiling fog of darkness and anger and...fear...inside. Was Zexion actually afraid of him? Demyx could hardly believe it, if he was...but the fear was soon smothered by anger, and Demyx had enough of his own fear to contend with. On a more positive note, I can be confident that the Superior is not so desperate to bring me home as all that, came a thought from somewhere Demyx couldn't see, barbed with anger like a spear aimed at the heart he didn't have. If he wanted me home desperately, he would surely have sent someone competent.

It stung. Blessed Gods, it stung. Worse than that, it rang true - Xemnas had been lying to all the other Neophytes about Zexion's disappearance; it stood to reason that he could have been lying to him about being the only one who could bring Zexion back. Maybe he did just want some useless baggage out of the way. Maybe he'd been set up. Maybe this was all an elaborate plan, whose sole aim was to get rid of him...

I'm not going to die. That thought rang through the abandoned building as if Demyx had shouted it. Even if this was a setup to kill me, I'm not going to die. I am going to complete the mission I was given to the best of my ability, and as Xigbar reminded me, if it's you or me, I'm the one who has to come back alive. I'm not going to die. For some reason, Demyx felt so much stronger just thinking that, even if he was sort of thinking for Zexion to hear. I don't want to be forced to kill you. Give this up. Come home before you destroy yourself.

...Nine, you must be raving, Zexion replied, sounding subtly less confident and more fearful than he had a moment before. Neither you nor the Superior have the faintest idea what I'm doing here - what I could accomplish if given the chance. This is greater than you can possibly imagine, and you are not going to stand in the way.

I think Xemnas does have at least a fair idea, and he didn't seem impressed with it, Demyx replied, closing his eyes and feeling calmer and more centered than he would have thought possible, given the circumstances. He didn't understand it, but he certainly welcomed it. Now come with me. This doesn't need to end in violence.

Ever the coward, Nine. Ever the coward. If you are so intent on not dying, I recommend that you turn around, exit the building, and tell Two that I'm no longer in this universe.

The barbs were going to find no way past his mental armor; Demyx was determined to make it so. Zexion, if you know me at all, then you know why I can't do that.

Contemptible fool. You'll never understand why I have to do this -

If Demyx hadn't reacted until he saw the flash of brilliant purple light out of the corner of his eye, he would have been killed. The sixth sense that had been gently nagging at his mind the whole time he'd been here, that he'd only been really in touch with in the Zone, suddenly came into full play, and he knew, in time enough to have his own lightsaber activated and at the ready, that Zexion had been hiding just around the next corner all along, that he really was going to kill him if he had half a chance - and Demyx's glowing blue blade clashed against Zexion's violet blade with a shower of sparks more appropriate to metal weapons, their combined illumination making Zexion look ghostly-pale and nearly vampiric. "No, I doubt I will," he responded out loud, now that they were face to face. "Isn't enough darkness enough?"

Zexion's face was frozen in a snarl that looked unnatural on his normally apathetic face. "You arrogant worm," he hissed, lunging at Demyx again; Demyx blocked the blow with almost ridiculous swiftness. He had better things to do than be impressed with himself, though. "Every bit as much the white knight as ever - charging in to save the day and uphold all that is Good and Right in the worlds -" enunciated so that Demyx could hear the capital G and R - "and conveniently ignoring the darkness within yourself. You're a willful, contemptible fool, Nine, a waste of the space you occupy and the air you breathe. You have no right to even exist."

Demyx refused to let the endless insults wound him. That lightsaber was much more worrisome. "I have as much right to exist as you do," he said, parrying another thrust with a calm and easy expertise that would have frightened him if the situation hadn't been so deadly serious. It was as if someone or something else was guiding his hands and his lightsaber - someone or something who happened to be an expert swordfighter. The fact that Zexion had also mysteriously become an expert swordsman was noted only so far as it mattered to the battle at hand. "More than that - I have free will. I may be aware that there is darkness within me - but I am not the darkness, and the darkness is not the whole of me. And why should it be?"

Zexion broke away and slashed at Demyx's legs, trying to make an advantage of his shorter stature, but Demyx blocked it almost without thinking, pushing him back a step. "You're a fool," Zexion hissed at him.

"You've said that before," Demyx said absently, taking the chance for an attack of his own almost before he fully recognized the opportunity. Zexion blocked it handily, but Demyx managed to drive him back another step. "It's getting a little repetitive."

"If you had any idea what sort of power could be gained from the darkness, if only you had the courage to embrace it -" Zexion struck at him again, with a little less skill and a little more desperation but no more success than before - "you would either fall on your knees and beg me to teach you what I've learned here, or turn around and run. Knowing you, I would expect you to run."

...All right, that one made it through his mental armor, and it stung. For all the times Demyx had saved Zexion's ass in the past, even putting his life on the line for him, that was one step too far. "You don't know me at all, then," Demyx hissed, then launched his own full-scale offensive.

There was nothing in the multiverse except the two of them and the glowing blades between them, no sound except the static crackles and grinding sounds of lightsaber on lightsaber, and no thoughts in Demyx's head besides winning this battle. He and Zexion clashed endlessly, to lock blades for moments at a time or to separate again in an instant, whirling and closing and coming apart as if they were performing some complicated war dance across the decaying floor of the old factory, a deadly performance illuminated only by their own lightsabers. As far as swordfighting skill alone went, the two were equally matched, but as the battle progressed, it started to become clear - Demyx had the advantage in size, strength, and physical condition; the longer the combat raged, the more he wore Zexion down and the more certain his victory became. Neither of them had managed to draw blood yet, but Demyx could sense that the tide was turning in his favor. Every time he blocked one of Zexion's attacks, the Schemer was driven back a step; every time Demyx launched an attack of his own, the Schemer was driven back a step, and there was precious little he could do to make Demyx retreat even that far. All the twisting and whirling around each other they were doing was only giving Zexion more room to back up. Demyx's entire focus was on the battle at hand, and not allowing Zexion a single opening or an inch of room to advance, but even such a razor focus as this couldn't keep him ignorant of the fact that the fight was all but his. "Zexion, you know you're not going to win this," he said, driving the Schemer back yet again with a flurry of swift slashes. The aura of smoldering anger that Zexion had been giving off had faded significantly, to be replaced by a cold, deathly fear so intense Demyx could feel it like a winter wind. "By all that's holy, grow some sense. Give it up. Come home."

Zexion swung at him again, but he was worn down and desperate; Demyx could have practically blocked the blow in his sleep. In the glow of the lightsabers, his face looked pale and haggard. Suddenly, he seemed to hit a second wind, as his face contorted with rage once more. "You're still a fool, Nine," he hissed venomously - then suddenly turned and ran.

So close to victory, there was no way Demyx was going to let him just bolt like that. He was hot on Zexion's heels in a flash, racing after him through the decaying building, both of them somehow keeping their footing over all the cracks and pits and debris on the floor. Zexion was only running deeper into the building, away from the only exits that weren't blocked by rubble, and Demyx's physical advantages only continued to tell; Demyx would catch him, it was inevitable as the tides and bound to be much swifter...and Zexion suddenly turned and raced up a set of rusting stairs that any sane person would have been afraid would collapse under them. Demyx never hesitated; he tore right on up the stairs after him - except Zexion suddenly turned his lightsaber onto the railing, slicing the metal into bits, and the bits suddenly shot at Demyx like bullets.

...So that's the way you want to play.

Without even having to try very hard, Demyx reached out with that sixth sense that had made a master swordsman out of him and swatted all the flying chunks of metal out of the air before any of them could strike him. But the distraction they'd caused had given Zexion the chance to extend his lead, fleeing down the walkway towards the nearest ladder to the third level of the structure. As he went, he slashed wildly at the deteriorating equipment along the walls, generating even more sharp debris that all came flying at Demyx. This time, Demyx simply kept charging as he used the Force to deflect them; some of the smaller pieces did hit home, stinging a bit on impact and leaving little cuts and scratches on his skin, but he hardly noticed. He was starting to get a little angry at Zexion. His quarry was already scurrying up the ladder he'd been heading for, Demyx still hot on his heels; by the time Zexion made it to the top, Demyx was already almost halfway up -

And then, Zexion leaned over and sliced through the metal bars that held the ladder up. And somehow, as the ladder fell, Demyx made one spectacular, inhuman leap, and landed squarely next to Zexion, who gave him one wide-eyed look of fear before bolting yet again.

Zexion was no longer hacking debris off the walls to fling at him. He was simply running for his life, fleeing desperately in the one direction Demyx wasn't in that didn't lead to a two-story drop - down the third-level walkway, to the ladder up to the fourth level. Demyx had no intention of letting him get there; if it came to it, he would simply jump on Zexion's back as he tried to climb the next ladder instead of letting him get any further away. Zexion's second wind was failing; Demyx was gaining on him; there was no way he was going to escape...there was no ladder to the fourth level; it had collapsed long ago. Zexion was caught in a trap he'd willingly run straight into.

At the end of the walkway, Zexion suddenly whipped around, holding his lightsaber straight out in front of him. So close behind him, and as fast as he was running, there was no way for Demyx to stop before he ran straight into the blade, neatly impaling himself. Except...he saw it all happen an instant before it actually did...an instant was just enough time...

And at the instant when Zexion whipped around with his lightsaber outstretched for Demyx to impale himself on, Demyx hit the ground in a textbook baseball slide, his lightsaber swinging in a brilliant arc over his head...and Zexion's lightsaber flashed once and went out, the top three inches clattering to the floor just behind Demyx's head as Zexion stared at the now-useless remains of the handle he was still clutching.

As Demyx levered himself back to his feet, pointing his lightsaber at Zexion, the bottom half of the handle slipped from Zexion's hands and hit the floor with a resounding clunk that echoed throughout the building. The air seemed to be flooded with pure terror all of a sudden, Demyx noted with cold triumph, as Zexion backed away one final half-step before his back hit the wall, the business end of Demyx's lightsaber barely three inches from his face. Almost in slow motion, Zexion slid down the wall, to cower on the floor with his hands raised over his head, as if that would protect him from a lightsaber. "So, Zexion...who's the fool now?" Demyx couldn't resist asking, grinning savagely at the sight of him in a posture of such utter defeat.

Zexion was actually in tears; if it weren't for his powers over water, Demyx wouldn't have believed it wasn't an illusion to evoke pity. Not like he had much pity in him at the moment. "I apologize, Demyx...I should never have called you that...please don't kill me," he whimpered as Demyx lowered his lightsaber so that it was still pointing at Zexion's face. "I'll go back...I won't run again...don't kill me..."

"You're a willful, contemptible fool," Demyx shot back, in a dead-on imitation of Zexion's voice; Zexion's face crumpled with fear and humiliation. "Perhaps I should send the Superior my condolences in advance on the loss of a load of dead weight. Because as of right now, that is all you are," he continued in his normal voice. "You're a traitor, a runaway. You could have given us all away, or fallen into the clutches of someone who makes Xemnas look like a teddy bear. And in case it slipped your mind, you started this battle doing your level best to kill me." A thought occurred to him, as Zexion covered his face and cowered even further...Xigbar had told him that he was expected to kill Zexion if he had to in order to save himself, and Xigbar wouldn't say it unless Xemnas had said it first...all those little cuts and scratches from all the junk Zexion had thrown at him were stinging from sweat, and there was the ladder Zexion had cut from under him, and that little bit about trying to make him impale himself...all anyone would ever know, or need to, was that only Demyx had emerged from the building alive, that it had come down to him or Zexion and he'd just been following orders...

Demyx...Demyx, blessed Gods, what are you thinking?

It was like having a bucket of cold water poured on him. As he stared down at Zexion, crumpled on the floor and crying like a little boy, Demyx suddenly felt a wave of pity for him, and a wave of revulsion at what he'd been considering. No matter, as long as he hadn't done it, but if it were really the thought that counted... "Get up," he ordered Zexion, and Zexion scrambled to his feet immediately. "Now...I am going to make a portal outside, to where Xigbar is waiting, and I am going to bring you with me. By the collar if I have to. Because you are going home.

Demyx would have thought he would feel far more triumphant, half-leading, half-dragging Zexion back out to the ship - by the hood, which was close enough to the collar to suit him. After all, he'd survived the battle quite handily. He'd won, in quite spectacular and indisputable fashion. He'd even managed to do it all without any bloodshed, except for the little nicks on his face from flying debris, which - given that this was him and everything - was the most amazing feat of all. And, of course, the most important part - mission accomplished; he was dragging Zexion home alive but so thoroughly beaten he wasn't going to try running away again any time soon for any reason. Unless Zexion had been willing to give up without a fight at all, Demyx couldn't imagine how things could have gone any better.

Why didn't he feel triumphant, then? Or proud of himself? Or at least satisfied with a good day's work? Why did he just feel...drained?

"Mission accomplished," he announced as he shoved Zexion onto the ship ahead of him, not wanting to risk him even considering running again. "Anything else we need to get done while we're here?"

Xigbar stood up and stared blankly at him, and at the utterly defeated Zexion he still had by the hood, with a look of incredulity. Then, slowly, he gave Demyx the triumphant grin he couldn't manage himself. "So you actually did it, man. I was starting to worry, you stayed in there so long." He shook his head for a moment over Zexion's tear-stained, defeated expression, then turned back to Demyx and offered his hand. "Well done, man. Well done."

Cracking a faint smile of his own, Demyx shook Xigbar's hand, not letting go of Zexion's hood. Granted, Zexion looked as likely to bolt - actually, as lively - as a paper doll. "So it's 'man' all of a sudden now? Not 'kid'?"

"You've earned it...man." Xigbar punched him lightly in the shoulder, not even bothering to look at Zexion. "Look...I got some loose ends I gotta tie up here, but you look beat, and I'm sure the boss wants to see his ass at the castle as soon as possible." He jerked his thumb in Zexion's direction, but didn't acknowledge him otherwise. "Why don't you just head home right now?"

Zexion's already-pale face went dead white at that. Demyx felt a little sorry for him - he didn't even want to think what Xemnas might have in store for him - but only a very little. "That sounds great," he said with utmost sincerity. "I think I might just do that." It would be so very, very nice to sleep in his own bed for once...to maybe sleep until the regular alarm went off instead of being dragged off early every morning for more intensive in-universe training...he didn't know if he'd be allowed to explain to Axel and Roxas what exactly he'd been doing in the Galaxy Far, Far Away so regularly for so long, but it would be great just to talk to them again... "All right, you, time to face the music," he said, opening a portal and tugging meaningfully on Zexion's hood. Zexion didn't move. "Okay, there's nothing wrong with your ears. You heard me. Get going."

Zexion shook his head numbly, looking all but paralyzed with fear. "I...I can't," he murmured, shaking slightly. "Please...don't make me. You can't..."

Xigbar had turned around and was looking at Zexion with pure contempt right now, but he seemed to be waiting for Demyx to say or do something, like slap him and tell him to belt up. Well, but how could Demyx do that? Zexion outranked him... Or, um...something. Six might still be ahead of Nine, but the rules of rank seemed to have been...readjusted temporarily. Demyx could probably do just about anything to Zexion that he liked, with certain extreme exceptions, and Xigbar would most likely let him. Including slap him around and tell him to shut up, and call him any name he pleased while he was at it. Zexion was completely in his power. Talk about your once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

"I'm afraid I don't have a choice in the matter any more than you do," he finally said, after the most careful consideration he'd ever given a word he'd said. He might have been the only person he answered to right now, besides Xemnas, but he knew he'd have to account for himself to himself sooner or later. Besides, bad things happened when people let power go to their heads - look at Zexion. "You are going to have to come home. Might as well be now as later." All he had to do was lay a hand on Zexion's shoulder, and the little Schemer started moving towards the portal on his own. Slowly and reluctantly, yes, but on his own. No lightsaber necessary. "Right. That is exactly the right thing to do. Head up, face consequences like man." All right, maybe he was rubbing it in a little. But hey, he'd earned the right.

What if I had killed him while he was on the floor cowering, just because he tried to kill me? No witnesses, no body. All I'd have to do was tell the right lies convincingly at the right times. No one would ever know, except me...

Just me, a lot of bald-faced lies, and the blood of a helpless man. No matter what Xemnas means to do to him, I'm glad I held my hand.

Closing his eyes and clenching his jaw slightly, Demyx gave Zexion a light push through the portal, and followed himself. "Superior," he announced, in as calm and confident a voice as he could muster, "mission accomplished."

AN: So. Crossover. Yeah. Star Wars. Epic, and all that. (I haven't actually watched Star Wars - the original movies - in ages, but I used to be the biggest elementary school Star Wars geek in the state.)

Demyx and Zexion fighting with lightsabers. AWESOME. Don't tell me it isn't. 'Cause it is.

Inspiration Music: "This is How a Heart Breaks" by Rob Thomas.

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts belongs to Square Enix and Disney. The whole Star Wars franchise is at core the brainchild of George Lucas.