"You know, I never really thought about where our boots came from, until now."

Demyx actually laughed out loud at Axel's comment, though one of the benefits of it being Demyx and all was that he didn't sound mocking or malicious. "Well, I don't think anyone in the Organization has any shoemaking experience, so making them in-house isn't exactly an option. And I guess no one else was available to pick up the new batch today..."

Axel nodded, finding it difficult not to see the sense in that. "Fair enough, it just seems a bit of a coincidence that the shoemaker we've contracted with is on our homeworld. So who usually gets the pickup job?"

"Hell if I know. Probably Xigbar, except he's not back on duty yet."

"Why not? Do you know? I mean, Xigbar's usually in charge of who's on duty and who's not, and he hates being sidelined..."

"Only thing I can think of is, either Vexen or Xemnas is making him stay off-duty. Though seriously, he was only on the ventilator for a full month."

"I suppose it would have to be one or the other of them...he wouldn't listen to anyone else. I'm surprised he listens to them."

"As Vexen is fond of pointing out, in the hospital wing, he is the Superior, even over Xemnas."

"Which would explain why we never see Xemnas set foot in the hospital wing..." Chuckling to himself over what might happen if Xemnas ever needed medical attention - which was the only reason he could think of for having a rule like that at all - Axel dug the directions from the local "safe portal zone" (a utility closet in a parking garage) to the shoe store that was their ultimate destination out of his pocket. "All right, we cross the street at the...at the political rally over there, keep going straight until we get to the other side of the park, take a left, and the shoe store is across the street, a block down."

"Want to razz the politicos as we pass?"

"Sounds like fun, but I don't know who's running or what their platform is." Fully intending to ignore the rally altogether, Axel continued down the sidewalk to the next crosswalk, humming absently to himself. As far as missions went, this was absolute cake - pleasant day, pleasant surroundings, decent company, and possibly the easiest objective ever, seeing as the order had been faxed in long before and they were only picking it up. The hardest part would be carrying fifteen pairs of boots back to the parking garage, and Demyx was carrying a collapsible hand truck. Missions really couldn't get much - and he suddenly stopped in his tracks, his expression a mask of blank horror as he started to feel shaky and faint. "...I can't," was all the explanation he could manage, in response to Demyx's utterly baffled look. "I just...can't go past there. I can't."

"Axel...what the hell," was Demyx's not unreasonable response. "Ten seconds ago, you didn't have a care in the worlds - what gives?"

It was a good ten seconds before Axel could work out anything like a coherent word, through the sudden terror that had enveloped him. "Demyx...just...just look at the sign," he stammered, pointing at the rally across the street. "Just...look at that sign..."

"...And...it says 'Kirk Witauer for State Senate'. If there's anything really horrifying about that, I'm not getting it."

"Kirk Witauer was a junior partner in my dad's firm!" Axel hissed, fighting the temptation to grab Demyx by the shoulders and shake him like a ragdoll until he understood just how bad this was. "One of those annoying guys who feel like they have to make friends with their friends' entire families...he'll know me, Demyx! He'll recognize me! He'll know I have no business walking this world in -"

That was all the further he got before Demyx suddenly clamped a hand over his mouth. "Blessed Gods, Ax, just put your hood up and try not to draw attention to yourself! If that's him standing up there plying the crowd, he's not gonna pay attention to a couple kids walking by who aren't paying attention and might not even be old enough to vote anyway! Here, you're just making a scene!"

Axel pried his hand away and glowered poisonously at him, pretty convinced that Demyx had no idea how serious this could be. He was given to understand that no one had given a rat's ass about Edmy Ghatori, living or dead, while he had a heart, or even really known who he was; there was no risk of Demyx being seen by anyone who knew damn well his Other was dead. Axel, on the other hand...his Other had been the "bad seed" of a powerful, well-connected family, his last trial had been all too well-publicized, and odds were half the state could have told you Lea Murphy was dead if you asked them. And lethal injection wasn't a cause of death that left a whole lot of room for doubt. But at the same time, he knew that not only was Demyx right on all counts, Xemnas would not be thrilled if he cut the mission and went home because he was afraid of being recognized, leaving him with no real choice but to do what Demyx said no matter how much he wanted to panic and run. "...All right," he finally said with ill grace, flipping his hood over his head and tightening it a little so it would be less likely to fall off. "...Think any of them saw me?"

"Well, I'm sure someone saw that little spazz-out, but I don't think anyone recognized you," Demyx said tartly, standing impatiently at the crosswalk as Axel sped up to join him and they waited for the walk light to turn. "Just...try to stay cool, okay?"

"Right..." Axel had never been so grateful to see a traffic light turn green. He did his best not to look up at the rally as they passed, but he couldn't resist a quick glance - yes, that was the Kirk Witauer he knew up there, pitching his campaign platform. He still had that same barrel chest, same slightly rounded gut, still kind of short...he had less hair than Axel remembered, and what hair he had was greyer, but that was only to be expected...and then he averted his gaze, looking down at the sidewalk as he passed, hoping no one who might know his face had been able to see under the hood. He barely breathed until he was well past the crowd, then sighed in relief at how easy it had really been...and realized that Demyx hadn't come with him. He was standing on the sidewalk like he'd taken root, staring up at Kirk Witauer as if he was something not of any natural world. "What the hell," he hissed in Demyx's ear as he walked back to rejoin him, and drag him off if necessary. "This is not that fascinating. And we have a mission to complete, in case you forgot."

Demyx half-turned to look at him, and Axel froze - this wasn't the same guy he'd been talking to a minute ago. The facial features were the same, but behind those eyes was an expression he'd never seen on Demyx's face before...hatred, pure hatred..."Hold this," he said curtly, shoving the hand truck at Axel. "I'll be back."

"Wait - Demyx, what the hell are you - " Too late; Demyx had vanished into the crowd, leaving Axel with the hand truck and a dumbstruck look. "Oh, come on..." he whined plaintively to the empty air, but he didn't dare wade in there after him; the closer he got to the platform, the more endangered he was. At least no one would recognize Demyx.

Lacking anything better or more intelligent to do, he went over and sat on a handy park bench, setting the hand truck down beside him, and settled in to listen to the speeches, which were about as fascinating as he'd expected. Mr. Witauer's voice had always been pretty easy on the ears, but that didn't mean Axel wasn't grateful to realize the speech was over and he was taking questions from the crowd now, as the single press photographer made her way around the crowd with her camera. "Education is and has always been one of my top priorities," he was saying in response to someone's question about school funding. "You know as well as I do the shape the state's budget is in, but I do not agree with the way the governor is handling it, and I do not believe that we can expect to get ahead in the short or long term by shortchanging our children. I promise that I will never propose legislation to cut or restrict school funding, and if any such cuts are proposed, I will fight them every step of the way, and propose alternative cost-saving methods wherever possible. This includes defending against cuts to school sports, extracurricular programs, music, arts, and all other facets that might be endangered. Next question. Yes. You, sir."

"Does that mean you're going to continue fucking children the old-fashioned way?"

The crowd went silent. Dead silent. Cold, dead silent, almost as cold as Axel's blood had started running the instant he recognized Demyx's voice. Had he really just - yes, yes he had. And worse than that, he knew - he knew - Demyx would never have asked a question like that if it wasn't pertinent. The implications of that were sickening, doubly so since Witauer seemed stuck for an answer. "I - I can't pretend to know what you're getting at, young man," he finally sputtered, "but - next question!"

"I want an answer to my question first," Demyx's voice rang out, "and I don't think you have to pretend to know what I'm getting at; you know damn well. Though I doubt you ever expected one of the boys from the Club to show up and rain on your parade, did you?" The rest of the crowd remained silent, and Axel kept his face covered with his hands, dreading what he might look up to see. "I'm sure none of us were ever really people to you, more like pay-to-play toys, but I was a pretty funny-looking kid, and you seemed to like that, so...maybe you remember Rockstar?"

"But - that's ridiculous!" Axel pulled his hood all the way over his head, trying not to listen, trying not to think, trying not to imagine things he didn't want to know were real involving people he did not want to be involved in that kind of thing even if it was real, especially with the villain and victim laid out as they were. "There is absolutely no way you could - I mean, Rockstar had -"

"Rockstar had dark skin? I see; at least you remembered that much. But you basically just admitted that you were, at one point, familiar with a boy prostitute whose nickname was Rockstar." That got a rise out of the crowd, a torrent of murmurs and whispers and shocked interchanges that went silent when Demyx spoke up again. "You're right; I did have darker skin back then. Still have the same eye color and hair color, though, and basically the same hairstyle. You...your hair's a little greyer, and there's a little less of it. Still got that wedding ring, though; I guess your wife hasn't found out yet. I'm pretty sure you were one of the guys who just left their rings on, instead of taking them off as if not wearing it meant they weren't married for the duration. I could be wrong about that little detail, but I sure as Hell know your face..." Demyx's voice dropped in pitch, but it still carried perfectly well, and his words burned their way into Axel's brain in a way he knew would never be erased. "I still remember the look on your face when we met one fine day. I had a little money saved up, and since that sure as Hell wasn't a career you go into for the fun of it, I decided I just plain did not want to work that day. But when you saw something you wanted, you just plain would not take no for an answer, and if I wasn't in a mood to get paid for it, well then, you were going to take it for free...I was twelve years old, sick and skinny and nothing like a match for a healthy grown man. You dragged me behind a dumpster, pinned me to a wall, and fucked me in the ass like it was your God-given right. I still remember the look on your face - no emotional involvement whatsoever, like you were swatting a naughty puppy or something. You might as well have been; what was I going to do about it? I was just another little boy-whore, and you were some big powerful man whose name I didn't even know, any more than you knew mine.

"Well, I know your name now, Kirk Witauer, and you are damn well going to know mine. My name is Edmy Ghatori, and if it wasn't for the presence of witnesses, I would make damn sure you never forgot it."

The crowd exploded, at that; Axel could dimly hear Demyx screaming more threats and revelations at Witauer, and Witauer trying not very successfully to defend himself, and a whole bunch of people demanding to know what the hell was going on and who the hell Demyx even was and whether anything he was saying was true, and the sharp click of the photographer's camera as she and the reporter who was with her tried to work their way over to Demyx. That, at least, got Axel to look up, but he couldn't even see Demyx anymore; he could only assume that he was somewhere in the middle of that knot of people. The situation seemed to be just begging for some interference, preferably as soon as possible. "Ladies and gentlemen - pay no attention to this man!" Witauer was shouting at the crowd as Axel forced his way in among them, using the folded hand truck as a wedge or battering ram as necessary - risk of recognition be damned, he had to get him out of there before something really bad happened. "He's - clearly under the influence of something -"

Demyx laughed at that, loud enough to ring out over the crowd, but it sounded nothing like Demyx's normal laugh - scornful and derisive with an undertone of just plain cracked. "Like we needed proof that politicians are liars. I am ice-cold sober, and if you can't tell that, you need your eyes checked." At least, the longer Demyx kept talking, the better chance Axel had of finding him. "The only drugs I ever used while I was still on the streets were asthma medications. As I recall, you also liked the fact that I was noisier than the other boys. Well, that sure as Hell wasn't because I was having fun! That was the asthma all the way."

Axel dared glance up to see Witauer's reaction to that - he was just staring at Demyx, his face grey with horror, no longer even trying to defend himself. And - thank God, there was Demyx, in reach. "What the hell are you thinking?" he hissed, grabbing Demyx by the elbow and trying to drag him away. "Come on! You've raised enough hell for one morning!"

"Come on, don't you want to know what happened to all those boys after so long? Or maybe you still visit there every week; I dunno, I don't work there anymore!" Demyx kept shouting, as if Axel wasn't even there. "Remember Pony? You treated him the same way you did me - don't try to pretend otherwise; I saw! I know! And then ten to one his daddy beat him because he didn't get paid for it - anyway, they found him in the river a few days later. I dunno if someone put him there or he jumped off a bridge or what, but if he jumped, I sure as hell couldn't blame him! Because yeah, being raped for a living is a great life! Fan-fuckin'-tastic! And it's people like you that make it pay off! Thank you, sir, for keeping the child sex industry a vibrant and healthy part of our economy!"

"Demyx, for God's sake, you're making a fool of yourself," Axel hissed, continuing to drag him away by the elbow. The photographer had caught up with them, but thankfully, Demyx still had the wit to use his hands and hood to hide his face from the camera. "You've made your point, now please, shut up..."

"Don't forget, I know your name, Kirk Witauer!" Demyx continued to shout, though hopefully he was at least considering wrapping up. "My name is Edmy Ghatori, and if it wasn't for the presence of witnesses, I would give you back all the Hell you and all the rest of them gave me and laugh while I was doing it! We were nothing to you, just a bunch of nobodies, just a bunch of toys! Well, I'm somebody now, Kirk Witauer! You know my name, you know who I am, and you can't keep pretending I don't exist! My name is Edmy Ghatori! Remember that, Kirk Witauer! Don't ever forget that!" And finally, Axel managed to drag him out of the crowd, out of the park, back to the sidewalk, leaving the rally a riot of shock and shouting behind them.

And all of a sudden, as soon as things were calm around them, Demyx's legs seemed to give out under him, and he fell on Axel, his face twisted with something very much like pain. "It's all right, buddy," Axel said instinctively, not really thinking about it, or knowing what else to say. "Just...whatever the hell that was back there...you know what, never mind. We'd just better finish the mission right now, and talk later..."

The new boots fit; that was the important part. At least, they fit everyone who was around to try theirs on. That meant there was no need to go back to that world and have a word with the shoemaker, and no need to go back to that world and expose themselves to the shitstorm that was bound to have resulted. That meant that there was nothing better for Axel to do than to sit around and reflect on the fact that one of his father's partners - the annoying guy who pretended to be all buddy-buddy with him and got him that ugly pen set for Christmas one year - was a child molester, and that his best friend - though he hadn't even known Demyx at the time - had been one of his victims. He'd known that Demyx had been working as a prostitute at a sickeningly young age. He'd known that Kirk Witauer had always been a little too annoyingly eager to make friends with his friends' children. But now that he could put a face and a name to one of Demyx's nameless, faceless abusers - a face and name that were all too familiar...thinking about it sickened him, but he couldn't think about anything else now that he knew about it. And he wished he didn't know.

And here I thought him recognizing me was the biggest disaster possible...I could have just pretended I was someone else and he was just mistaking me for Lea. I never thought Demyx would recognize him. I never thought Demyx would recognize him as one of them. I never thought Demyx would do anything like that. I never thought that could happen...I never thought...

"Axel...I'm sorry."

...He should have expected this. Demyx apologized for everything all the time, usually when he hadn't done anything wrong; it stood to reason he'd be apologizing now. But Axel just couldn't bring himself to be angry anymore. "Take a seat," he grunted, patting the bed beside him, and Demyx sat down obediently. "So...I'm pretty sure I can guess what all that was about."

"I'm sorry, Axel," Demyx repeated, sounding like he was on the verge of tears. "I only took a good look at him because you said you knew who he was, and I wanted to know what he looked like in case we ran into him again, and when I recognized him...I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself."

"You don't need to apologize," Axel said, pulling him a little closer but too shellshocked to offer much else by way of comfort. "I...I always thought he was annoyingly friendly, but I...have to admit, I never figured him for a child molester."

"I'm sure most people wouldn't have," Demyx said shortly, his gaze fixed on his own feet. "But...they never let us know their names. They went out of their way to make sure we never knew their names. That was the first time I ever had a name to go with one of those faces...and I couldn't help myself. I just...had to..."

"I understand," Axel said, though he wasn't honestly sure how well he did understand. He knew about Demyx's past, of course; Demyx himself had told him ages ago. But he'd seemed to have recovered so well...he didn't come across as a victim of long-term sexual abuse, he came across as a roughly normal guy...maybe not quite all there, but Axel had always thought of that as part of his artistic temperament, not...not damaged psychology. Not mental scarring of that magnitude. Jesus Christ, what if the reason Witauer had always been so annoyingly friendly to him and Ricky was because he'd had designs on them? If he had any reason to even suspect he'd done to Ricky what he'd done to Demyx, Axel would have butchered him on the spot...or if Lea himself had been treated like that, pinned to the wall and fucked in the ass like his right to his own body, his own humanity, wasn't half so important as someone else's right to do as they damn well pleased...Axel would have ripped him apart for even thinking he had that right. "I'm sorry, Demyx," he said suddenly, feeling like Demyx had shown extraordinary restraint in keeping his assaults purely verbal. He also felt more than a little sick, once he seriously imagined himself in Demyx's position.

"I just couldn't...couldn't let him stand there all high and mighty," Demyx continued, as if Axel hadn't said anything. "Not...not when I knew the truth..."

"Well, you've probably ruined him." Demyx sighed and buried his face in Axel's shoulder at that bleak pronouncement. "I'm sure that even if he's the senior partner now, he'll be thrown out of the firm. He might be disbarred altogether. And his political campaign is guaranteed to go nowhere, now that you've publicly called him out for a child molester. He may have even withdrawn his candidacy already. And his family - I'm pretty sure his wife is going to leave him over this; any woman with the brains God gave a walnut would. He didn't have any kids that I remember, but if he does now, she's bound to get full custody, not to mention a hefty settlement. His odds of ever picking up the pieces and starting over...well, you made damn sure that everyone is going to know his name, not as a lawyer or a politician, but as a child molester, who buys the services of child prostitutes and sometimes doesn't feel the need to pay. Even if he changes his name, that photographer will probably make sure everyone knows his face - what a huge news story that will be. It's bound to go statewide - it might even go national."

"...They'll file charges now."

"They might, but they'll probably fall apart without you, unless one of the other boys you mentioned comes forward as a witness. But he's not going to need a criminal record," Axel explained, feeling not the least bit sorry for the man. If he'd known his true nature back when he still had a heart... "He's going to have no job, no family, no connections that want to hear from him, a reputation for being a child molester, his good name ground in the mud...everything reputable is going to be more-or-less barred to him, and even the trashiest reality TV show is going to have to stoop pretty low to invite him on. Barring maybe Jerry Springer. But I don't know about that."

Demyx sighed, still staring down at his feet, and remained otherwise silent for several moments. "I just destroyed a man's life," he said quietly, as if it was some sort of great revelation. "I destroyed a man's life with nothing but words, and...I don't feel the least bit guilty." He glanced up and over at Axel. "I destroyed him, and all I can think is, he deserved it. That's just...all wrong."

"Not nearly as wrong as what he did to you," Axel said, trying to lock firmly in his mind the knowledge that Witauer was a rapist and child molester and didn't deserve any more kindness and consideration than was owed to such people. But at the same time, he couldn't help but remember that the same guy had gone on regular golf outings with his father, came over to discuss cases and stayed over for drinks and conversation, always ruffled Ricky's hair whenever he saw him (a gesture Ricky liked about as much as Lea liked the idea of eventually joining the firm) and never did catch any of the dirty looks Ricky gave him immediately afterwards...granted, he'd never been particularly fond of the man, but...he'd just been part of life. A minor, peripheral part, but a part nonetheless. It was like finding out a minor, unimportant character in a movie, that did nothing but fill space and say a few minor and unimportant lines and whose name you should have forgotten by the next day, had been the villain responsible for the horrible crime in the beginning all along. Except this wasn't a stupid movie, this was life. And the victim wasn't just another character on the screen, but one of his closest friends.

Child molesters almost never have one victim. I know Demyx wasn't the only child prostitute he visited, but were they they only kids he preyed on? It could have been me, or Ricky, or one of Mr. Grey's kids, or any of his other friends' kids, or even his own nieces or nephews or young cousins. It could have been anyone. And if it had been me...I sure as hell wouldn't feel bad for calling him out in public. I'd feel bad that there were too many witnesses to kill him on the spot.

"I would have killed him, if I could have," Demyx said out of nowhere. "If not for the presence of witnesses, he would have ended up in the river. Pony wasn't nearly the only boy that wound up there, and a lot of the grown men and women did too...whenever a prostitute disappeared from that city, they were probably either in jail or in the river." Axel glanced over at him, and found him staring at his feet again. "Rivers are very handy for body disposal. Especially if it's obvious the person drowned without a physical struggle."

"Demyx -!" Despite the fact that Axel had been thinking the exact same thing only moments earlier, it was a shock to hear it from the mouth of the least violent man he knew. "Jesus, man," he added in a more moderate tone. "Though it's not like I don't get where you're coming from."

"Don't get moral with me; you'd have blown up his car or burned his house down or something," Demyx said listlessly. "Gods save me, Axel, I'm scared. I destroyed him without a second thought, I would have killed him with less concern than I'd waste on a cockroach, and...that scares me."

"That's because you actually have a conscience," Axel grunted, "and a rather overactive one at that, if you're feeling bad over things you didn't even do. If he could say the same, he would have done something creative like left you alone when you told him you weren't for sale that day."

"That's no excuse. Besides, it's not the fact that I thought about doing it, it's the fact that I would have done it without a second thought if I had a chance."

"Pfft. You'd have to be a real saint never to have a moment like that in your life."

"I would have killed him, Axel. Not 'I wanted to kill him', not 'I thought about killing him'. Gods save me, I'm still thinking about ways I could have killed him on the spot and made it look like natural causes, and wondering why I didn't. I can't even honestly say I don't want to kill him. I do."

...Kingdom Hearts, could Demyx make himself difficult to hold a conversation with sometimes. Axel kept trying anyway, out of a sense of duty, sympathy, and adopted-family obligation. "Well...what's your issue with killing him, then?"

Demyx finally turned his head and looked him in the eyes, his expression difficult to read. "I don't want to be that sort of person, Ax. I've been a killer when I damn well had to be. I don't want to be a murderer."

...What can I say to him that won't make me sound like a giant hypocrite? "Demyx...you're a better man than I am," was what Axel finally said, staring down at his own feet now - because if that had been him, if he'd been one of Witauer's victims, and he could, say, fill a man's lungs with water or stop his blood from circulating in an instant, Witauer would have dropped dead on the podium and they would have blamed sudden cardiac arrest. "I'd have killed him if I were in your shoes, and not regretted it for a second. For revenge, sure, but also because there's no other way to stop him from doing this to more kids." Demyx sucked in his breath, as if the idea hadn't occurred to him. "So I wouldn't blame you if you'd killed him on the spot - hell, if you could find him, I'd find it hard to blame you if you went back and killed him now. There are just some kinds of people that the worlds are better off without."

Demyx said nothing immediately, just sat there, taking several deep breaths as if he was building up to something. "...Excuse me, I have to go," he said suddenly, standing up and all but running from the room before Axel could stop him. He could only stare after him, wondering what he was doing and where he was going, and if he was really going to take Axel's words seriously. If he was - if he did - if he seriously...

How seriously did I mean that? It was so easy to say, and think I meant it, but if Demyx honestly means to go kill him because of what I said...

In an instant, he was up and out the door himself, running after Demyx. But Demyx was already long gone.

It was hard for Axel to sleep, after that day. He still didn't know where Demyx had run off to; he'd just found him back in his room several hours later, sipping tea and looking quite placid, and asking him where he'd been and what he'd been doing had gotten nothing but a few vague, unhelpful monosyllables. There wasn't much Axel could do except drop the subject and wait to see if he opened up on his own, but he hadn't said a word on the subject in three days, and it was keeping Axel up at night. Had he really talked Demyx into committing murder?

He was a child molester; he deserved it. Especially given the way he treated Demyx.

But dammit...that was his dad's law partner. The guy who played golf with his dad and ruffled Ricky's hair and gave Lea that ugly pen set for Christmas. Kirk Witauer had had a wife, parents, maybe kids by now (and they'd have to be less than six, if Axel didn't know about them), a good job, a lot of ambition for the future, maybe a genuine desire to make things better for the state and its residents. But he also had a thing for kids too young to consent, kids too young to have even started puberty, kids so poor and desperate they were willing to let anyone fuck them for money, kids too weak and downtrodden to fight back if he didn't want to pay. And every time he wanted to hate him for it, to categorize him along with every faceless child molester in the worlds and discard him as one more scum...he just couldn't. That was his dad's law partner. And he'd talked Demyx into murdering him.

He was a child molester. A rapist. He deserved to die. Murder at the hand of one of his own victims is only fitting.

But Demyx was not a murderer. A killer at extreme need, yes, but not in cold blood. And he'd been so completely calm and relaxed by the time Axel found him that day...could Demyx really kill a man in cold blood and not care? Not the Demyx Axel knew. But the Demyx he knew wouldn't have publicly called a man out for a child molester, even to the point of supplying details of his own rape at the man's hands. There was still a cold, hard street kid in there somewhere. If Demyx could do that, what else could he do?

And if he did, could you blame him?

No. Because I talked him into it. I made a murderer out of him.

Axel had spent three days beating himself up over this murder, and now he had to admit to himself that as far as he knew, it hadn't even happened. He would feel so stupid about losing that much sleep over Witauer's murder only to find out that Witauer was still alive. But it wasn't like he could go and ask Demyx if he'd actually killed him or not. If the answer was "no", Demyx would probably think he was nuts for asking. If the answer was "yes"...well, Axel wasn't sure he wanted to hear it, even if Demyx was willing to admit it. The only other way to find out he could think of was going back to his homeworld and finding out. Returning to one's homeworld outside the context of a mission or other official business was rather frowned on, but it wasn't forbidden, and it was easier than working up the nerve to ask Demyx.

That was the reason he found himself at a diner back...not in his hometown; that would have been too dangerous...near his hometown. He'd carefully timed his visit, to overlap with the local news at noon, and carefully chosen his seat for the best view of the wall-mounted TV that seemed most likely to display the local news. The noise level in the diner was too much to hear the TVs, so he kept his eyes locked on the screen and the scrolling closed captions, keenly alert for any mention of Kirk Witauer and his extremely public humiliation - and what happened afterward. So far, the news wasn't even on yet; it was the tail end of a game show...there was the station's logo..."News at Noon"...the introductions of the anchors...

And then...

We begin our broadcast this noon with the news that the body of disgraced former Senate candidate Kirk Witauer was found in the Gold River by a police search party late last night suddenly scrolled across the screen. Axel's sandwich fell apart as he suddenly dropped it back on the plate, but he barely noticed or cared. The exact cause of death has not been determined at this point, but it does appear that there were no signs of struggle. Witauer was at a political rally in Hamilton Park when a young man in the crowd identified him as a child molester who purchased the services of child prostitutes, and accused Witauer of raping him when he was twelve years old - which words were accompanied by what must have been a cell phone video of the rally that Demyx had so thoroughly disrupted. Thankfully, through their own efforts at concealing themselves and the poor quality of the video, Axel and Demyx weren't much more than dark figures in the middle of the crowd. Following this shocking revelation, Witauer promptly withdrew his candidacy and then disappeared. The young man, who identified himself as Edmy Ghatori, could not be located.

Withdrew his candidacy and disappeared. Disappeared the day of the rally. And was later found in the river. No signs of struggle.

"Rivers are very handy for body disposal," he remembered Demyx saying to him that day. "Especially if it's obvious the person drowned without a physical struggle."

"Oh, God," Axel whispered, trying to resist the inevitable conclusion. "Oh, God, he didn't..." Suddenly, without waiting for the bill, he threw what seemed to be enough money to cover his order on the table and ran out the door, realizing a second later that he'd already given himself enough insulin to cover the whole meal and he'd damn well better go back and eat it if he didn't want to pass out from low blood sugar. Cursing diabetes with every thought that wasn't taken up with worrying about how he was going to talk to Demyx about this, he went back inside and shoved the rest of his food down as fast as he could swallow, not caring what an idiot he might look. Somehow sensing what a hurry he was suddenly in, the waitress promptly brought him his check; he just glanced over, figured the money he'd pulled out earlier would more than cover it, and shoved it back at her with instructions to keep the change before finishing his food and bolting again. He nearly tripped on the front step, and stopped just long enough to see the newspaper stand out front and the headline Witauer's Body Found In River. Figuring it might help him get the conversation started, he pulled some change out of his pocket and bought a paper, then disappeared around the building, behind the dumpster, through a portal back to the World that Never Was.

Once he was safely back home, Axel had to stop and take several deep breaths, and actually think about what was going to happen next. He couldn't just shove the newspaper in Demyx's face and accuse him, whether Demyx was guilty or not. There was a chance, however great or small, that someone else had killed Witauer, or that he'd committed suicide. But after everything Demyx had told him, about the river and how he could kill people without a mark on them...and after what he'd told Demyx, about how he'd have killed Witauer without a second thought and how the worlds were just better off without certain people...

He looked through the bathroom doors; Demyx was sitting at his desk, writing something, probably with no idea that Axel had even left the castle. And it wasn't like things were going to get any better if Axel stood there and stewed a little more. Forging his way into Demyx's room, he dropped the newspaper on top of whatever Demyx was working on, opened his mouth...and froze. Demyx was just looking up at him with a blank, startled expression, and Axel couldn't say a word. Not a demand, not a question, not a thing.

Demyx picked up the newspaper, read the headline and the associated article, and looked up at Axel with an intense, searching gaze. Then he handed the newspaper back to him with a single word: "No."

"...No," Axel repeated blankly, trying to get all the implications of that one word through his head at once. "You...I mean..."

"No," Demyx repeated, shaking his head solemnly. "I thought about it. I thought long and hard about it. But...I just...couldn't. I couldn't bring myself to do it. My only answer for you is that he committed suicide. It would be a fitting end, all things considered...but I didn't kill him."

"Oh, thank God," Axel sighed, leaning over to wrap Demyx in a tight hug. "I mean...after you ran off like that...I thought you'd taken me a little too seriously."

Demyx blinked at him, looking surprised, then smiled slightly. "And here I thought you'd be upset that I didn't have the guts to do it."

Axel shook his head insistently, wondering where Demyx might have gotten that idea. "What the hell kind of guy would I be if I thought less of you for not murdering someone?"

Demyx sighed, leaning heavily on Axel's shoulder. "After what you said that day, I'm a little surprised you didn't kill him yourself."

"Well, I wasn't the one he raped...I didn't think I had the right."

"No one has the right, Ax. No one." Demyx stepped back and turned away. "But I was so close, Ax. So close. You wanted to know where I went that day? No further than my garden. I was thinking about killing him, thinking hard. And I very nearly did. After what you said about how he might still be preying on other kids...but I couldn't. I couldn't justify it to myself. And...killing him would have given him the easy way out. I wanted him to have to live with who he was and what he'd done, same way I had to live with who I was and what he'd done to me." He leaned against the edge of the desk, scowling down at his boots. "And he took the easy way out for himself. He couldn't stomach living with who he was and what he'd done. He's the gutless coward."

Demyx sounded like he was on the verge of tears, but Axel didn't know what to say or do to comfort him. "And...you still have to live with it," he murmured finally, feeling inadequate. "He doesn't have to suffer any more for what he's done, but you...you still do."

"Yes...yes, I do," Demyx said, turning his back as if he didn't know what to say or do; Axel could only wait and see what he said and did next. "And...you know what, Ax?" he finally said, without turning around. "I...I'm nothing. A Nobody. A bastard, outCaste, orphaned and unwanted. Homeless, worthless, the scum of the streets...a child prostitute, a pay-to-play sex toy. I've been beaten, raped, tortured, and abused to the point where I shouldn't be able to pick myself up off the floor, at the hands of powerful men who'd never face the consequences." He turned then, and looked Axel straight in the eye, a faint smile hovering on his lips. "And I can still stand up straight, look a man in the eye, and tell him and the world what he's done to me. I can take a powerful man and make him face the truth and its consequences, bring it out from closed doors and empty alleys and put it right out in public for all to see, and force him to confront exactly who and what he is and whether or not he can live with that person. And I can look at who and what I am and still sleep at night, and know I'm not a murderer."

AN: This is the end result of a desire to explore just how broken Demyx was after the life he'd lived, and specifically how badly working as a child prostitute had broken him. In one iteration, Roxas was manhandled by a horny drunk on a mission, and Demyx went back and killed the man without saying a word to anyone. In another, Axel accidentally let slip that he was wanted for statutory rape (some issue with a girl who said she was 18 but actually wasn't), and Demyx beat him hard enough to cause brain damage. In this iteration, the man started out as someone completely unknown, that Demyx happened to run into and recognize, in a context in which he'd learn the man's name. For an added twist, I took one of the names from Axel's father's law firm and attached it to the man, and made him one of the partners in that firm, and therefore someone Axel would already know. Even while I was writing this, I wasn't entirely sure whether Demyx had killed him or not; I had to skip to the part where Axel handed him the newspaper, and wait for him to read it and give me his answer. The end result is less broken than I'd thought, at least in this direction.