The marketplace surrounding the well, like most city marketplaces throughout the worlds, was bright and alive with vendors hawking painted pottery and dyed fabrics and patterned rugs and carved furniture. Customers were eating it up - most of them had never seen decorated goods, or even really fine craftsmanship, in their lives, and the merchants were responding with decorations so flashy and ornate that in some cases, they actually reduced the utility of the goods they were on. But no one seemed to mind that these new over-carved chairs were less durable than what they were used to; they were beautiful, and that was all that counted. People were even selling instruments now, everything from basic drums and simple flutes to a complicated stringed creation based heavily on an instrument its creator had only seen once - something the townspeople later found out was called a sitar. The Queen's palace - she was supposed to have been a mere figurehead, but the elected Council that should have been in charge had all died of old age while no one cared enough to hold elections, and the Queen had been more than happy to take over for now - stood over the whole scene, its freshly whitewashed walls gleaming in anticipation of more extensive renovation and repair. In the streets below, children played with each other and with brightly-painted toys, their mothers kept a watch on them with one eye and looked for the brightest and most colorful new fabrics with the other, girls and young women gossiped and giggled as they gathered around the well under the pretense of fetching water, young men chattered and bragged and challenged each other to make good on their brags, merchants sang aloud the praises of their matchless goods and bargain prices, and over all the cacophony, a church bell tolled a call to prayer that had been silent for eighty years.
Inside the Queen's palace, in a quiet room on an upper floor, the man most responsible for the life and liveliness below knelt on his bed by the window and watched the activity in silence. Part of him - the part that was trapped for eternity in the great void, unable to see or hear or feel, dying for lack of sensation but never allowed the release of death - begged to be allowed to go down there, drown himself in colors that he'd long forgotten and scents he could no longer identify and sounds that had lost all meaning, and find it all again, put the pieces together that had once made up the person he remembered being, once upon a time, and become that person again. If nothing else, he could go down there and hear the merchants' patter, feel some of those finely woven blankets, maybe even taste some of those apples and grapes and carrots, and take back those precious senses that had been stolen from him for so long, and reintroduce himself to reality. But another part of him, that had gone through the exact same Hell, said no, you can't, don't you dare, because if you look too closely at a dream, you'll realize it's a dream and wake up. And waking up would mean waking up from a happy hallucination to the reality of the void, and he could not bear that. He would rather die, except he didn't know whether or not he could die, in that emptiness.
And another part of him whispered Wake up. There is no need for you to dream. Wake up. The void is not empty; you have filled it with the universe of yourself. Why do you sleep? Why do you dream? Wake up, wake up and sing, and the universe will dance to your music. The universe is your music, and the music is you; that is the reality, for you are all reality, and all reality is you. Wake up, and sing new worlds into being. Wake up, and hold eternity in your hands. Wake up, and remember that you are a god.
For the life of him, Demyx couldn't tell which part was most correct, or most terrifying.
Axel and Roxas were gone right then, trying to finish the mission they'd been sent on in the first place - assuming they weren't a hallucination, and that the entire life he remembered from before hadn't been one long hallucination. They had rooms in a different part of the palace anyway; the Queen had been kind enough to respect Demyx's more fragile condition and gave him a room in a much quieter part of the palace - assuming she was real, assuming the room was real, assuming the palace was real. But since the three of them were the ones responsible for banishing the toxic dragon from the world and bringing it back to life, they were being treated as heroes and given the best of what this world's people had to offer, including the patterned blanket he was clutching, dyed in the wool with rich blue and green dyes from newly-discovered old formulas - assuming the blanket was real, assuming the people were real, assuming the world was real. Assuming it wasn't all a lie invented by his senses, to hide the awful reality of the void.
What if it was the void that was the lie? What if this truly was the reality?
Wake up. There's no need for you to lie dreaming now. You have a universe to tend. Wake up to your reality.
That was ridiculous. The man he was in his memories had always been shy, self-effacing, modest, and not without reason. He was certainly no god; he wasn't even given to delusions of godhood.
Wake up, and remember the wonders you have created - the wonders that you have become. Wake up, and come back to what is real.
It couldn't be. That just wasn't the man he remembered - after all, he remembered a man, not a god. He remembered too well being weak and fallible and powerless and helpless - he remembered being trapped in the great void, nothing more than a disembodied soul, praying for death to save him from the nothingness...
And he remembered reaching down inside himself and finding a deep well of music at his center, and he remembered becoming one with the music, and singing glory and beauty until it all became real, and became something where there had been only nothing - he sang an entire universe, and the universe was the music, and the music was him, and he was the universe...he could contemplate the whole of eternity at once, and have the attention span left over to guide the life cycles of a trillion stars, and cause a billion tiny coincidences to advance the progress of a billion societies, whether immediately or a million years in the future; it was all the same to him, because he was eternity and a trillion stars and a billion societies and every single one of the millions and millions of people in those societies and so much more besides, and his mind could encompass it all perfectly. He knew everything, he controlled everything - he was everything, and everything was him, a god and universe in perfect oneness, an unending song of glory made real.
Or maybe he was just an ordinary loser who'd snapped under torture and started hallucinating some truly spectacular bullshit.
Or a disembodied soul in the void, hallucinating a whole life a whole life around himself to stave off the cruel reality of his existence, with a brief interlude for delusions of godhood - bounded in a nutshell, calling himself a king of infinite space, and thinking reality was just a bad dream.
Or maybe, just maybe, this was all a dream, and he would one day awaken to find all limits were gone, and that his being encompassed the whole of reality, and his mind encompassed the whole of eternity, and his soul was nothing more or less than the very essence of music...
What the hell was he? God, man, or ghost? And what was real - this world, the void, or his universe-self? If he didn't dare trust his senses, how would he ever know?
He shifted position a little, pain lancing through his stomach - a sensation he wouldn't have minded doing without, but it was still infinitely better than nothing at all. The same with the weak, shaky feeling whenever he did anything more strenuous than sit up or lie down - it was unpleasant, but it was better than that empty nothingness...assuming the pain itself wasn't an illusion...assuming anything he saw, anything he heard, anything he felt, anything he could perceive was actually real...
Demyx turned too quickly to see who it was, and flopped dizzily back on the bed, watching the ceiling spin overhead. When Axel set down the tray he was carrying and sat down next to him, laying a hand on his forehead, Demyx simply closed his eyes and let his other senses take over; the sensation of human contact entranced him, even if it was all his imagination. "Roxas will still be out hunting Heartless for a while," Axel said, as if he had no idea what was going on in Demyx's mind. "He made me come back early to check on you and make sure you were still okay. I stopped by the kitchen and got some food while I was at it. It's nothing special; apparently they haven't rediscovered gourmet food here yet, but at least it's vegetarian...for God's sake, Demyx, please, eat something." Demyx was surprised to hear cracks in Axel's voice suddenly, and he could sense something else...he couldn't define how he was sensing it - it wasn't like smelling, wasn't like tasting, wasn't like touching, certainly wasn't like seeing or hearing, but he knew there were little drops of water running down Axel's face. He opened his eyes to find Axel leaning over him with a frightened, distraught expression, more drops of water - tears - coming from his eyes, often steaming away before they had a chance to fall. "We thought you were dead before...you can't starve yourself to death now...it wouldn't be fair..."
What if Axel was just a hallucination? What if he'd never been anything but a hallucination?
What if Axel was real, and a real, thinking, feeling person too, just like Demyx thought or imagined he was? What if he was right?
What happened whenever he tried to eat in a dream? Unless it was a dream pulled straight from a memory that involved eating, he always woke up before he could eat a single bite. And he was pretty sure this wasn't one of those dreams, otherwise it would be set in a world he was more familiar with. That was why he'd solidly refused to even go near food; if this was just a dream, and he tried to eat, what would he wake up to? Godhood or waking death? The thought of that horrible conscious oblivion terrified him so badly that he wouldn't even consider risking it, no matter how his stomach ached and cried for food. He'd rather feel pain than nothing at all.
...What would happen if he died during a dream? He'd wake up in reality, wouldn't he? So if he starved to death in this dream, he was going to wake up anyway; he wasn't doing more than postponing the inevitable. And if it so happened that this was reality...well, then, he'd be dead. He didn't want to be dead. This world was more steps down than he could count from divinity, but it was so much better than nothing...and if he really, truly died, well, there went his shot at re-learning how to walk and talk and get used to having a body again. He wanted to get back to being a human and enjoying all these sensations that he'd been denied for so long. Which included the taste of good food.
What if he woke up to the void? He would lose all semblance of sanity, almost instantly...
What if he woke up to discover he was, in truth, a god?
If he woke up to find the void, he might start hallucinating again at some point, hopefully when he could lose himself in it completely. And if he woke up to find he was a god, well, then, it wouldn't matter too much; he could surely incarnate himself as a human for a while if he got curious again. And if he really had been human all along...his stomach was killing him. Almost without thinking, he reached towards the tray Axel had set aside, and the loaf of bread he saw there. Axel handed it to him, with an almost disbelieving smile, and Demyx took a moment to just hold it in his hands, enjoying the comforting smell and the feel of the thick, rough, crust...and secretly scared to death of what would happen next.
You can't put it off forever. You have to wake up sometime.
Very carefully, he broke the loaf in half, pausing a moment to enjoy the resulting burst of scent - or was he only hesitating, trying to delay the next step? Anxiety was weighing on him, almost crushing him, as if his fears had made themselves physical and piled on his shoulders; it took a tremendous effort of will to break off one small piece of bread and finally put it in his mouth.
It was delicious.
Once that first all-important bite was out of the way, the next challenge was not to start stuffing bread in his mouth as fast as he could swallow, tempting though it was. He was so achingly hungry, but some part of him still remembered that eating too fast would just make him sick, which was not a sensation he was in a hurry to rediscover. His stomach still ached, as if it wasn't sure how to handle food after being so empty for so long, but the taste of the bread was so good; even if he had to pace himself, he didn't want to stop eating...the taste grounded him in reality, one specific reality, as nothing else had or could. It woke him up, truly woke him up, to discover he'd been awake all along.
Ifsobe I am hallucinating in the void, I'll continue hallucinating; I don't ever want to wake up to that. And if I am a dreaming god, I'll continue dreaming; time will wait for me while I sleep. Whatever reality is really real, I'm going to live in this one. It's real enough for me.
His troubles weren't nearly over. Even though he could make sense of all the words people said now, he didn't remember how to say them himself, and the complex balancing act involved in walking was beyond him - both crucial parts of functioning in this world. And he just knew that deciding to accept this reality as the real thing wouldn't make the other two stop nagging at his mind and haunting his dreams. But there was so much to relearn and rediscover here, and he was just getting started...
Demyx sat up a little further and gestured at the one of the bowls that was still on the tray. Axel simply handed him the whole tray and kept one bowl for himself, but Demyx didn't mind - it gave him a chance to examine the tray, and observe the interesting patterns in the wood. And there was a spoon on the tray, too, carved out of the same kind of wood; the curves in the spoon made the patterns in the wood grain really fascinating. It felt very nice, too, smoothed and sanded and very easy to hold. But the soup smelled so wonderful, he just had to give up his examination of the spoon and use it to taste some. The motions felt strange and awkward, and half of it spilled back into the bowl before ever reaching his mouth, but the little taste of warm, flavorful soup made the hassle worthwhile. He repositioned the spoon in his hand, trying to more closely match what Axel was doing, and found things became a little less awkward. And having the tray made keeping the bowl itself upright much easier; Axel seemed to hold it so comfortably without one, but Demyx just didn't know how, and he'd already found out from the first time Axel tried to give him a bowl of soup that the bowl absolutely had to stay upright...
"How's the soup?" Axel said all of a sudden.
Demyx wanted to answer, he really did, but he didn't know how. Axel spoke so easily and so naturally, as if he barely had to think about the intricate motions involved...whenever he tried, Demyx's tongue felt about as agile as the spoon. He knew all the sounds involved, but trying to make them...it wasn't fair. He used to know all this, and it had been stolen away...he had to get it all back somehow. He had to. Now...how did it work? What were the motions? What turned the sounds into words? He tried once more to speak, but all that came out were more croaking and hissing sounds... "A-ah...ah...isss...sss...ssg-g-goooood."
...Hold on a second. That almost sounded like words.
He looked up at Axel, to see how he reacted, to see if he approved, to see if that had been good enough. Axel was just staring at him in disbelief, which concerned him, until he started to smile a little bit. As the smile grew into a huge grin, Demyx couldn't help but smile back at him. "I'm glad you like it," Axel said, his voice sounding oddly choked. "I'm glad you're back."
"G-g-gllllllaaaa-d t-t-to b-b-be b-b-ba-aac-k." Blessed Gods, even to himself, Demyx sounded like he'd had a stroke or something, but as long as he could get out something like coherent words, it was good enough for now. He'd try to do better later. He'd try that walking thing again tomorrow. This reality had endless wonders to rediscover, but for now, he'd settle for a few words and a bowl of soup. It wasn't godhood, but it was good enough.
AN: Poor Demyx. He's awfully broken this time around. Repairing him will be a job and a half and then some. Fortunately, he's not irreparable.