"What was I supposed to have done differently?"

"You could have canceled the Goddamn mission before any of this shit hit the fan!"

"I didn't know there was any reason to until it already had!"

"Oh, right, because nothing ever suggested to you that there might be something wrong with the world? Nothing like Demyx?"

"I told you, I thought he was making shit up!"

"Right, because every time Demyx feels lazy and doesn't wanna do a mission, he makes shit up to try and get it canceled. And he always sticks to the story even when you call him a liar and punch him for it just because he's that Goddamn lazy."

"Would you stop?"

"Stop what? You had reason to believe there might be something seriously wrong with the world. You should have scratched the mission, or at least been a hell of a lot more careful. Not started punching your subordinates."

"Look - look - there was something wrong with the world - it was making us all a bunch of pissy jerks, which -"

"Which should have clued you in there was something wrong, you jackass!"

"I didn't figure it out until it was too late!"

"Well, aren't you just a genius. Kingdom Hearts help us all if any of us are ever replaced by pod people, if you don't even know how you normally act."

"I didn't think it was anything serious! We were just all getting on each other's nerves for some reason! That's all I thought it was!"

"Okay, you, you're always a pissy jerk. That I'll excuse. And you may not have the brains to catch on to the fact that Demyx and Roxas are only ever pissy jerks if there's a reason for it. Don't. Shut your mouth. The boss wants to talk to you. Now."

Demyx huddled on his bed, trying to will himself to hear anything but the conversation in the hallway outside. That was the problem with senses; as nice as it was to be able to see and hear and taste and everything, sometimes they exposed you to things that you would rather...just not. And while Demyx had found out that he could basically use those weird little things on his ears to turn his hearing on and off (something he gathered was impossible for most people), he could never bring himself to do so, because not having that frightened him so deeply, reminded him too much of that empty, silent void...he couldn't bear to give up a single sense, even if it meant having to listen to Xigbar bawling Axel out for something that wasn't even Axel's fault. At least the blame for this one had finally been decided, albeit wrongly.

And because Demyx could barely get out more than a few simple, broken words at a time, he couldn't explain to anyone that this was all his fault, and that if he'd just gone home along with Axel and Roxas in the first place and hadn't woken up the dragon, none of this would have happened. He'd still know everything he was supposed to know, his body would still remember how to do everything it was supposed to do, his memories would still make sense instead of being a disjointed collection of sensory experiences he couldn't quite process yet...and the dragon would continue ruling unchallenged, and all those people would still be trudging their way through their grey, empty lives in that grey, empty world, and the Queen's son would have drowned in a rain barrel and no one would have cared.

And he would never have had to experience the agony of the void...or the glory that came after...

And now, the dragon was dead, the world was free, Axel was taking the blame for something that wasn't his fault, and Demyx...even he had to admit he was a mess. He could barely talk, walking on his own was all but impossible, and activities he knew on some level that he used to adore were simply miles beyond him now. He could only stay in the kitchen for so long before he inevitably started to cry, and he didn't dare look under the bed - he had some idea what was down there, but he knew that seeing any of it would be too painful to bear. Not all senses were good, he'd discovered, and he'd already figured out that he really hated pain.

Rolling carefully off the bed, he stumbled his way over to the rows of icons and statues in one corner of the room, clinging to furniture to help keep himself upright. These were his gods, he knew, that he continued to worship even when he suspected they were either gunning for him or had simply forgotten him completely - but he no longer could. The mantras kept slipping from his mind, and the few bits and pieces he remembered he could only recite silently to himself; to speak them aloud right now would be to butcher them horribly. He had books of hymns and sacred prayers, but the lines and shapes inside meant no more to him than a child's abstract doodles. Trying to remember which god preferred what offerings made his head actively hurt. And, dammit, he could really use some divine help...

Well, Lord Ganesha was a very humble god. A prouder and more lordly god wouldn't ride on a mouse, after all. Maybe a humble and accessible god just might be willing to hear someone like him, who couldn't remember what prayers to recite or what offerings to give or even how to read so he could look the information up. All he had was faith and desperation, more desperation than faith...no human would fuss about paperwork when someone was crawling on the ground begging for help, so hopefully Lord Ganesha wouldn't either. At least, that was what Demyx was hoping as he lowered himself to the floor, his eyes fixed on two neighboring images - depictions of Lord Ganesha as Shakti Ganapati, remover of fear, and Maha Ganapati, granter of prayers and prosperity. He figured he'd need the help of both aspects, and more besides. As he lay there, his eyes fixed on the images of the god, a fragment of prayer sprang into his mind - Om, Sri Ganeshaya nama...

Ganapati, Lord of Ganas, You see before You the lowest and humblest of Your devotees - one who tasted godhood for an instant, and now is barely fit to call a man. An athlete who cannot walk, a cook who cannot feed himself, a musician who cannot play, a man with no more mind than a baby... Demyx almost cried, forced to consider what a train-wreck of a human being he was, but self-pity was not the whole point of this prayer. O Lord, who destroys the obstacles of His devotees, grant me Your protection and guidance, and destroy the obstacles of ignorance and forgetfulness that prevent me from rediscovering the man I once was...Om, Ganesha sharanam...grant me Your grace, sharanam Ganesha...

"Demyx? Are you okay? Did you fall down again?"

"I'm...fine," Demyx grunted with difficulty - it figured, the one time he actually wanted to be flat on the floor was the one time someone showed up promptly to help him up. "I w-ah-I-I was...p-praying."

"...On the floor?"


"Is this something your gods insist on, or..."

"R-R-Rok-k-sasss...a-a-arrre you g-g-onna hhhhelp me up-p?"

"...Oh. Right." A moment later, someone grabbed Demyx's arm and pulled him up into a kneeling position. "...You're still bigger than I am...let me adjust my grip."

"No. No." Even more than usual, Demyx bitterly regretted being unable to speak coherently right then. "L-let me...do it m-mys-s-s-selllfff." Without further ado, he grabbed the corner of the stereo cabinet, next to the shelves of icons and statues, and tried to pull himself up. It took a surprising amount of effort, half of it just to remember the motions involved, but eventually, he did manage to lever himself onto his feet, and stood there shakily for a moment before stumbling back to his bed.

It wasn't right. Being able to stand up with less help than usual should not be a milestone. And yet, it was.

Roxas sat down on the bed next to him, as if it didn't occur to him that Demyx would rather be left alone with his own shame for a while. He didn't say anything, for which Demyx was grateful, until he said the one thing that Demyx did not want to hear: "What are we going to do about sitar lessons?"

Demyx stared at him for a moment, wondering whether that was calculated sadism or simple extreme tactlessness. "C-c-cancellll...thhem," he said, struggling to pretend that he wasn't crying, and didn't even feel tempted to cry. "I-ah-I c-can't t-t-tea-ch rah-r-ri-ight nnow. I c-c-c-can't even play."

"Then I'll teach you."

Demyx had to spend a moment blinking at Roxas in complete lack of comprehension before he could even try to find words. "W-wha-what? B-bu-but you c-can't...Ah-I mmmean, I-uh-I kn-n-now w-we d-didn-t suh-susp-spend tha-thaaaat muchh t-time -"

"I know," Roxas said before he could finish that mangled sentence. "But you're forgetting one very important thing. You're Demyx. You've taught me the basics; I don't think I'll need to do more than teach you the basics and you'll be good to go."

There wasn't much Demyx could say to that; then again, there wasn't much Demyx could say, period. He certainly couldn't explain to Roxas that he felt like all his memories came from some other Demyx, one who actually was as awesome as his friends seemed to think he was (or at least used to be). "Ah-it j-jusss...d-doesn't s-s-seeeeeeem l-like a guh-good idea..."

"How so not?" Roxas demanded; Demyx couldn't answer him, only look away in shame. "Demyx...come on. As long as I've known you, music hasn't just been important to you. It's been part of you. Sometimes seems like the biggest part. And...I dunno what that monster did to you, but...it can't have killed that part of you. If it had...you really would be dead..."

Now Demyx just wanted to hug Roxas, and say something make him stop frowning and looking upset, but what was he going to tell him? That there was nothing to worry about? There certainly was. That he'd be okay sooner or later? Demyx was less sure of that than Roxas already was. That he didn't dare even try to summon his sitar, because after singing a whole new universe into existence, finding out he could no longer play perfectly normal instruments that he'd only been playing for fifteen years already would be a soul-crushing comedown? Like that would make Roxas feel better, even if Demyx could tell him as much.

He was the universe, the universe was the music, the music was him...forever and ever, a song that would resonate through eternity, because he was eternity and he would have it no other way...

No. He couldn't not have the music. But he was so afraid to try and reclaim it...

Slowly, with a shaking hand, he reached into the air, focusing on the memory of a brightly-painted instrument, lighter than it looked, with a long neck and movable frets and very many strings, one of which did more work than the rest put together and most of which weren't played at all...an instrument that had always felt so right in his hands, it was as if it was a part of him...it was a part of him...and all of a sudden, there it was, in his hands, and something was right with the worlds again. He couldn't do much more than sit there and hug it for a while, even if Roxas was the one who'd wanted it in the first place.

How was it played? There were those little wire things on a chain around his neck; he had the impression that they had something to do with it...and he had marks on the tips of two fingers, dark callused grooves that looked like the wire bits would fit them perfectly. Getting the chain, and therefore the attached wire things, off from around his neck was tricky; he fumbled with that tiny little catch until he was ready to cry and Roxas finally had to undo it for him. Fortunately, getting the wire things off the chain was so easy even Demyx could do it, and getting them on his fingers was as simple as lining them up with those grooves...and then what?

"Sit like I'm doing, with your legs crossed," Roxas prompted. "The sitar should be balanced between your left foot and right knee, so your hands don't carry the weight..." Demyx listened and obeyed, though he was painfully, shamefully aware that he'd been the one who first explained all these things to Roxas, a lifetime ago, or so it seemed. The student was now the teacher, not because the student had advanced so far, but because the teacher had fallen so far. It was funny, though; the balancing act involved in walking was still almost impossibly tricky, but keeping the sitar balanced was thoughtlessly easy. And the more tiny little bits fell into place, the more tiny little bits followed them. "Okay. You think you got it balanced?"

Demyx wasn't even listening. He carefully plucked the lone steel string with one of those wire things - plectrums, picks, he now remembered, more specifically mezrabs - and listened to the sound that it made, a soulful twang. Pressing the fingers of his other hand down on the strings made it sound different - the pitch changed. When he plucked the string in a slightly different way, the sound changed in a different way. And when he started combining different methods of changing the sound, he got all kinds of different sounds.

And when he started putting all those different sounds together, trying to create an echo of the music he'd found deep inside himself...and when he actually succeeded...when the music inside himself started to come spilling out through his fingers and pour itself out into the world...

He wasn't even Demyx anymore. He was only a conduit for this glorious music inside him. What he remembered and what he was consciously capable of meant nothing; his hands knew how to ply the strings like a master's, and his ears knew how each note fit into place, and pulled the music back inside himself to refresh the well eternally. The music was sweeter than any scent or flavor he knew, any scent or flavor in the worlds; it satisfied the greatest hunger he had. All input from his eyes went completely ignored; nothing he could see mattered half so much as the feel of the strings and the sound of the music. Even as the world around him began to dim and darken suddenly, he paid no attention...the music was all that mattered...

Well, if this was anyone other than Demyx, Roxas would be immensely worried by this sudden collapse. But this was Demyx, and since he'd just been playing sitar like the fate of the multiverse depended on it, and he wasn't seizing or anything, all Roxas could think to do was check to make sure he was breathing all right and wasn't feverish, and then just shake his head for a moment. All right, that would do for proof positive that the old Demyx wasn't irretrievably gone. But Roxas was sure there must have been better ways to prove that than playing himself into such a frenzy that he suddenly passed out in the middle of it.

Though that was, after all, such a very Demyx thing to do. Even when you really wished he wouldn't.

With a faint sigh, Roxas carefully pried the sitar out of Demyx's hands, set it aside, lay him down in a more comfortable position, and pulled the sheets over him; as long as he'd passed out on the bed anyway, he might as well get a proper nap out of it. As an afterthought, he took his own boots off, picked up the sitar again, and retrieved from his pocket one of the mezrabs Demyx had given him so long ago at the beginning of their sitar lessons, back when he could walk and talk and smile properly - but he still played just the same. Even if he lived and practiced for another hundred years, Roxas would never be able to play half so well as Demyx on a bad day, but the least he could do was play something for him now.

AN: Welcome to a series of vignettes on the long process of repairing Demyx, again. This is apt to craaaaaaaaaaawl.