Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

Chapter Twenty-Two


I paced restlessly in front of Sora, waiting for a response. I still hadn't slept; there was no time, even though I was exhausted.

He didn't say anything. He seemed to be frozen. After a few minutes, he seemed to come around and blink a bit. His eyes, when they met mine, were full of sympathy and understanding- so when he stood up and took my hands into his, his response was a complete surprise. "No," he said softly.

My senses, dulled with exhaustion, snapped into sharpness. "I'm sorry, what?"

"No," he repeated more loudly. "I can't let you do this."

His hands were suddenly too unfriendly in mine. I had never expected him to do this. "So you're just going to let Yuffie die?"

"It's not something I want to happen," he began. "But I can't afford to risk your life. You're needed, Demyx. You're the one who can end this."

I exhaled, my lungs deflating. "Did I… hear you correctly?"

Tears gathered in his eyes, distantly. "I can't let you go under."

"You won't let me save her," I stumbled, disbelieving.

"I won't let you chase a chance that's too narrow."

"Yuffie's dying," I continued. "What if this were Kairi? Wouldn't you do everything in your power to save her?"

"Of course I would," he whispered. "But this is different. There are potentially millions of lives at stake. It's been made abundantly clear that you'll be the one to kill him."

"This doesn't make sense," I snapped. "You're the one constantly dropping everything to save your friends. Why isn't she important to you? I have a way to save her. I can't… I won't…" My words trailed off incomprehensibly.

"Of course Yuffie's important to me," he continued desperately, and his eyes begged me to please understand. "But I have to think about everything else. I know this will hurt you, and I'm sorry. I just can't take this risk."

"What happened to you?" I breathed. "You're supposed to save people, not just let them… you're not… you're too different."

"I'm not the person you remember," he admitted, his face devoid of emotion.

My lower lip trembled. I had been on edge all day; I was really at the end of my rope.

"I'll do it," he said. "I'll go down there. I'll save her."

"No." I shook my head. "You wouldn't find anything."

"But if I'm connected to you… and you to her…"

"It doesn't work that way. You have to know her mind, how she thinks. How she'd react in a situation like this." Luxord had explained the logistics, as far as he knew.

"What about Aerith? They're close enough."

I shrugged. "It might be a possibility. But I won't let her do this to herself."

He shook his head quickly and looked down, eyes unfocused. "And there's nothing I can do?"

"Unless you can go back to Neverland and hunt down that monster." It was a perfectly viable option, but the hunting would take time, and that was something we didn't have. We had hours.

Luxord said he couldn't help me with that. He couldn't keep Yuffie in suspended animation. She'd die anyway, with no soul to keep her here. No amount of magic could fix that, he said. If her body and soul were on two completely different timelines, a different type of monster could find her body- a monster that followed the timeline, seeking a vessel.

Our relationship having been indifferent for all of this time, I'd never realized how much responsibility he had. I hadn't known there were monsters other than what darkness created. They were of similar stock, but their origins were unknown. These creatures were bred to make sure time flowed evenly; that when someone or something died, it left the world immediately. Not all of them were benevolent. Some wanted to be a part of the world. It was too much of a risk, he said, to try and stop time around her when she was so vulnerable.

"I'm trying to work this out," Sora said. "Are you sure it can only be you?"

"No," I said. "But I want to do this. I have a better chance than the others at finding her- I know her the best."

"Let me try," he said. "At this moment, I'm more dispensable than you. If I don't find anything, it's not a big deal."

I turned to leave the room. I wasn't going to get a good answer out of him, no matter how much I wheedled.

"I don't want to do this to you," he said to my back, the trace of a sob in his voice. "I'm sorry, Demyx. I'm so sorry."

I slammed the door behind me.

I didn't need his permission.

Anger seared hot through my veins, burning through the worry and exhaustion. I paced restlessly in front of the house, running my hands through my (dirty) hair.

Just who the hell was Sora?

What happened to saving everyone, no matter what the cost? He was going to let her die, and let her soul wander in what was essentially hell for the rest of eternity. He was going to just let it happen when there was a solution- a solution with little chance of working, but a solution just the same.

If and when she did die, what would I do?

Finishing the mission was a requirement, but it wasn't something I wanted to do at all. How would I even be able to go on? Especially since I had caused her to be that way in the first place? Even with Yuffie technically still alive, it hurt me more than I could bear. I was up against the wall- physically and metaphorically. I leaned against the cold stone, trying to work a way through this. I was too tired. I needed a good night's sleep, but when I woke up, it wasn't like anything would be any better. There wasn't enough time to do anything but sit here and feel sorry for myself.

The door opened. The others had allowed me my privacy so far, so I expected to see Axel, or even Sora, coming to mitigate things.

It was Aerith. She had a tray with tea and toast on it. She set it in front of me on the ground, her eyes red and otherwise unreadable. She smoothed her skirts, sat down beside me, and took my hand.

For the longest time, neither of us said anything. We just sat there. I knew she understood how I felt; she had grown up alongside Yuffie, and had helped raise her.

"You should eat something," she finally said. "You need to keep your strength up, too."

"I'm not hungry," I said numbly.

"Even so. From the sounds of it, you haven't slept, either."

I finally turned and looked at her. I felt like breaking down and sobbing from the exhaustion and the grief, but I restrained myself. "I take it Sora told you," I muttered, my voice trembling.

"He… did. It hurts me, too. But you have to see his reasoning."

"You mean you're just going along with it?" I had to laugh.

"What else am I going to go?"

"Oh, I don't know," I continued. "You could help me save her."

She swallowed. "It's too much of a risk."

I had seen the gleam in her eyes; she agreed with me. Naturally.

"Why won't you let me do this?" She asked. "I'm dispensable. I have more training with this type of thing. I could do it successfully, in the right amount of time."

"You'd do that?"

"I'm not only doing it for you. I'm doing it for myself, and for the rest of the committee."

"You might die."

"Aside from me, you know the most about poisons. I trust you to be able to save me in time."

"But will you… be able to find her?"

She touched my face, and I almost broke down then. "You forget that I've known her long than you. I know how Yuffie thinks. I'm confident that I can do this. You just leave it all to me." She stood to leave, knowing I needed to think.


She turned.

"Thank you."

The others were less hesitant to let Aerith go down into the Dreamscape. They were more assured in her competence with this sort of thing, and they trusted me to manage the chemistry. Still, it was an unnerving and difficult thing for me to do; it was against instinct to deliberately administer a poison, especially since she didn't have the partial immunity I did. Given that Aerith was more human, she had less time. We couldn't risk more than five hours.

Luxord showed up without us having to even summon him- he knew his lines well. "I admit this is a most interesting turn of events," he said smoothly, coming in barely before I had the door open. He nodded at all of us in barest greeting. "Don't be offended, Demyx, but I have more faith in your friend. We might have a chance yet."

Hearing the omniscient Luxord say this was calming to me, but I still felt drained, and anxious. The vial of cyanide in my hand, transparent and volatile, seemed to be made of lead.

It was even more difficult, watching Aerith sit there on the small cot we'd moved into Yuffie's room, smiling with an IV in her arm. There was nothing on her face to betray fear for her own life.

Luxord was nearby, on a wooden chair, ready to prolong the stasis for as much time as possible. He sat on that chair like it was a throne.

They were both so confident. I didn't understand how they were able to do this.

"Demyx, I'm ready when you are," Aerith told me calmly. "We'd better hurry."

I pulled the poison into a syringe. "I don't like the way this feels."

"You can trust the both of us," Luxord interjected. "Come, now."

I took a step closer. "It'll be painless," I told her. "I added a sedative. You'll be unconscious before the poison takes effect."

"I'm not worried about pain," Aerith said, lying down. I forced myself to give her the shot quickly. She gave me a smile, meant to reassure, before her eyes closed. The air around the three of them seemed to twist, bend, and grow heavier as Luxord slowed time.

"Don't worry," He said. "The odds are favorable. You don't want to know what would have happened if it had been you."

I nodded, barely comprehending anything at that point. "Is there anything that you need? I want to… rest for a while." I had a pounding headache; everything had blurred at the edges. I paused for a moment, unstable.

"I daresay you deserve it. Go on, now. Take your time. I'll be sure to wake you if something goes amiss." He tilted his head to the side, a frightening sort of look growing in his eyes. "Are you… feeling quite alright?"

"I'm a bit dizzy, but I'm sure it's because I haven't slept. I'll be fine in a few hours," I told him flippantly. I closed my eyes, resisting the feeling. "Though it kind of is out of nowhere." I turned to leave the room.

He half-stood suddenly, his chair scraping loudly across the floor. "Don't go to sleep."

I blinked several times. "Why not? I'm exhausted; and… you just told me to…" Another wave of vertigo washed over me; I had to grip the doorframe for support. "You… you know what this is… don't you…"

He reached one hand out towards me, as if to grab me.

I couldn't move. My body was heavy, leaden, and unable to hold itself up. I tried to stay there with him, to remain conscious, but it was too difficult. I fell to the floor in a dead faint.

I'd always had a feeling that there were things that they were keeping from me.

Some slight motion in my peripheral startled me; I felt like I'd been sitting still for a long time, but I had no concept of how long it had been. Hours, days, weeks. There had a complete absence of all thought.

I couldn't blame my subconscious for that. Even in my semi-aware state I knew this place was terrifying. It was all the stuff of nightmares- shadows within shadows, decay- a dry, barren landscape full of dust. The sky was low to the ground, and it was constantly foggy, but it wasn't the white fog of oncoming rain. The fog was thick, yellowish, and reeked like sulfur.

I hadn't tried to find a way out. I hadn't even known I was here.

My body seemed to be in one piece- arms, legs, hands, and fingers. I stood up; I had been in a clearing for quite some time. Vines dripped halfheartedly off of the naked tree branches; the bark looked charred, like it would fall to pieces at the touch.

What had moved? What had changed?

I tried to remember what had happened last, but it was difficult, and things were hazy at best. I remembered noise and a bright flash of light- lightning? No, the sky had been clear- and someone had been yelling, someone I'd never heard yell before.

Axel. Axel? Definitely Axel, sopping wet with his hair all over the place. Why had Axel lost his cool? And the look on his face- shocked and horrified- was one I'd never seen him wear. What would scare him enough that he would show it?

A monster. Something that flew. Scales and sulfur and wings and claws that had hurt when they touched my skin. My skin? Pain. An unimaginable pain that hurt much more than the claws. Burning. Then coldness. So cold. Then nothing.


With the pieces in place, it wasn't hard for me to piece it together. I had been snatched, grabbed, taken. My soul had been taken.

If that was so, then how was I here? How was I consciously thinking? What was this place- was it the inside of the monster? It couldn't be- it was too big. But I knew it was possible to make something bigger on the inside.

I looked down at myself. All of my limbs were where they should be, and clearly mine. I didn't believe that I was only a soul- I felt whole, at least, until I checked for a pulse.

There wasn't one. What was more, my skin had no temperature at all, neither hot nor cold. My body didn't feel real. I was dizzy, unbalanced. Personal inventory complete, I turned around. What had made that noise? Noise. Maybe my senses were exaggerating. Hadn't I seen something, anyway?

Confusion. I was so confused. Nothing was right, or straight up in its place. I was a soul- just that, nothing more. Sanity had vanished along with my real body.

There was another flutter of movement in my peripheral. This time, I knew it was deliberate. Whatever it was, it wanted my attention. Things were a little more definite- what I had seen was a swirl of dark fabric.

For better or worse, I decided to follow it.

Never quite visible, the figure moved just quickly enough for me to catch it. Thankfully, because I didn't have a physical body, there were no lungs to tire, and no legs to ache, so I just kept going.

After a while, I grew bored, and knew there were important matters at hand, like getting the hell out of here. "Wait!" I called to the figure. "Please, wait up!"

The path suddenly ended, the foggy woods giving way to a cliff. Far below that was a small body of water, deep blue. He, or she, or it had to have gone down there.

I knew a thing or two about diving. Reflexively, I took a deep breath, and jumped. The water was an oddly sensory slap- I felt iced over by the time my head broke the surface. "Where are you?" I hissed. "Come back! I'm not finished with you!"

There was another splash, one towards the shore. I immediately swam for it. The more I moved around, the more I loved that my muscles didn't burn. It had to be one of the few advantages of this form.

I dragged myself up onto the beach and across the coarse sand that was studded with rocks. I saw the figure again, just a glimpse- it had stopped moving. I looked up, trying to be a bit wary.

Short, dark hair. Pale and petite, her face hidden from me- she was most definitely female. She was dressed in a black ensemble; black tank top, black shorts, black boots. I paused, halfway out of the water. "Who are you?" I asked, blinking.

She turned, her face fierce and guarded; she said nothing.

"This doesn't make sense," I sputtered, as I got a better look.

She looked exactly like me.

I woke up choking on water.

There was nothing more disorienting than waking up to find yourself on a shore. My mouth was full of wet sand- the water was like ice.

What had happened?

Luxord had been screaming at me, begging me to wake up. Or, like the distant echo of things not quite heard, was that happening right now?

I looked around, spitting up sand and mouthfuls of saltwater. My eyes burned. Everything was so violently physical that I had a hard time coping with what had to be the truth.

I was down in the Dreamscape. I didn't know how, considering I hadn't taken the poison. I'd just passed out, and I highly doubted that I'd worn myself down that far.

Struggling to a stand, I tried to make sense of the surroundings.

The sky was a terrible mustard yellow, and everything was covered in a sort of thick fog that preceded certain types of rain. I highly doubted that it had rained here at all, recently.

Slogging through the water and wet sand, I found my way onto more certain terrain- a thick grass. I fell backwards, exhausted from the simple motion of getting up.

Water shouldn't tire me.

Even though my soul was still in my body, I hadn't expected things here to be so sensory. I had no idea what I had expected.

I was here. I might as well try to find her, and consider what would happen to me once she was safe. I was sure my body was still alive.

Being here, now, I wasn't sure what I had been thinking. It had all seemed so clear to me- get down into the Dreamscape, find Yuffie, and magically bring her back. But where did I even begin to look? This place was made from the collected subconscious of everyone, after all.

That was where knowing her mind came.

Considering we were so close, our versions of this place had to be similar, or at least sharing one vein of connection. Now where to find it…?

Despite people thinking we were so much alike, Yuffie and I were two different human beings. We had different interests, different desires, different goals. We shared trivial things in common, but I knew what I was looking for would be much deeper than that.

I followed the path beaten into the knoll, trying to keep my eyes peeled.

What were some defining things that we shared?

Love for our home. Love for our friends. Love for each other.

The fog thinned somewhat, making the path in front of me a bit clearer. It forked ahead of me, into two sides. Which was the right choice?

This place was eerie, not at all how I expected my subconscious to be. It was too ordered, too tangible. Well, if this was my mind, or hers, did I have any sort of power here?

I hadn't expected to be able to use a weapon, or my powers. Thinking it might be the key to all of this, I tried to summon my sitar for the first time in a very long while.

I expected there to be hesitation, or some sort of internal glitch with all this going on. But no, the instrument, ever loyal even though I had neglected it, came to me. After the metal of the Keyblade, the smooth hybrid substance felt strange, almost alien to me. My body immediately knew how to readjust to its weight- this was natural to me, unlike the Keyblade.

So there was that.

I held the sitar tight to my body, ducking through the gloom. The path evened out. In the fog, I didn't notice things changing. Once the air cleared, the world around me had changed into a forest, but not the dark mysterious one of nightmares- rather; the trees were barren and weak. This was a place where evil was born.

The only sound I was aware of was my own breathing; I was hyperaware of even the slightest stretch of my own lungs. The sensations were all so vivid- was I really unconscious?

The only way to find that out would be to try and wake up. I couldn't do that, not yet- not until I had assured Yuffie's safety, and perhaps Aerith's, too. I decided to try calling for her. Yuffie was most likely not in the right frame of mind- she had to be weak and scared, unsure of this place. I knew I was.

"Yuffie?" Once I found my voice, it was easier to keep calling. "Yuffie? Where are you? Are you here?"

But there was no sound- just the echo of my own voice. I sat down on the ground, which was dry as sand, though somehow not dusty. The sitar rested in my hands, the fingerboard still cool to the touch.

Maybe I would play her a song. If she heard it, wouldn't she come forward? If anything, at least it would soothe my nerves. I started into a song she had to know- Via Purifico. My fingers were uncertain, having gone so long without practice, but within moments settled back into that old rhythm. It was easy to understand- I was a conductor for the music, and not the other way around. Here, everything was clear. Why hadn't I resorted to this earlier?

I ended the song, finally, on the last melancholic note. The silence around me was again suffocating.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The voice was startling and disconcerting- I slipped from my spot and fell forward, my sitar smacking me hard against the back. "Who's there?" I asked hoarsely.

"The more you acclimatize to this place, the harder it will be for you to leave," it continued. "You're already pretty rooted."

I sat up, feeling very exposed in the mist, even with my sitar. "You're not… you won't…"

"I can't make any promises. It's not hard to realize why you're here." The dark shape that the voice was coming from became clearer as she- it was either the voice of a woman, or a young boy's- approached. She was dressed in a dark coat, unlike that of Organization XIII, but still wholly covering.

"Who…" I began, but was shushed.

"You're Demyx," she said, putting one slim hand on her hip. There was something familiar in the way she moved- her gait, even the shape of her hand. I tried to place where I'd met this woman. "I know all about you."

I squinted, trying to see well.

"You really don't know who I am? I'm surprised- I thought it would be obvious. Well, it saves me the trouble of all these careless introductions. Short and sweet- you're dangerous. And the only way to save her is to get rid of you."

The realizations slammed into place. "You're…!"

"I'm really sorry about this. But it's all for the best." She was close now- too close, I realized, to make a break for it. She had me up against one of the trees. I tried at least to disarm her, or to push through her, but with quick, skilled blows, she nailed me in several pressure points, and I fell again, paralyzed and unconscious.

She drew something sharp from beneath her robe. When she leaned towards me, her hood fell back.

She drove the knife through my chest.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I wish it could have been done any other way."

I didn't understand. This didn't make sense. I struggled against the undercurrent of the pain. "W-wait… Yuffie…"

You ever want the plot to go one way, and the characters take a completely different route? Happened with this chapter, as I think it's fairly obvious. I apologize for the lateness of this update. Life has a tendency to get in the way of these things. I've had this prowling around on my harddrive for a while, and I have a feeling it's a little bit of a disappointment.

Oh, well. At least things are starting to get clearer, but as I think more I realize just what a massive undertaking this story is. Twenty-two chapters and we're still barely a toe out of the exposition. So I'll probably start making chapters quite a bit longer, even though that won't exactly do wonders for my hit count.

My goodness! I just realized it's been since last year. Happy new year everyone... XD ~~

Thank you Mystical Authoress, TheChel, SoraIsMyHomeboy, and Anna for reviewing.