Demyx, Hollow Bastion, and the meaning of hope. A Nobody who never fitted in finds his place among the living.
Demyx believed in hope. Maybe he was just crazy, tired enough of this forlorn existence to start grasping at shadows and believing in the unseen. His colleagues certainly seemed to think so. Vexen sneered and formed a complex scientific explanation to explain why Nobodies simply were not capable of hope, but Demyx had stopped listening, and he wasn't so sure he believed IV anyway; what had science ever done to bring their hearts back? Axel laughed with a sound like a razor blade, telling Demyx that hope was what killed people, and the only reality was that there was none. But Demyx didn't believe him either. He'd seen the way Axel looked at Roxas, the way his eyes lost a bit of their acid and got something like life in them.
The Superior was not known for pairing together allies or suiting them to their abilities, which may have been why he sent Demyx and Xigbar on a mission together. The older Nobody had narrowed his creepy golden eyes (Heartless eyes, Demyx was reminded of) and told him not to mess anything up. Demyx hadn't had much interaction with the original six, and so he wasn't sure quite what to think of II. But there was something in the way he stood, in his confidence, that Demyx wished he had just a bit of. He clutched his sitar close, his fingers already searching out a melody, as he followed Xigbar into the dark portal.
Hollow Bastion was an interesting world. A crumbling tower cast a shadow on the village below, twisting iron pipes and ivory scaffolds curling over each other like vines. The town was vibrant with the sounds of construction: sounds of hammering, warm voices, people greeting one another in the marketplace. It was full of life, so different than the gray dead world of the Nobodies' home.
A song drifted on a rose-scented wind to Demyx's mind. His fingertips found the right strings on his sitar, and he closed his eyes for a moment as the notes drifted upon the air.
"Hey." Xigbar's coarse voice cut into his reverie. "Stop daydreaming and come on."
"Sorry," Demyx said, grinning sheepishly, "but this place is so cool."
"Yeah, you think so? You should have seen it when the shadows came." Xigbar grinned at the confusion on Demyx's face.
Nobodies work best alone, as two dead beings cannot really be a part of each other, so the two split up. Clearly II did not think the younger man would be of any help, so Demyx decided to explore. The sky was a smiling blue, and he really wanted to find out what that smell was.
He moved among the buildings, a thin black ghost with a shock of dark blond, his instrument tucked under his arm. Lyrics sprung to his mind like fast-moving streams, but hurried away before becoming tangible. He passed people now and then; men hammering boards onto roofs of houses, women in colorful skirts hanging clothes out to dry, children chasing each other with shrieks of laughter. Demyx didn't stop smiling.
His feet (and his nose) led him to a smaller street with clean white sidewalks and simple friendly-looking houses. It was empty except for a girl. She was kneeling in the dirt around a cluster of some bright-looking things that, Demyx found, were the source of the smell. Her hair was tied in a simple braid, and she was humming under her breath. She looked up as he approached, and her face was smeared in dirt.
And that was how Demyx met Aerith.
The only other girls Demyx knew were Larxene and NaminÃ©. Number XII was cruel and liked to shock Demyx with her lightning when he had his back turned. He didn't like mean people, and she was the worst of them all. NaminÃ© was tiny and quiet, but sometimes he would sing to her and she would draw pictures about his songs. But he couldn't talk to her very much, since there were always other members of the Organization watching her. The Superior said she was dangerous, but when Demyx looked at her all he could think of was light.
"Hello," the girl said, smiling (and it was not like a Nobody's at all). "I don't think I've seen you before. Are you new here?" She picked up one of the colorful things, which had been in a box at her feet, and tucked it carefully into a small hole in the ground, then patted the dirt in around it.
"Yeah," Demyx said, sharing her smile. "I'm on a mission." (Demyx often spoke his mind without thinking, and could never even conceive of telling lies; it was a dangerous trait for a Nobody to have, and one that had gotten him in trouble many times). She turned from the pale pink thing she was patting dirt around and looked at him. Her eyes were a color he remembered as a distant memory, a place of hills and trees and swift waters--the home he once had.
"Oh? What kind of mission is it? Are you working for the borough committee?" Her neck was shiny with sweat, but she was too engrossed in her work to notice.
"Uh, no, actually this is my first time here." He gestured a black-gloved hand at the houses and trees around them.
"Really?" the girl asked. "You do dress pretty strangely." She wiped the dirt from her hands onto her overalls and stood up. She extended a (now mostly clean) hand to him. He stared at it. She was holding no weapon, so he didn't know what she meant by the gesture. She laughed, and it was as clear as a note from a sitar string.
"You really aren't from around here." She took his hand and gave it a firm handshake. Then she leaned forward slightly and peered at him curiously, her hands clasped behind her back.
"I'm Aerith. What's your name?"
"Demyx." He looked at the hand she had touched. The glove was smeared with specks of dirt.
"Nice to meet you, Demyx."
Where have you gotten to, boy? Xigbar's voice echoed in Demyx's head. He glanced around nervously for the older Nobody.
"I have to go," he said quickly, then turned and hurried out of sight.
"So," Xigbar said when Demyx came into sight, "have you found out anything interesting?"
Demyx ran a hand through his hair as he thought for a moment. "Yeah. The people are really nice, and there are these things that smell good--"
Number II looked up at the sky with an exasperated expression.
The town was full of places to explore. Demyx and Xigbar staggered through the ruins of the castle known as Villain's Vale, searching for rare artifacts left behind by the witch, Maleficent. They found the crumbling pieces of a viewing pool, its carved empty dragon eyes staring at Demyx. He shivered uneasily and moved on. There was a cracking sound under his boot heels, and he looked down to find a broken looking glass. So Maleficent had her vanity too. With no other clues to what had gone on in the castle, the pair left to go back to the town.
The next time he saw her, she was pouring water from a pitcher onto the bright things. Her face looked annoyed and her hand was on her hip. There was a pink ribbon tied in her braid now. She looked up as he approached, even though a Nobody's footsteps are soundless.
"I made lemonade. Would you like some?"
"What's lemonade?" Demyx had the feeling he had a lot to learn about this world. But then, he didn't think he would mind. She laughed and put the pitcher down. The door to her house was open, and she led him inside.
The house was simple, but decorated with lots of lace and pink. It had a clean smell, and a slight breeze moved in through the open windows of the kitchen. There was a large container full of a pale pink liquid on the counter. Aerith opened a cupboard over the stove and pulled out a pair of glasses. She muttered to herself as she did so.
"I think Leon's sleeping upstairs (he does so much anymore, I'm worried about him), and Cid's at the marketplace getting food. Yuffie's somewhere around here."
She poured the liquid and handed a glass to him. He raised it to his nose and sniffed. It didn't seem so bad, but it stung his nostrils.
"I hope you don't mind that it's pink?" Aerith said. "Yuffie doesn't like it."
"No. I think it looks nice, actually. It matches your ribbon."
"So it does. Pink's my favorite color, you know." She told him to sit down at the kitchen table, and he did. He lifted the glass and took a cautious sip. The stuff (lemonade, he reminded himself) had a sour taste, and it was stronger than anything he'd had before. Drinks besides water and tea were rare in the Castle That Never Was. He licked his lips experimentally afterward.
"Mmm, this is good!" And then he drank the rest of the lemonade without pausing for breath.
"I guess so; you seem to enjoy it," Aerith said, laughing. She only let him have one more glass of the liquid before putting it in the refrigerator, despite his protests. "You'll get a stomach ache if you drink too much!"
"Let's go outside; it's so nice." They sat next to each other in chairs on the porch. Demyx wondered if Xigbar was looking for him; well, he'd know if II was trying to contact him. And Aerith was much better company anyway.
"Well, tell me about yourself, Demyx," she said. "Where are you from? How old are you? What are some things you like?" She hand her hand on her face in a thoughtful gesture and was staring at him. He found his face getting warm, but he didn't know why. He thought he'd heard Vexen talking about fevers once, but Nobodies didn't get sick.
He frowned slightly; she had asked a lot of questions at once.
"I'm from, uh, another world. It's a city, but it's not like this at all."
There was something like fear in her eyes. "Yes, the worlds are connected again. I could feel the change; it doesn't seem good for us here."
"And I'm one year old, I think." Aerith's eyes widened, and she grinned.
"You sure are a funny guy. Tell me really; you look younger than Leon, at least." Demyx thought back to his past life. Myde was barely an adult when he died, but old enough to live on his own.
"Nineteen," he said finally. It wasn't really a lie. Nobodies technically didn't age; they kept about the same appearance they had when they died, except for a few physical differences.
"I thought so. I'm twenty-two, but sometimes I feel like I'm forty." She sighed and closed her eyes. "I'm always taking care of everyone. Leon and Cloud always come home scraped up in one way or the other, and Yuffie's always needed me to calm her down..."
Demyx shuffled uneasily in his seat. Myde was an orphan, but he could sort of relate to her in how he dealt with the other Organization members. He was always caught in the middle in the arguments between the neophytes and the elders. He found himself watching Axel, worrying that the man would burn himself out one day. He kept a close eye on Roxas and NaminÃ©, because they reminded him of himself when he had first found himself in an organization that he had never wanted to join in the first place.
"...and I don't have Rinoa to talk to anymore. I just can't get Leon to open up like she could," Aerith continued. She stopped and raised a hand to cover her mouth.
"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to start a tirade. I guess I can talk to you because you're a stranger."
We'll always be strangers, he thought, remembering what Axel had said once about Nobodies. Forbidden from loving, from having friends, from feeling joy or sorrow or anything at all. But then how did that explain NaminÃ© and her pictures? She had to feel something when she drew them. And what was keeping Axel and Xigbar and the Superior and even Saix going if not a desire to make things better? He just didn't understand it.
"I don't believe it!" he cried, standing up quickly. Aerith was giving him a worried look. His face was burning again.
"What's wrong?" she asked, her hands clasped in an expression of concern. "Demyx?"
Demyx sat down again, straightening the ties on his hood nervously. "Aerith, does hope exist?" The question had burst out of him, and he knew it was foolish to ask. One who doesn't exist...
"Of course it does," she replied immediately. "It's what the world runs on. It's what makes the trees grow and the birds sing. It's what helped rebuild this town, and it's why I returned here." She looked out at the ruin of the castle looming over the tops of the houses. Her voice was gentle and reassuring, and Demyx could sense the truth in her words. He wished he could stay in this world with the humans, because the Organization seemed so dry and cruel in comparison. Here there was sunlight and warmth, and hope. But he knew it could not be, because he was not a part of that world, and never would be.
"I think you're right," Demyx said. "Everyone's always told me that hoping was something foolish: a child's dream."
"You must not have very good friends," Aerith replied.
"Well, they're not all bad." Axel was scary, but interesting and Demyx knew that he secretly hoped, too. He could see it in the way Axel looked when he thought no one was watching. Roxas was a puzzle, but not an unpleasant one. NaminÃ© listened to his songs when no one else would. And even Luxord had stories to tell over a game of cards, of glory and pirates and adventurers with gleaming swords. No, they weren't all bad, if he treaded lightly and didn't mess up too much.
"Aerith?" A man with long, messy brown hair was standing in the doorway.
"Good afternoon," Aerith said, standing up and smiling at the man. "Up already?" He looked past her to Demyx.
"A friend of yours?" he asked Aerith. She nodded, and turned to Demyx.
"Why don't you two introduce yourselves?"
Demyx smiled and held out his hand, the way Aerith had done earlier. He had figured out that it was the way to greet people in this world.
"I'm Demyx. Nice to meet ya!" Leon looked at his hand for a moment, then shook it once.
"Leon." He looked back at Aerith. "Yuffie called me. She said Cid's holding a meeting of the Restoration Committee at Merlin's house. It's in ten minutes."
"Oh, all right." She smiled apologetically. "I have to go, Demyx, but we'll talk another time, okay?"
And as Demyx watched them walk away together, he wondered if hearts were really so important after all.
"We're leaving tomorrow," Xigbar said shortly. He was leaning against the rock wall of the cave which was their temporary home. At least in the Castle they had beds. Xigbar crossed his arms and continued. "I've received word that the Organization split: half of our members moved into Castle Oblivion."
"What did they do that for?" Demyx asked, sitting Indian-style on the floor with his sitar on his knee.
Xigbar laughed, a harsh barking sound. "You really are dense. We've got a little Keyblade Master on his way. But that damn fool XI is in charge; said that his Somebody was a duke and so he's the rightful leader. As if. He's up to something, that's for sure." His gloved hand was clenched in a fist. "I told the Superior not to trust him. But Vexen, Lexaeus, and Zexion are there too to keep an eye on him. And Axel, but I don't know why the Superior sent him. I never liked the look of him."
"Who else went?" Demyx asked. Vexen wouldn't be snapping at him to shut up when he was playing his music. And he didn't like Zexion; the Nobody looked quiet but talked a mile a minute, and he always lectured Demyx whenever he failed to complete a task. It would be quieter without the two of them.
"Lessee. Larxene (that evil bitch, I think I might miss her) and the NaminÃ© girl."
"NaminÃ©?" Demyx asked in disappointment. "Who will listen to my music now?" He plucked forlornly at a few strings.
"Maybe if you're lucky, some Dusks will dance for you." Xigbar laughed at his joke.
It sure was going to be lonely.
The day he was leaving, Demyx went to visit Aerith again. She waved as he walked across the lawn to meet her.
"Hello, Demyx. It's hot, isn't it?" Her bangs were sleek with sweat, and there were red patches on her shoulders. "I've been spending all my time outside, and I even got sunburned. Eww, I think it's peeling."
"I'm going back home today, so I came to say good-bye," Demyx said, his voice tinged with some emotion he couldn't name. (Vexen would say he was fooling himself, that he couldn't feel anything, but he never believed that).
"Oh, that's too bad." He could tell she really was sorry. Her eyes looked greener than they had before.
"Come look at my flowers." She took his hand and led him over to the area against the house where the little bright things were. They were in all colors: red, yellow, purple, pink. They looked kind of shriveled. So these were called flowers. They didn't look anything like the thorny vines and wild pale plants of Marluxia's that thrived in the darkness of the Nonexistent World. Those had no color at all, and had always made Demyx feel sad to look at. But these flowers were nice, and Aerith was very different from Marluxia.
"I'm worried about them," Aerith said, clasping her hands in the gesture he had taken to mean she was concerned. "I water them every day, but I don't think it's enough. They miss the rain, and it hasn't rained here in a long time."
"Would it help if it did rain?" he asked. It was probably forbidden, he thought, to even think of. But Aerith wasn't just any human. She was... his friend. And suddenly he was smiling. He had a friend. It was too good to even possibly imagine, yet it had happened.
He called his sitar into his hands, and Aerith looked at it with a startled expression.
"How did you do that?" she asked.
"Magic," he said, and began to play. The notes wavered like tendrils of silk around his quick gloved fingers, and skipped across the air, teasing at Aerith's face and mingling with the flowers. The brightly shining sun became obscured by thick gray clouds. Aerith looked up as a raindrop fell on her nose. And then it was pouring, and Demyx was enjoying the rhythm of his own song.
"Incredible!" Aerith cried, as the rain flattened her bangs to her face and cooled her sunburn. The she lifted her skirt in a mock curtsy and danced happily in a circle. She was laughing, and Demyx was laughing with her, and the flowers had opened up like fresh jewels, quenched of thirst.
And then the rain stopped as the sitar rang its last few notes. The instrument disappeared in a cloud of dew, and suddenly Aerith was hugging him and kissing him on the cheek (his face was warm again, even after the rain).
"You are something! What an amazing gift." She took his hand again.
"I'll tell you their names and you can help me plant some more, but first you have to take off these gloves. I can't imagine how sweaty you must be in that coat!"
And so they knelt side by side in the dirt. Aerith taught him their names (lily, daisy, rose, chrysanthemum) and about how much shade they needed, and how many times a day they should be watered, and how she had once made her living by selling flowers in the market for 1 munny each. Demyx's hands were pale, and it was strange but comforting to feel the dirt on his pale hands, and the soft petals under his fingertips. And he couldn't help thinking that this was what life smelled like. Now he thought he understood was hope really was.