(A/N): For manga-ghost, because she is a lovely person, because she drew me some beautiful fanart, and because it took me far too long to figure out how to write this. This is set in the Waiting universe; just a short glimpse into Axel and Demyx's friendship in high school, as I don't think there's really a way to work much of their backstory into the main work. And because manga-ghost said their friendship is one of her favorite parts of the story, thus inspiring this oneshot.

Disclaimer: If one writes enough stories with these characters, might one have partial ownership? Well, even if that were the case, I'd be pretty far down the list. Darn.

Me Without You

Demyx was teetering on the brink of sleep when something tugged at his conscious mind, dragging him away from the comforting pull of his dreams. Yawning widely, he propped himself up on one elbow and gazed blearily around his room, trying to pinpoint the distraction. The soft scratching sound came again, and Demyx groaned and pulled himself out of bed. Stumbling over to the window, he shoved it open and glared at the irritated redhead standing on the other side. "Do you know what time it is?" he grumbled, yawning as he stepped back.

Scowling, Axel threw a leg over the windowsill, bending nearly in half to maneuver his head and shoulders under the windowpane. "Shut up," he growled, stumbling slightly as he pulled his leg in behind him. "I had to close the damn store again." Demyx's protests faded as he caught sight of the fresh bruise forming around Axel's left eye.

"You need some ice?" he asked, feeling the last vestiges of sleep recede from his mind. Axel shrugged, digging a beat-up pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and fumbling for his lighter. Demyx retreated to his bed, curling his legs against his chest as he leaned his head back against the wall, watching Axel from the corner of his eye. He could always tell how bad a mood the redhead was in by the number of cigarettes he smoked. Thankfully, Axel finished one and sighed, dragging a hand through his hair as he pitched the butt out the window. "Was it bad?"

Axel glanced at him, eyes dark, but a crooked smile flitted across his face. "Where's that ice, Dem?" Grinning, Demyx shoved himself up, padding barefoot down the hall and into the kitchen. He grabbed an icepack from the freezer, snagging two sodas from the fridge as an afterthought. There was no way he'd be falling asleep any time soon.

When he entered his room again, Axel was sprawled across the foot of his bed, gently prodding the swollen flesh around his eye. Propping himself up on one elbow, he took the icepack with a grin, sighing as he pressed it against his face. Demyx settled at the head of the bed, holding a soda out to Axel, waiting until the redhead had popped the tab and taken a long swallow to speak again. "What happened?" Axel made an impatient sound in the back of his throat, gazing up at the ceiling absently. Demyx frowned and prodded Axel's shoulder with his foot. "What. Happened?" he repeated, grinning at the exasperated look Axel shot him.

"Got in a fight – what always happens, Dem?" Axel responded impatiently, rolling his visible eye. Demyx huffed at him, leaning back against the wall as he sipped his soda.

"Have you ever considered anger management?"

"Fuck you," Axel replied absently, rubbing at his chest. The collar of his shirt slipped down, and Demyx spied the angry red marks raked across the redhead's skin. Demyx's fingers tightened around his soda can.

"How's your mom?" he asked quietly. Axel snorted, but Demyx saw the way his jaw clenched before his expression went carefully blank. There was a short, tense silence, and Demyx swallowed hard.

"How's your shoulder?" Axel asked abruptly, twisting around to stare at him. Blinking, Demyx laid a hand against his right shoulder, shrugging before he glanced away.

"It's fine," he muttered, letting his question slide. He'd learned there were some things Axel just wouldn't talk about – there was no use trying to push him. "How's your eye?" Axel smirked, settling back against the wall.

"It's nothing," he scoffed, readjusting the icepack. "Other guy looked worse." Demyx hid his grin behind his soda can as he took a long swallow.

"You staying?"

Axel shrugged, and Demyx set his soda can on the night table before he grabbed his pillow and comforter. "You need to sleep in?" he asked, stretching out on the floor and lacing his fingers behind his head. Axel grunted at him, busy trying to unlace his boots and pull them off. Rolling his eyes, Demyx lowered the volume on his cell phone, setting it underneath his pillow. Above him, Axel collapsed onto the bed, fully clothed. He was snoring in a matter of minutes.

Rolling onto his side, Demyx closed his eyes and waited for the sleep to come.

His cell phone's tuneless jingle pulled Demyx out of murky dreams about keys and the hearts of worlds. Groaning into his pillow, Demyx groped for the offensive noisemaker, finally snaring the phone with two fingers. Dragging it out from underneath the pillow, he silenced the alarm before he pushed himself up on unsteady arms. Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, he yawned widely as he glanced up to see if the noise had woken Axel.

The redhead was curled under Demyx's sheets, fast asleep. He looked pale and exhausted, and Demyx took care to make as little noise as possible as he located a pair of jeans and slipped out of the room. His mom was seated at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee. "Morning," she yawned, pushing a strand of messy blonde hair behind her ear. Demyx hummed a response at her, rummaging around in the cupboards for a large pan. When he turned toward the stove, he found her watching him, her eyes clearer and her forehead marred by a small frown. "Is Axel over?"

Demyx glanced down at the pan in his hands before he shrugged. "Yeah." He saw her bite her lip as he set the pan on the stove and started rummaging around in the fridge, searching for enough ingredients to make a decent omelet.

"Is he okay?"

Demyx kept his head in the fridge, piling eggs, cheese, and the leftover ham from last night's dinner into his arms in an effort to avoid his mom's eyes. "He's fine," he muttered, ducking his head as he moved back towards the stove. Dumping the ingredients onto the counter, he turned for the green pepper, onion, and butter, scowling when his mom intercepted him.

"What happened?" Demyx cut his eyes to the side, crossing his arms loosely over his chest.

"He had to close the store and he didn't want to walk all the way home, okay?" he sighed, fidgeting in agitation. His mom regarded him tiredly, rubbing at the bridge of her nose; catching sight of his expression, she bent and planted a quick kiss against his forehead, smiling at his expression before she steered him away from the counter.

"I'll make breakfast today," she said cheerily, propelling him out of the kitchen. "And I'll drive you boys to school. Why don't you get another twenty minutes in, okay?" Demyx shot her a grateful smile before she turned away.

Returning to his room, Demyx curled in his desk chair as he waited for Axel to wake up. Ducking his head, he studied the redhead from the corner of his eye as he stifled a yawn. Axel's left eye looked like it might be swollen shut, and Demyx could see other smaller bruises that had bloomed on his skin overnight. Demyx had yet to see him lose a fight, but it didn't mean he didn't take a beating.

"What the hell are you looking at, Dem?" Axel muttered, and Demyx shrugged.

"Your battle scars," he drawled, grinning. Axel snorted, rolling onto his back and pushing his hair back from his face, wincing when he brushed the area around his black eye. "You can go back to sleep if you need to," he offered, scratching at his ankle. "My mom said she'd drive us to school." Axel looked like he was seriously considering it, but he pulled himself into a sitting position with a groan.

"You got anymore ice?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck. Demyx nodded, unfolding himself from the chair and snagging the warm pack from the bed before padding back into the kitchen. His mom looked up questioningly, but he only shrugged before he snagged the second icepack from the fridge, leaving the warm one to refreeze.

He froze in his doorway.

Axel had grabbed one of his shirts and was in the middle of changing – his chest was covered with red scratch marks, some of which had apparently bled and scabbed over sometime during the night. "Axel, what the hell?" Demyx whispered, feeling numb. Axel's head snapped up, his good eye narrowing as he took in Demyx's expression.

"It's nothing," he snapped, jerking the shirt down irritably, hiding the injuries from view. Demyx stepped forward, feeling slightly unbalanced.

"Nothing? Axel, your chest –"

"I said it's nothing," Axel growled, ripping the icepack out of Demyx's hands. "My mom was out of it last night, that's all." The hard light in his visible eye warned Demyx to drop it, but Demyx frowned and took another step forward.

"C'mon," he sighed suddenly, wrapping his hand around Axel's wrist and dragging the redhead behind him as he turned toward the door. Surprised, Axel cursed as he stumbled, yelping when he stubbed his bare toes against Demyx's desk chair. Ignoring him, Demyx pulled him into the bathroom, pushing him against the counter as he rummaged in the medicine cabinet. Axel glared sullenly at him as Demyx pulled down the hydrogen peroxide and a handful of gauze squares.

His glare intensified when Demyx motioned for him to remove the shirt, but the blond only rolled his eyes and jabbed a finger against Axel's temple. Grumbling, Axel thrust the icepack at Demyx as he pulled the shirt over his head, throwing it over the shower curtain. Hoisting himself up to sit on the counter, Axel glared over the top of Demyx's head as the blond bent over, swiping peroxide-damp gauze over Axel's skin, ignoring the redhead's thin hisses of protest.

When he was done, Demyx stepped back, allowing Axel to slide off the counter. Wincing, Axel glanced down at his chest, brushing one hand lightly over the torn skin, before he shrugged and grabbed the shirt again, slipping it on as he stomped out of the bathroom. "Thanks." Grinning, Demyx shook his head as he returned the hydrogen peroxide to the cabinet and hid the gauze underneath a few well-placed tissues in the bathroom trash.

Demyx dropped his backpack to the ground as he ducked the fist flying at his head, springing forward and ramming his shoulder into the guy's stomach, knocking him to the ground. He wasn't sure he'd caught his name, or if he'd even seen him before, but it didn't really matter – when a man took a swing at you, you acted. Axel had been teaching him very basic self-defense – enough to knock his assailant down and hightail it out of the area, which was just fine with Demyx. Grabbing up his backpack, he turned to get the hell out of there.

He didn't expect the second guy that slammed into him and sent him sprawling.

Gagging on the blood in his mouth – he'd bit his tongue when he landed – Demyx scrambled to his feet, narrowly avoiding being kicked back to the ground. Past experience had taught him to keep on his feet as long as humanly possible. He sidestepped the fist aimed at him, grabbing the guy's wrist and letting his momentum carry him past him. Twisting his arm, he forced the guy to his knees, administering a clumsy kick to his back that sent him face-first into the dirt. Wiping the blood from his lips, he bent for his backpack, heart hammering painfully against his ribs as a thick arm wrapped itself around his neck, trapping him in a headlock.

This was not good.

"Don't you fuckers ever learn?" a familiar voice growled, and Demyx's heart sank as he rolled his eyes and caught Axel stalking up to them, hands curled into fists at his sides. His bruises seemed suddenly darker in Demyx's eyes, and Demyx flailed wildly, trying to choke out a warning. His voice died away as Axel's fist connected solidly with his captor's face, and the arm around his neck loosened and then fell away as the guy stumbled back, cupping his hands over his broken nose.

Roaring angrily, he swept forward, one bloody hand tightening into a fist and arcing toward Axel's body. Axel stepped into the blow, the guy's fist grazing his side as Axel slammed a fist into his throat. Choking, the assailant dropped to his knees, bending over and dry heaving as he struggled to draw breath.

Axel turned away, eyes seeking the second guy, but he'd already pulled himself to his feet and taken off. Eyes hard, Axel marched over to Demyx and hauled him to his feet, pushing his backpack into his hands as he dragged him away.

Demyx winced guiltily at the blood on Axel's jacket, tugging his arm against Axel's grip to get the redhead to look back at him. "Do you work today?" he gasped out. Axel shook his head, and Demyx lengthened his stride until he was walking next to the redhead instead of behind him. "My mom's still at work," Demyx muttered, flicking his hair out of his eyes. "You want something to eat?" A strained grin spread over Axel's features as he cuffed Demyx affectionately across the back of the head.

Axel collapsed at the kitchen table when they reached Demyx's house, and Demyx tossed him an icepack, which Axel laid over his bruised knuckles. Setting a half-eaten sandwich in front of the redhead, Demyx went to the bathroom to rinse the blood from his face. Tossing his stained shirt into the hamper, he rinsed his face with his hands, making sure all the blood was gone before he grabbed the hand towel.

Ambling back into the kitchen, he grinned when he found Axel had inhaled the food, resting his head in his hands as he drowsed. "You still hungry?" Demyx asked, laughing when Axel jumped at his voice. Axel smiled crookedly at him.


Nodding, Demyx moved around the kitchen, sticking his head into various cabinets as he considered their options. "You like clam chowder?" From the face Axel made, clam chowder was not high on his list of choices. Humming, Demyx opened another cabinet. "Pancakes?" he asked, grinning. Laughing at the look Axel fixed him with, he shooed the redhead out of the kitchen and set to work.

Twenty minutes later he carried a heaping pile of pancakes into the living room, setting the plate on the coffee table and handing the maple syrup to the bemused Axel. "Be right back," he grinned, running to the kitchen and grabbing two small bowls. Settling himself on the floor next to Axel, he grabbed the syrup and poured it into the bowls, shoving one at Axel as he grabbed a pancake. Rolling his eyes at Axel's expression, he rolled the pancake tightly before dipping it in the syrup, popping the end into his mouth before it could drip. "Do you know nothing about eating pancakes without a plate?" he mumbled, grinning around the food in his mouth.

Smirking, Axel reached for his own pancake, and it quickly devolved into a contest to see who could stuff the most food in their mouth. It ended in a tie when they both almost choked trying to outdo the other.

Axel was spread out on the couch, a rare expression of tranquility on his face, listening to Demyx make up songs on his guitar when Demyx's mom got home. She paused in the doorway, slipping her keys into her purse before she smiled and moved forward, ruffling Demyx's hair affectionately. "Hi, Axel."


"Did you want to stay for dinner?" Demyx didn't have to turn to know Axel was grinning.


"You don't have to do that, you know," Axel yawned, peering over the side of the bed at Demyx. Demyx grinned and shrugged, pulling the comforter up around his shoulders.

"I know."

"Well, take the bed for now," Axel insisted, carefully avoiding stepping on the blond as he swung his legs to the floor. "I've gotta go. I'll be back in twenty minutes."

"What?" Demyx cried, propping himself up on his elbows and watching Axel slip into his boots. "Where the hell are you going, Axel? It's the middle of the ni-" He broke off as his eyes narrowed. Axel refused to look at him.

"I'm not gonna stay, Dem, okay?" he muttered. "I've just gotta check on her."

"Why?" Demyx groaned softly, starting when Axel glared at him.

"Because she's my mom," Axel said stiffly, turning his back on him as he climbed out the window. Demyx remained still for another minute, finally wiping a hand tiredly over his face before he pulled himself to his feet, moving to make sure the latch was still undone before he curled up on the bed, listening to his heart beat in his ears.

He heard Axel climbing back through the window almost forty minutes later, and he feigned slumber while watching the redhead through narrowed eyes. Axel kicked his boots off, head bowed, digging for his cigarettes. Demyx's heart sank as the redhead smoked three in rapid succession, cursing softly he when reached the end of his pack. Tossing the empty pack out the window with the used cigarettes, Axel closed the window and latched it, moving toward the bed. Demyx closed his eyes and forced his body to relax, pretending to be too deeply asleep to feel the redhead shaking his shoulder.

Axel stood irresolutely beside the bed for a moment before he sighed, settling down next to Demyx and curling up against the blond. He smelled so strongly of cigarettes Demyx could practically taste them, and he was trembling. Badly.

Cracking an eye open, Demyx flinched a little when he saw that Axel was staring straight at him, eyes glinting strangely in the dark. "You suck at acting," Axel smirked, but his voice was small. Wordlessly, Demyx wrapped his arms around the redhead's shoulders, holding him tightly as Axel shuddered against him, his breath ghosting against Demyx's collarbone. Hesitantly, Axel wrapped his arms around Demyx's waist, and Demyx closed his eyes as Axel let him hold him until they both fell asleep.