"Demyx, I just want you to know that it really, intensely bothers me that you ever even had this thought, let alone decided to go through with it, and I really wish you hadn't decided to involve me."

"I need a really steady source of adequate heat that's not likely to send my room up in flames. You happen to be extremely handy."

"Do you have any idea how much it bothers me to not only watch you intentionally hurt yourself, but assist with the process?"

"Axel, there is a world of difference between decorative body modification and pathological self-harm, got it memorized? Flame, please."

"God forgive me for participating in this," Axel muttered as he obediently summoned a small but intensely hot flame, fighting the temptation to dispel it immediately, disown all connection to this stupid idea, and run. When he continually failed to do so, he had to ask himself why, and eventually decided that it was because Demyx doing incredibly stupid things with his help was slightly less dangerous than Demyx doing incredibly stupid things on his own. And talking Demyx out of it had already failed so many times he wasn't even going to bother anymore. He might still have one thing left to say, though - "Demyx, you are really, surpremely, exceptionally stupid for doing this, got it memorized?"

"You've said that before and it's getting repetitive," Demyx said, pulling a heatproof glove onto his left hand and examining the inside of his right forearm like it was a piece of paper he was wondering what to write on. "I know what I'm doing."

"You're intending to use what's supposed to be a wood-burning branding iron on your own skin. Guided by information you found on the Internet. This is the kind of thing people do on impulse when they're absolutely shit-stupid drunk, not after careful sober thought. I feel like I should kick myself in the balls for not stopping you like a responsible friend."

"Then either kick yourself in the balls or stop me," Demyx said, as casually as ever. "Would it help any if I told you that the aumkara is the written version of an intensely sacred sound?"

"You already have. And that's not the important part anyway. I couldn't care less if you were branding yourself with a crucifix or a pentagram. The part I care about is you branding yourself, period, you idiot."

"And if you're so convinced this is a horrible idea and I'm a complete idiot for doing this, why are you going along with it?"

"Because I have a feeling that if I go along with it, I can at least keep an eye on you and make sure you don't maim yourself horribly, and if I don't go along with it, you'll do whatever the hell you please anyway with no supervision whatsoever," Axel sighed, questioning his own judgment every instant. He should back out. He should dispel the fire and run. He should go tell Xigbar or Vexen or someone with more authority than he did that Demyx had become fixated on this stupid idea of branding himself and someone needed to get it the hell out of his head by any means necessary. And yet, there he sat, flame in hand, with the intention of helping his best friend inflict third-degree burns on himself. It was questionable which of them was the bigger idiot. He ought to back out. He needed to back out. If he gave a rat's ass about Demyx's well-being at all, he had no choice but to back out... "I think we're up to temp."

"Awesome," Demyx said, taking the Branding Iron of Death (sacred symbol or no, that was how Axel was thinking of it) out of the diluted bleach bath it had been sitting in with his gloved hand, examining it dispassionately while it dried, and checking the end to make sure he knew which way was up. Here's your chance; kill the fire and get out, Axel thought to himself, as Demyx held the business end in the center of the fire like he was toasting a marshmallow; there's still time to call this off and run, he was still thinking as Demyx finished some silent countdown, removed the branding iron from the fire, and pressed it against his own skin.

Axel could see him silently counting down, three, two, one, but he honestly couldn't tell if the process took three seconds or three years. It felt like an eternity to him, an eternity that smelled like burning meat and sounded like sizzling bacon and looked like Demyx's eyes bulging with pain and his skin going dead white while his expression somehow remained as calm as ever and felt like all the guilt in the worlds piling on Axel's back at once for being so stupid as to let Demyx be so stupid, and then Demyx pulled the branding iron away and surrounded it with a ball of water, and Axel suddenly realized he was feeling sick and shaky as hell even though it hadn't been his arm and the damn thing probably wouldn't even have hurt him anyway. "So...is...that it?" he croaked, mentally cursing himself for how weak his voice sounded when it hadn't even been his arm.

"That's it, I guess," Demyx said in a very soft voice, the complete opposite of his usual slightly-too-loud tone. "That actually wasn't too bad..."

"Not too bad? You were in agony, you dipshit," Axel said, dispelling the fire. "Let me see your arm." Without a moment's hesitation, Demyx carefully extended his arm, which was trembling visibly. Much as he wanted to beat the idiot up for being so stupid, Axel took it very carefully to look at the mark left behind. It did indeed look like that presumably-holy symbol he'd seen around Demyx's room before, though how it would look as it started to heal was anyone's guess. "...Hope it's worth the pain to you," was all he could really say.

"It's...actually not so bad now," Demyx said, trying to smile and not doing very well. "Hurt like fuck at first, but you'd be surprised at how quickly it stopped hurting. It's not even as bad as a tattoo. I mean...it doesn't hurt nearly so long."

"Well, I think you might have turned me off bacon for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't have thought that was possible," Axel said, shaking his head as Demyx set the cooled iron down and started groping for a spray bottle behind him without turning to look for it. Before long, Axel felt too sorry for him to let him keep that up, and just reached over and handed it to him. "...Was that really worth it?" he had to ask.

Demyx paused in the middle of uncapping the spray bottle with his teeth, and just blinked at him, the cap in his mouth, before spitting it out. "I think it was," he said, sounding defiant. "It's not like I'm going to regret the design in two years, anyway."

"Assuming you still have a right arm in two years and don't lose it to infection from this brilliant decision," Axel snorted as Demyx sprayed whatever was in the bottle on the burn - hopefully some kind of antibiotic. "Speaking of which, have you decided what to do with the one on your back? Hopefully not some genius move like burning it off."

"...I think I'm gonna worry about that later," Demyx said, recapping the bottle and picking up the bandages he'd left handy, then shaking his head over them. "...You're gonna have to help me with these. The last thing I want to do is have to explain myself to Vexen."

"I already feel like I've helped you too much today," Axel groused, though he obediently unwrapped the bandages and carefully wrapped them around the fresh brand. "Besides, you're going to have to explain to someone that something happened to your arm. Unless you're going to try to tough it out and act normal until you heal up."

"What, you don't think I can man up and deal?"

It was a casual enough comment, but it caught Axel's attention in a way he didn't like, at all, and made more than one of his previous thoughts about Demyx's mental health right back to the forefront. "Demyx, this isn't why you did this, is it?" he demanded, stopping dead in the middle of the bandaging process. "Trying to prove stupid shit to yourself about how tough you are? Just inflicting pain on yourself for the hell of it? Goddamnit, I should have stopped you; I shouldn't have had anything to do with this bullshit, you fucking idiot..."

All of a sudden, the branding iron was in his face, waving around slightly, as he was forced to contemplate the fact that it was made of solid metal and could probably inflict a bit of blunt-force trauma. "Axel, if all I wanted was to hurt myself, I sure as hell wouldn't have needed your help," Demyx said in a very thin voice from somewhere on the other end of that branding iron. "And as far as proving how tough I am goes, the reason I could honestly say 'it hurt like fuck' is because I already know what fuck hurts like. And if you say anything else that might suggest you possibly believe I'm only in this to punish myself or something, I will teach you what fuck hurts like."

With that kind offer on the table, Axel made sure to grab the branding iron and keep it restrained before saying anything else. "Yeah, and you're talking like it's perfectly normal to wake up one morning and say 'hmm, what shall I do with this lovely day? I do believe I will inflict third-degree burns on myself with a piece of hot metal, because that sounds like fun!' If you have a good reason, share it; I'm all ears. If you don't, what do you think I'm gonna think?"

"How about 'I do believe I'm going to let a complete stranger stab me over and over with an ink-filled needle until he's drawn and colored a complete picture on my skin'?" Demyx grunted, trying to get the branding iron back; Axel made damn sure to maintain his grip so he couldn't. "Come on, man. Personal choice. Body modification. It means something to me. And from everything I heard, it means more when you have a chance to do it yourself. I'm awful enough to myself as is; I thought it was high time I did something positive."

"Rather than let a trained, licensed professional who does it on a daily basis have a go at it. Makes perfect sense. I suppose the next step is DIY tattooing," Axel snorted, but he set the branding iron down. No, seriously, he should never have let this happen, but at least he was slightly reassured that Demyx wasn't just torturing himself for kicks. "All right, let me finish wrapping this up. Do you think it will have finished healing by the time I stop kicking myself for going along with this?"

"I have to wonder, considering that you haven't stopped complaining yet and at no point did you ever go so far as to say 'screw this, I'm not doing it'," Demyx said wryly. "You'll probably never stop complaining about it. At least I got no regrets."

"It's your arm; you better not," Axel muttered as he fastened the bandage. "All right, you lunatic. Take good care of that or I'll report you to Vexen."

"I think I know enough about injury care to do that," Demyx said, carefully picking himself up off the floor. "Anyway, Ax...thanks."

"Huh?" That actually stopped Axel dead in his tracks for a second - what the hell did Demyx have to thank him for? Providing support for this dumb-ass scheme? Enabling him to hurt himself like that? Letting him risk his health on some harebrained impulse? It just didn't make sense, any more than Demyx's insistence on doing this in the first place, or his framing it as some kind of positive...

Come on. It's Demyx. As long as he's not busy hating on himself, does he need to make sense? Besides, as long as it means something to him...

"...You're welcome," he finally said, managing to smile a little. "Just as long as you never do that again. Ever."

AN: Dear boys and girls, just because Demyx found the best way to do a really stupid thing doesn't make it any less stupid. If you live near a major population center and call around at some of the better tattoo shops, you should be able to find a well-trained professional capable of branding your skin using the most modern techniques in a properly sanitary manner. If you don't live near a major population center and can't find a professional trained in decorative branding, get a tattoo. Don't do what Demyx did.

Would you believe this was inspired by a wiki walk? I was trying to look up information on a person whose name was Ink, and was led to an article about tattoo ink instead...and from there I got to body modification in general...and from there I got to decorative branding. And when I looked up information on decorative branding off Wikipedia, I found one site with a lot of testimonials from people who branded themselves with homemade brands and found objects, and many of them said it was a "pleasing pain". Demyx WAS going to do the smart thing and go to a professional, but once he read that, he just had to try the DIY method, and bring in an accomplice to heat the iron.

Don't try this at home, boys and girls. Ever.