Axel blinked, taking in his surroundings. The room he had just been in still lingered; the overall shape was the same, and the furniture was still there. But as the window to the Demonata's world opened farther, things began to change. The walls and floors were no longer the strange white materiel that made up the Organization's castle. Thousands upon thousands of spider webs now made up everything. Some were razor thin, while others were thicker than the red-head's arm. He gulped, tightened his grip on his chakrams, and glanced over to where Roxas lay, unconscious. Roxas, the entire reason he was doing this.

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Finally someone, or rather, someithing/i poked its head though the red window of light. As it came farther out, Axel was able to see it in full for the first time.

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This was the creature of nightmare. Its lumpy hide was an unnatural red, and cracks ran all over the skin, oozing blood. Its eight arms ended in mutilated stumps, while its legs held no feet, but mangled strips of flesh hanging a foot off of the ground. And in the cavity where its heart should be were tiny, hissing snakes.

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This was Lord Loss.

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Axel recognized him from the book the old man had given him, 'Tornado', or something like that. He also recognized the demon's two familiars, 'Vein' and 'Artery', who were coming out of the window as well, if a bit more cautiously. Vein was consisted of a dog's body, with a crocodile's head and a woman's hands where the feet should be. Artery was a tad more human-looking, but no less terrifying: an overgrown infant, with fire in its eye sockets and gnashing teeth in the palms of its hands. On its scalp, hundreds of leeches wriggled, feasting on its grey skin.

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Lord Loss finally seemed to notice the apprehensive Axel, turning towards him slowly. "Poor Axel," Lord Loss said, in a way that made one think he had seen all the sorrows of the world and knew there were only more to come. "Trying to save his lover, only to die here, along with him…" The demon master sighed as if his non-existent heart were breaking.

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"Cut the crap!" Axel shouted. "You know that the only reason I accepted the deal is…" he glanced back to Roxas. The boy had been out for days, and was slowly dying. The doctors had tried everything they could, but Roxas's body had rejected everything he had been given. Something wrong with his blood, they said.

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So Axel had no choice but to turn to Lord Loss.

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Lord Loss sighed again. "But you do not seem to realize, both you and the boy will be killed. Even if you were to defeat both Vein and Artery, there is no possible way you could get the best of me…" he said, voice filled with sorrow. That was the way the deal worked. If Axel was able to take the lives of the familiars in this realm, Roxas would be cured and safe. However, Axel's soul would leave his body to fight Lord Loss in the demon master's own world, rendering the fire user a vegetable until the time when (and if) he defeated Lord Loss. And if Axel failed… The pair would be brutally slaughtered.

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"Just send them on me already!" Axel cried.

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"Very well."

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Axel barely had time to raise his chakrams to defend himself before the ghastly pair was upon him. They had sprung the moment Lord Loss had given his consent. Artery had been thrown off by Axel's quick reaction, but Vein clung onto the weapon's crossbar, snapping at Axel's face. Axel quickly heated the metal of his chakram white-hot. The hell-hound screeched in surprise and pain and dropped off, but the red head was unable to observe the damage he had caused. At that moment, Artery lunged for Axel's leg and latched on, all three sets of teeth working madly. Extreme pain blossomed from the wound, but Axel forced himself to ignore it, sending a chakrams hurtling at the hell-child along with a blast of flame. His second chakrams went flying, catching Vein mid-leap.

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Axel was losing too much blood from his leg wound. Once his weapons had returned to his hands, he sent fire towards the abrasion, searing it closed with a painful hiss. He had no time to recover, having to block another flurry of attacks from the demonic pair.

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Finally, Vein was able to break though Axel's defenses. As he swung his weapons around to block Artery from having another go at his legs, Vein ducked underneath the disks and grabbed onto Axel's right arm, teeth sinking deep into the flesh. He cried out in pain, releasing both his weapons. One fell harmlessly to the floor, while the other lodged itself in Artery's head, causing several leeches to burst in the process. The fire wielder desperately pried at the demon's jaw, blood gushing from where the skin was pierced. He attempted to heat up his own skin to burn the demon off, like a tick. However, not only would getting his body temperature up that high most likely kill him, but pain was causing him to lack the concentration to do so.

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By now, Artery had recovered, healing himself. Sensing what its partner was about to do, Vein twisted, forcing Axel to his knees. The hell-child leapt for his face. Axel, tears in his emerald eyes, looked at Roxas for the last time… But then Artery froze, teeth inches from Axel's face. It was completely frozen, suspended in mid-air. Axel attempted to blink, only to find he was frozen as well.

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"Now this is an interesting twist." Lord Loss, who had been silently watching the battle, floated over to Axel as a single tear trickled down the red-head's frozen face. "Lord Loss, the merciful demon master, decides not only to spare one of the pair, but cures the boy as well, despite the losing challenger…" The skin around his face cracked as the demon spoke, fresh blood beading like teardrops.

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If Axel could move, he would have laughed with relief. Roxas, at least, would be safe…

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Lord Loss spoke a few words in a demonic tongue, causing both Vein and Artery to fall to the ground, and Roxas's eyes to flutter: The most movement Axel had seen in him in days. He did not attempt to call out to the blond, however, as the last thin Axel wanted was Roxas to see the end of him. Axel braced himself for death, happy tears in his eyes… Only to see the pair turn on Roxas, lying in the corner. Axel's mouth opened in a silent scream of protest. He was now able to move he found, and he quickly pushed himself up into a standing position, just to fall back to his knees in agony due to his multiple injuries. He attempted to crawl forward, but Vein skidded in front of him, growling and blocking the fire-wielder's path. Axel desperately tried to get around the hell-hound, but to no avail. Finally, the horrifying thing moved, just in time for Axel to see Artery rip out Roxas's throat.

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"No!" Axel screamed, scrambling over to Roxas, who was quickly losing blood. Neither of Lord Loss's familiars bothered him, and the demon master himself spoke again as Axel pulled the blond onto his lap. "Poor, poor, Axel. It seems things did not work out for him after all…" He murmured, forlorn. The demon's speech went unheard as Axel desperately held Roxas. Crimson blood poured out of the boy's throat, staining Axel's hands and coat, mixing with the red-head's own blood. "It'll be okay, it'll be okay, it'll be okay…" He said, over and over, tears flowing freely now. Roxas opened his eyes, which were quickly growing dim. He smiled up at Axel despite the pain, and mouthed his name. "I'm… I'm here, Roxas," he replied, attempting to smile reassuringly through his tears. The blond seemed at ease by this, and struggled to say something else through his mutilated throat. His voice inaudible, he whispered "I… Love… You."

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He went limp, eyes blank and smile still frozen on his face, and Axel screamed his anguish animalistically to the skies.

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~ ~ ~
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Axel shot up in bed, awaking to a scream. He quickly realized that it was his own, and stopped himself, breathing heavily and in a cold sweat.

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iIt was… Just a dream,/i he thought to himself. He collapsed into the pillows of his bed, only to immediately sit back up. iRoxas!/i He screamed in his head. He stumbled out of his room and sprinted down the hall to Roxas's room, not caring who he woke up.

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The red-head hesitated outside of the door, afraid of what he might find inside. He had heard things like this; dreams within dreams, or a dream being s premonition of something to come. What if, worse yet, the demons of his dreams were real and were on the other side, waiting with an already dead Roxas?

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Axel then cursed at himself for being so stupid. Even if the demons iwere/i real, he would gladly face them for Roxas. Without another moment's hesitation, he flung the door open- and found Roxas, perfectly fine. The blond had been startled awake by Axel's sudden appearance, and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

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"Axel, what are you-" The question, slurred by sleep, was cut off as Axel swooped down, pulling the teen toward his body and kissing him full-out on the lips. Roxas went stiff, surprised, then relaxed into the heat of Axel's body. He linked his arms behind Axel's neck as the red-head brought his arms around to the small of Roxas's back, a position familiar to them both.

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Finally the pair broke apart, Axel still sitting on Roxas's bed, and Roxas crawling closer to him, resting his head on the fire-wielder's shoulder. After a few minutes of silence, Axel wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

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"Are you… Crying?" Roxas questioned, surprised. He turned to look Axel in the face, eyes wide with concern.

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"Nah," Axel replied, "I just have some of that sleep gunk in my eyes…" The excuse sounded weak, even as it left his lips. Roxas decided it was best not to press matters, instead scooting even closer and enjoying Axel's warmth. The latter put his arms over the younger boy's shoulders, partially to reassure himself that Roxas was still unhurt.

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That was how the two were found in the morning: asleep on Roxas's bed, Axel's arms still wrapped protectively around him.