He woke to the familiar scent of pine. Sitting up, he glanced around, spotting Skala asleep in the chair beside him. She must've carried him in, Axel realised.
He shrugged off the blanket and pushed himself from the chair. Outside, the sky was still faintly dark, but he'd missed the sunset. Embers still flickered in the fire pit.
Axel closed the door behind him, exhaling into the bitter morning air. Slowly, the steam from his breath faded away, and he padded softly across the glade. He did it for you. Skala's words echoed through his mind, refusing to leave him alone. Like it wasn't enough that Lux had charged straight into the enemy headquarters, simply for him, to save his stupid, pathetic existence from flickering away. But no - he'd endured the unendurable, and all to save him.
That had been before Rubin had stepped in and ruined everything, though, so it was hardly like Axel could thank him now. What could he say, to somebody who faced him with such horror, somebody who had put such a distance between them?
It was impossible.
"Either you're going to speak to him, or I'll help Rubin lock you both in another room."
Axel spun around, facing her steady gaze with eyes of burning silver.
"Skala, could you please just leave us alone?"
"You know, humans do this, when they have problems with each other. They refuse to speak, because they're too scared of the other's opinion. They let whatever they used to have get torn apart, because they're too afraid. You're not scared, are you? Rubin says that you are, you know. He says you're pathetic, cowardly-"
"Shut up!" Axel hissed. "This isn't like you, Skala, but if you really hate me so much, then you know what? I'll say it. I'll go and take all of the disgust, and it'll be your fault when it hurts me!"
And with that, he had stepped into the shadows.
"I need to speak to Lux."
The words didn't seem real, at first, but as he repeated them through his head, they cut into him. What did he need to say?
"Took you long enough," Rubin laughed. Tell him to go away! Lux wanted to scream. Instead, he took a deep breath as Rubin left the room, trying to compose himself and spread the cold façade over his face.
Axel walked in.
Lux wondered, as he took the chair opposite, if this was what every single one of his enemies felt as he approached, a perfect predator; a perfect killer. Did they feel the same fear, dancing through their entire body like wildfire? Was it this paralysing?
Trying to keep the tremors from his voice. Keeping the trembling from his palms.
"Are you busy?"
"I can make time."
The dark mage took a deep breath, and turned towards him, but eyes still refusing to meet his face.
"What for?" Lux asked sharply. "For ignoring me, or refusing to even look at me, or for blaming me for something that I don't know about? Which one is it? Or maybe you're saying sorry for distancing me!"
The words came out more harshly than they were meant to, but he felt strangely satisfied with them. Axel flinched.
"I distanced you?" he spat. "You've been treating me like a complete stranger since I said that! What's up with the cold act, anyway? You were never cold, Lux. Never."
"I tried to talk to you, but you just told me to leave you alone!" Lux shot back. "You threw me out, and then you're surprised because I'm acting cold?"
Axel slammed his fist down on the table as the words flew from his mouth.
"Why the hell do you think I told you to leave? You were disgusted! How do you look at somebody who was disgusted with you?"
"Disgusted?" Lux echoed. His voice quietened. "What did I do to make you think that?"
"You didn't answer. You were too repulsed to even tell me that I was being stupid, and-"
Lux didn't even think. It might have been the agony, hidden within Axel's words, but something forced the words from his mouth.
"I would've said it."
Lux took a shaky breath as the realisation of his words slammed into him. For a moment, he could only stare numbly at Axel as the realisation sept into him, too.
"You..." Axel's voice seemed too choked to formulate a reply, and Lux looked away, cheeks burning. "You mean you-"
"Yes!" Lux gushed out, desperate that Axel wouldn't finish the phrase. Drew another breath. "Yes," he repeated quietly. "I do. And please... Please don't ask me if I mean it, this time. I-" He faltered. "I mean it."
Another silence, and then, laughter. The alarm hit him at the same time as the elevation. Axel - Axel was laughing.
"Thank you," he managed to breathe out, a choked sob of relief erupting through the laughter. His silver eyes - his beautiful, gleaming silver eyes - shone, and Lux couldn't help but to stop his own laughter. It joined Axel's - a symphony of joyful relief that might have sounded maniacal to any onlooker, but that served as the melody to end the storm of argument.
"I thought you hated me," Axel managed. Were there tears in his eyes? It was almost instinct that made Lux move, but he stood of his own accord, and moved to Axel's side, his fingers gently brushing away the tears. Axel's hand stretched towards Lux's, and their fingers entwined. A soothing cool spread from Axel's skin to his own.
"No," Lux shook his head, and Axel leant his head against him. "I could never hate you."
"Thank you," he said again. Lux had never seen him so emotionally raw, so delicate and frail. A desire to protect him swept through his veins.
"Don't thank me," Lux smiled softly. "I should have said it sooner, shouldn't I?"
"You've said it now," Axel replied, and his voice was strangely quiet. "I'm fine with that."
Slipping one hand from Axel's grip, Lux cradled the dark mage's head, holding him close.
"We're going to win, when we fight Vipera."
Axel raised his head a little, enough to meet Lux's eyes. Silver met gold, and the strength passed from him to Axel.
Slowly, Axel's lips danced with a smile.
"I know," he whispered.