Only half way through the morning, and already he was exhausted. The mercenaries had outstayed their welcome, which, considering their lack of ability to restrain from drinking, was definitely not a good thing. Rubin had been sulking for two days, which also didn't help matters.
"Yes," Tiego nodded. "Aleron and I have spoken. We're both considering a continuation of our services to you."
"Oh? I was rather expecting as much, considering the amount of time your men have spent causing me trouble."
The mercenary's eyes narrowed. "My men are trained and disciplined. The trouble-causers would be Aleron's men."
Lux sighed, leaning back in the chair. "And where might your brother be now?" he asked, abandoning all polite formalities. He was too tired for false kindness.
"Last I saw, curled in a ball with a pounding headache," Tiego muttered darkly. "Which, I assure you, I will ensure he is advised strongly against when he regains his senses."
"Ensure it does not happen again," Lux ordered him. "Enough of your brother's folly. Explain the negotiation to me."
Tiego nodded sharply. "Of course. We wish for half of the gold found in the vaults of the royal palace when you take over. Does this seem fair? Or," he said, pausing to meet Lux's eyes, "Would you rather engage in battle with your dwindling numbers?"
"Half?" Lux echoed.
"Of course. We may fight, but Aleron and I are the remaining members of our family. I would not put his life at risk for no reason."
Lux was surprised to hear Skala's voice cutting through the air.
"Only the gold in the royal vaults, yes? Nowhere else? Not any of the private gold stores, or such like?"
Tiego inclined his head. "The royal vaults only. I have heard tales of the gold stored away there."
"Perhaps another deal," Lux suggested.
"No," Tiego said plainly. "A half, or we're out."
He sighed deeply. They probably needed the mercenaries. But a half? That gold could be pivotal in helping the people left crushed by Haven's current tyrants.
"I strongly recommend that you accept," Skala said. There was something in the tone of her voice - she wasn't just making a recommendation, he realised. He was telling him to accept.
Leaning forwards, Lux sighed deeply. "Very well. I'll get a contract parchment prepared later. Ensure every mercenary here is informed that they are to remain sober, or leave. The brawls are causing trouble for us."
"Of course," Tiego nodded, clasping Lux's wrist and shaking it firmly. He stood, bowed, and left.
Lux sunk back into the chair, inhaling deeply.
"Skala, could you explain? Sit down, as well."
She left her position at Lux's shoulder, taking Tiego's seat. "When Axel recovers a little more, we could try to carry more of the gold from the vaults. If I transformed into a dragon, and Axel loaded up multiple saddlebags of gold, it would be more efficient, and we could probably near-empty the vaults in less than a week. Then, the mercenaries would be left with a much lower percentage of gold than they would have gained originally."
It was brilliant. Sneaky, cruel, unfair, but undoubtedly brilliant. Lux grinned.
Lux looked surprised to see him, which, to be perfectly honest, was no surprise.
"You're finished doing your work and all that stuff?" Rubin couldn't force any positivity into his voice. Not today.
Nodding, the prince followed him from the room. Skala, apparently, had taken his place as Lux's escort.
"Where are we going?" Lux inquired.
"To see Axel," Rubin replied. "He needs to be there when I say this." Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Lux bite his lip as they rounded a corner. Seeing Axel's reaction should cheer him up - at least a little. Annoying people like him had always amused him, so it should lighten his mood, if only slightly.
Ahead, there were shouts and cries. "Allow me," Rubin muttered, moving swiftly ahead, clenching his fists. Would the stupid mercenaries not stop fighting in the corridors?
Two figures: burly, drunken men with bare arms that gleamed with sweat and blood. He approached with quick, silent steps, moving towards the closest. Before either could do a thing, he had shoved the first man aside, grabbing the second by the scruff of his neck and slamming his body against the wall. His head hit the stone, and the man went limp. Rubin dropped his unconscious body, looking to the one he'd pushed aside. Like an insect, he struggled, trying to stand in his dizzy, drunken state. Pathetic.
A kick to the stomach sent him down, and Rubin swept his arms forwards. "Onwards?" he said to Lux and Skala. "We're almost there."
"I swear, if I see one more mercenary fighting..." Lux muttered irritably. Rubin managed a small laugh.
"I know you love him dearly, but there's no need to turn yourself into Axel."
"Rubin." He ignored the underlying threat in Lux's voice, instead hammering on Axel's door. They were greeted irritably, and Rubin swept in, the others trailing behind him. Axel didn't seem particularly happy to see him, but that hardly mattered.
"Lux," he said, trying to straighten his face, "you might want to sit down."
Shooting him a worried glance, Lux took the seat beside Axel's bed.
"There's some important news for you," he said.
"Who from?" Lux inquired. His face was pale. The suggestion for him to sit down had probably been a little extreme, though he couldn't be too careful. He shoved his hand in his pocket, ensuring the key was still there.
"From when we were attacked when leading the charge on the city. Axel told me to tell you."
The two exchanged curious glances of confusement. It apparently clicked in Axel's mind less than a moment later, because his eyes were widening and his fists were already clenching.
"Don't you dare, Rubin."
He couldn't help grinning beneath the mask.
"He said to tell you," Rubin said casually, already moving towards the door as Axel pushed himself rapidly from the bed, "that you were the only person he ever loved."
He proceeded to laugh at the reddening glow of their faces, before shoving Skala from the room, dodging Axel's weakened attack, and slamming the door behind them. He locked it after them, all too happy with the resounding shouting of death threats from the other side of the door. It was only then he saw the amusement in Skala's eyes.
"See?" he laughed. "They're too much of a cute couple to leave alone."
"I'm going to kill him," Axel snarled again. His face was burning. Oh, gods, why? Why did Rubin have to go and say all that? In front of Lux?
He raised his trembling fist and beat down upon the door again. Useless. He was too weak to shadow-voyage, and besides, what the hell would Lux say?
He stalked back to the bed, evading Lux's eyes, Lux's face.
"Did you...?" Lux seemed unable to finish. Disgust? Horror? Axel cursed mentally again. Why in the name of the gods had he ever said that? Now he would repel Lux, his only friend besides Skala, the one person he had ever really tried to please. He swore again.
"Did I what?" Axel snapped, throwing the duvet over himself. Then, a moment later, "Sorry. I didn't mean to-"
"No," Lux said quickly. The only human Axel had ever felt safe with, had felt happy with, and now this? Axel still refused to look at him. He wouldn't be able to handle the revulsion, the loathing that would inevitably be teeming within his golden eyes. "Did you... Really say that?"
Axel inhaled deeply. Clenched his fists. Unclenched, clenched again.
"Would you have said the same thing?"
Silence. He thought so. So why? Why had he been so foolish - to cling to a hope that wasn't there? Now, there was nothing but the empty, miserable silence that had haunted his imagination for the last few days.
"Ignore that," Axel commanded. Too late to turn back now. Too late to recover his mistake, too late to stop Rubin, too late to prevent all this. "Ignore everything that was just said."
"I-" Lux started, but Axel interrupted him. He couldn't hear it, whatever Lux was about to say, wouldn't hear it, not if it would throw all of his fears in his face.
"I'm tired. You can-" For a moment, he choked on his words. "You can go, now."
There was warmth on his shoulder, and for a moment, Axel allowed it to soothe him before he realised that it was Lux, and through all his repulsion, he was still being unbearably kind. He jerked his shoulder away.
"I don't want your pity!" he screamed.
"Leave me alone!"
He didn't see the tears gleaming in Lux's eyes as he slipped from the room.