"You gave them hope," Lux smiled at him. "Thank you."
Axel shrugged. "Hope is nothing more than a lie, but I'll tell you this, Lux: it's a powerful lie."
Laughing almost quietly, the prince shook his head. "I don't think it's a lie. Sometimes, hope gives you the strength to fight on and win."
"And at others, it gives you something to fight for, then leaves without a trace and renders you crushed." He waited for Lux's reply, realising that the prince had simply opted to shrug. "Lux," he started. "Are you okay? You seem-"
Lux stumbled forwards, his eyes rolling up into his head as he collapsed, knees buckling beneath him. Instantly, Axel was darting forwards, catching him effortlessly.
"Lux? Lux!" he called, the claws of fear slicing at his chest. Ruthless. Without mercy. Again, he screamed his friend's name, his hands gripping his shoulders tightly. Slowly, Lux blinked, confusion filling his expression.
"Axel?" he murmured, blinking again.
"You just passed out," Axel explained quickly, trying to mask the relief that threatened to swallow out all else. "You're still wounded."
Somehow, Lux managed a reassuring smile, but Axel knew he'd only made the gesture to comfort him. "I'll be fine."
"You need rest," Axel argued, easily lifting Lux over his shoulder. A weak yelp of protest was all Lux seemed to muster.
"I'm fine," he repeated, but Axel ignored him. Why did he have to be so stubborn? With such injuries, Lux simply thought that he'd be fine?
"You won't be, if you keep trying to stay standing when you're so injured. Trust me, Lux, you've done enough for today."
It wasn't far to Lux's room, and besides, his company was welcome. Skala was currently back at the cabin, but he'd decided it safer to stay by Lux's side tonight. If Vipera had any of her puppets waiting to strike, then Lux needed protecting.
Axel nudged open the door with his foot, carrying Lux inside and depositing him on the four poster bed.
"I'm not tired," Lux protested weakly.
"I'll sit here and talk to you, then," Axel decided, taking a seat in one of the plump red chairs in Lux's room. The prince pushed himself to sit.
His room was extravagant; nothing else could describe it. Even in the dark, Axel could make out the rich reds, the golden decorations like the golden sword and the golden framed mirror. Was this what it was like, in royalty? To have everything gold and beautiful?
"When do you think we should attack them?" Axel asked.
"I don't know," Lux sighed. "Soon, perhaps. What do you think?"
Axel didn't hesitate. "The sooner that woman dies, the better."
For a moment, the two simply sat, as Lux absorbed Axel's words. A comfortable silence hung between them before Lux finally spoke again.
"Yes," he said, mildly. "I suppose." The corner of his lips rose slightly in a smile. "Thank you, Axel," he said softly.
"What for?" he asked. It seemed as though Lux was always thanking him - for helping him out of the prison Axel had left him in, for speaking up and giving others hope.
"For telling them all. For always sticking up for me. For getting angry on my behalf. Everything."
"Lux, you don't have to-"
"But I do have to thank you!" Lux protested. "You have no idea how amazing you've been, Axel. You just went out and said all of that like it was for nothing, and you did it the moment I needed your help. You told every one of them about how you gained your magic, and you didn't even look back. And you hate Vipera because of what she did to me. I've never had a friend like that. Never."
He met Axel's eyes, and the two of them simply looked at each other, gold meeting silver. He meant it, Axel realised. He actually meant it.
"You deserve a better friend than me," Axel smiled, almost sadly. Lux's eyes narrowed. Anger?
"What do you mean? You're such a good friend!" Lux protested.
"A good friend?" Axel laughed. "A good friend who's perfectly happy to kill others, left you in a cell for them to torture, and who treated you like dirt when we first met? Is that what a good friend is, Lux?"
The prince grit his teeth. "Axel, please! Stop acting like you're at fault for everything!"
"I am," Axel shrugged. The action was casual enough, but inside, he was hurting.
"Then tell me why!" Lux demanded. "Because I still don't understand how you could ever say that!"
Axel sank back into the chair, sighing deeply and closing his eyes. "Lux-"
"You won't understand, anyway. You seem to think I'm some hero, Lux. I'm not. I've killed people."
"And I haven't?"
Axel glanced up to look at Lux again. His eyes were moist with forming tears; his lips were trembling.
"You have, but you were trained to do it. Forced into it. I wasn't," Axel said softly. "Good night, Lux. I'll wait outside."
He stood, heading towards the door. He couldn't take it any more - Lux, on the verge of tears, because of him. The prince needed rest, not a fight.
"Please!" Lux repeated. "They were hurting so many others, the people you kill. That's what Vipera always told me. Survival! But it's more than that! You've saved people, Axel."
He kept walking. "You need rest," he said softly.
"I don't. I need to know you're not blaming yourself."
Sighing deeply, Axel shook his head. "Get some sleep, Lux."
He closed the door behind him.
For a few long seconds, Axel could only sink down, leaning heavily against the door. His voice had been so desperate. What did it matter to him? He knew it was Axel's fault, and he must have known, because he'd have to be stupid not to realise. If he hadn't abandoned Lux, if he'd only trusted him...
Pushing himself to his feet, Axel padded softly to the window, looking through the glass into the forest below.
There was the sound of the door opening. Axel spun around, already frowning.
"Lux, I told you-"
"And I told you that you're not to blame," Lux said stubbornly, sitting down beside him and ignoring his glare. "But you didn't listen, so I'm not going to sleep until you do."
Axel remained standing.
"You're being stupid."
"So are you."
"You're acting like a child, as well."
"Better than acting like an idiot," Lux replied irritably. The dark mage sighed again. Why did he have to be so persistent?
"It's not acceptable that I left you here," Axel told him. How many times had he repeated this to Lux? If he were just one of the usual, stupid humans, it might be understandable, but Lux...
"You didn't. You left because Skala was hurt, Axel. How is that your fault? Then, after that, you trusted Rubin because you hoped. You hoped that I hadn't betrayed you. I should have used more authority. I shouldn't have let Vipera use me like a puppet. But even though I was so stupid, you still came back. You risked it on the chance that I was on your side, and then you saved my life," Lux said. Axel let his words sink in for a while. Did he mean it? If Lux meant it, it wouldn't be so bad, but he couldn't mean it - there was no way he could mean it; he was just trying to be kind. And Axel didn't blame him. Sometimes, it was easier to lie with kindness than deliver the cold, cruel truths.
"Lux, please don't do this just because you think it will make me feel better."
The next moment, Lux's arms were around him, and the prince had buried his head into his shoulder. Axel froze.
"Lux?" he managed to choke out.
"Stop tormenting yourself!" Lux screamed, looking up at him. Up close, his eyes were startlingly bright, like pools of glowing molten gold. They were glinting with tears, making it seem like the liquid gold was trying to spill from his eyes. "You blame everything on yourself! Why do you have to take so much responsibility for everything? Because you don't want the blame to fall on me and Skala? I hate seeing you looking so sad!" he shouted. Anger. Sorrow. Frustration.
"I..." Axel faltered, because his friend's embrace was strangely warm and comforting, much like Skala's laughter. And his words... They made perfect sense, and yet something in Axel wanted to ignore them. Because Lux was right, and Axel was wrong - was that it?
"You're my best friend, Axel. I don't care if you call yourself a monster, because I don't think you are, okay? You're loyal, and you're free, and you know how to kill a man. But that doesn't make you a monster. Not in my eyes."
The conviction in his words forced a smile onto Axel's expression, and his own face softened. Finally, he sighed in defeat.
"Yes," he admitted. "I suppose you're right."
Lux's face lit up, transforming into a beacon of joy, and the moonlight from outside gave his snowy hair a silvery hue. "You mean it?"
"Yes." Axel smiled at him. "Yes, I mean it. Thank you, Lux."