When Lux woke screaming, Axel was the first to reach him. His hands were instantly gripping his shoulders, his voice reaching out to him like a beacon of hope.
Lux clung to that voice, as it dragged him from the nightmare and into the darkness. Axel's silver eyes met him.
It happened twice more that night - Lux would wake screaming, and each time, Axel would be there, and Rubin and Skala would watch on nervously. He felt as though the pain had eased considerably, but the fear? The fear was still there, and no kidnapped healer could take that away. Only the voices - Axel's, Rubin's, Skala's, could pull him away from the terror.
In the morning, faint dapples of light managed to touch the darkness of the cave, and the healer awoke. Almost instantly, she was healing him, and the pain was being soothed again. The moment when her energy faded again stung, but the relief it gave him was more that worth it.
"How are you feeling?" Axel asked him.
"Better," Lux said quietly. The dark mage nodded.
"Good." Glancing at him, Lux saw the uncomfortable gleam to his eyes, remembering that only last night, he'd been clinging to him and screaming, wailing, crying. Did Axel find it pathetic? Did he feel obliged, somehow, to protect him?
"I'm sorry. I was being weak-" Lux started, but Axel cut him off.
"Don't say that," he said firmly. "Don't ever say it again."
Lux smiled faintly. "But I was. I still am. It's true, isn't it?"
"No!" Axel snarled. "Do you really think it's weak to feel pain? You weren't being weak, Lux. I was. You weren't." His expression was deadly serious, his eyes steely.
"You weren't being weak," Lux said, shaking his head with the little energy he had left.
"I was," Axel said. "I should have come sooner, I should have been there-"
"It wasn't your fault," Lux told him softly. "It's Vipera's."
Sighing, the dark mage furrowed his brow. "Skala told me that, too."
"Then she's right," Lux told him. How could Axel be blaming himself? He'd been forced to drag Lux from the prison, and yet here he was, thinking that it was his fault after risking his life to save him?
"I don't think so," Axel sighed. There was a deep sorrow swelling within his voice; Lux could hear it through each of his words, could sense the guilt radiating from his body in waves.
"You should," Lux told him. "But please, stop blaming yourself."
He tried to meet the other's eyes, but Axel managed to avoid looking at him, instead staring emptily at the wall opposite.
"How?" Axel said, quietly.
"What do you mean, how?" Lux echoed. "You saved me. You carried me out of there, Axel."
"And I was the one who left you there! Who was too stupid to listen! Who forced you into there in the first place! You had to go through all that, because I was stupid and foolish and I didn't listen to you!"
Skala and Rubin looked over as Axel shouted the words at him. Lux ignored them, as Axel met his eyes: now burning pools of molten gold. "You didn't leave me there. You were forced to leave because of Vipera."
"Forced?" Axel clenched his fists. "I wasn't forced, Lux. I betrayed you. I'm sorry."
The dark mage stood quickly, before Lux had the chance to protest. Weakly, Lux tried to stand, but collapsed back to his feet.
"No," he murmured, though he knew Axel couldn't hear him. "I'm sorry."
Axel went to sit beside Skala, but a brief glance of apprehension made him falter. Wonderful - now he was fighting with both Skala and Lux.
"Just sit here," she sighed, but turned away from him slightly as he sat.
"It's not your fault," she said, but Axel could detect the traces of hurt that remained in her voice.
"Everybody's trying to tell me that," he replied evenly. "Doesn't make it true, though."
"No, it just means you're being an idiot," Rubin called out from the other side of the cave. "Which of course, you were anyway, amateur."
Axel's head snapped up to glare at him. Did they all have to try and provoke him? Of course it was his fault! Another image of Lux, screaming out as the burning metal was pushed into his skin, flashed through his mind, and waves of anger swallowed him again. Why didn't they understand?
"Yes, I'm stupid," Axel hissed. "Stupid enough to leave him there with Vipera."
"How were you meant to see through that betrayal?" Skala asked him gently. Axel ignored her. The only betrayal had been committed by him - and him alone.
"Skala, please. Don't."
He knew her well enough to know that she'd be looking at him beseechingly, begging to help him. He didn't deserve her friendship; he didn't deserve Lux's, gods, he probably didn't even deserve Rubin's alliance.
"Don't what?" Rubin scoffed. "Don't try to convince your stupid, delusional little self that you're wrong? Do you still not see it, amateur?"
"Shut up, assassin," Axel hissed.
Rubin opened his mouth to retort, before glancing to the entrance of the cave. He swore.
Axel threw himself to his feet, reaching to grasp a knife. His blistered hands stung brutally as he took the weapon, but he forced the pain aside for Lux's sake.
Together, he, Rubin and Skala flitted to the entrance of the cave, merging with the shadows as best as they could. Wing-beats. Gritting his teeth, Axel prepared for a fight. He had promised to protect Lux; he couldn't allow somebody to hurt him, not now.
The griffin landed on the ledge beneath, and Rubin let out a sigh. He stood.
"Krig. I'm glad you're here."
As the stranger pulled away his hood, Axel grit his teeth, narrowing his eyes in anger.
The familiar shaggy blonde hair fell down his head; pale blue eyes looked to Axel with knowing.
Krig shook his head. "I was never working for the Tarns, Silver, but I needed you on my side so that you could help get Lux out."
"Amateur, shut up. He's on our side, got it?" Rubin said to him.
Axel scowled. "If it so much as looks like you're going to hurt Lux, I'll kill you," he said eventually, and Krig nodded, face emotionless.
He was strangely calm, Axel noted. Especially for somebody who'd just been threatened by a monster.
"Follow us," Rubin invited him, and Krig nodded again, following them wordlessly inside. As they entered, Axel made a point of sitting beside Lux, glaring protectively across the cave at Krig.
"So, what's been happening back there?" Rubin asked. "Give us detail."
"Vipera's storming about. She claims that you three have stolen Lux away. Hardly anybody who's still alive knows that she was the one harming him. There's chaos, and they're trying to find you. I think she intends to find you and kill Lux," Krig explained. "She'll most likely blame you, Silver, since she seems to despise you the most."
"I'll kill her first," Axel replied with equal calm to his voice. Krig bowed his head in understanding, his actions as cool and collected as his words. He was so unlike Rubin it was almost difficult to picture the assassin sticking up for him, and yet he had done so only a moment ago.
"Lux, how are you feeling?" Rubin asked. "We can wake the healer up, if you'd like."
Lux shook his head weakly. "No. Leave her."
Axel scoffed. "You're wounded. She's been out cold for at least two hours now. We're waking her up."
He moved over to the woman's unconscious form, nudging her with the toe of his boot. She stirred, and he nudged her again, harder this time.
With a jolt, she bolted up, her eyes widening and a scream forming in her lips as she saw the dark mage towering above her. Quickly, she mastered the fearful expression, pushing herself to her feet.
"Heal him again," Axel ordered her. Gulping, she obeyed him, kneeling at Lux's side once more and holding her palms above him. Lux watched with what seemed to be pained curiosity, and, when the healer could no longer muster any magic, he thanked her politely.
Thanking humans. The idea of it was strange. Why would you thank them? She wasn't doing it for him; she was doing it to preserve her own life.
That was all humans cared about, after all.