He's still only using her - she has no illusions about this anymore. At least they both know it, now. Sometimes Lux wonders if there was ever a time that Sylas had believed otherwise, or if she had been the only one deluded.
Sylas smiles to greet her as she pushes her way inside, into a long-abandoned farm house, slowly rotting past the walls of Fossbarrow. It's too late for that smile, Lux thinks. She knows that it doesn't mean anything.
She tries to keep her own expression blank. The difficulty of putting on airs is foreign to her. She has always been good at keeping secrets from everyone else, but with Sylas she had slipped. She had been so desperate for approval, desperate for a confidant, and she had thought…
Well, it doesn't matter what she had thought.
Sylas uncrosses his arms from over his bare chest and gestures towards the table in the middle of the room. He stays where he is, leaned against a wall beside the fireplace. Maybe he wants to give her space. Maybe she's just a fool who wants to find good intentions where there are none, who doesn't want to believe that he does what he does just to manipulate her.
Lux keeps her lips pursed tight. Both of them track each other's movements with poorly hidden caution as Lux approaches the table. She does not sit.
Sylas notices the pointedness of this and arches an eyebrow. He asks, lightly, "Would you rather warm yourself by the fire?"
She can't keep herself from scowling. A light dusting of snow slips off of her travel bag and onto her shoes as she shrugs it off of her back. She watches the ice melt onto the floor dispassionately. She cannot be bothered with manners in a place like this, or for a man like him.
She throws the bag onto the table, more harshly than she had meant to.
It's torture to look up and see Sylas's amused expression. He knows that she is flustered in his presence, and no matter how tough she plays, this is his upper hand.
"Little Light," he says. As if he could use a cute nickname to playfully chide her - as if that's a relationship they can still have.
"Don't call me that," Lux says, cold as she can. She opens her mouth to explain herself, to insist that this doesn't mean she thinks he's right, doesn't mean she's forgiven him. Doesn't mean that she is on his side, but no words come out.
It doesn't matter, she supposes. She's said them all before. What value can her words have, when she couldn't even talk herself out of coming here?
Lux turns on her heel to leave.
Lux hates that she does as she's told, pausing mid-step and looking at him over her shoulder.
His gaze moves from her to the door, his smile finally slipping into a more calculating expression. "Stay," he says, with a frown that feigns concern. "It's too cold for you to be traveling in the night."
"I'll set up camp. I'm not a fool, Sylas." She regrets responding to him at all. She's sure he hears her insecurity in every word.
"Why waste the energy?" He asks. Lux watches the movement shift through his whole body as he pushes off the wall. She steels herself, unsure of what for, but he takes only one step towards her. She hears the chains of his shackles drag just an inch along the floor. "It's safe here, and already warm."
"Safe," Lux repeats, skeptical, and turns to face him properly. "You're hardly past Demacia's borders and you're lighting fires big enough to send smoke over the trees."
"Let them have warmth one last time," Sylas says easily. "Let them have warmth because they need it. But I'm not a fool, either. We have elemental mages among us to keep watch and to conceal."
Lux wants to ask about the magic. She wants to go back to the days of secret lessons and shared books, desperate to soak her memory in nostalgia and pretend that they weren't always in a prison cell.
"This is all temporary," Sylas adds. "We know when to move on, and now we'll have the means. Thanks to you."
"You killed the king," Lux says, half to remind herself. All it does is flood guilt through her own veins. She tries to shake it off. Regrets only count for so much when you don't change your path. "You aren't some petty thief that they'll let wander away."
"I don't intend to just wander away, Li--Luxanna."
Lux watches his expression with interest. The way he starts out, confident as always, then bows his head slightly as he corrects himself. It's just a sliver of lost composure, but it's enough to make Lux stand up straighter.
He had slipped up, then corrected himself sincerely. Not to manipulate her, not to get a reaction. With Sylas, Lux is beginning to suspect that his mistakes are the only sincerity of his that she will ever see.
"No?" Lux presses, not wanting the advantage to go wasted. "Then what do you call this plan of yours?"
"Call it whatever you like. There's magic in the North, and I intend to find it."
Lux means to sound derisive, but all that escapes her lips is sympathy. "People are going to die in those mountains." She is furious with Sylas and furious with those who follow him, but that doesn't mean she wants this for them.
"Not all will follow my path," he grumbles, and Lux cannot tell if his obvious distaste is for conceding this to her or conceding that freedom to them.
She mutters, "You're no leader."
Sylas relaxes, resting his shoulders back as if to emphasize how little he minds the criticism. Maybe it's just to remind her that she can't hurt him like this.
It isn't fair that she can't hurt him, Lux thinks. He made her trust him, he stole her magic and used it to declare war on her own kingdom. He used her and lied to her, and now it's as if every slight tilt of his body or shift of his eyes cuts her down to the bone.
And she can't hurt him back.
"Stay for the night," he repeats again softer. As if they are old friends, as if he is worried for her. "It's harsh out there, much too harsh for a princess."
"I'm not a princess," Lux bites out. "No thanks to you."
He laughs at this, leaning his head back. Lux watches the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and the flash of teeth in his open mouth. "You didn't want to be," he reminds her. "Do you think I didn't listen to you when we spoke? You were caged by it."
Lux turns her head, staring down the wall to keep herself from watching him so closely.
"It's not too late," He adds, noncommittal. "If they still think you're on their side."
"I am on their side," she insists.
The damning evidence to the contrary is on the table. Lux doesn't dare steal a look in his direction. Even from the edge of her sight she can see his body shake with a silent laugh.
She can't face the smug expression she's dead-certain he's wearing.
"I'll rephrase for you," he says, his voice going low. Lux shivers involuntarily. "It's much too harsh out there for any noble. And for a Crownguard in particular."
This time she's the one to let out a short laugh. "Are you threatening me, now? You betrayed me and I am still providing you with maps, intel, rations, warm clothes for your people! You think your…" She sniffs, looking as unimpressed as she can. "Army will turn on me when I've been helping them prepare all month?"
"How long do you think those you've helped to oppress will put that memory on pause? How many years of their lives spent in hiding do you think these cloaks and furs are worth?"
"I've done nothing but help mages escape!"
"From a regime you support in all other ways."
Lux crosses her arms over her chest, too angry to care about pretenses. "This is getting us nowhere. Am I free to leave, or are you going to turn your mages against me if I try? I guarantee you'll lose half of them before I fall."
"You're free to leave," Sylas says, sounding diplomatic. As if he hadn't just tried to blackmail her into staying, moments ago. He shrugs.
They are quiet for a long moment, each assessing the other in the silence.
"You just want me afraid," Lux accuses.
"I want you careful," he corrects. "I want you watching your back. From now on. Always."
There is no fear in his voice, though. He is not afraid of raising an army that runs on a spite he cannot fully control. He is not afraid of making sacrifices of others, of figureheads and representations of his true enemies. No. Of course he is not afraid of the flames he ignites, himself.
Sylas runs a hand through his hair, fingers pushing it back with his arm at a careful angle to keep his shackles from his own face.
For some reason, this small effort he goes through unthinkingly is what kindles a sympathy in her. It isn't whatever emotions he may be trying to soothe with the motion - it's the weight that he is so accustomed to that he does not even think of it.
Lux does not know if she will ever feel confident in understanding him again - if she will ever feel as if she knows what he is thinking. But she knows, at least, that he does not turn his wrist just so to trick her.
She had offered to take the chains off for him, once. But too much of his strength comes from them. He wants to hurt his enemies with the same chains they held him captive with. The symbolism is unsubtle.
Lux wonders if there is some comfort in their weight, or in knowing how to work around them. She wonders if the sound of dragging metal is as heavy in his heart as it is in hers.
She is a fool, after all.
"I suppose it would save me time," Lux murmurs.
She is sure he only looks relieved because he knows that this is his victory. She's sure to spend the whole night on edge, looking over her shoulder and edging into paranoia. Funny. To be hidden from Demacia and surrounded by mages like herself should be a comfort.
But they are for his cause and for his methods. He's right to tell her to be afraid of them, but he is also right that it's late to be trying to ride off and set up her own camp for the night.
Lux turns to leave once more.
This time Sylas closes the distance between them. His shadow drapes over her from behind. Her hand falters, hovering by the doorknob. Even without his silhouette falling over her, Lux would feel him looming. It's his body heat radiating off of him. Even just his weight in the air, shifting as he breathes.
"You're not sleeping in the barn with the others," Sylas says. He sounds so casual about it, his voice tinged with amusement. Now that he's won already, Lux could almost believe he is speaking to her as a fond friend. It's a switch that he can flip so smoothly.
"Neither are you," she points out. She does not turn around, instead bowing her head to stare down at her hand and make sure it isn't trembling. "All that talk of equality, and you're here monopolizing the nicest place to sleep."
There is care in the way he touches her shoulder. Not only in how delicate he is, setting no weight down and giving her space to duck away if she desired, but in that ever-present awareness of his shackles and chains. He keeps all the weight he carries off of her. She is hyper-aware of the light brush of his fingers running down her arm.
"Everything now is just means to an end. The others understand this well."
"You want to call me a hypocrite, but you're one, too."
"An imperfect revolution is not hypocrisy. To know that revolution is necessary but carry on as an enemy to it is."
"I'm not an enemy," Lux murmurs. "I've brought you supplies, haven't I?"
"You can't be on both sides, Little Light."
She hears his breath catch, his quiet realization that he slipped back into using that nickname again. She doesn't bother to point it out and he does not correct himself. It's the only ground she can take back in the battle between them - her own name, and how he wants to use it.
The quiet settles over them again, and Lux listens to the crackling fireplace.
Then Sylas's hand leaves her arm. She hears the shift of chains and shackles clinking together, and only understands it when his fingers gingerly brush her hair from the nape of her neck. It was the sound of him holding the chains out of the way.
With heavy chains held back by his left hand, his right hand sweeps her hair over her shoulders.
She shivers, and would like to pretend that it's the cold. The insulation is poor in an abandoned home, she tells herself. Even in a heated room, anyone would be chilled by suddenly having their nape exposed.
When he is finished brushing her hair aside, Sylas moves his fingers to her neck, touching light at first, then pressing harder. He massages a small circle.
Lux hates how relaxing it is, how quickly she wants to melt into the soothing roughness of it. This touch should not be comforting. This man should not be capable of doing this to her. She feels her shoulders slump as she exhales.
"Fine," she concedes. "It's no more dangerous here with you than with those who serve you, anyway."
She shivers again.
She should have considered that there would only be one bed.
If it can even be called that. It was too much to hope for an abandoned home to have more than just a broken, unusable bed frame.
Instead, Sylas moves his makeshift bed, bundled in his arms, out from one room away and into the living room. He sets folded, doubled-up cloaks as pillows. At least the blankets he lays down look thick and warm.
For Sylas, any bedding at all must be a luxury.
Lux, on the other hand, is still adjusting. She spent too many nights in a plush, over-sized bed, with sheer canopies draped all around her. She's been traveling, camping outdoors more and more often since joining the Illuminators, but she still sleeps light, still wakes with an aching back.
She takes it for granted that sleeping on the hard ground is an outlier for her. An in-between, until she returns home to her featherbed and silk.
"Why are you moving everything?" Lux asks, to distract herself from having to admit that they probably could sleep separately, if she wanted to. If she only spoke up and requested it. It seems as if he has enough blankets for it, but she buries that thought in a deep pit of denial.
It's better to sleep close, she tells herself. For the warmth.
Sylas sounds unamused, for once, as if deeply burdened by the chore no one asked him to do. "I'm concerned for your delicate noblewoman sensibilities. Probably best to sleep closer to the fire, tonight."
Well, at least it gives weight to Lux's excuse. But she doesn't much care for his tone, and reminds him, "I had intended to sleep outside, remember? So you really don't listen to me, hm?"
He rolls his eyes, but offers a smile over his shoulder. "Then you'll survive a night on the floor?"
She watches him straighten out the blankets with one hand, smoothing them. The understanding that they are going to share this bed is surreal; Lux keeps turning the idea over in her mind as if she can't quite grasp its meaning, as if there is another angle she needs to look at it from.
Sylas's chains are quiet, pooled on the fabric instead of the wood floor. There is an odd amount of care in the way he makes their bed. Much more care than Lux would expect from him. She watches the shift of his shoulder blades, the ripple of his muscle in each motion as he makes sure the layers are lined up right.
"You weren't sleeping by the fire, before?" She asks, and makes her way to the table. She opens her bag, rummaging through it for the things that are meant to be hers - her own rations and night clothes. She sets them aside on the table.
"Better to sleep away from the entrance," he says, not looking back this time. He stills, rising back to his feet. He lifts his chains in both hands as he steps away from the bedding to keep them from dragging through it. "If I'm attacked, better to wake with a fighting chance."
"And if we're attacked, tonight?"
"We would have their hesitation on our side."
Lux supposes that he's right. She was betrothed to the prince so recently, there's not a Demacian around that doesn't know her name and face. Let alone a Demacian in the military, a Demacian who might find them.
She doesn't like to sit with what they would have to do in that situation. She doesn't like to sit with any of the consequences of Sylas. Yet that's all the world is, right now. The eye of a tornado; a man who touches her gently and keeps her warm. A man who takes whatever help he can bleed from her and calls for her death, then makes her a bed as soft as he's able.
Sylas brushes past Lux to take her bag from the table. His arm brushes hers, skin still pink and hot from his time by the fire.
"I'll distribute the supplies to the others."
Lux is all the more grateful for the fire when he opens the door, icy air rushing into the room until it is closed behind him. This is dangerous. Dangerous in multiple ways, most of which she doesn't want to admit to, skin flushing at just the thought, but the cold makes her certain that she made the right choice.
She kicks her boots off by the door. Her whole body feels as if it is thrumming with anticipation as she strips out of her armor. Chest plate first, then tassets. Wrist guards and leg guards. Each piece is carefully set aside, tidy and ready to be worn again tomorrow. There is something damning in the shining silver, glinting firelight back at her.
Her bodysuit peels off of her like a second skin, and she is quick to pull her nightgown over her head for what little warmth it gives her. It's too lacy a thing for travel, but she keeps forgetting to buy something more suitable before her outings. She's been understandably preoccupied with helping a traitor and being a traitor, and trying to convince herself that there is a thread of morality that weaves through these both.
Like most of her clothes, her nightgowns are to her mother's tastes. This one is all white and smooth with layers of lacy trim, and silk ribbon embroidery of hydrangeas running up her side.
It feels shameful to wear such nice things in this collapsing house, next to a man in ratty clothes and cuffs. But she's not about to wear her travel clothes to bed expecting to get any sleep.
The fire sparks, firewood popping as Lux kneels atop the blankets. Her face glows like the embers that warm her, pale skin reddening until she scoots just a little further back.
She focuses on the fire. The light of it, right at the peak, where it is white-hot and bright. It has a glow, just like hers, though she can control it now. As she relaxes, a dim light spills from her fingertips, as if she could exhale her own nervousness out in this way. She lets it flicker with the fire, something to focus on, something to keep her mind from running wild.
The sound of the door opening startles her - her light bursts bright before she gets it back under control, fading it away completely.
Sylas only arches an eyebrow at her, kicking the door closed again behind him. Chains in one hand, he sets her emptied bag back on the table, then gives her a long once-over.
A moment later, he is sitting beside her, cross legged, chains pooled in his lap. He rests one elbow on his thigh, propping his head up on his hand. Lux watches snow melt on his skin and hair. She watches drops of water streak down his throat and collar-bone. Down his arms and his chest, down to his abdomen and - she looks away.
"They want me to pass on their thanks," he says, muffled. His hand must have shifted to cover his mouth. When Lux steels a glance, he is looking away from her.
"Even though I'm a hypocrite?"
"You're young," he says.
"You assume I'll change my mind and turn to your side with time."
At the edge of her sight she sees him shift, setting his arms behind himself to lean back. The firelight paints his chest in reds and orange, and Lux tries discretely to track the color as it pulses over his stomach, over his biceps. At least if her face is red, the heat should give her cover.
Briefly, she is distracted by the blue glow of his tattoo, the mageseeker brand on his shoulder.
"I thought the same as you, when I was young," he tells her, staring into the flames. "I was never given the respect that you nobles feel you're owed, but I was a mage hunting mages. You think you can change things from the inside. You think that if you keep your head down, someday you'll look up and the world around you will have grown and improved on its own."
Lux is quiet.
"You'll lose more and more, until you have nothing left to lose. Until you have no choice but to take action. Who will speak up against injustice if not you? Who will be heard and respected, and who will inspire the terrified masses, if not you?"
Lux does not play into this by telling him, You will.
But if she is being honest, she is not entirely sure that was his intent at all.
"Isn't it better," she ventures, after a moment, "to have mages on both sides of this conflict? To sway a kingdom's whole perspective as one woman from the inside would be a lofty goal, you're right about that. But isn't it better for your revolution to negotiate with a fellow mage?"
"The point is, Light, that there is no room for negotiation."
She draws her knees to her chest, and feels the fire's warmth against her inner thighs. He's right. It's by his own design, but the consequences are all the same. No one will listen to the words and preaching of a violent uprising. The moment they chose violence, any chance of being received without equal violence was lost. Any chance of having their message heard, instead of reflexively recoiled from as frightful.
Even if they're right.
Lux is angry at Sylas, but she is angry at Demacia, too. Of course the mages would lash out when they were backed into a corner. It's self-defense, they were given no choice!
Lux has always longed for adventures outside the walls of Demacia, but she has also always wanted to go home again. She has always wanted somewhere safe to rest, somewhere she is loved, and somewhere she can fight for.
It is harder and harder to want to go home.
She does not want to follow Sylas, either. It isn't just her anger and fear that tells her he is no leader. It's his lack of vision, his lack of planning. His goals are too vague, all just reflexive responses to his pain and hurt. She does not have the answers to his questions, but at least she is not out playing commander to other mages and acting as if she does.
Sylas sits forward. His hand moves to rest at the small of her back; despite his efforts she feels the cool metal of his shackles, and the weight of the chain hanging over her spine and into his lap.
"You want change without sacrifice, they already make sacrifices of us all."
Lux feels her pulse slamming against her wrists. Her heart races, her breath won't come easy. Sylas's palm is big and warm, a firm touch she feels she could lean her whole weight against and still be held upright in. She could fall and be caught.
Instead she leans into his side, letting her head fall onto his shoulder. She feels him tense for a split second, then relax again.
This time it does not sound like condescension. It is not disdain behind the nickname, it is a curious fondness, and this surprises Lux.
He uses too many nicknames and she does not have the energy to tell him to stop each and every time. Maybe there is some symbolic reading of this. Maybe he wants to distance her from who she is. It could just be to throw her off, or to endear her to him and make her vulnerable.
"Do you ever tire of this kind of talk?" She asks him. "You may be a revolutionary, but you are also just a man."
She feels him tilt his head. There is just a beat of awkward silence that she cannot parse before he laughs lightly. "I never tire of talking about the world around me. But if you're suggesting we pass the time another way…"
"I'm not," Lux says, quickly, trying not to sound scandalized but refusing to flinch away from him.
He laughs again, and Lux feels it ripple through his body, through hers. She resists the urge to move her arm against his side onto his thigh, but there is a deep temptation.
She wants to run her fingers over the pretty gold chains, and she wants to swallow fire for thinking they are pretty.
Sylas humors Lux, when she insists he make some modicum of effort towards bathing. While they eat, she heats water by the fire, and later he sits by the table and allows her to run a wet cloth over his back and his chest and down his arms. She wishes she could wash beneath those shackles, but of course, it's impossible.
Sylas closes his eyes, expression relaxed when Lux runs the cloth carefully over his face. With the cloth as a barrier between his skin and hers, she feels the shape of his cheeks and jawline. She presses behind his ears, and wipes over his forehead. She doesn't miss the quiet puff of laughter he lets out, as if he thinks this is all terribly cute, and it's only her annoyance at this that has her swallowing her embarrassment and rolling up his pantlegs to wash his legs without backing down.
She does not much care for how pleased he looks when he looks down at her, kneeled in front of him, and works quickly before rising again.
Afterwards, standing over him, she runs her fingers through his hair to get it out of his face. She is rueful that it is still unwashed and greasy. She can hardly even imagine what Sylas would look like, clean-shaven and with his hair cut nicely.
She's not sure she wants to.
Her fingers are still in his hair, idly running through it when he leans forward, lightly resting his head against her chest.
Lux is not used to being touched. With her affliction, her glow, she has carefully avoided it from friends and family alike. She can't imagine being locked away, human contact being taken without even getting the choice.
She had not missed the way his fingers would linger on hers when they touched in that prison cell. She reminds herself that his affections have always been manipulation, have always been a way to discretely steal her magic.
But she cannot bring herself to draw away.
His face is hidden when she looks down, but there is no tension in his shoulders, his arms resting loosely in his lap. Thick golden chains coil like twin snakes on the floor between her legs, between her bare feet.
She just keeps finger-combing his hair, feeling his breath even out.
Even if it is just an excuse to steal her magic, she could believe that a part of him is still desperate for this in sincerity. It makes her wonder why he is holding back.
She thinks of telling him that he could embrace her, if he would like. She imagines being held tight in his big arms, being wrapped up and consumed by his warm body. The security and weight of being surrounded as she's held against his steady chest. The comfort of being held by someone who, for all his flaws, knows that she is a mage and only thinks better of her for it.
Sylas's voice drifts up to her. "Your heart is racing."
"So is yours," Lux retorts, childish. She doubts it could be true, but has no way of knowing.
Sylas scoffs. "For a child like you?"
Lux can't muster any anger. "I'll pull your hair, if that's what you think of me. I'm twenty years old."
"And saying it like you think that's old is what makes you a child."
"You've decided to see me as one because it keeps you from having to engage with me as a woman," Lux tells him. She feels him tense - it feels like a triumph. "You don't have to listen to my ideas if you believe they're something I'll simply outgrow in time."
He relaxes again, exhaling as if relieved. Lux doesn't understand.
"I do listen to you," he says, at length. "You simply don't say anything real. What ideas do you have? To stand by and do nothing? Side with the oppressors? Try to play from both sides, as if your position in the center dictates that their positions aren't so imbalanced? All you do is side with the unjust half-heartedly, but your internal turmoil makes no difference to them and their numbers."
She yanks his hair, pleased at the quiet grunt of surprise he lets out.
"I warned you."
"You did." At least he sounds entertained and not angry.
When he draws away to lean against the back of the chair, Lux's hands follow, slipping down to rest on his throat. Just beneath his jaw. She feels his pulse, strong and level.
His blue eyes stare her down.
"When I am unfair to you, you want to hurt me. Simple."
Lux thumbs over his throat. "I never want to hurt you."
"Yet you do, knowing that it's the clearest way to make me stop."
"Don't act like it's so simplistic."
He doesn't reply, just leans forward. Not close enough to touch, this time, but enough to let her hands reach down to his back muscles, butterfly-light. At least that heavy collar is gone, Lux thinks. She shifts her weight carefully, her feet brushing the cool metal of the chains between them, and tries pressing into his back harder. The same way he had touched her neck, she tentatively tries to massage him.
She's never had to do such a thing; she doesn't know where to touch or how hard to knead.
Lux takes it as a good sign when he slumps back into her, exhaling. When he arches his back into her fingers.
"You were my friend," Lux murmurs, only able to admit it now that she cannot see his face anymore. "And now you're going to vanish up into the mountains. You're going to freeze, up there, and in search of what? More magic? Isn't what you have enough?"
His voice comes out gravelly, like it is being nudged and molded by her hands as well. "Have to go somewhere. You said yourself, I'll be pursued. Better to go where they cannot follow."
There are other options than climbing into the ice, Lux wants to snap, but just focuses on keeping her grip even. Besides, it's ridiculous of him to think that what little supplies they can scrounge up between themselves are going to be more than what Demacia is able to expend for their own soldiers.
He's right that they may not want to travel that far North, though. Whether out of self-preservation or the assumption that he could not survive it. She doesn't want to concede this point.
"And if I wanted to come with you?" She ventures.
"You don't," he says, firmly.
"But if I did?"
"People are going to die in those mountains," Sylas repeats back to her. He leans back once more, looking up at her. "I wouldn't let you."
She searches his face, trying to find the meaning hidden somewhere. As if the truth could rest in his eyes, on his lips, somewhere solid for her to see for herself. But all she has is his words. All she has is the knowledge that he would reject her for being a Crownguard. The mages will not have her for being a noble, the nobles will not have her for being a mage, Lux thinks, helplessly.
And the only friend she had thought she had is this awful man, this manipulative traitor. He tells her to join his cause and rejects her from it in the same breath.
Hypocrite, Lux thinks. Hypocrite.
His hands come to rest on her hips. His shackles dig in light and careful, but there nevertheless. No amount of caution can keep them from being in the way.
She is overly aware of her nightgown bunching. Of the size of his hands, nearly enough to circle her waist, certainly strong enough to bruise her if he gripped her with any effort. The gold chains rest against her thighs, cold enough to make her legs momentarily weak. They curl inward like vines on her skin until they reach the floor.
He is watching her with expectant eyes. As if there is a response he is owed, something obvious he is waiting for.
"Then it's a good thing I don't want to go," Lux says, hastily pulling her hands away from him.
His grip on her hips tightens, holding her in place before she can step away, but when her breath hitches, he lets go quickly.
When it is finally time to sleep, Lux climbs into the bed with no small amount of anxiety coursing through her. Nothing is going to happen, she tells herself. She's been telling herself this every day, and it's been true each time. Every delivery, every stilted conversation, every debate, every argument. Every tentative touch. Nothing has happened, ergo, nothing is going to happen.
She does not want anything to happen. He does not want anything to happen. They are on the same page.
Sylas lays with his back to her. Lux imagines it's more for the sake of having the room for his chains, but she'd like to appreciate the consideration. She pretends that it was out of respect, saving her the embarrassment of having to stare at his face only inches from hers, of having to watch the fire dance in his eyes and turn pale blue into embers.
Her face is no less red staring at his bare back.
She keeps space between them as carefully as she is able, but the blankets are not big enough to dip down into that space. Instead they are lifted, and the low fire still shows her the shape of his spine, the messy curl of his hair around the nape of his neck.
Lux does not know how long she watches him, his shoulders rising and falling with every even breath. Expanding and relaxing, close enough to touch and feel, like she already has so much today already.
This is what makes it tempting to reach out. She knows what his skin feels like in her hands. Warm and surprisingly smooth, as if all of him should be calloused the way his fingers are, all of him rubbed raw by petricite shackles and sleeping on stone. But he is still human, he is still soft.
Lux thinks again about how many years she spent avoiding touching others. It floods back to her, pushing the impulse like waves against a shoddy dam.
"Sleep," Sylas's voice commands, gruff.
Lux startles; she had thought he would be asleep by now, but it's no wonder that he sleeps lightly. That it takes him time to drift off.
"I'm trying," she grumbles back. She takes the excuse, the opportunity, to tap her knuckles against his back.
"Not plush enough for you?"
She can't tell if he's teasing or sincerely annoyed. Probably the latter. "That isn't it."
She cannot answer. She draws her hand back, but not before flattening out her palm, indulging herself in dragging it up his back. Her heart is pounding again.
Sylas turns over, maneuvering the chains to cross over his side and rest behind him. He lays on his side and faces Lux, one arm raised and bent to rest his head on, the other at his own side; it's just as bad as she had feared. In the dark, this close, she can feel the heat that creeps up her neck and onto her cheeks. She shifts her legs, suddenly more self-conscious of her nightgown than she has been all evening.
She has trouble looking up to meet his eyes. Her eyes flicker down to check the placement of her skirt once more, then back to his eyes. They are attentively set on her own.
"It's just all very inappropriate," Lux mumbles. "That's all."
She's finally given words to it, and she wishes that Sylas would acknowledge it, acknowledge them, but whatever he thinks of this is a mystery. His lips twitch, but he does not smile nor frown.
Of course it's nothing to him, of course it's easy for him to brush off. To him, it is nothing, and she is just a child. A resource, at best. She had at least expected some snide comment about helping a traitor being more scandalous than sharing a bed, but he says nothing.
Instead, he reaches out, wraps an arm around her waist, and tugs. She imagines he meant it to be gentle, but it moves her nonetheless, until her chest is flush against him and their legs nearly entangled. Her head rests on his bent arm, and with nowhere else to look, she admires the strong angle of his jawline, close enough to kiss.
No. Lux banishes the thought, pretends she doesn't catch a flicker of glow from her own palms before it dissipates. Pretends Sylas's eyes don't dart down to see it, too.
At least he doesn't comment. He just wraps the chain around his free arm with practiced movements, shifting it to sit behind her. Lux cannot tell if it was for comfort or to keep her from backing away. His arm rests over the curve of her hip.
She doesn't know where to put her hands. One arm is trapped between them, her hand against his thigh. She brings the other to touch his chest, pressing her palm over his heart. It's a question that she doesn't know how to ask. It's a question that he will not answer.
His heart still does not race like hers.
His voice is low, and she watches his jaw move as he speaks. "You need to leave early in the morning to get distance. So calm down. Sleep."
She disobeys, spreading her fingers and sliding her palm up over his collar-bones with interest. She feels out the shape of him, knowing that it may be the last time she has the chance. What does it really matter what he thinks of her, when he is walking off to die? When it is probably for the better that he dies?
Or at least, it should be.
He humors her. He allows her to trace out idle shapes on his skin without saying another word.
When she eventually wraps an arm around him and squeezes tight, finally giving in to embrace him like a proper farewell, he holds her back.
They hold on tight, tight like they are about to be torn apart and want to fight it. Tight like they want to merge into one, want to mesh their magic together until it is no longer his or hers. Like she could press it into his chest through her own, through her leg that pushes its way between his. Through her lips pressed against his throat.
She feels his steady pulse under her mouth and she thinks again about kissing him.
He exhales, and it travels through them both. She buries her face in his shoulder and exhales, too.
Lux counts to ten before forcing herself to pull away. He lets her go. She draws her leg back, lifts herself up, and turns away from him. If she doesn't, she knows she won't sleep. She'll just keep watching him, searching him, digging for something that isn't there.
But she allows herself this: she allows herself to press her back against his chest, to keep their hips aligned. Allows herself to reach over and guide his arm back over her hip.
The petricite shackles are uncomfortable on her side, too big and too heavy, but she refuses to give in. Instead she focuses on the feeling of his hand splayed over her stomach, where he holds her against him. The heat of the fire has nothing on the heat that emanates from his palm, a warmth that pools in her gut under the pleasant pressure.
She shifts to get comfortable. As comfortable as she is going to be with his shackles on her hip and his chains in front of her. Her thighs move together, her legs move against his, and she feels his hand flatten for a moment as if to hold her still.
"Sleep," he tells her again.
In time, she manages.
She wakes in the middle of the night, aware of very little around her. The fire is dull embers, and her eyes cannot parse the darkness, but she does not want to make her own light, now.
Sylas's body is warm behind her. He must be awake; she can tell from the way his hand holds her hip. His thumb strokes up and down, and it takes her a moment to realize that he is feeling the ridge of her underwear through her nightgown.
Lux does not think. Not about right or wrong, or even about consequences. She only thinks that it feels nice, that she is comfortable, and that their bodies line up like puzzle pieces.
She arches her back, pressing herself against him in approval of his grip, seeking out more of his heat, more of the soothing feeling of touching another.
Wordlessly, he moves with her, his hand slipping to rest on her thigh, holding her against him. He buries his face against her neck, his beard scratching and his breath hot on her shoulder blade. Instinctively, she reaches up, fingers seeking out his hair.
Lux may be a virgin, but she still understands the hardness pressed against her rear. She understands Sylas's shallow breath and the way he shivers, his hips rocking against her once before he catches himself.
She wants to ask for something, but does not have the words. She is afraid that to speak would break the spell, and she does not want to face whatever reality would crash down on her. She squirms against him again, rubbing her thighs together for some kind of friction, anything to give reprieve to the building heat between her legs. The desire is washed over her, hotter than any fire could hope to burn.
It's only the arch of her spine that gives Sylas the room he needs to hike up her nightgown. She feels his erection pressed against her through his pants as he guides her by the hips. The angle he has her arched at is dramatic, but Lux understands why; he has to work around the size of his shackles as he reaches into her underwear.
Then, surprisingly gentle, he slides his fingers between her lips.
Lux lets out a breathy sigh without meaning to, her grip going tight in his hair for just one moment before relaxing again.
His fingers only tease her entrance at first, as if just getting a feel for her, spreading her slick. She almost expects him to say something, the way his body seems to startle at how wet she is. She is surprised too.
Sylas buries his face into her neck with a ragged breath.
She wants to push back against his fingers, but she is afraid. Gods, she is afraid of so much right now, and for a split second her heart surges and she feels tears starting to pin-prick at her eyes. It's a wave crashing over her, reminding her of everything about this that makes it wrong.
Then a finger slips inside her, still slow, still careful. His hands are big - his fingers are so thick that the sensation is overwhelming. Lux hears herself whimper, mouth dropping open. She feels shallow breath on the nape of her neck, and the gentle undulation of Sylas behind her. Ever-so-lightly, he grinds himself against her, the motion almost guiding her to push back against his hand like she wants to so badly.
The thrust of his finger is slow and steady, spreading the heat inside her through her whole body with just this touch. It's a desperation she can hardly fathom in herself, a want that she doesn't fully know how to satisfy. All she can do is keep rocking with him, feeling his finger push deep inside her. Her other thoughts slip away, stolen with her breath.
He spreads her open with a second finger, and Lux becomes vaguely aware of the sounds she has been letting out for who knows how long. Quiet gasps, throaty sounds, all tumbling out of her without her consent.
"Is this what you wanted?" Sylas asks, low and muffled by her shoulder. He sounds almost accusing, but there is something strained in his voice.
She knows better than to seethe - the shudder in the slow roll of his hips give him away. She's not sure she could snap at him if she wanted, anyway. Not when his palm grinds against her, against something that makes her feel like she is fracturing glass that needs to be shattered.
She tries to angle her leg to get more of that, to speed the collapse, and he bites the nape of her neck like a reward. His fingers quicken, even though she has not answered him.
"Don't--" she starts, chasing after something bright behind her eyes, something that has her legs shaking. She means to say don't stop, but his fingers curl inside her and it turns into a moan.
Before she can register what's happening, Sylas has stilled, his grip on her going loose, and that pulsing glow inside of her is dimming. Receding like a wave that she had been waiting to let crash over her.
In her right mind she might feel pathetic, but all she can muster now is a devastated whine, twisting to look at him over her shoulder. He starts to draw his hand away until she grabs at it, aiming for his wrist and momentarily forgetting that all she'll grasp is the shackles.
There is a rush of shame as she grinds, needy against his hand while holding his arm in place. Her whole body feels fever-flushed when he chuckles, but at least he curls back towards her, and starts to finger her again.
Lux arches, angling herself until she can feel the bulge of his cock squeezed between her thighs. The pace of his fingers is harsh now, and his own breath is stuttering. The rhythm of his hips is slower, more steady, and his length rubs against her so tantalizingly, so satisfyingly, if not for the layers still between them.
She twists, silently pleading, and he answers by meeting her halfway. Their mouths collide messy, Lux's mouth falling open mid-kiss as his fingers hit something deep and his palm digs against her clit just so. She moans into his mouth and he breathes into hers, both of them rocking their bodies against one another.
The nonsensical words "Don't leave," spill from her lips at the same moment that Sylas murmurs, "Sweetheart," into her mouth.
She feels him freeze for a split second and is flooded by a rush of shame, but he brushes past it, and the moment slips away as his fingers resume their punishing pace.
"Tell me what you need," he says instead, sounding like he already knows.
Lux would like to think she doesn't know, would like to maintain some semblance of virginal purity and morality. But she nudges his arm away, just enough to pull her underwear down and kick them around one ankle.
He doles out his approval with a satisfied hum and a whispered, "Good girl."
She should be afraid. She knows she should. But unbidden, the memory of Sylas telling her that he was proud of her when she had cured her own affliction floods into her mind. It puts her at ease, even as her heart races, even as his chain drags over her hip, forgotten about for the first time today as he tugs his pants down.
Their shared heavy panting fills the room as they both move together. His hand on her rear guides her into place and she tilts her hips to help, lining him up against her entrance.
It's mind-numbing to sink down onto his length; the stretch is even more than his fingers had been and there is something in her core that takes satisfaction at being filled, at having him buried so deep inside of her. He is still, allowing her the time to adjust. As if reading her mind, just as she is beginning to miss his palm against her, his fingers take its place, a stilled but pleasant pressure.
He exhales shakily against her throat.
His movements start out slow, and the sensation of his cock dragging against her walls is somehow gratifying. It scratches the unnamable itch, but stokes flames at the same time. It's nice to feel her own thoughts pushed out of her head with every drawn out thrust, like she no longer has to think about anything else - like she couldn't if she tried.
There is just Sylas, his whole body hunched over hers, his cock hitting her deep, fingers rubbing her in slow, gentle circles. She can't think, can hardly breathe, writhing back towards him to meet each thrust. Her body shudders from the swipe of his fingers, choking on her own moans.
She twists to kiss him again, grateful to feel his mouth capture hers, more grateful still as he fucks into her faster. She is so wet that it feels easy - it doesn't hurt like she had heard it might.
"Lights," he whispers into her mouth, another pet-name, punctuated with a grunt, and she feels herself clenching around him. He shudders, bowing his head. She feels the light sheen of sweat on his forehead as it presses against her shoulder.
She hardly knows how to reply, what to ask for, but she is so close to something bright. All she manages is a helpless, "Please, Sylas, please?"
His finger slides over her clit faster; her legs buckle even though she is already laying down. Lux sobs, tries to push back against him for more, more of anything he can give her.
"That's it, Little Light," he murmurs, and she feels his breath on her throat as if he has more to say. There is something broken in his voice. The urgency of his movements give away his pretense of control.
When Lux comes, it is an exploding star, bursting behind her eyes. Her legs shake with tiny tremors. She feels herself squeezing down on him. Feels him falter and then still, buried inside her, his fingers still rubbing her with a careful pressure as she rides out the waves of it.
"That's it," he murmurs again, as the dark of the room slowly comes back into her vision.
Her chest heaves as she tries to catch her breath and come down, but the sensation is not unlike floating.
The only thing grounding her, keeping her from falling asleep on the spot, is Sylas's cock, still hard, still filling her up.
It doesn't startle her that he begins moving again. It startles her that the feeling of it is suddenly overwhelming, impossibly more intense than what she had been sure was the peak of sensation. She gasps, her whole body shuddering around him.
She is still hyper-sensitive, but he doesn't give her time to recover. It's too-much, bordering on pain, but she can't bring herself to ask him to stop, can't even will her body to lean away from him. It's the cusp, the knife-edge that still leans towards pleasure, and that deep, deep satisfaction at having all of her responsibilities forcefully thrown from her own head.
She wants to curse, but even now the words don't come to her. She wants this to last forever, just like she wants it to be over. She wants to come again. She wants Sylas to fuck her until she forgets everything else in the world, everything complicated and overwhelming. She wants Sylas to fuck her until he comes.
She wants to be good. She wants him to call her a good girl again.
His hand rises to rest on her lower stomach, palm flat as he pulls her toward him; she can hardly even try to match his rhythm, anymore.
She moans a weak, "Sylas," and feels his hand scramble for purchase on her thigh, squeezing at her greedily like a response. She twists, angling her whole body this time, and his hand moves beneath her thigh to help lift her leg, even if it means having a chain draped heavy over it. It only stays a moment; she whines and hooks her ankle over him so that he won't have to hold her, so that his hand can come back to touch her.
Lux does not know if it's the angle that's made it easier, but Sylas's pace is brutal. She can feel him losing it, just like she can feel her whole body bounce with each thrust. It feels like floating, or drowning, and she can't think of what to do but kiss him wherever she can reach. She presses her lips to his cheek, his jaw, his chin.
His fingers find her again, rubbing over her clit as he fucks her, and Lux is caught breathless, panting with her tongue against his throat. The bright light is back, only this time it isn't just behind her eyelids.
Sylas gives no sign of slowing down, but she feels his surprise even before he breathes, "Lux."
It's the tips of her hair, this time, starlight-bright in the dark, the glow rising higher up her strands as Sylas's fingers push her closer and closer to that cliffside edge, again. His fingers - his other hand - suddenly buries in her hair, pulling, forcing her to crane her neck back and expose her throat for him to bite down on.
Lux comes again with a high pitched whimper, and this time her convulsing is enough to pull Sylas over the edge with her. He grunts, his grip in her hair going hard as his whole body stills. She feels him fall apart, feels him twitch inside of her, and feels the warmth spreading there with an odd satisfaction.
They stay that way for a long moment.
Her glow slowly dissipates. Their shallow breathing fills her ears. His fingers loosen from her hair. Eventually, he pulls out.
She feels like she is melting. Her own ragged breath makes stark contrast to how relaxed the rest of her is. Sylas's chest rises and falls against her back in deep, dramatic movements, and she tries to match the rhythm with her own breathing.
They share the same intake and exhale of breath. Their bodies slowly cool, cold without the fire going and colder still with their sweat against the air. The wet between her legs is starting to feel uncomfortable, and Lux is acutely aware of her underwear still hooked around her ankle.
Sylas moves away first, carefully plucking up his chains that had been draped over her. Lux had nearly forgotten them, and there is something nice to the idea that he had, too.
He makes himself decent, then stokes the fire back to life.
Lux draws herself up, seeking out the washcloth from before to clean herself. Afterwards she tugs her underwear back up, all the while watching Sylas's back.
Even when life has returned to the flames, he does not lay down, nor look at her.
Lux returns to him. She lifts the blanket over her shoulders like a cloak, then drapes herself against Sylas's back. He does not startle, but there is a tension that has his whole body rigid.
She cannot understand why. She is the one this reflects poorly on, and even she is still drifting through an afterglow, still casually waving away the hysterics that she expects to come in a day or two.
What reason does he have to be tense when he was the one who lined this all up so pointedly. It was borderline blackmail that kept her here overnight. It was him that made their bed together. It was him that held her, that took her apart, that spoke to her in ways that make her shiver with just the visceral memory of his voice.
Lux stares into the fire, watching it spark.
Sylas eventually breaks the silence, sounding terse, "This doesn't--"
"--I know," Lux interrupts him, impatient. "I'm not stupid. Say something else."
He lets out a laugh under his breath, but doesn't seem terribly amused. "Such as?"
She doesn't know. She presses a kiss to the side of his neck and draws away from him to lay back down. Her body feels sore, exhausted and spent, sinking into the warm of the blanket by the heat of the rekindled fire.
"Sleep," she commands him, and is surprised when he obeys, climbing back into the bed with her.
There is something new in his expression, but even still, Lux cannot read it. His furrowed brow, the thin line of his frown. His blue eyes, staring into hers as if he is facing the same problem, as if Lux is not always an embarrassingly open book for him.
There's no use pleading with him to change his mind, no use trying to change the past. She can't turn the clock back and keep him from being a criminal, a traitor, a murderer. And as long as he is those things, he can never stay.
Lux thinks about how much she always wants to go home. Even to an imperfect home, even to a home that hates her, a home she has to hide from. It is still home, and it is hers to rework and rebuild.
Sylas has none.
Lux daydreams of a world where she is queen. Where she can change the kingdom herself, seated on the throne. A world where she can do anything she wants. She can be home, she can shape home, she can be loved, and she can be magic. A world where she can give pardons to a dear, foolish friend.
Even the fantasy falls apart quick, too unrealistic, too forgiving, and far, far too free.
She does not know what Sylas thinks, in this quiet, but his expression softens in time. He stretches out his arms, careful as always of his chains. Lux sidles up to him, tucking herself under one arm and resting on the other.
She curls against his chest and feels the erratic beat of his heart.
His fingers comb through her hair and she thinks of the way it had glowed and the fear that would carry if she were with anyone else.
"Don't die," she tells him.
He assures her, his mouth in her hair, "I won't."
"I'll kill you if you do," she tells him.
He laughs. "You couldn't."
She is not sure if he means this in terms of strength or - emotionally. She thinks that he is wrong, either way.