Author's Note: Sorry for anyone disappointed, but I'm feeling to down to do sex scenes. They're the hardest part for me and I've been struggling over this one for a week. Heck with it… I'm sure your imaginations can do the work. Heheh!
"Aren't you a pretty girl?" Roxas cooed to his camel, giving her a kiss on her soft nose. She looked at him with limpid eyes before making a low, grumbling sound. Roxas smiled and fished a bit of sugar out of his pocket, holding out his hand with the cube in his palm. Soft lips eagerly closed around it and he laughed, wiping a bit of drool off on his shirt. "You're so beautiful." That was nothing but the truth. His camel was from the King's stables and a lovely shade of light gold, almost white. When they'd left the palace for the stony desert, Roxas had been given his choice of a viara or camel. He'd picked the camel.
In his time in Hyra, Roxas had had plenty of opportunities to get used to viara and camels. There were horses in the city but not many, mostly used for racing and tending cattle. Viara had many wonderful qualities… they could be trained to do much more than camels and moved as quickly and agilely as horses. But there were points in favour of camels. Camels were more intelligent, in many ways. Roxas struggled to define it for a moment. Viara were extremely intelligent or they couldn't have be trained to guard or attack, but they lacked a certain common sense. A trapped viara would either panic or look to the nearest human for help. A camel was more likely to stand stock still, consider the situation and then extricate itself. That wasn't why Roxas had picked a camel though. The truth was, he just liked the fur. Touching a viara was like touching a waxy plant. They just weren't as cuddly as camels.
Roxas glanced around the camp and walked over to help Axel set up a tent. This trip through the desert was turning out to be vastly more pleasant than his first one. With the appropriate clothing, a very nice camel and plenty of water to drink it was only moderately strenuous. In fact, Roxas found he was enjoying seeing the desert. The nights were especially beautiful if very cold…
"Yah!" Roxas started violently as a hand touched his arm. He turned to look into Axel's bemused face. "Oh, sorry." He felt a bit foolish for that reaction. Axel hadn't been moving quietly, he just hadn't been paying attention.
"No worries. Are you hungry? It smells like something good is on the cook." Roxas sniffed the air and nodded. The cooks were putting together a good, tasty lentil soup. His stomach grumbled at the thought and Roxas followed Axel, watching the redhead thoughtfully as he poured himself a glass of wine with a ladle from a wide earthenware jar. Out in the desert, Axel was carrying a wineskin on his viara and drinking it all through the day. Roxas was sure the redhead would notice if he watered it, but he was going to try it anyway. He really wasn't drinking enough water through the day.
"I still can't believe you turned your sister into a pig," Roxas murmured as they both got bowls of soup. It smelled good, fragrant with spices. "Even if she is one." Axel flashed him a quick grin.
"She was getting on your nerves too? I'm not surprised." Axel said, his voice warm with amusement. Roxas frowned slightly as he remembered the slur his sister had made about both him and Axel when she hadn't known Roxas was listening. Axel had a large family and most of it was nice but there was always one person who was spiteful and nasty. The Princess Acacia was it for them. Ironic really since her name meant 'thorny' in the Hyran tongue. "I probably shouldn't have but I was in a bad mood." Axel shrugged slightly. "A headache." Roxas easily translated that as a hangover. Axel was remarkably good at hiding it but he had to have them.
"Well, she did deserve it." Roxas said as he sat down on a cushion near the fire. It was heavy leather and durable enough to survive all the rigors of the journey. It was also very necessary in the stony desert. The ground was very hard and covered in rocks, all of which seemed to have pointy ends. "Mmm." He sampled the soup, then dipped a bit of the trail bread in to soften it. Axel stared into the fire and they were both silent for a time as they ate. Roxas shivered slightly as a wind blew through the small camp and edged a bit closer to the fire. It was bitterly cold at night but the clothes the Hyran's wore helped combat the cold as well as disperse the daytime heat. Roxas would never have imagined the robes could be so comfortable before he arrived. But then, they would have been useless in the North. Humidity would render the layers of cloth unbearable. "Have you ever been to the silver mine before?" Roxas finally said, breaking the silence. Axel looked up from his soup and shook his head.
"No. My brother told me all about it though." Axel frowned as he dredged up the details from his memory. "It's in the middle of the stony desert. You might not believe it, but the stony desert is even hotter than the sandy." Roxas listened, interested. He knew Hyra was split into two kinds of desert, the sandy and the stony. The sandy was the smaller of the two and the one he'd passed through to get to Hyra so this place was new to him. "The silver mines and salt mines are both in the stony desert. The silver mine is the slightly better of the two. With that much arcane silver and arcanite, the collegium of mages have sent wizards to oversee parts of the mining. They help the conditions with some cooling spells and also waste disposal. The silver though… they do basic refining on site, so we don't have to haul ore out of the desert. That heats the place up something fierce." Axel paused and Roxas could hear one of the drovers playing a simple song on a flute. "The worst jobs are the men assigned to feed the furnaces."
"I can imagine." Roxas bit his lip as he thought about it. Not all the men in the mines were slaves. Some were criminals whose crimes hadn't quite merited death, or habitual offenders sentenced to a few years of hard labour. As a deterrent to crime it worked rather well. No one wanted to end up in the silver mines or worse, the salt mines. "How long will we be there?"
"A week. We'll probably stay in our tents while we're there." Axel sopped up the last of his soup with his bread and popped it in his mouth before standing and stretching. "I'm to sleep. Unless you'd care to join me?" Roxas choked on his soup at that and favoured Axel with a glare. Unfortunately it weakened a bit under the impact of Axel's warm smile and the amusement in his eyes.
"You wish." Roxas retorted and Axel laughed. The blonde swallowed a bit of bread as Axel adjusted his robes for a moment before walking to his tent. How could the redhead make that simple movement so sexy? It was something about the hips… Finishing his food, Roxas went to rinse out the dishes. Then he went down the line of pack animals, finding Axel's viara. The beast lifted its' head curiously, bright green eyes glowing faintly in the dark. But it did nothing as he unhooked Axel's wineskin and took it to the water cart.
There would probably be a fight about this tomorrow, but if he and Axel were going to be together someday they would be having this fight sooner or later. It might as well be now.
Roxas glanced at Axel as they rode under the punishing desert sun. They were passing over a particularly broken piece of landscape and the caravan was taking it slowly, the viara's and camel's picking out the surest footing on the sharp, shattered rocks. The great wheels of the wagons made a crunching sound as they went over the rocks. It wasn't very pleasant but his mind was on other things.
Axel was drinking from his wineskin. He'd already drunk from it several times and Roxas was completely baffled. The redhead was showing no sign of noticing that his wine had been watered to half what it had been before and he should have noticed. How could he not? Any drinker would!
Roxas simmered in silence, frustrated yet unable to say anything. What could he say? Oh, I switched your wine for water. Why aren't you noticing? Were Axel's taste buds dead? Maybe he had grabbed the wrong wineskin, or perhaps Axel had noticed and refilled it without saying anything? Roxas bit his lip at the thought. If that was the case this would be harder than he thought. The caravan paused at one of the rare wells. It was disguised as a tumbled pile of rocks, the better to foil invaders. They began laboriously refilling the water wagons and providing the animals with water. As soon as Axel left his viara Roxas took the opportunity to grab his wineskin. He needed to know if the redhead had refilled it or if he was just -
"Hurk!" Roxas struggled not to spit out the mouthful of water he'd taken. It tasted like - he wasn't sure what it tasted like. Ashes? Dead plant matter? Either way it was horrible. Quickly putting the wineskin back, he went back to his camel in a stunned silence. She looked at him with bid, innocent eyes and nudged him in hoped of another treat. Roxas gently petted her nose as he struggled to think.
Axel wasn't drinking wine, he was drinking water. But there had been wine in there, he was sure of it. Axel refilled it from the wine barrels so it had to have been wine at some point. A suspicion occurred to him and Roxas frowned to himself. How much ability with magic did it take to turn wine to water? He knew it could be done the other way but -
"Conjured wine tastes terrible. Does conjured water?" Roxas whispered to his camel who grumbled softly in reply. Roxas opened his bags, pulling out a grooming brush. His camel rested her head on his shoulder and Roxas winced as a bit of drool landed on him. "No." He gently pushed her head away. She only meant to be friendly but the one negative thing about camels was that they did slobber a lot. Roxas groomed the camel as he tried to think.
Axel was pretending to drink. What else was he pretending to do? Roxas had a hard time accepting that his perception of reality was completely skewed but the contents of the wineskin were compelling proof. Roxas bit his lip as he thought about the cabbage trick. If Axel had done that on purpose… how much skill did it take to turn cabbage alcoholic while preserving the original flavour? Roxas suddenly suspected it took a lot. Why hadn't he seen that before? No wonder the King dotes on him. Roxas felt dazed as he processed all the implications. The King had to know what Axel was up to. Was the redhead doing it at the King's instruction? Roxas made up his mind to confront Axel about this tonight. But he would need to do it in private. One thing was for certain, he was not going to betray Axel's act to everyone else until he knew why the redhead was doing it. A smile crossed his face as he thought of the perfect way to do it. He patted the camel as she eagerly drank her share of the water, brought by one of the teamsters. When she was done he put away the brush, telling her to lie down so he could easily mount. That was a really nice thing about camels compared to horses. Jumping into a saddle without a mounting block had always been a bit tedious, since he was short and Cloud had favoured tall horses. But asking for a block or a hand up wasn't very manly. With camels or viara, it wasn't an issue.
They made good time through the desert after that and Roxas was sure they would reach the silver mines the next day. He was looking forward to it. The trip through the desert was fun but there wasn't much to see this far out into the stony plains. There were some plants, of course, mostly cacti and waxy plants he couldn't name. Also some animals but they mostly stayed well away from the caravan. The main exception was the birds who followed the caravan in hopes of a meal. They often found one by landing on the viara and pecking them. The beasts didn't seem to mind but their handlers shoo'd the little birds away quickly. Roxas vaguely wondered if the birds adapted to do that were a bit like mosquitoes to humans. Could a viara be seriously weakened by the birds? He suspected they could, if they weren't eating well.
They finally set up camp for the night and Roxas bottled up his impatience, taking food and making conversation like there was nothing the matter. Axel talked about an amusing fashion that had reached Hyra recently, a fad for tiny hats that were worn clipped or braided into the hair. Roxas tried to imagine how that worked and finally decided he would just have to see for himself. But for now…
"Could I join you tonight?" Roxas murmured, trying to make his voice seductive as he half closed his eyes, looking up at Axel through his eyelashes. He felt terribly silly but from the shocked expression on Axel's face he was doing pretty well.
"Are… are you sure?" Axel's voice was husky and for a brief moment Roxas felt bad about tricking him this way. But then, Axel had been tricking him for weeks. A bit of turnabout was fair play. Roxas smiled, stepping closer and resting a hand on the redhead's chest.
"I'm sure." He was surprised by the sincerity in his own words then licked his lips, remembering how he'd regretted not remembering what happened on the dream smoke night. Maybe he really did want to… and maybe now he could. Axel wasn't the useless fop he had thought. And the redhead was smiling, his eyes so bright. Roxas shelved the thought as Axel took his hand. He'd need to see how this would go before worrying about his love life.
"In that case…" Axel murmured, pulling him up and pressing a kiss against his temple. Roxas shivered at the brush of soft lips on warm skin. They held hands as they walked to the redhead's tent. Roxas was almost sad to break the mood but when they were alone and Axel turned towards him, he put a hand against the redhead's chest and looked up into bright green eyes.
"I want to talk first." He said and Axel blinked at the suddenly businesslike tone. "About why you have water in your wineskin." For the first time since he'd come to Hyra, the redhead was speechless, his mouth falling open. Roxas had to hold back a giggle. Axel looked very silly like that. "And how much skill it takes to turn your sister into a pig. Or cabbage alcoholic without changing the taste." He added for good measure as Axel's face went slack. "And close your mouth or you might catch flies." Axel's mouth snapped shut before working soundlessly for a moment.
"Wow, Roxas, this is the sexiest foreplay I've ever heard!" Axel said and Roxas' eyes narrowed. He could tell the redhead was playing for time, trying to find a believable lie. Or trying to cast a spell. Roxas claimed his right hand as Axel started to make a gesture. The redhead stopped with a slightly forced smile. "You'd almost think you don't want to, uh…" Axel's voice trailed off as Roxas ran a thumb over the palm of his hand. He could see the redhead's breath speed up at that seductive move.
"I want the truth. Then, if I like what I hear, we'll see." This time it took no effort to sound seductive. Blue eyes met green and Axel swallowed, looking stunned.
"I… might not drink that much." He murmured softly. Roxas tilted his head to one side, looking at him thoughtfully.
"The liqueur in your coffee?" He asked softly.
"Cream and spices. It's the same mixture the cooks use for the desserts." Axel admitted and Roxas smiled, reaching up to cup his cheek.
"And the stuff you drink at night?" That was the hard liquor. They were almost breathing on each other's lips now.
"Apple juice. Or I turn it into water like the wine." Axel amended. Most of the time he poured his own liquor from a hip flask but not always. Roxas nodded.
"What rank would you be as a wizard, anyway?" Roxas murmured just before their lips met. The kiss was deep and electrifying, igniting feelings in him that he'd never really considered before, except in his daydreams.
"If I took the tests? Probably a junior master." Axel murmured in his ear as they parted and Roxas nodded, feeling breathless. He didn't really understand the ranks but he knew that was fairly powerful, stronger and more knowledgeable than a journeyman. But still far below an arch mage like Axel's master. "My master knows." Axel said, anticipating his next question. "And the King of course. And probably the Queen."
"Your mother?" Roxas managed to say although what Axel was doing right now was highly distracting. The redhead was exploring his throat, nipping the soft skin as he started pulling off the robes.
"Oh hell no." Axel muttered, startling a laugh out of Roxas. The redhead looked up with a grin, his green eyes glowing in the dim light. "Is that enough talking, or do you want to know more?" The desire was heavy in his voice and Roxas swallowed hard before nodding.
"That's enough for now." He was pretty sure he knew the rest of it anyway, and he could question Axel more tomorrow. For now, he wanted to experience the pleasures his body and Axel's hands were hinting at.
There would be plenty of time tomorrow.
Axel propped himself up on his elbows, smiling as he looked down at his new lover. Roxas was curled on his side, the thin light of an early dawn not disturbing him yet. There was the faint sounds of some of the cooks and drovers stirring, beginning the morning rituals. The blonde had burrowed deep into the blankets and was snoring softly.
You could make him forget. The daevas swirled around him and Axel grimaced, quickly binding it. It's voice was coaxing, teasing. Make him forget what he knows about you. Make him forget last night.
"Begone." Axel forced the daevas away and it blew open the tent flap with a laugh, vanishing into the desert. In some ways, commanding the daevas was harder in the deep desert. This was its home and while summoning it was easy, dispelling it was not entirely possible. It could remain in the area if it chose. Fortunately his bindings kept it mostly under control. Roxas' snoring stuttered as the cool breeze of the early morning hit his face. He blinked slowly, bright blue eyes dazed with sleep.
"Axel?" Axel smiled at that sleepy inquiry and leaned over, giving Roxas a kiss. "Mmm… good morning." Roxas' eyes were half-lidded and full of lazy pleasure. Axel felt the same way, but…
"We need to get moving." Axel gently poked the blonde who sighed and pulled himself out of the blankets.
"So are we actually going to the silver mine because you turned your sister into a pig?" Roxas asked as he dressed. Axel was tempted to watch but manfully suppressed the urge, pulling on his own clothes. He shrugged slightly.
"Of course. Who in their right mind would come here voluntarily?" Axel asked lightly and Roxas shot him a look. "Well, maybe I did arrange it with father ahead of time." He admitted and Roxas relaxed, smiling. "I'm here for the arcanite."
"Arcanite?" Roxas looked puzzled and Axel was reminded that very few people even knew about the second magical metal. "Is that like arcane silver?" The blonde pulled on his boots as Axel fished out a comb and quickly untangled his hair.
"Very like. But instead of being a power storage, it's an amplifier." Roxas blinked as Axel continued. "It can be used to fuel rituals and personal power. We realized about a month ago that it was going missing. Materials that had been logged at the smelter were going missing somewhere in the journey."
"Oh." Roxas frowned, stepping out of the tent and lowering his voice. "And that's bad?" Axel nodded as he helped break down the tent for travelling.
"Very. Potentially, worse than the dream smoke." He could almost see Roxas' sudden suspicions about the dream smoke but the blonde didn't ask. He just chewed his lip as he helped with the tents, then saddling his camel.
"You think the silver might be going missing at the smelter?" Roxas asked softly and Axel nodded. "But if that's the case why would it be logged?"
"The collegium rotates mages assigned to the smelters frequently, since it's a rather gruelling job." Axel said as he made sure his viara was eating her feed. She was a bit of a picky eater and registered his displeasure at the sticky mess with a few grumbles before settling in to eat. Roxas' camel was far more amenable, chowing down eagerly. Not surprising since it included chopped dates, a favourite food for her. "The current journeyman overseeing things is a bit of an eager beaver. I knew him at the collegium and I'm sure he started logging things as soon as they came out of the smelter."
"Oh. You think the earlier journeymen might not have been as thorough?" Roxas asked and Axel nodded.
"At first we thought this was just a recent thing but we haven't found any disappearances further down the line, and the stuff isn't turning up on the black market. So now we're wondering if our industrious journeyman has uncovered a more longstanding problem." Axel's kept his tone bland but Roxas seemed to catch the worry he was hiding.
"That's bad?" Roxas sounded uncertain and Axel was reminded that the blonde wasn't a wizard. He had no idea what the arcanite could do. But then, did Axel? He'd never seen it in use although he had a very good idea from his Master's information. He thought about it a moment before shrugging.
"We won't know for sure until we know exactly where it's going. Now -" He laid a finger across his lips and Roxas looked up to see one of the drovers. The man was out of earshot at the moment but coming closer. The blonde nodded before looking back at Axel.
"You can count on me." Axel smiled at the hint of almost eagerness in the blonde's voice. He wasn't surprised though. Roxas had been a bit bored for some time, with nothing to do but enjoy the comforts of the palace and save his allowance until he had enough to start a business. Now he was engaging in a real adventure, and not just a trek into the desert, but a mission that could prove to be vital to the Kingdom of Hyra. Then Axel frowned, thinking about that. It really could be vital. Which meant…
"I will, but don't get too enthusiastic. It could be dangerous." Axel murmured softly but Roxas just laughed, looking forward as they began their final day of the journey to the silver mine. Axel admired the blonde for a moment, hoping his confidence was not misplaced.
They would have to see.