And here's the last chapter! Thank you all so very much for the positive feedback! Extra thanks to DanishWolf, peroxidepest17, abigailchase for kindly advertising this story on the Teahouse Facebook page, my sister for introducing me to Teahouse in the first place, and Emily Warren for her wonderful feedback on my fanfic (and for creating such an awesome series)!
Now on with the show!
Linneus entered the kitchen, and paused in the doorway. "Ah…what are you doing?"
Lilith flinched and abruptly spun around, hiding whatever it was she was attending to on the counter. "What do you want?" she demanded sharply.
"I'm getting a cup of tea." Linneus picked up the tea kettle from the stove. He could feel the heat from it. "Ah, you've used it already?"
Lilith flushed, and she looked incredibly uncomfortable. "I…"
Linneus stared at her for a long moment, and then peered around her. He saw a serving tray on the counter, with cups of tea ready and some teacakes. "I see." He withdrew from her. "Xanthe asked you to get him tea? It's surprising you would do servants work for—"
"It's not for Xanthe!" Lilith shot back, glaring at Linneus furiously. "It's for Axis!"
Linneus blinked in confusion. "What?"
"He's still recovering, right? A-And it's a slow night, and Claret and Rory are playing Old Maid with him, so I thought—" she gestured with her hand awkwardly. "Anyway, never mind! Just go away, Linneus!"
Linneus was genuinely surprised by her actions. "You…actually prepared tea for Axis?" he shook his head. "That's shockingly kind of you, Lilith."
"When you say it like that," she hissed. "You make it sound like I don't care about anyone!"
Linneus shrugged. "You didn't necessary care when Axis was missing."
"Why do you think I'm doing this?" she shot back.
Linneus started again, and stared at her in shock. Lilith's whole face turned crimson and she turned away from Linneus. "Just go away! I don't want to see your face!"
Linneus decided to take her for her word, and left the kitchen without another word. Lilith actually went out of her way to make tea for Axis because she felt guilty for not caring about his disappearance while he was gone?
She has an odd way of going about it, considering we got Axis back two weeks ago, Linneus thought, shaking his head. Then again, she's probably only doing it now because she was embarrassed and she didn't know what to do for Axis to apologize for her apathy.
Linneus looked up to see Claret and Rory coming down the stairs. He forced a smile at them. "What's this? Aren't you two playing Old Maid with Axis?"
"Sir Rhys came to see Axis," Claret said eagerly. She giggled into her hands. "He just came into the room without knocking! He must want to see Axis terribly!"
"I still have the cards," Rory said, holding them up. "We can play Old Maid or Go-Fish."
Linneus waved a dismissive hand but smiled. "I'm going to lie down for a little while. I don't have any clients scheduled for tonight, after all. But Lilith prepared some tea and teacakes for you guys so go enjoy them."
"…Lilith made them?" Rory asked, clearly shocked.
Claret made a face. "Can she even cook?" but she shrugged. "Maybe she will want to play Old Maid with us!"
"I think playing Old Maid will strike too close to home for her," Linneus muttered.
"Nothing." He smiled at them. "Go enjoy your tea and teacakes. If Lilith didn't ruin them, that is."
The two hurried past Linneus towards the kitchen. Linneus laughed to himself as he headed up the stairs. Claret and Rory had a unique, happy innocence to them that at times it was easy to forget that they all worked in a brothel.
Speaking of which, Linneus reflected on Claret's prior statement. So Sir Rhys has finally come to see Axis? I don't know if Axis is in any shape to perform for him, but Axis did have a rough time of it, and Sir Rhys owes him quite a bit…
Atros never explained such to him, but Linneus could tell that Atros sensed something underlining between the two of them. The most logical thing that Rhys would do would be to buy Axis off Atros, but there was no denying the fact that Axis loved his job. He would balk at being anyone's exclusive client.
But would it be different because of how he feels for Sir Rhys?
Before Linneus could contemplate this further, a hand caught his wrist. He gasped, but he was tugged to the side and he found his face pressed into a familiar chest. The arms and the natural masculine musk filled his senses. He wanted to close his eyes and melt into these arms that held onto him tightly.
But he focused on clarity, and cleared his throat. "Xanthe. What's wrong?"
Atros nuzzled his ear, his breath tickling his skin. "Nothing."
"Then why are—"
"Don't speak." The arms around Linneus closed in tighter. "For right now, don't say anything."
Linneus could feel his heartbeat in his throat, and he felt light-headed. That Atros would hug him so suddenly, out of the blue and in the hallway where everyone could see them, was so shocking but it was so nice. Linneus slid his hands up Atros's back and dug his fingers into his shirt. He buried his face into his shoulder and hung on tightly. Atros didn't say another word, but continued to hold him.
It was so sweet and moving that Linneus nearly felt emotional. But he kept himself in check as to not ruin the moment. I want this to last. Please let this last…
Axis hated that he couldn't properly read Rhys, whereas the other man seemed to know all of Axis's mannerisms. Seeing Rhys standing there in the room, watching him closely with a slight smirk, reminded Axis too much of that horrible dream he had during his captivity.
"Does this mean you're ready to admit it to yourself now?"
"Are you going to come in?" Axis asked, trying to tune out that dream. "Or do you plan on just standing there?"
Rhys held onto his smirk, though he shook his head lightly as he sauntered over to the bed. "Always the charmer, aren't you Alice?"
"Axis," Axis corrected him hotly.
Rhys stopped beside the bed. "Axis."
Axis was startled that he would actually accept the correction. Rhys took his silence as an opportunity to continue. "How are you?"
Axis shrugged, not looking at him. "Alive."
"That's not an answer." Rhys slowly took a seat on the bed. "How are you feeling, Axis?"
"Well, what do you want me to say?" he demanded. "I was kidnapped and beaten to a bloody pulp! But I got the hell out of there and my ear is healed! I think alive is a pretty appropriate word to describe how I am!"
Rhys sighed heavily, and gave him a sideways glance. Some of the anger faded inside of Axis, and felt a little uneasy from this scrutiny. He was use to Rhys looking down at him, but this wasn't a superior look. He looked concerned. Axis looked down and saw that Rhys had clenched a fist around his comforter and quickly looked back up.
"I'm fine," he said finally. "I haven't had any nightmares or cried over any of that shit, if that's what you were wondering."
Rhys looked away again. He slowly slid off his coat. "I see. If you're feeling all right, then that's a relief."
"How did you know how to find me?" Axis asked. "I mean, I don't know a hell of a whole lot about what happened, but I know I was kidnapped when you were out of the city."
"My lovely wife was kind enough to leave your earrings on my vanity before she went on her holiday." Rhys slowly stood up from the bed and walked over to a nearby chair to drape his jacket over it.
The unpleasant memory of having his earrings removed resurfaced inside Axis, and he shook his head. "I head was kind of in a muddle during that time, but how did they look?"
Rhys smoothed the creases from his jacket. "They were twisted up and covered in blood."
"…Eww." Axis self-consciously traced his left ear. It had healed properly, but sometimes it became sore for the slightest reasons. "Do you have them with you?"
"No. I gave them back to my wife, as she was insistent on removing them from you anyways." Rhys straightened out one sleeve. "They're unfortunately unsalvageable, and I can imagine you wouldn't want them again."
"Probably not," Axis agreed. "I'm going to be honest though; I had no idea you gave me those earrings. I just thought some random client gave them to me."
"Would you have worn them if you'd known they were from me?"
Axis almost snorted at the question. "No."
Rhys did laugh though. "Then you can imagine why I would be anonymous with giving you a pair of $3,000 earrings."
"It's weird that a guy got a gift for another guy," Axis said. "But…thanks in any case."
Rhys slowly turned around to face him. "Can you tell me how they were removed? The earrings, I mean."
Axis stared at him for a long moment. He didn't expect this sort of question. The memory returned, and his own screaming rattled in his ears. He rubbed a hand over his face slowly as he struggled to find the words. It was strange; he'd told other people easily what had happened to him, and yet when Rhys asked he felt embarrassed to talk about it.
"Uhh…" Axis still tried though, and he played with his left ear. "The Lieutenant took a pair of pliers and twisted them out of my ear."
Rhys said nothing to this. Axis glanced up, and almost jumped at the other man's hard expression. "If it makes you feel any better," Axis said. "I don't think the bit—your wife, told them to use pliers."
Rhys's brow lifted very slightly. "Really?"
"Yeah," Axis said. It felt weird to stick up for Gloria, especially after everything she did to him. Maybe it was because he had a soft-spot for women? He certainly didn't want to think he was reassuring Rhys in any way that he didn't necessarily marry a psycho-bitch. "He said she wanted the earrings removed, but he had the pliers as a "security measure"."
"…I see." Rhys did relax a little from being told this. Just this slight gesture made Axis more uneasy than remembering that whole incident. "Then I regret he dislocated his pelvis and filed discharge papers before I discovered him."
Axis made a face. "How the fuck do you dislocate your pelvis from getting a dildo shoved up your ass?"
Rhys burst out laughing. Axis snarled, and almost leapt off the bed. Instead he grabbed one of his pillows and threw it. "Shut the fuck up! I asked a legitimate question!"
Rhys ducked very smoothly from the throw, though he was still laughing. Axis looked around for another pillow to throw, but Rhys finally stopped laughing after a minute.
"The important thing," he said, turning around to pick up the pillow up off the floor. "Is that he won't ever bother you again."
Axis sighed shortly. "That's good—"
"And neither will my wife." Rhys's tone had dipped just then, and no longer sounded light-hearted. "I know you like being the center of attention, but they truly will leave you alone. If they don't, I'll see to them personally."
A measure of cold authority filtered into his tone. It almost made Axis shiver. He realized then that a little bit of the authoritative nature of Ivore's future King had come out. He'd never seen this side of Rhys before. Rhys was either smug or conceited, or an all-around asshole. "I'm not trying to place the blame squarely on that asshole," he said. "I actually blame—uh—what's her name—"
"Gloria," Rhys offered.
"I blame her more than them. Even if she didn't tell them to rip out my earrings, she still put me in that situation." Axis shook his head. "It's a real waste because your wife is really hot."
"Thank you. And with her steely temperament, I'm certain she will give me a strong child." Rhys casually tossed the pillow at the foot of the bed.
Axis didn't know why it surprised him that Rhys still kept Gloria by his side, and intended to keep having sex with her. It made him feel angry, and that added to his embarrassment. I'm not jealous! I'm just shocked he would still fuck the bitch after what she did!
"But that's for another time," Rhys added casually. "At the moment, I can't stand to look at her, much less touch her."
Axis blinked. It was as though Rhys had read his thoughts, and that made him even more embarrassed. "O-Okay…"
Rhys took a seat on the bed again. This time he was facing Axis. "Is there anything else you want to say?"
"To me," Rhys emphasized. "I know you probably have a lot you want to get off your chest, and I'm ready."
Axis shook his head. "Um…"
"Rhys is in love with you."
"Shouldn't I be asking YOU that?" Axis demanded.
Rhys blinked very slowly, but then frowned. "I'll answer anything you like. But I asked you first, Axis."
Axis bristled; feeling like Rhys was avoiding the obvious. Was the bastard expecting Axis to confess first?
Not that there's anything to confe—shit. Axis shook his head angrily. Do I…really have to say anything?
"I don't know what you want me to say," he said finally. "What do—"
"Why aren't you condemning me?" Rhys interrupted sharply.
Axis stared at him. "…What?"
"Why aren't you yelling at me over this?" Rhys demanded. He slammed his hands onto the mattress and leaned close to him. "Everything that's happened to you is my fault! You wouldn't have gone through any of this if it weren't for me! So why aren't you blaming me?"
This was surprising. Did Rhys want Axis to punch him in the face, or something? He was definitely angry, sure. But after sitting around with his injuries, Axis was forced to really think about a lot of things. And though he wanted somebody to pay for everything he'd gone through, that somebody wasn't Rhys.
Axis swallowed, and looked away for a moment. He ruffled his own hair as he looked back at Rhys. "D…Did you order my kidnapping?"
"Of course not!" Rhys snapped.
"Then why should I blame you?"
Rhys's face relaxed slightly, but he still looked upset. "What?"
"If you didn't tell Gloria to do these things to me, then it's not your fault," Axis said. "Your wife is a grown-ass woman. I think she can shoulder responsibility for this shit all by herself."
Rhys drew away from him slowly, but didn't say a word. Axis continued. "I-I mean, I am angry at you. I don't like that I've been sandwiched in the middle of your marital problems. And!" he jabbed a finger at him. "I don't like that you're the Crown Prince and you didn't tell me! I've been pretty fucking reckless because I thought you were just another Lord! But unless you told her to do all of this, how is anything of what happened to me your fault?"
Rhys still said nothing. His silence was irritating to Axis, and he threw up his hands. "Whatever. You just don't—"
Rhys reached out and grabbed Axis by his collar. Before the other man could react, Rhys yanked him forward and crushed his mouth over Axis's. Axis automatically pushed against his arms, but Rhys was stronger. In a flash his arms were around Axis and he was crushing him against his body.
Resistance fled Axis as he realized that this was the first real contact he'd had with Rhys for weeks. Unable to help himself, he grabbed Rhys's face with his hand and readily returned the kiss. Rhys pushed his tongue inside, deepening the kiss. It was so possessive, but tender. So shockingly tender. Rhys didn't usually kiss him like this except in the aftermath of sex. But he sucked on Axis's tongue and licked his teeth and pressed deep into his throat with startling intimacy.
"Mmm…" Axis's brow knitted and his eyes ached suddenly as he hung on for dear life. Because as amazing as the kiss was, it didn't feel sexual. He felt nothing but raw emotions behind it, and it was terrifying.
Rhys suddenly pushed him down, pinning him to the bed and leaning over him, not breaking the kiss once. Still, Axis didn't get the same feeling of sex from his actions. It didn't feel like Rhys wanted to claim his body, but definitely something else.
Finally, Rhys broke the kiss. He sucked on Axis's bottom lip and his tongue flicked over the lip piercing before he rose above him. Axis panted, and pressed a hand to his face as he fought for clarity. He didn't ever admit defeat, but Rhys really knew how to kiss him senseless.
Rhys was breathing as heavily as Axis, and he reached out and cupped his face. Axis looked up at him as his mind abruptly cleared. Not knowing what to say, he watched Rhys lean over to his left side. His mouth found Axis's left ear and he kissed it softly.
Axis felt a lurch in his chest, and he tried to shift away. "Hey—"
The soft apology was so shocking that Axis gaped at him. He was forced to look away because of the pain he saw in that usually smug face. Rhys was a guarded person; Axis didn't know a lot about him personally, but he'd never really seen the other man lose control.
Yet now he looked like somebody had killed his dog. There was no self-control in his expression, and Axis couldn't find it in him to gloat. Instead, he said, "I already told you it's not your fault."
"Even if I didn't cause your harm, I put you in this situation." Rhys smiled very sadly. "This is undoubtedly my punishment for being so brazen with my wife, but I would've preferred to have been the one to be hurt."
"No offense, but she's fucking around on you, too," Axis blurted out. "So she doesn't have a right to be mad."
"But I'm still sorry." Rhys eased down beside him on the bed and pulled him close. "Even if you're a rude and messy person, you didn't deserve any of this."
"Gee, thanks," Axis said sarcastically, not sure if he should be flattered or offended. "But don't be a drama-queen. I'm alive and I'm a man. I'm doing okay."
Rhys pressed Axis face into his shoulder as he hugged him. Axis tried to pull away, but Rhys held on. "Did you know I thought you were dead for two days?"
"What?" Axis snapped incredulously. "Why the fuck would you think that?"
"Because I had done everything in my capable power to find you, and I couldn't find you." Rhys buried his hand into his red hair. "You had disappeared without a trace and I couldn't get anyone to help me. I kept hanging onto the hope that I would find you alive, but the odds were so slim."
"But you did find me." Axis was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the profound feelings behind Rhys's words, but he couldn't bring himself to pull away. "I wasn't dead in some gutter or some unmarked grave. I was in your prison."
"Do you think that makes me feel better? I was terrified, Axis. I'd never been so scared in my life."
Axis realized then why Rhys was hanging onto him so tightly. He was embarrassed to be revealing these things to Axis, and didn't want to show him his face. "I'm okay," he said for the umpteenth time, though he felt he said it now to reassure Rhys. "I'm really okay."
"It still had to be hard to be locked in a dark cell and be so horribly abused, all for the purpose of my torment."
Axis sucked in a sharp breath. Up to that point nobody had spoken about his captivity in this context. For the most part he was told to get over it because nobody involved could be punished. And though Claret had reached out to him about it, Axis had ended up having to reassure her because she couldn't stop crying over it.
But Rhys was genuinely trying to comfort him over it. His eyes began to ache once more, and he squeezed them shut. "…I don't want to remember it, okay? Can we stop talking about it?"
Rhys was silent for a long moment. "I suppose its better that way, then. After all, it's not going to happen to you again."
The silence that followed added to Axis's discomfort. He could feel Rhys's steady heartbeat pressed against his own. The serene intimacy of just lying here and being held by him made his heart slam faster. He could hear it in his ears, along with Rhys's soft breathing.
Axis knew there was a very important topic that they needed to discuss. He certainly wanted answers, but he was frightened over the response he would get. What if Rhys agreed? What if he confirmed that all of this really was a misunderstanding? No matter what the answer was, Axis knew he wasn't going to like it.
"…There's something you need to tell me," he breached finally.
Rhys finally drew away enough so that Axis could see his face. The pain was gone, and he looked a little more relaxed. "What about?"
"Your wife told me something."
Rhys blinked slowly. Otherwise, he revealed nothing on his face. "What did she say?"
"It…" Axis adverted his eyes, and hoped he wasn't blushing. "I-I mean, it's an obvious lie, but…"
Rhys smirked, and reached out to poke him in the cheek with his index finger. "What is it?"
"She—fuck." Axis abruptly turned away from him. He almost sat up, but the soreness made him lie back down. "Are you seriously going to make me say it?"
"You insisted in telling me," Rhys pointed out calmly. He rose up slightly, leaning his head into his hand and his elbow into the pillow. "So, what did Gloria tell you?"
Axis wanted to punch something from the sheer embarrassment of it all. He squeezed his eyes shut, grateful that he wasn't facing Rhys anymore. "She told me…you loved me."
Rhys gave no reaction at all behind him. The silence stretched on for a very long, uncomfortable moment. Axis slowly opened his eyes, feeling like some sort of hurdle had been crossed.
Even though Rhys remained silent.
"Well?" Axis demanded, unable to handle the silence.
"Well, what?" Rhys asked calmly.
"What do you THINK?" Axis snapped. He turned back around to face him. "Is she RIGHT? I mean, part of the basis of her kidnapping me is because she believes this! So is she right?"
Rhys's expression had returned to its usual poker-face. His unwavering gaze though was unsettling for Axis, but for once he was patient. Just give me ANY answer, you asshole!
Rhys leaned forward very slightly. He was smiling, but it didn't seem like a smirk. "What do you think?"
"Do you think she's right, Axis?"
"What the fuck do MY feelings have to do with this?" Axis snapped. "I'm asking YOU about YOUR feelings!"
"I find it interesting though," Rhys said, his voice still calm. "Of your use of past-tense."
"You say the word 'loved' and not 'love'. As though to imply that I had been in love with, but I'm no longer."
"Just forget my fucking grammar and answer my damn question!"
"And what answer would make you most comfortable?"
Axis gulped audibly. "…The truth." Because no matter what Rhys would tell him, what mattered to Axis was that Rhys meant what he said. Whether he was admitting love or denying everything.
"All right, then." Rhys leaned closer until his face was just inches from Axis. Axis tried to move away, but Rhys grabbed his shoulder with his free hand. "What if I told you she was being truthful, Axis? How might you feel about that?"
Axis gaped at him. He tried to form a whole sentence, but stammering gibberish came out for a few minutes. Rhys stared back at him, undeterred. Did he really say what Axis thought he said?
"S-So…" Axis quickly shook his head. "You're saying you do…l-love me."
It was Rhys's turn to be silent. When he finally spoke, his response was not really surprising. "I'm not devoid of feelings, Axis."
"Even he has feelings, Axis."
"Holy shit." Axis turned away from him again. His chest had squeezed so tight that he was having trouble breathing. It was so embarrassing to have this reaction, but he couldn't help himself. "Holy-fucking-shit…"
"No insults, then?" Rhys asked lightly. He was acting like nothing was out of the ordinary.
Axis closed his eyes and pressed a hand over them. Why? Why was he feeling like this? Rhys didn't say the words out loud, but he might as well have! He'd gotten clearer love confessions than this, but none of them made him feel like this!
Maybe because you feel the same way?
"What do you want from me?" Axis asked, speaking loudly to drown out that uncomfortable thought.
Rhys relaxed back down upon the bed. He didn't hold Axis again, but he laid close enough that his breath brushed across Axis's nape. "What if I told you I wanted to buy you off of Atros?"
Axis opened his eyes, but he remained facing away from Rhys and didn't respond.
"What if I said that I wanted you for myself? That I didn't want to share you with any women? If I took you, Axis, then you would be very heavily guarded and nobody would ever hurt you again. You would have luxury and security. You would want for nothing and you would never have to work a day of your life again. Would you desire such things?"
Needing a defense from these uncomfortable feelings, Axis forced himself to get angry and he twisted back around to face Rhys. "Stop fucking around!"
"Who says I'm fucking around?"
Axis regretted turning back around to face him, because Rhys's face was dead serious, and he watched Axis with a peculiar intensity. Axis swallowed again, but his throat felt bone-dry. He didn't know what to say to such an expression.
"I'm married," Rhys told him bluntly. "I can't change that, as much as Gloria and I wish otherwise. But—until recently—we've kept our own separate personal lives. Gloria has sworn to me that she'll never hurt you or bother you again. You would have anything you wanted, Axis. How does this sound?"
Axis snorted, unable to help himself. "What the fuck is this, a fairy tale?"
Rhys smirked very slightly. "Well, I am a charming Prince."
"You, charming?" Axis barked out a full laugh this time. "Since when are you—"
Rhys pressed a finger onto Axis's bare arm and slowly traced up the length, the contact feeling like a slight caress. It was so simple, but the touch made Axis's heart slam harder, and his body became warm.
Still hanging onto his smirk, Rhys cupped the side of Axis's neck. "I'm offering the world to you. And look at how you respond to me. You know I can keep you completely satisfied." He leaned a little closer. "So, does this idea tempt you?"
Axis found himself hesitating, even though the answer was obvious. He sighed very quietly and forced the word out.
Rhys didn't look at all surprised or offended by his refusal. Axis continued. "I didn't become a prostitute because I was forced into it or that I had nothing. I chose to get into this business. I like what I do. I can't imagine I'll be fucking hot babes forever, but for the time being I am and I like my life the way it is."
"…Even though I'm different to you?" Rhys said slowly.
It would've been easy to tell Rhys he was nothing more than another client, and therefore wasn't different and meant nothing to Axis. Instead, what came out of Axis's mouth was, "Yes."
That surprised Rhys, though not as much as Axis. His whole face became hot and he quickly sat up, ignoring the pain it caused. W-W-WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST SAY?
Rhys slowly sat up. Once upright, he shrugged. "That's fine. This was the sort of answer I was expecting from you anyways."
Axis was too wrapped up in his own embarrassment to really hear him. What the fuck is WRONG with me?
Outside the window, a bell tower suddenly chimed. Rhys stared out the window for a moment and sighed. "It's late. I have to go now."
"…Right," Axis grumbled.
Rhys stared at him for a moment before suddenly tugging him close. Axis didn't fight back as Rhys gave him another searing kiss. Knowing Rhys was about to leave, his fingers dug into his sleeves like hooks. Rhys's grip on his arms seemed equally strong, and the unspoken message between them seemed clear.
Please stay, even if it's impossible.
Rhys broke the kiss and smiled. It wasn't one of his usual smug smirks. It was a real smile. "I'll do what you want and leave things as they are now."
He crawled across the bed to get to the side, and headed for the chair where his jacket hung. Axis pressed a hand to his mouth and hung his head, trying to calm himself down.
"I think," Rhys said, shrugging on his coat. "I will go to Atros ad see if not that I necessarily can have you to myself, but if I can have a higher priority over your other clients."
"Eh?" Axis lifted his head and gaped at him. "What does that mean?"
Rhys looked at him over his shoulder. "Well, I change my mind frequently. Some days I'll plan on seeing you, others it will be spontaneous. I'll just ask him if I send word on the spontaneous days if I can have you even without an appointment."
"What are you, stupid?" Axis snapped. He stumbled off the bed. "If you want to visit, make a fucking appointment! Don't ruin somebody else's appointment! Who do you think you are, anyways to pull that shit?"
Rhys finished buttoning up his coat. "The future King of this country."
Axis rolled his eyes. "Well, be prepared to be turned down because Atros would never go for that!"
"Oh, I don't know about that." Rhys smoothed out his coat before looking at Axis. "Remember, I'm letting things go as they are now."
"But only for the time being."
Axis gaped. "W-What?"
"Don't be surprised if things change," Rhys said confidently. "You might end up changing your mind, as well. Hopefully a few extra visits from me will bring you better around. After all, I always get what I want."
"Fine, do whatever you want," Axis scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. "You're going to do it anyways. But you're going to get bored with me eventually, and then you'll ditch me."
Rhys stilled as he opened the door. He suddenly closed it and turned to Axis. Axis jumped back, but he felt another twinge of pain in his ribs, even though they were fully healed. That gave Rhys the opportunity to cup his nape and pull him forward until their foreheads almost touched.
"Get bored with you?" Rhys echoed back to him softly. "Ditch you? Dear Alice, I'm shocked. For such an egoist, you give yourself too little credit."
He let Axis go and slipped out of the room. Axis let out a sharp breath, just realizing he'd been holding his breath.
"Too little credit?" he repeated uncomfortably. He shook his head. "So he's saying he won't stop seeing me. Great."
Axis stretched out on his bed and stared at the ceiling for a brief moment. He then looked at the pillow beside his head, where Rhys had been laying not too long ago. He grabbed the pillow and hugged it, pressing his face into it. Even though it had been for a short while, the pillow smelled like Rhys.
I can't believe that asshole actually admitted that he loved me. Axis curled a little inward. And look at him sounding so confident. Telling me he's going to let things go as they are ONLY for the time being. Ugh, what a faggot…
But…it made him happy. His heart was pounding so strongly that his breathing hitched. Axis was sure he was blushing, and was glad he was all alone now. He reached up and touched his left ear. He had suffered a lot, and he didn't want to bring any more attention to himself that would allow Gloria to lash out at him again.
But if he bought me off of Atros…I don't think I would really mind. Axis groaned, and buried his face deeper into the pillow. Great. Now I sound like some fairy. Like Rory.
It was a very slow process, but things got back to normal for the Teahouse. Axis's recovery was a success, which relieved him because he didn't want to see Asriel again. During this time, he received frequent correspondences from Rhys, and the occasional visit. Though it annoyed him that Rhys was giving him so much attention, at the same time it made him strangely happy. Not that he would ever admit this to anyone, of course.
But Axis's recovery also meant that he could get back to work.
"I heard today is Princess Evelyn's birthday," Lilith said idly, examining her fingernails as she sat on one of the couches in the main foyer.
"It is," Linneus said. "That's why Xanthe warned us we're going to get some 'early-bird' clients. The Princess is having a high-profile party later on tonight, and they'll all be there."
"So that would explain why Lord Reed came to see Rory so early!" Claret said thoughtfully. "Even though it's not even noon yet!"
Lilith sighed sadly, and stared off into space. "I would like to go to that party too…"
All three of them came to alert as the main doors opened. A small young woman daintily came stepped inside, looking about herself nervously. A shout came from the second floor, and they watched Axis run down the stairs eagerly towards the woman.
Claret stared at Axis and his regular client for a long moment of silence. "So, Sir Rhys didn't buy Axis exclusively?"
"You almost sound disappointed, Claret," Linneus teased her. "You seemed quite happy the other times Sir Rhys bestowed his favors onto you."
Claret shrugged. "Sir Rhys seemed genuinely concerned for Axis, and Axis was so angry when Sir Rhys didn't contact him. I don't know…I thought they were close."
Linneus laughed. "Can you ever see Axis being anyone's exclusive client?"
"…No," Claret said after a long moment.
"Whatever it is that they feel for each other, nobody can deny their lives are so different. Not to mention it was Sir Rhys's wife who caused Axis's injuries and imprisonment. I believe it's better that Axis stays away from such an environment."
"I guess so…" but Claret still looked a little forlorn as they watched Axis flirt shamelessly with his client.
Lilith overheard their conversation and snorted, standing up to come over to them. "I don't know why you expected happily-ever-after, Claret. Axis is a whore and Sir Rhys is married. The basis of their relationship is a business exchange. Something like that isn't meant to last."
"But you didn't see Sir Rhys, Lilith!" Claret insisted to her. "When he came here for the first time after Axis was rescued! They talked for such a long time, too! Just talking and nothing sexual!"
Lilith shrugged. "And yet he still walked away from Axis and returned to the bitch that did those horrible things to him. Why don't you try and be a little realistic about this?"
Linneus gave her a cold look. "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks."
Lilith flushed, but bristled at the same time. "What the hell are yo—"
"Lilith!" Mercutio skipped over to her. He tried to put an arm around her, but she stepped back. "May I borrow your clothes again? I have a frequent client visiting who gets hot for the color white!" Mercutio pressed his lips together in a kissy-face and batted his eyelashes.
Lilith visibly shuddered, her face full of revolution. "Of course not!"
Mercutio pouted for a minute before turning on Claret. "How about—"
"You got semen and blood on my nylons last time!" Claret protested, taking a step back. "Or did you forget Atros's lecture about abusing unconscious people, Mercutio?"
Mercutio huffed indignantly and gave a toss of his head. "I don't take advantage of unconscious people, Claret! Not unless they pay me to!"
The other three courtesans all shuddered in unison.
"Shall we, Milady?" Axis offered his client, taking her by the arm.
The Lady giggled shyly. "Oh, you are such a gentleman Axis!"
"If only she knew…" Lilith muttered.
Claret watched them head for the stairs, and she sighed sadly. Everyone makes fun of me for being dumb, but even I can see that there's something more between Axis and Sir Rhys. It's really such a shame that everything turned out like this…
Everyone jumped as Atros came down the stairs towards Axis and his client. Since he was still 'in the mode', Axis stepped back with his client and looked as polite as could be as Atros came to a stop in front of them.
"I have to apologize," Atros said. "But Axis already has an appointment scheduled for today."
"Eh?" Axis demanded.
"W-What?" the client sputtered. "But I sent an advance notice—"
"This is an appointment of a high authority, Milady," Atros explained, bowing deeply. "You have my most sincere apologies, madam."
"As consolation, I offer you a complementary visit, either today with one of our other courtesans, or for the next time you are scheduled to meet with Axis."
"But I'm scheduled to meet with him today! Right now!" the woman whined.
"'High authority' client?" Linneus echoed. He folded his arms over his chest and looked at Lilith. "That Xanthe would interrupt Axis's schedule for another client, would mean Sir Rhys is calling upon him."
Lilith scoffed, but Claret clapped her hands with glee. I'm so happy for you, Axis!
The client tried to continue arguing the point with Atros, though. Behind her back, Axis looked visibly frustrated before he spun her around and planted a kiss on her mouth. That seemed to calm the woman down and she melted in his arms. In front of them, Atros checked his watch patiently.
The kiss broke after a few seconds, and Axis said something to her softly. The woman's flushed face turned even brighter red, and she turned to Atros. She spoke hastily to him while Axis sauntered up the stairs with a slight wave.
"Now she seems eager," Lilith observed. "She got over that fast…"
Mercutio chuckled, and reached into his back pocket. "Maybe Axis told her about my skills!"
"Then I would feel sorry for her," Lilith said flatly.
Atros nodded at whatever the woman was saying and turned around. "Claret!"
"EH?" Claret flushed right to her ears and hurried over to them.
Mercutio pouted, while Lilith's jaw hung open. "Are you serious?"
"Good for Claret," Linneus said idly. He turned to leave. "I'm going to check on my roses."
Claret stopped in front of Atros. "What is it?"
"Her Ladyship has requested your services."
"I-I see!" Claret snapped a smile on her face as she faced the woman. "It's a pleasure to meet you!" she'd noticed that she had gotten a greater number of female clients lately. And she had a feeling as to why this woman asked for her.
The woman meekly stepped forward to whisper in Claret's ear. "A…Axis told me you were better at…cunnilingus." She blushed even darker at saying this word. "Then he was. Axis is so amazing but if YOU are better, then…"
Claret laughed very sharply. "I will certainly give it my all!" Inside though, she felt uncomfortable. So THAT'S where these women heard this from! Axis told them HIMSELF!
She didn't know whether to feel flattered or scandalized.
Axis snickered as he headed back to his room. There goes my good deed for the day.
It was sort of gratifying to keep one of his promises from when he was imprisoned. Hopefully karma would keep being good to him for the time being.
He walked past Rory's room. A loud, sharp moan suddenly burst from behind his closed door. Axis stopped only briefly, and he couldn't help the shudder of disgust that passed over him.
"Faggot," he muttered, continuing on his way.
Evelyn didn't glance over her shoulder. "What is it, Waverly?"
The lady-in-waiting in question fidgeted behind the Crown Princess with the other ladies. "Ah…forgive my impudence, but are those not your birthday gifts?"
"They are." Evelyn pushed aside the carefully wrapped boxes on the long table in the party hall to find the one she sought. "But I want to make absolutely certain that Rhys got me what I wanted."
"One of the footmen said that His Royal Highness went to Bella Bee yesterday," another lady said. "He also stopped in at Juno Lounge, but he most certainly went to Bella—"
"Ah-HA!" Evelyn spotted the familiar golden wrapping paper which indicated the gift was from Bella Bee. "Rhys buried his gift to me, but I found it!" she pulled the slim box out, knocking several gifts to the floor.
The ladies carefully picked up the presents as Evelyn meticulously removed the wrapping paper. "Won't His Highness be upset you unwrapped his present so early?" Waverly asked.
"If I'm careful, he'll never not—"
Everyone flinched when Evelyn accidentally ripped the delicate wrapping paper. Laughing nervously, Evelyn continued. "I'll…just put that part on the bottom…"
The rest of the wrapping paper came off without incident, revealing a slender jewel case. Bella Bee's emblem was on the lid. Evelyn flipped open the lid to see the contents inside and promptly shrieked with glee. "OH! He got it for me!"
Her ladies-in-waiting crowded around her and looked inside. The same topaz necklace Evelyn had selected weeks ago rested inside the case. It was absolutely beautiful, and it seemed to shimmer underneath the party hall's chandelier.
"And he got me the matching earrings!" Evelyn exclaimed happily. She shut the case and hugged it to her chest. "Oh, Rhys…I have the best brother in the world! I have to thank him for it right away!"
"But won't he know you opened it?" another lady asked.
"ZEPHYR!" Evelyn shouted, seeing the blonde-haired Captain walked past the open doors to the party-hall. She shoved the case into Waverly's arms and hurried after Rhys's bodyguard. "Zephyr! Is my brother around?"
Zephyr turned to address her. "His Majesty had to step out for a short while to attend to…other business. He promised to be back later."
"But it's my birthday!" Evelyn huffed. "How could he just leave?"
"He told me in strictest confidence that he will be back later," Zephyr said patiently. "But he also asked me to pass along another message: "Please don't open my gift to you yet"."
Evelyn immediately flushed, but she covered it up with a laugh. "O-Of course! I would never do that without him being here!"
Zephyr nodded slowly and bowed. "If you'll excuse me…"
The bodyguard began to turn away when another thought occurred to Evelyn. "Oh! One more thing, Zephyr!"
He looked at her. "Yes, Milady?"
"Happy Birthday," she told him. She knew it had to be hard for the Captain to share the exact same birthday as her, because his was naturally overshadowed by hers, though he was older than her.
Zephyr bowed again. "…Thank you, Your Highness." Then he turned and walked away.
Evelyn looked over her shoulder and saw Gloria. Her sister-in-law looked surprisingly engaging today. "Tonight's going to be fun," Evelyn said conversationally. "I don't know where Rhys went—"
"It's fine," Gloria said, forcing a smile. "I will see him soon enough later. If you'll excuse me…"
Gloria went on her way, Vann trailing behind her. Evelyn was surprised. She was expecting Gloria to say something smart about Rhys, but this time she kept it to herself.
Speaking of Rhys…
Evelyn folded her arms over her chest and huffed again. "What could Rhys be doing that he had to leave on my birthday?"
"Ahhh…" Axis arched his back and braced both hands on the mattress. He shuddered as a delicious ripple of pleasure hummed through his body. "Oooh…mmmm…"
Breathing ragged, Rhys hunched over Axis's back, scraping his fingernails lightly down Axis's sides. "Haa!" the slight caresses did wonders to Axis's body and he shoved backwards, pushing his ass insistently into Rhys's groin.
Rhys smoothed his hands over both of Axis's butt cheeks before one hand gripped his hips…and the other smacked his ass.
"OW!" Axis was on alert immediately and tried to pull away. "You fucking—oooh!"
Rhys began thrusting swiftly into his body, leaving Axis no room to complain or fight. He melted almost immediately from the friction of their joined bodies, and Rhys couldn't help but let out a husky laugh. A laugh that melted into a moan from the blessed feeling of slamming into Axis's willing body.
"Fuck," he panted quietly. He kept his eyes open because he wanted to watch Axis squirm underneath him. It was an incredibly turn-on to see the muscle in his back clench and his body shifting to just the right angle for maximum amount of pleasure. He leaned down and sank his teeth into the muscle above Axis's right shoulder blade. Axis threw his head back, moaning loudly and tearing at the sheets with his fists.
Wanting to see Axis's face, Rhys pulled out of him and flipped him over onto his back. Axis was in such a daze that he allowed Rhys to part his legs and hefted them onto his arms before slamming into him once more.
Axis moaned sharply, digging his fingers into Rhys's legs and squeezing his eyes shut. Rhys leaned over him so that their faces were close. "Look at me," he said heatedly.
Axis panted heavily, but he forced his eyes open and looked at Rhys. The hazy lust simmering there was too much for Rhys. He kissed Axis roughly, even as his body continued moving against his.
He didn't like other people dissecting his feelings, but now that things were clear between the two of them, everything felt so much better about their joining. The gross taste of Axis's kiss, the ways his fingernails drew blood across Rhys's skin, and the way his hot body felt squirming and shuddering underneath him. It…just felt like now that something was deeper between them. For a brief time, Rhys had been frightened that he would never be able to hold Axis again.
But here he was, responding wholeheartedly to their sex as he always did.
His teeth grazed Axis's shoulder as he quickly pumped his erection in his fist. "Nnnnngh!" Axis let out a desperate whimper and his body moved frantically. "Ah…Rhys—"
Hearing his own name spoken with that same mouth that spouted vulgarity, Rhys couldn't help but kiss him again. Axis understood his feelings, even as he didn't follow his wishes. So he knew until that time came, he would just have to show Axis what he could always have.
Axis broke the kiss abruptly and screamed as his body shook with a powerful orgasm. He shook so violently that Rhys grabbed him and hung on as Axis spasmed uncontrollably. He almost laughed at this amazing response, but heat ruptured inside his own body. Groaning sharply, his hips twitched as he met his orgasm just shortly after Axis.
Axis's mind seemed to float on a hazy cloud. His body felt sore, but the spent feeling of the afterglow made the pain that much more worth it. Though Rhys had made things so clear to him, it still embarrassed him that the other man brought more out of his body than any other lover he'd ever had. And probably ever would.
It made him want to consider Rhys's offer…but only briefly.
Rhys pulled out of him and kissed Axis again. Both of their mouths were bruised from the brutal kissing, but neither seemed to mind. Rhys broke the kiss and smoothed the hair back from Axis's face. "Thank you for adjusting your schedule."
Axis panted as he caught his breath, but he glared at Rhys. "You're just being selfish."
Rhys smirked into his face. "You better believe it."
Rhys suddenly slid away from him completely and began looking for his clothes. Axis blinked in confusion. He was only going to stay for one session? Rhys usually had him three or four times before he was satisfied. "Leaving already?" he asked, trying and failing to sound bored.
Rhys slid his pants on. "I have to. Today is Evie's birthday, after all."
Rhys gave him a harsh look. "My younger sister. Haven't you heard people talking about the Crowned Princess's birthday for the past week?"
"Oh, yeah…" Axis shrugged as he set about finding his own clothes. "I would've gotten her something, but I don't have anything."
"That's okay." Rhys buttoned up his shirt. "I gave Zephyr a big raise as his birthday present."
"You mean that blonde guy?" Axis snorted.
"That "blonde guy" rescued you," Rhys reminded him.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. So he has the same birthday as your sister." Axis slowly pulled his shirt on. "That sucks."
"I remembered it." Rhys slid on his coat.
"Good for you." Axis rolled his eyes. "So even though it's your sister's big day, you came here anyways for lay?" he cackled to himself. "I must be that damn good."
"By the way," Rhys said, blatantly changing the subject. He pulled something out of his coat pocket. "Here." he tossed a gift-wrapped box at Axis.
Axis caught the box, but made a face. "You got me more shit from Juno Lounge? Do you have a fucking death wish?"
"Just open it," Rhys said, sliding on his coat.
Axis shook his head, but tore off the wrapping paper. He saw Juno Lounge's symbol on the lid, but ignored it as he tossed it aside to see the contents. "Oh…"
It was a very simple silver-chain necklace. He plucked it up between two fingers and lifted it from this box. "…Wow," he said slowly. "This is unexpected."
"Flashy stuff always brings too much attention," Rhys said. He took the chain from Axis. "But, in some slim chance that anybody decides to hurt you again, they won't mutilate you to remove the jewelry."
"Uh—what are you—" Axis watched him unlatch the necklace. "Wait-a-minute. You're not putting that on me, are you?"
Rhys held the separated necklace out. "Yes, I am. Turn around, Axis."
Axis bit out a couple of swear words, but for once did what he was told. The necklace descended in front of his vision before Rhys secured it behind his head. The chain wasn't too long, resting just alongside his collar bone. It felt nice against his skin. Axis reached up to trace the medal between his fingers. It definitely felt like real silver, which it mostly likely was.
Rhys came around to the front of him to see the necklace. "Hmm. It looks like it suits you."
Axis shrugged. "You have a habit of breaking my necklaces anyways, but hey. If it makes you feel better to get me one, by all means."
Rhys blinked. "Break your necklaces?"
"Dude, you rip my necklaces apart when you shred my clothes!" Axis reminded him hotly. "So I'm really surprised that you bought me one!"
"Well, I needed to get you a belated birthday present," Rhys said, feigning a sad sigh. "And if I have to replace this one, then that's fine."
Axis shook his head. "You—"
Then he froze. "Wait…what did you say?"
"Hmm?" Rhys pretended to look surprised. "You mean your birthday? I know I missed it, so here's you late present."
"How the FUCK do you know when my birthday is?" Axis demanded.
"It's August 8th, right?"
"Yes, it—WHO THE FUCK TOLD YOU?"
Rhys chuckled behind his hand before turning towards the bedroom door. "Claret."
"C-CLARET?" Axis shouted. His jaw dropped. "Claret told you my birthday?"
With his hand on the doorknob, Rhys gave him a sideways glance. "Amongst other things."
"Amongst…" Axis trailed off as he contemplated these words.
"Now, I have my sister's birthday party to attend. If you'll excuse me…" Rhys blew him a mock-kiss before slipping out of the room.
"W-Wait. WAIT!" Axis screamed. He tore open the door and ran after Rhys. "I'm not finished with you!"
"Get back here, you fucking asshole! Tell me what else she—CLARET! What did you tell this bastard about me?"
Inside his office, Atros carefully set down his paperwork and pressed a hand to his forehead as a headache formed. Only Axis would probably ever get away with talking about Ivore's future King like that…
"WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING, QUEER ASS? SEE IF I EVER GIVE YOU THE TIME OF DAY!"
Oh, the things I put up with…Atros slowly rose from his desk to go out and put Axis in his place. Again. Maybe I ought to sell him to Sir Rhys after all.
Thank you all so much for reading!