The camp palace was quiet as most of the majors had retired. The Emperor and Baldair were also absent, so Vhalla excused herself directly to the back hall. She paused briefly before Aldrik’s door, sighing. She’d been wrong to push him about something she knew bothered him. She’d apologize.
His head turned up the moment she entered.
Aldrik stood and swayed slightly, his fingertips resting on the desk for stability. Vhalla took a deep breath before crossing the room. They engaged in a staring contest: the loser would be the first to break the silence.
“I was worried about you,” Aldrik breathed in relief.
“You should’ve come out.” Vhalla’s mouth curled up into a tired smile. He appeared exhausted.
“Not ...” Aldrik shook his head. “Not a good idea. I’m glad Jax found you.”
His shoulders were slumped, and Vhalla’s eyes drifted to the desk. There was a nagging in the back of her mind. His actions, all the not-so-small signs, began to knit themselves together in an obvious pattern of behavior that was pinned in place by the cup, halfway full with liquor.
Vhalla remembered all the other times she’d seen alcohol around him. There was the morning she’d run to him after dreaming of his suicide attempt, the bottles on the table then. Dreaming as him and seeking out alcohol to blur the pain of his kills. His uncle had scolded him for it and the soldiers had whispered of it. Elecia fearing for his head after a night of worrying. She’d heard it all and ignored each time as one-off moments.
“Why?” she whispered, her eyes darting up to his. Vhalla saw Aldrik fail at hiding the shock and fear at realizing she’d put it together.
“It’s not that often,” he said hastily and took an uneasy step closer. “I was worried for you, is all.”
The pain of finding out about yet another shadow suffocating the prince’s heart felt nothing compared to the stabbing realization that he was trying to lie to her. “Don’t you trust me?”
“You know I do.” Aldrik reached out to her, and Vhalla stepped away. She wouldn’t let his hands soothe away this pain, not that easily.
“I’m tired of saying this: don’t lie to me,” she demanded. Hot anger surged through her veins. After everything they’d been through, he was going to attempt to gloss over the truth? She worked to keep her voice calm and level. Raging at him would solve nothing. “How often?”
Aldrik sighed and pulled at his hair, debating with himself for a long moment. Vhalla briefly thought he was going to retreat to the callous man she knew he could be. Her surprise that he didn’t was outweighed by heartbreak at his answer. “I don’t keep track. It dulls the pain when I need it to. When I can’t think on something any longer and I need to let it slip from my mind.”
“Aldrik.” She took his hands gently in hers, sparing his hair from their nervous fidgeting. “You don’t need it.”
He considered the cup on the table a long moment and shook his head. “You don’t understand. You don’t understand what lurks in my mind. You don’t understand how fast my head spins when it’s not weighted down.”
“Help me understand,” she pleaded and fought to keep her own emotions in check. “You love me. You love me, don’t you?”
“If you love me, then help me understand.” His grip relaxed at her words, going slack. Vhalla knew that love wouldn’t be enough to fix it, that change could only come from him. But love could be a catalyst for the process he would have to accomplish on his own, and she would push for that. “We’ll talk about it, I’ll support you and—”
“So I’m to be your pity project?” Aldrik snapped.
“No.” Vhalla frowned at being the target of his temper. “People who care about each other support each other, Aldrik. This is natural.”
“Natural for you.” He pulled his hands away, stalking over to the window. “You’d never understand.”
“I can’t if you don’t share,” she persisted.
“This isn’t up for discussion!” His voice deepened a fraction.
Vhalla stared at his back in frustration. As disconcerting as the realization of his drinking was, it was worse that he was shutting her out. The distance and attempts at subterfuge competed for what was hurting the most. “Aldrik—”
“I said no!” He didn’t even look at her.
Vhalla gripped the door handle and stepped into the hallway before he snapped her patience and heart in two. By the time Aldrik even realized the door was open, Vhalla had already closed the door to Baldair’s room behind her.
“What in the name of the Mother!” Baldair sat quickly, ensuring his waist—and his bare and blushing companion—were covered.
Vhalla focused on the golden prince, not even feeling the slightest bit sorry for interrupting him. It wasn’t as though he’d have a hard time resuming his festivities another night. “I need you.”
The younger prince took one look at Vhalla’s face and moved. He got out of the bed, unabashed, and Vhalla averted her eyes. Seeing Baldair naked felt like she was looking at a close family member. It was awkward, but not for the usual reasons women felt flustered around the Heartbreaker Prince.
The beautiful Western woman didn’t move until Vhalla wasn’t looking, much more shy than the Heartbreaker Prince she’d been caught in bed with. The door at Vhalla’s back attempted to open. Vhalla leaned against it, giving Baldair a pointed stare to hurry up.