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Pawn to E4

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Pawn to C3...

 

No, that's never a good opening move, and you know it. If he were here, Xander would be giving you that look. ... I know, I know, he's not here anymore, but still, it helps to think about what he'd be doing or saying whenever I think of idiotic ideas.

 

Pawn to F3...?

 

Stop second guessing yourself, Leo. You're the king of Nohr, if you're second guessing yourself during something as simple as a chess game, what does that tell you about your ability to rule a country?

 

Okay, breathe. You can do this. As Elise would say - Gods, Elise... I miss her so much, normally at this time of day she'd be - Stop. Focus, Leo, focus. And as Elise would say, take it one day at a time.

 

Pawn to E4.

 

***

 

His first order as king had been rather childish, but he knew that it was needed, if only for the sake of his mind. He'd required that the previous king's room be locked and closed, as well as Xander's and Elise's rooms as well; they were to never be used, and he would find another room to use as his own. He just knew that he'd never be able to sleep or feel comfortable at all if he were to sleep in his father's room, no matter how large and spacious and far away from people it was in the castle.

 

His new room was closer to the library, which more than made up for its smaller size. It made it much easier for him to slip past his retainer's rooms during those nights that he couldn't sleep and find refuge in the library, where he could read and play chess with himself until one of the castle staff walked in once the sun rose and he could pretend he'd only been there for a while. On those nights, if he closed his eyes, he could still hear the sound of Elise's laughter from behind the bookshelves, from when she'd hide there while he was studying, playing some sort of game that only she understood. He could hear Xander clearing his throat, voice firm as he scolded her for interrupting their study, but his fond smile as she left the room was clear as day. He could hear Camilla's laughter as she greeted Elise in the hall.

 

Sometimes, he could convince himself that the castle still held fond memories, instead of the constant reminder that he was now the only remaining member of his family still in the castle.

 

His coronation had made the reality of the situation finally settle in, and Camilla had admitted to him with tears in her eyes that she couldn't stay there anymore, that she had to get away otherwise she feared she'd snap. She'd come back, she assured him, but she needed time, and just like when she'd said she couldn't rule the kingdom and had pleaded with Leo to let her abdicate the throne to him, he'd agreed.

 

How could he possibly say no to the only family he had left?

 

Being busy helped him ignore the ache of loneliness that he had. Of course, he had his ever loyal retainers with him, but their conversations were stilted, not as energetic nor as intimate as they had been before the end of the war, before he was made king. He missed them, but he didn't know how to come out and say it without sounding like a spoiled child crying for attention. Instead, he soaked in all that he could get from their conversations and let that help him get through the day.

 

During the fist six months of his reign as Nohr's king, he visited Hoshido a total of two times, five days in total if he added them up. He spoke with Corrin directly three times, but in the end Niles was the one who ended up speaking to the former prince of Nohr more than he did. It was still hard to speak to Corrin. He'd thought that he'd put his issues with his brother behind him, but while visiting the bitter feeling he'd tried to shove down whenever he saw his brother smiling and laughing and enjoying life (without Elise, without Xander, without Camilla, without him) with his real family destroyed any interest he had in trying to rekindle what had once been a close relationship. When Corrin had rather subtly (he must have learned subtlety from his real family, since our Corrin was about as subtle as an iron axe to the head) mentioned to him over dinner that they weren't talking as much, Leo said that he was sorry, that he was just tired. It wasn't really a lie.

 

He was always tired lately.

 

He hardly spoke at all to the two Hoshido princesses, realizing that seeing them interact reminded him too much of his own sisters and how he'd never see them playing together or laughing or singing ever again, and it hurt too much to deal with. He mostly dealt with Hoshido's king, Ryoma, and (surprisingly) the Hoshidan prince, Takumi. Leo found himself genuinely surprised with how well he and prince Takumi worked together. They seemed to always have the same idea for how to fix an issue with the trade routes, or a better way to help rebuild a village. It almost made him smile, until he remembered how he and Xander used to pitch ideas back and forth on days when Xander was feeling tired enough to let his guard down. It almost made him smile, until he saw the advisors and sometimes Takumi himself giving him looks when they thought he couldn't see them, and he was reminded of the fact that even though they were allies, even though he was the king of Nohr, to the majority of them he was still Nohrian scum.

 

At the end of his visits, all he wanted to do was to go home. On his last visit, however, Niles had made a most peculiar request and has asked Leo if he was okay to stay a few extra days in Hoshido. Perhaps his surprised had shown on his face, because Niles had quickly taken back his requset, but the more Leo thought about it, the more he realized he couldn't deny this of his friend. The gods only knew but if Leo could have hidden himself away somewhere and ignored his duties he most certainly would have. Hoshido was paradise compared to Nohr and he couldn't feel anger at Niles' want to stay in a place that didn't have any starving children on the streets and actually had fertile land to grow food, and where instead of rain and clouds one could actually see the sun. Even though he knew, somewhere in the very back of his mind, that Niles would never truly leave him, there was that one voice in his head telling him that his friend was leaving him for the greener side of the hill.

 

It was during Niles' extended stay in Hoshido - one that turned from "just a few days" to "a few weeks", but when (if) he returned Leo wouldn't scold him - that Odin (along with Laslow and Selena) vanished.

 

Leo had never felt so alone.

 

***

 

Leo frowned at the letter in his hands, ignoring his breakfast that was slowly going cold next to him as he sat in one of the most comfortable chairs in the library. The further he read, the more the words started to slide on the page, and when his head tipped forward it was only the sensation of falling that had him jolting back awake. Blinking rapidly, he took a deep breath and sat up straighter in his chair, letting go of the letter with one hand so that he could rub his eyes with his fingers.

 

You need to be sleeping more, he could hear Camilla's voice say in his head. You know how you get when you don't sleep enough.

 

"Yes, mother..." he whispered, and the constant thought that Xander should have been king, that he should have died in his place rose to the surface before he mentally scolded himself. His country was essentially rebuilding itself from the ground up, and here he was, their king, allowing himself to have a little pity party.

 

"Pathetic," he told himself, before looking back at the letter again, this time making sure to focus on the words.

 

It was from the king of Hoshido, explaining that the delay in Niles' return had partly been their fault, as they'd wanted him to bring some items back with him and it took longer to prepare for the journey than they had planned. It went on to describe that Hoshido was doing well as they rebuilt from the war, that Corrin sent his regards and was hoping to visit soon - Leo rather doubted that.

 

The most interesting thing, though, was only a few sentences long: Along with Niles, we will be sending an ambassador to represent Hoshido. I am aware that your country has more healing to do than ours, and to save you the trouble of having to journey to Hoshido in order to negotiate and discuss our land's, I've decided to send one of my most trusted advisers to you.

 

The letter went on to state that they'd be arriving that very day; Leo supposed he was to have received the letter a few days prior, but with the weather in Nohr being what it was, the messenger had been unable to get it to him until that morning. Sighing, Leo rose from his seat, using one hand to steady himself as a wave of dizziness took him over.

 

"Perhaps I should eat lunch today," he said to himself as he made his way towards the library doors, pointedly ignoring his aching muscles with every step he took. Once opened, he signaled a maid in the hallway. "We'll be having a guest arriving today, I will need one of our finest rooms made ready for their arrival."

 

"Yes, your majesty," and with a bow she left him, hurrying down the hall to get started on the task. He watched her go for a moment before his vision swam and he was forced to lean against the doorway for support. He stumbled back into the library and sat heavily on the chair he'd been occupying earlier, panting from exertion. When he raised his hand up to his forehead to brush his hair out of the way it was warm to the touch.

 

Groaning, he leaned his head against the back of the chair. "I can't be getting sick," he mumbled, and almost immediately the voice of his father washed over him.

 

"You are a prince of Nohr, Leo," his king said roughly, grabbing his shoulder and forcing him to stand up straight. "No slouching, no leaning, do NOT show evidence of your weariness."

 

"But father," he started, being interrupted by a hacking cough. "I believe I am ill."

 

The look his father gave him was enough to send a whole different type of chill down his spine. "You believe you're ill, do you?"

 

Leo nodded, unable to stop himself from shivering.

 

"You've got the chills?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

And then his arm was being grabbed and he was being dragged to the door that lead outside. Outside, where it was pouring rain, and freezing, and he was so sick and -

 

"You can come in once you learn that being ill does not change the fact that you are a prince of Nohr, and you shall act like one."

 

The door was slammed shut and he heard the lock being moved and he was so cold -

 

"Your majesty?"

 

Leo's eyes shot open and he sat up straight in his chair, blinking wildly at the maid who had woken him up.

 

"I'm sorry, sir, but the guest has arrived."

 

Leo sure hoped his shock was not showing on his face. "I see," he said, straightening his grown and standing up quickly, smoothing out his clothes as he did so. "What time is it?"

 

"Almost dinner time, your majesty."

 

Leo nodded, leaving the library and the maid as he quickly made his way towards the main hall. I slept most of the day, he thought. How could I have slept the day away, there are so many things that I've neglected and there's no way I'll be able to make up the time that I've missed by being so utterly lazy...

 

He forced himself to stop thinking once he reached the door to the main hall and he took a deep breath. "Be a king," he said, and pushed the door open, ready to greet his retainer and the Hoshido ambassador.

 

***

 

When he'd first been approached with the idea of sending him to Nohr to help with the ongoing (and all future) negotiations, Takumi had to admit that he'd felt a little put out. His first thought had been childish, that he wasn't contributing enough, or he was getting in the way and this was the only way they could get rid of him. But after sitting down and thinking about Ryoma's idea, he realized that it was actually the complete opposite. By going to Nohr as the representative of Hoshido, he essentially had the king's seal of approval on anything that he and king Leo decided on (with few exceptions, of course). The next day, he'd approached Ryoma and accepted the offer.

 

It wasn't until later in the week that he'd learned there was a small ulterior motive for him going, but it wasn't what he'd thought it was.

 

He learned about it by accident, when he'd gone to deliver a garment that someone had mixed in with his clothing but in fact belonged to Corrin, and when he went to knock on Corrin's door he heard his brother speaking to someone.

 

"Is it... really that bad?"

 

Niles, king Leo's retainer, responded. "The other day I received a letter from my lord, Leo, informing me that Odin was gone, and that he did not know where. The sentence structure was overly formal for Leo, we haven't had a conversation that hasn't felt like he was forcing himself to speak in months, and ever since lady Camilla's departure, he hasn't been dealing with things well."

 

"Wait, Camilla left? When did this happen? He never said anything about this to me!"

 

There was a moment of silence before Corrin spoke up again.

 

"Oh... right. I supposed that's partially my fault as well. I just don't know how to reach him anymore."

 

"The most energetic I've seen him in months was when he and prince Takumi started debating whether or not rebuilding an abandoned town would benefit both Nohr and Hoshido, which is why I spoke with king Ryoma."

 

Corrin let out a little laugh. "You know, had they met under different circumstances, I have no doubt that they would have been the best of friends."

 

Takumi had to mentally scoffed at that. Him, friends with the king of Nohr? As if.

 

And then Niles spoke up again. "You do know there's someone listening at your door..."

 

Takumi took that as his cue to enter the room. He raised his eyebrow at the two of them, settled comfortably on Corrin's bed, before holding up the clothing item he held in his hand. "Someone mixed this in with my clothes."

 

Flushing, Corrin snatched the item out of his hands. "How much of that did you hear?"

 

"Almost all of it," he said, inviting himself to sit on the edge of the bed. "I don't know how you think I'll be able to help with... whatever you think I can help with. I'm pretty sure that Nohr's king hates me, anyway."

 

Niles sent him a grin that made Takumi want to hide underneath the covers. "Oh, trust me. My lord Leo most definitely doesn't hate you. In fact, he enjoyed his conversations with you."

 

Takumi gave him a skeptical look. "You sure about that, because during some of those conversations, he looked like he was ready to murder me."

 

Niles nodded. "And that's how I know he was enjoying himself."

 

Corrin sent him a warm smile, placing his hand on Takumi's shoulder. "Leo isn't the best with social interaction, but considering how he grew up, he turned out really well. He's my kind and precious little brother, and honestly, all we're thinking you'll need to do is be his friend."

 

This time, Takumi couldn't hold back his laughter. "Me? Be the friend to the king of Nohr? You think too much of me, Corrin."

 

"You two are honestly a lot alike. Once you look past each other and you see more than just Hoshido and Nohr, I think you two will work well together," his brother said confidently. "Plus, you two really do have good ideas for the betterment of our countries."

 

Takumi let out a groan and shook his head. I knew there would be a catch... But, he'd already accepted the job and he couldn't back out now, and he had to admit, he'd very much enjoyed his conversations and debates with Leo. he'd never had someone match him so well in conversation, and his interest in knowing more about Leo had grown since they'd last met. So, he drew himself up and looked at the two. "Is there anything that I need to know about Nohr's king before we leave tomorrow?"

 

Niles glanced at Corrin and then met his gaze dead-on. "Do you know anything about chess?"

 

***

 

When Leo walked into the room, Takumi had to admit to himself that Corrin's and Niles' worries had merrit: the king looked awful, dark circles under his eyes, thinner than Takumi remembered, and his face was flushed with fever. It was obvious that he should have been asleep in bed, but was forcing himself to stay up. No matter what he looked at, though, the one thought that rushed through his head was that Leo just looked tired. If he was honest with himself, the urge to give the king a hug was strong, but he was sure that would end with him getting kicked out of the castle and shipped back to Hoshido. Where the urge to hug the king came from, Takumi didn't know, but he didn't focus too much on the thought, instead watching as Leo descended the stairs and stopped in front of them. Niles took a step forward and bowed.

 

"My lord Leo..."

 

"Welcome back, Niles," Leo stated, and Takumi was pleased to hear that his voice was strong and firm, as a king's should be. Then Leo turned those tired eyes to Takumi. "Welcome to Nohr, prince Takumi."

 

"Takumi is fine, thank you. I appreciate the welcome."

 

Leo turned on his heel and headed back towards the door he came from, and as he followed Takumi could see maids moving to grab their luggage behind them. "I apologize if your room isn't quite ready," Leo was saying as they walked. "The messenger was held up because of bad weather and I only received king Ryoma's letter this morning. Tomorrow, we will move you to a more comfortable room, but I'm afraid today we only have a small guest room that is presentable."

 

Takumi met Niles' eye, understanding what he'd meant when he'd talked about Leo being overly formal. "That's fine, there's no worries."

 

Leo was still talking as they walked. "Dinner should be ready within the hour. I would stay and help you settle in, but I'm afraid I'm behind on some work and I will need to use this time to catch up so that we will have plenty of time to discuss the status of our alliance." He paused at an open door and gestured inside. Takumi entered, mouth slightly open.

 

If this is the 'small guest room' I'm a little terrified to see the 'more comfortable' room.

 

"I will be in the library if you need anything. You can ask any of the maids to take you there if you need to speak with me before dinner," Leo was saying. "Niles, I'm sure you and Takumi have had a tiring journey. Rest easy tonight and you can begin your duties tomorrow morning."

 

Niles bowed and retreated from their sight. Once he was gone, Leo let out a sigh before giving Takumi a small but tired smile. "I will see you at dinner," and then he was gone.

 

To pass the time until dinner, Takumi sorted through his clothing and found a more comfortable outfit to wear. He'd have to tell Leo that he was more than willing to stay in the guest room and that they didn't need to prepare a better room for him. It was spacious, had a fireplace, warm blankets and the bed was incredibly soft. The only downside was that the view from the window was plain, but Takumi couldn't complain about that. He sat back down on the bed, but with the silence his doubts and worries about whether he really was right for this task came back.

 

What if he made the still fragile relationship between Hoshido and Nohr even worse? What if he agreed to a deal that Ryoma decided was bad? I could destroy the balance between the nations right now... If I mess up, war could break out.

 

Slapping himself, he shook his head. "Don't think like that, Takumi. Just do what you were sent here to do. Ryoma believes in you, that's enough." He ignored the little voice in his head that whispered that he didn't believe in himself, and that would be his downfall.

 

When he'd run out of things to do he figured that he and Leo could walk to the dining room together and he quickly grabbed a maid and requested that she take him to the library.

 

The library at the Hoshido palace was one of Takumi's favorite places, but he thought that the Nohr castle library was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. The shelves were full of books, from the bottom of the room to the top, all different subjects and titles, some in languages Takumi had never even seen before. He couldn't stop himself from staring, mouth open, until he walked around a corner and was met with the sight of Leo curled up in one of the largest chairs Takumi had seen.

 

Leo had a blanket draped over his legs, a book in his lap, but what struck Takumi was how peaceful the little king looked, even flushed as he was with what had to be a fever. As if in a trance, Takumi walked forward and brushed a strand of hair out of Leo's eyes. For a moment, he stared. "It's a shame, if only your attitude was as beautiful as your face."

 

Leo frowned in his sleep and it brought Takumi back to himself. He jumped away, bumping into the table behind him and he cringed as a book crashed to the ground, effectily waking the sleeping king. "Wha-?"

 

"Sorry, sorry," Takumi whispered, bending down to pick the book up. "I didn't mean to wake you."

 

Leo blinked sleepily at him, before he seemed to realize what had happened and his face flushed in embarrassment. "Was I asleep?"

 

"Yes, you were, and I'm sorry that I -"

 

"No, don't apologize. I shouldn't have fallen asleep," and what drew Takumi back to him was the self hatred in his voice, as if he was angry at himself for being sick.

 

I think I get what Corrin and Niles were worried about now.

 

Quickly, Takumi dashed over to the library door and grabbed the nearest maid. "Do you think that it would be possible for you to bring up our meals to the library? His majesty Leo and I will be working in here for the night."

 

She nodded and left, and he headed back towards Leo, the nurturing side of him that he would forever deny he had rising up as he took in the sight of the sick king. "You don't need to be angry at yourself for being sick."

 

"What makes you think I'm angry at myself?"

 

"Because I'm the same way, actually. I feel like by getting sick I'm letting everyone who relies on me down."

 

"That's easy for you to say," Leo muttered. "You don't have an entire nation looking to you to rule. Getting sick when you don't have much responsibility is easier to deal with."

 

Takumi huffed and sat down roughly in the chair across from Leo. Dont' take the bait, Takumi. You're more mature than this.

 

"Sure, I may not be king but that doesn't mean I don't have people relying on me! I have responsibilities that are just as important as yours!"

 

You're an idiot, Takumi.

 

Leo raised a single eyebrow, and for a moment Takumi saw the same face that he saw whenever he encountered Leo on the battlefield; a man sure of himself, so sure that he would not lose the fight he was about to enter. It made his heart race.

 

"We could argue semantics here," Leo said, and Takumi geared himself for a fight. "Or, we could - "

 

Leo was cut off by a coughing fit. He doubled over, hacking into his hand, and immediately Takumi let go of his anger and moved over towards him. "Do you need anything? Water?"

 

Leo nodded, gasping out the word "water" before pointing to a table in the corner where a single class sat. Takumi retrieved it and handed the glass to Leo, unconsciously rubbing his back as he drank the remaining amount. Once finished, Leo was left gasping for air, and Takumi took the glass from his limp hand before it slipped out and broke. They sat in silence for a moment, Leo panting and Takumi still rubbing his back. Once Leo sat up properly, Takumi removed his hand.

 

"Forgive me, I may be more ill than I realized."

 

"Do you need help getting to your room?" Takumi asked as he set the glass down on the small table in front of him.

 

Leo shook his head. "No, not yet at least. The maids don't start the fire to warm the room up for a good while yet, and until that room is warm I won't be taking one single step into that room."

 

Takumi let out a chuckle. "Would you like me to keep you company until the room is ready?"

 

Leo took a moment to think, but when he didn't answer, Takumi figured that the silence was supposed to be the answer and turned to leave. He barely caught Leo calling after him as soft as it was.

 

"Wait!"

 

He turned around and was greeted with Leo looking embarrassed, like he hadn't expected to actually say the word out loud. "Yes?"

 

Leo bit his lip and then looked at something in the corner. It was a while before he spoke. "Do you know anything about chess?"

 

Yes. I know it's your favorite game, that you're incredibly good at it, that it helps your mind calm down like playing shogi does for me.

 

"Not really," he said instead, moving back to his original seat across from Leo, fully recognizing this as one of Leo's attempts to be friendly, no matter how awkward it made him feel. "What is it?"

 

"It's a strategy game," Leo said, standing up and heading over to one of the empty shelves. "It's my favorite, actually. If you don't mind, I could teach you to play?"

 

The smile that Leo gave him when he agreed to being taught to play could only be described as beautiful. His heart started racing again. "Is it a smart idea to be playing chess when you're this ill, thought?"

 

Leo turned his nose up at him as he set the board down. "It's always a smart idea to be playing chess."

 

"I'll take your word for it."

 

Leo taught and Takumi listened, and while playing they discussed almost nonchelantly future plans for both Nohr and Hoshido, and the open and honest communication between them during their game surprised Takumi. When relaxed, Leo was surprisingly agreeable and very interesting to talk to.

 

At the end of the night, once they'd gone their separate ways to their rooms, Takumi thought back to what Corrin had said before he'd left.

 

"You know, had they met under different circumstances, I have no doubt that they would have been the best of friends."

 

It's surprising, brother, he thought, turning over onto his side and falling asleep. I think I might agree with you.