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The Worth of Words

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"How did I know I'd find you here, Prince Leo?"

"Ah, Prince Takumi. Quite curious indeed, I never thought you'd check the library. Here I was, confident I hid myself well," Leo's voice sang playfully as umber eyes rose from pages painted with foreign text to beam at the other. Ethereal light filtered through the cracks of the library windows, adorning them both in rosy, golden hues. The couple inhaled sharply as their gazes met, both holding their breath in unison as if time would slow just so they could appreciate the scene a little longer.

Putting the book he had been reading to the side, Leo lifted his now unoccupied hands, inviting his Hoshidan prince into his arms. Carefully, Takumi drew closer before seating himself at the blond's side on the long chair where he laid. The archer's mannerisms were taut with timidness, still unaccustomed to Leo's affection despite having been together for many moons. Nevertheless, Takumi leaned softly into the other man's warm embrace in a heartbeat. The heat of Leo's body having bathed in the evening sunset felt hot even through the fabric of his clothes, and Takumi welcomed how easily it softened him.

The Nohrian had settled by one of the windows of Castle Shirasagi's grand library, overlooking one of the many garden vistas it offered. A tender smile played on Leo's lips as he watched the Hoshidan relax in his hold. "Long day?" he asked quietly, lifting a hand to gently comb through the silvery tangles that had worked their way into the length of Takumi's ponytail.

The other prince let out a quiet hum of affirmation into Leo's chest before burying his forehead into the crook of the mage's neck. "Those lessons in government I've been taking at Ryouma's suggestion... after having been at war for so long, sitting and studying all day has my body restless and my mind weary."

Leo chuckled softly, continuing with his absentminded petting. "I can sympathize with you, truly. It was one of my least favorite topics of study -- if government had not been part of my childhood curriculum, I would have been happy to study it right now with you," he turned to rest his chin on the top of Takumi's head.

"I'll catch up soon enough," came a mumbled reply and Leo couldn't help the grin when he felt Takumi pout against his collarbone.

It had been only a handful of months since the war ended with Anankos' demise, the gateway to Valla had since closed forever. Xander and Ryouma were both made Kings of their respective countries, a formal peace treaty signed soon after their coronations. Territory for the new Valla, situated between Nohr and Hoshido had been established using land from both countries, symbolizing the birth of the new era of unity, peace and prosperity between all their people. This left Corrin and Azura, the former crowned the ruler over the new domain, busy with reestablishing their new home into something worthy of honouring the now lost kingdom. All that was left was to reconstruct what was lost and heal the wounds the conflict had left.

So it was agreed, due to the state of their war torn countries, that a trusted ambassador would be needed to stand in each other's courts to be the voice of their rulers where they could not be present until matters had smoothed out. Many of the individuals chosen to be ambassadors had previously been advisors or retainers of royalty, however a few of the royal siblings had decided to partake as well.

Sakura had volunteered to be Ryouma's representative and had left for Nohr. She soon proved to be the best candidate for the task -- with Elise's charismatic support, Sakura was quickly improving Hoshidan relations with Nohrian citizens, politicians and commoners alike. She wrote them often, usually sending two letters, one stating business matters that needed to be addressed, the other with updates on her personal livelihood. Takumi had never been prouder of his little sister, watching her grow into such a respectable and competent young woman. He always knew she was capable of such and so much more.

As for Nohr, Leo had stepped in to represent Xander in Hoshido's court. Having been well-versed in politics since long ago, the Nohrian prince easily proved to be an invaluable asset in reconstructing trade routes. He quickly fell into step in court dealings and offered great insight and knowledge, providing quick and efficient solutions to just about every issue that cropped up.

Which, understandably, left Takumi feeling a little left behind. He and Leo had always stood on equal footing, but now the field felt somewhat unleveled. Leo knew this and did his best to not dig his elbow where he knew the other was sore. Still, knowing Takumi's competitive nature, he found ways to encourage the Hoshidan prince, who was already making unsurprisingly rapid progress.

Politics aside, they were both quite content with their current arrangement. The foremost reason being their relationship.

They had started courting sometime during the war. Bitter was their initial encounter, one that quickly melted and gave way under the two princes' countless similarities.

Eventually, they started to seek the other out during their free time and even during the odd hours of the night. Whether their camp was being assaulted by undesirable weather, or just to discuss their combined knowledge, they huddled together under blankets to share the things they treasured the most.

It was a wordless affair when they sought out each other's hands, fingers lacing to press palms together. Lips met in a similar fashion soon after. It happened so simply; it quietly stunned them both with how naturally it had all transpired.

Despite everything they shared, words spent on their feelings towards each other were few. It was almost as if the topic was sacred... and perhaps they were too embarrassed to elaborate on what couldn't be said in their actions. In truth, the only time they had ever been vocal about their relationship was when their siblings, noticing their closeness, questioned it.

"We're courting," had been Leo's fearless reply as he reached out blindly to search for Takumi's hand. When he found it, he gripped it firmly in his own as if to present evidence of their togetherness. The Nohrian's ears were tipped with crimson, but his russet eyes leveled their families with a confident stare.

"Y-yeah," Takumi had done everything in his power to follow suit, fighting the urge to duck his head away in his bashfulness. He bit the inside of his cheek, lamenting his lame follow up, but Leo squeezed his hand with gentle reassurance.

Their families, satisfied with their answer, handled the news far better than either one expected. When Leo and Takumi had eventually managed to escape their relatives' company, still hand in hand, they found they had become too timid to meet the other's gaze. When their eyes finally did meet again, a chaste smile spread across their lips before they both broke down into quiet laughter.

It wasn't as if their relationship was devoid of any sort of affectionate talk however -- after all, the foundation of their accord had been established by words. It was the brick and mortar that built their mutual respect and appreciation; it was the currency they used to bet with and challenge each other's wits, what helped them grow and draw out each other's potential. So naturally, like many other things between the two of them, it became a contest to see who could out-do the other with compliments. They were extremely adamant about it only once they were tucked away, out of sight and out of the earshot of anyone else before showering each other in lavish admiration. Leo was usually the irrefutable champion of their little games, easily flustering Takumi while he floundered for a comeback -- but it wasn't as if the archer was without any tact.

The Nohrian prince combed his lithe fingers through glowing isabelline threads and sighed adoringly. "You know, I believe you were born to exist in the sun -- there's nothing in this world that can convince me otherwise. Not when you look this radiant in its light," his lips curled into a smile when Takumi huffed and hoisted himself up from where he laid across Leo's chest.

"Leo!" A light blush shot out from underneath the collar of Takumi's kimono as he gave the other prince a pointed glare. Leo merely looked up from under him with a smug look on his face that was already more than enough to set butterflies loose inside the Hoshidan's chest. The pink only grew darker as he tried to catch the words that fluttered away when those butterflies knocked into his heart. "Well... if what you say is true, it means that I was born to exist with you... because you are my sun." He murmured, the volume of his voice dwindling with each shy word.

It took a second for the words to register before Leo's features blossomed into a fierce flush, the look on his face completely priceless as he was struck dumb. With that, the coy scowl on Takumi's face quickly gave way to a triumphant grin -- he'd won this round.

... Or so he thought.

"Takumi," Leo quietly uttered, drawing the name out as he attempted to compose himself. He brought the Hoshidan's silken hair still tangled in his fingers to his lips, suddenly finding his throat quite dry as he tried swallowing his sheepishness. "...May I kiss you?"

That was all it took for Takumi to flush an even darker shade of scarlet. The hand wrapped in his hair rose to gently curve around his neck, cradling the back of his head before smoothly pulling his face closer. Takumi's gaze wandered as the tip of Leo's tongue intently slipped out to wet his lips. "O-oh, o-okay, sure."

Leo huffed in amusement at Takumi's response, washing pleasant warm air over the other's guise. "'Okay, sure?'" he mocked mildly, their mouths mere millimeters apart.

A distance that Takumi eagerly closed just to shut his snarky prince up.

Cool lips met with tender passion, quickly heating as they melted into their kiss. It was maddening -- hesitant tongues lapping softly where the brush of plush lips pillowed against one another, tasting each other's sweetness. The hand at the nape of Takumi's neck stroked through the short hairs that fell loose from his ponytail, coaxing out small soft noises that Leo drank in earnest. In turn, he made small sounds of his own, ones the other prince inhaled as he gasped for breath between each press of lips with just as much enthusiasm. Sparks ignited deep and low in their bellies, triggering a stream of warmth that crept up their spines to be felt tingling even behind their eyelids. Their forms pressed as close as their temporal bodies and position would allow.

"Leo," the name escaped between swollen lips in a hush as the Nohrian trailed kisses from the corner of Takumi's mouth down over the curve of his jaw to string more soft touches down his throat. His arms were turning into jelly, shaking from the strain of holding himself over the mage and with the weakness imbued in him as the other man continued to bestow him with affection.

"Takumi," Leo answered in kind, voice breathy, washing hotly over Takumi's sensitive skin. Teeth raked flesh where neck met shoulder, a place Leo knew was quite vulnerable. He soothed the spot with the tender caress of his tongue, mouth then lightly attending the area. Finally, the archer's arms gave way as he fell delicately against Leo's chest, trembling faintly with a small, suppressed whimper. The blond gathered his beloved in his arms, nuzzling his nose against Takumi's ear, causing the Hoshidan prince to shiver ever so slightly.

They laid there for a quiet moment to catch their breath, letting the excitement that had built up slowly bleed away, both still too timid to push their intimacy past what had just transpired. They had plenty of time: time to grow to know each other's closeness, time to fully explore each other's touch and feel... They were content in knowing they did not need to rush.

Still, their heads spun in the inevitable fog that cloaked their minds. Leo watched the rise and fall of the Hoshidan's chest while fondly tracing idle circles across Takumi's back. Eventually, he found his hand once again trapped in cream coloured locks, glossy strands raveling in his digits, earning him a quiet hum of appreciation.

The sound brought Leo back into a lukewarm haze, his judgement once again blurred with dizzying thoughts. Everything felt so right, like he was meant to be there at that moment, basking in the cooling sunlight with the man he adored more than anything curled in his arms. His mouth fell open with a sigh, cognizance numbed and unable to prevent the warm words that bubbled up in his throat from expelling from his kiss-puffy lips.

"I love you."

Takumi promptly tensed in Leo's arms. Slowly, the archer shifted to heave himself up to stare at Leo, amber eyes wide, a startled look settling on his features.

It took Leo a moment to fully realize he had spoken those three words -- the ones neither he nor Takumi had spoken until now. Leo was sure they both had their reasons considering how they routinely danced verbally around each other. He for one had been leery -- even scared of the words, since love was what had ruined the father he once revered.

But if love was what he felt when he was with Takumi...

"I...I..." the reticent voice of said Hoshidan prince drew Leo from his thoughts.

Perhaps he spoke too soon. There was clearly some form of distress washed over Takumi's expression and Leo quickly drew his hand to the other's face to soothingly caress his cheeks. He forced a light smile, giving the archer some silent reassurance and perhaps for himself as well.

"I... uh..." Tawny eyes flickered everywhere before settling to stare at his hands clutching in the fabric of Leo's shirt.

If Takumi wasn't ready to return the words, the mage wasn't one to force him. The pad of his finger brushed the edge of silvery lashes as Leo stroked his thumb just under the other's eye. "You don't have to--."

"I-I'm sorry," The apology rang loudly in both of their ears and continued to echo in the silence that followed.

As soon as the words left his mouth, Takumi knew he had messed up. Leo's hand had stilled over his cheek, the warm touch now seemed impossibly cold. As though to rub salt in the wound, Takumi forced himself to look up only to confirm the wretched feeling twisting his gut. Hurt was bleeding into the corners of the Nohrian's face; carefully restrained and perhaps barely noticeable to anyone but Takumi who had long ago memorized every angle of Leo's features.

Gods, he was an idiot.

"Wait! It's not... that's not..." The voice that cracked from Takumi's throat sounded utterly broken and he cursed himself for sounding that way when it was not his right to do so. His mouth flapped uselessly while he searched his swimming thoughts for what he had meant to say.

When Leo's touch fell from his face, Takumi choked out a sound of dismay until he felt the other's hands fall on top of his own shaking ones that were knotted in the cloth held against the blond's breast.

"Take your time," The mage's voice was soft yet unyielding. "I know you Takumi, I know your sharp tongue and your brilliant mind. I value your honesty enough to know that the first things that come to you are usually the first things that leave your mouth when you speak. I also know that they're not always the first things you want to say either. So take your time, I will wait."

Takumi nodded faintly before sucking in a shaky breath as if he had just remembered how to breathe. Wetness had started to prick his eyes so he clamped them shut to dam their outpour.

What did he do to deserve Leo? What did he do to deserve the other's patience and understanding? Surely, Leo could do much better -- no wait. The Hoshidan prince mentally shook his head to dislodge his train of thought; now wasn't the time to indulge in these self-depreciating musings. Takumi opened his eyes again to peer at the Nohrian as he started to gently stroke his hand through the strands of his ponytail again. Not now, not when Leo was real and here; Takumi would do everything in his power to be the kind of person he thought Leo deserved.

"You know," Takumi's teeth clumsily clipped his tongue as if the words he was trying to form were alien to him. "You know that I do, right?"

"Hmm... in hindsight, I suppose I do," Leo's voice rang lightly, but the archer felt the frame under his own cave slightly in quiet relief. "I would be a bit of a fool to think anything otherwise."

Takumi snorted lightly under his breath despite himself. "You've always been a fool regardless."

"How rude."

"But so am I," The Hoshidan continued, pulling one of his hands free from the other's hold only to place it back on top again.

"Well we certainly are a match then, aren't we?" Leo gave the hand that still remained under his own a squeeze and Takumi returned the gesture.

"Yeah... yeah we really are." There was nothing that could stop the fondness from building up in Takumi's chest as they both offered each other small smiles.

By then, the blushing gradation of the sky had melted into cooler azure hues as the sun fell deeper into the horizon. Quietly, Takumi observed the way twilight painted Leo's appearance, admiring how the Nohrian prince looked equally as dazzling as he did engulfed by sunset. The only thing the blue light of night could not touch was the embers of his chestnut eyes, burning with such radiance and cradling so much passion for the man reflected back in them. Takumi's mouth began to move on its own accord, forming inaudible words before his mind caught up fast enough to helpfully supply them with sound. "I... I can not say it. Not yet anyway."

Leo tilted his head, regarding his archer curiously. "I would not make you do anything you did not want to," he said reassuringly.

"That's not it though," Takumi went on. "Those words are so... flimsy. I'd rather not rely on them to... to convey how I feel about you. People use them so freely, their purpose and meaning have become muddled. You deserve more than that -- more than just the frail promise of words. I want to... I want to..." he felt his cheeks itch as they started to catch fire with his confession, so he buried his face into the mage's chest to hide them. "I want to give you my everything... for what it's worth."

For the second time in one evening, Leo was rendered speechless. "You are... truly outrageous," he muttered, bringing both his hands to his face to hide his own features lit aflame. "What exactly am I to do with you?"

"Whatever you want I suppose, I am yours."

The blond peeked through his fingers, lofting an eyebrow in the wake of Takumi's bold statement. "Whatever I want...?" Leo repeated in amusement causing the other man to jump when the implications of his declaration dawned to him.

"W-well, as long as it is within reason," Takumi fidgeted, clearly abashed but too proud to take back his words.

The mage hummed and stroked his chin thoughtfully before scooting back on his seat to change their position, allowing himself to sit up straight as well as force Takumi to rise from where he had been leaning against him. "Then come sit here, facing me," Leo gestured to his vacant lap.

Takumi eyed the other prince with melodramatic skepticism before complying with his demand. Once settled and now straddled across Leo's legs, he looked up shyly, face flushed expectantly. Leo couldn't help but grin at the sight and let his hands wander to find the Hoshidan's own, their palms soon meeting in the same way they did when they first brought their hands together. "Now, may I kiss you again?"

The other's face scrunched up in feigned displeasure. "Why do you bother asking? The answer is obvious."

"Because," Leo brought Takumi's knuckles to his mouth, brushing them lightly with his lips. "You matter. And you should know by now that I would never make you do anything that would make you feel unhappy, but the only way I can verify your well-being is by confirming it with you." He locked the other's amber gaze in his own, holding him captive. "Your every utterance will always be of merit to me."

A small quivering noise resounded from within the archer as he grasped the mage's words. "Even so, I will still not say it," Takumi unfurled the hand pressed to Leo's mouth to draw lightly along the bow of the other's lips, their grips still entwined. The Nohrian pressed dainty kisses against the underside of his callous fingers as they traced against the plush flesh. "Sometimes the things left unspoken are heard the loudest. I will long have you know it unequivocally before I give those words any audible form."

"Hmm? What are you talking about? I only asked if I could kiss you," Leo's eyes were gentle but glittering with mischief.

"Ugh, and you call me ridiculous -- you're the insufferable one!" Takumi immediately pinched the other man's lips shut, smothering the smirk growing on them. Nevertheless, he was still laughing as he spoke. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

The second prince of Hoshido then brought both his hands to Leo's cheeks, cupping them before leaning forward to press a sweet peck onto the other's mouth. "As for your question, Prince Leo -- yes you may. The answer will always be yes."

Leo hummed affectionately as he ducked his head forward, joining their lips to resume their kiss -- much slower this time albeit equally as cloying. His touch drifted over to the other prince's thighs that hung over the sides of his hips to softly squeeze them, causing Takumi to arch up against his figure.

"You know, it sounds as if you're challenging me to get you to say it," the mage pulled back a fraction to whisper a few moments later. He leaned away even further when the other man attempted to capture back his lips.

"Jeez, do you want to kiss or not?" Takumi pouted, his cheeks coloured warmly. Despite their humor, amber eyes soon cast downward at the space between them as his expression fell, the weight of his thoughts too heavy on his mind. "To be perfectly honest, I was surprised you said it...surprised and happy. Although, I suppose the way I panicked doesn't make it seem that way..."

"Ha," the blond chuckled quietly. "Just a bit... Though I surprised even myself. Yet, I'm am curious -- what was it that made you so distressed?"

"Ah... I... uh... I was always unsure how you felt about it with your family history and all..." The Hoshidan's expression gradually took to bear a more troubled one while he spoke. "I always thought you might be afraid or unwilling to admit it... I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Oh," Leo blinked rapidly, astonished by the fact that Takumi had been considering his feelings on the matter all along. Although, he probably should not have been taken aback by the idea in the first place -- Takumi had always been acutely attentive towards those he cared for.

The Nohrian had never thought he'd ever feel his heart so full -- it ached where it trembled in his chest simply from the strain of all the love it held. It also ached with a pain realizing that Takumi had thought Leo might have been terrified to admit his love. He couldn't stop his limber hands from sliding up to the archer's waist to pull the other close to his own form, anchoring Takumi where Leo never wanted to let go. "I apologize if I have caused you any grief over the matter then, you know I--"

"Please," Takumi hushed him immediately, arms circling loosely around Leo's neck, leaning in to press his forehead against the other's. "I never doubted you; you have given me too much to think anything less. I might doubt your reasons why, but never you."

"Still, if it is any consolation -- I was always waiting for you to say it," Leo dipped forward to press a quick kiss against Takumi's cheek, the temptation to do so irresistible with their faces so near. The Hoshidan's eyelashes flitted across Leo's nose with their close proximity. "I have never had any misgivings about your feelings for me, I just wanted you to approach me about them when you were ready...It's funny how we both were always considering each other's contentment on the matter." The mage hesitated by chewing on his lip. "When... you reacted the way you did, I was afraid I had made you uneasy with my confession... I didn't want you to reject me for it."

"That's silly," Takumi snorted ungracefully. "Why would I do that?"

"... Says the man whose logic it is to withhold his proclamation of undying love until he has proven it without the use of words so that his feelings would not be questioned," Leo chided with unabashed beguilement.

"Uh... Well... when you put it that way..." The archer squirmed sheepishly, fiddling with the short hair at the back of Leo's head. "That's not the only reason... I also wanted to say it when... um, you know... it would be really special."

"Special how?" the blond scoffed lightly with a laugh. "What, were you going to save it for our wedding?"

Bless the darkness that had fallen over both of them by then. The half crescent of the moon in the sky only shed enough light to allow them to barely recognize the other's facial features. Under the cover of night, neither saw the several shades of crimson they each turned -- a spectacle that would have been one to truly behold. It was ridiculous how easy they managed to make themselves flush like this by simply being with one another.

"Takumi, you--"

"I didn't say it, don't you dare," Takumi hastily covered Leo's mouth with his hands, afraid of another embarrassing outpour. "Even if, perhaps, it were the truth, I didn't say it."

The Nohrian promptly snatched the other's hands away before blurting out. "W-Wait -- you were actually thinking that? Gods--.""

"H-Hey! Don't give me that! What is the point of courting if we are not leading up to that? Leo--"

Sudden laughter crackled through the air, warm and electrifying, causing goosebumps to rise along the skin of Takumi's forearms when the sound greeted his ears. It was always a treat when Leo was reduced to a fit of mirth; a rare occurrence but something that happened more frequently now with the Hoshidan present in his life. Takumi couldn't help but join soon after, both men clutching each other in a light embrace.

"....Pardon me," After the levity of the situation had settled, Leo lifted his hand to make a gesture towards the paper lanterns not far from where they were resting, setting them alight with his magic. It had gotten far too dark now and it was now unbearable being unable to see his prince's smile. As light flooded the area, he brought his hand to Takumi's chin, tilting the other's face to look at his and admired the contented profile uncovered by the shade of nightfall.

"I was only about to tell you how incredible you are, " He paused. "Being with you has made me say so many things I thought I never would -- you loosen my tongue in more ways than one," Leo teased as Takumi made a face, blood readily rushing back onto his features again. The mage couldn't help but press a light kiss against his furrowed brow. "However, there is one thing I will make absolutely clear - saying 'I love you' is not one of them."

Leo recalled the thought he had earlier, if love was what he felt when he was with Takumi...

"This compassion instilled in me when I am with you yields no reason for me to fear the feelings I have in my heart; I truly love you Takumi. Despite everything that has happened, I like to believe we make each other better -- so what doubts we may have... we will overcome together."

"...Oh... okay...," The Hoshidan prince fell silent at that, words escaping him yet again when confronted with the mage's spellbinding speech.

Deliberately, Takumi let his hands travel down from Leo's shoulders, carefully observing his own actions as they glided over the flattened plains of the blond's lean torso hidden beneath his tunic. The rushing pulse of the life under Takumi's palms tethered him to the earth and he took a moment to treasure just how precious and palpable his prince was to him. His touch continued to wander over quivering abdominal muscles, feeling Leo tense and his breathing hitch at the soft graze of knuckles.

After what felt like several minutes, Takumi finally looked up again, his eyes glazed with something heated that Leo had never seen in such intensity. "Will you... will you come with me to my bedchambers tonight...?" his voice was shy and husky as he carefully seized one of the Nohrian's hands. Gilded eyes bore into him with a sense of desire; a mix of heedful need and something else-- it brewed in the fire of his irises, bright and determined as if he had something more to prove.

Leo merely gawked and swallowed thickly before nodding. "There is nowhere in existence that you could go that I would not follow."

They left the calm stillness of the library without another word, the volumes they had spoken tucked away amongst the precious books that were housed there. The only telling of their thoughts being the clamminess pressed between their shared grip as they weaved their way through the quiet of night.

The halls of Castle Shirasagi were empty as though to create a path solely for them to follow, uninterrupted, to their destination.