:: :: Prelude – Takumi :: ::
:: I ::
The first time he saw Leo was on opposite sides, surrounded by a forest shunned by the light.
He exchanged words with Prince Leo that were biting quips and jeers hurled at one another with a saddened Corrin in the middle. Darkness hung over the Woods of the Forlorn, accompanied by the mist curling around the tombstones and blanketing the purple marshes underfoot. From atop a hill Leo stood with his two retainers by his side.
Takumi swore there was something in Leo’s eyes when Corrin demanded to know if Leo truly hated her. Was it regret? Was it heartbreak? Was it pain?
But the demand of a prince is strong, and the anger at the Nohrian army flooded back into his veins upon hearing Leo’s response. His bitterness was incensed when Leo told them to visit the Rainbow Sage. Takumi always had difficulty trusting others, but the faith his older sister places in Leo is on a different plane. Of course, Takumi wasn’t afraid to express his disdain at Leo’s words, but he fell silent when Corrin reassures him they can trust Leo, trust the second prince from an enemy kingdom.
Only once they depart does Takumi realize Leo never stopped loving Corrin.
:: II ::
The second time he saw Leo was when they manage to beat down Iago.
Takumi remembered how furious he was with Iago, remembering how he tugged at his insecurities like the strings of a puppet. He allowed Corrin to land the final blow, rendering Iago impotent. She paused to hear him out, and Takumi was only further disgusted when Iago tried to shift the blame to King Garon.
It did not make Nohr any less unlikeable for him.
Iago’s pleading was cut short, cut off by a myriad of branches that burst from a golden hoop of magic. He is impaled by sharp branches that dissipate into the air as Prince Leo approached Corrin, purple tome snapping shut with a muffled clap.
Leo’s demeanor had not changed, but he was less hostile to Corrin. Something has changed within him; unlike the crown prince, Xander, Leo recognizes the real enemy. But the familial love he harbored for Garon, buried so far down in his heart, still nudges at the veins.
He was unable to join Corrin and strike down his own father.
Corrin understood, assured him she would restore peace to both Hoshido and Nohr.
Takumi’s faith in her promise to Leo was weak.
:: III ::
The third time he saw Leo was at Ryoma’s coronation.
He arrived with a woman around Hinoka’s age with long lilac hair tumbling down her back. Camilla, Takumi recognized, remembering how fearsome an opponent she was on the battlefield. But that day, her eyes were sad. She embraced Corrin, thrilled to see her little sister, but there was an unspoken line of tension born from the casualties of war, the loss of Xander and Elise, Corrin’s younger sister from Nohr.
Prince Leo claimed he was to take up the crown in Camilla’s place. They explain to Corrin, and while Takumi didn’t understand, Corrin did. And perhaps that was all that mattered.
Takumi was less hostile to them, opting to avoid speaking as much as he could. This was when he was like the people of Hoshido: He was still hesitant to open to anyone from Nohr.
A week later, they go to Leo’s coronation.
It is nothing like Ryoma’s.
:: :: Nohr – Leo :: ::
Elise lays on the floor, lifeless as the blood that blossoms on her dress begins to seep from under her, painting the brown tiles a rustic color. His fingers tremble as he caresses her face, and he’s trembling as he takes her in his arms. The knot in his throat burns and a cacophony of emotions blare in his ears
Xander is leaning against a pillar, and had it not been for the blood-
-oh Gods, there’s too much, there’s too much-
-Leo would think he was resting, fatigued from the weight of the kingdom, of father. He recalls the jealousy he felt towards Xander, the love, the need to protect his older brother. It all tumbles like bricks when everything becomes a reality. Leo wonders if there’s any point to continue, but as soon as the thought flits through his mind, he quashes it just as fast. Because Xander wouldn’t pity himself if he were in Leo’s position, Elise wouldn’t want to see her older brother in such a state of mind.
Anguish and agony, rage and fury... It all twists in his mind like spun threads. It all hurts, his eyes feel heavy and damp and he wants to scream.
Distantly, he recalls Odin calling out to him, quietly, so unlike the flamboyant Odin he has come to know. Whatever he prepares to say, Leo never hears as Niles stops him with a shake of the head. Niles, the man who enjoyed seeing others suffer, does not experience that elation at seeing his broken liege.
...And then he wakes.
The alliance between Hoshido and Nohr stands on a trembling line, but between Ryoma and Takumi, Leo doesn’t feel as alone. They’re building the bridge, and though it will take time, it will work.
After the casualties of this war, it must work, because Leo won’t have it any other way.
A handful of minutes drip by the time he departs from the comfort of his bed and dresses himself.
:: with Camilla ::
He doesn’t see Camilla often, and though he was initially upset, he realizes it’s probably for the better. For both of them. They struggled to look at each other, one little glance reminding not just the damage of war but the past they shared before it had just been the four of them.
One day, he wants to look at Camilla again without seeing the tears glittering in her eyes.
:: with Niles ::
The formalities never seem to end with Niles, and it’s rather ironic. They have a unique relationship, and Leo knows Niles respects him above others. Since Leo had taken up the crown, Niles has been at his side, working as his own advisor as Takumi does Ryoma. And it’s ironic, but since the death of Xander and Elise, Niles has been less open about his interesting vocabulary.
Well. At least around Leo.
He’s unsure of how to express his gratitude to his retainer, because Niles truly hasn’t left his side. So in the beginning, he settles for speaking with him about topics unrelating to the politics of the kingdoms.
At times, Leo finds it difficult to strike up a conversation (socializing was never a forte), but the content look on Niles’ face says enough. Perhaps they were to be friends rather than servant and liege.
:: with Odin ::
The second person to leave him is Odin.
Though Leo knew this was bound to happen, he finds himself stinging after they part ways. He doesn’t want to say good-bye, and while the logical part of him understands, the younger part is less cooperative.
And much like he came into his life, Odin left along with Selena and Laslow.
Leo doesn’t know if they will meet again, and it’s difficult to feel anything.
:: with Takumi (I) ::
Eventually, Leo finds a reliable ally in Takumi.
While it is not on part with his relationship with his retainers, they’re slowly mounting over the wedge between them.
Through his discussions with how to rebuild Nohr, he finds out they have quite a bit in common. It takes another few days to introduce Takumi to the Nohrian counterpart of shogi, chess (Leo absentmindedly wonders if a king should be wasting is time playing a board game with the advisor of another nation. But the thought disappears as they find another topic of common interest. If anything, it provides a decent distraction).
Although Takumi is good, he has yet to beat Leo.
:: with Oboro ::
Half a year passes by the time he and Takumi consider themselves friends. The trips Takumi makes to Nohr slowly extend from two days to three, three to four... Always at his side are his retainers Hinata and Oboro.
Sometime between that half-year, Leo notices they’re still wary of Nohr, but he sees this in Oboro moreso than Hinata and Takumi.
It doesn’t take long for him to realize Oboro hates Nohr. Her face is constantly twisted in a grimace of sorts whenever she sees him or is forced to deliver a message. He would be lying if he said he didn’t find this intimidating, and only when they’re alone does he confront her.
He sympathizes with her, understands what it’s like to lose family. Though it’s small, he finds comfort in knowing Oboro is trying her damn hardest not to hold her grudge against him. He’s aware that she knows not all Nohrians are the same, and whether it’s for Takumi’s sake or her love for Hoshido, she’s agreeing to work with them for the benefit of both sides.
Weeks pass when he catches her running her fingers across the spines of Nohrian fabric as she moves down the rows. Leo discovers she’s more open when it comes to fashion and designs. He believes she will make a good tailor (unspoken: much like her late parents).
Eventually, he manages to coax out a smile from her. It still seems a little strained, but it’s progress and that’s all that matters.
:: interlude ::
For a while, things traverse steadily.
But one meeting with Corrin sends him back to square one, and he feels as if the earth itself is crumbling beneath his feet.
:: the break ::
Leo is only half-listening to Ryoma, his focus juggled between Corrin and struggling to bury the memories that poke at his brain. He feels angry with himself because despite all the relationships he managed to build over the year, those dreams keep coming back, making sure he’s still suffering from the heartache.
In the beginning, he’s fine. He doesn’t hate Corrin-
-he could never hate her-
-but it’s frustrating when he sees how she chose her birthright over the family that raised her – chose them over him. And he doesn’t even remember what gets his blood boiling, what makes him snap like he does, but he finds himself abruptly leaving, coldly shrugging off her concern as he practically slams the doors open.
Leo manages to escape into his room when the tears start to slide down his cheeks. His back is pressed to the door even though the lock is drawn and no one is coming in without his permission.
Everything starts to flood his brain: Elise and Xander lying dead, Camilla and Odin’s retreating backs, the barely-restrained hatred Oboro houses for Nohr, and suddenly, nothing is fair. Nothing in this damn world is fair, and the crown that perches on his head is viciously torn away as he launches it against the wall. He had hoped it would quell the agony lighting his very limbs, but seeing it lying on the floor, not even a scratch marring its black features, the fire within him consumes more fuel.
He doesn’t want to go back to that meeting. He doesn’t want to discuss Hoshido or even Nohr. He doesn’t want to even look at Corrin.
He wants the old life that was wrenched away from him so roughly, he wants to see Elise and Xander again, he wants Camilla and Odin back, and he doesn’t want that stupid crown. That stupid, fucking crown that changed his status, broke him down again and again right as he felt he was starting to pull himself together.
And it feels as if nothing matters anymore. He feels it again, that nagging uselessness and hate... He’s kept it bottled for so long that it’s coming in bursts. His fingers tear at the inside of his room, blindly hauling belongings left and right in a fit of rage.
Though he’s used it many times, has memorized the front and back, spine and pages of Brynhildr, it too ends up violently chucked in a corner.
When he’s finished throwing things, he yanks off his formal attire before shoving himself under the covers. It isn’t until he’s taken a few heavy breaths does he finally allow himself to sob. He cries and cries until his chest hurts, until it hurts to breathe.
Nobody bothers him for the remainder of the day...
:: with Takumi (II) ::
...but night eventually comes.
He’s long since unlocked the door and he hasn’t left. Now that his heart isn’t slamming against his ribcage, he notes the utter disaster that is his room. But he still doesn’t have the energy to pick up the pieces. Not yet.
Somehow Leo manages to put Brynhildr and the crown back into place. They are the only two objects that matter though he loathes one.
His hair is disheveled and he tries to messily fix it with shaking fingers as he departs from his chamber. He needs to escape the inside of the castle, and if it had to be outside, so be it. When he was younger, sometimes he would go out to sit on the roof, his own private place where he could read or stargaze. Once Elise followed him up, but he decided not to shoo her away, opting to sit with her until she dozed off.
The night air is almost unwelcoming, and it bites into the thin cloth of his loose shirt. His eyes burn against the wind, still puffy and red from his earlier meltdown. It’s right then when he feels like a kid again, not having to worry about the stress placed by the kingdom, the people who have left his life, or the crown that sits abandoned in his room.
But though he can relax, his reflexes are still drawn tight. He still hears the door open and the accompanying footsteps of another person. Leo is unarmed, but he still whips around and prepares himself...
...only for his gaze to fall on Takumi.
“Why are you here?” he exhales.
Takumi shrugs. “I don’t have to be,” he replies, pausing before his next sentence. “But I heard about earlier, how you left the meeting. Ryoma thought it would have been better if Corrin went.”
Leo averts his gaze, glaring at the sky. It’s clear, peppered with twinkling stars and a glowing moon. He wants to yell at him to leave, that he wants to be alone, but his voice fails him and he says nothing. When he’s ready to speak, Takumi has stepped closer to him. For a while, neither one moves nor speaks, as if frozen by the night’s stare.
He sees Takumi out of the corner of his eye, notices how he’s not wearing the typical archery garb, and his hair isn’t tied as tightly. Like himself, he’s completely unarmed. But in a world full of peace, did they really need to be armed to the teeth?
“Leo,” Takumi speaks suddenly and it startles him. Just a little. He gives no sign that he was listening. “You’re not alone.”
Leo exhales heavily, says in warning, “Takumi...”
“No, after what happened, you need to listen,” Takumi cuts him off, and Leo forgot how a year had passed since the war. Had it... really been that long? “You’re being stubborn and you’re shutting everyone out. When things get too difficult for you, what do you plan on doing? Running off and trashing every damn room in this castle?”
(He wonders if Takumi knows he’s treading on thin ice.)
“Your people are counting on you and so are ours. What happens to a nation when their leader is unfit?”
“And what would you know about leading?” Leo quips, facing Takumi fully. “If I recall, Ryoma has you and your other siblings to lean on—”
“—and you have Niles and us.” he counters. “We may not be from the same country, but we’ve been working together for well over a year. This peace that you’re striving for? We’re never going to get it if we can’t trust one another.”
Leo falls quiet, lets Takumi’s words sink in. The temptation to punch him for the lecture was strong, but he can’t bring himself to do so. Because behind that rant was truth, as much as he didn’t want to admit it. He wonders when Takumi became so... wise, understanding. He chalks it up to Ryoma’s guidance, the fact he had family to lean on...
“Hey,” there’s a sudden hand on his shoulder. “If you don’t want to open up to Ryoma and my siblings, I get it. But don’t count me out; you have no reason to. I’m not... Xander, and I’m not Elise. But we’re friends, aren’t we? Isn’t that something we can go off of?”
Friends. With Takumi.
Why did it still sound so bizarre?
How ironic fate was, to intertwine their lives together through a rush of tragedy.
Leo couldn’t completely disagree. The scars of war had carved something between them. It started off slow and even now there were still bumps in their friendship. But Leo did trust him, whether he would admit this aloud or not. Perhaps not to the extent he had in his own siblings, but who’s to say they couldn’t reach that level?
Healing could only begin with trust.
And that night, under the stars with Takumi, Leo felt content, something he had not felt for the longest time.