It was a celebration to behold.
Arianrhod—the Silver Maiden—was yet again in Kingdom hands. Ashe and others had set up spits to roast all manner of fowl and fauna, while Sylvain drunkenly teased a surprisingly boozed-up Felix. Annette and Mercedes danced, Ingrid feasted, and the professor grinned convivially, a liquor-flush on her cheeks.
Dedue sat apart. He had assisted Ashe and the cooks—and eaten well—but gatherings were never his strongest suit. His presence’s purpose was to guard His Highness, nothing more or less. The prince had given a speech before the cooking fires were lit, congratulating the living, remembering the dead—all threaded through with a hope he had never had before. Dedue watched now as he met with each of the Blue Lions, congratulating them, thanking them, gracing them with the royal presence. They took it well, even Felix, though none had seen the prince’s kinder side since the fall of Garreg Mach.
Dedue was happy to see it even as he knew the torments still roiled beneath the surface—quiet, but not silent. Dedue would die to cease their dark whispers, but that would but add another face to the chorus—as it had been before their reunion at the Great Bridge of Myrddin, before Rodrigue’s death. Dedue had always seen the darkness in Dimitri, the wounded man beneath a chivalrous or feral façade. But now he was brighter, clearer—a king-to-be. It was like looking at a sun newly risen.
And now the prince walked over to Dedue, though his face was tireder than he would show the others, worn by time and grief.
Dedue rose and nodded in an informal bow. “Your Highness.”
“Dedue,” said the prince, “during the battle I—I saw you take a spell—Miasma, I think—aimed for me?”
It had been; a dark mage defending Arianrhod had lobbed the spell while Dimitri had been occupied with an armored knight. “That is correct.”
“Even knowing that I have taken far worse magic and borne it, and you have been felled by less?”
“It is my duty to keep you from harm, Your Highness. Were I to fall as your shield, I would do it gladly.”
The prince sighed. “Even if it is a magic I can easily withstand? Dedue, you know you are vulnerable to sorcerous attacks in all that armor.”
“My duty does not distinguish between the means others may use to do you harm, only that they not come to use.”
The prince sighed again, though with a smile pulling at his lips. “Very well. I know I will not win this argument with you, my stubborn friend. Still, I would like to treat the wound before it scars.”
“I—Mercedes already healed it, Your Highness.”
“With magic, yes? You know dark magic needs more attention than that.”
“It has been treated adequately.”
“It will scar, Dedue.”
“It will be a mark among many. Besides, Your Highness,” said Dedue, whose lips twitched upward, “‘it would be a shame if the scars I got from protecting you were to fade.’”
The prince chuckled. “Turn my words back on me then. I would still like to check on it. To ease my mind, at least.”
And when could Dedue say no to his prince?
They didn’t go to the infirmary as Dedue expected, but to the prince’s chambers, hastily set up in the fortress of Arianrhod. The room had yet to be stripped of its adornments: silken flags embroidered with the emblem of House Rowe, a tapestry of a historical King of Faerghus endowing the first Count Rowe with his royal title. The house began with a rebellion; it befit it to die with one as well.
“Come here,” said the prince, and as Dedue approached Dimitri reached to undo the straps of one of Dedue’s gauntlets.
“Your Highness, I can remove—”
“I shall do it. How many times have you done the same for me, my friend?” With a click, Dimitri undid the one gauntlet, and then the other.
“It is funny, don’t you think,” said the prince, as he removed the couters, the vambraces, the rerebraces, “that we are creatures of touch, and yet always we wear so much between our skin and the world?”
“I—I suppose, Your Highness.”
Off came Dedue’s pauldrons, and Dimitri inspected the geometic pattern of paint and metal that adorned them. “This pattern, is it one of Duscur?”
“Yes,” said Dedue, “my rescuers provided me with the armor after my escape. It is a prayer of protection. From the god of war.”
Dimitri stripped off Dedue’s cuirass, and the cold Faerghus air chilled a bit, even with the fur lining his gambeson.
“Protection given by the god, or from him?”
“Both,” said Dedue, as Dimitri untied his tassets from his gambeson. “It is a prayer for his favor and victory, and that he spare his wrath.”
“Such a fickle thing, war.” The prince was silent, then, as he removed the rest of Dedue’s armor—cuisses, poleyns, greaves, sabatons.
“Raise your arms,” said Dimitri, and Dedue complied, allowing his gambeson to be pulled off over his head, then his tunic. The chill again touched him, and he could not conceal the ensuing shiver.
“I shall light a fire, Dedue. Lie down. The wound is on your lower back, correct?”
“I—yes, your Highness, but—”
“Lie down, Dedue. I won’t have you labor more tonight.” There was a worn smile in the words.
Dedue assented, laying down on the bed—a huge, somewhat garish thing of delicately carved wood with gilded filigree. It was soft, though, softer than any Dedue had ever rested on before. The sheets were a silk dyed fair blue and the mattress was stuffed with down—a fair bit more comfortable than the rough linen and woolen beds of the monastery.
He heard the crackle of flames, and the warmth of the new fire shooed away the night air. Even in high summer, Faerghus nights were chilly.
The prince approached, and Dedue heard the sound of a clay lid rubbing against a pot.
“This is a salve of ambrosia the professor gave me, on account of my running into battle without thinking. I haven’t had to use it yet, though, thanks to the actions of a certain man in my service.”
“I will not apologize for—oh.” Dedue winced at the touch of the prince’s hands against his back, their warmth juxtaposed with the coolness of the salve. He had not noticed Dimitri removing his gauntlets—he was more tired than he had thought.
“Relax, Dedue. This is the correct injury then, yes?”
“I, yes Dimitri, I—” and the press of palms against his back left him speechless.
“As much as I love it when you remember to say my name, Dedue,” said Dimitri, who began to not so much apply the salve as knead it into the small of Dedue’s back, “it is time for you to relax, my friend. Let me take care of you for once, hmm?”
He loosened a particularly stubborn knot, and the answering shudder of pleasure forced Dedue’s eyes closed.
Whether he answered—or whether the prince said any more—was lost to the quick embrace of sleep.
Dawn rose golden in a blue sky. Dedue awoke, a blade of light striking across his eyes.
“Good morning, Dedue.”
Dedue startled. Dimitri was in the bed with him, wearing just his tunic. The sun lit from the back—as if he were a saint. “I—Your Highness, I—”
“Relax, Dedue. If I minded your presence, I would have woken you. Besides, your falling asleep was, ah, sweet.” The prince bore a light flush on his cheeks.
“Yes. It is—nice, that you trust me so.”
“I—” Dedue could not finish. He was in Dimitri’s bed, the prince’s bed. “Your Highness, it is inappropriate that I be here, I am—” He rose, intending to leave, but then Dimitri rose as well.
“Dedue, please, I—on the front we deal with closer quarters, less space, and there is no—”
Dedue heard nothing of the rest of the prince’s words. He had not noticed in his panic and grogginess, but the prince had not worn his eyepatch to bed.
His eye was ruined, a mass of mangled tissue long healed, but Dedue could imagine it recently wounded, red, swollen, puckered. How had it not festered, poisoned his blood, killed him? How had he even gotten it?
Because you were not there to protect him.
“Dedue? Dedue, are you alright?” The prince’s brows were pinched.
“Dimitri, I—your—” Dedue’s left hand moved towards Dimitri’s face, as if to cup it. He stopped it before it did, moved to draw it back, but Dimitri took it into the grasp of his own hand while his other found Dedue’s arm. His eye, blue as the summer morning, softened.
“Dedue, it’s—it’s alright. Let’s—let’s just lie down, alright?”
Dedue paused, took a breath, then nodded. They both sank back into the silk sheets, Dimitri keeping hold of Dedue’s hand as his gaze turned upward towards the ceiling. His wounded side was hidden—though even then, lit by morning, he was as handsome as he had ever been. Beautiful.
Dimitri rubbed a thumb over Dedue’s knuckles. They were scarred—silver on brown—a sign of the blows he’d taken, foes’ attempts to knock his axe from his hands. They had failed, always.
“I lost it a few years before the professor found me. To a thief, I think, but I truly don’t remember. I was … sane enough, at least, to apply a poultice and clean it. It did not fester.”
“I—Your Highness, I’m so—”
“Hush, my friend. Without you, I would be without a head, without a life.” Dimitri took his other hand and joined it with the other—held Dedue’s in both.
He smiled. “I remember once, watching you tend a garden. You were so gentle with the seedlings—so delicate. Your hands are—they are strong, scarred, and callused, but they are kind, and loving too. They cook, they feed, they grow.”
“And yet they kill.”
“They give as much as they take, Dedue. Not like mine. Do you remember when I asked Mercedes to teach me to sew?”
“Yes. You—you broke her needles. And her scissors.”
The prince laughed brightly. It lifted Dedue’s heart like wings to hear it. “But the one pair, my friend. Though, the reason I wished to learn wasn’t just so I could mend my own clothes. It was so I could be, well—more like you. That I might have hands that make, are as worthy, as yours.”
“It’s silly, I know.”
“It’s not. It’s … I said before, Dimitri, that your hand pulled me from the abyss. But you have done more, saved more. You have fought for yourself, for Faerghus, for all Fódlan. You are already worthy—and not just in my eyes.”
The prince smiled, though it was shaky. He turned to look at Dedue, and his eye was bright with tears. “And I will be forever grateful, Dedue. When I found out you were alive I—I was succumbed to anger and hate, but know it gave me true joy.”
“As it did me, for the professor to pull you from the darkness.”
“Yes. And I am glad I can look upon my people, the morning, the sky—you—and feel joy again. And love.”
“Love?” asked Dedue, and he felt his voice tremble as it had the first time he had said Dimitri’s name.
“Yes, Dedue, love. I—” and the prince took a breath, closed his eyes. Dedue had seen him do the same many times before a battle or sparring match. “When we spoke that one day, in the Harpstring Moon? I said you were cherished, and I meant it. I said I’d labor to make a Kingdom where men of Duscur and Fódlan could be friends—where we could both be friends.”
Dimitri tightened his grip, and Dedue squeezed in answer. “You are—you are more than cherished, Dedue. You are beloved.” He brought Dedue’s hand—callused and scarred—to his lips and kissed it. The breath left Dedue’s lungs.
“When I think of the future, it is not one where you are—are but a friend. You are a lover, a husband—a king alongside me.”
Dedue’s throat would not work.
“You need not reciprocate. I would not—could not live with myself if I pressured you, or used you, or—”
“Dimitri … Dimitri I—”
“And you would not—I would not object if you wished to leave my service, or—”
“Dimitri,” said Dedue, and he brought his free hand to cradle the prince’s face. “I will never leave you, as I draw breath. You are—I have—it is a future I have imagined, as well.”
“Oh Dedue,” said the prince, and he released his grip on Dedue’s hand so he could instead cradle his head—pressing his fingers into the soft, close-cropped hair in the back. “Oh Dedue, I can’t I—” and he brought their foreheads together, and looked up through blond lashes. His eye sparkled with joy—and tears—and as one slipped down his cheek Dedue brushed a thumb to catch it.
“It is all right, Dimitri,” said Dedue, his voice wobbling on the name. “I am here, I will always be here.”
Dimitri grinned fully, bright and beaming as a newborn sun, and then he brought them together, and they were kissing.
It was deep and good and warm, and one of Dimitri’s arms wrapped around Dedue’s bare back—protective and warm.
Dimitri moved a hand down to Dedue’s neck, and Dedue shuddered. The kiss went hot, wet, deep. The blunt nails of Dimitri’s hand scratched lightly into Dedue’s skin, and it lit a fire in his belly. They parted, panting, Dimitri looking at him with eyes blue and night-dark.
A whisper of his name, and then the prince’s mouth was at his neck, an open, wet warmth. Dedue shifted his hand to tangle it in Dimitri’s hair, to hold him against himself—in answer Dimitri nipped, his teeth a lush pain, and Dedue whimpered in response.
Dimitri pulled back to nose at his throat, kiss at it with smiling lips. “I do so love the noises you make, my love,” he said, and then his mouth trailed down, kissing Dedue’s neck, his collarbone, the upper edge of his breast. All the while Dedue kept his hand in Dimitri’s hair, a reminder—a promise—as the prince’s mouth roamed lower and lower still.
After—after Dimitri had lost his shirt, after they both had lost their breeches, after both had cleaned the messes from their bellies—they lay together.
It was late morning. Soon they would have to rise and greet the day—eat breakfast, deal with hungover comrades, prepare to march again on behalf of the Kingdom and Fódlan.
Dimitri was curled into Dedue’s broad chest, his breath hot against the other’s skin. Out of their armor and clothes, they were smaller, vulnerable—like the young academy students they had once been.
“I—” he said, and he looked up from where he was nestled. “Do you remember what I said. About us being … husbands?”
Dedue felt a shiver of fear. “I—yes, I do. Did you—did you mean it?”
“Yes, yes of course, no, what I mean is—I have a ring.”
“A ring. For you. To have. That we might—that you might be my fiancé, until the end of the war. That we be wed, when there is peace.”
“I—Dimitri, of course. I would be—”
The prince reached up, brushed a thumb against his cheek. It came away wet. “You’re crying,” said Dimitri, with a look of wonder.
“Tears of joy, Dimitri.” The two kissed again, in the light of morning.