OUR LION HEARTS
Imperial Year 1184
During the fourth year of the Great War, Felix travels from Arianrhod to Fhirdiad along with several battalions of Fraldarius soldiers to strengthen the position of the capital. Although there’s a mountain of other tasks for him to see to, Dimitri makes time to formally welcome the contingent when they arrive – he tells the royal advisors it’s to boost morale, but the truth is that he wants to see Felix as soon as possible. Although he hasn’t heard anything about Felix suffering any major injuries while holding the western front, he knows he won’t be content in knowing that Felix is alive and well until he can see Felix with his own eyes.
The Fraldarius soldiers show up only two days after the messenger announcing them made it to the capital; Dimitri suspects it’s because Felix pushed them hard to make the trip as fast as possible. When the castle gates open for them, any regality that Dimitri has learned to imitate immediately disappears and once again he’s a child greeting his closest friend after a long time spent away from each other. “Felix,” he says, lurching forward with a jerky start, pushing past the front ranks with his arms spread, as if to hug the other man.
But he stops himself when Felix turns and they lock gazes. Dimitri remembers the conversation they’d had when they had parted ways four years ago, and he drops his arms to his sides stiffly. “I’m glad to see you in good health,” he begins to say – then, against his expectations, Felix steps forward and wraps his arms around Dimitri, propping his head up on Dimitri’s shoulder as he leans into the embrace.
“You’ve done well, Dimitri,” Felix tells him, voice carefully muted so that nobody else will hear.
It takes Dimitri a moment to reaffirm that he isn’t dreaming. And then, hesitantly, he puts his arms around Felix’s back and pulls him in closer. “Thank you,” he replies, voice strangled with emotions that he’d thought he already discarded. “Felix, I…”
“Don’t say anything unnecessary,” Felix says. He takes a step back, but doesn’t let go of Dimitri’s shoulders – nor does Dimitri move his hands from the small of Felix’s back. “You’ve chosen to be a king worth following. Thus, I’ve come to pledge my service… That’s all there is to it.”
“Thank you,” Dimitri says again, voice tripping unartfully over the syllables. He attempts to smile, though he isn’t confident that he quite manages to make his lips do the right thing. “I’m glad you’ve come, Felix.”
Felix makes a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat before he lets go of Dimitri, who mirrors Felix’s motions in turn. “I’m sure you have other things to attend to, so get to them,” he tells Dimitri. “We can talk more later. I’ll come find you.”
Please do, Dimitri tries to reply, but he gets tongue-tied in the presence of the Fraldarius soldiers around them and instead nods tersely. “I’m sure you’ve also things you should see to,” Dimitri says. “Until next, then?”
“Until next,” Felix says, and then waves Dimitri off.
Felix comes knocking at Dimitri’s door late in the evening, after the sun has already set and Dimitri has lit his bedside candle. “It’s too dark in here,” Felix says the moment after he’s been let in, and he walks around the room to light all the other candles. “How do you live like that?”
“I suppose I’ve gotten used to it,” Dimitri replies. He watches Felix walk around the room as he stands next to his favored window – it has a beautiful view of the sky above, and he likes the way that the moonlight casts a faint azure haze over the castle when the moon is full, but tonight there are brighter things within view.
“Your vision will strain,” Felix says. He looks up after he’s lit the last candle, placing it back down on the desk that Dimitri never uses. “Have you ever seen a portrait of a king with glasses?”
Dimitri attempts to laugh politely, but his voice cracks in the middle of the peal. He looks down at his hands, and wonders if Felix will think less of him if he admits what he’s thinking: I doubt there will ever be enough time for me to have a royal portrait drawn anyway.
When he looks up again, Felix is there by his side. Felix reaches over and puts a hand on Dimitri’s arm, then says, “Listen, boar. I understand… you’re doing your best to be the king this country needs. But I know you, so – you don’t have to try so hard when it’s just the two of us. Do you get what I’m trying to tell you?”
Mutely, Dimitri nods. And then he sighs deeply, putting a hand on top of Felix’s. “You have no idea how much it means to me to hear those words,” he murmurs, voice tight.
“No, I do,” Felix replies, tone brisk and matter-of-fact, as if he’s speaking such an obvious truth that Dimitri feels a little ridiculous for having supposed anything to the contrary. “Why do you think I bothered to say them to you in the first place?”
Dimitri laughs genuinely for the first time years – Felix cracks a slight smile in turn. “I’ve missed you so much,” Dimitri confesses. “I think about what you told me four years ago so often, it – well, I think it helps me stay on the right path.”
“Good. That’s what I intended,” Felix says.
“Now that you’re here, I don’t know what else to say to you,” Dimitri admits. “It’s been so many years since we were able to talk like this, and – well, given the circumstances…”
Felix looks up at him with a sharpness to his gaze, and Dimitri expects to be reprimanded for implying the one thing that his station doesn’t allow him to say: that he fears the kingdom will fall under his reign. But all Felix does is put his other hand on Dimitri’s shoulder, holding him in place firmly.
“There will be time. Gather your words at your own pace and speak them when you’re ready to,” Felix says, with incredible resolution – Dimitri hears the determination in his tone and regrets that he doesn’t know exactly when Felix grew to be so steadfast. Was it because Glenn died when they were so young that Felix has become the man he is now, he wonders – or is it too vain of him to entertain the thought that Felix might have grown up the way he did because of how he saw Dimitri changing?
If so, Dimitri thinks, then he did a horrible thing to an innocent boy – Felix was never meant to become the type of person who knows when it’s better to act cruelly to be kind and when it’s better to say kind words with cruel intent.
“I think I owe it to you more than any other living soul to make an effort,” Dimitri says.
“So you still listen to those ghosts?” Felix replies immediately, fluent as he is in understanding Dimitri’s unspoken words.
There’s an awkward pause before Dimitri answers, “The voices of the dead… they get easier and easier to ignore over time.” He tries for a smile; it comes out more like a wince. “Nowadays, I hardly even take notice of what they have to say. Besides, I – ”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Dimitri catches a glimpse of Glenn – if he were still alive, Dimitri is certain that in adulthood, he and Felix would have often been mistaken for twins. The Fraldarius bloodline runs unusually thick; Felix even resembles strongly the way that Kyphon is illustrated in the knights’ tales that they used to read together. All the men of Fraldarius that Dimitri has ever known all have the same face in structure, and the shapes of their eyes in particular are eerily alike.
“I favor your voice, Felix,” Dimitri finally says.
Felix frowns, then asks, “Are you being literal or metaphorical?”
“Both,” Dimitri answers.
“I despise it when you try to protect yourself with ambiguity,” Felix informs him. “But I don’t expect you to unlearn old habits at this point, so I suppose I can put up with it.”
They fall silent. A breeze carries through the window; the shadows in the room dance as the candles flicker. Dimitri squeezes Felix’s hand gently, and thinks for a moment that he might hear Felix sigh wistfully – but his inner rationalist bids him to consider the possibility that it’s only his wishful thinking.
“Could I ask you to stay with me tonight?” Dimitri asks, fully prepared to be denied.
After a pause, Felix tilts his head slightly and replies, “If it’s just for the night… then I don’t mind.”
That night, they lie together in Dimitri’s bed with a careful distance between them. Dimitri listens to Felix breathe steadily and counts his exhalations the way that Dimitri counted sheep when he was young, and lets the proof of Felix’s existence coax him to sleep.
Dimitri asks Felix the same question every day, and every day the answer is unfalteringly the same: “Once more, then.” Dimitri sleeps next to Felix every night, and every night they remain on either side of an invisible border, as if there is a physical line that neither of them are willing to cross. When the sun is up, life is frantic and there is never a second to spare – Dimitri rushes from decision to decision, trying to make the best out of bad circumstances. After the sun goes down, time resumes a normal pace and Dimitri is afforded the luxury of slowing down – but Felix is always there to make sure that Dimitri doesn’t dwell on choices that can no longer be overturned.
In front of anybody else, even his own mirror, Dimitri knows he can’t afford to be anything less than the Tempest King, a ruler who doesn’t doubt, the last rightful son of House Blaiddyd. The crown is immeasurably heavy: he feels a fool for ever thinking that the cross the dead thrust upon him could even remotely compare to the weight of the living.
Yet when the only one by his side is Felix – during those precious few moments, Dimitri is beast and boy and beloved regardless of what skin he wears. Felix calls him Dimitri and boar in roughly equal measures; both epithets feel deeply intimate. He is a child of man and a son of lions – Felix, he thinks, is part of his pride.
Because Dedue and Sylvain sit in on them regularly, Felix also starts attending war councils. Though he’s dispassionate about strategy and rarely participates in discussions on the overall shape of conflict except to throw an occasional naysay out, his intuition for tactics quickly becomes irreplaceable. As the balance of power between countries teeters uneasily, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and the Knights of Seiros shift focus towards consolidating power at key locations alongside carefully picking hit-and-run operations at the border to disrupt the Imperial army’s ability to create supply lines and deter advances from the western border – Dimitri is more involved in the former effort and Felix the latter.
Both of them also have their own soldiers to oversee, they almost never cross paths on the castle’s training grounds either. Their daytime lives, therefore, are distinctly but not deliberately separated from each other. But that distance forces the two of them to explain things carefully whenever they talk about what’s on weighing on their minds, and Dimitri likes the mindfulness that comes with that – sometimes, just by having to start at the very beginning of a problem, he feels like he understands it better by the time he’s come to the end and Felix has a chance to respond.
The night after Dimitri and his advisors agree to withdraw some of their forces from the far west of House Rowe’s territory and bring them closer to Arianrhod, he doesn’t sleep at all. Instead, he confesses to Felix, “I thought about Ashe as I signed the paper… about the fact that I don’t even know where he is anymore. And I wondered if I might be giving his body over for carrion crows to feast on.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Felix replies, almost immediately. “Ashe is strong, and more importantly, he’s resilient. He’ll find a way to thrive, no matter what… I’m sure of it.”
They talk until the early hours of the morning creep up on them – their conversation moves slowly, like a boat rocking on gentle waters. And then, when it becomes obvious that it’d be easier to continue staying awake than it would be to attempt catching a few minutes of sleep, they take a walk atop the castle walls in the half-light of dusk to let the early-morning breeze blow away as much residual fatigue as it can.
“I haven’t been up here in years,” Dimitri says, stopping at a particularly scenic spot, where the view of Fhirdiad is unobscured on all sides. “It wasn’t the last time, but the time before that… I believe you were with me.”
“I remember,” Felix replies, because he always does. Most of the time, Dimitri does not envy how sharp Felix’s memory is – but when they reminisce on happier days, he’s always grateful that Felix can reaffirm that Dimitri’s recollections are true, and not merely empty dreams he conjured up in his mind. “We were around eight, I think. It was early spring then, and your maid fussed about how you’d catch cold without a proper coat.”
“You wouldn’t go near the walls, even though we were barely tall enough to look over them,” Dimitri says. “I had to coax you over by saying I’d hold your hand – ”
“Don’t you get tired of reminding me about all the embarrassingly clingy things I did as a child?” Felix interrupts, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow.
“No, I don’t think I ever will,” Dimitri answers. Felix scowls, but Dimitri can tell that it’s not one of the expressions he really means, so he smiles in return.
“You’re insufferable,” Felix informs him, and then turns to face the east. He steps closer to the wall – it comes up to his waist now. The pre-morning glow is almost ethereal, and Dimitri unconsciously holds his breath for a few seconds as he considers how Felix looks when the sky behind him is painted in muted pastels. The word beautiful surfaces in Dimitri’s mind, but quickly sinks into a pile of other rejected descriptors – after careful consideration, he settles on devastating.
Dimitri begins to say, “You look like – ”
“You had better not be about to say that I look like Glenn,” Felix cuts in.
“No,” Dimitri says, but he smiles ruefully because Felix does, even if he wasn't thinking it. “You look like Kyphon.”
Felix inhales deeply, and Dimitri knows that both of them are thinking of the same picture: the illustration at the very end of Loog and the Maiden of Wind. Though Felix had never said anything about it, Dimitri had noticed every time they read the tale together that Felix’s eyes would linger on that page in particular, smiling as he looked down at the picture – Dimitri is certain that Felix remembers it even more vividly than he does. In it, Loog and Kyphon stand on the ramparts of Fhirdiad’s city walls as the sun begins to rise upon the newly founded Kingdom, and the two of them look out to the horizon with the light shining on their faces. Someday, we will be like that too, Dimitri had once said, not knowing that his wish for fate to bless them would instead twist into a curse.
“Maybe it was a strange thought,” Dimitri continues, after a pause, because Felix still hasn’t said anything in return.
After another few seconds pass, Felix reaches out to grab Dimitri’s hand in between his and pulls Dimitri forward, out of the shadows of the castle and into the light of the rising sun. He looks up at Dimitri, eyes ablaze with an emotion that Dimitri can’t easily describe: something fierce, something prideful, something profoundly sad.
“I don’t think I did,” Felix says, “but perhaps I resemble Kyphon now.”
Felix doesn’t let go of Dimitri’s hand. His grip is steady and careful, but he’s breathing as if it’s taking every last ounce of his strength to keep Dimitri there.
Please don’t try so hard, Dimitri wants to say. I won’t leave you, I don’t want to leave you.
But Felix is only a single man, and one of exceptional pride – Dimitri would never force him to live with the guilt that the king of Faerghus was not prepared to be a ruler before he is a lover. He swallows back the words and instead replies, “There was a Kyphon without Loog, wasn’t there?”
“Let’s not fight with wordplay, boar,” Felix says, voice just as harsh as it is yearning. “It doesn’t suit us.”
“Neither of us can afford to think that we can’t live without the other, Felix,” Dimitri replies, wondering whether his expression reveals just how achingly painful it is for him to admit that – or if he’s forgotten how to wear that emotion on his face.
“I never said that,” Felix replies immediately. But then he softens his hold – Dimitri watches Felix’s lower lip tremble slightly, and Dimitri’s heart melts like metal in the forge, both strong yet malleable all at once. Felix sighs sharply, and then continues, “That’s not what I said. I mean, you’re not wrong either, I just – I can’t stand the way you put it.”
“I’m sorry,” Dimitri says, because he can’t think of anything else to say.
“I’m not blaming you for telling the truth,” Felix replies.
For a few long moments, they simply stare at each other – the sun continues to rise until it crests over Felix’s head, and Dimitri has to look away so that the light doesn’t blind him. “Then, I’m sorry that I didn’t phrase it better,” he says.
“Dimitri, I’m not blaming you for anything at all, so can you stop self-flagellating?” Felix says. Dimitri can hear the frustration in his tone, but underneath that – tenderness. “This is just how things are. There’s nothing to do but accept reality for what it is and keep moving forward.”
Daytime is for the king of Faerghus; Dimitri withdraws into himself until the sun falls below the horizon. Felix has understood this from the very first day he arrived in Fhirdiad without ever being told – it’s one of many things that Dimitri has come to deeply appreciate about Felix. “You’re right, as you usually are,” Dimitri replies, with the calm, neutered tone he takes in front of an audience: now is not the time for him to show his vulnerability.
Felix drops Dimitri’s hand and crosses his arms tight. “I’m going. I have things to do, and I know you have even more,” Felix says. He sounds like he’s forcing the words out, but Dimitri can’t make himself respond – if anything, he feels he has no right to.
Instead, Dimitri silently watches Felix turn around to re-enter the inner castle. Seeing the impression that Felix’s back cuts against the stone walls, Dimitri reaffirms his earlier thought: the correct word to describe how he looks to Dimitri is devastating.
The day that the Millennium Festival was supposed to be held comes and goes with little fanfare – the Church hosts a humble celebration in Fhirdiad, but it’s more for show than anything else. The larger event comes several days later, when Rhea calls an emergency meeting to inform the Kingdom generals that a Church spy has reported the return of the Ashen Demon.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Dimitri watches Felix flinch almost imperceptibly – if he hadn’t known what to look for, he wouldn’t have seen it in the first place. “How can we be certain that it’s her?” Felix asks.
“She was using the Sword of the Creator,” Seteth says. “It’s more believable to think that she’s returned than to think that the Empire has found somebody else capable of wielding it.”
“We need not waver in our course,” Dimitri cuts in. He stands abruptly, forcing the entire room to look at him. “The professor shouldn’t be underestimated, of course… but when it comes down to the essence of things, she’s only another enemy to cut down.”
The show of confidence manages to dull the tension in the room enough that the rest of the council proceeds smoothly. When it’s done, Dimitri asks for his meal to be sent to his room, and immediately returns to his quarters.
Felix shows up not long after. The first thing he says after Dimitri lets him in is, “There’s no point in hiding it, boar. I know the news must have you shaken.”
“How could it not?” Dimitri replies. “I saw you react too. It’s only natural, given that we know firsthand just how capable she is.”
“It’d be a mistake to overestimate her as well,” Felix points out. He steps closer to Dimitri, then asks, “What’s really on your mind?”
“There was a rumor from we were still students at the Officer’s Academy,” Dimitri says, after a pause. He can’t quite meet Felix’s eyes, and ends up staring somewhere over his left shoulder instead. “Ingrid told me, I think. She said that somebody had overheard the professor asking you to join the Black Eagles.”
“She did,” Felix replies, without hesitation. “What of it?”
Dimitri has to actively resist the urge to begin fantasizing about hypothetical alternate-lives in which Felix had joined the Black Eagles. “I’ve always wondered… I wonder why you didn’t accept. I know you have great admiration for her swordplay,” he finally says.
“Maybe if the professor and I had been in the academy just a year earlier, I would have,” Felix answers. “But at that time, you were the leader of the Blue Lions.”
“Oh,” Dimitri says. His mouth feels dry suddenly; he resists the urge to lick his lips.
“To me, it was never a question of whether I wanted to join the Black Eagles… it was whether I was willing to leave the Blue Lions,” Felix continues. He reaches up to cup Dimitri’s face between his hands, then guides Dimitri to properly look at him – there isn’t even the slightest hint of hesitation in Felix’s gaze. Part of Dimitri wants to relax immediately, but the rest of him feels like he has done a terrible thing to an undeserving person.
“Don’t you dare make light of me,” Felix tells him. There is a severity to his intonation that’s unusually heavy, even for him. “There's nothing that could have made me leave. Even if the reincarnation of the Goddess herself personally asked me to change houses, I would have refused.”
“I’ve done nothing to deserve your loyalty so ardently, Felix,” Dimitri admits.
For a few moments, Felix stares at him and Dimitri wonders if Felix is about to cry. “This isn’t about loyalty, Dimitri,” Felix says. His voice is rough and pure – in the back of his mind, Dimitri thinks about how much he loves to hear Felix’s voice, how much he adores the syllables that Felix shapes in his mouth – Felix looks so much like Glenn, but they sound nothing alike. “If I’d left, I would have regretted it for my entire life. That’s all there is to it.”
Felix pauses there for a few moments, then scoffs. “Better a short life lived well than a long one in misery,” he finally says, voice barely above a whisper.
“Felix,” Dimitri murmurs. Felix is so close to him that it would be so easy to reach out, to hold him, to kiss him – and Dimitri does want to, so badly. He leans in, and Felix tilts his head up; together, they hang over the precipice of inevitability –
There’s a knock at the door; Dimitri’s stomach plummets as he remembers he’d asked for food to be sent to his room. Felix lets go and pushes Dimitri away with a shortened, jerky movement. “I need to be alone for a while,” he says, stepping past Dimitri. “I’ll come back later. When I don’t feel like I’m about to make a liar of myself.”
Dimitri doesn’t make him stay – but he leaves his door unlocked. He idles the night away until he can’t find anything else to do and makes himself blow out the candles before laying down in bed.
Not long afterwards, Dimitri opens his eyes when he hears the door open and close quietly, then the sound of the lock sliding into place. Felix takes the same place on the bed he always does, with the same careful distance there always is between them – Dimitri shuts his eyes again, and falls asleep.
The Empire marches on the Leicester Alliance. No miracles occur, and the Alliance falls within months. When informants report that the Imperial flag flies over Derdriu, a war council is called immediately. “The Empire will invade Faerghus next,” Dimitri announces at the very start, because there’s no use in empty optimism in the face of certainty. “Reports from House Rowe indicate that there are forces gathering near their territory. It stands to reason they intend to take down Arianrhod first.”
“Worrying about maintaining the northern border against Sreng will be meaningless if the Empire takes us from the west,” Sylvain says grimly. “I’ll have my father send soldiers from Gautier to Arianrhod and Fhirdiad.”
“Will they arrive in time?” Seteth asks.
“I can ride to Arianrhod with a battalion of Fraldarius foot soldiers in the meanwhile,” Felix answers. “We’re the most mobile forces in the capital, so we should make it there before the Empire can regroup. If we can stop the Imperial advance there, then we might be able to stall them and buy enough time to bolster our forces at both cities.”
Please, Felix, stay here with me, Dimitri thinks. When he turns to look at Felix, he has to stop his eyes from sliding off of Felix’s face to the corner of his vision where Glenn’s ghost still haunts him. If we’re going to die – can we not at least do it together?
“You’re right that Arianrhod is our best chance to hold the line,” he replies aloud. “But we’ve managed to repel the Imperial Army by being as cautious as possible – I hesitate to weaken our central position while we wait for reinforcements.”
“Now’s not the time to start spouting nonsense,” Felix retorts. “We have limited resources and an entire country to defend. Right now, preventing the enemy from taking over Arianrhod should be our first priority. My father is overseeing the city now, and I’m familiar with the territory – it makes the most sense for me to return.”
“I think Felix is right, Your Majesty,” Sylvain says. “That’s not to say that I doubt Ingrid and Lord Rodrigue, but… the best defense of Fhirdiad is the defense of Arianrhod.”
Dimitri looks around the table – he wants to continue the argument, but he can see from the expressions on all their faces that they agree with Felix’s proposal. “Then let’s do that,” he says. “Dedue, help Felix make the preparations for departure after we adjourn. Have the Fraldarius battalion ready to depart within the next three days.”
It is either the beginning of the end, or the end to a beginning, Dimitri supposes – the problem is that he can’t tell which one it is.
OUR LYING HEARTS
Imperial Year 1180
After Garreg Mach falls, the remnants of the Blue Lions cross Grondor Field with the Golden Deer en route to Faerghus, taking advantage of the fact that they’re still technically students to avoid diplomatic problems. After they enter Faerghus, students begin to separate off to return to their home territories: first Ashe and Mercedes, who come from the furthest west of the Kingdom, then Annette and Ingrid. Dimitri, Dedue, Felix, and Sylvain travel northeast together; once they reach Fraldarius territory, Rodrigue temporarily takes them in – but Sylvain barely stays for a day before he rides off to House Gautier.
Dimitri, though, dawdles on whether he should return to Fhirdiad. The child in him wants to stay in the east and leverage the sway that Houses Fraldarius and Gautier hold within the Kingdom to strengthen his internal position, to have Duke Fraldarius and Margrave Gautier coddle him until he grows into the confidence he’s been faking – the beast in him wants to throw aside titles, march west, and cut his way to Enbarr, goaded on by the vengeful spirits which whisper spite into his ears that nobody else seems to hear. In the midst of his internal conflict, Felix calls upon him for the first time in years, which is enough to make him claw out of his own mind for long enough to attempt conversation.
Felix lets Dimitri into his room and Dimitri barely has enough time to wonder what Felix might want from him before Felix grabs him by the collar and pulls him in. He kisses Dimitri – their mouths smash into each other unartfully and their teeth clack against each other. He kisses Dimitri again, softer the second time, and it sends a shiver down Dimitri’s spine that feels so achingly human when nothing else has in a long, long time.
Dimitri clutches awkwardly at Felix’s shoulders and kisses him back, hoping that pure want will make up for his lack of technique. When they finally part, both of them have to pause to catch their breaths. “Can I ask what’s on your mind?” Dimitri asks tentatively, because Felix looks contemplative while Dimitri can barely think about anything aside from Felix’s kiss-bruised lips and the flush of his cheeks.
Felix stares at him and Dimitri can tell from the look on his face that he’s on the verge of lashing out in some way, whether it’s with words or with tears – but Felix shakes his head abruptly and reins his stray emotions in. “I love you,” Felix says, but he says it as if he’s mourning. “I hoped someday I would get fed up with you, but at this point I don’t think I ever will. If after all this, I still love you… then there’s probably no changing it.”
“I – ” Dimitri starts to say, but Felix reaches up and covers Dimitri’s mouth with his left hand.
“For once, just shut up and listen to me. Actually listen to me, instead of going through the motions like you always do,” Felix says. “I love you, and I – I think… I want to think that you do love me too, in your own way, but it’s all pointless now. Things have changed.”
It’s not pointless. How could it be pointless? Dimitri wants to say, but Felix won’t let him. It may be for the better – Dimitri wants to reject those words, but he doesn’t want to lie to Felix either. Denying Dimitri the chance to respond at all seems like another one of Felix’s cold, sharp kindnesses.
“We’re at war, and you’re the only prince of this country. You have to claim the throne and defend this kingdom, and – short of my life, I’m prepared to give up on anything to make that happens,” Felix tells him. As he continues speaking, the resolution in his gaze burns brighter and stronger – the amber color of his eyes shines in a way that reminds Dimitri of sunrise. “But if you also think that… in a different time, under better circumstances… that we could have tried to love each other honestly, then I ask you to do one thing.”
Felix breathes like he’s in pain; his entire chest heaves, and Felix’s open desperation shakes Dimitri right to his core. The boy within him wants to hold Felix close while the beast wants to protect him – Dimitri’s heart beats so fast that he thinks it may very well implode. And what does the man desire? he thinks to himself, but he doesn’t find an easy answer.
“Take all the effort you would have put towards loving me back, and use it instead to do right as the king of Faerghus,” Felix says. Then he takes his hand off of Dimitri’s mouth to kiss him again – tenderly this time, gently, and the open sweetness of the gesture makes Dimitri realize just how profound Felix’s feelings are. Until moments ago, Dimitri had thought that the only way to make Felix look at him with the same affection that he did when they were children was to pretend for him, and now he wonders – was the problem simply that he wasn’t returning Felix’s gaze properly to begin with?
Dimitri wants to kiss Felix back, to embrace him and tell him, I do, I do love you, and I’m sorry for loving you so clumsily, you deserved more, you deserved better – he doesn’t, because he doesn’t want to hurt Felix more than he already has.
“I’ll go to Fhirdiad and ascend,” Dimitri says hoarsely. He holds his hands down at his sides stiffly, to make sure that he doesn’t give into instinct and reach out. “It isn’t because I feel obligated to. It isn’t because… you’ve compelled me to. But you’ve reminded me that this is what I need to do… and so, this is what I want to do.”
“Good,” Felix replies. He looks down and then adds, “I won’t kiss you again. Not until we’ve won this war, at least… I think it’s better that way.”
Dimitri’s heart wants to disagree with that, but he knows that he can’t. “I should leave, then,” he says, in a voice just above audible. “Before it gets too difficult to make myself move.”
Felix lets go of him and turns his back. He doesn’t look at Dimitri when he says, “I’m sure we’ll meet again before the war ends. When that time comes… I hope I see in you a king I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve.”
It will be four years before they meet again, but Dimitri keeps those words close to his heart and thinks about them – about Felix – almost every day. He takes the throne, rallies the Kingdom forces and Church loyalists from Fhirdiad, and leads a fierce defense against Sreng’s attempt to take advantage of the country’s disarray and invade; the people begin calling him the Tempest King in admiration. Felix, for his part, goes with his father to fortify Arianrhod, and through his reputation for successfully protecting the border villages for years, earns himself a nickname that sends a flutter through Dimitri’s chest the first time that he hears it: the Warbird of the West.
TEMPEST OF SWORDS AND SHIELDS
Imperial Year 1185
After the meeting adjourns several hours later, Felix grabs Dimitri by the arm and says, “Come with me,” before dragging Dimitri off fast enough that they manage to escape before either one of them can get pulled into another impromptu pre-mortem. The way that he grasps at Dimitri’s hand as a sense of urgency that Dimitri hasn’t known from Felix since their childhood, so he simply allows himself to be led as Felix brings them up to the castle ramparts.
Night has already fallen, but the moon is waning crescent – not bright enough to shine upon the castle and city with the azure haze that Dimitri’s become so fond of. The stars shine brighter, and so do Felix’s eyes.
“I plan to leave the day after tomorrow,” Felix says.
Dimitri inhales slowly and holds his breath until he thinks of a reply. “I want to ask something of you,” he finally tells Felix, “but I don’t want you to think that I’m being greedy.”
“There’s a time when I would have thought that even if it wasn’t fair,” Felix replies, with a piercing sort of self-awareness to his tone, “but not now. Tell me, Dimitri.”
“Can you give me tomorrow, Felix?” Dimitri asks. He wonders if Felix hears his desperation – Dimitri does try to mask it, but Felix has always been so good at discerning the things that he wants to hide the most. “Just one day… is that too much to ask?”
“No, it’s not,” Felix answers. But then he wraps his arms around himself, in a way that feels protective. “It’s not too much to ask for… But still, I can’t give it to you, and that’s not your fault. It’s mine.”
Dimitri wants to embrace Felix so badly that he has to consciously hold his arms down as he replies, “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I’m not as selfless as you seem to think I am, Dimitri,” Felix says. He steps closer, and for a moment, Dimitri thinks that Felix is going to reach out – but he doesn’t. “There are things I want so badly that it makes me feel utterly pathetic sometimes. I want this war to end… I want a reality where there was never a war in the first place. I want to stay here in Fhirdiad. I want you, Dimitri – the man, not the king.”
“Felix, I – ” Dimitri begins to say, but Felix lets go of himself to put a finger to Dimitri’s mouth, shushing him before he can finish his thought: I want you too. And I want to give you my everything.
“If I get a taste, I don’t know if I’d be able to make myself leave,” Felix tells him. He slides his fingertip against Dimitri’s lips – softly at first, and then with a sudden, brief firmness before he brings his hand back in again. “I can’t make this harder than it already is.”
“Let me ask for something else, then,” Dimitri says, after a pause.
Felix doesn’t reply, but he tilts his head in Dimitri’s direction; Dimitri takes it to mean assent. “I want your truth, Felix,” Dimitri tells him. “Do you… Was I able to be…”
Dimitri pauses and thinks about all the things he would want to know, if they had all the time in the world to talk with each other, to bare their hearts to each other completely. Do you regret loving me, Felix? Do you know that I love you – that I never meant to hurt you – that I wish I could do anything for you? Was I able to be worthy of you? Was I able to show you that everything you gave up did not go to waste?
Then he looks at Felix – he sees the man Felix has grown up to be, sharp and lovely – but he also sees the child he grew up with. And then he remembers that at his core, Felix has always been a deeply vulnerable person, the kind of boy who needs more than he’s willing to tell others. What can I ask that will give you what you need, Felix? Dimitri wonders.
Finally, he says, “If we should meet again… whether it’s in this life, or the next one… will you allow me to seek you out once more?”
“Yes,” Felix answers, without hesitation.
“Then I promise that I will,” Dimitri replies, “though I won’t ask you to wait for me, in the case that you change your mind in the meanwhile.”
Felix exhales audibly and says, “Don’t play coy with me. You know I won’t change my mind.”
“I don’t know it, I only hope for it,” Dimitri admits, and attempts a contrite half-smile. It seems to pacify Felix, because he doesn’t press the point; instead, he takes another tentative step closer, and then idly touches his own lips with the fingertip he’d silenced Dimitri with earlier – but only for a moment, before he looks up to the sky.
“This isn’t how I would have wanted things to be,” Felix says, “but I think I was happy anyway.”
Felix smiles, and for the first time in far too long, he looks at peace with his own happiness. Dimitri stares at Felix, trying to drink the moment in, to make sure that he remembers to the very end that this is how Felix should always have looked in a life that had been fairer to him: young, wild, free.
Two days later, Felix leaves for Arianrhod in the earliest hours of morning. He doesn’t wake Dimitri before he departs, and Dimitri knows that is meant to be mercy – even still, when he wakes up alone, Dimitri lies in bed for far too long and thinks about all the things he wishes he could’ve told Felix while he still could have.
But he gets up eventually. Mere hours later, he prepares to lead a patrol towards the Tailtean Plains to scout out the best places to set up a defensive line. He refuses any help in putting his armor on, and indulges in the temporary mindlessness of putting on each piece. Phantoms of the dead mill about the corners of the room; he ignores them and they ignore him.
Once he’s done, Dimitri stands up and says aloud, “I’ve sent my heart to die ahead of me.”
No ghosts reply.
He picks up Areadbhar, and his gloves make a sickening creak as he tightens his grip around the lance – after a moment, he relaxes his hold and he exhales sharply. He looks to the west, away from the rising sun, and tells himself, “But better my heart than his spirit.”