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The Hunter and The Boar

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The blood washed off his hands easy enough.

Brick rivulets streamed down the bright white sink of the monastery’s dorm bathroom and Dimitri couldn’t help but wonder how much blood these drains had seen over the centuries. The ichor of children and professors that would never really scrub out deep in the bowels of the monastery. He scraped at the dried black bits under his fingernails and tried not to think about how it had seeped under his gloves or whose it was.

“Less exciting when it’s not your kill, hm, boar?”

Dimitri didn’t have to look up to recognize the rolling thunder of disdain emanating from the open arc but he was surprised to hear it. In the blur of the aftermath and the long trek back to the monastery, he hadn’t been able to find Felix in the crowd of battalions and old schoolmates-turned-fugitives. Not that Dimitri could stray far anyway, Professor was so concerned for him, she hadn’t let him out of her eyesight. He was sure she wouldn’t even let him come here to wash up and sleep but she’d encouraged the normalcy of his usual routine. Anything to keep the voices at bay.

Dimitri afforded himself a selfish glance in the mirror at the man languidly walking into the dormitory bathrooms like it was any other day and they’d just happened to sync up their schedules. Like the blood dark and dry on Dimitri’s cuffs wasn’t—

“I thought for sure you would be out training for your next bloodbath. Relishing in the victory.”

Victory? Yes, we won, Dimitri thought, but, Goddess, at what cost?

He turned off the faucet and dried his raw hands on a slip of towel, more rag than anything. The wetness at his wrists dyed the white cloth clay red and he held back a wince. The man over his shoulder was still in his usual indigo combat uniform, not a mote of dirt or blood on him. The white fur around his collar and draping down his back still looked flawless. Dimitri wasn’t sure how, Felix had speared through nearly as many men and women as he had that battle. Even in the blood haze of war, it was impossible not to watch the dancerlike artistry that was Felix with a sword. He moved as if he’d been born with it in hand, an elegant grace that neither his father nor his brother possessed.

Dimitri had envied it since they were children. If he were being honest, he’d coveted more than that when it came to Felix.

He cleared his throat of the thought.

“I thought you would be at the dinner with everyone,” Dimitri found his voice didn’t waver as he set the bloodied towel on the sink and started adeptly undoing the clasps on his chitinous vambraces, noting the matte specks he’d have to polish out later in his room.

“Mercedes would not stop staring at me,” Felix scoffed as if her concern were some sort of unforgivable crime. Goddess forbid their friend worry about him in a time like this. “I fear this time if she prayed any harder the Goddess would have actually come down.” The flat monotone to his words, nearly sibilant with its acidic disinterest, didn’t bely any emotion other than vague disgust.

“She means well,” Dimitri offered blandly, getting his arms free of the black armor and wrapping the braces in his cobbled together cloak. His arms ached as he bundled the armor together. No amount of training would prepare for the sharp jarring snap of bone stopping a lance. Relic or no. The snap mimicked in his words as he added, “She was probably worried since you were not at the grave.”

Felix’s copper-brown eyes widened slightly before narrowing on Dimitri’s haggard reflection in the mirror. He wanted to shrink back from the appraising glare. After five years, the manic-depressive haze in his mind had lifted, however briefly, and the hot shame Dimitri felt from what he had done and how he had acted was already louder than any disembodied ghostly howl.

Half of him wished for the nebulous unending rage to come back. At the moment, freshly lifted from the veil, he was unsure who he was without it. Perhaps he was the boar. Perhaps Felix was right as always.

“Is this really the death that brings you back?” His tone shifted from disinterested to accusatory as his arms crossed tightly around his midsection, defensive, even as he leaned against the doorway to the large washroom. “Not the hundreds of men and women and children you’ve boorishly slaughtered for your so-called revenge?”

Dimitri didn’t have an answer for that. He wasn’t sure he ever would.

“Incredible. All it took was another Fraldarius taking the blade meant for you.” His sneer lit a fire in his dark eyes, “One to snap you into a rage, the other to snap you out.”

Dimitri turned from the sink at that, cradling his cloak and armor in his screaming arms.

“I'll try to deserve it. Them. This Kingdom.” You. It caught on the back of his throat. “It won’t be in vain.”

The other man’s fingers clenched. Dimitri could hear the brown leather gloves creaking in the silent chamber. A muscle slid in his jaw, pale skin blotching red high on his cheekbones as if it was taking all of his energy not to draw the sword hanging loosely at his hip. Dimitri thought if anyone was going to take his life, it made sense for the last Fraldarius to do it and so the words he’d been trying to keep back slid out from between his teeth as he stepped forward earnestly,

“Felix, you know I loved your fath—”

Felix disappeared in a flash of blue and white, leaving only the echo of footsteps down the empty dormitory hall. Dimitri adjusted the bundle in his arms and waited until the echoes and voices died down before silently slipping back to his bedroom.

With the door closed and locked firmly behind him, Dimitri fumbled through the buckles on his segmented cuirass and cuisse. It took eons to strip off the blood clogged armor and then peel off the sweat-stuck garments beneath. Every strap and button and tie kept his mind on the next task until he was stripped to his leggings and there was nothing left to remove.

It was just him in the candlelit darkness. Alive and alone. Again.

***

Felix scrubbed at the wetness on his cheeks, breaking almost into a run to get away from the newly sane prince. The pain in the larger man’s gaze. The sorrow and grief and pity. It was a stark contrast to the matte blue swirling discord that Felix had been stealing glances at for months.

Of course his old man would be the one to snap the mad prince out of it. Rodrigue loved his highness and his father, Lambert, more than he’d ever loved his own sons. Of course Felix could never snap him out of it with words, coated in poison as they were. Every time he looked at the prince, Felix felt everything he wanted to say to his highness come out backwards and dagger sharp.

That was the difference between Felix and his father. His father only thought of the good of the Kingdom. Acted righteously and struck true without second guessing. There would be no question to how Glenn and Rodrigue would be seen in tomes written on their victory.

Felix, on the other hand, only thought of the prince. He thought of the five years the entire kingdom, himself included, thought the prince had died. All the things he'd wanted to say and scream and shout when he saw him, battered but alive. He was consumed these past months with clawing through the animalistic rage to the man he knew was lost and helpless beneath. None of those thoughts ever came out as anything other than barbs sharper and more frequent than a rose bush.

Seeing him in the washrooms methodically wiping the blood from his hands and armor with that agonizing glint in his eye, the sheen of unshed tears the prince probably hadn't even let himself notice yet. Felix knew he was back at just a glance. He didn't know whether to feel relief, jealousy, or shame at how quickly the jealousy set in. His father wasn't even cold and Felix already knew he was fine with Rodrigue's death if this was the price of getting his Highness back.

Perhaps he was the boar.

He pushed again at his cheeks as he was unceremoniously dumped into the crisp night air of the dormitory courtyard. The clean winter air hit him like a blow to the chest, as if he was just now taking a breath for the first time in ten minutes. A staggered breath and then another. He rasped once and again, wondering if the tears were from his father's death or relief at his highness being back.

“Felix?”

Goddess, not him.

“Walking back from a one night stand?” Felix jabbed while clearing his throat of any tightness from the earlier encounter with the prince. His back was to his dearest acquaintance, the red-haired casanova. He wasn’t sure if his emotions could survive another encounter with a childhood friend, Sylvain or no.

“Walking back from the dinner, you ass.” Sylvain laughed back, stopping his easy gait at Felix’s shoulder. “Who am I supposed to chase around here? One of the nuns?”

“Might have better luck with the monks.” Felix offered with as flat a tone as he could muster. Sylvain moved around to the front of him, nearly half a foot taller, and cocked his head, a wicked smile unfurling.

“I have, actually.” Sylvain winked.

Felix fought the exasperated smile that threatened to split the harsh set of his mouth.

“What are you doing out here? Have you just been standing around in the cold?”

“No, I went to shower to clear my mind after dinner and,” he sighed, palming his temple. A stress headache was starting to blossom. His fingers itched to swing a sword, “the prince is back.”

“Dimitri?” Sylvain asked, “Dimitri has been back for months. He is weird but—”

“No, he’s back. Cognizant.”

Sylvain’s eyebrows rose. He scratched his flame-colored head. “Should we—?”

“It can wait until morning. I am going to train.” He went to move but a hand caught his shoulder.

“Fe, come on now, take the night. We can talk about it.” Sylvain’s half-smile and jesting nature disappeared in a flash. This was what Felix liked so much about Sylvain, just not when it was directed at him. He was more appraising and calculating than anyone. No one but his inner circle ever gave him credit for it.

Words tried to bubble up from Felix’s deepest recess but he shook his head and bit them back bitterly. He just said, “There is nothing to talk about.”

“I know that’s not true.” Sylvain insisted, hand squeezing his shoulder, both to reassure him and keep him still.

“I cannot talk about it.” Felix amended, pushing his bangs out of his face.

“Which part?” The half-smile was back as quick as it had disappeared. There was a second of stunned silence and hot shame before Sylvain’s hand left Felix’s shoulder to clap his back as he passed him into the dormitory.

The door clattered closed behind Sylvain. The cool air calmed the heat and chilled the reemerging tears. He walked, head down, as fast as he could to the training grounds.