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in love and war, spare no effort

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The king strode across the courtyard as if hounds nipped at his heels. He slowed only when the page from the armory, struggling to keep pace, asked--

“Areadbhar?” Dimitri repeated, halting, his lone eye focused on something no one else could see. “Areadbhar… No. They’re mere audacious thieves, aren’t they? My father’s lance would be wasted on them. Anything will do.”

Before the page could even respond, Dimitri continued on ahead, unarmed as of yet but in all other intents, set for the battleground. Dedue matched his stride like a shadow. It’d been a while since he’d seen this tension on the man. While he’d supposed it would have to return eventually, the suddenness was unnerving. Though not entirely unjustified.

There’d been a brutal pillaging at Glanymor, a bustling seaside town to the southwest of Fhirdiad. Dedue had never been before, but Dimitri had recounted such fond memories of it that he could see it in his mind’s eye. A former head of House Blaiddyd had built an ornate summer palace there, generations ago, and Dimitri’s father was the one who ordered its repair in celebration of the birth of his firstborn son.

The son who was now the king, and making haste towards the stables to mobilize the bloody hand of justice. Dedue allowed himself one moment of something approaching bitterness, that such a fine stretch of peace had been interrupted. Surely, that weighed on Dimitri as well, driving his iron-clad boots fast and hard into the pavement. Dedue had watched him read the report, seen how his face blanched and crumpled, an old weariness climbing back into his eye. It was worrisome. But as surely as the sun rose and fell, what had to be done would be done.

Amidst the commotion of those preparing their departure, there was a familiar man standing between them and the main stables. He was talking to a stablehand with a severe expression, one that only intensified when he turned it on the king.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Dimitri finally stopped, perplexed as he stared down at Felix. “Did you not get the report? Port Glanymor--”

“I got the report,” Felix said. “That’s why I’m leaving.”

“Excellent,” Dimitri replied, though not a note in his voice held any true pleasure. He gestured a gauntlet at his friend, in no less of a hurry. “Come with us. We--”

“I wasn’t finished, boar,” Felix huffed. He turned his whole body to face Dimitri, as if doing so could afford more clarity. “I’m leaving. You’re staying here.”

Dimitri seemed to freeze up and waver. Then: “I’m sorry?”

Felix did not move an inch. It did, despite himself, remind Dedue of a man faced with a bear. “You will be if you dare argue with me about this.”

“What is there to argue?” Dimitri began. Frustration furrowed his brow and leapt off his tongue. “Glanymor is a day’s ride out. This suppression should take four days at most. That leaves plenty of time to prepare for the visiting councilmen--”

“It’s not about that,” Felix said irritably. He took a near-imperceptible deep breath, cast his sharp gaze at the dirt, rubbed at his temple. Though Dedue hardly knew the man to hesitate, the next words stalled, almost gritted out. “I’ve reason to believe this is too personal for you--”

“Felix-- hardly,” Dimitri replied, not bothering to hide his offense. He splayed a quick, stubborn hand over his chest, fingers biting and curling inward enough to strain the fabric. He shook his head, and his voice trembled. “It’s my duty to the living. It couldn’t be any more straightforward. There’s been a slaughter--”

“Even more personal,” Felix snapped. “If it’s politically motivated, and whoever’s behind it has any clue what a child king you really are, riling you by striking close to the heart isn’t a bad tactic.”

Dimitri’s jaw tightened. His broad shoulders twitched, as if they could not decide whether to droop or tense. “Felix,” he sighed, “you’re being unreasonable. I am not-- There is no need of this-- this caution. I’m not unstable, I simply wish to--”

“I could not give less of a damn about what you wish! Look at you, already angling for a fight--”

“Because you are testing me! Felix, you have my word--”

“What,” Felix spat, taking one more unfettered step forward, “that you won’t kill anyone there? That you won’t enjoy it? I’m sure that’s just what your demons want--”

That was quite enough. Though Dedue might never have a dagger for a tongue, not like the young duke, he would not let these old accusations fly again.

“His Highness only--”

For one so single-mindedly focused on Dimitri, Felix certainly responded to him quick enough, even looking up to jab a damning pointer finger at him. “Shut up, Dedue.”

Dimitri glowered. “Do not speak to him so disrespectfully.”

Felix glared back. “I wouldn’t have to if you would just listen for once in your wretched life.”

Around them, some servants and officers idled, curious or perhaps needing clarification on orders-- they remained a polite enough distance away that it was unclear if they could precisely hear the argument, but the visuals surely said enough. At times, Dedue was grateful for his intimidating appearance. A few smoldering looks of disapproval, and the audience dispersed more quickly than they’d come. Dimitri really was terrible at protecting his own reputation, he thought.

Terribly regal nonetheless, with his crossed arms and stolid posture, Dimitri looked far down his nose at Felix. “Enough. There’s a time to listen, and a time to act.” Nostrils flared, his lone eye wholly icy, he spoke with a steel temper and no room for argument.

With that, he moved to soldier past Felix, only for the more quick-footed man to step and catch him by the front of his tunic. Armor would have been helpful, Dedue thought, tensing very nominally as Felix seized their liege with one tight, gloved fist. He thought to interfere, but knew no harm would befall Dimitri, and besides--

Instincts fresh as ever, Dimitri moved to grab Felix’s arm, releasing it as soon as he truly felt it in his grasp. Felix gripped even harder, stationing himself right in front of Dimitri again. He broke eye contact. Instead he pierced that magnificent, narrow glare straight through Dimitri’s chest. “Listen,” he seethed, “do you have any idea how hard you’ve made it to trust you?”

Dimitri’s hand hovered beside him, as if caught and exhausted on invisible lines. Something like pain pulled and shaped his bottom lip; his whole expression seemed to quiver. It hurt Dedue to see. However-- and this, Dedue could see clear as day-- Felix’s scowl was hot and fierce and inextricably colored with woe and worry. Though they could not be any more different, Dedue thought back to his own feelings at the sight of Dimitri’s grim resolve.

Perhaps the difference was that Felix seemed very nearly afraid of it. Dedue quite understood fearing for Dimitri-- fearing loss--

And… the years as brothers-in-arms had instilled him with some curiosity about this prickly, passionate behavior. To Dedue, Felix was as interesting a creature as any he so frequently compared his allies to.

“I thought I might give you a chance, as you’ve made it a point to trust me, beast,” Felix bit out. “Now you can’t even do that.”

He released Dimitri’s tunic in disgust, turned his head as if to survey the gardens as he spoke. “Tell me; do you think it looks good if our fool king leaves the city in a rush every time there’s a crisis outside the gates? That would invite even more incidents.”

“That is generally what warrior kings do,” Dimitri replied, with no shortage of bitterness, though he’d begun to sound uncertain.

“Oh! Well I suppose if you mount enough gored heads on the gates, O King of Lions--” Felix rolled his eyes with an aggressive shrug, arms raised, that single motion teeming with anger-- then he cut himself off, finally returning Dimitri’s searching gaze with a scorching one.

He smacked his own chest, the audible thump dulled by cloth and leather. “I’m a born warrior. Your right hand, supposedly. Let me protect your subjects. Or are you so antsy to get your fill of blood? You say you detest killing, then cling to this idea of duty when I am giving you the chance to abstain.”

“It’s,” the king frowned, hesitating, distinctly glum. “ you say, in the service of the living--”

“Fine. I can do it.”

Dimitri near winced. “You should not have to fight my battles without me, dear one.”

“Hah! Your battle? Unbelievable. Don’t say something so blatantly stupid to me ever again.” Felix pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, more exasperated than angry as he set his other hand upon his hip-- gallantly ignoring the term of endearment, though his face colored redder still. “I’ll bet you think it’s singlehandedly your fault Glanymor was sacked. I don’t feel bad for you. Such pointless shame is the same damn thing as pride.”

Dimitri touched his temple, as well, as if his long-standing headache returned at just that moment. His stance was no longer so kingly. He leaned forward instead of back, as if tempted to curl in on himself, or towards his duke-- he didn’t, but for just a moment, Dedue could see the weight of the future and past bearing down upon him. He always knew it was there, but oh, how admirably Dimitri pretended otherwise on this road to his penance.

But… if he understood Felix’s gist correctly, he was saying some guilt and some duties did not have to fall upon Dimitri’s battered shoulders. Dedue could not help but agree.

The impatient determination had seeped out of the king’s pale face. He turned his gaze aside. His voice still sounded scraped raw, melancholy and rueful in its contemplations. “There’s not much intel on who attacked Glanymor and why they did it. I can’t imagine there isn’t some anti-royalist sentiment at work.”

Felix snorted. “Goddess above, Dimitri,” he cursed, “you take it far too personally that so many people want you dead. Are you that weak-minded?”

Dimitri’s answer came solemn and immediate, his gaze hard as stone. “You know as well as I do that I cannot afford to be.”

“Then you understand why I can’t have another meaningless atrocity chipping away at your senses,” Felix replied. Dimitri’s single eye widened with something indeterminable. Felix lifted his chin, on the verge of a sneer. “Dedue can even come along with me, if you doubt my swordsmanship on top of my counsel.”

“I have no reason to doubt either.” Dimitri sighed, rubbing still more gently at the curve of his skull. He gave Felix a desperate look, one filled with warmth, and shook his head. “You win, beloved. I'll stay behind. Though I assure you, I could have controlled myself. I only do what must be done, you know that.”

“I don’t know that.” Felix said tersely. “Prove it to me, that you’re not some madman as soon as you’re troubled.”

Dimitri looked stricken. He crowded Felix’s space, gentle, supplicant. “I’ve upset you.”

Felix turned his head like a horse refusing an apple. “No more than usual.”

“Perhaps you’re right... Felix.” Dimitri sighed the name, in a manner so very different from his previous growling. It held the quiet relief of a homecoming, and Dedue, feeling suddenly intrusive, turned his head a full 90 degrees away. Still, he could hear Dimitri’s near-mumble, glutted with affection: “Truly, you don’t know how much I value your discerning eye...”

Then he heard the slap of glove on gauntlet, a rebuffed touch. Felix griped, “You really are a madman. Don’t expect any tenderness from me now. Tch. I’m going ahead. Send Dedue after me if you wish.”

Mute, they both watched the swordsman stalk off towards his usual steed. Dimitri shuffled a step or two after him, raising his voice to a reasonably authoritative volume: “If you see you are in need of reinforcements at any time--”

Felix did not stop or turn around, simply waved the back of his hand and raised his own voice in turn, unfailingly curt. “I will see to it that we are not.”

Dimitri watched his partner’s retreating back for at least a few more full, silent seconds, then turned to Dedue with that feeble, singularly charming smile. The color had not returned to his cheeks, but he looked… bolstered, spirits raised above the din of his obligations. Healthily distracted. It was as he often seemed after time spent with Felix, no matter how often those monarchical obligations rattled their interactions. He stood still. Rubbed his chin. And remarked, sheepishly, “I suppose we should work on that.”

Dedue closed the distance between them, steps light upon the earth. “Hm?”

“Not parting on such... sour terms.” Dimitri looked off in the direction Felix had went, once, and then back to Dedue. Breathed out, like Mercedes had taken such care to instruct him to, when troubled. There was still such wry fondness in his expression. He was concerned, but not haunted. More days than not, now, unhaunted. Wonderfully alive. “I have every confidence that he’ll return, but it’s still… unpleasant.”

“... Dimitri. Perhaps it is not my place, to meddle in… personal affairs--”

The king seemed startled by this. He gestured imploringly. “You’re my friend. Please, speak your mind.”

Helplessly grave, Dedue pursed his lips, and saw no point in parsing words. “Are you certain you want to marry Lord Felix.”

“Oh.” Now the color returned to Dimitri’s cheeks. It was a sight that brought Dedue as much pleasure as the first bloom of spring, every time. It felt inappropriate to his station, to cherish Dimitri’s clumsy bluster when he was again a man, not lord, savior, and king, but-- as a friend, it was--

"Oh, yes. Absolutely." Dimitri nodded once, in good humor. “...What you just saw-- I’m sorry you had to see it-- it’s, uh, how should I put it… all the more reason.” He chuckled to himself, and looked prepared to elaborate, though unsure how. For just a moment he stared at his hands. Then he perked, head swiveling at the certain realization-- “Are you teasing me, Dedue?”

“Perhaps a little.” Dedue tilted his head. He had curiosities all the same. “He does not trust you.”

Dimitri took this in stride, though his smile faded. He sent a resigned gaze over the grey walls of Castle Fhirdiad. “I have not given him much reason to.”

Dedue mirrored him, placidly staring in the same direction. “He doesn’t see that your wrath comes always from a place of kindness.”

“You speak too highly of me.” Dimitri’s expression warmed. His eye closed, bangs sweeping around it as he shook his head. “But perhaps he does understand. He’s the same way, after all.”

Dedue considered this. After a brief silence, he entered Dimitri’s line of sight and swept a quick, rigid bow. “I would like your leave to help keep your betrothed safe.”

Dimitri stared. The last of his tension left him, something so adoring and serene crossed his face. Years had come and gone since the war, and still Dimitri seemed so youthfully shocked by his own experiences of gratitude and joy as they came to him. A long moment passed before he laughed. His head lolled back with the force of it, and he touched Dedue's arm with a soft stroke of the thumb. “Don’t suggest as much to him, but… you have my thanks, Dedue. I can only hope I'm not making the wrong decision."

"You are not," Dedue said, before he could think not to. "You have seen more than enough bloodshed in your life, Your Highness, and you'll continue to see more. Felix is... not alone, in thinking it does not suit you."

Again Dimitri paused, an old loathing for himself at war with a profound gratitude for those around him. His head dipped with a smile, the corners of which twitched ruefully. "For you to truly think that... I'm as spoiled as he says."

"No, Dimitri," Dedue replied. He knew what Felix meant, that he might be angry about it himself, but it had never changed. "Only loved."