Translucent fabrics hung from stalls, waving on poles as far as the eye could see – batiks, silkscreens and tapestries. Their patterns painstakingly brought to life over hours, the art symbolised stories and religious commitments – some familiar, and others as fabricated as the material they rested on.
Cruelly, hiding in the shadows, far enough away that one couldn’t be noticed, was the only real place for someone far too central to the night’s festivities.
Red, black, orange, green, blue. Pink, red, green, purple, black.
Who are they celebrating? How much will they ask for this time?
If you get what you want, will it make you start to care?
MARCH 27TH – FREDERICK
Anxiety plagued Frederick’s every movement. He held himself tightly, arms crossed over his middle as he paced. The beat of the floorboards under his bedroom carpet creaked faster and slower as tides of nerves washed over him.
He had been alone for some hours now, and largely convinced himself that Robin wasn’t coming. What if he had imagined Robin’s confession? Frederick was sure that he had held Robin’s hand in his own. He remembered the feeling of silken skin against his lips; the shadow of it made tingled repetitions as if he was kissing Robin over and over in his mind.
He wasn’t entirely sure what had led him to kiss Robin in the first place – he had become a creature of want; struck only by the desire to reach out and take what he had denied of himself for so long until it was offered up to him.
“Tell me what I have to do to rid myself of the anxiety”, he had pleaded of his mother.
“Let go,” she had responded.
In times long past, his mothers had been a symbol of love that crossed the distance of the stars.
Perhaps they didn’t do it perfectly.
Selene was never proud of herself – a quiet woman, stories of her heritage and achievements were lost in the void of her memory and scattered to the wind with the ashes of her body. Lilith was strong and stubborn – she could never possibly have compromised a molecule of the space she took up; huge and glaring like a bonfire next to her partner’s gentle simmer.
Victims of the politics of Ylisse and Ferox, they existed between the lines. It would have been comfortable to let go. Easy, even. And yet, they still married – they bore a son; shared a home.
Frederick was twenty-three – hardly a man, but not still a boy. Had he grown enough to loosen up? In theory, there was space in his heart for Robin. But when it came down to it, could he sacrifice his duty for that love? If Chrom and Robin were both in danger, who would he choose?
His heart pained at the answer – of course one could never be certain, but his instinct told him that he would not be saving Robin.
In his usual routine, Frederick would be washing his face about now; ready to change into his pyjamas and lay down with a good book. He was sure that, if Robin didn’t arrive, he would be awake all night waiting in his day garb.
The issue was, Robin’s only true tendency was to be unpredictable. It was not out of the realm of possibility that he’d show up near daybreak – especially considering that night had long since fallen already. The man had little sense of time, leaving Frederick felt unable to start any task, and rounding him back to the anxious plodding of his footsteps.
A quiet rap at the door both saved him and took him apart.
Frederick wobbled his way over to the entrance.
Indeed, Robin was waiting outside; wearing a sheepish expression with his normal outfit.
His hands were wound together at his front, dangling some papers between his fingers. Thinking about it, was he ever seen without his notes?
Robin was bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet, perhaps energetically, or out of nerves. The longer curls at the front of his head jostled with his movement. He spoke before Frederick could find the words.
“I’m sorry that took so long. Chrom kind of had a moment, so I had to talk him down.”
“It’s quite all right.” For once, Frederick felt a pang of irritation at Chrom’s emotional disposition – but it only lasted for a second, before he conceded that the fate of the country was more important than his silly romance. Robin was here, and that was what mattered.
Frederick didn’t quite know what to do with himself; losing all sense of natural grace in his limbs, he shuffled about, robotic and gangly. “Are you…coming inside?”
“Am I allowed to?” Robin asked in a teasing tone, but his body language was much more apprehensive than that – shrinking away from the doorframe, Robin looked like he wasn’t sure if he was about to leave or enter. It soothed Frederick a little to know that Robin was anxious too.
He stepped aside and held his arm out welcomingly in lieu of a reply.
Robin filled the room with his presence as he entered.
His clean scent breezed by as he slipped past the door; spilling his notes out onto Frederick’s desk, the shadows he cast in candlelight stretching twice his size up the walls and across the furniture.
Frederick wanted Robin to make more mess; leave evidence of himself everywhere – to wreck Frederick’s space with shards of his existence.
“So…” Robin turned slowly from Frederick’s desk. There was silence for what seemed like an eternity. Frederick willed his brain to work, but it gave him nothing; sitting quietly as if it was taunting him.
“This is about…what happened in the boardroom.” Frederick could only nod in response, folding his arms as he leant on the back of the door for support. Some part of him was grateful that Robin had confirmed the reality of the event.
“Frederick, we don’t have to have this conversation if you don’t want to.” Robin looked uncomfortable, rubbing one wrist with his opposite hand as he stared at the floor.
“No, no, Gods, of course I want to have this conversation. I am just…struggling to…come up with the vocabulary to express…anything about it right now.” Frederick glared at his hands, feeling like an idiot.
“If you want to wait…maybe sleep on it; that’s okay too.”
“No-I…there’s not a lot of chance I’m going to sleep unless we come to some manner of a conclusion here. I’ve wanted this for long enough now to allow it to come to a head.”
“This?” Robin asked.
“Us.” Frederick clarified; for once, straightforward.
Robin looked at him from across the room, stood straight, fiddling with a button on the lower end of his coat. “Is this…y’know? Are we, uh, an us?”
“Ah, yes, well,” Frederick cleared his throat, pinching the bridge of his nose before he built up the nerve to look Robin in the eye again. “that would be… Would you perhaps do me the honour of allowing me to court you?”
Robin beamed at him, a patch of sunlight in a dark room. Frederick swore that Robin could light his way anywhere. “Wow, courting. You really are old-fashioned.”
Frederick spluttered. “Well-I-it’s just how I was raised! If you don’t like it, then…”
“Frederick, I love it. I love everything about you.” His heart squeezed. “Then I suppose…you’ve considered the possibilities of my background.” Robin said more solemnly.
“Whatever may have happened before I met you…of course it matters. But we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it. All I know right now is that…I want to be with you, and all I can do is act with those intentions.”
Of course, Frederick had considered it; over and over. He could not love Robin if he did not trust who he said he was.
If Robin was with someone already, it would hurt him – but he couldn’t waste his time away worrying over such a thing. He had reassured himself with his mother’s words echoing in his mind. Robin’s finger held no ring when they found him – there was no evidence that he was promised to somebody else.
Robin stepped forward and Frederick’s heart shot into his mouth as the distance between them was closed. His arms threaded around Frederick’s shoulders; his dark eyes holding something heavy. “Thank you.” Frederick looked down, confused, but placed his hands onto Robin’s waist anyway; craving any measure of distance he could close between them. “For believing me. And caring about me. And choosing me.”
Eyes closed in understanding; Frederick pressed his lips against Robin’s head. Another thrill shivered through him that he could get away with doing that now.
“You deserve this. To be chosen; to be protected. To be loved. I am simply one vector of that – if I was not here, another person would easily have fallen for your charms.”
He expected Robin to laugh, but there was silence between them. Frederick’s nerves returned.
“Frederick,” Robin murmured. There was something complicated in his gaze. He put his hand on the back of Frederick’s head, fingers threading in the short hairs there, and pulled down gently. Frederick finally understood, moving his hand up to drag his thumb across Robin’s thick lower lip. Robin opened his mouth a little with the contact, his long eyelashes fluttering closed.
Not all kisses were made equal.
Frederick recalled his first kiss; a young boy he had been good friends with back home – they were both young. There was little that could be said to be special about it, aside from the fact that it was his first.
Robin’s kiss was holy.
Tingles shot through his lips wherever they met. Time could have been passing, but there was nothing beyond the skin he was gripping tightly with his fingers. “Open your mouth,” Frederick said flush against Robin, and he did. His tongue felt exquisite.
It had been some time since Frederick had kissed anybody – there were always those nerves; wondering if you were doing okay; if you were too deep or not deep enough or if you should taste something riskier. Frederick was not bold enough to compromise their first kiss. He licked lightly against the front of Robin’s tongue and rubbed comforting circles into the back of his neck with his fingertips. Robin made a noise that was almost silent – something between a moan and a gasp; whatever it was, it was intoxicating.
Years later, when the kiss broke, Frederick leant his forehead against Robin’s, eyes still closed. He wanted to keep kissing Robin, in spite of the tiredness that he was now far more aware of.
“Was that…okay?” Robin asked a little breathily.
“Yes, gods, yes.” He replied quickly, smoothing his hands over Robin’s shoulders. “Was it all right for you?”
“I think all I ever wanna do again is kiss you,” Robin hyperbolised instead of responding.
Frederick breathed a short laugh. “I can’t disagree with you.”
There was silence between them for a time.
In certain moments, the distance between you and another person could feel entirely closed – like your heart and mind was wide open, and that was terrifying, but exhilarating. Robin rested his head against Frederick, and it was perfect.
“I…guess I should probably get back, huh.”
Frederick hummed in agreement, but didn’t move to let Robin go. “Unfortunately, I think you might be right.”
“Can I come see you tomorrow?” Robin mumbled into Frederick’s shirt.
“I’m training some knights in the morning, but I can definitely fit you in some time after that.”
“I would like you to fit me in very much.”
Frederick stuttered and blushed at the innuendo. Beneath him, he could feel Robin’s mouth turn up in a grin.
MARCH 27TH – ROBIN
Robin’s body shook uncontrollably on his way to Chrom’s quarters. Were the hallways always this...horizontal?
He could never have imagined that Frederick would reciprocate his affections. The back of his hand felt faint where Frederick’s lips had pressed against it. He would have cupped it were he not holding a hefty stack of paperwork.
Was he single? He guessed that, considering what had just transpired, it would probably be against the rules to kiss someone else. Does that mean he could say that he belonged to Frederick in some measure, or that Frederick belonged to him? Nothing had been said, but so much had been communicated… Robin felt high above the clouds; not sure if he was on cloud nine or lost forever.
The weight of Frederick’s kiss bound him like a ring. He had helplessly been lost to Frederick’s whims even before this evening, but there was something much more final about… whatever this was.
Robin couldn’t remember whether he had romantic experience or not – he supposed for now that made him inexperienced. He could only hope that he woke up one day and recalled how to be smooth, confident and sexy as he wanted to be. It was a silly little desire, but it held him all the same.
Chrom’s door was semi-open, an indication that it was fine to enter. It was not as if most people would have even worried about that, anyway. People invaded Chrom’s space like it was nobody’s business, even prior to becoming Exalt, so Robin tried to be more careful about it. He liked to think he could recognise when Chrom needed time alone better than most people, while also of the knowledge that Chrom genuinely enjoyed spending more time with him than most people. That made him feel special.
Robin knocked on the door even though it was ajar.
“Robin, is that you? Come in.”
He wormed his body through the gap, clicking the door shut behind him. “Hey. How are you feeling?”
Chrom puffed out a sigh of air and rested his arms behind his head. “Stressed, but I’m about as positive about all this as I could be. Thank you for doing this for me, Robin.”
“I’m not doing this for you, Chrom,” Robin scoffed, “you’re doing this. I’m just here with you.”
Chrom stared at him pointedly. “As if I could do this without you.”
“You definitely could. You’re just lucky to have the help.”
“I am,” he agreed, patting the seat next to him. “Sit down, old friend; I wanted to speak with you.”
“What’s up?” Robin asked as he sat down. He expected some rant on an awful section of policy that was going to inhibit their progress, or even a discussion of a future trip – but perhaps that was wishful thinking.
“I’m…worried. About Sumia.” He barely got the words out, face turning from neutral to crestfallen with a matter of words. “She seems so off lately, and at first I thought it was all the politics, so I tried to talk to her about it, but she just shut me down, Robin. I feel like I hardly even see her anymore.”
Robin winced. He had forgotten that he had to keep Sumia’s problems a secret until she was ready to tell him what was going on. His mind ticked over how he should handle this conversation.
“So you don’t think she’s upset about the political reform?”
“No-I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t the foggiest, Robin; usually if Sumia has a problem she’ll just tell me, it’s not like her to keep it all inside. I figured if it was a problem we shared then she’d probably say something, so maybe it’s something else. I just don’t know why she would hide it.”
“Hey,” Robin said, putting his hand on Chrom’s shoulder, “it’s gonna be okay, you know. You said she always tells you – then trust that she will. She might just be…figuring out how to put it into words, or she might even be unsure of what it is herself.”
Chrom perked up a little at that. “You’re right. I should just trust her, I suppose. She’ll come to me when she’s ready.”
“Come here.” Robin said, opening his arms, and Chrom accepted his embrace. All he could do was comfort Chrom – say the things he would say had he not stumbled upon Sumia’s secret, and be there for them both when it did come out. He wished he hadn’t seen anything. That journey had been a waste of time, anyway.
Going back to see Frederick was far less tense, but somehow more nerve wracking; wide corridors never seeming to end, but he knew that they inevitably would reach a destination.
He had absolutely no idea what to expect. What was he going to say? He had initiated the meeting, after all. It was all so sudden – he and Frederick had never discussed anything like this.
As the door came into sight, Robin’s gut dropped down to his feet. He felt like closing his eyes to try to forget where he was going, but his brain felt heavy as rocks; he couldn’t separate himself from the thoughts that were screaming at him.
He’d knocked at the door before he registered the action.
There was beautiful Frederick, standing there…being beautiful. His hair was tousled back in the way it was when he’d been running his hands through it. The light was sparing at this time of night, but he was sure that Frederick was still perfect. Not for the first time, Robin wished he was taller, so that he could meet him at eye level.
“I’m sorry that took so long. Chrom kind of had a moment, so I had to talk him down.” Those were the words that came out of his mouth, but the last thing he was thinking about was Chrom.
“It’s quite all right. Are you…coming inside?” Frederick had asked, but his huge frame blocked the entire entranceway.
“Am I allowed to?” Robin joked back, expecting Frederick to make a snarky remark, but he just moved out of the way.
Frederick’s room smelled like him. It felt a little thrilling and a little terrifying to be here this late at night – not that anybody would bat an eyelid what with the current state of the Exalt, but Robin knew his own ulterior motives. He wanted to wrap himself in the velvet scent and drown in Frederick.
Instead, he set his notes down on Frederick’s desk.
“So…this is about…what happened in the boardroom.” He tried to start, willing his brain to think on its feet. Frederick barely nodded; his face screwed up in discomfort.
What if…Frederick thought this was all a mistake? Had Robin messed up that badly? His fight or flight instincts told him to leave now. His face was getting hot.
“Frederick, we don’t have to have this conversation if you don’t want to.” His eyes were cast downwards – he couldn’t even look him in the eye and have those fears confirmed.
“No, no, Gods, of course I want to have this conversation. I am just…struggling to… come up with the vocabulary to express…anything about it right now.”
“If you want to wait…maybe sleep on it; that’s okay too.” Robin felt all hope leave him. This was going to ruin everything. All of the reform. All of Chrom’s support system. All of Robin’s home.
“No-I…there’s not a lot of chance I’m going to sleep unless we come to some manner of a conclusion here. I’ve wanted this for long enough now to allow it to come to a head.” Frederick looked decisive, and that scared the spirit from Robin’s body.
“This?” He could only manage as a response; searching for any kind of clarification.
“Us.” Frederick replied shortly. Well, that was helpful.
Robin looked up for a minute, finding hope in an ‘us’. “Is this…y’know? Are we, uh, an us?”
“Ah, yes, well,” Frederick bumbled, and Robin hated himself even deeper when he thought about how cute it was. “That would be… Would you perhaps do me the honour of allowing me to court you?”
The world rocked for a moment – Robin loved boats, but for the first time he could remember, he felt seasick.
This was the confirmation he needed. He steadied himself, and smiled at Frederick. “Wow, courting. You really are old-fashioned.”
“Well-I-it’s just how I was raised! If you don’t like it, then…”
Robin was quick to reassure Frederick, but he couldn’t deny feeling a little good that he’d caused Frederick to sweat a little, considering how much stress he’d been put under. “Frederick, I love it. I love everything about you.” Frederick looked especially beautiful when he was surprised.
There was another conversation that needed to be had, though. “Then I suppose…you’ve considered the possibilities of my background.”
“Whatever may have happened before I met you…of course it matters. But we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it. All I know right now is that…I want to be with you, and all I can do is act with those intentions.”
Usually, one does not get the responses one desires in one’s mind when asking such a revealing question. Most of the time, such questions backfire – make you feel less reassured than you were in the first place, and all the more vulnerable for it.
This time, Robin heard exactly what he needed to hear.
Robin closed their distance quickly, needing to express the bubble of affection that rose up within and choked him. He nearly threw his arms around Frederick, getting a closer look at just how amazing he was; Robin’s heart rolling into his throat like a bowling ball and pushing that bubble further.
“Thank you. For believing me. And caring about me. And choosing me.”
Frederick leant down to kiss Robin’s head in response, arms wrapped around him. “You deserve this. To be chosen; to be protected. To be loved. I am simply one vector of that – if I was not here, another person would easily have fallen for your charms.” Yes, Robin was sure that Frederick was perfect.
He couldn’t take it anymore; there were still distances between them that needed to be closed, right now, immediately. “Frederick,” Robin tried to ask, but the words got caught in the back of his mouth. All he could do was pull Frederick down to his level and show him what he felt.
Frederick dragged his thumb over Robin’s lip, and Robin felt it everywhere. He wanted Frederick to take him apart with his touch.
Finally, finally, Frederick put his lips on Robin’s.
Frederick’s mouth was incredible. He wasn’t sure what kisses were supposed to be like, or if he was doing it right, but he wasn’t sure he cared – completely lost in the feeling, he held Frederick closer as if he could weld their bodies together. It was a little uncomfortable to crane his neck so high, but the kiss felt too good to change anything; he could suffer a little for the most fantastic eventuality possible to his rushed confession.
Frederick let up the pressure for a moment. “Open your mouth,” he said; voice baritone and gravelly and tearing Robin in two. He could only enthusiastically comply.
Kissing with tongues induced a new kind of hunger; one that let up in the pit of his stomach and refused to stop raging higher and lower and all over his body. Forgetting to breathe, he ended up making an extremely embarrassing noise, but Frederick only gripped him closer, doing something incredible with his mouth, and Robin was entirely at its mercy. He wanted to do this to Frederick as well; being sure that when he got used to the feeling he would learn exactly what Frederick liked.
All good things must come to an end, and they, too, fell apart.
Robin began to feel nervous now he wasn’t wrapped up in a haze of hedonism. “Was that…okay?”
“Yes, Gods, yes. Was it all right for you?
“I think all I ever wanna do again is kiss you.
“I can’t say that I disagree.”
MARCH 28TH – CHROM
Moonlight hit the pages on the book Chrom was on the verge of giving up on, mingling with the weak candlelight. He squinted his eyes and brought it closer to his face, somehow hoping that would make him concentrate.
The room was hued in more shades of blue than it was usually; Chrom preferred to decorate with indigo, but the night turned even the other colours into a dull and stagnant navy. The dark walls felt like they were closing in a little, and Chrom was restless; his knee bouncing as he attempted to refocus.
A new, tall shadow fell over him with the creak of the door to his quarters. He turned his head to see the intruder.
“Sumia? You’re back late.” He tried to speak without accusation in his tone, closing his book gently, but his anxiety fell through cracks; voice shaking, movements sharp – he rose quickly, hoping her figure wouldn’t fade into the shadows like a dream. She was the only person he wanted to see lately, and had been avoiding him like a disease.
“…Sully and I were sparring.” She said sheepishly. It almost felt like a lie.
Chrom grew more desperate.
“Sumia, please talk to me.”
“I already told you, Chrom, there’s nothing to say.” She sounded exhausted, turning her back on him as he broke. “I’m tired, so I want to go to bed.” Sumia undid her belt and pulled her dress lithely over her head, furthering their distance when she went to look for her nightwear.
He said her name once more – it felt like a plea; a prayer. Anything to break through the walls she was building between them.
The world paused for a moment, Sumia’s feet mid-step; Chrom’s arm outstretched.
She turned, and for once her face didn’t hold a mask – only pain. He closed the distance again. His face found the dip between her shoulder and her neck; she cradled him there. “Whatever it is, it can wait, okay?” Her arms squeezed him tighter as his hands found her back. “Please don’t pretend like everything is okay when it’s not. We don’t have to talk about it until you’re ready – just don’t push me away. I can still hold you even if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“All right,” Sumia agreed, and for a moment, everything was fine.
Most shades of red were beautiful; bright and bold like a juicy apple or deep and regal like a monarch’s robes. This particular shade – it was wrong. Something like a musical note that would send you to your death just by hearing it, the colour brought bile rising up in his throat; he felt like he was going to puke if he stopped screaming.
“Shut your mouth!” That awful voice commanded, the bottoms of his shoes soiled, the red turning them darker and darker as it spread upwards into the fabric. Robin looked away in disgust. “You must look. Commit it to your memory.” The voice was like hypnosis – he was not sure how long it had been since he had not obeyed his father’s every command. There would be a sore price to pay if he didn’t.
He felt like he was going to scream again. The sight of the dead body on the ground made him feel faint. He wasn’t sure if he was smelling blood and death or if his brain was creating the scents out of panic – it was repulsive; it felt wrong, wrong, wrong, to see what he knew to be someone who was once alive not performing the function of living anymore.
The person was hardly known to him – a servant who had cleaned his room with some regularity, he nodded in Robin’s direction when they passed one another, but that had been the extent of their interaction.
“Get used to it,” His father’s voice said again. “You killed thousands in your past life.”
“That wasn’t me!” Robin cried, horrified.
“However you may feel is irrelevant – it will be undeniable soon. Think of yourself as one and the same. The rite will be much more likely to go off without any hitches that way.” His father’s purple shadow consumed all of Robin’s vision. “Take this,” He said. “You will promptly be showing me what you have learned.”
Seven-year-old Robin’s hand shook as it clasped around a dagger.
MARCH 28TH – ROBIN
Robin woke up in a sweat. He awoke uncomfortable often, with the distinct sense that he’d experienced a nightmare, but this time, dregs of it hung in his mind. He could smell the fading scent of blood as he raised his head from his pillow, scrunching his nose in discomfort.
The bedroom was already in disarray, despite the short period of time Robin had been back; that thick red tome placed neatly on his bedside table so as to not be disturbed by any of the snack crumbs or glass rim stains that it would be subject to on his desk. Another set of books were stacked haphazardly by his couch. His coat was flung over the foot of his bed – observing it, he suddenly felt giddy, remembering the mood in which he left it there.
Frederick had kissed him. He and Frederick had kissed. They were courting. And they kissed!!!
Robin pulled his sheets up over his face as he recalled the gentle way in which they had said goodnight. He wondered what Frederick was doing right now – would it be wrong to go and see him? Frederick had said it was fine after the morning – Robin rarely woke up before eleven o’clock – but his nightmare had woken him at eight and all he could think of was his lover.
Maybe he was already being too needy; too irritating. Frederick was a working man. Even if Robin’s feelings were reciprocated, he couldn’t interfere with professional endeavours – that would be the opposite of what Frederick wanted. He decided to preoccupy himself until twelve.
MARCH 28TH – FREDERICK
Young knights stood at ease, forming loose rows in the courtyard; fresh-faced and ready to be introduced to the castle. They were still in their lay-clothes, not having the chance to collect their uniform – that would be a stop-off they had to make on their tour, Frederick thought to himself.
He found his pocket watch – it was still on the earlier side of seven, but that didn’t leave all that much time for everything Frederick wanted to get through. He grimaced.
Usually he was left with the task of training new recruits; not just due to his seniority, but also because of his bossy tendencies. His colleagues were more than happy to allow him to teach people where they didn’t have to, and he was widely regarded to be rather good at it.
Frederick took his place in front of the knights, and light chatter quickly turned to silence.
“Welcome to Ylisstol Castle, Knights of Ylisse. For the foreseeable future, this area will become your home; your workplace and your personal quarters. To get this far you have been incredibly lucky, and incredibly skilled – I will be expecting you to keep that in mind during the time you are training under me.” He paced as he talked; taking a good look at the individuals he would be getting to know shortly.
“First, we will be visiting the training grounds, where I will be going over your daily regimen. I hope that you have all brought something to write with and on.” He said that, but he knew that most of them were probably unreliable in that aspect – he had plenty of spare parchment and led tucked away in the training shed.
Letting the ill-equipped students stew in that anxiety, he turned on his heel; motioning quickly with his hand to get them to follow.
It was still rather chilly at this time of day; spring winds grazed against Frederick’s face as he entered the training grounds.
The grounds were a wide space surrounded by mazes of hedges with a large stone centre. Spears, swords and axes had been left on the sharpening bench by seasoned knights who had been training even earlier, and the young knights chattered excitedly as the battered things came into view. The best weaponry was in the storage sheds; of course, young knights would not be entitled to wield something with extreme power until they had proven their worth.
A chalkboard was placed at the back near the sharpening bench – Frederick had left it there earlier – with a table drawn on it of weekly activities.
Frederick prattled on about punctuality, training regimens and examination periods, young knights scratching away at the parchment he had given them with fervour that was sure not to last over the coming year. For now, he revelled in their earnestness; his own not having diminished for his entire career, but, he supposed, that was why he was where he was.
After the immense fuss of assigning the youths their dorm rooms and armour, they returned to the training grounds; this time, to actually participate in some training.
If it could actually be called training – this wasn’t originally part of the introductory day, but most of the knights here had a measure of interest in weapons and battles, so Frederick thought it apt to give them a taster session.
At least, that’s what he told himself, suppressing a smile as his students grew loud with laughter hitting each other with wooden swords.
That was, until, he saw one young man standing by himself, swinging a sword with some measure of proficiency, but without a smile on his face.
Frederick picked up a sword on his way over.
“Can’t find anyone tall enough to spar with you? Hard luck, really; you’ll have to make do with me.”
The young man looked up from the intense stare-off he was having with his weapon; deep eyes betraying vulnerability. “I-uh-I’m okay. I wanted to practice on my own.”
“Well that is quite unfortunate, considering I asked you all to pair up for this training.”
Frederick was met with a grimace. “It was hard enough…to get into this place. Some try to talk to me, but these people…they can’t relate to me.”
He stared down at the young Feroxi man, noting himself in the dark curls, stocky frame and thick body hair. “Perhaps you are of a different background. But we all have our own humanity in common.”
Frederick was out of his depth, and the knight looked as if his words had the effect of leaves in the wind. “Humanity is defined by the majority who claim it. Do you think that when they look at me – when you look at me, you see a human?”
For once, Frederick thought about himself as a Feroxi man. In fleeting moments, he had the desire to connect with the culture, as if he was reconnecting with parts of himself – but they rarely lasted long enough to do anything about it. He picked up a book about Feroxi culture, and he put it down again.
Perhaps his blood was half-foreign. His ancestry parted like a fork in a river with him at the connection – and yet, what was left of one side? He felt dry and stuck as mud at the man’s questions. He couldn’t possibly hope to relate – but he wanted to, with distaste in his gut that only grew larger. Mostly, being Ylissean felt like nothing at all, but today, it felt damning.
MARCH 28TH – ROBIN
Robin sniffed at his old coat. He always wore it – with not much thought about why; he just woke up each day and donned the thing like it was the most natural act in the world. Right now, he was wondering if it smelled bad.
He didn’t sleep in it that often.
And, because of how often he wore it, it was hard to find the time to wash it, and then it felt cold, and smelled of something instead of nothing, and he had to wear it in again. Robin was a little afraid of damaging the fabric – at the edges it was chalky in texture, feeling like it might fade away between his fingers like ice under hot water.
Frederick had never seemed to care about the smell of the coat before – he was the type to say if something bothered him, Robin thought. Not that it would change anything if Frederick was openly bothered, aside from Robin’s self-consciousness; to leave his coat behind on such an anxiety-inducing journey was simply not an option.
The sun was high in the sky; it was not far past noon. Spring flowers guided Robin’s way out to the training grounds, moving to spread their pretty colours further left and right, unfazed by the huge snake of brick that flattened into a dollop in the centre of the gardens.
Frederick’s figure was not hard to spot. Even in crowds, he towered over his peers. This time, he was stood at the front of a group of young knights, their postures an imperfect picture of attention.
“…and I expect the same discipline to be shown by you. Make your way to the kitchens – lunch is ready to be served. Supper is at six-thirty; I will be at the entrance to your dorm at precisely six-fifteen if any of you cannot find your way from there. I will not be waiting for stragglers. You are dismissed.”
The young knights filtered out; Robin winding out of the way of their stampede, holding a hand up to Frederick in greeting. “Ahoy.”
Frederick’s mouth stretched into a cat-like grin when he recognised Robin, his shoulders going slack as his legs steered him close enough to embrace Robin around the shoulders. “I’m glad you could make it. We ran a little over time, actually; some fool had forgotten to supply the new knights with their uniforms, and it was rather a challenge to make sure everybody received the correct fit.”
“That sounds like a mess. Thank goodness for your incredible intelligence and competency.” Robin realised how close their faces were in a public place, and felt embarrassed, but it also held an air of excitement – he didn’t pull away.
“And how much sarcasm was intended in that statement?” Frederick teased.
“A lot less than you might think, actually.” Robin turned his head to see if all the students had evacuated.
“Can I kiss you?”
Frederick’s teeth found his bottom lip for a moment. “I suppose that I am not working right now...however...”
“I won’t be offended if you say no. It's just, well, there’s nobody here, and...”
Frederick remained still for a short while, and then moved to hold Robin’s chin with his thumb and forefinger, tilting his head upwards in a way that made his stomach knot.
Kissed once, Frederick pulled away a little, became indecisive, and kissed Robin twice; three times. Robin breathed a laugh at the sweetness of it – they were all chaste, but full of the neediness of new love.
“Don’t get greedy.” Frederick chastised, no venom in his words.
“Mmm, it’s hard not to. I promise I won’t, like, make out with you in a board meeting or anything,” Robin muttered into Frederick’s neck, and felt him laugh there.
“Would you like to get lunch?”
Truth be told, Robin wasn’t particularly hungry, but he agreed because he thought Frederick should eat something.
“The canteen is rather...lively, isn’t it?”
“You could say that.”
The floor was almost entirely covered with mysterious sauce, rice and vegetables – at least, as far as was discernible. The room was loud – not like the linked pattern of an orchestra; much more disorganised than that. The noise was unbearable in its content: yelling of any number of conversations, scratching of cutlery against plates – odd, since most of the food ended up outside of people’s mouths. Robin was feeling a little unwell at the sounds. He wanted to leave.
Frederick twitched an eyebrow, his face growing steadily redder; saying nothing.
“We should leave.” Robin said.
“…No; they’re my students – I have to discipline them. I apologise, but I think I shall have to cut our time short.”
Robin’s face further soured from his already curdled expression. “Can’t somebody else do it?”
“Technically, they should be being watched over by any number of my colleagues, but I believe that none of them are present.”
“Well then it’s their fault.”
“It's not about who is at fault. It’s about the poor soul who will be tasked with cleaning all of this mess up – and about ensuring the behaviour of our future knights doesn’t allow them to act like unreasoned animals.”
“They’re just being teenagers; Freddy.”
“Perhaps that is so.” Frederick was impassive.
“Listen. I know you feel bad, but most of the damage is already done. Your co-workers are probably relying on you to keep these lot in line so that they don’t have to do any work. I'm suggesting you walk out before you’re noticed, and pretend like you never saw anything, and let somebody else be the responsible one for once.”
Frederick pursed his lips. “You know what – you’re right. I haven’t the energy to be dealing with this. I already did more than is required of me. Perhaps it is time for a lesson in discipline for my peers.”
Robin took Frederick's hand, and led him out of the hall. “Is there anywhere else you can eat?”
“There’s an old kitchen near the Exalt's quarters, but...”
Frederick smiled wryly. “We'd have to make the food ourselves.”
The room was, surprisingly, not as dusty as Robin had imagined it – apparently it was in regular use; mostly for the servants to make their own meals, and for Chrom if he wanted a midnight snack.
Walls were head-to-toe in flagstone; similarly to Lilith's house – but at the same time, entirely different. It was dark and full of open spaces; it echoed when you walked in it, polished stone surfaces cold to the touch. Robin could never call himself comfortable in kitchen spaces, but even for him, it was all a bit...clinical.
“I've never seen you cook anything before.”
“You are not going to watch me this time, either – you will be participating, Robin.”
“I really think you overestimate my cooking proficiency.”
“You’ll have to learn sometime.”
“You mean you won’t be cooking for me?” Robin stumbled at the end of the sentence, nearly tripping over the word ‘forever’. It was probably a little too early for words like that, even in jest.
“You would have to be incredibly lucky,” Frederick said, pointing a handful of spaghetti in Robin's direction, “for me to cook for you with any regularity. I am hesitant to call it a hobby – it is not something I particularly enjoy.”
Robins was surprised to hear him say that. “Didn’t you help your mother bake as a child?”
“Baking and cooking are two incredibly different skills.” He replied from the pantry.
“How?! You’re just dumping ingredients together and shoving them in a stove!” Robin mocked, resting his elbows against the central islands.
“You know what; perhaps you shouldn’t learn to cook.” Frederick brought out some ingredients in his arms. “But, I would like you to slice some tomatoes.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Robin headed over to the back counter where Frederick was sorting his ingredients onto cutting boards that had mysteriously appeared.
“Hm.” Frederick commented.
“That may be the first time you’ve followed my instruction immediately without talking back.”
“Don’t get used to it!” Robin announced, trying to recall the way he chopped that onion last time.
“Robin, are you trying to cube a tomato? Don’t do that; the juice is going to go-”
Juice scattered across the table, oozing over Robin’s hand with a thick, sticky texture.
“Look, you even got it in your hair. Don’t look so sad about it; we can use it for the sauce – I have more tomatoes anyway…Robin, are you all right?”
“…Yeah; yeah I’m all right.”
“Did you want to stop? I know I said you had to help, but it really doesn’t bother me if I cook alone.” He busied himself chopping up garlic into tiny cubes.
“No! It’s just. I had a nightmare last night, and I just remembered it, so.”
“Would you like to…talk about it?”
“Hm…” Robin thought about it. “You remember when I said I thought someone had tried to hurt me?”
“When I saw your scar?”
“Yeah. This dream. I think it had something to do with my past, Freddy.” His hand shook where he still held the half of the tomato that was intact.
Frederick put the knife down. “A bad thing?”
“This is such an awful time to tell you about this.”
“Robin, it’s okay.”
“Frederick…I think I killed somebody.”
“Robin,” Frederick breathed. “I am not sure I know a polite way of phrasing this, so you’ll have to forgive me. But – that is incredibly unsurprising.”
Robin looked up, hurt. “What, because I’m Plegian?”
“No, Gods, of course not. I’m talking about, when we first found you, and you possessed a tome, and practically took out all of those bandits by yourself. Not only did you hold a weapon, but you knew how to use it.”
“I suppose so.” Robin bit his lip.
“We end people’s lives all of the time. It is not something to gloss over, or to hold with pride. But it is a truth of reality. You may once have been a Plegian soldier, perhaps, but now you are a Ylissean one.”
Robin knew deep down that was not the kind of killing he had been involved in. “I suppose that war really is like that. I was reborn here, and that’s all I know, so I keep fighting for it.”
Frederick was silent, and, for the first time in a while, his expression was unreadable.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I still have allegiance to Ylisse, I swear. I just…”
“You’re trying to understand yourself in the context of a you that you don’t know.”
“Robin, it’s okay to experiment with that.” Frederick said, but Robin didn’t quite believe that. “You’ve already proven your worth – I know that Chrom and Ylisse matter to you.” One half of that was true. “On top of that…you are my-”
Frederick blushed, and looked back down at his garlic. “My boyfriend.”
“Hehe. Boyfriend.” Robin nudged Frederick’s hip with his own, bad mood suddenly overturned.
“You’re silly.” Sunlight filtered in through the back windows, dusting the tips of Frederick’s hair with yellow. Robin wanted to kiss it.
“And you like that about me! You like me.”
“I am rather fond of you, yes.” Frederick smiled beautifully, making eye contact with Robin through his peripheral vision.
Robin pushed Frederick’s hair back behind his ear. “We should go on a date.”
Frederick spluttered for a moment. “A date!”
“Unless you don’t want to do that…”
“No, I do! I do! A date…” Frederick was expressive again.
“You don’t have to think so hard about it,” Robin said, pressing the wrinkles between his eyebrows. “I’ve got this one.”
Frederick suddenly looked unimpressed. “Are you sure?”
“You need to learn to trust me!” Robin replied, offended.
“All right…” He sounded unconvinced.
“Well, now you’ve done it. I’m going to make the best, most enjoyable date ever. And then you’ll regret it.”
“Oh, I will surely grovel. Now finish chopping that tomato, and make sure you don’t explode anything else.”