“Well, I think this is a fine idea, your majesty,” Lorenz declared, brandishing his tea cup.
“Please, just Dimitri, like always.”
“Yes, of course. I do need to say, however, that it’s quite unusual for you to ask for something like this.” Lorenz scanned the room, meeting the gazes of his friends in turn. At the pristine low tea table sat he, Ignatz, Dedue, and Dimitri. “You just about the least showy king I’ve ever heard of.”
Dimitri looked down into his tea. “Well, I won’t disagree with you on that. To tell the truth, it was a collective effort to convince me to do this.” He leaned back in his seat with a wistful look in his eye. “Annette was insistent on me taking a vacation of some kind. There was quite a lot of discussion--”
“Bickering,” Dedue cut in, somehow making the jab sound incredibly polite.
“Yes, I’ll admit. I had to be yelled at quite a bit by everyone before we settled on this trip.” Dimitri chuckled, and all at the table followed suit. Despite his casual demeanor, he had a presence about him that controlled the attention of everyone around him. “I only agreed because it was the only idea that didn’t seem like a complete waste of time.”
Dedue crossed his arms and nodded soberly. “I recall Sylvain was the one who thought of it.”
“Honestly, we all sort of laughed at him at first.” Dimitri took a sip from his tea, the little floral cup almost comically small against his imposing, fur-laden form. “‘Paint a portrait?’ It seemed like lunacy. But, after some more discussion, er, bickering, it came to our minds how odd it would be for there to be absolutely no images of me left behind.” He brought a hand up to scratch the back of his neck. “Annette was, uh, quite upset by the idea of our potential grandchildren not knowing what I looked like.”
A quiet settled in the room as everyone soaked in Dimitri’s words. The gentle clinking of ceramic as teacups were lifted and lowered resonated in the high-ceilinged sitting room of the Gloucester home. Lorenz found himself trying to focus on keeping a friendly atmosphere so that the stress of hosting for the king didn’t completely overwhelm him. When faced with Dimitri and Dedue, he felt quite small next to his little green knight.
Ignatz piped up after a bit, “Well, if there’s any time to have a portrait done, it might as well be now.” He grinned as he looked between the guests. “If you ask me, I’d say you look more like yourself now than you have in years, Dimitri.”
Lorenz had to resist the urge to laugh too hard at Ignatz’s comment. He was right, but the fact that he was so incredibly right was amusing to Lorenz. “I suppose it looks like you’ll always be donning the, er, scruffy look, hm?”
“What exactly does that mean,” Dedue questioned, his eyes shooting a hole straight through Lorenz.
It took Lorenz’s full willpower to hold steady eye contact with Dedue’s powerful stare. “It means nothing,” he said, shrilly. “I am simply observing. Now, down, boy.” Lorenz instantly regretted that last comment when Dedue’s glare intensified. “I’d forgotten how frightening you were,” Lorenz said under his breath, struggling to calm his frantic heartbeat. It had been a long time since Lorenz had had a taste of that intimidation.
Dimitri charged right on with conversation, not even acknowledging the tension in the air. “Ah, well, are you saying that the beard isn’t working?” He scratched at his face, smiling awkwardly. Relief flooded Lorenz’s chest as Dedue turned away from him to look at his king.
“Worry not, Dimitri. I think it’s becoming of you.” Dedue set a hand on Dimitri’s shoulder.
“It really is,” Ignatz remarked. “Don’t listen to Lorenz; you look fantastic. I especially like the new eyepatch.”
The smile on Dimitri’s face shifted from uncomfortable to genuinely pleased. “Thank you, Ignatz. It was a gift from Mercedes. I’m quite fond of her needlework.” He brushed his hair out of his face to show off the fancy design of golden hummingbirds against a navy cloth.
Lorenz found himself legitimately stunned. “That is quite beautiful,” he praised. “I honestly had not noticed it; my gratitude to Ignatz’s keen artistic eye for seeing that.”
A tiny chuckle came from Dedue, grabbing Lorenz’s attention away from the threaded artistry. “Hmph, good to know you’re still capable of giving compliments that aren’t backhanded.”
Lorenz sighed and placed a hand to his chest theatrically. “Oh, you wound me, Dedue. You’ve heard plenty a genuine compliment from me before.”
“Have I?” Dedue downed the remains of his tea cup and set his hands down on the table. “I am having trouble recalling.”
Lorenz huffed and pointed his nose in the air. “Must I jog your memory of every time you have shared your tea with me? I have sung the praises of your blends to the heavens and back, if you recall .”
Dedue’s eyebrows lowered, casting a shadow over his already fierce eyes. “Hm. Would you say that those blends are better than your own?”
“Hm, well. Ah…”
Silence fell over the room, thick and oppressive. A tiny, worried “Oh, no,” came from Ignatz. But Lorenz couldn’t hold back.
“It would simply be unbecoming of me,” Lorenz crooned. “To admit that such a blend, however delicious, could possibly compare to the subtle flavors of house Gloucester.”
“Lorenz, my lily-white friend,” Dedue’s voice was chillingly steady. “I don’t believe the Gloucester family knows about flavors that aren’t floral.”
“Well we cannot all spend our whole lives singing the praises of cinnamon, as if it can do no wrong.” Lorenz crossed his arms haughtily. “Do not be hurt that we have far more attractive plants to use for our tea.”
“It doesn’t matter how it looks if you are already drinking it.”
The scrape of wood on tile pierced the air as Lorenz stood from his chair. “Of course it matters! Whatever plant you choose to grow for your tea will inevitably fill your gardens, so beauty is an important factor!”
Dedue rose in turn, causing a gust that lifted the tufts of fur on Dimitri’s cloak. Dimitri sat perfectly still next to him. “All of the plants I tend to are beautiful. Your eyes are just clouded with grandeur.”
“Well perhaps if you unclogged your nose, you would be able to appreciate the fine aromas that make my family’s tea so good!”
“I appreciate them plenty,” Dedue decried. “I just don’t agree that they’re the best in the world.”
Lorenz burned under his collar. “I can’t believe you are still such a philistine!”
“And you are pompous as ever,” Dedue said. His eyes softened into a look that made Lorenz feel more scared than his glare had. “I should have known you would never stop being peculiar.”
The pause that rose between Lorenz and Dedue was only a half second long, but Ignatz was quick to steal it. “So,” he said, loudly enough to catch Lorenz’s attention away from his adversary. “How have things been at home, Dimitri?”
Lorenz suddenly became acutely aware of his repugnant manners. The back of his neck flared with the heat of embarrassment as he sunk into his seat and smoothed his clothes. It had been a long time since he’d gotten so worked up. Lorenz made a point to avoid meeting Dedue’s gaze as the group settled back into their pleasant attitudes.
“Well, thank you for asking, Ignatz.” Dimitri cleared his throat. “Things are well. Obviously, affairs are calm enough that I can partake in this visit.” He breathed and pushed his hair out of his face. “Annette is in good health.”
“Ah, the queen, yes? I often forget that you are wed.” Lorenz tried to settle himself back into his polite conversation mindset, but something about the argument with Dedue had shifted the mood too much. Perhaps that was why he couldn’t hold himself back from commenting, “you know, I had always figured that you were going to end up marrying Dedue. What with the whole inseparable bond and all.”
A shockingly hearty laugh erupted from Dimitri. “I can see why you would think that, but that could never happen.” He wiped a tear from his eye, still chuckling a bit. “Dedue doesn’t even like men.”
Lorenz’s eyebrows shot so high they just about pierced the ceiling. “Oh, is that so?” He blinked pointedly at Dedue, who was shrinking into his shoulders. “I could have sworn I had heard some evidence to the contrary. I apologize deeply for the assumption.”
This time, it was Lorenz who was menacing Dedue. He peered intensely enough at Dedue to shoot beams right out of his eyes at the man as he tried to look anywhere but at Lorenz. Dedue mumbled out a clear attempt to allow the conversation to move past the subject: “it’s fine. A simple mistake. No ill will.”
“It’s just as well,” Lorenz said. “I am still surprised by how hastily you were wed, Dimitri. I do suppose that the pressure to bear heirs is even greater in you than it is in us nobles. I understand.” Lorenz bit his lip at that comment. The strange atmosphere was putting him in such an impolite mood; he knew that projecting like that onto Dimitri was a step too far.
“Pressure indeed.” Dimitri’s positive demeanor put Lorenz at ease. He found it funny that the king, of all people, was one of the most forgiving guests he’s ever had. “Though, I’d say most of that pressure is from Annette herself. Ashe’s little ones have been running around the castle and she’s just obsessed with them. Perhaps we’ll need to do a family portrait soon enough.”
Ignatz beamed at that. “In that case, we ought to get done soon so you can get back to Annette!” He rose from his seat and nodded to Lorenz, then dipped a tiny bow towards Dimitri. “If I may, I’d like to discuss the costs for pigments and framing with you, Dimitri. I’ll show you the supplies I have on hand.”
“That sounds perfect.” Dimitri stood at his full height, his furs making him fill the space of the room quite thoroughly. “Dedue, Lorenz, you two can entertain yourselves, correct? If not, this might be an awfully boring week for you.”
“I’ll make do,” Dedue responded, still a little slouched from earlier.
“We certainly will,” Lorenz added. He gave a nod to Dimitri. “Let me know if you need any further help from me.”
“Of course.” Dimitri motioned for Ignatz to follow as he left the room, and Ignatz gladly scurried to meet him, chittering excitedly about the paints that he intended to use.
The sitting room was left eerily silent. Lorenz folded his hands on the table and tried to catch Dedue’s wandering eye. Lorenz tried not to put a heap of contempt into his words as he spoke. “Should I make more tea?” His voice echoed into what felt like an uncaring void.
Dedue twisted his fingers in his scarf. “I do not want to talk about it.”
Lorenz pursed his lips. “About the tea? Pity, I was going to let you choose what kind we would have.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know. But I suppose I cannot make any assumptions about you now.” Lorenz stood from his seat and adjusted his robes. “I thought you had hardly changed over the years, but I guess you decided to become dishonest since we last met.” Lorenz spun to leave, chin pointed to the sky, fists clenched tightly. He was halfway through the doorway when he felt a hand firmly yank his arm back. He stopped his pace, but didn’t turn to look at Dedue.
“I apologize.” Dedue’s voice was weary. “It was something I told Dimitri long ago.”
Lorenz swallowed the tension in his throat. “Why did you tell him that?” He found himself looking down at his feet, more saddened by this conversation than he wanted to be.
“It was… easier than telling him how I felt.” Dedue stepped in front of Lorenz, letting go of his arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you still felt--”
Lorenz scoffed loudly. “I don’t, of course! That’s not what this is about.” He found himself giggling like a madman between sentences. “This has nothing to do with some… some childhood crush. I just do not appreciate your willingness to lie about who you are.”
“I am sorry.”
Lorenz sucked in a breath and squared his shoulders. “It is… fine. I just ask that you tell Dimitri at some point. Please. It is unbecoming of you to be deceitful.”
Dedue responded with a tiny nod. “I will try.”
Lorenz sighed. “I suppose that will have to do. Now, I must see to some errands around the keep. We shall meet at the drafting room in, say, three hours? I expect that is when Ignatz and Dimitri will be there.”
Dedue shuffled his feet. “I do not know where that is.”
“Ah, do you not recall this place? Very well, then, I’ll provide a tour while I go about my errands. Come on, keep up.”