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needle & the thread

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   Actually, Dimitri mourns a moment too late, things had been going rather well until he’d said he was fine.

   Felix would probably put another hole through his torso for saying so, but while Felix is not small, he is also not particularly large—which, Dimitri supposes, makes him a little small by default).

   So Felix is a little small. In the wake of someone saying something Felix considers foolish, Felix doubles in size. Dimitri thinks of pufferfish.

   “You are not,” Felix hisses, and Dimitri thinks, Ah. “Fine.”

   “I am,” says Dimitri, with the exact amount of self-preservation that landed him in the infirmary in the first place. And then because he has never had an excellent idea of how far is too far: “Are you alright?”

   Triples in size, Dimitri observes with weary fascination.

   “There is a hole in your torso,” says Felix.

   “That is fine,” says Dimitri, which makes Felix actually throw his arms up and pace the room. Blessedly there were few casualties that past battle save for Dimitri himself; Felix’s pacing can only be called disruptive by the most generous of descriptions and there is nobody else in the infirmary to disturb. He looks like he might wield a pillow as a sword any moment, or, perhaps more concerningly, encourage Dimitri to wield his sword as a pillow. “Are you alright, Felix?”

   “Explain to me,” says Felix, ignoring this. “How you can have a battalion of armed knights at your disposal and still wind up the only injured man.”

   “What sort of king would I be if I allowed others to be hurt for me where they shouldn’t need to,” says Dimitri earnestly.

   “What sort of king would you be if you were dead?”

   A better one? Dimitri doesn’t say. He settles for a sheepish grin, which only serves to turn Felix more the wolf. “I am not dead,” he says. Reasonably, he thinks. “And I truly am fine, Felix. Really. I will recover soon, and be ready for—Felix?”

   Here is when Dimitri’s thoughts are disrupted once again with memory. Felix, in youth—oft-described as a crybaby and while accurate this was not wholly an apt description. Over-emotional might be better? If unfair. Simply expressive, mildly explosive. Felix cried often but trembled more, screamed frequently and stomped so much his little boots had to be replaced often. One thing that had never changed through the years as so much of Felix had: the first port of call, no matter whether the final destination was sadness or grief or envy or surprise or what have you, was always anger. Always anger. The wobbling bottom lip and the shaking fists before Felix would burst into something.

   Snaps back to now—Felix’s fists are trembling. His whole body is trembling.

   “Felix?” Dimitri tries again.

   “Shut up.” Cold this time. An emotion exclusive to grown Felix but which, too, had its buds in youth. A shut-down which meant fear or betrayal was to follow. “Do you have any idea—”

   He cuts himself off. This is not, Dimitri has learned, the hard way, an invitation to speak.

   Felix grits and ungrits his teeth. Dimitri watches his jaw jump then traces the hard line of it with his eye, safe to stare while Felix is preoccupied with rage about Dimitri’s stupidity or the target of the day which is usually Dimitri’s stupidity. “What do you remember,” he says at last, which is not the question Dimitri expected.

   Not a question, either, that Dimitri wants to answer. It takes him a moment. “Little,” he admits at last in a voice as low as he dares. Some light had returned to him at the tail end of Gronder. A lifeline or grounding rock to cling to through the howling in his head. Yet still in battle… “You did not call me a beast all those years for no reason.”

   “Optimistic of you to act like it’s a thing of the past,” Felix mutters, but does not seem as perturbed as Dimitri feared he would be. “Don’t think you’ve surprised me. I know perfectly well what you are and I always have. Do you remember nothing of your injury?”

   Dimitri hesitates. “No pain, if that is what you are concerned about.”

   “No.”

   Of course not. “Sylvain carried me back on his horse.”

   “Before that.”

   Dimitri tries, really does, but his mind conjures nothing. Nothing except what Dimitri had thought might be his final vision—an image of Felix’s face, wreathed in some holy light, gazing down at him from the sky.

   He was hardly going to share this. “No, nothing. I’m sorry.”

   Felix curls his lip. “Fine.” And turns to leave.

   Dimitri lunges upward. “Wait—”

   A stabbing pain! He can’t hold back the hiss that escapes through his teeth and Felix is at his side at an instant, pressing against the side of the wound with an urgent, frantic expression. “Idiot! Tear your stitches and Mercedes will be at your throat before I can even draw my sword.”

   “To aid her or me?” Dimitri jokes weakly, spots bursting before his eyes. “I’m—”

   “Don’t.”

   “—fi…” The word dies and he tries not to laugh. Stupid, giddy impulse, with Felix beside him. “I’m sorry.”

   “That’s no better. You wouldn’t need to apologise if you wouldn’t act out in the first place.” Felix curses. “Does it still hurt? You don’t seem to be bleeding through your bandages again. I should fetch—”

   “Stay, Felix. Please.”

   Felix’s jaw jumps again. “Stupid boar.”

   “I remember a little,” Dimitri tries, an effort to appease. Because he does, now—Felix’s frantic face reminded him. “I saw you. In the near distance. An archer approached you from the back.” I saw your terrified expression when I fell. “I am sorry. There were better tactics to employ. But I could not let you get hurt.”

   The expression Felix is wearing now is entirely unreadable, but shattered in a way it was not before. Like he was waiting for this. Like he could not stand to hear it. Broken apart, like Dimitri’s words were the final proof he had been betrayed, lost everything.

   “Felix…”

   On some unseen edge Felix teeters, trembles, then to Dimitri's alarm crumples before him—folds in on himself and sinks to the floor like he's being crushed. He's really on his hands and knees at Dimitri's bedside and Dimitri sits, winces, tries again and manages to lever himself up to a sitting position and—“Felix?”

   Felix's head whips up. “Lie back down,” he snarls, and it's the force of Felix's stare that forces Dimitri back down. He's never seen it in Felix's eyes before, this look. Anger, yes, but anger of a unique sort. A desperate sort. The how dare you and please don't and I will have nothing left of a cornered, starving predator. His gaze is intense in a way Dimitri can’t shield from, hungry and roving over every inch of Dimitri he can see, any he can drink in, and he rises slowly to tremble more furiously against Dimitri's bed. Knuckles white on the sheets, just brushing against Dimitri's bandaged torso, pushing just enough that Dimitri can feel the resistance of his own body pressing back. Like Felix needs to know that he's here. Still here. Really here.

   Felix sucks in a breath and drops his head down onto the blanket.

   Dimitri tries, “I am alright, Felix,” and Felix shakes his head so rough and so forced and so violent that Dimitri falls silent again and doesn't say another word, not even when Felix's hand snakes out to grip his own, too tight, and doesn't let go.

   “I was the one who found you,” Felix says into the sheet. “On the hill. The blood was pooling. Your eye was half-open. I thought—”

   The halo. The sun. Felix’s face…

   Felix starts a sentence, fails it, starts it again. “I’m not good at faith magic.”

   Dimitri cracks a wobbly attempt at a smile. “You must have known enough.”

   “You can’t rely on that.” Felix’s grip is still vice-like on his hand. “You can’t—you can’t make me think I won’t be enough to save you again. Not again. You can’t.”

   “Again…?”

   “I can’t do it again,” Felix bites out into the sheets, still wound too tight, still too brittle. “I can’t think you’re gone again. You can’t die again.”

   You can’t leave me again, a much younger Felix whispers into his shirt, little fists curling against his chest. Promise.

   Dimitri swallows down the apology Felix doesn’t want and says, “Okay.”

   This makes Felix lift his head. Incredulity pulls him up. “Okay? Okay?

   “Okay,” says Dimitri. “I won’t die.”

   Felix stares at him.

   “Ever,” Dimitri adds. “I’ll live forever.”

   “I can’t believe you,” Felix mutters. He lets go of Dimitri’s hand finally to shuffle back into a seated position, perching on the side of Dimitri’s bed. Dimitri wriggles his legs aside to make room for him. “I’m being serious.”

   “So am I,” says Dimitri. “You know I could not live to lose you either, Felix.”

   Felix’s nose crinkles like he doesn’t know this and can’t quite believe it. Like fealty to the Blaiddyd line was borne in him but he couldn’t quite fathom that it had to go the other way. Dimitri resists the urge to trail a line down Felix’s forearm with his fingers until the tension fades, until the hand still fisted in his sheets relaxes into something he can hold again. Felix would not take kindly to being told he is held dear and would be fates be damned; that Felix could be a Fraldarius or a goddess-damned Gloucester, a von Aegir or a nameless man in the fields and Dimitri would still easily still devote a lifetime to him.

   “I am sorry,” he says. “But I will not apologise for my actions today. I would sooner take a thousand blows than lose you. And I truly am fine, Felix. I will make a full recovery, if only for your sake.”

   This turns Felix spiked again where he had been slightly slack. “Recover for your kingdom and the people who need you, you fool, not for the sake of your flowery words.”

   The people who need him. Does that include Felix? He doesn’t dare ask. “They are no more flowery than they are true.”

   “I can’t stand you,” Felix grits out. “I really can’t.”

   “Lie with me, then,” Dimitri says, poker-faced, and briefly thinks Felix might actually kill him.

   But then Felix just scoots up a little more and leans back on his legs, still not looking at him. He drops his head back a bit, gazing up at the ceiling.

   “How are your stitches,” he says.

   Dimitri prods the bandage gingerly. “They do not seem to have torn.”

   “Good.” Felix casts a sharp glance at him. “You’re an idiot.”

   “So you have told me,” Dimitri says wryly. “I… did not expect such a reaction from you.”

   “You didn’t expect me to care if you died?”

   “I didn’t die,” Dimitri points out. “But… perhaps.”

   This is the wrong answer, according to the incredulous (hurt?) look on Felix’s face. But then he deflates. “Sorry,” he mutters. “I—sorry.”

   “What for?”

   Felix can handle all manner of blades with ease, but speaking now makes him look he’s trying to swallow them. “Making you think I don’t care. It’s—I don’t want to lose you.”

   “I thought you already did,” Dimitri says softly. Felix flinches. “Felix… I am sorry it took what it did for me to see what I’d become.”

   Felix looks down and away. Dimitri hesitates, then reaches a cautious hand to reclaim Felix’s, which surprisingly only makes him stiffen for a moment. A dull flush reaches his ears and he gives an odd spasm of the hand that might have been an attempt at a squeeze back.

   It’s a good sign that Felix isn’t snapping at him not to talk about it. Carefully, Dimitri pulls himself to a slow sitting position, propping pillows behind him while trying not to move his knees. Felix might try to flee if jostled—the moment this thought occurs to him Dimitri smiles, thinking of cats.

   “Thank you,” he says, quietly. “For not leaving me, despite it all. You must have thought there was some part of me worth saving.”

   “I always would’ve wondered,” Felix says, abrupt and jerky, like he can’t control what he’s saying. “If I could’ve. If what you needed was me. I just—” He stops, frowning. “I hate this.”

   “What?”

   “Feeling this… tied to you. You don’t even know.”

   “I didn’t,” says Dimitri. “But, Felix…” He lifts his hand from Felix’s, gone slack, and brushes it tentatively over Felix’s cheek. Felix flinches like the touch is too gentle, but closes his eyes with a crease in his brow and lets Dimitri stroke down his jaw. “It’s everything to me, to know. My bond to you is inexorable. At least I know you understand the desperation not to lose you.”

   “And where would it leave me if you died for it,” Felix mutters, almost to himself, but raises his hand back up to cover Dimitri’s. “If you wanted to cuddle you should’ve called Sylvain.”

   “Ha! It’s not Sylvain I most want to reconcile with.”

   Felix snorts. “You think this is what reconciliation entails?”

   “Well,” says Dimitri. “I’d prefer you sat a little closer.”

   Felix rolls his eyes but actually complies, which makes Dimitri briefly think he might have died after all. He’s tucked kind of awkwardly against Dimitri’s wounded side, arching to lean on his ribs and bracing his free hand on Dimitri’s thigh so as not to accidentally press too close. Sweeps a gentle touch over his bandages. Felix has always communicated best without words and the tight clasp of his fingers in Dimitri’s, resting now on Felix’s chest, says more than he ever could, or would, say.

   Felix has always disliked eye contact. He twists back to meet Dimitri’s eye for a brief moment, embers burning holes through him and full of hard intent. Do you get it now?

   Dimitri slips his arm around Felix’s waist and presses his cheek to Felix’s hair, revelling in the fact that he can. He smells like training yard sawdust and sweat and steel. Metallic and a little rank. Dimitri can’t hold back a smile.

   “What are you grinning about,” Felix mumbles.

   “Nothing,” says Dimitri. Objectively this is a really uncomfortable position to be cuddling in. It barely feels like cuddling, actually, since Felix seems allergic to having too many points of contact between them—but still, Felix is warm against his chest and willing to be there, and it’s enough. More than enough. “You aren’t going to get Mercedes?”

   “I can.”

   “Don’t.”

   He nudges Felix’s head. Felix’s head nudges back.

   “Stay with me,” says Dimitri.

   “I will if you do,” says Felix.