When Estinien returned from his meeting with the First Lance his entire squadron waited in the barracks with baited breath, Aymeric among them. Not the sight he’d expected when he’d left that morning, but not shocking either. Estinien had been with most of them at breakfast when he’d first received the summons. Word of the meeting must have spread to the rest while he and the First Lance spoke, and apparently it was interesting enough to earn a crowd.
“So?” one of his squadmates asked once Estinien was in hearing range, practically vibrating with excitement. Why, Estinien didn’t know. It wasn’t as if he would’ve received any news that would benefit them. Unless they’d tired of his presence and were just that eager to get rid of him. But he didn’t feel as though he’d offended them all that badly. So perhaps it was just the man being easily excitable as always, desperate for news in what had been an otherwise uneventful week.
For a brief moment Estinien considered telling them nothing at all. To mind their own business and be about their ways. There was a reason the First Lance had spoken to him alone.
But they looked so curious. Hopeful. They’d been enjoyable, as far as assigned squadmates went. He thought well of them. And he certainly thought well of Aymeric, the only surviving member of his previous squadron and his closest companion, who was waiting right alongside them.
So with a sigh he decided to break the news that they would’ve learned eventually anyway. Best to let them know then and there rather than having to deal with expectant stares and poorly hidden suggestions until the news inevitably broke itself in a few days.
“It seems I’m to be transferred at the end of the moon,” he stated, voice even, trying to sound as disinterested as possible in hopes it might set the tone for the inevitable reactions.
Of course, it did not. The yelling began as soon as the words left his lips, several very excited men and women running up to give him hugs, pats on the back, and all other sorts of touches he would not have tolerated were it any other occasion or were they any more of strangers than they were. As it was he clenched his fists and bit his lip to weather the good-natured assault. He’d let them have their fun for the moment. Then his rule about personal space would be back up in full force and he wouldn’t have to deal with it ever again.
“I knew it!” one squadmate shouted.
“Hells yes!” another cheered.
“Of course the son of the previous Azure Dragoon would make it,” a third laughed.
And most importantly, “Congratulations,” Aymeric smiled, walking up to Estinien but maintaining his distance behind the small crowd. “You’ve worked hard for this, and I’m glad the Order has noticed all your efforts to make it into their ranks. I wish you luck in your new position.”
“Thank you,” Estinien said over the numerous heads in front of him, some easier to see over than others. He wasn’t sure what else to say. At least, not anything he would say in public.
Aymeric smiled in response, waving once before walking away.
And so Estinien was left with nearly an entire squadron’s worth of questions about what the First Lance had said and whether he knew when his first deployment with his new squad would be and whether he had to undergo additional dragoon training before he was allowed to fight with the Order of the Knights Dragoon and if he was going to get a raise and if he’d visit them and so many other things that made Estinien feel as though he was talking to a gaggle of children, not a group of so-called adults that all had at least a two at the start of their age.
It would die down soon enough. In a few hours at most. Surely.
A bell past sunset Estinien was dragged to the Forgotten Knight, where one of his squadmates had loudly proclaimed there was to be a celebration for one of their own with free drinks on one of their other squadmates. Who loudly protested to such a decree, but he had a family name that meant that he did not want for money, and Gillebront laughed back that he’d be sure to put it on said squadmate’s tab.
The Forgotten Knight hadn’t been empty when Estinien’s squadron poured in, and it certainly didn’t lose anyone as word of a night of free drinks spread across Foundation. As the night went on it grew suffocating, and Estinien’s mood grew poor.
He wasn’t one for crowds. He’d tolerated his squadmates’ raucous laughter and overexcited cheers when they had begun, but he’d long since grown tired of the earsplitting cries of congratulations and the sticky spilled drinks and the too-hard slaps on the back that were supposedly meant to show their support for him but frankly just felt like a way for people to get out some sort of pent up anger. He’d had enough of the pointless questions which had begun to loop out of both a large number of people wanting to ask them and enough liquor downed that the same people had begun to repeat them.
And so, some three or so bells after he’d first entered the Forgotten Knight in the arms of far more people than he ever wanted to be that close to, Estinien departed by himself.
One of his squadmates was standing outside, getting handsy with some minor noble’s daughter against the Centurio board. Bold for someone of his standing. Especially bold since Estinien was fairly certain she was engaged.
He decided to Jump away before either could start begging him to forget what he’d seen or any other such drivel. He’d had enough of drunken pleas.
Once on a nearby rooftop, he Jumped a few more times for good measure. Best to hide away somewhere his squadmates couldn’t plant themselves at the foot of, crying for him to come back down. They’d done that a few times while sober even, when they were out on a mission and had downtime that Estinien liked to use to hide away in a tree of cliff or some other such site close enough to camp that he could return if something truly urgent called for him, but supposedly far away enough he had a chance to breathe and relish in his personal space. Though Estinien didn’t hate company entirely, there were times at which he wished to be left alone. After how wild the rest of his day had been, he’d decided the current moment was one of them.
He’d stopped on the roof of a chapel, leaning against its major spire to both give himself a place to relax and to shield himself from the breeze. It was a chilly night, and he’d forgone his coat in anticipation of how hot the Forgotten Knight was bound to become with a roaring fireplace and a mass of bodies. Ishgard was by no means freezing in Autumn, but it wasn’t particularly warm either. Especially not after the sun had set.
He took a deep breath.
He’d made it.
He’d finally been accepted into the Order of the Knights Dragoon after so many years spent among the Temple Knights, desperate to make himself stand out enough to be chosen to pass on to the next level.
Which really was the extent of where he was at. Initial acceptance, not actual membership. There was still another round of travails to face before he could be officially inducted. Alberic had warned him of the ‘tests’ potential dragoons were given to determine both their physical and mental fortitude. The First Lance, head of the Order with no one holding the title of Azure Dragoon at the present, had also mentioned the former, though he only gave vague hints to the latter.
Regardless of what induction meant, Estinien would persevere. He’d push past whatever they threw at him and finally earn the title he’d longed for since Alberic had explained who he was.
Just one week until his reason for living got a whole step closer. Until it was only a step away from realization, and another until completion.
A voice drifted toward Estinien’s ears, breaking the silence of the night.
“I’ve always admired the dragoons for their jumping ability, but now that I’ve made a fool of myself trying to reach you without doing so myself, I see you all in a completely new light.”
Estinien shot to his feet, looking for the source of the unexpected sound in an otherwise quiet night. He’d recognized that voice. Aymeric. But where-
“To your left. And below, if you couldn’t guess that from my historically pathetic climbing abilities,” Aymeric answered the unspoken question, laughing in self-deprecation at the end.
Estinien looked where told, Aymeric’s voice having been easier to locate the second time around.
And there the knight was, clutching onto a bunch of roof tiles as though his life depended on it. And while falling from that height likely wouldn’t end it, from the precarious grip Aymeric had and the way his feet seemed to be slowly slipping out from under him, Estinien realized that it would only be a matter of time before the man plummeted from the slippery rooftop he clung to.
“Damnit, Aymeric!” he cursed, launching off the church spire to wrap his arms around Aymeric when he landed nearby and pushing off from the roof to set Aymeric down in the spot Estinien had been sitting in earlier once he’d gotten the man in his arms. He took a step back, hands on his hips. “What in the world were you thinking?”
“I wonder myself,” Aymeric muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Thank you for rescuing me. And apologies for making such a rescue necessary in the first place.”
“No need to apologize, just don’t do that again. Fury, for a brief moment I thought I was about to watch you break your own leg,” he grumbled.
“Thankfully I had a gallant dragoon ready to save me before I could do so, and so such a tragedy did not come to pass,” Aymeric teased, grinning as Estinien rolled his eyes. “But I’ll do as you ask. I don’t think I want to end up in such a situation again regardless of whether I might be saved. Though I’m not one to shy away from heights, I prefer when I’m looking down from a more...stable position.”
Estinien snorted. “As do most sane people.”
“Says the man who loves free falling dozens of yalms while in combat with large beasts.”
“I’m perfectly in control of myself when I Jump. And I’ll only get better after initiation. Though I’ve been using Alberic’s soulstone for some time, the Order has a collection which I can choose from. I may find one that resonates more with my own soul, allowing for a better mastery of the art.”
“Does it? Then I wish you luck with that- May you find something that makes your soul soar.”
“Thank you.” Estinien tilted his head back, looking up to the stars. Looking up at the sky, that boundless expanse he loved so much. There was something exhilarating about propelling himself toward the heavens, just as there was something invigorating about plunging back down.
He looked back to Aymeric, who’d mirrored his movement while Estinien was distracted.
“But I must ask again- why are you here? Your presence isn’t unwelcome, but I wasn’t expecting you when you called out to me.”
“A few reasons,” Aymeric answered. “First, I wanted to apologize for our comrades’ behavior. I felt you were uncomfortable earlier, but since you were tolerating their proximity and volume far more than you normally do, I thought that perhaps you were less bothered than you typically were, and that my interpretation of your body language had been incorrect. I next want to apologize for leaving you at their mercy this evening in the Forgotten Knight while I was off attending to my own business. Though you are a grown man and needn’t be coddled, I find that a friend willing to tell off or even simply distract those who you yourself cannot deal with is a most wonderful thing. And finally...I wished to give you this.”
He pulled a small box out from under his cloak, a square wooden thing that looked as though it had seen a fair few decades.
Estinien raised an eyebrow, staring at Aymeric’s outstretched hand and the box atop it for a few seconds. Then he took it, unlatching the clasp at the front and popping it open.
Inside was a set of hairpins, silver and textured to resemble scales. They glittered under the light of the full moon, almost iridescent as Estinien picked the first one up and twirled it between his right index finger and thumb.
“These are…” he began, voice barely a whisper. He hadn’t known what he was expecting, but hairpins. certainly weren’t it.
“They were my mother’s. I’ve always preferred my hair relatively short, and pins that stand out so much have never been my style. But I think they would blend in much better with yours, while still shining beautifully while in the right light,” Aymeric explained. “Though, the main reason I thought to give them to you was for their purpose while remaining unseen. The dragoon helmet has less place for a ponytail than that of the standard Temple Knights. If you’re to keep your hair at the length it is, I imagine you might have to come up with a few creative ways to pin it back. I thought you might appreciate some tools with which to do so. The pins are as strong as they are thin.”
The lamplights lining Foundation’s streets began to blur, tears rising unbidden in Estinien’s eyes. He tried to will them away, an unnecessary reaction to a kind gift.
Aymeric, who had moved from staring at the sky to staring out at the Sea of Clouds, did not notice. Instead, he continued. “Though it is no surprise you’ve been chosen for the Order, when you told us all the news this morning I realized that I’d yet to prepare you the gift I’d been thinking about giving you for ages. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to look Laurentien in the eye when I return with how thoroughly I tore the mansion apart looking for those. ‘Twas why I missed the celebration at the Forgotten Knight - I spent so long digging around for the box that time slipped away from me, and by the time I unearthed it and made my way over I discovered you had already left.”
Estinien blinked a few times, trying again to clear the tears from his eyes. Aymeric’s gaze finally landed on him once more, eyes widening when he noticed what Estinien was doing.
Mercifully, Aymeric said nothing of the display. Instead, he smiled sweetly.
“I hope this is an acceptable gift for such a momentous occasion.”
“It’s beyond acceptable. I can think of no finer a present, not that any was needed in the first place. Thank you, my friend. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome. Thank you for all you’ve done for me these past few years. Though I wish you the best of luck and the most wonderful time with your new brothers-in-arms, I do hope you won’t forget me when you’re out slaying dragons and clearing mountains.”
“Never,” Estinien rushed, voice far more severe than he meant it to be. His sudden increase in volume earned a small jump and wide eyes from Aymeric, who put his smile back up a moment later.
The wind shifted, coming from a new angle that meant the chapel’s spire no longer protected Estinien from the breeze. He shivered, hugging his arms closer to his body in an attempt to keep warm.
Aymeric frowned at the action. “Would you like to head inside? We can go back to the Forgotten Knight if you’d like, though since I expect you would not, my manor is also open. Or the barracks, if you so wish.”
Estinien shook his head. “No thanks. It’s nice to have the chance to clear my head and look at the stars. Maybe in a little while. Though if you’d like to head inside, I won’t stop you. I’d hate to keep you out here if you’re freezing.”
“I’m fine,” Aymeric insisted. “Unlike someone, I brought a fairly warm cloak.” He shook it for emphasis. “And large, too. Why, I think it could fit two if they were close enough.”
“Two, huh?” Estinien let a smile onto his face, scooting closer to Aymeric. “I suppose we’ll just have to try it out and see if your claims are true.”
“I suppose we shall.”
And so the two sat side by side on the roof of a chapel, backs to the spire, bodies wrapped in a large cloak meant for one, staring out at the glittering stars above.
What a lovely way to end such an important day, Estinien thought. What a perfect celebration.