It doesn’t quite go the way Dimitri had planned.
Claude has been away from Faerghus for weeks -- weeks where Dimitri’s bed was cold and lonely, his hands devoid of his lover’s warmth. The only thing he’d found to fill his empty days and nights is the object he now holds in his hands, cradled as gently as he might his lover.
But now Claude is back with him, returned after a long stint in Almyra, and Dimitri finds the tightness in his chest easing just from looking at him.
“Claude,” he says softly, and Claude turns. They are on the balcony overlooking Fhirdiad, enjoying a late autumn sunset. The glow turns Claude’s hair golden, glinting off the metal in his ears and on his shoulders.
But the smile on Claude’s face is brighter than any sunset.
“Hello there, Your Loveliness,” he says with a grin. He casts a curious eye to the bundle of fabric in Dimitri’s arms. “What do you have there?”
Dimitri only steps forward, close enough to embrace him, but without reaching out just yet. The weeks apart have been too lonely for him not to be close to Claude, but there is something he absolutely must do first.
He takes a deep breath before letting the cloth in his arms unfurl. A floor-length, Blaiddyd-blue cloak with gold silk trimmings, the warm brown fur of a bear covering the shoulders. The hem is uneven -- it had taken this long for him to be able to handle a needle without breaking it, let alone sew in a straight line -- and the trim is somewhat jagged, cut unevenly by his hands that have always been more skilled at warfare than at handicrafts.
But Dimitri doesn’t mind these imperfections, for once. What matters far more is the person this cloak is meant for.
“Claude,” he says, holding out the cloak. “I… in all my days, I had never dreamed to find a man like you, willing to stand by my side in my darkest hours. Please, consider this a pledge of my deepest loyalty to you. For all the rest of my days, I shall never stray from our shared goals. And…” A lump appears in his throat, unable to help himself. “I shall always protect you,” he whispers. “Always. I shall keep my promise until the moment my breath should leave my body.”
He watches Claude carefully for some sign of his assent, his approval. Claude is simply looking at him with wide eyes, flecks of gold dancing in the green.
“Dima…” He swallows. “Wow. Uh. Yes. What else can I possibly say to that?”
He moves in to embrace him, but Dimitri backs off, clutching the cloak before him like a shield.
“You have to kneel.”
“Eager already, huh? Sun isn’t even set yet.”
Still, he obliges, winking up at Dimitri as Dimitri reaches, with trembling hands, to settle the cloak around Claude’s shoulders. It suits him, Dimitri can’t help but think, seeing his now-betrothed wearing both their colors and feeling like his heart might burst from the joy of it.
He helps Claude to his feet so they might finally embrace, and he hears Claude chuckle, pressing a light kiss to Dimitri’s cheek.
“About time, Dima,” he teases. “I’ve been freezing my ass off every time I’ve come to Faerghus. Was it really so hard to get me my own cloak, or were you that intent on us sharing?”
Dimitri can’t help but pull back, feeling slightly confused.
“What?” He shakes his head. “What do you mean?”
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” Claude says, winking at him again. “Your cloak is warm. Love that it smells like you. But it’s better now that one of us doesn’t have to always be cold, right?”
Dimitri just stares blankly at him. “What?”
A gong chimes somewhere below them, and Claude looks toward the source of the sound.
“Ah! Sounds like dinner’s ready.” He makes for the entrance to the balcony, grinning over his shoulder back at Dimitri, his face still framed by the bear’s light brown fur. “See you down there, azizam?”
And he leaves Dimitri alone, in the cold, feeling as though something has gone horribly wrong.
“You’re finally proposing to Claude?”
Two weeks earlier, Mercedes had sat with him in his chamber, excited, bringing a store of new needles and a length of Blaiddyd-blue wool.
“It’s well past time.” The war had ended just over a year earlier, with Dimitri taking control of Fodlan while Claude had settled into his new duties ruling Almyra. Their responsibilities and the physical distance between them had been the only thing holding Dimitri back for a while; now that the unrest in Fodlan has finally died down, he can no longer bear to restrain himself. He can rule from Fodlan’s Locket if he needs to, so long as he can keep Claude by his side always.
“I’m so happy for you!” Mercedes had hummed, smiling at him. “You have the pelt and everything?”
“He and I killed a Duscur bear together, last he was here.” Dimitri had smiled at the memory of it, riding side by side with his beloved in the forest, watching arrows whistle through the air at foes far less deadly than Imperial soldiers. Hunting no longer held much joy for Dimitri after five long years of fighting and killing, but it was necessary if he were to craft a proper betrothal cloak.
It was a longstanding tradition in Faerghus for noblemen to craft a cloak for his beloved, using the combined colors of their houses and the pelt of an animal they’d hunted together. The wealthiest nobles often had these cloaks commissioned from artisans who specialized in making works of art, but… Dimitri had wanted to make his cloak for Claude himself, with his own hands. Mercedes was here to help guide him, given his past disastrous attempts at sewing, but he was loath to let her touch the cloak herself.
Betrothal cloaks were a symbol of a husband’s devotion, his protection and loyalty. Dimitri knows, logically, that Claude already must know these things, that his feelings are returned, but the symbol is still important to Dimitri. Some tangible sign that he will be with Claude, always, even if their duties must bring them apart from time to time.
But that night, the night that he cloaks Claude… Dimitri watches him sit across from him at dinner, chatting animatedly with Sylvain about the social reforms he’s implementing in Almyra while avoiding any mention of the promise Dimitri had given him. He knows Sylvain has realized it -- saw the way his eyebrows had gone up at the sight of Claude wearing blue wool, his eyes catching Dimitri’s for the merest second -- but the fact that Claude himself doesn’t realize what Dimitri is trying to give him is…
Well… it hurts.
Dimitri takes a deep sip of wine, turning his gaze away, and tries to swallow his deep disappointment.
Claude wonders why Dimitri is brooding tonight, of all nights.
He knows their separation has been hard on Dimitri -- it’s been difficult on him as well, returning to the work of governing a country that he’d grown up being hated by -- but Claude had... Well, he’d hoped that tonight, their first night back together in weeks, might be somewhat more eventful than lying in bed beside a silent, clothed Dimitri, staring at his back in the dim lamplight while he pretends to sleep.
He wonders what’s wrong.
“Dima.” He speaks his lover’s name gently, resting his fingertips against Dimitri’s shoulder blade. “Bad day?”
“Mm.” Dimitri shrugs one shoulder. “Had better.”
Claude frowns, his brow furrowing. The thing is, he’s used to Dimitri’s bad days, no stranger to them both during and after the war. Over time, he likes to think he’s learned how to help Dimitri cope with them, or at least be able to relax enough to sleep beside him. But Dimitri shutting him out so completely? That’s rare, and worrying.
Claude moves his hand to Dimitri’s scalp, lightly rubbing in small circles.
“Want to talk about it?” He hears Dimitri sigh before shaking his head, which Claude had expected. It’s rare that Dimitri will voluntarily talk about whatever’s bothering him without a little bit of pampering first; still, he always makes the offer. “Then, how about I read to you for a bit?”
After a moment, Dimitri makes a small noise of assent and rolls over to face Claude, still settled on his pillow with his hand curled under his cheek. Claude lets himself smile before reaching for the volume on his nightstand, an extremely long and boring treatise on Kingdom etiquette that Lorenz had insisted he borrow. It's been a fairly effective sleep aid, to this point, and Claude hopes that hearing him recite the culture of his homeland will help to relax Dimitri further.
Claude picks up his book, turning to the page he’d marked with his bookmark the night before.
“Coming of age and courtship rituals,” he reads aloud, the title of the chapter he’s about to begin. “Hey, maybe we’ll get our next big date idea from here.” He grins over at Dimitri, who doesn’t smile back. Still, Claude doesn’t let himself falter, keeping himself light enough to help buoy Dimitri.
“The youth of Faerghus are often presented with a dagger when they come of age,” he reads, settling into bed. He reaches for Dimitri’s hand with his free one, running a thumb comfortingly along the inside of Dimitri’s wrist. “The dagger in question must be no longer than one and one half hands in length, with an unadorned pommel and the hilt bearing the house colors of the noble child or the house they serve. The dagger is to be kept in a leather scabbard, embossed in the style of the giver’s choosing, and worn at the child’s left hip as a reminder that they must carve their own path…”
Claude continues reading aloud, still keeping a gentle touch on Dimitri’s wrist as he does so. He’s been making a concentrated effort to learn about Fodlan’s culture and traditions ever since arriving here over seven years ago; but there’s been so much to learn, much of it contradicting rituals in other parts of Fodlan, that it was all rather difficult to keep track of sometimes. Still, it’s a learning process for Claude, one that he must undertake if his dream of full acceptance and inclusion throughout the world is ever to become a reality.
In truth, however, his mind is not fully on his reading, though he continues to say the words on the page aloud. His mind is taken up with his worries about Dimitri, silent and still just a few feet from him.
It breaks his heart to admit this, but Dimitri’s inner turmoil had not fully ended with the war. There will always be some part of him -- of them both -- that has been shattered by the things they witnessed, the atrocities they committed. Dimitri’s bad days have thankfully become fewer and farther between, especially when Claude is around… but Claude will still sometimes find his lover staring blankly into the middle distance, or muttering apologies under his breath to his father, to Rodrigue, to Edelgard. These spells typically only happen, these days, when Dimitri is stressed or otherwise dwelling on his past, and he’s thankfully lost much of the edge -- the anger -- that had seemed to control him for much of the war.
What seems to help him the most is when Claude can draw him out of the vortex of his self-loathing, either with verbal reassurances or with moments like this, where he reads aloud to him, so that Dimitri can focus on the sound of Claude’s voice and not the whispers of loved ones that he’s lost. The only downside to this is that Dimitri tends to flounder a little when Claude isn’t around, which only makes Claude work that much harder to create a world where they can be together, always, without abandoning their responsibilities or their dreams.
He hopes such a day is coming soon. He catches himself daydreaming, more and more often these days, about being married to Dimitri, about coming back here every night to lie beside him, to talk about his days and his stresses and find comfort in his words and his touch.
“...land will be exchanged, no fewer than two hectares in size and not to exceed fifty and five hectares, to indicate the seriousness behind a courtship,” he continues reading, smiling to himself at the mess that practice must surely make of trying to accurately map territories in Faerghus. “When the time has come for a noble of Faerghus to wed their betrothed, handmade cloaks will be exchanged, decorated by the colors of both noble houses and adorned with the fur of a beast slain by the betrothed pair--”
Claude stops mid-sentence, his heart suddenly pounding in his ears as he tries to contemplate what he’s just read.
“Handmade cloaks will be exchanged,” he repeats, lowering the book onto his lap. He can’t help but look at his new cloak, carelessly draped over the back of a chair on the other side of the room. Takes in the ragged edges of the hem, the fur that resembles a bear he and Dimitri had hunted the last time he was here. “Dimitri…”
He looks at Dimitri, who pointedly looks away, a flush decorating his cheeks.
“It…” Dimitri clears his throat, speaking for the first time since Claude had started reading. “Do not trouble yourself, Claude. As you said, it is rather cold in my homeland, and it was high time you got something to keep you warm, at least.”
Claude is still reeling, replaying the moment back in his head when Dimitri had presented the cloak to him earlier that evening. The flowery declaration of protection and loyalty. Insisting that Claude kneel before him. And he thinks even further back, to Dimitri’s incomprehensible response to Claude jokingly asking him for a cloak of his own, the first time he’d stolen Dimitri’s on a visit to Gautier territory. Claude, do you really think we’re ready for me to cloak you?
“Dimitri,” he says, and slams the book shut, dropping it on his bedside table. “Dima. Ask me again.”
Dimitri sighs, hiding his red face in his pillow. “Claude…”
“Dima,” Claude says, grinning as he moves over to his side of the bed, nuzzling into Dimitri’s neck. “My darling. You know what an idiot I am. Are you really going to let that stop you from trying again?” He kisses Dimitri’s neck, his shoulder, his jaw, every part he can reach. “Are you going to give me a chance to say yes properly this time?”
Dimitri looks at him then, still guarded, but with hope shining through the cracks. Their faces are inches apart, Claude unable to keep himself from smiling down at him.
“Then,” Dimitri says slowly, his eyes still roaming over Claude’s face, “then you truly did not know? That it was a…”
He can’t seem to bring himself to say “betrothal cloak,” which is somehow more endearing than it has the right to be. Claude just beams.
“Imagine if I’d handed you a lion figurine carved from a wild wyvern horn,” he says. “That’s what I’d have to do in Almyra, if I wanted to land a catch like this.” He gestures up and down Dimitri’s body, and Dimitri’s expression knits.
“I’d have to catch it myself, of course,” Claude muses, thinking back on the bits of Almyran etiquette that actually mattered to anyone in his homeland. It’s not like here in Faerghus, where details and symbolism reign, where declarations of loyalty matter more than those of love. “Wrestle it into submission, if I had to.” His expression softens. “But I’d do it, for you.”
Dimitri laughs then, soft at first, hidden behind his hand. Claude moves his hand away so he can see it, the sight of his lover -- his fiance -- smiling at him.
“I’d love to see that,” Dimitri says. He laces their fingers together. “So… you’re saying I should try again, then.”
Claude beams, bouncing off the bed to go and fetch his new cloak. He holds it with a bit more reverence now, knowing the significance it has to Dimitri, understanding now what it means for their futures.
“Yes,” he says, kneeling on the mattress and holding the cloak back out to Dimitri. “If it helps, you already know what I’m going to say, this time.”
Dimitri smiles, sitting up in bed and carefully taking the cloak from him.
“I do admit that makes it slightly easier.”
Claude bounces on his knees, sitting across from him on the bed, waiting for Dimitri to summon the courage to make his speech again.
Dimitri inhales. “Claude--”
“Yes,” Claude says, unable to keep patient a second longer. “Yes, yes, yes, Dima, Dimochka …”
He pounces on Dimitri, finding his mouth so they can seal their lips together, like a signature on their promise. He and Dimitri are both smiling too hard to kiss properly, but Claude still keeps him pulled as close as he possibly can, their noses scrunching against one another, the same breath caught between both their mouths. Somehow in the kerfuffle, his new cloak finds its way to his shoulders once again, and he blindly reaches to pull it more tightly around them both as they fall backward onto their pillows.
Dimitri is everything Claude’s ever wanted, and far more than he could ever deserve.
He’s going to give him the best life.
Even with autumn’s leaves still clinging to the trees, Dimitri can smell winter coming in on the wind, rolling in from the sea near Fhirdiad. His old cloak has been adequate to keep the chill off of him, the same one that has kept him warm and protected all through the war.
Although now, with the crest of House Riegan haphazardly stitched onto the breast in gold thread by the steady hands of the man he loves, he can’t help but admit to loving his old cloak somewhat more, now. A visible symbol to everyone in Faerghus that he’s taken -- and a piece of Claude he can carry with him everywhere he goes.
He walks through the copse of trees just beyond the castle walls, taking deep breaths of cool air and listening to the song of the few remaining birds as he clears his head. It’s been an exhausting morning filled with his duties, reviewing trade agreements with Sreng and mediating conflicts between the nobles that now govern former Imperial territory. So he needs the space. Like Claude had taught him: paying close attention to his surroundings, taking stock of what he can see and hear and touch and smell, to avoid getting bogged down by the uncertainty or despair that still plague his mind at times.
The solitude of the woods now is a comfort, after being surrounded by so many who demand so much from him. But thankfully for Dimitri, he doesn’t plan to be alone for long.
Claude is already in the center of the clearing, a blanket spread beneath him and a basket from the kitchens open, displaying an array of cheeses and crackers and a bottle of red wine in his hands. Dimitri's heart does its familiar swoop in his chest at the sight of Claude in their colors, his betrothal cloak both marking Claude as his and keeping him protected from the chilly winds.
Claude looks up from his book as he hears Dimitri approach, grinning at the sight of him.
“You managed to get away!”
“For the time being,” he sighs, and bends down to kiss Claude as he reaches his side. “I’m afraid I will have to return this afternoon.”
“Hmm,” Claude thinks, stretching his arms behind his head, just as he used to when they were at the academy. “Just say the king of Almyra kidnapped you. You had no choice.”
Dimitri chuckles, and Claude winks at him before passing a cheese board that’s already been made up with a selection of his favorites, along with some tart dried fruits and some thin crackers. They pass it back and forth between them, taking luxurious bites of rich cheese paired with small sips of the wine, sitting close together with their cloaks tangled together and resting across their laps.
“So,” Claude says after several minutes where they share tidbits from their respective mornings, “I wanted to give you something. An engagement gift, I guess.”
A flush unmistakably spreads across his cheeks as he says it, and Dimitri raises his eyebrows, lowering his wine glass.
“You… hunted a wyvern for me?” He thinks back to the night where Claude had finally understood what he was trying to do. “I seem to recall asking to watch you subdue it.” He quirks an eyebrow at Claude, who splutters.
“I wasn’t going to--! You all don’t have wild wyverns here, and I love you, Dimitri, but I wasn’t about to take one of Altena’s horns to make you something…”
“I’m only teasing,” Dimitri reassures him, smiling as Claude visibly relaxes. “What did you get for me, my love?”
He makes note of the reaction the pet name has on Claude, the way his blush darkens and he gets visibly flustered. Dimitri isn’t often one for terms of endearment; perhaps he should change that, seeing how it affects his future husband.
“I… okay.” Claude reaches inside his cloak, rummaging around. “So it’s not fifty-five hectares of Almyran land, but I don’t think I could really give you that without starting a riot anyway, not in the current climate--”
“Fifty-five hectares.” Dimitri snorts. “I haven’t heard of that being given as a betrothal gift in quite some time.” Really, he privately thinks, he’d give all of Fodlan to Claude if he asked for it. Not that he ever would ask, but it’s a tempting thought, especially after mornings like the one he just had.
“Right… so…” Claude pulls out a thin bundle wrapped in a golden cloth. “It’s not much. And I know I’m doing it all wrong. But I wanted you to have this.”
And he hands it to Dimitri, who unwraps it curiously. It’s a naked dagger, but unlike any that Dimitri has ever seen before. The blade is slightly curved, rather than straight, and has a golden hilt and no guard. At first glance, the blade itself seems to be made of wood, but as Dimitri moves it back and forth in the light, he can see that it is, in fact, steel, folded over and over in the forge until the blade is covered in tiny striations that ripple across it like waves.
"It's Almyran steel," Claude clarifies, watching Dimitri's reaction.
Dimitri carefully picks it up to examine it more closely. The hilt is embossed in a delicate pattern that reminds him of vines entwining, the etchings continuing onto the base of the blade itself. As he picks it up from its wrappings, something small and hard swings free, bound to the hilt by a leather strap. Examining it more closely, it seems to be a tooth of some sort -- sharp like a wyvern’s, but far too small to fit in the mouth of one.
“That was Altena’s,” Claude says softly, seeing him look curiously at it. “It’s one of her baby teeth. I tied it on for good luck -- doesn’t matter.” Dimitri looks up at him, seeing Claude more serious and contemplative than he tends to be. “My mother gave me this when she sent me to Fodlan. So I could protect myself.” He smiles, which doesn’t reach his eyes. “Had to use it a few more times than I care to think about.”
The assassination attempts, Dimitri thinks with a sudden pang. The jeers, the hatred. Sometimes it’s too easy to forget that Claude’s path has not been any easier than his.
“Claude,” he begins, but Claude shakes his head, giving him a small, but true, smile.
“It’s yours now,” he tells him, and covers Dimitri’s hand on the hilt with his own. “You promised to protect me, didn’t you? I’m just giving you the means to do it.”
Dimitri’s breath catches in his throat at that, and at the warmth of Claude’s hand covering his. He licks his lips, trying to regain some element of control.
“What did you mean by ‘I’m doing it all wrong’?” he asks, looking up at Claude.
“I know it doesn’t mean the same thing to you.” Claude scratches behind his ear, self-conscious. “Me giving you a dagger. I know that’s more a coming-of-age thing in Faerghus, and it’s not really a ‘thing’ at all in Almyra. But--”
“But this is meaningful to you,” Dimitri interrupts, understanding. It goes beyond both of their cultural expectations, to something that is uniquely Claude.
It’s a little difficult, he admits, to think beyond his own associations with the dagger, to set aside the notion that Claude is asking him to carve his own path when Dimitri has already been doing that for a decade out of pure necessity. But what Claude is really asking, by giving Dimitri his childhood dagger…
Claude is asking Dimitri to help him set down his burdens, to protect him in the moments he is too weary or too weak to defend himself any longer. To let him rest in safety in his arms, trusting Dimitri to take care of him.
Or, perhaps, to use this dagger to carve a path that leads back to Claude. To find a way for them to rest together like this every day, for the rest of their lives.
Dimitri smiles, tightening his grip on the weapon and pulling it close to him.
“I’ll take good care of it,” he promises, and tucks the blade into the belt at his waist. He’ll have to have a scabbard especially made for it, he thinks. Perhaps made of wyvern hide, or decorated with the emblem of a deer.
The corner of Claude’s mouth quirks upward.
Dimitri responds by reaching for him, embracing Claude tightly and nuzzling the brown fur at his neck as he breathes, feeling Claude’s warmth and smelling the argan oil he uses on his hair.
I’ll take good care of you , he does not have to add. Not when he and Claude can both already hear it.
They pull each other close, finding a warm home in one another.