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The morning he woke up with flower petals on his pillow, Takumi was confused. The last time he had seen petals this pure of a white had been at his mother’s funeral.

He gathered them all into his fist and threw them at the far ends of the campsite. He refused to think about it for the rest of the day.

--

The next few days he awoke, the petals were there again, only this time a mildly sore throat accompanied their appearance. He went to see Sakura to make sure he wasn’t coming down with anything.

“Your temperature feels normal. Were there any other symptoms besides the s-sore throat?” she asked.

‘White flower petals,’ he almost said, but then thought better of it. The coughing and the petals were purely coincidental. He was sure of it.  

Instead he just replied with a shake of his head.

-- 

It was not a coincidence. The petals didn’t cease after that. Nor did the odd feeling in his throat. Everyday he woke up before everyone else to dispose of the rogue flora. Soon, the flowers started appearing while he was awake.

They were coming from him, he realized.

Takumi stared at the petals that came out of his mouth from a slight cough. The scratchy feeling in his throat and the flowers… the two were definitely connected. He didn’t want to believe it, but there was the evidence. He definitely should have been more freaked out by this than he was.

Takumi tried going about his days as he normally would: training with Hinata, eating lunch with Oboro, conversing with Ryoma about what battle formations would work best with their legion of troops, even occasionally indulging in Elise’s requests to have tea parties with him, Sakura, and their audience of stuffed animals.

And of course, he would never miss the chance to play a game of chess with Leo.

Recently he found himself staring more and more at Leo when he thought the other wasn’t looking. It was embarrassing, but he couldn’t seem to stop. Leo rarely dropped his guard around others, and something about him when he was relaxed made Takumi feel like the luckiest person in the world. Those moments alone with him were when Takumi felt the worst, as if the petals in his throat were threatening to choke him.

“Takumi, hey Takumi, this is the third time you’ve spaced out,” said Leo, waving a hand in front of his face, “Are you feeling unwell?”

“Oh, y-yeah I’m-” he started before bringing a hand to his mouth and making a motion to excuse himself. Leo looked on with concern and stood to offer his help, but Takumi was already out of the room.

Violent coughing wracked his entire body. When the fit was over, his eyes widened as he looked into his palm to see white flower petals, slightly more than before. He sighed and held them tightly in his fist as he went back inside to tell Leo that he was indeed very tired. Leo only looked sympathetic.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked, though not unkindly.

“Something like that,” was the only answer Takumi could respond with.

That night, he dreamed of a black hairband sitting on soft hair, a black knight capturing a white rook, and the warmth of homemade stew. It wasn’t a nightmare, but a different sort of torture in itself.  He woke up with the realization that that was the first time he had to leave in the middle of one of their chess matches.

An apology would be in order.

Takumi would dread that moment when it came.

--

The coughing did not get better after that. Takumi desperately tried to keep it hidden from the other members of the army. He did a pretty good job of it, until Sakura caught him stealing medicine for his sore throat. She only looked at him with concern and sympathy.

“Brother, this is not something you should hide. There is no shame in admitting you are ill, it does not make you weak.”

Although the words were simple, there was a wise tone about them. The war took its toll on everyone, and for just a moment Takumi was both proud and saddened that Sakura had to grow up so quickly.

“It’s not any worse than everything else I’ve already been dealing with,” was the only reply he could offer in return. “It might go away after a while longer.”

Sakura watched him leave the tent with doubt in her eyes.

--

The coughing got worse, of course it did. The fits were always loud and sudden, even as he brought his hands up to muffle the sounds. People started taking notice and worrying about him.

“Milord, if you are feeling ill I’m sure Lady Sakura, Lady Elise, or even Azama could help,” people would always say to him.

He would brush away their concerns every time with an excuse. A dry throat, some dust got in his mouth from sparring, he just needed some water and he would be fine. He had always wanted people to notice him, but not in this way, not while he was in this state.

“If you insist, Prince Takumi…” They would always look worried but ultimately they would nod and be on their way.

It wasn’t until then that he could unclench his fist and let the petals fall to the ground.

--

As the coughing got worse, the number of petals that would appear increased. Takumi found it more and more difficult to conceal them in his hands after his bouts of coughing.

If it was bad under normal circumstances, it was entirely unbearable around Prince Leo. If he so much as looked at him Takumi felt as if he would suffocate.

He took to avoiding Leo after that realization.

Takumi was in the medical tent when the worst fit yet had taken him. He fell to his knees as coughs shook his entire body and flower petals covered the floor for when he could not contain them in his hands. Then he heard a gasp and looked up to see Sakura at the entrance. He was beginning to think he was either extremely lucky or extremely unlucky that it was her who kept finding him like this.

“Don’t- don’t tell anyone else,” he got out before another fit of coughing overtook him.

“But brother…!”

“Don’t. Please.”

Sakura looked like she wanted to argue had she not been on the verge of tears. This was not a disease she had ever seen. But Valla was an odd place, it only made sense diseases contracted in this realm were equally as strange. Sakura kneeled next to Takumi, patting his back gently while his fit gradually subsided.

“C-can I at least go ask Azura if she knows what this is?”

Takumi knew what this was. Hanahaki, or so the book called it. What remained of Valla’s civilization was little, and it was fortunate that one of the few scripts the army had found was a medicinal tome. No one else had seemed interested in the small, battered book, so Takumi took to reading it for the nights where sleep evaded him. Metaphorically speaking it was different, but he was never one to judge a literal book by its cover.

Briefly, he thought that Leo would like reading it before another urge to cough worked its way up. More flower petals fell onto the ground.

So he relented to the request thinking that it would probably make Sakura feel better if she thought he didn’t know what it was.

“Yeah… yeah okay.” he sighed. Sakura leaned in to hug him. Takumi let her and rested his head on her shoulder.

--

It came as a surprise when Ryoma wanted to train with him. He eagerly accepted the offer, it wasn’t often that Ryoma had spare time to indulge in friendly spars these days. He had expected to fight with swords, as that was their usual weapon of choice. Takumi was surprised when Ryoma suggested that they go to the archery grounds.

With Ryoma being Ryoma, he could shoot a bow decently. Of course he could, no one expected anything less from the Crown Prince of Hoshido.

“Simply amazing,” Ryoma said as Takumi landed his tenth consecutive bullseye on the target.

Takumi shrugged, “That happens with practice, you should know that.”

“Nevertheless, it still is incredible.” Takumi looked over to find that Ryoma had landed 7 of his shots on the target, but only gotten four of his arrows within the inner circles. Not bad for one whose primary weapon was a divine katana blessed by the gods themselves.

Takumi allowed a small smile to form, “You flatter me brother.”

“Well, you are one of our best archers. It would bring great sadness to our family and a heavy blow to our forces if something were to happen to you.” Ryoma gave him a knowing look. Takumi felt himself pale a little bit.

“I’m perfectly capable of fighting at anytime,” he said sharply, “I’m fine.”

“I’m worried, brother. Lately you haven’t been seen around a lot. Do not isolate yourself, it is important that we build our relationship with other members of the army.” Ryoma paused before adding, “Prince Leo seemed concerned about you, have you not talked with him lately?”

At the mere mention of Leo’s name Takumi could feel the urge to cough working its way up. He tried to suppress the feeling, but it was useless and flower petals came out anyway.

Ryoma started when he saw the white petals appear. This was maybe the first time in his life where Takumi saw Ryoma on the verge of panicking. It almost made him laugh.

Almost. He was too busy falling to his knees as coughing overtook him.

“Takumi! Takumi what is this?! What is happening to you? Are you alright?!” Ryoma’s voice got progressively louder with each word.

He was lucky the archery range was decently far from camp. “Ryoma don’t yell, please keep quiet. This is nothing I promise.”

“You- you were coughing up flower petals ! This is not normal Takumi, you need to seek help.” Ryoma looked caught between rushing back to camp and staying like he actually feared Takumi might die if he looked away.

Takumi sighed, he’d been sighing a lot recently. “I’ve tried, Sakura knows about this. She’s trying to find a cure, or at least a remedy to make it more bearable.”

“...how long have you been like this?” Ryoma’s voice was low, it would have sounded threatening had it not been shaking ever so slightly. Ryoma’s voice never shook.

“Long enough that I’ve made quite a few flower arrangements out of the excess petals. You should come see them.” Takumi said dryly, he was getting a little tired of people worrying about this. Clearly that was not the right thing to say as Ryoma’s face darkened in response.

“I should think you’d be more concerned with this… this ailment you have.”

“It’s not a lethal disease. Inconvenient, but not lethal. Maybe.” He added the last part under his breath. The book never mentioned it being deadly, but he couldn't say for certain if it was or not. “Don’t tell anyone else about this, I didn’t even want Sakura to know.”

“Takumi, we’re family, it’s alright to entrust us with secrets like these.”

Takumi felt like he was having trouble breathing, but not because of the flowers this time, “Ha! What use could I be to anyone if I can’t even handle this by myself?” A sad and pathetic disease for a sad and pathetic prince, how fitting.

It was as if Ryoma could read his thoughts because he looked almost angry after he thought that.

“Takumi. Takumi, listen to me. This war is hard enough on all of us already, we have all lost so much. It would all but kill our family and our people if we lost you too. You’re not alone in this fight, you need to know that. Don’t you ever, ever, dare think for even a single moment that you are alone.” Ryoma had said it with such a convincing tone, such vigor and passion and angry care. Almost as if he saw something worth it in Takumi.

Gods, how awful he felt now.

“It’s alright if you’re hurting. None of us are invincible, it’s only natural to have weaknesses. Please, understand this.”

Takumi stiffened at that. Of course he knew that, he knew that. But everyone else seemed to be doing okay, no one else was silently suffering as flora attempted to choke them with every other breath they took, no one else felt like they were simultaneously dying and living in the presence of a certain Nohrian Prince. Everyone else was fine. Everyone else was fine, but Takumi was not. He turned sharply towards his brother.

“But now isn’t the time to be weak, we’re in the middle of a war, Ryoma! I can’t be sitting here stewing with my own problems when something so much bigger is looming over all of us!” He winced internally when he realized how hypocritical he sounded then. Maybe Ryoma wouldn’t notice that if he continued shouting. “I can’t be weighing everyone down more than I already have. Everyone might have their own weaknesses, but why did mine have to show now!?” At this point both of them knew Takumi was no longer referring to his ailment.

Takumi was breathing heavily now. His breath was shaky as he felt a tear roll down his face. And another, and then another. When was the last time he cried in front of his brother? Not since Mikoto’s funeral. He tried wiping them away in vain.

“Takumi…”

He was tired, Ryoma was tired. They were all so tired.

“...It hurts, Ryoma. It really does hurt.” Was he talking about the flowers? Was he talking about the war?

Ryoma sighed, though not unkindly, “I know, I know…”

He leaned in to hug Takumi. When was the last time Ryoma hugged him? Takumi decided not to think any more about Mikoto’s funeral and just leaned into the embrace.

--

It look Leo long enough to finally find Takumi. It seemed like the other prince was avoiding him. He rarely sat with him to eat anymore, they hadn’t played a game of chess in days, and what little conversation they had had was overly polite, civil, and clipped on Takumi’s part before he excused himself from conversation. The only other thing Leo had managed to get from him was a short apology regarding their abandoned game. Even then it wasn’t proper apology. It sounded more like preface to an actual apology, something akin to ‘hey, I can’t really do this right now, but someday it’ll happen, okay?’

The day where he suddenly abandoned their chess game weighed heavily in Leo’s mind, it was extremely out of character for Takumi. Usually, not even fatigue would stop him from finishing a game. His pride would not allow that – even if he did end up losing more often than not in those cases.

“I’ll return the favor when I can finally teach you shogi,” Takumi always grumbled despite the fact that he was actually very good at chess. Leo wasn’t about to admit that Takumi had almost beaten him a few times — very few had the capacity to keep up when playing with him.

Leo would only smirk and say, “I’d very much like to see that.”

He shook the memory from his mind, he had to talk with Takumi.

He found him, predictably, in the archery range. Takumi’s yelling could have been heard a league away. It was a surprise that he was with Ryoma, however.

He saw the two embracing each other, Leo could just make out Takumi quietly shaking as Ryoma sighed and silently consoled his brother. Leo decided that the talk could wait.

--

Takumi wasn’t surprised when he finally found out what the petals were: Lilies of the Valley.

Because of all the flowers in the world it had to be those.

They gave him hope.

He thought himself a fool for hoping.

--

“Ryoma knows now,” Takumi told Sakura one evening as she made a point to regularly check in on him. “I thought he was gonna ban me from fighting after that, but I guess we really do need all the help we can get.”

Sakura stilled for a moment from creating a tonic that would ease his symptoms. After she asked Azura what she knew of a disease with flowers, she demanded that Takumi tell her everything. He had never seen her get that worked up, and in his surprise he admitted everything and Sakura now knew of his feelings for Leo. “You know, I think I might have found a p-permanent cure.”

Takumi looked at her, “Really?”

Sakura nodded, “It seems that in order to remove the petals, the feelings invoking those petals would need to be removed as well. It’s a very simple procedure, it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes r-really.” She looked towards Takumi.

There was a pause as Takumi stilled. It made sense, but of course the procedure had to be something like that. “I can’t go through with that,” he said. He was proud of how even his voice sounded after the realization of what would happen hit him.

Sakura looked at him, her expression was not surprised but it did contain the unasked question of ‘why?’ There was a long moment of silence.

“If there’s still a chance, then… I…” His voice wavered then. So much for having an even voice.

Sakura looked ready to cry on his behalf. She settled instead for hugging him and whispered, “Oh, Takumi…”

Takumi felt ready to cry too. He wouldn’t allow himself. Instead, he looked upwards and pressed his mouth into a thin line.

“I’m an idiot for saying no, aren’t I?”

“You’re not an idiot, you’re just in love, brother.”

--

The next time he woke, there was no time to check for petals. There were people yelling and screaming outside of his tent. Grabbing Fujin Yumi, he rushed outside to see what the commotion was about.

Apparently the pegasus knights that were scouting overhead had not seen the group of Faceless that neared the camp. The army had been caught off guard.

Takumi was still in his nightclothes and his hair was still a mess, he hadn’t had the time to properly dress himself or put his hair up before he started launching divine arrows to fend off the horde of Faceless that were upon them. He slung his arrows left and right, each one hitting their target. He brought down quite a few of them before he saw a Faceless ready an attack on an unassuming Leo.

Leo had been brutally assaulting the horde with every ounce of magical ability he could muster this early in the morning, apparently too early for him to properly put on a shirt that wasn’t inside-out.

“Leo, behind you!” Too late to prepare an arrow, Takumi did the only thing he could think to do, which was to throw himself at Leo, knocking him out of harm’s way.

He felt the lightning magic hit him before he could see it. It hit him square in the back and the pain was blistering.

“MILORD!” he heard Oboro and Hinata screeching even from the other side of the camp. Leo’s eyes widened when he saw Takumi.

Takumi felt himself cough once and saw two petals before he blacked out.

--

Leo utterly obliterated that particular Faceless with absolutely more force and magical energy than required. There was a sizeable crater left on the earth after that. He rushed over to Takumi.

He was unconscious. Takumi was breathing, thank the gods, but it was shallow and quick. Parts of his clothes had been singed away and there were lightning patterns blooming on his back and up his left arm

“Oh gods, oh gods.” Of course he’d be in bad condition after being hit almost directly with lightning , Leo thought. Sakura, he had to get him to Sakura.

He carefully lifted Takumi into his arms as he made haste to the medical tent.

Sakura and Elise were already in a frenzy patching everyone up. Unsurprisingly, surprise attacks tended to leave more injuries in their wake.

“Lady Sakura!” Leo called for her. “Lady Sakura! Please, over here!”

Sakura looked up and once she saw her brother, she paled and looked as if she was ready to faint. Elise immediately took up treating the soldier she had been tending to before she all but ran over to where Leo was holding Takumi.

“Oh g-gods,” she whispered, “Oh gods w-what h-happened?” Her voice trembled immensely as she held her staff over his chest, magical healing energies pouring out from it. “Put him d-down over th-there. With his b-back face up.”

Leo obliged as quickly as he could. He wasn’t sure if placing him on his stomach was the most comfortable or safest position, but then again that’s why Sakura was the medic and not him. Black, veiny, lightning patterned marks stretched across Takumi’s back. It looked so much worse now that Leo had to look at it directly. Takumi’s breathing had turned ragged.

Sakura began removing the upper half of the singed clothes that blocked the injury. “Th-thank you Prince Leo, I will take care of this n-now.” Sensing that that was a dismissal, Leo just nodded and left the tent. He was lucky that he himself did not suffer any serious injuries, just a few cuts and nicks from where attacks and debris had barely missed hitting him.

Before he could leave entirely, Elise caught him by the arm. “Do you want me to get you when he wakes up?”

“Yes... yes actually that would be very nice, thank you Elise,” He would finally be able to talk to Takumi properly for the first time in weeks.

She only nodded before turning back to Effie, scolding her for picking at her bandages.

Leo returned to the place where Takumi was struck. He saw the flower petals and picked them up. These flowers were not native to Valla. Takumi had once called him a “reedy little bookworm”, and he really did live up to that title. He had grabbed the first book they found while traveling: a book on the native flora and fauna that had thrived in Valla when it was at its peak. Lilies of the valley were not one of those flora. Leo had seen them grow sparsely in Nohr, he knew they were not supposed to be in Valla.

He couldn’t wait for Takumi to wake up.

--

It took a few days, nearly a week, before Takumi woke up. And when he did, it felt like his whole back was on fire, and every breath he took felt as if tiny ice crystals were scratching his throat. He groaned, and that was all it took before Sakura rushed in the tent with a breathy “Oh thank the gods.”

She looked worse for the wear, there were faint dark circles under her eyes and she looked paler than usual.

“What… what happened?” he tried shifting to sit up but hissed when the pain on his back flared up. “Ow! Ow ow ow…. Oh gods damn what happened?

“Be careful brother! You took the full brunt of a lightning spell, you’d probably be dead if it was any more powerful.” Sakura’s hands were shaking as she rearranged pillows to help him sit up. “You jumped in and took that hit for Leo…” her voice trailed off.

“Oh,” he said dumbly. Oh, of course.

“Ryoma and Hinoka will be here soon, I sent Hana to get them after I heard you wake up. We were all so worried brother, we were all so worried.”

“Oh… geez, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think before I did that, it just...  it just happened.” Takumi was still in a daze, he was achy and tired despite being unconscious for several days. He was also very hungry if his stomach growling was any evidence. “Am I allowed to go eat or-”

He was cut off as Hinoka burst into the tent with an ear shattering screech.

“TAKUMI!”

He was a bit stunned from the sheer force of that cry, “Oh, okay I guess this is happening.”

Ryoma followed her, relief heavy in his eyes.

“Oh gods Takumi we were so worried! We thought you were dead you were so pale for the first few days and you were barely breathing and oh gods the scarring was so bad, it was so awful.”

Hinoka was shaking in relief and the barely contained desire to launch herself at him in a hug. Takumi suspected that Sakura had warned her beforehand that no excessive physical contact was to be made. Gods bless because he was already in enough pain without suffering one of Hinoka’s well-meaning but suffocating bear hugs.

“Brother, that was a very noble thing you did out there. I’m proud of you,” Ryoma started, “But don’t do anything like that ever again, or I swear to the gods I will-” he cut himself off and breathed in sharply before continuing, “Takumi, after what happened to Mother our family really cannot suffer another heartbreak. Sakura is a gifted healer but for days it was uncertain if you would have…” Ryoma trailed off. The implication was clear enough.

Takumi had almost died.

He blinked a few times, “Oh.” Apparently that was something he was saying a lot today. Takumi’s reaction to nearly dying was a lot better than he thought it would be.

After Hinoka calmed down enough from her initial excitement, she gave Takumi the longest, most drawn-out, hypocritical lecture he had ever heard from her. When he pointed out the fact that Hinoka herself would often charge in on the front lines to protect her comrades, she turned red just dismissed it with a sharp, “It’s because I know what I’m doing.” This dissolved into a petty argument between the two as they occasionally turned to Sakura or Ryoma to back them up on their points. It probably lasted for half an hour before Ryoma had to pry Hinoka and Takumi apart with an amused smile.

“Alright, alright that’s enough of that. Get some rest brother. We’ll check in with you later, but for now we must inform everyone that you are alive and… well, not exactly well, but you’re getting there.” Takumi felt a wry smile form on his face.

As soon as they left, Hinata and Oboro took their places and all but barged in. Oboro’s eyes were slightly red and puffy, like she had been crying. Hinata wasn’t much better, his usual disheveled appearance even more so as both stood next to his cot.

“Milord-” Oboro began before Hinata interrupted.

“LORD TAKUMI WE’RE SO SORRY! We should have protected you better, if we had you wouldn’t be like this!” Both of them bowed low.

Takumi winced. Wow, he had forgotten how loud Hinata could be after being nearly dead for almost a week. The two rambled on for a little bit about how they were extremely regretful and how they should have been at his side before Takumi could cut them off.

“Woah! Hey, hey both of you calm down. It’s not like you could have done anything about it. It’s entirely my fault I jumped in and neither of you could do anything about it.” Takumi sighed, “You guys should have more faith in me, as if I’d die that easily.”

Oboro looked as if she would cry again, but instead settled for a watery smile. Hinata let out a small, shaky chuckle.

“As you wish, Lord Takumi.”

They chatted for a while, Oboro and Hinata’s antics always did manage to cheer Takumi up. His retainers caught him up on what happened in the camp: Effie didn’t get lunch on that day so she was very moody for the rest of it, Ryoma actually threw Raijinto like a spear at a retreating Faceless (“I think he forgot it could shoot lightning for a second, but it was still pretty cool.”), Elise somehow managed to befriend a wild boar they had been hunting for dinner even though it ran away shortly after, Corrin stepped on yet another sharp and pointy rock and still refused to wear shoes (“Why doesn’t he wear shoes?” “Lady Azura doesn’t either, maybe it’s a Valla thing?”), and Prince Leo had his cape on inside out for 2 days straight before anyone pointed it out to him.

Takumi had completely forgotten about the Hanahaki until he heard Leo’s name. It hadn’t flared up when Sakura had mentioned his name earlier, but his body was probably still slightly numb from being unconscious and nearly dead then. It felt weird to cough after days of not doing so and it certainly didn’t help that a majority of his backside was in pain. Tears pricked at his eyes as the feeling of almost choking on flower petals combined with the already bad feeling on his back. When he was done, he stared at what was in his hands. The flowers were there, of course they were, but there was a new sight accompanying them.

Blood.

Not much, just a few specks, but blood nonetheless.

Takumi’s eyes widened, and Hinata and Oboro’s even moreso.

“Milord-” Both of them started.

“No. Don’t say anything about this. This is an order.” His voice was raspy. He rarely had to give them explicit orders, those two were always too glad to help for the sake of their liege. It was honestly surprising that it took this long for them to find out. Takumi didn’t know how he had lasted this long without them knowing.

Both of them shut their mouths, even though they looked to be on the verge of protesting.

Takumi sighed, he honestly couldn’t ask for better retainers, but even he could admit they were a little… excessive, when it came to caring about his well being. “Sakura and Ryoma already know, they both found out on accident and I really did not want anyone else finding out. Seriously, please just keep this quiet, yeah?”

Hinata seemed like he was about to violently protest before Oboro slapped a hand over his mouth. “O-of course, if milord wishes it, then we shall follow.” She didn’t look happy at all about agreeing, but at least she was more subtle about it than Hinata.

“Thank you. I really don’t want anyone else worrying about this.”

“We live to serve you Lord Taku-  EW HINATA GROSS!” Oboro violently yanked her hand away from Hinata’s mouth, “Did you really just lick my palm?!”

“How else was I supposed to move your hand!?”

“Oh I don’t know, maybe with your own hands !”

“Ohh, right. Those.”

Takumi chuckled as they bickered. He really could not have asked for better retainers.

--

With a lot of protesting on Oboro and Hinata’s part, he dismissed them to go do more productive things than worrying about him. The tent was very quiet after that. Takumi felt himself dozing off.

Takumi didn’t know how much time had passed, but he woke to the sight of Xander sitting slightly away from his cot. He felt himself wake up immediately.

“Prince Xander-” he started and began sitting up before Xander cut him off with a gesture.

Takumi was confused, and it must have shown on his face as Xander started speaking.

“There is no need for that, Prince Takumi. I apologize it took this long for me to visit. I simply cannot thank you enough for saving my brother. Despite knowing that it would cause your family great pain to see you in this condition and possibly even your own, ah… demise… you did it regardless. I’m very glad Leo has found a good friend in you and I am humbly in your debt.” Xander bowed, low and at the waist.

Takumi was less confused, but now very embarrassed. “There’s no need for thanks Prince Xander. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t even thinking when I jumped, it just kind of happened…” He trailed off and blushed, realizing how stupid that sounded.

Xander merely smiled. Takumi didn’t think he had ever seen him smile. It looked foreign on his face, but infinitely better than the worrying scowl he wore as his default expression.

“Nevertheless, I am still in your debt, and I do hope you and Leo can continue being friends.” He gave one last bow before exiting.

Takumi didn’t have time to think on that conversation before Camilla made an appearance and Elise bounded in and started to rapid fire thank him for saving her brother. “It was the most heroic and bravest thing I’ve ever seen! I know Sakura must have been sooo scared afterwards but really Prince Takumi, thank you for being there for my brother.” She also looked like she wanted to squeeze him in a hug, but as a healer she knew that would not be a smart thing to do. She squeezed his hand lightly instead.

Camilla was less vocal about her thanks than Xander and Elise. She instead cradled his face in her hands and opted for a simple kiss on his head with a heartfelt “Thank you,” that he could hear in her voice and see in her eyes. It all felt so motherly and genuine. Takumi only nodded in response, a little bit dumbfounded and blushing slightly at being kissed.

After making a promise to Elise to have tea and snacks with her when he got better, Takumi watched them leave the tent. He found it odd that Leo hadn’t visited, but he wasn’t sure whether to be thankful or disappointed. He felt exhausted. All he had done was talk to a few people since he woke up and now he was utterly drained again. His eyes felt heavy as he drifted off to sleep once more.

--

It took a few more days before Sakura even let him think about moving out of the medical tent. Takumi just wanted to go back into his own tent, and Sakura was reluctant to even let him do that.

Eventually she caved on the exception that he checked in with her a few times a day. “And no physical training whatsoever, do you understand? Absolutely none. Fighting is also out of the question, s-so don’t you even dare think about it.”

Takumi agreed to those terms quickly. He had seen her break a staff with her bare hands after being extremely mad with Azama and he was not about to incur that same wrath.

“Okay, okay I get it! It’s not like I’m gonna die if I take a step out of the medical tent, Sakura.” Takumi held his hands up in a defensive position and winced. Damn lightning scars were still tender.

Sakura noticed him flinch and looked as if she was about to change her mind about letting him leave, but then both of them heard Hinata’s shout, “Lord Takumi! Finally free from that tent, eh?”

With Sakura following closely behind, Takumi quickly made his way over to Hinata and Oboro by his tent. It was nice to not be surrounded by the sharp smell of herbs all day. He flopped onto his cot as Sakura proceeded to give explicit orders to Oboro and Hinata dictating that Takumi was under no circumstances whatsoever to push himself physically: no training, no fighting, even jogging was pushing it at this stage. He could see Oboro and Hinata latching onto every word Sakura was saying. Hinata would probably forget the smaller details, but Oboro would watch him like a hawk to make sure her orders were followed.

“...and it would be nice if one of you stayed with him for the next week, to make sure he doesn’t do anythi-”

Takumi was just exasperated at this point, “Sakura! I think that’s enough! Gods, I’m not a child anymore. I can handle myself perfectly fine!”

He was almost free from this lecture until Hinata, bless his heart, decided that now was the time to ask about the Hanahaki. “Will Lord Takumi’s flower disease interfere with his recovery? He said you already knew, but if you ask me spitting up blood and flowers doesn’t seem like something you’d allow.”

That got Sakura’s attention. Takumi froze.

“Hinata-” he hissed before he felt Sakura grab on tightly to his sleeve.

“There wasn’t blood before.” There was an eerie calm to her voice. “When were you going to tell me this?” Takumi wasn’t sure how Sakura made her voice sound testy, threatening, and extremely concerned at the same time but she did.

“Look, it was only a little. It’s probably because of the lightning since i-”

“But what if it’s not?” Sakura rarely hissed - Sakura rarely got testy in general, but now seemed like a perfectly acceptable time to do so. “Takumi, what if this disease is progressing into more harmful symptoms? Both Azura and the book said it wasn’t deadly, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be incredibly h-harmful! This- this might not even be the worst it gets! For all we kn-know that book and Azura’s knowledge are shaky at best. I can’t allow you to go back to your tent at this rate. You’re staying in the m-medical tent for at least another week so I can keep an eye on you.”

Takumi looked at her, mouth agape. “You can’t just- you can’t just do that! You told me I could go back to my own tent!”

“Yes, but that was before I knew that you were coughing up b-blood .” She said it with so much incredulity and stress it was almost tangible. Takumi was about to turn around and walk out until he heard her say, “I’ll- I’ll tell Ryoma and Hinoka if you don’t listen to me.”

Well. That was a problem.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“T-try me.”

Takumi stared at Sakura. When had his little sister gotten so bold? She was quivering, but she looked like she meant what she said. Her eyebrows were creased with determination and stubbornness.

“Sakura, look, I promise it’s probably nothing. I don’t want to take up any more space in the medical tent. You’ve already wasted enough time and resources on me. I can’t continue to do that any longer.”

That sparked something in Sakura, because she exploded as much as Sakura could explode.

“Takumi you- you IDIOT!”

“Woah, hey! That’s uncalled fo-”

“No, no listen to me, you dumb brother. Why are you being so dumb at a time like this?! Don’t you know how precious you are to the people around you!? Have you not realized? Why are you being so selfish? Why do you always put what you want first, why can’t you just listen to other people for once in your life!?”

She took a deep and shuddery breath before continuing, “When you asked me to keep quiet about the Hanahaki I was worried. When you turned down being treated for it, I didn’t blame you. I k-kind of understood why you would do that. You were working so hard for the sake of the army, and so I thought it would be okay to let you have something for yourself this time. When you saved Prince Leo, I could understand that feeling of wanting to protect what you l-love. But that’s just it Takumi, why can’t you understand our feelings of wanting to protect you ?”

Sakura was openly crying now, “You’re not wasting anything. Not my time, n-not our supplies, nothing. You are precious to us, brother- you’re precious to everyone, Takumi. No one here except you thinks of this as a burden.”

Takumi was stunned at that outburst, as were Hinata and Oboro. He finally shook himself out of it before slowly and softly hugging Sakura. “Hey, hey. Sakura I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just- it’s just everyone else is working so hard, how can I just be sitting in bed while that happens? Just look at you for example,” He started stroking her hair, “When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? I don’t want you hurting yourself because of me anymore. I know I’ll be fine, but what about everyone else? I just can’t take that risk.”

Sakura sniffed a little, “You’re being selfish again, Takumi.”

Takumi rested his cheek on her head, “Yeah, I’m sorry. Let me be for just a little bit longer though, okay?”

He could feel her nodding into his chest as she hugged him tightly. He suppressed a wince as her arms pressed into his scars. Sakura probably knew it hurt, but that was okay.

They could both afford to be a little selfish for now.

--

Takumi hadn’t had the energy after that to argue with Sakura on leaving the medical tent. She somehow won by default and it was agreed that he would stay there for another week. Takumi sighed, his day could not possibly get any worse.

As always, his day got worse.

“So, what’s this that Sakura said about Prince Leo, eh?” He could feel Hinata’s elbow nudging his side, just barely missing where the lighting scars stopped their reach. He stopped after Oboro’s quick hiss of “You dummy, don’t prod Lord Takumi like that while he’s still recovering!”, but it was clear both his retainers were very, very curious.

Takumi pressed a pillow over his face. It smelled like sage and peppermint, because of course pillows smelled like that when he was back and trapped in the medical tent again. He wanted to scream. He did scream. Screaming into a pillow did very little to help, all it did was make him cough into it. Oboro and Hinata both looked very amused and worried at what Takumi was doing.

“Ahaha… wow, is it really that big of a deal Lord Takumi?” Hinata laughed nervously, “Maybe don’t cough into the pillow, also?”

“Hinata’s right milord,” He could hear Oboro’s voice, “You’ll get blood on it and that’s where you lay your head when you sleep.”

Reluctantly, Takumi lifted the pillow from his face. He cursed at how there were indeed, spatters of blood on his pillow.

“Ugh… gross.”

Oboro hummed, “We warned you. Hinata, go and find a new pillow for Lord Takumi.”

“Right, right. I’m on it.”

Oboro watched Hinata as he left. When he was gone, she turned towards Takumi and kneeled next to him.

“Milord, forgive me if it is out of my place to say this, but I think you should talk to Prince Leo about this.”

Takumi propped himself up and stared at Oboro, “What?”

“I said, you should talk to him about this. Unrequited love is like an open wound, milord. If left alone it will either heal on its own or fester and grow worse. Most likely the latter, in your specific circumstance.”

“...You sound like you’ve had some experience with this.”

Oboro laughed sheepishly “Aha, I’m embarrassed to admit that I have, Lord Takumi… although my own infatuation seems rather mild when compared to your situation. I’ve come to terms with mine, you still hold out hope for yours, it seems.”

Takumi groaned, “I was gonna ask how you were fine since you like someone who doesn’t like you back… I guess that answered my question. I’m sure whoever you like doesn’t deserve you.”

Oboro let a small smile form, “I have to disagree with you there, Lord Takumi. I think it’s quite the opposite — I’ve been fortunate enough to just have them in my life. At any rate, I’m simply happy when they’re happy and will do everything in my power to keep it that way.”

Takumi let his head flop back down on the cot, “Gods Oboro, how are you such a good person.”

“I’m merely doing what I feel is best, milord.” Oboro stood, “You are free to do what you wish, but I do recommend talking to Prince Leo while you still hold these feelings.”

“Hn… I guess you’re right.” Takumi knew she was right, but like hell he would do that anytime in the near future.

“Hinata and I will do our best to support you every step of the way! And also to make sure Prince Leo does you no more harm than he’s already caused.” Her face soured at that sentence.

“Er… maybe don’t think about threatening the prince of a neighboring kingdom…”

“Right you are Lord Takumi. Now, where is Hinata with those pillows…?”

--

Leo couldn’t sleep 

Reading a book didn’t help, counting sheep didn’t do anything. He got out of his bed and pulled on a cloak. A walk would help him settle down.

Nighttime was always one of Leo’s favorite times of day, as odd as it sounded.  

Producing a small flame in his hand, he began to wander around the outskirts of the campsite.

“Milord, does something trouble you?” came a voice from the trees. Leo looked up to see Niles, presumably on the night watch.

Leo shook his head, “Simple insomnia this time, Niles. Nothing to worry about.” Niles only shrugged and settled back to his position with his back against the trunk. Leo continued to make his way deeper into the wooded area.

Something about night time in Valla was oddly familiar. He couldn’t quite place it, but the whole atmosphere placed him at great ease despite the fact that surprise attacks by the Vallites were statistically higher at night. Even so, he continued his stroll.

Leo stopped when he heard something like someone softly singing to themselves.  He put out his fire and slowly walked towards the sound, the person hadn’t heard them yet. He would have taken it to be Azura, but it definitely was not her voice.

He inched closer, walking as softly as he could as to not disturb them. The tune wasn’t one he was familiar with, and he could barely make out the words at this distance. It sounded soft and nostalgic, tinged with a hint of forgotten warmth.

He could make out a figure sitting beneath a tree, holding something long and thin.

It was Takumi. With his Fujin Yumi.

“...all these words I left buried in my heart with no time to say, but promise me you’ll take care of yourself...”

Leo kept making his way closer.

“...you gave me precious memories, thank you for being in my life-”

Leo didn’t know how Takumi knew, but suddenly he stopped and turned his head in Leo’s direction.

“Who’s there?” He heard Takumi call out. Well, there was no point in hiding anymore. Leo stepped out from behind the tree he was hiding behind, respawning his little magical flame as he did so.

He was greeted by the sight of Fujin Yumi trained on him, lowered only when its owner recognized him.

“Gods, you nearly gave me a heart attack. Why are you even up this late?” Takumi looked guarded. It kind of stung; Leo considered them to be close friends, after all.

He ignored how hypocritical the question was, “I could ask you the same. Was that you were singing?”

“Oh gods, you heard that?” Had there not been a little ball of flame in the palm of his hand, he would have missed the blush that spread over Takumi’s face at that question.

“I caught a few lines. I don’t see why you’re so worked up over this, it wasn't bad.” Not quite at Azura’s level, but then again who was? Leo didn’t say that part out loud.

He really didn’t have to as Takumi dryly retorted, “That’s more Azura’s thing, in case you haven’t noticed,” and then more quietly, “It was a song Ikona - my birth mother - used to sing to me.”

That got Leo’s attention. Takumi would often talk of Mikoto, the beloved late queen of Hoshido, but rarely would he talk about his biological mother. In fact, he hadn’t recalled a time where Takumi had actively spoken about her to him.

“...was she kind?” Leo asked, cringing a little. Good job Leo. Fantastic question.

Takumi smiled a little bit, a hint of nostalgia evident in his eyes, “Yeah, fiercely so. She was one of the kindest people to ever exist. In my six-year-old self’s mind, at least.”

“You still haven’t answered why you were up at this hour. Also, how did you even hear me? I swear I was being quiet this time. Unless Niles’ lessons are actually just an elaborate ruse to make a fool of myself.” Leo pouted a little. He was a mage well versed in mass destruction and very good at being on a horse, both of which were not innately sneaky. Stealth was clearly not something that came naturally to him.

“I could still hear you stepping on leaves. I have better ears than most in case you haven’t noticed. Niles has done a pretty good job all things considered,” Takumi replied easily.

“Damn you archers and your freakish natural aptitude for stealth. Well, except Setsuna. I’m not sure what went wrong there. No disrespect to her or Lady Hinoka, of course.” He added hastily.

That got a small chuckle from Takumi, “Honestly, I wonder the same thing myself. But as for the first question, why am I ever up at this time of night?”

Of course, Leo expected nightmares to be the answer. But he couldn’t help but hope that maybe something else was plaguing his friend for a change. Something that he could actually help with.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Leo always put the offer out there, but every time he got the same answer in response.

“No. This is my problem alone to deal with.”

Leo sighed, “It’s bad to make the people who care about you worry so much, you know that?” He let his flame hang in the air as he made to sit down. It’s not like I’m going anywhere any time soon.

Takumi followed suit. He place Fujin Yumi in his lap again and resumed polishing it. He said nothing. One minute had passed. Then two. Then ten.

Leo couldn’t stand the silence anymore “Is there a reason you’ve been avoiding me lately?” He had finally put it out there.

“...Not really.” came Takumi’s very obviously strained reply.

Okay that is a blatant lie and we both know it.”

“Look, if I had an actual problem with you, you would’ve known by now.”

“I can’t think of any other reason why you would constantly go out of your way to get away from me!” Leo’s voice was rising.

“What I do is none of your damn business!”

“Clearly it isn’t if you’ve been going through such lengths to hide from me!”

“Look, just becaus-”

Takumi stopped mid-sentence as face scrunched up as he let out an intense cough. His hands flew to his mouth, dropping both his sacred yumi and the cloth he used to clean it with.

Any anger Leo previously felt dissipated immediately, “Takumi! Hey Takumi, are you alright?” He started patting and rubbing circles on Takumi’s back, unsure of what else to do. When the fit subsided, Takumi briefly looked at his hands and swore softly. Leo could see blood stained on his palms before Takumi wiped them on the ground. Scattered petals could also be seen, but the blood was a much more pressing matter.

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

Leo was getting really tired of that answer, “Like hell you’re okay! I know blood when I see it, Takumi. First you avoid me for days on end, you barely talk to me when I confront you about it, then you go and take a near lethal hit for me in the middle of battle, and now you’re insisting you’re fine when I can very clearly see that you just coughed up blood. ” Leo wasn’t used to letting his emotions get the better of him, but gods be damned if he wasn’t doing it now. “You’re one of the closest friends I have. I mean, I thought we were friends. What did I do wrong? Do you not view me the same way I see you? Do you not trust me enough to tell me these things?” He felt tired. He was tired.

Takumi was quiet for a few moments. He opened his mouth to try and speak, but then closed it as if he thought against it. After a few minutes of what Leo considered to be suffocating silence, Takumi spoke.

“Leo, you are one of the most precious people in my life. Nothing you could do will ever change that, I can assure you. This… condition… I have just makes it hard to show that. I promise I’m fine, I really am. There’s just some things that I absolutely won’t share with anyone else. That I can’t share with anyone.”

Leo relaxed, but only just a little. “What is this condition you have then. Can you tell me that at least? Hasn’t Sakura found a cure yet? She’s very talented, and I’m sure Elise would also be happy to help if you would let her.”

Takumi looked hesitant, “ I… I suppose I can tell you that much. It’s a disease born in Valla. They called it Hanahaki. That’s all I can say. Sakura has been helping me. She only found out about it through an accident caused by my own carelessness. I really would rather Elise be kept out of it. She shouldn’t have to be subjected to this along with the war. She’s a great friend but I don’t want to add to her worries.”

Personally, Leo disagreed with the last statement. Elise would be more bothered by not knowing if anything, but he would respect his friend’s wishes so long as nothing more dire came out of the situation. He thought for a moment. Hanahaki… It sounded incredibly familiar. “I cannot claim to be familiar enough with that disease to help you with it.” He felt helpless. “I’m sorry, you’re one of the best friends I have ever had and I can’t do anything to help. You really can’t tell me any more? Perhaps a Vallite book exists with more specific information.”

“Hah, I doubt you could do anything even if you knew what it was.”

Those words stung a little because Leo felt them to be true. “Hey, don’t think I didn’t see those flower petals along with all that blood.” Takumi looked at him, mildly startled, “Yeah I saw those, and I’ll have you know I am something of a budding expert on botanical matters.” Leo said just a bit pridefully, “If it’s anything plant related, chances are I’d be able to offer some assistance at the least.”

Takumi snorted, “Budding expert on botanical matters? What, have you been working on your word play alongside your studies?”

“That was completely unintentional and you know it!” Leo cuffed Takumi lightly on the head. Takumi punched him back softly. Leo supposed that was fair, and they continued their physical exchanges for a while. Then he leaned back against the tree as Takumi did the same and began to carefully polish his divine bow once more.

Leo spoke the next line softly, “Lilies of the valley, what a beautiful flower.”

Takumi hummed in agreement, “They are beautiful. A little bittersweet, but beautiful.”

“Bittersweet? How so?” Leo couldn’t deny that he was curious.

“Hmm, maybe that’s a story for another time. It’s getting rather late after all.” Takumi wasn’t wrong, even though it was already pretty late when both of them started talking.

“I suppose you’re right. But I’ll remember this for next time, you’re not allowed to just let my curiosity fester like this.”

Both of them got up. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Neither of them dreamed of anything that night.

--

After a few days of thinking and researching, Leo decided it was time to confront Takumi. “Takumi? Could you spare a moment? 

“Um, sure, I guess? Is this important?”

“Walk with me, I wouldn’t want anyone eavesdropping on this.”

Leo led them to the tree both were at a few nights ago. Once he was sure they were far enough from prying ears, he turned to Takumi.

An awesome mage and well-read scholar he may be, Leo was not experienced in broaching topics that were as sensitive as this. Gods, why did he have to feel so tense.

“I’m sure whoever the object of your affections isn’t deserving of you if they haven’t noticed you by now.” Leo said bluntly. There was an inward cringe.

Takumi laughed dryly, “So you found out, huh. Yeah, they can probably do better.”

“That is not what I meant by that and you know it.” Leo had become increasingly frustrated over the past few days by how Takumi seemingly did not care about his predicament as much as he should. As much as he was loathe to admit it initially, he and Takumi shared many similar traits; all of which made it easy for one to understand the other. This line of thinking was clearly not one of them.

“Why do you refuse to get this treated!” Leo asked, exasperated.

“Didn’t I tell you this already? I am getting this treated, Sakura is helping me with this too!” Takumi shot back, defensive. “I’m handling this as well as I can.”

“No. No, you most certainly are not. Listen,” Leo took a deep breath, “I went to ask Sakura more about this… this Hanahaki disease, since you clearly will not tell me anything. She said there was a procedure you undergo, one that would rid you of the unfortunate symptoms you currently suffer.” He took a moment to look accusingly at Takumi, “I don’t see why you’re subjecting yourself to all this pain. It’s stupid and childish. What good does this do you? Did you think that maybe, just maybe, your unrequited other would take notice of all your suffering and then have so much pity as to fool themselves into loving you back? Just do it and spare yourself of this hurt!” He saw Takumi go still. Leo knew he had overstepped his bounds when he heard Takumi speak quietly, calmly even.

“Who are you to dictate what I do with my feelings.” It was accusing, it was cold, and it felt very wrong for him to be on the receiving end of it.

“Takumi, I didn’t mean to-”

“No. No, Prince Leo I am absolutely sure you did mean to.” Takumi bit out scathingly, each word gaining volume, “Because clearly you possess the intellect to presume that I am so stupid as to hold on to the one thing that has lit an emotion so passionate and - and good in me since this godsforsaken war began.” Takumi was shaking, he was borderline yelling now, “You dare tell me to be rid of this - this single thing that has given me hope and just the tiniest glimmer of hope for what could be happiness in these times of misery.”

“That hope will get you killed someday, and by the gods it will not be a pretty death!” Leo was on the verge of pleading now, “Look, I’m just trying to help fix what someone else has done to you.”

“You were the one who did this to me in the first place!”

“That’s bec - wait, what?” Did he hear that right?

Both of them were red in the face from yelling at each other, but Leo could swear that Takumi’s face drained of all color immediately after he realized what he said.

Takumi turned to leave, “I have to go. Right now.”

“Hey- no. No, Takumi wait, please.” Leo grabbed onto Takumi’s sleeve. Takumi yanked his arm back somewhat desperately.

“I’m. Leaving.” There was a look on his face that was a cross between mortification and anger.

Leo couldn’t do anything but watch Takumi retreat.

Moments passed. Minutes passed.

“...I did this...?”

--

Takumi went back to his tent. He didn’t care at the moment what Sakura would say, or if she actually would carry out the threat of ratting him out on Ryoma and Hinoka. Hinoka would be pissed, but that would be infinitely more preferable than what he was feeling now.

He grabbed Fujin Yumi and made his way back out of camp. He had to go somewhere where no one would find him.

Hinata appeared before him, looking slightly frazzled, “Lord Takumi there you are! We were looking for you every-”

“Not now. I need to be alone.”

“But we were under Lady Sakura’s orders t-“

“NOT NOW. PLEASE. JUST. GO AWAY.” Takumi could feel the hurt emanating from Hinata. He winced internally and made a mental note to apologize later. Then he took off running as fast as he could.

“Wait! Wait Lord Takumi! Aw hell… Oboro’s never gonna let me live this down…”

Once he was out of Hinata and the campsite’s sights, he kept running. He kept running until his legs ached and he had no idea where he was.

It was late afternoon and nearing evening at this point, probably not the best time to be wandering

in an area unknown to him. His stomach growled and he realized he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Gripping Fujin Yumi tighter, he set out to make sure he wouldn’t starve today.

An hour later, Takumi had bagged 2 small birds and a squirrel-looking creature. Starting a small fire, he tried to roast the meat the same way he had seen Rinkah do so before. It worked to some degree considering it didn’t taste awful.

After that somewhat satisfactory meal, Takumi put out the fire and searched for a tall tree. If he could see his surroundings maybe he could find his way back to camp.

He found a tall-looking oak and hoisted himself up one branch at a time, taking rests more frequently than he usually would due to the still-healing injuries that covered his backside. When he got as high as he dared go, he began to scan the horizon.

It never struck him how beautiful the hidden land was until this moment. The floating land masses were weird at first, and the fact that the clouds could simultaneously look heavy and dark but also light and fluffy was unnerving, but the moment the sun set, Takumi could see everything bathed in a warm light. Everything shone with a soft pink, orange, and yellow. He saw few birds flying lazily in the wind as they searched for a place to prepare for the night. He was so caught up in the sight he didn’t realize he had stopped looking for the camp until all the natural light was gone. He cursed at himself and continued to scan, hoping maybe to catch sight of the camp’s bonfire.

He couldn’t see anything. Takumi sighed once more and lowered himself down to the base of the tree. He attempted to curl up between the large and gnarly roots, untying his archer furs to use as a blanket. Takumi didn’t go to sleep immediately and instead looked up between the canopy of the trees.

The sky was beautiful. Countless stars filled their vast sprawl and the moon was waned just so a sliver barely hung in the night sky.

Snuggling even further beneath his furs, he began to count the stars, softly, one by one.

“1, 2, 3…”

“...143, 144, 145…”

“...234…, 235…, 2...3...6….”

And just before he fell asleep completely, a shooting star blazed by overhead.

“Maybe someday I’ll be content again…” Takumi thought before dozing off into a dreamless sleep.

--

Morning came and with it came aches. Takumi knew this would happen. Morning came and with it came expected aches, but there, in front of his blurry morning vision, was something entirely unexpected.

Takumi blinked a few times to clear his vision. Leo was sitting in front of him. Legs crossed, arms crossed, and head lolling forward as if he fell asleep like that.

It was too early to confront his problems, but never to early to run away from them. Takumi got up as quietly as he could, re-tied his furs, and attempted to tiptoe past Leo with Fujin Yumi still safely in his possession.

Takumi nearly screamed when a hand shot out and grabbed him by his pant leg, causing him to trip and fall to the ground.

“Ow ow ow ow… What the hell, Leo!?”

Before Takumi could do anything else, Leo promptly got up and sat himself on Takumi. He tried to squirm his way out from underneath him, but only succeeded in going from lying on his stomach to lying on his back. The two of them wrestled for a while, and Leo ended up straddling his waist and planting his hands firmly on Takumi’s upper arms, effectively cutting off any means of easy escape for him.

“I could ask you the same.” Leo’s voice was deceptively calm. “Do you have any idea how worried we all were when Hinata came running about how you essentially fled!? Because let me tell you, there’s quite a few search parties looking for you, the royal pain in the ass!”

“Oh, like I could have known everyone would be up in a frenzy about one missing member of our army!”

“When said member is the second prince of Hoshido and wielder of the divine weapon Fujin Yumi, I think some cause for concern is warranted!”

“Ugh, well I’m fine! Now if you could just get off of me, I would be even better!”

Takumi tried to reach and grab Leo’s shirt to throw him off, Leo merely reshifted his grip and pinned Takumi’s wrists.

“A person who is fine does not go running off into the middle of who-knows-where without any prior notice! Forgive me for giving a damn about you and your well-being, because clearly you're not capable of doing that yourself!”

“I-” Takumi coughed, “I am taking care of myself perfectly fine!” Another cough, “Even if I wasn’t it’d be fine in the end anyway…”

At that, Leo looked ready to explode. His face was blotchy from yelling, and he almost looked like he was going to cry angry tears. Takumi was not expecting Leo to be so worked up that he would cry.

What Takumi also did not expect was the angry kiss Leo gave him.

“Mphf!?”

It didn’t last long, and it was so forceful that Takumi felt a little winded and dazed afterwards.

“Would it really be alright if you weren’t fine now that you can finally reach some semblance of happiness?”

Takumi was a little confused, “I- Wha…?”

Leo took a steadying breath, “After you essentially told me that I was the cause of your Hanahaki related problems, I got to thinking. I got a few good hours of thinking in too before I caught wind that you stormed off to gods knows where.”

At that, Takumi felt slightly guilty. He knew he should not have gone so far from camp.

Leo continued, “And then, wouldn’t you know it, we get a surprise attack from some Vallites! Of course, we handled them, but with you missing we could only fear for the worst.” Leo’s expression never changed, but his grip on Takumi’s wrists tightened.

“We started worrying, ‘What if Takumi had a run in with the Vallites? What if he got captured? Tortured? Killed? Who knows what could happen to him!?’”

“Again, I’m perfectly alrigh-”

“Please, just- just let me finish.”

“...”

“Thank you. Everyone was worked up, but we had to recuperate from the ambush since we were down one divine weapon and one of our best snipers.” Another pang of guilt. Oops. “I practically begged Xander to grant me a few men to form a search party. He kept advising against it, said we should wait until morning to send out well-rested troops. So I had to take matters into my own hands.”

“Wait, are you telling me you came to look for me by yourself? After an attack on camp?! Are you insane!?”

Leo looked taken aback, but quickly recomposed himself, “Oh like you have any room to talk! ...But I do suppose love makes one do crazy things.”

Takumi took a moment to process this. And then he started laughing. He kept laughing. Leo could only stare in confusion and look affronted.

“Wh-what exactly is so funny about all of this?!”

“Aha! Ahaha…! Oh, man. And to think you were lecturing me about pity-turned-love. Oh, how hypocritical you are Leo.”

“...You think I did this out of pity?”

“I mean, you were the one who brought it up in the first place! And I don’t see any other reason why you would be doing this! I knew I shouldn't have told you anything.”

This is getting ridiculous, Leo thought. “Is it truly so difficult to believe that someone cares for you the same way you care for them?”

He was met with silence.

Leo exhaled sharply, “Listen, have you noticed that you haven’t—not once during this conversation—coughed up a flower petal?”

“...Oh. Huh, that’s weird. But that’s probably because you-“

“Hanahaki remains so long as the love is unrequited, correct? You haven’t had any more flower petals come up since last night, have you?”

“I mean, yeah. Yeah, I guess.”

“Pity will never be a substitute for love, Takumi. Even if it was, I could never bring myself to pity you.”

Both of them were silent. Takumi looked as if he was actually taking the time to process what all this meant.

“So… th-then…?”

“Good gods do I have to spell it out for you? Takumi, I am in love with you. I am so, so sorry I didn’t notice it sooner. We’ve stuck with each other through thick and thin, and your very presence gives me something to look forward to each and every day. When you avoided me I felt devastated, and I had no idea why. You meant and mean and always will mean the world to me, yet I wasn’t aware of this until extremely recently.”

“Leo…”

“If your Hanahaki is truly gone because of reciprocation, and not just because you’ve suddenly had a change of heart in who you fancy, would you do me the honor of letting me court you?”

“I- Well- Yes? Yes that would be lovely, Leo. I would love nothing more than that. Except…”

“What? What is it?”

“...can you get off of me now? I think my back went numb during your spiel.”

“Oh. Oh gods! I am so sorry.”

Leo allowed Takumi to sit up. Takumi rolled his shoulder a few times.

“Thanks. Although, now that I’m no longer lying down... would it be too much to ask for a proper kiss this time? You know, one that I can enjoy?”

Leo chuckled and leaned in. This time when they met, it was a little clumsy, but softer. Takumi’s lips were slightly chapped, but they were warm. Leo put his hands on Takumi’s face to pull him closer.  

All too soon, Takumi drew back. Both of them sat, faces slightly flushed, amongst the morning forest.

Takumi was the first to break the silence, “I can’t believe I just did that…”

“We can do it a few more times to make you believe it?”

“No. I mean, yes! Yes, of course let’s do it again, but. Just. Not right now.”

Leo laughed, “It’s probably a good idea to head back now so people won’t worry about the both of us.”

Takumi hummed in agreement, “Yeah… I guess I should also go apologize to Hinata for snapping at him like that… oof…”

“You know, I was tempted to make a bouquet to assist in my apology-turned-confession, but in hindsight that probably would have been hideously ironic. Maybe you should try giving Hinata apology flowers?”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll have Oboro help me make a flower crown for him. He liked those last time.”

“Well then,” Leo stood up and offered a hand to Takumi, “Shall we go?”

Takumi smiled, taking Leo’s hand. “Let’s go."

Neither let go of their grasp on the other as they made their way back to camp.