Mealtimes were irregular at Garreg Mach, five years after the war began. At the Officer's Academy, their food intake had been regimented as everything else, but with soldiers and scouts and spies coming and going at all hours, the kitchen stayed open all night, providing light meals to the exhausted men and women reporting in after a long shift.
Lorenz often found himself enjoying a late dinner alone, no company except an unwatered cup of wine. He was achingly lonely, seemingly always on the outside of the close circle the other Golden Deer had formed during their school years. He regretted the way he'd acted as a young man, the way he had treated them all. They were all friends now, but he always felt that same sense of remove, a gulf that he didn't believe could be breached.
It was a surprise when he went to eat late one night and found Ignatz already there, sitting at a table in a corner with a plate of rice and cold meats. He made room for Lorenz on the bench beside him and offered wine from a pewter jug. "It's good to see you," he said, earnest as always. "We miss you at dinner. Leonie tries to save you a plate, but it's hard with Lys and Raph around. She's going through another growth spurt."
Lorenz nodded, focusing on his own plate. "My sincerest apologies," he said, "I hadn't realized that anyone noticed my absence."
"Of course we do!" Ignatz protested. "I'm just glad to know you're eating at all, we were worried."
"That's very kind of you," said Lorenz, not sure how to reapond. "I am well, I assure you."
Ignatz sighed, shaking his head. "You're always so serious, Lorenz. What is it you're thinking about?"
The question took him by surprise, and he answered honestly without meaning to. "I'm thinking about what will happen next," he admitted. "After this is all over, I never want to touch a lance again. I want to go back to Gloucester and stay there." It was the first time in a long time that Lorenz had allowed himself to speak of the war's end, of what might come after. "My mother grew roses. Perhaps there are still some left."
"Do you miss her?"
Lorenz swallowed. "We aren't close," he said. He meant to sound cavalier, unaffected, but it came out soft, almost mournful. "She grew the most beautiful flowers."
Ignatz didn't answer immediately, and Lorenz was struck with a sudden fear that he'd said too much or become maudlin in his drunkenness. Heart in his throat, he looked sidelong at Ignatz.
"It makes sense," he said, finally.
"That you grew up with such beautiful surroundings," said Ignatz, warmly. "You have such elegant features, it's easy to imagine. I'd like to paint you there, among all the roses." Ignatz smiled, and Lorenz's cheeks warmed.
He let his hair fall in front of his face to hide his blush and busied himself with his glass, running his finger along the rim. "What about you?" he said, changing the topic. "What will you do after the war?"
"I'm not sure." Ignatz rested his chin on his fist, his warm, brown eyes intent on Lorenz's face. "I'd like to travel. I want to see Fódlan at peace, the way it was before everything happened."
"Oh? I had you figured for a family man, Ignatz -- ten fat children and a pretty little wife." Lorenz spoke lightly, trying very hard to sound carefree.
The other man laughed softly. "I don't think I'd be much of a husband," he said, "I've certainly never wanted a wife." He lifted his cup to his lips, and Lorenz found himself watching the movement of his throat as he swallowed. Lorenz hadn't had more than half a glass of wine, but sitting beside Ignatz at the corner table, he felt drunk.
Dizzy, clutching the edge of the table, Lorenz leaned in a little. "I think we are alike in that regard," he said, speaking so softly that he could scarcely hear himself over the roaring in his ears. "My father expects me to marry as soon as the war is over. I do not wish to, I -- I find myself rather disinclined in that direction."
Ignatz laughed again, not unkindly, and he set his hand on the table beside Lorenz's, close enough for their fingers to brush.
"And what direction you inclined in, Lorenz?" Ignatz murmured, leaning in so close that Lorenz could feel his warm breath against his cheek.
Lorenz shivered. He opened his mouth and closed it again. He could feel the admission in his throat, caught behind his teeth like a caged animal. Ignatz was warm on the bench beside him, smelling faintly but not unpleasantly of cedarwood and linseed oil. His Amber eyes were fixed on Lorenz's face, intent but not impatient. Ignatz would wait, Lorenz realized. He'd been waiting, for five years already, and he'd wait for as long as it took Lorenz to find his voice.
He swallowed, unaccountably touched. "Yours," he breathed, placing his hand on top of Ignatz's.
Ignatz smiled, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners. "You're pretty when you blush," he said, and he must have known it would make Lorenz go even redder, his flush creeping up to color the tips of his ears and down to paint red splotches across his throat. "There's something I've always wanted to show you. Do you trust me?"
Lorenz could only nod.
"Close your eyes," said Ignatz, taking Lorenz's hand. "It's not far. Come on!"
He lead Lorenz out of the dining hall ("there's a step down, careful,") and into the courtyard. The night air stung Lorenz's skin, but he didn't care. Ignatz's hand was warm in his own; the cold couldn't touch him. They turned left, right, and left again, went down one staircase and up another. Lorenz quickly lost all sense of place, and soon there was nothing at all but the cold ground underfoot and Ignatz's hand in his. As they walked along, Lorenz became aware of a sound like a hundred whispering voices, a strange, whispery noise that slid across his ears and made gooseflesh break out along his arms.
"Almost there," said Ignatz. "It's worth it, I promise." They came to a door and a final set of stairs. Lorenz stumbled, eyes flickering behind his lids, and Ignatz offered a steading hand. A key scraped in a lock, a door groaned open, and a sudden rush of warm, tropical air brushed over Lorenz's face.
"Alright, open your eyes--"
They were in a huge room somewhere underneath the castle, surrounded by strange machinery. The roaring sound was a strange, silvery river that ran through a chasm in the room, steam rising off the water as the current turned a massive waterwheel. One side of the room was open, offering a view of the valley, which was a patchwork of forest and lake underneath a coating of snow, glowing silver underneath the blue moon.
Lorenz gasped, clutching Ignatz's hand. "Where are we?" he said, wonderingly. The view was almost indescribably beautiful, a landscape out of a fairy story.
"Underneath the Cathedral," said Ignatz. "The machines capture heat from the springs underneath the mountain to heat the eyries."
"How did you find out about this place?"
"In a book," he said. "I was reading about the construction of the monastery, trying to learn more about the mosaics in the rectory."
"Of course you were," said Lorenz, fondly, turning to Ignatz. "It's beautiful. Thank you for ahowing me."
Ignatz's smile widened. "I found this place years ago, right after classes began. I've been waiting for the right person to share it with."
Touched, Lorenz took Ignatz's hands in his own. His heart was beating a nervous rhythm behind his breastbone, but his hands were steady as he looked into Ignatz's wide, shining eyes.
"You dear," he said warmly, "you sentimental fool, waiting for me all this time."
Ignatz's cheeks colored. "You or Claude," he admitted, obviously pleased with himself. "But I think he has his hands full with Hilda."
"Hmph. So I'm only second best?"
"Oh no," said Ignatz, stricken. "Of course not, I'm sorry--"
"Ah, I was speaking in jest." He swallowed. "I'm -- I'm very glad to be here with you, Ignatz. Very glad. Thank you."
Ignatz took a little half step closer, tilting his face toward Lorenz's. And he was relatively inexperienced, but he'd been kissed before, and he recognized an invitation when he saw one. Grateful that the moment for words had passed, Lorenz closed the distance between them.
They kissed as though they were still schoolboys, too shy to risk anything but the sweetest and softest of kisses. Lorenz settled one hand on Ignatz's hip, pulling him a little closer, and Ignatz brought his hands up to rest on Lorenz's shoulders. The difference in their heights complicated things, but they neither minded. Perfect moments had been few and far between in the long years since the war began, and neither was eager for it to end.
When they finally broke apart, Lorenz was flushed, a little breathless. Ignatz's glasses had fogged up, and he removed them, blinking owlishly.
"I meant what I said, earlier," he said, smoothing his hair back. It had fallen into his eyes, shaggy and overgrown and in need of a trim. Lorenz was immensely charmed, so much so that he reached out to run his fingers through it, tucking it behind Ignatz's ear.
"What was that?"
"I want to paint you. Maybe not at Castle Gloucester, but I want everyone to see you the way I do."
"And how is that?" Lorenz asked, his heart warm and full and fond.
"Exactly like this," said Ignatz. He pushed a lock of Lorenz's hair out of his eyes, and his warm hand lingered on his cheek. "Unburdened. Out of your armor, smiling. Not a knight or a nobleman or one of Claude's generals. Just a man."
Lorenz had no words to respond, so he leaned in to kiss Ignatz again. The other man responded with enthusiasm, and something shifted in Lorenz's gut, finally coming into alignment after years of discord. His doubt cleared, and he knew that he had made the right choice in standing against the Empire, against his father and joining up with Claude's forces. He held Ignatz close and kissed him like he'd been wanting to since they first met, and his heart felt light.
It was the second perfect moment of the evening, and well worth the wait.