All it took was a single letter for everything to change. For Takumi's world to be upended.
The moment he read those words, the moment he found out that he and Corrin weren't related, everything changed.
The feelings he'd been desperately holding back for so long, feelings that he'd cursed himself - despised himself - over, erupted in a fountain of relief. The love he had for her swelled and swelled until he was all but drowning.
He was torn.
Torn between telling her, between letting these feelings for her run free and wild and giving in to everything he wanted, and the fear of her response.
How was he to tell her?
How could he tell her that his- no, her mother, had written him a prophetic letter before she'd died, telling him that it was okay for him to fall in love with Corrin because they weren't siblings. Oh, and that he was in love with her. Utterly, maddeningly, completely in love with her.
He wasn't sure how much longer he could pretend nothing had changed. How much longer he could stifle the pain that lanced through his heart every time she called him her brother. A sliver of ice that dug deep into his flesh at her words.
Soon. He would tell her soon.
For now, he would pretend as though his pulse didn't skitter beneath his skin when she joined him in the archery range. His heart leapt and swelled at the excited smile on her face.
"Look, Takumi," she said, holding up her hand. "The cut's all healed! I'm ready for my next lesson!"
An amorous smile danced on his lips, a bubble of joy blooming in his chest as he swallowed his own excitement, his own fluttery nerves.
"Good," he managed to say without his voice cracking. Sounding normal, calm and level headed. He could do this. "Now, let's see what you remember."
Corrin skipped as she gathered what she needed, quiver swung over her shoulder filled with arrows, a familiar wooden bow in her hands. She eyed the targets, drew an arrow from her quiver and lined up a shot.
Takumi frowned. "Pull your elbow in closer. No, closer!" He huffed, stalking over to her so he could shift her elbow into position. "How did you manage to forget so much?" he chided, reaching around her waist to lift her other arm with his hand. "You need to raise the bow higher too, otherwise your aim will… be…"
Close. He was too close. A striking scent of something sweet and flowery filled his lungs. The warmth of her arm against his hand was like an open flame against his bare skin. All that lay between their bodies was a ghost of air, buzzing and thrumming and alive.
Takumi swallowed, focused on her aim, on correcting her posture rather than the rush of heat pouring through his veins.
How did he do this before? How did he manage to touch her so casually, to stand so close to her with ease, to somehow ignore the tug of desire in his heart and teach her?
Now that he knew that there was nothing wrong about his feelings, there was nothing holding them back. It had become impossible to force them into the back of his mind. Not when the chains he'd tied them down with had crumbled into dust.
Takumi stepped back from Corrin as casually as he could, letting his hands drop away from her. "There. That's how you're meant to aim a bow."
Corrin grumbled, an embarrassed blush warming her cheeks. "It's been a while, that's all!"
She let the arrow fly. It sank into the centre of the target and she whirled to him with an ecstatic gasp.
"Did you see that?"
His heart skipped. "Try that without my help this time."
She bounced on her toes, determination blazing in her crimson eyes, and turned back to the target. Takumi tried to fall into his regular practice routine beside her, but soon found his concentration fracturing.
He heard every sound she made, every gasp and grunt, every puff of frustration and the deep breaths she took to calm herself. Her silver hair flashed in the corner of his eyes, his gaze constantly sliding over to watch her.
Occasionally, he found something worth critiquing in her posture, her aim. Even her breathing. Anything that worked as an excuse for why he was watching her whenever he had the chance. Whenever he reached for another arrow, in between shots.
If it wasn't for his desire to train himself, the ache in his chest that told him he needed to get better, to get stronger, he would have abandoned his bow long ago and watched her in earnest.
Because, Gods, she was distracting. On more than one occasion, Takumi had let his arrow loose too early due to her, her sudden gasps and huffs that made his heart skip.
If it wasn't for her, and the pounding of his heart, the archery range would have been mostly silent. Her mutterings, her groans as she rolled her stiff and aching shoulders, were as loud as thunder.
"Ugh, I'm going to need a good massage after this," Corrin groaned.
Takumi glanced at her, keeping his expression neutral as warmth crawled up his cheeks when he looked at her.
"That's what happens when you don't practice for a while," Takumi said. He twirled an arrow between his fingers absently, watching her in the corner of his eyes.
Corrin grumbled in her chest. "I know… Oh, perhaps Jakob could give me a massage tonight! I'll ask him-"
"I'll do it." The words were out of his mouth before he'd realised what he was saying.
Corrin looked at him, their eyes meeting with a jolt shooting down Takumi's spine.
She blinked at him. Heat burst across Takumi's cheeks and he stole his gaze away for a moment. "I can do it. Massage you. Since… I'm the one training you and all, and I know where you'll be sore…" He shrugged as though he didn't care either way. As though his heart wasn't racing in his chest and making it difficult to breathe.
"Sure!" Corrin agreed with a bright smile. "That sounds great, actually! If you don't mind, then I'll take you up on that offer!"
The air in Takumi's lungs fled in an instant beneath her smile and he nodded stiffly. "Sure. I don't mind."
What had he gotten himself into?
She turned back to the targets, nocking another arrow, and Takumi wanted to slam his head against a wall. All it had taken was the idea of her even asking her butler for a massage and the words had spilled from his lips.
And now… he'd agreed to massage her. To massage Corrin, the woman he was so desperately in love with, who still thought they were siblings.
He bit back a sigh and raised his bow. Was that why she'd agreed to it?
He hit the centre of the target with ease, watched Corrin's arrow land off-centre by a few inches.
If only dealing with his feelings, with love, came as simply as archery did to him.
Takumi stood outside the door to Corrin's treehouse, her quarters, later that evening as she'd requested. He hadn't even knocked and his heart was already pounding harder and faster than usual. He rapped his knuckles on the wood and tried to force down the rising heat on his cheeks, tried to act as though nothing had changed since the last time she had invited him into her room.
The sight of her when she opened the door, dressed in a simple robe, her cheeks flushed from her bath, almost knocked him off his feet.
"Come in!" she said cheerfully, stepping back from the door, and it felt like Takumi fell into her room rather than walked.
His mind clouded instantly. Dizzy and flustered and Gods, this was so different, too different, and he's forgotten how to breathe.
Had her room always smelled like this? It was like the scent permeated his whole body, his mouth, his nose, his lungs. His eyes drew right to her bed, to the plush blankets and soft cushions piled up by her pillow.
Takumi jolted as Corrin strode past him and plopped herself down on her bed as usual. She patted the spot next to her with a smile.
Nothing had changed for her and yet this was a world and a half different for Takumi.
This was her room. Her bedroom. And she was asking him to sit beside her on her bed, fresh and still slightly flushed from her bath and… he'd agreed to massage her.
Takumi forced himself over to her and sat on the edge of her bed, pushing down any thoughts, any tugs on his heart, and steeled himself.
He risked a glance at her, to find Corrin looking at him eagerly.
"F-Face that way!" he snapped, motioning for her to turn her back to him. "How am I supposed to massage your shoulders if you're staring at me?"
"Sorry!" She gave a quiet laugh, shifting as he'd directed. She gathered her long hair off her back, draping it over her shoulder and exposing her back to him.
His heart stammered. He swallowed, taking a deep breath, and focused on the task at hand. He drew his hands to her shoulders, fixing his gaze on a single spot. Blurring everything else. Letting the room around him, the figure before him, fall away and become meaningless, become nothing.
Takumi's attempts to distance himself from the room he was in, from the woman in front of him, shattered with Corrin's gentle sigh of delight.
"Mm… that's nice…" she sighed, her shoulders sinking beneath the ministrations of his hands.
A spear of heat sliced down his spine, breath hitching in his throat. His hands almost froze, faltering on her shoulders, before he caught himself and continued.
"Of course it is," Takumi said, clearing his throat to cover the crack in his voice. "I know what I'm doing."
She sighed again as he drew the tight muscles of her shoulders upwards with gentle pressure, working slowly and methodically with his hands. He felt her relax further as he worked. Her shoulders loosened, her posture sagging slightly.
Her sweet sighs were music to his ears. Dangerous, intoxicating music that drew him deeper, deeper into her. Heat blazed across his face, burning to the tips of his ears at the otherwise salacious sounds dripping from her lips. All she would have to do is glance over her shoulder and his love for her would be exposed immediately. He dropped his head, exhaling a shaky breath, and squeezed his eyes shut.
Gods. He wasn't sure how much more of this he could take before he burned into cinders. The magic of her sighs had set something alight in his veins. Liquid fire seared through his body. His fingers trembled as he worked downward over her shoulder blades.
Corrin stole a breath, arching into his touch with a heavenly sigh. "Mm… you sure know what you're doing."
Takumi's heart was jammed in his throat. He stared at the blankets between them, coils of burning, burning, heat ablaze on his cheeks.
"Y-Yeah, well, I don't do this for just anyone, so consider yourself lucky," he said as his brain scrambled for something else, anything else, to say.
Corrin giggled lightly. "Well then, thank you for the privilege!"
"It's only because you worked so hard today, that's all," Takumi said quickly.
Takumi eased his thumbs over her shoulder blades, working inwards towards her spine. He tried not to focus on how firm her back felt beneath her robe, how solid her muscles were under his touch…
"Maybe… if you manage to hit the centre of the target three times in a row, I might consider giving you another massage as a reward," he found himself saying in response to her disappointment.
Her excited gasp made his heart skip.
"I… I said I'd consider it."
"Three times in a row. Got it."
Takumi pressed his lips together firmly, knowing he was going to give in to her the second she met his criteria.
With a sigh, Takumi finally finished the massage, and he shifted away from her on the bed and stole a deep breath, feeling as though he'd been holding his breath the whole time, despite how impossible that was.
"Ah, I feel so much better now," Corrin sighed, giving her shoulders an experimental roll. She turned to face him, gracing him with a smile.
"It was nothing," he muttered, looking away.
Soft fingers dusted across his forehead, stealing his breath as they swept across his fringe. Takumi held his breath, freezing under her touch as Corrin's fingers slowly brushed his hair. Her tender touch drifted down the side of his cheek, following the hair that framed his face before gliding up again.
Takumi's eyes flittered to hers. "You… you always…" the grumble caught in his throat.
It wasn't the first time she'd done this. Touched him like this, gentle and tender. She'd often pat the top of his head when she got the chance, he being taller than her, and had fussed over him in a similar manner the first time she'd invited him over.
And he'd snapped at her that he being jostled by her was the worst feeling.
Now… instead of being used to her touch, he was smouldering. Succumbing to the way her fingers wove through his hair, the way she dusted her thumb across his cheek with a soft smile.
Rather than being treated like a kid, like she was taking advantage of being older than him, it felt… more intimate than that.
His gaze snapped away as warmth curled on his cheeks again.
"Wh-What?" Takumi barked, though it came out strangled and faint.
"You're so cute, going so red so easily," she giggled sweetly. She swept her thumb back and forth across his cheek.
His heart squeezed tight. Before he knew what he was doing, Takumi caught her wrist. "You… what are you trying to do, touching me like this…?"
She tilted her head, a smile playing on her lips. "Nothing, really. I'm just enjoying how adorable my little brother is."
A blade of ice stabbed deep into his heart. He dropped her hand. Of course.
"See, you go so red! It's so cute!" She squished both of his cheeks with her hands.
Heat returned to his cheeks at her touch. He sighed, trying to mask the shaky exhale with a grumble, and almost gasped when she cupped his cheeks tenderly, resting her thumbs beneath his eyes. A hint of pink remained on her cheeks as she smiled at him.
He met her eyes. "There's… something I need to tell you…"
A beat, a moment of breathless silence.
A knock at the door shattered the moment and Takumi jolted away from her.
"Oh, that'll be Jakob!" Corrin said, rising from the bed to answer the door. She greeted her butler as Takumi smouldered on her bed, dropping his head into his hands.
He looked up at her, saw her holding a tea tray with a steaming pot and two empty cups on it.
"Are you alright?" She placed the tray on the table, looking at him with concern.
He managed a smile. Managed to stand and step over to her, drawn by the thrum of his heart.
"Corrin, I need to tell you something."
Everything changed again. Takumi's world had shifted again. He no longer had to hide his feelings, not when they were reciprocated, not when she loved him as well, but that didn't make things any easier.
Takumi stood in her room, alone, and felt out of place. He didn't know whether to sit or stand, to take a seat by the table or on her bed as usual…
They'd been courting for a few weeks now and he still flustered at the thought of just being in her room, even when she wasn't there.
He should've waited outside.
Corrin told him she wouldn't be long, told him to wait in her treehouse, her room, and he hadn't thought twice about it.
Now, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Her room, her bedroom, his eyes again and again sliding over to her bed. He sat down on it with a sigh, a deep puff of air.
His heart patted away in his chest.
This was where he'd confessed. Where they'd had their first kiss. They'd spent hours and hours in here together, sometimes long into the evening until Takumi reluctantly, and gratefully, returned to his own quarters. They hadn't gone that far yet.
No, he wasn't- he wouldn't think about that. Even if there were whispers and rumors spreading through the group.
Takumi fell onto his back with a huff and curled onto his side, facing the door.
It wasn't long before his eyes fluttered closed against his will and he fell asleep.
A gentle touch roused Takumi from the depths of sleep, a light gracing of fingers across his cheek enough for him to stirr. He opened his eyes and snapped awake in an instant when he saw Corrin lying in front of him, mere inches from his face.
"Good evening, sleepy head," she said softly, giving him an amused smile. She traced her fingers down his cheek, dusting gently across the growing heat building on his face.
Takumi's mouth opened and shut wordlessly as he flustered. "What… what are you doing?" he tried to hiss, but it came out like a gasp.
"I saw you sleeping here and decided to join you," she said innocently.
"Wh… why…?" He turned his face away, pressing deeper into the blanket as he smouldered beneath her gaze.
Her fingers continued their journey, slowly finding their way into his hair and smoothing his fringe across his brow.
"Because I wanted to," she said.
Takumi swallowed the strangled grumble building in his chest and grabbed her hand. "That's… not the issue."
"Then what is?"
He held her hand between them, drawing his eyes to hers again. "You can't just… do this sort of thing, touch me like this… and expect me not to… to…"
She watched him. "To what?"
He moved before he could think and kissed her. Pressed into her, melding his lips over hers and tasting her silent gasp as he burned and burned, letting his kiss tell her what he couldn't voice. He let his lips linger, let them slowly drag over hers in a flustered dance before he pulled away, hovering just above her. The urge to sink against her, to claim her lips again, was hard to fight.
She blinked at him, lips parted, cheeks pink. Stunned speechless.
"If you… do that sort of thing," Takumi began, fumbling over his words as he was more breathless than he'd realised, "then I might… get the wrong idea…"
"How do you know it's the wrong idea?" Corrin asked quietly, reaching up to cup his cheek. Her face blazed as darkly as his.
Takumi couldn't breathe. "Wh-What?!"
"I did want to kiss you," she admitted. "So, I don't think you had the wrong idea."
Takumi drew off her, flopping onto his back with a sigh and draping his arm over his face. "That's… not what I meant…"
"Then, what did you mean?" Corrin sat up and looked at him, confused.
He made an incoherent grumble in his throat. "When you do things like that you… you're really tempting me, you know…?!"
"Tempting you…? Oh!" Corrin gasped. "Oh. I… um… sorry…?"
Takumi sat up, staring at the wall beside him. "Just… just forget it. I… shouldn't have said anything."
"Takumi…" She took his hand, gave it a squeeze. "You know I… think about that stuff too…"
Takumi felt his blush darken, felt his cheeks burn as she spoke. A silent gasp escaped his lips.
"I know it's… a bit soon for… for any of that, but… but for now…" She squeezed his hand again, drawing his eyes back to hers. A question lingered in her eyes. "Will you stay here tonight?"
His mouth dropped open. "S-Stay? Here?"
She nodded quickly, pressed her lips together firmly as she waited for his reply. "I… I don't want you to go. Not tonight. I just… want you here, even if we… we don't do anything, I just…"
"Okay," he said quietly. Held her gaze for a long, burning moment as his reply sank in. "I'll stay."
He didn't want to leave her.
That much hadn't changed, at least.