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This is a gift for Fairy-Red-Hime for the fireemblem-club's Secret Santa event.
Ike stared into the mirror in his tent, trying to understand the emotions present in his normally confident, tranquil eyes. He had been told Soren was Branded a few days ago, and in that conversation had learned what Branded even meant, and begun to understand how this had affected Soren. He'd never heard of the Branded before this, never known the discrimination that having Laguz blood would subject someone to, and now to know the full story of the first day he'd met Soren, that he had never had a friend before Ike...

He couldn't stop thinking about that conversation. Soren, typically so cold, reserved, tense beyond belief... the words had come pouring out of him, a confession to sins he hadn't had any control over, sins Ike knew were not sins at all, just the circumstances of a young boy without a family. "You're a capable officer of our army," Ike had responded, handwaving the concerns away, "and my friend." Soren had looked relieved, but Ike had been troubled ever since, a storm of conflicting emotions. This had been with Soren his whole life, and Ike had dismissed it offhand, because it hadn't meant anything to him. Was that the correct response? He remembered when Gatrie and Shinon had left the Greil Mercenaries, how it had felt to have no one believe in you. Would Soren have felt that way, but amplified by a series of unhealthy "familial" relationships? Should Ike tried to understand what that self-hatred looked like, felt like, before acknowledging their friendship? 

Ike sighed. Friendship. He loved and hated that word when it came to Soren. He ruffled his hair, standing. Maybe he should get some sleep, lest he be chided again. A noise came from outside, and Ike's hand went to the hilt of his sword. Tellius wasn't exactly the safest place right now, and he'd need to be on his toes.

"...Ike?" the voice came from outside the tent, and the tension in Ike's sword hand released itself, though a new tension arose within him.

"Come in, Soren," he responded, taking off his sword belt and laying it near his mirror. 

Soren moved the flap to the side, slowly entering the tent. His red eyes flickered along with the candlelight, as uncertain and wavering as he felt. Those eyes had held a lot in, growing steadily vehement, until recently. He had put a lot on Ike in the past few days, and though Ike had said nothing was wrong, he had looked visibly worn since then. Here Soren stood, ready to make his last confession.

"Have a seat," Ike offered one end of his bed as he sat on the other. Soren shifted uncomfortably, but sat down. "What can I do for you?"

"How are you holding up? You look weary," Soren asked.

Ike laughed. "Is that what this is, a house call from a doctor? I'm okay. How are you feeling?" Ike tried to hold his smile, but his concern began to show.

"I... I'm fine."

"That was convincing."

Soren frowned. "I should say the same to you."

Ike sighed. "Fair enough. I've been... How do I put this... I've been thinking about you being a Branded, and... I wasn't sure I responded well. I... feel like I waved off your concerns too quickly. That I should have shown more concern for your feelings instead of just saying it didn't matter."

Soren narrowed his eyes in confusion, then chuckled. "...No." He sighed, his shoulders slumping forward. "You... have no idea what it is like to be Branded, but you also have no idea what it is to hate Laguz blood. I would say that is a fair trade." His lips trembled as he continued. "I do not know what it is like to have a family that loves me, and you took me in. I did not know what it was like to have a friend, until you. I am a part of a team now, a family of sorts, because of you, even if most of that team does not understand me." Soren took a deep breath. It was now, or never. "But I don't need them to understand me. All I need is you... for you to like me, and accept me. I did not know what it was like to feel loved, or... or to love, until you." Another breath, and Soren raised his head to meet Ike's eyes. "And for that, I thank you."

Ike tilted his head slightly, taking the deluge of words in as he returned Soren's stare. His eyes truly were like fire: scorching, strong, yet at moments, completely capable of extinguishing with a single breath. His own eyes revealed an ocean, calm on the surface, with currents racing beneath. He feared the surface was beginning to show evidence of the storm within.

Soren couldn't bring himself to reach out to Ike, though every muscle in him screamed for contact. "Ike. I... understand now what it means to love someone. To want to protect them from all harm, real or imagined. To wish every moment that he is by your side. To hope that he never wishes to be apart."

In that moment, Ike understood what Soren had come here for. He laughed, smiling wider than he had in months. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh, only... I have been sitting here worried I had inadvertently pushed you away. I..." He was suddenly without voice, trying to find words to express what he had been feeling. "I thought perhaps I hadn't listened, hadn't truly understood. I thought maybe I'd put a wall between us. Soren, I love you, and have known that I felt this way for a while, since you told me to get sleep when I was exhausted and no one else had noticed, since realizing that no matter where I was on the battlefield, you were there, right beside me, covering my back." Ike bit his lip, glancing up at the ceiling. "I liked the way we were, as friends, but inside I knew I wanted more."

Soren stared in disbelief. "You... are a marvel, Ike. I... told you about my family, and you did not turn me away. I told you about being Branded, and you were angry for me, instead of at me. And now, I have told you my most intimate secret... And you greet me with open arms." Soren's voice cracked with those last words, and he watched Ike move toward him.

"I will never turn you away," Ike said softly, and pressed his lips against Soren's. At that moment, Ike could have sworn he felt the gentle lick of steam against his skin.

February 2017

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Athena Blackquill
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