Bellyachin'

BY : WonderMint
Category: Final Fantasy XIV > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1713
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy FFXIV: ARR is owned by Square Enix and based on the creation of Hironobu Sakaguchi. May they ever walk in the light of the crystal. I own no right to the characters and settings herein and seek no profit therefrom.

A/N: This is a challenge to myself to write a longer romance. My apologies but there will be some fairly conventional tropes in here, and it will take at least until chapter [five] to get into the actual sex. As I'm rather inexperienced, please let me know how I do if you have the time. Thank you.

I have categorized this as Minor 2 even though it's been two years since the release, when Alphinaud would have been 16. I figure he should have aged at least a year in the main storyline if not more, but I've chosen a more conservative 17 so as not to age him too much. Does anyone in Eorzea care about that one year of age difference? Probably only Alisaie, and I'm fairly certain he'd tell her to mind her own bees.

SPOILER WARNING: This will spoil the entire end of the 2.55, pre-Heavensward story arc. If you have not completed the story and challenged Tataru to a triple-triad match (Lightning card optional), please DO NOT read this. It will still be here when you are done.

*Edit: this chapter has been re-worked and expanded in light of my increased comfort with the characters. Nothing has really been changed, merely added. Conversation that was skimmed over before has been written, so hopefully the subsequent chapters flow better.



 

The cold had begun to settle into his bones, an ever-present ache. No matter how warm the generous fire, Alphinaud Leveilleur could still feel the cold at the edges of the stone room, leeching away the false rosy cheer into the snowy Coerthan night. He was beginning to feel as if it had always been there, following him wherever he went, and only now was the harsh truth laid bare.

He sat before the great fire, bell after bell, feeling the cold settle into his bones, and his heart.

A scant seventeen years old, Alphinaud had briefly been counted among the most important men and women in Eorzea. His short stature and fair voice, his fine features and slender frame which would suggest a Padjal if not for the lack of horns, none of that mattered. People looked beyond them the moment they knew his family name. Leveilleur, the man who rallied Eorzea against the primals and forged their resolve against the Garleans. Leveilleur, the man who had summoned the Twelve from the heavens and shattered the Omega Flare. Alphinaud needed only walk in his footprints for people to see his grandfather's shoes on his feet. And for a time he had thought it working, his meddling in the affairs of nations, his forging of his little army. He had thought himself in command and at the helm of not only his own destiny, but with a hand at the rudder of the history of nations.

And then the Sultana fell. And his own people, turned on him. His friends, gone. His toy army, now an agent of some unseen malefactor, working against everything he fought to achieve. The Sultana! How recently he had seen her, always such a voice of compassion and reason, a leader who truly loved her land and peoples. Now, silenced by moneterist murderers. She was merely the first to fall, an emblem of the death of all that was good. It was almost like the calamity all over again, but now he hadn't even his sister by his side.

He had thought himself the realist and her the fool, but in the end, it had been he who had chased ideals like faery-lights into the deep woods. And though he knew he had her care and support, thankful beyond words that she had thought to engineer his rescue, he regretted that they had parted ways. He longed, now, for the days when they had innocently curled together in the dark, taking solace and giving comfort when the whole world had turned to madness and flame. Now felt very like that time, but now he had no-one in his arms and no assurance that anything would be aright ever again.

He shook his head then, long white ponytail tracing his shoulders, the ghostly touch reminding him he was alone. It would not do to pity himself, not when the Flame General was imprisoned and his friend a wanted criminal. Not when the archons were yet unaccounted for. Not when...

A knock sounded on the door, a blessed interruption. “Enter,” he said quickly, not bothering to stand. These days the only ones who visited him in his small room were Tataru and Lord Haurchefant, both doggedly trying to keep up his spirits as he waited the interminable period between the fall of everything he held dear, and the thawing of relations with icy Ishgard. Both of his friends were a miracle of goodwill and enthusiasm. He reminded himself not to scowl overmuch.

“Please excuse the interruption,” floated a voice from the door, “but I have been tasked with a most holy mission.” The voice was deep and calm like a frozen lake, and Alphinaud looked up quickly to see Ser Aymeric, Lord Commander of the Temple Knights, carrying a covered tea tray like some kind of common servant. Taking care to show less surprise than he felt, he rose to help the taller man in and shut the door to the cold stone hall. Once the tray was safely set upon the low table by the hearth, he bade the other man to sit in the armchair opposite his, unable to banish the small smile of curiosity.

“And what mission has the Fury set before her champion? Tea service?” he asked wryly, resting his chin on meshed fingers and appraising his guest. The Elezen before him was shockingly handsome, black hair framing an aristocratic face with a fine nose and discerning, narrowed eyes. His heavy armor, with long, royal blue coat, glistened with recent snowmelt in the dancing fire. Aymeric had the bearing of a king despite his so-called inferior breeding. Alphinaud rather suspected because of it. The other man was leaning one elbow on an armrest and regarding him in turn, only the barest smile playing on his thin lips. He thought he saw icy eyes widen a touch when he mentioned the goddess, and he was reminded what a poor idea it was to blaspheme in front of the man who held the key to his asylum.

“Nay, today I serve a higher power,” he answered easily, as if there had been no affront. “Mistress Taru.” Alphinaud let escape a rather undignified snort of amusement, covering his mouth and nose with his hand quickly. The commander finally allowed the smile to reach his cheeks, but he continued. “Lord Haurchefant had just persuaded me to rest here for the night, when did I come upon the lady Tataru. Naturally I inquired as to your health, whereupon I was informed that you have sadly taken ill. Moments later, I found myself pressed quite forcefully into her service. It was most astonishing.” The man's pale eyes seemed to glitter in the firelight, seeming somehow dark despite their pale color. Whether from mockery or mischief, Alphinaud could not say.

The hand that covered Alphinaud's mouth slipped higher as his head dipped, covering most of his vision. “Illness? I had not been informed of any maladies.” He kept his tone light but the feeling that played behind his eyes was beginning to feel remarkably like embarrassment.

“Ah, the mistress... she called it...” he seemed to grasp in the air for a moment for the word, but it was just for show. “Belly-achin',” he pronounced carefully, clear to leave off the final letter. “I am to see that you eat, that your condition might begin to improve.” Amusement still dancing behind watchful eyes, he leaned forward and removed the cover to reveal two steaming plates of food and a bottle of wine. “Please, would you do me the honor of sharing a meal? I could not face the lady should my mission fail.”

Yes, that was embarrassment. It was not the first time Ser Aymeric had gotten the better of him, but it was certainly the most personal blow. He closed his eyes fully, hiding behind his fingers and leaning back into the plush chair. He wanted nothing more than to throw the Ishgardian out, but he knew that was his pride talking. His pride hadn't made good decisions for him of late.

“Yes, of course, please take your ease. I could not refuse so noble a mission,” he said more confidently than he felt. He would have words with Tataru later. Ser Aymeric was personally responsible for the greatest diplomatic breakthroughs the alliance had had in years, and the single man who could provide safety for the former Scions and their rag-tag band of adventurers and light-blessed heroes. This was not a man to be sent on dinner dates and flower deliveries. They could not afford to alienate him, either with trivialities or with careless, prideful words.

Said man didn't seem offended in the slightest, though, as he reached for the red wine and poured for them both. Alphinaud willed himself to relax and focus. This, too, was a diplomatic mission. “Thank you,” he said, taking his glass and raising it alongside its twin before sipping. “And I'm truly sorry you were pressed into such menial service. Tataru shall have to find someone else to coddle me, or the Temple Knights shall want for a commander.”

“We must all make sacrifices for that which we hold dear,” said the other man, closing his eyes as he sampled the wine.

Alphinaud refused to ponder what that could mean.

Instead he sipped his own wine, appreciating the thick, velvety whisper on his tongue that seemed to linger on like the humming of a plucked string. Smooth but strong enough to complement the gamey meat, yet subtle enough to mingle with the savory sauce that accompanied it. Coerthan cuisine leaned heavily toward red meat and popotoes, accompanied by other root vegetables, greens being a rare luxury. He had at first thought it bland, but could now see the depth of flavor that could be achieved simmering onions and bones for days on end. With the right wine, it became a dance. Only now, in Aymeric's presence, did he understand.

Was he really so lost that he had forgotten to taste?

The knight regarded him quietly throughout the meal, evidently at home in silence as well as speech. There was something in his expression that made Alphinaud feel unsettled under his relaxed gaze, as if he were entirely too interested or entirely too comfortable for the younger man's liking. He was too accustomed to seeing the Ishgardian as an opponent, though he had to admit that the knight always seemed to find a way to accommodate both of their interests, as though he were playing both sides of the chess board. Mayhap he was more like a rival. Never letting him rest easy, ever finding ways to challenge him and force him to grow.

Perhaps that was why Alphinaud was so uncomfortable now. He did not like that Aymeric knew that he despaired, especially did not like him to condescend to help. It meant that he had fallen so low in spirit that he was not capable of picking himself back up, could not rise to the challenge. Somehow he felt that the same could never be said of the man before him. Something told him that the knight rarely relied on others for his strength.

In a few years, perhaps, Alphinaud could hope that he might have the wit and self-assurance that Ser Aymeric seemed to command so naturally. But that could never happen if he sat and bemoaned his fate.

The youth sighed, closing his eyes in frustration, though it was at his own antics now. “How pathetic I must seem,” he said to himself. Only after he said it did he realize he was compounding the error, pointing out his own weakness to the stalking coeurl. He glared at his glass as if looking for a scapegoat, finding it newly full but knowing full well that he alone bore the blame.

“Not at all,” said the knight. His expression softened, veiled behind silk as he sipped his wine. He had finished his meal as well, reclining quietly with his glass. He had not stopped watching the younger man, though, quiet and cautious, careful to give no threat as though he feared Alphinaud would sprout wings and fly like pheasants from a hound. “You have lost much. We all have, though mine own people live ever in ignorance of the fact. I rejoice that you are safe, but I will not think ill of you for grieving, nor for feeling lost when the light has ceased to shine on your path. I only wish that I could do more to secure for you a safe haven.”

“Nonsense,” returned Alphinaud with more vehemence than was necessary. That was all he needed, for the knight to be reminded of his request for asylum. Error upon error, weakness upon weakness. Inwardly he struggled against the idea, wanting to shake the thoughts out of the other man's head and finding, as usual, he had only words with which to do combat.

“You are not responsible for our troubles,” he insisted. “Rather the opposite, I find. In any case, this is as much a haven as any. Lord Haurchefant is a more generous host than any could hope to find.” He tried to smile as he said it, and succeeded despite himself, even if it came out a little wan and thin.

“Hmm, yes,” answered Aymeric, a touch of fondness in his voice, though he looked quickly to the corner of the room as if he secretly disagreed. But then he frowned, an uneasy crease perching on his brows like a messenger hawk, carrying all his worries. “Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel somehow responsible. If I had not been called away...”

Alphinaud interrupted, trying to squash the thought quickly and painlessly. “Then you would have been entangled in the mess yourself. The Seedseer and the Admiral both had the sense to walk away and keep themselves above accusation. Flame General Raubahn...”

“Acquitted himself with great honor, as I hear it,” said Aymeric, claiming the conversation back as if it were his birthright. The younger Elezen dropped his head, rather agreeing with the sentiment. It was such injustice. It was as if he had woken one day to find the fool wearing the crown and the regent dancing naked in the streets. Raubahn should have taken the reigns of the Sultanate, not been wounded grievously and left to rot in some gaol. For all they knew he was dead as well, dead with the light of hope in Ul'dah.

But it didn't matter anymore. It could not be changed, not from Camp Dragonhead. “There is nothing you could have done. Well that you remained clear of the carnage.” He felt tired now, all the fight having gone out of him. The adventurer would surely have been executed, had their friends not covered their escape. If the Scions and the Warrior of Light combined could not have changed the outcome that fateful day, then no-one could. He fixed the knight with a level stare, not challenging him so much as impressing upon him the futility of the argument, of worrying over events past. It was a lesson that he himself could stand to learn.

To his surprise, the edges of Aymeric's mouth turned upwards in imitation of a smile, eyes narrowing to regard him in some secret mirth. “Take care, Master Alphinaud, or I shall think you worried for my safety.”

For some unexplained reason, the younger man turned away from him in a huff. “I could not possibly worry,” he felt compelled to reply, knowing full well he meant none of it. He only restrained himself from crossing his arms petulantly by virtue of the wine glass he still held, though its sloshing betrayed his desire to do it. “Is it not the dearest wish of your countrymen to be killed by a dragon? I merely wish to save you the indignity of death by politics. You are now free to toss yourself into the dragon's maw at your leisure.”

His face seemed to burn as he scowled, pointedly refusing to look at the man he had so insulted. He took another sip of his wine to distract his lips and cool his face, finding that it only accomplished the former and exacerbated the latter.

But Aymeric just chuckled, the sound low and sonorous, seeming to echo in Alphinaud's own chest and turn his own frown into a shy smile. It was alchemy, turning his scorn to gold.

When he looked back to regard the knight, his restrained shadow of a grin had bloomed to one of dangerous amusement. His eyes narrowed to dagger-points, pre-figuring the sharpening of his tongue. “Ah, it seems you have the right of it. And here I thought unbelievers to be ignorant of the rites of our faith. The heathen has schooled the holy man in the tenets of his own devotion. I am humbled.”

Once again, Alphinaud was reminded of the risk of insulting the knight's religion, and once again he was shocked at his easy parry. And now it was not only his face that bloomed with warmth, but his breast as well. He looked again to his glass, and, finding it nearly emptied again, decided that this time he could blame the drink.

Aymeric seemed preoccupied for a moment, not with drink but with Alphinaud, looking at him sharply, almost predatorily, perhaps wondering if he would return the barb. The younger diplomat would not, could not risk another slight. In the end, the power dynamic between them was too great. He did not wish to seem weak before the commander, but neither did he wish to alienate his tentative ally. It was all he could do to sip his wine, raising his eyebrow at the knight as if to back up the challenge, but offering no further threat. Then the moment passed, the knight tossing his head dramatically like a prancing chocobo, dismissing the topic and any thoughts he may have been holding captive to flee into the sunset.

And the commander sighed, the weight of the nation settling on his shoulders. “As always your jest is more humorous for reflecting the truth. It may yet come to that. The war does not go well.” All his amusement had melted away, leaving him a little pensive and sad, staring into the fire.

The topic was safe, and Alphinaud fought to hide his relief at the change. War was a horror, the death toll greater and the stakes more dramatic, but it was more impersonal for it. He could speak of it calmly, and suffer no damage to his pride. “It has been a long stalemate, has it not? Shiva has been struck down, so why the change?”

The other man's eyes sparkled briefly before he collected his reply, as if to point out that he had noticed Alphinaud's subtle advancement of his people's part in the matter. He had hardly intended it, but even so he could put nothing past the knight. “Quite so. We have grown ever more weak since the Calamity. It is hardly a siege, and yet we grow leaner by the day, losing more of our strongest and struggling to feed our weakest. I know not why Nidhogg and Iceheart have pushed the battle now, but it seems some days as if the real question is... why has it taken so long?” He clenched his fist absently in the air, leaning his elbow on the armrest and staring off into the fire. He cut a fine figure in profile, all angles and grim determination. The man looked like a true leader, the sort you would see in a great painting from ages past, even more-so as he worried for his people. If the land had not been a theocracy, perhaps he would eventually have risen to high office and commanded the fate of his nation.

Ishgard should be so lucky.

Alphinaud shook his head, tearing his eyes from the knight's elegant face. “A fine time for the alliance to fail you. Just as we had hoped to gain your assistance, we fail to deliver ours. Do you have any idea what the Wyrm is planning? Mayhap there is yet a way.”

Aymeric's gaze trailed over to him, by degrees as if his thoughts had carried him a long way hence. He blinked at the younger man, finally nodding in acceptance, or perhaps acknowledgment that he had heard at all. “Your concern is appreciated. Yet I have no answers for you. The accursed Nidhogg has not yet made an appearance. The Dragonstar warns only that his wrath is at its peak, and that something is coming. We yet know not what.”

He turned away again, pensively pursing his lips, but was not long in continuing. “For the present though, it does not seem to matter, loathe though I am to admit it. The heretics are not mere footmen this time. Their stratagems are wholly different from those we have come to expect from the Dravanians. I fear the Steps of Faith will not be the last time Iceheart takes us unaware.”

An unknown enemy with no known battle plan. The beast tribes had become almost predictable, generalized aggression punctuated by the summoning of primals, quickly dispatched by heaven-sent warriors. The threat of Garlemald had been more difficult to counter, a war hardly winnable with the application of a few strong arms. The Scions were skilled in the elimination of super-weapons and false gods, not in the movements of armies. There was not much they could do against the Dravanian threat. And yet, Alphinaud felt almost compelled to reassure the knight, to let him know that hope was not lost.

“I have no armies, nor the power to predict the Wyrm's wrath. But there are still friends who are loyal to me,” he said quietly. “Our fugitive adventurer you know well, and there are others who will heed my call. Even should the alliance remain in disarray, you are not without support should the need arise. Few though we may be, we have slain gods. We shall not hesitate to slay dragons.”

The commander's expression changed almost imperceptibly, the slight frown warping into the tiniest smile. “I am glad that you remember that all is not lost.” And it was only then that Alphinaud recalled that Aymeric had come to raise his spirits, and not the reverse. The subtle warmth returned to his breast, reminding him that he was unaccustomed to drink, and that two glasses of wine seemed quite sufficient to warm him through the chill night.

They said their goodbyes then, leaving the tray for servants to clear. Alphinaud closed the door slowly and deliberately, pondering over everything that had been said. All he knew was that Ser Aymeric had come to him as a friend, and that he could not help but feel a small spark of hope at the fact, even when all else seemed lost. Something nagged at him though. He felt as if he were missing some key that would bring sense to the whole picture. He still had not found it a short time later, when he fell soundly into sleep, resting easily for the first time in a long while.



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