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through fortune and flame

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Leo had hoped that he was done shopping in women’s stores after he came out. Tragically, it looks like he can never escape.

At least growing up royal has given him some sense of taste.

He runs his fingers over skirts as he walks past them, eyes scanning for things that look would look nice but would also be practical- well, as practical as any dresses that trail across the floor are. His eye catches on a dark purple frilly thing, hanging in the back.

It doesn’t have all the layers that most noblewomen would wear, but that’s alright for what Leo needs. The neck is high, and the skirt goes down to the floor, and the sleeves are puffy at the shoulders in a way that looks a little out of fashion, but just enough so to be considered vintage. There are gold designs all across the top and scattered across the skirt.

Leo doesn't know why he’s bothering, really. He could be at home right now, practicing fighting, or telling Sorran to come over so he has a chance to look through the library. He’s ninety, for Kimryl’s sake! He’s wasting his teenage life away!

He catches the eye of a young woman about his age wearing a uniform’s eye and nods at the dress. Leo dressed for the occasion, hoping to not let anyone notice that he’s the Grand Duke, but clearly he failed. Must be his charming good looks, as usual. They’re always letting him down.

“I- can I help you, sir?” the woman asks, bowing her head.

“No need for that,” he replies quickly, and she stands up straight immediately. Then he winks at her. “Let’s keep my visit here between us, hm?”

She flushes. “Of- of course.” Leo smiles, and she hesitantly smiles back. “What can I do for you?”

“How much for this dress?” Leo asks, running his hand across the skirt. “And don’t try and tell me that I don’t have to pay. It’s a fantastic thing and deserves my money.”

She nods, slowly. “I’ll have to check the price,” she says, “but if you would like, you can simply check out with me back here so you don’t have to go to the register and risk getting recognized.”

“That’s very kind of you, miss…”


“Miss Alisha.” Leo holds out his hand like a proper gentleman, and when Alisha, bemused, takes it, he raises her knuckles to his hand and kisses them. Her cheeks turn even darker. “That would be splendid, thank you.”

Alisha nods again and rushes away. Leo looks at the dress again. He can’t believe he’s doing this. 

Alisha returns a moment later and tells him the price, which is significantly cheaper than Leo expected. He hands it over easily. “This must be a very special lady you’re getting this dress for,” Alisha murmurs as she gently folds the dress and puts it into a bag. She looks up at him. “Unless, of course, it’s for yourself-”

“No, no,” Leo says, waving a hand. “It is indeed for a very special lady.” He smiles winningly at her. “Thank you for your service, Miss Alisha.”

“It’s my honor,” Alisha replies, and bows her head once again before remembering that this is a secret and standing straight up again. Leo gives her a two-fingered salute as he walks out the door.

It’s a summer’s day, and it’s beautiful outside, and Leo breathes in and it’s like the world is asking him to get into trouble. There’ll be a carnival coming to Astraria soon, and the ambassadors will be arriving with Kalessa in tow, and Leo feels like he should be getting ready. 

Instead, he’s slipping through downtown, trying not to get noticed (which isn’t terribly difficult in a crowd, given his short stature- a blessing he despises). He makes it to the castle and smiles at the guards, who roll their eyes before letting him through the gates.

Now, navigating the palace is a difficult thing, but you learn how to do it. Leo knows the sound of his father’s footsteps, the heavy and solemn and final ones, and he knows the sound of Phi’s footsteps, trying to imitate the finality of their father’s but not quite there yet, and he knows Fen’s, the even paced and determined ones that always are following Phi. He knows how guards sound, either sloppy and slow or all in a group, storming together. Leo doesn’t know how his own footsteps sound, because if you get into trouble often, you try to keep your footsteps as silent as possible.

And Leo is awfully fond of getting into trouble.

He does that now, running on his toes down hallways he knows like the back of his hand. Sometimes, he’ll wonder if Phi knows the hallways as well as he does. She doesn’t spend time getting into trouble, so she has no reason to remember all the best getaways. Then, he’ll remember that Phi has the palace schematics memorized, and that answers his question.

Oh, the irony of thinking that you know the palace better than your sister while almost missing her bedroom door. Leo stops in his tracks, his fancy shoes skidding for a moment. He reaches out and knocks.

The thing is, Leo would do anything for his sister. He would also do anything to his sister, including (but not limited to) yelling at her, fighting with her, and kicking her shins when the occasion calls for it. Leo hates Phirora, because she’s the perfect child and always has been, but he loves her, too.

He also doesn’t know how she does it, being so good. Leo can hardly stand saying two genuine words without throwing in a joke or a flirt or a tease. Kalessa gets that. Kalessa gives you three honest words for every ten, and it’s a shot in the dark to determine which three. Phi gets along with Kalessa, sure, but Leo gets along with her better. Leo gets along with everyone better. He’s charming, and Phi is good.

Phi opens her bedroom door, posture as tall as she can make it, which is pretty damn tall. She’s only eighty and still towers a full foot over him. “Leo?” she asks, and he notices her shoulders slump just a little.

Without saying anything, Leo holds out the bag in his hand. Phi blinks. “Is this for me?” she asks.

“No, it’s Sorran’s, and I’m just giving it to you because I feel like causing problems on purpose.” Leo rolls his eyes and shakes the bag. “Yes, it’s for you.”

Phi takes the bag. “To be fair, you do cause problems on purpose a lot.”

“Yeah no, that’s fair.”

Phi walks backwards into her room, leaving the door open. Leo doesn’t walk in after her because she hasn’t really told him to and while he’s an asshole, he is an asshole with boundaries. But he also doesn’t want her opening it while people could see, so he asks, “Can I come in and close the door behind me?”

“The more you say, the more worried I am that you’re trying to give me poisoned breakfast in bed again,” Phi remarks, and Leo takes that as a yes.

The door clicks behind him just as Phi pulls out the dress. Her eyes go wide. “Oh,” she says softly, and runs her fingers across the fabric.

This is why Leo fucking hates giving gifts. He never knows what to do. He shoves his hands awkwardly into his pockets and rocks back and forth from his toes to his heels. “It should be your size,” he offers. “I checked, and stuff.”

“Did you go shopping instead of going to your economics lesson?” Phi asks, but she doesn’t even manage to make it sound accusatory.

Leo scoffs. “I never go to my economics lessons in the first place. I don’t know what you expected,” he replies, but he doesn’t manage to make it bite.

Phi holds the dress up to her chest and looks down at how it just brushes the floor. She spins around with it, smiling. The smile takes Leo by surprise, because he’s so used to seeing his father’s expressions on her face that seeing her own is a rarity. 

She looks up again like she forgot Leo was in the room and the smile falls abruptly, returning to her normal placid expression. “Why?” she asks simply. “It’s not- it’s not like it’s my birthday. Or whatever.”

“Because I’m a great big brother,” Leo says brightly.

“What did I just say about the whole poisoned breakfast thing.”

“Well, that was just because you’re a terrible little sister.”

Phi scoffs. There’s a moment when they’re just staring at each other, Phi still holding the dress up to herself, Leo with his hands still stuffed in his pockets.

“Thanks,” Phi says eventually, voice short. 

“It’s nothing,” Leo replies. “They didn’t even make me pay for it.”

Another moment of silence. Then Phi says, “I- well- would you-” at the same time Leo says “Do you want me to-” and then they both stop talking again.

Phi cracks a smile, and it’s her smile, not their father’s. “Do you want me to help you put it on?” Leo asks. “I know they can be a nightmare.” He almost regrets asking, because while they are siblings and obligated to help each other out, they are only half-siblings and up until now, Leo’s made it clear that he only half-cares for her. But Phi is smiling, so maybe it’s okay that today will be a cheat day.

“Okay,” Phi says.