windsnocturne: (Niles/Leo)
[personal profile] windsnocturne
Title: every little seedling
Rating: PG
Prompt: Roots
Warnings: Birthright spoilers
Route: Birthright

Summary: Becoming King was not something Leo had expected to fall into, and at times it can be overwhelming. But a kingdom is as strong as its roots, and Leo will make sure Nohr's are stronger than they have been in years.

Being King of Nohr wasn't something he'd anticipated, and he would be lying if he claimed not to be worried. It was true that he held nothing against Camilla for wanting to find her own way, he'd even encouraged her to spend some time in Hoshido with Corrin.

But becoming king wouldn't happen overnight or in a day. Right now, Nohr was shaky not just from the loss of Father but from years of poor leadership. Father had shouted bitterly about Hoshido having it all while Nohr suffered, but done little to actually help Nohr flourish. Instead he'd encouraged bitterness in the people and ultimately tried to take from Hoshido by force, and in the end Nohr had only suffered more for it.

The kingdom was a mess, and even if Xander had survived things would be no different. Nohr needed a stable foundation before it needed anything else, and that would take months, even years to build.

"Remember, milord, you're not alone," Niles insisted on reminding him. Technically, he wasn't; Odin and Selena had gone home and Beruka had left with Camilla, but Elise and Xander's retainers lived on and two border knights had joined the royal guard after the war. But he missed Odin, the pain of his siblings' deaths was still sharp and he knew better than to expect Camilla home for too many visits, at least for a while.

"I'll be all right." He had to be, not just for Nohr and its people but for his own sake. I have no time to wallow in self-pity and doubt. I willingly took this position, and I will not be less than Xander would have been.

It was almost too much at times. Laws to re-write, corruption to root out, seedy operations to stop and too many underprivileged people to care for. The fact that everyone worried about him so much didn't help matters; they meant well, but Peri fussed over his eating habits and Arthur asked if he was okay every five minutes.

Worse were the nobles who whispered about poor little Lord Leo, forced to take the throne by that selfish sister of his. Whether the people were more interested in pitying him or insulting Camilla, it was all a blur of catty nastiness that he'd had to coldly shut down too many times.

If there was one thing Leo disliked more than displaying weakness, it was being pitied.

Gardening was where he found the most solace. Either alone or with Niles by his side, he would plant the seedlings Lord Ryoma had donated. At first he relied a bit on his magic to jump-start their growth, but one day he decided that the peach tree seedlings would grow on their own.

"Are you sure that's wise?" Niles asked. "I mean, Nohr's soil is kind of crappy without you using your magic."

"It's better than it's been in years," Leo said. "And this tree deserves a chance to blossom on its own."

"Without being babied and fussed over like it's too weak to stand on its own trunk?" Leo smiled wryly.

"How did you know?"

"I've served you since you were barely a young man, Lord Leo," Niles said. "I can read you like a book, as you would say." Leo shook his head as he checked on the seedling one more time, letting Niles lead him inside for the evening.

The months passed, and things slowly became a bit easier. Nohr was still years away from being the kingdom it had the potential to be, but it was further from the shape it had been in so long and that was enough. Niles, citing Leo as his inspiration, helped criminals find honest work after they served their time in jail. Effie and Charlotte revamped the royal guard, Effie its shield while Charlotte kept the bandits and assassins at bay.

Camilla occasionally came back for visits and to check up on him, her sweet-poison smile and the sight of Beruka enough to keep any of her detractors at bay...while she was present, at least. She was much quicker to defend people who babied Leo.

"If I didn't think Leo could do this, I would have stayed behind," she kept saying. "And he's doing a much better job so far than I could have done within five years!"

Eventually, the people did stop their chatter. Leo still heard murmurs every now and then, but over time he learned to ignore them and focus entirely on his work.

The seedlings grew slowly, as did his plans for a new and improved Nohr. The year passed, Leo protecting and caring for the seedlings as much as he could without coddling them. They didn't need it anyway, they were tenacious little things.

"Just like you, Lord Leo," Niles said.

On clear nights, Leo looked up at the sky and wondered if Xander can see him. I always swore I'd never be less than you, brother...if you could see me now, I think you would be very happy.

One year to the day he had planted the seedlings, Leo went out to check on them and saw that they'd not only survived the winter, but they'd grown a full foot in that time. Strong roots showed through the soil, and while the trunk was fairly slender it looked sturdy and full of buds would soon grow into branches and leaves.

"Niles," he said, "do you see this? This is the first tree that's ever grown naturally in this kingdom for the past fifty-odd years."

"I see it, but it still looks pretty weak. Aren't you afraid something could rip it from the ground or knock it over?" Leo shook his head.

"Not in the least," he said. "Because this tree, despite all it's had to weather, despite having a shaky start, has strong roots to hold it in place. To keep it safe, grounded and ensure its growth." He glanced meaningfully at Niles. "Because nobody pitied it and trusted it to grow."

"You know, I've noticed that ever since those people finally shut up about poor Lord Leo Nohr's been in better shape," Niles laughed. "Think we should show them the tree and hope they learn a lesson from all this?" Leo shook his head.

"There's no need. They will see it in time, and other trees are going to follow soon." He took Niles's hand. "Thank you."

"Eh?" Niles smiled. "What for, my lord?"

"For being by my side. For believing in me even when I didn't think I believed in myself," Leo said. "For taking care of me, even if you could go overboard at times." He sighed a little. "I will need to find a bride soon, and I intend to find someone I can truly care for. However..."

He trailed off, reaching up to stroke Niles's cheek. For years there had been an unspoken affection between them; not quite lovers but not simply prince and retainer, either. Were it possible, Leo would simply declare Niles his spouse and find other ways to procure an heir, but Nohr was still too fragile for such a radical break from the norm.

"I promise, Niles, that even when I marry and sire an heir, you will always be very precious to me," he finished. Niles nodded in understanding, wrapping his arm around Leo's waist.

"I've been by your side throughout everything, my lord, and that will not change."

They went inside, secure in the strength of the roots they'd planted over the past year, and knowing that they would only grow stronger.
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