Title: Another First Kiss
Series: slightly before FE9
Character/pairing: Ike/Soren
Rating: PG
Author's note: fe_fest: FE9/10 Ike/Soren – (pre-PoR) A trip to the village leads to more than they bargained for (n). Canon setting, but minor AU in timeline of characters meeting and such. Filled in honor of Ayvara/The Only Princess/some tumblr name I can't remember's birthday. It's late (but less late than last year!)
Title comes from the They Might Be Giants song. Thanks to Jana for the beta.

.

Ike had separated from the rest of the group near the gates, where sellers aggressively hawked their wares. There were cries tossed up of good quality swords, they won't let you down in battle! to handmade dresses of the finest quality! He had some gold in his pocket, but nothing much had interested him so far, other than the lunch table which he'd laid down some gold for a rather juicy drumstick dipped in spices.

It wasn't a festival, but payday was something of a festival in itself. Titania, Oscar and Rhys had stayed behind to watch the fort and see to duties, while his father had come to buy supplies. Mist, Soren and him had come too, just to get out of the day to day sameness.

And of course, Shinon and Gatrie were there as well, doing the monthly ritual of drinking until they ran out of money and then stumbling home.

Usually Soren and him would be checking out wares together, but he'd passed the book vendor and they'd went separate ways, agreeing to meet again at the center square. Ike was near there, now, and figured he'd idle around until Soren came back, as Soren had a great eye for deals and could always tell when the seller was ripping them off.

"Care for a ribbon for the special girl in your life?" called a middle aged man. The satin ribbons were laid out, looking like the bouquets of wildflowers that Rolf and Mist would bring home.

Ike shook his head and kept walking. All he could think was that Soren wouldn't go for something so fancy. He was the only one he'd out and give something really special to, after all.

He passed another set of merchants, their wagons heaping with goods of all sorts.

"Would you like your fortune told?" called a woman. She stepped out of the shadows, and Ike could see that she was a woman with dark curly hair left long and a glittering stone in her navel. She smiled, and beckoned him closer.

"Fortune telling isn't really my thing," Ike said. She grabbed his arm, and pulled him with surprising strength, given that she seemed more likely to be a dancer than warrior.

"I'll make it cheap," she said. She began to pull off his fingerless gloves, and brushed her thumb along the lines of his palm. Ike pulled back at the contact, but she had a grip like a vice.

"Yes... you have a long life line. And the love line here indicates you've already met your true love."

She pressed one filed nail to a crease on Ike's hand. "And this line means you'll stay with that person forever."

Ike furrowed his brow. The thought that his whole future could be written in code on his hands was unsettling, to say the least.

"And, see here, you've got the future of a hero," she said.

"Really?" Ike said. He'd never thought about being anything as grand as a hero. He just wanted to be as good a swordsman as his father and become a full part of the mercenary group. It was such a big step and seemed so far off that everything else was, well, pushed aside until he reached it.

He looked down to his palm. "It really says all that?"

"Would I lie to you, little hero?" she said.

Ike really had no idea, so he didn't say anything. She didn't seem to be waiting for an answer, anyway.

"Now, for your payment..."

She kept leaning in and Ike wondered if this was another part of the fortune telling that he hadn't foreseen. All of the sudden she was close, really close, with her chest pressing into him and her lips on his. Everyone made a big deal about kisses and kissing, but despite the shock he felt underwhelmed, like it was all wrong. And his lips felt greasy. He grimaced.

There was the sound of a crash, and Ike pulled away. Soren was standing there, his packages spilled to the ground, an expression of shock turning to hurt.

"And there's plenty more where that came from," she said, and winked.

"If you ever want your fortune told, just go to the shopkeepers guild and ask for Aimee."

Gatrie laughed so hard it sounded like he was braying. "I lift my glass to you, my friend! You're well on your way to manhood."

Shinon laughed humorlessly. "It'd take a lot more than that to make him be a man. Hey, fortune teller. You should stick with a real man, not a boy whose balls have barely dropped."

"Oh, are there any of those around? I didn't see any," she said too sweetly.

Gatrie only laughed all the more.

Soren collected himself and bent to pick up his books. Ike stepped away from the woman and towards Soren.

"Here, let me help you with that,"

"I'm fine, Ike," Soren said softly. "Just fine..."

Soren lifted up his books, and took them.

It was like he'd done something wrong and Soren wasn't happy with him, but Ike couldn't think of a thing he'd done. Maybe he should've stayed with Soren near the books.

.

Ike kept wiping at his lips with the back of his glove. Soren kept in pace, quiet and sullen again. He wasn't sure what had gotten Soren into such a fuss this time, but it was obvious he was going home whether Ike came or not, and walking Soren home meant he wouldn't worry about some brigands or animals surprising Soren along the way.

It wasn't even dusk yet, and they were the only ones to head home early. Ike still felt repulsed by the slimy feel against his lips that wouldn't seem to rub off—apparently it was some new beauty thing which women spread on their lips to make them shiny? It tasted like fish oil.

First kisses were supposed to be romantic, or at least, that was something he'd heard. Mostly his lips felt greasy and like he didn't want to eat fish again for a long, long time.

Gatrie had said this had made him a man, as if just by the touch of a woman, he was granted manhood. Ike had to wonder about that one—what about men who never touched a woman? Did they stay awkward teenagers forever?

Besides, Gatrie had probably kissed a lot of women, and he didn't seem particularly wise.

Ike was all muddled up, unable to figure out what this all meant, or why Soren acted like he was. In the end, he just wanted to go wash off the dust of the day and scrub the fish oil taste from his mouth until he could forget about the whole day for a while.

Soren didn't seem inclined to talk, so they just walked on the dusty road towards home together, Soren bent under the weight he refused to let Ike take from him.

.

Soren stayed in a dark mood for the next few days. Ike was used to Soren's sudden sullenness. Usually he could talk Soren out of the sadness, at least for a little while, but this time Soren seemed utterly determined to remain troubled. About what, he couldn't figure out. Shinon hadn't even been heckling him that much, given the fact that his hangover was so intense he spent the first day huddling in the bushes, and kept to himself for days after that.

Soren even turned down the chance to visit the small library at the outskirts of a town a couple miles away, and when Soren turned down the chance to read stuff, then something really had to be wrong.

.

Sometimes when he was washing his hands or changing bandages for his next training cuts, he'd feel the pressure against his palm and remember. Ike wasn't sure how he felt about fate, the idea that some god or spirit had laid out every action in advance.

Then again, Ike didn't know a lot about many things. Sometimes he felt like he'd never catch up, like he'd always be awkward and tripping over things and not even able to join the rest of the group on jobs.

One thing that did linger in his mind, however, was the kiss. But it was for all the wrong reasons, it was a niggling detail in his mind how utterly unpleasant and uninteresting he'd found it. Gatrie and Shinon made a big deal about women's chests, but hers against him had only reminded him of the time when Gatrie and Shinon had been particularly drunk and tied pillows to the training dummy.

Ike didn't think a lot on romance, or well, most things. But this idea of fate, of kisses and all this other stuff along with Soren acting strange just stuck with him. It felt like this was just yet another thing he didn't know about, and it was all piling up into this mountain he couldn't even begin to climb.

But, like everything he did, Ike decided to go take care of whatever he could head on.

.

Soren was in the work room, but not reading, for once. He worked at mending a well used staff, pouring some kind of goo into the cracks and wrapping a bit of cloth around the handle.

Ike sat beside him on the rough work bench, but Soren didn't look up, or greet him. He'd been like this, withdrawn and quiet ever since that day.

"You're probably due for a break. Want to go out on a walk with me? I've got some stuff to discuss with you," Ike said.

Soren looked up, and set the fixed cure staff aside.

"Yes, Ike."

Soren followed him quietly as Ike lead them down the path towards the woods. The woods always had a damp smell to them, under the thick clay-filled earth hardy wildflowers grew in turned over rotting logs. Sticks and old, dried leaves crunched under his feet. Above him, he heard the sound of birds making a repeated call. Ike looked up, and saw a flittering of wings as the bird took flight.

"We're close to its nest, it's trying to drive us away," Soren said.

"Will they dive at us?" Ike said. He glanced warily up at the little birds.

"Not if we keep moving," Soren said.

And so they did. It wasn't more than ten minutes before they were past the crossroads and to the other side of the woods where the stream criss-crossed through.

Every time he went back here these days, he was filled with memories of times past. Playing tag with Mist and Rolf while Soren watched, sinking their toes into mud on the river bank after a rainfall.

"This used to seem so big when we were younger," Ike said. He plucked up a flat stone and threw it towards the stream. It only skipped once before falling beneath the shallow depths.

Water plants he didn't know the name of clogged up the end of the stream further in, and the water came over the stones of the bank in a slow trickle. Few fish but minnows could survive here, though he'd found plenty of frogs and water bugs through the years. The trees were just far enough apart to let some sun in to warm the water and make it nice to dip into on hot summer days.

It'd been a playhouse, a whole world of adventures, and now it was just a little stream. The water wouldn't even come to his chest on the deepest part.

He turned back, suddenly. "Gatrie said that getting kissed made me closer to being a man, but I don't feel any closer," Ike said.

"Gatrie and Shinon are hardly paragons of wisdom and maturity," Soren said.

"That's true," Ike said. He plucked up another stone and considered it.

"I didn't feel anything but grossed out at the oil she had her lips...am I weird for that? Kissing is supposed to be this big thing, and I didn't even ask for or want it," Ike said.

"...I'm hardly the one to ask on this matter. I consider anything that sets one apart from the repugnant selfish and vile ways of people at large as being a good thing. If you call it 'weird', then so be it."

Leave it to Soren to find the bright side of things. He threw the stone and it skipped twice before falling under the water.

"It's just... I feel like I'll never become a full member of the mercenaries. If being a man is kissing girls, maybe I'll never make it past latrine duty and cleaning other people's swords."

Soren came closer, until he was right by the stream with Ike.

"You're strong and determined. I'm sure you'll become a full fledged member soon. If anything, I believe that your father is much harder on you because you will inherit the group one day. If you weren't his son, you likely would've been inducted into the group much sooner."

"Really?" Ike said.

"Boyd has been on several missions already, I rest my case," Soren said.

Ike chuckled. Soren had about as low an opinion of Boyd as he did of Shinon and Gatrie...and most of the rest of the world. It felt almost nostalgic to have Soren go off a rant. Just like old times. And yesterday.

"Thanks, you made me feel a lot better," Ike said.

Soren stared out at the stream. The slight breeze caught his hair, and Soren absently reached to pull the dark strands that had come loose back in place. It came to Ike that he probably wouldn't mind kissing Soren. If his fate really was written on his palms, he wouldn't mind if the person he'd be spending the rest of his life was Soren.

He'd never really thought about it, romance and kissing and all those things until Aimee brought it to the forefront. Now the whole stupid thing was caught in his mind when he should've been able to just push it aside and train until his head was clear again.

Ike couldn't get the image out of his mind about how hurt Soren had looked that day, how he'd drawn back and refused to let Ike lift his burden.

It was always Soren, wasn't it? He'd never thought about what that meant, but more than the breathtaking passions of romance novels, he wanted this. He wanted comfort and Soren close to him, days by the stream spent reading and skipping stones.

There was only one way to find out, and that was head on. He laid his hand on Soren's shoulders. Soren turned to him, questioning. Ike leaned in and promptly misjudged the distance so that his head bumped into Soren's.

Soren rubbed his head. Ike was left thinking that was not his smoothest move, though he'd done worse mess ups. The funny thing was, Soren was the one person he could think that wouldn't care that the 'romance' of the moment was ruined.

"She made this look easy," Ike said, more to himself than anything.

"What are you doing, Ike?" Soren said.

"Kissing you, or trying, anyways," Ike said.

Soren's eyes widened. "You were—what?"

"I was supposed to ask first, wasn't I?" Ike said. He always got these manners things wrong. Thankfully, Soren didn't give a whit about manners. In fact, he despised them for their pretense of kindness.

"I don't...mind," Soren said, his voice low and soft.

Soren stood on tiptoe, and lifted his chin, angling his chin to give better access. Ike laid his hands on Soren's back, pulled him close and tried again. This time their lips met, warm and soft with the sensation of hair brushing against his face. Ike felt a tingly feeling go through his body. Unlike his first kiss, this one was gentle and exploratory. Soren's body fit just right against him.

It felt like sunshine and hot summer days and dipping into the water.

Unlike the first kiss, this one felt right.

Ike lingered after they pulled apart, his fingers tangled in Soren's hair. Soren's cheeks were faintly flushed. It was pretty, actually. He wasn't used to thinking of his friend in concepts of attractiveness, but he was starting to realize that maybe he had been oblivious to what was right in front of him again.

"So, I want to kiss guys?" Ike said.

Soren seemed to tense at this. Wrong answer. Then again, he couldn't see himself kissing Shinon or Gatrie or Boyd. In fact, there was only one person he could imagine by his side.

"...Or just you?"

Soren relaxed a bit at that. Ike took it as a good sign.

They were quiet as they looked over the stream, his lips still tingling from the kiss. Ike looked down at his hands. He wondered if there was a fate carved on Soren's hands, too? He'd probably roll his eyes at the concept, and defy any god who tried to lead him around for the good of everyone.

"Do you think I'll be a hero one day, Soren?" Ike said.

"I know you will, Ike. You already are," Soren said. "We should return unless you want to have a disciplinary hearing with the commander."

Ike was going to ask what he meant, but Soren had already started down the path, so he shrugged it off. He could always ask later. He took one last look at the stream. There were so many memories he associated with this place, and now there was a whole new one. Maybe even the best one yet.

Ike began to follow after Soren. Even earlier that day he'd felt overwhelmed by everything he didn't know, and yet in a space of less than an hour Soren had reassured him, and given him new hope that one day he really would be just as good as his father. The mountain of things he felt like he'd never get was broken down, traversable with Soren by his side.

Now he just felt secure in the knowledge that he'd get there eventually. One day he'd be a full-fledged mercenary, and maybe even a hero, too.