Clenching the Fist
The frontlines of battle were chaotic. There was no time to think; enemy soldiers kept coming and Wingul was too busy fending them off to do anything else. He didn't even know where Nils was; he'd lost him in the fray.
One enemy and then another fell to swift and accurate strikes and then, no further soldiers approached. Wingul looked around. The few enemies that yet remained were retreating rapidly.
They'd won- this particular skirmish that Wingul had led his small guard into, anyway. He wondered whether Gaius would be angry- he had told him to stay out of battle, observe it and then adapt the tactic accordingly-, but he had seen a chance to ambush the enemy unit as it was trying to flank the main army and he had taken it, to great success; very few of his men had died, as he noted when he looked around.
It had been the first time he'd gone out into battle like this, nor had he ever needed to. He had always been fine commanding his army from afar.
Staying away from the frontlines had allowed him to watch Gaius, however, and what he had seen... Something changed about the leader of Taurus when he was fighting his way through enemy forces. There was an air of... liveliness or even savage joy about him. And Wingul had gotten curious about what caused this change...
He didn't understand it though. He enjoyed sparring- pitting his strength against a worthy opponent- but this constant chaos, the frantic scramble of killing the enemy before he could kill you... it didn't appeal to him in the slightest. Maybe this was another thing that he simply didn't understand about Gaius. There were a number of these.
"Lin!" Wingul looked up to see Nils, who still insisted on calling him by his old name, running towards him. "Thank goodness you're alright, I thought-" He stopped and drew a sharp breath. "You're injured!"
Wingul looked down. "...oh." It was true. His arm was bleeding. "I hadn't noticed." Which was a lie, he realised; he had noticed, but there simply hadn't been time to pay attention to it and so he had forgotten.
As his retainer bent down to apply a makeshift bandage (why he carried around first aid material Wingul did not know), rapid footsteps could be heard from behind. It was Gaius who was striding towards him, eyes ablaze.
"I wish to discuss today's battle with you in my tent. No, Nils, not you- you can return to camp with these troops." Gaius didn't wait for a response. He turned around and stalked away.
Wingul sighed. He had been right. Gaius was furious, even if he didn't try to let it on too much. It wasn't the first time and he had stopped being intimidated by his anger, but he still didn't enjoy being the target of it. But there was no sense in delaying it, that would only serve to make matters worse, Wingul thought as he followed.
When he arrived in the tent, Gaius was already waiting, pacing around the table covered with various maps.
"Just what-", he stopped in front of him, "- did you think you're doing?"
"I noticed an opportunity and used it. That's all," Wingul said flatly.
"And you think I could not have handled it myself? Or that your troops could not have handled it by themselves? Why did you lead the charge? Look at that!" He gestured towards the bandage on his arm. "You're injured. Do you know how fast accidents can happen on the battlefield?"
Wingul looked at him in disdain. "Should you really advise people to stay out of battle? The last time I checked, you've been making a habit out of leading the charge yourself. How hypocritical of you-"
"I am still the better fighter," Gaius snapped. "I can handle it and you-"
"I can't? Is that what you're trying to say? That I can't do what even the meanest of our soldiers can? That's what you think of me?"
Gaius rolled his eyes. "This again? Will you ever stop being so sensitive about it? I've told you that you're the single most important man in my army by now. Stop trying to twist everything I say into accusing you of being useless!"
"What am I supposed to think when you say something like this, then? You don't trust me at all, no matter what you say! I can pull my weight, but whenever I do, you jump in and stop me! I don't want you to protect me, I don't want you to need to protect me!" Why did Gaius not understand it? He was constantly pushing himself to become stronger, to become a better leader; why was it so hard for him to accept Wingul doing the same?
"Obviously you do need me to, since you can't seem to take care of yourself! When are you going to get through your head that I don't care about how well you can fight? Do you understand what I'm trying to do at all?! I want people to use their unique skills and talents without being looked down on because it's not connected to fighting!" Gaius looked positively furious.
"Yes, and you also want to protect the weak. Do you think I want to be one of the weak? I would have been king if it hadn't been for you, do you know that? I gave it up because I believed in you, but I will not have you lording over me! I decided to stand by your side. I won't end up cowering by your feet!" His voice had started calm, but had risen into a shout by the end. It wasn't like him at all, but he couldn't help it.
"Why are you so keen on making it look like that's what I want? It's not! I don't know where you're getting the idea from!"
Wingul took a deep breath. "Really? You don't? You don't realise that all I'm asking for is to stand on my own feet? All I want is to..." His voice trailed off.
"Well, so tell me! We've been over this exact same topic again and again, and I tire of hearing you beat around the bush over and over again. Tell me what your problem is. We'll never move past this unless you do." Gaius crossed his arms and leaned back, looking at him expectantly.
"I... I want your respect!"
Gaius was silence for a moment. "But you do-"
"You're not even listening! I've told you time and again that I don't want to be protected. I want you to look at me and think that I'm... capable of holding my own."
"...why is it so important to you that I recognise you as a fighter? As a strategist, you already have all the respect I could give you and more."
"I don't want to tell you that." Wingul looked away, then jumped when Gaius' fist hit the table.
"Don't make me repeat myself! I don't care if you want to or not. You're either going to tell me right now or you stop complaining about this. Your choice?"
"You... unless I become strong enough to stand by your side, you'll never... look at me the way I look at you..." Wingul kept his eyes trained on the ground. He didn't want to look at Gaius. This confession was something he had never wanted to make. He had been content vying for Gaius' respect, to stand by his side- he had never intended to ask for more.
"What do you mean, Wingul...?"
"Enough! I didn't want to tell you any of this, don't make me spell it out for you too..." He could hear footsteps approaching but didn't dare look up.
"Wingul. I want to understand this. I want to understand you. So please- tell me."
"I really do need to spell it out for you? I... didn't expect that... I thought you would have noticed it by now." A part of him was slightly amused by Gaius' inability to see it even now...
"Where's your usual perceptiveness? I would have thought that you'd notice earlier that I... like you. A- a lot." It was out now. He'd confessed it. Tensely, fists clenched tightly, Wingul waited for Gaius' reaction.
For a second, none came. Then Gaius said quietly, "You do? You really do?"
That wasn't what Wingul had expected. He didn't know how to respond, either. Then Gaius suddenly let out a shaky laugh, startling Wingul. "I seem to be bad at reading you. For all these years I thought you always had mixed feelings about me... that you couldn't forgive me for what I've done. I thought..." His voice trailed off when Wingul shook his head.
"A part of me does still. But mostly, I just... like you. I noticed it a while ago..." It was embarrassing to say it like this. With a sigh, he added, "Can we forget that this conversation ever happened? I'd rather we go on as we used to than..."
"I will do no such thing, I'm afraid, since I actually like you too."
Wingul's head whipped up. "But I thought you..."
Gaius laughed again. "Are you telling me you didn't notice either? We both asssumed the other didn't reciprocate our feelings? Oh, come here." With that, he pulled Wingul into an embrace. Wingul, not having expected it, gave a startled yelp and blushed furiously. He wasn't quite sure what to do either, was he supposed to hug back or...
"I only noticed it recently myself, you know," Gaius said as he let go. "It didn't take me very long to start liking you as my friend- you are and you have been for a long time now- but a while ago, there was a point when I looked at you... and realised that there's more to it than that. Funny, isn't it?"
He took his hand. "And this is why you never stopped pushing yourself harder than anyone else? Because you thought I'd never develop genuine feelings for you? Is that it?"
"Stupid. But if I can't convince you it's not true, then I suppose training sessions are in order- if you promise not to do anything reckless again."
"No buts. I was worried. If you still don't understand that seeing you in danger is something I would rather not have happen again, I might have to redact my impression of your intelligence. I will respect your wish to get stronger- you're right in that, everything else would be hypocritical- but I won't have you rush into danger needlessly. Yes, even if that means protecting you."
Wingul faltered under Gaius' stern look. He had wanted to complain- he had laid out his reasoning clearly enough, had he not?- but it seemed like he would have to accept it. WIth a sigh, he nodded. "I can... accept that, I think. I will be more careful. But you have to let me walk on my own. I couldn't stand you being so overbearing..."
"Then it's a deal." Gaius extended his hand. "You won't do anything overly stupid and I will allow you to stand your own."
Wingul shook the hand offered to him. "It's a deal."
As Gaius drew him close into an embrace again, he couldn't help but think that the man's dogged persistence had its advantages.