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It was an unfortunate and yet indisputable fact in the life of Linhardt von Hevring that a certain tension had come to permeate his interactions with Caspar von Bergliez.

As Caspar had somehow become the person he spent most of his leisure time with, this was not a good state of affairs.

Take that day, for instance. When Caspar had appeared from nowhere like the manifestation of a high-spirited apparition, his voice loud enough to shake the rafters of Garreg Mach’s library -- which had very high and sturdy rafters, indeed.

“I’ve got it!” he’d cried, punching both fists into the air as if he had just successfully made the world’s first thirty metre jump.

“You’ve got what, exactly?” Linhardt had drawled an automatic reply, pulling his attention from his book. A moment late, he recalled that he had made a resolution the last time this had happened that the best way to avoid getting drawn into Caspar’s unique brand of madness was to never make eye contact. And yet, here he was, thoughtlessly doing just that.

How bothersome.

“The solution to my… you know, my one weakness?” The last, Caspar whispered conspiratorially, leaning in and drawing down his brows and glancing both ways to ensure no one was eavesdropping on this riveting conversation.

Linhardt cocked his head. “Your fear of storms.”

“Quiet!” Caspar hissed, straightening to look around. The panic on his face might have been funny, if it wasn’t so… sad? Pitiable? Adorable? “You know we’re keeping that on the down low! The last thing I need is a villain getting his hands on that little secret. It’d be the end of me, that’s for sure!”

“Right,” Linhardt agreed. “Terribly sorry.”

“Yeah, well… if this works out, maybe it’s not gonna be my downfall for much longer. I’ve been thinking about how to solve it, and you know, I think I’ve got a plan!”

“That’s good,” Linhardt said cautiously.

“And I need your help to pull it off!”

“Less good,” Linhardt replied, wincing.

Caspar dropped into the chair across the table from him, grabbing the book he’d been carefully studying and hauling it over to gaze down at the pages. He furrowed his brow as he peered down at the carefully deconstructed Crest diagrams. “What am I looking at?” he asked. “Some sorta… math?”

Linhardt sighed, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. He absolutely did not have the patience to even try to explain it. It was so far beyond Caspar’s sphere of understanding, he’d only be wasting his time.

“It’s the Crest of Indech,” he said. He used a finger to trace the lines. “Not in its standard form, but taken apart so that every individual line and shape is isolated. See? This is the diamond shape from the top of it… and this is the structure that forms its foundation… and here are the mirrored sides.”

He just couldn’t help himself. When he bothered to take the time to explain, Caspar would turn those big, guileless blue eyes on him and listen intently, face all scrunched up as he tried to make sense of it. He was only human.

“Huh,” Caspar said when the explanation was done, still with his expression of intense concentration. “What’s the point of taking it all apart like that, though?”

“A lot can be revealed when looking at something from a different perspective,” Linhardt replied. “You might be surprised. Something’s entire meaning can change from something as simple as a change of light.”

Like the way Caspar’s usually ear-splitting voice became quiet and thoughtful when it was only the two of them. Or the way his round face took on a decidedly handsome countenance when flickering light caught his chin and cheekbones and jawline in just such a way. Or how different he felt, alert and interested, when their eyes met and lingered for longer than might be considered strictly friendly. Linhardt had found those particular changes increasingly fascinating for some time, now.

Thus the tension.

He leaned forward slightly, considering. It seemed unlikely -- impossible, even -- that Caspar had not made note of some of those very same things, only directed inversely. He had, on several past occasions, noted multiple telltale signs, each of which might amount to nothing on their own, but surely implied specific and indisputable conclusions when taken together. He was not the sort of person to perceive something that did not exist. He was fairly certain -- no. He would stake his reputation as a researcher and a scholar on Caspar’s interest.

The library had emptied out around them. He did not hear so much as the turning of a page. If he were to explore those changes, investigate them further, make observations and test hypotheses, this would be an ideal time.

They gazed at one another, the book of deconstructed Crests between them, until Linhardt felt certain that in the next heartbeat, the dam would at long last break and Caspar might do something.

Instead, he coughed.

He sat back in the chair, folding narrow arms across slender chest. Some might find that somewhat less interesting, but Linhardt saw how hard he worked. Too hard, really, but that could be… admirable, in its own way. When he wasn’t being dragged into it. Which he was most certainly about to be, and not in the way he had briefly thought he might.

“So how about it!” Caspar said, and if there was perhaps a bit too much bravado behind the boom of his slightly too high-pitched voice, well, that was only another one of those signs. As was the slight colouring in his friend’s cheeks, which now appeared quite round again, now that he’d sat back and ruined the illusion. “All I need is for you to show up at the training yard after curfew tonight!”

“Well. That doesn’t sound ill-considered all at.”

“Aw, can it. Are you gonna help me out, or not?”

“Probably not,” Linhardt said with a sigh, drawing his book back across the table. He made a face at the etchings. The tightly coiled tension followed by the complete lack of any payoff had exhausted him quite thoroughly. The once clever-seeming deconstructions now seemed like a lot of busy work to no end. Everyone knew what Crests looked like. He shut the cover. Looked up at his friend. “It sounds like it’ll be loud, annoying, and a lot of work.”

“Oh, come on!” Caspar pleaded, putting both elbows on the table and his chin in his hands. Linhardt couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t dispute any of the objectionable listed qualities. “I can’t ask anybody else!”

“Oh, but you ought to ask anybody else,” Linhardt said. “Really. Anybody. If it’s happening at night, in the training yard, who could possibly be less qualified than me, really?”

“It needs to be you!” Caspar insisted stubbornly.

Linhardt rolled his eyes, and opened his mouth to dismiss the entire affair.

“I don’t trust anybody else enough… you know?”

Oh, bother.

There was no saying no to that, now was there? No matter how much better off he’d be, or how badly the whole encounter had made him want to crawl under the table and go to sleep.

He sighed. Unresolved tension combined with the unavoidable cocktail of male adolescent hormones was utterly exhausting. How hard would it be for Caspar to just do something about it, already?

“You had best not get me in trouble for being out after curfew,” he sighed, and Caspar leapt to his feet and pumped the air in triumph. “We’re sure to end up doing extra assignments as punishment, and I’m afraid I’ll need to take my revenge on you if that happens.”

Caspar punched him a little too hard on the shoulder as he moved for the door. “You aren’t gonna do a thing!” he boasted. Linhardt rubbed the afflicted area. “We both know you couldn’t be bothered to catch me!”

Fair enough.

Linhardt gazed blankly down at the cover of his book in the silence that followed Caspar’s departure, and then pushed it to one side and pillowed his head in his arms. The whole situation was such a bother. In truth, he’d be perfectly happy to have it all simply go away. But despite all his efforts to rid himself of it, it seemed that it was not a splinter that would grow itself out, and he was wasting so much time and effort on thinking about it, worrying about it, and -- he grimaced at the thought-- laying awake in bed self-medicating it. That, more than anything else, was why this needed to come to a head one way or another. He was wasting perfectly good resting and studying time curled into a naked, frustrated, sweaty ball, labouring over his own body and then feeling lonely, of all things, in the awkward, sticky aftermath.

Ugh.

No, this couldn’t continue. If only there was some way to make Caspar break that tension, so they could just find out what life looked like on the other side of it for good or ill.

He frowned.

Was there?

Ideas began to unspool from deep within his mind, and he sat up, blinking away half-sleep and furrowing his brow in thought. He was actually quite good at coming up with plans for Caspar to follow. It was an established cornerstone of their lifetime dynamic, ever since they were six years old and Linhardt had not been tall enough to reach the forth bookshelf in the House Hevring libraries, where the rare volumes were kept away from curious, grubby hands. At least, until those hands rode on another boy’s shoulders and seized their hard-fought prize.

Generally, of course, Caspar was aware of those plans. But generally was not always. Linhardt had occasionally found him an equally or, rarely, even more valuable co-conspirator when he was not in possession of all the facts. Usually when the plan involved stealth or diplomacy or even an ounce of circumspection. He preferred to work with him, of course, but he could work around him if needed.

The germ of a strategy began to take form in his mind. It would need some fine-turning, and parts of it sounded unavoidably inconvenient, but… well. He had some hours left before the curfew bells rang. He could probably fill in the details.

*

A few hours later, he stared dubiously down at a very large baking sheet and a steel ladle, no longer so convinced that he really wanted to do anything whatsoever with Caspar von Bergliez, especially not anything tension-breaking.

“Let me get this straight,” he repeated, very slowly. “You want me to bang on the sheet with the ladle, slowly at first, and then progressively faster, until I cannot hit the two together any faster… and then I am to knock you off your feet with a blast of light magic.”

Caspar squared his stance, clenched his jaw, and balled his fists, as if preparing for such an onslaught to hit him immediately after he confirmed his wish for it. “That’s right.”

“All right, that’s what I thought,” Linhardt said, and then shook his head. “I am definitely not doing that.”

Caspar dropped his hands, his expression melting into stricken disappointment. “What? Why not?”

Linhardt grimaced delicately. “That’s a difficult question. I don’t really know where to start…”

“But it’s the only way!” Caspar protested vehemently, thrusting his chin up into the air. The moonlight did that thing to his face, giving it a pleasant set of angles and planes. Distracting. No good. “Linhardt, come on! I gotta get over this thing with thunder and lightning, and after thinking about it for a long time, nothing else is going to work other than just facing my fear and seeing that it’s not really that bad!”

“Well, all right, we can start there.” Linhardt dropped his kitchen-implement-wielding arms to his sides. “Light magic isn’t lightning magic. I’m not sure what you’re thinking you’ll accomplish with a poor substitute.”

“No, I thought about that! It doesn’t have to actually feel the same, because it’s like you always say, it’s not, you know, rational! I don’t actually know what lightning feels like, okay? I just know that when I hear that thunder and see that flash of light, it turns me crazy! So that’s what I need. The spirit of the thing, not the reality! You get it?”

He did. It made a… very Casparian sort of sense. He shook his head, holding up the tools he’d been given once again. “I guess the same applies to banging on metal with metal. If you’re not concerned about accuracy, I suppose you don’t care that this is going to sound far more like we’re on dish duty together than thunder rolling in the distance.”

Caspar nodded.

Linhardt sighed. “But while I can forgive the quality of the noise, what about the volume of it? Please don’t forget we’re supposed to be in our rooms, right now, and not solving your greatest weakness in the training yard.”

Caspar puffed up at that, his chest sticking out while he placed his hands on his hips. “You don’t think too much of me, now do you, Linhardt! But I thought about that, too! After I got you to agree to help me, I went up to the second floor and shut all the windows there so that none of the faculty are gonna hear us. And then I offered to take cleaning shifts from the guards who have this area on patrol -- I checked at the Knight’s Hall posting! -- so that they’re not gonna report us! Don’t worry, I got this all covered!”

Huh. Fairly impressive, actually. For Caspar, at least.

“Well, that just leaves my most pressing concern.”

“What’s that?”

“Lightning comes before thunder, Caspar.”

Caspar opened his mouth, and for a moment, Linhardt thought he actually had a response for even that. Then his friend’s face screwed up in confusion. “What, really? Does it?”

Linhardt couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Well,” he said. “Honestly, better than I really expected. You’ve actually thought most of this through!”

“I’ve thought all of it through!” Caspar protested. “So you’re gonna do it, right?”

“Oh, no. Absolutely not.”

“Wh --” That had not been the answer Caspar was expecting. He put up his fists like he was expecting a fight, and growled. “Why not? Like you said, I thought it through! Come on! Don’t you want me to stop hiding under your bed every time it rains? This is gonna work, I’m sure of it! I thought of everything!”

Linhardt shook his head. “No. You forgot one very important thing, actually. Magic isn’t like a sword, Caspar. You can’t just get out the wooden training weapons and put on padded armour and end up with nothing but a few bruises and a wasted afternoon. It’s a lot less predictable, and a lot more dangerous. I…” He sighed, and dropped ladle and sheet both. “I really don’t want to hurt you, Caspar.”

Caspar stared at him for a moment, and then his expression softened. “Oh,” he said quietly. His adam’s apple bobbed, and he scuffed the ground, looking down at his feet. More of those signs. “Well… that’s, uh, that’s nice of you to say. I could take it, you know! I’ve gotten hit with magic before… it’s not too bad! And I know you’d just be right here to patch me up, like you always are!” He sighed and shrugged, looking up from his feet, but still not quite at him. “I guess, though, if you feel that way about it, I don’t wanna make you hurt me. If you don’t want to.” He snapped his gaze to his, then, defiantly thrusting his chin forward. “Even though I could totally take it!”

“Yes, you said that.”

“Well, I could!”

“I don’t think you could, but all right.”

“I absolutely could!”

“Again, I really do doubt it.”

“It wouldn’t even be that bad, I bet! Your puny magics would just bounce right off me, and just I’d laugh while you felt pretty dumb about how stubborn you’ve been!”

“Seiros save me,” Linhardt gasped, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Is there any way to just agree with you that doesn’t end in me having to hurt you, after all? Not that I would hurt you, of course, because I am definitely agreeing that my magic would simply brush past you, not harming a hair upon your head, like a summer breeze.”

Caspar wilted, and Linhardt knew he was going to let it go. Well, good. His plans certainly did not involve standing here all night while this devolved into one of their little slap fights where he lost all his good sense and intelligence. His plans were also already very far off course. He had been counting on rather more full physical contact, and fewer kitchen implements.

Ah, well. Standing here, it did not seem so very worth the effort, after all. Caspar was Caspar, and if that tension was going to break… maybe it would be better if it did so on its own.

“Well,” he said, and sighed. “I’m going to go back to my room. I really don’t intend to get into trouble. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. But… just so that you are aware, I don’t mind, you know.”

Caspar looked up to meet his eyes, surprise on his face. “You don’t mind what?”

“When you spend rainy days in my room. Hiding under my bed, as you say. I suppose you are occasionally a bother, and your voice often disrupts both my sleeping and my research, but…” He shrugged. “Well, I’ve never had to make excuses about enjoying your company, now have I? I appreciate the chance to be with you, that’s all. As I always do.”

“... oh,” Caspar replied and for once seemed to have nothing more to say. He just stood there, looking up at Linhardt from a lowered chin, looking irritatingly and nebulously attractive under the moonlight.

The silence turned long and painfully awkward, letting that damnable tension stretched tight and thin once again. Dispassionately, Linhardt noted his elevated pulse, his quickened breaths, his uncomfortable arousal, and then checked for the same responses in Caspar. They all appeared to be there. Cheeks, ears, and the back of his hands all flushed. Chest rising and falling at an accelerated rate. Pants notably tight in the groin region. It would have been yet another fine opportunity to do something.

Of course, he didn’t.

Linhardt made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat, raising a hand to rub at the back of his neck. “Oh, forget it,” he sighed, writing all of his plans off for dead. They probably wouldn’t have worked, anyway, and seemed like a real hassle to even attempt. Not worth it, not even to break the tension at last. “Good night.”

He’d just do what he always did: get back to his room, lock the door, and rid himself of the itch manually… at least in the short term.

He was halfway across the yard when Caspar’s voice stopped him.

“Hey… Linhardt?”

He half-turned. Ill-considered hope rose. “Mn?”

“Uhm. I, uh. I hope you, you know, I hope you know. That, I, I appreciate you a lot. For everything, all you do. You always want me around, and you do stuff you don’t wanna do just to help me out, and you think almost everything is a waste of time, you know? But you don’t seem to think being around me is like that. Even though a lotta people do. So thanks, I guess.”

And in that moment, he didn’t look especially handsome or different or anything else. In fact, he really just looked so sincere and sweet and stupid and, well… so very much like Caspar. Linhardt couldn’t help but muffle a laugh into his hand, shoulders shaking from mirth.

Caspar puffed up like an animal trying to scare off a predator. “Hey! What’s that for?”

“Caspar,” Linhardt said through his fingers, shaking his head. “You know we could be done with all of this endless dancing around if you would just kiss me.”

Caspar’s eyes went wide, and he threw up his hands in a warding gesture, shaking them back and forth. “Wh -- I -- that’s not --”

Perhaps someone less observant might have been mortified in that moment, but Linhardt had noted all the signs. He crossed his arms expectantly, raising an eyebrow.

Caspar sputtered. “Oh, yeah? That’s how it’s gonna be? Well, how about this! Why is that gotta be my job, Linhardt?” He shook a balled fist. “Why don’t you just go ahead and kiss me, if you’re so sure it’s such a great idea, huh? Bet you never thought of that, wise guy!”

Linhardt blinked. No, he hadn’t, actually. Was that so very strange? “That certainly doesn’t sound like something I would do,” he said thoughtfully. Should he have? The idea honestly hadn’t even occurred to him, even in all of his discarded plans.

“Oh, and it sounds like something I would do?”

“It doesn’t? Something impulsive, impetuous, passionate, and a bit stupid?” He shrugged. “It does, actually.”

Caspar put up his other fist, as he so often did when he was struggling to make sense of a point… and then dropped both. “I guess it does,” he said.

“So?”

“So what?”

Linhardt tapped his foot. “So, are you going to?”

No!” Caspar snapped, drawing himself up. “With you just... standing over there, waiting for it? No, no way! Where would I even start?” He shook his head so hard his forelock shook, and Linhardt tried not to feel deeply disappointed. “Definitely not.”

He really shouldn’t take it poorly. He shrugged and waved him off. “Well, fine, then,” he said, hearing the curtness in his own voice. “That’s your choice.” He yawned. “It’s obscenely late. I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Good night.”

He turned again, making it most of the way to the door before Caspar stopped him once again -- this time by taking five great, leaping steps, grabbing his arm, and spinning him around. Linhardt’s heart leapt into his throat, pounding a mile a minute. He couldn’t help himself from hoping. Was this it? Was something finally actually going to happen?

But Caspar just stared up at him, his mouth set in a determined line.

Linhardt gazed down, uncertainly at first, and then with growing impatience. He cocked his head. “Are you waiting for something?” he asked.

“I’m gonna do it,” Caspar said, but then he shook his head before Linhardt could perk up in interest. “Not right now, obviously.”

“We have different definitions of obvious, I think.”

“I can’t do it with you just standing right there, expecting it! It’s too much pressure. And awkward. It’s sure as hell not very… well…” He looked away, flushing.

Linhardt thought he might be able to fill in the missing word. Romantic? He shuddered. Please, no. He was barely getting through this as it was, when it was just a potentially inappropriate and yet mutually inevitable attraction to his best and oldest friend. Feelings sounded like a great deal of time and effort. Ignore the racing of his heart and the snakes in his belly. More adolescent hormones. Males like them were saddled with far too many of them.

“No, it’s gonna be a time when you’re not expecting it,” Caspar said firmly. “When it’s the perfect moment, and we’re not here after dark, and you didn’t just totally refuse to help me with my extremely smart plan, and also, you’ve gotta be sitting down, because I’m not kissing somebody taller than me.”

“If you kiss me at all,” Linhardt pointed out, “you’ll be kissing someone taller than you.”

Caspar just shrugged, in the way he had. Like all technical facts and accuracies, it didn’t matter very much to him.

Linhardt sighed. “All right,” he said. “I suppose that sounds acceptable.”

Caspar seemed to realize all at once what he’d just negotiated, and he dropped his hand back down to his side immediately. Linhardt’s arm tingled where he’d clutched him, and he rubbed at it absently while Caspar stepped back, ducking his head. Reddened ears, again.

Tension rushed back into the space between them, but it felt… different, now. Less tight, less frustrating, and more… resonant. Like the space between them vibrated, just a little bit. All in all, it was a superior replacement in all ways Linhardt could measure. It seemed less like the sort of thing one might spend an evening trying to rub away, and more like something that could be tolerated for prolonged lengths.

Savoured, even.

He took a deep breath, finding the air had a certain electric charge that he didn’t by any means find unwelcome. It reminded him, humorously enough, of the way the atmosphere shivered right before one of Caspar’s dreaded thunderstorms.

“Can I go, now?” he asked.

“Oh,” Caspar said, and his nervous laughter set the vibrations ringing like a struck tuning fork. “Uhm, sure. You don’t need to ask my permission. Get outta here, have a good sleep, right?”

“All right,” Linhardt agreed.

All in all, he reflected not long after, curling around his favourite pillow and drifting off to sleep, not bad. Perhaps things had not gone to plan… but they hadn’t gone so badly, in the end, either. Now had they? The thoughts of Caspar’s unexpected, inevitable kiss, and everything that might follow after it, followed him down into peaceful dreams.