“Say, Felix, what is your happiest memory?”
Felix is four years old and finds the question beyond stupid, because Sylvain is smart and must know that any boy their age does not have that many memories to speak of - and yet, he sees it flash beneath his eyelids, heartwrenchingly foreign and familiar all at once.
(Much, much later, he will remember with absolute clarity, because this truly is his happiest memory, across all lifetimes, across all fragments, not a miracle, but pretty damn close.)
(Much, much later, he’ll be dead, once again, and it’ll be too late.)
But four-year-old Felix Hugo Fraldarius does not know any of that, and therefore does not comprehend what he seems to remember. He sees sunset, and something else, painting the expanse of ever-moving sky gold and amber and copper. He sees the blur of the horizon, passing by at lightning speed, shadows of buildings and smoke and sea blending in the haze. He glances up from the shoulder he has buried his face into, and he sees red, red hair and brown eyes and the edge of a sharp, brilliant laugh getting lost to the wind. And he feels, he feels so much all at once and it’s exhilarating, because he’s almost sure that never, across all lifetimes, across all fragments, has he ever felt this close , close to-
Close to what?
Felix raises his gaze to his childhood friend, and Sylvain looks years, decades, centuries older as he stares back. But that’s impossible. They’re four and six years old and his question was stupid anyway.
He tells him so, and Sylvain’s laugh is, unmistakably, the one he heard back then.
He dies as he has lived, with anger in his eyes and a snarl across his lips.
He is twenty-three, and his hand is warm inside Sylvain’s as he looks up at him, his savior , Goddess that’s embarrassing, but if it’s him Felix frankly doesn’t mind. His comrade, best friend, brother-in-arms, hauls him atop his horse, and they race across the battlefield. They see Dimitri, their boar-prince, their savior-king, trying to chase Edelgard as she flees Gronder, the bodies of her former classmates strewn and abandoned on the battlefield, and everything goes wrong in a single instant. He deciphers Dimitri collapse, from his spot behind Sylvain’s back, and Sylvain is already screaming something that eerily sounds like “ NO! ” and “ DIMITRI! ” and Felix barely has time to glance at a shock of teal when he registers he’s not holding a hand anymore.
He freefalls, and it feels like seconds and hours at the same time, watches from below Sylvain’s body torn apart by enemy arrows, and it too falls, and the last thing he sees is their former professor’s expression before he closes his eyes and braces for the falling arrows above him.
He dreams of the sea at night.
The warm moonglow shimmers silver upon the soft waves, making his pale skin paler still, blinding him sweetly. He feels his heavy body float, torn limbs and trickling blood half-forgotten, strands of hair caressing his cheeks. A gentle breeze sways the lukewarm water and brushes its fingers on his neck like a long-time lover. The sea’s embrace recedes a little, relinquishing its hold on him until the time comes to pull him in again. He feels like smiling.
If death feels so sweet, no wonder some wait for her so eagerly.
He sits up slowly, and finds he can sit as though on the floor; he feels no water running along his arms or dripping from his hair either. It freaks him out a little, since it’s his first time dying and all, but the other side could definitely have been worse. He glances around to the landscape at the very end of the horizon, the only shore in sight, where sandcastles crumble to dust only to leave behind sparkling shards of stones, or glass, he isn’t really sure. Then, as he looks in front of him again, he sees someone.
“Huh. A visitor.”
A young girl is sitting sideways on a throne above the waves, long dark green hair turned black in the scenery, an innocent, confused expression on her face. She looks both years younger and millenia older as she appraises him, a small hand tucked beneath her chin, her cold gaze almost haughty and taunting.
“I’m dead.” It’s not a question, but Felix still reins himself in, trying his hardest to be cordial despite the whirlpool of questions storming within him - how, who, why, why me, why him.
The girl, in all her infuriating calm, does not even bother confirming or denying, and it somehow riles him up even more, not even being worth a simple explanation to this complete stranger. “Someone else is on his way. What was his name again? Sylvain Gautier?”
Sylvain . The name stirs foreign feelings inside of him, things like pride and admiration and appreciation and a hint of regret. He doesn’t know why.
“Who are you?” He asks still, as though one day the girl will stop ignoring him. She reminds him of Byleth, somehow, in her demeanor, pretending to be above everything and everyone life throws at her. Her only answer is a flicker of annoyance shadowing her features, in the shape of a furrow of brows and a narrowing of eyes.
“It doesn’t concern you. It’s not important,” she reformulates as she notices Felix about to explode in rage, because like hell it doesn’t concern him, he’s the one who fucking died back there -
Felix’s head snaps around so fast he fears he bruised a muscle - that is, until he remembers that he is probably, no, definitely dead and that none of this matters any longer - and sees silver smoke rise from the waves shaping itself into his classmate, his best friend.
Or at least, what remains of him.
Sylvain seems rightfully shocked when he stares at his crushed right arm and his severed left calf, blood pooling under him and fading in the sea below like watercolor paint. He raises his scared, brown eyes to Felix, his expression apprehensive and confused, and Felix is at a loss for words.
“We’re dead,” is what he says instead.
The girl only gives a cheerful smile and a wave as greeting, and Felix is thoroughly creeped out by her ability to remain so calm under such circumstances. It only now crosses his mind that perhaps death isn’t a first for her, that perhaps she has been here before, that perhaps she’s always been here, waiting for dead, lost souls.
“Although you won’t be staying dead for long. Goodness, you are indeed very lucky that Byleth likes the lot of you so much.”
Felix remembers the last expression he has seen on the professor’s face when he was alive; how there was no horror, no shock, no sadness - only bitter disappointment, as though she looked down on him, as though she believed Felix would have done better, should have done better, was this the true extent of his determination to live?
“What does she have to do with this?” Felix cards a hand into his long hair, now undone from its usual ponytail and falling straight along his face, and he chances a glance towards Sylvain, still sat on what he guesses could be considered the ground. He looks vulnerable, fragile, and Felix wants nothing more than to scream at him to stand back up, to fight, to be the strong presence he has always been by his side-
“What do you mean, we won’t stay dead for long?” Sylvain looks at the girl dead-on, expression unreadable.
The girl’s face twists again, and her gaze slides to the multitude of shards dancing above the faraway shore. “This fragment is doomed. Your deaths were meaningless. Both of you… You are doomed to die until you find a way out.”
“A way out?”
“Why, are we, like, stuck somewhere?” Sylvain sounds confused, which annoys Felix even more.
“Not physically,” the girl waves her hand in a dismissive half-moon. “Just… In that neverending circle of life and death.”
“You’ve been through this before,” Felix now confirms, and the lines at the corners of her eyes crinkle and spread to her temples.
“ She did, and so I did as well. It doesn’t matter anyway. There are an infinite number of fragments to live, but… until you two find a way out of this maze, until you two find a way to save each other from this maze, no one will be left alive. You won’t ever escape.”
“This is fucking bullshit,” Felix spits, and goes back to lie in the water below.
“It serves no meaning for you to lash at me,” she answers, flippant. “Goodness, people and their declarations and wishes and promises - and now they try to blame others?” She looks down to them again, carefully folded beneath her as she stretches on her throne. “But we’re almost finished here.”
The rest of her sentence is drowned by Felix’s own yelp as the water below moves, moves, moves in waves. The sea licks at his shoulder, tendrils of translucent water pulling him down like a puppet, and he stares at the receding moonlight above, blurred and white and immaculate, the moon staring into him like a distorted mirror, and he’s starting to suffocate, strings pulling down down down, he almost tries to fight back, he almost tries to scream, and as he opens his lips for a last, anguished word, foul black blood fills his lungs-
Felix jerks awake, and the taste of salt he feels on his lips before he notices the tears trickling down his face and into the bedsheets.
He has had a nightmare again. Of Sylvain, bold and bright like fire and crumbling to pieces in that fight against Solon, his smile but a fleeting memory as he laid on that infirmary bed, scars running through his face in an unfinished sketch of the sun. Even now, as the real thing rises through the window, Felix still sees hair a deep shade of crimson, eyes the color of autumn leaves and wilting roses and dried blood. Perhaps it is the only thing he can remember with such vibrant clarity, nowadays: his friend shining red, so unlike himself.
He goes through the motions of a typical morning with the laziness of resignation and denial, picking a black outfit for him to wear at the funeral. He wishes Jeralt did not have to die at the same time as Sylvain; a joint service feels meaningless, feels not enough, for both of them. He still chooses a red tie. He does not think Sylvain would like any of them wearing such somber colors. As Felix puts his boots on, he stares at his own reflection. He has the particular feeling that once he passes the dormitory doorway, all of this will be over; that never will he return to the comfortable boredom of his everyday life at the Officers’ Academy - that never will he return at all.
He is right.
In the end, he never makes it to the funeral.
As he crosses the courtyard and sees a stone tower collapse above him, he hopes that perhaps, just perhaps, Sylvain will welcome him with open arms and peaceful grace when they find each other again.
The early winter sun rains over him in golden brilliance.
“Come on, Fe. That’s not like you.”
Felix is hiding behind the bushes, crying his five-year-old eyes out until they’re raw, tear stains on his cheeks leaving trails of salt, yet he still shuts up completely at hearing Sylvain’s voice. You have to be strong in face of these things , his father had told him, and he has to be strong. He doesn’t want Sylvain to worry more than he already does.
Still, he pouts as his best friend rounds the bushes and finds him, his red hair falling before his eyes and dyeing them crimson in the late evening light. Seeing his face, Sylvain immediately opens his arms.
“I’ve come for you.”
Felix throws himself into his arms as he starts crying again, wetting Sylvain’s shirt with tears as he tucks his head into the small gap between his shoulder and neck, and Sylvain rubs comforting patterns onto his back, hugging tight, never letting go.
Felix tries to speak in-between sobs, but his vocal chords, hoarse from tears, don’t immediately comply, and his friend is left with a string of knight and sweets and sword and died .
“Oh,” Sylvain says, because if anyone will ever understand him, it’s Sylvain, Felix knows this as a certainty, as surely as the sky is blue and the sea is deep. “Oh. I’m so sorry, Fe. It’s okay. You’re okay.”
“But I’m not!” comes his reply, his tiny voice defiant, his eyes raising slightly to look at his friend.
Sylvain looks surprised, round eyes going rounder before his gaze softens, and a kind hand wipes the tears from his face. “You’re right. You’re not. But you will be.”
“I don’t want to die.”
“I don’t want you to die.”
“How can you know that?!”
Sylvain smiles with the subdued brilliance of the setting sun blazing through his hair. “I won’t die as long as you live.”
Felix’s sobs have calmed down now, enough for him to raise a tiny hand towards his best friend. “Promise me,” he says, not a question, but a request.
Sylvain brings his own hand up, curling his pinky finger around Felix’s. “I promise. Let’s not die without each other, Fe.”
“We’ll live together forever.” Felix’s voice doesn’t waver anymore, and he holds Sylvain a little tighter.
“I swear on the Goddess,” Sylvain echoes, voice full of feeling and childish exaggeration. “We’ll live together for all eternity.”
The rain drums against the windows like a song about adventure, and Felix is instead stuck in Annette’s living room.
The thick autumn air makes the room stuffy as he watches his neighbor bake another cake with Mercedes - a pumpkin pie, akin to the season - and wonders whether they missed him. He has just come back home for winter break, and although the last time they saw each other was not too long ago, he has found himself missing the atmosphere in this tiny kitchen; Annette’s songs ring against the walls now that she isn’t afraid of singing in front of Felix any more, and the smell of the pie cooking in the oven is heavenly, although Felix will probably not have more than a tiny piece. His hatred of sweets is apparently always a constant, he ponders.
A constant? A constant through what ?
“And now we wait!” Annette says excitedly as she bounces back into the living room, breaking him out of his thoughts. “I hate this part.”
Felix huffs in quiet laughter. He has always had a soft spot for the girl, ever since he first met her when her family moved in next to the Fraldarius household and their parents (well, more like her mother and his father) forced them to play nice. It is a comfortable friendship, in a way he has rarely felt; first because she’s one of the people who never take his bullshit, no matter how prickly he can find it in his heart to be; and second, because she can be surprisingly insightful and understanding when she wants - because she knows how to listen, and how to sympathize, and how to keep quiet about what she hears. He rarely finds these qualities in other people, although a part of his mind draws a blank, as though he’s suddenly forgetting something very important, someone who used to be this for him, or perhaps someone for whom he used to be this. He tries very hard, and somewhat fails, not to think of Dimitri.
Annette has gathered around the coffee table with her best friend, pulling a small, velvet pouch out of her bag, and slipping some cards out of it.
“You sure it’s wise to play cards instead of monitoring the oven, Annette? Last time you almost burned the house down.”
“No I didn’t, you jerk!” She bristles, clearly not as offended as she pretends being.
“Yeah, because I was here to use the fire extinguisher.”
Mercedes chuckles, warm laughter like a wind chime. “These aren’t merely just cards, Felix; they’re tarot cards.”
He cocks an eyebrow towards the redhead. “I thought you didn’t believe in esoteric sciences.”
“Well, it interests me now!” She punctuates every word with a small beat, as though hammering them through his thick skull. Felix is pretty sure she merely got interested in the stuff because Mercedes is into it.
“You know what, I’ll draw you the cards! So that you won’t make fun of me anymore!”
I wasn’t making fun of you goes unsaid, because Felix could never make fun about Annette’s dedication for anything even if he was paid to do so, and he chooses to roll his eyes as he throws his legs back on the ground from their spot on the couch. “Shoot”, he says, and Annette must have been pretty surprised, because her blue eyes grow wide as saucers.
“Ask about his love life,” Mercedes says, all suns and stars, but the mischievous tone in her voice is enough to make Felix bristle slightly. It makes Annette laugh, and she hands him the deck to shuffle as she vows sweet revenge.
Felix takes a moment to analyze the front side of the cards, all bearing strange, stylized minimalistic symbols, with the name of the card written in French at the bottom. Something in his mind stirs, as though he has seen the glyphs somewhere in a book once, a distant feeling of not-quite recognition, like setting eyes on a familiar landscape only to see how much it has changed throughout the years. He shuffles the cards quietly as Annette and Mercedes observe him, heads in their hands, before he hands them back to Annette.
“Now, as I taught you, Annie.” Mercedes gently guides her friend’s hands as she cuts the deck before spreading the cards on the table.
“Okay, Felix. Choose three cards.”
“Whichever I want?”
“Yes,” Annette half-sighs in annoyance, “whichever you want. You have to go with your gut. Try to feel which cards you’re drawn to.”
Felix thinks this is stupid, but Annette wishes to train, and he has never been one to berate people for training in things they were passionnate about, or even mildly interested in. He slides his fingers across the cards, caressing the black-and-gold backside with the softness of a lover, and lets himself pull a card towards himself.
“Okay, there’s one. This one is supposed to represent yourself. Now, draw one for your potential loved one!”
He repeats the motion, somewhat sceptical. Felix is eighteen and a freshman in university, and has never fallen in love; he shut himself out before he could have, from others and the pain of loss, freezing his heart over before it would rip him apart. He has always been this way, even before losing his brother Glenn, even before his fallout with Dimitri, as though he had been born inherently scarred and scared of the damage love and care could bring in their wake, preventing himself from showing he cared way too much because it was too difficult for him not to care at all. You have the biggest heart I know , Annette had reassured him once, when he had been in a particularly bad place, wondering whether he would ever feel quite complete, whether someone would show up and paint feelings in his stead on the bare canvas of his too-cold heart.
“And now the last one; this one will be your fate!”
He feels his hand stop over one card immediately, almost touches it with his finger - before an unknown voice, in the very depths of his thoughts, whispers - not now, not yet . He almost takes the card in defiance, but remembers Annette’s words, about going with your gut, and chooses another card instead.
The three cards lie before them, and Annette reveals them, one by one. The glyph on the first one looks like a shield, a crest engraved in the middle like a downturned sword. The card reads le Pape .
“The Hierophant,” Annette smiles. “It’s kind of appropriate, I feel. It’s a card that teaches you to learn basic values and belief systems from someone else, older, trusted. Possibly someone from the Church…?” she asks in half a question, and Mercedes nods encouragingly. “You have to understand the core principles of these beliefs and nurture your spiritual awareness.” Felix rolls his eyes.
“It’s also a card that asks you whether you should challenge the status quo,” Mercedes interjects. “Are you okay with the way things are? The path that is pushed onto you? You can either take it in stride or carve your own future - just remember: people are there for you. To mentor and guide you. To have your back.”
“If this is a disguised intervention about how I should talk to you about stuff , this isn’t working,” Felix says, blasé.
Annette ignores him as she turns over the second card, and promptly lets out a shocked gasp. He doesn’t truly understand why until he looks at the name: la Mort . “Death,” she translates. The symbol looks like two half-circles, perfectly symmetrical, the edges curving towards opposite ways. A neverending circle of life and death . Where has he heard that before? “I mean, that’s for your loved one.” Great. Just my luck that my possible soulmate’s already dead , he thinks, and his face must have pulled into a grimace because Annette promptly laughs it off. “Don’t worry! It doesn’t mean they’re gonna die! It’s actually a very good card,” Annette continues, her finger tracing the circles in reverence. “It’s a card about change. They’re at the end of a major moment in their lives, and they need to let it go before being with you. Sometimes, you need to close a door in order to open another. You need to get over your past in order to open up to all the possibilities.”
“They’re in the middle of a significant transition,” Mercedes adds. “Or they will be, when you meet them.”
“And the last one?” Felix asks as though to bring an end to the conversation.
Annette’s fingers deftly flip the card, but this time, Mercedes stiffens slightly. It would have been lost in the moment for anyone not as observant as Felix, but now that he has noticed, he cannot help but stare at the sudden tension in her shoulders.
“The Hanged Man.” Annette’s voice is solemn, pensive. The symbol drops like a noose at the bottom of the card. Felix doesn’t like it at all. “You guys are… trapped. Stuck. Restricted by something. It’s as though something is preventing you from moving forward in your relationship.”
“Which is nonexistent.”
“Oh, shut up Felix,” Annette says, but there’s no bite to it. “It teaches you to shift your perspective - what are you missing? What can you do to rid yourself of this situation?”
Mercedes laughs, tension releasing from her frame. “That was superb, Annie! You did really good!”
Annette beams at the praise, and Felix stands up from the couch, rolling his eyes. “Happy now that you’ve told me my future with my ghost partner in our ghost relationship?”
“Annie, I just remembered. We forgot the frosting.”
The deck of cards lies forgotten as Annette jumps and frets, looking everywhere in her kitchen. As if they still need even more sugar in their cake , Felix thinks, but his feet guide him to the door as he pockets his wallet. “I’ll go buy some. As thanks.”
“Truly?” Annette rushes to hug him, and he reluctantly allows her. Felix has never liked hugs, even when he was small and he used to have nightmares, as though his brother’s or Dimitri’s hugs weren’t good enough, weren’t protective enough for him.
The rain has let out when he steps out and makes his way down the street towards the nearby supermarket, and he’s so busy looking at the sky that he doesn’t notice as he bumps into someone.
The person bends down to pick up something they’ve let fall to the ground, and all he can see is a shock of red hair as thousands of still pictures flash inside his brain - of the wind brushing the wild locks away at sunset, of fingers pushing and burying and pulling in a deep urge to touch , of almost-red eyes beneath the strands. The stranger rises again and looks at Felix, and time almost seems to stop in its tracks.
Felix has never seen this man before, and yet a lost voice at the bottom of his heart whispers in relief, like coming up for air after an eternity underwater.
Oh. It’s you.
“Hello,” someone says. “Hi,” someone replies. Felix doesn’t know which of them uttered which.
Then the moment fades, like a ghostly puppeteer has cut the strings that brought them together on this street, as the stranger moves past him without further acknowledgement, and Felix finds himself beside himself with anger in a way he cannot comprehend.
The wind is cold and a southerly as he walks on to the supermarket, as a voice inside his brain whispers “ Maybe this time, you deserve this fate .”
Felix finds out that, contrary to what he believed, fragments where they fight against Edelgard in that fierce, senseless war are few and far between.
(The girl - Sothis, she once asks him to call her, like the Goddess - tells him that the probability of these fragments is one in 3,591,368 million. He does not bother asking how she found out that information.)
These are the best ones, from Felix’s point of view, even though he does admit he can be biased, because that’s the fragment he remembers hailing from.
Yet, in these fragments, both of them still die. In horrible ways, most times, tangles of limbs and splitting of heads and so much blood. In less horrible ways, more rarely, but rarely enough to be noticed even on a subconscious level, an inner voice telling him to be grateful for once, a fleeting feeling of relief. Sometimes, he kills himself, and these are the least horrible deaths, he surmises, because at least he wants them, wishes for them like a sailor wishes for his long-forgotten, faraway home on the shore.
There are fragments where Sylvain and he are on opposite sides, both in and out of their original world. Sometimes as rivals, worthy opponents praising each other one turn and tearing each other down the next. Sometimes as drastically different parties, reveling in the fact that they will never, ever become friends. Sometimes, as destined enemies still finding a semblance of resemblance in each other, drawn like magnets, like an invisible thread connecting them is pulling, pulling, pulling until they crash into each other and burn.
Half the time, they fall in love. It is a small, organic thing, when it happens: they meet in a bookstore and pick the same book and spend the night together; or they meet at someone’s party and Felix asks around for a lighter and when he gives it to him he forgets his own name but strangely remembers Sylvain’s even though they’ve never met; or Sylvain gives him his coffee at a shop and scribbles his number on it and Felix calls the number as soon as he finishes work.
Once, Felix gets married and manages to fall for the tall redhead checking him in at the hotel of the honeymoon.
Doesn’t matter how much in love they are. They still die.
In each fragment sparkling on the sandcastle shore near the moonlit sea shines every chance meeting, every diverging path, every ending imaginable.
It’s still not enough to find one where they both remain alive.
Felix learns to find solace in his despair, when they die together, sometimes, when they die content, rarely. It happens often enough still to be noticed, even by the ever-forgetting him.
Because he always ends up forgetting, when he is reborn; neither he nor Sylvain mention what they are going through in the sea of fragments, neither makes any remark of even being aware of their ever-repeating doom, neither notices having met before - not before in a chronological sense, but on a metaphysical level, before this very plane of existence, their souls linked through a terrible, red bond of death. Felix does not remember the other fragments while he’s in one, apart from a vague feeling of déjà-vu calling his soul forward to things that have not yet happened or should not happen at all, not in their world, not with their laws of physics and evolution theories, a feeling deep inside his gut and even deeper than that, that things should not be this way. Yet they are , and Felix does not understand, and Felix gives up on understanding altogether. His awareness of the life-and-death circle becomes keener as he dies throughout the fragments, always ending up in that place with the moonlit sea, always facing Sothis, that girl that he does not know, that does not hail from any of the fragments he has seen.
Along his awareness grows too his resentment towards his former professor. Felix is half-sure it’s entirely Byleth’s fault now, somehow, although he doesn’t know what interest she would have in tormenting him this way. He’s been an asshole, he knows it, and the universe fucked him over enough for this.
He does not deserve any of this, of that he is a hundred percent sure.
The resentment ripples through the fragments like a flutter of wings, with each of his own iterations growing ever abnormally, unconsciously despising the professor for no other reason than a gut feeling, until he dies and remembers and is born again with the same anger and grudge.
There is a fragment where Felix tries to kill her. It is a three-way-war fragment, this one. One in 3,591,368 million.
In this one, Sylvain takes the blow for his dearest professor, and Felix finds no other redemption than slitting his own throat. Another doomed fragment , his inner voice tells him as the dagger bites into his throat, another meaningless death. You’re way better off dying. This is not the world you belong in.
“Can’t you see she just wants to help you?” Sothis says to him as his body breaks onto the ground below and emerges from the moonlit sea. She no longer seems unemotional each time she sees Felix dead on his feet; in that very moment, her face betrays annoyance and something close to anger.
“She’s the reason I die . How can she help me?!”
“You’re the last ones, you know. That she needs to save.”
It’s the first time, through all fragments, through all their endless encounters in this place, that Sothis has mentioned other people.
“What do you mean?”
“If you had bothered listening to me each time it happened, instead of just raging around throwing invisible things, you would have known sooner. Sylvain already knows.” Her arms are crossed and her stare pointed, and Felix sighs angrily before settling down.
“Just tell me already.”
Sothis bites her lower lip slightly, a strange display of emotion for her. “She’s trying… To find the best path. The best future. Although it is near impossible.”
“The best future?”
“A future where no one has to die. Well, none of you , anyway,” Sothis glances down to her fingers. “Some people are just… impossible to save. Perhaps it is the case with you.”
“So you’re saying that - what, she has full knowledge and power on time itself , and tries to rewind each and every bad choice she makes? Half the time, I don’t even meet her.”
“Precisely,” she says. “Which is why you must save each other instead. If even one of you can live through a whole fragment, a whole lifetime, all futures will be changed accordingly.”
“Has she done this… With all the others?” Has she done this with Dimitri? he cannot help but wonder, remembering the boy’s fond smile and fonder eyes every time he chanced a glance at their teacher, obvious to everyone but himself - remembering the man’s lifeless, unforgiving gaze as he craved nothing but death itself, for the Empire mostly, for himself most of all.
Sothis does not gratify him with an answer, and yawns as she stretches from atop her stone throne, shoulder blades popping through the vast emptiness of the sea of fragments.
“Why… did this happen in the first place?” Felix’s whisper is so soft that he thinks the girl has not heard him, but she lets out a graceless cackle instead.
“I am the Beginning,” she states, as the waves under Felix roll stronger again and pull him under, “and I like to grant the wishes humans make to me.”
Felix stands behind the two-way mirror as he watches a young man sat handcuffed in the interrogation room. The man is surprisingly carefree for a thief with a handful of charges swaying above his head like a double-edged blade - first degree grand larceny, forgery, fraud, bribery, arson - still trying (and failing) to flirt with Edelgard as his superior tries to pull information out of him. There’s a strange kind of assurance in the way he carries himself, feet crossed over the table as though he owned the place, a smile that almost passes as a mocking smirk, windswept red hair tumbling around his face in soft half-curls. Nothing seems to crack the mask he has put up for himself, and he lets them no room to even hypothesize what in the world would bring someone like him to commit such crimes. He tries to knowingly look through the mirror, but unfortunately for him, Felix and Hubert are both on opposite sides of the room, so the thief’s eyes stare straight in the empty middle, and the pretense of self-assurance he tries to convey is considerably lessened. If he did not have a guttural hatred for these kinds of guys, Felix would be almost impressed.
The man in the room answers to the name of Sylvain Gautier, heir to one of the biggest fashion companies in the world; it also happens that he’s one of Fódlan’s most infamous thieves, constantly robbing banks and museums and luxury shops alike. Felix’s old friend Dimitri had caught him stealing from pretty ladies at the latest rich people party he was always invited to, and Felix had showed up ten minutes later with his coworkers in tow to knock the fight out of him with a swift, careless kick at the back of his head. There was something strange in that; Gautier had been active for a little more than four years, and had never, ever been caught - so why would he now resort to steal from people a little less rich than him, in a place where he would be almost immediately discovered? Something doesn’t make sense. Something tells him that perhaps he wanted to get caught, but Felix dismisses the thought as soon as it crosses his mind.
In the interrogation room, he notices Edelgard’s demeanor shift in the slightest way, although her icy face does not defrost in the least. Hubert must have noticed, too, because he promptly gets out and brings her out of the room, pretending to have bio results from the scene, and Sylvain doesn’t seem to be believing him in the least.
“Let me have a crack at him,” Felix says once his boss is back into the room, feigning disinterest.
Edelgard levels him with a pensive stare and a raised eyebrow, clearly not fooled by his nonchalance. Her silver hair shines under the bleary lights and gives her eyes a stunning indigo color. It makes her softer, somehow, as though for once they truly seem to be the same age, two young adults trying to make better of a corrupt society in whichever ways they can. She finally shrugs in approval, the spark of a smile playing on her lips as she lets him through the door.
“Don’t rough him up too much.”
That was one time , Felix thinks as he scoffs and grabs the handle of the interrogation room in the hallway, and Gautier’s eyes rise to meet his as he enters.
The man looks like he has just seen a ghost.
His eyes, one warm shade away from umber, widen as he stares unblinking at him, red hair tangling with his long, long lashes. The sickly ceiling lights completely hide away the light freckles Felix knows are dotting his nose and cheeks, and his lips fall open the tiniest bit as he seems to hold his breath. There’s something familiar about him that Felix can’t quite place, but the feeling is nothing compared to the emotion crossing the thief’s face, severely close to recognition.
He looks beautiful, and dangerous, and deadly. Like oleander , Felix thinks, all red and poisonous and red .
“Have we met before?” the thief whispers, half a thought, barely a question.
Felix narrows his eyes, and his voice is unforgivingly neutral. “I don’t know you.”
It’s like he’s slapped Gautier in the face. The ripple effect is immediate - the man lowers his head, dark gaze hidden beneath red bangs, and Felix shrugs before he takes his place on the chair in front of him.
“Sylvain José Gautier,” he begins, pointedly pretending to examine his cuticles. “Twenty-seven. Heir of Gautier Couture since he was five and his older brother Miklan was disowned.” He does not miss the way Gautier’s shoulders tense at the mention of his family, even though the man scrutinizes him with that unreadable mask and perfunctory composure. “It’s weird, don’t you think? For someone like you to do all of this. What’s your goal?”
“I don’t have a goal,” Gautier lies lazily, carefree false-smile across his face once more, dark eyes trained on Felix’s.
“It’s your family, isn’t it?”
The smile vanishes. It doesn’t taste like victory.
“You want them to notice you- no, that’s not it. It’s the other way round, isn’t it? You’re the favorite, the golden child, and you want to- what, stick it to them, somehow? Get petty revenge?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
But I do , Felix thinks, I have , thinks another part of himself, buried deep, singing inside his blood. Instead, he says “Try me, Gautier.”
He grins, somehow, a childish, toothy thing, as though he has not been trying to dodge every and all questions from Felix mere minutes ago. “Please.” A spark of challenge lights up these impossibly dark eyes. His voice dribbles like honey on a cake. Felix hates sweet food. “Call me Sylvain.”
Felix doesn’t have time to answer. He hears an explosion, and gunfire, and screaming, and runs out the door, hand on the holster of his gun.
He drags himself back to the interrogation room minutes, hours, years later, half-dying, hand on his stomach wound, blood leaving a trail of red-stained candy for other cops to find later. Gautier- Sylvain ’s head lies on the table, dark blood pooling into red hair from a single hole inside his forehead, eyes closed. He’s smiling, somehow - he’s one of the lucky ones , Felix remembers thinking, one of the lucky iterations , before he collapses on the chair in front of him, their faces opposite on the icy iron.
Are you on your way to the exhibition? Byleth texts him as though everyone had stopped chewing his ear off about it this whole week. His art professor can be surprisingly pushy when she wants to, always reminding them of the most obvious things, always lending an ear to listen to their problems as well, as inconsequential they may be - he has once clearly heard Hilda complain for close to two hours about foundations claiming to be heavy coverage when they were at best medium, whatever it means. There’s an interesting piece .
Two stations away , Felix answers back, more out of politeness than out of real interest, but Byleth has given him enough slack about being a lone wolf and overall antisocial for him to miss yet another one of his class’ friendly gatherings. Plus, he did like Ignatz’s artworks; watching him paint was like watching a careful wizard weaving his magic, trails of light and dark taking shape in incredibly realistic portraits and still life paintings. He liked the boy well enough, as well - Ignatz had been one of the only ones who hadn’t judged him for attending art school in order to become a tattoo artist.
He gets off the subway and steps into the cold, dry winter air, raising his scarf to his nose. He almost never ties his hair up during cold seasons; he feels as though his ears would freeze and outright crumble to the ground if he did, and so he wears his long hair half-clipped behind his head with a pretty, homemade clasp Hilda had once given him for his birthday. The dark streets are alight with fairy lights and Christmas songs and the smell of spicy mulled wine. Winter has never been Felix's favorite time of the year, and not even his birthday will ever change that, he believes. He has always liked summer better; the feeling of sun and heat against his pale skin, the smell of warm wind and salt as his family drove to the ocean, the taste of cold ice sorbet and smokey barbecue. It brings him back to a more innocent time; for he feels that summer does not speak of adult responsibilities but of childhood liberties. His brother was born in summer, under the bright August sky. For some reason, though, Glenn has always favored winter, and these contradictions between the circumstances of their respective births and their preferred seasons have led Felix to believe that no one could ever truly be satisfied.
He clumsily kicks the leaves at his feet as he walks down the unfamiliar city. He had to move here at the unripe age of seventeen, leading a life devoid of comfort. School, then work, then parties, then school again, with minimal minutes to spare for sleeping and eating. That unhealthy lifestyle suits him just fine, after years spent cajoled in his family's protection - even in Glenn's, even when he had been hundreds of miles away in that very same city, only to leave once Felix had finally found a way to meet him again. He had been surprisingly okay with that at the time; Glenn was six years older, and had a life on his own, a life filled with adventure and self-discovery and the light of summer, moving back to moving everywhere and anywhere to write tales of his own after a year settled in this city - the City of Lights, people called it.
That was okay, too. No one could ever truly be satisfied, and whatever lights the city have for Felix, he is fairly certain that they’ll never outshine Glenn’s own.
He steps into the exhibit hall, a tiny, minimalistic thing - which is just a nicer way to describe a square room with white walls all bare but for Ignatz’s paintings and the lights overhead, really. It’s opening night, and there are quite a few more people than what Felix would have expected - leave it to Byleth to pressure people into coming to see the works of her dearest students. He barely has enough time to grab a drink from a small table tucked next to the door before he feels a strong arm curl around his shoulder.
“Damn, Felix,” Claude’s cheery voice slips into his ear, “didn’t know you had become Ignatz’s muse somehow.”
Felix’s gaze snaps to Claude’s eyes, dark green in the light, a shade close to Linhardt’s hair. “What. Did you just say.”
“Wow, buddy, no need to be so on edge!” Claude grins again, all mischief and teasing, charm itself made flesh. Too bad he’s not his type, Felix had thought once, but Felix had always seemed to have a heavy preference for redheads, for reasons he himself could not comprehend. “Just, follow me,” he says, grabbing his drinkless wrist and dragging him to whatever could have warranted that comment.
Ignatz’s smile is sweet and bright as he sees Felix, standing in front of a small painting, and Felix greets him with all the friendliness he’s able to muster at the moment (which happens to be not quite as much as he had hoped), before he stares at the portrait.
His face looks back at him, strikingly realistic, hair pulled in a bun at the back of his head and falling in soft strokes of dark paint in front of his face, his aquarelle eyes like two drowning suns.
“What the hell, Ignatz?!” he half-shouts, desperately fighting the blush that rises up his neck - because the portrait is beautiful , like everything Ignatz weaves with the magic inside each of his shades, brush like a wand casting soothing spells, but Ignatz has certainly never asked him to pose or model for anything like this. It’s incredible in itself, that he’s managed to pull all of this from memory alone.
“Claude, have you said something inappropriate to him?” he chides, gentle, and sighs at Claude’s boisterous laughter. “It’s not what you think,” he addresses Felix again, eyes glancing away for the tiniest second, somehow unsure. “Actually… this was a commission.”
Felix’s stare is nonplussed. “A commission.”
“As in, someone paid you real money to paint my face .”
Ignatz laughs, as though it’s not the most outlandish thing Felix has ever heard.
“This is stupid. I’m leaving.”
“Aren’t you curious of the circumstances?” Ignatz asks, and by the mischievous tone his voice takes, Felix realizes the other young man has spent way too much time with Claude. Felix doesn’t answer, but his feet stop moving, and it’s the most acknowledgement to his own curiosity he will show that night, he decides, because fuck if he isn’t curious. Who in their right mind could even ask for a portrait of him , of all people?
“The guy’s name was Sylvain. Sylvain Gautier, I think?”
Felix stares at Ignatz as though he’s grown another head. “I don’t know anybody that goes by that name.”
Ignatz, oddly, does not seem surprised by that piece of information. “I had surmised so,” he says instead, understanding dawning on his face. “I met him in a coffee shop where I was sketching. He said he had lived most of his life with a face in his mind that he couldn’t seem to put into words or on paper, and asked me to make a sketch of someone he described.”
“Like, the sketches they do in the police tv shows?”
“I guess you could say that.” Ignatz puts a finger to his chin, the golden edge of his glasses catching in the light. “At first, I took him half-seriously, but when he started his description…” He looks aside for a moment, as though lost inside his thoughts, a haze rising over his gaze like mist in a horror novel. “... I just couldn’t think of anyone else but you. It was way too close, and way too… full of feeling.”
For the first time in his life, Felix feels anxious. His heart jackrabbits against his ribcage, somehow too full, like precious gemstones are growing alongside the muscles, sharp and heavy. For the first time in his life, Felix feels close to satisfying the hunger he has always felt.
“And so, I drew you,” Ignatz continues, not privy to the turmoil inside Felix’s mind. “And he just said, oh my god, it’s him , and paid me upfront for a painting.”
Claude and Felix spend the better part of the night looking for the man’s social media accounts, googling his name and trying to find pictures. They find his LinkedIn, and his Facebook accounts - the only ones with corresponding pictures, residences, and workplaces. He seems somehow familiar, in the way someone is when they appear through a dream only for one not to remember their face the day after. The guy is a redhead, and Felix is only half-surprised.
“He’s hot,” Claude snickers after a small whistle. “Kinda creepy, all things considered. But hot.”
“You truly have no sense of preservation.”
“Do you ?” Claude asks, grin splitting his face in two, half-lidded green eyes trained on Felix as though trying to decipher whether he could use whatever he saw on his face against him. Creepy but hot, huh. You’re one to talk , Felix wants to say, but his gaze falls back onto the profiles. Sylvain lives in the same town.
He drains the rest of his plastic cup in one go, wine dribbling down his throat like liquid fire, like liquid courage. “I’m leaving for real,” he says, definite this time.
As he’s about to step out the door, it’s a tiny hand that stops him, grabs him by the bicep with an unfamiliar urgency, a quiet desperation.
Byleth looks at him with huge green eyes and more emotion on her face than he has ever seen her have. “Don’t go,” she says, and it almost sounds like a plea to God.
“Why?” His eyes bore into hers like sunset meeting the sea on the horizon.
His confusion must show on his face, because she looks aside, collects herself just a little. “You just shouldn’t.”
He gently pries her hand away, lets his fingers linger in reassurance.
“Have a good night, Professor.”
He watches the crossroads before glancing back to his phone. Do I know you? he has typed into the messenger app that links his own Facebook profile, and is currently battling with himself to send or not send the damn thing. The stranger’s profile picture is of him under the summer sun, brilliant smile on his face not truly reaching his eyes, a wistfulness in the hazel of them, an almost-sadness tinted with regret and missed chances and star-crossed coincidences. Perhaps there is a story behind that, Felix wonders, perhaps something he would learn one day. Or perhaps it’s a trick of the light, an inexorable spell striking all the unlucky ones whom summer has left behind or passed by. Ironically, the man is apparently born in June - even people blessed by summer cannot ever be truly satisfied, it confirms. For a moment, he revels in that tiny common point between the stranger and him, and hits the send button.
The tiny profile picture stares back at Felix when the man types back almost immediately, and Felix’s anticipation thrums inside his blood and in the rhythm of his steps as he crosses the street.
The car that crashes into his body is the same shade as Sylvain Gautier’s hair.
The air is ripe with the scent of burning wood and fallen leaves, and Felix has no idea what he hopes to accomplish in Garreg Mach. The late morning sun shines a bright lustre on his dark hair, but soon he is back in the shade of the train station’s wrought iron beams, and the light vanishes. It has been years since he has last set foot on a train.
Felix leaves Fhirdiad completely unannounced and unnoticed. He doesn’t want his friends - doesn’t want anyone - to know what happened to him. It’s better this way, he tries to rationalize, it’s better that no one knows why he suddenly vanished from the actual face of the earth, or at least, the face of Faerghus.
It’s better if Ashe thinks about him with a bottle of beer in one hand and Ingrid’s mouth on his, the way you sometimes reminisce about your ex-lovers and pretend they were nothing less, just a passing thought of the way their hair felt between your fingers or their tongue felt against your own, not a comparison, not a regret, merely a half-forgotten memory. Felix is certain he’ll be a piece of inspiration for Ashe’s upcoming book somehow, as though one day he’ll turn a page and find a description of the way he used to not-tie his tie or a lengthy paragraph about his inability to love.
(In dozens of other fragments, he never even reads through the script - but this is Fragment 17,513, and Ashe’s book stands, a few years later, on a shelf in a train station bookshop.)
It’s better if Annette thinks about him with stars in her eyes, like she always does, optimistic to a fault and ever-joyful. He imagines that when anyone asks, she’ll be telling Felix is off having grand, fulfilling adventures, in Embarr one day, Brigid the next, Almyra the week after. Felix would love nothing more than to see the world through that astral prism, and the fact that an alternate, dreamt-up version of him gets to do so fills him with a warmth like that of an autumn sunrise.
(In dozens of other fragments, he actually has done all this - but this is Fragment 17,513, and Fate has other grand plans for him than a simple plane ride to countries unknown.)
It’s better if Dimitri never sees him again, to be perfectly honest. Felix tries not to think about how he was the last person he saw before leaving, how years of untold conversations came and filled the empty space between them and wiped the slate clean of angry words written in chalk, how his smile had lost its laughter and his eyes had dimmed their spark at the end, before Felix turned his back to him one last time and softly closed the door. Felix also tries not to think about how he’ll probably spend the rest of his life swallowing bitter pills of regret, whispering to himself if he’d been there earlier, if they’d met before, if, if, if-
(In dozens of other fragments, his regrets do not haunt him for very long anyway - but this is Fragment 17,513, and his regrets will not haunt him, although for completely different reasons.)
It’s better if Mercedes stays with Annette. She’s the responsible one, has always been, counterpoint to both Dimitri’s selfish recklessness and Felix’s own foolish pride. Mercedes did everything Felix could not, will keep doing everything Felix cannot. Mercedes wants to become a nurse, and of course she will. Felix sometimes lies awake past 2 a.m., thinking he could also have become a nurse had he wanted to, hearing Annette’s soft, mocking chuckles echoing through his head and against the walls like wind chimes - daring asking the empty space where her voice had been if she wants to help him study, although not really meaning it.
(In dozens of other fragments, Felix is not there to witness Mercedes’ own happy ending - but this is Fragment 17,513, and happy endings are not meant to be watched from afar.)
It’s better if Byleth forgets about him, never speaks to him ever again, never speaks of him ever again, except perhaps to herself, in the dark of the long night. Felix may cross her path in Garreg Mach - may even try to look for her, on purpose, may ask her for answers he would not truly get to questions he does not truly have, and Byleth will pretend that Felix is mistaken and will not spare him even more than a glance. Felix would be fine with that.
(In dozens of other fragments, he is the one to seek Byleth’s help - but this is Fragment 17,513, and he might be the one who helps Byleth, in the end.)
He climbs into the half-empty train. It’s almost the first train of the day, and he has packed a simple can of cold, black coffee along the stuff inside his backpack; nothing but essentials - his laptop, his bluetooth speakers, his wallet and passport, a single book. His clothes are sitting on the train’s baggage railing, safely trapped inside his suitcase. He has only taken things he would be able to carry with him; he has no use for burdens like faded echoes of history. It’s always simpler to run away empty-handed. He spots his seat not far from the exit door, on the window side in a square of four, and he carefully gets his laptop out in order to make the best of the three-and-a-half hours of travel, stops included. He notices, packed at the bottom of his bag, a small box of homemade cookies. Annette always is ten times more observant and perceptive than he gives her credit for, and he lets himself smile. It will be their little secret.
Not even half of the train is full at this time, and he is blessedly alone in his square of seats until a man steps onto the train five minutes before departure and sits in the window seat in front of him. Felix flippantly raises his eyes, and his brain short-circuits.
He recognizes him.
He recognizes him, because he’s the same man whom he bumped into all these years ago in the street, when he had felt time stop around them, when the man had gone on his way without sparing him another glance. He’s a little bit taller, Felix seems to notice, his shoulders broader, his hair brushed aside in the slightest of difference. He still has the same eyes, a shade close to actual red.
(He recognizes him, a voice deep down whispers, and it’s almost painful; it tugs at his heart, this feeling a step away from actual remembrance, the taste and touch and thrill all sitting on the razor-edge of his tongue.)
Felix’s eyes glance away before the man can even notice he’s looking.
The first ten minutes of his journey are - he wouldn’t say nice , but they’re not particularly unpleasant. He’s watching a movie on his laptop, headphones on his ears, his now-empty can of coffee lying half-crushed on the small table separating him from the stranger. Box of cookies still untouched inside his bag. Until, as the movie remains silent for a beat or two, he hears someone sniffling .
The stranger is crying.
He has his head in his hand, elbow on the thin edge of the window, lost gaze desperately watching the scenery pass. He wears headphones, too, which is probably why he doesn’t hear Felix click pause on his laptop as he observes him. His eyes are almost defiant, like he doesn’t even want to acknowledge that he’s crying, like he could just will the tears away with enough stubbornness. Felix knows that gaze; has worn it almost all his life. How at the time, he desperately wished to be left alone - how he desperately wished he would not be left alone, but expecting to be all the same, because he was the one pushing all the helping hands away.
(This exact meeting has happened a few times, in the exact same circumstances. In all other fragments, Felix goes back to his movie, negative feelings resurfacing, satisfied in the thought that whatever makes him cry, the stranger probably deserves what happened to him.)
(But this is fragment 17,513, and in this fragment, Felix understands .)
(This time, he thinks of bushes and sunsets and red hair. He thinks of hugs he has never received, of situations that have never happened, and he reaches into his bag.)
He doesn’t look at the stranger as he hands him a pack of tissues, but the man startles hard enough that Felix’s gaze is drawn to his once again; his eyes are wide, and he suddenly looks younger, all pain and fear and regret vanished only to leave the simple feeling of surprise in their wake.
“You just… look like you need it,” Felix says, simply.
The man’s eyes don’t stray away from his as he takes the small packet, delicate, somewhat calloused fingers brushing against Felix’s. The touch burns like a witch on trial. He pats away at his eyes, tears not quite stopping.
“It’s okay,” Felix encourages. “You’re okay. Or, maybe you’re not - but you will be.” He doesn’t know why he’s doing this; Felix has never been known for his kindness, not by anyone but Annette. Sometimes, feelings can be so strong that you don’t realize you even feel them , she had said to him once, for what feels like a lifetime ago.
( It might as well be , he thinks unconsciously.)
The stranger laughs, a sudden, airy thing, more like a push of carbon dioxide out of his lungs, but his smile reaches his eyes, makes the lines at the sides spread like sun rays. “Thank you.” His voice is deep and quiet. His words are just as simple. Somehow, Felix feels immensely relieved. “Don’t worry, I’m alright!” he justifies suddenly, like an afterthought. “It just… happens to me, sometimes. You know, that feeling you have when you’re listening to just the right music, and staring at just the right landscape, and you get caught up in your own emotions? Like…”
“Longing,” Felix finishes for him, eyes staring out the window, too, as though trying to spot what exactly had warranted these tears. He feels like the stranger is half-lying - not completely, not consciously, but the way Felix lies, all guarded attitude and walled-up heart and flawless mask; but there’s also a bit of truth in his words, all the regrets he must have felt piling up into a single ball of tangled sensations too foreign to be unravelled, too strong to be understood.
He feels the stranger staring at him again, and when Felix looks back, his eyes are unreadable. “Have I… met you somewhere?”
“Ah.” Felix isn’t prepared for this particular question, and so he glances down to his hands, huffing his embarrassment away. Leave it to him to get so stuck up about a ten-second meeting that had happened years ago. “Doesn’t matter. You probably don’t remember anyway.”
“Shoot,” the redhead still says, encouraging smile playing on his lips.
Felix sighs, deeply, reaching inside his heart. “I bumped into you on the street in Fhirdiad. Like, six, seven years ago? You dropped something, and we greeted each other, and you left.” And I resented you for reasons I don’t understand even now , Felix omits to add.
Surprisingly, there’s no mockery, no pity, no sympathy in the stranger’s eyes. Instead, he just smiles, bitten red lips splitting over white teeth. “Yeah. I thought I recognized you. My name’s Sylvain,” he adds after a beat, his slightly calloused hand upturned in Felix’s direction.
Felix shakes it. “Felix. Felix Fraldarius.”
They spend the rest of the journey in comfortable half-silence. Sylvain once rises from his seat to grab something to drink, asks Felix if he wants anything, still brings back a can of black coffee even though Felix said no. Somehow, he doesn’t sit back in the seat in front of him, instead opting to take the one next to Felix, watching the movie with him above his shoulder. He drinks a disgusting fizzy drink with probably twice more sugar than in Mercedes’ sweetest cakes. Felix turns on the subtitles once the man has complained ten times about how he couldn’t follow the story, Felix’s patience running thin as he ignored him each time before. Felix reaches inside his bag, and takes out Annette’s cookies, and lets Sylvain finish the whole box when he tells him he doesn’t like sweets. It’s peaceful, in a way train rides have never been for him, shoulders brushing when the train changes direction too fast or stumbles onto the tracks, save for Sylvain’s constant beeping of his phone - hey, I’m currently turning them all down , he laughs as Felix realizes the names of his contacts are girls’ names, three with the same one, with a different emoji to differentiate them. Perhaps he’s running away too , he thinks as he watches the lack of care and interest in his eyes, as he glances to his fingers blocking their numbers. He doesn’t pry.
A few minutes before their journey ends, Sylvain moves back to his own seat, rearranging his stuff inside a messenger bag. Felix puts his belongings back in his backpack, forgetting the small, now-empty cookie box. It’s Sylvain who gives it to him, as they step out of the train. There’s something scribbled on it, in thick, black ink. A phone number.
“Text me if you’re down to hang out,” Sylvain says, eyes warm.
“And end up as another one of these blocked numbers on your phone? No thanks.” There’s no bite in his answer, and he lets his lips quirk slightly, almost fond.
The graceful curl of Sylvain’s laughter loses itself in the wind.
The feeling appears one day like freckles appear in the sun, sudden and beautiful.
The sea laps at Felix’s bare feet, his short hair blowing in the warm wind of the ocean, the setting sun rays against his dark locks shining copper, shining red. His favorite color. His lips taste like smoke and salt as they look to the sunset. They have run away from the seaside house, too small to hold two wanderlusting minds, too big to contain two whimsical souls, their tiny feet leading them to the beach. The sand is dyed melted gold, and the fading light casts glimmers of silver on the waves, rising and falling like their chests as they breathe. At that very moment, Felix has the distinct impression of being infinitely small in an infinitely big world. It scares him, more than he can ever admit, humbled by the thought of his tiny body being swallowed by the huge waves. But Sylvain is with him, and it’s enough.
In this moment, it dawns upon him that it will always be the two of them - them against the rest of the world, Sylvain, his best friend, and Felix, his too.
Sylvain turns to him, and he holds out his hand, and Felix takes it, and Sylvain smiles, and in that very moment he rivals the sun.
Electric light fills the almost empty streets when night falls over the city, a sight Felix has never seen before - the sickly brightness makes him look dead, he notices as he catches his own reflection in a shop window, pale skin bleached white and dark hair dyed black as ink.
Dimitri pulls him through the dimly-lit streets by the wrist, and Felix knows better than to push against the boar’s monstrous, innocent strength, but he’ll be damned if he doesn’t try and look at least a bit reluctant about it. As they walk down the busy streets of Embarr, Felix cannot help but notice that the Capital, despite being probably the same size as Fhirdiad, appears much more modern - perhaps because the use of electricity in the city isn’t as restricted as in other parts of the Empire. In the Faerghus region, particularly, only shops are allowed to use some on a regular basis; even lamp posts are fueled with wood or burning oil. Here, they run on electricity, and although motor carriages have been banned, some of the underground train lines can still be used by townsfolk at an expensive price.
Dimitri guides them down the alleys and boulevards as if he was born there; they smoothly move through the well-dressed crowds and high, colourful brick buildings. It’s a handsome city, although in no way human-sized - there seems to be too little people living in such a big place. If they stayed longer than a few days, the city probably would make an impression on Felix, but a quiet thought tells him he won’t have enough time to acquaint himself with the Adrestian customs. The town reminds him, in more than a few ways, of his hometown: the paved quays, the monuments, the roofs adorned with smoking chimneys; yet the atmosphere feels different, less inviting, less warm - less free , he thinks to his surprise.
Yes, it probably is something different from home, to live this close to the government, a few giant’s steps away from royalty. The Apostate Empress, as few dare call her, is not well-liked in other parts of the Empire - too many restrictions, perhaps, not enough fairness. He understands them,Felix realises as he sees the city inhabitants strolling about without a care in the world: theirs is a city of privilege and light, while a relative darkness has fallen upon the rest of the unfortunate world. Yet he fears that this apparent privilege is but a smokescreen, a curtain drawn over the stage of their daily lives, as he sees guards and policemen carefully watching from afar - he wonders if the citizens know they don’t patrol for their safety, but for the imperial family. They move so little they can be mistaken for statues, but their watchful eyes turn ever so slightly towards them as they watch them walk past - Dimitri, too, an eyesore in this pure, colorless world, with his bright blue woolen jumper and his long blonde hair and the warmth of his smile.
They slide into the darkness of a back-alley, and Felix knows where they’re going even before Dimitri mentions it: he sees the busy restaurant, far from the docks, and watches the refined people trying hard to not look refined pulling open a door at the back. If he was right, they would be crossing the line into clandestinity sooner than he wishes for, doubt following him like a faithful shadow when he wonders about the new hardships they’ll have to face - but Sylvain’s light, or absence of light, is brighter, and he has no choice but to reach for it. He chooses not to reflect on the exact reasons why.
No one turns their head when they make their way along the busy tables and open the windowless door at the back.
Dimitri guides him down iron service stairs to the side of what looks like a building hall, each of their steps making the fragile structure sway. He gently takes Felix’s hand when he reaches the bottom before him, guiding him down the rest of the steps, and Felix slaps his hand away as soon as his feet touch the ground again. Dimitri sees no offense in this, holds no grudge against Felix’s attitude. Felix sometimes wishes he would. He pulls another, heavier door, and a rush of cold hits their faces as they pass through the restaurant’s cold room, cured meat and exotic vegetables and fruits kept nicely fresh as they hang from hooks and ropes. Dimitri leads them to another door, and pushes it open with all the ease his strength allows him to show.
Her Majesty’s Hidden Gardens shine with golden flecks of light meticulously crafted through clear wires hanging from one tree to the next, drawing false constellations against the ink-black sky, gracing gardens and guests alike with a hazy glow, roughly mimicked by the pearls and necklaces and pearl necklaces adorning throats and wrists. The whole thing bears a sophistication from which Felix and Dimitri stick out like dandelions in the carefully cut grass. The boar had told him not to even bother cleaning up; it wasn’t their place, he had explained, to court the imperial dancers, and certainly not the prettiest of the lot - for it’s the one they’re going to see. The Garden Jewel only comes out of his chambers at night, it’s said, when no one can see or hear, sometimes even risking leaving the Gardens for the quiet safety of a room above a coffee shop - coffee is selling at a hundred gold coins a gram, which is cheap these days. It’s the place where Felix has seen him again, for the first time after five long years, although he’s not allowed to tell anyone: the waitresses would kill him.
Dimitri leads them through the tangles of ferns and roses into a small yard, a beauty of a place, evenly paved and brightly lit. It reminds Felix of home and better days. Socialites lean on lamp posts, sit on garden chairs, stand next to a small water fountain, as the waiters haste through the crowd with trays full of petits-fours and glasses of red wine from Almyra. Dimitri greets some of them with warm smiles and small waves. After a good ten minutes of wandering through gowns and wine glasses, Dimitri guides them behind what seems like a bush of raspberries, and onto another paved yard, this time much smaller and lonely. It’s clear the surroundings are not as well-kept as the rest of the Hidden Gardens, but the hardly-tamed wilderness has a certain beauty to it: bushes with spiky branches growing out of shape, sweet-smelling orchids tumbling down from twisted roots, faded leaves carpeting the ground. The yard transforms into a sinuous path towards the end, and Felix can see a glimmer of yellow light through the dark leaves. He takes a small breath before stepping forward between the bushes.
They stand in front of a red door, dark crimson clashing prettily against the dark green and faded beige of the bricks around it, for what feels like a lifetime before Dimitri speaks. “Are you ready, Felix?”
As I’ll ever be , he thinks, but doesn’t dignify the boar with a response; he grips the handle of the door, and pulls. Dimitri doesn’t say a word, merely grins as he beckons him forward and into the small house-turned-uptown-speakeasy-for-wealthy-people-and-struggling-artists, the warmth and smell of cigarettes enveloping them as they cross the doorway, and their feet carry them to a small table in a corner. They signal the waiter for wine, clinking of glasses and splashing of alcohol and laughing chatter covering even the music a jazz band is playing in the middle of the great room.
It’s inconceivable that anyone will hear, or will care enough to hear, their little conversation with their future guest later.
Dimitri talks about a lot of things, boyish enthusiasm eerily clashing with the other personality Felix knows him to have underneath, until he runs out of things to talk about and falls into silence. It’s one of the only things Felix likes about Dimitri, has always liked about him - he knows when and how to speak, and he knows not to speak at all.
The lights dim, and the sound of chords shakes against the walls.
Sylvain always looks beautiful when he sings, but this night rivals all other nights, Felix thinks. His skin looks smoother under the candlelight, sweatdrops falling along his cheeks leaving trails of silver in their wake, red hair tumbling down perfectly along his face, almost falling into his big, deep brown eyes. He wears nothing but a long, silky obsidian gown, with accents as red as his hair, half-opened over his toned chest, and spilling over his naked feet like waves. He’s probably the kind of man every woman and half the men in the world would give anything to possess, an almost forbidden token of perfection, utterly otherworldly; a voice inside his head whispers that a being like him should not even be able to exist in such an imperfect world. I wanna be your favorite boy , Sylvain sings, I wanna be the one that makes your day, the one you think about as you lie awake , and if only Felix could tell him he already is all of these things. Felix listens, enthralled - not to the sentences, not to the music, but to the words themselves, to the way they curl around his tongue like smoke, and slide along the inside of his cheeks to the edge of his lips, and shatter against his teeth in a facsimile of glass falling to the floor. Sylvain raises his eyes towards the crowd, and spots Dimitri and him - and the brilliance of his smile is the most exhilarating thing Felix has ever seen.
Felix senses Dimitri’s fond eyes on him as pinkish gold blazes white inside his chest.
Later, when Sylvain asks him, the shadow of a most familiar emotion on his face, where they’re taking him, Felix does not bother hiding his own smile when he answers “home”.
There’s a rush of anger in his blood as Felix once again surfaces from the moonlit sea. He looks at Sothis straight on, gaze unrelenting and determined through the despair, as he barrels towards her throne. “Why?!” he almost screams, a guttural sound reminding him oh-too-much of Dimitri’s anguished roars when he sees him in their original, war-torn fragments.
“You know it isn’t my fault,” Sothis answers, carefully unreadable.
“We were going to elope !”
“We were in love !!”
Felix collapses at her feet, agonizing sobs wrecking his whole frame.
He doesn’t know how long he cries. He cries and screams and cries again, until nothing’s left inside of him but the dull, grey tiredness that comes along hopelessness. Sothis has laid a kind, cool hand on his back, grounding and somewhat comforting. “I know,” she finally answers after he’s had his fill.
Has Sylvain felt this way, too? Has Byleth? Felix had thought grief had become an ever-familiar friend, a constant companion, throughout all these fragments - for how is one supposed to mourn not the death of a loved one, but of love itself, lust and passion and devotion all encompassed towards one single being? How is he supposed to continue living, reliving, through that yearning for someone whom he will never be able to live alongside? The prospect grants him more dread and suffering than the sting of Death itself.
Or perhaps it is the uncertainty of it all, Felix ponders, that state of not knowing, having to keep on living torn between two fated outcomes completely at odds with each other, one of those a billion times more likely to happen than the other. Why couldn’t Byleth treat this power of hers as a simple means to the end of her story, no matter how terrible? Now, instead of merely contemplating from afar that closed chest of opposite truths, Sylvain and him are fated to try and unlock it, forced to accept both and none at once until they discover whether the cat is alive or dead.
“You need to find it,” Sothis says, almost as though reading his thoughts. “The fragment where you both remember - or, the closest to remembering as you can, at the very least.”
“But we don’t even know if it even exists !”
She does not answer for a small while, staring at the faraway sandcastle shore instead, at the myriads of fragments glinting against the moonlight.
“If you find it,” Sothis’ voice is cautious as it echoes along the waves, “that miraculous fragment will shine that much brighter, don’t you think?”
“...Perhaps it is useless, after all,” Felix finally utters, voice rough with tears. “Perhaps I’m better off remaining here, for all eternity.”
“Do you truly think so?” Sothis asks, not unkindly.
No , Felix thinks, because he couldn’t stand never seeing Sylvain again for the life of him.
When he does not answer, Sothis hums. “Let me give you a piece of advice, Felix Hugo Fraldarius. Do you think life will be kinder to you?”
He frowns. It seems it’s the only expression she has ever seen him make. “What do you mean?”
“This world as you know it is crueler than fate itself, you know. Everything you will ever try to build, it will destroy. Everything you will have, it will take away forever. Byleth realized that. And when she made the wish - no, the promise - to change that, there were only two paths left for her to take. Either she lied down here and died, or she kept going in her war against fate.”
“And she chose to keep going.”
Felix rises slowly, rubbing at his tired, tired eyes, but still facing her head-on.
“A miracle awaits, though the sacrifice is great. So what will you choose, Felix Hugo Fraldarius? Peace, or freedom ?” There’s defiance and pride and godliness in her voice as she utters her next words. “Will you try again?”
Felix is ten and homeschooled, his father teaching him about the politics and economics of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, his mother teaching him almost everything else.
Felix spends one half of his time under a pile of books, the other with weapons in hand, training again and again against Glenn and their father, sometimes against Dimitri and Sylvain, when they come visit, until Sylvain is permanently moved to the Fraldarius estate.
For as long as he could remember, Felix’s favorite color had been red - it’s the color of Sylvain’s hair, a deep vermillion that seems to set itself ablaze in the summer sun; the color with which his mother paints her lips with, splitting over her teeth as she carries her younger son, up there between the sky and her shoulders, his own shadow darkening her amber eyes in an imitation of chocolate.
It’s also the color of the bruises that sometimes appear on Sylvain’s slender arms and wrists, of the temporary burns on his thighs, of the rare finger-shaped marks adorning his throat like a necklace. Felix likes these shades of red a lot less. He’s glad when the bruises disappear once Sylvain comes to live with them.
They have taken to live the closest possible to each other: the two of them share the same room, sometimes the same bed, always the same breakfasts and lunches and dinners. Sylvain is and has always been Felix’s best friend, one of his sole friends, for he has no time to make acquaintances with other children in town.
They’re still here for each other when along the winter comes the war, and the planes, and the bombs; his father and brother have to enlist in the army while his mother stays home, caring about her son and her son’s friend in the confines of a cozy, golden cage, each day a test of her patience and hope. Felix still spends his days learning alongside Sylvain, blooming like the fields in May, until the enemy makes an assault on their city, guns drawn.
Felix has bought flowers for his mother’s birthday, but they now shine with a bloody luster as people shoot and fall and die around him. He can see the bodies from his hiding place, his groceries forgone on the ground when he had run for cover. He’s well hidden, he knows, behind a dirty wooden crate behind which no one would think of finding a well-heeled ten-year-old boy.
“Felix!” He hears Sylvain scream with unknown desperation, and his damned tiny feet run out in the middle of the street.
His best friend has a rifle in hand, although he clearly doesn’t know how to use it, and looks around recklessly as Felix shouts his name, his tiny voice ringing over gunshots and cries for help. When Sylvain spots him, the smile he gives him is the warmest Felix has ever seen.
Three warning shots echo down the paved road, and the flowers on Sylvain’s shirt bloom red.
He wakes up with syrup on his fingers and syrup on his clothes and syrup everywhere to be seen. He does not remember having ever bought syrup. The substance sticks to the thin, white sheet he has drawn over his chest during the night, reddish stains like maple leaves bleeding into the fabric of his shirt, and when he tears the blanket away the shirt tears as well, leaving a hole where his heart should have been. His room smells like the sweet scent of iron. He suspiciously stares at his fingers and the dried matter dyeing his nails in a cold shade of maroon. He raises his thumb to his lips, and takes a tentative lick.
His eyes widen. This is not syrup.
It is then that he finally manages to get a good look of his room, seated upright and uptight on his mattress. Blood, blood on his fingers and blood on his clothes and blood everywhere to be seen and a hole in his shirt and a hole where his heart should have been.
He rushes to the bathroom and pukes his guts out.
Felix awakes to the sound of sweet jazz music and the overwhelming scent of coffee.
He has had that dream again - that memory, the one of the day where his heart was stolen, except he has no actual memory of it all, but merely of the morning after. It had hit him like a bad hangover, at the time, and he had spent the good part of his day sewing up the wound and vomiting and back to sewing up - he would be forever grateful for Mercedes, who had taught him advanced medical care as soon as she had learnt he was going to join the rebellion too, most likely from her own experience of having to treat cuts and bruises and broken limbs for overtraining teammates.
This morning, too, he feels sick, yet the feeling all but vanishes when he notices the unfamiliar place he has been sleeping in.
The flat looks small, and Felix doesn’t think there’s any other room than the one where he has just woken up in. Scratch that, there probably is a bathroom somewhere, along the hallway he can spot from the sofa bed he lies onto. From his spot on the pillows, he can stare up at a bed base, wooden planks holding the mattress up inside of what he guesses is a black, wrought iron bunk bed. In front of him, a whole part of wall is decorated with polaroid pictures of people he does and does not recognize. At the end of his provisional bed is pushed back a small coffee table, on which several mismatched mugs of drunk-up coffee are left abandoned, as well as a laptop and speakers - where the music comes from, his still-drunken brain supplies. When he sits up, he spots a wardrobe standing close to a desk whose mess can only rival his own; the furniture has clearly not been used for its intended purpose in a very long time. Books and printed sheets of papers lie haphazardly around in piles, and he notices bottles of perfume, tubes of creams, and a few makeup products on one of the shelves above. A full-length mirror reflects a tall figure dressed in a t-shirt and boxers busying himself in the open kitchen.
The nameless guy, he remembers now.
Felix has met him yesterday, at a rally-turned-party thrown by Byleth and Dimitri, and has found him striking - not only physically, but in personality, because it isn’t every day when you meet someone whose brain was messed up by Edelgard fucking Von Hresvelg enough to leave whole patches of memories wiped away, up to and including one’s own name .
The guy must have heard him move, because he turns around, short red hair mussed up by sleep falling down over his eyes. He gives Felix a soft look of disinterest, but still smiles nonetheless, a tiny smile that barely reaches his eyes. Judging from the size of the coffee mug in his hand, he is tired, too.
"Like a baby."
"I know. I heard you snore."
Felix is too tired to either object or retort, and draws back the covers so as to stand up instead. The guy’s eyes fly over his shape before he turns back to his task, and suddenly Felix is too conscious of the fact that he stands only in his boxers. He rakes a hand into his long hair to give himself some semblance of composure, but his reflection in the mirror tells him that his unruly locks do not quite agree with that. His discarded shirt and pants lie forgotten on the carpet under the coffee table, and he has no strength to spare in reaching for them.
The guy raises the coffee pot in silent question as Felix steps into his space - three long steps are enough to reach him and settle his back against the countertop. His own answer is noisier, a quiet hum of approval over the music filtering in their brains, the lapping of black liquid poured into a cup matching the rhythm of piano and drums.
"This is going to sound extremely presumptuous," Felix says, breaking the harmony of the moment for a second, "but did anything happen last night?"
A mocking smile, softened by sleep. "If by 'anything', you mean you whining like a baby that you wanted to sleep and had no cash for a taxi, and me generously offering you a place where you crashed as soon as you entered, then yes, something definitely happened."
Felix must be really tired, because he laughs, and sips the scalding coffee as his eyes slide to a close. He has always liked to enjoy coffee that way, oblivious to anything the world has to offer at the moment but the searing taste on his tongue. When he opens them again, the guy unabashedly stares at his chest. At the scar, Felix knows, that big, ugly thing he has branded himself with against his will. He has always feared the way people would look at it - sad, horrified, disgusted, disdainful - and so he has forgone showing this detail of himself to anyone, showing himself at all to anyone, as if the abhorrence people experience as they lay eyes on him has bled into him and mutated into shame.
Not the guy, though.
His expression is open and straightforward, and shows nothing of the usual repulsion Felix expects from people; instead, his gaze is bright with cautious curiosity, as though he’s someone desperately hoping to pet a tomcat but afraid to scare him away. A dozen questions seem to cross his mind, none of which he utters; he must have thought that a single night of acquaintance does not warrant him the right to voice such queries. Felix can sort of agree with that. Still, he dismisses his gaze with the same disinterest he has thus far shown when Felix is around, and gives him a quick smile as he lays down his cup and makes his way to turn the bed back into a couch.
He turns his gaze back to Felix when he finishes, and Felix has the very sharp feeling of being analyzed down to the roots of his hair. "Are you sure you slept well?"
He has brown eyes, he can now see in the un-blinded daylight seeping through the curtains; one warm shade away from umber , he thinks, no remembers thinking. ( Remembers thinking…? ) Mostly, Felix is struck with the way they seem to look through anyone and anything, as though he has already learned with a single glance each of his weaknesses and is currently pondering whether to comfort him about them or use them against him.
"I've... had a dream." That dream. "Nothing of importance," he lies.
The guy’s face twists in a small pout. "Sorry. I didn't mean to pry." He glances at the glass and the painkillers he’s set on the table for Felix as though they’re the most interesting thing in the room. "But, if you want to talk about it... I'll understand." And as someone who, too, has lost part of himself, Felix is certain he would.
"Complex bio-technological matters," Felix non-explains airily instead. "I don't want to put you through this."
The guy stares back at him, his frown deepening just a bit, a tiny knife cutting a line into the space between his eyebrows, and Felix knows that look - has worn it almost his entire life. But what if I want to be put through this? , it insists, yet the moment passes and the knife pulls back, the wound closing as the man shrugs.
"You still don't remember?" Felix asks, and there is no need to clarify what he is referring to.
"If I had, I'd told you, Felix." Felix likes the way he says his name. He pronounces it the way he would a longer name, letting the last syllable dissolve into half a rustle; says it with all the reverence someone with no knowledge of his own name gives to others, fully knowing the weight it holds; but vocalizes the ' e ' with a touch of defiance, as though he’s trying to get a rise out of him, and Felix would have liked nothing better than answering that provocation with one of his own. He does not even have a nickname for him, though. The thought of that saddens him in a way he cannot explain.
The man examines his face, and he laughs.
He laughs and it sounds like bells and like heartbeats and like thunder and Felix somehow wants to punch him in the face.
“Sorry,” he says between chuckles, “but you just had that look on your face-”
“I’m not laughing anymore, Fe.”
The nickname sends shivers down his spine, pulls at the heart he no longer has like phantom pain. “You were a moment ago.” I hate being made fun of.
The guy’s eyes as he looks up still carry a cheeky quality, but his sassy smile softens into something gentler, a hint of mischief still creasing the corner of his mouth. Felix decides he hates it.
“Anyway,” he says, not looking away, his presence imposing and domineering like Claude at a dinner party, “since we’re supposed to be partners now,” and he winks, fucking winks at the word, like the insufferable charmer he is, “we should work on our plan for the next mission, yeah?” He looks at Felix, open and questioning, and Felix hates that he likes it - that he has not once looked at him with disbelief, probably as a result of a decade spent standing alongside the very unbelievable.
“Yeah,” Felix answers, breath short. “We should.”
Felix turns around and barely escapes from the Lance of Ruin that tries to cut at him.
“Sylvain,” he says, hiding with all his might the pain and regret tainting every syllable of the name on his tongue.
Sylvain’s eyes are immensely tired, and infinitely more tender, as he looks at him. He has dismounted, his black armor crusted with blood, lance pulsating between his fingers. “Hey, Fe. Sorry it has to be like this.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Felix tries, desperate, not even believing himself in the words he lets fall into the burning air.
“We can’t be friends anymore,” Sylvain goes on, and it almost sounds like a confession. “Don’t take it personally.”
Felix’s laugh is as bitter as the last pint of ale they have drunk together, five years ago, before it all went to hell. He readies his stance, flowing like water, quiet as a shadow. “When have I ever.”
His sword clashes against Sylvain’s hero relic, and Felix would already be at a disadvantage if he wasn’t distracted - distracted by thoughts racing through his head, almost screaming, that they’ve forgotten something, something so important, something that could change-
Change what ?
He’s lying in the cool mud as rain caresses his face, his sword lost some meters away, stuck into the ground. Sylvain kneels above him, his grip on the lance loose, not enough that Felix can knock it out of his hand, but enough that he knows their conversation is not over. Not yet.
“I think I loved you,” Sylvain says, and it’s devastating how the simple sentence changes absolutely nothing .
A memory flashes before his eyes, a memory he doesn’t recognize, of Sylvain’s calloused fingers plucking strings, of his voice soft as a dream, singing a song that he says reminds him of Felix, somehow. I have only two emotions , he sings, careful fear and dead devotion , and Felix remembers finding it so unfair, because between the two of them he had always been the one with so many feelings he did not know how to keep them all from spilling like blood on tiled floor.
“We’re forgetting something.” Felix’s soft, urgent voice whispers as Sylvain readies the lance above him. “Sylvain, can’t you see it? Can’t you feel it? We shouldn’t kill each other, it’s not how this is supposed to be-”
Sylvain flinches above him, his red-brown eyes widening ever so slightly, his arm trembling. “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you alone for long. I fully intend not to get out of here alive.”
“ That’s the problem!” Felix’s voice is frantic now, almost a shout. “It won’t accomplish anything !”
Sylvain is rattled enough to not hear the running footsteps on the ground, and Byleth buries the point of her sword into his shoulder.
Sylvain cries out in pain, eyeing his former teacher, something in his gaze close to fear, close to pleading, close to a prayer.
“Leave.” Her voice is cold and sharp as steel, and Sylvain, ever trying to be the teacher’s pet, complies. She looks down at her sword, face unreadable.
When Byleth stares back at Felix, her eyes are alight with apprehension and resignation and the tiniest hint of hope.
The quiet morning light seeps through the curtains and stirs Felix awake. He turns his head around, and the rest of his body follows as he throws an arm around the body next to his, curling himself against the strong back. His face finds the crook of Sylvain’s neck, and he breathes in like a half-drowned man surfacing.
“Tickles,” comes the rough, muffled voice, dimmed by sleep and late morning laziness.
“Don’t care,” Felix replies, and hugs him tighter.
Sylvain lets out a slight laugh. “Good morning to you, too.”
Felix doesn’t answer, and Sylvain gently pries his arms apart, turning around to face him. The mess of his red hair makes his gaze soft, and he props his head onto his elbow.
“Had a bad dream?”
“I don’t know,” Felix says, his eyes tracing the graceful, handsome features of his face. “I can’t seem to remember.” It leaves him with a deep, throbbing ache, and as he’s about to hug Sylvain again, the man sits up into the bed, sheets sliding down his naked frame.
“Maybe we should go have breakfast outside?”
Felix throws his leg around Sylvain’s middle, and pushes him back down. His legs have always been incredibly strong, stronger than his other body parts. He’s glad he can use them for things as mundane as these. “Don’t wanna.”
Sylvain chuckles again, low and fond. “It’ll distract you.”
“Don’t care.” Felix half-straddles him childishly. He has never let anyone see this side of him. Sylvain has been a lot of his firsts, a lot of his onlys. “I don’t wanna leave this bed. Ever.”
“Is that so.” Sylvain’s gaze is keen and almost blazing in the blinded morning light and the red of his hair. His hand grazes Felix’s shoulder as he creeps closer. “Guess I’ll have to find another distraction.”
Sylvain leaves trails of fire along his arms, his ribs, his stomach, his hips, and the burn is something close to divine. His eyes as he looks at Felix burn with something , something that feels like it has always been destined for him, Felix’s fingers pulling and pushing and pulling again like waves crashing on a shore as he urges him on. He traces the shape of words with his mouth, Felix, my sun and stars, light of my life , and Felix shivers in delight, hard enough that it takes him by surprise, so he hides his embarrassment by flipping Sylvain up and around with gentle forcefulness. Felix relishes in the way Sylvain lets him curl his fingers into his flesh, biting almost like a weapon, almost like a threat, and Sylvain’s smile is sharp when he looks back at him.
“I changed my mind. We won’t get out of this bed ever again.”
It seems somewhat absurd that Garreg Mach is one of the last places to know the end of the world.
Felix watches it all come down from his spot in the university library, strangely accepting, strangely calm. Another doomed fragment , a part of him whispers, another star-crossed lifetime . He knows this is all there is. He knows that the fire streaking the sky in beautiful shades of crimson will come for him soon. He knows the comets that seem to carve their inexorable path down will hit each and every place, each and every person he has come to know and love.
He thinks of Ashe, beautiful, kind Ashe, of silver hair between his fingers and green eyes like the clearest lake, of a ringed hand holding Ingrid’s and a tiny little girl’s in a holiday picture, of the book he picked up some time ago on a shelf in a train station bookstore, of the side character in his idealistic tale based on him, named after him. He wishes he could hug him.
He thinks of Annette, solar and stellar, of letters and texts and pictures that she still sends him, of short, full-hearted replies, of recounts of travels and journeys and adventures he has never been able to live, of a beautiful card emblazoned with gold with two names and a date, of a high-pitched voice asking him to be her best man. He wishes he could congratulate her.
He thinks of Dimitri, of gold hair and golder heart, of insults thrown carelessly about like misplaced toys, of youthful days under the summer sun and the winter snow, of untold regrets and jealousies and yearning, of offered hands and denied help, of clear blue eyes dulled by pain and time and himself. He wishes he could apologize.
He thinks of Mercedes, always strong, always gentle, of ghost stories told in the darkness of a bedroom, of late-night study sessions and early-morning heartfelt talks, of longing side glances towards red hair and blue eyes, of sympathetic eyes and listening ears and understanding heart. He wishes he could thank her.
He thinks of Byleth, lastly, of icy teal eyes and icy teal hair, of small, warm hands caressing his face, of stern reprimands and half-baked compliments, of knowing stares and knowing half-smiles, of strange wisdoms uttered at the oddest moments, of waves and moonlight and glistening stones on the edge of Time itself, of green tumbling down a stone throne-
He stops in his tracks of thought.
He has no idea where the image has come from, but in that very instant, it is so vivid he can almost reach out and touch it.
Somehow, his thoughts drift back to the stranger on the train. A forever lost opportunity, his most beautiful, most beloved what-if story, never to be written.
He had waited, to text him, at the time, had waited just a bit too long, and had never gotten an answer. He had never seen him again, down the cobbled streets of Garreg Mach, or anywhere else for that matter - and yet, in this exact moment, Felix has the feeling that this isn’t the end. This can’t be the end. The world is falling apart and burning in front of his eyes, turning his irises to molten amber in the blazing twilight, and it’s not an ending.
It’s a beginning, he thinks instead. The Beginning .
He feels his feet rush outside the library, foregoing his belongings, carrying him as though floating in thin air, walking on water. He has no idea where he’s going. You have to go with your gut , he remembers Annette’s younger voice, back when she had drawn these stupid cards for him. He remembers hesitating as he picked up the third card. Would it have changed anything, choosing the first card he had aimed for? Would it have allowed him to hug Ashe, congratulate Annette, apologize to Dimitri, thank Mercedes, smile at Byleth again? Would it have prevented the end of the world?
Would it have brought him to never meet Sylvain?
He sees, dozens of kilometers away, planes and helicopters, taking flight in the burning sky in an effort to stall death, people trying their best to get into cars to get just one more second of precious life. He shuts down his eyes as he runs and runs and runs, against the falling rocks and raining flames and time itself. He doesn’t spare a glance to the countless burning bodies, to the crashed cars, to the screams, to the noise of a motor desperately fleeing in the same direction. He thinks of a peaceful train ride and of shoulders brushing.
He hears a shout, and a not-so-unknown voice, so uncannily familiar he feels like it shouldn’t belong to nothing more, nothing less, than a barely-stranger.
Felix opens his eyes, and sees red hair and red eyes and red everywhere a few steps away from him, arms opened, and Felix drives himself into him like a car crash and kisses him.
They kiss with all the desperation they can muster, Felix’s hand coming to bury themselves into his soft, red hair, Sylvain pressing harder against him, his hand curling behind his neck and untangling his bunned-up hair. Felix presses his lips, again and again, against Sylvain’s, open mouth breathing all of him in, teeth grazing and tongue licking patterns of fairytales against the roof of his mouth. Felix has never felt, will never, ever feel, as complete as he feels now, puzzle pieces slotting together in the most perfect image of what true love is like.
They kiss like the world is ending right below their feet, until they remember that it actually is.
Sylvain’s lips are red and glistening as he pulls away, prettily matching his eyes.
“I’ve come for you,” he says, and Felix wants to never stop kissing him, wants to suspend that very moment in the moonlit sea of time.
Finally, I finally found you , Felix thinks, and he must have said it out loud because Sylvain laughs and laughs and laughs, the sound burning right through his lungs. Sylvain takes his hand and pulls him up on a motorcycle, and Felix has the very distinct memory of an instant that has not happened, or has already happened, or will happen one day - of Sylvain’s armored hand hauling him up atop a horse, racing against time through a burning battlefield, and Felix’s arms tighten around his middle as Sylvain launches them through crowds and cars and burning in direction of salvation.
Felix observes the blurry scenery as they drive, shadows of buildings and smoke and sea fading away as though melting, turning everything gold and copper and amber. It’s dazzling and terrifying. It’s the most beautiful landscape Felix has ever seen. He raises his eyes to Sylvain from his spot in the crook of his neck, sees his red hair burning like fire, sees burnt umber eyes, and smiles the hardest he’s ever smiled in his life, in all his lives , something tells him. And Sylvain must have felt it, against his skin, because the brilliant edge of his laughter is only rivaled by the brilliance of Felix’s happiness.
The last helicopter is about to take off when they finally reach the platform, and Felix takes Sylvain’s hand in his and runs, dragging him along, and the helicopter rises in the suffocating air as Felix’s fingers close on the rope ladder and he settles his feet in the crook of them. He’s still holding Sylvain’s hand, to his relief, and the other man climbs as well, and for a moment, he thinks they’ve made it.
A trail of fire falls mere meters away from them, and the force of the impact propels hot wind in their faces, and Sylvain’s feet slip.
“Sylvain!!” Felix’s scream is feral, and he’s reminded of Dimitri, somehow, of how similar they were, despite it all. Sylvain still grips tightly onto his hand, but his other hand slips from the rope, and Felix dangles him in the air like a puppet. The rope chafes his bare hand, and he can feel his grip slipping, slowly but surely, inevitable doom cutting his skin like a razor.
“Felix,” Sylvain says, his voice softer than it has any right to be. “Let me go.”
“No way. I won’t, I can’t-”
“You saved me that day,” Sylvain interrupts his rant. Felix’s hand slides down the rope again. “In the train. Let me save you in turn, Felix Fraldarius.”
“I don’t need to be saved.” Not if it means I’ll have to live without you. He finally, finally, remembers a distant promise, a half-forgotten vow of love and fate. You promised. We’ll live together for all eternity.
“I always wanted to thank you, you know, to see you again, and when you texted…”
“Why didn’t you answer?!” His grip on Sylvain’s hand is clammy, nails desperately biting into skin for purchase.
Sylvain laughs. “I got my phone stolen.”
It’s so outlandish that Felix can’t even give a proper answer. “Are you daft ?!”
He smiles. “I’ve always been a fool for you.”
If Felix didn’t feel so much for him, he would have dropped him right there and then. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
( Not across all lifetimes, not across all fragments. )
“No,” Sylvain says with frightening finality as he lets go of Felix’s hand. “And neither have you.”
Felix’s hand slips down his fingers, and as he sees Sylvain fall into the burning sea below, he screams and screams and screams.
He’s pulled back into the helicopter by a tiny, warm hand, and a shock of teal swims into his immediate vision.
There’s relief and pride in Byleth’s eyes as she appraises him, and Felix cannot feel anything but a deep emptiness where his heart should have been, torn away by fate itself. Her right hand rests on the hilt of a strange artifact. The Sword of the Creator , a voice inside his head whispers. He’s never heard of the thing in his life.
“Thank you, Felix.” Her smile is the tiniest bit wider than usual as she jumps from the open door of the helicopter, sword in hand, and Felix closes his eyes as the fabric of space and time tears.
He’s the last of them. He lives long, very, very long, longer than Sylvain, than Byleth, than Dimitri, than Annette and Mercedes, than Ashe and Ingrid. All of them die, at peace, and he, too, ends up dying, old and worn and dull grey, a life of fading regrets and bones like concrete and a leaden heart turning to ashes in his mouth.
It doesn’t taste like a miracle.
He wakes up in the waves of the moonlit sea, young again, and the one sitting on the throne isn’t Sothis, this time.
Byleth assesses him with careful eyes, face unbetrayed by emotions or thoughts. The Sword of the Creator lies at her feet, pulsating like a heartbeat. “Congratulations,” she says, and her tone is warmer than everything her demeanor exudes.
She blinks, her gaze dropping to the Sword, pensive and longing. “Resting. She deserves it, after what I put her through.”
“Somewhere else, probably. With another iteration of me.” Her voice carries the airiness of carelessness and unconcern. “You found it,” she starts again, head tilting to the side, teal locks tumbling over her shoulder. “The miracle fragment. You saved yourselves. You saved everyone. You saved me .”
“I couldn’t save him.”
“But you did.” She’s not unkind. “He told you as much.”
“And he still died.”
“She told you, didn’t she? A miracle awaits, but the sacrifice is great . Yet you still found it, and you freed us all. Now, there will be one, perfect fate, and all of you will live happily ever after in all the other ones. Can’t you see them shifting? Can’t you feel them?”
Felix thinks he can, deep in his bones, deep in his heart. It’s not enough. It’s meaningless if he doesn’t find happiness here, too. He tells her so.
“Ever unsatisfied,” Byleth sighs, a small exhale of cold breath. “But you won’t be able to do anything about it.”
Felix eyes her carefully. “Actually, I think I will.”
A shadow of surprise lights up her face.
“All of this happened because you kept wondering about the next worlds, yes?” He lets his lips quirk into a smile. “I think it’s due time someone starts believing in the current one.”
“Even I don’t know if it’ll work, Felix.” There’s worry in her voice, now, her brows drawing lines into her forehead. “You might try again and again and again, and it might break you entirely.”
He lies down on the water, eyes drawn to the moon overhead, gentle glow warming him in the most comforting way. “I’m not as fragile as you seem to think I am. I’ll definitely find a way.”
He cannot see her face as he hears Byleth’s laugh echoing throughout the infinite sea, but it sounds melodious, full of light and full of hope.
“If anyone can do it, it’ll probably be you.”
FRAGMENT 1,099 (ALTER)
Dimitri is probably one of the most beautiful things he has ever seen, standing in front of the full-length mirror inside their hotel room.
He wears a pristine white suit and a periwinkle bowtie, perfectly matching his bright, happy blue eyes, all long legs and broad shoulders and blond hair carefully ribbonned-up in a half-ponytail behind his head. He looks nothing less than a fairytale prince, graceful and regal, long lashes batting over his cheeks as he gazes down to the rings on the bedside table.
“What do you think?” Dimitri asks, turning to Felix with worry in every line creasing his expression.
His best man pins a small periwinkle flower to the pocket above his heart. “It should suffice,” he lies, because it’s even more than enough. He cannot wait to see Claude’s face when Dimitri steps into the city hall.
Dimitri laughs, ever undaunted by Felix’s jabs and harsh words, even after all these years. Felix had apologized, once, and Dimitri was having none of it, and from then on had grown again the same understanding and sentiment and muted friendship that had bound them once as children. Felix had cried when Dimitri had asked him to be his best man. He’ll take the secret to the grave.
“Don’t forget the rings, idiot,” Felix chides him, a little fond, as they leave for Dimitri’s wedding.
The ceremony is solemn and happy, Annette and Mercedes clinging to each other tightly on Dimitri’s side of the room, the older woman rubbing comforting hands through the redhead’s back as she cries heavy tears of happiness. Ingrid stands, proud and moved, a bunch of flowers and a basket of confettis in her hands, that she’ll hand to the guests when the two spouses will make their way out the building, later. Even Edelgard has come, hand clasped tightly inside her girlfriend’s, because even she could not miss the most beautiful day of her step-brother’s life.
None of the spouses’ parents are here. It’s way better this way, Felix thinks.
He can see a short woman he remembers as Hilda doing her best to hide the tears rolling down her puffy cheeks. Her whole “groomsmaids squad”, as she has called them, is doing the exact same, and it makes for such a funny picture that Felix would laugh if fucking Lorenz wasn’t there to shush him each time he moved a single finger. Claude himself is as beautiful as Dimitri, tan olive skin embellished by flecks of gold embroidered into his own black suit, hair still unruly as ever, emerald green eyes never leaving Dimitri’s for a single minute, as though his soon-to-be-husband would vanish if he was to look away.
Byleth is their ringbearer, to no one’s surprise, and through her barely-emotional mask Felix can see that she’s glad, that her former loves have found love in each other too.
Then comes the most boring part, and Felix rises from his chair with a rolling of eyes as the mayor asks for the two best men to come a sign a bunch of papers with the future spouses. He’s surprised when he doesn’t see Hilda do the same - he was sure Claude would have asked her, and then Felix remembers that for what he knows of the woman, she’ll have denied the privilege because it’s way too much work , or something. Instead, he sees another man, half a head taller than him, red hair brushed away from his face, smartly dressed in a suit with the same, more sober accents of gold as Claude’s. Felix’s hair itself is tied in the same way as Dimitri, long hair falling over his shoulders along with the long blue ribbon tying half of it behind his head, so he surmises he should have noticed sooner. Their eyes meet, and the man smiles, brilliant with happiness, and Felix’s heart drops to the floor and shatters into a billion, glistening pieces.
Fuck. He’s hot.
He turns his head away with a huff, taking his place next to Dimitri’s, and says nothing as the mayor hands him the pen and he starts signing away. Dimitri and Claude chatter away with him as they all go through a bunch of papers, but he can feel Dimitri’s knowing gaze and cheeky smile on him as he surveys the blush creeping up his neck. He loosens his bowtie, for good measure.
“This is Felix,” Claude introduces him, eyes as knowing as Dimitri’s, and those two really did find each other, didn’t they? “He’s been Dima’s best friend since primary school.”
“Kindergarten, actually,” Felix corrects. “Also, not his best friend.” Dimitri keeps introducing him this way to each of his new acquaintances. He feels like the title doesn’t suit him. He doesn’t deserve it.
“Brother in arms, then,” Claude snickers as he rolls his eyes, and Felix catches the redhead’s gaze on his, unreadable.
He breaks into a grin, hungry teeth shining under red lips. “I’m Sylvain. It’s so very nice to meet you.”
FRAGMENT 17,513 (ALTER 1)
“Say,” Felix asks Annette once she’s finished describing him his last card. “What was this card?”
He draws the card on which his fingers had stopped, before he had retreated. Not now, not yet , a voice inside him had said, and he had followed his gut feeling, but he’s still plenty curious.
L’Etoile , the card says, adorned with a glyph closely resembling an explosion, or a star, or both.
“Ah,” Annette signs, happily. “The Star. It’s funny, it’s my favorite card.”
“What does it mean?”
Annette’s eyes are blue and glimmering as she looks at him again. “It’s a card about hope.”
FRAGMENT 1 (ALTER)
They reach Dimitri on Sylvain’s horse as he’s about to chase Edelgard, desperation feral in his single, icy blue eye. We’ll get to her , Sylvain swears again and again as he drags their friend, their king , alongside them and away from the burning bodies and abandoned weapons.
Felix can’t help but watch as enemy arrows rain above the space they’ve just left, Byleth rushing to cut the archers down.
FRAGMENT 3,591,369 (ALTER)
Felix pushes his sword through Solon’s body as the sorcerer readies a spell right in Sylvain’s direction, blood dribbling warm and sweet down his hands and arms. He pulls the blade out, and stabs again, once, twice, thrice for good measure.
I won’t let you , he thinks, steel singing like a melody as it cuts through flesh and bone and matter. I won’t let you take away what I love .
FRAGMENT 87 (ALTER)
“Please.” Gautier’s voice dribbles like honey on a cake. “Call me Sylvain.”
He barely hears the sounds of gunshots, explosions, screams, over Gautier- Sylvain ’s intake of breath.
“Say, Sylvain, do you want to die?”
The thief’s expression is resigned, in a way only someone who thinks themselves destined to die can draw, but there’s a question in his eyes, untold and unclear. Then, a resolution.
Felix carefully removes his handcuffs, fingers brushing against Sylvain’s skin in the gentlest of threats.
“I’m Felix. Follow me?”
His hand is at the holster of his gun, ready to be drawn, as he waits for the thief to get up. Sylvain smiles, and it’s the most genuine expression he’s seen on him since he’s been taken into custody.
“Anywhere you want.”
FRAGMENT 78,432 (ALTER)
Felix stands at a crossroads, waiting for the light to turn green. Do I know you? He sends the message. He’s about to step onto the street when he’s stopped by the three little dots flashing into the message box.
He didn’t expect to have an answer so soon.
A car rushes by him - everyone in this damn city runs the fucking lights, apparently - and it doesn’t even compare in any way to the rush he feels inside his chest as he waits for Sylvain Gautier’s answer.
FRAGMENT 17,513 (ALTER 843,001)
He watches his own reflection in the mirror-sea, making for a pitiful but beautiful sight: the sorrow of loss and ever-repeating grief has made his features keener, his eyes sharper, his gaze darker. He does not feel anger - just a dull grey of fatigue and despairing unacceptance. Byleth looks at him, a small, sad smile flickering on her face.
“Again,” he demands, resolute.
FRAGMENT 1,099 (ALTER)
He spends a good part of the ceremony and the rest of the party by Sylvain’s side - or, more accurately, Sylvain tails him like a lost puppy.
He slings his arm around his shoulders for the group pictures, ruffles up his hair to get a rise out of him when Felix is talking to other guests and Sylvain goes to the buffet for more petit-fours, switches the name tags on the table so that he can sit next to him for dinner. And Felix is mad, so mad that it actually works , because he finds himself looking at Sylvain when he leaves to get them more wine, searching the expression on his face as girls coo and flirt and dance with him, pulling him by the arm and away from the waiters’ path when they go outside for a smoke and Felix doesn’t even smoke and he’s so tempted to taste death right from Sylvain’s tongue.
“I like it here,” Sylvain says, exhaling elegant, silver ribbons in the midsummer night’s wind. “It’s quiet.” They’re on the balcony, muffled music and aimless conversations drifting from the half-opened bay windows. He can decipher Annette and Mercedes taking a stroll in the gardens below, each a piece of Lysithea’s wedding cake in plates, exchanging sweet words and sweeter glances. He thinks of Edelgard and Dorothea as they swayed in time with the music earlier, as though no one else but them existed in the room. He thinks he hears Ashe struggling to make his feelings known to Dedue, in the faraway, almost lost to the stars.
“Me too,” Felix answers, eventually, and he feels Sylvain’s burning gaze on him.
“You look… thoughtful.”
“That’s because I am thinking, dumbass.”
Sylvain snickers, undeterred. “It looks good on you. The not-frowning.”
“Oh, shut up.” He struggles to keep the flush creeping up his neck under wraps. Sylvain carefully crushes the ashes of his cigarette against the balcony stone, pocketing the bud into his suit, before he removes the vest entirely and stretches torturously slow, as though he somehow knows through closed eyes that Felix is watching. “Do you think… we’re fated to meet someone eventually?”
The question must have taken him by surprise, because his brown eyes shine like tar in the lack of light as they turn wide as saucers. Sylvain lets out a depreciating, bitter chuckle. “You’re asking me ?”
“I mean, the girls are all over you since the beginning of the party. You clearly don’t need help in that department.”
Sylvain’s expression is unreadable, and Felix shivers, though not from cold. “Girls. Boys, too. They’re only after my wealth. My family name. What I stand for.” Felix can imagine the not me left unsaid on his tongue.
“Who even cares about all that?” Felix glances away, towards the room beyond the windows. “Names, money, reputation. All of that, just words in the wind. I just… don’t see how it can ever compare to the feeling of a best friend’s hug, or a brother’s hand, or…”
“A true love’s kiss?” Sylvain finishes for him, clearly amused. “Wow Felix, I didn’t take you for a sentimentalist.”
“What can I say,” he jokes, easily. “When your best friend since kindergarten is a literal prince right out of a Disney movie, it’s hard not to grow up an idealist.”
“It’s okay,” Sylvain laughs. “I might need that, too. Some idealism.”
“I’m more of a realist, now, but…” Felix leans his back against the balcony, elbows propped onto the stone railing, long hair falling to the emptiness below, the breeze brushing it as softly as a lover’s caress. “I do think whatever gods or whatever strength of nature put us in this world, they’ve shaped us to be able to feel, to be able to love. And it’s as much a blessing as it is a curse.”
He feels Sylvain lean as well, closer to him, and his expression is soft, warm, fond, as Felix turns his head to face him. Then, his smile turns into a smirk, sass dripping out of his mouth as he says “And here I thought you had turned down all these invitations to dance because you didn’t care.”
Felix scoffs as he rises again, arms crossing in front of his chest. “I actually don’t care, though.”
“Nah, you care too much.”
“I don’t dance anyway.”
“Is this the same thing you said to the nine women and four men trying to get you on the dancefloor tonight?”
Felix spins around, furious blush burning his cheeks. “Y-you… You counted them?!”
Sylvain’s laugh, lustrous and glorious, loses itself in the wind. “I figured you’d soon need a bodyguard if any more started asking.”
“So that’s why you’ve been following me. Great.”
“Dance with me.”
It’s a reflexive answer, like a kick in the knee, but Sylvain’s face looks crestfallen, as if Felix has slapped him straight across the face, and Felix hates that he feels so guilty . “Sorry,” he hastily coughs out. “It’s... It’s been a reflex. Tonight. Too many people asking for the same thing.”
Sylvain steps closer. “Does that mean you’ll do it?”
Felix doesn’t look up yet. “There’s barely any music.” It’s a lie, and they both know it. The music is loud enough to be heard, although dimmed, throughout the whole balcony.
“Is it because it’s me?”
“Of course not!” It escapes Felix in a tone way too truthful to his liking, and he does his best not to look at Sylvain, does not want him to see the all-too-odd sudden feelings painted on his face like aquarelle on a canvas, subtle and striking at the same time. “Yours… is probably the only attention worth having here.”
There’s a small intake of breath ringing like a bell through the air, and an indecipherable sigh. Felix notices the hand coming low into his field of vision. “Felix,” Sylvain asks again, soft and pliant. “Would you dance with me?”
What are you afraid of? he seems to hear in filigrane.
Felix takes his hand and Sylvain pulls him in.
They sway, alone on the balcony, to the rhythm of chords and subtle drums. Sylvain leads him, slow and careful, doesn’t complain when facing Felix’s slight resistance, laughs and smiles and whispers stupid pickup lines in his ear. He slides his fingers through a lock of his hair, as though observing the way the fairy lights reflect on it, bringing them close to his lips and nose when he notices the hint of faded perfume, and Felix gently slaps his hand away in half-hearted annoyance. For the first time in a long while, Felix feels perfectly open, perfectly safe, perfectly complete.
Felix knows he could give everything that he ever was and is, everything he ever will be, to this man. He only fears that at the moment, it isn’t much, it isn’t enough.
The song comes to a close and they slow to a stop, and Sylvain’s grip on his hand loosens slightly, holding Felix’s fingers between his.
“Sylvain,” he sighs, almost a confession, almost a surrender.
The man exhales in something close to wonder. “It’s the first time you’ve said my name.” He steps ever closer, until Felix struggles to differentiate one of them from the other. “I like the way you say it. Very much.”
When Sylvain leans in to press their lips together, Felix reaches out, too.
FRAGMENT 914,111 (ALTER)
Felix looks at the figure of the man in the open kitchen.
The nameless man.
No , Felix thinks.
The man almost drops the coffee pot in his hand as he swings around, looking at Felix with astonishment and relief and so much bliss.
FRAGMENT 535,645,942 (ALTER)
Sylvain’s hand is burning in his as they rush through the dark streets of Embarr.
“Where are we going?” Sylvain asks, his voice dark and lustful and buoyant.
They end up on the docks, running as though their very lives depend on it - and perhaps, perhaps they do.
“Away. Wherever. Far from here, far from home.” They’ve stolen a boat, an old, metallic thing, a wreck in-progress, but it’s way enough for the both of them. They’ll pick up Dimitri later, in another, prettier one, suiting his Highness better.
Sylvain buries his nose in the crook of Felix’s neck, kissing his way up his ear. “Home has always been wherever you are, anyway.”
FRAGMENT 667 (ALTER)
After five years of war, the Faerghus government declares a ceasefire, on Sylvain’s birthday. That morning, Felix and Sylvain wake up, tangled together, tired and hungry, and alive, so very much alive.
FRAGMENT 17 (ALTER)
Felix’s gaze crosses Sylvain’s on the bloody battlefield, opposite him, Lance of Ruin pulsating between his fingers to the rhythm of Felix’s heartbeat.
They carefully turn around, both of them, as they pretend they haven’t seen the other. Felix readies his sword, and faces the rest of his enemies.
FRAGMENT 513 (ALTER)
I have only two emotions , Sylvain sings, his fingers strumming against the chords on his guitar in his stuffy attic-turned-bedoom, careful fear and dead devotion . A song about him, huh. Felix closes his eyes.
He opens them again as Sylvain’s hand slides one last time against the frets, his gaze boring into Sylvain’s as his best friend looks back at him, sitting shoulder to shoulder on his bed.
Felix raises his hand to caress strands of red hair out of redder eyes.
“You’re beautiful,” Sylvain tells him, and Felix kisses him.
FRAGMENT 3,701 (ALTER)
Felix sinks into Sylvain, and the burn feels as good as the first time, all these years ago. Sylvain pulls him closer, hands gripping at his wrists, legs driving Felix’s body into his until Felix can’t distinguish where one ends and the other begins. Sylvain sighs half a laugh in delight as Felix moves, smooth as water, receding and crashing again like waves, and he’s so, so tight around him, and Felix tells him so, because he knows how much words matter to Sylvain, tells him how much he loves it, how much he loves him , tells him how good and warm and wet he feels, and Sylvain whimpers as Felix takes him in hand, moving in time with his own thrusts, until the whimpers turn into outright prayers - please, Felix, so good , until his name is shortened to a mere chorus of exhales, Fe, Fe, Fe , and Felix tastes them with his tongue as his breath catches and he comes, hard, Sylvain making a mess of their chests between them.
Sylvain reaches for him, keeps him right there, the only place he’ll ever need to be. He buries his fingers in Felix’s hair, pulls on it in the sweetest burn until his teeth are at Felix’s throat. Felix turns to kiss him, low and slow, grateful and content, until they pull apart and Felix’s legs slide off the bed and touch the ground.
“Come on, I’m paying for breakfast.”
Sylvain giggles childishly as he follows Felix into the shower.
“Do you remember our promise?” Felix asks Sylvain as they lie in bed, sun setting through their bedchamber’s window.
“Of course I do.” Sylvain’s hair are white, now, but in Felix’s memory, it shines just as red as when they curled their pinkies and whispered childish promises in each other’s embrace. Sylvain kisses his brow. “And we did, didn’t we?”
Live together forever. For all eternity . Felix smiles, and this smile is as bright and happy as can be. “Yes. We did.”
Sylvain kisses him good night one last time, before their eyes slide to a close.
FRAGMENT 17,513 (ALTER 914,625,371,687,017)
“You haven’t changed a bit.”
Sylvain’s hand slides out of his grip. “No. And neither have you.”
Felix watches his body fall into the sea below as despair grips him, the oldest friend he’s ever had.
He dives right after Sylvain.
He doesn’t know how he survives the shock. (He already has, in other alterations, although the outcome remains the same.) What he knows is the cold bite of the ocean pushing against his skin as he reaches a hand and grips Sylvain’s body, hauls him up to the surface.
He swims for what seems like an eternity, Sylvain cold and lifeless on his back, shouting empty promises and wishes to a Goddess he doesn’t even believe in, before they reach a point where he can almost stand on his two feet.
We’ll live together for all eternity.
Desperation fuels him as he drags Sylvain onto the shore, removes his shirt, starts pumping into his chest with enough rage and sadness and hope to last him a lifetime, to last him billions and billions of lifetimes.
After this eternity trying to bring him back to life, Felix raises a hand to Sylvain’s neck.
Sylvain’s pulse is beating in time with his own.
Ah , Felix thinks before he collapses. Finally .