“Sylvain,” Felix whines.
Ugh. Felix is such a baby. Sylvain is ten whole years old – old enough to go to town on his own, and too old for babies like Felix.
“Go away,” he tells Felix, crossing his arms. “You’re too little to come.”
Felix, small for his age of seven years old, tugs on Sylvain’s sleeve. “But I wanna,” he says plaintively, eyes big and watery. “’Mitri’s too busy to play.”
Duke Fraldarius and Margrave Gautier are both in Fhirdiad on business, and they brought Felix and Sylvain at King Lambert’s request; Dimitri’s very fond of the younger sons of Fraldarius and Gautier. “Keep each other busy, and don’t cause any trouble,” Margrave Gautier had said sternly to Sylvain.
Well, Dimitri is keeping plenty busy on his own with his training, and Sylvain is bored. Fhirdiad’s market is always colorful and full of beautiful things to look at. Like girls. Girls are very beautiful. Not that a baby like Felix would appreciate that sort of thing, which is why Sylvain’s trying to leave without him.
“Go find someone else to play with,” Sylvain tells him, pulling his arm away.
“Ingrid’s not here, though,” Felix says, staring at his feet. “And I wanna go with you.”
“Well, you can’t,” Sylvain says. Whenever he asks to go out at home, his parents make him go with Miklan, and he always comes back with dark, dark bruises on both his body and his heart. He wants to enjoy this Miklan-free environment to its fullest, not waste his time babysitting stupid baby Felix.
Felix’s eyes water in earnest, and he sniffles. Sylvain tries to tell himself that the emotion bubbling in his chest is frustration, not guilt.
“You’re such a stupid crybaby!” he snaps. “This is why I don’t want you to come!” He gives Felix what he means to be a light shove, but it must catch Felix off-guard, because the smaller boy tumbles over with a noise of surprise.
They look at each other for a frozen heartbeat, Felix staring up from the ground and Sylvain staring down, before Felix bursts into tears.
“Why don’t you like me anymore!” Felix wails.
Sylvain’s eyes dart around wildly, expecting Duke Fraldarius to storm out of one of the doors and shout at him for making his son cry. “Shut up!” he hisses. “Stop crying!”
He only succeeds in making Felix cry harder. Felix curls up into a ball and tucks his face into his knees, shoulders trembling, and Sylvain is at a loss. For all the times he’s dealt with a crying Felix, he can’t remember the last time he was the cause of it.
Well, Felix doesn’t seem to want to go with Sylvain anymore, at least. Funny thing is, Sylvain doesn’t much feel like going, either. He’ll get over it, he tries to tell himself as he turns away from Felix’s sad, sobbing form. He needs to grow up and stop being such a baby.
His feet carry him to the servants’ entrance he and his friends always use. Dimitri showed it to them one evening, delightedly whispering that the guards never patrol past this door and that they can use it to sneak out. He, Felix, Ingrid, and Sylvain always play knights and dragons in the courtyard near this entrance, waving sticks and climbing rocks, laughing whenever Felix can’t help but cry when he loses.
The courtyard is awfully empty as Sylvain ducks through it to get to the castle’s main exit. There is the rock Ingrid declared herself the queen of, and there is the stick that Felix tucked beside a tree trunk because it’s his favorite. There’s the training sword Dimitri hid here after he broke it in half by accident.
Sylvain finds himself standing next to the tree he’d carved all their initials on – a messy set of SG, DB, IG, FF. Mine goes first because I’m the oldest, he’d said, and gotten three understanding nods in return. Felix had whined about being last until Dimitri said something gallant about Felix protecting the rear of the formation, which made no sense but kept him from crying.
Goddess, Sylvain just left Felix sitting in the hallway, crying his little eyes out.
He’s never done that before – never let Felix cry alone. Felix is—he’s sensitive, as Sylvain’s father says, diplomatically but not without disgust. It’s very fortunate they have a Crest-bearing heir with the proper demeanor, the Margrave once said, eyeing Sylvain with a similar distaste in his eyes. Even when Glenn jeers that Felix is a crybaby, or Duke Fraldarius sighs about Felix’s inability to control his feelings, they never have the kind of venom in their voices that the Margrave does.
He’s almost to the edge of the castle grounds. It’s early evening, and the shops will still be open, full of beautiful people for Sylvain to talk to. No one’s here to bother him.
Heaving a sigh, he turns around and hurries back to the castle.
There are apologies already on his lips when he rounds the corner to the hallway where he fought with Felix, but it’s empty. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not sure why he expected Felix to just sit there and cry the whole time he was gone. It would certainly be easier if he had, because now Sylvain has to look for him and risk running into people who will ask him where Felix is – or worse, why Felix is crying.
He pokes his head into the training grounds. Empty. Dimitri’s sessions really aren’t all that long, and Felix was probably just being dramatic when he said Dimitri was too busy to play with him.
Or maybe, a voice whispers in his head, he just wanted to spend time with you, not Dimitri.
That makes him feel even worse than he already does, so he tries to shove it to the back of his mind as he keeps searching. The kitchens are empty, and a sympathetic cook tells him she hasn’t seen wee Felix all day, is the poor thing starving himself? Sylvain leaves the kitchen with a roll for Felix that’s pleasantly warm through its wrapping, but not Felix himself.
He briefly considers checking Duke Fraldarius’s quarters, but there’s a reason Felix runs to Sylvain when he’s upset, not his father. The Duke is tolerant of his younger son’s wild emotions, but rarely does he know how to comfort Felix properly, and so Felix has stopped trying to seek comfort from him at all.
He was crying and you just left him, the voice whispers. No one else ever comforts him but you, you know.
That’s not necessarily true. Ingrid and Dimitri are both very sympathetic to Felix’s tears. But Ingrid’s not here, and Dimitri’s too afraid of his own strength to hold Felix just the way Felix likes to be held.
Maybe Felix is with Dimitri. He doesn’t like to be alone when he’s upset. Sylvain continues his search. The study where Dimitri receives his tutoring is empty, as is the library Dimitri likes to read in. It’s a little early for Dimitri to have retreated to his quarters, but it’s the only place left that Sylvain can think to look.
When he knocks, a small blue eye peeks out from a crack in the door. “Sylvain?” Dimitri asks, opening the door more fully.
“Hi, Dimitri,” he says, putting on his best smile. “Have you seen Felix?”
“He told me he hates you,” Dimitri says solemnly.
Sylvain’s smile drops. “Ah,” he says. “Well, if you tell me where he is, I can say sorry.”
“He said you shoved him,” Dimitri accuses.
“I… I didn’t mean to,” Sylvain says, shoulders slumping. “You know how you break stuff by accident sometimes? It was like that.”
In more ways than one, perhaps. Sylvain feels as though the thing he broke was more than physical.
“I guess,” Dimitri says doubtfully, but he opens the door all the way so Sylvain can meet both his eyes. “I think he’s in his room.”
“He didn’t stay with you?” Sylvain asks, surprised.
Dimitri shakes his head slowly, a distressed line between his eyebrows. “He said he didn’t want to bother me by crying,” he says. “I told him I didn’t mind, but he left.”
“Aw, Felix,” Sylvain whispers, his heart cracking. “I’ll make this right, okay, Dimitri? Thank you for telling me.”
“You’re welcome,” Dimitri says. “Please hug him for me.”
It’s a request Dimitri has often. He bruised Ingrid with an overenthusiastic hug once, and he was too scared to touch anyone for weeks. Felix was the one who snapped him out of it by wrestling him to the ground and hitting him with a stick until Dimitri finally hit back. “See? I’m not dead! You didn’t kill me!” Felix had yelled, bleeding from his nose and pulling on Dimitri’s hair. Though Dimitri is still hesitant with his gestures of affection, having tangible proof that even his smallest friend will not break so easily is a comfort to him.
The guest quarters the Gautier and Fraldarius families stay in aren’t far from the royal quarters, but Sylvain drags his feet. He reaches Felix’s door before he’s worked out what he wants to say. There’s nothing but silence behind the door, not even a sniffle or a whimper.
He raps his knuckles on the wood. “Felix?” he calls softly.
“Go away,” responds a muffled voice.
“I’m not doing that.” Sylvain tries the doorknob and breathes a sigh of relief when he finds it unlocked. If Felix really didn’t want Sylvain to come back, he would have locked the door.
Sylvain creeps into the room, shutting the door behind him. The fading twilight casts the bare walls in shades of orange. A single lamp flickers by Felix’s bed, in which a small lump trembles beneath the blankets.
“Hi,” Sylvain whispers, approaching the bed. The lump freezes. There are strands of dark hair poking out of the top where Felix didn’t quite manage to bundle himself up all the way.
“Go away,” Felix repeats from inside his blanket fortress. “I hate you.”
“C’mon, that’s not true.” Sylvain sits on the edge of the bed, taking a moment to place the roll the cook gave him onto the bedside table.
A sniffle. “Well, you hate me.” It’s petulant and not very serious, but it breaks Sylvain’s heart all the same.
“Felix, no. I was just a little frustrated.” He leans over the lump, trying to figure out where Felix’s face is. All he has to go on are the stray hairs by the pillows. “You’re my best friend in the whole world. I’m sorry I was mean to you.”
The pile shifts, and Felix’s watery amber eyes peek out from a gap in the fabric. “Do you mean it?” he asks in a tone that Sylvain suspects was supposed to convey more suspicion than desperation.
Sylvain ducks his head to press his forehead to Felix’s. “I promise,” he says.
Felix’s arms wiggle out from the blankets to wrap around Sylvain, and when he tugs, Sylvain lets himself tumble into the bed beside him. “I heard my dad talking to Glenn,” Felix whispers, like he’s telling a terrible secret.
“Oh?” Sylvain asks lightly, belying the way his heart drops at the words. The older Felix gets, the fewer kind words his family has to say about him; Sylvain doubts they’ll ever reach Gautier levels of dysfunction, but it’s not pretty to look at regardless.
“He… told Glenn to be harder on me in training.” Felix buries his head in Sylvain’s chest. “Said he babies me too much, and that he shouldn’t stop just because I’m crying.”
“Oh, Felix…” Sylvain bundles Felix more fully into his arms, blankets and all. “Your dad loves you, but he just doesn’t get you.”
“All of you are right,” Felix mumbles, fingers clutching handfuls of Sylvain’s shirt. “I’m just a stupid crybaby.”
Sylvain’s grip tightens. He’s kicking himself for his thoughtless words; with every passing year, Felix hates his own emotions more and more, and part of why he cries is his sheer frustration at his inability to control them. The worst part of it is that Duke Fraldarius would encourage this line of thinking – tell Felix that he must not feel so strongly, that he must not cry, that he must not show weakness.
The image of Felix building up walls the way Sylvain has? Refusing to feel, refusing to let others take his burdens from him?
“You’re perfect just the way you are,” Sylvain says fiercely. “I was stupid to say those things, and so’s your dad. You should cry all you need to.”
Felix’s little head shifts against Sylvain’s chest, shaking slowly from side to side. “I need to be stronger,” he says, sounding like he’s parroting someone else’s words.
“Just because you feel a lot doesn’t mean you’re not strong.” Sylvain hooks his chin over Felix’s head and gives him a gentle squeeze. “You beat me and Ingrid in training all the time, and you even win against Dimitri sometimes.”
“I can’t beat Glenn,” Felix says, voice cracking. And there’s the heart of it – Duke Fraldarius is the same as Margrave Gautier. He just got it right the first time around, not the second. Glenn is everything the Duke wants in a son – strong, intelligent, Crest-bearing. He’s a little abrasive, maybe, but he’s nearly unbeatable in combat, and his dedication to his aspirations of knighthood is unquestionable. A perfect knight. A perfect heir. The only thing Felix has over his brother is his Major Crest, as opposed to Glenn’s Minor one, but Felix is also the type to cry when he steps on a flower; he’s just not what people picture when they imagine the successor to the Shield of Faerghus.
“I like you better than Glenn, anyway,” Sylvain says firmly.
Felix’s breath hitches. Sylvain wonders, not for the first time, how many people choose Felix over Glenn with Sylvain’s lack of hesitation. Ingrid and Dimitri adore Felix, but they both trail after Glenn with stars in their eyes, though for very different reasons. Felix’s own father has made his preference painfully clear.
Felix starts to shake in Sylvain’s arms, his narrow shoulders trembling with sobs, and Sylvain just holds him, and holds him, and holds him, until the shaking stops, until Felix’s little fingers unclench on Sylvain’s shirt and his breath evens out into something slow and shallow. Sylvain has one arm under Felix’s torso and one leg tangled with Felix’s, and though a very loud part of him wants to get up to brush his teeth and put on his nightclothes and sleep in his own bed, the rest of him is content to settle more firmly into Felix’s side and close his eyes.
“There are… how many beds?” the Professor asks delicately.
Thunder crashes outside, and rain thuds against the windowpanes of the inn whose carpets the entire Blue Lion class is currently dripping water all over. They make for a pathetic sight – uniforms ripped, hair sopping wet, bruised and bloodied and nearly asleep on their feet. At this point, Felix is willing to pay for the privilege of sleeping on the floor of the foyer if it means spending the night in a place that’s out of the rain and relatively safe.
“Four left,” the innkeeper says, clearly trying to stifle a yawn. “Better get cozy. Only gonna get colder. Wouldn’t recommend the floor.”
“We’ll take them,” the Professor says with a little huff of air that might have been a sigh for anyone else. He slides the gold across the counter and turn to the class, exhaustion lining his face. “You heard him. Be adults about this, please.”
“I’ll share with Mercie,” Annette says, uncharacteristically subdued. She tugs on the muddy hem of her skirt. “I wish I had a dry change of clothes.”
Dimitri’s eyes widen, and he flushes. “Oh, dear. None of our supplies are dry, are they?”
“Another great observation from the Boar Prince of Faerghus,” Felix snaps.
The Professor looks, if possible, even more tired at the realization. “Just… undress as much as you’re comfortable with.”
“Didn’t think we’d be getting that cozy,” Sylvain mutters as they traipse up the stairs to the inn’s sleeping quarters. Most of the beds are rented out, as the innkeeper said – travelers buried beneath their blankets, belongings laid neatly at the ends of their beds. Four beds remain, lined up against the far wall. The Professor blows a long breath of air out of their nose.
“Dimitri, you’re with me,” he says. His tone of voice is completely neutral, but Dimitri’s face gets even redder than it was. “Dedue and Ashe. Felix and Sylvain. Annette, Mercedes, Ingrid, I hope you’re willing to squish.”
“It’ll be warm, at least,” Mercedes says optimistically. The chill of their wet clothing and the distance of the hearth fire is making all of them shiver at this point.
“Sorry if I kick anyone,” Ingrid says, already shimmying out of her tights. Dimitri and Ashe jerk their faces away, flushing; Dedue also turns away, but it has more of an air of politeness to it than anything else. Sylvain makes a show of leering at Ingrid to make her laugh before he also starts to strip.
Felix kind of wants to snap at Sylvain on principle, but it’s too cold and everyone’s too wet and miserable to make a fuss. There’s a mutual lack of eye contact as everyone strips down to their underthings, draping their soaking wet clothing over the footboards of the beds in the faint hope that they’ll be a little dryer come morning.
“Looking good, everyone,” Sylvain says jovially. Felix elbows him in the side at the same time Ingrid slaps the back of his head.
“I suppose asking you to be adults about this was a wish made in vain,” the Professor says wearily as he pulls back the covers. “Please go to bed. We can be embarrassed about this after we’ve rested.”
“The Professor is right,” Dimitri says, very valiantly for someone who is in nothing but a soaked pair of linen braies in front of the man he’s desperately in love with.
“We are all exhausted,” Dedue agrees quietly as he stares down at the bed. He’s easily taller than it, and he’ll take up most of it even lying on his side. His eyes flicker to Ashe, then back down to the bed.
“Don’t worry!” Ashe says, his smile tired but still blindingly bright. “I’m used to sleeping close with my brother and my sister. Lie down and I’ll just work around you.”
Work around you. Felix snorts. More like Dedue will sleep on the mattress, and Ashe will sleep on Dedue. The girls are already sorting themselves out in their own bed, Annette in the middle, and Felix turns to the bed he and Sylvain are left with.
The beds really are small. Clearly designed for only one person. He swallows. Being close to Sylvain only gets harder the clearer it gets that these feelings aren’t going away – feelings that have no place in the sole heir of a noble family.
He realized young that he doesn’t see women the way most men do. The way Sylvain does. He’d kept trying to convince himself he’d grow into it, until his father noticed with a frown the way Felix watched the other boys on the training pitch and taken him aside.
It’s not a bad thing, Rodrigue had told him in a tone of voice that suggested he might think otherwise. You may even be able to… indulge these proclivities, should Glenn and his wife give birth to a Crest-bearing heir. But it’s best not to speak of these things aloud.
Then Glenn died, and suddenly Felix’s proclivities were perversions, spoken of diplomatically but never warmly. Rodrigue, deep in his cups and tired of Felix’s insistence that Glenn’s death wasn’t right or noble, once told him that the wrong son had died.
So no, Felix doesn’t enjoy the fact that he can’t stop his stomach from fluttering when Sylvain leans too close, that he flushes red whenever Sylvain playfully flirts with him, that something sick and cold sits in his stomach whenever he sees a girl leaving Sylvain’s room at night.
“What, don’t wanna snuggle with your good friend Sylvain?” Sylvain asks him from where he’s already under the covers.
And he definitely doesn’t enjoy the fact that he’s about to spend an entire night in a tiny bed, nearly naked, with the man who’s had a death grip on his heart for years.
“Of course I don’t,” Felix sneers as he gingerly crawls into the other side of the bed. “Stay on your side of the bed.”
“You wound me,” Sylvain says, but it’s halfhearted, his face already tucked into the pillow and his eyes drifting shut.
Felix pulls the covers over the both of them. There’s barely any space between their bare torsos, and Felix hisses when Sylvain shoves his cold toes into the crook of Felix’s knee.
“Fuck you,” he whispers furiously. Sylvain lets out a breathy laugh, wiggling his toes.
“Shut up and go to sleep,” Ingrid grouses from the bed beside theirs.
Sylvain waves a hand dismissively, and when he lets the hand flop back down, it’s above Felix’s head on the pillow. Felix tenses, feeling the damp heat of Sylvain’s body so close to his own under the covers, the weight of his arm brushing against Felix’s hair.
The bastard is already falling asleep. Felix can’t take his eyes off Sylvain’s face. There’s a bruise forming on his cheekbone, and some mud across the bridge of his nose that he didn’t manage to wipe all the way off before he got into bed. His hair is wet and limp, falling into his eyes. Thankfully, Felix’s body is too exhausted for his tension to keep him up much longer, and he relaxes into sleep by inches.
Waking up in the morning is much more of an ordeal.
Mornings in an inn start early. The sun peeks in through the gaps in the curtains on the multiple windows. The most ambitious travelers are already thumping around in the communal sleeping quarters, putting on their boots and getting their supplies ready. There are sounds from the kitchens downstairs. Felix is a light sleeper; he jerks awake, disoriented, and the first thing he sees is red hair.
He spits out the hair that’s made it into his mouth, but he’s unable to bring himself to move any more than that. At some point in the night, Sylvain migrated so that he’s now almost entirely on top of Felix, arms bundled around Felix’s torso and his face crammed into the hollow between Felix’s neck and shoulder.
Felix has faint memories of Sylvain being a cuddly sleeper from the times they shared a bed in their childhood. Even when Sylvain sleeps alone, he ends up hugging his pillow. Felix knows better than to make this into more than it is.
But Sylvain is so warm against him. Solid, alive. In another world, maybe this wouldn’t be because there weren’t enough beds in an inn, but because Sylvain—
“Get off me, you idiot,” Felix snaps, shoving at Sylvain’s sleeping form. Sylvain groans in protest, burying his face further into Felix’s neck, and Felix’s face flushes. “You’re not in bed with one of your damn conquests. Get up.”
“Mm. Still tired.”
“We really should be getting up,” the Professor’s blessedly calm voice comes from two beds over. “The storm delayed us. We need to get back to the monastery as soon as possible.”
“Did everyone sleep well?” Mercedes asks pleasantly. Felix turns his head on the pillow to look at her, unable to sit up because Sylvain is still on top of him, and scowls when he sees how cheerful and well-rested she looks. She’s got her shawl wrapped around her bare shoulders, Annette sitting up beside her with the blanket pulled over her chest. Ingrid is already up, pulling her still-damp undershirt on.
“As well as can be expected!” Ashe replies, cheerful. He picks his head up from where he’s well and truly snuggled up to Dedue.
“I’m sure we will all be glad to sleep in our own beds again,” Dimitri says, as diplomatically as he can for a person who just slept nearly naked in a bed with his crush. Felix hates how much he relates to the boar in this moment.
Very leisurely, Sylvain sits up, propping his elbows on Felix’s chest. “Good morning,” he says with a smile that has absolutely no right being as cute as it is. It pisses Felix off.
“Go fuck yourself,” he responds.
Sylvain just laughs, rolling off of Felix and climbing to his feet. Felix tries very, very hard not to watch the muscles ripple in Sylvain’s back as he stretches. He is not as successful as he hoped to be.
Everyone gets ready in a tired sort of silence, save for the occasional grumble about how wet their clothes still are. When they get on the road, they’re just as miserable and only slightly less damp than they were the night before, and Felix hates himself for how much he wants to hold Sylvain’s hand on the trek back to the monastery.
It’s the winter of the third year after the Boar’s execution, and Felix feels less human with every day that passes.
Three years of killing in the service of a dying kingdom whose prince’s bones are rotting in a shallow grave. Three years of watching what little he has left to love crumble to pieces in the Empire’s hands. Three years of going for months at a time without speaking to another human being, of his only comfort being the increasingly bleak letters he receives from Ingrid and Sylvain. Galatea’s foundations crack more with every month they hold against the Empire’s forces. Gautier’s soldiers die just as often to the guerilla strikes from Sreng as they do to the Imperial army.
Felix functions best as a lone operative or in a small guerilla strike force; his father questions many things about him, but his combat prowess is no longer one of them. Rodrigue sends Felix on missions that the bulk of the Fraldarius army is too large and unwieldy to complete. Imperial patrols killed in the night as if by a ghost. Supply camps set aflame, their guards slaughtered and scattered around them as a warning. Bandits taking advantage of the chaos, dead in scores by his blade.
Rarely is Felix ever at the Fraldarius estate proper, and even when he is, he finds himself wishing for the battlefield instead. His father’s thoughts are only for Dimitri, and he grows agitated when Felix refuses to share the same concern. He was like a son to me, Felix! Rodrigue had shouted, and the wound it left was of a deeper, more thorough sort than a physical blow could ever hope to leave.
Felix is at the estate now, though, on a rare break between missions. Rodrigue raps his knuckles politely on the doorframe of Felix’s room even though the door is open.
“My son,” he greets. He likes to say that now – my son. Like it could provide any sort of balm for the sting of hearing confirmation that Dimitri was more of a son to Rodrigue than Felix ever was.
“Old man,” Felix says, too tired these days to put up much more than a token fight.
“The Gautier forces are stretched very thin right now, fighting both the insurgents from Sreng and the Imperial army,” Rodrigue continues with a sigh when Felix says nothing more. “The Margrave is requesting that you aid his son in leading a battalion against the Imperial incursions in the south of the region.”
It’s tactically smart – the bulk of the army can remain in the north in an attempt to defend against both Sreng and the Empire, while a smaller force subdues the invasions in the south. A battalion led by the Fraldarius and Gautier heirs will hopefully both intimidate their enemy and boost the flagging morale of the Kingdom soldiers. Felix gives the map his father hands him a glance; he’s familiar enough with Gautier territory to know exactly the route to take to reach the encampment the Margrave has marked.
“I’ll ride out at once,” Felix says curtly, rising from his desk chair. He has a letter from Annette he still hasn’t responded to, but he has very little good news to send her, and he hates imagining the sad look on her face when all he can offer are updates on the slow deterioration of the Fraldarius territory. He imagines Ashe is still with Ingrid in Galatea territory, or perhaps traveling with the Knights of Seiros as he mentioned he might do in his last letter. He hasn’t heard from Mercedes. Whatever part of his heart is still human aches with a prayer for her safety.
Rodrigue hesitates. “My son,” he says, quietly, a little pained. “Perhaps you can stay for just a day longer.”
Stupid old man. Is his old age making him lonely? Felix scoffs as he hooks his swords onto his belt and gathers his still-packed bag off the floor. “The Empire won’t wait an extra day just because you’re feeling nostalgic, old man.”
“Felix, I…” Rodrigue’s fingers tighten on the doorframe as Felix sweeps past him. “Fight well. Stay safe.”
“I always do,” Felix says. He pauses, and he must be feeling a little sentimental himself, because he adds, “Don’t you go dying either, you pathetic old man.” He doesn’t wait to see what Rodrigue’s face looks like, continuing on to the stables.
His horse is a sleek black mare that Sylvain jokingly says is “even bitchier than Felix is.” She’s not a war horse – Felix only ever uses her to travel from place to place – but with her attitude, it would be easy to mistake her for one. “Sorry. I know we just got home,” he mutters to her as he leads her out and saddles her up.
She nickers at him as he loads his supplies into her saddlebags and swings onto her back. The stable hands watch impassively as he goes. He’d just arrived yesterday morning, but he supposes they’re used to his short, infrequent stays by now. It used to be that they’d fret after the Young Lord Fraldarius and wish for his safe return. It’s a bittersweet feeling that settles in his chest at their silence.
The trip to Gautier territory is a short one, though by the fifth or sixth mile, he’s regretting leaving behind his heavier furs. All of Faerghus descends into bitter cold during the winter, but Gautier’s frigid climate is infamous even among its northern neighbors. At least he and Sylvain will be staying in the southernmost reaches of the region.
“Hail!” a voice rings as Felix approaches where he knows the encampment lies. A familiar head of red hair bobs towards him on horseback, and something in Felix’s ribcage unclenches – some soft part of him that this war still hasn’t managed to kill.
“Shall I announce myself?” he calls somewhat mockingly as Sylvain gets closer. His mare tosses her head at the familiar sight of Sylvain’s warhorse.
“But of course,” Sylvain says with a shadow of his usual good humor as he pulls his horse to a stop a few feet in front of Felix’s. “How else will I know you aren’t an enemy come to raid my humble camp?”
“Trust me, you would all be dead already if that were my intention,” Felix says as he lets his horse fall into step with Sylvain’s. “What’s the situation?”
“Well—” Sylvain is cut off by a shout further up the mountain pass, followed by the sound of clashing weapons. Wordlessly, Felix and Sylvain urge their horses into a gallop. Sylvain already has his weapon drawn.
The encampment is under attack. The Imperial flag rises high above the chaos alongside the flag of House Rowe, and Sylvain curses as he charges into combat. Felix, far more useful on foot than on horseback, dismounts while his horse is still moving and draws his blade.
The addition of the Rowe knights is a problematic one. Felix and Sylvain, along with the battalion Sylvain leads, are only used to fighting Kingdom maneuvers in the context of training. Felix and Sylvain are immediately targeted, which suggests someone let slip that the Fraldarius heir was on his way to provide support and isn’t that a problem for another day – and despite their efforts to hold their ground, they end up cut off from their allies and driven backwards.
They manage to slay their pursuers, but it’s been a game of cat and mouse that left them much farther up the mountain than anticipated. The encampment is no longer in view. “Fuck!” Felix spits, kicking one of the traitorous Rowe bastards’ corpses and sending it skidding down the mountainside.
“It’s going to get dark soon,” Sylvain says, brushing one of his gauntlets against his lips in lieu of his usual habit of gnawing on his thumb. The sheer number of people chasing them meant that they’d been running, hiding, and ambushing in order to secure a victory, and unfortunately, that sort of combat does not lend itself well to keeping track of one’s direction.
“Should we try to find the encampment, or find shelter for the night?” Felix asks, shaking some of the blood off his sword. A bit of viscera splatters onto his boot.
All Sylvain has to offer him is a helpless shrug. “We can go back the way we came,” he says, nodding his head at the rocky slope behind them. It’s littered with corpses at uneven intervals. Felix wishes they’d managed to kill enough people with enough frequency that it would leave a trail to follow, but he remembers very long stretches during which all he and Sylvain could do was run and pray. “We can stop at whichever we find first.”
Maybe not the most solid plan, but it’s all they have. Felix sheathes his sword and follows where Sylvain goes. The setting sun is barely shedding light on the bare, rocky mountainside by the time they find a hollow carved into the cliff face. It’s deep enough to offer shelter from the wind, if a little lower in height than Felix would have liked.
“I doubt we’ll be able to find anything better,” Sylvain says, resigned.
Ducking into the cave, Felix feels around with his hands. No dampness, no drafts. It’s the best they can ask for if they want to survive a Faerghus winter night. The wind is picking up, howling between the cliffs like a wounded animal.
“Looks like snow,” Sylvain says, staring out at the clouds moving across last gray beams of fading sunlight. “It’ll be a cold night.”
“It usually is in Faerghus,” Felix says dryly. The ceiling of the cave isn’t high enough to stand up, and even squatting, he’s already feeling the bone-deep chill of the rock sucking the heat from his body.
Sylvain sighs, his breath fogging in front of his face as he ducks into the cave, scooting towards Felix and further from the wind. “A long, cold night,” he repeats, looking just as tired as Felix feels. Stumbling around in the dark with an oncoming snowstorm would be suicide. Their only option is to stay here in the relative shelter of the cave until it’s light and clear enough to search for their battalion again.
With a sigh of his own, Felix unclasps his fur cloak and lays it on the ground. The bare mountainside offers nothing with which to make a fire and lying on the stone floor without any insulation is the quickest way to freeze to death.
“Hopefully we don’t get snowed in,” Sylvain mumbles as he sheds his cape and drapes it over the mouth of the cave. He unsheathes his daggers – a large one he keeps strapped to his thigh for self-defense in an emergency, and a smaller one he uses for eating – and jams them through the fur-lined fabric and into the uneven cracks in the rock, pinning it into place.
“You’re going to need to mend that later,” Felix says as Sylvain weighs the bottom corners of the cape down with rocks. The chill of the wind still sneaks past the sides, but it’s helping significantly.
“Assuming we’ll survive the night? How uncharacteristically optimistic of you, Felix,” Sylvain says with a shadow of his former grin. Felix can barely see his face in the beams of fading sunlight that creep around the edges of the cape.
“Are you eager to prove me wrong?” Felix scoffs. “Take your armor off and lie down, you moron.” He himself has shed his leathers and what little mail he wears, stripped down to his fur coat and his quilted pants. He leaves his boots on, because he very much does not want to add frostbite to the list of things that are currently wrong with his life.
Sylvain huffs a laugh with very little humor. “Fair enough.” There’s little Felix can discern in the ever-growing darkness except for vague movements and the sound of metal clanking onto rock, but after a few moments, Sylvain crawls onto the makeshift bedroll beside him.
“Here,” Sylvain murmurs, draping his fur cloak over Felix and tucking it under Felix’s back. He’s down to his gambeson. Felix rolls onto his side and moves closer, wrapping his arms around Sylvain’s torso and shoving his end of the cloak under his body to make a complete cocoon of warmth.
There was a time three years ago when this would have set Felix’s heart fluttering, despite his attempts to silence it. It’s like some romantic scenario from one of Ashe’s books – the two heroes, holed up in a mountainside, must huddle for warmth, but it’s not just their bodies that grow closer during the night. Maybe that Felix would have been prideful enough to keep his distance, despite the growing chill.
But this Felix is older, and more tired, and just wants to survive to see another morning, as dismal and bloody as that morning might be. This Felix needs to feel Sylvain’s heartbeat next to his own and cling to one of the only things this goddess-damned war hasn’t taken from him.
The wind moans outside. The fabric of Sylvain’s cape ripples with increasing violence, but holds. If the Faerghus winter takes them tonight—
It’s a more peaceful end than Felix ever imagined for himself. Sylvain’s breath mingles with his own. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, dying here with Sylvain’s arms around him, their breaths slowing together, their hearts thudding to a stop right beside each other’s. A promise kept in this dark, silent place, where no one will find their bones.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” Sylvain admits into the darkness. His voice is a small, broken thing unfurling itself into the air between them.
“Hmm?” Felix murmurs, a gentle prompt for Sylvain to continue. It’s too dark to see each other’s faces. Felix wonders if Sylvain only chose to speak because he thought Felix was asleep.
“This war,” Sylvian continues in a whisper. A shiver runs through him. Maybe it’s the cold, and maybe it’s not, and Felix bundles the furs tighter around them both either way. “We’re losing, Felix.”
Felix is silent. They’ve managed to keep the Empire at a standstill, but only just. The victory in siege warfare belongs to the side with the most resources, and the bitterly cold lands of Faerghus are far crueler to the people who live on them than they are to the people who simply wage their wars on them.
“Sooner or later, we’re not gonna have enough living people left to bury all the dead ones,” Sylvain says with a bitter laugh. “And even when I’m hauling corpses, there’s part of me that’s saying, at least it’s not Ingrid or Ashe. At least I don’t have to bury Annette or Mercedes today.” He pauses, and his head moves forward so their foreheads are pressed together. “At least Felix is still alive.”
“There’s nothing wrong with hoping the people you care about survive,” Felix tells him.
“At the cost of the lives of people who have friends and family praying for the exact same thing I am?” Sylvain says with another laugh, just as hollow. “This war’s really made me realize what a good-for-nothing I actually am.”
Felix gives his hair a sharp tug. “We’ve lost enough people,” he snaps. “You’re allowed to be happy that you haven’t lost anyone else.”
“The Professor’s gone. Dimitri’s dead, and I’d bet you anything Dedue is too.” Sylvain’s head shifts down to press against Felix’s chest, his hair tickling Felix’s chin. The reminder of the boar’s death is an icy stab to Felix’s heart that has nothing to do with the cold. “And we just keep killing people. Like any of this is going to make it stop. Like any of this is going to make it right.”
“We didn’t start this war.” Felix pulls Sylvain against his own body more firmly, telling himself that it’s just for warmth, that it’s just so they survive to see another cursed day of this never-ending war.
“We’re going to die, Felix.” Sylvain’s voice is empty. It washes down Felix’s spine like icy water. “Maybe not tonight. Maybe not tomorrow. But unless the goddess sends a miracle, the Kingdom is going to fall, and we’re going to fall with it.”
“I know,” Felix says, more softly than he thinks he’s said anything for years. He tucks his nose into Sylvain’s hair. It smells of sweat and leather and blood. “Just don’t forget our promise.”
Sylvain nods against his chest, and Felix closes his eyes.
“Even if you die without me,” Felix murmurs, “you know I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
Sylvain’s arms tighten around him. “Me, too, Felix. Wherever you go.”
They drift into an uneasy sleep haunted by uneasy dreams, the reality of their promise tucked into the warm space between them. It’s a hollow comfort, but it’s a comfort, nonetheless.
“Who did this,” Dedue asks in a tone of voice that has every member of the old Blue Lion class whipping around guiltily, even if they’re sure they didn’t do anything wrong.
“Who did what?” Ashe asks, very timidly.
Dedue wordlessly holds up a bedroll.
Sylvain only spends scant seconds confused about the significance, for he recognizes The Bedroll almost immediately. It is He Who Survived The Depths. He Who Drank Of The Cursed Waters. He Who Witnessed The Abyss.
He Who Stinks Of Swamp Water.
“Oh no,” Annette whispers.
“Who did this,” Dedue repeats.
“I wasn’t on supply duty this trip,” Ingrid says, immediately on the defensive. “I was in charge of our mounts.”
“Oh, dear,” Mercedes says, not sounding all that worried at all. “I was on rations with Annie. I’m afraid I can’t help.”
“I knew we should have just kept packing our own things,” Felix mutters.
“That increases the risk of bringing more than we need and overburdening the horses,” the Professor chides.
“Oh, the horses,” Felix says derisively. “They don’t seem to mind lugging around people like this moron in full armor.” He nudges Sylvain’s calf with his foot. Sylvain tries to step on his toes in revenge, and Felix dances backwards and plants his booted heel on Sylvain’s other foot. Ashe eyes them disapprovingly.
The Swamp Bedroll, He Who Laid With Frogs And Awoke Changed, is a cursed object that has haunted their scouting parties ever since its unfortunate fall into a swamp by Lake Teutates. No amount of washing has cured it of its swamp stink, so overpowering as to make it impossible to sleep when someone tries to use it. It’s been marked with a red string to remind whoever is on supply duty not to take it out on missions, but someone’s clearly made a very bad mistake.
“This is very unfortunate,” Dimitri says with a frown. “As the leader of this mission, I will take full responsibility and use the Swamp Bedroll.”
One does not simply sacrifice themselves to He Who Saw The Bottom Of The Earth And Lived with such a cavalier attitude. “You know your guilt complex doesn’t actually have to extend to sleeping in a gross swamp bag,” Sylvain tells him disbelievingly.
“I agree, Your Highness,” Dedue says, setting He Whose Stench Haunts The Dreams Of Man down on the ground with a delicate sort of distaste. “None of us need use this… bedroll.” He says bedroll the same way he says food when it’s Flayn’s turn to cook.
“Someone is going to have to sleep on the ground,” Ashe says with his brow furrowed. When Dimitri’s mouth starts to open, he panics. “Or, you know, I’m sure two of us wouldn’t mind sharing!”
Now Byleth is the one opening his mouth, and Sylvain is the one panicking, because he cannot deal with whatever is happening between the Professor and Dimitri happening all fucking night. “Felix and I can share!”
“Don’t just say that without asking me first!” Felix snaps. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for Annette and Mercedes to share?”
Mercedes has a hand covering her smile when she says, “Oh, no. Annie kicks in her sleep.”
“I do!” Annette says cheerfully.
“She does,” Ingrid says, as miserable as Annette is cheerful. It seems that night at the inn from five years ago still haunts everyone. Sylvain remembers the very awkward boner he had to hide when he woke up on top of Felix, and definitely remembers Dimitri’s very awkward boner from when he woke up on top of Byleth. Even after years of war and tragedy, some things just stay with a person.
“Felix does sleep like he’s in a coffin,” Ashe says thoughtfully.
“That’s not how I’d put it,” Dimitri says, as if he’s trying to defend Felix’s sleeping habits.
Everyone’s shared too many tents with everyone to not have opinions about these matters. This includes Sylvain, who has a lot of opinions about sharing sleeping space with Felix, not all of which he’s comfortable saying out loud in front of his classmates. “He’s very warm,” he adds, because this is one opinion he is comfortable sharing.
“Now you’re making me want to share with him,” Ingrid says, like she’s accusing him of something.
“Goddess’s tits,” Felix mutters, face in his hands.
“It’s getting dark, and our camp is already set up,” the Professor says in a very put-upon voice. “Sylvain, Felix, if you’re fine sharing a bedroll, then let’s please just go to sleep.”
“I’m fine with it,” Sylvian says at the same time Felix says, “Whatever,” which is basically the same thing as a yes from Felix.
“Third watch! I call third watch!” Annette crows as she snaps open her bedroll and wiggles inside it. Sylvain thinks she likes third watch because that’s when she usually gets up in the morning anyway.
“I’m feeling rather tired,” Mercedes admits as she sets up her bedroll much more sedately beside Annette’s. “I believe I’ll take third watch, as well.”
“Second,” Ashe volunteers. Second watch is for people who can actually get back to sleep after being woken in the night, which rules Dimitri and Annette right out if anyone wants them to be anything close to well-rested the next morning.
“Second,” Sylvain says, grabbing a bedroll that isn’t He Who Was Cursed By The Bog Gods and unlacing the sides so he and Felix aren’t completely squashed together when they crawl in.
“You’ll wake me up with your fumbling anyway,” Felix grumbles irritably, helping Sylvain with the laces. “I’ll take second watch.”
“Third watch for me, then,” Ingrid says with a yawn. “Sylvain used up all my energy for nonsense today.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sylvain asks, not expecting an answer.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dimitri echoes, clearly expecting an answer.
Ingrid waves both of them off, curling up in her bedroll and closing her eyes, effectively ending the conversation and leaving Dimitri looking like a lost puppy.
“What was that supposed to mean?” Dimitri asks Byleth, who, infuriatingly, looks just as confused as Dimitri does. Sylvain is done. He’s done.
“Good luck,” he says to Dedue, who closes his eyes as if in pain and nods in acknowledgement.
“Idiots,” Felix mutters in a tone of voice that Sylvain is sure was supposed to be a lot less fond than it was.
“Ready to get cozy?” Sylvain asks Felix with a huge smile. Felix rolls his eyes, but he climbs into the bedroll and wiggles as far as he can into the side that’s still laced up. He gets colder in his sleep than Sylvain does, so Sylvain graciously allows him the warmer side without a fight.
“Hands above the waist, Gautier,” Felix tells Sylvain dryly as Sylvain clambers clumsily into the fur-lined canvas.
It’s the sort of joke he’s been making with Sylvain more often since the tides of war started turning. Sylvain’s not sure what to make of it. They’d clung to each other with bitter, bleeding fingers during the five year gap between the fall of the monastery and the return of the Professor, but it never went beyond loaded glances and reminders of their promise, heavy with dark meaning. Now that it seems like there might be a future for them, not just a mutual, bloody death on a battlefield, is Felix trying to feel Sylvain out? See if there’s a chance for a shared life there, not just a shared death?
Felix is—he’s special to Sylvain, in a way that very few people are special to him. The idea of sharing a life with him isn’t an unpleasant one. Sylvain’s known for a very long time that his interests lie with men as well as women; he’s just never given voice to it, because there’s no point. So what if he falls in love with a man? He’ll still end up marrying a woman, hopefully one he doesn’t hate, and having lots of little Crest babies with her so his old man doesn’t die lamenting the tragic fall of House Gautier.
But Felix. Felix has never seen women the way Sylvain sees them. It took awhile for Sylvain to realize why Felix got so prickly about Sylvain’s insistence that Felix find a nice girl to date, and when he did, he felt like garbage about it. The expectations burdening Crest-bearing heirs in Faerghus are even heavier than they are elsewhere on the continent. To some, Felix’s very existence is an insult to the name Fraldarius.
Felix is strong. Stronger than Sylvain ever was. He doesn’t care about his title, or his name, or the expectations he’s been given to live up to. Maybe there’s a chance Sylvain could follow his example. Share his bed with Felix like this every night, not just because of circumstance but because of the feelings Sylvain’s starting to think are mutual.
It’s a conversation for another night. He tucks himself as close to Felix as he can without making Felix uncomfortable, resigns himself to the draft of the unlaced bedroll at his back, and closes his eyes to sleep.
Felix doesn’t know he’s bleeding. At least, Sylvain doesn’t think he knows. It looks like he reopened a wound or two from Gronder Field, if the blood soaking the back of his white training shirt is any indication; he keeps swinging his sword at the training dummy like a thing possessed, uncaring of the blood splattering the ground behind him.
“Felix,” Sylvain calls softly.
Felix’s shoulders jump, so Sylvain knows he heard him. But the swings don’t stop. If anything, they become more intense, less refined. Sylvain’s heart cracks at the raw desperation in the movements.
“Felix, stop,” Sylvain says, more firmly as he approaches Felix.
“Fuck off,” Felix spits with a ferocity and anguish in his voice that Sylvain hasn’t heard in nine years. “If you’re not here to train, leave me alone!”
“I don’t think I want to do that.” The sun’s long since gone down. Sylvain tried to give Felix space to cool down and process on his own, but clearly that was a mistake. “Felix, you’re bleeding.”
“You think I care?!” Felix whirls on him, his voice an inhuman snarl of grief. “Do you think it matters to me if I’m bleeding?! Maybe I’ll pass out! At least then I’ll be able to sleep without seeing—”
He chokes on a furious sob. His weapon drops to his side and his head lowers, loose strands of sweaty hair tumbling into his face. With all that frenetic, violent energy leaving his body, he looks so wretched. So small. Like everyone in the world he’s ever loved has left him.
Sylvain closes the distance between them and sweeps Felix up against his chest, uncaring of the blood soaking into his sleeves from where his arms wrap around Felix’s back. Felix trembles with repressed sobs.
“Let me go,” Felix begs, voice cracking. His fists thud weakly against Sylvain’s chest. “Leave me alone!”
“I’m not letting you go.” Sylvain slides a hand up to the back of Felix’s head, tucking his face into the hollow between Sylvain’s neck and shoulder. Felix gasps out a sob, another ineffectual fist landing on Sylvain’s sternum.
“I don’t fucking need you!” Felix’s voice tears from his throat like something sharp, leaving the sound of it wretched and torn. He pushes against Sylvain’s chest, kitten-weak. “Let me go!”
Sylvain just holds him tighter, careful with Felix’s wounds but not relenting in his grip. “I’m not leaving you, Felix,” he says quietly.
The howl that tears from Felix’s chest is animal in its unfettered pain. It breaks down into raw, wounded sobs, and Felix fists Sylvain’s shirt in his bloody, bruised fingers as his knees give out beneath him.
Sylvain lets them both sink to the floor, keeping his hold on Felix and pulling him in more firmly when both their knees are on the ground. Felix has been training for hours, unrelenting, untiring. To a certain extent, Sylvain knows he has to leave Felix to process this way – there’s no way Felix would be vulnerable like this if he hadn’t exhausted his body first – but his heart aches with regret that he’d let Felix go so far.
“I’m here,” Sylvain tells him, resting his cheek in Felix’s hair. “I’m not leaving.”
“My whole family,” Felix chokes out. “They all loved that fucking boar enough to die for him.”
Sylvain is silent, combing his fingers through Felix’s sweaty hair.
“They all loved him so much more—”
“Felix,” Sylvain cuts in, pained.
“He didn’t even ask for me!” Felix explodes in a mix of grief and fury. He jerks away from Sylvain and slams a fist into the packed sand of the training pitch. “He was dying—he knew he was dying, and the only person he wanted to see—”
“I know,” Sylvain tries to soothe, taking Felix’s hands into his own so Felix can’t do them any more damage. “He loved you, but he—he didn’t know how to love you right.”
Felix’s hands tremble in Sylvain’s. His blood trickles down onto Sylvain’s skin, sinking into the folds of his knuckles. “Why doesn’t anyone choose me?” he asks, small and scared, an old festered hurt bared for Sylvain to see.
Sylvain could lie. He could offer Felix all the honeyed words he’s known for – they loved you just as much, they would have chosen you if they had to pick, everyone here will tell you the same. But Sylvain doesn’t know that for sure, is in fact fairly sure of the opposite, and Felix means more to him than that.
“I’ll always choose you,” is what Sylvain says instead. Felix is dearly important to so many people here, and both he and Felix know that. What they both also know is that to all those people, Dimitri will always be more important.
But not to Sylvain.
“He’s your King,” Felix says wearily.
“Felix.” Sylvain releases Felix’s hands to cup his jaw, lifting Felix’s face to look him in the eye. “I will always choose you.”
Felix’s lips part, and he stares back at Sylvain with a shuttered, hopeful wonder on his face.
“I promised you,” Sylvain continues, refusing to break eye contact even past the point that he knows it’s getting uncomfortable for Felix. “We’ll stay together until we die together.”
“Wherever I go,” Felix whispers.
Sylvain nods. “Wherever you go. I didn’t make that promise to anyone but you. Not to any of those women. Not to Dimitri. He has my loyalty, sure, but Felix,” he presses his forehead to Felix’s and closes his eyes, “you have to know you have my heart.”
The wordless noise that escapes Felix is a mix between a sob and a laugh. His hands fly up to clutch Sylvain’s shoulders in a white-knuckled grip, like Sylvain will vanish if he doesn’t hold on tight enough. “You, too, you idiot,” he says tightly, like he’s trying not to cry. “You—you have mine too.”
“Will you let me take you to the infirmary?” Sylvain asks him gently, still aware of the blood soaking through Felix’s clothes and dripping down his hands. Felix tenses in his grip, and Sylvain knows that there’s no way he can put enough of Felix’s pieces back together for Felix to be comfortable under anyone else’s scrutiny. “Okay. Okay, no infirmary. We’re going to my room.”
Not Felix’s, because some of Rodrigue’s old belongings are already sitting on his desk, placed there by a thoughtless hand. Felix hesitates, then gives a shallow nod. Wrapping an arm around Felix’s waist, Sylvain stands, hoisting Felix up with him.
“I can walk on my own,” Felix protests as Sylvain slings one of Felix’s arms over his shoulders.
Sylvain hums a noncommittal note. “Just to make me feel better.”
Felix falls into a slightly mutinous silence and lets Sylvain help him from the training grounds to the old dormitories. The trek is silent and solitary; everyone has either gone to bed or holed themselves up in their offices to do their work. If anyone is out and about, they know better than to approach Felix so soon after what befell his father.
The door shuts behind them, and Felix pulls away from Sylvain and strips his shirt off. “You won’t shut up until you look them over, will you,” he says without heat as he drapes his shirt over the back of Sylvain’s desk chair.
The chair has seen worse than bloodstains, so Sylvain doesn’t comment. “You’re right about that,” he says with forced cheer. “Have a seat on my operating table.” He makes a grand gesture towards the bed.
It speaks to how exhausted Felix is, physically and mentally, that he doesn’t put up any kind of fight and simply sinks onto the bed, facing the headboard. Sylvain clambers onto the bed behind him and looks over his back.
“Mercedes will be angry that you reopened all her hard work,” Sylvain says, eyeing the torn flesh across Felix’s shoulder blades. Felix had taken a few bad hits at Gronder and hadn’t reached Mercedes soon enough for her to do much more than reduce the depth and stop the bleeding. Sylvain really should have checked on him sooner.
“Just don’t tell her,” Felix says, a subdued version of his usual dry humor.
“It’ll stay our secret,” Sylvain assures, squinting as he focuses on what little white magic he knows. It’s barely enough to stop the bleeding again, but at least Felix won’t be getting blood all over his sheets.
“Your magic feels different from Mercedes’s,” Felix says abruptly.
“Oh?” Sylvain asks, digging through his desk for the spare bandages he keeps for training accidents he doesn’t want to see Manuela for. “Probably because I’m terrible at it.”
“No, you—” Felix stops, and when Sylvain glances at him, his ears are a little red. Interesting. “Hers is warm and homey. Sort of like bread that’s just come out of the oven.”
Sylvain makes an understanding noise as he climbs back onto the bed to bandage Felix’s back. “Makes sense.”
“Annette’s is a lot… jumpier,” Felix continues. He hisses when Sylvain presses a bandage down too hard, and Sylvain gives an uninjured part of his back a gentle pat in apology. “Sort of like bubbles in a stream.”
“That also sounds about right,” Sylvain says, waiting for Felix to get to the point.
“Yours is—” Felix is well and truly flushed now. Very interesting. Sylvain would tease him more, but he doesn’t want to disturb the fragile film of normalcy that’s stemming the tide of Felix’s grief. “It’s electric.”
“Huh. Never had much of a talent for thunder magic,” Sylvain muses as he ties off the bandages. “That’s always been more your thing.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Felix snaps in the way he gets when he’s covering up embarrassment with irritation. “It’s the same feeling I get when you—”
He stops, and Sylvain tilts his head, unsure if he should push.
“It’s… it’s not important,” Felix finishes in a mutter. “It’s nice, okay? Forget about it.”
“Okay,” Sylvain says easily. He’ll take nice. He’s still curious, but not enough to risk agitating Felix. “I think you should get some rest.”
“What? No,” Felix says, whipping around to face Sylvain.
“Yes,” Sylvain says with the patience he’s developed by dealing with Felix for his entire life. He gives Felix a gentle nudge. “I know you’re going to sneak out and try to do more training now that you’ve stopped bleeding.”
“No, I wasn’t!” Felix snaps, because he absolutely was.
“It won’t bring him back,” Sylvain tells him. “And it won’t make you feel better.”
Felix’s face is pinched, his mouth a thin line. He looks like he might cry again. “I don’t—” His voice cracks, and he swallows. Tries again. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“Stay here.” Sylvain nudges him again, and this time, Felix relents and lets Sylvain push him onto the mattress. “Lie with me.”
“Like we’re kids again,” Felix says, aiming for derisive and landing closer to bittersweet.
Sylvain strips off his overcoat and lies down beside Felix, slinging an arm across Felix’s chest. “I’m not leaving,” he repeats. “And if you think I’ll let you leave so you can go break yourself into even more pieces about this, you’re wrong.”
“I could just sneak out after you fall asleep,” Felix threatens, but there’s no real strength behind it.
“You won’t,” Sylvain says, grabbing the quilt from the end of the bed and tossing it over Felix’s slowly relaxing form.
“No,” Felix agrees, letting his eyes close as Sylvain leans over to blow out the lamp. “I won’t.”
It’s finally late enough for it to be socially acceptable for Felix and Sylvain to leave the wedding reception. The party was objectively enjoyable – Felix will never admit to tearing up at the wholehearted support of everyone who attended – but Felix is just about ready to fall over, both from the dancing and the socializing.
“Shall we see about retiring for the evening?” Sylvain’s playful voice whispers in his ear, as if reading his mind. “I believe our lovely host has spared no expense in setting up our quarters.”
Their lovely host is none other than the King of fucking Fódlan, who is currently deeper into his cups than he probably should be and shamelessly clinging to the new Archbishop’s arm. Dimitri had wept when they announced their intention to wed and insisted that the newly-named Duke Fraldarius and Margrave Gautier have their wedding in the capital. Felix griped about the unnecessary fanfare, but the joy he feels at Dimitri’s progress and recovery, as well as his renewed friendship with Felix, is too great for words.
“What, we’re not going to toss the bouquet?” Felix snarks back, leaning his weight onto Sylvain’s shoulder. Sylvain chuckles lowly, wrapping an arm around his waist and tugging him towards the loose circle of people Dimitri is a part of.
“The happy couple!” Ashe exclaims, face bright red and smile ridiculously wide. He’s clearly been drinking. While he’s distracted, Dedue delicately removes the glass of champagne from Ashe’s hand and replaces it with water.
“Heeeey!” Caspar slurs, one arm draped over Ashe, the other supporting a very nearly unconscious Linhardt. “Great! Great party! Loved it!”
“I’m sorry,” Dorothea sighs, but she’s smiling too, her elbow linked with Ferdinand’s. “They just don’t know the meaning of moderation.”
“Oh, don’t fret, my darling rose,” Sylvain says with a wink. He’s playing it up as a joke, and Dorothea takes it in the spirit it’s meant, giggling. “My husband and I are just about to retire, anyhow.”
Husband. The word sends a thrill running up and down Felix’s spine, and he tightens his grip on Sylvain’s waist. Sylvain is his husband. He is Felix Fraldarius no more, but Felix Fraldarius-Gautier. Felix and Sylvain Fraldarius-Gautier. The Lords Fraldarius-Gautier. He thinks he’d be more embarrassed about the thrill it brings him to think of their names belonging to each other if he wasn’t still warm from the alcohol.
“Oh?” Mercedes asks with a pleasant smile. It’s rather obvious what Felix and Sylvain are going to get up to after they’ve left the party, but it’s still unnerving to see that she’s so clearly aware of it. “Enjoy one another, you two.”
“Mercie!” Annette hoots, delighted.
“Ugh, don’t make me picture that,” Ingrid groans, but she’s smiling, too.
“I’m so glad I could be here at this momentous occasion in your lives,” Dimitri says in his big, proud King voice. It’s only slightly ruined by the fact that he’s started to sniffle again.
Felix is just about done with that stupid look on Dimitri’s face. Heart full, he detangles himself from Sylvain and pulls Dimitri into a rough hug.
“I’m glad you survived to see it, you stupid boar,” he mutters into Dimitri’s ear, feeling a little choked up himself. Dimitri hugs him back with just a little bit too much strength, but Felix doesn’t mind.
“Dima, I’m sure Felix and his husband would like to have some time to themselves,” Byleth says lightly from Dimitri’s elbow. Dimitri releases Felix sheepishly.
“Yes, I believe my—my husband and I will be retiring now,” Felix says, stammering only a little on The Word. Husband. Sylvain is his husband.
“Of course,” Dimitri says with a wide smile, his single eye glittering brightly in the party’s flickering lights. Byleth touches Felix’s shoulder with a small smile of his own. It feels like a benediction.
“Shall we go to bed?” Sylvain says, hooking his elbow with Felix’s.
There’s heat in Felix’s stomach, but it’s dwarfed by the overwhelming feeling in his chest. So many times, he’s laid beside Sylvain, tense and warm and wanting. Now he has this, for the rest of his life – a bed that belongs to both of them, and a vow to spend their lives sharing it.
“Yes,” Felix says, voice tight with tears. And when Sylvain goes, he follows.