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Quiet in the Library

Chapter Text

If you asked Ignatz, he’d tell you that the library was the most perfect sanctuary from the rain in all of Garreg Mach. It was a quiet, peaceful place, high above the ground where the runoff couldn’t reach, and the forest view from the windows made a picturesque backdrop through the haze of gray. He had wanted to go outside to paint once he had finished the day’s homework, but with the weather now non-permitting, he figured there was no better place to stick around and get some practice drawings in.
Several other students had come to the library after class as well. Lysithea had left a while ago with a mighty stack of books; thankfully, Ignatz realized, before the rain started. Ferdinand and Ingrid had also spent some time flipping through a few books, but wandered off for other pursuits after long. Only Linhardt remained, sitting at the same table as Ignatz. While he had started off strong and chipped through a respectable amount of homework, sleep eventually claimed him, as it did every afternoon.

Ignatz liked Linhardt’s company, more than he thought he would. They had talked a few times, idle conversation across homework, but Linhardt had a completely different energy than the rest of his fellow Golden Deer peers. They were all… ‘a lot’. Even Claude, with his laid-back façade, took a lot of thinking in circles to try and parse conversation with. Linhardt was, by comparison, easy to be around. Relaxed. Talking to him came much more naturally… until he fell asleep, that is. Not that Ignatz minded; it was still company.

On this particular rainy afternoon, Linhardt was already asleep by the time Ignatz had put away his homework and brought out the box of charcoal. To him, charcoal was cathartic to work with; the lines were supposed to be bold and unrefined, so he didn’t feel the stress of needing to finesse tiny details into the drawing. Using charcoal was about laying down the lines and seeing what image they pulled together, much like watercolors as opposed to leads or oils. Though really, all art was like that. The finished image was always a wonderful surprise awaiting you at the end. That’s why Ignatz could never bring himself to really hate anything he made; if even one person could be happy with that surprise, then all the labor that went into it was worth it.

Ten, twenty, thirty minutes of dragging the soft stick of charcoal across the parchment, and the loose image of a woodland trail came into view.

“You’re really good at that.”

Ignatz perked up, a little surprised at the sudden voice; Linhardt was awake, still lying on his pillow (which he took everywhere with him, even to class, which Ignatz found sweet), but focused intently on watching him work.

“Oh, uh, thank you!”

“You just came up with that? From your head?”

“Um, well, yes. It’s similar to the woods around my hometown, so I am sort of used to seeing places like this, I guess.”

“Still, you made that up yourself without looking at anything.” Linhardt shook his head. “That’s incredible, Ignatz. I could never do something like that.”

Ignatz felt his face warming up. “I’ve, er, been practicing a very long time… all my life, really. I know it’s a waste of time, but it’s something that’s always made me happy…”

Linhardt just blinked at him.

There was that ‘look’, Ignatz realized. When Linhardt’s eyes, all big and round and full of curiosity, saw something that grabbed his interest.

“Look at what you just made, Ignatz. You can’t take a compliment about it. You call it a waste of time, but you say it makes you happy. Why? Is it that hard for you to take pride in it?”

And just like that, there was ‘that side’ to Linhardt as well. The blunt side that came with him when he found interest in something.

Ignatz tried to find a way to wiggle around the conversation, but couldn’t. Linhardt was too good at getting to the point of things.

“… Honestly, yes. Maybe it makes me happy, but… practically speaking, it’s useless. That’s what my family’s always told me. That’s why they suggested I come here, to the Officer’s Academy… I wouldn’t be helping them much as an artist, but I would as a knight. I don’t want to make things harder for them if I had the choice.”

Linhardt was propped up on his elbows now, staring Ignatz down. He could see the wheels turning behind those round, dark eyes of his, sifting through everything Ignatz just said.

“… You care that much about what your parents think of you?”

That shocked Ignatz to hear. Coming from a noble kid? “Well, yeah… why, do you not?”

“Nah.”

Well then.

“I only really came here to put off my life back home, Ignatz. A life of nobility, of ‘putting on airs’, of faking everything for every soulless noble’s sake all the time… that’s not the life for me. That’s /way/ too much hassle. I want a simple life, that’s all. I’m trying to get as much of that as I can here, before I have to go back.”

He pointed at the charcoal drawing. “But you, Ignatz? You have something here. And I don’t think it’s fair for your parents to pressure you into thinking so little of it. Believe me, I know what it’s like to have pushy parents.”

Before Ignatz could get a word in, that same soul-piercing gaze returned. “Let me guess. You have an older sibling, probably a brother, who’s going to inherit your family’s business before you. That’s why you said you’re becoming a knight to help them, instead of becoming the next business owner yourself. Your parents have told you your art interest doesn’t matter, so you don’t want them to think you’re ungrateful by pursuing it. Is that right?”

Ignatz couldn’t help but stare back. He really was able to see through him like that…? In a small voice, he could only answer, “Y-yeah, that’s right…”

Linhardt shook his head again. “They don’t sound too different from the all noble parents I’ve met, honestly.”

Ignatz shrugged. “I… I really appreciate it, Linhardt. How much confidence you have in me, but… I can’t go against my parents like that. It’d be a disaster… I’d never hear the end of it.”

“Is avoiding that worth your entire future, though?”

He had no answer for that.

Silence passed between them for a moment, Ignatz still blown away by how unbelievably perceptive Linhardt was. But he was so supportive as well…

“Can I try?”

“Huh?”

“Drawing. I’ve never really given it effort before. Could I try with one of your charcoals?”

“Oh uh, yeah, sure!”

Ignatz pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from the stack and handed over the charcoal stick he was using, which at that point was long enough to comfortably use but not too long to easily break.

“Charcoal is pretty fragile, so you don’t want to hold it or press down too tightly.”

“Not too tight, all right.”

Linhardt stared blankly at the parchment, hand unmoving.

“… I don’t… know where to start.”

“Ah, that’s the hardest part, don’t worry!” Ignatz thought for a moment. “Let’s see… instead of trying to draw something from your head, why don’t you draw something in front of you? Here, how about this book?” He nudged a book from Linhardt’s stack in front of him. “These are a lot of straight, simple lines, so they’re not too bad for beginning artists. But the thing is, you shouldn’t try drawing ‘a book’. Draw the lines you see. Draw… draw /what/ you see, not the object you /think/ you’re seeing. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I think I follow. Draw the lines, not the thing.”

With a shaky hand and more focus than Ignatz had ever seen from him, Linhardt dragged the charcoal across the parchment as carefully as he could. A few minutes later and Linhardt had produced what was clearly recognizably a book; the perspective was off, and Ignatz would have personally tried drawing it smaller, but it was very good for a first attempt from an untrained hand.

“Hey, I did it!”

“You did! It looks great!”

“It… kinda hurts. I didn’t realize it’d hurt.”

“If your hand isn’t trained, it does, yeah. Kind of like when you start practicing an instrument for the first time, right? It’s the same idea. But that’s why artists who work too long without breaks do serious damage to their wrists. It’s a lot of work to keep your movements controlled for that long.”

“No kidding, I feel like I need another nap after that.”

Ignatz laughed. “Yeah, I feel that way sometimes too.”

Linhardt stared at his drawing for another moment, taking in every detail of the drawing he made… /he/ made.

“… You know… I really respect you, Ignatz. You may talk about how it’s not helpful to your family, or how it’s a waste of time, but you found something you’re passionate about. No matter how much it hurts or how much else you have going on, you found something that makes you so happy you do it anyway. That’s amazing. That’s the kind of thing that makes life worth living.”

Ignatz felt that warmth creep back into his cheeks. “I could say the same thing about you, Linhardt. I may have found a hobby I like, but you live your life without worrying what other people think of you, even your own family. You know what’s best for you, and you do it, no matter who disagrees. I wish I had half your courage…”

He didn’t realize he’d deflected the compliment again until after he’d done it.

Linhardt stared down at his hands. “It’s not courage, Ignatz.” His tone had gone soft, somber. “It’s survival. Saying I’m brave for doing it… that’s giving me too much credit.”

In a weird way, Ignatz… understood.

“Well… I think even survival can be a courageous act.”

Linhardt smiled, a soft tug at the corner of his mouth. “Maybe.”

Another quiet moment passed. It took a second for Ignatz to realize something he /wasn’t/ hearing; the pitter-patter of rain had stopped.

“… Hey. We should head down for dinner while the rain’s let up.”

“Oh, you’re right. That completely slipped my mind.” Linhardt stood up and gave a big, full-body stretch. “I forget to eat sometimes. Bad habit.”

Ignatz packed his bag, then scooped up a pile of Linhardt’s books. “Here, I’ll help you carry your things.”

“Woah, are you sure? You don’t have to, I can come back for them later.”

“No, it’s fine! It’ll be dark by then, it’s no trouble, really!”

“Well… thanks.” Linhardt smiled at him as he slung his bag over his shoulder. “You’re… a really nice person, you know that, Ignatz?”

The heat returned to his face tenfold. “Ah, thanks… so are you! You really helped me feel more confident about my art!”

“All I did was tell you the truth.”

The two left the library with smiles on their faces. Even Linhardt, plagued with exhaustion as he was, had a newfound spring to his step.

Chapter Text

The remaining weeks of Harpstring Moon continued with Ignatz and Linhardt meeting in the library after nearly every class, then for dinner after that. Even if they weren’t chatting about their lives or their classwork, even if the afternoon passed mostly in silence, the two still enjoyed each other’s company. They spent much of the moon’s last free day at the docks, Linhardt fishing for a rare pike that had been spotted, Ignatz painting the landscape around them on that perfectly clear day.

Their newfound friendship didn’t go unnoticed by Ignatz’ classmates either. Claude told him that it was nice to see him going out and making friends, but in that special Claude way that made Ignatz feel like he was making fun of him. Lysithea made the less kind comment about how spending more time with students from other houses wasn’t going to be helpful when they’d have to start fighting together, and highlighted Ignatz’ ‘lacking performance’ during the mock battle, but that only made Ignatz want to avoid her more. He wasn’t sure what he did to earn Lysithea’s ire, but she never seemed to think twice about criticizing him.

It was these sorts of interactions that made Ignatz seek Linhardt’s company in his free moments. He did trust his new classmates, and didn’t dislike them by any means, but they were all taxing in their own ways. And Linhardt just wasn’t like that. Interacting with Linhardt didn’t feel like playing some game, or walking on eggshells. The worst Linhardt ever got was when he focused hard on something and pushed Ignatz for discussions he otherwise wouldn’t have had, but even that wasn’t so bad. If anything it helped Ignatz open up a little more.

Then came the final day of the Harpstring Moon, and with it, their first real mission. No more training swords and book studies; each class had a real, serious battle in front of them. Some students were excited, some saw it as just another task for another day. But for students like Ignatz and Linhardt, there was nothing to celebrate, only dread that they couldn’t express. It’s what they came here to do, was it not?

The Golden Deer students were to head to the Red Canyon to stop a troupe of bandits, while the Black Eagles and Blue Lions students were to go south to head off a band of highwaymen that had split into two parties moving in different directions.

Despite the very real danger the mission presented, the Golden Deer students suffered no grave injuries under Byleth’s watchful lead. Lorenz had sustained the most serious injury, though not life-threatening; the bones in his right forearm had been shattered by a bandit’s mace, and Marianne’s beginning healing skills weren’t much help for such a complicated injury.

“I’m sorry,” she’d stammered through his screams, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I only made it worse I’m so sorry Lorenz-“

But even all of that hadn’t been enough to distract Ignatz from his shots. He couldn’t draw his bow with the same strength and conviction as Claude, nor could he shoot as far as Ashe when they’d trained together. His hands would tremble whenever he drew against another person, and his whole torso would feel faint.

But he /never/ missed.

“I’m sorry,” Ignatz murmured as his arrow sunk into the clavicle of the bandit rushing towards him. “I’m sorry… it had to be done…”

Of course it had to be done. That bandit would have killed him if he’d let him get close enough, then gone on to kill more people with no remorse, he knew that. He wasn’t that ignorant. So why did it still feel so /awful/?

The battle had felt like it had gone on forever. In reality, it was over in mere minutes.

They returned to Garreg Mach well before sundown, Lorenz unable to stop his crying the whole way. “Unbecoming,” he’d hiss under his breath, cursing at his own inability to tough it out despite Claude’s insistence that a serious injury was a perfectly reasonable thing to cry about.

Byleth informed the class that they’d be debriefed during normal lecture time next week and saw to the more urgent matter of helping Lorenz to the infirmary. The Golden Deer students stood around feeling a little lost for a moment (with the exception of Marianne, who guiltily trailed behind Byleth), but eventually went their separate ways.

Ignatz wanted nothing more than to go see if Linhardt had returned, knowing he could talk to him about what happened and how awful it had felt, but he had dinner duty for the night. Visiting would have to wait. It didn’t seem right, Ignatz thought. A life-risking mission and the students were still expected to return and act like everything was normal. But… that WAS the life of a knight, wasn’t it? A full-fledged knight didn’t have the time to reflect on what horrible things happened that day. They had lives to live, mouths to feed, chores to see to beyond fighting. This was just their job, their life. Just business. His stomach sank with the increasing affirmation that he wasn’t okay with that.

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t okay with it right now, though. His classmates, who had worked just as hard as he had today, needed to eat.

Mercifully, Ignatz saw that Ashe would be joining him for dinner service today, having just returned from his own mission. Though Ignatz considered himself a passable cook, he’d call Ashe a genius at it, an artist with ingredients rather than brushes and paints. Ashe’s bubbly optimism was infectious as well, and it didn’t take long for Ignatz’ mood to improve because of it.

“How do you do it?” Ignatz asked him.

“Huh? Do what?”

“We both had to kill bandits today, but you’re still in such high spirits… does killing them not bother you, even if they weren’t good people?”

Ashe’s smile softened a little, though the warmth didn’t leave his eyes. “They weren’t good people, yes. Everyone has their struggles in life, but they’ve used theirs as an excuse to hurt and kill others. It’s up to people like us to stop them from hurting anyone else like that. But you’re right, Ignatz. It does bother me. If it didn’t, I don’t think we’d be any better than they were.”

He shook his head. “You just… do what you need to move on.”

Ignatz could accept that. Maybe not replicate it himself, but he understood what Ashe was saying. It did help a little.

The rest of dinner service went by smoothly as Ignatz tried not to think about how upset he was. He liked Ashe, his bright smile and idealism being exactly what Ignatz needed right then. Ashe left first, his dinner bundled up in cloth as he carried it back to his room (since kitchen staff worked too late to dine with the others in the hall). Ignatz had set aside two portions, his own and Lorenz’, which he’d volunteered to bring to him in the infirmary.

Ignatz arrived in the infirmary to see Manuela finishing another round of healing magic on Lorenz’ arm. Marianne was still there as well, watching intently as Manuela retied the sling against his chest.

“I, erm, brought Lorenz his dinner,” Ignatz said in a small voice, feeling equally awkward to interrupt or linger in the doorway.

“Oh Ignatz, how thoughtful!” Manuela helped him carry the bundle to Lorenz’ bedside, noticing that he was still carrying his own dinner as well. “He’s fine to eat now, we just re-checked the injury and it’s looking good. He should be right as rain in a couple of days.”

She turned to Marianne. “Though really, Miss Marianne is the one to thank. If she hadn’t acted so quickly, the situation would be much worse. She mitigated the worst of the breaks.”

Marianne couldn’t bring herself to say thanks and instead fixed her gaze on the floor.

“Good job, Marianne!” Ignatz tried to say helpfully, but she only turned her face further away from him.

“Thank you for the food, Ignatz.” Lorenz’ voice was hoarse, and his eyes were still puffy.

“You’re welcome… I, er, made you some Daphnel stew… since you mentioned liking it the other week?”

“I do.” Lorenz actually /smiled/. “That was very kind of you, Ignatz. Why, I practically feel better already.”

“That would be the painkillers, dear,” Manuela said with a wink at Ignatz.

“Oh yes… wonders, they are… marvelous.”

Had the situation not been as serious, Ignatz would’ve laughed at how out of it Lorenz was.

“Marianne, did you get to eat?”

“Huh? Oh, no, I’ve been working so much up here I lost track of time…” Her already tiny voice was heavy with exhaustion. “… I’m fine though, really.”

“Here, you can have mine then.”

“What?” But she could hardly resist as Ignatz gave her the bundle. “Ignatz… d-don’t let me trouble you, it’s not fair of me to take your dinner…”

“But it’s not fair that you get skip dinner either, especially since you’ve been working so hard.” He shook his head and tried to smile bright, thinking about how Ashe did it so easily. “I’ll be fine, Marianne, I insist. You deserve it!”

She was speechless.

“… Alright, I’m going to head back to my dorm now. Goodnight everyone, and I hope you feel better Lorenz!”

But even the detachment of his dorm room couldn’t put an end to the day’s events as Ignatz opened the door to find Linhardt lying on his bed.

“Wha-“

“Oh,” Linhardt jolted conscious, but only barely. “Sorry… do you mind if I nap here?”

How to even begin responding to that?

“I… I guess not?”

“Alright, thanks Ignatz.”

He snuggled back into Ignatz’ pillow and closed his eyes again.

Ignatz shut the door gently behind him. “Linhardt? … Why are you in my room?”

“It’s quiet,” he said without opening his eyes. “No one will look for me here, so no one will bother me. I figured you wouldn’t mind, or I’d make it up to you if you did.”

Well, he wasn’t exactly wrong, Ignatz thought.

But he noticed something. Linhardt’s flippant, vaguely sarcastic tone was completely gone. And after seeing so much of him the last month, he knew that wasn’t something sleep took from him. His eyes looked darker, sunken, his body tensed ever so slightly, but uncharacteristic all the same.

Ignatz sat on the edge of the bed. “Hey… you okay?”

Still without opening his eyes, Linhardt shook his head.

“Can I… erm, help at all? Do you want to talk about it?”

Linhardt shook his head again. Then, after a moment, “… not right now.”

“Okay… well, I’m just going to stay in here, if you want to later.”

Linhardt didn’t respond to that. After waiting a few more moments, Ignatz got back up and moved to his desk, pulling out his watercolor supplies. Tomorrow was Sunday, a perfectly free day. He could afford to stay up and sleep in a little. He ignored the gnawing in his stomach; he could afford to skip dinner for a night if it meant helping Marianne feel better. It wouldn’t be the first time he went without a meal. What was one more, he figured.

Painting always helped take Ignatz’ mind off of everything, more than anything else. It always had, all while growing up. Painting was his escape from all the pain in his life, the hours melting by in a soothing haze of colorful strokes. It didn’t matter if one of his classmates had broken his glasses (again) at his hometown’s school, or if his parents had spent another evening screaming at him until he cried. Painting was his way of running away.

Tonight, he was running away to a field of flowers. He mixed several shades of blue on his palette (a specialized shallow box of sealed wood, to resist the water) and began to paint white blossoms under a moonlit sky. With tomorrow being the first day of the Garland Moon, it only seemed fitting. He painted the lighter-shaded sky, dropping in each shade of blue, letting them run together to make patterns of clouds. Then, one by one, he started on the white flowers, framing each petal in darker shades of blue.

“I killed someone today.”

Ignatz’ hand stopped at the sound of Linhardt’s voice.

“… I didn’t want to. He tackled me. He was about to stab me.”

Ignatz turned to face him in his chair. To his surprise, his eyes were still shut. Squeezed shut, like he was in pain.

“… There was so much blood… everywhere, all over me… I… I couldn’t…”

Linhardt’s whole body tensed.

“… I couldn’t get back up… it was like… it felt like I wasn’t even /there/ anymore… like my mind had been taken out of my head… couldn’t move…”

Ignatz sat down on the edge of the bed again… what should he do? What was the best way to respond? Did he say anything? Do anything?

“ … Edelgard said that I didn’t have to hurt anyone again, if I didn’t want to… that I could just heal, help…”

Linhardt’s voice shrank, barely audible.

“… But I don’t think I’ll have that choice…”

He was trembling now, eyes still squeezed shut. After a moment of silence, waiting for Linhardt to start speaking again, Ignatz gingerly put his hand over his.

His eyes opened at that, red and glazed with tears still threatening to fall.

“… I’m really sorry, Linhardt… I had a hard time too, today. I could barely do it. I’ve been trying not to think about it…”

Silence passed again, each waiting for the other to say something. Neither did.

“… I don’t think any less of you for it,” Ignatz could finally think to say. “I don’t think you’re weak, or bad.” He couldn’t find more words beyond that.

Linhardt closed his eyes again, keeping his hand right where it was. “… I knew you’d understand, Ignatz. That’s why I came here… I didn’t want to wait in my room for Edelgard or Cas or someone to come lecture me. To tell me everything was fine… it’s not fine…”

He tensed again. “But I can’t leave, or I’ll just be right back with my disappointed parents…”

“Me too.”

The weight of those two little words hit both of them.

“… I guess we’re stuck here, huh Ignatz…”

Ignatz smiled. “At least we’re not stuck alone.”

Even Linhardt managed to smile at that. “Yeah… that would’ve been a chore.”

Neither boy said anything after that. Ignatz stayed put, hand holding Linhardt’s, and eventually his tense body unwound as the minutes ticked by. Linhardt’s breathing returned to deep, slow breaths, and Ignatz knew he’d fallen back asleep.

Ignatz returned to his painting, which had completely dried by then. He wasn’t sure what time it was, only that it was very late now. He didn’t mind. He picked his brush back up, rehydrated his half-dried paint swatches, and set back to painting his half-finished flowers.

Sleep crept up on him as the night wore on. It was one of those nights where there was no conscious decision to ‘go to bed’; instead he washed out his brush in a half-asleep haze, moved his painting supplies and glasses aside, laid his head down on his folded arms, and that was that.

Beside Ignatz was the finished, drying painting of a moonlit field of flowers, and behind him was Linhardt, sleeping peacefully in his bed.

Chapter Text

The Officer’s Academy students settled into a refreshingly uneventful Garland Moon, all grateful for the breather after their respective bandit missions. Though most students returned to the rhythm of lecture time more or less unfazed, students like Ignatz were grateful for the familiar comfort of a classroom desk. Linhardt spent every afternoon since the mission napping in Ignatz’ bed instead of his own, and on the following Sunday they shared dinner; a special day for sweets lovers with plenty of desserts to spare. Ignatz, who had seen several times how Linhardt could hardly get through a meal (if he remembered to eat at all), marveled at just how many sweet buns Linhardt was able to put away.

But the pain of their bandit encounter didn’t quite leave either entirely. Ignatz, in the moments where things were happening too slowly to hold his attention, caught himself fixating on the violence from the ordeal. A moment of comfort in a library book could quickly turn to the nauseating dread of realizing that he’d have to do it again soon. During his afternoon naps, Linhardt would sometimes cry in his sleep, fighting through nightmares of being covered in blood, the bodies of the men he’d killed pinning him to the ground.

“I’m so scared, Ignatz,” he’d said once when the nightmare jolted him awake. “What if I get it on me again? I can’t handle the blood… what if I pass out on the battlefield?”

“You won’t,” Ignatz tried to say as calmly as he could, knowing very well that fainting was a real and dangerous possibility for Linhardt. “Even if you did, your friends would help you. They wouldn’t let you get hurt, or leave you behind. But it won’t come to that.”

“Friends…” He curled around himself tighter. “Are they my friends, Ignatz? I don’t think any of them can even stand me…”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t. You’re a kind and gentle person, and you don’t have a pushy attitude that would upset people or anything… I like you, for starters!”

“Yeah, and I’m grateful for that…” Linhardt shifted uncomfortably under Ignatz’ blanket. “But they don’t… see that the way you do.”

“What about Caspar? You mentioned you’ve been friends since you were little, does he think of you as his friend?”

“I guess… I don’t know. True, we’ve known each other a long time, but it’s not like we’re best friends or anything… I really don’t actually know too much about him, not like that. We’re more like… acquaintances.”

Linhardt sighed. “I guess he /is/ familiar, though. That’s something.”

All the same, Linhardt stayed napping in Ignatz’ bed for the evening.

Ignatz had become so used to Linhardt’s presence in his room that he didn’t notice that, come bedtime, Linhardt was still there sleeping.

… So what should he do about that?

Linhardt was usually pretty good about going back to his own room by the end of the night, and there were other nights where they both collapsed at the same time, Ignatz at his desk… but what to do now? He didn’t like the thought of waking Linhardt up and sending him back, he knew he’d feel too guilty if he even tried. Maybe he could scoot him over and lay down next to him; they were small enough, he was sure they’d fit, but that would probably wake Linhardt up anyway, and then it’d probably be weird…

So Ignatz resigned himself to sleeping arms-folded on his desk for the night.

A few hours of uncomfortable sleep later, Ignatz found himself awoken by the sound of pounding rain and, surprisingly, Linhardt.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to take your bed from you.”

Ignatz rubbed his eyes and put his glasses back on. “No… no, it’s fine, really. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“There you go again… I know you’re trying to be nice Iggy, but I won’t be upset if you wake me up and have me go back to my room.”

“But I know it’s not that easy for you… I know it’s hard for you to get good sleep, and you’re always really exhausted… I don’t want to disrupt you when you’ve found a nice, restful moment like that.”

Linhardt shook his head, but couldn’t help but smile. “You really are so thoughtful… but honestly, Iggy. I should be trying harder. It’s not fair of me to impose on you like this.”

“You’re not imposing!”

“You just spent the night sleeping at your desk because of me.”

He couldn’t think of a response for that one. Still, Ignatz couldn’t convince himself that asking Linhardt to leave was the right thing to do.

“… I guess… if it doesn’t bother you, I guess I could just sleep next to you… we’d both fit, and then you wouldn’t have to move! It’d be like a sleepover!”

Ignatz had never had a sleepover before.

“… If you’re okay with that, I mean. I’d get it if it’d feel weird for you, but I wouldn’t mind, so don’t worry about that…”

“… Iggy?”

Linhardt’s tone had gotten strangely serious.

“… Are you asking /me/ if it’s okay for you to sleep in your own bed?”

Ignatz /really/ didn’t have a response for that.

“… Look. I promise you I won’t be upset if you ask me to go back to my bed when I stay too late. That’s not 'bothering' me at all.”

“No, I mean…”

Ignatz’ tone was suddenly… different, Linhardt noticed. He usually couldn’t be bothered to put the effort towards reading people, but… he felt like he knew Ignatz pretty well. And that was different.

“… I don’t…I don’t really… want you to leave, at the end of the night.”

Rain filled the silence that passed between them.

“… I like it when you’re around, Lin. I like knowing you feel safer here… and I… I know I don’t talk about it much, but I don’t feel so lonely when you’re around. When I’m stressed, or anxious, it's easier to remind myself that everything’s okay, because you’re here, even if you’re asleep, you’re still company…”

Linhardt just stared at him.

“… I’m really sorry, I know I’m bad with words, I’m not saying what I’m trying to mean, I just made it weird…”

“No, you didn’t.”

Ignatz dared himself to meet his gaze again. He had his ‘alert and interested’ look, but he was smiling now.

“… It makes me really happy to hear you feel that way. Like you said, that’s how I feel around you too. That’s why I come here.”

All Ignatz could do was blush and stare just past Linhardt’s face, unable to meet his eyes.

“… We should, um… we should get ready and head for class now…”

“Yeah, good idea.”

Linhardt returned to his room to change into a fresh uniform while Ignatz tried to put himself back together, still warm in the face from opening up to Linhardt like that… and Linhardt feeling the same way? How lucky was he to have found such a good friend in such a frightening place…

But as they headed over, Linhardt didn’t keep walking towards the Black Eagles classroom and instead followed Ignatz to the Golden Deer class.

“Um… Lin? You passed your class…”

“No, I don’t think I did. I’ve been thinking about some things lately.”

Ignatz took his usual seat while Linhardt continued walking up towards Byleth’s desk. He couldn’t hear what they talked about from that far away, nor could he read what happened from Byleth’s expression, which stayed the same neutral face he always wore.

When they were done talking, Linhardt turned around and joined Ignatz at his desk, taking the free seat.

“Looks like I’m a member of the Golden Deer now.”

Linhardt wasn’t the sort of person to get bright and bubbly excited, not like Hilda or Caspar. But Ignatz could see ‘that look’ in his eyes, and swore he was sitting up a little straighter. He was grinning from ear to ear, bringing a sweetness to his face Ignatz rarely got to see.

“Linhardt! Are you sure?” But he couldn’t stop himself from smiling either.

“Oh yes, absolutely. I think I’ll fit in here much better than in Black Eagles. Seems more like my learning pace.”

“But doesn’t Hanneman specialize in Crest studies?”

“He does, but he hardly talks about them in class. We’re always too busy focusing more on combat-relevant lectures, so I have to ask about Crests after class anyway. I could still do that from here.”

He smiled again as he readied his writing materials, then his pillow for when he inevitably fell asleep. “Besides, Ignatz. I have a friend in this class. I can’t say the same for Black Eagles. Maybe they’ll accept me more here, like you did.”

Ignatz couldn’t help but blush a little at that. Did Linhardt really transfer for him…? Is that what he meant? He couldn’t have, right?

Class went by uneventfully; Byleth didn’t even comment when Linhardt finally fell asleep about an hour before lunch. Ignatz took care to be very thorough with his notes so he could try to catch Linhardt up on all he missed after. He didn’t mind, and Linhardt hadn’t asked him to, but he thought he’d appreciate it all the same. It’s what a good friend would do, right? Ignatz himself wasn’t sure. He’d never been anyone’s ‘good friend’ in his life, but he was determined to start now.

After class, the Golden Deer students packed up their things and met up for dinner together. It wasn’t something they did regularly, but today was a special occasion; whod’ve thought someone would actually transfer classes? They all seemed accepting of Linhardt and spoke with him amicably, the least enthusiastic being Lysithea, who couldn’t seem to shake her critical eye entirely (not that Linhardt seemed to care much). Ignatz could’ve sworn, in fact, that she almost looked a little shaken over the whole situation… but he brushed it off, telling himself he was reading too far into things. He was bad about overthinking, he knew that.

“You’re a healer?” Leonie asked. “Great, it’d be really helpful to have two of you out there! I feel safer already. Now whenever we need to split up, both parties will be covered.”

“An extra hand on the field is hardly a bad idea, so long as you can mind yourself well enough.” Lorenz looked like he was studying Linhardt carefully. “What about your offensive capabilities? Could you save yourself if it came to that?”

“If it came to that,” Linhardt repeated stiffly, finishing his fourth sweet bun. “I really am more of a healer, but. I could do more if I had to. But it would be better for everyone if I healed as much as possible.”

“How many of those are you going to put away, Lin?” Claude pointed his fork at Linhardt’s second plate of sweet buns, laughing softly. “Could you spare one?”

“Nope, sorry.”

“Oh come /onnn/,” Claude said in his play-whine. “Healer, I need one of those buns to feel better. Could you prescribe me one, just one?”

Linhardt popped the last bun in his mouth. Ignatz broke into giggles beside him, and the rest of the Golden Deer joined in soon after. Even Marianne smiled at that.

“Looks like he already knows how to handle Claude’s antics!” Hilda said through her laughs. “I think he’s gonna do just fine, guys.”

The rain picked up again after dinner, forcing everyone to retreat to their dorm rooms for the rest of the evening. Not that it was much trouble; it had already gotten pretty late. Ignatz returned to his room, Linhardt following him (which, at this point, had more or less become a habit).

“Mind if I sleep in here tonight?”

“Oh um, no, of course not.”

“Thanks, Ignatz.”

He changed into his sleepwear (which he apparently had the foresight to bring) and settled into the wall side of Ignatz’ bed. Ignatz decided he wanted to stay up a little longer and review the day’s notes, hoping to stay on top of things. He was getting close to his certification, and he wanted to get it right.

By the time he was certain he’d committed the most important points to memory and settled to bed himself, Linhardt hadn’t fallen asleep yet. Admittedly, Ignatz felt a little awkward having someone next to him in bed. There was plenty of room for both of them, but still…

“G-Goodnight,” he said quietly.

Linhardt laughed, a soft sound. “Feeling alright?”

“Y-Yeah, I’m just uh, ah… I’ve never had a sleepover before.”

“Never never?”

“Nope… Have you?”

“Nope, me neither.”

“Wait, why am I the only one feeling awkward then?”

Linhardt gave a little shrug under the covers. “I guess it’s just not weird to me. I always thought having someone to nap beside would be a peaceful feeling. I like it.”

Ignatz wanted to point out that ‘napping’ was much different than ‘sleeping in another boy’s bed for the whole night’, but he figured Linhardt wouldn’t care about that either.

“I can go, if you’re uncomfortable.”

“No,” Ignatz said quickly. “No, I… I do want you here. I do appreciate. I’m just shy…”

Linhardt snuggled into his pillow a little deeper. “You’re sweet. Thanks for letting me stay.”

Both stayed quiet for a moment, listening to the soft rain outside.

“… Ignatz… there was another reason I joined your class. The real reason.”

“What is it?”

“I…”

Ignatz heard him gulp.

“I, erm… when we get our next mission… we’re going to have to hurt more people, and… I don’t want to go without you. I know you’ll understand it, and just…” He sighed through his nose. “… Just knowing you’re there with me will help. And if something happens to you, then… then I’ll be there to help you too.”

Linhardt closed his eyes. “… I feel much better knowing that. I won’t have to wonder if you’re going to come back.”

He didn’t say any more after that. Ignatz wasn’t sure how to respond, but his heart was fluttering around in his chest at Linhardt’s words. He really thought all those things about him…

Slowly, carefully, Ignatz reached up and put his hand over Linhardt’s.

“… Thank you…”

It was all he could think to say.

Linhardt didn’t pull his hand away, nor did he open his eyes at the touch, but he did smile.

“… Your hands are cold.”

With a soft laugh, he repositioned his hand over Ignatz’ and clasped it himself, rubbing little circles over his fingers to warm them up.

The gesture melted Ignatz’ initial shy stiffness at the touch, and soon he found himself smiling and comfortable with it. It didn’t take long before they both fell asleep, still facing each other, still hand-in-hand, the sound of rain carrying them through the night.

Chapter Text

Word of the Golden Deer’s next mission came to them halfway through the Garland Moon. A situation in the Kingdom had escalated; a rebellion led by a minor lord. Lady Rhea had explained that this lord had a less than favorable past with the Church, and while the Knights of Seiros would be suppressing the main threat, Byleth and his Golden Deer were to assist if necessary.

The notion didn’t sit well with the class. Most felt sick at the thought of killing normal rebelling townsfolk, while Lorenz was outright angry over the notion.

“How irresponsible,” he hissed. “Endangering his people with an uprising he cannot hope to win. He’s throwing away their lives. There’s nothing noble about that at all.”

It definitely didn’t seem right, Ignatz thought. All of the Golden students wondered… what in the /world/ was he trying to accomplish?

The final Sunday of Garland Moon brought certification testing. Thanks to everyone’s hard work and Byleth’s watchful eye, every Golden Deer student passed without a problem. Most were proud of the accomplishment, Lysithea wasting no time to flaunt her progress. But Ignatz and Linhardt couldn’t shake the thought that passing only meant they were getting better at killing.

And tomorrow, they’d be at it again.

Once Byleth had finished grading the last of the exams, the Golden Deer trailing out to be fitted to their new classes, Ashe came sprinting into the classroom.

“Professor,” he huffed, his voice small and raspy, palms flat on the desk as he tried to catch his breath. “I’m coming with you tomorrow. The rebellion… it’s being led by Lord Lonato, I heard, I know it. If I come, maybe I can talk to him, maybe I-“

Byleth held his hand up. “You don’t need to say any more.” Though his face remained that same neutral mask, his eyes had a softness to them, that same comfort they always had when he saw his students struggling. “I would never stop you from coming… but I want to ask if you’re sure. Are you prepared to face what happens if you can’t dissuade him?”

Ashe hesitated, still unable to find his breath again.

“… Yes… I… I could never live with myself if I didn’t try. If I knew I could, but didn’t.”

Byleth nodded. “I understand.”

Ignatz, the last one who’d taken the certification (and noticeably lagging behind the other students in growth), had heard the exchange. He wanted so badly to say something to Ashe, some comfort, /something/, but all words seemed meaningless.

He knew Lonato had adopted Ashe. There was a very real chance they’d be killing his father tomorrow. Adoptive or not, Ignatz had heard how important Lonato was to Ashe, he’d seen it in his eyes, heard the song in his voice… what do you /begin/ to say to someone in that situation?

So when Ashe left the classroom and turned to see him still paralyzed against the wall, Ignatz didn’t say anything. He reached out- slowly, in case it was too much- and held Ashe’s hand. Ashe didn’t reject the advance and stared at Ignatz, mouth still quivering, eyes red and glazed with tears.

Some understanding passed wordlessly between them. Then Ashe, unable to take it anymore, squeezed Ignatz’ hand and ran off to his room as the tears started falling.

Ignatz still couldn’t bring himself to move. He wished he could do more… but he knew wishing would accomplish nothing, only doing would. But he couldn’t think of anything to do. So he just stood there.

Byleth walked out of the classroom then, exams folded neatly under his arm.

“Ignatz?”

He couldn’t think of a single thing to respond with.

Byleth turned to face him fully now. “Everything all right?”

A few coherent responses flicked through Ignatz’ mind. All he could manage to get out was “… it’s horrible.”

“… It is.”

He didn’t need to tell Ignatz anything along the lines of ‘it was their duty’ or ‘that’s just how it is’. He knew Ignatz understood that, and no words of empty assurance would make him accept it.

“… You should go rest up, Ignatz. We can get you fitted in the morning. Take the time to relax however you can.”

“… Alright. Thank you, professor.”

Byleth nodded and went on his way.

Even so, Ignatz couldn’t figure out where to go. The library didn’t feel restful enough, but the thought of going back to his room to ‘escape’ made him feel like a bit of a shut-in. He wondered if this was how Bernadetta felt, dragged kicking and screaming every mission to a world she’s too afraid to face. Was it even fair to feel like he was ‘forced’ to come here by his parents when Bernie /literally/ was? But thinking about that didn’t exactly help improve his mood, so Ignatz did the one thing he could think to do and walked down to the docks. It was Linhardt’s day for kitchen duty after fitting, so Ignatz sat with his legs hanging off the side of the dock, watching the fish swim in and out of the sunbeams in the water beneath.

It helped. Eventually Ignatz’ mind wandered from tomorrow’s trials and turned to the urge to draw. He dug out his drawing supplies, a hard-bound book to prop them on, and set to sketching. He didn’t have the focus to intently draw something around him, instead using the opportunity to try a loose gesture. Drawing bodies, gestures especially, had always felt like piecing together a puzzle. Each part fit together in certain ways, and if you could put those parts together in your head, you could come up with whatever pose you wanted. It was the angle that made things tricky, especially when drawing fully fleshed and clothed figures. With a gesture, that was easier to experiment with.

The gesture that appeared on the paper was a profile view of someone sitting at the dock fishing, hunched over just a little, having waited a long time with no bite. With the gesture, the ‘wire-frame’ down, Ignatz began to drape clothes over it, fleshing out the figure until it resembled Linhardt, someone he’d seen fish in this pose several times now.

He filled the page with smaller gestures after that; another fisherman, Dedue kneeling by some flowers, the Gatekeeper with his stiff stance. He considered going to the training ground to try some more dynamic poses, but. That meant going to the training ground, and remembering what they were all training for.

Maybe a nap would be best, he figured. With exams over for now, he could take an afternoon off of studying. Satisfied with his drawings, Ignatz returned to his room and settled down, willing himself to go to sleep. It felt… off, without Linhardt beside him.

He smiled to himself. Sleeping by his side had already become so normal, in just over a week…

Ignatz dozed in a half-conscious daze for about an hour before the hunger rendered sleep impossible. He found himself next to Dimitri in the dining hall, who looked just as uneasy as he felt, his great yellow dog curled at his feet.

“It’s not right,” he murmured. “It’s not right… I should be the one going on this mission.”

“You can’t come with us?”

“No. I am the head of our class, and we’ve been assigned a separate mission. But I don’t understand… we would have the best chance of resolving this peacefully.” He lowered his voice. “Does Lady Rhea not believe so, or does she not care?”

“Honestly, Dimitri…” Ignatz’ voice softened, barely audible above the thrum of the dining hall. “I don’t… I don’t think we’re the important ones. I think it only matters where the Professor goes. And he just happens to lead our class…”

Dimitri nodded, considering this. “Perhaps you’re right. Lady Rhea does seem to favor him… those bandits you defeated last month? They were led by the same man that attacked us before.” He shook his head. “I don’t believe that to be mere coincidence.”

Ignatz hadn’t known that. “Maybe she believes the Professor can resolve this…? … I don’t know, your highness, I just don’t know… I feel like I don’t know anything around here, and I’m just being strung along.”

Dimitri smiled at that. “Please, you may call me Dimitri. It’s no trouble.”

“Ah, alright, I’m sorry.”

“No need for apologies.” He turned to face Ignatz then, his eyes soft. “If I may ask one thing… please promise me that you and your peers will do whatever you can to try and resolve this peacefully.”

Easy enough. “I promise.”

Dimitri smiled again. “Thank you… I knew it wouldn’t be too much to ask of you. I know Claude isn’t one for resolving things with violence, if he had the choice.”

The rest of dinner passed in relative quiet, neither boy much for small talk. The only interruption came from Dimitri’s dog, who rested his long yellow face on Ignatz’ thigh, hoping for scraps. Ignatz had never been around big dogs before, and was surprised at how gentle Rolff was.

Ignatz liked Dimitri, he decided. He’d been worried the Prince of Faerghus would be intimidating, but he was approachable, even gentle, and Ignatz sensed a loneliness in his demeanor. He wished they didn’t have to be separated into different houses like they were… it’d probably be a lot better if they were all just one class. He knew he’d do his best to make Dimitri feel welcome, like he did with Linhardt. He knew how important it was not to feel alone.

Back in his room, Ignatz had almost fallen completely asleep when he felt Linhardt slip into bed beside him, smelling faintly of the harsh soap they use to scrub the dishes after dinner.

“Goodnight,” he mumbled into his pillow.

“Oh, you’re still awake.” Linhardt settled into his pillow and closed his hand around Ignatz’, like they’d been doing. “Goodnight, Ignatz.”

Neither had the energy to say anything about the next day, and drifted off into a dreamless night.

Ashe’s words weren’t enough to stop Lord Lonato’s advances. He was willing to die for what he believed in, even if it meant taking up arms against his own son. The battle ended with him dead on the ground.

And Ashe wasn’t able to control himself. Why, he demanded, why did it have to end that way? Some part of his mind understood dying for your beliefs, but the rest of him couldn’t. Because no matter what he’d fought for, his father was gone. Lonato, and many people Ashe knew from town, gone forever. He’d never see them again. And for what? He couldn’t make himself accept it, and he couldn’t control his emotions. Ashe composed himself long enough to return to town and ensure his siblings were safe.

Ignatz himself felt numb, an uncomfortable detached feeling. Distant. He wondered if that was just his way to get through the horrible things that just happened. He could see that same distance behind Linhardt’s eyes… he guessed that cold and melancholy was better than screaming and running. As if anything was “better” out here.

Tensions didn’t ease when a note detailing an assassination threat on Rhea was discovered, and the Golden Deer rode back with the Knights of Seiros in increasing discomfort. Ashe could take it no more, and finally lost all energy to try and keep himself composed. His sniffles turned to sobs, then wails, and eventually screams. The company stopped to give him time, some trying to give him small words of comfort, others trying with assuring touches, but nothing could reach him. The breakdown peaked when he threw up, choking and trembling as his stomach voided itself of everything it possibly could. Byleth and Marianne each had a hand on his back, the only comfort anyone could give him by then. When he’d settled back into meek sobs, Catherine gathered up his trembling body and mounted him on her horse with her. Ashe settled back, too weak to be bothered by the discomfort of her plate armor.

It’s horrible, Ignatz’ mind echoed. It’s horrible. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d begun to cry too, quiet and motionless.

Dimitri and Dedue were waiting for them at Garreg Mach, and Ashe’s demeanor told them everything they needed to know. The waves of grief passed visibly across Dimitri’s face as he processed how the events must have played out. “Ashe…”

“I’ll take him,” said Dedue. Even his face, usually stoic, had fallen into something softer. “I’ll see to him.”

Catherine nodded and helped Ashe, barely awake and thoroughly cried out, off of her horse. He somehow managed to look even tinier in Dedue’s massive arms, but Dedue’s embrace was gentle, and Ashe visibly relaxed.

“We’ll debrief tomorrow,” Byleth said quietly. “I’ll go with Catherine to speak with Lady Rhea. Rest up, everyone. You worked hard today.”

Even their professor’s usual flat tone seemed more melancholy.

Ignatz couldn’t think to do anything but get straight to bed. It would be time for dinner soon, but he wasn’t hungry. He’d just upset his stomach, after today.

Curled up, facing the wall, not even bothering to remove his glasses, he didn’t turn when he heard his door open and Linhardt step gently in. Within moments, his soft face filled the space between Ignatz and the wall.

Neither said anything.

“… Should we talk about it?” Linhardt offered.

Ignatz shook his head. “… I’m not sure what there is to say.”

Linhardt nodded, and closed his hand around Ignatz’. He rubbed his thumb along the back of Ignatz’ fingers, still as cold as always. Before long, tears glazed over Linhardt’s eyes, and he buried his face in the pillow to hold the sobs in. His hand closed tighter around Ignatz’, who gave a comforting squeeze back.

There was nothing to do but be there for him.

Chapter Text

No one was surprised when Ashe joined the Golden Deer the following day. “I talked about it with Dimitri and Dedue,” he told Byleth. “They understand. You… all of you… were there with me. And I, um… I want it to be that way from now on, if it’s all right with you, professor.”

Naturally, Byleth could hardly say no, and Ashe took the seat next to Marianne. He still looked awful, eyes swollen, voice hoarse, that cheerful glimmer in his eyes completely gone. But Marianne didn’t seem to mind his company, and class went by smoothly despite yesterday’s events.

That Tuesday, the first day of the Blue Sea Moon, just happened to be Caspar’s birthday. Linhardt went to meet him for his birthday dinner (whatever they could manage in the dining hall), so Ignatz took the opportunity to wander outside the monastery grounds and paint. He hadn’t been able to find the energy to paint plein-air lately and missed the feeling, not to mention it’d be the perfect distraction from dwelling on both the last mission and the threat still ahead. Canvas mounted, thinner prepared, colors assembled on the palette, Ignatz worked as quickly as he could to capture the sunset sky before it faded. Thankfully he hadn’t gotten rusty, and mere minutes later he had captured a simple but aesthetically-pleasing painting of the glowing sky and the forest silhouetted against it.

Ferdinand passed him by, leading one of the monastery’s fluffy horses by its reigns.

“Oh Ignatz, what an incredible painting!”

The sudden bright voice after the long moments of quiet was enough to make Ignatz jump. “Ah, Ferdinand! Thank you!”

“You are quite skilled, this is truly impressive!” Ferdinand joined his side now, getting a better look at the painting. “Do you sell your works, Ignatz? I know I would very much love to have something like this, if you do.”

“Oh, um…” No one had ever asked him that before. “I, um… I don’t, actually. It’s… It’s just a hobby of mine, and I promise it doesn’t distract from my training or my chores.” He looked down at the painting again, wondering if it really looked good enough to be desired, to be /worth/ paying for. “… I’ve never tried to sell them before.”

“Well, do you feel particularly attached to this piece?” Ferdinand gave him a bright smile. “I would be honored to be your first buyer, if you are willing. And I would pay you greatly for such wonderful work, of course! That is what you deserve!”

Buyer? Paid? Wonderful work? This meaningless hobby, this painting that only took him minutes to complete? Wouldn’t he be ripping off Ferdiannd for something so…

So…

The answer came in his mother’s voice.

Worthless.

Even so, Ignatz didn’t have the spine to say no. “… I-If you really want it, you can just have it, I don’t mind…”

“Nonsense. Here, let me see…” He dug around through his pockets for a moment, the horse behind him huffed impatiently. “Here, how does… five hundred, seven-fifty… how does a thousand sound?”

“A thousand? /Gold/?!”

“Yes of course! Oh, and-“ He reached into a different pocket. “A bag of choice tea leaves, as my apology for bringing this on you so suddenly.”

Ignatz held the bundle of coinpurses and tea leaves in his hands, completely dumbfounded.

“… Ignatz?”

“I… F-Ferdinand, I can’t accept this, this is too much…”

“No, Ignatz, it is not. Here… look at me.”

It took all his willpower, but he looked up to meet Ferdinand’s warm gaze.

“What you have made here is worth it.” He clasped a gloved hand over Ignatz’, best he could around the items. “YOU are worth it.”

“I am worth it…”

“That will not do, Ignatz. Say it confidently. Believe what you are saying.”

Ignatz stood a little straighter, prouder. “I am worth it.”

“There you are!”

“I’ll… bring you the painting later, once it’s dried. It’ll smudge if you take it now.”

“Ah, thank you Ignatz.” He gave him another smile; something about him was so radiant, like the sky Ignatz just painted. “You are a very kind person. Please, do not forget that.”

Ferdinand led the horse away, leaving Ignatz alone again with his painting.

Ignatz stared down at the items in his hands again. A thousand gold, and those tea leaves were easily worth at least another five-hundred… for that? For one painting he made on a whim?

He allowed his mind to dare to entertain the notion again… that gasp of a dream he’d tried to smother. That one day, he could live off his art. To be a real painter, somewhere quiet, away from places of fighting and strife like this. One painting, a thousand gold, he hadn’t even /asked/…

No. The real world didn’t work like that, he reminded himself. His parents had drilled that into his head, over and over again. His art was worthless. A frivolous hobby, a waste of time that could’ve been spent doing more productive things. Normal people in the real world wouldn’t want his art. He certainly would never make enough to live off of it.

But… what if there were more people like Ferdinand?

… No. He’d come too far to entertain the notion again. He’d already committed to the Officer’s Academy, and he’d never hear the end of it if he chose another path now. “All that money we wasted on you,” he could hear his mother’s voice. “We worked so hard to get you there, and you’re still too weak to commit? Ungrateful. Selfish, spoiled, worthless.”

Ignatz’ mother may not have been there in that forest, but it was the same vitriol she’d spewed countless times before. And the words still cut his heart as deeply as they would if she had been.

Ungrateful. Weak. Worthless.

He stared at the painting, for once, unable to wholly believe her words.

Because she was wrong. Just this one painting had been worth a thousand gold. And, maybe if luck would have it, a new friend.

Ignatz smiled, feeling something so viscerally bright but frightening, forbidden, never believing he truly deserved it.

He felt hopeful for himself.

The sun’s last rays were fading now, the air growing threateningly humid as the thick clouds in the distance inched closer. The air felt charged, the indescribable thrum that preceded a storm. As carefully as he could, knowing the paint still wasn’t quite dry, he packed everything up and headed back.

Ignatz left the painting propped against Ferdinand’s door along with a scribbled note warning him to handle it gently, then headed to the dining hall for a late dinner. By the time he was finished, the rain had begun, and he hurried back to his room with a newfound spring in his step.

“Lin! You won’t believe it!”

Linhardt, who had just begun to doze, jolted awake. “What? Is everything okay?”

“Better than okay!” Ignatz dumped the coinpurses on his desk. “I sold my first painting!”

“You did?” Linhardt’s eyes brightened at that. “To who? Which one was it?”

“Ferdinand! It was something I painted out in the forest just now! He just happened to walk by, and he liked it so much, he asked if I was willing to sell it!”

“Damn, that’s not fair. /I/ wanted to be your first buyer, if I’d known you were selling.”

Ignatz blushed. “I, er, didn’t know I was selling either, until he asked.”

“How much did he give you?”

“A thousand, and a nice bag of tea!”

Linhardt blinked. “… He just had a thousand gold on him?”

“Yeah, he did.” Ignatz hadn’t stopped to consider how odd that was. “… Is that not normal for, um, nobles?”

Linhardt considered that for a moment, then shrugged. “Not me, at least. Or Cas. I don’t know.”

Ignatz shrugged in response.

“Still, Ignatz! That’s wonderful!” He settled back down on the bed, crossing his legs. “Maybe you could sell more! If your first painting got you a thousand, imagine how much you’d earn just from side-hustling your art!”

Ignatz looked down at his hands, folded in front of him. “I don’t know… maybe. Probably not.”

“Why not, Iggy? I see how happy art makes you. If you could chum up to nobles like Ferdinand with that sweetness of yours, you could easily make enough gold to live off of. One of them might even sponsor you, and then you’d be set forever. What would it hurt to try?”

Ignatz shook his head. “… It’s… just a hobby.”

“That hobby just made you money.”

He had no response beyond shaking his head again.

“… What’s wrong, Ignatz? You just sold a painting. That wasn’t a fluke. Why aren’t you taking pride in that?”

“… My… my family. My parents. They don’t, um… they don’t think I could make a living with my art. And… well, they’re merchants, so they would know that better than anyone… becoming a knight was a better job, a real job, and maybe I’d make some connections with some nobles, and that would help our business…”

When Linhardt didn’t say anything, Ignatz raised his eyes to meet his. They had ‘that’ look to them, and another Ignatz rarely saw from him; anger.

“With all due respect,” Linhardt said slowly, carefully, restrained. “They sound like they want what’s best for /them/, not for /you/. They sound like the noble families back home.”

“You’re right.”

The words just slipped out. Quickly, softly, fallen through the cracks forming inside of him.

“What was that?”

The cracks widened.

“You’re right, Lin. That’s… exactly what they’re doing. They didn’t… force me to come here. To be a knight. But… they made it clear how inconvenient I would be if I didn’t. And I… I felt so bad, I went along with it.”

Ignatz’ face felt hot, his throat straining. “… It’s always been like that. I try to be convenient… to them… to everyone here. I’d rather… I’d rather burden myself more than inconvenience someone else, even a little.”

He felt the threat of tears now, the straining of his eyes before they welled.

“Ignatz… you don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”

“No, I want to. I’ve… I’ve never told anyone. I need to tell someone.” He held his hands tighter, trying to hide their trembling. “Can… can I tell you, Lin…?”

Linhardt patted the bed beside him, inviting Ignatz to sit down and continue. Ignatz joined him, and Linhardt clasped a hand in both of his.

“Tell me. Everything you need to get out. I’ll listen.”

Ignatz nodded, stifling a sniffle.

“I…”

The words felt impossible, massive, caught in his throat.

“… I… wasn’t… wanted.”

He shattered. The tears spilled forth on their own, his body shaking into a sobbing mess in mere moments. He bent forward, buried his shameful face in his hands, hiding it to save Linhardt the disservice of witnessing such a sight. The truth, bottled up inside of him for so many years, so many lonely, painful years. Saying it out loud hurt worse than he ever could have expected, and all he could do was cry, his body beyond control. After a few hesitant moments, he felt Linhardt slide his lithe arms around him, and drew him against his chest, one hand stroking his hair.

Eventually his sobbing died back down, and words returned to him.

“… My brother… is ten years older than me. Corvo. They only wanted him, so he could inherit the business. Then… I came along anyway. And ever since then, they’d… been figuring out what to do with me.”

He hiccuped a sob. “It was mostly chores, growing up… since they were teaching Corvo how to manage the trade, I did everything else… the washing, cooking, cleaning… if I messed up, they were… not kind.”

Linhardt didn’t say anything, not wanting to interrupt him.

“… One year…. It was a particularly hard year, the business took a bad hit… we had a hard time getting by. They had a hard time putting food on the table, and- and I heard mother tell father, in the next room-“

A few more sobs rocked his chest.

“… That they ‘wouldn’t be having these problems’ if I weren’t around.”

Tears overcame Ignatz again. He buried his face in Linhardt’s chest, clutching the fabric of his shirt like his life depended on it. Linhardt kept his embrace firm, hand never leaving his hair.

“That’s why… I try to be convenient to them… so they don’t get mad… so they don’t tell me I’m worthless, or ungrateful for all they do… they don’t have to do those things for me… they could’ve gotten rid of me-“

“No.”

Ignatz looked up at him, eyes wide.

“They’re your parents. They should love you, support you, but yours treat you like a servant. Like a convenience item. That’s not what parents are supposed to be like, and you deserve better. You deserve /BETTER/ than them.”

“Linhardt…” His own voice sounded so small in his ears.

“You’re kind, Ignatz, you’re kind, with such a giving heart, you want to help but never take, and even when you’re hurting you see the beauty in the world, and you have this wonderful, this /magical/ ability to take that beauty and show it to other people through your art. Your parents should be on their knees /THANKING/ the Goddess that they were blessed with a child as wonderful as you.”

Ignatz stared into his round, soft blue eyes, speechless.

Linhardt huffed, trying to regulate his breathing, returning to his composure. With a gentle nudge, he rested Ignatz’ head against his chest again, his other hand finding one of Ignatz’ and holding it.

… “I’m so sorry, Ignatz. I’m sorry they’ve done this to you.”

Ignatz hiccuped, managing a dry smile. “I haven’t even told you the half of it.”

Linhardt held him tighter. “You don’t have to share any more, if it’s too much. You’ve already put yourself through a lot.”

“One more,” Ignatz insisted. “I… I need someone to tell me it wasn’t my fault.”

“All right. Go ahead.”

“It was… my second year of schooling. The school in our town was big enough to hold a few classes. Raphael was always in a different one than me. We played when we could, but most of the time he was with his sister…”

He shook his head. “Anyway… there was one day where one of the older kids picked on me, again. I don’t remember his name. He hit me, and broke my glasses. When our teacher found me crying, he said I had provoked him first, and the teacher believed him. I was already struggling in school, and his parents were well-respected, so she believed him.”

“That’s ridiculous. That woman should never have been allowed to teach.”

Ignatz laughed. “I thought so too. I sat in the classroom alone for an hour after school, as punishment. I walked myself home, and had to explain to my parents why I was late.”

He swallowed hard. “I… I tried to tell them the truth. That kid had hit me, but the teacher didn’t believe me. Mother… slapped me across the mouth. And told me not to lie.”

“What?!”

“I was so stunned… she’d never hit me before.” Another sob choked him. “I was seven… I was shocked, and when I didn’t say anything, she hit me again. She said I was a bad liar, and that she’d always know I was lying. So… I told her what she wanted to hear. What our teacher would tell her. That I’d provoked that kid and deserved it. I didn’t get dinner that night, and she made me work to ‘earn back’ a new pair of glasses.” He shook his head again. “I knew they had the money… they just wanted to humiliate me. I know it.”

“You should /never/ have to go back there, Ignatz. When you’re done here at the Academy, you shouldn’t go home. Go somewhere else, /anywhere/ else.”

“What would I do, Lin?” He couldn’t even sound upset, just… defeated. He’d thought his future through so many times. “I’ll always have to rely on them…”

“No, you won’t. First of all, if you really insist on being a knight, then I’ll take you home and have you serve under my family. So that’s out of the way. That’s the worst case scenario. You’ll be far away from your family, you’ll never have to see them again, and you could laze about the estate with me all day, every day.”

The thought made Ignatz laugh, a strange scratchy sound after all the crying. “… I’d like that.”

“But I know you don’t actually want to be a knight. So, do you know what /I/ think you should do? Once you’re done at the academy here, you should become a painter. I know that’s what you want. Ferdinand just gave you a thousand gold for a painting that took you an evening to make. Imagine how much more you could earn! I know you can do it, Ignatz, and I know you want it badly enough. More than enough. Goddess, I could ask mother and she could convince any noble in Enbarr to sponsor you, if I told her it’d make me happy.”

“Lin…” He wiped his face with his sleeve. “… You’re so kind to me…”

“You’ve been good to me ever since that day in the library, Ignatz. This is the /least/ I could do. I know… I know I haven’t said it much, but I really do appreciate you. Letting me stay with you like this… it helps more than… than I have the words for. Thank you.”

“Ahah, hey, why am I the one being thanked now…?”

“Because you deserve it.”

They sat silently for a moment, Ignatz curled in Linhardt’s lap, head resting against his chest. The rain had escalated to a deluge outside. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance.

“… Thank you for hearing me out.”

“Of course.” He ran a hand through Ignatz’ hair. “I’m glad you trusted me enough to tell me. It’s good that you got it out.”

Ignatz hummed in response, but didn’t say anything else. While Linhardt waited for him to continue the conversation, he realized that, for the first time, Ignatz had fallen asleep before he did.

He smiled and held him for another moment, then laid him against his pillow. He slid the glasses off Ignatz’ nose, spattered with dried tears, and placed them gently on the nightstand. He situated Ignatz best he could without redressing him entirely- he knew Ignatz wouldn’t be comfortable with that- and drew the covers over them both.

There was something he wanted to say, but… even just saying it to himself felt unfair to Ignatz.

So instead, Linhardt settled for a soft “Goodnight,” and laced his fingers with his, a little nightly ritual that was entirely theirs.

Chapter Text

The Blue Sea Moon brought several things to the grounds of Garreg Mach, the most prominent being rain, heat, and the slowly-mounting fear of an attack on the monastery. Despite repeated assurance that the Knights of Seiros would have any potential situation handled, that there was nothing to worry about, the students worried nonetheless. Word had gotten out that there had been a threat on the Archbishop’s life and, devout or not, everyone understood that it was no small thing to say.

Even so, his chest fluttering with a newfound lightness after opening up to Linhardt, Ignatz did his best to push the fears from his mind, trying his hardest to embrace positivity. He knew that he’d never feel better if he didn’t start now, so instead of feeding into the fear of something he had no control over, he focused on the laundry hanging on the line in front of him. The Sunday after Saint Cethleann day had provided a merciful break in the unrelenting rain, the air clean and warm, like the earth itself was giving him a gentle hug.

Laundry duty this particular clear day was shared with, in Ignatz’ opinion, the most attractive boy in the entire Academy, and it was proving to be an interesting test of attention.

“You’re in a good mood,” observed Sylvain, that same playful cheer ever-present in his voice. “For a minute there I was worried you’d take that last mission hard.”

“I did, I suppose,” Ignatz responded softly, trying hard not to watch Sylvain’s firm, toned arms reaching up for the laundry on the line. He could see the gesture, the soft interlocking of the charcoal lines of his muscles clearly in his mind, feel the motion in his hand. “I’m trying not to let it get to me too much. There’s… nothing more I can do about it. I’m trying to handle myself more constructively than being upset.”

“Wow, that’s a mature answer. Sorry I didn’t give you that much credit.”

But then Sylvain’s coy smile crept across his face, reaching his eyes. “And here I thought maybe it had to do with your thing with Linhardt.”

Igantz froze completely, paralyzed by panic. He couldn’t even find any words to stutter.

“Aw, hey buddy, I’m just teasing.”

Sylvain patted Ignatz’ shoulder, which sent sparks through his entire chest and did exactly nothing to help Ignatz’ terror.

“… Hey, for real. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Ignatz squeaked. “I just, um… didn’t know anyone knew.”

“I uh, hate to be the guy to break it to you? But everyone can see you two going back to the same room every night.”

Ignatz had no response to that.

“Hey, I’m not shaming you or anything. I think it’s really sweet. I just didn’t have you figured for the type to move that fast.”

Ignatz’ face flushed /hot/ red now. “We’re not… we’re not…”

“You don’t have to hide it for my sake, buddy. Believe me. I get it.”

“N-No, honest! Lin and I, we…” He shook his head, a hurried little motion. “We don’t… we’re… we’re not together. We’re friends.”

Sylvain couldn’t resist the opening. “Oh, so you two have a friends with benefits kind of thing? More power to ya, Iggy.”

“NO!!!”

He scared himself with his own voice.

“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

“Nah, that one’s on me. I just couldn’t resist.”

Ignatz pouted, but at the same incredibly frustrating time, couldn’t resist watching the way Sylvain shifted his weight, glanced at him with those soft eyes. He imagined the pigments he’d use to capture them, the warm wood-brown, amber gold, and cider orange that shone when the sun hit them just right.

“Well, now I’m curious, Iggy. Linhardt sleeps in your room every night, but you say you’re not a thing. So what are you? What ARE you guys doing? I’m not teasing, I really just wanna know.”

Ignatz hadn’t permitted himself to actually consider that, and he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Maybe that’s just the way he was; he couldn’t help but be honest.

“… I’m not sure, Sylvain. I… think of him as my friend. My best friend, even. I don’t know. I’ve never had a best friend before, or any real friends, let alone a… a…”

“Boyfriend? You can say it, Iggy, it’s really not a scary word.”

It was plenty scary to him.

“… Yeah. As far as what we do, well… we really just.” It sounded too boring to even say. “… We enjoy each other’s company, I guess? We talk, we study, but we don’t for the whole night. Lin naps a lot, or reads, and I’ll paint. He’s wonderful to talk to… we both have really struggled with being here. But talking with him helps, and he says it helps him too. Because we understand what it feels like. Even if we’re not doing that, well… I really just like being near him. Having him around…it’s nice. I don’t feel so lonely. Whenever I have to nap without him, it feels weird now, heh…”

“Wait wait, hold up. You both sleep in your bed?”

Ignatz realized, in that moment, how… heavy that was, said aloud.

Sylvain’s demeanor shifted. That coy edge remained in his expression, but everything from his posture to his smile softened, and Ignatz wasn’t sure if he was about to be teased or not.

“Ignatz. Oh /Ignatz/.”

Sylvain rested a hand on his shoulder, and Ignatz tensed up under it, face going warm.

“… You have it SO bad, man.”

Ignatz’ eyes went wide. “But I-“

“No no, let me finish. Here, come sit.”

Sylvain led him to a low brick wall, sitting Ignatz beside him. He looped an arm around his shoulders and gave him another comforting ‘pat pat’, and Ignatz couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact.

“Look, bud. I know a thing or two about love. Believe me, I’m probably the most qualified.”

From all of the rejections he’d seen Sylvain go through, Ignatz had a hard time believing that, but didn’t think this was an appropriate time to say so.

“See, there’s all kinds, which is another reason it’s so hard to navigate. Take me, for instance. Love for me is a fun, casual thing, you know? Most people don’t understand that. Most people are looking for a ‘forever and ever’ kind of love. But the thing is, that’s not the kind of love you go looking for. That’s something you figure out later. Some people would say it’s the kind of love you have to build, but I dunno about that. Maybe it can be both. I’m not sure myself.”

“But neither of those sound like me…”

“Nope, because neither are what you’re feeling. You see… for a lot of people, love is a production. A spectacle. Something to shout out and be seen. That’s /my/ kind of love. But you, Ignatz? You’re the ‘quiet’ love type. The ‘little things’, if that makes sense. From the way you were talking about Lin just now? No doubt about it. And a lot of people who like the loud, ‘spectacle’ love? They don’t get it, and they don’t think it’s ‘real’ when someone gives it to them. They’ll whine about how it’s not enough.”

Ignatz looked up at him then, and the way his scarlet bangs fell into his eyes was damn near overwhelming.

“But, in cases like yours, Iggy? You found someone else who loves quietly like you. Who can sense and appreciate it.”

“… You really think he does?”

“Oh yeah. Promise.”

“How do you know something like that?”

“Well, let’s think of some ‘what ifs’. What if, tonight, Lin doesn’t come back to your room with you. He sleeps in his own room for the rest of the year, and sure, you guys stay friends in class and on the field, but you don’t have those nights together anymore. How would you feel?”

Ignatz didn’t even want to /think/ about it, the image of Linhardt regarding him with the same tired indifference he gave everyone else cut his heart as if it’d actually happened.

“Don’t like that, huh?”

“Not at all…”

“You see what I mean? Now, let’s think about you. What if, let’s just say, you decide you don’t want him in your bed anymore. You tell him to go back to his room from now on, and while you still chat sometimes, you don’t have your nice conversations. Be honest. How do you think he’d take that?”

That one was easy too, even with Ignatz’ nagging self-deprecation.

“… He’d be heartbroken.”

“There you have it.”

“But is that what it’s like to be in love? That’s not… just being really trusting friends?”

“It’s a fine dance, for sure. No one said love was a clear or easy thing, especially for people like you who haven’t experienced it. But you can trust me on this one, Iggy. I can see it. You two have it, and I promise you that even if I hadn’t explained all this too you, you would’ve figured it out soon anyway.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Ignatz stared into the deep blue of the summer sky, watching the dark clouds gather on the distant horizon, full of the promise of rain. Maybe it was the oncoming storm on the air, but Ignatz’ whole body felt charged with the soft hum of a deep realization.

He was in love with Linhardt. He really, really was.

And moreover… Linhardt loved him too.

In that moment, something Linhardt said came back to Ignatz. “The real reason I joined your class… Just knowing you’re there with me will help. And if something happens to you, then… then I’ll be there to help you too.”

Was that the quiet love Sylvain described? Is that what Linhardt had really meant?

“Mm, you’re seeing it now, huh Iggy?”

“Yeah…” He smiled. “I think you’re right, Sylvain.”

“Course I’m right! I know love /pretty/ well, after all.”

Something about the way he said that still bothered Ignatz, especially after seeing Sylvain open up to him like this. Sincerity was a rare thing to get from Sylvain, and he’d given it to Ignatz in spades just now, but that… still sounded off, and Ignatz could no longer suppress the urge to ask.

“Sylvain… I’m sorry if this is a little pointed, but… why do so many girls reject you, then?”

Sylvain shrugged, seemingly unaffected by the question. “They just don’t get it, bud. I like seeing more than one woman at a time, they don’t. That’s not my fault. But the second they realize that, they don’t want to be with me anymore. That’s their decision.”

“Does that make you happy?”

“What do you mean? Getting objected by girls who can’t be open-minded? Of course not, that wouldn’t feel good in any situation.”

“That’s not what I mean. I mean… seeing multiple girls.”

“Well, yeah, of course.” The coy smile returned, but the softness left Sylvain’s eyes. The change was distinct, and Ignatz noticed it immediately. “A guy oughta have some fun while he can, right?”

Ignatz shook his head. “… I don’t think you believe that, Sylvain.”

“Uh, what exactly does that mean?”

But Ignatz knew what he saw. His voice dropped, soft, quiet.

“… I saw you with Lorenz.”

It wasn’t accusatory. Just a quiet statement of fact.

“… You did, huh…?”

“Yeah… I’m sorry.”

He felt Sylvain’s whole body relax, defeated. “Don’t apologize. I /knew/ someone would see that… I’m just glad it was you.”

“I haven’t told anyone… not even Lin.”

“I know, bud. You’re not the kind of guy who would.”

“But why? If how you feel with Lorenz is the same way I feel with Linhardt, why keep asking girls out like that?” Ignatz shook his head again. “After everything you’ve told me, you really seem to get it, you said so yourself… so why keep doing it? It doesn’t make you happy, I can see that, Sylvain…”

Sylvain laughed, a soft sound that made Ignatz’ heart skip a beat. “You’re really coming for me here, huh Ignatz?”

He sighed. “The truth is… well. I’m not ready to deal with that yet.”

“Why not? Deal with what?”

“It’s not that easy. I can’t just… go off and find someone I actually want to be with. So I take what little flings I can get.”

“But /why/?”

The life drained from Sylvain’s expression, and his voice went cold.

“… Your family are merchants, right? It’s not a lifestyle you’d understand.”

“Tell me. You’ve told me this much.”

Sylvain sighed again. “All right, you’re right. So… Crests. They’re really important to my family. They’ll tell you we need them to defend our territory. So… they’re everything. Anyone who doesn’t have one just… isn’t important. My older brother didn’t have one, so he got disowned. You follow?”

Ignatz shook his head. “I don’t understand… why would he be disowned just for that?”

“Because to noble families like mine, it’s not worth raising an heir who doesn’t have one. Only Crests prove legitimacy to your line, after all.”

“But that’s not right!”

“You don’t have to tell me twice.”

“And what does that have to do with the way you love now?”

“Because, Ignatz, none of it matters. All those little flings? Who cares. Those girls don’t. They’re only interested because of my Crest anyway. But what if I found ‘the one’, Ignatz? What if I found someone I just can’t live without? Then I’d have to go home, without them, to marry some noblewoman I’ve never met and have kids until one of them has a Crest. That’s what life has in store for me, Ignatz. Honestly… I’m kind of jealous of you and Lin. I mean, I know you’re not ‘a thing’ yet. But Lin is a noble with a Crest too, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t... feel bad about loving you. He wouldn’t sleep in your bed every night if he did.”

“And… that’s how you feel about Lorenz?”

“… It might be. I don’t know. But, yeah. That’s how I feel about guys, at least.” He lowered his voice. “I really… don’t care for woman at all. But I don’t have a choice.”

Ignatz realized why Sylvain pursued other woman anyway right then, everything clicking together.

“… So… you date… have ‘flings’ with girls… because it hurts. To hurt yourself.”

Sylvain said nothing. He stared at the ground. Past it.

“… You’re REALLY coming for me today, huh…?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way, Sylvain! You can change all that, even if it’s hard, or scary! You can make things better!”

“Make what better, Iggy?” His tone wasn’t angry or confrontational, but defeated. “I can’t change any of that. I just have to get used to it while I can.”

“But maybe you can! You won’t know until you try! What’s the worst that could happen? You get hurt? You’re already hurting yourself!”

Sylvain had no response to that.

“I listened to everything you said, Sylvain, I really did… I want you to be able to follow your own advice, too. I want you to try and see Lorenz again… if that’s how you really feel.”

“It doesn’t matter what I feel.”

“Of course it does!”

“Not me, Ignatz.” He looked at him now, expression dour, but eyes softening again. “That kind of love… having that with someone? I don’t deserve something like that. I haven’t earned that. I’m not even a good person.”

“Sure you are, Sylvain! I see the way you care about people, especially your classmates! You’re considerate, and you always talk them up, and you’re always sincere when it really matters! I know it’s hard for you, but you still help everyone when it counts, and they know how much you care! I know so many people only see the way you interact with women, but you’re kind, and you’re considerate, you’re attractive and you’re helpful-“

“Wait what?”

Ignatz froze again, realizing what he just said.

“Oh no, no no no.” Sylvain’s coy smile returned in full force. “I’m not letting you back out of that one. Tell me, Iggy, what about me do you find attractive?”

Ignatz stared at him wide-eyed, reeling from his reaction and his own slip-up. If he had felt at all dumb for this conversation before, then, well…

“I… uh…” What to even /say/? Where to begin? “Sylvain, uh- it’s- … the first thing I notice is your eyes. They’re so soft, and so warm… no matter what, they always look so kind…” And his big, flustered mouth had to take it a step further. “They’re beautiful, and I’ve wondered what it’d be like to paint them…”

It was obvious that this wasn’t the response Sylvain was expecting. His expression betrayed nothing short of ‘shocked’.

“Ignatz… that’s…”

He turned away for a second, stifling what Ignatz could have sworn was a sniffle.

“… No one’s every said something like that to me before… you really mean it?”

Ignatz couldn’t meet his gaze. “I don’t like saying things I don’t mean.”

That made Sylvain laugh a little. “Yeah, I know that much about you.”

They sat in silence for a minute, the laundry still only half folded. The wind was picking up, causing the items still on the line to flap noisily, protesting the approaching rain.

“… Thanks, bud. Maybe… Maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

Ignatz smiled. “I think you’ll feel a lot better if you do. I’ll, ah… I’ll think about what you said about Lin, too.”

“Don’t feel like you have to rush into it, okay? When the time is right, you’ll know when to bring it up.”

“All right… thank you, Sylvain.”

Sylvain tightened his hug around Ignatz’ shoulders, making his face flush warm again.

“… We, uh… should probably finish this laundry, huh buddy?”

“Y-Yeah, looks like the storm is coming on faster than we thought.”

The two boys folded the rest of laundry as quickly and neatly as they could before the rain rolled in. Ignatz mulled over Sylvain’s words over and over again, feeling as energized as the storm on the wind, and promised himself he’d keep in touch from then on.

He loved Linhardt. And he’d know when the time was right.