Felix has mixed feelings about the occasion. One year since they took Enbarr is of course momentous, and the coordination of Byleth deciding to mark this day by being formally inducted as Archbishop means the day has a magnitude to it. Yet being here, outside of Garreg Mach, the ridiculously long religious element now concluded, it seems too much of a celebration for his liking.
Of course the people in the now bustling town below want to recall fondly a life after war. Celebrate a world finally healing, of old systems falling and a united Fodlan in the making. But all he recalls of those days is the conviction each fight will be his last, the smell of blood which did not leave for months afterwards, and the ever present exhaustion sleep could not touch.
The setting though is at least nostalgic. The complete restoration and expansion of the monastery is impressive, for Felix has not come this way since he left at the close of the war. Even when they were using this as their base, they’d simply made it stable enough it wasn’t going to collapse on them, not having the resources and time to truly fix it.
But now the school is much like he vaguely recalls from his first days, along with a large memorial to those lost, expansions of some of the lower levels previously kept away from the public, and generally making additional resources for the school and the increased population.
Byleth still seems as clueless as ever, and Felix still can’t believe the Professor who had to be taught by their students how the Church systems worked is now the Archbishop. However their attitude seems to be far more inclusive than the previous iteration; and although he has little interest in religion, any change is a relief.
He needs a break though. A break from the loudness of his friends, for while he is glad for their company, they have a tendency to just become too much, and having been out of their company for a while it’s hard to keep up.
So he wanders. Wanders around the parts of this place new to him, still bustling with energy from the day; students, teachers and townsfolk alike. He finds himself struck by memories: the greenhouse where Annette had yelled at him for hearing her sing, the now rebuilt West side of the monastery where he and Sylvain cleared rubble for hours after a dumb challenge gone wrong he now doesn’t recall, the new building where Claude now stands which used to be-
He stops. Claude. Not a face he’d imagined seeing today, but he arrived early on with Hilda, both of whom Felix has not seen since they met on the battlefield. Claude has kept mainly to himself, although curiously Sylvain had spoken to him before the ceremony. Other than that, he’d disappeared off with Byleth and Dimitri some time ago, and now apparently, is nosing about one of the half excavated areas which is clearly labelled unsafe.
Typical, or at least typical from what Felix recalls of Claude from six years ago. He can’t say they had a lot of contact, Felix mostly kept to himself unless someone dragged him into company. Which did happen once or twice before, they shared a few cross house classes. Claude’s method of thinking was...intriguing, oddly complementary to his own in its detail oriented thoughtfulness. His all or nothing approach Felix could respect, especially when they faced each other before he vanished during the war.
That’s not...all that generally fascinated Felix with Claude back then, but it’s all he is willing to submit his thoughts to now. Teenage fancies and daydreams have no place as an adult.
He doesn’t do anything but survey Claude for a moment, who is in turn checking out the building, and the way the entrance is haphazardly supported by metal and wood. He hasn’t changed much in the last year, hair still curling slightly more than it did as a teen, smile still easy, and he still focuses in that particular way that reminds Felix of a hearth-lit night staring over a fake map of strategies long since passed.
He stands now with his feet slightly planted apart, chin lifted, and although Felix is facing away, he can imagine the serene look, cultivated to seem as if he’s idly staring into the far distance, when in reality he picks up even the subtlest of hints. Felix has never been good at the nuances of people, and at times would be struck with how well Claude could read and entice.
It is not a surprise when he saunters down into the building, but Felix feels himself bristle anyway. There is no one around, but he can hear voices and laughter from those still collecting at the monastery, the remembrance feast not for a few more hours yet.
His feet walk before sense follows. He shouldn't be sneaking around in unsafe areas, he’d told Sylvain and Ashe he was stepping out to get away from the crowd. If something were to go amiss, no one would look for him. Perhaps Hilda knows where Claude wandered to, but if times really haven’t changed, he doubts it.
As he falls into the shade of the opening, all he sees are stone steps down. Cracked, but no more damaged than some of the older parts of the monastery. They’ve been traversing for decades. The entrance he can see is the most dangerous, literally being propped up by two large iron bars. But they seem stable enough to his eye, and he sighs, resigned. Looks like he’ll be following.
He gives one last glance over his shoulder, then begins. His footing is sure, so swiftly heads downwards, the light from the entrance leading his way to begin with, then Felix casts a fire spell for good measure. He doesn’t need it really though, for the steps are not too deep, the light of the entrance still just about penetrating to show a long corridor of stone.
Felix glances up warily, but it’s tunnelled smooth, no cracks or crevices to be seen. There’s also no ornamentation, he notices as he walks, so he doubts this was a religious place, or at least nowhere of active worship. There’s a draft and it’s pleasantly cool, purposefully done he muses as he paces forward.
He doesn’t wait for long before there is a clear opening to the left. An archway lined with slightly different stones in a half circle pattern that he approaches with care, one hand raised ready to increase and unleash the spell, the other hovering over his sword.
“Hey, Felix, thanks for coming. Be careful with that fire spell though.”
He almost trips over nothing as Claude’s voice floats through. He stares agape at that looming room; he’s sure his footsteps were practically silent, knows he’s been taking every precaution and yet-
“Take your time,” Claude says, and then laughs, which has him extinguishing the spell in frustration and marching into the room.
It’s smaller than he would have expected; lined on the opposite wall with a startling volumes of books, which is where Claude stands. There are other objects in the room, and what looks like a font placed in the centre with a high shelf above it. Claude turns and greets him with a wave, a book in hand.
“Didn’t take you long, I wondered if you’d join me,” he says, keeping the book open as he steps around the font and moves to greet him, smiling all the while.
“And why would you think that?” Felix asks, hands moving to cross over his chest as Claude stops before him.
“Well, I saw you watching, figured you couldn’t resist,” he says, and winks which is incredibly infuriating as it makes Felix’s insides start to boil, and he huffs.
“What exactly are you doing down here, did you not see the keep out signs?” Felix says as a distraction from his own rebellious body.
“What’s the fun of exploring if you only go where they let you?” Claude asks, throwing his arms out wide and somehow still keeping a hold of the book. Felix hates that such a simple action is strangely impressive.
“Fine. Why did you want to explore here?” he says and Claude smiles, that blank look which Felix knows means there is an extremely specific reason, but he’s trying to throw him off.
“Just wanted to see what they’d been doing. And you can’t say this doesn’t look interesting,” he says, and Felix sighs, nodding.
He’s not that curious. He doesn’t really know what to do now he’s here, but equally doesn’t want to leave. It’s not because of Claude, he chides himself, and spins on his heel to walk around the room, trying to find something to occupy time until he can figure out what he does next.
Claude returns to the books, obviously his reason for being here. So Felix sticks to the right side of the room, deciding to take a look at the objects dotted around. There’s a sculpture on a table which looks as if it’s seen better days, or if some child's interpretation of how art should be.
There are shelves that line the walls too, he can now see; whether they were bookcases or not he cannot tell, but now just seem to be used to place miscellaneous items. A wooden box with intricate symbols, what looks like a glass orb that reflects light in a strange way, which makes him look away quickly, and an actual set of three small volumes of books tucked in a corner.
He stares at them as he moves on, only to bump into something solid and warm.
“We meet again,” Claude says, and Felix whirls around, hand flying to his sword hilt and internally cursing.
“Why are you sneaking around, I thought you were looking at books,” he hisses and Claude raises his eyebrows before gesturing to...the books.
“Fine,” Felix hisses, and he knows he’s blushing now, his arm strangely tingling where Claude had bumped him.
He ends up staring at the font in the centre. There’s no water, but he can see the drain where it would have been, and it’s most certainly a religious object. He can see faint lines of text, and imagery that reminds him of the stained glass windows in the chapel. Three figures stand together, the one in the centre in a robe and holding a circular object. The next the two stand away with weapons that are broken in the next. There rest he cannot see, all worn away with age.
The shelf doesn’t actually cover the whole of the font, he can now see. For in the centre there is a gap with a piece of what looks like extremely thin twine trapped between.
“Have you looked at this?” he says, glancing up to see Claude turn to him.
“Not in detail,” Claude replies and strides over. He too bends to stare at the twine, and Felix cannot help but glance at him from the corner of his eye, a slight shiver swimming through at the piercing focus in Claude’s eyes.
“Is that...hair?” Claude asks, and Felix’s gaze returns abruptly to the font.
“It can’t be,” Felix says, and reaches up to touch the edge of the stone ledge as he leans in. It’s warm, as if it’s been in the sun for hours, and he looks at his fingers for a moment.
“Yeah that...fits, I guess, with...a whole bunch of things you probably don’t want to know today, but I wonder if we can check,” Claude says as he too leans in, hand on the stone ledge.
The next few seconds follow in strange detail, yet swift as a sword swing. There is a flood of heat through Felix’s finger still on the stone, so much so that he almost pulls away. Then, before he can, the shelf cracks, one single perfect line straight down the middle, the stone falling away. The burn fades and leaves a sudden sharp pain cutting through his index finger, even as he stands and stumbles back.
It takes a second of staring, but then he sees it. The twine or...hair, if Claude is to be trusted, is wrapped around his finger. His eyes trace it to find Claude holding up his hand, the thread similarly wrapped around his.
“Oh no,” is all Claude says, or all that Felix recalls he says. As a second later, a pain so luminous it defies agony spears his mind, and he’s only left with the sensation of falling before he loses all senses to shadow.
Awakening brings a headache sharp as blunt trauma, and Felix groans as he opens his eyes. At first the shadows and shapes remain a blur, but soon it solidifies into a room, a very familiar one much like his own from his student days. The light is a dull blue, indicating evening has rolled in, and he sits up with a groan, clutching his head.
“Oh, there you are!”
Annette’s chirpy voice does not help, but he turns to her with one eye still shut, and she smiles sweetly.
“You’ve been out for about an hour. Well, we think. Hilda came and told us around then when she found you passed out,” she explains.
Well at least his assumption that Hilda could find Claude was good.
“Claude woke up already. He’s actually been looking into...your predicament,” she says slowly, and his head pulses with a dull ache, clearing but not leaving, simply sliding to the background.
“What?” he asks, and she moves her eyes downwards.
Felix looks to where his left hand stays by the bed, and blinks, wondering if he’s seeing strange sparkles from passing out. But no, on his index finger is now a small thin glittering band of a ring. He lifts his hand slowly, keeping it far away from his face, holding it up to the dim light of the window, watching it sparkle.
“Apparently you touched a magic thing, and now you’re married.”
His hand falls and he spins, headache be damned, to Annette.
“Claude has one too. And don’t bother trying to remove it, they don’t come off,” she says as he immediately moves his other hand.
“This is impossible,” he hisses, and tries to remove it anyway, but the ring doesn’t budge. All he succeeds in doing is twisting it a little, and causing Annette to huff at his stubbornness.
“Well, it’s happening. They also found a book with a reference to a bonding ceremony using the font you were found next to. So, yeah. Congratulations, you married a King,” she says.
Felix pauses, turning his head slowly to look at Annette, who he’s now realised is enjoying this immensely.
“Yeah. Claude is King of Almyra. Big news of the day. And you’re now bonded to him, so that makes you...the King’s Consort? I think that’s the correct term,” she says, attempting to look pensive when she’s clearly about to start laughing.
“No, it’s not!” Felix says, and he’s not sure why he’s arguing semantics, but he thinks anything else will be too much for his mind to handle.
“Pretty sure it is. I am still sad you didn’t invite me to your elopement in an underground tomb. Can I come if you renew your vows?” she says, voice wavering until she can’t take it anymore and collapses into giggles.
Felix’s head throbs, and he throws himself back down onto the bed as she works out her mirth. The silver band glitters in the light, and he stares at through one eye. He can’t believe this could possibly happen. Which is shortsighted, it’s as real as his own name, and he’s seen his share of strange things throughout his life.
But. This takes a special place of frustration and if he’s honest, a little painful.
“Hey, Felix. Are you okay?” Annette says suddenly, tone having moved to concern.
He doesn’t know if he can answer that. His head hurts, his finger hurts and he’s magically bonded to someone whom he hasn’t seen properly in five years who fascinated him as a teenager. It’s not a feeling he can comprehend.
Annette shuffles forward until she’s peering over him.
“Sorry for joking. I know how you liked him back at school,” she says as if reading his mind.
“Like is strong,” he says, and her expression turns playful once more.
“I recall you ranting about his schemes for an hour straight once. I timed you,” she says, and he flushes, for he too remembers that time.
“I was a child,” he says and nods.
“Sure, but now you’re not,” she says simply, as if any of this is simple at all.
He doesn’t really know what to say to that, so instead just tries to see if his headache will ease. When it looks like it won’t oblige, he decides he’s probably better just carrying on and trying to sort this out as soon as possible.
He staggers up, and Annette jumps too, hands open as if she's concerned he’ll pass out again, so he waves her off.
“I’m fine, I should find Claude,” he says, and she agrees, leading the way as they step out of the student’s quarters and into the monastery grounds.
The cool air helps ease the tension in his head, even if the laughter is louder now, faint sounds of music coming from the town. His stomach rolls a little, those feelings from before returning, but with every step outside he feels better, more alive and oddly calm.
Annette leads him inside and to the second floor of Garreg Mach, back where they used to hold war council when based here. They open the door to find Byleth, Dimitri, Claude and Hilda staring up at him.
“Hey, look who's awake! My...bonded, it seems,” Claude says standing up, and Felix blinks, then turns back around, intent on leaving, already annoyed. He can’t stand to be in a room with them all if it’s a cause for amusement; he is not here to be ridiculed.
“Felix!” Chorus at least three different voices, and they are so lucky it’s Annette who is close enough to grab him.
“Come on, at least try,” she whispers, and he grimaces before slowly turning around.
They’re still all looking at him, and this time as he faces them, Claude paces forward, chair scraping back with the movement. Annette gives him one last encouraging smile, before loudly asking how it’s going, Hilda taking up the train of thought and asking Dimitri, of all people, what a word means.
Claude approaches, smiling in the same way one might do at a wyvern ready to bolt, and Felix fixes him with his most unimpressed stare, hoping Claude cannot tell how his heartbeat skyrockets with each step to him.
“Are you alright? I was pretty surprised I came round almost immediately but you didn’t,” Claude asks, eyes flickering up and down as if checking for signs of hurt, warming him in a way it absolutely should not.
“Fine. You?” he manages, even though it’s a little more biting that he wants it to be.
Claude looks genuinely relieved, and Felix tries to not read too much into that.
“Well, my head’s stopped hurting, finally. His Kinglyness tried to pry the ring off,” he says with a wince, holding up his hand.
His ring, Felix notes, is gold, but still the same thin plain band he now wears. They really do look like a matching pair, he cannot help but note, then focuses back on the new information Annette had given him.
“Seems he’s not the only King,” Felix says, and Claude looks a little embarrassed.
“Ah, not quite. The coronation, what you’d call such a ceremony anyway, is when I return. I need to head to home in three days to make sure it’s not missed. So, we have a deadline,” he says, and that calculated determination is more reassuring than any platitudes another would give Felix, so he nods in reply, causing Claude to grin.
The moment passes with a shriek from the other side of the room.
“Consort, yes! You are soo right Annette,” Hilda says in a voice that’s deliberately loud no matter what her ditsy demeanour says.
Dimitri turns red, Annette looks at him with employring eyes, and Byleth looks between everyone, clearly not sure what’s happening. Claude turns to him, eyebrows raised.
“Don’t think we actually discussed titles yet, but if you want-”
Felix does leave this time, cheeks flaming and cursing himself that he doesn’t quite mind the teasing when Claude’s laugh echoes freely.
He doesn’t actually go far, wanders until he sees the others leave, then returns to where Claude is now alone surrounded by books. As he enters, Claude doesn’t look up, buried in a thick volume, the firelight casting warming shadows across his face.
“Come to help?” he asks, voice more of a soft rumble than the piercing question he expects, and Felix stalks over.
“Of course. I’m in this predicament too, plus we have a deadline,” he says, and takes a seat opposite as Claude looks up.
Their eyes meet and Felix’s struck still by the expression, the way Claude seems to be seeing through every wall he’s ever painstakingly constructed, but not only that, he cares about what's blocked by them, the look challenging but welcoming in the same instant.
Again, he’s reaching. After all this time, how can such feelings and wants still exist?
“What have you found out?” he asks, and Claude seems taken unawares for a second. Felix wonders what he expected, and a tiny part of him likes keeping Claude on his toes.
He recovers swiftly though, pushing a book to his left at Felix. Before him is a half torn page of a book which looks as if it’s been chewed by something Felix would rather not know anything more about, but it contains figures like the ones drawn on the inside of the font. In this, they are attached by a string, leading to their fingers.
“This is us,” Claude deadpans, and Felix just resists throwing the book in his face.
“But what is it? Can you read this?” he asks through gritted teeth, and Claude laughs softly before shaking his head.
“No. Seteth says he recognises it as a bonding ritual of some sort, but he’d assumed it would be metaphorical, rather than rings appearing on our fingers. He’s searching for more info. And that’s my plan too, for the rest of the evening. You’re welcome to join,” Claude says.
Felix nods once, and grabs one of the closed books, flicking it open and starting to search.
Time goes by. It’s quiet and easy, Claude occasionally humming to himself and scribbling on parchment, but other than that, the crackle of the fire is all the sound that’s shared between them. Felix skims through three books with no success before the door opens, a member of the kitchen staff appearing with a tray.
“Oh, just as I was feeling hungry,” Claude says with a smile, and they nod once before laying it out, leaving quietly as Felix calls a thank you.
There’s a small selection of meats, cheeses, bread and fruit, as well as tea in a familiar set Felix recognises from before the war.
“I can’t believe this china set survived the damn war when half the chapel caved in,” he mutters and Claude snorts with laughter.
“Teach probably stowed it away at the first sign of conflict,” he says and Felix grins, before collecting a cup and saucer, passing them to Claude and pouring.
The scent of Almyran pine fills the room, and Felix almost sighs with relief at the calm that washes over. He hasn’t had tea in so long, it’s too cold to grow it in Fraldarius territory, and it’s been awhile since he bothered to stock up on such novelties as ingredients for a brew. He reminds himself to buy some in the market before returning home, pouring his own cup and drawing it closer, knotting his fingers around it.
Claude stares between him and the tea for a second. “What a fine host,” he mutters, Felix just about hearing as they both sip their tea, Felix choosing to ignore the comment. It’s at perfect drinking temperature, and Felix allows his eyes to close for a second, forgetting he has company.
“You know, this is really a poor imitation of our tea,” Claude says, and he opens his eyes.
“Oh?” Felix asks, genuinely curious.
Claude nods. “It’s close, but they use a particular spice to preserve it in transport, and it changes the flavour, even the colour of the tea. Real Alymran pine is another thing altogether,” he says.
“Interesting. I’d like to try it,” Felix says, wondering if he’ll still like it, hoping that he does
“Perhaps you should visit and then you can,” Claude says and Felix almost drops the cup, placing it down carefully instead, years of practice in keeping his face schooled the only thing from saving him from demanding to know exactly what that might mean.
“Half of the reason I was here was to start bridging the gap between our nations, having nobles visiting would help,” Claude continues, and Felix’s heart drops like a stone, falling out of his chest and cracking to pieces.
“I see,” he says, for he does see, does know that this is simple politeness and not an actual invitation. Of course it’s not, where would that come from? Felix’s interactions with Claude can be counted on one hand, any connection he feels is purely an overacted, sadly overly romantic part of him wishing for connections that are not there.
Unconsciously, he feels himself playing with the ring on his finger, twisting it round in almost a nervous tick. He glances down, then back up again to see Claude has been watching him do it the whole time.
“I mean, now seeing as you’re my consort, you really should come and visit,” he says, and winks as Felix clenches his hand and, as is constantly happening when Claude teases him, blushes. He hates that he is so easily embarrassed.
“That is not a title I want,” he says, and Claude grins, leaning forward.
“And what would you like instead? I’m open to your preferences, whatever title you want is yours,” he says, and Felix glares back.
“I don’t want any title, thank you,” he says acidly.
“No, you never have, have you?” Claude says with a sudden chill that frosts the room, pure iced truth falling between them, except it’s Felix’s truth on another’s lips.
“I hear your people love you though. You may never have wanted to be Duke, but by all accounts, you’re a good one,” Claude says, and there is admiration in his tone, which outweighs the additional notes of remorse which always come with Felix’s lot in life.
He’s Duke of Death, a second son who was never meant for this, who still has a temperament undesirable and a lack of foresight into what he wants or needs past ensuring the safety and happiness of his people, as much as he can realistically give. He’s not his father, he’s not the Duke Glenn would have been, and he perpetually stands in their shadow. But at least Claude sees what he’s doing, lacklustre though it may be.
“And how exactly would your people react to this?” he says, holding up his ringed finger.
“They’d say like father like son,” he says with a shrug, and Felix realises there is an entire story there he has yet to pay attention to. But Claude moves on, staring at his own ring.
“It seems like metal, but it can’t possibly be,” he says, holding it up to the light.
“It wasn’t hair then,” Felix says with a scoff, and Claude slowly lowers his hand, looking at Felix carefully.
“How much do you know about your Crest?” Claude asks, and Felix internally braces himself for a conversation that has his hair standing on end, and a warning in the back of his mind that he’s not quite ready to hear this.
Turns out that warning was right, and he spends half the evening between reeling and asking questions of Claude, only half of which he has answers to.
“This is another thing I wanted to discuss, especially with Tea- the Archbishop. The war may have been won against the Empire but I think there’s more to be done. Especially as Rhea is somewhere no one can contact,” he adds.
Felix yawns against his hands, and Claude fixes him with what he thinks is a fond look, which therefore definitely means he is far too tired.
“It’s pretty late, we can pick this up tomorrow,” Claude says, standing and leaving the books as they are.
“We didn’t make much progress,” Felix says, and Claude shakes his head.
“I didn’t expect us to. No harm in trying, but I think Seteth is our best hope. Well, good night Felix,” he says, giving him a flick of his hand as he strides to the door.
“‘Night,” Felix says, collecting his jacket and slowly walking out of the door, extinguishing the fire with a wave of his hand as he leaves the room.
As he walks towards his rooms, the headache returns. He lifts his hands to his temples in frustration, but with every step the pounding increases, almost drumming to the beat of his footsteps.
By the time he reaches outside the building he’s sleeping in, the pain is so bad he has to sit down on the steps, just to breathe through it. It’s ridiculous, it hasn’t hurt at all of late, and this is almost as bad as when he first woke up. He moves his hands to his temples, digging his thumbs in, and rubs in circles, trying in vain to reduce the headache.
The combination though must seem to work, for slowly after a while, it abates. Little by little it fades until Felix can drop his hand and look up to the night sky, inhaling without the crunch of something pushing against his head from all sides.
“So, it really is about proximity.”
Felix hates to admit it, but he stumbles in his step as he springs up and spins, the sudden release from pain and the unexpected voice setting his nerves on edge. Claude looks somewhat amused as he stands to Felix’s left.
“Why are you back here?” Felix says, deciding the best course of action is to pretend nothing occurred.
Claude steps forward, smiling slightly, and Felix finds himself relaxing inside, a strange phenomena he doesn’t want to think too much about.
“Had to test a theory. You’re head started to hurt, right? I guessed that’s why you were sitting down,” Claude says, and Felix frowns, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I was, yes until you-”
He stops mid sentence, realisation dropping molten and cooling too rapidly as his body tenses. Claude nods as he watches his reactions to the fact they're actually in physical pain unless they're near each other. What sort of ridiculous ritual was this?
“It makes no sense,” he hisses, starting to pace, as moving always makes Felix feel more in control of any situation.
“Obviously our bonding is more than just rings we can’t get off. Although I must say, I haven’t heard of this type of connection before. I wonder if it’s always what happens or-”
“How will we sleep!” Felix half yells, cutting off Claude because really, he should be focusing on the immediate problem rather than theorising if it’s happened to anyone else.
Claude stops, those calculating eyes boring into him for a fraction too long before he opens his arms as if this is the most obvious thing in the world.
“We’ll have to share a room. Come on Felix, you’ve shared tents many times. Promise I’m better company than Dimitri, I remember how he snores,” Claude says, and Felix has no idea how to process sharing a room with Claude, it absolutely does not make sense, cannot make sense and anything that doesn’t make sense to Felix gets his automatic reaction of refusal.
“No,” he says bluntly, and Claude rolls his eyes.
“Fine, enjoy your headache,” he says, moving slowly backwards. Felix however, stands right there, hands on hips.
Claude moves. He paces back slowly, eyes locked on Felix. It’s a test of wills, and Felix feels something in him buzz and chime to lock on exactly with that part of Claude’s personality which is causing him to act in this way. He doesn’t move, and Claude keeps up his rhythm of stepping back.
It’s childish really. They are both grown adults, but they’re acting like either of them might have done back when this was their stomping grounds. Yet Felix smiles, even when a stab of pain between his eyes has him blinking, and Claude too falters a little in his pace as their headaches start to grow.
Claude stops when Felix can still see him but not his features, and Felix has to wince at the pressure on both sides behind his ears. He wants to rub his head again; it’s not the blistering pain of before but it aches, enough that it’s hard to concentrate, and enough for him to know he won’t be able to keep standing here all night. But then, neither can Claude.
“Well? My guest room is all set up, I know it’s got more space than yours,” Claude calls, and Felix winces at how even from this distance, having Claude shout makes his headache increase.
“I’m fine,” he grits back with effort, although he’s not, very much not, and his hands shake with the effort of either not stepping forward just a little, or not touching his forehead.
He hates how his voice wobbles, while Claude’s slips through the air with perfect pitch.
“Well, I’m pretty tired, so I really would like some rest,” Claude says, and steps two paces back. Felix actually has to bite his own lip, making a wounded sound and looking down.
He swallows, and just as he does, the pain vanishes. His hand snaps up, just as Claude marches to him, looking more annoyed than Felix can recall seeing him.
“Okay, I like a challenge as much as you, but I’m not going to stand there watching you hurt yourself to prove a point,” he says, and Felix doesn’t know what to do with this turn of events, so goes on the defensive.
“Doesn’t it hurt you?” he says and Claude’s expression does not change.
“Clearly not as badly as you, and I wouldn’t have gone that far if I’d known,” he says, and Felix doesn’t know if he’s so off track by the sudden flip to seriousness or by the worry for his welfare.
“Got caught up,” he mutters, for it’s true. He always does; it’s too easy to run with the now and forget deeper things, go for the challenge than slow down and think on what’s happening. It got him in trouble as a child, was the source of his single mindedness in his teens, and even now it seems, it’s still too prevalent.
To his surprise, Claude slips into a more relaxed demeanour almost immediately, and clasps him on the shoulder. It’s a familiar action between people he knows, but it feels different from Claude. Softer that the bruising claps of his friend, more of a squeeze of his hands, and warmth. So much warmth, seeping and blossoming through, which must be in his imagination but Felix could swear it’s there.
“Seriously though, my room is huge,” he says, and Felix sighs.
“I’m sleeping on the floor,” he says, and Claude shrugs good naturedly as they move forward, only stopping to pick up some of Felix’s belongings. True to his word, he does sleep on the floor, which after he and Claude have fashioned into a decent sleeping space, is fairly comfortable. He’s certainly slept in worse.
Apparently the day has tired him out for he falls asleep without too much of a worry. He dreams of nothing, that perfect blankness of exhaustion pulling him under. However, his instincts never truly die, and he’s dragged out of sleep with his brain alerting him of a presence drawing closer.
He spins before he even fully wakes, grabbing out and securing a hold of the intruder's ankle and clutching with muscle memory before yanking the person down. He opens his eyes as he turns back around ready to face whoever it is where they fall-
Only for Claude to tumble on top of him.
He manages to brace himself so he doesn’t actually body-slam Felix, one arm smacking painfully into the floor above his head so Claude is fully bracketed over him, and Felix just freezes. Claude looms, blinking sleepily at him, hair completely messed up, and Felix is close enough that he could reach out and smooth out the snags of the night with his fingertips but-
“Well, good morning. You have my attention,” Claude says, and he smiles, not moving at all, and Felix is stricken by his poise, his eyes of all damn things and the fact that he’s managed to pull Claude on top of him when half asleep.
“Get up,” he manages, and Claude shakes his head.
“After you took all that time to get me here? Such rude behaviour to your husband,” Claude says, smirking, and Felix’s heart betrays him at the flip it does at ‘husband’
“I am not married to you, get up you idiot,” he barks, and Claude thankfully does with a laugh, turning away.
“Sure, magically bonded with rings that makes us hurt to be apart. Husband is easier. Or as Hilda now calls you, my consort,” he adds as Felix sits up.
“That’s Annette’s fault,” he mutters as his hair flops into his face and goddess, he must have tossed and turned at night if it's a matted mess in front of his eyes.
“Which makes so much sense, Hilda’s always been kinda sweet on Ann-”
Claude stops speaking, and Felix parts his tangled hair with a huff enough to see, and finds Claude looking at him, eyes wider than he expected, blinking.
“Hilda’s what?” he asks, standing and Claude keeps staring.
“Your hair is something. What's going on with this bit?” Claude says, striding over the kicked off blankets and picking up one of his slightly tangled shorter layers.
“I burnt it,” he says before he can stop himself because Claude is so close. Right there, toying with strands of his hair in the early morning looking curiously at his hair of all things, as if it’s one of those mysteries he needs to solve, when it’s just a part of him he can barely control, that most days he’s more frustrated with than pleased to have.
“How did you manage that?” Claude says with what seems like fondness of all things, which has his hair rising and sets him on edge as he never has really known what to do with that sort of affection.
“Spell gone wrong,” he admits, and then steps back, his hair sliding through Claude’s fingers, who grins back at him.
“I would just love to know how that happened, but we have an appointment with Seteth,” he says, stretching a little, and Felix deliberately does not look at that, lowers his eyes so he doesn't mark how Claude’s body moves as he works out the kinks from sleeping.
What follows is a trial and error ridiculousness of them testing how far they can be away from each other while they get ready for the day, and somehow ends with Hilda and Annette each managing to corner the other, and before Felix really knows what’s happening, he’s in Annette’s room with a cup of tea.
“I’m meant to be meeting Seteth,” he says as she fusses around him in her usual blur of energy.
“Morning prayers are still happening, can’t we have tea?” she says, and he agrees, having never really bothered to learn when he’s meant to be praying, someone usually drags him there at the appropriate times.
He’s half expecting an ambush, as if the events of the morning are written across his face but Annette simply looks at him with concern.
“How are you doing? Does it hurt at all?” she says, glancing at the ring.
Felix sighs, lifting it up. It looks no different from yesterday, still affixed with a magical ferocity he cannot combat. He wonders how such a small thing is creating such an effect within him.
“No, it doesn’t feel like anything. The headaches are an annoyance though,” he adds, and Annette nods as she takes some of her tea, the sweet fruit blend irritating his nose even from a distance.
“Yes, that is a problem. Hilda and I are trying to work out how you can manage your day like this,” she says, and Felix rolls his eyes.
“You know we can do that ourselves, don’t you?” he says, and Annette turns frighteningly red cup shaking in her hands and deep red liquid dripping onto the table cloth, which he immediately cleans up in a practised motion from having tea with her over the years.
“I-I know that! We’re just helping! Hilda says Claude will get stuck on discovering what’s going on and forget where you are, and I know you will decided to swing a sword around at some point so we think it’s best to just-”
“Annette, breathe,” he says, somewhat concerned as she barrels on at an alarming rate.
Annette stops, the silence in the room seeping in, giving them both a break and Felix sees with sudden clarity, his friend a mirror of things he too has thought were long gone and far away
“So. Hilda,” he says slowly, and Annette raises her eyes to his, her mouth quirking to the side.
“So. Claude,” she replies, and Felix utters an exasperated if fond huff.
“Why is it like this?” he wonders aloud and Annette nods.
“I know. Where’s the fireworks and the perfect, romantic moments. All I have is sweaty palms and run on sentences,” she says.
“I have an accidental magical marriage,” he says.
They both look at each other, and barely a second passes before they’re both laughing hysterically. And for a while, it’s actually okay.
By the time they finish up their tea, having sworn off talking romance, Seteth is out of morning prayers, meeting Claude and Felix in his study. It looks to Felix as if it hasn’t changed at all in all his time away. And when Seteth gestures at him and Claude to sit, he’s reminded vividly of the time a competition with Sylvain ended with them right here, having smashed a stained glass window.
“How are you both faring?” he asks.
“Oh, you know, pretty good when you get magically connected to a person by a wedding ring and can’t be more than a few feet away without it feeling like someone’s pounding on your head with a blunt object,” Claude says, and Felix narrows his eyes at the flippantry.
“Do you know how to fix it?” Felix says, not understanding why they are wasting time.
Seteth gives them that familiar look which tells he’s unimpressed, but Felix is no longer a student and has limited patience for this. Thankfully, Seteth doesn’t seem to want to linger.
“There are some indications of what it might be, but no concrete evidence. We already had theories of what may have been in that excavation but couldn’t be sure, which was why it was cordoned off,” he says, adding in a disapproving glare, mostly at Claude.
Felix cannot help but turn to look at him, as he grins at Seteth. “What can I say, it was just too tempting. I can’t control myself around a mystery,” he says, and glances at Felix as he finishes, sending a rapid wink in his direction.
Felix stares, as Claude turns back to Seteth, apparently completely unaware of how Felix is simply reeling, mouth falling open in shock as something sneaks vibrations from his toes to his hairline.
What was that? What was the hair touching this morning? What is happening? He can’t focus on whatever reprimand Seteth is giving as his mind spins and spirals over touches and teasing. Perhaps it’s Annette’s wishes for romance rather than confusion catching up with him, perhaps it’s the knowledge he needs to get this ring off by tomorrow when there is no apparent methods setting him on edge but-
Is Claude flirting with him?
“I may have found reference to the ritual.”
Seteth’s declaration pierces through his musings, and he snaps his head back round to face forward. Seteth reaches to a stack of extremely old books on his desk, opening one with care. Much like all the information they’ve seen so far, the paper is crumbled and almost illegible, but some is still visible.
“A dedication to Saint Vinelle?” Claude reads.
“Yes. It looks as if whatever you did was an induction to the inner circle of a little known Saint. There is not much detail, but this and another inscription I found mention that the two are destined-”
“Destined?” Felix practically shouts, and Claude next to him chokes.
Seteth raises an eyebrow. “That is what the pairs are called. They dedicated their hearts to beat in time, is the phrasing. That’s all I can find,” he says, and Felix slumps on his seat.
“Nothing about how this can be undone?” Claude says, recovering, while Felix sits back in strange, confused torment of why he and Claude have the words ‘destined’ and ‘hearts’ associated with one another.
“I have another text being sent to me from the Western Church which has more details on Saint Vinelle. They have a scholar there who studied them. But this is all we have here,” he explains, mood dropping.
“And what if that book has nothing in it?” Felix snaps, hand unconsciously turning the ring on his finger.
He doesn’t wait for an answer, actually doesn’t need one for he knows what it is. He gets up and storms out of the room, uncaring if his head literally snaps in half for it. It doesn’t though, for the hasty sound of footsteps follows and a familiar grip on his shoulder gives him pause.
“Felix,” Claude says, and he turns, slowly.
Claude drops his arm once they are face to face, clearly not happy with how it went. And neither is Felix, but the burning question trips off his tongue anyway.
“What will we do if we can’t get them off?” he says, and the catch in his voice is traitorous, but he cannot stop it.
Something in Claude’s expression softens. “We’ll work it out,” he says, but Felix shakes his head.
“No platitudes. What if we can’t?” he says.
He always has a plan. A backup, a way out, no strategy is good enough without one. Claude should know that, does know that, and Felix needs to know Claude is with him for this.
“I’m not giving you platitudes. I don’t believe that Seteth exhausted the whole library in one evening. So, let’s go look. And then we can spar after dinner,” he says, and Felix can’t help but perk up at the idea. A new opponent, especially one who thinks so differently to him is enticing.
“Fine...but,” he hesitates, frowning, Claude waiting for him to find the words.
“Is there anything you...would like to do?” he asks, the words feeling so terribly awkward in his mouth.
Claude smiles, genuine and with teeth, cheerful and bright. It makes his palms sweat. Annette was right, this is awful.
“Nah, but I do want to annoy our new Archbishop at dinner so you’ll need to suffer the presence of his Highness,” he says, and Felix groans as they both in tandem walk to the library.
The day is strangely good, all factors considering. Felix finds himself genuinely enjoying moments in a way he hasn’t for some time. It’s simple things too; the silent reading through a selection of books they find at the back of the library, sipping on Almyran tea despite the look given to them by the library and too nosy students. Watching Claude toe the line between probing and conversation at dinner, the way he can change the tide in any conversation is a marvel to Felix.
But the day is mostly fruitless. They do not find much alluding to Saint Vinelle, except one line which mentions that her inner circles were faithful without boundaries, and she was said to represent the culmination of the heavens: the sun, the moon and stars, always with two of this circle.
It made very little sense to Felix, although Claude poured over it for some time. Yet the hours fall away, dinner draws to a close, and as conversation lulls, Felix pulls Claude aside. He doesn’t need to say anything though, for Claude puts down his water glass with a performance at reluctance.
“Yes yes, you want to spar,” he says as they leave, and Felix gives him a side eye.
“Regretting the challenge?” he says, and Claude laughs.
“I never challenged you, Felix, but I must admit, I’m curious to see how you’ve improved over the years. You always were fearsome,” he says as they make their way to the training grounds, empty due to the holidays and festivities.
“You assume I’ve improved in peacetime?” he says as they make their way to the racks.
“We both know you wouldn’t slack. Even in peacetime.”
It’s not meant to be anything but a statement, and yet Felix knows it is, can feel it. Claude reaches for a bow and arrow, testing the pull as he watches.
“And neither would you,” he replies as he picks a sword he knows by eye will be good enough.
Claude tenses, then looks over one shoulder at him, winking before turning and crossing the room to the targets, Felix watching him leave without shame for a few paces until he moves to his own area.
It is easy to get lost then, in movement and distraction so familiar. He does break forms to watch Claude on occasion. His skills are marvellous, but Felix never doubted this. Completed focus he respects, a finesse to be envied, but nothing too showy. Just purpose and skill, a flare in itself. He knows Claude watches him too, tries to maintain his own paces as he’s tracked and observed.
He’s tired but not overly when Claude approaches, swinging a training sword in one hand, causing Felix to stop and glare.
“At least try and handle it properly,” he says, and Claude grins.
“I’m not a swordsman, so think you’ll go easy on me?” he says, falling into a stance with a fluid motion that casts his words aside.
“Never,” Felix says, mirroring his own.
“Good,” Claude says, then has the audacity to rush him.
And it’s not just good. It’s amazing.
Claude isn’t as practised as Felix but his technique is different. He twists more than Felix is used to, uses his body in a way which reminds him a little of Byleth, and the man is damned ambidextrous and switches hands half way through.
It’s fun. Like a lot of this day it’s fun, it’s interesting, and he loses himself in the moments. But while Claude gives it his all, eventually Felix does best him, knocking the sword to the floor. Claude smiles, hands flying out in surrender.
“I’m beat. But that was fun,” he says.
“It was,” Felix says caught up in the excitement, smiling more than he has since this all began, swiping his hair from his face and Claude just watches, takes it in and lives with him too in this pleasantness.
“It’s late, let’s clean up,” Claude says and it doesn’t seem like a change of pace, simply a natural continuation.
But it’s as they make their way into his room that he does shift the scales.
“You know, we could just share the bed,” Claude says, and Felix almost trips over the blanket.
“What?” he says, starting to hate the fact that when he’s just about to get a grip on an ever changing situation, it slips from under his feet once more.
“Come on, the floor is fine, I guess, but I can’t stand you sleeping there another night. Promise I won’t smother you. And this is still more space than a tent,” Claude says as Felix stands amidst his blankets.
And Claude makes good points. He makes frankly far too good points as Felix cannot logically counter a single one.
“Do you hog the covers?” he says slowly, and Claude laughs.
“If that’s what’s worrying you, bring your own blanket,” he says with a shrug, and Felix does as it gives him space to do something in the midst of the confusion.
As he gathers up pillows and a blanket, Claude arranges himself on the left side of the bed. Which is...annoying as Felix normally prefers a side by the wall but he’s not about to start confessing that kind of preference.
So he steps up, arranges his pillows just so, and then quickly puts the candles before wrapping himself up, facing away from Claude and shutting his eyes, as if force of will can guide him to sleep.
“Nice trick. Although I feel you need to be more careful around fire,” he says and Felix spins around while Claude laughs, bed rocking slightly.
“Just be quiet and sleep,” he snaps, not switching around as Claude may have his side, but Felix is going to sleep facing it. Even if that means facing Claude.
Or perhaps because it is , his mind whispers, but he cuts that short. Immediately.
Claude doesn’t say anything else, and lies on his back without a word. Swiftly, far too swiftly to be fair Felix thinks, his breathing evens out and the bed shifts a little as Claude relaxes in his sleep. It’s sort of soothing, Felix realises. He’s never truly shared a bed in a comforting sense since he was a child. Not that this situation is one of real comfort, but yet it is. The rhythm of Claude of all people being safe enough to sleep lulls him down, and soon enough he remembers no more.
He awakens quickly. He’s not sure why but Felix tends to snap awake. He’s warm, and the day is bright, both feelings quite pleasant; he likes to rise early and he is seldom warm, considering how cold Fraldarius is. He blinks a few times, sleep and sunlight still making the world hazy, his limbs coming to in sequence.
His middle feels trapped though, which is not so good, and it takes his a moment to tip his head to the side and realise it’s the arm throw over him-
Arm. Claude’s arm. Holding onto him.
Felix’s mind just stutters to a halt as the warmth becomes an instant molten pulse that centre up from where Claude is holding him. For holding him he is, as Felix is now sharing Claude’s pillow, Claude facing him but a little way apart, arm flung over his waist.
He can’t remember exactly what position he was in when he first woke up. He might have been snuggled in. Oh goddess, did he sleep cuddle?
“No, no, no,” Felix mutters and sits up with start, Claude’s arm falling off and him scrambling away quick as lightning for he just cannot process any of this.
The motion wakes Claude, who snores briefly as Felix sits on the edge of the bed, staring, not sure what to do. There’s slight indents on his cheek from the pillow, his eyes flutter in the first signs of waking and he looks so comfortable as he comes round that it does things to Felix’s heart that cannot be healthy.
“Morning,” Claude grumbles and Felix nods, before standing and stretching, once again Felix is caught in the movement of muscles beneath his shirt, a pattern he cannot say he relishes in following.
So instead he as usual, buries it deep. Or at least he tries to as he leaves the room to get ready, the short distance to find washing water not enough to trigger the bond between them and when he returns Claude swaps to allow him to dress.
“I’ll meet you for breakfast, it’s not that far, right?” Claude says as Felix passes him.
Felix pauses. Claude smiles at him but it doesn’t flutter those winged beasts inside his gut, doesn’t give him heat or perplexity. It’s...off. Somehow. Felix has never been able to read people well, but he isn’t that block-headed to know that Claude is lying. Or at least concealing, which is probably more close to the truth.
“Alright,” Felix says slowly, playing along for now and goes across the old war room, where the guests are holding breakfast for the last day of their stay, now the students are back to classes. Despite Dimitri’s insistence it was perfectly safe to eat with the students in public, their schedules don’t always align with the Garreg Mach timetable, so this seemed easier.
Hilda and Annette give him a wave as he enters, but he smiles and retreats by himself, leaving them to it. He knows the same would be offered to him and, if their physical closeness is anything to judge by perhaps they’ve achieved more than he has in these past days.
He collects tea, dried meat and some bread, all his stomach can handle as he realises the nerves have been there all along. This evening, Claude needs to leave. And they are still connected in this way. Perhaps Seteth’s book may arrive in time but if it has no information...will he have to go to Almyra? He supposes he must do, for he thinks the distance will probably kill them both otherwise.
What will he do if that’s the case? How long will he need to ask his uncle to guard their territory? What projects need to be put on hold or given to someone else? Sylvain, he knows, will help in a heartbeat, which is a relief, but it’s hard to think of him having to put so much aside.
But Claude is going to become King. It is, when weighing the options, the most logical conclusion. Even if he doesn’t like it.
And while he isn’t thrilled he’s not so hateful towards the concept. Goddess, how truly gone must he be to actually have a thrill of anticipation as the silver lining to all this? To see a land he doesn’t know, to see Claude in an unfamiliar setting, to learn more of Claude and his past...Felix wants that. More than he has ever assumed.
He holds that thought though as a sudden push in his head signals an oncoming headache.
“What the hell?” Felix mutters, more of the nerves fizzling through his stomach and to his throat.
Perhaps it is a genuine headache, it is hard to distinguish. So he gets up and pours himself water, drinking an entire glass before sitting down again.
But it grows. And within a few minutes he hisses a little, bending over the table.
“Felix? Felix what’s wrong?” Annette calls and he looks up as she rushes over, Hilda peering curiously over.
He stands with a groan, and Annette backs away looking concerned.
“Claude. That idiot,” he hisses and heads immediately for the door, no further explanation offered, even as Hilda calls his name.
He doesn’t know where Claude might be going, only that it’s far enough to trigger the bond. Which is ridiculous, he should have known Felix would feel it, and even previously has said he didn’t want to hurt him. But Felix finds that even as he staggers out of accommodation and towards the monastery grounds, it eases off.
Which gives him an easy direction, and as soon as his head is a little less dulled by pain, an obvious answer. So he jogs further into the monastery grounds, headache easing little by little as he makes his way to where this all began.
He has to scoff at Seteth, for despite what happened, all he’s done is put back the same easily scaled barriers as before. Perhaps the students nowadays are far less curious than his generation had been, or perhaps they’d been appropriately warned by what happened to the two idiot nobles who stumbled into this. Either way, he walks in with no resistance, headache vanished.
“Claude!” he yells into the darkness, fire spell brighter than it needs to be as he marches through the cavern to the room, this time with no attempts at subtlety.
“Hey, Felix, sorry I didn’t think it would be too painful. I wanted to get out of here before you were too uncomfortable,” he says as Felix rounds the corner and steps into the room.
Claude greets him with a smile that juxtaposes the air of sadness around him, and Felix extinguishes the light.
“I would have just come with you,” he growls, and Claude laughs, a true sound.
“You would have, wouldn’t you. Sorry. I just wanted to check one last time.”
It’s filled with finality, and Felix steps closer to Claude, unease rising from the tips of his fingers through his whole being. Claude watches him, eyes seeing so much and yet so little it seems for Felix stops only a few steps away before he gives in to curiosity, one hand on his hip, gesturing forward with the other.
“Will you stop with whatever this is? Be frank with me. What are you doing? What are you thinking, Claude, I can’t tell,” he says, voice getting more frustrated by the end.
Claude’s eyes for a moment light with a flare akin to amusement, but not that type that sets him on edge, more makes him rise up to meet it.
“You really are so direct. It’s...a change. A good change. Playing games is fun but you don’t see that, do you? Always to the heart of it. Tell me, Felix, do you really think that book of Seteth’s will have the answer?” Claude says, gesturing to him this time, and Felix thinks, for a moment exactly what he does truly believe.
“No. I do not,” Felix replies, for what point is there in pretence now?
“Me neither,” Claude says, shoulders drooping slightly, and Felix looks around at the room of lost treasures.
“So that’s what you wanted to do, check for a final answer? We could have done that together,” Felix says.
“I know, but..I can’t think of one. For once I’m truly stumped. Short of cutting off my finger,” he muses.
And this is what sets off his fuse. It immediately flickers into brilliant light what he’s been keeping under wraps for the past few days: the frustration, confusion, these mixed up feelings he has for Claude and his longing to do something. The helplessness, the exhaustion from being on edge, it all clatters forward with Claude’s words.
His serious words. Played off as a joke but a real contemplation and without thinking, Felix steps forward, too close for comfort with purpose. Claude must realise, for he looks somewhat alarmed as Felix begins.
“Was that your plan? Just hack yourself to pieces to be rid of me? You, the master at strategy, gives in to such a ridiculous solution so quickly?” he practically yells, and Claude frowns.
“Be rid of you? Far from the truth, Felix, that doesn’t bother me. But one of being in agonising pain does. And the alternative is lose my Kingdom. I’d rather lose a finger, Felix,” he says, and Felix shakes his head in frustration.
“I would have gone with you, idiot, I wouldn’t let you lose your Kingdom,” he says, and Claude looks far more annoyed than he has caused Felix’s mind.
“Fraldarius needs you, don’t tell me you would just go without care, Felix. You’re not like that. You have a famine recovery plan you’re working on, building three schools that need your guidance. And winter will be worse without you there,” he says and Felix just..halts.
He didn’t mention any of this. Claude knows so much of his own plans, his own ideals without Felix having to mention a thing. Claude’s expression shifts from annoyance to that warmth of fondness he’s glimpsed a few times recently, and his mouth is dry on instant.
“I wouldn’t ask you to leave all that. I couldn’t. And I would never ask you to risk pain,” he says, and Felix knows he’s tipping forward, moving, drawn and falling so much further downwards to something unknown and fantastically terrifying.
“And I wouldn’t ask you to miss your coronation. Or cut off a finger. Or be in pain. So don’t you dare,” he says, and the last is punctuated with a hard stare alerting him how much of Claude’s eyes he can see, the gold and the hazel intertwined with green.
“Dare? A dare, you say,” Claude says and his eyes flicker down and this time Felix is certain of what’s to come, heartbeat loud and surrounding, the distance closing, eyes wanting to do the same.
“Yes, a dare,” Felix whispers, then without thought closes his eyes and moves into the inevitable kiss.
Seeing as he wasn’t actually looking, having done this out of order, their lips meet far more smoothly that they should have. This might be Claude though, the way his hand comes to Felix’s neck instantly, not a guide but a reassurance as they begin to move together.
It’s soft, warm, like those expressions Claude has for him in shared form, the hand on his neck moving slightly as Claude sighs into him, and Felix cannot prevent himself from deepening the kiss, pressing into Claude’s mouth, just a hint of tongue and teeth, a noise like longing in his throat which Claude takes and gives back just as much pressure.
The warmth builds and Felix grips at Claude’s shirt, desiring the fire and connection, mouths opening wider and for longer, breathing unnecessary, and he wonders if it’s really necessary to stop kissing someone. Not a thought he’s ever had, but now he could happily stay like this all day, responsibility be damned as his brow starts to sweat.
Except it’s too hot. Almost...burning quite frankly, and suddenly he just pulls away as it doesn’t feel right anymore. His vision swims and although there’s no fire, no actual source of this heat he knows it must be there.
“Claude,” he calls as the man before him stumbles to his knees but Felix’s word topples and he too knows he falls. He gasps, hand coming to his face, just in time to see a flicker of light on his finger, flowing outwards and up before it consumes his vision entirely.
“A test? That was a test?” Felix says, staring at Seteth who closes the book with a snap.
It’s just before sunset. Felix doesn’t understand why Claude and Hilda are leaving now of all times, but apparently travelling by darkness is better. He doesn’t really want to ask.
“Yes. Saint Vinelle’s inner circle always worked in pairs, to guide her side by side. Those who claimed their bond was strong enough to serve had to pass a test proving their bonds were strong enough. Apparently you passed,” he says, and Felix blanches, wondering exactly what the criteria were.
“Well, would you look at that. Our bonds were strong enough, eh?” Claude says, and Felix is not going to look at him even though he desperately wants to.
“Yes. Quite. Many of them married, if it helps at all,” Seteth replies and Felix actually chokes, but is saved by Hilda entering the room.
“Well, I’m all packed. We’d better go,” she says, and Felix takes the opportunity to exit, the word ‘married’ hanging over his head.
“Which means Annette did most of it for you,” Claude answers, and Felix smiles as they walk out of Seteth’s office, the two bickering behind him.
He’d woken up once again in his room, this time with Claude watching over him as well as Annette. Once again, Felix had been out for longer, and once again, Hilda had found them but this time with Annette in tow. And the slight differences now mean everything.
Annette is waiting as they step outside. She gives him a smile but really her eyes are focused behind, and Hilda quickly marches to her side, slipping an arm in hers. Felix watches them go, a pang of shared sorrow but joy at what’s happening.
“I look forward to that story the whole way back home,” Claude says with mock impatience, coming to his side.
Felix inhales once then turns, facing Claude who smiles at him. He steps forward and Felix suddenly doesn’t know where to look or what to do, and is thankful when Claude takes up his hands.
“You really would have come with me, huh?” he says, sly and knowing, and Felix huffs.
“Maybe,” he replies, glancing away and trying not to smile for they both know what he means.
“Oh?” Claude replies, raising an eyebrow. “So does that mean you’ll come visit?”
“Maybe,” Felix says again and this time he does give in to the smile just a little, but enough for Claude to chuckle and kiss him.
This kiss is bruising in a way their first was not and Felix clings more than he’d like to admit, both in his response and with his arms unashamedly around Claude’s neck. But they can’t stay no matter how good the kiss is.
“I’ll write,” Claude says as they part and draws Felix in for a hug of all things. Felix curls himself inwards, hating that he’s just learned what this all feels like and is losing it in the same day.
“And I will too,” he says softly, and they pull back, Claude kissing the top of his head once.
There’s nothing more left to say, and Felix watches him leave. Claude doesn’t turn at the last second, and Felix is glad for it, prefers it actually. He knows Claude has goodbyes to say to Byleth and Dimitri too, and this parting is their own, the better left to them.
He knows Annette will be back soon so waits, watching the sun set. And perhaps thinking of the planning they’ll both have to do for an extended visit to Almyra.