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on greatness, on autonomy

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It is not an easy thing, to be descended from greatness and yet be entirely ordinary. Sylvain knows this all too well. Gautier of Gran Soren had slain the dragon that haunted Gransys just long enough ago that he is more legend than man, but that means nothing to the second son of a second son of a second son, and so on. In today's world, it is the Blaiddyd line that rules by virtue of their wyrmslaughter blood, Duke Lambert Dragonsbane having slaughtered the dragon Sothis going on a hundred years ago, just as his ancestors have done with their own since Gautier's fall.

It's not an easy thing to be ordinary in the face of greatness, but it's even harder to be great in spite of everything that threatens to bring you down.

When the dragon wages war on Cassardis (Had that been what he thought it was? How laughable in the face of what he knows about the scope of its power now.), it's not greatness that makes him pick up the fallen lance of a coward knight - one he doesn't blame, one he envies. It's not greatness that sends him toward the beast instead of away, gripping the lance like he's used one before. He is Sylvain, village whore, son of Antoine, merchant cheapskate, and brother of Miklan, drunken embarrassment, not the noble descendant of Gautier, and he lunges to sink the steel point of the lance in the dragon's foot like he might spear a fish because he has to protect Mercedes or die trying. She's a friend he owes that much; she is the only real friend he has.

Of course, a dragon will not be felled by some little nobody whose desperate tears are more numerous than his skills, and when it bats him into the waters he reluctantly calls home, he wonders which would be the kinder death: the Brine, or the monster above?

But it's too late for questions like that, because it is spearing him on the tip of one man-sized claw, and the pain as it tears through muscle and punctures organs, as it rends flesh from bone, is indescribable. He's heard men who have lost limbs to the Brine say that the sensation is like a thousand red-hot needles under the skin, but this mere fragment of draconic power is like drowning in agony.

Truly, he thinks he might have preferred the Brine.

He spends the next three days in a painful half-sleep, the language of dragons stark and harsh on his tongue as he babbles incoherently. The world around him is present and understandable, but he cannot so much as twitch a finger to let Mercedes know he's okay.

Ashe and Lonato are in and out as well, and through the sleep film of his fluttering eyelids, he watches as Ashe studies him like he might any number of his scientific inquiries and Lonato's brow furrows as he mutters under his breath.

"Rhea est nomen meum," he whispers, tongue heavy as Mercedes dabs away the sweat beading at his forehead. "Si vis ad faciem me. Tollat arma, noviter Exorta."

Lonato prays, and for once, Sylvain wishes his tongue would still long enough to do the same.

On the fourth day, he awakens from a total slumber he doesn't remember falling into, sweat-glossed and with a tongue like cotton. There is no one here, which seems odd, but then he hears the rumbling hiss of Lonato's whispers and understands.

He feels so dreadfully strange.

There is equipment across the room, enough to fully outfit a warrior. It will serve far better than the rags he's been wearing. How odd, that a dragon could pierce him through and swallow his heart, and he no longer feels any pain for it.

Wait. His heart.

Fumbling with the looking glass close to his bed, he examines himself and dizzily examines the knotted, ghastly white scar that wraps itself around one pectoral muscle like a swollen maggot. There is no heart that beats beneath it; it would be thundering in his chest if it were. He raises a hand to it, noping against all reason that this isn't time, and -

Take up arms, Arisen, for my kind do not heed the toothless.

Well, if that's how it has to be.

Despite the urging of the pawn that emerges from the Cassardis riftstone - and that's what it is, never mind all the times a young Sylvain clambered all over it - Sylvain takes his time journeying to the encampment.

According to Glenn (the pawn), a spear isn't a suitable choice of weaponry for the Arisen, so he takes up the warhammer instead. After a few experimental swings, he discovers that it isn't as difficult to master as he would have thought, but he's not about to charge into a camp full of Duke Lambert's men and claim to be the same sort of he can't kill a few measly goblins.

A few measly goblins turns into a whole damn nest of them down on the beach, and by the time he finishes with them, Glenn has also given him about a week's worth of lessons on the enhanced combat abilities of the Arisen, derived from the shelter of their heart in the dragon they must slay, in between decapitated heads and hacked off limbs.

Sylvain can understand why some distrust pawns; Glenn's skill with a longsword is eerily good.

One nap on the roof of the building he only calls home when pressed, and they fumble their way in the pre-dawn darkness, part the half-dozing guards, and right to the riftstone at the center of the camp.

"A test for you," it says, voice echoing impossibly. "To determine if you are Arisen in truth."

"That's an easy one," Sylvain replies, fingering the edge of the scar that protrudes from the low collar of his shirt. "I'm not."

There's something refreshing about the total lack of response from Glenn.

"We will see," the voice says, and then the men of the encampment are jolting into wretched wakefulness, and there is a cyclops right outside the gates.

"This is why I spent so long with the goblins."

That day, the voice that calls itself Byleth tells him to reach inside the riftstone, and, to his surprise, when his hand sinks in, one grabs it in turn.

"Don't let go," Glenn says, and though it's only the barest flicker of something in his voice, it's the most emotion Sylvain has ever heard from him.

It takes a moment - this mystery hand catches in his but does not offer much in terms of pulling itself out - but after one final, vicious tug, Sylvain is showered in beams of light.

When they fade, the most beautiful man in the world is before him.

"Felix," Glenn says, perfectly formal.

"Glenn," this Felix replies in turn.

"Are you two brothers?" Sylvain asks, thoroughly baffled.

"As much as two beings created from the will of their designated Arisen can be." Felix's tone, while perfectly neutral, reeks of sarcasm. Purposeful or not, Sylvain relishes in the meaningless teasing. "I do believe I am the closest approximation of Glenn in existence, save the Duke's pawn."

Sylvain goes to sleep in the encampment that night with his head full of thoughts about how Felix has ostensibly been made for him; there is a responsibility that weighs heavily on his tongue, one he cannot quite name.

When he wakes, however, it is to more screams as a hydra breaches the walls, and all ruminations are abandoned, save that when it comes to battle, the ferocity in Felix's eyes as he fights with sword and shield is entirely unlike anything he's ever seen, Glenn included.

By the time their party - now expanded to four with the recruitment of a pawn named Lysithea - makes it to Gran Soren, Sylvain has begun to see changes in Felix's attitude, chief among them being that he now has one.

"Why have you let your hair grow out so long, Arisen?" he asks as they approach the gates, indomitable focus dropped now that the threat to their cargo - the head of the hydra and, in a way, the Enlistment Corps' captain, Ingrid, and her men - is gone. "It has been a month since first we met, and you would think that your predisposition toward slicing goblin flesh would translate to your upkeep."

It's true that his hair falls past his ears now, just enough that it sticks to his face as he scales cliffs and swings his hammer, but he's hardly thought about it. As it turns out, when he isn't looking for someone to sleep with, he comes surprisingly lax about his appearance. "Does it not look good?" he asks instead, thumbing at his scar. It's covered by better armor now, but he still worries at all the same; silence from the dragon, from himself, is worse than anything he can conjure. "I thought I'd grow it long enough that I could tie it back."

Felix tilts his head, and though it's an exaggerated mimicry of regular human behavior, Sylvain finds himself endeared by it all the same. "I suppose that would look nice."

Glenn's face wears the ghost of a smile, but Sylvain is too busy grinning to pay him much mind.

Ingrid doesn't give him much in the way of payment save for an invitation to the duke's demesne, should he find himself able to fulfill the quests necessary for the Wyrm Hunt. He thanks her before resolving to further explore Gran Soren, but he hardly makes it two steps before a warm, callused hand envelops his own.

"There is someone you ought to meet," Felix says as he drags him toward the Craftsman's Quarter.

With Glenn's smile now in full, near-menacing bloom, Sylvain understands for the first time why it is that people dislike the pawns.

It's there, however, in what is possibly the nicest building in the whole quarter, that Sylvain learns they have a guild.

The pretty, well-muscled woman (or not, as the case may be) that awaits him at the door introduces herself as Byleth in the same flat tone he had heard last month, before he'd gotten Felix, before everything had changed, cementing his status as Arisen.

She looks mildly surprised to see the energy that thrums through Felix like a current, the aggression that sharpens the already sharp lines of his face. Other than him, she is the most emotive pawn Sylvain has ever met, but everything save for the blur of her hands as she twirls a knife is mild.

Felix is not.

Because he is the Arisen and thereby nigh on invulnerable (but not quite, as Felix readily reminds him), Byleth sends him down to the depths of the Everfall, sunk low beneath Gran Soren and so cavernous that it's a wonder the city has not buckled to fill it, the earth claiming its due. The thing that awaits him at the depths, all spiraled tentacles and wide, unblinking eye, is so horrendous that Sylvain lets loose every curse in the book and invents a few more as he sprints to the top of the endlessly looping stairs, lungs burning, but no heart to race.

"It's a good thing," Felix pants, the picture of perfect form as he dodges the tentacle that erupts from the weak flooring beneath. "That this creature... is not any smarter."

Sylvain yelps as another nearly sweeps him off his feet, slick and slimy and far too strong for a sentient eyeball. "You're jinxing us!"

"I...." Sylvain can picture the slight draw of his brow as his voice sinks slightly in tone; in front of them, Glenn has effortlessly cleared a questing limb with all the grace of a wood nymph. "Do not... know magic."

It's only when they are back in the safety of the guild, thick iron doors barred behind them, that Sylvain levels an unimpressed look at Felix and says, "We really do need to update you on modern vernacular."

Felix's face pulls into something almost like a sneer, and when he walks away, Glenn and Lysithea following him to wait in the entry, Sylvain notices that Lysithea's mouth has lifted slightly as well.

Before he can follow, though, Byleth lays a hand on his shoulder, and though her gaze is empty, there is something conspiratorial in her air as she bends toward him.

"He's terribly expressive, considering how short a time he has served you," she says. "How interesting."

"You say that like the two are related."

"I believe you're smart enough to put the pieces together." Still, she steps back, the solidity of her hand falling away, and it's only then that he realizes she is not the first to have touched him in a way that wasn't meant to take.

After all, Felix had grabbed his hand in order to give.

"Does that have something to do with me?" he asks instead of giving voice to any of that.

Byleth's grin should be eerie without emotion to fill it, but he knows what masks look like, what really lays behind a blank facade, and even if she doesn't feel in the same manner he does, there is too much knowing in those eyes to squirm away from the truth of it. "Surely you've noticed how Glenn laughs when he escapes danger, how Lysithea fidgets when she's bored."

Surely you've noticed how Felix hums, sighs, shouts, smiles.

Surely you've noticed that he feels.

"Why?" he asks, and his hands are shaking, his head is throbbing, and the scar that serves as the replacement for his heart burns, burns, burns.

"The Arisen imparts a part of their soul onto their pawns, and none more closely than the one they were designed for. Normally, he would be more similar to you, but..." Byleth's smile turns sly. "Well, the two of you seem to be a special case."

As Sylvain slaughters beasts and finds relics for the Wyrm Hunt, he tries the phrase special case on for size, but it's not until Felix sends him a wild grin as he sinks the point of his blade into an ogre's throat that they finally begin to feel right.

Pawns are not allowed in the duke's demesne, but the way things are going, Sylvain wonders if Felix might now be able to pass for a particularly reticent human.

"I suppose your hair does look quite nice with more length to it," Felix says as Sylvain perches in the barber's chair, tucked away in the labyrinthine sprawl of the Urban Quarter, waiting as a slight woman threads an intricate set of braids along the side of his head as she pulls it back. "Consider me as having changed my mind."

Behind him, the woman laughs softly as she ties his hair off with a deep blue ribbon the color of the depths off the Cassardis shore, and Sylvain feels his cheeks color faintly. Felix, damn him, has no shame at all, and he leans forward to toy with a lock of Sylvain's hair, scrutinizing it like he might any enemy on the field.

"So you think I have a chance of impressing the duke and wooing his son then, do you?" Sylvain teases in response, his voice shaky as his heart lodges itself somewhere just south of his throat. "Good to know."

But Felix's brow draws low, and those once unfathomable eyes cloud with something almost like disgust. "You may do the former, but I'll kill you myself if you attempt anything like the latter."

"Always looking out for me, aren't you?"

Then the barber is done, and there are no more words to say as they trek toward the noble quarter, save the lingering whisper of the woman: "I've seen wives less jealous."

The duke's demesne is extravagant, to say the least, but there is a hollowness at Sylvain's side that prevents him from fully appreciating it; despite having no real expectations, he encounters the prince in the gardens, yet for the first time he can remember, there is no draw to flirt, to smile and woo and bed.

It is not the first time, his traitorous mind whispers. But you've been too busy since the encampment to pay much mind.

It is not the first time, but it is the first time he has been somewhere without Felix by his side, and still, he does not want. (Or rather, he does want, but not the shell of empty intimacy. He wants, but the want is soul-deep.)

Duke Lambert Dragonsbane is an imposing man, but he smiles with easy warmth as Sylvain drops into the lowest bow he can manage.

"Rise, Arisen," he says, waving a hand. "Or do you bow to any man who claims to be your better?"

"Not unless he wears a crown," Sylvain replies, words tripping from his tongue without thought, but the duke smiles, the court titters, and there is no retribution. What a funny thought.

Ah, he thinks. So this is something I can have.

For the rest of his time in Lambert's company, he is distracted, though he pastes a pretty smile on his face, and when he leaves, the Wyrm King grins like they have a secret between them.

It is in the inn room he keeps in Gran Soren that Sylvain thinks about what else he can have, where he poses a question.

"Felix," he says, voice low and heavy with the remnants of the duke's scotch, fire flickering in the dim room.

"Yes, Arisen?" Felix is sprawled across the second bed in the room, sharpening the dagger he keeps strapped to his thigh, but when Sylvain speaks, he lifts his gaze to listen.

"Do you believe yourself to have autonomy?"

There is a long silence, potent and swollen, before Felix answers. "I don't believe I should."

"But you do."

"I do."

"Then if I told you that I'd like to kiss you, you could skewer me through right where I stand should you disagree with the notion?"

Felix rolls his eyes. "It would not be my first inclination, but I suppose I could."

So Sylvain kisses him, and Felix drops his dagger, slicing Sylvain across the knuckle, but the Arisen is nigh on invulnerable, and in the dim quietude of this piece of home, so unlike anything he has ever had before, Felix kisses back.